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Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Photo: Kendal Blust/KJZZ via Fronteras.
These eelgrass seeds are fresh from the sea.
Mexico’s indigenous Comcáac people have managed to protect 96% of the precious eelgrass that grows in their region.

I have long known about beach grass and how it can hold the dunes and protect the land in a hurricane. I know about how easily the roots die if you walk on beach grass and why, when “Keep Off the Dunes” signs aren’t obeyed, houses wash away.

But I’m learning there’s another fragile grass that helps the environment. This one lives in the sea and captures carbon.

Sam Schramski has the story at Public Radio International’s the World.

“At a two-day festival on the coast of northern Mexico [last] month, scientists, chefs and local residents gathered to celebrate eelgrass — a unique type of seagrass that grows in the Gulf of California. 

“Seagrass is on the decline in the world’s oceans, but the Indigenous Comcáac people who live in the region have managed to protect the eelgrass that grows in their waters. 

” ‘From my parents, I learned about medicinal plants and the songs of plants, as well as about traditional foods,’ said Laura Molina, who is Comcáac.

“She remembers how her mom made tortillas out of flour ground from eelgrass seeds known as xnois in Comcáac language, a mix between wild rice and nori seaweed. 

Seagrass is getting a lot of attention these days because of its capacity to store carbon, estimated to sequester up to half the so-called ‘blue carbon’ in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems — putting it on par with global forests.

“Ángel León, a Spanish chef and owner of Aponiente restaurant, has made it his personal mission to protect threatened seagrass beds off the Spanish coast. He’s interested not only in the plant’s environmental benefits but also its culinary potential in the kitchen as a nutrient-rich superfood. …

“Seagrass is down about 30% globally since the late 1800s. Through León’s restaurant and related nongovernmental organizations, he has heavily financed seagrass restoration projects.” More at the World, here. Listen to the audio version there.

Kendal Blust at Fronteras also wrote about the festival: “In the small Comcaac village of Punta Chueca, on the Sonoran coast of the Gulf of California, a group of women gathered around a white sheet piled high with dried zostera marina, or eelgrass.

“One woman sang an ancestral song dedicated to the plant, known as hataam, as others beat the dried eelgrass and rubbed it between their palms to remove its small, green seeds. Xnois, as the seeds are known in the Comcaac language, cmiique iitom, are an ancestral food.

“ ‘The Comcaac are the only people, the only Indigenous group, that consumes the seed,’ said Erika Barnett, a Punta Chueca resident who has been heavily involved in restoration efforts.

“Eelgrass seed has been a part of their culture for millennia, she said. Traditionally, the flour was used to make tortillas and a hot drink combined with honey and sea turtle oil. And because it’s quite filling, it used to be carried by Comcaac during sea journeys. …

“Barnett said her great-grandparents were probably the last members of her family to collect and eat the xnois seeds. Her father, now 76, last tasted it when he was just 7.

” ‘That’s was the last time he ate it,’ she said. ‘It’s very ancient, but it’s no longer eaten like it used to be, and most younger people have never tasted it. So this effort is really rescuing our culture.’ …

“Now, Barnett is part of a team working to bring the tradition back to their community — both because of the plant’s nutritional value and its ecological benefits. Eelgrass creates habitat for sea turtles and fish, protects the coastline and captures carbon.

“ ‘It’s important for us to revive these traditions so they can be passed on to future generations,’ she said. ‘But I think we need to show the community that it can be done, first. That it’s hard, but we can harvest the seeds.’

“So for weeks in April, a group of women and girls harvested eelgrass the way their ancestors would have. They waded into the sea to collect plants floating near the shore, then dried, thrashed and winnowed them. …

“ ‘One of the missions of Aponiente is to look to the sea with hunger,’ said Greg Martinez, a chef and biologist. … Martinez said the restaurant is committed to discovering the gastronomic potential in the ocean, both for our health and for the planet.

“And eelgrass has a lot of potential. For one thing, it captures and holds carbon below the water’s surface. Known as blue carbon, it can help mitigate climate change.

“ ‘But it doesn’t only sequester carbon,’ Martinez said. ‘It also protects coastlines. It serves as a habitat for thousands of different species that come to breed in their protection. It buffers waves so if you have a tsunami or another storm it protects the coastline in that way as well.’

“Despite the swath of ecosystem services seagrasses provide, however, seagrass beds currently are disappearing from the world’s oceans, he said. And that makes it especially important to protect the abundant meadows in the Canal del Infiernillo, a channel between the coast and the massive Tiburon Island that is entirely within Comcaac territory.”

More at Fronteras, here. Nice pictures. Both news sites are free of firewalls.

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Photo: Community Forests International.
The Wabanaki-Acadian Forest, made up of 32 species of hardwood and coniferous trees.

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
“Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
“Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic.”

Who remembers the Longfellow poem “Evangeline” from school? The sad, Druidlike pines and hemlocks could never have prophesized what humanity would do to the forest that once covered this continent.

Today’s story, by Moira Donovan at the Christian Science Monitor, is about people who are taking a page from indigenous wisdom and working to preserve what’s left.

“On a sloping patch of forest in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick, Mike Hickey is on the hunt for red oak. They’re not overly difficult to find on his 156-acre woodlot, even though it’s something of a scavenger hunt: The number of mature oak on this thickly wooded expanse can be counted on one hand. …

“He walks down a road past a pile of logs cut from red spruce and other species, many of which were harvested from trees blown down during storms. He uses them to produce his own lumber. … Finally, he arrives at a slope where a slender tree is still hanging on to its auburn leaves despite the winter chill. ‘One of them is up there,’ he says, pointing to a red oak. ‘One of my projects.’

“For the past 10 years, Mr. Hickey has been attempting to restore this woodlot – which has been in his wife’s family for a century – clearing space for long-lived native hardwoods like this oak tree. He’s done this by cutting away competitors, and planting other climate change-tolerant species such as white pine,

to restore this land to the forest that would have existed prior to colonization.

“In doing so, he’s part of a coalition of woodlot owners, Indigenous groups, and community organizations in the Canadian Maritimes that is attempting to protect a globally rare forest ecosystem from disappearing. 

“It’s a long-term vision, to be sure. In his woodlot, for instance, Mr. Hickey estimates it will be decades before the younger red oaks he’s shepherding even begin reproducing, part of a centurieslong rehabilitation timeline that he’s hoping to cut down by a couple hundred years.

“But there’s urgency here, too. Spurred by concerns about the impact of climate change and a rising tide of discontent around forest practices in the region, an increasing number of organizations and individuals are enacting measures they hope will not only restore the ecosystem, but help build bridges between the communities who depend on it. …

“ ‘People are obviously this huge force of change on the planet now, but we can be regenerative and restorative, and there’s actually thousands of years of precedent for that before colonialism,’ says Daimen Hardie, executive director of Community Forests International, a group working on the restoration of the Wabanaki-Acadian Forest. …

“It’s a place where the hardwood forests of the United States meet their boreal counterparts farther north. The result is a rare blend of hardwoods, such as red oak, sugar maple, and yellow birch, and coniferous species such as red spruce, white pine, and eastern hemlock – 32 varieties in all. It’s one of the most diverse temperate forests in the world.

“ ‘Any time in nature when you have two different ecosystems colliding, that overlap and that edge is particularly vibrant,’ says Mr. Hardie. ‘So we get the full diversity of both of those forests combining in this mixed wood, and that mix doesn’t happen anywhere else on the planet.’

“Unlike in Western or boreal forests, the Wabanaki-Acadian Forest’s composition makes it naturally resistant to destruction from forces such as wildfires. … But calamities have come for this forest, nonetheless. Less than 1% remains of the pre-settlement ecosystem that once covered much of the three Maritime Provinces, as well as the easternmost edge of Quebec and part of Maine. 

“When European settlers arrived in eastern North America, they found a forest that had evolved since the retreat of the glaciers, 12,000 years ago, and had been stewarded by Indigenous people for thousands of years. Colonists displaced Indigenous people and quickly denuded much of the land. For a time, most of the pine used by the British Navy came from New Brunswick, and North America’s first sawmill was built in Nova Scotia. In the 20th century, the trend accelerated, and since the 1980s, 40% of the remaining mature forest in the Maritimes has been lost. …

“Some hope that another unique feature of this landscape can be harnessed to help pull it back from the brink. Unlike forests in the rest of Canada, which are largely on government or Indigenous lands, nearly half of the forested acreage in the Maritimes is owned by small woodlot holders, of which there are approximately 80,000 in the region. …

“Says Mr. Hardie. ‘There’s this big opportunity for a more citizen-based, citizen-led change in forestry.’ …

“Research on woodlot owners in the Maritimes shows that most appreciate their forests for more than the timber they generate, says Andy Kekacs, executive director of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association and spokesperson for the Family Forest Network. People value their land for the biodiversity it hosts, the intergenerational responsibility it represents, and the recreation or solitude it provides – values that run counter to turning a quick profit from clear-cutting.

“But despite these virtues, clear-cutting continues even on private land. … This is why, in 2021, the Family Forest Network launched a five-year pilot project of 200 ecological harvests across Nova Scotia. It aims to show woodlot owners and forest contractors that restoring the ecosystem and mimicking the disturbance pattern of the pre-settlement forest – while supporting economic activity – are possible. 

“ ‘We want to say that, “for those of you who think that the only way you can profitably manage a forest is by clear-cutting, there are other things that you can consider and you can feel good about,” ‘ says Mr. Kekacs.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall. Nice pictures.

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Photo: Kyle Peavey.
Kyle Peavey’s backyard in Richardson, Texas. He collects water in a 1,100 gallon rainwater tank to grow his flowers and vegetables.

One way that people are conserving natural resources these days is by being more thoughtful about the water they use in their homes and gardens.

To some extent this is going back to the old ways. On a recent Zoom panel discussing rural America, Montana Senator Jon Testa recalled how conservative with water his mother had to be when he was growing up. He said she could wash a sinkful of dishes with one cup of water.

Sen. Testa’s mother wouldn’t have been thinking about climate change, but she knew scarcity. Here is a report from Tara Adhikari at the Christian Science Monitor on conserving water today.

“In one Texas suburb, a battle of rainwater harvesting tanks is on. During a neighborhood garden tour in May, Kyle Peavy spotted Richard Townsend’s 260-gallon tank and decided to go even bigger. Just two months later, Mr. Peavy installed his own rainwater harvesting system – four times the size. 

“ ‘I’m both proud and slightly envious,’ says Mr. Townsend of Mr. Peavy’s system.

“The two neighbors use the tanks to water their backyard gardens. And while plants like rainwater better than sink water, the men installed these water systems for another reason besides gardening. Both see rainwater harvesting as a practical way to respond to water scarcity. They’re not alone.  

“Rainwater harvesting dates back more than 4,000 years to early Roman and Mayan civilizations. In its simplest form, it involves collecting water as it falls from the sky into barrels, so the water can be saved for later use. Today, this ancient solution is seeing a resurgence among homeowners, businesses, school districts, and at least one church. 

“Among green solutions to climate change, rainwater harvesting stands out in its potential to address two sides of a water paradox – flooding that destroys critical infrastructure, as well as drought conditions that threaten freshwater supplies. 

“ ‘We know that some areas are going to become drier. We know that storms are going to become bigger. And thinking about any practice that can help us address multiple of these issues is really important,’ says Sarah Sojka, associate professor of physics and environmental studies at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. 

“As Americans across the United States turn back to one of the oldest methods in the book, there’s a sense of empowerment that comes from knowing one small action can have a ripple effect. One small tank might just inspire something bigger.

“Typically, when rainwater falls on a roof, it is routed through a gutter system out into the yard or driveway and eventually into the road. Along the way, the water picks up pesticides and road contaminants, before flowing into curbside cuts that direct it into a nearby stream or lake. 

As the urban landscape has become more and more built up, the number of impermeable surfaces, such as paved roads, has increased, forcing larger quantities of water – and pollutants – into local waterways. …

“Rainwater harvesting tanks divert that flow path, reducing the amount of water that hits local systems all at once. As stored tank water replaces tap water for outdoor use, the draw on the municipal supply is reduced, and water that soaks in through the ground eventually helps to replenish baseline flow.

“But it’s not just an old-new way to water. It’s also a new way to think about water as more than an unending supply that spews from the tap. In drier climates especially, rainwater harvesting can provide a visual reminder of natural cycles, which can precipitate the ultimate goal: an actual reduction in water use. …

“Although Mr. Townsend doesn’t consider himself a ‘green warrior,’ he wants his children to understand these cycles. The rainwater tank, which shows natural ebbs and flows, helps him share greater water consciousness with his children. …

“Although one rainwater harvesting tank is unlikely to change local water quality and supply, when implemented at scale, the tanks can aid in overall water conservation – and local governments are taking notice. 

“To encourage widespread adoption, cities across the U.S. are subsidizing the costs of tank installation, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Tucson, Arizona, started its rainwater harvesting rebate program in 2012, after residents had been living under drought conditions for over a decade. In Arizona, water is sourced from groundwater and the Colorado River, which was put under a drought contingency plan in 2019. …

“ ‘Americans just really like being self-sufficient, and … at its core, this is self-sufficiency,’ says Jaimie Galayda, a rebate participant who now works for Tucson Water. …

“When rainwater is collected, says [Fouad Jaber, a professor and water resources extension specialist at Texas A&M University] it reduces the amount of water used from the municipal supply, which comes from local waterways. And if used for outdoor purposes, the water will soak into the ground, eventually feeding back into local bodies of water. …

“St. Louis has a different problem, but rainwater harvesting is helping just the same. Like many older cities, St. Louis has a combined sewer system, meaning storm pipes connect with wastewater pipes. Normally, all the water is treated before entering the Mississippi River, but large storms overwhelm the system, creating direct overflow into the river. And when large quantities of water enter all at once, the water quickly swells out into the surrounding communities.  

“Large rainwater cisterns like the one at Jubilee Community Church help to divert the water before it overflows. In 2018 the church installed a 150,000-gallon cistern with funding and other support from St. Louis’ municipal sewer district and The Nature Conservancy. Rain flows off the church’s roof to the underground catchment, then irrigates a large garden and orchard, which includes tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, figs, and even juju berries.  

” ‘Building the rainwater tank with the garden on top is a way of reinvesting in the community, says Andy Krumsieg, the church’s pastor. ‘This is a very sustainable project because it will keep water out of the sewer system forever … and it created a tool for urban agriculture.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: National Wildlife Federation.
More people are realizing that the 17 million acres of US roadsides are vital sanctuaries for pollinators and other wildlife.

Back in the day, when my mother was active in the Rockland County Conservation Association, I learned more about preventing soil erosion using Crown vetch along the new Thruway than any normal kid should be expected to know. Today the plant is considered invasive and the vision for highway landscaping has evolved.

A recent report from the radio show Living on Earth offers the latest thinking.

“Some 17 million acres of green space line US highways and byways, and it’s vital habitat for pollinators, as well as small voles and mice and birds. Bonnie Harper-Lore, a restoration ecologist formerly with the Federal Highway Administration, tells host Steve Curwood about the value they offer to wildlife and how President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, helped uplift this elongated haven for creatures and wildflowers.

“CURWOOD: Clover is a crucial source of nectar for many pollinators, especially bees. And as national pollinator week is coming up on June 21, it’s a good time to think about the many ways we can help our endangered pollinators, starting with our highways. It turns out that medians and roadsides offer miles and miles of vital habitats for many pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Bonnie Harper-Lore was a restoration ecologist for the Federal Highway Administration, and is a member of the Commission on Minnesota Resources. Welcome to Living on Earth, Bonnie. … We’re talking about those strips of vegetation along the highways. There’s often commercial or residential property right behind them. So, nationwide, just how much of this habitat is there?

“HARPER-LORE: Well, I think the listeners will be surprised to find out that the area between the pavement and the right of way fence on county, state, and interstate highways adds up to a total of 17 million acres, possibly millions of acres of conservation opportunity. … I always saw roadsides from the beginning of my career 30 years ago as an opportunity to benefit wildlife, small wildlife, small birds, small mammals, and migrating birds also use these same corridors. So if they have places to find food and cover, they are all going to do better and their populations will continue to hold where we need them to hold.

“CURWOOD: By the way, I also understand that this roadside habitat has some of the most endangered habitat in various areas – like there are parts of the original prairie that are protected alongside roads, sort of by accident. You can sometimes find real old-growth trees. I mean, how much of a treasure trove is this territory?

“HARPER-LORE: Well that’s just it: We don’t have a complete inventory of all of our roadside vegetation.

I would indeed like to see [an inventory] because I think we would be surprised at how many remnants of these old forests, old prairies, old wetlands even do exist.

“We began doing a bit of that inventory in 1993 in California – found 19 remnants within a very short time and began protecting them, managing differently, not mowing and spraying as they had in the past. So there are some of these. I mean, it’s surprising that they do exist. I know Florida has also some endangered, I believe, pitcher plants that are growing in their rights of ways and they are now watching over them differently than they have in the past. So if we know they’re there we can do differently.

“CURWOOD: So, give us the big picture as to who are the partners in these pollinator conservation efforts.

“HARPER-LORE: Well, first of all, before President Obama visited Mexico and talked to President Nieto and Prime Minister Harper from Canada and they agreed to work together to protect Monarchs – before that point, there were actually a few states that were doing pollinator-focused efforts. Wisconsin comes to mind in that the Karner Blue butterfly is an endangered species, and they actually put together, I believe, a 20-member partnership quite a few years ago to protect the Karner Blue. [That] partnership was mostly private sector, but some state and county agencies, too. … Every state Department of Transportation basically does its own thing, makes its own priorities, but now that there’s been … a reauthorization act that actually supports pollinators, all of the states will start moving in that direction, especially if they know the public is interested. So public support needs to be there.

“CURWOOD: Tell me about the multistate project known as the I-35 corridor, and what’s been done in terms of Monarch protection there? …

“HARPER-LORE: Back in 1993, a group of six states asked the Federal Highway Administration, where I worked at the time, to work together and get some funding to support their effort to actually restore prairie along the I-35 corridor and to protect any remnants that already existed there. … It runs from Minnesota through Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, therefore connecting Mexico to the edge of Canada and of course that’s where the Monarchs fly.

“CURWOOD: What other wildlife uses this roadside habitat? …

“HARPER-LORE: I’ve watched hawks, all kinds of raptors, sitting on the light standards along highways and signposts just waiting for lunch to materialize down there in the vegetation on the roadside. Yes, they do well there because there are lots of mice and voles, other small things possible, plus one that actually motivated reduced mowing here in the Midwest, pheasants and other waterfowl, different kinds of ducks will nest in these rights of ways. …

“It’s because of Lady Bird Johnson that my job even existed with the Federal Highway Administration. I was working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation establishing their wildflower program back in the 1980s when I got an invitation from Mrs. Johnson to come visit with four other states who were also interested in planting wildflowers and we sat and talked with her for two days, and the thing we didn’t know she would do — because she asked us what did we need to be able to do more — within that same year, she saw to it that there was an amendment to the transportation bill that requires all states to use certain percent, not a large enough percent, but a certain percent of their budgets on native wildflowers.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Saving the Stork

stork-festival-vyn

Photo: Gerrit Vyn at Living Bird.
A conservation army of women has worked hard to revive the population of an odd endangered stork, the Greater Adjutant. The work is tied to Aaranyak, a nonprofit focused on biodiversity in northeast India.

As I was trying to decide if you’d be interested in another initiative that might be on hold because of Covid-19, I read the article more carefully and saw something that confirmed it is merely experiencing a pause. “When the entire nation of India was placed into lockdown in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, public festivals were canceled, but the hargila army still celebrated the storks by making Greater Adjutant face masks.” 

Hargila? Greater Adjutant? The story of an inspiring Indian conservationist comes from Arundhati Nath at All About Birds.

“Dr. Purnima Devi Barman carefully balances her feet as she clambers down from an 80-foot-tall bamboo platform. She’s been scanning the treetops above the village of Dadara in northeastern India, looking for the giant stick nests of Greater Adjutants — huge storks named for their stiff-legged, almost military gait.

“These tall, majestic birds were once widely distributed in wetlands across India and Southeast Asia. … The Greater Adjutant is now confined to the northeastern state of Assam, their last stronghold. Elsewhere, small populations persist in Cambodia’s northern plains. The species is endan­gered, one of the rarest storks in the world. …

“In study­ing this species, Barman has noticed a change in the storks’ behavior. Greater Adjutants are now increasingly leaving the rural wetlands where they have historically nested and becoming village dwellers.

“Through her tireless work with Aaranyak, Barman has empowered an army of local women to make another big change happen. Once scorned, the storks are now wel­comed and celebrated in the villages — and people who once destroyed Greater Adjutant nests now care for the birds like their own children. …

“Greater Adjutants can be smelly neighbors. They bring rotting flesh to their nests to feed hatchling storks, and they rain smelly droppings down on villagers’ gardens. People in the Assamese villages of Dadara and Pacharia, where the storks are most common, tended to see the huge birds as a bad omen, a plague. They were even willing to chop down magnificent old trees in their backyards to get rid of stork nests.

“One day in 2007, Barman watched in horror as nine baby storks fell to the ground when a villager chopped down a nest tree. When she tried to stop the vil­lager, she was taken aback by his anger. …

“As other villagers gathered around her at the fallen nest tree, she asked for their help in taking the baby storks to a rescue center at a nearby zoo. … They laughed at Barman, ridiculing her and asking if she wanted to eat the baby birds on her way home. It was an inci­dent that could have discouraged her from enlisting locals in an effort to save the storks. But instead, Barman marks it as a turning point that led to a lot of good and necessary change.

‘I realized that it wasn’t the people’s fault,’ she says now. ‘They were com­pletely unaware about the ecological significance of the endangered stork.’ …

“She made a huge personal sacrifice, stepping away from her PhD studies to dedicate herself to shifting people’s attitudes. Barman started by reaching out to several women in the villages, speaking to them about the importance of these birds and their dwindling population.

“She chose women as a first point of contact for her conservation outreach effort, because she felt the women in these villages don’t often get a chance to weigh in on social issues. And within their families, women can serve as the gatekeepers.

“A big part of Barman’s conservation challenge was access to nests, with Greater Adjutants nesting atop trees on private land, in people’s yards. By striking up friendships with the local women, who were mostly homemakers, Barman figured she could gain permis­sion to enter their premises and work to save the storks. She organized activities such as cooking competitions to attract women to her meetings.

“The meetings were a hit, and they gained a big following. Today Barman has organized a group of more than 400 local volunteers in what she calls the ‘hargila army.’ (In Assamese, Greater Adjutants are called ‘hargila,’ which literally translates as ‘bone swallower’ because the storks sometimes swallow whole bones.)” More at All About Birds, here.

adds a bit more on Barnum at the Better India. “Fondly referred to as the ‘Hargila Baideu’ (Stork Sister) by the local community for the work she has been doing for the birds, Purnima has dedicated her life to protect the Greater Adjutant. …

” ‘My grandmother instilled my love and passion for nature. But it was during my Master’s studying ecology and wildlife biology, when my professors spoke of the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork, which were then nowhere to be seen in my grandmother’s paddy fields. I volunteered at Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based non-profit wildlife conservation organisation, but saw that people’s interest was restricted to glamourous species like the rhino or tigers. So, why shouldn’t I work towards protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork,’ says Purnim.” More here.

By the way, this week I’m drinking a vey nice loose-leaf tea from Assam, home of the Greater Adjutant. Upton Teas has a huge selection, and they ship fast.

Map: Jillian Ditner. Greater Adjutant image: Amol Marathe/Macaulay Library.

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Photo: Jason Hosking
The kākāpō parrots in New Zealand were suffering from a frequently fatal respiratory disease and needed several months of treatment before being returned to the wild.

There’s a lot of dark news in today’s headlines. I won’t get into it. Looking for a little something positive, I learned about a fat parrot that is no longer on the brink of extinction, thanks to people who are focused on doing good. Such people actually exist, you know.

Kate Evans writes at the Guardian, “Growing up in the north of England, Dr James Chatterton was enthralled by the books of the pioneering zookeeper and conservationist Gerald Durrell and dreamed of saving endangered species. Now, on the other side of the world, Chatterton has done just that, helping to bring the world’s fattest parrot back from the brink.

“Chatterton and his team spent the best part of a year [testing] new treatments on the frontline of a killer disease afflicting New Zealand’s kākāpō. … The respiratory disease aspergillosis began to spread through the endangered kākāpō population [in April 2019], threatening to reverse the gains of the bird’s most successful breeding season in living memory.

“Kākāpo are not just rare, they are also deeply weird: flightless, nocturnal, with fragrant feathers and a comical waddling run. Males ‘boom’ to attract females, and they only breed every three to six years when the native rimu trees [produce] large numbers of seeds. …

“By the end of the southern hemisphere’s summer in February, thanks to intensive intervention by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) Kākāpō Recovery Programme, the population of 147 kākāpō had produced more than 80 chicks – a record number. …

“Then one of the chicks died suddenly. It was found to have aspergillosis, a brutal infection in which lumps of fungus form in the birds’ lungs and slowly choke them to death.

“ ‘It’s hard to diagnose, extremely hard to treat, and usually fatal, particularly in wild birds. You usually just find them dead,’ says Chatterton, [manager of veterinary services at Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine]. …

“With aspergillosis, by the time a wild bird begins to display symptoms – or anything unusual shows up in blood tests – it is usually too late to save them. The only way to diagnose the disease in time is using a CT scan or endoscopy to spot fungal growths in the lungs.

“The vets and DOC scientists began mapping which kākāpō had shared a nest with the sick birds and which had been on the same food run. [‘Ahoy! Note the importance of contact tracing,’ says Suzanne and John’s Mom!]

“The 12 deemed at highest risk were evacuated from their home, Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, and taken by helicopter to Auckland. Unfortunately, the city’s veterinary CT scanner was being replaced and was out of action for a crucial five weeks, so the vets took the kākāpō to one of the city’s human hospitals. Though they appeared completely healthy, all 12 were found to have lesions on their lungs.

“That was a stomach-dropping moment, says kākāpō scientist Andrew Digby, who was based on Whenua Hou at the time. …

“Aspergillosis can be treated with oral anti-fungal drugs if you catch it early enough. ‘It’s worked really well with other parrots, but each new species you try needs a different dose,’ says Chatterton. ‘We had birds dying, so we went with a high dose, but worried that in saving some we might kill some.’

“To get the drugs into the birds’ air sacs, the vets also needed to use a nebuliser. Kākāpō may be the world’s fattest parrot, but their airways are still too small for the droplets produced by an adult human nebuliser, so Chatterton tried a paediatric one. It worked – but New Zealand is a small country, and initially only two were available. …

“Volunteer vets arrived to help from around the world. Extra pens were built to house the birds. People brought in sheets and duvets from home to cover the floors, and these had to be washed every day. [People! What does this remind you of?] Others went to the city’s regional parks to gather armfuls of the native plants kākāpō like to eat. Chatterton worked every day for five weeks. …

“Many birds needed months of daily care, but the outbreak was contained. Chicks became juveniles, and while a few died from other causes, most survived and are now counted in the population number: 211, up from just 123 when Chatterton arrived in New Zealand seven years ago. …

” ‘The only chance these endangered species have is if we all work together,’ Chatterton says.”

Amen.

More.

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Photo: Morgan Hornsby
Elk on view at the Salato Wildlife Center. Kentucky is reintroducing elk where coal mines are no longer operating.

It’s interesting to me that when people compare the economic benefits of, say, working in the coal business with working in the elk-tourism business, they don’t routinely include the economic benefits of things like better health. High unemployment is a serious concern, but I do know that miners routinely got black lung disease and that there were pollution dangers to their families.

The story that made me think about this was by Oliver Whang at the New York Times.

“On a bright morning early this spring, David Ledford sat in his silver pickup at the end of a three-lane bridge spanning a deep gorge in southeast Kentucky.

“The bridge, which forks off U.S. 119, … spills out onto Mr. Ledford’s 12,000-acre property, which he and his business partner, Frank Allen, are developing into a nonprofit nature reserve called Boone’s Ridge. ..

“When Boone’s Ridge opens in 2022, it will offer a museum and opportunities for bird-watching and animal spotting. Two independent consultants have estimated that it could draw more than 1 million annual visitors and add over $150 million per year to the regional economy. This is in Bell County, in rural Appalachia, which has a poverty rate of 38 percent and an average household income of just under $25,000, making it one of the poorest counties in the United States.

The decline of the coal industry created a multibillion-dollar hole in the economy and left hundreds of thousands of acres of scarred land. But it has also created opportunities.

“Boone’s Ridge is being established on reclaimed mine land, and one of its biggest selling points is a big animal that has only recently returned to Kentucky: elk.

“When Daniel Boone wandered through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky in the late 1700s, the state was filled with wildlife. … But in less than a century, land development and hunting decimated or eliminated buffalo, turkey, whitetail deer, river otters, bald eagles, quail and other animals. Elk — their presence enshrined in place-names like Elk River and Elkhorn City — were among the first to go. …

“In 1944, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources was established and charged with reintroducing animals of all kinds and regulating their numbers for hunting and conservation. Whitetail deer, which numbered fewer than 1,000 after the Depression, now number more than 1 million and generate $550 million in state revenue from hunting licenses, tourism and the sale of rifles and other hunting-related paraphernalia. …

“With most of the region’s threatened game restored, attention turned to restoring other species, among them elk. In 1997, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an association of hunters, offered to fund a multimillion-dollar six-year plan to airlift more than 1,500 elk to Kentucky from the western United States. …

“The plan was popular; more than 90 percent of state residents supported it. There was only one problem: Each elk eats over 40 pounds of vegetation a day, and the grassland habitats of western Kentucky, where the animals were populous in pre-settlement times, had all been developed. Farm owners did not want half-ton animals destroying their crops,. …

“But in the eastern half, where craggy mountains had previously prevented elk population growth, hunters and conservationists were presented with a remedy to this problem: abandoned coal mines. …

“Unregulated, the environmental effects of mountaintop removal-mining can be devastating and lasting. … But when reclaimed correctly, the landscape can offer opportunities for different kinds of land use, including cattle farming, housing developments and sites for tourism. …

“In 1997, a year before the bridge leading to Mr. Ledford’s land was constructed, 4,000 people gathered on the grassy slope of a reclaimed mine in Perry County as Governor Patton threw open the doors of a trailer and an elk stepped foot on Kentucky land for the first time in more than 150 years. …

“Absent any real predators, the animal’s population has exploded: The state is now home to 13,000 elk and counting, all clustered in the 16 counties of coal country. …

The economic impact is tangible. The state now issues a couple hundred tags for elk hunting each year, and a small market has developed — elk sightseeing tours, elk hunting guides — that adds about $5 million to local economies, according to the state fish and wildlife department.

“The elk industry will not come close to replacing what was lost when coal left, but ‘coal business will not be back,’ said Rodney Gardner, a naturalist at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Floyd County.” Read more here.

Now I want to know what Steven Stoll, author of Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia, thinks about all this. Through his book, I was made aware for the first time that when conservation efforts preclude subsistence farming, families often suffer.

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Photo: SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP)
Rabbit-sized Silver-backed Chevrotain live in the scrubby forests of Vietnam’s coast. Also known as mouse-deer, they are the world’s smallest ungulates, or hooved animals.

The great environmental radio show Living on Earth covered this hopeful story in early March, and despite the changes happening in our constantly upended world, it’s still good news.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: When a species hasn’t been seen for years, we start to worry it might be gone forever, just a ghost from a bountiful past. But in the forests of Vietnam, a team of scientists from Global Wildlife Conservation and its partners have caught just such a ghost on camera: The Vietnamese Fanged Mouse-deer.

“There have been no scientific records of this tiny creature in nearly 30 years, but now, camera traps have identified at least one population of the elusive creature, also known as the Silver-backed Chevrotain. The chevrotain is the first species found as part of Global Wildlife Conservation’s hunt for 25 ‘Most Wanted’ species, which they think may be lost. But the discovery of this particular species doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe from extinction. Vietnam has a lot of biodiversity, but it also has huge conservation challenges, including a thriving bush meat trade.

“For more about the search for the chevrotain, Andrew Tilker, the Asian Species Officer for Global Wildlife Conservation spoke with Living on Earth’s Aynsley O’Neill. …

“AYNSLEY O’NEILL: How did it feel to see this creature for the first time?

“ANDREW TILKER: It’s a really cool animal. So it looks like a tiny deer.

And when I say tiny, I mean the size of a rabbit. It looks like a small deer that somebody had dipped halfway into a bucket of silver paint and then pulled it out again. …

“I was overjoyed, as was the entire team. We felt confident that we had a good shot at getting photographs of the species because local people said they saw this animal that couldn’t be anything else. … Just highlights the importance of [working] with local people and local ecological knowledge. …

“In two different locations, local people told us they had seen a gray colored chevrotain. And so we went to one of these locations and put out camera traps and obtained the first photos of the species and the first record that the species exists in almost 30 years. So the species wasn’t lost to local people, which is why we try to be very careful to say that silverbacked chevrotain was lost to science. …

“We don’t yet know if there are threats that are specific to the chevrotain. But the species is, without a doubt heavily threatened by rampant indiscriminate snaring because every mammal species in Vietnam is threatened by snaring.

“In Vietnam and in other parts of Southeast Asia, bushmeat is something of a status symbol. So if you’re upper middle class and you want to show off to your friends, an easy way to do that is to go out and go to a bushmeat market and buy bushmeat rather than domestic meat. …

“We’re very intentionally not releasing the name of that site or the location of that site, just to be sure that there is no chance that any poachers who want something different or novel would try to hunt animals from that population. We know that the species is threatened by poaching, there’s no question about it. …

“O’NEILL: What are the next steps? Where do we go from here?

“TILKER: So the work is just beginning. The first step is securing the single known population. The second step, I think, is try to figure out where else the species occurs. If we lose these species from Vietnam, because they’re only found in this country, then that equates to global extinction. …

“[The] story, I think, gives much needed momentum for a positive outlook to conservation in Vietnam. And I’ve seen that in my interactions with local stakeholders, both from NGOs and also from the Vietnamese government. So it’s it’s nice to be part of a story that has such a positive direction because I think that’s often needed when you’re working in such a difficult field.”

To read more or listen to the original episode, click here.

By the way, you can join a free Living on Earth Zoom call with ecologist Carl Safina on Monday at 7 pm. Register here.

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Photo: Maria Magdalena Arrellaga
The beautiful golden lion tamarin is like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If this species goes, others will, too. Activists in Brazil are working to protect its habitat.

I really like the Science section of the New York Times. Right before we all began isolating, I had started reading headlines to a grandson and letting him pick an article we could read and talk about. He picked one about a planet small enough to fit in a living room. The tiny planet was a real thing, but we learned that it was only passing through Earth’s orbit.

Alas, who knows whether any grandchild will still be up for reading science articles with me when/if I ever get out of quarantine.

I believe this story about a beautiful endangered monkey in South America would have been of interest.

As James Gorman reported, “The golden lion tamarin, one of the world’s most charismatic primates, has a dark face that can look inquisitive, challenging, almost human, framed in an extravagant russet mane.

“The endangered New World monkey weighs less than two pounds. It lives only in Brazil, and only in the Atlantic coastal forest there. Tamarins spend their time high in the trees, up to 100 feet off the ground, in small groups of up to eight or so animals, with one breeding pair among each group. …

“The golden lion tamarin has always had its human admirers, many of them in the Old World. Europeans imported the animals as pets in the 1500s, and they can be seen in portraits of Spanish royalty.

“But deforestation, agriculture and development destroyed much of its habitat, as the pet trade continued into the 20th century. By the 1970s, only about 200 animals survived.

“In 1992, the Golden Lion Tamarin Association (Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado) was founded in Brazil. In concert with international conservation groups and supported by a dedicated U.S. charity, Save the Golden Lion Tamarin, the group began to buy up land to create connected conservation areas. And zoos around the world, like the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., contributed to reintroducing the animals to the wild.

“The population had reached 3,700 in the wild, according to Luis Paulo Ferraz, the director of the association, but suffered its first population decline last year, when yellow fever killed hundreds of the tiny monkeys. … Today there are about 2,500 tamarins living in about five million acres of forest. But only some of those forest acres are connected. …

“ ‘Our main goal,”’ Mr. Ferraz said, ‘is to create a viable population in the long term.’ What that means in numbers is a population of 2,000 tamarins with a connected conservation area of 2.5 million acres, milestones the group hopes to reach by 2025. Scientists say such a size is necessary for the population to be self-sustaining.

“One challenge to getting connected areas was the widening of a major coastal highway, BR-101, which cuts through large chunks of Atlantic forest. The improvement of the highway created a barrier that isolated several forest areas and their more than 700 tamarins from three other large forest fragments.

After negotiations and lawsuits, the conservationists managed to get the construction company to agree to build and pay for a forested overpass for animals, the first in Brazil, with a tunnel and forest canopy connections, to enable the tamarins and other animals to pass from one side to the other. …

“As with many other conservation campaigns, the golden lion tamarin is the beloved and beautiful poster animal for the preservation of a habitat that includes many plants and less compelling animals, like sloths and frogs. The forest also provides a watershed for human use.

” ‘We are not only talking about one species,’ Mr. Ferraz said. ‘We are talking about the environment.’ ”

Click here for more of the story — and some gorgeous pictures.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
Gabions are baskets of rocks that Valer Clark places in stream beds to slow the water as it rushes through in the rainy season. They’re part of her work to bring dried-up land back to life.

Having woken up today to more US nuttiness (our whole family could visit Erik’s mom in Sweden and bring back whatever germs might be there, but she herself will have to postpone her trip to visit grandchildren because she’s Swedish), I decided to focus on an American actually doing good in the world.

In this episode of Living on Earth, Bobby Bascomb visits land preservationist Valer Clark at her ranch in Agua Prieta, Mexico. …

“BOBBY BASCOMB: Today the lands of the Southwestern US and Northern Mexico are considered desert or semi-arid. But for a couple months each year the region is awash with water from the seasonal monsoons. The normally dry river beds fill with flood water and swell to create habitat for all manner of water birds and amphibians. The watery paradise is short lived though, and most of those streams dry up in a matter of weeks.

“But that wasn’t always the case. A network of streams, rivers and wetlands once crisscrossed the landscape. In fact, more than 150 years ago, around the time of the Civil War, people in the region struggled with malaria, a mosquito-born illness typically associated with tropical wet climates. In Mexico, I found a ranch owner that’s working on ways to keep some of that water on the land longer. … My journey starts at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Arizona. ..

“The opulence of the hotel hints at an earlier time of prosperity and wealth. Valer says the whole region, north and south of the border, was made rich more than 100 years ago by the same things.

“VALER CLARK: This was copper, cotton, and cattle. The three Cs, you know, all in the early 1900s.

“BASCOMB: Those three Cs made a lot of money but heavily degraded the land. … When Valer first visited back in the 70s, decades of mining and agriculture left the arid soil dry and cracked, few trees remained and the river beds were deeply eroded. …

“CLARK: When I got here and started seeing the lack of water and seeing the situation, what it looked like, and the hills were bare, and there was no grass. And I thought I wonder if you could make a change. I wonder if there’s something you can do about this. …

“BASCOMB: Valer eventually bought and rehabilitated some 150,000 acres of land in northern Mexico and the Southwest US. That’s more than 10 times the size of Manhattan. And her work here has been transformative, says Ron Pulliam, … an ecologist, formerly with the US Department of Interior, and founder of the nonprofit Borderlands Restoration Network. …

“PULLIAM:  If you put hundreds of cows out on a small area here, you basically reduce all the ground cover. So, when the rain comes it just runs off the land rather than being caught up in the vegetation.

“BASCOMB: And keeping that rainwater on the land is the fundamental key to what Valer is doing to rehabilitate her property. More water will mean more grass and trees, habitat for the wildlife that was once common here. It’s sort of a build it and they will come philosophy. …

“CLARK: This is what we call a gabion, which is a wire basket that is filled with rocks.

“BASCOMB: That’s it, a wire basket full of rocks. They’re about 3 feet tall, some just 5 or 6 feet wide, others more than a hundred feet across. Valer and her crew have built more than 20,000 of them on her property. They all sit in riverbeds which are dry most of the year until the monsoon rains come.

[When] the gabions get to work, they slow down the water rushing through the river bed so silt can accumulate behind them, like a sponge.

“BASCOMB: Nearly all these trees have sprouted up since Valer began keeping more water on the land. Near the stream, a canopy of cottonwood trees towers over us and a lush green understory creates the feeling of a jungle that follows the narrow band of water. We continue our walk on the edge of the forest, which she says is a vital corridor for wildlife in the region.

“CLARK: We’ve seen ocelot, we’ve seen bobcats and lions and bears and coatimundis and javelinas, ring tailed cats. …

“BASCOMB: We drive past parched bare earth cracked into the shape of a hexagon and stop at a different ecosystem all together. …

“Instead of a riparian forest this is a wetland teeming with life. Reeds and cat tails poke up through the water. At least a dozen different species of brightly colored birds dart about, butterflies sun themselves, and bright blue dragon flies copulate in mid-air. Ron Pullium says this region is a hotbed for insect diversity, including some 450 different species of bees. …

“BASCOMB: [The next day] we walk alongside a small creek, craning our necks up, hoping to spot some birds.

“PULLIUM: This creek is interesting just in itself. It was protected by Valer because it was identified as the most intact fish stream in northern Mexico, and perhaps the most intact in all of Mexico. …

“BASCOMB: For all her ecological work, Valer is still mindful of serving as a model for other ranches in the region that depend on raising cattle for their livelihood. She removed most of the cows from her ranch when she bought the place. But she did keep a small herd and is very deliberate about where and when they graze. And it’s paid off. Her ranch manager recruited members of his family to enter three novio steers in a large cattle exposition.”

Read more at Living on Earth about Valer Clark and why preservation is so satisfying to her.

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Photo: Zion National Park
California condor chicks No 1,000 and 1,001 hatched in May this year, signalling a success for the species.

They are ugly and mostly unloved. But today, when so many creatures are going extinct, one can only rejoice to see that these guys are coming back. They are California Condors.

Maanvi Singh writes at the Guardian, “Nestled among the red-rock cliffs of Zion national park and the Grand Canyon, California condor chicks No 1,000 and 1,001 blinked into this world. Their birth signalled success for a decades-long program to bring North America’s largest bird back from the brink of extinction.

“As a result of hunting, diminishing food and dwindling territory, the number of birds in the wild numbered just 22 in the early 1980s. Lead poisoning was also a major killer, caused by inadvertently ingesting bullets that hunters left inside dead animals that the enormous birds, which have a wingspan of 9.5ft and weigh up to 25lb, scavenged for food.

“Facing imminent extinction, the few remaining wild birds were placed into a captive breeding program in 1987 and slowly released back into the wild starting in the early 1990s. Biologists estimate that the 1,000th and 1,001st chicks hatched in May this year, but they were only able to confirm their existence over the past several days, because the raptors build their nests inside caves carved into steep, sometimes inaccessible cliffs. ‘You know, condors can be secretive,’ said Janice Stroud-Settles, a wildlife biologist at Zion National Park in Utah. …

“The 1,000th hatchling’s parents were both born in captivity, and the mother has already lost two chicks. Her firstborn probably died – as many baby condors do – in an initial, unsuccessful attempt to fledge (AKA fly) the nest. …

“ ‘We’re hoping this chick will successfully fledge once it’s old enough to fly – sometime in the fall,’ Stroud-Settles said, noting that the nesting site she chose has a large ‘porch’ area where the growing chick can practice flapping before taking its perilous first flight. …

“But the species is still classified as critically endangered by the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] and faces multiple threats, including the ongoing menace of lead poisoning.

“A law that went into effect this month has made it illegal to use lead ammunition to hunt any game in California. In Utah and Arizona, however, conservationists have taken a different approach. Because a straight ban could alienate hunters, conservationists are encouraging locals to reduce their use of lead bullets through a voluntary program. …

“The total living population of California condors now numbers more than 500, with more than half in the wild. The oldest bird being tracked in the condor restoration program is 24, but researchers estimate that California condors can live up to 70 years. They are very gregarious animals who get together in large groups and ‘like humans, tend to mate for life,’ noted Stroud-Settles.”

If this bird can be brought back from the brink of extinction, maybe all sorts of things threatened by human ignorance can be brought back, too. Elephants, butterflies, insects, trees. Maybe even — dare one hope? — our wobbling democracy.

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Mark Makela
Caleb Hunt, left, and Tony Croasdale at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. In a city known for its punk underground and avian history, the friends have found an overlap that celebrates both niches.

No doubt among the pressing questions of our time, you have been wondering about the connection between punk rockers and birders. Wonder no more. Steve Neumann at the magazine Audubon has answers for you.

“It’s the evening golden hour at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. A whirlwind of swallows swims through the soft light, chasing midges into a frenzy. Nearby on a platform a handful of birders scans the dimming sky, exposed to the marsh and its blood-thirsty elements.

“In plain T-shirts and khakis, the group blends into the woods-y backdrop — with two exceptions. Caleb Hunt, a bookkeeper for an adult-entertainment boutique, rocks a Philly Punx tank top with a fanged, horned Benjamin Franklin splashed across the front. Next to her, Tony Croasdale, the leader of today’s walk, sports an aviary of skin art. A Swallow-tailed Kite, Belted Kingfisher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet Tanager, and three types of vultures bedeck his legs, collarbone, and arms.

“Croasdale’s tattoos pay homage to two of his biggest life passions: birding and punk rocking. He plunged into the first as a kid when his father took him to Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park to learn about kingfishers. The music came later at age 19 when he launched the vegan thrashcore band R.A.M.B.O. under the stage name Tony Pointless. The collective quickly hit fame with two full-length albums and tours on five continents; but when it broke up in 2006, Croasdale came back to his home city and turned his focus to environmental activism. He eventually went on to found the BirdPhilly education program, which is how he and Hunt, who identifies as a committed punk, met in 2015.

“Though his moshing days are behind him, Croasdale says he still feels connected to punk culture. If anything, he’s found more space for expression by building birding into his practice. The hybrid approach has strengthened his resolve to tend to nature and fight oppression with personal action — a sentiment shared by his many ‘birdpunk’ friends around the country. …

“ ‘Philadelphia has so many row homes with basements,’ Croasdale adds. ‘That fosters a vibrant show scene.’ It was in those basements that Croasdale formed R.A.M.B.O. — an acronym for ‘Revolutionary Anarchist Mosh Bike Overthrow’ — in 1999 as lead singer. …

“Ultimately, that double lifestyle didn’t work out. Before a show in Malaysia, Croasdale and the band’s bassist, Bull Gervasi, went birding in Kuala Selangor, 100 miles away from where they were taking the stage. They gave themselves 10 hours to get back by bus, but it took 12 and they missed their call time.

‘It was kind of a big deal,’ Croasdale says. ‘It occurred to me that my head was not in the band; it was with the birds.’

“Today Croasdale is the site director for the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center … Working in conservation in West Philadelphia has helped Croasdale resolve a childhood dilemma. When he was 12, he realized that the government and in general, society, couldn’t be trusted to steward the planet and its resources. But it wasn’t until he fell into the punk scene that he was fully able to share that anxiety. ‘I found out there was music, a political ideology, and a counterculture that spoke to these issues. It provided me with like-minded peers,’ he says.”

More here.

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Back in the 1800s, two artists made a painting more than 1,200 feet long, which they then displayed in cities around the country. They charged admission to audiences interested in learning about the whaling life and the exotic places whaling ships dropped anchor on their long voyages.

Until October 8, the New Bedford [Mass.] Whaling Museum is offering free admission to see the painstakingly restored panorama. The venue is an old warehouse, the only place big enough to hold the painting in its extended form.

In the old days, this marvel traveled by train, sparks flying and burning holes in the painted sheeting, and audiences got to see it unscrolling in a frame that looked a bit like the whaling museum’s draped arch in the picture below.

Back then, people would not have been able to walk up and down and go back to an interesting spot to take a picture. At any given moment, they saw only the part that a narrator was describing. Because I could walk back and forth along the extended artwork, the pictures here may not be in sequence — I might be misleading you into thinking the ships got to Fiji before the Azores, for example. (By the way the volcano picture is from Cape Verde.)

Be sure to check out the whaling museum’s information. This link offers a short video. And this one talks about the conservation work: “Created by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington in 1848, this Panorama has been displayed in a host of venues – from a national tour when it was created to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was donated to the Museum in 1918 and was displayed for many years. However, one can easily imagine what a century and a half of rolling, unrolling, display, and light can do to deteriorate nearly a quarter-mile of painted cotton sheeting. It has not been exhibited in its entirety for more than 50 years, and the Museum thanks Mystic Seaport for kindly storing this monstrous painting over the past year.”

At the Boston Globe last year, Jennifer McDermott wrote a good preview of the work, which was created, she says, “to capture all aspects of a whaling voyage. The panorama would be mounted on a system of cranks and reels to go across a theater stage as a narrator told stories of hunting whales and processing their carcasses. A poster for the Boston stop in 1849 advertises tickets for 25 cents. The audience members would hear what it was like to round Cape Horn and visit Fiji and other far-flung destinations as they saw painted scenes of those locations.” …

McDermott adds that D. Jordan Berson, who managed the project, “spent a year spraying the panorama with an adhesive to stabilize a paint layer that had powdered over time. The conservator stitched sections that were taken apart, repaired thinning areas of the cotton muslin fabric and fixed holes and tears.”

Nowadays, most of us think it’s a crime to kill these magnificent creatures, but it’s worth knowing how it was done if only because there are still people in places like Japan and Norway whose job it is to do just that.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
People come with plastic bottles and jugs to collect free water in Cape Town, South Africa, where a dire shortage spurred residents to cut water usage in half.

You may have read about the dire water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, a situation resulting from lack of public funds to do the work that would have protected the supply.

But this story shows how much people can accomplish when faced with a life or death challenge.

Ryan Lenora Brown reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “A year ago, [Musa] Baba and [Helen] Moffett had almost nothing in common, and in many ways, they still live in two different universes. Moffett lives in a manicured gated community flanked by mountains. Baba’s house is two tin rooms she built herself that grip the side of a hill cluttered with other small shacks.

“But these days, the two women, along with millions of others here, share a common preoccupation: how to save water. For Baba and many others, that’s been a lifelong project of necessity. But for another population of Cape Town residents, including Moffett, it’s part of a massive lifestyle pivot that has helped bring the city on the southwestern tip of South Africa back from the brink of the unthinkable.

“As recently as March, Cape Town’s government was instructing residents to prepare for an imminent ‘Day Zero,’ when taps across most of the city would be shut off indefinitely. …

“Newspaper headlines across the world blared [Cape Town] was about to become the first developed city in the world to completely run out of water.

“But behind the scenes, a tectonic shift was under way. As the city bartered for water with local farmers and hustled to build desalination plants, its residents simply started using less water. A lot less.

“And it has worked – at least for now. … Using a combination of sticks and carrots to coax residents on board, the city has cut its water use by half. Its biggest customers now use 80 percent less. Today, every Capetonian is allowed just 13 gallons of municipal water per day – a little less than the amount it takes to flush a toilet four times. Use more, and the city reduces your pressure to a trickle, and your water bill can turn into a mortgage payment. …

“Here in Cape Town, suburban residents have become connoisseurs of taking 90-second showers and then flushing their toilets with the water they collected while doing it.

“On popular water-saving Facebook groups, city residents debate the best way to wash their dog ‘off the grid’ (bottled water, one woman suggests. Scrub him down with used bath water, offers another.) They swap the names of local companies that will sink a personal well in your backyard. Local police, meanwhile, receive a steady stream of tips from concerned residents who’ve seen their neighbors committing the ultimate middle-class drought crime: watering their lawns. …

“Says Kirsty Carden, an engineer at the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management Research Unit, ‘Yes, it’s been a crisis, but it’s also good to learn these lessons now. Cape Town isn’t the only city in the world that’s going to need them for the future.’ …

“Water restrictions have had another, less obvious effect: They have given the rich a small but rare experience of how the poor have always gotten by.

“ ‘It’s humbling, learning to think about water the way most South Africans have been doing for a long time,’ Moffett says, arranging two gallon jugs of water from another local spring in the trunk of her car. ‘Every household chore takes three times as much thought, and three times as long.’ …

” ‘We have always lived like this – nothing has changed because of the drought,’ says Baba, sloshing a T-shirt in a sudsy bucket outside her house. ‘If now rich people can understand better what that’s like, I think that’s a good thing.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Kathryn Scott Osler/Denver Post via Getty Images
Black-footed ferrets are the most endangered mammal in North America. Scientists in Montana are trying to save the ferrets by saving their main food source, prairie dogs.

Never doubt the power of a research report written in elementary school. Maybe I would have become interested in conservation anyway (my mother headed up a local conservation group for years), but a report I wrote in 6th grade about the devastation to birds caused by fancy hats pre-WWI made me pay particular attention to birds. John, an environmentalist today, really got into the cause of endangered black-footed ferrets when he wrote a report on them in elementary school.

Although once-threatened birds like the snowy egret and the great egret have been saved, the black-footed ferret, alas, is still endangered. At National Public Radio, Nate Hegyi reports on how scientists are addressing the problem today.

“In central Montana, drones are dropping peanut butter pellets on prairie dog colonies. It’s part of an effort by biologists to save North America’s most endangered mammal — the black-footed ferret (or as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls it, the BFF).

“Prairie dogs make up the vast majority of a BFF’s diet. Save the food and you save the ferret, biologists wager. …

“Kristy Bly, a senior biologist with the World Wildlife Fund, [said] there are only about 300 black-footed ferrets left in the wild, and they depend almost entirely on prairie dogs to survive. And protecting the prairie dog population is beneficial to species beyond the ferrets.

” ‘Prairie dogs are Chicken McNuggets of the prairie, where so many species eat them,’ Bly said.

“But in recent years, prairie dog towns across the American West have been exposed to a deadly disease called sylvatic plague. While it’s treatable in humans, sylvatic plague can wipe out entire prairie dog towns in less than a month. And that means no more food for endangered black-footed ferrets.

“So Bly, [Fish and Wildlife biologist Randy Matchett] and a team of scientists and engineers have spent this year vaccinating prairie dogs in central Montana against the plague using drones.

“Drone pilots fly the machines across the prairie, dropping blueberry-sized pellets about every 30 feet. They are flavored to taste like peanut butter, and prairie dogs love peanut butter. The kicker is that they’re laced with a live vaccine that protects them from the plague. …

“By the end of [one] day, they hope to expose more than 4,000 prairie dogs to the vaccine. Past field trials have shown that prairie dogs living in vaccinated areas survive waves of the plague.

” ‘Without [the ferret], do we really have a complete ecosystem?’ Bly asked. ‘You start taking those pieces apart, it’s like a domino effect. When we have ferrets on the landscape the piece of the puzzle that is the American prairie all fits.’ ” More here.

I like the idea of using drones this way. Makes me wonder if the technique could be adapted to handle the overabundance of deer in areas suffering from tick-borne disease. Couldn’t a deer contraceptive in salt pellets be scattered by drones? Just asking.

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