It was a sadly typical meeting of the Board of Collier County (Florida) Commissioners in the late nineties. As the meeting droned on, I tuned it out and fell into deep concentration, obsessively rewriting now long-forgotten remarks I would deliver to the Commission about conservation in Southwest Florida on behalf of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida where I was president and CEO. Our environmental policy director, Michael Simonik, suddenly elbowed me, “Can you believe this?” he gasped. As I looked up, Commissioner Barbara Berry was on her soapbox delivering a monologue, and like Michael, I was stunned to hear what she was saying. She soared into hyperbole to sing the praises of the land developers, declaring Southwest Florida far better than when she arrived, and with a look of disgust tinged with horror, told us how awful it was before the developers came, with all of these unsightly “tangles” of trees and messy vegetation. Nature run amok. Thank god the developers came along and made Southwest Florida a better place, with the neatly manicured lawns of its gated communities (not to mention highest number of golf courses per capita in the world). But as I gazed around the room, there were heads nodding. And I learned something. Read more
As I write this, a massive offshore oil platform makes its way around the southern tip of the African continent on its journey from Singapore to its final destination within 50 miles of some of our nation’s most environmentally sensitive waters. By year’s end, it will be in operation to drill the first exploratory well more than a mile deep in Cuban waters.
Shortly after Cuba’s discovery of offshore oil more than six years ago, I met with my colleagues at the University of Havana who had just been briefed by the state-run oil company, Cupet (Cubapetroleo). Models predicted that 90 percent of oil from a blowout would be transported northward to the Keys and up along Florida’s East Coast, impacting Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and beyond. The question is, of course, are we ready to deal with such a catastrophe? Read more
His name is Eduardo Alonso Ramos, but everyone calls him “Alonso.” He and Lachi, also a colleague from the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) were supposed to join me for a final meeting at Havana’s Marina Hemingway yesterday in final preparations for our expedition, which they were planning to be part of.
They never arrived. That’s not unusual here in Cuba. Transportation is often a nightmare. Perhaps his motorcycle broke down. Perhaps he couldn’t get gas. Who knows? I wasn’t worried. Though it was a bit unusual that they never called, even last night.
This morning I learned the tragic truth, and it’s still sinking in. Alonso was filling a SCUBA tank at CIM yesterday afternoon when it exploded, killing him instantly. He was only 41. He leaves a wife, 36, who is pregnant. They buried him this morning. Read more
EARTH DAY 2011: This isn’t what I had planned to write for Earth Day. But it’s the most important thing I can write today. I write these words with a single, challenging purpose: I need you to care deeply about something. I need you to care about something that wasn’t supposed to be possible. I need you to care so deeply that you choose to help. And to make things even more challenging, what I need you to care about is a place you’ve never heard of and are very unlikely to see in your lifetime, a place that’s such an infinitesimally tiny speck lying quite literally in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, it appears on few maps (and even befuddles Google maps). And unless you’re one of the fewer than 300 people that call Tristan da Cunha home, it will take you at best 5-7 days to get to this airstrip-lacking place even if you dash out the door before finishing this paragraph. Tristan da Cunha is, quite literally, the most remote inhabited island in the world. A sign on the island boasts this factoid, alongside a marker pointing east toward the nearest civilization: 1,511 miles to Cape Town, South Africa. Read more
Dramatic video shot by Kristine Hannon details the rescue of 12 crew members aboard the bulk carrier, “Oliva,” on March 17, 2011, where it grounded the prior day. Within hours of the successful rescue, the ship broke in two and sunk, unleashing a massive oil spill, threatening millions of seabirds including the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. Read more
During a briefing by The Ocean Foundation to the conservation NGO community in Washington, DC, Katrine Herian, a project officer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stationed at Tristan da Cunha, informed us by telephone that the desperate effort to rescue endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins from neighboring Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands (the latter a World Heritage Site) continues, with roughly 2,300 penguins already relocated for rehabilitation on Tristan da Cunha and another 600 birds expected last evening. Read more
ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: I spoke today with Katrine Herrion, a project officer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stationed at Tristan da Cunha.
Katrine was camped on Inaccessible Island last weekend and reports that as of Sunday, oil completely surrounded the island. She and her team observed nearly 100 oiled penguins just before they departed. Clearly many more are being impacted.
Trevor Glass, Director of the Tristan da Cunha Department of Conservation was planning to return to Tristan da Cunha from Nightingale Island with around 750 penguins for rehabilitation. This represents a small percentage of the number of birds estimated to be impacted at this point, conservatively estimated at more than 10,000.
Because penguins cannot fly, it is impossible for them to avoid the oil when entering and exiting the water. Oil impacts the waterproof properties of their feathers and makes them vulnerable to hypothermia by reducing their feather’s insulation abilities. Oil can seriously impact the birds’ eyes and other tissues and can poison them if they ingest the oil while attempting to clean their feathers. A number of oiled seals have also been observed on Nightingale Island. Read more
ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: Expedition staff environmental scientist, Claudia Holgate received an email from Tristan da Cunha Department of Conservation director, Trevor Glass indicating that oil from the wrecked freighter “Oliva” had now reached Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site.
Like Nightingale Island, the site of the shipwreck, Inaccessible Island is home to an enormous concentration of seabirds, including the Spectacled petrel found nowhere else in the world (approximately 10,000 nesting pairs). It is also the only home of flightless Inaccessible rail which forages along the shoreline and is therefore vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill. Other seabirds on Inaccessible Island include the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin, and the Great shearwater. Of a worldwide total of five million nesting pairs of Great shearwaters, four million are concentrated on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands. The highly endangered Tristan bunting, with only 50 nesting pairs remaining in the world, live exclusively on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands.
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