Reporter’s Journal: In Search of Sardines

July 24th, 2014

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Melati Kaye.

Community members crowd aboard a slerek purse-seiner in Muncar, East Java, the morning after a successful sardine fishing expedition. University of British Columbia researchers calculated that nearly half the landings in Muncar are distributed to the crew, their relatives, and their neighbors, to eat at home or sell. Though an insurance for protein-rich diets among the local community, the practice means that commercial sardine sales are a poor proxy for estimating the actual catch. As in much of Indonesia, the lack of reliable fisheries data is an impediment for government officials attempting to develop management programs.

This photo was taken by Mongabay.org’s Special Reporting Initiatives fellow Melati Kaye, who is reporting on the state of the fishing industry in Indonesia.

Bumble Bees of North America – book review

July 23rd, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

Cover art. Courtesy of Princeton University Press.

Bumble bees are remarkable. Domesticated bee colonies used for agriculture pollination is a global industry worth at least tens of billions annually. Roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of all food consumed in North America relies upon bumble bee pollination. About 80 percent of European crop species require insect pollination. In parts of China, because of the disappearance of bumble bees, pollination of apple and pear crops sometimes is done by hand using a paintbrush. In fact, the value of wild bee pollination in agricultural crops far exceeds their domesticated counterparts.

Bumble bees pollinate cotton, fruit and vegetables, and vegetable oils. Bumble bees do much of the heavy lifting to supply us with the agriculture crops we use each day to meet our clothing, food, and oil needs.

Bumble Bees of North America, by Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson, and Sheila R. Colla, is the first comprehensive guidebook to the bumble bees of North America written in over a hundred years. The book will help you identify all 46 bumble bee species found north of Mexico and to understand their ecology and changing geographic distributions.

Bumble Bees of North America includes a species-by-species forage guide, many pictures for easy identification of queen and worker bees, species specific maps, and descriptions of seasonal activity   along with colony life cycle.

Bumble bees are essentially hairy wasps, but diverged genetically over 100 million years ago. The main difference is that bees rely upon plant pollen for sustenance while wasps rely on animal tissue. Bumble bees are most diverse in temperate and montane regions globally.

Bumble Bees of North America is based on the latest molecular research. The book describes the rapid possible extinction of the Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini), whose decline was described in 1998, and who may have gone extinct by 2006. Currently it is IUCN Red-Listed. The book also describes how the once very common rusty-batched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) became the first federally listed endangered bee species in North America throughout its large U.S. and Canadian range. The rusty-batched bumble bee went from very common in the 1980s to now being locally extinct.

In addition, Bumble Bees of North America describes the threats to bumble bees and what you can do about these threats. Current threats include habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and the introduction of exotic or invasive species. The book recommends maintain bee-friendly gardens, using less pesticides, and mitigating global warming.

Given the size of bumble bees, their quick movements, and their short life spans Bumble Bees of North America will help you develop a greater understanding of bumble bee natural history, engage in bumble bee identification, and learn how to conserve their habitat all while not being stung.

How to order:
Bumble Bees of North America
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                        9780691152226
Authors:                Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson, and Sheila R. Colla

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com. 

Reporter’s Journal: Infant Shrimp

July 2nd, 2014

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Melati Kaye.

A technician checks on week-old shrimp larvae or nauplius, at the world’s largest shrimp and mollusk broodstock center in Bugbug, Indonesia. The center hopes to become a major supplier inexpensive and healthy “parent” shrimp to Indonesia’s domestic shrimp farming industry, to reduce reliance on pricier and occasionally disease-ridden imports from abroad. Indonesia is one of a handful of shrimp-producing countries unaffected by the outbreak of Early Mortality Syndrome, which has decimated farmed shrimp in top-producing countries like Thailand, China and Vietnam over the last two years.

This photo was taken by Mongabay.org’s Special Reporting Initiatives fellow Melati Kaye, who is reporting on the state of the fishing industry in Indonesia.

Reporter’s Journal: Fishermans’ Wives

June 27th, 2014

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Melati Kaye

Fishermens’ wives negotiate a price for freshly caught sardines in Negara, a town on the shores of the Bali Strait. The strait is about to become Indonesia’s first region to be managed under an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.

This photo was taken by Mongabay.org’s Special Reporting Initiatives fellow Melati Kaye, who is reporting on the state of the fishing industry in Indonesia.

Reporter’s Journal: from the fish warehouse

June 20th, 2014

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Melati Kaye.

A worker packs Leopard Coral Grouper in a warehouse in Makassar, Indonesia. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest suppliers of live reef fish, mostly to East Asian markets. Though selling live reef fish is legal in Indonesia, many of the fish are caught illegally using cyanide.

This photo was taken by Mongabay.org’s Special Reporting Initiatives fellow Melati Kaye, who is reporting on the state of the fishing industry in Indonesia.

BBC World Service: Climate Change and Community Forest Management in Kuna Yala, Panama

June 5th, 2014

Mongabay SRI Fellow Ruxandra Guidi published a seven-minute segment on BBC World Service’s Science in Action program.  The piece focuses on the indigenous Kuna of Panama, whose livelihoods and homes are already being affected by sea level rise and climate change, and the ways in which they are adapting to it while trying to preserve their customs and sovereign control of their forests.

Listen to the full segment here.

The allure of the Amazon: real or imagined?

May 19th, 2014

Commentary by Nick Werber

Photo by Nick Werber.

What is it about the Amazon that fires the imagination? For as long as I can recall it has been a symbol for the Earth as it wants to be; a flourishing paradise perhaps, a place of explosive variegation, the jungle in full bloom.

Like the untamed areas outside of the cities in Brave New World, The Heart of Darkness and The Lost World, the jungle has formed an archetype for all that is natural and untouched by man. It offers us adventure and escape, as far removed from tarmacked roads and rigidly planned towns as one can imagine.

Alan Watts, the philosopher, talked of the chaos of nature, the absence of straight lines, the negation of geometrical form, the forest is “squiggly” as he might have termed it. To some this knotted mass is anathema, it offends the neat dissection of their reason, to others it is a liberation from a tyrannical mind, hell-bent on order and destruction. Through the wilderness they seek the dissolution of the ego, transcendentalists for a new age. Despite a century or more of western exploration the jungle remains tenebrous, unknowable. A thousand Victorian explorers are replaced each generation with people seeking out something, a new tale to tell, the discovery of a new tribe perhaps.

Photo by Nick Werber.

Where once we looked at native forest dwellers as quaint but primitive, there is now a new movement, looking to them for insights and hints on ways to live. Have we got it right? We ask. Our culture is not so sure of itself as it once was. In the jungle too lies hope: new medicines and new species. Scientists revere the forest for its fecundity, for every new discovery we find there is much, much more to learn. Its vastness promotes humility and yet for all its scale it is delicate nonetheless. Logging, mining and agriculture are tumorous.

“We know this” we tell ourselves: it is the stuff of a hundred lachrymose news programs, images of burned out forests branded in our minds; we have become inured and so we get on with our lives, it being just one more thing to worry about…

I dreamt of the Amazon as a child. I heard about its beauty and its imminent destruction and wanted to do something about it…but what can an 11 year old do? So, I dreamed some more…. When I actually arrived it was vastly different to the images I had seen on the news. In Manu I can see no grand scale farming, no sweeping clearances, just flecks of damage, like sun spots on an otherwise unblemished face. And yet I know that much worse is happening. In Huaypetue there is a gold mine so sprawling it can be seen from space; Hunt Oil’s unctuous presence has undermined native communities land rights; and the completion of the Pan American highway, stretching from east coast Brazil through the Madre de Dios region, threatens to enable Peru to enact a scale of destruction comparable with its neighbor.

But for all that I can do nothing but film and write. As a journalist I do not make policy or conduct scientific research. And yet I appreciate the beauty of the forest and can only communicate my reverence in the hope that others may offer change.

Red bromeliads (Racinaea) in Manu cloud forest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.com

After just a few weeks in the jungle, I had forgotten what it was like to wake up without the sound of Oropendulas dropping their calls from palm tops or a night spent without chirruping cicadas, balmy heat and fireflies flickering in the darkness. Here, for the first time in my life I saw the Milky Way streaking across the night sky, and each morning watched trees held in relief against a fuchsia dawn.

Don’t get me wrong. It is not all pleasant, far from it. Trails turn to mush at the slightest sign of rain and the insects are relentless. Walking at midday seems like wading through boiling sap, my shirt turns into a sodden rag, my backpack a sponge for sweat. Still, I count myself lucky. A dream fulfilled does not always live up to the dream, but it can get pretty close, and in life I suppose that is as much as we can hope for.

Phoebis philea and Anteos menippe butterflies in large group feeding on minerals in mud in Manu. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com

Reporter’s Journal: Telling Fiji Time

April 29th, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Amy E. West.

The expression “Fiji Time” is commonly used among locals and expatriates. From my island experiences, it feels as though I could insert the name of any small island before the word, “time.” But Fiji time seems to also refer to time spent on the obligatory rituals that allows one to enter a village, be accepted, and talk more intimately with the people who belong to it. Aside from navigating the proper customary channels for permission to visit a village plus transport time via ferry, bus, or 4×4 on a bumpy road, the speeches, kava offerings and its consumption are a large part of those time-taking rituals. Once all the right people are called forward, which is a group typically dominated by males, chat ensues around a large bowl full of kava. After several lip-numbing bilos, or cups, of the grog, stories start to tumble out. You hear tales of the past, Fijian adages, superstitious advice, a handful of place names that need to be spelled out, and then an open moment when you can plunge into questions such as, “How are poachers affecting your marine protected areas?”

Here in the small seaside village of Silana in the northeastern bump of Viti Levu island, this grog group tells me they used to have an area cordoned off to fishing. Yet, the plan didn’t stick. Decision-making traditionally comes from the chiefs and elders, but if overall consensus doesn’t exist in their respective communities, residents may disregard new policies. If the chiefs agree to close part of a fishing ground, then a well-governed village normally has all its residents on board. Social harmony is key for total buy in, and crucial for successful local fisheries management. In Silana’s case, and in some instances in Fiji, without every villager’s support the poaching continues, so the idea of a marine protected area was shelved. As to why a lack of support even exists is a story in itself involving livelihoods, relationships, resource equity, and education.

The more kava consumed the more stories divulged. As a stranger you feel almost bad, peppering them with questions, recording their stories, taking photos or notes when you have nothing tangible to leave behind at the end of the day. “I’m writing a story…” you say.  It helps that Fijians are good-natured, open, and affable. They like that a foreigner cares about what they care about, and fisheries is a decidedly hot topic.

Upon leaving it’s not easy, nor clear that you captured the whole story accurately. Especially when many interviewees may have been “grogged.” Community members such as women or those without chiefly positions customarily stay quiet, so opinions can be missed. It takes longer to unpeel the social, political, and historical layers to each village; I found there’s nothing simple about their ostensibly simple way of life. You have to ask multiple people the same question, which invariably leads to multiple answers. Posing the same question differently can also get you a different answer. Even in an English-speaking country such as Fiji, “lost in translation” is standard.

If staying several days, you’ll then experience goodbye rituals, meals, songs, and more rounds of kava. If aiming to interview a village head for just 45 minutes, plan for a full day. It’s Fiji time after all. You’ll need to adjust your clock.

A visual run down of presenting kava root, and its consumption at various kava ceremonies.  Photo copyright by Stacy Jupiter, Video by Amy West.

Amy West is Mongabay.org’s Special Reporting Assignment Fellow reporting on the state of Fiji’s coral reef fisheries.

Reporter’s Journal: From Panama

April 16th, 2014

By SRI Fellow Ruxandra Guidi

Kuna historian Don Jesus Smith (left), listens to presentations next to his son, Jesus Smith Jr. Copyright (c) 2014 Ruxandra Guidi

Don Jesus was tasked with the logistics for the conference, and Don Feliciano would be taking care of all the meals for more than 25 people. This was no small feat for these two septuagenarian men, who had to do a lot of phone calling and running around in order to try to secure things like ice and a motorboat and a generator. In the end, ice was the only thing they couldn’t get — and that’s because refrigeration is hard to come by on the island. If you were to bring it by motorboat, the ice would have likely melted under the hot Caribbean sun along the way.

This was the first conference of its kind to be held in Ustupu, one of the 49 populated islands that make up the Kuna Yala comarca, an indigenous territory in Panama unlike any other worldwide. In the last decade, severe weather changes have caused regular flooding on many of the islands, and the local sea level has been increasing around three-quarters of an inch each year due to the effects of climate change. Because of Kuna Yala’s current quandary and also its unique history of land rights and forest conservation, the community was chosen as the site for a discussion about climate change focused solely on the perspective of indigenous peoples.

Facing the crowd at barely five feet tall, and wearing his trademark baseball hat and flip-flops, Don Jesus welcomed the group with an introduction to Kuna history.

Conference attendees go for a hike in Kuna Yala’s mainland forest. Photo copyright (c) Ruxandra Guidi 2014.

“Over two hundred years ago, our great-grandparents who were living further east, in Colombia, got displaced,” he began. “So they started looking for their promised land. They were looking for not just a place to live and to grow food, but also a place where they could conserve the plants they depended on, their traditions, and language.”

According to Don Jesus, his ancestors knew “how to face change.” So rather than move to the mainland, where they’d have to contend with mosquitos, mangroves, difficult terrain, and wild animals, the Kuna decided to settle on dozens of small islands peppering what today is the eastern Caribbean coast of Panama. They would continue to live off the sea, catching lobster and octopus, but also practicing subsistence farming on the edges of the mainland forest. This is still the Kuna way of life today.

The conference attendees, young men and women from Kenya, Ecuador, Chile, Manipur, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and from the Emberá community of Panama, listened to one Kuna elder after another, their words being spoken in their native language, then translated into Spanish and English, via interpretation headsets.

For Jemimah Mattei, a Masaii activist, and Lalit Chakma, from Bangladesh, the Kuna experience was as foreign as it was refreshing. After all, both indigenous leaders had traveled a very long way to hear these older men speak about how they managed to not only hold on to land, forests, and their traditions, but also the ways in which they’re planning their future today, in the age of climate change.

Around the world, indigenous peoples are feeling the effects of climate change — sea level rise, increased rates of wild fires and drought — disproportionately. And coming up with localized, independent, sustainable adaptations to climate change is key for their survival. But as it turns out, some of those homegrown solutions to our current climate crisis could also hold important lessons for us all.

After four days of PowerPoint presentations (powered by a loud generator), group discussions about the meaning of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and visits to the Kuna’s mainland forest, the conference ended, and everyone started their long treks home.

This summer, I’ll return to Ustupu with photographer Bear Guerra, my husband and collaborator. We’ll reconnect with some Kuna elders, young Kuna leaders, biologists, and experts on medicinal plants and forests, to look more deeply into those lessons the Kuna may be able to share with the world.

Andres de Leon talks to two young Kuna students about his small banana farm on the mainland forest. Photo copyright (c) Ruxandra Guidi 2014.

 


Panama’s carbon in high fidelity

Reporter’s Journal: Fighting poachers and Mother Nature

April 7th, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Amy E. West

Fijians communities are largely in charge of managing their waterfront. Volunteer fish wardens in the village, appointed by the chief or the Minister, are the only official members of a village who can legally stop poachers. Though they rarely have any equipment to enforce protection of their tabus (swaths of temporarily protected marine areas inside their fishing grounds), they are harder pressed to fight the effects of climate change. Off the Fijian island of Taveuni sits Waitabu Marine Park, which has been closed to fishing for more than 15 years, snorkelers pay to jump in the water. Although bigger fish are abundant in this unusual long-term refuge, their coral reef habitat is suffering. Temperatures hit more than 30 degrees C (86 F) for an extended period of time earlier in the year, and roughly half of the corals experienced bleaching here, ejecting their color-giving symbionts, which can be seen in this image. Shallow areas of this protected reef are also prone to decimation from increasingly severe cyclones. To add insult to injury, the reef-eating starfish, crown-of-thorns, thrives here and munches corals faster than the locals can remove them.

This photo was taken by SRI fellow Amy West who is reporting on the state of Fiji’s coral reef fisheries.