This is a piece I painted while on a summer program tagging turtles at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas. It is based on a photograph I took of one of the juvenile green sea turtles that our team caught (we scooped them up by hand when they grew tired of swimming). I had the chance to tag, biopsy and take measurements of each turtle we worked with, and these data were added to the Institute’s database to be used for future research. I chose to paint this turtle because I feel that the intersection of conservation and visual art is a great way to spread awareness and engage others. There seems to be a gap in interest/ knowledge between the general public and those working in marine conservation. With a planet covered mostly in water, the group of people studying it is astonishingly small. I think that art provides the common ground that brings us a step towards bridging that disconnect, and gives nature the recognition and praise it needs to reach a larger demographic.
Walk into any grocery store today and you’ll find tons of products sporting the green USDA Organic logo. Organic food and products have grown more popular in recent years, and will continue to rise in popularity in the future. What even is organic? And why should we buy organic?
Organic is a way that farmers cultivate and process food; in short, organic farming aims to reduce pollution, improve soil and water quality, promote self-sustenance, and more. In order to achieve this, farmers utilize natural fertilizers (like manure or plant waste) instead of synthetic fertilizers (like DDT), plant rotations to enhance soil quality, and healthier and safe living conditions for livestock, to name a few practices.
Besides the fact that organic foods contain less pesticide residues and are healthier to those who consume them, there are multiple reasons for why you should go organic. Firstly, supporting organic farmers means supporting the environment- organic farming improves soil health, enhances water quality, supports pollinators, and promotes biodiversity. Furthermore, by buying organic, you are also supporting farmers and their health as well. Farmers who use organic practices have less exposure to harmful pesticides and are able to work under safer working environments.
So next time you go buy groceries, remember that by choosing organic, you are not only buying healthier food, but promoting the lives of others and supporting the environment!
Check out the links below for more info:
For the past two summers, I spent two weeks on the tiny island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, doing marine conservation scuba diving with my younger brother. Koh Tao means Turtle Island in Thai, and although the island was named for its supposed turtle-like shape, the name is also fitting in that the island is an important breeding ground for Green and Hawksbill turtles.
Through New Heaven Dive School’s conservation arm, we learned about the main problems afflicting the waters around the island, potential solutions, and advancements in the field of marine ecology. Each day we would learn a new topic through a 2-hour lecture, and after a short break, we would go out into the open water to apply what we had learned. For example, we learned about how the population of Drupella, a voracious corallivorous snail, had exploded and was contributing to the abnormal and great loss of coral coverage in the Gulf; we undertook collection dives to control the population.
We also learned about problems that could be prevented if local fishermen were more respectful of the ocean, such as the use of mooring lines instead of dropping anchors onto the reef. However, while it’s easy for those of us pursuing conservation to judge these people in a negative way, I think it’s also important to keep in mind that we can do so since we occupy a position of privilege - the people who can afford to judge the local fishermen for harming the oceans are the ones who don’t need to rely on it just to subsist. Ultimately, we need to initiate more educational schemes, government subsidies, and other policies to align the incentives of the fishermen. If we can help them realize that protecting the oceans is not only economically feasible, but could potentially be more profitable for them than traditional fishing methods, restoration efforts would be so much more effective.
There is a very large misconception that nuclear energy is clean. This argument is one that comes about as a result of the nuclear industries manipulation and media. The reason people think this is because nuclear reactors only emit a small amount of CO2. But what about the process it took to build those reactors? These reactors require massive amounts of concrete, steel, and carbon-based fuels. Furthermore, processing and uranium mining also results in carbon emissions. A study conducted by Virginia Tech estimates that nuclear power is accountable for about 6 times the carbon emission of wind power.
The most disturbing aspect of nuclear power is the toxic radiation it involves. The reactors are emitting radiation which has led to serious health consequences. Uranium has an incredibly long half life and so it remains toxic long after the plant is out of use. Major health issues have risen for people who live by these Uranium mining sites. For example, the Navajo Nation has banned uranium mining due to the widespread health effects it had including birth defects and high cancer rates.
Finally, nuclear energy should not be used because of the great risks associated with having these plants. Although the incidents are few, a nuclear meltdown causes catastrophic casualties. This is evidenced by the thousands killed or still negatively affected in Chernobyl and Fukushima. Bottom line is, nuclear energy is NOT “clean” energy and furthermore, it is costly and dangerous.
What do Oreos, your shampoo, Nutri-Grain bars and Cup Noodles have in common? Aside from being common consumable products, they share one important trait. All contain palm oil, and because of this, have a massive environmental impact.
The impact of palm oil on the world’s forests has managed to fly under the radar in a world that is slowly waking up to the game of environmental brinkmanship being played. Many tout their recycling habits, or reduced food waste, as ways in which they’re “green.” And it’s absolutely true that such practices have the potential to make real, meaningful differences in the state of our climate, natural resources and environment. Still, these same well-intending people are all too often simply unaware of the palm oil crisis.
So what is the crisis exactly? It is all unfolding far away, and this is probably one of the major factors behind the poor coverage it receives. In short, palm oil is produced by the African and American oil palm plants. It’s used as a versatile substitute for other oils in many foods, especially processed snack foods, as well as cosmetics, toothpastes, shampoos and conditioners, etc. Palm oil is ubiquitous in the supermarket, and it goes by dozens of names. As a result of the incredible demand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and parts of Africa and South America have experienced massive deforestation (300 football fields/hour), animals driven to the edge of extinction, and human and animal rights violations. The best way to combat the deforestation, short of starting a campaign or lobbying government officials, is simply to stop supporting the crime that is palm oil, and encourage those around you to do the same.
It’s worth noting that “sustainable” or “conflict free” palm oil often isn’t either of these at all, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Also, here are some of the many names for palm oil. I hope you’ll look out for, and avoid them next time you’re at the store.
The ocean is a powerful and seemingly limitless resource on earth. Covering more than 70% of our planet, our world’s oceans are the origins of all life. With this considered, it’s hard to believe that humans, being just a blip on the evolutionary timeline, have made such a sizeable impact. As the global population continues to grow and food industries scramble to provide, destructive modern fishing methods are becoming increasingly devastating. With bottom trawling, bycatch, explosives and poisons providing the greatest profit, all consideration for the delicacy of marine ecosystems is ignored. Massive nets that rake the ocean floor crush ancient corals and flatten seabeds, wiping out niche habitats for all aquatic life. Endangered species also make up a large percentage of this bycatch, demonstrating our disregard for the conservation of biodiversity. Populations with longer life expectancies and later reproductive ages fall victim to these unsustainable practices, and such disturbances in the food chain have been truly detrimental. For many people the ocean is a foreign place, which leads to a dangerous disconnect that often fosters indifference towards its wellbeing. However, what most don’t realize is the inextricable link we all share with our oceans- they tie all living systems together, and we certainly couldn’t survive without them. Humanity has adopted the dangerous mindset that natural resources exist for its consumption. This mentality is where change must begin: if we are to put time and resources into sustainable practices, we must first learn to see our environment as an extension of ourselves.
On the weekend of Sept 29-30th, we, the membership of HCCS, had our first annual retreat to Harvard Forest!
It was great for us to have a chance to get off campus for a few days, bond as a group, learn about and explore some of Harvard's 4,000 acre research forest, and advance our partnership with our Harvard Forest project.
We arrived at the forest late on Saturday morning, after a 1.5 hour drive. Because of the rain, the picnic and forest tour we had planned were postponed, and we were left with a few hours of free time off the bat. This allowed for some time for group bonding through semi-ridiculous games and our own exploration of the forest. After lunch, Harvard Forest Director Prof. David Foster took us on our official forest tour, allowing students to learn more about the history behind the forest and current conservation efforts. We then shared a delicious, locally catered dinner with a few Harvard Forest associates (seriously, the home-made ginger chia salad dressing and blueberry cobbler were to die for!). The rest of the evening consisted of more games and, for a few brave souls, a venture into the cold night in an attempt to stargaze.
On Sunday, we had the opportunity to take part in an alumni event being hosted by HF. We heard from a few more associates of the Forest, and then members of our Harvard Forest project group got the chance to present to the alums about what we do and what we're hoping to do with HF this semester. During lunch and the subsequent tour of the forest, we were able to make connections with these alumni who are working in, or retired from, all sorts of fields from law to psychiatry to social justice. It is always enlightening to get to chat with members of the Harvard community who are further along than we are, and and we were grateful to have this opportunity!
This partnership we've begun to develop with the Harvard Forest and Professor David Foster is a really exciting move for the Conservation Society as we look to incorporate more local conservation efforts into our project work. We look forward to a lasting and fruitful relationship with the Harvard Forest!
In this post, I want to bring attention to the issue of exotic pets. Across the globe, millions of animals such as tigers, pythons, monkeys and macaws have been mistreated because of the high demand for exotic pets. There have been reports of baby pythons crammed into CD cases, a three-month-old tiger cub that was tranquilized and stuffed into a suitcase, baby turtles taped and squeezed into tube socks, and even dozens of hummingbirds tied up and taped to someone’s underwear just so they could be smuggled into the United States of America. Under these harsh, and often illegal, transport conditions, these exotic-pets-to-be die 80 to 90% of the time according to a German customs officer. Even if they survive the traumatic transport, these animals are sometimes left unattended for weeks, suffering from poor ventilation, malnutrition and confinement. In a seller’s warehouse in Texas, four hundred iguanas and hundreds of other dead animals were found abandoned in crates in 2009.
Unfortunately, the ordeal isn’t over for the exotic animals once they are placed in their new “homes.” Owners often underestimate maintenance and fail to meet the animal’s basic needs in terms of housing and diet. As stated by the Western Cape of Africa’s Environmental Crime Investigation, about 90% of exported reptiles die within a year. Monkeys, birds and large cats that are used to traveling several miles a day suffer when living in a cage or an apartment – some birds may exhibit excessive screaming, feather plucking and self-mutilation. Sugar gliders, being social creatures, may even die of loneliness if given insufficient attention.
Due to the spread of viral YouTube videos that show slow lorises holding umbrellas or large cats living in people’s backyards, the public has accepted exotic pets to be the norm. However, we must inspire others to help spread the message and educate the public, so that the day will soon come when exotic animals can be free to thrive in the wild – where they belong.
“Inside The Exotic Animal Trade.” Companion Animals. 2012. PETA. 21 July 2012
“Exotic Animals as Pets.” Adoption Tips. 2012. ASPCA. 21 July 2012
“The Dangers of Keeping Exotic “Pets”.” Facts. 2012. Born Free USA. 21 July 2012
“Exotic Pets.” Issues. 2012. The Humane Society of the United States. 17 July 2012
Owens, Marie. “The Dangers of the Exotic Pet Industry.” Stop Animal Abuse. 12 Nov. 2011. 15 July 2012
Netter, Sarah. “The Allure of Exotic Pets Bring Risks to Owners, Animals.” 31 Oct. 2008. ABC News. 21 July 2012 < http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=6150276&page=1#.UA8t4s242eZ>.
“The Problem of Exotic Pets.” Opinion. Andrew Rosenthal. 13 July 2003. NY Times. 15 July 2012
The fennec fox is perhaps one of the most beautiful mammals in the world. They are known for their small size and comparatively giant ears. The Fennec Fox is 9.5 to 16 inches long with a tail measuring 7 to 12.2 inches, and at average weight between 2.2 and 3.3 pounds. Despite these small measurements, the fox has ears that are 6 inches long, over a fourth of its total body and tail length. For comparison, if my ears were a fourth of my height they would be about a foot and a half in length.
These small foxes live in the Sarah desert and other areas of North Africa. They are nocturnal, allowing them to sleep during the scorching desert days and forage for food at night. Fennecs are completely covered in hair. Even their paws are insulated as to protect from the heat of the sands. Their feet allow them to be very effective diggers, so that they can make their homes in underground dens.
These foxes live communally, usually with 10 fennecs per living group. Due to their heated living conditions, they have developed the ability to go without water for long periods of time.
So, what’s up with the large ears? Scientists have determined two main reasons for the large size of a fennec fox’s ears. One is that their ear size helps them hear prey that may be lurking underground, and a second is that they help the foxes release heat so they can survive better in the desert.
Unfortunately, the supreme cuteness of these animals has made them popular as domestic pets and popular among hunters for their pelts.
[Images sourced from National Geographic]
Having lived on the streets of San Francisco my entire life, I never got to truly see the stars. Looking up at the night sky, the flashing lights of passing airplanes outshone the few twinkles whose luminosity barely fought through the radiant city lights.
Before coming to Harvard, I went on FOP, a pre-orientation program in which freshmen camp in the wilderness of New Hampshire and Maine for a week. After five long days of hiking and canoeing, we finally found a campsite without much tree cover. I set my sleeping bag on the ground, cozied in, and slowly looked up.
Witnessing every star in the sky for the first time is, put simply, stellar. Seeing the silvery veins of shooting stars, the constellations of mythology, and the glimmering band of the Milky Way against the void of the night was otherworldly, truly as if you were looking into the heavens. There’s a sense of being imperceptible against the backdrop of the universe, but also a sense of freedom – of having your worries dissipate and being in the now. As Master Oogway puts it, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”
In related news, Idaho aims to designate 1,400 square miles for the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States. This plan has support from a variety of organizations, such as nearby city and federal officials, the US Forest Service, and the Idaho Conservation League. An ever-growing problem, light pollution contributes to environmental issues, interfering with the behavior of nocturnal wildlife and possibly contributing to human sleeping problems. Furthermore, approximately 80% of North Americans live where light pollution drowns out the night sky; as the fast pace and cold efficiency of the city become ever more dominant, it’s evermore important to take a breath, appreciate nature, and look into the brilliant night sky.
TL;DR: Go stargaze!
To read up more on the Dark Sky Reserve, check out the article here!