Biologist, Conservationist, & Portlander. My passion lives in Africa.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The importance of biodiversity hitting home.

10:16 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
Have you noticed all those gluten free menu items in the grocery store lately? No, this isn't some new diet craze. It's to cater the ever increasing list of people with food allergies. It's not just gluten, it's wheat, soy, nuts, grass, trees. I even developed an allergy in high school that I still haven't quite figured out, but it's banned most raw vegetable and fruits from being my healthy afternoon snack.

Last year, my roommate and best friend came home with some awful news. Her previously misdiagnosed condition of irritable bowel syndrome turned out to be a whole host of allergies that were upsetting her digestion. The list was so ridiculous, she had no idea what she could eat, especially being a college student with limited time and money. I've seen more and more cases like hers, and I wondered if allergies have just been misdiagnosed for other things all along, or if they were truly becoming more and more of a problem. 

So here it is, a start to answering this question. Check out this article about the research being done by NC State's very own Rob Dunn


"What can be said with certainty is that, as we have become more urban and as we have transformed the world, we have also become experts at replacing habitats filled with many species with habitats populated by just a few. We plant inert cement where forests once grew. We clean and scrub our houses with antibiotic wipes. We overuse antibiotics to clean out pathogens in our bodies. We overuse antimicrobials to clean everything else. One can now even buy underpants preloaded with chemicals that clean away the bacteria below the belt.
The word “clean” seems wholesome, but what it usually means is kill. We kill some species and favor others. We once cleaned the predators and snakes from around our homes. Now that the snakes and predators are gone, we clean what is invisible. As we do, we kill the life most susceptible to our weapons. In their place grows a more depauperate and resistant wildness—nature despite us, not for us—a jungle of potentially dangerous weeds. We are reducing diversity in our daily lives, even on our bodies, in exactly the same way that we are reducing it in the world. We manage our own flesh as we manage the earth."
Of course, this is not to say that this is the cause of every autoimmune case, but it's certainly interesting. 
We've all heard the threats: Climate change, coral reefs, the rainforest... the loss of biodiversity has been red flagged for decades as a danger we cannot ignore for multiple reasons. But humans, as intelligent as we are, are really kind of dumb. We don't view our health, the earth's health, in a long term manner. We want what we want and we want it now. Immediate fixes, not long term solutions. So I'm happy about this study. And I HOPE that it starts to hit home, and more people start paying attention to nature of all kinds, not only the most glamorous. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Now that's determination.

1:09 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

I once sat on a rock for 8 straight hours while conducting research on rattlesnake/squirrel behavior in California. I was waiting on a squirrel to approach our bait station so I could launch a harmless, spring loaded cannon to measure his reaction time. The target squirrel had already been scared away once because of the presence of a rattlesnake, and because of this, we predicted that his reaction time would be faster out of the fear of a snake still possibly being around.

I had a feeling, however, that one sighting was all this little buddy needed, and he was not coming back. I was right. The rest of the crew finally called my team in; they were hungry, and we were all tired of waiting. We'd try again tomorrow.

My butt was bruised, and sitting on anything hard was quite uncomfortable. Erynn, my friend and co-intern who sat there with me kept saying, "It's OK, this is just training for the big leagues, for when we have to wait for 7 months to film a snow leopard hunt in the wild." We were quite fond of that episode of Planet Earth. If you haven't seen it, you should.

I thought that was hardcore. But it doesn't compare to John Lukas's work. Featured in a book I am reading called "Wildlife Heroes", this admirable man especially caught my attention. He has been working to protect okapis for 25 years, and has never even seen one in the wild.

This strange and elusive animal, the only living relative of the giraffe, is a master of disguise. This, in turn, makes them very difficult to study. Scientists aren't even sure of how many there are. Thought only to live in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, John Lukas's Okapi Conservation Project works there to establish protected areas for the okapi. 

I can't imagine being so dedicated to one species that I had never even had the privilege of seeing. I applaud Mr. Lukas for his outstanding commitment to the conservation of this unique animal. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fantastic news for sharks!

11:29 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
Congratulations to the Shark Savers Singapore group on their recent wins in the battle to stop the consumption of shark fin soup! I was beyond thrilled to read this news article describing how more and more Asian companies are taking shark fin soup off their menus at corporate events as an act of environmental and social responsibility.

The act of shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice that has caused 90 percent of shark species to become threatened with extinction (up from the previous 15 percent before the soup gained so much popularity). Because the fins of the sharks are the only part of its body that is used, fishers will cut the fins off the sharks and throw them back in the water to die. This allows hundreds of sharks to be killed on a single boat in one night because the fins do not take up room on the ship. 

Some countries, including the United States and European nations, created a ban on the use of shark products unless the whole body was brought back to shore with fins attached, hoping this would allow continued use of shark meat, but in a sustainable way since a boat can only hold so many. Unfortunately, this proved to be unsuccessful as poachers found loopholes. 

Then, Pacific states in the US banned shark fin trade, followed by the first inland state of Illinois. Some Central American countries also banned shark fin trade in an effort to protect their own highly productive coastal waters, and the movement started to gain momentum. 

I came across this meme in July and wanted to pop a bottle of champagne I was so happy! Chinese officials agreed to take shark fin soup off their menus at official functions. I repeated it over and over in my head. It's a small move, but from such a huge and influential consumer. Shark fin soup is a highly prized delicacy in China, often served at official functions, weddings, and celebrations. But when Asian celebrities such as Yao Ming found out how the shark fins were obtained, and what it was doing to the populations and ocean ecosystems, they began advocating for the shark. Their word started to make the difference. 

As Shark Savers Singapore's Director said, "We want local companies to come on board and Singaporean CEOs to make this pledge. It doesn't make sense, for instance, for Bill Gates to come and tell Singaporeans not to eat shark's fin. This isn't a foreign imported agenda". 

I am so glad to see this movement take off. When I first learned about this issue, I thought about how difficult it can sometimes be to change deep traditions of a massive group of people, but if we work from the inside out, perhaps this can be one of the biggest conservation success stories I will have witnessed so far in my life.