Some Climate Solutions Are Simple

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A male chimpanzee hooting in the wild forests of western Uganda. Deforestation in the country is occurring at some of the fastest rates on Earth, shrinking the habitat of this endangered species. Credit Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures

Thanks to the New York Times for this refresher on the basics of climate change and what is needed that we can most easily do to counter its effects:

A Cheap Fix for Climate Change? Pay People Not to Chop Down Trees

By Brad Plumer

The tropical forests in western Uganda, home to a dwindling population of endangered chimpanzees, are disappearing at some of the fastest rates on Earth as local people chop down trees for charcoal and to clear space for subsistence farming.

Now, a team of researchers has shown that there is a surprisingly cheap and easy way to slow the pace of deforestation in Uganda: Just pay landowners small sums not to cut down their trees. Their study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, demonstrated this by conducting something all too rare in environmental policy — a controlled experiment. Continue reading

Resolving a Politically Fraught Problem By Natural Means

Texas officials release reed-eating Arundo wasps into a thicket of the invasive weed Arundo donaxa, also called carrizo cane, in an effort to weaken or eradicate the plant.Photograph by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty

With all the talk about building a wall along the US/Mexico border, it’s rather refreshing to read about this joint program between the U.S.D.A. and Customs and Border Protection to attempt to tear one down.

The problem is a fast growing invasive grass that sucks up water resources, crowds out native plants, and can grow as tall as a 2-story building, . The elegant solution of using stingless wasps whose larvae happily munch on the vigorous plant is elegant compared to options such as bulldozing or aerial spraying of herbicides.

Someone wandering along the banks of the Rio Grande, on the American side, in the summer of 2009 might have been startled by a small cardboard box plummeting to the ground. Neatly sealed with blue packing tape, its paper wrapping crisp and clean, the box would have felt light, even empty. But then, on further inspection, an observer would have noticed the platoon of tiny black insects exiting a slit on one end. Slightly larger than a gnat, the insects would have buzzed off, one by one, into the South Texas heat. Continue reading

Wildlife Protection And Consequences

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A wolf from a den within Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Alaska. A study found that limiting the population of wolves outside the preserve affected those within its boundaries. Credit Drew Rush/National Park Service

Mention Alaska, and we are in. Wolves, ditto. An academic publication called Wildlife Monographs? You had us at Alaska and wolves:

Protected Wolves in Alaska Face Peril From Beyond Their Preserve

Within the 2.5 million acres of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in central Alaska, wolves and other majestic animals are protected. But animals like wolves do not respect lines drawn on a map. And a recent study suggests that efforts to limit populations of these predators outside those borders is having negative effects on wolves living within the preserve. Continue reading

Come Back To Belize, Meg Lowman!

We have mentioned Meg more than once since we met her a few years ago, because our interests are aligned. Thanks to this public radio station for reminding me that Meg is due for a visit to Belize (I say wishfully) for a 20-years later discovery trip, and we will be happy to see her at Chan Chich Lodge when the time comes:

megmalaysiaFor over 30 years, Dr. Meg Lowman –Canopy Meg, has designed hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration to solve mysteries in the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health. Meg is affectionately called the mother Continue reading

Swamp Is Not A Bad Word

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The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina and Virginia has been dramatically altered over the past few centuries by human development. Rebecca Wynn/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to Sarah McCammon at National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

“Drain the swamp” may be a popular political slogan, but it doesn’t always work so well in nature. Continue reading

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