Endurance

ImageThis is perhaps my favorite Antarctic picture. It was taken by Frank Hurley during Shackleton’s Endurance expedition 1914-1916. Whenever I am down, I look at this photo. It is the last time this beautiful ship, the Endurance, was in full sail. It was completely encased in ice and had been this way for many months. Shackleton was low on fuel and supplies. To put this ship at full throttle with those sails open was Shackleton’s Hail-Mary to get her free. She never left the ice again and not too long after this photo was taken, the Endurance was crushed and swallowed by ice.

There’s so much that this image means to me. First off, the name of the ship – Endurance. She endured more than any other ship and put in a valiant effort to resist the ice. Shackleton himself showed immense endurance himself. When this photo was taken, his last hope to free his home that served his men and him so well, he still had hope. He had hope to get her free and get either to his destination on the continent of Antarctica or to one of the whaling stations. After this photo was taken, when he realized that the Endurance would not come free, was probably Shackleton’s darkest moment.

Instead of giving in and surrendering to the ice, at his darkest moment, Shackleton decided to endure. He had to make some of the most difficult decisions anyone ever had to make. He went on to lead 28 men to safety. They camped for many months on the sea ice, they sailed without modern navigation to the nearest land mass. Once there Shackleton knew they couldn’t stay there forever and took off with 6 men to make an epic journey to South Georgia where there were several whaling stations. When he made landfall he realized he was on the wrong end of the island and hiked across never-navigated lands (which were not navigated again til a couple years ago) with no equipment. They put nails into the soles of their shoes to make crampons. They reached their destination and were able to rescue all of 28 men.

So whenever life to me feels impossible, and it seems like I cannot go on, I look at this photograph. It shows both hope and despair. It shows people who wouldn’t give up, even in the face of the impossible

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India vs. Africa on Lions and Rhinos

When the rest of the world is having conservation issues with endangered and threatened species drastically on the decline, India has been seeing the populations of their species thriving. A new report out has shown that the endangered Indian rhinoceros population is growing – despite poaching. This is a stark contrast compared to its African counterparts who are disappearing faster than they can be counted and are expected to only be in zoos by 2030. Another animal in India that has an African equivalent, the Asiatic lion, has also been making a comeback. What is India doing right and how is Africa failing so severely?

In the early 1900s there were around 200 Indian rhinoceros alive in India. Over the years the numbers grew with a surge between 1975 and 1986 where they went from 600 to 1700. The numbers were starting to show a downward trend from 2002 to 2006, but thankfully this did not continue. Rhinos showed a 27 percent rise since 2006 with numbers of the enigmatic giant going from 2,006 to 2,544. This is an impressive increase, especially since poaching has not been eradicated and is still ongoing – 18 rhinos were killed this year.

Similarly, Asiatic lions have seen a population increase in India as well. Their success story has been beautifully captured in Roshan Patel’s film, Pride, which has received much recognition. In 1905 there were less than 50 Asiatic lions alive and they were facing extinction. Today there are more than 400 and the number keeps increasing. The population has grown 13 percent since the last count in 2005. A good portion of these lions, 40 percent, are young, which bodes well for the future of the species.

In contrast, Africa is losing both their rhinoceros and lion population that could potentially render both extinct in the wild by 2030. Western black rhino, a subspecies of black rhino, was officially declared extinct last year. Since 2002, black and white rhino populations have fallen. The lion population has fared no better. Back in 1860, there were 100,000 lions in the wild. Today there are approximately 32,000 left. The population decrease of lions is largely due to habitat loss, spread of diseases due to climate change,  and drought.

India nevertheless faces similar threats but still manages to have impressive increases in population. What are they doing right? In the case of the Asiatic lion, the Indian state of Gujart which is home to the entire population of the feline, they have tremendous pride for their lions. There have been many efforts to educate the public of the important role the lions play in the habitat. And they paid off. For the Indian rhinoceros, similar efforts have also been made. Anti-poaching camps have been established in and around wildlife sanctuaries and preserves, the Environmental and Forest Minister has sought out conservation and legal experts to figure out more effective ways to protect the beasts. Africa has made similar efforts, but it seems like they have not taken the matters as seriously and are corrupt internally. Hopefully if India keeps getting recognition for their efforts Africa will pay attention and follow suit. 

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Thanks to Climate Change, This Might be the End of Breakfast as We Know It

Thanks to human-induced climate change, we are digging our own graves by endangering our food system. Sure everyone is aware that there is a drought going on in California jeopardizing certain crops and industries. Yes, everyone is also aware that there is a crisis going on with honey bees and that they account for 1 out of 3 bites of food that we take, but are people personally taking account for their actions? Nope. They’re still buying Round-Up at Home Depot. They are still planting invasive species and decorative species that starve bees rather than help them. They are still watering their lawns and carelessly using water.

Besides the global bee crisis and drought, there are some staples in our food system that are close to collapse – with or without bees. Due to climate change, there seems to be a rise in disease and fungus. Breakfast will never be the same. How would our mornings be without that latte? Or a cup of orange juice? Or that bowl of oatmeal without slices of banana?

Coffee
A new study came out recently from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in England that 70 percent Arabica beans could be nonexistent in 36-66 years. With a warming climate also comes disease and pests and mountainsides that are now becoming too warm for the beans to flourish. When the plants are exposed to warmer temperatures the beans grow and mature too fast resulting in foul, bitter tasting coffee. The warmer temps also allow pests like berry borer beetles and diseases like leaf rust fungus to thrive. The study showed a very high risk of extinction of the world’s 2nd favorite warm beverage (after tea, which is not in as much danger as coffee, yet). Sadly, the study leans towards the conservative side because it did not take into account extensive deforestation in the highland forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan, so it could be a whole lot worse.

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Citrus
This 2013-2014 citrus season has been Florida’s worst season in 29 years. This is due to a disease called greening which infected the entire state’s population of citrus. It impedes the trees’ ability to hang onto its fruit and the harvest falls before it can mature. This has affected grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, and tangelos. The price for citrus has already risen domestically. In addition to the fungus, there is also an introduced little Asian pest that is eating away at citrus in California (besides the drought) that is not helping our lemons and limes. Environments that were previously uninhabitable to pests are becoming more inhabitable as they become warmer.

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Banana
There is a serious threat attacking bananas all over the world that has yet to reach the banana crop in Latin America, the world’s largest exporter of bananas, but really, it’s only a matter of time. There’s this fungus called Panama disease that rots the shallow and fragile roots of the banana trees. It was found in Asia in the 1990s and recently it has been decimating the banana crop in Mozambique. Some scientists already believe that the fungus has already spread to Latin America, which provides us with 70% of the world’s bananas. Should the fungus continue to spread, and should we find no cure, economies and countries collapse and we will lose the beloved banana.

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We need to start taking account for our actions and educating ourselves about the threats to our food system. This is only a fraction of the food that is suffering at our hands. While larger issues of climate change may seem far away and not affect us directly, like melting icebergs in Antarctica, our morning breakfast is in our kitchens every day. Perhaps more people will be willing to make little changes in their daily lives to make big change in the long run.