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
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…
Amie and I recently met with an artist who paints on silk. In a post about Authentica after that I displayed a couple of her pieces that feature coffee farm themes, and here are a couple more featuring coastal themes. By introducing Authentica in these pages I also want to link it to our practice, over the last 20+ years, of entrepreneurial conservation. We have posted frequently on this theme over the years. Less frequently we have mentioned sense and sensibility, words we work by.
Authentica will be an extension of our work in the realm of experiences for travelers away from home, and our assumption is that most people want to sense how a place they visit is different from where they normally live. Commonalities are also helpful for the sake of comfort and the travelers we have gotten to know through our practice in the last 2+ decades are much like us: interested in the balance between things we already understand and things that make us wonder.
When I saw these silk pieces I had a sense of Costa Rica that would be difficult to find words for. The artist has an ecological and socially responsible orientation, backed with actions that represent what make this place unique. This is the aspect of Costa Rica that inspires and motivates not only those of us who have chosen to live here, but those who choose to visit here. We want such visitors to have the opportunity to take home with them items like these painted silks, that somehow represent Costa Rica. Little reminders.
Yesterday’s coffee sample from the Brunca region got me thinking it is time to talk about Authentica. It is a new business that grows out of our interest in foods and beverages that represent the taste of a place we have gotten to know through our work. Today I am sampling a friend’s coffee grown a few hundred meters away from where I sit typing this.
It is an arabica varietal, known as Castillo, that has resisted the rust plaguing Central American highland coffee farms. And this glass of freshly brewed Castillo makes me realize that Authentica is also an outgrowth of the much broader array of work that led to our original interest in taste of place.
In 1995 I gave a lecture based on some ideas that came out of my doctoral dissertation, ideas which I now simply refer to as entrepreneurial conservation. Costa Rica had recently committed to the then-new sustainable development model. I made sure that the ideas from my dissertation could be clearly understood within Costa Rica’s framework. Based on the lecture I received an offer to lead an initiative, based in Costa Rica and serving the countries of Central America, that would facilitate the adoption of sustainable tourism development strategies in the region.
When we moved to Costa Rica in 1996, tourism was limited but there was enough of an industry that I could analyze of all its component parts. This highlighted pre-existing strengths on which to build a national tourism strategy. One of those components was handicrafts. I have not gone back to look at the findings, but my memory tells me that handicrafts was a small but thriving sub-sector of tourism, and some of it was spectacular. The bowl to the left was the first I had seen made of the local wood called cocobolo.
I also will not review here the details of the 2+ decades since that analysis, which have been difficult for the artisans of Costa Rica even as the tourism sector as a whole has grown dramatically. It is enough to say that Authentica has been formed in Costa Rica to valorize the artisans who have been able to hang on, and to likewise showcase the remarkable renaissance of artesania here. The campesino in the photo to the right is from an artisan who carves coffee wood, with coffee farmers his primary subject. I received that carving as a gift in 1998 and I recently met the artisan who made it. He has managed to hang on.
On that same shelf is a small ceramic pitcher made by an artist of the next generation, who is a perfect representative of the renaissance I see, now that we are back in Costa Rica after many years living in other parts of the world. Authentica is the business we have formed to share these things that we see and love about Costa Rica, things which we believe represent this place well, and put them in a place where they can be purchased, in order to valorize the artistry and craftsmanship.
Above is a hand-painted silk scarf made by a local artist whose life on a coffee farm inspired this particular image, and the one below. I will be more specific about these and other artists in future posts. For now it is just enough to say that we believe in local artists, artisans, farmers, roasters, chocolatiers enough that we have formed Authentica as a marketplace for their products, to be sold mostly to visitors who want to take home with them a sense of the place they have visited.
I never tire of reminders of how greed is never good. It is unbecoming. But visual reminders of this are especially welcome. When the story broke about this audacious scam that showed how profit can motivate evil, it gave me pause, if momentarily, because our entrepreneurial conservation business model is premised on the possibility that profit can motivate good outcomes. Thanks to Alan Taylor for reminding us it is awards season for photography that impacts our understanding of the world, and especially for the link to this photo that tells one outcome of the VW scandal with such impact:
National Geographic magazine has announced the winning entries in its annual photo competition. The grand-prize winner this year is Jassen Todorov, who will take home a $5,000 prize for his aerial image of thousands of recalled Volkswagen and Audi cars in the Mojave Desert. The contest organizers have shared with us the top winners and honorable mentions below, selected from a pool of nearly 10,000 entries. Captions are written by the individual photographers and lightly edited for content.
At first, this runner up photo looks too composed to my eye, but the more I look at it the urge to weep gets stronger. Kind of like when I gaze long enough at this photo, the urge to stay still and observe grips me. Or when I look at this photo, I can explain the best of life in India. Same for any of Milo’s series. Photographic impact.
Read the whole story here.
We made a decision early on, for reasons I do not recall clearly, to avoid linking out to obituaries–even for heroes whose lives have resonance in our pages. This one made me think twice about that decision.
In part it is because we have paid an enormous amount of attention to libraries over the years. Also, this man’s innovation (did we really never feature it in our pages before?) was clearly in the realm of what we call entrepreneurial conservation. And maybe, just a bit, I like the idea that the first little free library (the last one displayed below) was a tribute to the innovator’s mom.
Thanks to the New York Times for getting this story just right:
Todd Bol’s Little Free Library boxes, which blend the form of folk art with the function of a community water cooler, have popped up in all 50 states and in 88 countries.
By Katharine Q. Seelye Photographs by Ethan Jones
Todd Bol was simply paying homage to his mother, a schoolteacher and lover of books. He built a doll-sized schoolhouse, filled it with his mother’s books and put it out for his neighbors in Hudson, Wis., as a book exchange.
Today, just nine years later, more than 75,000 such “Little Free Libraries” dot the globe, from San Diego to Minneapolis, and from Australia to Siberia.
Why did they catch on? For starters, they promote a friendly, sharing economy. No one tracks who took what. There’s no due date. No fines. You might never return a book. You might leave another instead. And, they are inherently cute. As Mr. Bol recalled, his neighbors “talked to it like it was a little puppy.”
This week, many bore a white ribbon in tribute to Mr. Bol, who died Oct. 18, in Minnesota at the age of 62. Here, a photo-essay of some of the little libraries near his hometown.
See all the other photos here.
I have always been appropriately alarmed by Elizabeth Kolbert’s articles and her comment pieces in the New Yorker. This brief comment below is alarming enough, but with a twist. Science has done its job, but we as citizens, business people, civic leaders have not acted with sufficient urgency considering the clear scientific evidence.
It may be true that scientists have not been the most compelling communicators, but that is no excuse for our inaction. As someone who left a scientific career developing a theoretical framework for entrepreneurial conservation in favor of opportunities to apply those ideas in the real world, I am in the same boat as a climate scientist. I look around today, after decades of best effort and I conclude that we have not accomplished enough in our practice. In our efforts to offer alternatives to messier forms of tourism, we have not accomplished enough. That is discouraging. But discouragement is not an option. We must find a better way to communicate that generates the required action for a less messy planet:
On June 23, 1988—a blisteringly hot day in Washington, D.C.—James Hansen told a Senate committee that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” At the time, Hansen was the head of nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and though his testimony was certainly not the first official warning about the “greenhouse effect”—a report to President Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, predicted “measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate” in the decades to follow—it was the first to receive national news coverage. The Times ran the story at the top of the front page, with a graph showing a long-term rise in average global temperatures. Continue reading
Starting in May, Amie and I have been living on a dairy farm in the mountains on the northern side of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. We will be here until at least the end of July, brainstorming about the dairy’s future. There is already much to say about that, but we will share that soon enough. For today, just a shout out to fellow brainstormers across the Atlantic. When we first learned of Paul Lister’s initiative, it sounded like a far-fetched experiment. Now we see another experiment further south on the same island:
You can’t make money from letting cows run wild, right? When Patrick Barkham got access to the sums at a pioneering Sussex farm, he was in for a surprise.
Orange tip butterflies jink over grassland and a buzzard mews high on a thermal. Blackthorns burst with bridal white blossom and sallow leaves of peppermint green unfurl. The exhilaration in this corner of West Sussex is not, however, simply the thrilling explosion of spring. The land is bursting with an unusual abundance of life; rampant weeds and wild flowers, insects, birdsong, ancient trees and enormous hedgerows, billowing into fields of hawthorn. And some of the conventional words from three millennia of farming – ‘hedgerow’, ‘field’ and ‘weed’ – no longer seem to apply in a landscape which is utterly alien to anyone raised in an intensively farmed environment. Continue reading
47 minutes well spent with one of our heroes, who we realize now is not featured enough in our pages relative to how much he has inspired our work. Here is a quick start at repairing that oversight (click the image above to go to the podcast):
In the 1960s, Bob Moore read a book about an old grain mill and was inspired to start his own.
Using giant quartz stones from the 19th century, he ground and packaged dozens of different cereals and flours, quickly positioning his company at the forefront of the health food boom.
Despite a devastating fire in the 1980s, Bob’s Red Mill grew into a $100 million business – and although Bob is nearly 90, he goes to work at the mill every day.
Thanks to Kevin McKenna and the Guardian for this profile of an entrepreneurial conservation project that is quite in the spirit of our work over the last two decades. We salute Paul Lister and his team for this wonder:
The ‘custodian’ of the Alladale estate wants to turn it into a fenced-off wildlife reserve
The echoes of Scotland’s predator prince faded into silence three centuries ago. The wolf was once lord of these Sutherland slopes and the forest floors beneath and now a voice in the wilderness is calling him home.
Paul Lister acquired the Alladale estate, 50 miles north of Inverness, in 2003 and immediately set about creating a wilderness reserve according to his perception of what these wild and beautiful places ought to look like. He can’t imagine them without the packs of wolves that once roamed free here.
But his views are considered eccentric by ramblers and conservationists, who view them as a rich man’s caprice, centring their objections on his plans to fence off the vast reserve. Continue reading
Our favorite stories on conservation challenges–whether marine or terrestrial–are those that highlight entrepreneurial approaches. Those stories, though, have multiple counterparts related to government approaches to conservation. In our many celebrations of various forms of ocean conservation, we have probably tended to favor quantity and scale more than emphasizing the value of science. Guilty as charged, but ready to remedy:
SAN FRANCISCO — I have spent my entire life pushing for new protected areas in the world’s oceans. But a disturbing trend has convinced me that we’re protecting very little of real importance with our current approach.
From Hawaii to Brazil to Britain, the establishment of large marine protected areas, thousands of square miles in size, is on the rise. These areas are set aside by governments to protect fisheries and ecosystems; human activities within them generally are managed or restricted. While these vast expanses of open ocean are important, their protection should not come before coastal waters are secured. But in some cases, that’s what is happening.
The salt, at National Public Radio (USA) has a story today about coffee, entrepreneurship and cultural illumination that is about tasting the place, a once and future key theme of our pages:
The 35-year-old owner of a new Yemeni coffee shop in Dearborn, Mich., never imagined he would enter the coffee business. Ibrahim Alhasbani was born in Yemen and grew up on a coffee farm outside the country’s capital city of Sana.
“I had enough coffee in my life,” Alhasbani says. “But when I moved to America and the problems started back home, I told myself I have a chance to show that Yemeni coffee is really good and that Yemen is more than just violence and war.”
17 years ago, the word organikos crept into our vocabulary. Our company had recently been transformed from an advisory service to a management company. We were one year into the process of establishing protocols for “hospitality with sense and sensibility” and some generalizable principles for entrepreneurial conservation.
We were, in the year 2000, focused on rainforest conservation in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, leveraging the economics of lodging and guided nature immersions. We used organikos as our codeword for an initiative that we would get to when we had time. This initiative would provide the tastes–from beverages, spices, foods–associated with the places we had been working in recent years; it would provide those tastes as pre-experience of those places. Our first thought was coffee from Costa Rica.
We did small experiments over the years since then, starting with a single estate coffee from Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region; then wine from the Croatian island of Hvar; then monsooned coffee from the Malabar coast of India.
Now we are back from India, at home again in Costa Rica. And we would welcome you to visit, but first how about some Tarrazu single estate coffee? Let me know. Hacienda La Minita was a pioneer in single estate coffee, an early inspiration for us in terms of tasting the place, and it continues to be one of our favorites. We can get it to you. And if you want to visit the estate, or get to know any other place in Costa Rica, we can help with that as well.
This week, I have been assisting Amie with a kitchen renovation plan. This feeds into one of the 2017 goals of Chan Chich- to elevate the food and beverage program by taking inspiration from traditional Caribbean, Belizean and Mayan foodways, creating a cuisine that we’re fondly calling Mayan Soul Food. The improved agricultural practices and updated kitchen are important building blocks to achieve these goals. Emily is mainly working on the agricultural side, communicating with colleagues at Gallon Jug farm to better align their supply with the Lodge’s demand.
Between dining hours, I have been asking Chef Ram the minutest details about refrigerators and convection ovens and walking the kitchen to measure every wall and shelf. Currently, I am creating a 2D diagram of the proposed kitchen in SketchUp, a modeling software used for drafting construction and architectural drawings, that will help Chan Chich Lodge form a stronger argument for a kitchen renovation and to create a visual to reference throughout the process. Continue reading
Hi, there! I’m Mari Gray, founder of artisan-made brand Kakaw Designs, based in Guatemala. After studying International Relations and Spanish at UC Davis and then working for several non-profits in Latin America, I became disillusioned and decided to focus on sustainable development through a social enterprise, partnering with talented artisan communities in Guatemala.
I feel incredibly fortunate to work with different artisan groups in Guatemala through Kakaw Designs (pronounced <kekao> like the cacao tree), an artisan-made brand I started about four years ago. We currently work with several different artisan groups: two weaving, one embroidery, two teams of leathersmiths, and one silversmith; all to make our designs come to life. But it was for a good reason that we started with the weaving cooperative Corazón del Lago in San Juan la Laguna, at Lake Atitlán.
We would never have been able to launch Kakaw Designs without this group of forward-thinking, professional weavers from this small Maya village. The community itself is exceptional, with sustainability clearly a focus through:
- Use of natural dyes in textile production, also using local traditional techniques such as backstrap weaving and ikat designs <<Learn more by watching our video>>
- Organization of weavers in cooperatives or associations, where women work together and can therefore take larger orders and offer quality control
- Up-and-coming development of community ecotourism, especially birding
Yesterday afternoon, Emily and I went on a walk at Laguna Seca with Luis, the nature guide who picked me up from the airport on the first day. This experience is one of many guided walks offered at Chan Chich Lodge.
The tour started as soon as we hopped into the truck. Throughout the 25-minute drive to Laguna Seca, Luis would stop whenever he saw a bird among the trees along the road. He would intricately describe what and where he was looking, because to the untrained eye, it seemed like he stopped the vehicle for no reason.
How he can spot an olive-colored parakeet in olive-colored vegetation in his peripheral vision I will never know, but he – along with the several other guides at Chan Chich – offers an invaluable skill to the property and the nature surrounding it. Continue reading
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
As an international company, our team tends to be spread out across the world, so more often than not many of our posts is a surprise to the rest. It was with that sense of synchronicity that I read Crist’s piece on Gerhard Steidl’s conservation work yesterday while I was in the midst of writing about this upcoming publication.
Born in Namibia, photographer Margaret Courtney-Clarke spent decades capturing life in remote places in Italy, the USA and numerous parts of Africa. Returning to Namibia after years away, she found the once familiar landscape drastically changed.
Cry Sadness Into the Coming Rain is a forthcoming publication by Steidl, Germany, 2017.
With strong memories of my formative years growing up on the edge of the Namib Desert in what was then known as South West Africa, I have returned to explore my obsession with this place and my lifelong curiosity for the notion of shelter. I have covered thousands of dusty kilometres across remote plains, through dry river beds, over sand dunes and salt pans, through conservancies and communal lands to photograph families in desperate, forgotten outposts. I try to capture the ‘transhumance’ – the search for work, forage and water – and the remnants of former habitats alongside once productive land.
In coastal towns I move with women and children across stretches of desert from one garbage dump to another – often with the loot they carry in their quest to create shelter and eke out a living. I focus on human enterprise and failure, on the bare circumstances of ordinary women and men forced to negotiate life, and of an environment in crisis. Continue reading
We have frequently sampled the publications of Phaidon when we see relevance to themes we care about. There are plenty of books they produce that are about frill or fashion, and we are less than not interested in those. But we assume those books we like least are likely the ones that sell well enough to pay for the ones we like most. It is a principle we can live with. In our own work we commercialize experiences in nature in order to fund the conservation of that nature, and we live with all the paradoxes inherent in that.
In this week’s New Yorker there is a profile of one man whose life’s work is more or less displaying the same principle, again in the realm of books with photographs, paid for by work in fashion. It caught my attention at first in the same way the Phaidon books generally do, with regard to craft, beautiful display, etc., but there is more here. This man does not just produce lovely coffee table books. He is clearly on a mission we can relate to, recognizable for an entrepreneurial approach to conservation. Read the one paragraph sampled below for a taste:
He is the printer the world’s best photographers trust most. Continue reading