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

Friday, March 8, 2013

Invasive fish cause big problems in fresh and saltwater systems.

8:48 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

If you live on the East coast of the U.S. or on islands in the Caribbean Sea, maybe you remember seeing signs such as this one to the left. The lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, was introduced to Florida's waters in the early 90's, most likely a result of the aquatic pet trade, and flourished rapidly. Due to their defensive venomous spines, coloration, habitat generality, low parasite load, efficient predation, rapid growth, and high reproductive rates, they pose high threats to reef and other ecosystems and have already been shown to reduce recruitment of native reef fish by up 80 percent*. 

Numerous studies have launched to measure just how badly they will take a toll on the ecosystem. Campaigns were launched to make people aware that they are edible, because who better to wipe out an unwanted species than humans? 

But then again the more people are around the more they wreak havoc. Here's a picture of a gigantic goldfish....

...found in Lake Tahoe. Another introduction from an aquarium. Check out the article

In the case of the giant goldfish, researchers believe they may actually be harming lake clarity by fueling algae growth with their waste. When biologists find warm water fish during surveys, they remove them."

Moral of these stories: Don't dump your aquarium fish into lakes and oceans!



Albins, M., Hixon, M. (2011) Worst case scenario: potential long-term effects of invasive predatory lionfish (Pterios volitans) on Atlantic and Caribbean coral-reef Communities. Environ Biol Fish 1-7-7

Hixon, M., Albins, M., Redinger, T. (2009) Lionfish invasion: Super predator threatens Caribbean coral Reefs. NOAA Research

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My ideal backyard.

7:45 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

Last week I was at a game night with a group of friends. While the others yelled at each other during intense battles of Settlers of Catan, I had gotten distracted by a stack of "question" cards. I love these kinds of games. They're meant to be conversational pieces for a group, but I silently read them to myself and pondered  what my response would be to both the intellectual questions and the silly ones. 

One question in particular caught my attention and reminded me of some news I would like to share here that is perhaps a bit old, but significant nonetheless...

If you could have any one view from your backyard, what would you want it to be?

First, a broad question like this needs to be clarified. When it says "any", it means ANY. That is, even if it's not physically, politically, or geographically possible. 

Many scenes raced through my mind. I immediately eliminated city skylines, or any sort of civilization for that matter; I'm a nature girl. I then started thinking of the world's most iconic natural wonders, places often seen in magazines like National Geographic or featured on Planet Earth. There is so much beauty in this world, so many places to see. But ultimately, my heart will always belong to Africa.

I thought about the valleys of Damaraland where desert elephants, leopards, and baboons frequently roam...

I thought about the water hole at Etosha National Park where I could observe the most spectacular displays of interspecific behaviors...

And I thought about places I haven't been, but have heard so much about. Perhaps a more classic African scene like Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro or the Serengeti would be the ultimate backyard.

The options in Africa are endless and each unique, but what is the most magical place? Is there a place that shows both harshness and tranquility? Where it can be a struggle to survive and then bursting with life, never letting me forget how wonderful nature can be?

Of course!

   The Okavango Delta. 

Situated in the basin of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, this delta goes from wasteland to wonderland every year when the floods wash down from the highlands of Angola, bringing with it the most diverse concentration of wildlife in the world.

"Nowhere on our planet earth is the lifegiving power of water so clearly demonstrated." David Attenborough, BBC's Planet Earth

Yes, witnessing this miracle every year in my backyard would be ideal. Thankfully, the presidents of Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe considered this land just as precious as I. On August 18, 2011, they signed a treaty forming the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) which is a 444,000 km^2 area designated for conservation (and therefore ecotourism), and it's the largest of its kind in the world. This region includes the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, and numerous national parks, with the goal to:

 “Sustainably manage the Kavango Zambezi ecosystem, its heritage and cultural resources based on best conservation and tourism models for the socio-economic wellbeing of the communities and other stakeholders in and around the eco-region through harmonization of policies, strategies and practices.”

I may not be able to build a house there, but I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Nonlethal method of saving cattle from lions.

5:22 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
Female scolds male after an unsuccessful mating in Etosha National Park.
Currently listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN, African lion populations have dropped significantly in the past decade. Facing threats such as habitat encroachment, poisoning, prey decline, as well as the diseases that more dramatically plague smaller populations (referred to as the "small population paradigm"), these cats are unfortunately on their way to the endangered species list

Most of these issues are a result of human wildlife conflict in Africa. Urban areas are developing further into previously natural areas. Agricultural pesticides accidentally poison the cats, or, direct poisoning occurs to rid a pastoral neighborhood from the threats to their livestock. Projections of where lions will roam in the future are bleak, but one young man in Kenya created a way to protect his precious cattle from predation using nonlethal methods, giving hope for the king of the jungle:

Boy scares off lions with flashy invention

What I like most about this story is this:
What's even more impressive is that Turere devised and installed the whole system by himself, without ever receiving any training in electronics or engineering."
This is simple innovation that has multiple positive implications at its best, and it's inspiring

As I currently battle to make a career out of solving human-wildlife conflict (similar to this situation), I find myself constantly losing to another resume with a larger list of credentials. But I think conservation NGO's, especially in America, have lost sight of  the ability to solve problems driven by passion, and harnessing the resources at hand. I hope examples like this will set precedence for conservation projects to come. 

He got it right this time ;)