Cherokee Prairie Natural Area near Fort Smith, Arkansas. WILLIAM DARK PHOTOGRAPHY
Janet Marinelli, according to her author’s bio, is an award-winning independent journalist who was director of scientific and popular publications at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for 16 years; according to our read of her work over the last two years she is also a perfect fit with our mission to find at least one story every day that explains the natural world, illuminates the possibilities of entrepreneurial conservation or challenges us to be more careful with natural resources. She brightens our day:
Native prairie and savanna once covered vast areas of the U.S. Southeast from Maryland to Texas, but agriculture and sprawl have left only small patches remaining. Now, a new initiative, driven by scientists and local communities, is pushing to restore these imperiled grassland habitats.
Southeastern grasslands have some of the highest plant richness in the world, home to rare species such as American chaffseed. COURTESY OF TIM MARTIN & USFWS
Dwayne Estes pulls over to the side of a rural road in Franklin County, Tennessee, about 20 miles from the Alabama border. He hops out of his truck and points out a small plant with dainty, trumpet-shaped white flowers with purple-streaked throats. “This is Penstemon kralii,” says Estes, a 40-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch-tall professor sporting a baseball cap and beard, the twin badges of honor for many field botanists. The plant is found almost exclusively at the base of the Cumberland Plateau escarpment, where it survives precariously in narrow, grassy roadside fringes with other rare and threatened species, including a sunflower and a blue-eyed grass yet to be named and described by scientists.
Kral’s penstemon. COURTESY OF TIM MARTIN & USFWS
We continue to the top of the steep, densely forested escarpment. Below, a checkerboard of croplands and pastures stretches as far as the eye can see. “Before 1840, those agricultural fields were prairies covering half a million, maybe 750,000 acres,” Estes says. “They were maintained by frequent fires and bison.” The wildfires probably swept up the base of the adjacent escarpment, he adds, keeping it open and sunny oak savanna where the penstemon and its companions could thrive. Like so many southern grassland denizens, they are vestiges of a lost botanical world that once covered as many as 120 million acres from Maryland to East Texas, caught in a vise between habitat loss to agriculture and urban sprawl on the one hand, and encroaching fire-suppressed forest on the other. Continue reading
Craig K. Lorenz
It’s been a while, Carl Zimmer! Welcome back to our pages and thanks for this new consideration of what is included in the definition of animal migration, a pair of words normally associated with big mammals and birds:
Swarms of insects move across continents each year. Scientists used radar to track one species and discovered a vast ecological force.
Ladybugs briefly took over the news cycle.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service were looking over radar images in California on the night of June 4 when they spotted what looked like a wide swath of rain. But there were no clouds.
The meteorologists contacted an amateur weather-spotter directly under the mysterious disturbance. He wasn’t getting soaked by rain. Instead, he saw ladybugs. Everywhere.
Radar apparently had picked up a cloud of migrating ladybugs spread across 80 miles, with a dense core ten miles wide floating 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet in the air. As giant as the swarm was, the meteorologists lost track of it. The ladybugs disappeared into the night. Continue reading
Plastic bottles bundled in a recycling facility. Bales such as these travel around the world on shipping containers. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images
Thanks to the Guardian for this series on plastic waste management. It is not pleasant reading, but it should motivate change:
What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin?
According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new.
Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm is paid $6.50 a day to sort recycling on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photograph: Bac Pham/The Guardian
This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it.
Migrant workers sort through plastic bottles at the Thaiplastic Recycle Group plant in Samut Sakhon, outside Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA
Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another.
A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.
A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found: Continue reading
Our long history with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology keeps their initiatives on our radar, and their films hold a very special place.
Sales from this award-winning documentary will benefit bird conservation.
World-renowned wildlife cinematographer, Neil Rettig, embarks on the most challenging assignment of his career: to find and film the rarest eagle on the planet. An expertly woven tale with stunning cinematography, Bird of Prey journeys deep into the vanishing world of the Great Philippine Eagle and reveals an inspiring group of people that are determined to save the world’s most critically endangered eagle species from extinction.
Click here for more information on streaming options.
The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant on the California coast provides 50 million gallons of fresh water a day to San Diego. POSEIDON WATER
Thanks to Jim Robbins at Yale e360:
After decades of slow progress, desalination is increasingly being used to provide drinking water around the globe. Costs for processing salt water for drinking water have dropped, but it remains an expensive option and one that creates environmental problems that must be addressed.
Desalination has been growing steadily in the last decade. JONES ET AL, SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 2019
Some 30 miles north of San Diego, along the Pacific Coast, sits the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest effort to turn salt water into fresh water in North America.
Each day 100 million gallons of seawater are pushed through semi-permeable membranes to create 50 million gallons of water that is piped to municipal users. Carlsbad, which became fully operational in 2015, creates about 10 percent of the fresh water the 3.1 million people in the region use, at about twice the cost of the other main source of water.
Expensive, yes, but vital for the fact that it is local and reliable. “Drought is a recurring condition here in California,” said Jeremy Crutchfield, water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority. “We just came out of a five-year drought in 2017. The plant has reduced our reliance on imported supplies, which is challenging at times here in California. So it’s a component for reliability.”
A second plant, similar to Carlsbad, is being built in Huntington, California with the same 50-million-gallon-a-day capability. Currently there are 11 desalination plants in California, and 10 more are proposed. Continue reading
Lionfish, armed with venomous dorsal spines that enable them to deter predators, are more normally associated with warm tropical waters. Photograph: Arno Enzerink /www.stockphotogr/Arno Enzerink
After writing about some of Cyprus’ environmentally destructive actions, it feels good to hear about these positive organized efforts to eradicate this marine threat. Lionfish have long been on our radar, but this is the first we’ve heard of their spread through European waters.
Perhaps a new venue for eradication idea exchange is in order!
Cyprus has held its first organised cull of lionfish after numbers of the invasive species have proliferated in recent years, threatening the Mediterranean ecosystem and posing a venomous danger to humans.
“They’re actually very placid,” said Prof Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biologist, after spearing 16 of the exotic specimens in the space of 40 minutes in the inaugural “lionfish removal derby” off the island’s southern coast. He added: “The problem is they are not part of the natural ecosystem and we are seeing them in plague proportions.”
Lionfish, armed with venomous dorsal spines that enable them to deter predators, are more normally associated with warm tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Almost two decades ago the non-native tropical fish began to enter US waters, appearing in the Atlantic after pet owners started releasing outsized lionfish from home aquariums into the sea. Now they have reached Europe. In 2012, after initial sightings off Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, they were spotted off Cyprus. Three years later they had appeared further south in Greece, Italy and Tunisia, testimony, scientists say, to their ability to both enter new territories and spawn at record rates.
As numbers proliferate, so have fears of the flamboyantly coloured fish posing the biggest ecological setback to ecosystems in the Mediterranean – which is already under pressure from pollution, tourism and over-exploitation. In the EU, Cyprus has become “the first line of defence” against the lionfish invasion. Continue reading
Starbucks at South Terminal, Gatwick. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub. Photograph: Zute Lightfoot
We have been using this cup since early 2017, and it really should have replaced the paper cup by now. But slow as the pace is, we are happy to read the news of this experiment and wish it well:
Today, just four giant companies control more than 60 percent of all the world’s seed sales.
Thanks to the New York Times for this opinion:
By Dan Barber
Additional reporting and graphics by Ash Ngu. Photographs by Ruth Fremson
Flowering curly kale, a variety called Baltisk Rod Purpurkal, being grown for seed at Fresh Roots Farm in Montana. The farm is collaborating with the Organic Seed Alliance on a toolkit for farmers who want to produce seed.
Not long ago I was sitting in a combine tractor on a 24,000-acre farm in Dazey, N.D. The expanse of the landscape — endless rows of corn and soybeans as precise as a Soviet military parade — was difficult to ignore. So were the skyscraper-tall storage silos and the phalanx of 18-wheeled trucks ready to transport the grain. And yet what held my attention were the couple of dozen seeds in my palm — the same seeds cultivated all around me.
We are told that everything begins with seed. Everything ends with it, too. As a chef I can tell you that your meal will be incalculably more delicious if I’m cooking with good ingredients. But until that afternoon I’d rarely considered how seed influences — determines, really — not only the beginning and the end of the food chain, but also every link in between.
The tens of thousands of rows surrounding me owed their brigade-like uniformity to the operating instructions embedded in the seed. That uniformity allows for large-scale monoculture, which in turn determines the size and model of the combine tractor needed to efficiently harvest such a load. (“Six hundred horsepower — needs a half-mile just to turn her around,” joked the farmer sitting next to me.) Satellite information, beamed into the tractor’s computer, makes it possible to farm such an expanse with scientific precision.
The type of seed also dictates the fertilizer, pesticide and fungicide regimen, sold by the same company as part of the package, requiring a particular planter and sprayer (40 feet and 140 feet wide, respectively) and producing a per-acre yield that is startling, and startlingly easy to predict.
It is as if the seed is a toy that comes with a mile-long list of component parts you’re required to purchase to make it function properly. Continue reading
A dump site in Castries, France. By 2023, unwanted, unsold goods in the country will have to be donated, reused or recycled. Xavier Malafosse/Sipa, via Associated Press
Food waste has been a topic regularly featured in these pages. And reducing carbon footprint obviously involves reducing waste in general. Palko Karasz reports on this almost unbelievable example of waste that had escaped our attention until now, and we are impressed by France’s decisive action:
LONDON — France plans to outlaw the destruction of unsold consumer products, a practice that currently results in the disposal of new goods worth 800 million euros, or more than $900 million, in the country each year.
By 2023, manufacturers and retailers will have to donate, reuse or recycle the goods, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said on Tuesday of the measure, which the government billed as the first of its kind.
“It is waste that defies reason,” Mr. Philippe said at a discount store in Paris, according to Agence France-Presse, and he called the practice “scandalous.”
Under a new measure that will be part of a bill set to be debated by the government in July, destroying unsold goods could result in financial penalties or prison time. Continue reading
An interview about a book that picks up on themes that we have been following since we started this platform:
‘Fate Of Food’ Asks: What’s For Dinner In A Hotter, Drier, More Crowded World?
Environmental journalist Amanda Little says the sustainable food revolution will include meat cultured in a lab, 3-D printer food, aquaculture and indoor vertical farming.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Climate change is affecting the weather. And droughts, floods, storms and unseasonal temperatures are affecting the global food supply. Tech startups, as well as mega companies, are developing new, high-tech ways of growing vegetables and fruits, farming fish and growing meat without harming animals.
3D food printers, laboratories where meat is grown from cultured animal cells, robots that can weed crops without using chemicals and indoor farms where vegetables are grown without soil or sun are some of the new approaches investigated by Amanda Little in her new book “The Fate Of Food: What We’ll Eat In A Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World.”
She’s traveled to 13 states and 11 countries researching changes in our food system. Her reporting on energy, technology and the environment has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and other publications. She’s a professor of journalism and science writing at Vanderbilt University.
Amanda Little, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tell us some of the ways in which climate change is affecting the global food supply. Continue reading
About one year in to our time in India Amie got us involved in an initiative that helped reduce our carbon footprint by ensuring that the bags we used in our hotel gift shops contained no plastic. Instead we used bags made from recycled newspaper. We were fortunate enough to have an intern from Amherst College that summer who wanted to work on this. His enthusiasm for the project was so infectious that other interns joined him. Sung Ho Paik, being from Korea, has what I believe is K-pop accompanying his video below.
We were still expanding this initiative with intern assistance years later. Items sold in our gift shops in Kerala followed the lead of the takeaway bag initiative, and elephant paper may be an extreme example but is a useful segue to what is on my mind today. We had the opportunity to join forces with an excellent local design firm in their idea to launch a retail concept with the kind of products that we have always believed in. We believe in ideas that support entrepreneurial conservation with great design.
Authentica springs from these roots, and the culture of conservation is clearly a guiding force in what will be on offer.
A team of specially-trained hunting dogs has been helping conservationists and researchers find rare turtles in Iowa. KATE PAYNE/IPR
Thanks to Iowa Public Radio for some good conservation news from the Heart Land.
An eastern Iowa conservation group is taking an unconventional approach to tracking rare turtles on its land. Iowa Public Radio tagged along with a man who’s trained his hunting dogs to find the reptiles for researchers. Counting the creatures will help conservationists manage the land better.
It’s a cool morning on a nature preserve owned by Bur Oak Land Trust in Johnson County. I’m scouring a shady hillside with John Rucker and his four Boykin spaniels, looking for turtles.
“Find turtle, find turtle,” Rucker calls to his dogs. He turns to me and says, “did I tell you I’m the only person in the world that does this?”
When he’s not living off the grid in rural Montana, Rucker travels the country with his specially-trained hunting dogs, helping scientists and conservationists find turtles.
“This is Rooster,” John says, introducing the dogs. “This is Jenny Wren. She’s the one that gives me my litters. And that’s Mink. No, that’s Jaybird, and that’s Mink.”
We make our way through the undergrowth, checking in brush piles and under old logs. When the dogs find a turtle, they’ll pick it up and bring it back to be counted.
“You will notice that as soon as they strike a scent trail their tails will start wagging furiously, and then their whole demeanor becomes extremely excitable,” Rucker explains.
Citizen conservationist Judy Felder is one of the volunteers out hunting today.
“It’s sort of like a religion for me,” Felder says. “Nature is important and somebody has to defend it, protect it, preserve it.” Continue reading
Elk are the most common mammals at the reserve. Photograph: Valery Yurko
Most examples of rewilding are defined as human intervention to return wildlife back into habitats where they’ve long disappeared. Thanks to the Guardian for this highly unusual one where the human population are the ones who have left – due to bizarre circumstances, to be sure – and the wildlife have slowly returned to reclaim the habitats left behind.
It’s heartening to believe that the animals may illustrate Nature’s power to heal where human’s have so severely faltered.
Rare and endangered animals have thrived in the Chernobyl disaster zone since it was evacuated in 1986, as a new wildlife tour in southern Belarus shows
It is 5.30am in southern Belarus. A pink moon hangs over flat fields tinged with frost, and as we arrive at the checkpoint on the edge of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, five hours’ drive south of the capital, Minsk, a dawn chorus of cranes and hoopoes is in full swing.
This may seem an unlikely place to come wildlife watching, but I’m here with the first eco-tour of the Palieski state radioecological reserve (as the Belarusian section of the zone is called).
It was in April 1986 that probably the world’s worst nuclear accident happened, just over the border in northern Ukraine – a dramatisation of the disaster is currently showing on Sky Atlantic. Chernobyl town was evacuated and the exclusion zone today covers 2,600 sq km in Ukraine and 2,100 sq km in Belarus.
Ukraine turned its part of the zone into a tourist attraction several years ago – 50,000 people visited the nuclear reactor and ghost town of Pripyat last year, and it has even hosted a rave. But Belarus didn’t open its Palieski reserve to visitors until last December.
The Ukrainian site is now popular for its eerie ghost town and reactor ruins, but on this side of the border it’s all about the wilderness, and our tour will be a nature-watching trip like no other. The reserve claims to be Europe’s largest experiment in rewilding, and the unlikely beneficiaries of nuclear disaster have been the wolves, bison and bears that now roam the depopulated landscape, and the 231 (of the country’s 334) bird species that can also be found here. Continue reading
Wood Storks nesting in the Everglades. Photo: Mac Stone
Thanks to By Andy McGlashen, the Associate Editor of Audubon Magazine, for this bright spot on the horizon, a signal that long shot comebacks are possible:
An official report says that South Florida’s wading birds had an even better 2018 than we thought.
A year ago, Everglades scientists and environmentalists were ecstatic about what looked like a blockbuster breeding season for South Florida’s wading birds. Turns out, it was far better than those early estimates indicated. New data show that the region hosted its biggest colonies of waders in more than 80 years, offering a flashback to the historical Everglades and a glimpse of how the ecosystem again could look once restored.
All told, wading birds built 138,834 nests throughout South Florida, with 122,571 of them in the Everglades, according to an annual report released last week by the South Florida Water Management District. That’s about three and a half times the average for the past 10 years, making it the strongest nesting season since before the region’s hydrology was transformed with engineering projects that made development possible but also contributed to steep declines in wading bird numbers. Continue reading
Photo Credit: Stephen Crafts
Santiago Island, Galapagos, Ecuador
Bill MkKibben makes the case that It’s Not Entirely Up to School Students to Save the World:
…What all of these people have in common is a strong sense that business as usual has become the problem, and that it needs to be interrupted, if only for a day. The climate crisis is a perplexing one because, mostly, we just get up each day and do what we did the day before, as if an enormous emergency weren’t unfolding around us. That hasn’t been true of past crises: during the Second World War, oceans may have separated American civilians from the fighting, but every day they were aware of the need to change their ways of life: to conserve resources, buy bonds, black out their windows at night if they lived on the coast.
The climate emergency, however, is deceptive. Unless it’s your town that day that’s being hit by wildfire or a flood, it’s easy to let the day’s more pressing news take precedence. It can be hard to remember that climate change underlies so many daily injustices, from the forced migration of refugees to the spread of disease. Indeed, the people who suffer the most are usually those on the periphery—the iron law of climate change is that the less you did to cause it the more you suffer from it. So we focus on the latest Presidential tweet or trade war instead of on the latest incremental rise in carbon dioxide, even though that, in the end, is the far more critical news.
A one-day work stoppage—a decision to spend a day demanding action from governments or building a bike path—is a way to break out of that bad habit…
He is promoting the idea that all of us should get involved now, and there are some useful guidelines for how to do so:
School strikers are calling on everyone: young people, parents, workers, and all concerned citizens to join massive climate strikes and a week of actions starting on September 20.
People all over the world will use their power to stop “business as usual” in the face of the climate emergency. We will join young people in the streets to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels and emergency action to avoid climate breakdown.
The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to mind when related to overcoming the obstacles of handling emergencies in remote or dangerous locations. But after listening to Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo’s TED talk, “entrepreneurship is the new philanthropy” seems more apropos. Our direct experience is more within the entrepreneurial conservation model in developing economies, but the energy with which many countries have leap frogged established technologies with 21st century models and solutions belies their assumed status of development. Continue reading
Organikos has been described in these pages in relation to its commitment to treat nature respectfully and its aspiration to inspire. Above is land that will be restored to its previous condition as an arabica coffee plantation. It looks green enough, to be sure. And the trees are poro (Erythrina Poeppigiana), planted sometime in the previous century when the last coffee trees were planted. So that is encouraging. The agapanthas and lilies and the bushes and the bamboo are all lovely, but not as lovely as coffee. Coffee inspires.
Another type of inspiration altogether is the tree fern, a primordial plant. The one to the right was photographed a few days ago about 250 miles south of the photo above. It is in the restoration section of a large land holding belonging to Osa Conservation. Its location is important to me because it is where our company developed its first understood the deeper implications of our work.
This abundant stand of tree ferns with new shoots inspires because Osa Conservation has succeeded where others have not succeeded in getting these ancient plants to propogate. It inspires more broadly due to the success of the organization to protect the land in the region.
Our team was in the Osa with some friends from Colombia who are in the process of planning the next stage of a large scale conservation initiative. They came to Costa Rica for inspiration on new methodologies for conservation, and they found what they were looking for in the Osa, most impactfully during their visit at Osa Conservation. That impact was on display at a book fair in the form of this gem of a book. You can be sure it will be on the shelf at Authentica, along with that coffee we keep mentioning.
Keeping watch over a New Jersey lake. Photograph: Victoria Bekiempis
Thanks to Victoria Bekiempis for this inside look at the other North American world series:
We’ve written a great deal about the sobering truth of human created climate change lately; highlighting the difficult science of the increasingly limited options on how to avert worst case scenarios.
There’s something calming about this piece of animation by Sebastian Ramn that addressed climate change as nature’s SOS, reaching out to creative communities and NGOs who may be in search of ways to get involved in any way possible.
More information at natureneeds.help