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americanchaffseed2

Photo: Masswildlife
American chaffseed has been found in Massachusetts after 50 years, and nature-lovers are cheering.

Maybe finding a plant that was thought to be extinct in Massachusetts doesn’t rate high with you amid all the distressing things happening in our world, but I will take good cheer where I can find it. And botanists are certainly excited.

Steve Annear reports at the Boston Globe, “State wildlife officials and local botanists are sprouting smiles after the ‘Holy Grail’ of plants was discovered this summer, a ‘jaw-dropping’ find that puts to rest a decades-long search in Massachusetts.

“According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in July, Rhode Island botanist Doug McGrady located an abundance of the plant ‘American chaffseed’ growing on a relatively small patch of land on Cape Cod.

“The discovery is particularly exciting because American chaffseed has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1992 — and it hasn’t been seen in Massachusetts in more than five decades, officials said. …

“ ‘There are historic records of American chaffseed along coastal plains from Massachusetts to Louisiana,’ they said. ‘But populations declined over time due to habitat loss and fire suppression.’

“After McGrady found the plant, MassWildlife staff visited the site to further confirm that it was, indeed, American chaffseed. While there, they counted over 2,600 stems, officials said. …

“The plant is currently listed as growing in New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. …

“In a video posted on MassWildlife’s Facebook page … State Botanist Bob Wernerehl can be seen crouching down in front of a patch of American chaffseed, as he explains the significance of the plant.

“ ‘In Massachusetts this rare plant is so rare it has never been seen since 1965, despite numerous attempts to search for it,’ Wernerehl says. ‘So this is a brand new find of this very rare and special plant.’ …

“He said when botanists went out to the site where the plant was found — an area he can’t divulge because it’s endangered — the population was ‘really good.’

“ ‘It wasn’t just a meek little population hiding out. It was pretty big,’ he said. ‘They look healthy, and they should theoretically reproduce and continue good solid population numbers over time.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Next up for lost species: How about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Stranger things have happened.

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Photos: Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry
Children on the island of Bangka in Indonesia receive free goggles in a bid by the maritime affairs minister to engage them early in caring for endangered reefs.

It’s never too early to get children interested in nature. And anyone who has contact with young children can help provide experiences that will one day make them want to protect the environment. I’m sure reader Will McM. does that in his Making Music Together classes, and I know my kids and their spouses do that.

Meanwhile across the world, a maritime affairs minister sees hope in her country’s very youngest. Kate Lamb reports for the Guardian, “Indonesia’s maritime affairs minister has come up with an unconventional way to help preserve precious reefs from marine pollution: distribute boatloads of free goggles to children in the archipelago’s remote coastal regions.

“An avid snorkeler who is known for blowing up illegal fishing boats, minister Susi Pudijastuti said she wanted to give the next generation of Indonesians ‘the eyes’ to fully appreciate their marine environment.

“During visits to Indonesia’s remote eastern areas, home to the ‘Coral Triangle’ and some of the most diverse marine life in the world, the minister said she noticed Indonesian children watching tourists snorkelling for hours, not fully understanding what they were doing.

“ ‘I just realised in one moment: how can we ask them, how can we push them to take care of the beauty of the underwater world if they don’t even see how beautiful it is,’ she said, ‘I realised, what we see, they don’t see.’ … Visiting Banggai Laut in Sulawesi, one area where goggles had been distributed, the minister said children were swimming and jumping around, amazed by their reefs. …

“In a country suffering from chronic maritime waste, the minister hopes the initiative will encourage young Indonesians to appreciate their reefs, and in turn inspire them to protect their marine environment. Indonesia is the world’s biggest marine polluter after China, discarding 3.22m metric tons of waste annually. …

“Susi said she was angered when she saw plastic ‘at the beach, on the shore, on the reef, everywhere,’ and took measures to reduce usage in her own ministry. Single-use plastic is banned at Indonesia’s maritime affairs and fisheries ministry, and at all its ministerial events.

“Susi told the Guardian she looked forward to the day when Indonesia could ban single-use plastic altogether.” More at the Guardian, here.

Speaking of single-use plastic, I have recently learned that straws are dangerous to sea turtles and intend to stop using them. But recently at an earthy-crunchy juice bar, plastic straws were all they had. Disappointing. Everyone needs to do their bit.

Indonesian students on the island of Belitung receive free goggles.

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Photos: UNHCR/Anders Aalbux
Kerstin and Åke are Swedish senior citizens who say they have learned a lot from the young refugees who are
their IT guides and are recommending the service to their friends.

Although I generally bristle when assumptions are made about older people not knowing how to use a smartphone or computer, I have to admit that technology ignorance does characterize many seniors. So I’m not going to get on my high horse about young immigrants to Sweden sharing IT knowledge with the elderly and using the experience to improve their Swedish. I think it’s an important win-win — especially as Erik’s mother has explained to me that there needs to be more effort to help refugees learn Swedish.

Anders Aalbu writes for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, “It is a Saturday in Karlskoga, in the middle of Sweden. Kerstin and her husband, Åke, have each brought their smartphones, a tablet and a laptop. They’ve got a slew of questions, and they admit they might have already asked some of them. But Setrag and his colleague Sara don’t mind. A repeated question is just another opportunity for them to practice Swedish.

“While working as an IT guide, Setrag speaks slowly. But so do the seniors who come to the public library every Saturday to learn how to use their computers and smartphones. They don’t mind that their teachers are refugees, as speaking slowly makes it easier for them to understand each other.

“Wearing his blue IT guide shirt, Setrag patiently explains to Kerstin: “But now you want to travel by bus, so you have to open another app, because this one is for buying train tickets,’ Setrag says. As the app loads, Setrag explains to Kerstin that the initial message that shows up is a one-off. ‘You’ll only see this the first time. It’s supposed to give you an idea about how to use the app,’ he explains as he points to the spot saying ‘Next.’

“Setrag Godoshian, 20, came to Sweden from Syria in 2014. He has spent three years in the introductory programme learning Swedish. A certain level of Swedish speaking skills was needed for him to become an IT guide. Now Setrag gets to speak lots of Swedish, has his first important job in Sweden, and he’s more integrated in the local community. In return, numerous seniors are improving their IT skills.

“Sara Alaydi, 20, is also a Syrian refugee, who arrived in Sweden in 2015. Becoming an IT guide has led to major changes in her integration into the Swedish society. ‘It has helped me so much. I’ve become more social, for instance, also at school. My experience from the job as an IT guide helps with all the group work we have in class,’ she explains. ‘Elderly people tend to speak a little bit slower, which makes it easier for us. And it also makes it less nerve-racking to talk to them, so we constantly get a chance to practice,’ Sara says. ‘And we’re more confident speaking with them, even though we make mistakes,’ Setrag adds. …

“IT Guide Sweden started in 2010. Its founder, Gunilla Lundberg, was approached by two teenagers, both having just arrived in Sweden, and in need of a summer job. Gunilla asked what they were good at, and the answer was ‘we’re good with computers.’ Today, IT Guide is present in more than 20 Swedish municipalities and employs about 200 young IT Guides. …

“IT Guide Sweden was nominated for the Swedish Door-Opener Award for 2018, an award recognizing Sweden’s best integration initiatives.”

Read here about how working as an IT guide often provides young immigrants with good references as they move into the job world.

Marketing and spreading the word about IT Guide to elderly Swedes is one part of the job for these young refugees.

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Nordens Ark

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Photo: Nordens Ark
Nordens Ark in western Sweden is dedicated to protecting and preserving endangered species.

Two of my grandchildren had a happy time this summer at a Swedish park that is dedicated to protecting and preserving endangered species. The children’s Swedish grandmother told me that the pony rides and other attractions draw families in to Nordens Ark and then get them interested in supporting the sustainability mission.

From the paark’s website: “Nordens Ark is a private non-profit foundation that works to ensure endangered animals have a future. We are engaged in conservation, rearing, research and training, as well as doing what we can to increase public awareness of biological diversity. Much of our work is done in the field, both in Sweden and overseas.

“We strive to strengthen populations of at-risk species by releasing individuals into the wild, and by improving the habitats in which they live. In Sweden, Nordens Ark has national responsibility for breeding and releasing, among others, the peregrine falcon, white-backed woodpecker, lesser white-fronted goose, green toad and several beetle species.

“Since the turn of the millennium hundreds of mammals and birds born at Nordens Ark have been released into nature, among them otters in Holland, European wildcats in Germany and lynxes in Poland. We have reinforced the Swedish peregrine falcon population with more than 175 individuals, and Sweden’s amphibian population with some 10,000 animals.”

More at the website, here. Sweden Tips lists the park in its survey of Sweden’s best zoos. If you want to visit Nordens Park, you can also find lots of enthusiastic comments at Trip Advisor, including “a fantastic place for a photographer” and a recommendation to come at feeding time.

Someone I know, 3-1/2, took a pony ride at Nordens Ark in Bohuslän, Sweden, this summer. The park encompasses more than [900 acres] and includes pastureland, woodland and animal facilities.
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Photo: Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times
In a ceremony at the Abrons Arts Center in New York, Emily Johnson acknowledges the Lenape tribe, which inhabited Manhattan before Europeans arrived. The bonfire event is part of an initiative by artists called “land acknowledgment.”

It’s interesting to me that at the same time that nationalism and harsh attitudes about migration are sweeping the Western world, some very different movements are gaining traction. One is the increased acknowledgment in some English-speaking countries that Europeans were once interlopers, too.

Siobhan Burke writes at the New York Times about arts groups starting to pay attention to first residents.

“On an evening in early June, before the sun had gone down, a bonfire blazed outside Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side. Handmade quilts lined the steps of the outdoor amphitheater. Anyone walking down Grand Street could come in and take a seat. As a group of singers arranged themselves around a large cylindrical drum, the choreographer Emily Johnson stood up to speak a few careful, welcoming words.

“ ‘I’d like to acknowledge and pay my deep respect to Lenape people and elders and ancestors — past, present and future,’ she said. She gestured toward the ground and in the direction of the East River. ‘I acknowledge and offer deep gratitude to this Lenape land and water that supports us, as we’re gathered here right now together, and I invite you to join me in that acknowledgment, that respect and that gratitude.’

“In recognizing Manhattan’s original inhabitants — the Lenape (pronounced len-AH-pay) — and their ancestral homeland, Lenapehoking, Ms. Johnson was taking part in a ritual that, with her guidance, has become increasingly common at New York performing arts spaces in the past year.

“Routine at public gatherings in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the custom of Indigenous land acknowledgment, or acknowledgment of country, has only recently started to gain traction in the United States outside of tribal nations. In New York City the practice is sporadic but growing, occasionally heard at high-profile cultural and educational institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art and New York University. …

“Ms. Johnson, 42, a Native Alaskan artist of Yupik descent, has been the catalyst for much of that progress in the city’s dance scene. … Wherever she tours, she publicly honors — and engages with — the Indigenous people of that place.

“And behind the scenes she has been working to strengthen relationships between predominantly white institutions and Indigenous communities, to ensure that more Indigenous voices are heard at all organizational levels, from the artists onstage to the board of directors. That process, she said, begins with institutions recognizing where they are: on land taken from Indigenous peoples. …

“For the inexperienced, speaking an acknowledgment can be awkward at first. Hadrien Coumans, a co-founder of the Lenape Center, said false starts were to be expected. …

“While land acknowledgment might be a mere formality in some contexts, Mr. Coumans emphasized that he sees it as something much greater, an invitation to consider and appreciate where, really, you are standing.

“ ‘We’re part of a living being,’ he said. ‘Earth is a living entity, so in acknowledging land, what we’re really doing is acknowledging life. Not nationalism, not patriotism. Life.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: The College Crusade Rhode Island
At Great Salt Pond, young students from Rhode Island cities learn how to make and tow plankton nets and test water quality.

There’s a lovely story at ecoRI News that I wanted to share with you. It makes me both happy and sad — happy that some underserved urban kids are getting an inspiring engagement with nature in the summer but sad that it’s unusual for them. The experiences are those that my own children and grandchildren have had almost every year of their lives, experiences that really should be accessible to all children.

Frank Carni writes, “Most of the teenagers arriving on Block Island this summer, at least those affiliated with The College Crusade of Rhode Island, are coming from communities covered in pavement. Many had never been on a boat before and most had never set foot on New Shoreham.

“The students are making a good first impression, with their observations, curiosity, and passion for the environment, despite living among more gray and black than green and blue. The island community has embraced the out-of-towners from Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and Cranston.

“ ‘We throw a lot at them and it’s amazing what they absorb,’ said Valerie Preler, program director for the Block Island Maritime Institute (BIMI).

‘I learn a lot by watching what they see and what they say.’

“For the past 10 years the BIMI’s Dolphin Program has worked with and learned from students from underserved communities from Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York City. Last year BIMI partnered with Providence-based The College Crusade of Rhode Island, as Block Island hosted a group of students from the college-readiness and scholarship program for middle-school and high-school students in low-income urban school districts for a week of learning and fun. …

“The mission of The College Crusade is to increase high-school graduation, college and career readiness, and college completion for youth in Rhode Island’s low-income communities. The organization supports about 4,200 students in middle school, high school, and college annually. Students join the program in grade 6 and continue through the early years of college, if they attend a public college in Rhode Island. …

“They learn to problem solve, study ecology by exploring the Great Salt Pond, and discuss the island’s different levels of biodiversity.

“During their visit to the museum at the Block Island Historical Society the students learn how colonists deforested in the island in the 1660s, how the island’s swordfish population was depleted by overfishing, how the introduction of deer in the 1960s for hunting purposes has led to the island’s current overpopulation problem, and why there is less bird migration to the island — more people and a growing population of feral cats.

“ ‘It’s an eye-opening experience for these kids, and for some it’s life-changing,’ [Lauren Schechtman, director of middle-school operations for The College Crusade] said. ‘Our kids don’t normally have access to these type of educational resources.’

“This Block Island adventure, like The College Crusade program, is free to the students and their families. They stay in a house rented by The College Crusade, enjoy dinners with Block Island families, and some New Shoreham restaurants help feed the island’s young guests for free.

“Besides visiting the island’s Great Salt Pond, the students go bird banding with The Nature Conservancy, learn about the Block Island Wind Farm, take a night-sky walk, tour New Harbor on the island’s west side, and conduct a beach cleanup. They also enjoy kayaking and/or paddle boarding, a beach visit, and fishing by the Coast Guard Station.”

I hope they loved the whole experience. Great Salt Pond is an especially intriguing place, where just this past weekend John, with family and friends, went seining and pulled up some real treasures: three pipe fish, a baby flounder, shrimp, and many minnows. They threw them back for another day.

More at ecoRI News, here. Be sure to check the other photos, including the one of bird banding. Our family has many great memories of bird banding with the woman who would have taught the kids in the story.

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Photo: Fred Hatt
Mana Hashimoto is a New York City–based contemporary dancer and choreographer who, despite losing her eyesight, is determined to keep dancing and making dance.

We all have obstacles that rise up in our lives, but for some of us, the obstacles are exceptionally daunting. That was true for the dancer in this story, who made up her mind that her career would not be lost when her eyesight was lost.

Victoria Dombroski interviewed her for Backstage.

“Mana Hashimoto is a New York City-based contemporary dancer and choreographer whose career has spanned from her native Tokyo to many stages worldwide. She also happens to be blind. After losing her eyesight due to optic nerve atrophy, she was determined to keep dancing despite the unexpected obstacle. Since then, she has dedicated her life to merging blindness and dance, and to create artistic works through the use of her remaining senses.

How did losing your eyesight change your trajectory as a dancer?
I trained as a classic ballet dancer and it’s very common that when you take class, you have to check in the mirror to see how you look. It becomes a sort of obsession and trap, consciously or unconsciously. I think it was a relief that I no longer had to see myself in the mirror, but instead be in the moment and be with myself and accept who I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Were there certain things you learned about yourself as a dancer after losing your sight?
“I learned how to accept who I am, [to] be free, and to observe myself internally. It changed my perspective of what beauty is. Visual information can be overwhelming and we are shown what beauty should be instead of who you should be. …

What advice do you have for blind dancers and dancers with disabilities?
“I’m still a work-in-progress as a human being, but if I could advise something: keep enjoying dance. If there are some challenges, you can take them as opportunities to make your dance original. Any challenge is a door we didn’t expect we could open. …

What would you like to see more of in the New York dance community?
“I think more accessibility and openness to have visually impaired participants for workshops and classes. Once we have the right access, dance is open to anybody’s needs. I would also like to see more verbal description for dance performances. Before my performances, I invite visually impaired audiences to feel the space; they can touch and feel the props and costumes. …

What advice do you have for dancers encountering major setbacks in their dance career?
Hold onto your hope. I think it’s very important to share your difficulties along with your dreams.”

More here.

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