National Park Service to help create standards to protect parks globally

The U.S. National Park Service has joined forces with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to develop a set of standards for park rangers, managers, and other administrative officials working in national parks around the globe. According to a press release from the NPS, the plan is to create a set of guidelines to aid nations in effectively managing their protected areas, while still recognizing that those efforts often take place under very challenging circumstances.

This new partnership will begin with David Reynolds, a 33-year veteran of the Park Service, creating a set of professional standards for men and women working on conservation projects in a wide variety of environments around the world. The hope is to build a “globally recognized” set of qualifications in the area of environmental management that will help them to be more efficient in their jobs. The project is expected to take approximately 40 months to complete and will require visits to protected parks and training centers around the globe.

Reynolds knows that he has a huge challenge ahead of him. He says that he not only has to create effective tools for measuring results, but must do so within the tight budgetary constraints that most countries face. He also knows that he’ll have to walk a thin line between creating a program that is both effective in the field and flexible in the classroom.

If the project is successful, park rangers and managers around the world may have a well designed set of guidelines that will help them protect their national parks in a more effective and efficient way. Climate change, urban development, deforestation, and other threats continue to be an issue, but perhaps with proper training and planning, some of those threats can be countered in a productive way.

Scarlet Macaws at Home with Marriott Los Suenos

It’s not every day you find a major hotel chain engaged in environmental initiatives that extend beyond good press. Sure, lots of hotels are actually saving on energy and water, for instance, because of their green policies, but how many are… saving animals? Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort in Puntarenas, Costa Rica has launched a project with animal-saving in mind.

The Scarlet Macaw is currently listed as an endangered species and the hotel has set out to repopulate them. Los Suenos’ Scarlet Macaw project consists of acquiring and planting Tonka Bean (Dipteryx odorata) trees on the hotel premises. These trees are used by the beautiful birds for nesting as well as food.

The objective is clear: bring the Scarlet Macaws back to Pacific Costa Rica by first bringing back their homes. At this time, there are roughly 450 Scarlet Macaws in the Puntarenas area and I was lucky enough to see a couple of them during a recent visit to Costa Rica.

I hopped on a quick American Airlines flight from NYC to San Jose and drove over to this luxurious resort back in June. I spent a few days there relaxing and taking in the serene environment. I was enchanted by these birds, which weren’t at all difficult to spot. Known for their colorful feathers, two Scarlet Macaws in a nearby tree caught my wandering eye and I quietly approached them, clutching my camera.

Lying in an oceanside hammock later that day, I swayed side to side, grateful for the sighting. With any luck, Los Suenos will help revive the Scarlet Macaw population and in doing so, give other hotel guests experiences like mine.

Fire Island: An eco-friendly paradise close to Manhattan

As close as Fire Island is to New York City, my family and I felt like we were setting off on a grand adventure when we arrived at Sayville, Long Island to buy ferry tickets for the journey to The Pines, a hamlet of Fire Island.

The diving and squawking sea gulls added to the aura of our three-day, two-night getaway. So did the anticipation of the ferry’s arrival and the chug chug chug of the motor when it left the shore..

We watched our car in the ferry’s parking lot become a dot in one direction, while in the other, the island I had heard about as the magical place that my uncle went to as a young man came into view.

Fire Island, a barrier island off Long Island, is part of the National Seashore and highly protected in order to nurture the diverse plant and animal life and keep the waters pristine. The result is a haven to escape from busyness, noise and almost every other activity humans have been known to do to wreck havoc on the environment. That doesn’t mean that people are not part of the habitat. They are. However, the people are the ones asked to adapt. I suggest the trip for anyone looking to beat the heat of a New York summer and mindful slow down.

When the ferry docked and we stepped of the boat, I was struck by the care that was being given to this fragile ecosystem. At The Pines, wooden boardwalks lead everywhere creating walkways between the buildings of weathered wood, sand and vegetation. Walking off the boardwalk, or outside the bounds of a public access to the beach, or any other designated areas are forbidden.

Because there are not any cars on most of the island, the aura of quiet and calm permeates. In the middle of the week when we were there, many of the houses were vacant which added to the allure of the habitat.

The wooden walkways aren’t all that protect the environment. As we headed to the beach, we passed by the slim wooden slat fences that protect the sand dunes and the birds’ nests hidden from view by the tall grasses.

Although we spent most of our time hanging out near where we stayed, a humble beach house of sun-roughened wood that belonged to a friend of a friend of my brother’s, we did go, via water taxi, to Cherry Grove one afternoon. Cherry Grove is another hamlet community of Fire Island.

Water taxis on Fire Island are not particularly cheap, but they do go to each of Fire Island’s sections. The fare depends upon how far you go. Because our son was small, I took the taxi both ways, but my daughter and brother walked along the beach back to The Pines. It’s not particularly close, but doable.

At Cherry Grove, besides visiting art galleries, one of its signature features, we wandered along the maze of walkways to take in the variety of private homes. No, we weren’t peeping Toms, just casual admirers.

Staying on Fire Island is not generally budget travel by a long shot, but you can reduce the sting if you can share the cost of a hotel room with someone or rent a house with several people. If you wait until fall, prices go down. The middle of the week has less expensive options.

I did look for a hotel room for this summer using the info on this link, but plans changed so I gave up. Many people who own homes do rent them out on short term basis because most folks only come out on weekends.

If you rent a house similar to where we stayed, there are places to buy groceries. Cooking your own food, also what we did, is one way to cut down on costs. Also consider bringing food to prepare with you to trim costs further. The store at the harbor has what you might need for most any meal, but everything costs more than if you bought it elsewhere.

For the cheapest option of enjoying the ecological balance of Fire Island, take a day trip there. Jeremy mentioned a visit to Robert Moses State Park in his post on New York beaches. It’s possible to drive to it via the Robert Moses Causeway.

Because part of Fire Island is a National Park there are many free programs that highlight aspects of the environment to take in. Here’s a link to those happening in August.

If your aim is to find an area that is the least tamed, the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness is where to head. It’s the only protected wilderness in New York state. Camping is permitted, and permits can be obtained at the Watch Hill Visitor Center. According to the national park Website, late fall and early spring are the best times to camp. Summer, frankly, sounds dreadful. Mosquitoes and ticks in droves don’t sound like relaxing company.

As a note: Although The Pines and Cherry Grove are considered to be the predominately the gay sections of Fire Island, I found both to be both straight people and family-friendly. Again, we were there during the week. On weekends, both The Pines and Cherry Grove are more of a party scene. However, according to my brother, the hoopla is mostly at the bars and restaurants.

There are other Fire Island communities to consider, although I didn’t go any further than Cherry Grove. Here’s a link to a list and their descriptions. From what I can tell, some of those communities are not as open as The Pines and Cherry Grove are to outsiders –meaning people who don’t own property there. Others are. Some options also turn into party scenes so consider what will suit you best when making a decision.

By the way, the Sayville Ferry is the one that goes to Cherry Grove and The Pines. If you’re planning to head to other sections, here’s a link to a Website with a comprehensive overview of options.

When I left The Pines I knew exactly why my uncle was so happy there. It’s a paradise that’s close to one of the most exciting cities in the world.

[My uncle is on the book cover.]

Don’t mess with Hawaii’s coral reefs

Did you know that Hawaii is home to over 3/4 of America’s coral reef? It’s not that surprising considering the heaps of divers that make the trek across the Pacific every year to experience the state’s special marine life. Hawaii’s unique ecosystem is its main draw for tourists, and since the reef is just that precious the state has begun to tighten the reigns and give out hefty fines to those who are not responsible underwater.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Ruining Coral Draws Fines in Hawaii,” fines of over $100,000 are being given to anyone who causes damage to Hawaii’s reefs. There are also no exceptions to this new rule. The state plans to sue even the U.S. Navy over coral that was ruined when a guided missile cruiser ran aground near Pearl Harbor earlier this year. Another example: a Maui tour company is paying the state nearly $400,000 in fines for damaging more than 1,200 coral colonies when one of its boats sank at Molokini, one of the islands’ most pristine reefs and most popular diving spots.

Experts say coral reefs in the marine national monument, a conservation area in the greater Hawaiian islands that is one of the biggest in the world, are in good shape. However, reef that is closer to Hawaii’s eight major islands centers have experienced severe overfishing and sediment runoff. Careless ocean users, who can kill a 500-year-old coral in just five minutes, are another real and difficultly controlled danger to the reef as well.

[via NatGeo Adventure Travel]