Tag Archives: nature

Orangutans in the trees! Photo from projectorangutan.com

Blading For Borneo

Today I want to give a little shout out for a close friend of mine, who’s been doing something amazing.

My friend Aleesha recently spent eight days skating solo across the whole South coast of England, raising money for The Orangutan Project in Borneo.

Between the 14th and 23rd of September 2014 she in-line skated from Hastings to Plymouth, a distance of 310 miles, averaging roughly 40 miles per day. You can read about her adventure on her blog, Blading For Borneo, which she updated each night while staying with generous coach-surfing hosts.  Continue reading

We Societies & Cooperation

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6nuvqVui5c?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360]

This little video (by Sustainable Man) got me thinking about cooperation vs. competition.

We’re often told that competition is they key to survival – in nature, and in human society. Think Charles Darwin. And that is true, up to a point. But it’s not the whole story. Nature would be complete chaos if cooperation wasn’t also woven into the fabric of everything. In fact, scrap that, I think none of the natural world we recognize today would exist without it. Chemical reactions in the early days when Earth was a baby changed the atmosphere to make it hospitable for life. Photosynthetic bacteria emitted oxygen way before plants were on the scene, and this in turn allowed other types of early life to breath.

The scientific theory of symbiogenesis – which is fairly well accepted among scientists – shows that symbiotic relationships (cooperation between species) may well of lead to the evolution of complex life. The theory goes that early microbes developed symbiotic relationships with other increasingly diversified microbes, basically dividing up the tasks of living between them. Over a long time they formed ever more integrated networks and eventually evolved a kind of casing to protect the symbiotic system and keep it contained. According to scientists, this was the origin of the cell.

Fast forward millions of years and this early example of labour division reminds me of a gradual process that happened with human societies. Before the industrial revolution in Western countries, most families grew their own food and produced their own clothes and tools. Today in the UK few people have the skills or indeed the inclination to do this, but it’s normal to have a skill or profession that isn’t common to everyone. The very idea of working at a job and being paid in money, which you can exchange with other workers for food or other goods is a system of specialization.

I think one of the major differences between us and other animals is that we cooperate on a larger scale. None of the historic achievements of the  human race would be possible if we didn’t work together.

People should remember this when they’re getting carried away making sure they have all the money and all the best stuff. It’s not like you can live in a vaccum or without the help of other people and other forms of life, so it doesn’t make sense to be selfish.

I think we can safely say that although competition does have a useful role, it is competition that really drives evolution and progress.

Symbiotic pollination

Symbiotic pollination. Not my image.

We are all connected.

Happy Earth Day!

Today it’s the 22nd April 2012, and it’s Earth Day.

Take a moment to really try and truly appreciate the Earth. Isn’t it amazing?

Think of the diversity, the intelligence, the beauty. I think it’s awesome how many different forms life takes. Think of dandelion seeds blowing in the wind, fungus on a tree, a polar bear bashing a hole in the ice to try her paw at catching fish for her hungry cubs. Imagine how different a bamboo forest in China is to a heather-covered mountain-side in Scotland. Or how different India is to LA. Do you know dogs can smell for miles and eagles can see a mouse scamper across grass while they glide high above? Think of the roar of the ocean, the whispering of Autumn leaves, the way the sky sometimes looks like someone’s spilled lava and marshmallows over the heavens when the sun goes to bed. Try and wrap your mind around the sheer diversity of life on Earth. And don’t leave human-kind out of it. We may have caused a lot of damage, but for a moment let’s think about the good stuff. Think of the song that makes you smile and dance, the food that makes your mouth water, the painting that makes your eyes worth having, the outfit that makes you feel amazing. Think of your favourite place. Your top ten favourite places. Think of all the places you want to see. Think of your favourite animal, your favourite book, your favourite flower, scent, season, type of weather, artist… Smile. Breath. Appreciate your body, with all it’s internal intelligence and give thanks for your conscious and unlimited mind. The human mind is surely one of the most astounding works of nature…

Let’s put our’s together and nurture and care for this brilliant orb of life? (:

All photos from Google Images. I don’t own any of them.

Pandas – precious cutie or evolutionary dead-end?

I want to discuss with you today the plight of the panda.

Aren’t they adorable? It’s no wonder Giant Pandas are one of the most loved species in the whole animal kingdom. Because they’re so popular they’re often used as  what’s called a ‘flagship species’ – an endangered species that is well known and well loved – often an attractive mammal such as a tiger or elephant. Its iconic beauty is supposed to capture people’s interest in a conservation issue, where something like a woodlouse, although just as important in ecological terms, might not ignite the same public interest. WWF even has a panda as its logo for this reason, and for most people pandas spring quickly to mind whenever the term ‘endangered species’ is mentioned.

Recent studies estimate the number of Giant Pandas in the wild to be just 1600, with a further 200 living in captivity*. They’re on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals, and they were first proclaimed to be endangered in the 1980s. The main threat to them is habitat destruction. Their wild habitat is now just a few mountainous parts of southwestern China – mostly in the Sichuan Province. As parts of their habitat are cleared away for farmland, it’s becoming fragmented and pandas find it hard to roam around and find mates. It is notoriously hard to get them to breed in captivity and they are also prone to digestive illnesses. I was always under the impression that pandas only eat one type of bamboo, but Wikipedia reckons they like 25 different varieties of the stuff!  The problem is, in their now limited and fragmented habitat, only a few of these are common.

A lot is being done in terms of conservation of the Giant Panda. In China there are now many large sanctuaries where they are protected. Breeding is encouraged, but if they’ve been captured from the wild they tend to lose interest in this… In these cases artificial insemination is often used. In the wild there is a problem with the isolated groups of pandas becoming inbred as the destruction of their habitat leaves them in little ‘pockets’ of bamboo forest and they can’t migrate very far to find mates. In captivity, conservationists are attempting to combat this issue by freezing panda sperm and transporting it to zoos and reserves on an international scale to expand the gene pool. This sounds pretty weird, but apparently they could reach what’s termed an ‘evolutionary dead end’ if they become too inbred, so it is important for their survival. What’s even more important however is the protection of their habitat…

A huge amount of money is spent of panda conservation efforts, and there is actually a school of thought that it isn’t worth it. Some people think that pandas are too fussy and aren’t interested enough in having babies, and thus they are bound to die out. They also have some quirks of biology, such as having a carnivorous digestive system and yet living almost exclusively off nutrient-poor bamboo shoots. The conservationist Chris Packham says all the money spent on trying to keep pandas alive would be better spent elsewhere, such as on rainforest conservation. He points out there’s not even enough habitat left to sustain them, and says that although he doesn’t want them to die out, we should prioritize and accept it.

Although I can see there are more important matters, I think we can all agree it’d be tragic to lose such a beautiful and charismatic creature. And it’s not exactly like pandas are dying out simply because of some evolutionary weakness – they’re threatened because humans are destroying their habitat. As their endangered status is our fault, surely it’s our responsibility to try and conserve them? And of course there’s also the point that all species are integral to the ecology of their environment… If pandas were no more then this would have knock-on effects on all the wildlife that share their habitat. Everything is connected and interdependent.

Happily, according to this news article, the conservation efforts in China are taking effect and the numbers of Giant Pandas are actually now on the rise. Although of course they’re still low, I’m glad to see some progress is being made!

*This statistic is from the first resource below. It’s clearly hard to estimate numbers of wild animals with any certainty and I have seen different figures on other web pages, ranging from 1000-3000.

Resources:

http://pandasinternational.org/faqs.html

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/wild-life-expert-pandas-die/story?id=8668627#.T3cOnWGmgl8

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-01-16/local/me-324_1_giant-panda

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_panda

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-01/20/content_410497.htm

All photos from Google Images.

The Right Whales

I dreamed about whales last night, so that’s the subject of today’s post. The rarest type of whale is the Right Whale, so named because in the days of the whaling industry, people thought they where the “right” ones to hunt. This was because they swam close to shore, were very valuable, and when killed, their bodies floated, making them easy to harvest.

This exploitation in the 19th and early 20th century, lead to the Right Whales population dropping from ten’s of thousands, to about 100 individuals. This shocking decrease lead to a whole host of conservation efforts beginning in 1935 and continuing since.

Today, the population is estimated to be between 300 and 350. This is of course still incredibly low, and scientists are not even sure that it’s on the rise. Extinction is a very real and possible threat to this quirky marine beast.

So why is it so threatened?

Research shows it could be it’s unusually high buoyancy that isn’t doing it any favours. Most marine creatures have negative buoyancy, which means they won’t sink, but are still able to move downwards with ease.  Right Whales on the other hand, have positive buoyancy. This offers an explanation as to why past hunters saw so much of them, and why their bodies float.  This easy floating might sound like a good thing, seeing as they are air-breathing mammals, but it actually puts them in a lot of danger. Many Right Whales are killed by collisions with ships, and this is partly because they can’t dive quickly or strongly enough to get out of the way.

Now that this has been noted, conservationists are able to divert human vessels away from areas where Right Whales are congregating. This should significantly reduce their mortality rate, but it does not tackle the other problem of them getting caught up in fishing gear.

The International Whaling Commission made commercial whaling illegal in 1986, and Right Whales can now be considered the “right” ones to watch instead, for the same reason they where once killed – their high visibility to the human eye.  Hermanus, in South Africa, is one of the world centres for whale watching. The Right Whales come right up to the shore and can be seen from the seaside hotels. They even employ a “whale crier” to walk around shouting about where they can be observed at that very moment. And in Brazil, a conservation area has been assigned where there is most breeding activity and an old whaling station has now been converted into a museum to celebrate the wonderful water giant.

Here’s to their continuing good health and fertility. ~

Unlike other whales, Right Whales have funny upside-down-looking mouths and rough patches on their heads.

 

Resources: 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_whale 

http://www.allaboutwildlife.com/what-is-the-right-whales-population

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/worlds-rarest-whale-is-too-buoyant-researchers-find-667507.html

Pictures from Google Images.

Look at the Sky

Look at the sky.

Doesn’t it fill you with over-whelming human-ness? You fully realise how Earth-bound you are, looking up at the heavens.

Yes, we’ve been to the Moon. That was a very big achievement and it’s not exactly like we go there everyday. Moreover, the spacemen that went up there allegedly came back with deep and newfound respect for their home planet. The famous photographs of the far-away, life-giving blue and green sphere helped to kick-start the environmental movement.

And we’ve been up in space and we have fancy pictures and expensive space shuttles. But we can’t live out there. Not now at any rate.

There are an unfathomable number of other planets. Statistically, at least some of them are bound to be life-supporting. If so, they’re not nearby. Scientists don’t have any ideas on how humanity can float around in space breathing and eating and doing nothing after we mess up Earth to the point of evacuation. NASA hasn’t got any other planets up it’s sleeves we can move to.

Look at the sky.

Feel your feet on the ground, and be thankful that it’s there underneath you. Supporting you. Happy to give you everything you need.

We really don’t know when we’ve got it good.

Images from Google Images.

Saving The Rainforest

The following is a piece of college coursework I found of mine. It’s written as a magazine article. I apologise for the fact that the style of writing is a bit accusing. I was feisty in my youth, okay?! Enjoy.

~

THE PROBLEM:
It’s common knowledge now that the world’s rainforests are disappearing at a rate of roughly two football fields per second. Everyone knows it, and if you didn’t, you haven’t been paying attention.

But I don’t want you to think “oh no, not another doom and gloom herald of disaster” and flip the page for the (much more right-here, right-now, you think) piece on how to look your best in the Winter fashions.

And I don’t want to drown you in statistics either. I’ll try to just stick to the basics and tell you only what’s really necessary. Promise. And if you already know all this you can skip straight to the solutions section.

Tropical rainforests contribute several incredibly important aspects to the global ecosystem that the masses are only just starting to realise; now most of them are gone. The saying: “you don’t know when you’ve got it good untill you lose it” rings true here.

 

These great swathes of green across the equator contain at least half of the plant and animal species of the planet. Now, species are dying 1000 times faster than scientists estimate they naturally would, if there was just evolution doing it’s thing with no human intervention. A large proportion of this figure is down to destruction of the rainforests . But this isn’t just a cry of morals, and loss of beauty, it’s also purely practical. If the world’s biodiversity decreases by half, the gene pool will be so debilitated and unbalanced that all the remaining species, including us, would be weakened. Because of the vast complexity of the Earth’s global ecosystem (let’s think James’ Lovelock’s Gaia theory) and how interrelated the web of life is, it is possible, probable even, that we wouldn’t survive at all.

And it doesn’t even end there with ecology. They also absorb vast amounts of CO2, without them we’d have the problem of climate change falling down on us much harder and faster than it already is. As if this isn’t enough, they also regulate the entire hydrological cycle. They contain a 1/5 of the world’s fresh water and there are droughts and floods where too much deforestation occurs.

This, of course, is hell for the indigenous people, but it also affects us. The Western world is farther away from self-sufficiency than ever before, with the best of the soils in the ‘third world’ countries being guzzled up to grow coffee, soya beans, cattle, tea, sugar and fruit for our consumption. Will we wait untill the food falls off our supermarket shelves untill we decide to do something?

Of course, it’s up to governments to fix everything, and of course one action by one individual isn’t going to make a significant difference to the numbers. But untill people get over that fact and realise that everything adds up, and that doing nothing is dangerous in the (not too) long term, we’ll never get anywhere. So here’s some ideas.

THE SOLUTION:

  • Buy recycled paper, cards etc – Really, nothing else should be on the market, but you’d be surprised how much is made of virgin forest. On the upside, recycled paper is becoming much more common-place, and often isn’t any more expensive.
  • Recycle your used paper – Most county councils run curb-side collections and if your’s doesn’t, you can always ask them to start one. It really doesn’t take much effort to throw something in a box instead o a rubbish bin. Come on, everyone needs to do this at least.
  • Avoid fast-food outlets like McDonalds, Burger King, etc – they are all directly involved with this. They buy up the land, demolish the forest, and use the land to raise uncomprehendingly large numbers of cattle – which are slaughtered and turned into burgers. Vote with your pocket and tell everyone you know.
  • If you’re buying something wooden, look for FSC or ‘sustainably managed’ labels - if enough people do this the logging business will begin to see there is money in sustainable management.
  • Support ethical, sustainable projects and businesses such as ‘Raintree’ - see their website at www.raintree.com. They employ the local people to harvest herbs, roots and berries from the forests without damaging them. As well as conserving this vital habitat, this method also generates more income than cutting it down for logging or cattle farms. The indigenous tribes get to stay on their ancestral land rather than being evicted, and generation after generation can benefit economically from the rainforests while they thrive.

Loss of the rainforest, and deforestation in general, will have repercussions in our lifetimes; not in some far off generation we’re not obliged to consider. The effects are very real and anyone who denies this are simply in denial. All credible scientific bodies agree about the seriousness of climate change, and that it is happening now. They also agree that if the rainforest is lost, it will be a very short step from environmental disaster. This is because, as I have mentioned, the trees and other vegetation absorb huge amounts of CO2 – that infamous bane of the atmosphere – and therefore if they are not there to do this, we will have a greater concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Due to the enhanced greenhouse effect, this will cause a faster and more significant change to our climate.

If you don’t want these consequences to come to pass, the solution is simple: take steps to support the conservation of the rainforests and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If we do enough we should be able to save them.

It’s stupid to not try.

~