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

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

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

Cactus Tales

On Seth’s invitation, I am honored to have a chance to contribute to the group. I have a biology background, but am now retired and have an interest in photographing birds. I use point and shoot cameras, starting two years ago with a Canon SX60HS, graduating to a Sony RX10iii this year. I teach classes in bird photography with these cameras. My interests are in telling a story of birds in a small ecotype such as a pond, or in this case one plant species, a cactus, the cardon of the deserts of Northwest Mexico. These photos were taken over two trips to the Baja California Sur Cape Region, and the majority were on one cardon that was outside the bungalow I was staying at in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico while having my morning coffee.

Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, is a close relative of the Saguaro of the desert southwest. It is the tallest cactus in the world, lives for several hundred years, and has a fungal-bacteria symbiotic relationship that allows it to grow on bare rock. For birds, it is the perch of choice for everything from hawks to wrens, a source of abundant food,  a prolific producer of fruit and used by all woodpeckers for their nesting holes. On larger cardons it is not uncommon to see several bird species on a cactus at once and most birds whose territory includes a cardon will touch it several times a day for a song, a snack, and good luck.

 

 

Strengthening Our Birding With Citizen Science

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Team Belize finished with 242 species. From left: Roni Martinez, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, Brian Sullivan.

Seth, since his time working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and even after his time in Ithaca, has helped me to see how important the Lab’s work is to what our company has been doing since he was an infant. Citizen science is an essential component, and at Chan Chich Lodge guests have responded to the passion the guides have for eBird, which is why we put so much attention into this year’s Global Big Day. And it is why we are already planning the next collaboration with the Lab, a collaboration Seth will lead on our side. For now, a final roundup of stories from last weekend, starting with our favorite team:

…After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique)…

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Flame Robin by John Cantwell/Macaulay Library, taken on Global Big Day

Also, the final numbers are in and news published late yesterday confirmed what I suspected as day was breaking in Belize, titled Global Big Day 2017: birding’s biggest day ever:

…On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, Continue reading

Technology, Wilderness & Balance

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An illegally flown drone gives scale to next to a lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes national park. Photograph: Andrew Studer

Some in the hospitality business will likely embrace technologies that I cannot picture using in our hospitality operations, ever, but that is fine. Good for them, I say. Recent events at Chan Chich Lodge have reinforced my wonder at, and love for, technology as a tool to support conservation. There is no doubt that guest photos of big (or small) cats and monkeys, shared via social media, help our conservation mission. There is no doubt that tech tools such as eBird and Merlin (Belize edition recently released, just in time for Global Big Day for those of us who need it) also move our conservation mission forward.

That said, I still have a preference for digital detox among our guests, as much as possible. Artificial noises, visuals, aromas and structures are best minimized in order to maximize the many benefits of nature. Distractions, which may be normal things and habits quite common at home, are the spoilers of visits to great places. The problem first came to my attention nearly two decades ago while visiting Mont Saint Michel, where helicopter tours were just becoming a thing, which clearly annoyed every individual who was making the wondrous visit on foot.

I hope, but doubt, that such tours have been limited in the time since then. The evidence seems to point to more distractions in monumental places, whether natural or cultural, that had previously been visually and sonically protected (thanks to Sam Levin at the Guardian for this):

‘Turn it off’: how technology is killing the joy of national parks

As drones, smartphones other gadgets invade America’s most tranquil trails, many lament the loss of peace and quiet Continue reading

Sound, Noise & Wilderness

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I’m sorry, what was that? Ints Kalnins / Reuters

Sound is often profound. Noise often annoys. Thanks as always to Ed Yong, touching on a topic we have been sensitive to for some time now:

A Not-So-Silent Spring

Even America’s protected areas are being subjected to harmful levels of noise pollution.

If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around, the National Park Service will still hear it. Continue reading

Community, Collaboration & Conservation in Mozambique

Thanks to contributor Phil Karp for sharing this great example of how peer-peer knowledge exchange can help to replicate and scale up innovative solutions.

For communities, by communities

Experience from around the world shows that managing fisheries and marine resources works best when responsibility is placed in the hands of local communities. This is particularly true in low-income countries, where there is often limited capacity and infrastructure for fisheries management and conservation.

Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) are areas of ocean managed by coastal communities to help protect fisheries and safeguard marine biodiversity. Found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical seas, and encompassing diverse approaches to management and governance, their sizes and contexts vary widely, but all share the common theme of placing local communities at the heart of management.

Continue reading

Optimal Mangrove

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Photo: NASA

Thanks to Anthropocene’s Brandon Keim for the summary and insights from  Mangroves optimized: How to make coastal habitats sequester even more carbon:

Of all the carbon buried in the floors of Earth’s oceans, most of it is found in the narrow strip of tidal marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves along their edge. Known as blue carbon ecosystems, these vegetated coastal habitats “occupy only 0.2% of the ocean surface, yet contribute 50% of the total amount of carbon buried in marine sediments,” write researchers, led by Deakin University ecologist Peter Macreadie, in the journal Frontiers in Ecology in the Environment. Meter for meter, they’re some of the most effective carbon storage systems we have. But could people make them even more effective? Continue reading

Ranching, Recovery & Reason

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If you missed this post, it is worth a read for perspective either before or after the story below, and even if you do not read the story below that one should not be missed. Thanks to Cool Green Science:

Ridding the West of cattle remains a priority for some organizations and individuals. “Ranching,” the director of one prominent group told High Country News, is among “the most nihilistic lifestyles this planet has ever seen. Ranching should end. Good riddance.” Another group charges that ranching causes “desertification.” Another proclaims that “grazing spreads weeds.” Still another cites as a “myth” that “profitable livestock production and ecological preservation can coexist.” Continue reading

Citizen Science, 2017 & Beyond

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We have an event coming up that is our main focus now with regard to citizen science. After a few years of linking out to plenty of initiatives in this realm, 2017 is our big year, so to speak. And not only for us, nor only for 2017. We see the trend building momentum. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy and Cool Green Science for this story reminding us of the variety of citizen science projects are out there waiting to be discovered:

As a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) descends into the ocean depths, inky blackness slowly consumes all sunlight. Jellyfish and unidentified floating objects drift by, marine snow shimmers in the vehicle’s headlights. Suddenly, mountains and canyons taller and deeper than any on land materialize out of the darkness. Then, a voice breaks over the intercom, “Bridge, this is Nav, can we move five-meters South and hold position? Okay, let’s get underway again. Bearing 180°, 20 meters.” Continue reading

Happy 20th Anniversary, Meg!

543092After posting this quick thought about foraging, I sent a link to Meg, and she reminded me that she had not only been to Belize but that there is a book about her time here.

As I explored the book I realized that it was first published 20 years ago, incidentally the year when I first visited Belize. I also discovered that the book is in wide circulation among educators in the USA, for hopefully obvious good reasons:

Journey along with Dr. Meg Lowman, a scientist who, with the help of slings, suspended walkways, and mountain-climbing equipment, has managed to ascend into one of our planet’s least accessible and most fascinating ecosystems–the rain-forest canopy. “Fresh in outlook and intriguing in details, this book will strengthen any library collection on the rainforest.”–Booklist Continue reading

Jaguar & Other Surprises At Chan Chich Lodge

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I was just starting to think how surprisingly awesome broccoli is, when a guest at Chan Chich Lodge showed me the photo he took about an hour ago. It was taken using his phone, through the scope that our guide Luis had while they were on the morning Gallon Jug tour. That complements well, to say the least, the photo the guest took with just his phone last night. Continue reading

Pythons, Everglades & Unintended Consequences

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Thanks to Anthropocene for providing a summary of recent science on a topic of concern in these pages from time to time in the last few years:

Invading pythons and the weird, uncertain future of the Florida Everglades

Millenia-Old Amazonian Practices Worthy Of Marvel

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New research suggests people were sustainably managing the Amazon rain forest much earlier than was previously thought. Credit Jenny Watling

Anything with the word Amazon in it, when it refers to the rainforest ecosystem in South America, is worthy of marvel. Joanna Klein offers this story, in the Trilobites feature at the New York Times, that is one of the more surprising finds we have seen in a long time:

Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.

Were the broken ceramics found near the entrances used for ritual sacrifices? Why were they here? The answer remains a mystery. Continue reading

Clean Water Should Not Be Politicized, But When It Is We Love Trout Unlimited More Than Ever

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Leigh Guldig

Please take a few minutes to read what follows to the end, and share it as far and wide as you can. Our thanks to Chris Wood–president and chief executive of Trout Unlimited, which needs and deserves our support for exactly the reason stated below–for writing, and the New York Times for publishing this clear statement:

THE eastern brook trout, whose native haunts in the Appalachians are a short drive from my home in Washington, is a fragile species. It requires the coldest and cleanest water to survive, and over the past two centuries, its ranks have been decimated by all that modern society could throw at it. Today it lives in a fraction of its historic range.

One reason? Thousands of miles of prime brook trout streams have been polluted by poorly regulated historic coal mining, and what has been lost is difficult to bring back. Groups like Trout Unlimited have worked with partners to restore more than 60 miles of wild trout streams damaged by acid mine drainage in Appalachia. But it is hard, painstaking work — it has taken the better part of two decades and millions of dollars, and the fact is that it would take many lifetimes to revive all the streams in need of resuscitation. Continue reading

Coastal Preparations

Thanks to the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science, and specifically Lisa Feldcamp, for this note and video on adaptive coastal folks:

“It hurt my heart to see how [the beach] had been deteriorated,” says Norris Henry of St. Andrew’s Development Organization. “I know in the past there was a nice beachfront, where you can play cricket, you can play football, you can run. But it’s so sad to see it is no longer there.” Continue reading

Waterway Blockage, Beautiful & Beastly

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Norton Mill Dam view from the bridge. Photo © Lia McLaughlin / USFWS through a Creative Commons license

Thanks to the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science for this story:

Outtakes: Exploring America’s Most Dammed Waterways

by JENNY ROGERS

Sally Harold has one eye on the river and one on the cars whizzing by as we stand on a road near the freeway. A river restoration specialist for The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut River program, she’s showing me a map of the state, obscured with dots representing dams. To our left, a burned-out mill building looms over a small river. To our right, the road that leads northeast to Hartford. Continue reading

Flying Squirrels & Moonlight Gliding

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Alexander V. Badyaev

We had not known of bioGraphic until just now, and want to shout out to the source before anything else. Our thanks to the California Academy of Sciences, who we look forward to hearing from more in the next few years, for the service that bioGraphic provides to all of us. Vigilance, informed by science, will be more important than ever. You know what we mean.

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bioGraphic is powered by the California Academy of Sciences, a renowned scientific and educational institution dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on Earth.

This recent story in bioGraphic seems like as good an option as any to link you to. We realize now that we have not posted any stories on the flying squirrels of the Malabar coastal region where we have been based since mid-2010, so glancing at this creature in the western USA habitat first seems a fine reminder of a pending task. Thanks for this story and photographs by Alexander V. Badyaev:

After listening all day to relentless warnings of “severe winter weather” and poring over equipment manuals to determine the lowest operating temperature for various pieces of photographic gear, I decided to stick with the plan. A few hours and several miles of snowshoeing later, I was hard at work in the diminishing February twilight, setting up lines of strobes and high-speed cameras along gaps in the tree canopy that framed a forest lake at the edge of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. I knew this lakeshore to be a primary movement corridor for a resident female northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), and based on observations from previous nights, I expected my nocturnal subject to launch herself across the lake sometime between 2:20 and 2:50 a.m. Continue reading