Leatherback Turtle Nesting Ground Protected In Puerto Rico

leatherback turtle
Puerto Rico has just declared 5.4 square miles of coastline as protected land in order to preserve a leatherback turtle nesting ground, BBC reports.

The Northeast Ecological Corridor has been a battleground between conservation groups and big business for 15 years. The choice was basically between two ideas: “Hey, look at this beautiful natural wonder; let’s preserve it for low-impact ecotourism!” and “Hey, look at this beautiful natural wonder; let’s put up a bunch of luxury homes, hotels and golf courses. We’ll wreck the place but make a ton of cash!”

Luckily, the government of Puerto Rico chose correctly.

Leatherback turtles are a critically endangered species and this stretch of coastline is one of their largest remaining nesting grounds. In addition to the turtles, the Northeast Ecological Corridor is home to 866 species of plants and animals, including 54 rare, threatened, endangered and endemic species.

The area was declared a nature reserve in 2008, but that protection was taken away the next year under pressure from “developers.” In 2012 two-thirds of the area were once again named as a reserve. Now all of the area will be protected, although considering how the government has flip-flopped on this issue before, this may not be the last time we report on this issue.

[Photo courtesy Coalición Pro CEN]

How You Can Help Save Endangered Destinations

Earlier this year, I told you about several destinations you should see before they disappear. Climate change, environmental destruction and a number of other issues were all threatening to ruin these travel sites, and in some cases (such as The Maldives) wipe them right off the map.

A lot of you responded with feelings of sadness and helplessness about the travel treasures we face losing. Some of you weren’t content to sit by and let these endangered destinations die – you wanted to know what you could do to save them. So to help you do just that, I’ve put together a list of resources and organizations where you can get involved and make a difference.

Fight Climate Change

When it comes to problems that are destroying our environment, climate change is a biggie. Two examples I gave you before were the melting snowcaps at Jungfrau, Switzerland, and the rising sea levels in The Maldives, but of course there are countless other victims, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the flora and fauna in the Amazon rainforest.

One organization that has been tackling the problems caused by climate change is the Environmental Defense Fund. The charity pushes for clean energy policies and legislation that will lower carbon emissions. They also work with big companies to lessen their impact on the environment, and encourage other countries around the world to cap carbon pollution as well. If you want to support the cause, you can become a member of the organization, donate funds, sign petitions, or lobby your senator to take action.

Adopt A Polar Bear

Polar bears are dwindling in number fast as their icy home shrinks more and more every year. These creatures not only play an important role in the marine food chain but also in the culture and economy of people living in the arctic region.

The World Wildlife Fund is one of several groups working to save these animals from extinction. They do things like monitor polar bear populations, protect the animals from bears, and prevent oil and gas drilling in the local habitat. If you want to help save this animal from extinction you can get involved by writing a letter to congress or adopting a polar bear for as little as $25.

Conserve Important Art

When we think about travel sites that are disappearing, we don’t normally think of art. But many significant artworks around the world are in fact crumbling away – Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” which I mentioned in my prior article, is among the more famous of them. In the Italian city of Venice, thousands of paintings are under threat. The city is home to the highest concentration of historic architecture in the world, but rising waters, sea salt and industrial pollution are pummeling the cultural treasures.

Organizations such as Save Venice have been helping to preserve the city’s landmarks and restore its artwork, and to date, they’ve tackled more than 400 projects. Those looking to get involved can become a member of the non-profit organization, make a donation, or choose a specific restoration project to adopt.

Save The Rainforests

Deforestation has been wiping out the planet’s rainforests at an alarming rate. Last time, I talked about the plight of Madagascar’s rainforest, which has shriveled to less than 20 percent of its original size.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has stepped in to try and stop further destruction of the country’s natural landscape. They’re teaching locals how to grow rice without slashing and burning the forest, creating tree nurseries and promoting ecotourism so locals have ways of earning a living without resorting to things like illegal logging. If you want to contribute, you can become a member of the WCS (which includes free access to a number of New York City’s zoos) or make a donation.

Preserve World Heritage Sites

Of the hundreds of travel sites that have been given World Heritage site status, 38 of them are considered to be in danger. Natural disasters, war and even out of control tourism have all taken a toll and threaten to obliterate these historical sites. If you have cash to contribute, the World Monument Fund is a good place to start. They’ve partnered with local communities and governments in more than 90 countries to save and restore cultural treasures.

However, if you really want to get your hands dirty and do something, then you might consider volunteering at a World Heritage center. There are volunteer projects across the globe, including diving along the Great Barrier Reef to help threatened coral, conserving the Medina of Fez in Morocco, and restoring archaeological sites in Tanzania, to name a few. If you want to take part, you need to apply well in advance and you will have to share some of the travel costs. But the good news is you don’t need any experience to get involved.

[Photo credit: Flickr users Peter Blanchard; Travel Manitoba; cowman345; Frank Vassen; Fighting Irish 1977]

More Than 11,000 Elephants Poached In Gabon In Past Decade, Officials Estimate

elephantsThe West African nation of Gabon has one of the largest populations of elephants in the world, yet now they’re in danger of being wiped out for their ivory.

The World Wildlife Fund reports that a study done by itself in cooperation with the Gabonese National Parks Agency and the Wildlife Conservation Society found that up to 11,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Gabon since 2004. That may be up to 77 percent of the total population.

Most of the killings took place in and around Minkébé National Park, a vast and remote area that’s supposed to be a safe haven for wildlife.

The area is home to forest elephants, which are especially prized by poachers because their ivory is unusually hard and has a pink tinge to it, making it more profitable to sell on the international black market.

As we reported last month, the illegal ivory trade rose to its highest level ever in 2011. This is mainly due to a rising demand in Asia. While some African nations are investing in more law enforcement, corruption in both Africa and Asia is keeping the illegal trade in ivory alive.

Is it any wonder that another recent study found that elephants try to avoid humans?

The WWF is circulating a petition to stop ivory trade in Thailand. It says in part, “Thailand is also the biggest unregulated market for ivory in the world. Although it is against the law to sell ivory from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally. As a result, massive quantities of illegal African ivory are being laundered through Thai shops.”

The petition already has more than 200,000 signatures, including mine. They’re trying to get to a million.

[Image of forest elephant in Ivindo National Park, Gabon, courtesy Peter H. Wrege]

New National Park In The Congo Will Protect Lowland Gorillas

Lowland gorillas get a new preserve in the Republic of CongoThe Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is hailing the creation of a new national park in the Republic of Congo as a major step towards protecting western lowland gorillas. The park, which was officially created on December 28 of last year, is believed to be the home of more than 15,000 of the creatures, which have been on the “critically endangered” list for many years.

Located in the northern region of the country, the Ntokou-Pikounda National Park spreads out over 1765 square miles. The interior of the forest is said to be so dense that explorer J. Michael Fay, who spent 455 days walking across the region back in 1999, once called it a “green abyss.” The lush rainforest is the perfect place for the gorillas to make their home, however, and they share the new preserve with an estimated 8000 elephants and nearly a thousand chimpanzees – two other species who face extinction as well.

Because the park is still so new, there isn’t a significant tourism infrastructure built up around the destination just yet. But the region is home to a number of small villages and towns, which hope to see a boost to the local economies in the future. Tourism dollars have been used effectively in nearby Rwanda and Uganda to not only improve conditions for the people that live there, but also fund conservation efforts for gorillas and other animals.

When the WCS visited the Republic of Congo back in 2008 they were surprised to find a population of 125,000 gorillas living in remote regions there. But the species continues to come under threat from increased deforestation, illegal poaching and the Ebola virus, which has been known to decimate gorilla populations. The creation of this new park should help ensure that the lowland gorillas that live there will have a measure of protection for the future.

[Photo Credit: Fred Hsu via WikiMedia]

New Clues To The Sinking Of A Confederate Submarine

Confederate SubmarineThe Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley may have been sunk by its own torpedo, researchers say.

The cause of the Hunley’s sinking has been a mystery since it sank the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864, and then the Hunley itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter. This submarine, which had a hand-cranked propeller and a torpedo set at the end of a 16-foot pole, was a desperate attempt by the Confederacy to destroy the Union blockade on Southern harbors that was strangling the economy.

A press release by the Friends of the Hunley, the organization that raised and is conserving the Civil War sub, says that archaeologists have discovered part of the torpedo still attached to the end of the pole. The jagged metal shows that the torpedo exploded its charge of 135 pounds of gunpowder as planned.

Historians used to think the plan was to ram the torpedo into the ship’s side, and then pull away, detaching the torpedo from the pole and then pulling a rope trigger that would explode the torpedo from a safe distance.

Now we can see this didn’t happen. The question remains whether the release mechanism was faulty or if the plan was much cruder – simply ramming the torpedo into the side of the ship and hoping for the best.

It remains unclear if this explosion is what actually sank the Hunley. The submarine’s hull is encased in hardened rock, sand, and silt that the archaeologists are still removing. Only when their job is done will they get a clear idea of how the brave crew of the Hunley met their end.

You can visit the lab where this historic sub is being studied; the Warren Lasch Conservation Center is located in North Charleston, SC. You can also see a different Confederate submarine at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

[Top photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Bottom photo showing the sub being raised courtesy Barbara Voulgaris, Naval Historical Center]

Confederate Submarine