Australia’s Kakadu National Park floods trap tourists after they ignore closed road signs

What is it with German tourists and Australia’s Northern Territory? If they’re not getting eaten by crocodiles or succumbing to dehydration, they’re blatantly ignoring road signs and driving their way into croc-infested floodwaters. NT News online reports that four wayward Germans visiting remote Kakadu National Park drove their rented four-wheel-drive–allegedly at 80mph, no less–through the flooded crossing at Magela Creek and Oenpelli Road. The group were en route to see the famed Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of the park.

The car stalled out, leaving the foursome stranded in three feet of water, smack-dab in the middle of a 300-foot crossing. Despite their apparent inability to heed large, glaring warning signs and screams from more intelligent roadside onlookers, the Germans possessed enough survival instinct to clamber to the top of their vehicle, where they were rescued by police 30 minutes later.

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia, including Kakadu. I’ll be the first to point out that the international media and popular film and literature make the country out to be some kind of fauna-invoked death wish. If the great whites and saltwater crocs don’t get you, the box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopi, brown snakes, taipans, or redback and funnel web spiders will.

I’m not disputing the deadliness of these creatures. And I can’t deny that certain situations like the current floods in Queensland make an encounter more likely. The advice to avoid “crocky” areas of tropical Northern Australia is no joke, and should be taken very seriously. In general, however, it’s easy to avoid crocs and the rest of these much-maligned critters; your odds of ever seeing one (even if you’re Australian) are unlikely. It’s a huge continent, guys, and like most venomous or aggressive species, most of these animals won’t attack unless provoked.

When I visited stunning Kakadu (with a seasoned outfitter from the region, because there’s no shortage of untrained, self-proclaimed, even downright dangerous guides in the world), it was this same time of year; the “Wet,” or monsoon season. It’s low season for tourists because many roads are flooded, and as such, that does make for greater statistical odds for a croc encounter. But more to the point, why would you intentionally disobey safety precautions, especially when you’re in a foreign environment/they’re prominently displayed/designed for easy comprehension by international visitors?

The bottom line is, whether you choose to explore isolated places alone or with an environmentally-responsible, accredited professional, use your brain. Obey the rules, because they exist for a reason. Behave with respect for the land, flora, fauna, and people. Your stupidity or carelessness often cause more than just inconvenience to others. It can result in great expense and lost lives, including those of your rescuers. If nothing else, you’ll become fodder for global news outlets, who use you as an example of what not to do.

Ship made of plastic bottles completes trans-Pacific voyage

Way back in March we told you about the Plastiki, a ship made almost entirely out of plastic bottles, that was setting out from San Francisco to complete a crossing of the Pacific Ocean. The plan was for the ship, and her crew, to sail to Sydney, Australia, by way of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in an effort to raise awareness of the impact that we are having on the Earth’s environment, most notably the oceans. Yesterday, after spending 128 days at sea, and covering more than 8300 nautical miles, the Plastiki sailed into Sydney Harbor, completing her voyage at last.

The ship is the brain child of explorer and environmentalist David de Rothschild, who came up with the idea to build a boat out of plastic bottles more than four years ago. At times, de Rothschild, who is the founder of Adventure Ecology, wondered if he would ever see his dream become reality, but eventually construction of the boat commenced, and the project began to take shape. When it was finally finished, the Plastiki had more than 12,500 bottles incorporated into its hull, not to mention a host of other environmentally friendly gadgets like solar panels and wind generators, added to its final design.

One of the main missions of the expedition was to visit the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge collection of garbage that has accumulated in a single place in the Pacific Ocean. The GPGP is estimated to be larger than the state of Texas and continuing to grow all the time, as more and more waste is dumped into the ocean and ends up deposited in this strange gyre. The Patch is a testament to the damage that is being done to the environment and was quite a sobering sight to the crew of the ship.

Joining de Rothschild on the voyage were Skipper Jo Royle, Co-Skipper David Thomson, and the rest of the crew which consisted of Olav Heyerdahl, Graham Hill, Luca Babini, Matthew Grey, Max Jourdan, Singeli Agnew and Vern Moen. Well done crew!

[Photo credit: The Plastiki via Flickr]

Solar-powered plane flies at night

An airplane that relies entirely on solar energy has flown for 24 hours straight, cruising along happily through the darkness and emerging into the dawn with three hours left in its batteries. Once the sun rose, of course, the batteries immediately began to recharge.

The Solar Impulse is the product of the same great minds that brought you the cuckoo clock–the Swiss! The entire wingspan is covered with 12,000 solar cells that power four electric engines. Average cruising speed is 70 km/hr (43.5 mph). You can see complete stats on the plane here.

The next step for the engineers is to make the next generation of the plane, one that will fly around the world by 2013. The Solar Impulse is not the first solar-powered airplane, only the first to complete a manned night flight. Scientists and engineers have been experimenting with solar-powered planes since the 1970s and manned flights since the 1980s. This new leap forward will add impetus to a field of study that has so far received little attention from the press.

While this technology is still in the experimental stage, the potential impact for the airline industry and the environment is obvious. Airline emissions pose a major environmental threat, and G8 leaders have called for a 50 percent reduction in airline emissions by 2050. That’s a tall order, but it looks like the Swiss have shown the way forward. Of course the Solar Impulse’s slow speed and small cockpit mean the age of solar-powered 747s is a long way off, think of it as the modern equivalent of the Wright Brothers plane. It was only a generation after Kitty Hawk that passengers started flying to international destinations.

Good Beach Guide names best British beaches

The United Kingdom generally isn’t the first place people think of when they decide to go to the beach. Indeed, the beaches of Spain, France, and Cyprus are filled with lobster-red Brits, so it appears the locals agree, but the Good Beach Guide, published by the Marine Conservation Society, says the UK’s beaches are improving, at least in terms of water quality.

The latest report reveals that 421 of the UK’s 769 beaches have “excellent” water quality, up 33 from last year. In addition, fewer beaches are getting a failing grade. This is a positive trend after heavy rainfall in the past three years made sewage systems overflow and sloughed off fertilizers and agrochemicals from farmland.

The UK can’t sit on their laurels, though, because starting in 2015 the EU is going to enact tougher standards for water purity, and many beaches that are now borderline cases will get failing marks. The BBC has published an interactive map showing what regions do best. Of the two most famous beaches, Blackpool didn’t get the highest “MCS recommended” rating, but Brighton Pier did, which is interesting because the area recently elected the UK’s first Green Party Minister of Parliament.

Now if they could just do something about the weather. . .

Image of Blackpool beach courtesy zergo512 via Wikimedia Commons.

Mountainfilm Festival announces special guests for 2010

The Moutainfilm Festival, held annually in Telluride, Colorado, is an amazing mix of art, culture, adventure and environmental responsibility. Now in its 32nd year, the festival has become one of the top spots for photographers, filmmakers, explorers, and adventurers of all types to congregate and share their latest creations, while discussing important issues of the day.

One of the centerpieces for Mountainfilm is its Moving Mountains Symposium, which focuses on a different environmental issue each year. For 2010, the topic of the symposium, which will kick off a full weekend of events on May 28th, is the Extinction Crisis. Speakers will include mountaineering legend Rick Ridgeway, philanthropist Greg Carr, and National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, amongst others. These speakers will host lectures and discussions covering the alarming rate at which plants and animals are dying out on our planet. It has gotten so bad in fact, that some scientists are predicting that as many as 30-50% of all species on Earth could be gone by the middle of the 21st Century.

The festival has announced a host of other special guests who will be making their appearance in Telluride on that weekend as well. Those guests come from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from environmental activists, social anthropologists, photographers, writers, and more. A few of the big names that will be on hand include Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea, National Geographic Explorer in Residence Mike Fay, who once walked 2000 miles across Africa, and America’s top mountaineer, Ed Viesturs, who has summitted all fourteen 8000 meter peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen.

If you would like to attend the Mountainfilm Festival, which runs from May 28th-31st, there are a wide variety of options when it comes to buying passes, including excellent discounts for students and teachers. More information can be found by clicking here. The Mountainfim website also has good information for travelers who are planning to attend, with details on the best ways to travel to the town and where to stay when you get there. That information can be accessed by clicking here.

But if you’d really like to get involved in one of the best adventure film festivals anywhere on the planet, perhaps you’d consider volunteering. Volunteers have the opportunity to help make this one of the best events around, and earn themselves passes to attend any of the films being screened and take part in the other wonderful events that will be taking part that weekend.

And if you simply can’t make it to Telluride in May, then keep an eye on the Mountainfilm on Tour page, where they’ll announce dates for when the films will be arriving near you.