Adventure

Sleeping on the Beach

Sleeping on the Beach

-John Eickert

There is never enough time to follow your dreams and wishes, even if you plan. And, sometimes, adventures can become demanding, tiring to the point of collapse and this isn’t for everyone, but then even modest plans can change. We set off to cross from the mainland of Alaska to a large island. We waited for the tide to run out and then launched our ocean going kayaks into the calm waters of the Pacific, the Gulf of Alaska. From our experience and considering the conditions, the crossing would take us two hours. If the seas were calm and we kept a steady pace then less time, it should have been easy.

The conditions changed from calm and sunny to a sharp wind in our faces and driving rain. The crossing took five hours and as soon as we entered the shelter of a bay on the large island, the wind stilled and the rain stopped. It was sunny and hot within minutes. We planned to lunch on this island then paddle further to another and camp there for the night. After the difficult ocean conditions we were all tired and everyone found a spot to rest before we made our meal. I paddled a short distance away from the others, beached my kayak, secured the boat and then walked up the gravel beach a short distance and lay down. I fell asleep so quick, I did not remember falling asleep, but woke some time later with a sharp start. When I woke, I had the strangest feeling and shook my head, trying to remember the short dream I had. The dream came to me, I dreamt of sitting before a large meal, but not eating it. Well, the morning’s ocean passage was difficult; I was hungry. I would not sit and stare at a meal.

The tide was now running in and had I not woken when I did the waves would have been at my feet. I sat up and listened to the waves rising and falling on the steep gravel beach, a sound that reminded me of applause. I stood and stretched my legs and started for my kayak, now eager and ready to join the others. I stopped when something caught my eye and returned to my resting spot. There were tracks in the gravel at the head of the beach less than a body length from the spot where my head lay. The tracks were easy to read in the soft moist surface. An Alaskan brown bear, a carnivorous animal three times the size of the largest tiger had stopped and watched me while I slept. The tracks continued along the beach in the direction of our agreed lunch spot. I hurried to find and inform the rest of my group. This is the closest I have ever been to such a large carnivore in the wild- and I didn’t even know it. Lucky for me the bear was not as hungry as I was.

 

Bear tracks, courtesy http://www.dsstephens.net/

Read about a dream trip to Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary (near Lucknow U.P)  written by Vikrant Nath

 

Burning Issues

Putting carbon into quarantine

Putting carbon into quarantine

Plantstones quarantine carbon

 

Locking plant material inside mineral particles may be another answer to global warming, says S.Ananthanarayanan.

                       

A group in Australia is working on locking carbon of the atmosphere into pockets of silica or calcium compounds, to put carbon out of circulation for very long periods. These pockets occur naturally in many plants and have been of interest in botany or even archeology, but the idea may now become an answer to environment degradation!

 

Phytoliths

                       

This is the name for rigid microscopic particles, also called plantstones, that are found in many plants. Plants take up minerals from the soil, silicon being one of them. Minerals are important for plants not only as traces for metabolism but also, mainly for support and structure. Silicon is a common participant in plant fibres, taken up by the roots and carried up to the shoot. It is finally deposited in the cell wall material in the form of a chain molecule consisting of silica and water. This forms double layers of silica with cuticle or cellulose on the surface of leaves, and stems and helps the plant stiffen and stand erect, to make the best of available air and sunlight.

                                                                       

Plants vary in the silicon they take up from the soil. A plant that hold more than 1 gram of silicon in a kg of dry weight is considered a silicon accumulator. The tomato, cucumber and soybean are poor accumulators but many plants, like wheat, oat, rye, barley, sorghum, corn, and sugarcane contain about 10 g/kg. The rice plant is the leader, with over 100 gm/kg.

 

And the mineral take-up forms granules, of different sizes and shapes, depending on the plant and in which part of the plant, as in the stem or on the leaves.

 

Functions

 

Apart from providing rigidity, phytoliths serve to protect the plants from predators by making the plant distasteful or grainy and prickly. In the case of cacti, which close their pores during the day to avoid loss of water, calcium oxalate phytoliths work as reservoirs of carbon dioxide, which the plant uses for photosynthesis. The baobab uses the carbon dioxide trapped in phytoliths to make its bark fire-resistant!

 

As phytoliths are made of minerals and are robust, they survive when the plant dies and decomposes. Phyolith residue is thus a durable record of where the plant has been. This has proved useful in archeology, as phytolith records reveal the kind of vegetation in bygone times or the crops that prehistoric peoples cultivated, or the kind of natural privation that destroyed vegetation and the animal species the vegetation supported. 

 

Phytoliths are found not only where plants grew and died but also in prehistoric remains of teeth, cooking utensils or places of storage of food. These traces can reveal exactly the kind of crops cultivated, and hence the current exonomy, by the nature of phytoliths found.

 

Global warming

 

All counties are alive to the danger we face because of the carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere, the rise of temperatures and other climatic and environmental changes. The cause is the release of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels, for transport and power generation. Containing carbon pollution has become the priority and methods of carbon sequestering, or saving the carbon-rich effluents from mixing with the atmosphere are being developed. There are methods of trapping carbon dioxide gas in spent coal mines, in underground or underwater rock formations or in abandoned oil wells. The methods have high costs and are not entirely reliable, as they allow leakage and may even collapse.

 

Phytolith carbon trap

 

This is where carbon trapping phytoliths become interesting.  By cultivating the right kind of crops over vast areas of land, great quantities of carbon dioxide could be locked into mineral grains, to stay trapped for centuries. Plants already perform the service of converting carbon dioxide into food and oxygen throughout daylight hours. Increasing green cover is by itself a means of controlling the CO2 buildup. But choosing the plants that form phytoliths would actively reduce the CO2 in circulation, with low costs and high reliability.  

[the writer can be contacted at simplescience@gmail.com]

Common Birds of India

Jungle Myna ( Acridotheres fuscus )

Jungle Myna ( Acridotheres fuscus )

 

-Ragoo Rao

 

 

I have chosen the Jungle Myna for the " Common Birds" section this month as the Mynas are busy in this season breeding and their activities could be studied by the interested.

 

 

India has quite a few species of Mynas.  Six to be precise.  The most common is the Common Myna and the rare being the Pied Myna. 

The Jungle Myna is very similar to the common Myna but there is a color variation.  The first recognition point being absence of the yellow bare parts around the eyes, but with  a crest of short feathers on the head. The body is also more grayish brown but the white patches on the wing side are similar to the common Myna. These Mynas are not usually found with the other common Mynas but keep themselves to tall treed areas. Huge compounds with very tall and old Raintrees are ideal locations to find these Mynas. Somehow these Mynas do not feel comfortable with human habitation, they seem to like quiet wooded areas.

 

The distribution is throughout the country, except for very high altitudes.

These birds are often found in pairs and sometimes even in flocks of 15 to 20 birds all foraging on the ground looking for tit-bits and insects. At the slightest intrusion these birds take off instantly with the characteristic Keeeeeek.....keeeeek alarm calls.  In the country side one could notice these birds tagging behind grazing cattle to get at the insects disturbed by the cattle. They walk along with the cattle with an upright stance and long strided walk all the time keeping vigil for any human intrusion.  One could even see these birds sitting on buffaloes backs or horns looking for parasitic insects on the buffaloes body.

 

The Erythrina blooms attract these birds in large flocks and they seem to love the nectar of these flowers.  All varieties of wild figs are also their favourite among fruits. These birds are omnivorous, but the young are brought up only on insects, probably because of the high protein content.

 

The nesting season is from February to July. The nest is built from dried grass and rubbish and lined with feathers. The nest is a natural small hole in tall rain trees and other fig trees. In the wooded country side if there are any abandoned buildings with rafters and crevices they easily take up to nesting in these places, which shows these birds share a common character with the Common Myna in nesting habits.  Usually 3 to 4 glossy turquoise blue eggs are laid and both parents share all domestic chores.

 

This part of the year is ideal to locate these birds in their habitats and study them.

Corporates and Environment

Role of Community in Urban Waste Management

Role of Community in Urban Waste Management -

Govind Singh

An improvement in quality of life followed by an increase in resource consumption has had several unintended negative impacts on our urban environment. One of the outcomes of this increased resource consumption pattern is the large amount of waste generated from the various urban centers everyday. Such is the magnitude of this waste that it is far beyond the handling capacities of Governments and other urban agencies. Consequently, cities are now grappling with the problem of high volumes of waste and the cost involved in managing such waste.

Urban waste usually includes normal household waste. Rapid urbanization along with a constantly modernizing social behaviour has led to the doubling of household waste generation. The local municipal bodies with their limited human, technical, financial and institutional capability, particularly in a developing country like ours, have repeatedly demonstrated their inability to cope with the multi-dimensional problems of urban waste management. At the same time, it is important to either dispose off all of this waste as soon as it is generated or reduce waste generation, as waste has a huge impact on regional and global environment. Thus, the absence of adequate waste management infrastructure poses serious environmental risks that, in the long run, may even hamper a nation’s development. Addressing the issue of managing household solid waste can go a long way in improving the performance of an urban waste management system as a whole.

While long term improvement in urban waste management can only occur gradually through institutional strengthening and infrastructure development, community involvement is the best means of short-term waste management. At the same time, if done effectively, community participation can even prove to be a permanent long-term solution. Community participation is the process by which individuals and families assume responsibility for the health and welfare of their communities and contribute to the community’s overall development. It should be pointed here that every urban citizen can play a crucial role in improving the municipal solid waste management system in many ways.

Management of solid waste is a complicated task because of its close and direct relationship with the behaviour of the society. Therefore, social awareness and initiation is a key factor for a long term solution to the waste management problem. To address this issue, awareness campaigns must be carried out at the community level explaining the importance of the desirable 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. These programmes should be facilitated by the Resident Unions or the Resident Welfare Associations of the respective communities.

Urban Communities need to act in a more responsible way and the elders must teach the importance of a clean environment to the younger generation. The society should try to reduce the total waste generated by cutting down unnecessary consumption which is also a stepping-stone leading to sustainable development. The elders of the community should behave even more responsibly and not litter or be insensitive to issues related to waste as they are also the role models for the next generation. The biggest problem in urban waste management is faced at the stage of segregation of waste.

If the waste is segregated properly, it can be disposed off in a more environment friendly manner. However, it is a difficult task and at present and all of the non-segregated waste is dumped at the same place. Communities can come forward and solve this problem to a great extent. This is because segregation of waste is most efficient when carried out right from individual houses. Waste should be divided into two broad categories at individual house level and then to broader categories at the community level. The adequately segregated waste can then be collected by the local municipal authority who can now deal with it in a better way. Such a measure will significantly reduce the amount of domestic solid waste entering urban waste streams and going to landfills or ending up in the environment.

Small community level composting pits can be maintained by different colonies for composting kitchen waste. This will further reduce the total waste entering the urban waste stream to a great extent. Through adopting simple technologies such as vermin-composting, the waste can be converted to manure and the manure so produced can be sold on a commercial basis. The money earned can then be utilized for the maintenance and sustenance of such a community based compost system. This type of community level waste management system has already been adopted by IIT-Delhi and should be replicated in other communities as well.

Thus, urban communities can play a pivotal role in urban waste management through their participation in household waste reduction, waste segregation, adopting recycling practices, composting, deriving manure from organic waste, exhibiting willingness to pay for waste collection services and by collaborating with waste collection crews. With increasing urban migrations and consequent increase in the population of cities, all urban communities at all levels should soon realize their role and contribute to waste management in order to keep our cities clean and green.

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See the link http://www.indianwildlifeclub.com/GreenYourCorner/Vermi-Compost.aspx

to see what garbyhog homebuilders club is doing to help vermicomposting.

 As part of their CSR program, Xansa India sponsored the Garbyhog project in a  Government School, in Harola village, Noida, UP.

Endangered

The Indian Gharial: Going, Going, Gone? (Part – II)

The Indian Gharial: Going, Going, Gone?  (Part – II)

 

-Govind Singh

 

Two months after the shocking deaths of several Indian gharials, a critically endangered (CR) species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in Chambal river, authorities are still unsure about what caused the sudden deaths of a large number of the Chambal alligators.

 

While preliminary studies were said to be carried out immediately after the reporting of the incident and samples were slated to be sent to expert research institutes across the country, no concrete findings over the mysterious deaths have been put forward so far. And everything, from increasing pollution in the Chambal, heavy metal contamination in the river, gharials being poisoned by the local fisher folks backed by the sand-mining mafia, spread of intestinal diseases and lung disorders are being stated to be the possible reasons for the gharial deaths. It should be noted here that only a few months back, some 40 alligators had been released into the Chambal river. Prior to their release, these gharials were bred in captivity at the Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre (KGRC) in Lucknow.

 

The Chambal river, one of the last habitats of the Indian Gharial is also a hotspot for sand-mining. The Chambal region, once infamous because of its dacoits (who came to be known as Chambal ke daaku) that operated from the forests around the river, did not face much anthropogenic pressures till the 1970s. However, post 70s, almost all the dacoit groups surrendered, and the forest and the river became easily accessible to the locals and outsiders alike. Moreover, the constant pressure from an ever-increasing rural population around the river only added to the problem.

 

After being declared a sanctuary towards the end of 1970s, activities such as fishing, sand-mining, etc. were either to be carried out after taking adequate license or were completely banned. This further brought the local people in direct conflict with not just the Forests and Wildlife Department but also with the wildlife itself. The situation today is such that all activities including fishing and sand-mining have been reported to be taking place unchecked, in almost the entire stretch of the river.  At the same time, the Chambal River is home to other fascinating wildlife species like the crocodiles and the Gangetic Dolphins as well. Therefore, the reported illegal activities, particularly sand-mining in the area is a threat to the entire wildlife diversity of Chambal river.

 

 

A crocodile seen on the bank of the Chambal river, with a tractor carrying out sand-mining activity in the vicinity. Image taken from a boat.

(Courtesy, Mr. Sitaram Tagore of Jiwaji University)

 

However, banning such activities may not be a suitable solution since a) such activities are already banned and b) the same issue of enforcement will arise with which the concerned officials are already struggling. Moreover, the people who carry out sand-mining right from the tractor/ truck driver to the middlemen; all depend on this activity for their livelihood. Even though they only get a small share of profits made by the reported mining mafia active in the area, presently they do not have any alternative form of earning their livelihood. Thus, unless we provide an alternative to the existing population in and around the Chambal river, neither stricter enforcement nor banning all activities along the river will work out.

 

One such alternative could be eco-tourism. The changing face of Chambal has not really caught on and many North Indians (let alone the rest of India) are unaware of what the region has to offer. Eco-tourism, the ‘responsible’ and neglected step-sister of conventional tourism is also known as nature based tourism and is actually something that appeals to the ecologically and socially conscious individuals, for whom, travelling is not just about enjoying the scenic surroundings but also understanding the various environmental and social issues of the area, etc. An ideal ecotourism package therefore includes programmes that evaluate environmental and cultural factors, minimize the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Such an ecotourism, if promoted in the region, will not only provide tremendous employment oppourtunites to the native people but will also help initiate community based environment conservation programmes instilling a love for the wildlife in the hearts of the native people.

 

In addition, realizing that sand is an essential requirement to facilitate developmental activities, certain areas should be de-notified, after careful study and allotted for legal sand-mining. This should be done only after an extremely careful ecological study of the area such that the land allotted for mining does not overlap with the habitat of either the gharial or the other wildlife species. According to Mr. Faiyaz A. Khudsar, a wildlife biologist at the University of Delhi, not only are such studies wanting but we also lack basic information about the Indian gharial, right from its feeding habit to when and how should a gharial bred in captivity, be released in the wild.

 

“What people have been doing are surveys! They surveyed and found that the Gharial feeds upon carnivorous fish! They surveyed a few gharials to decide at what age they should release them into the wild!” complained Mr. Faiyaz. “This must stop and we need to carry out proper ecological studies to determine the habit and habitat of the Indian gharial, for as of now, the scientific community is not even sure about the gharial’s trophic level in the food web and the ecosystem services that it exclusively provides”, he further added.

 

“It is neither pollution nor poison that killed the gharials. If that would have been the case, the crocodiles and the more sensitive fish and other species would also have been affected. Since most of the gharials that have died are of the same age group, it is most likely that they were all suffering from a lungworm disease that may they may have acquired before being released into the wild.” Mr. Faiyaz clarified. 




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