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Posts Tagged ‘living on earth’

Photo: Jay Feinstein
Shawn Cooney and his wife Connie own Corner Stalk Farm, a container farm in East Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you get the radio show Living on Earth where you live? I find it fascinating no matter what topics they cover. Here is a recent episode on urban farming.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: Industrial agriculture today is a resource-intensive endeavor, requiring big machines, plenty of land, water, and energy to produce much of the food on a typical American dinner table. And as the public trends more toward plant-based foods, some are thinking outside the box by bringing farms inside the box. By retrofitting old shipping containers with grow lights and hydroponic gear, what would take about an acre of land to grow vegetables such as lettuce can be fit into just 8 by 40 feet. Living on Earth‘s Jay Feinstein and Aynsley O’Neill took a trip to Corner Stalk Farms in East Boston, Massachusetts to find out more. …

“O’NEILL: I see these shipping containers. I mean, right in the middle of these houses and behind the auto body shop … here we are!

“FEINSTEIN: You know, the funny thing is a farm like this would not have even been legal until 2013, when Boston revamped its zoning code. …

“COONEY: My name is Shawn Cooney. And I’m the partner and owner of Corner Stalk farm in East Boston, Massachusetts, and we started in 2014. So this is it. … Basically you’ve seen the whole of the farm by walking the 120 feet or so. …

“O’NEILL: Are those the plants in those columns all up and down?

“COONEY: Right. You really need just an industrial area [where] you can basically bring as many plants as possible into as little amount of square footage as possible. … In a real farm, you’re talking about square footage and acreage. Here, it’s really cubic feet. We’ve got so many feet on the floor, but we plant plants up to ten feet high. …

“We’ve got a climate control system, and a lot of fans keep the air moving so that everything’s happy. And the plants get a little bit of stress. If you just leave them without any movement, the plants actually get weak. …

“They do need to be moved around for them to have a good texture to them, so that the cell walls are thick enough, so that it’s not just eating a piece of water. …

“You can log into it from the outside world. If you want to fiddle around with settings, or just check on everything, you can do that from home, you can do it from from vacation. …

“FEINSTEIN: So how did you get into this?

“COONEY: I started three software companies and sold them. … My wife and I myself funded it, and we have loans [from] the US Department of Agriculture. …

“Mainly we grow lettuce. That’s our business. And we’ve grown tomatoes, we’ve grown lots of flowers, we’ve grown all kinds of herbs, and God knows what else. But [what] people buy every day is our greens, even our restaurants, that’s what they want. …

“FEINSTEIN: What type of environmental cost are you saving? …

“COONEY: One of the things we definitely don’t do is waste any water. No matter how good you are at growing outside, you could never grow with the kind of water use we have. We use, say 1000 plants we can grow in one unit, we probably use 25 gallons of water a week. So you couldn’t water your patio plants for a week with 25 gallons and keep them alive. …

“We adhere to the organic principles. Generally, the way we control any kind of a pest in here is kind of preemptive. We basically use ladybugs. We ship them in once a month or so, and sprinkle them around, and they pretty much do the policing of any kind of bugs in here. And when we have had to use something it’s called chrysanthemum oil. …

‘You guys want to try something a little, little further on the edge? This is called wasabi arugula. And I grow it for a couple of restaurants. And they use it instead of wasabi on their crudo and their raw fish and their raw meats. So here, take a leaf of that and be prepared. …

“FEINSTEIN: It does taste like wasabi. But it it’s a little milder, but I love it.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Woody Hibbard, Flickr
Petrified Forest National Park reaches into the Painted Desert in Arizona, which boasts a colorful badlands ecosystem.

A former colleague of mine, a naturalized citizen originally from northern China, has a goal to visit all the national parks. He puts me to shame. I have visited so few. But after listening to this story from the environmental radio show Living on Earth, I know I would really like to see one national park — Arizona’s Petrified Forest.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: We continue our series on US public lands now with a trip to one of our more unusual National Parks. Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is full of wildlife, and the beautiful hiking trails that we’ve come to expect in our public lands.

“But what really sets it apart are the trees that died there. … The fossilized remains of those trees, logs more than 6 feet in diameter, are still there today, cast in stone. Here to explain more about the unique geological process that preserved the ancient trees is Sarah Herve, the acting chief of interpretation for the park. …

“SARAH HERVE: Petrified wood is a fossil. A lot of times people think that it’s something different than you know, any other kind of fossil … the remains of gigantic forests that were here during the Late Triassic. The logs … have been turned to stone by rapid burial.

“There’s silica in the materials that the trees were buried in and the cellular structure has been replaced by silica. There’s other minerals present, but the glassy mineral silica is really, really good at exchanging places with cellular material. …

“BASCOMB: The end result then, is you have these logs lying around that look exactly like trees, you can see the rings in them, the bark, the whole thing, but it’s stone. …

“HERVE: That wood is oftentimes what we call rainbow wood, because it’s very, very colorful. [When] you look on the inside, there’s all kinds of pinks and purples and blue colors, blacks, and it’s really just amazing. … If you can picture these logs when they were trees, they would be comparable to like the giant sequoias of California. …

“BASCOMB: What are scientists able to learn about the geology of the area and the trees themselves from studying this petrified wood? …

“HERVE: This part of northern Arizona was a much more tropical kind of environment. We were closer to the equator at that time, the continents were together to form Pangaea, there was quite a bit more water through this region. [That’s] based on looking at the different fossils that are found within these rocks and the rocks themselves. It’s thought that there was a tremendous river system that was running through this area. … Something on the same magnitude as like the Mississippi or the Amazon River. …

“It’s really hard to imagine [a] place so full of trees and crocodile-like animals running around and lots of amphibians, right. Those are some of the different fossils that we find. … Then we have, you know, incredible badland topography. So that’s what a lot of people, you know, call the Painted Desert. And it is very, very colorful, that’s why it gets that name. But those deposits are the remains of those ancient rivers. … The dinosaurs that we find at Petrified Forest, they’re generally pretty small. So we’re at a time way before all the big dinosaurs happened. …

“BASCOMB: I understand that you also have petroglyphs there, left over from early inhabitants of the area. …

“HERVE:  There’s a lot of petroglyphs or what we call rock art in the park. There’s [sometimes] animistic forms. So you’ll see things that look like different kinds of birds or things that look really obviously like deer, you know, or elk or pronghorn antelope, which are animals that still live in the park today. And then some of the forms are very, very strange, and really hard to interpret. Some of the petroglyphs are also considered what we call solstice markers, or solar calendars. And so they have light interactions with the sun during different times of the year. …

“BASCOMB: We have a lot of national parks in our country; we’re very lucky that way. Why should somebody visit this park as opposed to any other?

“HERVE: You know, what I hear from a lot of park visitors is, ‘Wow, we’re so glad we came here, we like this better than Grand Canyon!’ And that’s not a dig on Grand Canyon. But it’s always interesting to me to hear that because I think a lot of times people don’t realize right when they get off the interstate what they’re in for.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Thinking about my friend who is visiting all the parks, I realize it’s not unusual for naturalized citizens to appreciate the wonder and variety of this great land more than some of us who are native born. Another former colleague, also originally from China, has been expressing his delight in America by running half-marathons around the country. He has already covered more than half the states and won’t stop until he has run in all 50.

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fatbears_chubbybear

Photos: N. Boak
Brown Bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve gain a lot of weight during the spring and summer to prepare for winter hibernation. Alaskans and friends around the world compete to vote on which bear looks the fattest.

I just learned about a funny competition that even the inventive, competition-loving Finns hadn’t thought up. The story was on the wonderful radio show Living on Earth.

“RADIO HOST STEVE CURWOOD: The rangers at Katmai National Park in southern Alaska are hosting a fishing derby, but in this case it’s not the biggest fish that wins, it’s the biggest one who catches fish.

“These contestants are very large bears, the eight and nine footers of Katmai, which is home to the largest concentration of brown bears in the world. These bruins can lose as much as one third of their weight while sleeping through the long cold Alaska winter, so summer and fall, they pack on extra pounds with sockeye salmon.

“And to let the public decide which bear appears to have caught and eaten the most fish, park rangers host a fat bear contest each year. People can watch the live stream of the bears snagging fish on the Brooks River in Katmai and then go to Facebook to vote for the ursine angler they think should be named the fattest. For details of the fat bear tournament Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb spoke with Katmai media ranger Naomi Boak.

“BOAK: It’s like March Madness for bears. We create brackets, and we have head to head matchups. And people from all over the world vote for who they think is the fattest bear this year at the Brooks River. And we have several bear cams here which stream live the activities of the bears all season. …

“BASCOMB: I was watching the live stream online and it’s really fun just to watch these bear stand so stoically, and try and catch the salmon coming upstream. And that’s how they’re fattening up right now. Right?

“BOAK: Yes, and they’ve been doing that all summer. We have one of the largest sockeye salmon runs here on the Brooks River. And it was a great salmon run; last year was record breaking. And the bears came back nice and healthy. And this year was another great year. The bears are really obese, and they’re working very hard to be as fat as they can for their winters hibernation. …

“When they go into hibernation in the winter, they’re not completely asleep. But they do not eat; they lose maybe 30 to 40% of their fat stores. So if they’re not fat enough, they’re going to have a hard time surviving the winter.

“And when they come out of hibernation in early spring, there’s not a lot of food around. So they’re eating grasses, it’s not very nutritional, they will continue to lose weight. And for sows, it’s important for them to get fat because they won’t get pregnant unless they’re fat. With bears, there’s what’s called delayed implantation. So the bears mate early in the season. Spring and early summer, mostly. But the eggs don’t implant in the uterus until the sow is fat enough. …

“BASCOMB: You have some before and after photos on your website of some of these bears, and I gotta say they’re pretty shocking. I mean, you can see the same bear when it comes out of hibernation in June, as you mentioned, and again in September, they hardly look like the same animal. …

“BOAK: No, they don’t, which is why we want to celebrate what they’ve done all summer. And to really let the public know. And it’s hard for us to identify the bears from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, they look so different. They change colors, they shed their coats, and the coats are different. …

“BASCOMB: Last year’s winner, Beadnose I think her name was, looks more like a furry hippo or something than a bear. Her belly is practically dragging on the ground. Does she have some kind of special technique to get so big, you know, how is she catching her fish better than the other bears?

“BOAK: Well, yes, she was very successful. But bears have different fishing techniques. They can be on the lip of a falls, which is a delicate balancing act, but it’s a very great position to be in. Beadnose liked to do that. Another technique that the really big guys like is to fish in the jacuzzi, which is the eddy right below the falls. It’s where the fish wait to make the jump up the falls. And these bears are big enough. So they can sit down on their haunches and with their front paws, fish. And so they don’t have to move. They just have to fish with their front paws. … Bears don’t like to get their ears wet so they will snorkel. …

“Bear 747 is certainly a fan favorite. He is humongous. He looked like he was ready to hibernate back in July. Bear 435, Holly, who is a very famous female here. She has had several litters, and she actually adopted a lone yearling a few years ago. So it’s made her a fan favorite. She is also gi-normous. She does look like a hippo. …

“CURWOOD: For links to the live stream of the fat bears of Katmai go to our website LOE.org.”

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Photo: Scott Hess/Flickr
Guinea fowl, which like to forage for ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, beetles, spiders, and more, can help protect your family from Lyme Disease.

In our family we have had reason to worry about deer ticks. Nearly everyone has had Lyme Disease at some point or at least found a tick attached and taken Doxycycline just in case. We’re always on the alert for stories about the latest vaccine research or new preventive sprays. I myself wear long pants and socks all summer.

What is the long-term solution? Some people promote expanded deer hunting or experimenting with ways to keep deer from reproducing. I like this idea from New Hampshire: guinea fowl.

A great radio show called Living on Earth has the story.

“Some homeowners in the thick of tick country are turning to guinea fowl to control ticks. Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering reports from Exeter, New Hampshire, about one family’s experience with these tick-eating machines. …

“More than 40,000 new cases of Lyme were reported in 2017, and climate change could make it even more common. A recent study found that a temperature increase of just 2 degrees Celsius could result in a 20 percent increase in Lyme disease cases in the U.S. Luckily, there are proven ways to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease: wear long sleeved clothing, use repellents, and do a thorough tick check after you’ve been in the woods. …

“JENNI DOERING: Suzy and Hazel Koff live an enchanted childhood.
On a warm July day the 6 and 3 year olds run through the sun-dappled forest in their New Hampshire backyard. … Their mother, Sarah, says this is how they spend their summer.

“KOFF: We love going outside playing in the woods. We have this great big yard that they play in and we have a sandbox out here and slack line and all sorts of things; we like to make fairy houses, and we like to garden together. …

“DOERING: But in the Northeast, where there are woods, there are ticks. A lot of them.

“KOFF: I was so, just, overwhelmed by the ticks in our yard. … I’m such a big gardener, there’s no way I was willing to spray anything on the lawn or use any sort of chemicals at all, so I thought I would try this biological control. …

“DOERING:  Enter the guinea fowl. Native to Africa, guineas are rather awkward, football-shaped birds with a tiny head, and a voracious appetite for ticks. And unlike chickens, guinea fowl won’t peck at your garden greens. So Sarah decided to give them a try.

“KOFF: Yeah, I just went on Craigslist. … As soon as we started letting them out they were immediately interested in pecking, pecking and pecking. So yeah, they were just sort of tearing up all the bugs! … They’re not pets. They’re sort of wild animals that you just have. … I haven’t seen any ticks on the kids since we’ve let the guineas go roam around. …

“DOERING: A small 1992 study on Long Island backs up Sarah’s observation.
Researchers placed guinea fowl into tick-infested areas and found that they significantly reduced the adult tick population within the enclosures. But Howard Ginsberg, a research ecologist with the Department of Interior, points out a problem with timing.

“GINSBERG: Most people get Lyme disease during June and July when the nymphs are out, and the nymphs are in the woods. The adults, which are the stage that’s targeted by these birds, [are] out in the fall and spring, out in open areas like people’s lawn. …

“DOERING: A single female deer tick can lay as many as 2,000 eggs, so removing adult ticks does appear to reduce local Lyme disease risk overall. Fortunately, even if a tick latches on to you, Ginsberg says time is on your side.

“GINSBERG: Lyme disease, that bacterium requires something like 24 to 48 hours with tick attachment before it’s transmitted. So if you do a check every day when you get back from the woods and remove ticks, you have eliminated the possibility of Lyme disease fairly substantially. … The best way to remove a tick is to just take fine tweezers, just grab as close to the skin line as possible, and slowly pull it straight out.

“DOERING: Then, take some rubbing alcohol and clean the bite thoroughly.
And get that tick safely out of your life by flushing it down the toilet.”

Meanwhile, the search goes on for long-lasting solutions to the Lyme Disease problem.

More at Living on Earth, here., where you can also listen to the audio version.

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Photo: Josh Levinson
The European Starling is thought to adorn its nest with flowers to ward off pests.

One of my favorite shows is Living on Earth, an environmental program recorded in Greater Boston and produced by Public Radio International (PRI). One of the show’s regular features is called BirdNote, and you can learn a lot about individual species just from that.

The Living on Earth website recently posted this:

“STEVE CURWOOD: European Starlings can often be found scrounging through the grass of a backyard or a nearby park for tasty treats. But now and then, they’ll also pluck a marigold or other bright flower to bring back to the nest. These flowers aren’t just for decoration, as Michael Stein explains in this week’s BirdNote. It appears to bring health benefits to their young.

“It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

curwood

“European Starlings famously travel in massive flocks, up to one hundred thousand birds strong at times. They can almost resemble a school of fish moving together in a squeaky symphony. And, BirdNote’s Michael Stein reports that when starlings are paired up and raising chicks they have an unusual way to keep their nest clean and healthy. …

“MICHAEL STEIN: Watch long enough, though, and you may see a starling pause in the hunt to neatly pluck a marigold or other bright flower – and then fly up to deposit the bloom in the nest.

“How romantic. But there’s more to it. Ornithologists have found that starlings regularly adorn their twig nests with fresh vegetation – the more fragrant the better. Marigolds, of course, but also elderberry flowers, yarrow leaves, and even willow bark.

“All of which – as your nose will tell you – are full of aromatic chemicals. The starlings are actually fumigating their nests. Why? The chemicals have been thought to help discourage pests and parasites. Scientists have discovered that the smelly plants may offer an even more direct benefit to nestlings – by stimulating their immune systems.
It turns out that starlings hatched in well-fumigated nests tend to weigh more and live longer than those raised without benefit of fragrant herbs.” More.

For another Living on Earth BirdNote, click here. This one is about a Laysan Albatross called Wisdom who was still producing chicks in 2018, despite the fact her 67 years made her quite old for her species. Who knew the Albatross could live so long?

This might be a good time to remind you how Coleridge used an Albatross in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to send a message — not just to the stunned and speechless wedding guest but to us all:

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

Photo: Kiah Walker, USFWS, CC
Wisdom the Laysan Albatross was still producing chicks at age 67. She doesn’t even look tired.
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Wouldn’t it be strange if China, the smog capital of the world, started assuming leadership on environmental causes like global warming, clean air, and … sustainable fish farming.

The PRI radio show Living on Earth recently explained how China was tackling the latter challenge.

“Consumer demand in both the U.S. and China for safe and healthy farmed fish is shaping aquaculture practices in the world’s most populous country. And fish farmers are using traditional Chinese medicine as well as high-tech monitoring systems as they strive to keep their fish healthy and their farming practices transparent. Jocelyn Ford reports from the Hainan Province. …

“HAN HAN: With such a huge population in China, if we didn’t have aquaculture, if we totally relied on the wild fishery. I guess we would already running out of all these wild fish, maybe 10 or 20 years ago.

“FORD: That’s Han Han, the founder of the China Blue Sustainability Institute, China’s first non-governmental, environmental organization focused on sustainable fishing and aquaculture. Today, aquaculture accounts for one of every two fish that land on the dinner table worldwide, and it’s growing faster than other sources of animal protein. China is the global aquaculture leader, and because of its expertise here, it wants to help other countries. …

“Aquaculture is expanding globally at about five percent a year, and that’s a plus for some of the Earth’s most pressing environmental issues. For example, compared to a pound of beef, a pound of fish has only about one-seventh of the carbon footprint. But large-scale aquaculture has created new problems. Naturally, farmed fish need to eat. And gone are the days when Chinese fish farms were all organic. Qi Genliu is a professor at Shanghai Ocean University.

“QI: Traditionally we used grass to culture grass carp.

“FORD: That changed with the growth of the fish feed industry and the need to feed carnivorous marine fish [and keep them disease free with antibiotics]. …

“The founder and president of The Fishin’ Company, Manish Kumar, started coming to Hainan to build a coalition for a safer, more environmentally sound and sustainable tilapia industry [using traditional herbal medicine instead of antibiotics]. His company is sponsoring trainings, and offering financial incentives to a few model farms that invest in improvements. The idea is, others will follow suit if they see it makes financial sense. …

“FORD: His ideas include increasing omega-3 levels in the tilapia, the fish oil that may help lower risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. To help reassure customers who are nervous about what their fish are eating, next year he’s planning a state of the art oversight system that involves cameras, QR codes, and consumer monitoring.

“KUMAR: We will now proceed to do something no one in the industry has done before. Put a camera system into the farm area. A customer buys a bag of fish. You have a QR code on the bag. Run your smartphone through our QR code on the bag, and you will have a chance to see the actual farm that raised this fish in your bag. And how it’s being raised.

“FORD: Customers can see the type of feed, and the plant where the feed was made, and the insomniacs can watch the fish grow 24/7. Manish Kumar says the extra cost will be negligible. As the largest supplier of tilapia, he expects to be able to take advantage of economies of scale.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you can learn more about the use of Chinese herbal medicine to ensure the fish stay healthy.

Photo: Jocelyn Ford
Harvesting tilapia for export on an internationally certified farm in China.

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How many times lately have I read “in these uncertain times” and “now more than ever”? Crises bring these phrases out.

So how do we inject the words with extra special urgency? I find myself thinking like Charlie Brown (or was it Lucy?) trying to fill up a book report: Now more than ever ever ever really and truly and I’m not kidding, programs about the environment such as Living on Earth are important.

Some of the Living on Earth shows — about melting ice and rising seas, for example — are crucial to our understanding of what we face. Others, like the one about a certain pig in Haiti, underline the interconnectedness of the environment and local economies. You can’t wipe out an animal people rely on and expect everything to be fine.

From Living on Earth: “In Haiti, the creole pig was a staple of the peasant economy, bringing families economic stability, devouring food waste and occasionally becoming an religious sacrifice. But as Allison Griner reports, disease killed many creole pigs and American efforts to control the swine flu took the rest. Efforts to replace the pig failed, but now peasant farmers are slowly rebuilding the creole pig herd.

“GRINER: To reverse the trend, [2015 presidential candidate Jean-Baptiste] Chavannes and his colleagues in the peasant movement decided to reintroduce the creole pig — or at least a hybrid that could fill its place.

“CHAVANNES: We want the return of the creole pig. So we led a fight, and over the years, the minister of agriculture finally started a program for the repopulation of the pigs. …

“GRINER: But just as the new pig herd was starting to grow, once again disease intervened. This time, the culprit was teschen, a virus that can kill a pig within days. Six years ago, it started to spread. And decades of work were lost. …

“Still, the fight is not yet over for the creole pig. Vaccines for teschen are already being tested in Haiti, and Chavannes hopes partnerships with international NGOs will help fight this latest disease. Part of Chavannes’ mission is to rebuild the peasant economy. But to reach that goal, bringing back the creole pig is a necessity, he says.

“CHAVANNES: We must. [Laughs] We must, and like I said, pig farming is indispensable for reestablishing the peasant economy. …

“GRINER: Already, the race to save Haiti’s pigs is well underway. This past spring, an official from the ministry of agriculture announced that the 500,000 doses of the teschen vaccine had been produced. The official says they are currently available for farmers to use.”

At Living on Earth, you can read what the pigs meant to the farmers, why they got killed off, why American pigs were a terrible replacement, and what kind of livestock peasants decided to raise while they are waiting for the creole pigs to come back.

Photo: Allison Griner
Pig in Delmas, Port au Prince, Haiti

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The humble horseshoe crab is a reminder of prehistoric times. Public Radio International’s Living on Earth recently devoted a segment to this curious character.

From the transcript of the show …

Steve Curwood: “For healthy oceans, it’s not enough to protect just the top of the food chain – the cod or halibut or swordfish we eat. The bottom of the food chain is vital too. That could be the plankton or the tiny forage fish eaten by many species – or it could be the extraordinary prehistoric-looking horseshoe crab.

“These helmet-shaped arthropods have been around for millions of years, and up and down the east coast of the US, volunteers come out to count them as the females come ashore to spawn. On Cape Cod, as Karen Zusi reports, scientists and volunteers are tagging and labeling the crabs to help conserve them.”

Karen Zusi: “There are a lot of reasons why someone might appreciate the lowly horseshoe crab. Eel and conch fishermen use them as bait, and medical companies draw blood from the animals. Horseshoe crab blood will clot in the presence of bacteria, so these companies can use the crab’s blood to make sure vaccines and medical implants are free of germs. Their blood is worth sixty thousand dollars a gallon.

“But horseshoe crab populations are dropping. To preserve them, scientists and volunteers on Cape Cod are wading into the water to count and tag the animals.

“Special labels help them keep track [says] Mark Faherty, the science coordinator at Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary. …

“The Massachusetts Audubon Society just recruited graduate student Michael Long to lead their newest horseshoe crab study. With researchers from the University of Massachusetts, he will be tagging the crabs this summer with a telemetry [label], glued onto the crab’s shell.”

Faherty: “My acoustic study is going to be putting on acoustic receivers out in the bay, and acoustic markers on the crabs. The receivers have about a 600-meter detection radius so anytime a crab that’s marked with an acoustic receiver comes within 600 meters of that receiver, it will mark where it is. So based on where each crab pings, you can kind of track its movements around the bay.”

Zusi: “None of this would be possible without the Audubon Society’s volunteers. They come from all walks of life.

“At an Audubon horseshoe crab conference, Long organizes new volunteers to help him count horseshoe crabs on the beach, and Faherty trains them in the basic survey procedures. …

“Once they got down to business, the volunteers were trained to divide the beach into small sections, count the horseshoe crabs, and record all of their information. The volunteers go out to survey when female crabs are coming to lay their eggs in the sand. Males follow to fertilize the eggs after they’re laid.”

Faherty: “The male crabs you quickly learn to recognize because they’re by themselves. They will mate with a model, if you make a model of a horseshoe crab — the males will congregate around it. They’ll spawn. They’ll spawn with your boot. These are just hormonally-charged animals that are ready to mate with anything. Females are not lonely for long in the horseshoe crab world.”

More here on the effort to study and protect horseshoe crabs.

Photo: Peter Massas, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
A horseshoe crab floats by the shore on Union Beach in New Jersey. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

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There’s always something fun over at PRI’s environmental radio show Living on Earth. Here’s a story that ran in March about the unique bird species isolated in Northeastern Australian rainforests.

Bob Sundstrom wrote up the audio report of BirdNote‘s Mary McCann: “The Eastern Whipbird hangs out in the dense understory. It’s dark, crested … nearly a foot long and emerald-green with white spots. … The large, pigeon-like Wompoo Fruit-Dove … feathered in a stunning combination of green, purple, and yellow, [is] clearly named for its voice.

“Pig-like grunting on the forest floor tells us we’re in the company of the largest bird on the continent – the Southern Cassowary. On average, the female weighs 130 pounds and stands around 5 feet tall, looking like a giant, lush, black hairpiece on thick legs. A helmet called a casque makes it look as much like a dinosaur as any living bird.” Five feet tall? I think I know a one-year-old who would like to try riding it.

The bird sounds on the radio show were provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hear them all here, where you can also enjoy the equally far-out pictures.

Photo: Jan Anne
Southern Cassowary

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Radio show Living on Earth did a segment in February on new technology to store and release solar heat. Here is host Steve Curwood on his outing to MIT to learn about the breakthrough.

“A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a chemical that would let windshield glass directly store solar energy and then release it on demand as heat to melt the ice. … The same chemical could be woven into clothing fibers to capture the sun’s energy and then give you some added warmth when you ask for it, even days later.

“I paid a visit to the lab where the MIT team has been working on this breakthrough and met up with researchers David Zhitomirsky and Eugene Cho, who work in the lab of professor Jeffrey Grossman.”

To Curwood’s question about the difference between the familiar electrical, battery-enabled solar technology and the MIT lab’s chemical version, Zhitomirsky replies,”We use these molecules that can absorb UV light and instead of generating charges, what they do is that they change shape, and by changing shape, they can store chemical energy …

“CURWOOD: OK, so sunlight hits this molecule, it changes shape and can storage its energy. And how do you get the energy out?

“ZHITOMIRSKY: So you can figure the material in several ways. One way is to add a small amount of heat, and the material will release more heat than you add in. The other methods are triggering it with light or you can apply an electrical field to the material. …

“The way we envision using it is to integrate into fibers that you then make clothing out of.” More here.

Release solar heat from my coat in a blizzard? Where do I sign up?

Photo: Helen Palmer
Living on Earth host Steve Curwood, right, in the MIT lab with Eugene Cho and David Zhitomirsky.

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I’m hearing more and more these days about “good bacteria,” including in a song by singer-composer Will McMillan on the friendly bacteria we humans carry around.

Now, it seems, bacteria found in soil may help to save amphibians from dangerous fungal epidemics. Public Radio International’s environmental news program, Living on Earth, has the story.

“Around the world, fungal diseases have been killing millions of frogs and bats and snakes. And a newly emerging disease in salamanders in Europe is scaring biologists here, so the US Fish and Wildlife Service has introduced a ban on their import to try to protect amphibians in the US.

“But now scientists see some hope in soil bacteria that get onto the salamanders and frogs and apparently protect them. Doug Woodhams is an assistant professor of biology at UMass Boston, who’s been working with amphibians in Panama – and he explained what his team has found to Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer.

“WOODHAMS: Some of the amphibians have beneficial bacteria that live on their skin and these have antifungal properties.

“PALMER: This is kind of like having good bacteria in your gut, for instance, that stop you from getting sick. … Is there any evidence that  good bacteria actually work against devastating funguses?

“WOODHAMS: Yeah, there’s quite a bit of evidence. Many of the bacteria that we can culture from some amphibian species are able to inhibit the fungus in culture. We also have some population-level data that shows populations that tend to have these antifungal bacteria can persist with Bd in the environment and survive. …

“Bd is the chytrid fungus that’s been spreading around the world and devastating amphibian populations. So salamanders, frogs, toads. Populations that tend to have more of these beneficial bacteria seem to be surviving, and populations that don’t have as many of the individuals that have these bacteria seem to disappear. …

“The next thing we want to try is adding some of these bacteria, not just to petri dishes, but to soil and see if infected amphibians can be cleared of their infection by being housed on soil that’s been inoculated with these bacteria. …

“There are other fungal pathogens, so it could be something that you could apply in a cave that could reduce White-nosed syndrome [in bats]. Also, rattlesnakes have been recently affected by fungal disease during hibernation, so it could be applied into a rattlesnake den.”

More on the science here.

Photo: Matt Becker
The Appalachian Mountains are home to this Cow Knob Salamander, Plethodon punctatus, from George Washington National Forest, Virginia.

 

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As a coffee drinker and a fan of Dean’s Beans (whose mission is “to use high-quality specialty coffee as a vehicle for progressive change throughout the coffeelands of Asia, Africa and the Americas”), I was interested to come upon a Living on Earth radio story about the wider sustainable-coffee movement.

Steve Curwood is host of the Public Radio International show.

“CURWOOD: A cup of joe might help sustain your energy, but it may not be so sustainable for the Earth. Just 12 percent of coffee is sold under the label ‘sustainably grown.’ A new initiative called the Sustainable Coffee Challenge aims to change the way the coffee industry operates to the benefit of the Earth. Peter Seligmann is chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Conservation International. … So tell me about the sustainable coffee challenge that CI has just formed. Why did you zero in on coffee as a target for sustainability?

“SELIGMANN: Well, we started working on coffee about 15 years ago with Starbucks, and after 15 years we’ve been able to announce with Starbucks that 99 percent of all their coffee is certifiably sustainably harvested and produced. Which means that as their company has grown they have not cut a single tree, and hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests have been set aside as Starbucks has expanded its coffee business. That inspired us to think, is it possible to make coffee the first agricultural commodity that is completely and 100 percent sustainably produced. …

“The dark side of coffee growing is that coffee that is not produced under the shade of forest, [is] produced by clear-cutting forests and planting coffee. And when you clear-cut a forest, you destroy the biodiversity, you put emissions — CO2 emissions — in the atmosphere, you lose soil, and you do industrial agriculture, which maximizes pesticides and chemicals and reduces the benefits to society.

“CURWOOD: So, what’s the obstacle to growing coffee sustainably?

“SELIGMANN: It’s convincing the producers that this is in their enlightened self-interest. To go from non-sustainable coffee to sustainable coffee requires an investment of money and it requires time. Most of these growers, farmers actually work in co-ops, and the challenge is getting the co-ops to agree that this is the transition they want to make from non-sustainable to sustainable and what’s going to motivate them is there being a buyer for the coffee they grow. And so it gets back to the consumer, and the consumer says it’s what we want.” Read on.

Photo: Martin Diepeveen, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Coffee beans are the pits inside the fruit or “cherry” of the coffee plant.

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OK, here’s one I bet you don’t know about. Like a couple super fathers I know, the sandgrouse father is devote to parenting. But when the fathers I know give thirsty children some water, it is likely to arrive in a bottle or sippy cup. The sandgrouse papa delivers water in his feathers.

Rick Wright and Mary McCann report at Public Radio International’s Living on Earth, “Sandgrouse – pointy-tailed relatives of pigeons – live in some of the most parched environments on earth. To satisfy the thirst of newly hatched chicks, male sandgrouse bring water back to the nest by carrying it in their feathers. It sounds incredible, and for decades, scientists thought it was just a myth. But it’s not. In the cool of the desert morning, the male flies up to twenty miles to a shallow water hole, then wades in up to his belly.

“The water is collected by ‘rocking.’ The bird shifts its body side to side and repeatedly shakes the belly feathers in the water; fill-up can take as long as fifteen minutes. Thanks to coiled hairlike extensions on the feathers of the underparts, a sandgrouse can soak up and transport 25 milliliters of liquid. That’s close to two tablespoons.

“Once the male has flown back across the desert with his life-giving cargo, the sandgrouse chicks crowd around him and use their bills like tiny squeegees, ‘milking’ their father’s belly feathers for water they so desperately need.”

Listen here.

Photo: Ian White, Flickr CC
The Feathers of Burchell’s Sandgrouse carry water for miles back to the nest.

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Clay Scott recently reported on the radio show Living on Earth that the 2015 drought in Montana forced black bear families into areas with cars and other dangers — orphaning many cubs.

“The hot dry summer meant not a lot of berries, and that in turn meant that many bears had to forage far from their normal territory. Quite a few of those wandering bears ended up being shot, or hit by cars.

“And that means there were a lot of orphaned black bear cubs this year. Like the one a friend and I saw when we were driving down a dirt road on the prairie, miles from suitable black bear habitat. At first, as it scurried through the grass, it looked like a black lab puppy. Then it scampered up a power pole.”

Scott called Brady Murphy, a game warden. Murphy, in turn, called two other wardens whom he knew to have tranquilizer darts.

As Scott explains, “Game wardens in Montana cover vast territories. Teigan Winters is driving 50 miles to get to where we are. Kqyn Kuka is on her way from north of Great Falls – that’s an hour and a half drive. I ask Murphy why, in the middle of hunting season, three wardens would converge on a power pole in the middle of the prairie to tranquilize a black bear cub.”

Murphy replies, “You don’t do this job to get rich. You do it because you love the resources and you want to protect them. And you have that strong passion.”

The wardens create a firecracker-type explosion to get the bear to come down the pole, and when he does, they use the dart.

“They lay the cub carefully in the back of the pick-up. It turned out to be a male, less than 25 pounds. He’ll spend the winter at Montana Wild, the wildlife rehab center in Helena, and will be released next spring.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Photo: Sarah Hewitt
A black bear cub perched atop a power pole.

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Last month, Steve Curwood of the radio show Living on Earth covered a special conference on climate change.

“Curwood: A coalition of 80 leading Islamic clerics, scholars and officials meeting in Istanbul has issued a declaration on climate change, ‘calling on all nations and peoples to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.’ …

“Islamic nations, including wealthy oil-producing states, are taking action on global warming, says Wael Hmaidan. He’s director of Climate Action Network International, one of the conference organizers and joins us now from Istanbul. …

“Hmaidan: I was really happily surprised by how rigorous the Koran and the Islamic teachings on the environment and the care for the planet. It’s a core function of Islam to care for the planet. It’s a responsibility. … It talks about the delicate balance that all the creatures have on Earth and it’s the responsibility of humans to protect this balance.

“It also talks actually about how humankind should not think that they are more important than other creatures. It talks about the role of all creatures and the need of respect, this diversity in the planet. So all of these kinds of proverbs from the Koran and the Islamic teachings, as well as stories about Prophet Mohammed’s life and his care for the environment clearly [makes] environmental care and climate change key issue for an Islamic teaching. And hearing strong statements saying that it is forbidden not to phase out greenhouse gas emissions coming from Islamic scholars is something very inspiring, even for climate activists. …

“There’s an agreement to establish an informal group … that will follow up on all the ideas that came out from the conference. And the ideas are varied, some of them are high-level, like I mentioned going to the UN agencies, to governments, but also the representatives of the organizations that attended want to create action plans in their communities of influence, to bring the declaration. … We need to transform all mosques to renewable energy, and so on. So a lot of ideas, and they’ve created this platform Muslims for Climate to continue the dialogue.”

More here.

Photo: Islamic Relief
Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide and one of the Climate Change Symposium organizers addresses attendees.

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