After completing a historic 500km journey from the Kenyan island of Lamu to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, the world’s first ever traditional “dhow” sailing boat made entirely from recycled plastic, known as the Flipflopi, has successfully raised awareness of the need to overcome one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges: plastic pollution.
The Flipflopi Project was co-founded by Kenyan tour operator Ben Morison in 2016, and the ground-breaking dhow was built by master craftsmen Ali Skanda, and a team of volunteers using 10 tonnes of recycled plastic.
The boat gets its name from the 30,000 recycled flip-flops used to decorate its multi-coloured hull. Continue reading
For reasons I will need to write more about another time, Colombia has been on my radar recently. When I first visited that country, the conflict was in full swing and my only task was to give a series of lectures related to the country’s potential for nature-based tourism. And I remember very clearly my sense of responsibility for not creating false expectations: as long as there was conflict, this potential would remain just that.
My most recent visit was just as the conflict was nearing formal resolution. At that time I was engaged for some weeks of work to be very specific about the potential, location by location. And I was then able to say, based on my own direct observation, that this country would be a powerhouse in the birdwatching market. And I have to admit, I did not have then the knowledge I have now, thanks to the Lab of Ornithology, about the country’s species count and its ranking in the world. The information was there, but I did not have it. Now I do, and my sense of confidence in the country’s opportunity to leverage this abundance into sustainable development is strong. The film above came to my attention in the last 24 hours from several sources, all of whom I thank. But particularly I thank the sponsors of the film for their vision, and the director of the film for his visual acuity:
The Birders, a documentary film on Colombian bird diversity and birdwatching presented by ProColombia, with support of FONTUR and directed by Gregg Bleakney. The film highlights Colombian local birdwatching guide, Diego Calderon-Franco and National Geographic photographer / videographer Keith Ladzinski as they travel through one of the most diverse bird regions in the world to capture new and rare birds that have never been filmed before. The Birders, also takes people through the Colombian landscape, highlighting several of its’ top locations, culture, birds and music. Continue reading
When the first couple of stories about the Colorado River ran in Yale e360, it was difficult to imagine how much more there might be to say about it. But now the last article in the series, Restoring the Colorado: Bringing New Life to a Stressed River, provides an example of saving the best for last:
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
From the air, the last gasp of the Colorado River is sudden and dramatic. The pale green river flows smack into the Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, and virtually all of it is immediately diverted into a large irrigation canal that waters a mosaic of hundreds of fields — alfalfa, asparagus, lettuce, and other vegetables, their vivid green color clashing against the sere desert. The slender thread of water that remains in the Colorado’s channel continues to flow south, but is soon swallowed up by a sea of sand, far short of its delta, which lies 100 miles farther on.
The Colorado River once surged through the delta during high flows, carrying so much water at times that shallow draft steamboats chugged hundreds of miles up the river into the U.S. with loads of freight. The water in the delta nourished a vast fertile landscape, a fitting end to a river known as the Nile of North America.
“The river was everywhere and nowhere,” the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote during a 1922 canoe trip to the delta, describing the waterway as it ebbed, flowed, braided, and stalled into pools, nourishing a rich and diverse ecosystem of “a hundred green lagoons,” a “milk and honey wilderness” with thick stands of cottonwoods and willows that provided habitat for hundreds of species of birds. The delta’s marshes, mudflats, and white sand beaches were home to clapper rails, bitterns, mallards, teal, and clouds of egrets.
Bobcats, puma, deer, and wild boar wandered the delta’s forests. Leopold was searching for the jaguar that roamed there, but didn’t see any. Continue reading
At a time when the current administration and it’s legislative supporters are busy dismantling the environmental protections that have been painstakingly developed for over half a century, this bipartisan achievement is surprising, and heartening news.
The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.
The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.
“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development, and conservation,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader.
Western lawmakers of both parties have been working for four years on the bill, which will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where it also enjoys bipartisan support.
“This package gives our country a million acres of new wilderness, protects a million acres of public lands from future mining, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and balances conservation and recreation for the long term,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s one of the biggest bipartisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress.” Continue reading
When this platform started in 2011 it was two young men, one a senior at Amherst College and the other a sophomore at Cornell University, who thought it would be useful to share their experiences with other students. It continued beyond their summer internships. At some point, hard to pinpoint the date, it started serving as a daily exercise for me. It became an exercise in finding something in the world that is worthy of attention, as much as possible something that inspires hope rather than reinforces dread (though that has been unavoidable from time to time).
The title I give to today’s post is impossible to justify with any metrics, but read on and you may see my point. Jon Gertner, for this first time featured in our pages, and for what is likely the longest of any longform treatments of any topic in the New York Times, thank you for making it about this:
In the pantheon of writers we have linked out to since 2011, of those who focus on science and/or environmental issues Carolyn Kormann is a relatively recent arrival. Since I started noticing her work three years ago she has started 2019 with an especially strong duo of stories. One is a longform profile and a must-read if you have been even just glancing at the headlines about giant garbage patches swirling in the ocean. How to deal with epic waste after the fact, after the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach that has been building this mess for decades, is no simple matter. Nor is the man she introduces us to.
The profile of Slat is compelling, disturbing and inconclusive–hallmarks of the type of profile I most appreciate when the subject involves seemingly intractable environmental challenges. The other item is shorter, with a pair of metaphors for economic periods that I wish I had known earlier. If you only have time for one, read about William Nordhaus’s many contributions to the otherwise dismal science, especially his description of the economic transformation from my lifetime to that of the next generation:
In 1974, the economist William Nordhaus described the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” In the former, he wrote, “we could afford to use our resources profligately,” and “the environment could be used as a sink without becoming fouled.” But, in the spaceship economy, “great attention must be paid to the sources of life and to the dumps where our refuse is piled.” He added, “Things which have traditionally been treated as free goods—air, water, quiet, natural beauty—must now be treated with the same care as other scarce goods.” Toward the end of his landmark paper, “Resources as a Constraint on Growth,” Nordhaus discussed the possible adverse effects of energy consumption, most notably the “greenhouse effect.” Continue reading
Those familiar with our work will recognize the word valorization, which is an essential element of what we write about and what we do. It’s increasingly important to note that Nature, made more fragile with each passing year by human impact climate change, requires human efforts to protect and hopefully, turn back the clock on damage already done; and it appears to be human nature that maintain a direct correlation between how something is valued and the amount of attention it gets.
We’re particularly impressed by this example of tech collaboration. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy for highlighting these stories…
AI and social media are helping quantify the economic value of coral reefs
The Caribbean region is more dependent on tourism than any other region in the world—the sector accounts for over 15 percent of GDP and 13 percent of jobs in the region. And almost all visitors to the Caribbean take part in some activity that relates to coral reefs—either directly, like snorkeling and scuba diving, or indirectly, like enjoying sandy beaches, eating fresh seafood and swimming in crystal waters. That means the health of the Caribbean’s tourism industry—and thus the whole regional economy—is dependent on the health of its coral reefs.
But just how much value do reefs produce? After all, “what gets measured gets managed and improved.” The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently released the results of a study that focused on reef-adjacent activities and the value they generate for the tourism industry, island governments and Caribbean communities. This study, which builds on an earlier body of globally focused research produced by TNC, found that reef-adjacent activities alone generate an estimated $5.7 billion per year in the Caribbean from roughly 7.4 million visitors. When combined with reef-dependent tourism activities, they generate $7.9 billion total from roughly 11 million visitors.
In other words, a major draw for people traveling to the Caribbean are activities related to coral reef ecosystems, and both the tourism industry and other aspects of the local economies depend on healthy coral reefs to keep this relationship afloat. This evidence offers a pivotal opportunity for advancing coral conservation initiatives not only in the Caribbean but around the world, as it can catalyze both the tourism industry and local governments and communities to invest in protecting and restoring coral reefs for the benefit of economies and incomes.
We now know that these natural wonders are responsible for generating billions of dollars, sustaining livelihoods and anchoring economies in the Caribbean as well as other tropical destinations across the globe. And that should translate into a major incentive to conserve them. Continue reading
Hummingbirds are some of the most gemlike and visually striking birds in the “new world”, but those who have spent any time watching them know that striking can also be used as an apt verb to describe their behavior. Fiercely territorial, it’s not surprising that scientists are making more and more discoveries related to the evolution behind their development. (Click on image above to view the video)
Winsomely captured in poems and song, the birds are yielding new secrets about their astounding beaks and penchant for violence.
If you want to know what makes hummingbirds tick, it’s best to avoid most poetry about them.
Bird-beam of the summer day,
— Whither on your sunny way?
Whither? Probably off to have a bloodcurdling fight, that’s whither.
John Vance Cheney wrote that verse, but let’s not point fingers. He has plenty of poetic company, all seduced by the color, beauty and teeny tininess of the hummingbird but failed to notice the ferocity burning in its rapidly beating heart.
The Aztecs weren’t fooled. Their god of war, Huitzilopochtli, was a hummingbird. The Aztecs loved war, and they loved the beauty of the birds as well. It seems they didn’t find any contradiction in the marriage of beauty and bloodthirsty aggression.
Scientists understood that aggression was a deep and pervasive part of hummingbird life. But they, too, have had their blind spots. The seemingly perfect match of nectar-bearing flowers to slender nectar-sipping beaks clearly showed that hummingbirds were shaped by co-evolution.
It seemed clear that, evolutionarily, plants were in charge. Their need for reliable pollinators produced flowers with a shape that demanded a long slender bill. Hummingbird evolution obliged.
But hummingbirds also heard the call of battle, which demanded a different evolutionary course. Some of those slender, delicate beaks have been reshaped into strong, sharp and dangerous weapons.
In a recent paper organizing and summing up 10 years of research, Alejandro Rico-Guevara and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, shared evidence gathered by high-speed video about how the deadly beaks are deployed in male-to-male conflict.
Like the horns of bighorn sheep or the giant mandibles of stag beetles, hummingbird beaks are used to fight off rivals for mates. This is sexual selection, a narrow part of natural selection, in which the improvement of mating chances is the dominant force. Continue reading
They don’t make the headlines the way charismatic animals such as rhinos and elephants do. But there are thousands of critically endangered plants in the world, and a determined group of botanists are ready to go to great lengths to save them.
To save plants that can no longer survive on their own, Steve Perlman has bushwhacked through remote valleys, dangled from helicopters, and teetered on the edge of towering sea cliffs. Watching a video of the self-described “extreme botanist” in action is not for the faint-hearted. “Each time I make this journey I’m aware that nature can turn on me,” Perlman says in the video as he battles ocean swells in a kayak to reach the few remaining members of a critically endangered species on a rugged, isolated stretch of Hawaiian coastline. “The ocean could suddenly rise up and dash me against the rocks like a piece of driftwood.”
When he arrives at his destination, Perlman starts hauling himself up an impossibly steep, razor-sharp cliff 3,000 feet above the sea without a rope, his fingers sending chunks of rock tumbling down to the waters below. Finally, he reaches the plants and painstakingly transfers pollen from the flowers of one to those of another to ensure that the species can perpetuate itself. At the end of the season, he will return to collect any seeds they were able to produce. Continue reading
The illustrative video above is on its own worth a couple minutes of your time. But the innovative approach to one of the world’s most pressing problems is the thing to take note of. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for bringing Evelyn Wang and Omar Yaghi’s work to our attention in this story:
Researchers have come up with a new way to extract water from thin air. Literally.
This isn’t the first technology that can turn water vapor in the atmosphere into liquid water that people can drink, but researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, say their approach uses less power and works in drier environments. Continue reading
I cannot explain why of all the mailing lists in all the world, most of which I opt out of preemptively and nearly all of which I opt out of within a week or two–I have remained on this mailing list since its inception. And this call to action catches my attention enough that I am passing it along. I first heard of this issue from Save the Waves a couple years ago. Then I noticed it in the news late the same year (click the image to the left), and again about a year ago there was this from Save the Waves. Now, one more time before it is too late, here is a copy/paste of the email from this week:
Sustainability in both concept and practice has a long history in Scandinavian cultures in general, and Sweden in particular. As consumers become more conscious of the finite nature of materials, upcycling has to eventually be considered more mainstream. We applaud this type of public and private sector leadership that is the very definition of entrepreneurial conservation.
Thanks to the BBC for this story.
Anna Bergstrom had a dilemma. She loved the glitzy world of high fashion, but had also come to feel that it was unsustainable and bad for the planet. She’s now found peace of mind by running a stylish shopping mall in Sweden, where everything is second-hand.
“Do you notice the smell?” Anna Bergstrom says, as she surveys her mall from the mezzanine level. “It smells nice here, doesn’t it?”
It’s very important to Anna that this place is enticing, because she feels it is making a statement. Everything for sale here, in 14 specialist shops covering everything from clothes to DIY tools, is recycled.
She is usually turned off by the smell of second-hand stores, she explains, even though she adores vintage fashion. For most people flea-markets and charity shops carry a stigma, she thinks – a mark left by countless bad experiences. Too often they are worthy but depressing, Anna says. Her mission is to bring second-hand shopping into the mainstream.
The mall itself is spacious and appealing, almost Ikea-like. An art installation – a tree and circular bench all fashioned from recycled materials – greets customers at the entrance. There is even a coffee shop and gift-wrapping service.
The mall is called ReTuna. “Tuna” because that’s the nickname for the city where it is based – Eskilstuna, an hour’s train journey west of Stockholm – and “Re” because the goods on sale have been recycled or repurposed.
It was set up by Eskilstuna’s local government in 2015, in a warehouse which used to house trucks for a logistics company. Continue reading
Just like his grandfather and father before him, James Scyphers spent almost two decades mining coal in West Virginia.
“These were the best jobs in the area; we depended on ’em,” he recalls.
But mining jobs started disappearing, declining from 132,000 in 1990 to 53,000 in 2018, devastating the area’s economy. In a state that now has the lowest labor-force participation rate in the nation, the long-term decline of coal mining has left West Virginia residents without new options to make a living.
Scyphers was fortunate to find a construction job, but it paid 2/3 less than what he earned underground. He often took odd jobs to make ends meet. One of those odd jobs included building hives and tending bees for the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective.
“I wish this group had been here 30 years ago,” he says. “Our region needs it.” Continue reading
I had never heard the name guarumo for this tree before. Cecropia is the name we have commonly heard for it in Costa Rica. Veronique Greenwood, who we have linked to twice until now, has contributed more than vocabulary to me through this article. I am particularly thankful for the realization that cacao can be more useful than I had been aware. Beyond the benefits of being grown organically it may play a key role in regenerative forest development. This, entrepreneurial conservation in mind, must become a variable by which Organikos sources chocolate in Costa Rica:
A study showed that when some animals find a crucial resource, they can survive in changing environments and even thrive.
Look closely up in the trees of a shade-grown cacao plantation in eastern Costa Rica, and you’ll see an array of small furry faces peering back at you. Those are three-toed sloths that make their homes there, clambering ever so slowly into the upper branches to bask in the morning sun. You might also spot them munching on leaves from the guarumo tree, which shades the cacao plants. Continue reading
Thanks to Yale e360, with this headline below I found my way to the video above and the website where the video is hosted:
Reading further, I sensed that Yale e360 was being a bit polite saying “thousands” — more than 50,000 balls have already been extracted over two years. The article linked to National Public Radio’s coverage of the same story, with this slightly more aggressive headline:
During my PhD years I got to be reasonably competent at the game of golf. I can say I even loved the game. One odd bi-product of my dissertation was that I learned of the perils to the planet from out of control golf course development. Then I felt compelled to give up the game. (I did play a bunch during the mid-1990s, in Costa Rica, as I slowly learned of those perils.) Recently I found the clubs I used to play with, and the shoes, while cleaning out a store room in Costa Rica. I left them there.
To this day I have some close friends who play golf. I never comment on this topic in front of them, because my message is easily misconstrued. I am not against all golf. I just think there are more than enough courses already built on this planet. A moratorium on building more would make me happy. My friends already have more than enough courses to play on. Anyway, this topic is of interest now for a new, very specific reason. And it comes as a bit of a surprise what a big problem golf balls are in the ocean. The website of the organization that is featured in both articles can be reached by clicking the image below:
I remember advertisements from not that long ago that encouraged you to daydream about hitting balls endlessly into the ocean from cruise ship voyages with golf tees on the back of the ship. At first I thought maybe that kind of weird pleasure was the culprit, considering all the other dirty outcomes of cruising. But it’s complicated, as I learned from The Plastic Pickup website:
In the spring of 2016, my dad (Mike Weber) and I (Alex Weber) were freediving along the central coast of California in the shallow waters adjacent to the Pebble Beach golf course, when we came across a discovery that had never been reported before. Thousands of golf balls blanketed the seafloor, and inhabited nearly every crack and crevice in the underwater and onshore environment. The overabundance of inorganic materials was overwhelming but for a second it did not phase us. As we began diving to the bottom to collect the balls, we realized what perfect freediving training it was and the whole operation felt like a fun game; we were having a blast. But soon, the enormity and vast scale of the pollution set in and it made me feel sick to my stomach. To preface this day, for a few years prior I had been spending at least an hour a day down at the beach collecting microplastics and nurdles after heavy storms would wash them ashore. As a kid I was raised in the sea, boogie boarding everyday after school in kindergarten, scuba diving as soon as I was allowed to, and spending each summer day swimming offshore to hang out with dolphins and swim through giant kelp forests. To me the ocean was a peaceful home as well as my favorite teacher, so the discovery of such a large scale underwater plastic problem both shocked me and also captivated my curiosity. What began as a day of freediving resulted in a project that has changed my life ever since.
The next dive-able day, we were underwater early in the morning equipped with mesh bags and a new diver, Jack Johnston. Jack and I had been long time friends since middle school, and spent all our time together either underwater or on mountains, so he didn’t need much convincing to come along. Jack’s reaction was similar to mine, but his wildly curious mind helped him stay positive and motivated. That day we collected nearly 2,000 golf balls which was just the start of what grew into The Plastic Pick-Up. As we continued diving, we were not only collecting golf balls, but data too…
Thanks to Jonathan Watts for this reminder:
Thirty years ago, all 197 countries got together to ban the gases damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. Now we need to unite to combat an even greater threat. What can we learn from 1989?
Amid the anti-globalist chest-thumping of Brexit, Donald Trump, and the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, it may sound like the stuff of folklore. But there was a time in the recent past when all the countries of the world moved quickly to discuss a common threat, agreed an ambitious plan of action and made it work.
The Montreal protocol, which came into effect 30 years ago, was drawn up to address the alarming thinning of the ozone layer in the Earth’s stratosphere. It was the first agreement in the history of the United Nations to be ratified by all 197 countries. Since it came into effect on 1 January 1989, more than 99% of the gases responsible for the problem have been eradicated and the “ozone hole” – which, in the late 80s, vied for headline space with the cold war, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Madonna – is receding in the sky and the memory. Continue reading
As much as I thought I learned in the last year about coffee, I got a hint just now, reading the article below, how steep my learning curve remains. 124 species of coffee? So much to hunt, so little time! Thanks to Somini Sengupta for this story:
Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent 30 years trekking across forests and farms to chronicle the fate of one plant: coffee.
He has recorded how a warming planet is making it harder to grow coffee in traditional coffee-producing regions, including Ethiopia, the birthplace of the world’s most popular bean, arabica. He has mapped where farmers can grow coffee next: basically upcountry, where it’s cooler. He has gone searching for rare varieties in the wild. Continue reading
The history of our work in Kerala, and specifically in Kochi, has long been intertwined with Art, and how the surrounding community interacts with it. Biennales, by nature, often blur the line between street art and gallery space, as multi-dimensional and multi-media installations begin to appear on walls, pop-up spaces, cavernous warehouse buildings, and classic museum halls.
Now in it’s 4th edition, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, has grown continually in both the breadth of the artists involved, and the depth of its work toward community outreach. This sense of inclusivity extends to gender equality, a longstanding issue that India as a country has battled with; the curator and more than half of the artists are female.
As with the previous editions, the installations are thought provoking and moving, at times asking viewers to acknowledge and honor the difficult history of a colonial past.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, South Asia’s biggest art show, uses interactive exhibits and live performances to help Indians connect with contemporary art.
KOCHI, India — Clad in a simple striped shirt and the white mundu of the city’s fishmongers, Bashir stood out from the well-heeled throng at the warehouse galleries and tree-filled courtyards on the first day of India’s biggest contemporary art show, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Keeping to himself, he moved from room to room, stopping to study moody landscapes by the Delhi photographer Chandan Gomes that were paired with imaginary scenes drawn by a girl who died at age 12.
“I don’t understand the inner meaning of the art,” said Bashir, who uses one name and makes a living wrapping and delivering fish. “I just like to see beautiful things.”
Bashir’s willingness to engage with the artwork, no matter how challenging, was a victory for the show’s organizers. The southern state of Kerala, and India as a whole, have very few public venues to see art. So the organizers of the biennale, which runs until March 29, strove to create an event that would appeal to everyone — from untutored day laborers to veteran museum curators.
“We are making a cultural festival,” said Bose Krishnamachari, a painter from Kerala who co-founded the show eight years ago. “We have tried to penetrate to the people’s minds so that they feel that it is their biennale.”…
Thanks to Yale e360’s Mumbai-based Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar:
In India’s burgeoning urban areas, residents are rallying against the widespread destruction of trees to make way for development. The recent protests highlight a global issue: densely populated megacities in the developing world, which are most in need of tree cover, often have the least.
The funeral cortege was small. Six people shouldered the bier and others followed, clad in the traditional Indian white. As the group filed past the state assembly building, the armed guards did not give it a second glance. In a few minutes, however, the security forces caught on. The procession winding its way through Mumbai’s government district was not a real funeral: It was a protest. The shrouded body held aloft was not a human — it was the trunk of a tree, one of many, including grand old banyans, cut down for the construction of a $3.3 billion subway line.
Mumbai’s old trees have borne the brunt of new development in the booming city, including road widening, transport projects, and housing construction. The new subway alone is destroying or damaging 5,000 trees, from hundreds of old street trees in the dense parts of the historic island city to more than 2,000 trees in a mini-forest in suburban Aarey Colony, where a rail car shed is to be built. A less visible loss lies in defunct industrial areas, where large plots with old trees and ponds are being redeveloped into residential and commercial towers. “Developers are supposed to replace the trees but no one really checks,” says Stalin D., head of local environmental group, Vanashakti. Continue reading