Mangrove Mathematics

Mangroves play an essential role in maintaining healthy life on earth, and we’ve been privileged to work in many locations where we’ve seen their impact on biodiversity levels first-hand, including India.

Frequently these ecosystems are under threat of habitat loss, whether for agricultural or land development. Thanks again to Anthropocene for adding up the facts in such clear terms.

Intact mangroves worth twice as much as rice paddies

Conservationists frequently say that ecosystems are worth more when they’re left untouched. But to whom? Local communities who could potentially farm the land might wonder, what’s the real benefit of leaving wild areas intact?

In the Bhitarkanika mangrove in Odisha, India, a group of Indian researchers grappling with this question have arrived at a surprising answer. By leaving the mangrove intact, they say, Bhitarkanika’s surrounding communities can in fact reap almost double the economic benefits they’d get from simply converting the mangrove to crops. Continue reading

Moths, Inspiring Innovation

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Deilephila elpenor, commonly called the elephant hawk-moth, has specialized eyes that don’t reflect light. Such moths inspired scientists to invent an anti-glare coating for smart screens. Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

We have lots of reasons to believe in biodiversity, and here is one more important case in point. Thanks to Madeline K. Sofia at National Public Radio (USA) for this:

If you’re standing in the blazing sun struggling to read this on your cellphone, there may be some relief in sight.

And you’ll have a moth to thank. Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

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The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading

Investigator Of The Abyss

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Courtesy of Museums Victoria / CSIRO

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) and Kat Lonsdorf for a brief look into the deep work of Tim O’Hara:

Explorers Probing Deep Sea Abyss Off Australia’s Coast Find Living Wonders

Far below the surface of the ocean, off the coast of eastern Australia is an area simply known as “the abyss.” The largest and deepest habitat on the planet, the abyssal zone stretches well beyond Australia’s waters and spans half the world’s oceans — but it remains largely unexplored. Continue reading

Nature Photographers Make Our Lives Richer

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Michael Nichols with an orphaned gorilla, Gabon, 1999. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE GULLICK

 Thanks to the New Yorker for this review, reminding us of what lengths photographers go to in order for us to have a closer look at wildlife than we ever would otherwise:

Nick Nichols’s Arresting Intimacy with the Wild World

By Peter Canby

71VOnwn5vML.jpgThe work of the wildlife photographer Michael (Nick) Nichols is widely admired for the intimacy he achieves with his animal subjects—an intimacy that allows the subjects to become wild individuals rather than generic wildlife. As Melissa Harris, the author of “A Wild Life: A Visual Biography of Photographer Michael Nichols,” puts it in her book, “Nichols intently focuses on specific characters and always there’s a sense of parity with himself.” Continue reading

A True Guest Lecture

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Tadarida brasiliensis by Texas Co-op Power

Chan Chich is home to an array of wildlife, and coming from Arizona, many of the tropical mammals, birds, and insects are new to me. It isn’t surprising that this lodge attracts environment-enthused guests, currently two professors who study bats. Doctors Patricia Brown and Bill Rainey were kind enough to put together a miniature lecture about their bat research for the other guests and students last night.

Throughout their research, the Doctors’ goal is to change the human perspective on the creature from Dracula-esque to eco-systemically vital. This talk couldn’t have had better timing; Emily and I found two bats near our cottage the night before and knew next to nothing about them.

Even though there are 28 species of bats in Arizona, prior to the lecture, the extent of my bat knowledge was that young Bruce Wayne developed a phobia of them after falling into a well. My understanding of the creature has now expanded to the non-fictitious. Continue reading

Rabbit Returning

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Zoo-bred New England cottontail being released. Photo © Tom Barnes / USFWS

Thanks to Ted Williams at Cool Green Science for this story:

Recovery: Second Chance for Yankee Cottontails

Stunned but delighted is how Dr. Robert McDowell, Director of Wildlife at the University of Connecticut, sounded when I arrived at his office to learn about New England cottontail rabbits.

Finally someone other than himself was interested in these vanishing natives. We pored over skulls and skins and vainly patrolled early successional woods for live specimens. McDowell seethed about the mindset of state fish and game bureaucrats: we can’t waste time on a few native rabbits when we have so many look-a-like non-natives and when license buyers want more pheasants, ducks and deer. Continue reading

Lost & Found, Lizard Edition

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For nearly two centuries, Varanus douarrha was an enigma. Now it has been resurrected. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY VALTER WEIJOLA

In our book, lost and found is normally half glass full (versus half empty) new that we enjoy sharing, and this one counts as more than half full due to the intrigue of the history and the odd charisma of the creature:

A LIZARD LOST AT SEA MAKES ITS RETURN

By Marguerite Holloway

On June 27, 1824, a trading vessel en route from Mauritius to England was caught in a powerful gale. For ten days, winds pounded the King George IV until it could no longer hold together. In three perilous traverses, a small rescue boat shuttled those aboard to a beach near the Cape of Good Hope. “Neither myself nor the passengers have saved a single article,” the captain later wrote. “Probably they may cast up in time.” Amid the lost cargo—mostly sugar, cotton, and cloves—were three cases of scientific specimens. Continue reading

Paul Nicklen Way North & Way South

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Paul Nicklen/Paul Nicklen Gallery

I listened to this interview while walking the trails at Chan Chich Lodge this morning, so had no photos to look at. And yet, it was vivid. And highly relevant to what we do here. I will let you listen to get what I mean.

Six photos accompany this story on the Fresh Air website, and those are curated for the podcast. If you only have time for photos click over to Paul Nicklin’s website, but the interview with him is worth every one of the 48 minutes. If you only have ten minutes to listen, go to 22:30 and if you do not find yourself bursting into a mix of laughter and other unidentified emotions, let me know; it means one of us may need some professional help:

Polar Photographer Shares His View Of A Ferocious But Fragile Ecosystem

Conservation photographer Paul Nicklen has spent more than two decades documenting the ice and wildlife in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth — the Arctic and the Antarctic. Continue reading

Blue Heart of the Planet

The United Nations Ocean Conference is underway to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The importance of collaboration between public and private sectors to brainstorm innovative solutions to environmental issues is becoming increasingly clear, as is the reality that states and local governments will be the stronger voices for climate activism.

The health of the planet and our oceans are interchangeable, and Sylvia Earle has been the spokesperson for that truth for decades.

Take the extra 18+ minutes to listen to her 2009 TED Prize Talk here.

 

 

 

 

Sea Shepherd & Cuvier’s Beaked Whales

It has been a long while since our last link to Sea Shepherd news, shame on us, but today we rectify it with news from Seth and Jocelyn’s neighborhood–actually on the Pacific side of Mexico’s Baja California Sur but as close as most people get:

Sea Shepherd Records Never Before Seen Footage of Rare Cuvier’s Beaked Whales During Expedition in Mexico

Sea Shepherd’s research vessel the R/V Martin Sheen returned to Mexico’s Guadalupe Island to continue its study of Cuvier’s beaked whales, capturing never before seen drone footage of these rare and elusive cetaceans.

During the two-week expedition, Mexican lead-scientist Gustavo Cardenas Hinojosa and American collaborator Jenny Trickey, deployed various acoustic devices to compare their effectiveness. The scientists will return and leave these devices for a longer period of time. Continue reading

The Wonders Of Trees Never Cease

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Goats climb an argan tree in Morocco to dine on its fruit. Jeremy Horner/Getty Images

At Chan Chich Lodge we are just embarking on a tree-related culinary journey, so any counterintuitive story about trees is likely to catch my attention these days.

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Thanks to Marc Silver at National Public Radio for the story about the picture above, Do Tree-Climbing Goats Help Plant New Trees? It is a short read and worth every second of your attention if you are interested in arboreal foodstuff.

This image to the left, while not as amusing as the one above, shows a deer doing the same thing with less panache. That deer will spread the seeds of that wild fig far and wide in the forest, increasing food supply. Continue reading

When Life Gives You Lionfish…

Market-based approaches to controlling invasive lionfish populations were highlighted at a recent GEF event in Grenada.

La Paz Group contributor Phil Karp has long been our guide into marine ecosystems, with both citizen science and social entrepreneurship posts on his work with groups in Belize and other parts of the Caribbean focused on these goals.

This collaboration with Sarah Wyatt,  a colleague from the Global Environment Facility, illustrates the on-going market-based approaches to managing the invasive species while creating new cottage industry opportunities.

Seeing a lionfish while diving in the Caribbean is a cause for mixed emotions.  On the one hand, one marvels at the exquisite beauty of the fishes’ flowery fins and its amazing adaptability to a range of habitats, from shallow estuaries with low salinity to deep reef environments. But then you remember that these fish don’t belong in the Caribbean, and that the very versatility noted above makes them an invasive menace. Indeed, if the fish you are looking at is a female, she may be carrying up to 30,000 eggs, and may have thirty or more native fish or crustaceans in her stomach.

One of the many impacts of the Anthropocene era on global biodiversity is the increased spread of invasive species, like the lionfish, due to rapid globalization. With the United Nations Ocean Conference taking place in New York next week, the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and marine resources is high on the international agenda.  While long recognized as an environmental and biodiversity threat, invasive species also pose a threat to livelihoods, particularly in developing countries where incomes may be heavily dependent upon a single sector or product.

Traditionally, efforts to eradicate or control invasive species have been focused on public sector interventions.  But control efforts are often expensive and are either out of reach, or pose severe strains on limited budgets of developing countries.  Hence there has been growing attention to identification of market-based control approaches which create commercial incentives for removing the invaders, providing a financially sustainable means of control… Continue reading

Richard O. Prum’s Beauty Challenge

EvolutionBeautyFor evolutionary biology, on this platform we have favored E.O. Wilson because of his biophilia ideas (about which, plenty). For ornithology, we have leaned heavily on the Lab at Cornell and its many wonderful folks. Now, a scientist at Yale combines both of those fields and takes on the topic of beauty in a challenging manner–I am looking forward to this.

Click the book image at the left to go Indie Bound, a community of independent local bookstores, or if you need more convincing, read the beautifully illustrated Challenging Mainstream Thought About Beauty’s Big Hand in Evolution by James Gorman in the Science section of the New York Times. It is as much profile as review and asks:

Are aesthetic judgments about mates invariably tied to traits we see as adaptive and worth passing on Or, does beauty just ‘happen’?

Not long ago, a physicist at Stanford posed a rhetorical question that took me by surprise.

“Why is there so much beauty?” he asked.

Beauty was not what I was thinking the world was full of when he brought it up. The physicist, Manu Prakash, was captivated by the patterns in seawater made as starfish larvae swam about. But he did put his finger on quite a puzzle: Why is there beauty? Why is there any beauty at all? Continue reading

Food Sleuthing

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The remnant of an old apple orchard among wheat fields in Steptoe Butte State Park in Washington. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Yesterday magic happened. After sharing in the morning a quick mention of why my thoughts are on agriculture, I was walking with a member of Chan Chich Lodge’s groundskeeping team to review some work he had completed. On the way, we encountered a tree showering small fruits onto the ground. Fragrant. I asked him what it was and he said a word I did not recognize that sounded like “yo”.

About the size of a blueberry but not a berry, nor resembling anything I could identify. Until I opened it and its inside looked exactly like that of my favorite fruit. And then I realized my colleague had said higo, the Spanish word for fig. He then told me that in his village the old Mayans use this to make a flour, something they have done since olden times. He paused a moment, a bit of reverie I could tell, and then he continued about how the tortilla made from this is the best. It’s got me thinking. Thanks to Kirk Johnson for this second unexpected pleasure of a story:

Hunting Down the Lost Apples of the Pacific Northwest

STEPTOE, Wash. — David Benscoter honed his craft as an investigator for the F.B.I. and the United States Treasury, cornering corrupt politicians and tax evaders. The lost apple trees that he hunts down now are really not so different. People and things, he said, tend to hide in plain sight if you know how and where to look. Continue reading

Rewilding, Panthers & People

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As Florida panthers have begun to multiply, they’ve been forced to search for new home ranges. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE / FLICKR

Rewilding is a topic I started linking to as a matter of solidarity. While based in south India, I had plenty of exposure to residual evidence of the complicated–sometimes resplendently beautiful and other times brutally tragic–relationship between mankind and wild animals as played out over millennia, and still evolving. So I have kept an eye open for these stories, and have posted so many times on the topic that it might give the impression that it is a thing. As if it is happening more or better than it is really happening. But it is happening so I will keep the links coming.

Now I am in Belize most of the year, where the man-cat relationship is also millennia old, and as constant challenge as ever. But I am seeing it from well within the confines of Chan Chich Lodge and its surrounding hundreds of thousands of acres of healthy cat habitat. I know there are big cats in the USA, but not enough. That is why this story is a thrill. Dexter Filkins, never yet cited in these pages but whose reporting I depend on for other kinds of stories, was not a byline I expected to see on this story, but thanks to him for it:

For years, the Florida panther, a majestic creature that lurks in and around the forests of the ovbnm,./, has teetered on the edge of permanent disappearance. Closely related to the mountain lion, the panther once roamed across much of the South, but the ever-advancing modern world pushed it into a tiny corner of Southwest Florida. By the late nineteen-seventies, fewer than thirty survived.

Since then, the panther has been coming back, helped by a government- and privately backed expansion of its habitat. Florida panthers are now thought to number around two hundred. Indeed, there are so many big cats in the Everglades that they are venturing out in search of new territory. Continue reading

Gallon Jug’s Bird Friendly Coffee

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This other post today reminds me of the value of geeking out from time to time. Most of my attention to coral reef comes from Phil Karp’s posts on this platform and I admit to preferring stories featuring real people and their entrepreneurial approaches to conservation. But science is the other best friend of conservation. Today my attention is turning to coffee, in advance of the arrival this week of an intern coming from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Just one of the many topics for an intern, with science and research on her side, to help us tackle over the next ten weeks, bird-friendly coffee has been on been on my mind in the last year but I have been waiting for the perfect moment to focus. Nothing like the arrival of an intern to focus your mind. And so today in my task-oriented wanderings I came across this website (click the banner above), which I loved immediately for sharing this news on capsules, but the rest of the site is a great resource for present purposes as well:

A short round-up of coffee news.

The Value Of Coral Reef

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Economic value of coral reefs for tourism (A). This figure summarises the combined dollar values of expenditures for on-reef and reef-adjacent tourism. Reefs without assigned tourism value are grey; all other reefs present values binned into quintiles. Lower panels show Kenya and Tanzania (B), South-central Indonesia (C), and Northern Caribbean, with part of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas (D). (Further maps can be seen in Appendix A and online at maps.oceanwealth.org

A country that depends on its coral reef to attract visitors, as Belize does, has every reason to pay attention to the various sciences paying attention to those reefs. Mostly marine biologists, perhaps, but also economists. Geeks and wonks are heroically gathering information, processing it, publishing it and if not for The Nature Conservancy’s efforts some of us might not ever see it.

The August, 2017 issue of Marine Policy, an academic journal, carries the article “Mapping the global value and distribution of coral reef tourism” by the scientists Mark Spalding, Lauretta Burke, Spencer A. Wood, Joscelyne Ashpole, James Hutchison, and Philine zu Ermgassen and TNC’s Cool Green Science has a summary in common language. Also they complement the academic illustration above with one of their own:

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Screen shot from the Atlas of Ocean Wealth showing global reef value to tourism. © The Nature Conservancy

If it’s true that people reveal their true values by how they spend their money, coral reefs are very valuable indeed. In fact, according to a new study in the Journal Marine Policy coral reef tourism generates $36 billion (U.S) in global value every year. Continue reading

Farmers, Loggers & Biodiversity

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Serro Ricardo Franco is in one of the world’s biggest and most diverse ecological reserves. But reality on the ground is different, putting many animals at risk, such as Yacare caiman and giant river otters. Photograph: Angelo Gandolfi/Getty Images/Nature Picture Library

Sometimes, sitting in a glass house, reading the news makes me want to throw a stone. The glass house where I live includes a farm in an extremely biodiverse area. It is surrounded by nearly half a million acres where logging happens. But there is farming, as you can read about in the news below, and there are plenty of better ways of farming; there are loggers like those in the news below, and there are forests where extraction happens according to standards such as those set and enforced by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Instead of throwing a stone, I get up every day and make sure the glass around here is as transparent as possible, because we can demonstrate a better way of supplying food, of harvesting wood, and doing so with the protection of wildlife in constant view. Meanwhile, I do read the news from elsewhere and continue to share it here (thanks to the Guardian’s Jonathan Watts in Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade for this one):

Wild Amazon faces destruction as Brazil’s farmers and loggers target national park

The Sierra Ricardo Franco park was meant to be a conservation area protecting rare wildlife

To understand why the Brazilian government is deliberately losing the battle against deforestation, you need only retrace the bootmarks of the Edwardian explorer Percy Fawcett along the Amazonian border with Bolivia.

During a failed attempt to cross a spectacular tabletop plateau here in 1906, the adventurer nearly died on the first of his many trips to South America. Back then, the area was so far from human habitation, the foliage so dense and the terrain so steep that Fawcett and his party came close to starvation.

He returned home with tales of a towering, inaccessible mesa teeming with wildlife and irrigated by secret waterfalls and crystalline rivers. By some accounts, this was one of the stories that inspired his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World about a fictional plateau jutting high above the jungle that served as a sanctuary for species long since extinct elsewhere. Continue reading