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Beyond Adventure For Adventure’s Sake

In the course of humankind’s global wanderings—whether in search of new lands or gold— there have been a couple of historical cycles during which science has prevailed over more material seeking.

The early 21st century is one of those times. Already deep into the information age, what we want to know today about the future are things like where will new energy come from, what can we continue to learn from deep space and deep ocean, and how the hell are we going to clean up the variety of messes we’ve created in the preceding 2000 years?

A fine example of this transition is in my post from two weeks ago about the new class of Emerging Explorers named recently by the National Geographic Society. Among the 11 men and women in their twenties and thirties, there wasn’t a mountain climber or North Pole trekker; instead they included molecular engineers, agroecologists, and biotech entrepreneurs.

Along the same lines, a six-month-old non-profit group, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, is attempting to make sure that any adventurer headed into the field goes armed with some kind of scientific mission, big or small. The Bozeman-based group also wants to make sure that whenever a scientific team goes into the field, it can help with the matchmaking—to climb higher, dive deeper, walk further—if the team needs to take along an accomplished adventurer.

In a ClimateWire/New York Times post, the group’s founder, Gregg Treinish—who, with partner Deia Schlosberg, walked the length of the Andes Mountains over the course of a couple years, from 2006 to 2008—admits to feeling “selfish” at the end of that expedition for not doing more “for the planet and people.”

It’s my experience too, after a couple of decades exploring the planet’s ocean and coastlines, that adventure for adventure’s sake just doesn’t cut it today. Climbing, or crossing, something “just because it’s there” is very, very old school. Today if you you’re going “out there,” I think you are obligated to come home with more than frostbite or some unique collectibles. Whether by contributing to science, or somehow trying to link the planet’s growing oneness by sharing stories of environmental ills or solutions, it is imperative to make explorations about something bigger than the self. (Full disclosure: I am an ASC board member.)

The goal of the ASC, says Treinish, is to identify and recruit hikers, bikers, climbers, and other athletes headed into the field to help scientists by collecting valuable—and hard-to-access—data from some of the planet’s most remote ecosystems.

The novel notion is off to a good start, having already married a handful of expeditions with scientific goals:

In June, climbing brothers Willie and Damian Benegas delivered samples of the highest living plant life collected from the flanks of Mt. Everest (at 22,300 feet) to researchers at Montana State University and the U.S. Geological Survey. One goal of the researchers is to ponder how food can be grown as the planet’s climate changes. The brothers also brought back rock samples so that scientists can study microbes growing on them and the impact of high levels of UV radiation.
Another group of trekkers has begun research in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in partnership with the Center for Conservation Biology, focused on ivory forensics as a way to help stop the illegal ivory trade. The work is not always glamorous: This particular assignment includes collecting elephant dung from five focus areas across the country.
The ASC has organized 22 groups of hikers planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail stretching from California into Oregon, asking them to collect data on the Pika, a small, hard-to-spot mammal regarded as an “indicator species” for a changing climate.
The group is actively looking for adventurers to help gather sightings of ice worms on glaciers in the Pacific Northwest, track the movements of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, and catalog the spread of an invasive plant—garlic mustard—throughout Europe, Australia, Asia, and North America.

Anyone collecting data on behalf of the ASC goes out armed with strict marching orders; the project’s organized from the start with an eye on providing good science, not just collecting stuff. Before the Benegas brothers’ climbed Everest, for example, they were trained to collect plant samples by Montana State University microbial ecologist Tim McDermott and USGS microbiologist Rusty Rodriguez. The Pika work is part of a larger effort overseen by the nonprofit, Bozeman-based Craighead Institute.

Beth Holland, a biogeochemist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, is a science advisor and board member. She sees the linkage between scientists and adventurers as “a great way to build bridges” between the two. “There is so much about science that can seem to happen in an ivory tower,” she says.

Anyone with an idea for linking more adventurers and scientists should get in touch with Treinish, who says interest in the concept has been “overwhelming.” Now he hopes money—from the outdoor, environmental, and scientific communities—will trickle in to help finance new technologies and collecting.

(For the rest of my dispatches, go to takepart.com)

Hello From Bonnaroo …

… where 79,999 overjoyed fest-goers mingled in 92 degree heat yesterday … and 1 sadly passed away outside her tent (heat? OD?). Screened “SoLa” in the Cinema Tent, on the heels of Danny Clinch’s great doc about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (“A Louisiana Fairytale“) … followed by three songs live from the band!

Statistics continue to impress: This tenth version of the fest generates more than $24 million in four days and turns small Manchester into the seventh biggest town in Tennessee for the weekend. 175 bands, 12 stages, lots of dust and overflowing porta-potties, I’m going to guess the average age of attendee is 24 … all pulled off in calm, seemingly very organized fashion. Makes me think how much the original fest in Woodstock, in 1969, would have benefited from a monster fleet of ATVs.

Voices From the Spill: George Barisch, The Fisherman

FOR NEW VIDEO FROM THE GULF, GO TO TAKEPART.COM

It will take years before we know for certain the true impact of mixing 5 million gallons of sweet Louisiana crude oil and another 1 million gallons of toxic dispersants into the complicated ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fisherman and politician George Barisch can’t wait for years.
In order to keep his life and family going, Barisch got back to fishing as soon as he possibly could. When I saw him last week he’d just pulled his boat out of Gulf waters, loaded with more than five thousand pounds of shrimp and redfish. One advantage of much of the Gulf having been off-limits to fishing for the good part of a year is that fish stocks are thriving.

Despite the haul, there are questions, which George understands better than anyone. How is the market going to recover when much of the country is still hesitant to buy Gulf seafood? And is seafood from the Gulf safe to eat?

George answers that question by grilling up a few dozen shrimp in his suburban kitchen (his Gulf-side home was wiped out by Katrina), sprinkled lightly with garlic and lemon. He’s convinced that the fish are untainted, even though he’s got dozens of friends and supporters in the environmental movement who have sworn off Gulf seafood while testing continues.

FOR NEW VIDEO FROM THE GULF, GO TO TAKEPART.COM

Norwegian Ship Lost Off Antarctica; Captain on Way to South Pole via ATV

A 48-foot sailboat with three crewmembers onboard has been lost off the coast of Antarctica for three days and is assumed sunk. The last heard from the Norwegian-based “Berserk” was a distress signal sent on February 22 when it was just 18 miles off the coast, in the Ross Sea near New Zealand’s Scott Base.

According to reports on Explorer’s Web the steel-hulled boat was pinned down in hurricane winds blowing over 90 mile an hour, seas of 25 feet full of ice and bergie bits and temperatures -11 C.

Three ships were in the area – the New Zealand naval vessel “HMNZS Wellington,” the Sea Shepherd’s “Steve Irwin” and the Russian tourist ship “Spirit of Enderby,” operated by New Zealand’s Heritage Expeditions – which have coordinates a search of the area, including utilizing the Shepherd’s helicopter, but no sign of boat or crew.

In a weird twist, the ship’s captain, Norwegian Jarle Andhoy was found – on shore, about 100 miles from the coast — where he and an 18-year-old crew member are attempting to reach the South Pole by belt-driven ATV.

(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)

Posted in Uncategorized

Pirates Set Records in 2010

For all the “extremes” of the natural world in 2010 – record-setting rainfalls, droughts, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions – man managed to rack up some big numbers too.

Particularly those persistent Somali pirates who picked up the pace on the Indian Ocean, ramping up attacks on cargo boats, cruise ships and private yachts. According to an end of the year report by the Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau, there were more pirate attacks than ever, despite an ever-bigger presence of international navies.

Many thought that when snipers aboard the “USS Bainbridge” shot and killed three Somali kidnappers holding an American cargo boat captain hostage in 2009 that piracy would slow. Quite the opposite.

Turns out that in 2010 those khat-stoked, RPG-armed pirates in their wooden skiffs managed to outrun and out-maneuver some of the world’s most powerful navies in record numbers, attacking 445 ships and taking nearly 1,200 people hostage.

Already in this New Year, rather than shrink in the face of increased threats from authorities, the pirates have grown even bolder and are traveling even further from home. A week ago they went so far as to attempt to chase down a British cruise ship – the 348-passenger “Spirit of Adventure” – traveling from Madagascar to Zanzibar.

While his black-tied passengers were sitting down to dinner Captain Frank Allica spied a speedboat in pursuit and floored the 9,570-ton ship in an effort to outrun what he knew were pirates. They were one hundred miles off the coast of Africa.

The ship’s guests and 200-crew members were ordered below decks, told to sit on the floor and keep doors barricaded as the speedboat pulled alongside.

(The story makes me wonder what those particular pirates were smoking. Even if they caught up with the ship and boarded it, loaded down as it were with more than 500 passengers and crew, what exactly did they think they would do with them all? Take them hostage??)

When the captain was successful at outrunning the pirates, guests were welcomed back to the dining room, their soup reheated. At breakfast the next morning the captain was given a standing ovation.

The pirate’s success in recent years has had impacts on both the cruise and cargo ship businesses.

Several cruise companies have quit the Indian Ocean completely, including Seabourn – which canceled 15 cruises in 2010 and 2011 — and Star Clippers. Several others – MSC Cruises, Fred Olsen and Hapag Lloyd – have changed itineraries to keep their ships as far away from potential run-ins as possible.

At the same time the cost of kidnap and ransom insurance has gone up for all ships, as have additional security costs, including hiring armed guards and, for some, wrapping ships with razor wire, grease and broken glass to deter potential boardings.

Posted in Uncategorized

Wikileaks and Whale Wars: U.S. and Japan Team Up Against Sea Shepherd

That the Sea Shepherd’s and Japanese whalers are skirmishing again — yesterday’s tête-à-tête included the sling shotting of stink bombs (by the Shepherds) and false attempts to ram (by the Japanese) — the bigger news was the Wikileaks release of conversations between representatives of the U.S. government and their Japanese counterparts about how to shutdown the increasingly popular conservation group.

On the eve of a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in November 2009, a U.S. representative, Monica Medina, apparently broached the idea with senior officials from Japan’s Fisheries Agency of the possibility of revoking Sea Shepherd’s tax-exempt status.

On what basis? According to the leaked cable, first published on Wikileaks website and then in the Spanish daily El Pais, it was because the group “does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions.”

In the past the Japanese have suggested if the Shepherd’s would stop chasing them, they might actually slow down their annual whale hunts. The group’s charismatic leader Paul Watson, for one, doesn’t trust them. “This is not about politics, it’s about economics,” he has said. “They will stop until they realize it is bad business, not because some government tells them to.”

In the cables both governments labeled the conservation group’s annual anti-whaling campaign an “irritant” in international relations.

(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)

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