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Posts Tagged ‘Chile’

Photo: Tini and Jacob Wijpkema.
Rare cactus, Copiapoa cinerascens, found in Chile. According to the NY Times, “Cactus traffickers are cleaning out the deserts.”

Today’s story, about an endangered cactus from Chile, demonstrates the role individuals’ tastes can play in the environment. Our individual choices add up to a force for right or wrong, whether we leave our engine running while we go shopping or we collect plants and animals because they are rare. “One and two and 50 make a million,” you know.

At the New York Times, Rachel Nuwer says some rare cactuses are getting too popular with unscrupulous collectors.

“Andrea Cattabriga has seen a lot of cactuses where they didn’t belong. But he’d never seen anything like Operation Atacama, a bust carried out last year in Italy. A cactus expert and president of the Association for Biodiversity and Conservation, Mr. Cattabriga often helps the police identify the odd specimen seized from tourists or intercepted in the post.

“This time, however, Mr. Cattabriga was confronted by a stunning display: more than 1,000 of some of the world’s rarest cactuses, valued at over $1.2 million on the black market.

“Almost all of the protected plants had come from Chile, which does not legally export them, and some were well over a century old. The operation — which occurred in February 2020, but is being made public now because of the cactuses’ recent return to Chile — was most likely the biggest international cactus seizure in nearly three decades. It also highlights how much money traffickers may be earning from the trade. …

‘Here is an organism that has evolved over millions of years to be able to survive in the harshest conditions you can find on the planet, but that finishes its life in this way — just as an object to be sold,’ [Mr. Cattabriga] said.

“As with the market for tiger bones, ivory, pangolin scales and rhino horn, a flourishing illegal global trade exists for plants. ‘Just about every plant you can probably think of is trafficked in some way,’ said Eric Jumper, a special agent with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Cactuses and other succulents are among the most sought after, along with orchids and, increasingly, carnivorous species.

“Trafficking can take a serious toll. Over 30 percent of the world’s nearly 1,500 cactus species are threatened with extinction. Unscrupulous collection is the primary driver of that decline, affecting almost half of imperiled species. Yet this realm of illegal trade is typically overlooked, a prime example of ‘plant blindness,’ or the human tendency to broadly ignore this important branch on the tree of life.

“ ‘The basic functioning of the planet would effectively grind to a halt without plants, but people care more about animals,’ said Jared Margulies, a geographer at the University of Alabama who studies plant trafficking. ‘A lot of plant species are not receiving the amount of attention they would be if they had eyes and faces.’

“Yet the size of Operation Atacama could be a notable exception. It is also the largest known example of cactuses stolen from the wild being repatriated for reintroduction into their native habitat.

“Experts also hope the case can be a turning point for how countries, collectors, conservationists and the industry deal with the thorny issue of international cactus trafficking.

“ ‘Society as a whole can no longer continue to have a naïve view of this problem,’ said Pablo Guerrero, a botanist at the University of Concepción in Chile. …

“Cactuses confiscated by the Italian authorities are normally destroyed or, if they are rare species, sent to botanical gardens. But with Operation Atacama, ‘it was very different,’ Mr. Cattabriga said. … At first, there was discussion of sending the plants to other botanical gardens in Italy and broader Europe. But Mr. Cattabriga, [Lt. Col. Simone Cecchini, chief of the wildlife division of the local police department] and Dr. Guerrero were adamant they be returned to Chile for both conservation and symbolic purposes.

“Working with [Bárbara Goettsch, co-chair of the Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature] and several others, they spent much of 2020 navigating Italian, Chilean and international bureaucracy to secure permission to send the plants home. ‘It’s the first time this has happened, so no one was really clear on how to do this,’ Dr. Guerrero said.

“The authorities finally agreed to the transfer in late 2020. But neither Chile nor Italy would pay the approximately $3,600 shipping cost.

“Dr. Goettsch managed to secure about three-quarters of the funds from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the botanical garden in Milan pitched in as well. The rest was provided by Liz Vayda, owner of B. Willow, a plant shop in Baltimore that regularly donates to environmental groups.

“Finally, in late April, 844 cactuses made the return journey to Chile.”

Read about the homecoming at the Times, here.

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Raising a family is challenging under any circumstances, but Simon Romero of the NY Times can tell you about families that have added on a somewhat more extreme challenge: settling in Antarctica.

He writes from Villa Las Estrellas, “Children at the schoolhouse here study under a portrait of Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s independence leader. The bank manager welcomes deposits in Chilean pesos. The cellphone service from the Chilean phone company Entel is so robust that downloading iPhone apps works like a charm. …

“Fewer than 200 people live in this outpost founded in 1984 during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, when Chile was seeking to bolster its territorial claims in Antarctica. Since then, the tiny hamlet has been at the center of one of Antarctica’s most remarkable experiments: exposing entire families to isolation and extreme conditions in an attempt to arrive at a semblance of normal life at the bottom of the planet.

“It gets a little intense here in winter,” said José Luis Carillán, 40, who moved to Villa Las Estrellas three years ago with his wife and their two children to take a job as a teacher in the public school.

“He described challenges like trekking through punishing wind storms to arrive at a schoolhouse concealed by snow drifts, and withstanding long stretches with only a few hours of sunlight each day. …

“Most of the students at the village’s small school, who generally number less than a dozen, are the children of air force officials who operate the base; some of the parents say the isolating experience strengthens family bonds.

“That Villa Las Estrellas is so remote — its name can be translated as Hamlet of the Stars, since the lack of artificial light pollution here enhances gazing into the heavens — sits just fine with many who live here.

“ ‘People in the rest of Chile are so afraid of thieves that they build walls around their homes,’ said Paul Robledo, 40, an electrician from Iquique (pronounced E-key-kay). ‘Not here in Antarctica. This is one of the safest places in the world.’ More here.

And here you thought our cold snap was a little intense!

Photo: Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times  
Children being picked up from school in Villa Las Estrellas. Most of the students at the village’s small school, who generally number less than a dozen, are the children of air force officials who operate a nearby base. 

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Maria Popova, at Brain Pickings, spends a lot of time in the library. Although she blogs about all manner of interesting things, I have especially liked her reports on children’s picture books, including the breathtaking array of illustrated Alice in Wonderland editions out there.

A recent post highlighted a fancifully illustrated biography of the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Popova opines, “Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda was not only one of the greatest poets in human history, but also a man of extraordinary insight into the human spirit — take, for instance, his remarkable reflection on what a childhood encounter taught him about why we make art, quite possibly the most beautiful metaphor for the creative impulse ever committed to paper.

“As a lover both of Neruda’s enduring genius and of intelligent children’s books, … I was instantly smitten with Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (public library |IndieBound) by Monica Brown, with absolutely stunning illustrations and hand-lettering by artist Julie Paschkis.

“The story begins with the poet’s birth in Chile in 1904 with the given name of Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto — to evade his father’s disapproval of his poetry, he came up with the pen name ‘Pablo Neruda’ at the age of sixteen when he first began publishing his work — and traces his evolution as a writer, his political awakening as an activist, his deep love of people and language and the luminosity of life.

“Embedded in the story is a sweet reminder of what books do for the soul and a heartening assurance that creative genius isn’t the product of conforming to common standards of excellence but of finding one’s element.”

More here.

Art: Julie Paschkis 

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My, but we work hard at the office. At 4 today, everything stopped and we went to the break room to watch the World Cup. A co-worker from Ghana called his brother. Everything had stopped in Ghana, too.

In honor of the world’s fascination with soccer today, I am posting a futbol story from Bill Littlefield’s radio show Only a Game.

At the show’s website, Ellis O’Neill describes an encounter he had with homeless soccer: “It’s 9 p.m. and the sun went down long ago, but that’s not stopping this group of about 20 young men from playing soccer under the bright lights of a turf field in Puente Alto, a poor suburb to the south of Santiago, Chile.

“Homeless Soccer aims to offer the benefits of sports to Chile’s homeless. It’s been so successful that, over the past eight years, it’s grown from one team that practiced in one Santiago park to almost 100 teams all over the country.

“Domingo Correa is a longtime participant in Homeless Soccer. He first joined back in 2011, and his nickname is Jack Sparrow. With his long dreadlocks and beard, his piercings and rings and his high, sharp cheekbones, he lives up to the name. But Correa doesn’t have a pirate ship, much less any treasure. For 15 years, he lived on the streets of Santiago.

“ ‘There’s no way out, you know?’ Correa said. ‘You think everything has been lost. You have no hope of finding stable work. Also, I had been involved in crime, so I had “stained papers,” as we say here: I had a criminal history. The distance between society and living on the street is enormous.’

“One day, while Correa was watching a Homeless Soccer practice in a Santiago park, the team’s psychologist invited him to join in. He decided to take a stab at it, and he liked what he found. For the first time, there was a group of people that was always there for him – every Monday and Wednesday evening on the soccer field.”

Read how soccer changed Correa’s life, here.

Reminds me of what running means to the Back on My Feet homeless folks that my friend Meg told me about, here.

Highlights from the 2011 Homeless World Cup

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If you want to convert the moisture in clouds into water to feed a parched land, you could train to be a sorcerer.

Alternatively, you could go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Beth Buczynski at MIT’s inhabitat.com has the story on the “giant nets that trap moisture in the foggy mist, and funnel all of the tiny droplets into a container where they add up to water we can drink.”

According to “findings published online in the journal Langmuir, most existing fog harvesting systems are far from optimized. … Postdoc Kyoo-Chul Park PhD, MIT alumnus Shreerang Chhatre PhD, graduate student Siddarth Srinivasan, chemical engineering professor Robert Cohen, and mechanical engineering professor Gareth McKinley, believe that by closing the gaps in the net material, they can drastically improve the efficiency of fog harvesting systems.”

A press release from the research team says, “Chilean investigators have estimated that if just 4 percent of the water contained in the fog could be captured, that would be sufficient to meet all of the water needs of that nation’s four northernmost regions, encompassing the entire Atacama Desert area.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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For architecture buffs everywhere, an article on a collaboration between Hariri Pontarini Architects and Gartner Steel and Glass that has led to an unusual place of worship in South America.

Lisa Rochon writes in Toronto’s Globe and Mail that starting last September “at the Gartner Steel and Glass testing facility in Bavaria, Germany, translucent panels of cast glass [were] mocked up. Artisans at Toronto’s Jeff Goodman Studio, working in close collaboration with Toronto’s Hariri Pontarini Architects, produced the thick, milky glass for a Baha’i temple on the edge of metropolitan Santiago, Chile.

“The protective embrace of the domed temple, to be defined by nine petals (or veils), will be fabricated of myriad shapes in cast glass, with 25 per cent of them noticeably curved. Luminous and white is what design lead Siamak Hariri had in mind; seen up close, they look like streams of milk frozen in place.

“It took years of testing and the rejection of hundreds of samples at the acclaimed Goodman Studio (which typically makes chandeliers or small-scale screens of glass) to arrive at the 32-millimetre-thick cast glass with matte finish. ‘That the design is finally being mocked up in Germany represents a major milestone,’ says Hariri. …

“The project is unique in the world, says Gartner’s managing director, Armin Franke, from his office in Germany. Hariri’s exacting specifications have presented many challenges. For one thing, the architects want only the most minimal silicon joints between the heavy cast-glass panels. The panels – made from countless glass rods laid on a sheet and baked at Goodman Studio – are stronger than stone, according to tests, to satisfy a Baha’i requirement that the building endure for 400 years, and to survive one of the most active earthquake zones in the world.”

I love how many players around the world are collaborating on the innovations behind this project.

Lots more on the project here and at the Baha’i website, here.

Photograph: Hariri Pontarini Architects. A computer-generated rendition of the Baha’i House of Worship under construction in Santiago, Chile.

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