Archive for the ‘Background’ Category

Another snake mimic

July 5th, 2009

With the afternoon high tide lapping at our ankles, capsule Rosabel’s husband Karl Kaufmann and I are poking around in a patch of mangroves in a suburb of Panama City called Diablo. It’s in the former Canal Zone, migraine a corridor of land that extended five miles on either side of the Panama Canal and was controlled by the US until 1979. It’s a leafy neighbourhood of spacious weatherboard duplex houses that were characteristic of the zone—an entity that ended in 1999 when the canal passed to Panamanian control.

Panama's cash cow: the canal.

KENNEDY WARNE
Panama's cash cow: the canal.


Karl, who has lived in Panama for 30 years and works as data manager at the Smithsonian lab, tells an amusing story about the city being unhappy with the name Diablo and changing it to Altos de Jesus, “Jesus Heights.” But the residents objected, and signs with the new name kept disappearing, until eventually the name change was given up as a lost cause. (So it is now accurate to say that the Panama Canal lies between the devil and the deep blue sea.)

We’re in an area of boatyards, boatsheds and rickety wharves. Karl remembers seeing Pelliciera here in the past, and, sure enough, as soon as we start looking we spot the distinctive pointy leaves and star-shaped flowers. Here on the Pacific coast, the flowers of Pelliciera are much pinker than they are on the Atlantic. Candy Feller wonders if they are distinct subspecies.

A fly discovers the nectar riches of an unopened Pelliciera flower in Diablo.

KENNEDY WARNE
A fly discovers the nectar riches of an unopened Pelliciera flower in Diablo.


There’s something special about finding a treasure like Pelliciera in a neglected backwater in a place called Diablo. It’s partly why I became interested in mangroves in the first place. They’re maligned, they’re marginalised, they’re considered uncharismatic. Documentary makers aren’t beating a path to the mangroves. Their eyes are on terrestrial rainforests and coral reefs. I’ve got nothing against those habitats, but they’ve become ecological celebrities. Mangroves are underdogs. I like the idea of showing what they’re made of.

I turn to see a container ship slipping past, leaving the canal. The canal is being expanded at the moment, with the predictable attendant loss of mangrove forest. Karl asks me a question: Is there anywhere I’ve been on this journey where mangroves are held in high esteem by a majority of people? I can’t think of any.

In the evening Karl and Rosabel take me to the visitor centre at Miraflores Locks, where we watch the electrified “mules”—vehicles on rails on each side of the locks—towing ships through the canal. “The next TV you buy may have spent some time on an old mangrove site,” he says. “Panama grew up on the edge of mangroves, but today’s city is turning its back on them in favour of golf courses and recreational areas.”

A five-billion-dollar expansion will give the canal two new flights of locks and allow larger ships to pass through.

KENNEDY WARNE
A five-billion-dollar expansion will give the canal two new flights of locks and allow larger ships to pass through.


The mangrove outlook isn’t all bad. Along with the recent protection of coastal land along the Bay of Panama, resolutions have been passed that attempt to put a price on mangrove loss. Where mangrove removal is deemed a “public necessity” the land is valued at $20,000/ha. If part of a commercial project the price goes up to $150,000/ha. If mangroves are removed illegally, the fine is $300,000/ha.

Karl sees a problem with this approach. “If you put a dollar value on mangroves it’s an incentive to sell. You’re taking a public asset—the goods and services that mangroves have provided for hundreds of years—and putting it up for grabs in a one-time sale. And it isn’t even the people who get reimbursed for the loss of the asset, it’s the government.”

The correct approach, Karl thinks, is that for every hectare of mangroves taken, a hectare should be replanted. That way the public good is perpetuated for future generations.

Canalside mangroves of Diablo.

KENNEDY WARNE
Canalside mangroves of Diablo.


Rosabel and her colleagues are working to develop a conservation strategy for the Bay of Panama protected area, which they hope will be incorporated into the management plan. They expect battles ahead. Nearly half a million hectares of land near the protected area is under consideration for mining, and a further 40,000 ha just offshore is subject to applications for the extraction of rock and sand. The protected area is going to need sharp legal teeth to fend off developers. It will be interesting to see how the city balances its commitments.

Having just learned how to put PowerPoint presentations on the blog, this web
I am providing two such slide shows created by Candy Feller. The first concerns Pelliciera rhizophorae mangroves, sickness
and the second sounds the alarm re the impact of development on mangroves in Belize.

valeologist
Arial,Sans-serif;display:block;margin:12px 0 3px 0;text-decoration:underline;” href=”http://www.slideshare.net/kennedykiwi/pacific-vs-caribbean-pelliciera-rhizophorae-flowers” title=”Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers”>Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers
View more documents from kennedykiwi.

Having just learned how to put PowerPoint presentations on the blog, information pills
I am providing links below to two such slide shows created by Candy Feller. The first concerns Pelliciera rhizophorae mangroves, and the second shows sounds the alarm re the impact of development on mangroves in Belize.

Having just learned how to put PowerPoint presentations on the blog, order
I am providing links below to two such slide shows created by Candy Feller. The first concerns Pelliciera rhizophorae mangroves, medical
and the second shows sounds the alarm re the impact of development on mangroves in Belize.

for sale Arial,Sans-serif;display:block;margin:12px 0 3px 0;text-decoration:underline;” href=”http://www.slideshare.net/kennedykiwi/pacific-vs-caribbean-pelliciera-rhizophorae-flowers” title=”Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers”>Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers
View more documents from kennedykiwi.

Having just learned how to put PowerPoint presentations on the blog, information pills
I am providing two such slide shows created by Candy Feller. The first concerns Pelliciera rhizophorae mangroves, and
and the second shows sounds the alarm re the impact of development on mangroves in Belize.

ascariasis
Arial,Sans-serif;display:block;margin:12px 0 3px 0;text-decoration:underline;” href=”http://www.slideshare.net/kennedykiwi/pacific-vs-caribbean-pelliciera-rhizophorae-flowers” title=”Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers”>Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers
View more documents from kennedykiwi.

Ron Rutowski, viagra buy
Professor of Biology at Arizona State University and a lepidopterist whose major area of study is how insects produce and use visual signals in their lives, mind has sent this link about the snake-mimicking spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. He notes: “Although the resemblance and its potential advantage appears obvious it has never been confirmed experimentally.”

Spicebush swallowtail larva looks more like something from Disney than nature.

Spicebush swallowtail larva looks more like something from Disney than nature.

Pelliciera comparison and Belize alert

July 5th, 2009

With the afternoon high tide lapping at our ankles, capsule Rosabel’s husband Karl Kaufmann and I are poking around in a patch of mangroves in a suburb of Panama City called Diablo. It’s in the former Canal Zone, migraine a corridor of land that extended five miles on either side of the Panama Canal and was controlled by the US until 1979. It’s a leafy neighbourhood of spacious weatherboard duplex houses that were characteristic of the zone—an entity that ended in 1999 when the canal passed to Panamanian control.

Panama's cash cow: the canal.

KENNEDY WARNE
Panama's cash cow: the canal.


Karl, who has lived in Panama for 30 years and works as data manager at the Smithsonian lab, tells an amusing story about the city being unhappy with the name Diablo and changing it to Altos de Jesus, “Jesus Heights.” But the residents objected, and signs with the new name kept disappearing, until eventually the name change was given up as a lost cause. (So it is now accurate to say that the Panama Canal lies between the devil and the deep blue sea.)

We’re in an area of boatyards, boatsheds and rickety wharves. Karl remembers seeing Pelliciera here in the past, and, sure enough, as soon as we start looking we spot the distinctive pointy leaves and star-shaped flowers. Here on the Pacific coast, the flowers of Pelliciera are much pinker than they are on the Atlantic. Candy Feller wonders if they are distinct subspecies.

A fly discovers the nectar riches of an unopened Pelliciera flower in Diablo.

KENNEDY WARNE
A fly discovers the nectar riches of an unopened Pelliciera flower in Diablo.


There’s something special about finding a treasure like Pelliciera in a neglected backwater in a place called Diablo. It’s partly why I became interested in mangroves in the first place. They’re maligned, they’re marginalised, they’re considered uncharismatic. Documentary makers aren’t beating a path to the mangroves. Their eyes are on terrestrial rainforests and coral reefs. I’ve got nothing against those habitats, but they’ve become ecological celebrities. Mangroves are underdogs. I like the idea of showing what they’re made of.

I turn to see a container ship slipping past, leaving the canal. The canal is being expanded at the moment, with the predictable attendant loss of mangrove forest. Karl asks me a question: Is there anywhere I’ve been on this journey where mangroves are held in high esteem by a majority of people? I can’t think of any.

In the evening Karl and Rosabel take me to the visitor centre at Miraflores Locks, where we watch the electrified “mules”—vehicles on rails on each side of the locks—towing ships through the canal. “The next TV you buy may have spent some time on an old mangrove site,” he says. “Panama grew up on the edge of mangroves, but today’s city is turning its back on them in favour of golf courses and recreational areas.”

A five-billion-dollar expansion will give the canal two new flights of locks and allow larger ships to pass through.

KENNEDY WARNE
A five-billion-dollar expansion will give the canal two new flights of locks and allow larger ships to pass through.


The mangrove outlook isn’t all bad. Along with the recent protection of coastal land along the Bay of Panama, resolutions have been passed that attempt to put a price on mangrove loss. Where mangrove removal is deemed a “public necessity” the land is valued at $20,000/ha. If part of a commercial project the price goes up to $150,000/ha. If mangroves are removed illegally, the fine is $300,000/ha.

Karl sees a problem with this approach. “If you put a dollar value on mangroves it’s an incentive to sell. You’re taking a public asset—the goods and services that mangroves have provided for hundreds of years—and putting it up for grabs in a one-time sale. And it isn’t even the people who get reimbursed for the loss of the asset, it’s the government.”

The correct approach, Karl thinks, is that for every hectare of mangroves taken, a hectare should be replanted. That way the public good is perpetuated for future generations.

Canalside mangroves of Diablo.

KENNEDY WARNE
Canalside mangroves of Diablo.


Rosabel and her colleagues are working to develop a conservation strategy for the Bay of Panama protected area, which they hope will be incorporated into the management plan. They expect battles ahead. Nearly half a million hectares of land near the protected area is under consideration for mining, and a further 40,000 ha just offshore is subject to applications for the extraction of rock and sand. The protected area is going to need sharp legal teeth to fend off developers. It will be interesting to see how the city balances its commitments.

Having just learned how to put PowerPoint presentations on the blog, this web
I am providing two such slide shows created by Candy Feller. The first concerns Pelliciera rhizophorae mangroves, sickness
and the second sounds the alarm re the impact of development on mangroves in Belize.

valeologist
Arial,Sans-serif;display:block;margin:12px 0 3px 0;text-decoration:underline;” href=”http://www.slideshare.net/kennedykiwi/pacific-vs-caribbean-pelliciera-rhizophorae-flowers” title=”Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers”>Pacific Vs Caribbean Pelliciera Rhizophorae Flowers
View more documents from kennedykiwi.

More on the snake caterpillar

June 26th, 2009

Annette Aiello, health an entomologist with the Smithsonian, has provided me with the following excellent information concerning the caterpillar we found in the Pelliciera forest of Peninsula Valiente (see June 22 post).

The art of deceiving.

KENNEDY WARNE
The art of deceiving.


“My guess is that your spectacular caterpillar belongs to the moth family Sphingidae, the sphinx moths, which include the well-known ‘tomato horn worm.’ Several sphingid genera are snake mimics, and in most of the cases I’ve seen so far, it is the ventral surface of the body that is displayed to resemble a snake. You can see that in the attached photograph of a species of Hemeroplanes. The head, mostly hidden, forms the blunt nose of the snake, then behind that you see the ventral surface of the thorax with its three pairs of true legs folded against the body, and the large, dark, false eyes (that can be opened and closed with blood pressure) on the sides of the third thoracic segment.
Pholus labruscae

Pholus labruscae


“Continuing back, you see the first three pairs of false legs (prologs), which are the large black structures on the ventral surface of the abdomen. The larva is holding on to the substrate with its fourth pair of prologs. In contrast, your caterpillar presents its dorsal surface during the display. The only record I can find of a similar caterpillar is Pholus labruscae, shown figure d, plate xiii of Miles Moss (1912) publication “On the Sphingidae of Peru,” Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 20(2): 73-134. Moss describes the final stage larva as ‘Remarkably snake-like, either end appearing as the head of a snake.’ He reports that the caterpillar eats members of the grape family (Vitaceae).”

John Christy, a fiddler crab expert I met in Panama (more about his work in a later post), adds the following comment:
“Kennedy – that is an amazing (!!) caterpillar, complete with liverwort-like patterning. It would seem to be highly specialized. You may well have something new. I wonder if the pattern mimics a particular snake? A quick google search produced Liophis cobellus as a “mangrove snake” of South America. It is a colubrid and looks vaguely like the caterpillar.”

Here’s a picture of the snake John referred to. Though not restricted to mangroves, it frequents mangrove forests, feeding on frogs, geckos and fish.
liophis-cobellus

Glimpses of Cuba

June 12th, 2009

I’m not seeing as many mangroves as I’d like, tooth but I’m covering a lot of Cuban ground, more about and loving it.

There is much that I find unique about Cuba. The mix of transportation modes, for a start: horse carts and buggies everywhere (they have their own special lane beside the interstate), three-wheeled “bicitaxis” in the towns, bullock carts in the country, Cuba’s famous 1950s American cars, still going strong, motorcycles with sidecars (including the Czechoslovakian Jawa, which I used to get laughed at for riding in New Zealand 35 years ago) and hordes of bicycles, often with two people aboard. (Two-up protocol is for the passenger to sit side-saddle on the carrier or bar, holding a sun umbrella to shade both riders.)

I'm seeing more tobacco leaves than mangrove leaves, but c'est la vie.

KENNEDY WARNE
I'm seeing more tobacco leaves than mangrove leaves, but c'est la vie.


The town centres are architecturally gorgeous, with their fluted columns and ornate plasterwork, open courtyards and shady arcades. The contrasts are everywhere profound. In Remedios, on one side of a walled street a cluster of people bought ham by the slice from a hole-in-the-wall butcher while on the other I stepped into the airy atrium of a stately home with spiral timber staircase and chandelier, antique furniture and Catholic statuary. Down the street, in a bodega (store) with next to nothing on its shelves, people bought cooking oil, scooped out from a drum, raw sugar and bread rolls. I rounded a corner and saw two boys walking along, cradling their pet pigeons in their hands. (At least, I hope they were pets and not lunch.)

Here I am always conscious of—and, I guess, looking for—the difference between what is on the surface and what lies beneath. A British businessman I met in Havana said Cuba is like The Truman Show. Nothing is as it seems. The man mixing mojitos behind the bar in a nightclub is probably a staid government employee by day, unable to make enough in his regular job to support his family. I stayed in Havana with a former nuclear engineer who found himself out of a job when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba’s hopes for nuclear power evaporated. He earns a living by renting a room—a common revenue source in Cuba. But you need a government licence to earn money this way (or any way). I was told the licence costs $300 a month. Rooms rent for $20 to $30 a night, so you need to count on 10 guests a month to break even. The government smothers entrepreneurial activity by a spiderweb of laws and levies—de Tockqueville’s “network of petty regulations—complicated, minute, and uniform—through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way.”

Juan Carlos buys cheese from a roadside vendor.

KENNEDY WARNE
Juan Carlos buys cheese from a roadside vendor.


Cuba may be a bastion of socialism, but it is full of closet capitalists. Everyone is looking for a way to make a peso—or a “CUC,” the currency Castro introduced in 1994. Beside the autopista, men on horseback or on foot sell blocks of homemade cheese and guava paste, ready to fade into the forest if the police should drive by. There is very little street food in Cuba cities for the same reason—you need a licence to sell anything. It’s not just the fact of paying for the privilege that inhibits would-be entrepreneurs. It’s the act of making yourself visible to the authorities in the process. Visibility = risk, and the government uses this queasy undercurrent of uncertainty to foster compliance.

I had a small insight into herd timidity when the power went off in the casa where I was staying in Ciego de Avela, about 400 km east of Havana. No problem, I thought. I would go to a café in the town, buy a glass of cold mango juice, find a power point and type my blog post in style. Ah. Not so fast. I tried a couple of places, using sign language to point at my laptop and a power point. I managed to pick up some words that sounded like “consume” and “electricity” and much shaking of the head. It was not possible. Consumption of electricity was apparently verboten.

I found Juan Carlos, who was still making phone calls, and he explained the mindset. A gringo asking for electricity is an unusual request. Unusual requests are inherently risky. Suppose the police or military should show up. Questions would be asked. In a regime like this it is best not to invite questions.

Here are some more glimpses of Cuba . . .

Chevvies, Oldsmobiles and Studebakers share the road with horse buggies and bullock carts.

KENNEDY WARNE
Chevvies, Oldsmobiles and Studebakers share the road with horse buggies and bullock carts.

Bodega in Remedios is named after the boat (Granma) Castro and his fellow revolutionaries used to sail to Cuba from Mexico in 1956.

KENNEDY WARNE
Bodega in Remedios is named after the boat (Granma) Castro and his fellow revolutionaries used to sail to Cuba from Mexico in 1956.

Bicitaxis in Remedios.

KENNEDY WARNE
Bicitaxis in Remedios.

A gracious interior in Remedios.

KENNEDY WARNE
A gracious interior in Remedios.

Spanish colonial architecture is everywhere evident in Cuba.

KENNEDY WARNE
Spanish colonial architecture is everywhere evident in Cuba.

My favourite Cuban road sign. Fortunately, I escaped the fate depicted.

KENNEDY WARNE
My favourite Cuban road sign. Fortunately, I escaped the fate depicted.

Schoolchildren passing a museum in Ciego de Avela.

KENNEDY WARNE
Schoolchildren passing a museum in Ciego de Avela.

The sound of horses' hooves on the streets is one of the pleasures of early morning in Cuba.

KENNEDY WARNE
The sound of horses' hooves on the streets is one of the pleasures of early morning in Cuba.

Concheras redux

June 7th, 2009

I’ve finally had time (during two airport layovers en route to Cuba) to assemble a bit of video footage I took of the cockle collectors of Tambillo (see May 16 post, case “The cockle collectors”).

Words and expressions

May 19th, 2009

For the factually inclined, information pills
here is some background data on the shrimp vs mangrove conflict from a conversation with Lider Góngora Farías, search
president of the Ecuadorian mangrove conservation organisation C-CONDEM. As well as fighting for mangrove protection and empowerment of mangrove-reliant communities, visit
Lider and his staff operate a seafood restaurant in their office complex in Quito (see earlier post).

Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.

Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.


* Ecuador was the first country in Latin America to jump on the shrimp bandwagon. The first farms were established in 1977 near Huaquillas, my first port of call in Ecuador. From there the industry spread north, cutting down mangroves as it went. Labour was cheap, profits were high and destruction was rapid.

* By 1998 Ecuador was the world’s largest exporter of shrimp. Shrimp was the country’s second largest export, oil being first. Today China is the largest shrimp exporter.

* Ecuador originally possessed 364,000 ha of mangroves. By 2001, 70% had been destroyed. Of the 108,000 ha of mangroves remaining, 20,000 ha have been granted as concessions for communities to co-manage in conjunction with government agencies.

* It is illegal in Ecuador to cut down mangroves or to site a shrimp farm within mangroves. With reference to these laws, many of Ecuador’s 254,000 shrimp farms are illegal operations.

* More than 1 million Ecuadorians live and/or work among mangroves, and 150,000 depend directly on them for their livelihoods.

And here are some more pictures of the shrimp v mangrove situation in Ecuador.

Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.

A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.


Processing the catch.

Processing the catch.


For the factually inclined, approved
here is some background data on the shrimp vs mangrove conflict from a conversation with Lider Góngora Farías, president of the Ecuadorian mangrove conservation organisation C-CONDEM. As well as fighting for mangrove protection and empowerment of mangrove-reliant communities, Lider and his staff operate a seafood restaurant in their office complex in Quito (see earlier post).
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.

KENNEDY WARNE
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.


* Ecuador was the first country in Latin America to jump on the shrimp bandwagon. The first farms were established in 1977 near Huaquillas, my first port of call in Ecuador. From there the industry spread north, cutting down mangroves as it went. Labour was cheap, profits were high and destruction was rapid.

* By 1998 Ecuador was the world’s largest exporter of shrimp. Shrimp was the country’s second largest export, oil being first. Today China is the largest shrimp exporter.

* Ecuador originally possessed 364,000 ha of mangroves. By 2001, 70% had been destroyed. Of the 108,000 ha of mangroves remaining, 20,000 ha have been granted as concessions for communities to co-manage in conjunction with government agencies.

* It is illegal in Ecuador to cut down mangroves or to site a shrimp farm within mangroves. With reference to these laws, many of Ecuador’s 254,000 shrimp farms are illegal operations.

* More than 1 million Ecuadorians live and/or work among mangroves, and 150,000 depend directly on them for their livelihoods.

And here are some more pictures of the shrimp v mangrove situation in Ecuador.

Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

KENNEDY WARNE
The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.

KENNEDY WARNE
A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.


Processing the catch.

KENNEDY WARNE
Processing the catch.


For the factually inclined, rx
here is some background data on the shrimp vs mangrove conflict from a conversation with Lider Góngora, thumb
president of the Ecuadorian organisation C-CONDEM. As well as fighting for mangrove protection and empowerment of mangrove-reliant communities, Lider and his staff operate a newly opened seafood restaurant in their office complex in Quito (see earlier post).
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.

KENNEDY WARNE
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.


* Ecuador was the first country in Latin America to jump on the shrimp bandwagon. The first farms were established in 1977 near Huaquillas, my first port of call in Ecuador. From there the industry spread north, cutting down mangroves as it went. Labour was cheap, profits were high and destruction was rapid.

* By 1998 Ecuador was the world’s largest exporter of shrimp. Shrimp was the country’s second largest export, oil being first.

* Ecuador originally possessed 364,000 ha of mangroves. By 2001, 70% had been destroyed. Of the 108,000 ha of mangroves remaining, 20,000 ha have been granted as concessions for communities to co-manage in conjunction with government agencies.

* It is illegal in Ecuador to cut down mangroves or to site a shrimp farm within mangroves. With reference to these laws, many of Ecuador’s 254,000 shrimp farms are illegal operations.

* More than 1 million Ecuadorians live and/or work among mangroves, and 150,000 depend directly on them for their livelihoods.

And here are some more pictures of the shrimp v mangrove situation in Ecuador.

Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

KENNEDY WARNE
The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.

KENNEDY WARNE
A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.


Processing the catch.

KENNEDY WARNE
Processing the catch.


For the factually inclined, sales here is some background data on the shrimp vs mangrove conflict from a conversation with Lider Góngora Farías, weight loss
president of the Ecuadorian mangrove conservation organisation C-CONDEM. As well as fighting for mangrove protection and empowerment of mangrove-reliant communities, physician
Lider and his staff operate a seafood restaurant in their office complex in Quito (see earlier post).
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.

KENNEDY WARNE
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.


* Ecuador was the first country in Latin America to jump on the shrimp bandwagon. The first farms were established in 1977 near Huaquillas, my first port of call in Ecuador. From there the industry spread north, cutting down mangroves as it went. Labour was cheap, profits were high and destruction was rapid.

* By 1998 Ecuador was the world’s largest exporter of shrimp. Shrimp was the country’s second largest export, oil being first. Today China is the largest shrimp exporter.

* Ecuador originally possessed 364,000 ha of mangroves. By 2001, 70% had been destroyed. Of the 108,000 ha of mangroves remaining, 20,000 ha have been granted as concessions for communities to co-manage in conjunction with government agencies.

* It is illegal in Ecuador to cut down mangroves or to site a shrimp farm within mangroves. With reference to these laws, many of Ecuador’s 254,000 shrimp farms are illegal operations.

* More than 1 million Ecuadorians live and/or work among mangroves, and 150,000 depend directly on them for their livelihoods.

And here are some more pictures of the shrimp v mangrove situation in Ecuador.

Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

KENNEDY WARNE
The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.

KENNEDY WARNE
A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.


Processing the catch.

KENNEDY WARNE
Processing the catch.


For the factually inclined, viagra
here is some background data on the shrimp vs mangrove conflict from a conversation with Lider Góngora Farías, viagra
president of the Ecuadorian mangrove conservation organisation C-CONDEM. As well as fighting for mangrove protection and empowerment of mangrove-reliant communities, Lider and his staff operate a seafood restaurant in their office complex in Quito (see earlier post).
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.

KENNEDY WARNE
Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.


* Ecuador was the first country in Latin America to jump on the shrimp bandwagon. The first farms were established in 1977 near Huaquillas, my first port of call in Ecuador. From there the industry spread north, cutting down mangroves as it went. Labour was cheap, profits were high and destruction was rapid.

* By 1998 Ecuador was the world’s largest exporter of shrimp. Shrimp was the country’s second largest export, oil being first. Today China is the largest shrimp exporter.

* Ecuador originally possessed 364,000 ha of mangroves. By 2001, 70% had been destroyed. Of the 108,000 ha of mangroves remaining, 20,000 ha have been granted as concessions for communities to co-manage in conjunction with government agencies.

* It is illegal in Ecuador to cut down mangroves or to site a shrimp farm within mangroves. With reference to these laws, many of Ecuador’s 254,000 shrimp farms are illegal operations.

* More than 1 million Ecuadorians live and/or work among mangroves, and 150,000 depend directly on them for their livelihoods.

And here are some more pictures of the shrimp v mangrove situation in Ecuador.

Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

KENNEDY WARNE
The major predator of mangroves: earthmoving equipment.

Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm near Huaquillas, where Ecuadorian shrimp farming began.

A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.

KENNEDY WARNE
A crab collector—one of 150,000 Ecuadorians who rely on mangroves for their livelihood.


Processing the catch.

KENNEDY WARNE
Processing the catch.


I’m back in Brazil. After a week of saying “Gracias” it’s back to “Obrigado.” Instead of shrugging apologetically and saying, esophagitis
No hablo español, apoplectic
” I have reverted to shrugging apologetically and saying “Na falo portugués.” Interestingly, implant
some words stay the same. Por favor is por favor, whether you’re speaking Spanish or Portuguese.
The classy Spanish word for tyre repair shop.

KENNEDY WARNE
The classy Spanish word for tyre repair shop.


During the last couple of weeks I’ve been collecting the odd phrase or word that amuses me. For example, when driving in Ecuador you often see a tyre standing on the roadside with the word vulcanizadora painted on it. Show me a tyre repairman who wouldn’t prefer to be called a vulcaniser. It sounds almost operatic.

I also saw a number of ferretarias. Ferret farms, I wondered? No, ironmongers, after ferrous, for iron.

Local colloquialisms are always fun to discover. Speed bumps in Brazil are called “molar breakers” or “sleeping policemen.” There are lots of them. On each side of a town, the main highway will have two or more, sometimes not signposted, in which case they really do jolt your jaws. They are often preceded by a sonarizador, literally sound-maker, what we call a rumble strip in New Zealand. The word for pothole (of which Brazil also has a plethora) is the same as for crab burrow, which I appreciated, of course.

There must be dozens more. Any suggestions?

Shrimp v mangrove

May 18th, 2009

For the factually inclined, rubella here is some background data on the shrimp vs mangrove conflict from a conversation with Lider Góngora, approved president of the Ecuadorian organisation C-CONDEM. As well as fighting for mangrove protection and empowerment of mangrove-reliant communities, patient Lider and his staff operate a newly opened seafood restaurant in their office complex in Quito (see earlier post).

Lider Góngora Farías, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.

KENNEDY WARNE
Lider Góngora, fighting for protection of mangroves and mangrove communities in Ecuador.


* Ecuador was the first country in Latin America to jump on the shrimp bandwagon. The first farms were established in 1977 near Huaquillas, my first port of call in Ecuador. From there the industry spread north, cutting down mangroves as it went. Labour was cheap, profits were high and destruction was rapid.

* By 1998 Ecuador was the world’s largest exporter of shrimp. Shrimp was the country’s second largest export, oil being first.

* Ecuador originally possessed 364,000 ha of mangroves. By 2001, 70% had been destroyed. Of the 108,000 ha of mangroves remaining, 20,000 ha have been granted as concessions for communities to co-manage in conjunction with government agencies.

* It is illegal in Ecuador to cut down mangroves or to site a shrimp farm within mangroves. With reference to these laws, many of Ecuador’s 254,000 shrimp farms are illegal operations.

* More than 1 million Ecuadorians live and/or work among mangroves, and 150,000 depend directly on them for their livelihoods.

And here are some more pictures of the shrimp v mangrove situation in Ecuador.

Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove ´beauty screen.´

KENNEDY WARNE
Shrimp farm buildings glimpsed through gaps in the mangrove 'beauty screen.' (Click to open slide show)

The culinary mangrove

May 17th, 2009

It is hard to believe that out of the sulphurous black mud of a mangrove forest come delicacies as sweet as mangrove mud crab and mangrove cockle. I have been chowing down on these gifts of the mangroves recently—see photos below. The crab can be served whole, pulmonologist either plain, buy with an accompanying salsa or vinaigrette, web or slathered with a coconut curry sauce. For a less messy dining experience, serve only the claws, legs and the two meaty parts inside the carapace, discarding the rest.

The cockles work well in a ceviche. The shellfish are steamed open and then mixed with lime juice, vinegar, spring onions and other raw vegetables. I suspect that you could use any fish ceviche recipe, substituting for the fish whatever your local cockle equivalent happens to be. In a small restaurant in Quito called Martin Pescador, which specialises in mangrove and mangrove-related seafood, I saw cockles being sizzled on the half shell, and they looked delicious, so that would be another option to try.

Any recipe suggestions gratefully received! Send to laststands@kennedywarne.com

Mud crab before.

KENNEDY WARNE
Mud crab in the hand. (Click to open slideshow)

Travels with Alex

May 6th, 2009

We reached Guanahacabibes National Park, infection the nail of the finger of land that points towards Mexico, price by mid morning. The hutia (a type of rodent) endemic to this area had already retreated into their burrows to escape the burning sun, but iguana were basking on the expanse of coral rubble through which the road had been cut.

Basking iguana.

KENNEDY WARNE
Basking iguana.


Frangipani, ice plant and cactus gave hints of green to this otherwise grey, rocky place. Where the road took us more inland we passed through semideciduous forest. Osmani, the local guide, told me to stop at a place where the bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird, can be found. We listened for its whistling call and then spotted one on the highest twig of a tree. This charming little bird lays eggs that are smaller than coffee beans.

Near the end of the peninsula we paused at a scene of destruction. Hurricane Ivan—‘Ivan the Terrible’—swept across this region in 2004, killing entire forests of mangroves and leaving nothing but bleached stumps. We climbed into the brittle branches of the dead trees and scanned a brackish-water lagoon. Turtles popped their heads out of the water, and hawks flew overhead.

Hurricane Ivan left a trail of desolation among the mangroves of Guanahacabibes.

KENNEDY WARNE
Hurricane Ivan left a trail of desolation among the mangroves of Guanahacabibes.


Osmani suddenly pointed to a dark shape that had just broken the surface: an American crocodile, at last. Binoculars brought its lumpy head and serrated back into view. Wavelets rippled against its scales and eyes as it floated there, every inch the patient predator. There was no way to get closer, so with this glimpse of the uppermost 5 percent of a solitary reptile my Cuban croc quest achieved closure.

Perhaps I would have been better off to have used Humboldt’s approach. Lacking time to go to the marshes, he paid for two crocodiles to be brought to him in Havana. “They were captured with great difficulty and arrived on mules with their snouts muzzled and bound,” Humboldt wrote. “They were lively and ferocious. In order to observe them we let them loose in a great hall, and from high pieces of furniture watched them attack large dogs.”

I called it a day and headed back to Havana.

My name has drawn some amused smiles from residents of Playa Larga, cialis in the Bay of Pigs. It was JFK who approved the Bay of Pigs invasion—fiasco would be a better word—in which 1300 CIA-trained Cuban expatriates stormed the beaches here in 1961 and were trounced by Castro’s troops.

Not a relic of the Bay of Pigs invasion (as I imagined in my first flush of enthusiasm) but a wrecked fishing boat on the beach at Playa Larga.

KENNEDY WARNE
Not a relic of the Bay of Pigs invasion (as I imagined in my first flush of enthusiasm) but a wrecked fishing boat on the beach at Playa Larga.


The Bay of Pigs forms one boundary of the vast wetland area of the Zapata Peninsula, arthritis
on Cuba’s southern coast. I have come here with Juan Carlos, a nature guide who knows the Cuban mangroves well. I met him in an unusual way. I was looking at the Zapata Peninsula on Google Earth, clicking on the handful of mangrove photographs that had been linked to the area, and noticed that one of them had an email address instead of a title. Clever marketing, I thought, and shot off an email. Juan Carlos replied, we met in Havana and set up a road trip to a few mangrove hotspots.

For this first leg we took the main highway out of Havana, known as the Autopista, stopping off at a river called Hatiguanico to look for crocodiles. Cuba has three species: the native Cuban crocodile, the larger American crocodile and the caiman. Hatiguanico has a population of the Cuban crocodile.

With some difficulty (this is an understatement—everything in Cuba is difficult) we found a boat driver and spent a couple of hours looking for large reptiles. The Cuban crocodile often excavates a burrow under the roots of mangroves. We waited at a location where the driver had seen a crocodile in its burrow recently, but heavy rains had raised the river level, and neither burrow nor croc was visible.

Freshwater turtle warming itself on a mangrove root in the Hatiguanica River.

KENNEDY WARNE
Freshwater turtle warming itself on a mangrove root in the Hatiguanica River.


We kept motoring downriver, stopping from time to time to eat hicaco berries, a sweet black-skinned fruit with a large stone in the centre. We passed a tree where a dozen turkey vultures were drying their wings, and saw the endemic green woodpecker and Cuban parrot, but these sightings were scant compensation: I had my heart set on crocs.

The best we could manage on the reptile front was freshwater turtles sunning themselves on the prop roots of red mangroves. They slid off and plopped into the water whenever we got close—a reflex no doubt partly induced by hunting pressure.

Thunderclouds were laying down a booming artillery as we returned to the launch site, but fortunately we dodged the afternoon deluge. The day hadn’t yielded much, but it was good to be in the Cuban mangroves at last. When nature is the quarry, you had better have a large reservoir of patience and stoicism. I sometimes think of myself as the Thomas Edison of nature observers. Edison, so the story goes, was asked by a journalist how it felt to have failed in a thousand attempts to make a light bulb. He replied that he had succeeded in finding a thousand ways not to make a light bulb.

In point of fact, I did have a crocodile encounter today—as dinner. There is a croc farm at Playa Larga, and crocodile meat is cheap and popular here. Marieta, the woman whose house I’m staying at, served deliciously fried strips of crocodile accompanied by the classic Cuban potaje de frijoles negros (black bean soup) and fried green bananas. Nevertheless, I prefer my crocs in the swamp rather than on the plate.

Croc encounter of the culinary kind at Playa Larga.

KENNEDY WARNE
Croc encounter of the culinary kind at Playa Larga.


In Playa Larga I started thinking about a companion blog called “A Mangrove a Day: 365 Things to Do with Mangroves.” The medicinal and antiseptic properties of Rhizophora, the red mangrove, are widely known among mangrove communities. Marieta said that her mother had recently visited the doctor with kidney troubles. The doctor recommended drinking a decoction of red mangrove bark. Marieta described peeling the bark and letting it infuse in a jug of water overnight. “When the water turns pink, you drink,” she said. Apparently it did the trick.

A completely different use for mangrove water is employed by homeowners in Playa Larga: they soak timberwork such as window shutters in a Rhizophora water bath to darken and bring out the grain. By using a mangrove primer they save on varnish. Furniture is treated in the same way, and so are boat sails. The mangrove tannins are said to make the sails last longer, and to make the boat less visible when its owner is engaged in illegal fishing! I even heard that locals make an alcoholic drink from Rhizophora tannin and mangrove honey.

When I was in Porto Segura, Brazil, I learned that the clay pots in which the fish stew known as moqueca is cooked and brought bubbling to the table are steeped in Rhizophora water to darken and strengthen them.

There must be dozens of other unexpected uses. I will keep eyes and ears open for them.

Tomorrow I will be in Fortaleza, urticaria
state capital of Ceará, walking its sun-drenched beaches (or possibly just drenched beaches—see yesterday’s post), eating tapioca pancakes for breakfast and drinking Antarctica beer, which must, according to its advertising, be served “estupidamete fria”—stupidly cold.

I passed through Fortaleza on my 2005 National Geographic mangrove trip, en route to some mangrove settlements on the northeastern coast which had been affected by shrimp farms. Most of what I wrote about those places didn’t make the final edit of the story, but the experience of meeting the people of Curral Velho and Porto do Céu remains a vivid memory. Here’s what I wrote:

I traveled east of Fortaleza into the shrimp impact zone. With me were Jeovah Meireles, professor of physical geography at the Federal University of Ceará, and Elaine Corets, Latin American coordinator of the Mangrove Action Project, a global conservation network.

We set out before dawn, and by daybreak we were among the farms. Ponds the size of football fields crowded the landscape like rice paddies. Paddle-wheel aerators frothed the water and workers in kayaks filled feeding trays with fishmeal. The fishmeal, explained Elaine, comes from fish caught by commercial trawlers, which deprives local subsistence fishers of a food resource. It angered her that not only did the shrimp industry destroy the mangroves, but it robbed the sea as well.

Many ponds were not in production, whether due to the white-spot viral disease that was then sweeping Brazil’s shrimp farms or not, we couldn’t tell. Wastewater the color of antifreeze was pouring into a mangrove-flanked river. On the banks, fiddler crabs waved their oversized claws. I thought of them as shipwrecked sailors semaphoring “Rescue us.”

We stopped at a roadside cantina for coffee and tapioca pancakes—a favourite of Brazilians in the north. Jeovah spoke about the fragmentation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity caused by shrimp farming. He studies the flow of energy between terrestrial and marine food webs, in which mangroves play a vital bridging role. “Shrimp farming sticks a dagger into that whole network,” he said.

Angry fisherman at Porto do Céu protests what shrimp farms have done to the "gates of paradise."

ELAINE CORETS
Angry fisherman at Porto do Céu protests what shrimp farms have done to the "gates of paradise."

Later that day a flat-bottomed punt with an ancient outboard motor ferried us across the river Jaguaribe to the settlement of Porto do Céu. Golden light gleamed on fishing boats catching the afternoon breeze in their sails. Laughing children dived like sprites in the river; a man fished for crabs from a rickety pier. A straggle of mangroves lined the river’s edge. With their loopy, spidery roots they looked as if they had strolled out of the tide, found the place to their liking, and settled in. Who could blame them? The name of the place means “gates of paradise.”

Two residents took us through the village to see Porto do Céu’s new neighbour: a shrimp farm. We climbed to the top of an embankment and looked across a patchwork of ponds to distant mangrove forests. An electrified fence stretched the length of the village and beyond. Skull-and-crossbones signs on the barbed wire announced a blunt message: access denied.

On the village side, goats milled about in grassless yards, cut off from grazing areas just as their owners have been shut out of their mangrove collecting grounds. But there was worse. The residents showed us abandoned bores that until recently had drawn sweet water from an aquifer beneath the sandy soil. The water had been “doce, doce” they told us, repeating the word as they savoured the memory. Now it was salgado, saline, undrinkable.

Brazil’s Federal Constitution declares that all its citizens “have the right to an ecologically balanced environment, for the common use of the people,” and that government is required to “defend it and preserve it for present and future generations.” Yet of 256 applications to build new ponds in the Jaguaribe area, not one had been turned down. “Este e incrîval,” said Jeovah—this is incredible.

Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos stands in what was once his vegetable garden, now a saline wasteland.

KENNEDY WARNE
Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos stands in what was once his vegetable garden, now a saline wasteland.

In the village of Curral Velho, which means “old corral,” I stood in the barren garden of Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos. The 74-year-old told me he had grown vegetables on his plot of land since 1958: sweet potatoes, melons, cassavas, beans. The land was so productive he had to tie up his papaya trees with ropes to stop the weight of fruit from toppling them.

Five years ago a shrimp farmer built his ponds right up to the boundary, 30 metres from dos Santos’s back door. Now, with the seepage of salty water from the ponds, his land produces nothing but saltwort and weeds. Unable to grow food, dos Santos turned to the sea, borrowing money to build a fish trap. But heavy seas destroyed it.

“The land threw me out to sea, and the sea threw me back to land,” he said. “Where can I turn except to God?”

Where, indeed? The mangrove vs shrimp battle still rages along Brazil’s huge coastline. This trip, I will be looking at how people are standing up to protest the destruction of their mangrove resources. Perhaps I will find a more hopeful story this time.
Tomorrow I will be in Fortaleza, Mycoplasmosis
state capital of Ceará, walking its sun-drenched beaches (or possibly just drenched beaches—see yesterday’s post), eating tapioca pancakes for breakfast and drinking Antarctica beer, which must, according to its advertising, be served “estupidamete fria”—stupidly cold.

I passed through Fortaleza on my 2005 National Geographic mangrove trip, en route to some mangrove settlements on the northeastern coast which had been affected by shrimp farms. Most of what I wrote about those places didn’t make the final edit of the story, but the experience of meeting the people of Curral Velho and Porto do Céu remains a vivid memory. Here’s what I wrote:

I traveled east of Fortaleza into the shrimp impact zone. With me were Jeovah Meireles, professor of physical geography at the Federal University of Ceará, and Elaine Corets, Latin American coordinator of the Mangrove Action Project, a global conservation network.

We set out before dawn, and by daybreak we were among the farms. Ponds the size of football fields crowded the landscape like rice paddies. Paddle-wheel aerators frothed the water and workers in kayaks filled feeding trays with fishmeal. The fishmeal, explained Elaine, comes from fish caught by commercial trawlers, which deprives local subsistence fishers of a food resource. It angered her that not only did the shrimp industry destroy the mangroves, but it robbed the sea as well.

Many ponds were not in production, whether due to the white-spot viral disease that was then sweeping Brazil’s shrimp farms or not, we couldn’t tell. Wastewater the color of antifreeze was pouring into a mangrove-flanked river. On the banks, fiddler crabs waved their oversized claws. I thought of them as shipwrecked sailors semaphoring “Rescue us.”

We stopped at a roadside cantina for coffee and tapioca pancakes—a favourite of Brazilians in the north. Jeovah spoke about the fragmentation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity caused by shrimp farming. He studies the flow of energy between terrestrial and marine food webs, in which mangroves play a vital bridging role. “Shrimp farming sticks a dagger into that whole network,” he said.

Angry fisherman at Porto do Céu protests what shrimp farms have done to the "gates of paradise."

ELAINE CORETS
Angry fisherman at Porto do Céu protests what shrimp farms have done to the "gates of paradise."

Later that day a flat-bottomed punt with an ancient outboard motor ferried us across the river Jaguaribe to the settlement of Porto do Céu. Golden light gleamed on fishing boats catching the afternoon breeze in their sails. Laughing children dived like sprites in the river; a man fished for crabs from a rickety pier. A straggle of mangroves lined the river’s edge. With their loopy, spidery roots they looked as if they had strolled out of the tide, found the place to their liking, and settled in. Who could blame them? The name of the place means “gates of paradise.”

Two residents took us through the village to see Porto do Céu’s new neighbour: a shrimp farm. We climbed to the top of an embankment and looked across a patchwork of ponds to distant mangrove forests. An electrified fence stretched the length of the village and beyond. Skull-and-crossbones signs on the barbed wire announced a blunt message: access denied.

On the village side, goats milled about in grassless yards, cut off from grazing areas just as their owners have been shut out of their mangrove collecting grounds. But there was worse. The residents showed us abandoned bores that until recently had drawn sweet water from an aquifer beneath the sandy soil. The water had been “doce, doce” they told us, repeating the word as they savoured the memory. Now it was salgado, saline, undrinkable.

Brazil’s Federal Constitution declares that all its citizens “have the right to an ecologically balanced environment, for the common use of the people,” and that government is required to “defend it and preserve it for present and future generations.” Yet of 256 applications to build new ponds in the Jaguaribe area, not one had been turned down. “Este e incrîval,” said Jeovah—this is incredible.

Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos stands in what was once his vegetable garden, now a saline wasteland.

KENNEDY WARNE
Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos stands in what was once his vegetable garden, now a saline wasteland.

In the village of Curral Velho, which means “old corral,” I stood in the barren garden of Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos. The 74-year-old told me he had grown vegetables on his plot of land since 1958: sweet potatoes, melons, cassavas, beans. The land was so productive he had to tie up his papaya trees with ropes to stop the weight of fruit from toppling them.

Five years ago a shrimp farmer built his ponds right up to the boundary, 30 metres from dos Santos’s back door. Now, with the seepage of salty water from the ponds, his land produces nothing but saltwort and weeds. Unable to grow food, dos Santos turned to the sea, borrowing money to build a fish trap. But heavy seas destroyed it.

“The land threw me out to sea, and the sea threw me back to land,” he said. “Where can I turn except to God?”

Where, indeed? The mangrove vs shrimp battle still rages along Brazil’s huge coastline. This trip, I will be looking at how people are standing up to protest the destruction of their mangrove resources. Perhaps I will find a more hopeful story this time.
On the flight to Brazil I’m taking an old friend. A very old friend. Alexander von Humboldt, diagnosis
who died 150 years ago. I’m somewhere over the Southern Ocean, midway through the diabolical 6415-mile Auckland-to-Buenos Aires leg of my trip, reading his Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent. It seems appropriate. Almost exactly 200 years ago, Humboldt explored Latin America and the Caribbean, which are my destinations, too.

Humboldt was the most famous naturalist of his day. He was a polymathic overachiever, the kind of person whose existence makes the rest of us question ours. Whereas I will spend a modest seven weeks among the mangroves, he spent five years in the field, and amassed so much scientific data on so many subjects—geology, botany, climate, astronomy, zoology, magnetism, electricity, not to mention human cultural diversity—that it took him 27 years to write it all up. No wonder he was one of Darwin’s heroes.

Humboldt was one of the first of a new breed of scientific explorers, pursuing knowledge with a heroic disregard for personal comfort and safety. What fascinates me about him is how modern he seems. He believed that to understand the world you had to look at all the individual phenomena the earth has to offer, and discover how they are connected. “I must find out about the unity of nature,” he wrote. That was his driving force, and for this reason he has been called the first ecologist. Anyone who studies ecosystems and how they fit together and function is walking in Humboldt’s footsteps.

What did he have to say about mangroves? I’ve skipped ahead to the last chapter, about Cuba, and found there a dramatic incident which occurs in the mangroves of Batabano Gulf Bay. The sailors on Humboldt’s ship, frustrated at not being able to find any lobsters, start slaughtering nesting seabirds. Blood streams from the trees, and the ground is littered with dying birds. But here’s the line that struck me like a thunderbolt: “When we arrived on the scene it was strangely silent, as if saying ‘Man has passed this way.’” Two hundred years on and the mangroves continue to fall silent—those that are left—for humankind still passes this way.

Tapioca and Antarctica

May 4th, 2009
In the photo above: kayaking down Belize's Rio Grande—from the rainforests of the land to the rainforests of the sea.

KENNEDY WARNEIn the photo above: kayaking down Belize's Rio Grande—from the rainforests of the land to the rainforests of the sea.

A cold rain is drumming on my roof in Auckland as I write this first post to the Last Stands blog. In a few days I’ll be leaving behind the falling leaves and falling temperatures of a New Zealand autumn for the heat and vitality of the mangrove forests of the tropics. It’s going to be an incredible journey, resuscitator and I’m excited to be sharing it with you.

My mind goes back to a similar journey I made in 2005, weight loss researching mangroves for a story for National Geographic magazine. It was that six-week field trip that made me want to write a book about these mystic “rainforests of the sea.” Now I am—and that’s what this Last Stands journey is all about.

Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • visiting the giant mangroves of the Esmeraldas, in Ecuador—some of the tallest mangroves in the world
  • meeting the Ecuadorian concheras—the women and children who gather cockles from the mangroves, and whose livelihoods are taken from them by the encroachment of shrimp farms
  • taking part in a shark-tagging survey in the mangroves of Bimini Island, in the Bahamas
  • discovering how the indigenous Afro-Brazilian culture in Caravelas, on the east coast of Brazil, has incorporated mangroves into the art, dance and music of the region
  • traveling to Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands wildlife refuge by airboat with an expert in mangrove mapping
  • catching up with Candy Feller, a mangrove scientist who started her career drawing illustrations of marine life underwater—yes, underwater!—before falling in love with mangroves and going on to spend her life researching them
  • seeing a very special species of mangrove in Panama which has flowers as big as magnolia blossoms that are pollinated by hummingbirds

One of the things I am NOT looking forward to is seeing the many thousands of hectares of mangroves that are being lost through human interference—reclamation, the shrimp farming juggernaut, tourism developments, and so on. Mangrove destruction is a daily reality throughout the world, so visiting communities that are being affected by it will be a big part of my research and reporting.

Read more

As always with travel, it’s the things that aren’t in the itinerary that are often the most memorable. During my National Geographic trip, I was in Belize, and I heard about an organization called TIDE, which was helping people get out of unsustainable fishing and mangrove logging and into ecotourism. On a hunch, I traveled to Punta Gorda, in the far south of the country. There I met Carlos Cofias, a former hunter and fisher. At the age of 57, with a wife and 12 children to support, he had decided to invest in a couple of sea kayaks and was offering trips down the Rio Grande. I spent two magical days with him, paddling downstream from the rainforests of the land to the rainforests of the sea, camping in the forest and listening to the shrieks of the howler monkeys in the treetops.

I’d like to say that Carlos was ecstatic about his new vocation, but the truth is he had mixed feelings. He resented the way developed countries were piously telling poor nations like his to save their forests in the interests of preserving the planet’s climate. He told me, “Gringo is destroying himself, so he tells us ‘Don’t cut down your trees so we can breathe.’ But what do we get out of it?”

It’s hard to support a dozen children on the proceeds of kayak tours. On the other hand, Carlos knew that there was no future—for him or his children—in pillaging the mangroves and harvesting the sea to extinction. “The mangrove is a house for nature,” he told me. I doubt I’ve heard a better or more succinct explanation of the importance of mangroves.

Part of what motivates me to make this journey is to find out how people are balancing their economic needs with preserving “the house for nature.” I’ll keep you posted on what I learn!
Tomorrow I will be in Fortaleza, find
state capital of Ceará, walking its sun-drenched beaches (or possibly just drenched beaches—see yesterday’s post), eating tapioca pancakes for breakfast and drinking Antarctica beer, which must, according to its advertising, be served “estupidamete fria”—stupidly cold.

I passed through Fortaleza on my 2005 National Geographic mangrove trip, en route to some mangrove settlements on the northeastern coast which had been affected by shrimp farms. Most of what I wrote about those places didn’t make the final edit of the story, but the experience of meeting the people of Curral Velho and Porto do Céu remains a vivid memory. Here’s what I wrote:

I traveled east of Fortaleza into the shrimp impact zone. With me were Jeovah Meireles, professor of physical geography at the Federal University of Ceará, and Elaine Corets, Latin American coordinator of the Mangrove Action Project, a global conservation network.

We set out before dawn, and by daybreak we were among the farms. Ponds the size of football fields crowded the landscape like rice paddies. Paddle-wheel aerators frothed the water and workers in kayaks filled feeding trays with fishmeal. The fishmeal, explained Elaine, comes from fish caught by commercial trawlers, which deprives local subsistence fishers of a food resource. It angered her that not only did the shrimp industry destroy the mangroves, but it robbed the sea as well.

Many ponds were not in production, whether due to the white-spot viral disease that was then sweeping Brazil’s shrimp farms or not, we couldn’t tell. Wastewater the color of antifreeze was pouring into a mangrove-flanked river. On the banks, fiddler crabs waved their oversized claws. I thought of them as shipwrecked sailors semaphoring “Rescue us.”

We stopped at a roadside cantina for coffee and tapioca pancakes—a favourite of Brazilians in the north. Jeovah spoke about the fragmentation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity caused by shrimp farming. He studies the flow of energy between terrestrial and marine food webs, in which mangroves play a vital bridging role. “Shrimp farming sticks a dagger into that whole network,” he said.

Angry fisherman at Porto do Céu protests what shrimp farms have done to the "gates of paradise."

ELAINE CORETS
Angry fisherman at Porto do Céu protests what shrimp farms have done to the "gates of paradise."

Later that day a flat-bottomed punt with an ancient outboard motor ferried us across the river Jaguaribe to the settlement of Porto do Céu. Golden light gleamed on fishing boats catching the afternoon breeze in their sails. Laughing children dived like sprites in the river; a man fished for crabs from a rickety pier. A straggle of mangroves lined the river’s edge. With their loopy, spidery roots they looked as if they had strolled out of the tide, found the place to their liking, and settled in. Who could blame them? The name of the place means “gates of paradise.”

Two residents took us through the village to see Porto do Céu’s new neighbour: a shrimp farm. We climbed to the top of an embankment and looked across a patchwork of ponds to distant mangrove forests. An electrified fence stretched the length of the village and beyond. Skull-and-crossbones signs on the barbed wire announced a blunt message: access denied.

On the village side, goats milled about in grassless yards, cut off from grazing areas just as their owners have been shut out of their mangrove collecting grounds. But there was worse. The residents showed us abandoned bores that until recently had drawn sweet water from an aquifer beneath the sandy soil. The water had been “doce, doce” they told us, repeating the word as they savoured the memory. Now it was salgado, saline, undrinkable.

Brazil’s Federal Constitution declares that all its citizens “have the right to an ecologically balanced environment, for the common use of the people,” and that government is required to “defend it and preserve it for present and future generations.” Yet of 256 applications to build new ponds in the Jaguaribe area, not one had been turned down. “Este e incrîvel,” said Jeovah—this is incredible.

Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos stands in what was once his vegetable garden, now a saline wasteland.

KENNEDY WARNE
Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos stands in what was once his vegetable garden, now a saline wasteland.

In the village of Curral Velho, which means “old corral,” I stood in the barren garden of Alouiso Rodrigues dos Santos. The 74-year-old told me he had grown vegetables on his plot of land since 1958: sweet potatoes, melons, cassavas, beans. The land was so productive he had to tie up his papaya trees with ropes to stop the weight of fruit from toppling them.

Five years ago a shrimp farmer built his ponds right up to the boundary, 30 metres from dos Santos’s back door. Now, with the seepage of salty water from the ponds, his land produces nothing but saltwort and weeds. Unable to grow food, dos Santos turned to the sea, borrowing money to build a fish trap. But heavy seas destroyed it.

“The land threw me out to sea, and the sea threw me back to land,” he said. “Where can I turn except to God?”

Where, indeed? The mangrove vs shrimp battle still rages along Brazil’s huge coastline. This trip, I will be looking at how people are standing up to protest the destruction of their mangrove resources. Perhaps I will find a more hopeful story this time.