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PUBLISHER’S LETTER It was dead, lying there still on the beach enveloped in a pile
of rotting sargasso, woven in faded fragments of plastic, with the buzzing of flies eager to drop their larvae on its decomposing flesh. If I had just kept walking it would have seemed a beautiful day, but there I was fixated on the damage humans have caused. This poor beast had swallowed its last plastic bag. It is easy to just walk by, to put the blinders on and kid ourselves into thinking everything is ok. Thankfully most people are waking up to the reality of the massive mountain of ecological afflictions now inundating the Earth. There is no doubt that we are in a global climate emergency. But what most people don’t realize is that climate change isn’t just about fossil fuels. Almost every environmental issue has a direct link to climate change. Whether it is too much plastic and pollution in the oceans, deforestation on land, greenhouse gases in the air, or the killing of wildlife; it all impacts the climate. The focal point in the minds of most people is the economy. And as important as the economy is for our society, we must not forget our environment. We need to increase awareness about the environment through education. We need easy to understand dialogue and we need to make this personal, now. I have realized how very important it is for us to work together. Most of us are passionate about something in the natural world. If each person finds a way to focus on that one thing that connects them to nature, we can, globally, make a difference together. Whether that passion is going fishing, camping, gardening, birdwatching, snorkeling, or caring for animals, all of us have at least one blissful connection to nature — nature brings us balance. We absolutely require our governments and international agencies to take the ‘big steps’ in making policy changes, but we also need individual ‘small steps’ to protect the Earth. With these steps we become ecologically sensitive, together. Your passion can turn into a movement for fundamental policy changes. Save a reef, clean a beach, recycle, grow organically, protect a species; each action in turn will benefit the Earth and protect future generations. We can’t all fix everything, but each of us can fix one thing.
On July 26th, I successfully completed The Climate Reality Leadership Training with former Vice President Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project team. This amazing network of individuals is an exemplary example of how we can work together individually to make a global difference. I will be initiating my leadership on climate in the coming months and hope that you will join me as I strive to make a difference. In this edition of Saving Earth Magazine, we take a look at wildlife in the face of climate change, habitat destruction, and thoughtless extermination. In 2019, the United Nations reported that one million species of plants and animals were (and continue to be) at risk of extinction with habitat loss being their largest threat. During Australia’s bushfires of 2019 - 2020, nearly three billion animals (mammals, reptiles, and birds) were killed or displaced. As scorching temperatures continue to rise around the world, leading to drought and even more deadly fires, what does the future hold for life on this planet? It is vital people understand that humankind will not survive without biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The environmental web of life is absolutely interconnected, with each species relying on another for its existence, humankind included. This statement, in itself, highlights how people will not change unless it is personally relevant. The alarm is sounding, there is no more time for sweet talk. We cannot continue to stand by while one species goes extinct after another and expect no consequences. I carry in my heart the pain and suffering of each animal that has met its end because of human action, whether it was intentional or not. All life must be given respect, even those that we consume. I feel strongly that as humans it is our responsibility to be the caretakers of this planet, anything less is pure arrogance. Certainly, extinctions have occurred throughout history, but human activity and climate change are the primary reasons for the acceleration of species extinction, so much so that the current rate of extinction is 10,000 times higher than historical extinction rates. Unfortunately, we do not have the space in this edition to examine all at risk creatures, but we have dedicated this quarter’s magazine to a few. We implore you to get involved locally to protect the wildlife in your area. Join me in Saving Earth. - Teena Clipston, publisher of Saving Earth Magazine and Climate Reality Leader
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SAVING EARTH MAGAZINE PUBLISHED BY SAVING EARTH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Teena Clipston
GEARTH GEARTH GE RTH
SENIOR EDITOR Cassie Pearse EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Dean Unger GRAPHIC DESIGN Cassandra Redding ADVERTISING Jodi Mossop GREEN BUSINESS REPRESENTATIVE Monique Tamminga CONTRIBUTORS Jay Clue, Dean Unger, Emma Rodgers, Cristina Mittermeier, The Parvati Foundation, Sophie McDonald, Nam Cheah, Cassie Pearse, Monique Tamminga, Sergio Izquierdo, Roslyne Buchanan, Lola Méndez, David Suzuki, Kayla Bruce, Shayne Meechan, Ingrith León, Ellen Sharp, and Tara Pilling. PRINTING Royal Printers DISTRIBUTION Magazines Canada & Royal Printers SPECIAL THANKS to the Hitz Foundation for their generous donation. COVER PHOTO Jay Clue Saving Earth Magazine has made every effort to make sure that its content is accurate on the date of publication. The opinions expressed in the articles are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher or editor. Information contained in the magazine has been obtained by the authors from sources believed to be reliable. You may email us at Saving Earth Magazine for source information. Saving Earth Magazine, its publisher, editor, and its authors are not responsible for any errors, omissions, or claims for damages, and accepts no liability for any loss or damage of any kind. The published material, advertising, advertorials, editorials, and all other content is published in good faith. ©Copyright 2020 Saving Earth. All rights reserved. Saving Earth Magazine is fully protected by copyright law and nothing herein can be reproduced wholly or in part without written consent. PRINTED IN CANADA savingearthmagazine.com firstname.lastname@example.org ISSN 2563-3139 (Print), ISSN 2563-3147 (Online) Library Archives Canada, photoand credit: Romolo Tarani Government of Canada 4 | savingearthmagazine.com
ISSUE #2 - Fall 2020
ABOUT US Saving Earth Magazine focuses on environmental issues, green businesses, conservation, human rights, and climate science. It inspires readers to change how they interact with the planet and offers solutions to global environmental challenges that we face. Some of these solutions include directing readers to organizations and businesses that are making a difference, giving them the ability to support and follow the issues they care most deeply about. Across the world, we see a groundswell of people engaging to protect their environment, from governments banning plastic bags to individuals inventing exciting new green technologies and Saving Earth Magazine is becoming a part of this step-change. There has never been a more crucial time for this magazine. We don’t just want to report the conversation, we plan on creating the conversation!
MISSION STATEMENT At Saving Earth Magazine, we strive to create and bring together ideas that have the power to transform the way we interact with the planet – to devise, communicate, educate, share and help implement strategies and new technologies, which reduce pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, nurture and protect flora and fauna, and protect the waterways. With contributions from experts and fieldworkers from around the globe, we seek to inspire individuals and organizations to become motivated to protect the planet. We cover stories of success in pioneering fields of ecology and environmental sciences; stories from communities that have faced challenges and found equitable, sustainable solutions that the world should replicate; and inspirational human interest stories and biographies that serve to inspire our lives and help us reconnect to the Earth. By sharing ideas about how we can make a better world, we will help to heal communities and support those who are at the forefront of ecological and environmental research. Saving Earth Magazine is a manual that can be referenced globally, and will provide an evolving canvas of themes, information and ideas, which will inspire a new era of human interaction with the planet. It is a public forum where ideas and dialogue help to shape our thinking in these emerging fields. It will help us rethink the way we interact with the planet as we seek to find solutions in the transition from fossil fuels, and into new vistas of renewable energy and resources. FACEBOOK.COM/SAVINGEARTHMAG INSTAGRAM: @SAVINGEARTHMAG
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SUGAR SHEET 100% Forest Free Paper
CONTENTS 48 the venomous monster from guatemala
6 from predator to prey jay clue
12 ocean acidity
50 working in harmony with rattlesnakes
18 parrotfishes ... can save our coral reefs
22 plastic pollution & its impact on animals
54 10 of the Smallest Endangered Animals on Earth lola mĂŠndez
58 HUMAN RIGHTS LENS NEEDED TO PREVENT ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM
24 it's a muddy mess cristina Mittermeier
28 a medical mask for a healthy world
60 SUSTAINABLE LIVING
the parvati foundation
Kayla Bruce and Shayne Meechan
32 the dolphin that disappeared
64 environmental education
36 Canada's Endangered species
68 mexico's monarch migration
44 the burrowing owl's battle for survival monique tamminga
74 how to ethically see elephants in thailand NAM CHEAH
PHOTOGRAPHY AND STORY BY JAY CLUE
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he warm Baja sun glistens across the Sea of Cortez creating a cinematic scene just below the surface. Beams of yellow light dance through the waters, fading down into the blue depths below as forty plus sharks encircle us. But this is no Hollywood scare-fest. There are no bloodthirsty monsters of the deep here, no maneater mouths filled with butcher knives being powered by a thousand kilos of pure evil muscle. Instead, we see curious and almost playful creatures. They circle us, interested in our cameras because of the electromagnetic fields they produce while investigating the area. Our team is marvelling at one of the ocean's beautifully rare spectacles - the summer aggregation of silky sharks off the coast of Los Cabos, Mexico. There is no tension, no anxiety or fear. Just a feeling of peace and admiration for these remarkable animals. Yet, a sombre feeling keeps creeping in the back of my mind, knowing that in the very near future this beautiful encounter may no longer exist.
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Silky sharks aggregating off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
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The first shark ancestors began to inhabit our oceans over 450 million years ago, about 65 million years before trees began to dot the Earth's landscapes creating the blue and green colorway so synonymous with our planet. It would be over 150 million years before the first dinosaurs would roam the earth. Us humans are a mere blink in the timeline of the oceans' most misunderstood creature. Even if we journey as far back to the first human ancestors we only reach five to seven million years ago; meaning the ancestors of modern sharks had already existed for well over 400 million years before our ancestors first appeared on the great stage of life. That is a breadth of time extremely difficult to truly fathom. Our human lives work in minutes, days, weeks, and years. As we reach decades and centuries, time begins to slowly mesh together and blur. We simply can’t truly comprehend millions of years. But let’s try something. Take a quick moment to glance at the nearest clock and make a mental note of the time right now. I promise it’ll help put perspective into this journey a bit later.
Millions of years of evolution and adaptation have made sharks a keystone predator in most marine environments. They help to balance ecosystems and keep everything in check. Sharks remove the sick and weaker animals while helping keep populations from exploding and taking over. In many cases sharks are the apex predator in their environment, feeding on the different species below them in the food web. Imagine that on a reef you have small fish that eat algae, then larger fish that feed on these smaller algae eating fish. A shark then feeds on the larger fish. If we were to remove the sharks from our equation, the larger fish are kept unchecked and can grow in population, ultimately possibly eating all of the smaller algae eating fish and leaving algae to take over the reef and wreak havoc on the ecosystem.
We can see how removing apex predators affects marine ecosystems through studies of remote reefs that have had little to no exposure to human impacts—especially fishing. A research study of remote reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands found that apex predators, including sharks, make up more than 50% of the total fish biomass on these remote reefs with no human impact. However, the study noted that on similar reefs with regular human impact, and/ or fishing, apex predators only accounted for less than 10% of the total fish biomass. But it isn’t only sharks that benefit from a lack of human interference. Studies show that when sharks and reefs are left alone, both the biodiversity and biomass of marine life increase. That means we see both a wider variety of marine species as well as more of individual species. Another study in North Carolina showed that while the populations of large sharks such as hammerheads and tiger sharks declined by up to 99% due to overfishing and bycatch, the population of the cownose rays that they prey on increased ten-fold. This explosion in the number of cownose rays in the area was one of the driving factors for closing down North Carolina’s century-old bay scallop fisheries in 2004. Bay scallops are an important part of the diet of cownose rays, but scientists estimated that this increase in their population meant the rays were eating three times the total catch of the commercial mollusc fisheries in the area — leading to its collapse.
Shark conservationist, Liz Parkinson, explains, "The importance of sharks in the ocean far exceeds being an apex predator. They are an advanced being that is part of an integral web in the complexity of the animal kingdom. The rapid deterioration of our shark populations has created an imbalance in the ocean ecosystem. These vital predators, found at the apex point of the food chain, allow for a healthy sustain-
A female tiger shark affectionately known as Joker for her playful antics off the coast of Bimini. Photography: Jay Clue.
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Top: A curious Shortfin Mako off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The fastest shark on earth, capable of bursts of speed up to 74km/h, yet also classified as endangered with extinction by the IUCN. Mid left: The critically endangered Great Hammerhead shark. Mid right: A Lemon Shark rests in the Bahamas while a rĂŠmora cleans her teeth. Bottom: A grey reef shark patrolling the reefs of the Bahamas. Photography: Jay Clue.
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able environment. As their numbers deteriorate at an alarming rate, these animals who have existed for millions of years, are taking with them the evolutionary power needed to keep our oceans alive." An ocean without sharks is a grim future no one wants to consider but sharks are being removed from our oceans at an alarming rate. A study published in the journal Marine Policy, estimated that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year. However, they also add that this is a very conservative estimate and that the true number could be as high as 273 million. Using the more conservative figure of 100 million, that breaks down to 11,416 sharks per hour, or 190 sharks killed every minute. That is more than three sharks every second. How long has it been since you looked at the clock? 400 million years may be hard to wrap our heads around, but 190 sharks killed in one minute is much clearer, and a lot scarier than any Hollywood monster film or clickbait news article.
Sharks are commercially fished throughout the world for both their fins and meat. The demand for shark fin soup is regularly highlighted as being one of the major causes of their population decline. However, shark meat is also regularly used in all sorts of products from cosmetics to pet food and more. Yet many of these products don’t even mention shark on their ingredients labels. Even more worrying is that recent studies are beginning to show that shark meat is being mislabeled in a lot of seafood throughout the world. Shark meat is a cheap seafood that can be cooked in many ways to make it unrecognizable, leaving consumers unaware they are actually eating shark. Studies into fish & chip shops in the UK and Australia have shown that most of the ‘fish’ was shark. A kilo of shark meat can sell for one euro in Europe, whereas swordfish would sell for 12 times more at the same market - making the fraudulent mislabeling of shark meat a very lucrative industry. The shark conservation organization Nakawe Project has been researching this phenomenon for the last three years by conducting chemical and genetic testing on filets sold in fish markets and supermarkets. Their DNA results showed that 27% of the fillets analyzed were Shortfin Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), 13% were blue shark (Prionace glauca), and 11% were pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus). This is alarming because both mako and pelagic thresher sharks are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, while blue sharks are listed as near threatened. Their research also showed results of numerous other species listed on the IUCN Red List; including smooth hammerheads and silky sharks. The chemical analysis of the fillets was also cause for concern as it showed that on average the filets contained a concentration of 1.45mg/kg of mercury, which is well above the legal limit on seafood products. Mako shark showed the highest concentration of mercury with levels of 3.0mg/kg - three times higher than the legal limit.
“We believe that people should know what they are actually consuming, which is why we have begun petitioning distributors and
corporations to clearly label their products”, explains Nakawe Project founder, Regi Domingo. “Our hope is that if consumers know what they are being fed then they won’t want to support this exploitation of endangered apex predators. You probably wouldn’t want to eat an endangered tiger, panda, or elephant, would you? So why should eating an endangered marine species be any different.” Sharks have been proven to be worth much more alive than dead. By only looking at the revenue benefits of shark tourism and not even considering the value of the ecosystem services they provide, we see that sharks are worth millions more alive. In the Bahamas alone the shark diving industry contributes approximately $113 million USD per year to the economy. In Palau, shark tourism contributes eight percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). One reef shark in Palau is estimated to be worth $1.9 million USD over its lifetime, whereas one shark fished in the same area is estimated to be only worth $108 USD. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that protecting sharks is much more profitable and it also helps protect and rebuild our oceans at the same time.
Shark scientist, Dr. Frida Lara, explains, “Shark tourism has increased worldwide. Since the 1980s, advances in the technology of the diving industry and the knowledge of sharks have improved significantly. The negative perceptions about these species have begun to change, from initially seeing them as killing machines to intelligent, incredible, uniquely beautiful beings.” “Mexico is one of the countries with the greatest diversity of sharks and rays, and has more than 20 places where it is possible to interact with sharks. Among the most important are Guadalupe Island for Great White sharks, Revillagigedo Archipelago for multiple species, Los Cabos for multiple pelagic species, Cabo Pulmo & Playa del Carmen for bull sharks, La Paz & Isla Mujeres for whale sharks, and the list goes on.” Although there has been significant change in the last decades, there is still a long way to go. More humans need to speak up for sharks and get involved in their protection. This could be as easy as volunteering or making donations to conservation and research organizations, or helping spread the word about the issues sharks face. Asking where your seafood comes from before purchasing and learning the common names that shark is usually mislabeled as can help us make more informed decisions of the products and foods we purchase. But most of all, if you haven’t yet, go experience these remarkable and beautiful creatures in the wild. They will steal your heart and make you understand why so many humans are working so hard to try and protect them. Together we can be the force that keeps sharks roaming our oceans for another 400 million years. We must protect them as if our life depends on it...because in many ways it does.
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background image: a scalloped hammerhead 0ff Isla Darwin in the Galápagos Islands. inset image: a close up of a Great Hammerhead in Bimini. Photography: Jay Clue. 10 | savingearthmagazine.com
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ACIDITY BY DEAN UNGER
causes, conditions, & what can be done
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esearch has established that the ocean’s chemistry is changing at a rapid rate, due to the uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO₂). Ocean acidity (OA) levels have been on the rise since the industrial era, and continue to threaten shell-fish production on the Pacific West Coast, from California to British Columbia. “The potential biological effects of OA were first documented in the late 1990s,” said Christopher Harley, a Professor, at UBC Dept. of Zoology and Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. “But it wasn't until the early 2000s that both research on, and awareness of, the issue really took off. The early experiments were short term and usually only considered one species at a time. More comprehensive studies have really only been done in the last 10 years, so the field is still young. As the scenario played out, in 2007, technicians at an oyster farm in Whisky Creek, Tillamook, Oregon, recorded consecutive sudden mortality rates among oyster larvae. It was soon discovered, via a process of trial and error, that seawater pumped into the hatchery seedbeds was indeed so corrosive it was preventing young oyster shells from fully developing. As a result, seed production in the northwest plummeted by as much as 80 percent between 2005 and 2009. Researchers at the facility immediately began working with academic and government scientists, and ultimately showed a high correlation between the aragonite saturation state (Ωarag) of in-flowing seawater and the survival of affected larval groups. Findings clearly linked increased CO₂ levels to hatchery failures, specifically regarding mortality rates in the first few days of growth.
A paper published by the Oceanography Society confirmed that 2007 brought unprecedented levels of larval mortality for commercial hatcheries in the US west coast shellfish industry – initially, those were producing the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas. Since then, numerous other species have been added to the list of affected populations. Increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the water do three things, Dr. Harley explained: 1) feed plants and algae that can use the CO₂, 2) create challenges to maintaining the internal acid-base balance, which takes energy to keep in balance and can lead to all kinds of problems once it is out of balance, and 3) make it harder to build and maintain shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate. For the first point, some shellfish may actually get a bit more to eat, although there is also evidence that increased CO₂ leads to harmful algal blooms too. For point two, the early life stages (larvae) of shellfish can be very vulnerable to these energetic costs, and their development can be delayed and mass mortalities can occur. For the third point, growth rates for most calcified plants and animals are slower when CO₂ concentrations are higher, and shells can dissolve completely or fail to form in the first place if conditions become severe enough. To meet the growing challenge, researchers in British Columbia have joined efforts with Oregon and California. Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA) undertook to monitor shellfish hatcheries and coastal waters, establishing an information-sharing network in collaboration with university researchers and the US Integrated Ocean Observing System.
phtography: Farhan Sharief
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Unhealthy pteropod showing effects of ocean acidification including ragged, dissolving shell ridges on upper surface, a cloudy shell in lower right quadrant, and severe abrasions and weak spots at 6:30 position on lower whorl of shell. Photo credit: NOAA's Fisheries Collection.
photography: TOan chu
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“We have surprisingly poor long-term records of CO₂ and pH in the sea,” says Harley, “because for a long time scientists assumed that these wouldn't change very much and didn't bother to measure them. The early research showing that CO₂ and pH were changing was done at about the same time as the first biological experiments, and most of those early biological experiments were on shellfish like sea angels, sea urchins, and oysters. It was only a few years later that hatchery failures for oysters would be attributed to low pH water.” One of the certainties to come from the effort, is confirmation that seasonal coastal upwelling, which supplies nutrient-rich water to the inner continental shelf from late spring to early fall, drives productivity. However, in addition to fueling the industry, it also threatens it. Decomposition of organic matter, at depth, naturally raises CO₂ in upwelled seawater, and increasing atmospheric CO₂ concentrations have raised the baseline, leading to increased intensity, magnitude, and duration of acidified water over the continental shelf. “We have a calcite or aragonite saturation state index, which indicates whether or not calcifying organisms would naturally be able to precipitate their shells,” says Richard Feely, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (NOAA). “This index is different for different organisms producing calcite or aragonite shells that are necessary for many species to thrive. The task is to understand the mineralogy and what an optimum saturation state looks like. If the saturation state is high, they do fine – if it gets close to one, then it becomes difficult for them to produce their shells. We've had to understand the mechanism of shell precipitation for each organism, to determine what level they are affected at. It turns out that CO₂ indeed lowers the saturation state, and in doing so, creates risk. Shellfish are unique, in that they require high concentrations of calcium and carbonate to generate their protective shells. The issue then becomes the levels of carbonate concentration in the water. The shellfish community were saying they were having difficulty producing seed, but didn't know why. By 2008, Dr. Feely and his team completed a research survey along the entire west coast and concluded that, in fact, the problem was actually caused by the increasing CO₂ levels in seawater. The scientists discovered that oyster larvae, once hatched, were very sensitive to changing aragonite saturation state and could die off in approximately two days. Oyster larvae don't feed right away in the natural environment, during those critical first few days they feed off yolk reserves. If the yolk runs out before they develop the ability to feed externally, they can’t survive. What we found was very dramatic, Feely said. “When the waters were highly corrosive, the organisms died within two days. When the water had high saturation state, they did just fine. This is happening around the world as oceans take in higher loads of carbon dioxide.” Yet another process phase of oyster seed production offered a further clue, and ultimate confirmation: there was a shift in transient water quality in the ocean between morning and afternoon. “When they drew water later in the day, the oyster seed were better off,” Feely said. “This observation at least suggested where the problem was.” Early success with adding carbonate to the seawater drawn from the environment, to be used in the hatcheries themselves, was promising, although researchers, and industry people alike, admit this is a stop-gap measure to keep the shellfish industry in the hatcheries going. At present, there is no feasible measure to solve the greater problem and the larger long-term effects.
Part of the problem – perhaps the most daunting, is in coming to terms with the overabundance of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, largely resulting from our reliance upon fossil fuels, and the chemical and petroleum byproducts that are manufactured and used worldwide. “You've hit some of the major issues here that we are studying all the time,” Feely explains. “We know how much has changed from our measurements and model results and we have reasonable estimates for future conditions.”
OTHER CAUSES OF OCEAN ACIDITY NITROGEN & PHOSPHORUS In a 2005 story in the Stanford News by Mark Schwartz, scientists from Stanford University confirmed their long-held suspicions that “fertilizer runoff from big farms can trigger sudden explosions of marine algae, capable of disrupting ocean ecosystems, and even producing 'dead zones' in the sea.” This was some of the first direct evidence linking large-scale coastal farming to massive algal blooms in the ocean. It was not long after, that reports from the aquaculture industry indicated that there was a serious problem mounting with oyster seed mortality rates. The NOAA website states that nutrient pollution is a process whereby too many nutrients - mainly nitrogen and phosphorus - are added to bodies of water and can act like fertilizer, causing excessive growth of algae, which then blocks light needed for plants to grow. Excessive nutrients can come in the form of fertilizer-laden run-off in urban areas, which contribute to high acidity levels, and can often lead to low oxygen levels in the water. Coupled with rising CO₂ levels in the water, the resulting acidity has threatened fish, crabs, and oysters. Most of the man-made sources originate in wastewater treatment facilities, run-off from land in urban areas during rains, and from farming. If the problem continues it may well put increased pressure up and down the food chain.
UXO SITES (UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE OCEAN DUMP SITES) Even a cursory look at most modern hydrographic maps will show a number of UXO sites located along coastlines and inland locations, along with respective advice to avoid these areas. UXO stands for unexploded ordnance – unused bombs and weapons that were jettisoned by the military after World War Two. A story in Smithsonian Magazine, published November 11, 2016, Chemical Weapons Dumped in the Ocean After World War II Could Threaten Waters Worldwide, written by Andrew Curry, reveals the massive scope of the challenge. Curry writes that when peace finally arrived in 1945, the world’s military forces, and their respective scientists, did not know how to dispose of their massive arsenals of chemical weapons. Ultimately, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States decided that it would be efficacious to dump it all into the ocean, including unexploded weapons and chemicals. Today, experts estimate that one million metric tons of chemical weapons lie on the ocean floor—from Italy’s Bari harbor, where 230 sulfur mustard exposure cases have been reported since 1946, to the U.S.'s East Coast, where sulfur mustard bombs have shown up three times in the past 12 years in Delaware, likely brought in with loads of shellfish. “It’s a global problem. It’s not regional, and it’s not isolated,” says Terrance Long, chair of the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions (IDUM), a Dutch foundation based in The Hague, the Netherlands.
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James Delgado, host of the Nova Productions documentary, Sea Hunters, agreed that the chemicals are certainly an issue, but are a small portion of the larger problem. “There are hundreds of thousands of ships, planes and all manner of cargo sitting on the bottom of the ocean,” Delgado said, “many of these potentially littered with unexploded ordnance; [it’s a problem] with no easy solutions.” Delgado points out there are now numerous expert salvage companies that specialize in securing old UXO sites, however, some are either too deep or too dangerous to handle. He believes we are due to encounter some of the problems that were predicted decades ago.
CHEMICAL EFFLUENTS DISPOSAL, PLASTICS & CARBON FROM PETROLEUM BYPRODUCTS It is only recently that we began to question the practice of dumping chemicals and effluents from mills and processing plants into otherwise healthy rivers, streams and bodies of water. Many processing facilities, chemical plants, and mills made a habit of dumping effluents in the backyard, especially during the period 1950 - 1970s. Nature was seen as the communal disposal system: out of sight was out of mind. It was felt that we had every right to use the environment as a dumping ground in a haphazard and spontaneous way. In Canada, and likely all of North America, there are now dump sites leaking effluents and pollutants across the continent: as with ocean dump sites, some can be cleaned up, some cannot. Add to the above, accidents and spills involving railroads, ocean freight ships and highway tankers. Consider too, the mass consumer use of chemicals, which then often get flushed or poured into the sewage, drainage or natural water systems; add carbon emissions from vehicles, plants and mills; sewage and refuse from homes, cabins and cruise ships, and, add to all of it the effects from changing water temperature, from human-caused climate change.
WHAT'S BEING DONE ABOUT IT?
The US-EPA website provides a list of clear directives to be implemented between federal and state governments, including overseeing regulatory programs, developing a collaborative approach to cleaning up, providing technical and program support to states, and financing nutrient reduction activities. Although the subject of regulatory measures is present in the document, there is a seeming lack of dialogue regarding actual enforcement. This leaves the question as to whether it will be left to the stake-holders and industries themselves to decide their degree of commitment to the process. The need for adequate, effective enforcement is an ongoing problem, one that has recently been exacerbated in North America, by the systematic stripping of environmental regulations by the Trump administration during his first three years in office. Here in Canada, as per the Government of Canada website, scientists from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance programme, said there is a contrast between the need to preserve ocean health and policies that appear to contradict that need. A document on the Environment Canada Climate Change page shows a heading entitled How substances are permitted for disposal at sea. The site maintains that only substances listed in Schedule 5 of CEPA are eligible for consideration for ocean disposal. Proposed projects are evaluated by regional Disposal at Sea Program staff, in accordance with the assessment requirements. Of particular note here, is that among the items approved for consideration are
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“ OA is a global problem and truly getting on top of it will require a lot of work at the national and international level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” dredged material; ships, aircraft, platforms and other structures; uncontaminated organic matter of natural origin; fish waste and other organic matter from industrial processing operations. Disposal of fish waste at sea has recently been vigorously questioned by scientists and industry proponents alike due to suspicions it may be contributing to disease in wild fish populations and increased OA. The Canada Fisheries and Oceans website addresses the issue in a document titled, Managing Organic Wastes. It is likely that existing policies will be rigorously scrutinized as the challenge unfolds as clearly there is still work to be done. As OA advances in coming decades, the window of opportunity for spawning events to coincide with favourable water chemistry will continue to shrink. The paper's authors conclude that “significant challenges remain, and a multifaceted approach, including selective breeding of oyster stocks, expansion of hatchery capacity, continued monitoring of coastal water chemistry, and improved understanding of biological responses will all be essential to the survival of the U.S. west coast shellfish industry. Because their livelihood depends entirely on the health of the coastal ocean, shellfish growers, who now recognize a very clear and immediate threat to their industry, possess a fairly advanced level of understanding of acidification and the coastal processes affecting it,” (Mabardy, 2014). But what does it mean for the rest of the ocean's inhabitants? “OA is a global problem,” Dr. Harley said, “and truly getting on top of it will require a lot of work at the national and international level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But there are local options too. Keeping the ecosystem healthy usually makes it more resilient in the face of stresses like OA, so designing marine protected areas and setting sustainable harvest quotas is helpful. Limiting pollution and fertilizer runoff is important too, as those factors can magnify the negative effects of acidification.” Changes among marine species and entire ecosystems will be subtle at first, says Harley, “but in the long-term, certain stocks may no longer be economically viable, and managing pH issues will become so expensive for land-based aquaculture that either companies will go out of business or consumers will have to pay a premium for their seafood. Food security in some coastal communities will be at risk, and larger ecological changes may arrive suddenly as the system crosses tipping points that aren't easily reversed.” Ultimately it is largely agreed among scientists that the problem of OA stems from our carbon-based, fossil fuel propelled orientation to energy and power requirements. This must change. What we're facing is the result of decades of blissful and willful ignorance that propelled people to use the planet as a dumping ground for pollutants. This is just the beginning of a long-term struggle, which will require definitive policy, enforcement and collaboration across the board.
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OCEAN LEGACY FOUNDATION is getting ready to launch their International E.P.I.C Ambassador Program E.P.I.C Education, Policy, Infrastructure & Cleanup: Plastic Pollution Emergency Response
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www.oceanlegacy.ca/ambassador @oceanlegacy @theoceanlegacy savingearthmagazine.com | 17
Gina Hopkins, Ocean Legacy Ambassador. Taylor Burk Photography.
Parrotfishes BY EMMA RODGERS
the Funky Fish that can Save Our Coral Reefs
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oral reefs in the Caribbean are transforming from colourful, mesmerising networks of life, to eerie, green carpets. In these tropical reefs, fast-growing algae outcompete corals for space and light, and reefs are quickly invaded by an army of green. Eventually the smothered corals die, and the health of the reef is severely compromised. Astonishingly, tropical coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life on the planet whilst occupying just 0.1% of the ocean floor. Therefore, to prevent the marine ecosystem from total collapse, coral-dominated reefs need to be restored - and the answer may lie in the humble parrotfish.
THE RISE OF ALGAE-DOMINATED REEFS Reefs in the Caribbean have been regularly monitored since the 1970s and since then, many have undergone dramatic shifts from vibrant, coral-dominated habitats to dull, algae-dominated habitats. Coral reefs may appear to be harmonious, peaceful landscapes, but beneath this mirage, a silent war is occurring. Corals and macroalgae, the dominant benthic groups in coral reefs, are in constant competition for limited resources, including space and light. Light is a particularly valuable commodity under the water for photosynthetic organisms. Both the zooxanthellae (single-celled algae that reside in the tissues of corals) and macroalgae require light to photosynthesise in order to produce the nutrients needed to survive and grow. When corals face disturbance, such as coral bleaching, storm action or disease, macroalgae claim victory and spread across the reef, revelling in their newfound space and lapping up the sunâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rays. As macroalgae asserts its dominance on the reef, corals languish in a green fog, smothered by thick green blankets. Unable to photosynthesise due to lack of light, the zooxanthellae fail to produce enough nutrients for the corals to function. Worse still, fleshy macroalgae release generous amounts of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) which gets eaten up by microbes. Microbes play a large role in nutrient recycling processes on coral reefs, but the influx in DOC creates an ideal environment for potentially harmful microbes to flourish, and disease can quickly spread across the reef, causing further coral mortality and maintaining algae dominance. For example, in the 1980s, algae-dominated reefs in the Caribbean suffered a disease outbreak, which killed 80% of elkhorn and staghorn corals, both major reef building corals from the Acropora genus. When corals cannot thrive, coral reef ecosystems simply cannot host the diversity of life that depends on them for food and shelter. This is the key problem with algae-dominated reefs: they quickly lose their ability to support and stabilise the marine ecosystem. Healthy coral reefs are not only ecologically important, they also provide coastal communities with economic services, directly supporting over 500 million people worldwide. In the Caribbean alone, coral-reef related tourism generates annual benefits of USD $2.7 billion. Devastatingly, coral cover in the Caribbean has declined by 50% since the 1970s. It is vital that this figure does not increase. We must put a pause on the spread of algae and shift the green reefs back to being resilient coral havens where marine life can blossom.
THE ROLE OF PARROTFISH ON CORAL REEFS A heavybeak parrotfish in the Red Sea. Photography: Ute Niemann
Parrotfish, of the family Scaridae, are a peculiar family of 80 recognised species that are strongly associated with tropical reefs across the world. Their biodiversity peaks in the Indo-Pacific region, par-
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top left: humphead parrotfish. photography: Atese, top right: Parrotfish are herbivores and feed on algae that they scrape from the reef using their hard beaks. Photography: Simak. Bottom: bullethead parrotfish. photography: Bearacreative. Top Right: The bright colouration of parrotfish make them the one of the most conspicuous coral reef residents. Photography: Levent Konuk. Bottom Right: If herbivorous parrotfish do not graze the macroalgae on the reef, it proliferates and smothers the corals. Photography: Placebo365
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ticularly the Coral Triangle. With their compelling and flamboyant colours, parrotfish are among the most conspicuous residents of the coral reef ecosystem, making their presence a joyful spectacle for many a lucky SCUBA diver. A tell-tale sign that a parrotfish is nearby is a very loud crunching sound, which ripples through water as they feed. Most parrotfish are herbivores and spend up to 90% of their day eating algae that they bite and scrape from the surface of reefs. Whilst some species also like to feed on live corals – the largest parrotfish, the bumphead parrotfish, can remove five tonnes of coral structures every year – most parrotfish prefer dining on algae-covered surfaces. These noisy feeding behaviours are enabled by a fairly bizarre adaptation, which gives parrotfish their endearing ‘buck-toothed’ appearance - a set of over 1,000 teeth that are fused together to form a solid beak. To add extra strength, each tooth is made of fluorapatite, the second hardest biomineral in the world. This unique uncrackable beak allows parrotfish to scrape and bite into hard corals in order to secure an algae fix.
arrotfish act as important bioeroders and play a large role in the maintenance of coral reefs. Most critically, by removing macroalgae from the reef’s surface, parrotfish not only open up space for younger corals to grow and flourish, they also control the growth of algae communities that impede coral recruitment and growth. In short, parrotfish help to establish healthy coral-algae interactions. In the Caribbean, the functional importance of parrotfish in keeping the algae at bay dramatically increased in the 1980s, following the mass mortality of the herbivorous sea urchin, Diadema antillarum, which once munched its way through large volumes of algae growing on the reefs. In these regions, parrotfish are now the primary grazers on the reefs. Unfortunately, populations of parrotfish are decreasing; a trend which is largely due to overfishing. In some Caribbean fisheries, parrotfish dominate the catch. Parrotfish may be able to stem the tide of fast-growing macroalgae and help restore algal-dominated reefs back to being healthy coral-dominated reefs. The restored reefs would also have a greater resilience to the impacts of climate change, such as rising temperatures and ocean acidification. However, with numbers of parrotfish falling, the growth of macroalgae is not sufficiently controlled and it grows freely across the reefs – the choking corals have little opportunity to recover. If parrotfish populations continue to decrease, the occurrence of algaedominated reefs will rise even further. Sadly, a massive 70% of coral reefs are currently under threat of overfishing.
FUNKY FEATURES OF PARROTFISH Parrotfish must be protected, not only because of their critical functional role on coral reefs, but also because it would be a great shame to see such a quirky family of fish fade from our oceans. Interestingly, parrotfish do not digest the coral fragments that they swallow as they scrape and extract algae from coral structures on the reef. Indigestible calcium carbonate coral skeletons are ground up and excreted as a fine white sand. Every year, a single parrotfish can produce a phenomenal volume of sand, sometimes up to 350kg. Over time, the white sand is washed up by wave action and eventually forms the pristine white beaches that we know and love. Next time you’re lying on a tropical sandy beach, remember to thank the tireless work of parrotfish digestive systems. Another peculiarity of parrotfish is that before they go to sleep, many species tuck themselves into a thick mucus sleeping bag. Parrotfish have a sinister enemy: juvenile crustaceans belonging to the Gnathiidae family, which like to suck the blood from marine fish. During the day, these pesky parasites are removed by cleaner fish, but at night, sleeping parrotfish are vulnerable to attack. It is thought that the layer of mucus acts as a “mosquito net” that stops parasites from reaching the parrotfish as they sleep. The mucus also masks the scent of the parrotfish so they can essentially hide in plain sight. All Caribbean parrotfish are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning most juveniles begin life as females and, should they grow large enough and territory is available, can transition into larger, more colourful terminal males. Terminal males defend a hareem, and if lost, the largest female in the hareem will transition into the next terminal male, having a go at leading the pack.
WHAT’S THE FUTURE FOR CARIBBEAN REEFS? Coral reefs in the Caribbean are among the most degraded on the planet. If parrotfish populations are not restored and legislation is not introduced to control overfishing, there’s a real chance that coral reefs in the Caribbean could disappear altogether within a few decades. But there is hope! Campaigns in the Caribbean, such as The Nature Conservancy’s #PassOnParrotfish, are working to protect parrotfish by educating people about their critical role in maintaining healthy coral reefs. Raising awareness is a fantastic way to spark behavioural change. In 2009, Belize banned the fishing of parrotfish altogether, and Guatemala followed suit in 2015. To bring the reefs back to life, other countries urgently need to introduce fishing regulations to ensure populations of iconic parrotfish are replenished. These funky fish may be our last hope.
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Plastic Pollution and Its Impact on Animals
From the earliest manipulation of materials long before the common era began, until the mid-20th century, there was relatively little in the way of human pollution. Once humans began to mass-produce synthetics in the 1940s, however, the story changed and our love affair with plastics took off. In 2020, according to Ian Tiseo , cumulative plastic production has reached 8.3 billion metric tons with no end to its consumption in sight. The human race has become lazily reliant upon plastic in its myriad forms but this reliance comes with a high price tag, one that we need to examine closely in order to protect our environment and the animals living alongside our polluting species.
BY NATALIA CONTRERAS
The Paradox of Plastic
Plastic absolutely has incredibly useful properties: it doesn’t break down easily, it’s cheap and it’s versatile so can be moulded and manipulated as required. Plastic plays a critical role in food quality and in the reduction of worldwide food waste. It is also vitally important within the medical world, where its cost and versatility make it perfect for one-time use sterile implements. However, these same properties are also its downfall and our downfall too: plastic doesn’t simply disappear when we’re done with it. Most plastics are used once and then discarded into landfills and our oceans where they take hundreds of years to breakdown. Once it has eventually fragmented into macro and micro-plastics, it is ingested by living organisms. Plastic really never truly leaves us.
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The problem is not plastic itself, rather how we interact with it. Consumers have failed to use these incredibly useful materials thoughtfully and with care. Instead, we have created a throw-away society where we use packaging once, often for a short time, and then dispose of it with very little thought for our environment or the animals living alongside us. Consider the lifespan of a takeaway coffee cup or a piece of plastic cutlery. Used once and discarded without thought. For so long, we were told that as long as we recycled it would be ok. But that is simply not true. We need a serious change of mindset: we must change habits, say no to single-use products, re-use what we have and reduce our reliance on plastics.
Our Habits Impact the Animal World
Not only does our plastic habit impact our environment but it has a direct impact on animals too. Saving Earth Magazine has already published an excellent and thorough article by Sergio Izquierdo (Summer 2020) highlighting the serious issue of microplastics in the oceans. According to Izquierdo, 100,000 marine animals die each year from plastic ingestion and by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. A study published in Nature in 2019 found that the gut of every dead marine mammal around the UK that was examined contained microplastics. It isn’t only marine life that is choking on our discarded plastic: birds also suffer as they mistake plastics for food, which causes them to starve as their stomachs fill with indigestible plastic. Birds have been found to use plastics for nest materials, mistaking it for leaves and twigs, which can then injure and trap chicks before they have even had a chance to fly. According to WWF, 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their guts. Birds, like marine life, are absolutely vital to the maintenance of our ecosystem: they control pests that would otherwise decimate crops and they are pollinators of many plants and trees across the world yet we continue to perpetuate the destruction of their environment. We have all seen the pictures of turtles with plastic bags hanging out of their mouths but when birds and marine animals ingest plastics they don’t necessarily suffocate and die immediately. If they swallow many smaller pieces over time, they slowly starve as they do not receive enough nutrients due to the plastics making them feel full. This often leaves them incapable of following their annual migratory paths and even incapable of breeding due to a lack of energy. Land animals also suffer from our bad attitude as obviously not all plastic waste ends up in the oceans. Land animals, like marine animals, can also mistake our plastic waste for food. It can, of course, then cause intestinal blockages and lead to death. Animals can get their paws or even heads stuck in plastic and give themselves nasty injuries, and of course, some animals will eat birds and marine life that have ingested plastics, just as we humans find ourselves eating seafood that contains microplastics.
Is There A Solution?
There is an absolute urgency around creating new, non-petroleum based materials that are harmless to animals and our shared environment. We must avoid single-use plastics wherever we can and ‘the four Rs’ are imperative again: reject, reduce, reuse and, finally, recycle. These solutions can prevent us from further contaminating our world and the animals living on it but they do nothing to fix the already enormous problem we face: the plastic already in our oceans and in landfills is not going anywhere. We need both innovative solutions and total governmental and intergovernmental commitment to clean up our world.
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Muddy Mess! PHOTOGRAPHY AND STORY BY CRISTINA MITTERMEIER
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y dream of being a National Geographic photographer became a reality in 2017 when I went on my first expedition as one of the lead photographers when SeaLegacy partnered with NatGeo. The team of photographers sent to the white continent included Paul Nicklen, Andy Mann, Keith Ladsinzki, and me. Our mission was to capture the beauty and splendour of a place in desperate need of protection. While Antarctica was as beautiful as we expected, it was bittersweet to realise that even here, in one of the most remote places on our planet, humanity has had an impact. I had been to Antarctica before as a tourist and although my first visit had been brief, I could see that even after a few short years, things had already changed. I was so excited about this expedition. My focus was on making beautiful images, but over the course of the month in Antarctica, as we dived deeper into our story, I began noticing things that initially didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t strike me as a problem. As the days went on, the hard reality of what was happening here became clear. It had been raining steadily for many days. In a place where the norm is to see snow flurries, instead, rivers of guano-laden mud ran into the ocean. Snorkelling near a penguin colony, I was puzzled when the visibility in the waters abruptly became clouded. Later I realized it had started raining, and the murky water was a product of the sudden influx of muck from the land. When I got back on the boat and looked out towards the penguin colony, I could see the rivers of red guano flowing out to sea. It was clear I had been swimming in penguin poo. I became more alarmed when later that day I went on land to visit this colony of AdĂŠlie penguins. I noticed several of the chicks, which were moulting their baby feathers for their adult, waterproof coat, were covered in mud. Whereas baby penguins can preen themselves when they are covered in snow, becoming caked in clay or mud is a different story. Adult penguins can clean themselves when they go out to sea, but chicks are too young to swim, so instead, they sit on land and when the temperatures drop down at night, hypothermia can kill them because they are unable to preen and the mud freezes onto them. It is not just the change in weather patterns that is a threat;
top: A baby elephant seal, or "weaner", sits alone on a beach on the Antarctic Peninsula. bottom left: A King Penguin looks down at a lone krill, the foundation of the ecosystem with every creature from birds to whales depending on healthy krill populations for survival. bottom right: Watching a baby penguin die is never easy. This chick is not likely to survive. It is soaked from the incessant rain and coated in thick mud that it could not preen off. photography: Cristina Mittermeier/SeaLegacy
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it is the unpredictability of these changes. I was devastated to realize that these beautiful creatures simply cannot adapt to this harsh new environment with its rapidly changing weather patterns. To the casual tourist, changes may not be apparent, but to the animals that live here, the changes are a matter of life and death. Just a few decades ago, in the 1970s, sea ice covered the ocean around the peninsula for a full three months longer than it does today. For species such as leopard seals, strict ice-obligate animals, it is a big deal as females must find pack ice in order to safely give birth and nurse their pups. As the conditions of sea ice are changing, so is the predictability of weather patterns, which in turn changes the abundance and distribution of krill and penguins. That means leopard seals must also change their habits. New scientific observations show that leopard seals are now moving into places where fur seals have started to recover after decades of exploitation. The leopard seals wait for the young fur seal pups to enter the water, and their efficiency as predators is wreaking havoc on these newly recovered populations.
hen it was time to leave, we headed back across the Drake Passage, back towards the Falkland Islands. We approached the southern beaches of Elephant Island, which is only 245 km from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Even though we were almost 61 degrees south, we looked out at what appeared to be a green meadow on an island with a reputation for being the stark outpost where Shakelton famously left his men after his ship, The Endurance, was trapped in the sea ice and sank. While Shakelton and a six-man crew sailed 1,300 km on board the James Caird, one of the small rescue vessels from the sunken ship, to South Georgia, the other 22 survivors were left to fend for themselves on the rugged northern coast of Elephant Island. In their memoirs, they speak of a land devoid of life, a rocky outpost in the middle of nowhere, so exposed to the beating of the frigid wind and sea that nothing could grow. Now, as we stood there wearing only t-shirts on this balmy austral summer day, I could not help but cringe at the massive changes this place has experienced. Mosses and lichens were happily growing
A leopard seal patrols a huddle of penguins, patiently waiting for one of them to risk jumping into the water. photography: Cristina Mittermeier/SeaLegacy
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on the rocks where nothing could grow a few decades ago. When you look at the increase in temperatures, however, it starts making sense. Annual temperatures have increased by up to 0.56 degrees Celsius per decade in the Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic islands since the 1950s; that is a full three degrees! When the temperatures were still consistently below zero degrees Celsius, a change of one or two degrees didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter much to plants because all the water was still locked away as ice. As soon as temperatures started to rise above zero degrees Celsius for several hours a day, then all of a sudden, there was a lot more melted water available for growth. Mosses, which are very adaptable, take advantage and begin to proliferate. Nowhere on Earth are ecosystems changing more rapidly than in the Antarctic and Sub Antarctic islands, where even a small change in temperature has brought really big changes. The lush carpet of green mosses we were looking at on Stinker Point was a testament of this change. We may not realize it yet, but as Antarctica goes, so does the rest of the world. In 2020, a year that has witnessed a global pandemic and the rise of a global social and racial justice movement, the world is also coming together to finally protect the vast wilderness that is the great southern ocean. By creating three new marine protected areas in Antarctica, we have an opportunity to create the largest act of conservation in the history of humanity and the largest nature sanctuary on Earth. Together, the East Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, and Weddell Sea MPAs would protect almost one percent of the ocean globally by covering approximately four million square kilometers and represent the largest act of ocean protection in history. This protection will not only lend resilience to an ecosystem under siege, but it will also give us more time to ultimately solve the underlying issues causing climate change. I invite you to join tens of thousands of ocean advocates from around the world and support the creation of the largest conservation act in human history. Add your name to the growing list and urge world leaders to protect Antarcticaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s waters. Sign the petition at https://only.one/act/antarctica.
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FROM THE PARVATI FOUNDATION
A MEDICAL MASK
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ith its thick ice, frigid wind, and months-long darkness, the Arctic Ocean may seem both remote and obscure. Yet in terms of its impact on our lives, this distant ocean may as well be in our back-yard. Its health is inescapably connected with our own. The Arctic Ocean is a global life support system that keeps our entire planet cool and healthy. Through what is known as the albedo effect, its ice reflects the sun’s heat away from the planet. The cold vortex of air above the ice shapes weather patterns for the entire world, including the temperature and rainfall patterns that grow the food and resources we need and ensure we have access to drinking water. This also protects us from natural disasters and, because it stabilizes land ice in turn, it helps safeguard our homes from rising sea levels. By keeping 148 trillion kg of CO₂ out of the atmosphere and preventing significant methane release, it prevents a drastic increase in global
left: A whale swims in the arctic. photography: Alexey Suloev. above: ice melt. photos: Pxhere & Geological Survey
emissions. It also provides us with clean air, because it gives shelter and food to 17 different species of whales, three of which live there year-round. In the “whale pump effect”, whales bring nutrients from the ocean depths to fertilize phytoplankton at the ocean’s surface, which capture carbon out of the air. Ocean phytoplankton are responsible for half the oxygen we breathe, or every other breath we take. The Arctic Ocean is critically important to keep Arctic permafrost – soil that is normally frozen year round – solid. Because of the organic matter buried in the permafrost in varying stages of decomposition, the permafrost holds large deposits of methane, as well as pathogens such as anthrax, smallpox, Spanish flu, and the plague—as well as many other pathogens for which humanity has no name, let alone immunity. But today, the Arctic Ocean is sick, and its life-giving benefits have been compromised. Its ice has vanished precipitously in the past
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five decades, while its waters are now as much as 7°C interconnection. By taking Arctic seabed oil and gas above: Polar bear. warmer than the norm. At the same time, it has become off the table for good, MAPS catalyzes our collective subject to exploitation of all kinds—fishing, oil and gas, photography: mario hoppmann. transition to renewable energy. It is by far the largest shipping, military activity, and more—from businesses conservation area in history, at eight million square km, and governments seeking to profit off the thaw. Since or approximately the same size as the contiguous USA. such activities break up the remaining ice and disrupt an By removing ships that break up the ice and whose already unstable ecosystem, the risks to us all include indark soot lands on ice and accelerates the thaw, MAPS creased pollution, species loss locally and globally, rising preserves the vital ecosystem that stabilizes the planet. warming, greater natural disasters, and the deadly release of methane By stopping commercial and military activity in the region, MAPS and pathogens. keeps harmful behaviour and pollutants out of the Arctic Ocean for A heating, polluted and noisy Arctic Ocean directly threatens the a more peaceful, healthy world. In short, it protects the Arctic Ocean whales that depend on it. For example, seismic blasting and oil explo- from the symptoms of our isolationist thinking, and protects the ration deafen and disorient whales, who rely on sound to navigate and world from the symptoms of a sick Arctic Ocean. As we all come to communicate. In addition, the diminishing ice means that polar bears terms with the need to wear masks to keep ourselves and others safe may be replaced as the apex predator in some regions by orca whales – in the COVID-19 pandemic, MAPS is an essential medical mask for which could damage the beluga whale population in turn. an ailing world. Yet all of these are symptoms of an even bigger problem: our MAPS originated with the all-volunteer international non-profit collective greed and disconnected thinking, which are like a fever Parvati Foundation. We created the MAPS Treaty that updates the sickening our world. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in order to ensure Today, most of us understand that a medical mask keeps disease the Arctic Ocean is fully protected. It enters into force with the contained—either from getting in, or from getting out. What if we signatures of 99 countries, including the Arctic nations. To date, two could apply a medical mask to the Arctic Ocean to keep life on Earth countries have already signed and more signatures are expected soon. safe? With MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, we can. Everyone has the right to know that the Arctic Ocean affects us MAPS protects the entire Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle all and that a healthy world is possible when we protect it. To get from all forms of exploitation, and compels a global commitment to involved, please visit Parvati.org.
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MAPS HELPS US ALL TO BREATHE.
SIGN THE PETITION AT PARVATI.ORG savingearthmagazine.com | 31
By Sophie McDonald
THE DOLPHIN that The Yangstze river. phtography: dong zhang
hile it is vitally important to appreciate the range of fascinating creatures that are alive today, it is just as critical to reflect on species that we have lost. The Yangtze River dolphin, or the baiji, used to populate Chinaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s great river in its thousands but in 2006 it was declared functionally extinct. This is a tragic tale not only because the world has lost a remarkable and beautiful animal, but also because it is representative of a far wider issue: biodiversity loss. With every species lost, we tumble faster towards catastrophe. To understand why the loss of the baiji was so devastating, it is vital to unpick what the term biodiversity means and what the consequences of the biodiversity crisis will be if we do not take drastic action.
WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY? What sets apart Earth from every other orbiting rock in the solar system? Biodiversity. Our green and blue marble is teeming with a variety of lifeforms all interacting with one another and making our planet habitable. Biodiversity operates at multiple levels from genes, to species, to organismal communities, and ultimately the whole ecosystem, where life and the physical environment coil together. It encompasses everything from microscopic fungi to towering redwoods
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and gigantic whale sharks. It is the complex web of life that defines our planet and, crucially, sustains it.
HOW DIVERSE IS OUR PLANET? It depends where you look. The tropics house the majority of the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s biodiversity hotspots. By definition a biodiversity hotspot needs to have lost at least 70 percent of its original native vegetation, and as such, hotspots are a focus point for conservationists. These are areas that are rich with life but also are at high risk of destruction. Examples include the renowned Amazon Rainforest and the Congolese forests in Central Africa. The trouble with being an area of immense biological richness and irreplaceability is that these areas are inherently fragile. As humans encroach ever further into these areas, the degree of damage left in their wake increases as well. Across the whole globe there are 1.7 million recorded species of animals, plants and fungi but the most precise estimates suggest that the actual total is closer to 8.7 million, although some calculations have estimated numbers could even be as high as 100 million. Working at the genetic level has also recently revealed that what was once described as a single species could actually be broken down into dozens of species. Our planet is so diverse that we have barely scratched the surface when
a Chinese River Dolphin. Photo crediT: Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
it comes to identifying all of it. The issue is that life may be disappearing without us even noticing, let alone grieving.
BIODIVERSITY AT RISK Since the exponential growth of industrialisation in the 20th century, human activities have eroded nature across the globe. This erosion is known as biodiversity loss, which describes the loss of genetic variability, variety of species and biological communities in a given area. While biodiversity loss occurs naturally to some degree, anthropogenic drivers such as pollution, overexploitation, invasive species as well as habitat loss and fragmentation cause accelerated losses. There is also a significant interplay between anthropogenic climate change and biodiversity loss, wherein species are pushed to extinction by drastic changes in climate, and declining ecosystems become less able to sequester carbon and act as buffers to extreme weather events. It is difficult to precisely estimate the numbers, considering we don’t know exactly how many species existed to begin with, but we lose anywhere between 200 and 100,000 species every single year. Our melting pot planet is losing its variety every single day and with each extinction the flavour of life on Earth becomes increasingly bland.
Climate change has entered public discourse within recent years, and rightly so, but it is essential that an interest in protecting our planet’s biodiversity moves into the mainstream as well. Biodiversity loss is as pertinent an issue as climate change and the consequences of failing to act on it are equally catastrophic.
WHY DOES BIODIVERSITY MATTER? Not only can many of us recount times when nature has calmed us or inspired us but the economic value of natural capital can also be quantified in very tangible ways and its benefits are woven into every aspect of modern life. Biodiversity enables us to breathe, eat and drink. It provides us with medicinal ingredients and protects us from natural disasters. Thriving economies are gifted to us by the products of biodiversity. It underpins all life, even those of humans in bustling cities seemingly detached from nature’s simplicity. The Convention on Biological Diversity, states “at least 40 percent of the world’s economy and 80 percent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources.” It adds, “the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.”
While the presence (or absence) of a single species may not seem to directly impact our lives, every species is part of a wider puzzle that shapes our entire existence. Biodiversity is what offers us planetary security, therefore it should be in the interest of every occupant of this planet to safeguard it. This means fostering an appreciation for every organism, regardless of how mundane or bizarre they may seem. When existing at appropriate levels in their natural habitat, all organisms have a role to play in maintaining biodiversity, and it is vital that we invest time, energy and money into conserving them.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CASE OF THE YANGTZE RIVER DOLPHIN? The Yangtze River is China’s largest river, connecting nearly 6,300 km of the country. It’s so large that a third of China’s population live in the area covered by the Yangtze’s river basin. Today it is one of the world’s busiest and most polluted waterways, however in the not so distant past it was bustling not with boats and people, but with wildlife. Travelling along the river in early 1950s China, you might expect to see a Yangtze River dolphin; the river is thought to have been home to thousands of individuals at the time. The baiji inspired Chinese mythology and was nicknamed the ‘Goddess of the Yangtze’, symbolising peace, prosperity and protection. Traversing the Yangtze in 2020, you wouldn’t spot a single dolphin for the entire length of the river. What happened to the baiji and how did it become The Dolphin That Disappeared?
THE BAIJI’S DECLINE From booming populations in the 1950s, the baiji’s numbers nosedived throughout the second half of the 20th century. Around 400 individuals were alive in 1979-1981, this crashed down to only 13 dolphins remaining in the late 1990s. From the 1950s onwards, the baiji’s home was transformed by the lethal cocktail of pollutants seeping into the ecosystem from the thousands of chemical plants lining the river. This was coupled with dam construction, large amounts of boat traffic, overfishing and unsustainable bycatch. The baiji was rapidly dragged into the maelstrom of industrialisation and eventually lost the fight for its life. The last confirmed sighting of the baiji was in 2002, and in 2006 the ‘Goddess of the Yangtze’ was declared functionally extinct. River dolphins act as indicators for riverine health, hence the absence of the baiji speaks volumes about the state of the Yangtze’s ecosystem. Booming freshwater dolphin populations are a sign of healthy river systems, able to support the countless other species and communities that depend on them. Missing or declining river dolphin populations therefore act as a red flag calling out for immediate intervention.
WERE THERE CONSERVATION EFFORTS? The baiji’s decline had been clear to the scientific community decades before its extinction and conservation groups were aware that action to preserve and restore the species was desperately necessary.
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There were efforts from the early 1990s to the early 2000s to create designated reserves, monitor illegal fishing in these areas, and create breeding programmes, however these efforts were managed and executed poorly. Opportunities to act effectively were repeatedly lost and as a result many conservationists now reflect on the baiji’s tale with anger and disappointment. How could such a failure happen to a large freshwater mammal? What hope does a lesser-known endangered organism have for survival? Samuel Turvey is a biologist and palaeontologist who became involved in the late stage of conservation efforts to save the baiji. Through reading his personal accounts it is possible to gain a further insight into the frustrating lack of urgent action that led to the baiji’s eventual extinction. Turvey and many others can recount how conservation plans and their implementation were insufficient in magnitude and appropriateness. Conservation measures were implemented far too late and with insufficient financial investment and the species’ numbers rapidly declined. The plight of the baiji has become a cautionary tale for conservationists worldwide and it is imperative that we heed its message if we are to prevent such a loss from happening again.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN? Many more remarkable animals, plants and fungi are currently under threat, including a handful of other river dolphins. Over 32,000 species around the world are on the brink of extinction and they all deserve to be saved. There is inherent value in preserving wildlife, but additionally these species photography: shane young all have an important role to play in their ecosystem and ultimately provide us with a better quality of life. Conservation action must be carried out rapidly, effectively and with ferocious determination to preserve the life that exists on this planet. We must fight cascading losses at every level of biodiversity more widely and with a greater sense of urgency. We still have a small window of time to act. Transformative action is the only way that we can save our planet, including implementing legislation that protects nature at its core; ending all subsidies that lead to the destruction of nature, and shifting rapidly away from a reliance on the overexploitation of natural resources to fuel our economies. If you want to take action today, you can amplify the issue of biodiversity loss and the critical importance of conservation action to preserve and restore ecosystems. You can also support a number of conservation organisations including: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Center for Biological Diversity. Dolphins have a treasured place in our hearts; their intelligence and beauty capture our fascination and losing such a beautiful creature is a heavy loss. The baiji’s tragic tale must not be forgotten if we are to learn from the past and succeed in changing the fate of species living on Earth today.
THE MARINE DIARIES
www.themarinediaries.com Ocean | Conservation | Science
We are an ocean science communication initiative
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Canadaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s by Cassie Pearse
Photography: hans jurgen
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anada is warming at twice the already alarming global rate and as such, its non-human inhabitants are extremely vulnerable to both climate change and to human activity. There are over 200 land animal species at risk in Canada including the iconic polar bear and caribou. These two species may be the face of climate change in Canada but they are, by no means, the only animals considered ‘at risk’. All across Canada, from the prairies, the lakes and the forests, animals are disappearing. Canada has over 521 plant and animal species on its Species at Risk list. Once animals are identified as endangered, the next step must be to identify its habitat needs and then to take action to protect that habitat to ensure the survival of the animals in the face of human interference. While we absolutely believe governments must be at the forefront of wildlife and biodiversity protection, there are countless opportunities for communities to work together to protect their own environments.
POLAR BEAR Long a symbol of the plight of the Arctic and the consequences of climate change, Canada’s polar bears are at real danger of extinction by the end of the twenty-first century if we don’t act soon, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change. Around two-thirds of the world’s polar bears live in Canada. Polar bears are reliant on the Arctic sea ice for hunting, mating and raising their cubs. As the sea ice melts, their hunting ground shrinks, meaning fewer hunting opportunities and less time for the bears to fatten up before the summer season each year. Human actions are forcing these apex carnivores to move into closer proximity with communities living along the Arctic coastlines where they have little choice but to forage in human areas and through human waste in order to survive.
Photography: photodune/ Mint Images
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BARREN-GROUND CARIBOU Endemic to Canada, the barren-ground caribou is at risk due to human activity in the north of the country. There are over one million barren-ground caribou and they spend much of the year on the tundra, migrating only to the coniferous forests to the south. In 2004, the barren-ground caribou was placed on the Canadian Species at Risk registry as being of ‘special concern’. Changing conditions in the Arctic are expected to have a negative impact on these creatures that have long been intricately tied to the cultural identities of Indigenous communities who have used them for food and clothing for thousands of years. Climate change will impact on the feeding habits, reproduction rates and migratory routes of the barren-ground caribou. Caribou eat lichen, which can become inaccessible due to changing and extreme weather conditions. The more energy the caribou require to extract their main food source, the more food they require. This can eventually lead to starvation and even death. As climate change plays havoc with the caribou’s food source, it also impacts their calving season, which has evolved to tie-in with the season of easily accessible lichen so as their primary food source becomes less available, there is greater malnutrition among the young. Migration is also dictated by access to food. As ice melts across the tundra, natural river barriers are formed, fragmenting the caribou’s habitat, preventing them from reaching feeding and breeding grounds. Given that Indigenous communities also rely on the caribou for their food, the newly unpredictable migratory path of the caribou has a direct impact on humans in the region.
"Look around you. How are the animals endemic to your region faring? What needs to be done to maintain a healthy ecosystem? What can you do?"
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AMERICAN BADGER The American badger is listed as endangered in both BC and Ontario. It is estimated that there are fewer than 200 of these badgers in Ontario and fewer than 350 in BC. Badgers are the only true burrowing predator in Canada and they play an important role in controlling the burrowing rodent population. The main threat to these badgers is human interference since badgers sit firmly at the top of their food chain as the most important predator in a grassland ecosystem. Humans, by claiming the open grasslands for their own urban development and intensive farming needs, have interfered in this delicate ecosystem. Throughout the nineteenth century, humans deliberately controlled numbers of badgers, not understanding their important role, rather seeing them as pests and fearing the damage their burrows could cause to livestock. While people are now more tolerant of the creatures, their
numbers have never recovered due to the lack of grassland available to them, collisions with cars, and the spread of disease. Badgers are adaptable, though. Since they no longer face outright persecution and since less intensive farming can actually create suitable badger habitats, there may well be opportunities to recover badger numbers in the future.
CONCLUSION Every animal, large or small, has a part to play in our ecosystem. The natural balance of the ecosystem can cope with a great deal of human interference but the levels of disregard for nonhuman life on our planet have reached critical levels and we must absolutely, at every level, from intragovernmental and governmental to the individual and community, take action to restore balance.
OTHER ENDANGERED SPECIES IN CANADA Mammal: Tri-coloured Bat Ordâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Kangaroo Rat Vancouver Island Marmot Western Harvest Mouse Beluga Whale Blue Whale (Atlantic and Pacific) Bird: Northern Bobwhite Horned Grebe (Magdalen Islands population) Barn Owl (eastern population) Burrowing Owl White-headed Woodpecker Amphibian: Oregon Spotted Frog Salamander (including Eastern Tiger, Prairie population, Jefferson and Allegheny Mountain Dusky) Fowlerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Toad Reptiles: Eastern Foxsnake Greater Short-horned Lizard Desert Nighsnake Queensnake Grey Ratsnake, Carolinian population Various Sea Turtles Fish: Striped Bass, St.Lawrence River population Lake Chubsucker Basking Shark, Pacific population White Shark, Pacific population Atlantic Salmon, Inner Bay of Fundy population
Photography: nick myatt
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columbia valley wetlands. Photography: adam jones
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government of canada Protecting Species-at-Risk Habitat
in British Columbia "Conserving habitat for 28 species at risk—including grizzly bears and American badgers— is a necessary step to support the survival of these iconic animals while protecting nature and fighting climate change. This on-the-ground work led by the Kootenay Conservation Program showcases what can be achieved for Canada's biodiversity through collaboration. By working together with local communities, we are working toward Canada's goal of protecting a quarter of our lands and a quarter of our oceans by 2025." – The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
rotecting nature is an essential part of addressing biodiversity loss and fighting climate change. Here in Canada and around the world, we need transformative action to protect natural ecosystems now and into the future. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced that the Government of Canada has invested $2 million over four years in Kootenay Connect—a program that aims to help protect and restore species-at-risk habitat and ecological connectivity in four biodiversity hotspots in the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia. This funding, provided through the Nature Legacy's Canada Nature Fund, enables partners to advance the protection of habitat vital to the survival of iconic Canadian species. Kootenay Connect focuses on the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor, Creston Valley, Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor, and the Columbia Valley Wetlands and will help to conserve important habitat for 28 species at risk including grizzly bears, northern leopard frogs, western screech-owls, American badgers, Lewis's woodpeckers, little brown myotis (bats), and many other important species.
Northern leopard frog. photography: Andrew Cannizzaro
source: Environment and Climate Change Canada more info: kootenayconservation.ca/kootenay-connect
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BY MONIQUE TAMMINGA
THE BURROWING OWL AND ITS BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL
Mike Mackintosh, Founder and President of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC, with 2 juvenile owls for banding, raised in the wild from wild released parents. Photography: Lauren Meads
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male burrowing owl stands on its stilt-like legs guarding the front of his familyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s burrow in the rocky grasslands of the Okanagan, British Columbia. He tilts his brown and white feathered head almost 270 degrees, listening and watching for any threats. Inside is a nest of five very loud and hungry owlets. The sound coming from the baby owls is so similar to that of a rattlesnake, any potential threat would think twice about taking a peek inside the burrow. These unusual little birds are the smallest of the owl species and are the only members of the owl family that nest in the ground. But this makes them an easier target than their cousins who live among the treetops. According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, burrowing owls are considered one of the most endangered birds in Canada. In fact, by 1980, the burrowing owl was considered extinct in B.C.
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Then came along Mike Mackintosh – founder of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society (BOCS) and owl whisperer of sorts who has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to helping these unique owls survive. “I started working with burrowing owls in 1990. I was working as manager of Stanley Park Zoological Gardens. I was trying to change course for the zoo, making it a conservation centre for work with rare and endangered species, particularly B.C. species,” said Mackintosh. “Burrowing owls happened into our realm very quickly as the B.C. Ministry of Environment was looking for help to try and restore a population to B.C. Translocating these birds was not showing demonstrable success. The new plan was to try and breed owls in captivity, then release yearlings back to the wild into selected areas of the Southern Interior grasslands of B.C.” “We planned to release the owls in artificial burrows as there were limited natural opportunities for the birds. Our team planned to build a major network of these burrows throughout their release range, giving them plenty of opportunities. Artificial burrows were also a lot safer for the owls,” he said. As manager of the zoo, Mackintosh developed a Conservation Committee, a group of volunteers and staff, who could help with the rearing of the birds and construction of burrows. “From 1991 to 2000, we operated as a volunteer group exclusively, very much hand to mouth. We built the first two breeding facilities in the Lower Mainland, scrounging just about everything.” In the meantime, in 1993, a happy coincidence brought Mackintosh together with Jim and Midge Wyse who had just purchased a 100 acre vineyard in Oliver, B.C. Not only did the Wyses name their vineyard after the burrowing owl but they have played an integral role in the survival of this owl ever since. The Wyses have been members and active supporters of the BOCS since 1993, and since 2002 their winery, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, has contributed over $1.2 million to the cause. The winery’s relationship with the burrowing owl originated because of a government sign that stood across the road from their vineyard. “Following the initial vineyard acquisition in 1993, we felt that we should give our numbered company a proper ‘vineyard’ name and many choices were tossed around amongst our family,” said Jim Wyse. “The answer ultimately lay on a sign located directly across Black Sage Road from the vineyard.” “Several years prior, the B.C. Environment Ministry had made an attempt to repopulate the southern Okanagan Valley with burrowing owls. In 1990, the Ministry had released a sizeable number of pairs into the Wildlife Management Area located all along the west side of Black Sage Road, directly across from our vineyard. “Young burrowing owls imported from Washington State were released, but after a couple of years their numbers returning after migration had dwindled to zero and the experiment was terminated,” said Jim. “My family has always been keenly aware of the bird world, largely through the influence of my mother, who was a very keen birder her whole life. With the Ministry sign as our inspiration and without any regard whatsoever for future marketing implications, we picked the Burrowing Owl name for the vineyard.” Only a few weeks later, the Wyses read a front-page story in the Vancouver Sun newspaper that described the plight of these ground
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owls and that’s when Jim got in touch with Mike Mackintosh who was appealing for funding to continue a captive breeding program for the owls. “Primarily out of curiosity we called Mike and within a few hours we were at the Stanley Park Zoo and had our first introduction to burrowing owls. As soon as we met Merlin, the mascot burrowing owl, I think we knew instantly that we had made the right choice in naming our business,” said Jim. Jim and Midge became involved in the program as volunteers initially, and as the winery grew, so did the financial and hands-on support. The winery’s relationship with the BOCS continues to this day and Mackintosh calls the Wyses the ‘lifeblood’ of the society’s successes. Visitors to Burrowing Owl’s Wine Shop are asked to make a minimum $5 donation, all of which goes directly to the BOCS. Because burrowing owls are very social animals, they make great candidates to be ambassadors, explained Mackintosh. Special ambassador owls like Pluto, Merlin and most recently Smeagol have been making visits to the tasting room at the winery throughout the years, to bring awareness of this ground bird’s plight. Mackintosh is grateful for the relationship he has with the Wyses. “The Oliver breeding site was purchased and built with funding from the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. As my Vice President, Jim took the lead on this and with his wonderful connections, the Oliver site became a reality,” said Mackintosh. “The Wyse family and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery contribute on all levels to the program, providing funds for the operation of our three facilities, supporting the field work we need to do, helping with research related activities, and our educational programming. Having their support allows us to deliver services and care for the owls that are consistent, which is very important.” Conservation and the environment are at the heart of everything they do at Burrowing Owl winery, said Jim. From raising over $1.2 million dollars for the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society, to installing over 500 photovoltaic solar panels, which offset carbon emissions by 118 tons per year, to ensuring our hospitality, farming and wine making practices are environmentally responsible and sustainable.
Mackintosh said he plans to keep working with these special owls for a long time to come. “I love animals, I have always worked with them in many ways. I had participated in many wildlife rescue/recovery projects over the years, from work with penguins, barn owls, habitat restoration projects etc.,” said Mackintosh. “I simply want to make a difference for wildlife and habitat, protecting what little I can from being overrun by humanity (sounds very cranky, but sadly, it is the world we live in)…trying to save some of the most wonderful species on this planet should be our number one goal.” Mackintosh has had a fascination with owls since he was a young boy. “I have also had a love affair with owls throughout my life, having worked with, and cared for, many species. Burrowing owls are some of the most wonderful characters in the bird world,” Mackintosh said. “I enjoy just about everything with the owls. But there are two highlights - the arrival of the chicks in the burrow and the opportunity to band the babies produced by the owls we have released back to the wild.” The owl expert said the future of the burrowing owl is uncertain as so many aren’t returning back to B.C. after their long migration south. In 2020, the BOCS released 64 owls from its Oliver site. “We had experienced lower production at all our facilities in 2019. The future for burrowing owls is still very uncertain. Their numbers continue to decline across North America,” said Mackintosh. In 2019, the BOCS of B.C. released 111 owls to the wild. Sadly, only six returned. The suspicion is climate change is playing a role, he said. Extreme weather events where they winter in California and Mexico hindered the birds’ return. The program also relies on the generosity of about a dozen ranchers in the Nicola Valley and Okanagan, provincial land and conservancy groups, who have allowed the Society to install over 800 artificial burrows on southern B.C.’s grasslands during the past 20 plus years. “I believe our most important role will be to take a very direct stewardship role to ensure that these owls will continue to exist in our world. Perhaps things will change in the future…we don’t know how
Left: Shannon - A mature male Burrowing Owl, captive raised at BC Wildlife Park, wild released in the Nicola Valley at 1 year. The burrow, and his mate, are close by. Top right: Sept Owl - Adult Female X/X , at Port Kells Breeding Facility, looking fierce, defending her burrow. Photography: Mike Mackintosh. Bottom Right: Dusty the Owl - an Ambassador Owl at a Presentation for our major Corporate Sponsor (Burrowing Owl Estate Winery) for BOCS BC. Photography: Jim Wyse.
things such as climate change will impact our landscapes,” he said. “But without human help the numbers may sadly continue to decline worldwide. We need to try and maintain a population. We will likely continue this work to ensure that burrowing owls continue to be part of our landscape and our legacy. “Besides, Burrowing Owls are so charismatic. How could you not care about their future?” With the continued dedication of the BOCS, Mackintosh and the Wyses, this wise ground owl has a very hoot-full future. To learn more or to donate go to burrowingowlbc.org.
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Guatemalan Beaded Lizard photography: sergio izquierdo
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PHOTOGRAPHY AND STORY BY SERGIO IZQUIERDO
n the dry forests of Guatemala’s Motagua Valley lives an endemic and feared creature known by locals as “the scorpion” or “sleeping baby”. It’s called “the scorpion” because people wrongly thought its venom could kill a human. Legend says that even if your shadow passes over it, you will fall dead into the ground immediately, while other stories say that these animals can spit fire, and that even their breath can make you feel dizzy and disoriented. It is also said that their location can be found by watching where lightning hits the ground. We are, of course, talking about the poisonous Guatemalan Beaded Lizard “Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti”, a sauropsid relative of the Gila monster. Despite this species having toxin-secreting oral glands, their poison is not lethal to humans. Unfortunately this has not stopped people killing them out of fear. This species is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning that they are in the list of the most endangered species and they are threatened with extinction. The convention prohibits the international trade in these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research. With cacti and thorny bushes, the Motagua Valley is a dry forest located in the department of el Progreso and Baja Verapaz, and is one of the driest places in Central America. This ecosystem used to cover 200,000 hectares but in the last 20 years it has been patched into small areas that together are no more than around 20,000 hectares. The Guatemalan beaded lizard is at risk due to this destruction of its habitat (mainly due to the use of the soil for agricultural purposes), its illegal extraction for local and international collectors’ markets, and persecution by local people who consider it to be dangerous. Their eggs are also known to be very sensitive to humidity, so when Guatemala is hit by big hurricanes, a number of clutches may well get lost or fail to hatch because of floods. Regarding their physiological characteristics, the average weight of an adult is around 0.8 kilograms with a total length of about 65 centimetres. Their colouration is both cryptic and aposematic. Currently, its venom is used in experiments to fight Alzheimer’s disease, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and diabetes type 2; this one is treated with a drug synthesized from the hormone exendin-4, present in Heloderma charlesbogerti. In the dry season, from December to May, these lizards reduce their activity drastically. During this time they remain almost con-
stantly concealed in subterranean shelters that provide protection from extreme temperatures and desiccation. Suitable shelters are limited resources in the remaining forests and may limit population size. Their diet is based on parrot and pigeon eggs, insects and rodents, and also other reptile eggs, such as eggs from the endangered spiny-tailed iguana from Guatemala, also endemic to the same region. It was in 1988 that scientists spotted this species for the first time. By the 1990s it was thought that it was already extinct but in 2003, thanks to the research of biologist Daniel Ariano it was determined that there were actually about 170-250 specimens left in the wild. He was shocked, and in order to save the species, he created his NGO, Zootropic. With his NGO he managed to get funding to buy 58 hectares of land and in 2007 he created the Natural Reserve for the Heloderma Conservation in the Motagua Valley. On this reserve they have two small pens. During each mating season, using telemetry, they look for the lizards on which they have previously placed tracking devices. They catch them and bring them to these pens. The reason for this is because inside the pens they are more likely to find another lizard, and therefore there is a greater chance they will mate. After mating they are released back to their original places so they can lay their eggs in different areas. Thanks to these titanic efforts, in the last 14 years the population has grown from 250 to around 500 specimens in the wild. In the US there is a program to reproduce them in captivity, but it was only in 2012 that scientists achieved their first birth. Today there have been not even 20 beaded lizards born in captivity. Another example of Zootropic’s conservation actions is that their park rangers go to schools around the area with the aim of educating the kids to care about the environment and the lizards. They take a lizard that is used to interaction with humans, so the kids can touch them and have this connection. The park rangers teach them to feel proud of the unique animal that only lives in their area. The idea is that when these kids go home, they will tell their parents about the experience and teach them to stop killing the lizards. Also, in order to prevent the killing by locals, this NGO has another program that gives food to local people in exchange for lizards they catch, saving them from being killed. This inspiring story shows how an almost extinct creature can be brought back to life thanks to a single person’s efforts to turn a feared creature into a source of pride. The Guatemalan monster has been given a second chance to patrol the dry forests.
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rattlesnake photography: Chris curry
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BY ROSLYNE BUCHANAN
Working in Harmony
in wine country, britsh columbia
o escape the Okanagan sun’s burning heat, the rattlesnake slipped into the cool pumphouse, a tight and safe sanctuary until the intruders entered. “I’m here!” the rattlesnake signaled in the best way it knew. Hair bristled at the nape of his neck, he felt the adrenaline rush as the ancient fight-or-flight response coursed through his veins. At Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, Canada, this was Andrew Stone’s first encounter with the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Western Rattlesnake). Having spent his childhood in Malaysia, it was instilled in him that venomous snakes were a matter of concern and this particular rattlesnake was discovered by his child. Cornered, the snake was in full rattle. Once the children were moved from harm’s way, Stone donned his full motorcycle leathers and grabbed a pistol – just in case. He and winery proprietor JAK Meyer had no experience, only shovels and a large garbage can. They tipped the garbage can on its side and managed to direct the snake into it and then relocated it. Looking back on it, Stone, a vineyard owner/manager who has led viticulture for many wineries, says he feels a bit embarrassed by the incident. “We did everything wrong because we weren’t prepared. We probably moved the snake too far away, unintentionally killing it.” His next rattlesnake encounter was one caught in bird netting. “I felt responsible because I’d left that netting on the ground. The rattlesnake’s head was trapped and its body entangled.” This time he had better equipment and took his time securing its head while gently cutting away the net. “I noticed as I worked at it, the rattlesnake relaxed and seemed to understand I was there to help. I realized this is a creature to whom I could relate, a conscious being. When I was done and moved out of its way, it just slowly crept away,” he said. Since then Stone has relocated about four rattlesnakes annually and in some years, 10 to 12. Along the way, Stone gained practical knowledge about dealing with them and educated himself about the species. His safety briefings with his vineyard workers include rattlesnake knowledge. “I’ve tried to take the holistic approach. We are sharing their habitat and the rattlesnakes play an important role in the ecosystem,” he noted. “We need to overcome the fear we carry genetically and learn to consciously understand that the Western rattlesnake is one of the least aggressive venomous snakes. They’re mostly nocturnal so we just
need to be aware of our surroundings. Let’s not make a problem out of something that is not one.” Stone is not alone in appreciating rattlesnakes’ role and rights. Graham O’Rourke, Tightrope Winery owner with wife Lyndsay, is Health and Safety Committee Chair of the BC Wine and Grape Council (BCWGC). While rattlesnakes are a potential workplace issue, when O’Rourke was Mission Hill Winery’s viticulturist, writer Jamie Maw called him a “Snake Charmer” for his ‘Search and Rescue’ approach. “They (the rattlers) were here first, by about 60 million years,” said O’Rourke. He introduced an in-field training program with colleagues “to educate both vineyard managers and hands to the behaviours of everything that creeps and crawls.” According to O’Rourke, “the chief ambition of the Pacific rattler is to stay invisible. For the most part, their springtime migration is a silent exodus to water.” Striking only if startled or threatened, they hide in tall grass, deadfall and rocks to avoid raptors and predators such as eagles, ospreys and owls. Consequently, they can alarm workers at vineyards, orchards and golf courses. Gopher snakes with similar markings to those of a rattlesnake also can strike although they aren’t venomous. According to O’Rourke, snakes can’t hear but generally leave when they detect the vibration of humans working. He suggests caution in areas they may hole up such as sheds, valve boxes and other tight places such as the cartons protecting the bases of young vines.
RATTLESNAKES BASICS The Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Western rattlesnake) is one of only three remaining rattlesnake species in Canada and one of seven species of snakes in the Okanagan. Most of these species are also threatened or endangered. Normally found in the Southern Interior, rattlesnakes are generally shy and non-aggressive. The range from their habitat to feeding grounds is limited to a few kilometres. Primarily nocturnal, in the spring they migrate from hibernation to feeding areas and water sources. They mate in the fall and make their way back to hibernacula. Reproducing at six or seven years old, the mortality rate of their young is high. It is illegal to harm, capture or kill a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are protected by the BC Wildlife Act and receive additional protection under Federal legislation as a species at risk. As a result of increased human encroachment, persecution and the dangers of roads, they are also a ‘blue listed’ species provincially.
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photography: Roslyne Buchanan
The onus is on us to protect them by increasing our knowledge. Do your part: • Brake for snakes. Drive around them. Sadly, many are killed on roadways each year. • Don’t harass them. • Avoid encounters. Stay on hiking trails. Wear pants and boots and when working outside, gloves. Don’t put your hands or feet somewhere you can’t see. Step around not over debris and look into an enclosed space before putting your hands inside. • Spread the word about snakes and their importance to ecological balance, such as reducing rodent population. • Control pets. • Consider barrier fencing and clearing debris in interface areas. Make your space safer. • Create safe havens for the snakes such as rock and wood piles away from your property, where they can escape the heat and hide from predators. • Erect warning signs. Normally fewer than five people a year are bitten by rattlesnakes in BC. A bite is rarely fatal if promptly treated. If you do have an encounter: • Don’t panic. • Slowly and calmly step away. • Use your snake identification skills. • Don’t move them unless they are a direct threat to you or your family. They can only be moved a relatively short distance – about one kilometre – or they will not survive given their limited range. • Only if the rattlesnake is a threat, phone the Conservation Officer Reporting Line or your local Bylaw or Animal Control Office to arrange for someone to move the snake.
ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE While Stone and O’Rourke are self-trained, there are resources to assist those living and working in rattlesnake territory. Former coowners of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Sandra Oldfield and husband Kenn were involved with initiatives such as early experiments with rattlesnake fences and restoration of habitat given Tinhorn’s location in the middle of rattlesnake country. Collaborating in the protection of rattlesnakes, she served on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species (http://www.cosewic.ca/index.php/en-ca/).
OKANAGAN SIMILKAMEEN STEWARDSHIP: WORKING WITH LAND MANAGERS Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship works with land managers, including agricultural and recreation properties, to provide training and support on wildlife and wildlife habitat. This includes identify-
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ing, understanding, and appreciating snakes up to hands-on training specific individuals on how to safely relocate a snake if absolutely necessary. Says Executive Director, Alyson Skinner, “If land managers have natural areas on their properties (in the case of snakes, this is often rugged terrain, grasslands, den sites), we may partner with them through our Wildlife Habitat Steward program.” This program provides recognition to local landowners and businesses for maintaining wildlife habitat on their managed properties. “I think the most important messages around rattlesnakes are that all snakes (including rattlesnakes) have an incredibly important role in our local ecosystem: keeping rodent populations in check and being prey for other wildlife, like raptors,” she noted. “While rattlesnakes are the only venomous species of snake we have in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, they are not to be feared, but people should have a healthy respect for them. Biting is their last line of defense. If folks do encounter a snake, they should be calm and safely back away from the snake and leave it alone. Give the snake a wide berth and leave the area.” Snake training webinars made available during COVID-19 pandemic physical distancing are found at www.osstewardship.ca/ snakes with other tools.
EDUCATION AND RESEARCH AT THE NK’MIP DESERT CULTURAL CENTRE The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre invites visitors “to experience and learn about our lands, our legends and our people.” Its important mandate includes “Protecting Desert Dwellers”. The Osoyoos Indian Band’s initiatives to expand vineyards and development to provide a strong economy for band members balances conservation needs to protect special habitats and wildlife. Environment Canada supports the Centre’s Western Rattlesnakes and Great Basin Gopher snakes study. Biologists track the snakes using radio telemetry to learn their habits and use of the surrounding habitats. Large snakes are implanted with radio transmitters for one year to track daily movements. Started in 2003, a population study now includes over 700 individual rattlesnakes. Communal den sites, travel corridors and seasonal habitat requirements are mapped and described, which enables protection of critical snake habitat including den sites, travel corridors, egg-laying or rookery sites, and summer foraging areas. For example, a snake barrier fence was erected to prevent snakes from wandering onto resort roads where they get run over. The Rattlesnake Research Program received the Aboriginal Tourism British Columbia “Power of Education” award. With better understanding, we can work in harmony with rattlesnakes for the benefit of our ecosystem and our futures.
W I N E S Wine reflects the ever-changing environment from which it emanates; From the whims of Mother Nature to the unique talents of the winemaker, the effects of time and distance, and even your mood while enjoying it. It is, perhaps, a distillation of the beauty found in disorder.
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10 BY LOLA MÉNDEZ
OF THE SMALLEST ENDANGERED ANIMALS ON EARTH
ur planet is home to many extraordinary creatures, many of them, itty bitty animals so small they are dubbed “Pygmy”. These animals are small but despite often being found at the base of the food chain they are critical members of a healthy ecosystem. Protecting the tiniest critters of the animal kingdom is crucial. Arnaud Lyet, Senior Wildlife Conservation Scientist at World Wildlife Fund, says that without these small animals the ecosystem would collapse, much like removing the foundation or basement of a building. “Without smaller animals, bigger animals cannot survive. Even animals that don’t consume these small critters will depend on them for the services they provide, like pollination, seed dispersal, and soil engineering,” he says. Habitat destruction is a major threat to biodiversity throughout the world. “The world’s smallest creatures are often among the most vulnerable. They cannot migrate to safer areas if climate change or industrial activity makes their habitat unlivable,” John Hocevar, a marine biologist at Greenpeace USA, says. The chain of events that happen when these small animals lose their natural habitat has a detrimental impact on our ecosystem.
THESE ARE 10 OF THE SMALLEST ANIMALS ON EARTH. fairly penguin rusty-spotted cat
SATOMI’S PYGMY SEAHORSE At just over a centimetre in length, Satomi’s pygmy seahorse is the smallest seahorse in the world. This tiny nocturnal creature is about the size of a grain of rice and is found in coral reefs in Indonesia. “Satomi’s pygmy seahorse is vulnerable to habitat loss caused by dynamite fishing and climate change-driven coral bleaching,” Hocevar says. Solutions to protect these seahorses include education, stronger restrictions on fishing, and shifting from using fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy like wind.
PAEDOPHRYNE AMAUENSIS The tiniest frog is the Paedophryne amauensis. It is found in leaf litter on the tropical forest floors of Papua New Guinea. The frogs are smaller than a centimetre, making them both the smallest amphibian and smallest known vertebrate. They can jump up to 30 times their length and are hatched as fully-formed frogs, not tadpoles. Some parts of the island country have begun to succumb to development, agriculture, logging, and mining, all of which put the fly-sized frog at risk of losing its habitat to deforestation.
BUMBLEBEE BAT The minuscule size of the world’s smallest bat gives it the nickname of bumblebee bat. It can be found in Thailand, Myanmar, and Belize and
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SATOMI’S PYGMY SEAHORSE
is also known as Kitti’s hog-nosed bat due to its pig-like nose. The head-body length is around three centimetres with a wingspan of 13 centimetres. The bumblebee bat is also the smallest mammal in length on Earth. In Thailand, these endangered bats live in limestone caves along rivers. They’re at risk of extinction due to habitat degradation from limestone extraction. They have a slow rate of reproduction which further threatens the risk of extinction. The teensy bat and some of its natural habitat are protected in Thailand. Further research on mating, improved protection of its roosting caves, and foraging areas can help preserve this species.
FAIRY PENGUINS Fairy penguins, otherwise known as little blue penguins due to their rare blue feathers, are the world’s smallest penguins. Found in southern Australia and New Zealand, fairy penguins are 25 centimetres tall. They come ashore to moult and to build nests with monogamous partners. “Once killed for food or even to be used as fishing bait, the biggest threats to these curious creatures today are the introduction of unnatural predators, habitat destruction from coastal development, and overfishing of the fish they feed on,” Hocevar says. He believes that to protect these at-risk penguins and prevent colonies from declining, natural habitats should be sanctuaries closed to fishing so their prey can thrive.
PYGMY POSSUM The Pygmy possum is the smallest of its kind. All five species are found in Australia and one can be found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The marsupial is the size of a mouse, up to 13 centimetres from head to tail. Pygmy possums are important pollinators as they eat nectar and pollen from eucalyptus, banksias, and bottlebrushes. The Eastern Pygmy possum is considered vulnerable in New South Wales and South Australia. Habitat loss from clearing land for agriculture, development, and forestry make this species at-risk as it spends its life nesting, feeding, and breeding in trees and shrubs in dry sclerophyll forests. Deforestation is wreaking havoc on this nocturnal creature’s natural habitat. Protecting their habitat is critical to the ecosystem.
RUSTY-SPOTTED CAT The world’s smallest wild cat is the rusty-spotted cat whose body can grow up to 48 centimetres in length. The feline has short grey fur with rust-colored spots, hence its name. There are 10,000 in the wild in Sri Lanka and India where the cat is protected and listed as vulnerable to extinction. Although the cats are protected they still face threats from illegal hunting and the pet trade. The species is on the decline due to hunting as its coat is highly sought-after. Habitat loss from human encroachment has also endangered the cat, which prefers dense vegetation in grasslands.
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PYGMY MOUSE LEMUR
PYGMY MOUSE LEMUR The smallest primate on the planet is the Pygmy mouse lemur. It lives in the deciduous forests of western Madagascar. The nocturnal animals are just six centimetres tall. They spend most of their time in trees. To protect the animals, logging in their forest habitat must be prevented. Ankarafantsika National Park is a protected reserve where the lemur lives without disruption. Rangers patrol the park to prevent poaching. The lemurs are legally protected from hunting, but they’re captured for the exotic pet trade.
HECTOR’S DOLPHINS Hector’s dolphins are endemic to New Zealand. They’re the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world. The petite dolphin is 1.7 metres long, less than half the size of bottlenose dolphins. The Hector’s dolphins in the South Island are endangered, but nowhere near as endangered as the North Island subspecies, Māui’s dolphins, which are critically endangered. Only around 28 mature females are believed to exist and they have a very low reproductive rate as they only give birth every three years. “The biggest threat to Hector’s dolphins is fishing gear. These dolphins are commonly found in coastal areas where fishing pressure is high,” Hocevar says. Younger dolphins prefer to be close to the water’s surface where they are threatened by boats. To protect them, fishing activity must be regulated in their area
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of habitat. “Sanctuaries closed to fishing can help protect the species. Seasonal closures in places and at times where dolphins are particularly vulnerable can be an important part of the solution too. Destructive gill nets, known as walls of death, should be banned throughout their range to give the dolphins a chance to avoid extinction,” Hocevar says.
BARBADOS THREADSNAKE The Barbados threadsnake is the smallest snake at just 10 centimetres long. The pocket-sized snake, which isn’t venomous, usually lays a single slender egg. The hatchlings are proportionally gigantic as they’re half the length of an adult. The species is rare as a result of the majority of its habitat having been destroyed by human activity and buildings leaving Barbados with scarce original forest remaining.
PYGMY ANTEATER The Pygmy anteater, otherwise known as the silky anteater, is the smallest anteater on Earth at just 35 centimetres. It’s found across Central and South America in countries such as Guyana. The pintsized anteaters use two large curved claws and prehensile tails to fasten themselves to the trees. While the anteater isn’t listed as endangered, the arboreal creature’s habitat is at risk from deforestation and wildfires. Advocacy against deforestation and protecting areas of their natural habitat will aid in preserving this tiny critter.
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BY DAVID SUZUKI
HUMAN RIGHTS LENS NEEDED TO PREVENT
even at low levels, can interfere with hormone functioning. We're iversity is strength. That's true in nature and human affairs. all exposed to them in myriad ways, from food pesticide residues But recent painful events have shown society has yet to grasp and personal-care product ingredients to textile this. The appalling deaths of George treatments, product packaging and industrial Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Toronto's Regis air pollution. American researchers identified Korchinski-Paquet, Chantel Moore from Tla-ohigher exposure levels in ethnic minorities and a qui-aht First Nation and many others — all at corresponding higher disease burden. They hythe hands of those tasked to serve and protect pothesize that cultural behaviours, consumption — have ignited awareness of the intense, often patterns and proximity of industrial facilities and violent racial discrimination that continues to waste sites could contribute to these disparities. oppress Black, Indigenous and people of colour These are just a few examples. Unresponsive in Canada and the U.S. environmental policies systematically result in The overwhelming call to end race-based concentration of pollution risks — and inaddiscrimination demands we both take stock and equate access to environmental benefits — in take action. This needs to include an examination disadvantaged Canadian communities. of how environmental harm disproportionately This year, MP Lenore Zann introduced Bill affects vulnerable populations and marginalized C-230, the National Strategy to Redress Environcommunities. mental Racism Act. It begins by recognizing that Canada's main pollution-prevention law, the "a disproportionate number of people who live in 269-page Canadian Environmental Protection environmentally hazardous areas are members of Act, doesn't include one mention of environmenDavid Suzuki, an Indigenous or racialized community." The bill tal justice, human rights or vulnerable populations. photography: jennifer roessler would require the environment minister to examYet, in urban areas, 25 percent of the lowine the link between race, socio-economic status est socio-economic status neighbourhoods are within a kilometre of a major polluting industrial facility compared to and environmental risk, develop a strategy to redress environmental just seven percent of the wealthiest. Income inequality in Canada also racism and report regularly on progress. Canada should recognize the human right to a healthy environment in has a racial dimension. A 2019 analysis found racialized men earned law, as most countries do, and legislate requirements to protect vulnerable 78 cents for every dollar non-racialized men earned, while racialized communities from pollution and toxic substances. women earned 59 cents (non-racialized women earned 67 cents for Human rights impact assessment offers one approach to operaevery dollar non-racialized men earned). tionalizing environmental rights. It involves a process to identify, About 40 percent of Canada's petrochemical industry operates understand and address potential discriminatory effects of a proposed within a few kilometres of Sarnia and the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, exposing community members to a range of harmful pollutants. Inuit action, and a commitment to prevent adverse human rights impacts. Often this begins with something as basic as gathering data to better in Canada's North are at greater risk of economic losses and poor health as a result of climate change, with rapid Arctic warming jeopar- understand racial dimensions of potential effects. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development dizing hunting and many other activities. recommends it in its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Marginalized communities can also be more susceptible to insidiConduct for corporations operating abroad. Last year the UN Huous toxic exposures. For example, endocrine-disrupting chemicals,
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man Rights Council adopted guiding principles for human rights impact assessment for economic reform policies. A parallel process for environmental regulation could ensure everyone benefits from environmental protection measures. In their mandate letters, Canada's ministers of health and environment were tasked with "better [protecting] people and the environment from toxins and other pollution, including by strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999." In
2020, strengthening environmental legislation must incorporate human rights. A human rights lens would remove a blind spot and hard-wire into the decision-making process a commitment to ensuring a healthy environment for all. It would help prevent environmental racism, while MP Zann's bill aims to redress harm already done. When Parliament resumes, MPs should prioritize passing Zann's bill and amendments to strengthen the Environmental Protection Act, including environmental
rights provisions. The unequal effects of environmental harm must be part of the reflection on systemic racism. But more is needed. Integrating a human rights lens into environmental decision-making is long overdue. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Lisa Gue. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.
photography: arthur edelman
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By Kayla Bruce and Shayne Meechan, Green Okanagan
Small Changes to Make a Big Difference One of the biggest misconceptions of journeying towards a zero-waste lifestyle is that you need to buy new stuff - like reusables, or products made from bamboo, stainless steel, and other “zero-waste” trendy items. We’re here to tell you, this isn’t the case.
ne of the easiest ways you can reduce your waste is by making the best use of the products and items you already have - extending their lifespan, saving money, and treading a little lighter on our planet. When an item or product comes to the end of its life, consider whether it can be used in a different way: did it come in a container that can be reused? Can you upcycle or repurpose parts of the product for other uses? If not, what is the proper way to dispose of the item? Asking yourself these questions can help adjust your mindset and consumer habits. When you have products that aren’t useful anymore it can be challenging to know what products to buy next. When the time comes to buy an item, look into eco-friendly options that work for you and your lifestyle. “Sustainable swaps” can come in many forms, and you can consider factors that align with the needs of your lifestyle and your values. For example, if purchasing plastic-free is important to you, it may mean purchasing international produce over local. If supporting local is important to you, it may mean picking up fresh veggies from the local market wrapped in single-use plastic. Whatever the case may be, consider the options that align with your values and what’s important to you. Here are a few points to consider asking yourself: • Do you NEED the item/product? • Is it available or produced LOCALLY? • Is it REUSABLE? • Am I making an INVESTMENT that will last me a long time? • Who made this product? Am I supporting a company that is a GREEN LEADER? To help get you started, look at the items in one area of your home that could use sustainable improvement. Areas to focus on could be the kitchen, the bathroom, the shower, or maybe your on-the-go bag. Here are some suggestions to get you started on your journey towards living zero-waste:
SUSTAINABLE SWAPS FOR THE KITCHEN Your kitchen is a hot spot for waste, which makes it a great place to make sustainable swaps. Composting, for example, is a great way to keep organic waste like food waste, vegetable scraps, and used paper
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products out of the landfill. You can also reduce waste in the kitchen by using up remaining single-use plastics and investing in sustainable reusables. • Beeswax Wraps: Beeswax wraps are a natural alternative to singleuse plastic wraps. Simply use the heat from your hands to make the wrap malleable and mould to your bowl, containers, or fold them up for snacks and sandwiches. Beeswax wraps are easily cleaned with cold water and can be hung or laid to dry. These wraps can be used 100s of times. • Bowl Covers: Available in cloth or silicon, bowl covers are simple to use and wash. Simply pull over your salad, mixing, or storage bowl to use. When finished, cloth bowl covers can be washed with your regular laundry and silicon covers can be washed with soap and water. • Cloth Napkins and Towels: In the United States alone, 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year - most of it going straight to landfills. Reduce this waste by switching to cloth napkins and towels for cleaning counters, wiping spills and crumbs, as a napkin when eating, and so much more. Look for napkins or towels at second-hand and thrift shops or upcycle old material or clothing from around your house. • Reusable Containers: If you ask anyone living zero-waste, they will probably admit to having a large collection of reusable containers and jars in their home. Whether you have containers already or repurpose old jars from jam and salsa, containers can help reduce waste in the kitchen. Use them to store food and keep produce fresh longer, take them on-the-go for package-free snacks, or keep a few in your car for bulk buys when shopping.
SUSTAINABLE SWAPS FOR THE BATHROOM Most bathrooms are home to a lot of products - personal care, beauty or otherwise, often leading to a lot of plastic bottles. With plastic taking an average of 20-500 years to degrade, this results in a lot of avoidable waste. Here are some simple and sustainable swaps for your bathroom that’ll cut down your waste, while still getting you squeaky clean:
• Bamboo Toothbrush: A small and simple swap that has a large
impact in the long run. Toothbrushes are made of mixed materials like various plastics and rubbers, making them difficult to recycle, meaning they usually end up in landfill. On average, it’s estimated that a person will replace up to 300 toothbrushes in their lifetime. Switching to a sustainable alternative like bamboo could save millions of toothbrushes from the landfill each year. When you’re done with the brush, most bamboo toothbrushes can be composted. • Silk or Natural Alternative Floss: Did you know dental floss is typically made from one of two polymer materials: nylon or Polytetrafluorethylene and it’s too small to recycle? Choose a silk or wax-based natural floss that can be composted and you’ll divert this waste from the landfill. • Bar Soap or Refillable: Soap is an easy sustainable swap that can be made in bathrooms, kitchens, or any room that has a sink. Sourcing a locally made bar soap means you can skip the plastic bottle and support a local business. Another green option is keeping an old bottle or pump you already have and refilling it with soap. If you have a refillery located near you, simply bring your own container, and fill it up with the new product. • Do-it-Yourself Scrubs or Products: For the craft-lovers out there, beauty and bathroom products can easily be made using natural ingredients – many you may already have in your home. Recipes for products such as lip balms, deodorants, dry shampoo, and even sugar scrubs can be easily found on websites like Pinterest, Green Okanagan, and other eco-blogger pages. Repurpose containers and jars you already have to store, so no new packaging is needed.
SUSTAINABLE SWAPS FOR THE SHOWER If you were to look at the ledge in your shower or bath, how many plastic bottles would you see? These products can be easily swapped out for sustainable alternatives – consider finishing up what you already have so it doesn’t go to waste. • Shampoo Bar: With an estimated one million plastic bottles purchased per minute, switching to plastic-free shampoo could help save millions of these bottles from being recycled or sent to landfill. Shampoo and conditioner bars offer a package-free solution to hair care and can usually be found locally. To use, lather the bar in your hands and apply to wet hair, or lather the bar onto your hair directly. Store your bars in a dry area to help preserve them. • Safety Razor: Safety razors may sound ‘old school’, but they are making a comeback in the zero-waste community. Because you only swap out the blade, and the handle and head are reused, there is a lot less waste compared to disposable razors. Blades can be used for multiple shaves and offer a closer shave than disposable razors.
SUSTAINABLE SWAPS FOR ON-THE-GO You can reduce a lot of waste by being prepared and leaving the house with the right gear. Pack a car kit or a few key reusable items in your bag to stay waste-free on-the-go. • Reusable Bottle: Having your reusable bottle eliminates the need to purchase single-use bottles of water, juice, or soda. Keep it with you for hot or cold drinks and wash between uses. • Cutlery: Plastic cutlery is a single-use item, meaning it typically gets used once before spending a lifetime in the landfill. Bring a set of cutlery or spork from home and you’ll eliminate this waste. • Thermos Mug or Jar: If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, carrying a reus-
Photography: sara groblechner
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photography: Markus Spiske
able thermos mug can help keep your morning routine low-waste. You could also use a glass jar, which can be used to carry snacks or bulk items too. • Bags: Cloth or cotton bags are the perfect addition to any car or backpack zero-waste kit. They can be used for produce at the grocery store, market finds, travelling, as a napkin, and so much more. When they need to be cleaned, simply toss them in the wash with your regular laundry. • Napkin: Take a moment to think about every time you've gone out somewhere to eat - from a street vendor, on-the-go, getting ice-cream. If they didn't provide you with a napkin already, you probably grabbed one or two to keep yourself clean. Having a cloth napkin on-the-go will save you from using napkins only once and throwing them in the garbage. They also serve as a great way to wrap treats on-the-go! Journeying towards living a zero-waste lifestyle is just that, a ‘journey.’ It’s unlikely you’ll reach the finish of your zero-waste journey overnight and some of us may never reach it based on our circumstances. However, that’s not what zero-waste living is about, it’s about
aspiring to live within your means and reducing your waste to the best of your ability. By evaluating your lifestyle and making simple swaps towards more sustainable options you’ll quickly see progress and a dramatic reduction in the waste you produce. To make this journey manageable, tackle one area of your lifestyle or home at a time and add on as you finish products you already have and as your budget for investing in sustainable swaps allows. Take time to reflect on what you already have and look at creative ways to repurpose and upcycle those items before purchasing new – using what you already have is almost always the better environmental choice. When you do need to add new items into your life, make smart consumer choices, shop local whenever possible, look for the most sustainable options, and browse your local buy-and-sell pages or thrift shops to source second-hand. Sourcing preloved items minimizes your consumer impact while growing the circular economy and giving used goods a second life. Sustainable swaps are simple when done intentionally and at a pace that works for your lifestyle. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way in your journey towards living zero-waste. photography: Laura Mitulla
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GREEN OKANAGAN GREEN OKANAGAN, or GO for short, is a volunteer-led registered non-profit organization based in the beautiful Okanagan, in Canada. Our mandate is to progress sustainability from an individual level. By sharing our own experiences and easy to implement tips and tricks, we hope to empower you to make smart consumer choices and adapt your lifestyle to improve your overall sustainability.
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teaching science BY INGRITH LEÓN
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AS A MEANS TO DEVELOP CREATIVITY
THROUGH SIMPLE BUT SIGNIFICANT HOME-BASED PROJECTS
Ingrith León is the Coordinator of English at a primary school in Mérida, Mexico. She is also part of Cero Basura Yucatán, an organization that educates people about sustainable living. Ingrith has brought her passion and knowledge for sustainable living to her school’s English curriculum and was busily transforming her school and the lives of her students until coronavirus closed schools and learning went online. Here she tells us how even during a pandemic, English classes for these Mexican children continued to focus on environmental education. 64 | savingearthmagazine.com
hat's the guardian bee! It is taking care of who enters or leaves the hive..." Faby, an 8-year-old from 3rd grade explaining worker bee hierarchy to one of her teachers during an outdoor exploration activity that was carried on in the school's backyard, back in September 2019, when she and her classmates eagerly showed their teachers that they had found a native beehive on one of the walls of the school. The project started to develop early this year, when students learned about how urban sprawl modifies ecosystems and affects biodiversity, and about the impact of human actions on natural areas. Factors such as building projects and the use of pesticides for farming are affecting native species of bees and pollinators in both rural and urban areas. Misty, the teacher in charge of this group of students, noticed a special interest in the class when students were talking about bees, and quickly brought some samples of beehives to class, which students observed closely. She brought the class some local honey from don Pedro, a worker
of the school who also keeps bees. She showed students a Ted Ed video about why the hexagon is the most efficient storing shape and how bees have this information in their DNA and have passed it from generation to generation to build their beehives and store honey and wax. From the taxonomy of a bee and Mayan names of native honey bee species to solitary bees (which represent 90% of all bee species worldwide), students have learned facts that evoked a sense of awareness on taking care of these interesting and important insects. "Did you know that bees make almost all of the food that we eat? For example, bees help a plant grow, a cow comes and eats the plants, Left: Students getting a closer look to the different hierarchies of bees in a beehive of Melipona Beecheii, above: a stingless species of eusocial bee, native of the Yucatรกn Peninsula. Photography: Ingrith Leรณn. House for native solitary bees made by Regina Salum, a student who made her project with reused materials that she found at home. Photography: Magaly Aguirre Gonzรกlez.
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and we eat the cow." "Bees are very important to humans and animals because they make our food. To make the food we eat, they don’t just live in a factory and invent food. They fly from flower to flower collecting a yellow powder called pollen, then return to the hive with their legs covered in it. They use pollen to make honey, which they eat. However, while bees are collecting pollen, in the end they do much more than just make honey. As they are flying from plant to plant, they pollinate them so that a few days later the plant will produce a fruit or vegetable. A third of all the food that we eat depends on bees. Another way that bees are helpful to people might surprise you. Bees have been used for monitoring air pollution in big cities. The beehives get pollution stuck in their wax. Then, scientists take a sample of the bee wax and they can see the types and amounts of chemicals that are in the air. This helps them think of ways to deal with air pollution." "Bees are in danger because the beehives in some places are being destroyed by urbanization." "Bees are very important to us and we have to protect them." - Max, 3rd grader, on bees and pollinators in one of his recent writing assignments. Then, in March 2020, education suddenly switched from school to online distance learning, and we all had to adapt to a new way of learning and teaching. Fortunately, the class started thinking and sharing ideas on how to carry on the project at home. Different ideas were shared in the online sessions: from buying local honey to support local producers in Yucatán, to building bee hotels, bee hospitals or bee waterers in their gardens or backyards with the purpose of observing pollinators closely, and providing niches in urban areas where both people and pollinators can share spaces. Taking knowledge home has turned into significant experiences where we have observed entire families making changes in the way they interact with the environment, either by reducing their waste, planting their own vegetable gardens or making homes for solitary bees.
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Left: A wooden box called jobón which keeps a hive of Melipona (Xunaan Kab or Koolel Kab bees), which kids had the opportunity to observe. Right: Stingless Melipona bees are in danger of extinction due to its ecosystem deterioration, climate change and natural disasters. photography: Ingrith León.
Environmental education is an important subject as it helps students think creatively to connect the dots between the challenges global issues represent, and the wide range of possibilities that can arise from thinking about solving those issues locally. "Limitation breeds creativity" said British visionary and environmentalist, Douglas McMaster. Being locked at home is a challenge we all have to overcome and to adapt to. And we now know that even learning remotely, we can still do many things to collaborate, imagine and act together to both, raise awareness and to take small actions that can ultimately have a positive impact in our world. "The experience of studying the bees was wonderful. I started thinking about teaching and sharing and I ended up learning many things from the processes of each student and what they found out on their way. The feeling of discovering themselves how nature works, the level of consciousness and belonging they developed when thinking about taking care of pollinators and their environment, resulted in kids who were committed to help the bees, creating spaces for them and in the end... we realized that each kid had become that guardian bee in the entrance of a beehive, a bee which is willing to protect, defend and take care of others... regardless of the species." -Teacher Misty This project was carried out by students of third grade, with the guidance of their teacher, Misty, at Loyola Comunidad Educativa, in Mérida, Yucatán.
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Mexicoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Monarch Migration BY ELLEN SHARP
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A newly arrived monarch in November. Their colors are brighter at the beginning of the season. Photography: Pato Moreno
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irds audible in Manhattan.The Himalayas visible from 200 km away. Whales singing in a newly silenced sea. Such were the encouraging stories that filled my social media feed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence of a widespread desire to find the bright side of this global tragedy. But as the crisis dragged on, the bad news burbled up. Loggers and miners pick up the pace of destruction in the Amazon Rain Forest. I live on the edge of Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, and deforestation is on the rise in this delicate ecosystem as well. Workers laid off in Mexico City and Cancun came home to a countryside where there are no jobs. When people get desperate, there’s always a buyer for black market wood poached from the protected area. It got so that I couldn’t go hiking without running into one of my neighbours dragging down a tree. But if any species has the power to get people interested in saving nature, it’s the monarch butterfly. These creatures are blessed with a double dose of charisma. First, there’s the magic of their metamorphosis, as they shapeshift from lowly worm to winged beauty. Then there’s the wonder of the migration. Every fall, the monarchs that live east of the Rockies fly from as far away as Canada to forest groves last occupied by their great, greatgrandparents the year before. The butterflies pour in around Day of the Dead (late October, early November), timing that gave rise to the belief that they were the returning souls of the departed. They cover the trees with their clusters and fill the air with the susurrations of their wings when the sun warms them. Around Valentine’s Day, they enter a mating frenzy. By the end of March, they fly back to Texas to lay their eggs on milkweed and begin the migratory cycle anew. It takes three to four butterfly generations to complete this annual cycle. I’ve met a lot of nature enthusiasts and monarch lovers since my partner Joel and I opened a B&B in his hometown at the entry of the Cerro Pelón Sanctuary. Since 2012, we’ve taken thousands of visitors up the mountain to see the colony. Many are moved to tears by the spectacle. For some, monarch butterflies represent the promise of life after death and the possibility of positive change. We’ve witnessed marriage proposals as well as bittersweet farewells with mourners who bring the ashes of their loved ones to scatter in this sacred site. Stepping over tumbled trees on the way to the roost makes your heart hurt. Of course, preventing deforestation is important for the usual reasons: protecting the watershed, promoting carbon sequestration, halting global warming. But in this case, there’s an added urgency: only an intact forest canopy provides a protective microclimate for the monarch colony, sheltering them from the inclement weather that’s become ever more common. The size of the overwintering population has already dropped an estimated 90% over the last two decades. At first, I thought that if more people knew about the desecration of the butterfly forest, someone would do something. Couldn’t the federal agency in charge take action? Or the well-funded “big green” organization that works here? Why doesn’t UNESCO intervene to protect this piece of the “patrimony of humanity”? Or the U.S and
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Canadian monarch conservation community that’s so focused on planting milkweed in their flyway? But calling attention to the logging just put us in danger and changed nothing. That’s when Joel and I decided to start our own forest conservation non-profit, Butterflies and Their People. We already had a model for the project: CEPANAF, which is the acronym for the State Park system of the State of Mexico. When the monarch migration was discovered on the border of Mexico and Michoacán states in the mid-seventies, a local elite convinced this agency to hire three rangers to keep an eye on Cerro Pelón. One of them was Joel’s dad. When he retired in 2014, Joel’s brother, Patricio, took over the job. The rangers’ presence made a difference, but they needed help patrolling the 8,000-acre park. Our non-profit hired three workers in late 2017, and we’ve added one more each year since, for a total of six forest guardians.
Recently Patricio and I conducted oral history interviews with the rangers and guardians to add to the archive of the Forest History Society. I was struck by the starkness of the work options they described: cut down trees illegally or migrate for work. When I asked him what the best part of his job was, new hire Emilio enthused: That I get to be home, that I don’t have to leave. Every day I get to go to the forest and go home to my community, and finally, I get to relax, because no matter where you go when you’re working somewhere else, you eat badly, you sleep badly. All to try to save money so you can buy food for your family… Now we can take care of ourselves better and we don’t have to suffer. Emilio’s mention of suffering is not hyperbolic. A decade ago, he took his wife and child along to work in the orchards in Washington state. When he and his wife were detained, their daughter spent six months in foster care. By the time the family reunited, she no longer
left to right: Clusters in Carditos taking to the air as temperatures break 13°C. Photography: Pato Moreno. oel Moreno films the beginning of remigration in La Cañada on Cerro Pelón, February 29, 2020. Photography: Ellen Sharp.
spoke Spanish. I’ve heard Emilio tell this tale to any tourist who would listen, as if the retelling could lessen the pain. Forest guardian Jose Carmen only went as far away as the urban sprawl of Toluca for work in construction, but he didn’t have much good to say about the experience: Since I was, say, maybe six years old, I’ve spent my days in the forest, and I really love it. Whenever I’ve had to go far away to work I get bored and I miss walking in the woods. Like today I got here early [to herd cattle] and the morning air was crisp and chilly and I felt happy just being here.
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When you have to go work in a city it’s just not the same, the air isn’t the same. I miss the mountain air. Jose Carmen has never been to school a day in his life: he signs his cheque with a cross. I once thoughtlessly handed him a GPS to read, causing a look of pure panic to flash across his face. But better than anyone, he can recognize the birds of Cerro Pelón by their songs. He refers to these species by idiosyncratic names (the Lil’ Whiner, the Bow Tie) that his co-workers accuse him of making up. Don Leonel, a retired ranger, echoed Jose Carmen’s enthusiasm for the mountain air. It was hard to track down this 82-year-old for an interview. When we dropped in, he was either planting corn, mucking out the sheep pen, or off buying food for his corner store. Once we did sit down with him, he had a lot to say: We were in love with the forest, I think that all the time we spent in the forest has lengthened our lives… I’m getting up there and I still feel good. I still have the strength to keep working, although now I work for myself, but I think that all the oxygen you get from the woods gives you life. The question is, how can we make sure that this forest continues to give life to both butterflies and their people? While the monarch migration has been used as a symbol for the immigrant rights movement, the right to stay home may be just as important as the right to freedom of movement for the future of the environment. Apart from improving the quality of life of our workers, illegal logging dropped dramatically during their first full year on the job. Paid presence in the forest made a difference. While more than a hundred trees were cut in 2017, only 19 trees were lost in 2018. That number rose to 39 trees in 2019. And in 2020, as unemployment continues to rise in Mexico, we’ve already reached that number just halfway through the year. The increase is troubling. The already austere budget of Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas was just cut by 75%. Losing the income that tourists bring to the butterfly sanctuaries every winter will also have an effect. These changes make the year-round presence of the forest guardians all the more crucial, but travel restrictions could impact this effort as well. Butterflies & Their People is entirely supported by individual donations, most of them from visitors who have seen what’s at stake firsthand. While the economic slowdown may help the monarch migration and other wildlife in some ways, as people travel less, stay home and tend to their gardens—the part of the monarch life cycle that finds them at their most vulnerable is in more danger than ever. But it’s not too late to do something to save this natural wonder. Ellen Sharp, PhD, is the director of non-profit Butterflies & Their People and the co-owner of JM Butterfly B&B. More of her writing can be found at ellensharp.com. Full transcripts of interviews with Cerro Pelón’s forest workers are available in the archives of the Forest History Society, accessible via foresthistory.org.
Top: Monarchs need an intact forest canopy to protect them from the elements. Photography: Pato Moreno. Middle: Since starting work as a guardian for Butterflies & Their People, Leonel Contreras has moved out of his inlaws’ house and built a separate home for his family. Photography: Ellen Sharp. Bottom: Guests of JM Butterfly B&B picnicking in El Llano de Tres Gobernadores in January of 2020. The colony clusters above this meadow every other season. Photography: Ellen Sharp.
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ETHICALLY SEE ELEPHANTS
IN THAILAND BY NAM CHEAH
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Save Elephant Foundation founder Lek with their elephants. Photo courtesy of the Save Elephant Foundation.
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or years, a highlight of trips to countries such as Thailand was the opportunity to ride an elephant. Recently though, people have begun to understand that this practice is unethical, yet elephants remain a huge draw, with the ability to captivate and entrance tourists. Realizing that riding elephants is wrong, visitors have been turning to ‘ethical elephant sanctuaries’ for their interactions with these magnificent creatures.
HOW CAN VISITORS KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TYPE OF INTERACTION WITH ELEPHANTS IS ETHICAL? On my first trip to Chiang Mai in 2016, our hotel receptionist recommended us an elephant sanctuary. The brochure featured happy elephants that were not forced to give rides to tourists. We googled elephant riding, confirmed that it’s “a bad thing”, and assumed that these elephants were well treated because they weren’t ridden and went for a half day trip. But is a place ethical just because they don’t offer elephant rides? Is the word ‘sanctuary’ proof enough that it is a refuge for elephants?
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THE ETHICS OF INTERACTION WITH ELEPHANTS Most tourists, upon learning that elephant riding is unethical, turn to elephant sanctuaries. These places advertise feeding and bathing with the gentle giants as part of their program. But according to the World Animal Protection, interactions with elephants should be minimal. Ideally, they should be observed and not touched. Furthermore, the majority of visitors won’t be able to see the elephants’ living conditions or know the origin of the elephants. In the World Animal Protection 2017 report, “Taken For a Ride”, they highlight that illegal elephant trade still happens. Many elephants are smuggled from Myanmar to Thailand to work in the tourism industry. Under the current law, elephant registration is only necessary once an elephant is eight years old.
PHAJAAN - THE BREAKING OF ELEPHANTS An elephant’s physiology is not geared to carry loads on its back, let alone for a prolonged period. Being ridden causes strain not only on its spine, but also can lead to early arthritis and sores on their backs.
In order to get them to submit and accept riders, a method known as “Phajaan”, the ‘breaking of elephants’, is used. This conditions the elephants to allow riders using pain as a training method. Young elephants are locked in a small cage where they are beaten by trainers in order to break their spirit. Bullhooks and sticks with nails are just a few of the instruments used in this process. An elephant’s ears are particularly sensitive and as such are often the target during this “training” period. If you see a Thai elephant with scars or holes in the ears, it can be a sign they suffered in this way.
ETHICAL ELEPHANT SANCTUARIES IN THAILAND Of course, some elephant sanctuaries take in rescued elephants with the aim of giving them a home and rehabilitating them. For example, ensuring access to pools for older elephants so they can ease their legs from bearing their weight. Some prime examples include Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, where guests can only observe the elephants from a distance. This park has also committed to not breed elephants in captivity. Another positive example of an ethical elephant park is the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, which is a joint partnership effort with the founder of Elephant Nature Park. There are eleven ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand according to the organisation, World Animal Protection. From north to south, the other sanctuaries are Elephant Valley Thailand in Chiang Rai, Chang Chill, BEES Elephant Sanctuary, and Global Vision International in Chiang Mai. BLES Elephant Sanctuary in Sukhothai, Mahout Foundation’s LIFE project in Mae Sot district, Samboon Legacy in Kanchanaburi, Following Giants in Koh Lanta, and Tree Top Elephant Reserve in Phuket.
THE BEST WAY TO SEE ELEPHANTS: IN THE WILD While visiting ethical sanctuaries is a guaranteed way to see elephants, the best way remains observing them in their natural habitat. There are 3000 wild elephants in Thailand, around 40 percent of Thailand’s elephant population. The largest number of wild elephants can be found in the Kui Buri National Park. It is only about an hour and a half’s drive from Hua Hin, making it a great day trip option if you’re in that area. Safaris run every afternoon on official jeeps with a 95 percent chance of spotting wild elephants. For those visiting Bangkok, another option is Khao Yai National Park, which is three hours’ drive northeast of the capital. The national park offers guided walks and night safaris to see its abundant wildlife, including elephants. With COVID-19 bringing global tourism to a halt, the sad fact of captive elephants in Thailand facing starvation has shone another light on the harsh reality of their existence being solely reliant on tourism. Many elephants, rented from hill tribes or private owners, have been sent home to the north or to around the Thai-Myanmar border. The Save Elephant Foundation has been keeping an eye on these elephants and is offering assistance to those returning home to owners who can not afford to properly feed them. Hopefully, once tourism restarts in the land of smiles, more tourists will choose to see them only in ethical sanctuaries or in the wild. Left to right: Elephants resting in a river and A herd of elephants at the Save Elephant Foundation park. Photos courtesy of the Save Elephant Foundation.
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Change Yourself, Change the World
’m sure many of you are feeling as if we are living in the twilight zone! You’re not alone. The COVID pandemic has turned our lives upside down. The world seems to be going through some sort of a reboot, and what that will look like on the other side, no one knows. In order to stay healthy and positive, you will need to upgrade your mindset. Where your focus goes, your energy flows! One thing I am sure of is that things are not going back to the way things were. Many people are saying, ‘when things get back to normal’. Things will never go back to the way they were. They can be better! Try disengaging from the news and stop giving your energy to all the doom and gloom. It was Buckminister Fuller who said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I’m definitely not saying we want to live in oblivion, thinking life is all magic fairy dust and unicorns, the COVID crisis, along with many other global issues, is a serious matter and we all must live responsibly. However, what if we look at things differently? What if we look at things in a positive light? What if we try and consider this period as a 'planetary reboot'? This isn’t the first time the planet has experienced economic crisis and disease. I believe there is no better time than now to get your mindset right and to align yourself with the universal laws that govern all of life. There has been some good that has come out of the crisis, especially when we consider how the natural world has begun to heal while we humans have been hidden away. Our animal friends, in many ways, have been benefiting from this global reset; fewer planes in the sky, fewer factories and ships operating and giving off toxins and poisoning the sky, ocean and lands are a few of the obvious changes we’ve seen. There is scientific evidence showing up every day that our current ‘pause’ could have possibly been the best gift in waking us up, creating
more awareness and supporting the very beings that our human existence depends on. I personally would like to believe this is the reboot many of us have been asking for and a step in the right direction. Let’s start asking ourselves some better questions moving forward, “how am I living? Is my life aligned and in order with the natural laws that govern me and the world I want to live in? Am I living in a way that sets the highest example for others to follow? Am I leaving this planet better off than I found it? What are the changes that I need to make to live in a way that will support each other? Am I doing everything I can to help? Am I living consciously?” Please contemplate these questions. Neville Goddard wrote an incredible book called, The Power of Awareness. ‘The reason lies in the fact that consciousness is the one and only reality, it is the first and only cause-substance of the phenomena of life. Nothing has existence for man save through the consciousness he has of it. Therefore, it is to consciousness you must turn, for it is the only foundation on which the phenomena of life can be explained.’ Our current reality is a mirror of mass consciousness. If we want to change it, we have to do our own personal inner engineering, or nothing will change. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Ghandi From my heart, Tara Pilling Certified Consultant with Proctor and Gallagher Certified Infinite Possibilities Trainer Holistic Results Coach - Yoga - Ayurveda
Tara Pilling. Photography: Kevin Trowbridge
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