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Costa Rica Still a Hotspot for Birders

Travelers flock to the Central American nation with high hopes of seeing rare and beautiful birds

On an overcast day in the middle of Costa Rica’s green season, the boat floated down the murky Río Frío (cold river) along the border of Nicaragua. Large trees, seemingly pulled from a Dr. Seuss book, lined the waterway, casting shadows along the water’s edge.

This was my first trip to Costa Rica, a 2013 journey to catch sights of as many exotic species as possible. I went into the rainforests, cloud forests and unique water environments like so many other camera-toting tourists. I was looking for a sloth, those adorable, smiley mammals that have become a must-see in this Central American locale. If no sloth were ready available, a caiman alligator would do, maybe even a Baird’s tapir or fer-de-lance snake (at least from a safe distance). I was not naïve enough to think that a jaguar sighting was in the cards.

Resplendent_Quetzal_Costa_Ricaphoto by myheimu, on FlickrBirders travel to Costa Rica to catch sight of the resplendent quetzal and other birds.

However, rather quickly, and especially along the bubbly highway of the Río Frío, I realized that Costa Rica’s bird species are far greater an attraction than anything with four legs or no legs at all. After 10 days of touring, visiting some of the usual jaunts like the area around Arenal Volcano, Monteverde and its cloud forest, and the beachside tranquility of Manuel Antonio, my bird list had grown voluminous. From the resplendent quetzal, a transfixing bird I found in the Monteverde region, to a female anhinga swiveling its neck into an “S” shape on a dead tree up north, the discoveries were relatively easy to find. They were breathtakingly stunning for this inexperienced birder, almost to the point where I wanted to ask the howler monkeys to quiet down so I could focus my eyes on each bird’s plumage.

My new obsession for these winged creatures is an obsession shared by many other travelers. Richard Garrigues, author of The Birds of Costa Rica from Zona Tropical Publications, has been birding since he was 16 and living in suburban New Jersey. He chased his birding dream all the way to Costa Rica, where he’s been living for more than 30 years. “I just happened to stumble into tourism here in Costa Rica,” Garrigues said recently. “Never thought about writing a book either.”

He now …more

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Resisting for the River

Communities in southeastern Nepal are fighting against a proposed big dam project

Ensure the rights of indigenous people to water, forest, and land.” The words are painted in thick pink Nepali script on a rock above the Saptakoshi River. A narrow path below leads to the proposed Saptakoshi Multipurpose High Dam site. It is April, the air thick with the heat of the mid-morning sun in the Eastern Hills of Nepal, and the distant figures of sari-clad women squatting by the river’s edge are made hazy with the dust. A few miles from this point, in the riverside village of Barahkshetra, Maya Pariyar sits outside her shop, selling colored threads and orange plastic jugs to the people who come to pray by the holy river and the temple at the water’s edge.

photo of a riverside with peoplephoto by Janika Oza 

Barahkshetra is one of the first villages that will be flooded if the 882.5 foot-high Saptakoshi Dam is constructed here as a joint project between India and Nepal. It is in this village that local residents opposed to the dam, prevented government representatives from performing a Detailed Project Report assessing the potential impacts of the dam back in 2008. And this is where, according to Pariyar, all the people of the surrounding communities will gather to oppose the dam project if and when the construction begins.

“To have this river, this temple, is a natural gift for our community, so it should not be destroyed in the name of the high dam,” Pariyar says.

The Saptakoshi River, as the largest river basin in Nepal, is viewed as a source of life and death: it has been mentioned in various Hindu scriptures as Kausiki and is home to many ancient settlements and temples. The temple of Barahkshetra, just downstream of the proposed dam site, is said to be the place where Ganesh the elephant god descended to bathe, and is also the confluence of all seven river tributaries, making it one of the holiest places and a major pilgrimage site for Hindus.

Like Pariyar, many residents of Barahkshetra and the surrounding villages feel that their perspectives are being excluded from negotiations about the dam, which was initially proposed back in 1953 as a means of controlling the annual floods downstream in the state of Bihar, India. The proposal was dropped due to high costs, with the Indian government choosing instead to build a …more

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BP Oil Spill Left Rhode Island-Sized ‘Bathtub Ring’ on Ocean Floor

Study finds 10 million gallons of oil settled and coagulated on the floor of the Gulf near the Deepwater Horizon rig

By Anastasia Pantsios

The aftereffects of the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and the subsequent massive oil spill that gushed for three months go on and on and on—in the lives of  Gulf-area residents and businesses, the legal offices of BP and its contractors, and in the courts.

A new study reveals that the disaster, which BP claims has been cleaned up and its impacts exaggerated, left a deposit of oil the size of Rhode Island on the ocean floor.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Sitephoto by Green Fire Productions, on FlickrDay 30 of Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, University of California, Irvine, and Woods Hole (Massachusetts) Oceanographic Institution, led by geochemistry professor Dave Valentine from UCI, have published a study Fallout Plume of Submerged Oil from Deepwater Horizon. Analyzing sea sediment, they discovered what they referred to as a “bathtub ring,” saying it “formed from an oil-rich layer of water impinging laterally upon the continental slope (at a depth of 900 - 1,300 m) and a higher-flux ‘fallout plume’ where suspended oil particles sank to underlying sediment.”

“Following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, an unprecedented quantity of oil irrupted into the ocean at a depth of 1.5 km,” the study said. “The novelty of this event makes the oil’s subsequent fate in the deep ocean difficult to predict. This work identifies a fallout plume of hydrocarbons from the Macondo Well contaminating the ocean floor over an area of 3,200 km. Our analysis suggests the oil initially was suspended in deep waters and then settled to the underlying sea floor. The spatial distribution of contamination implicates accelerated settling as an important fate for suspended oil, supports a patchwork mosaic model of oil deposition and frames ongoing attempts to determine the event’s impact on deep-ocean ecology.”

The official government estimates said that about 5 million barrels of oil were released into the ocean in what the study refers to as an “uncontrolled emission.”

“Among the pressing uncertainties surrounding this event is the fate of 2 million barrels of submerged oil thought to have been trapped in deep-ocean intrusion layers at depths of 1,000 - 1,300 …more

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Deep Undercover: Police Officer in UK Fathered a Child with an Activist as Part of an Investigation

Court settlement raises new questions about ethics of police infiltration

What are the limits — if any — to undercover policing? At what point is a moral, ethical, or legal threshold crossed when an undercover operative insinuates himself into a targeted group or the lives of its members?

Last Thursday British media reported that the UK’s Metropolitan Police would pay £425,000 (about $686,000) in a settlement with a woman, known only as Jacqui, who was conned by a man who fathered her first child, said that he loved her, and then one day disappeared. She knew him as Bob Robinson. His real name, as she would learn 25 years later, was Bob Lambert. He was an operative with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a special unit within the British police that infiltrated a host of environmentalist groups to gather intelligence. In several cases the operatives, almost always men, established long-term intimate relationships with women in order to gain access to the world of underground animal rights or environmental activists.

Metropolitan policePhoto by CGP GreyMetropolitan police officer Bob Lambert’s mission was to work his way into the “intensely furtive, hard-core wing of the animal rights movement.

Jacqui’s was 22 when she first met Lambert. He was more than ten years older than her, and had already been a member of the Metropolitan police for several years. He went undercover in 1983 not long before he met Jacqui. As Rob Evans and Paul Lewis explain in their book Undercover, Lambert’s mission was to work his way into the “intensely furtive, hard-core wing of the animal rights movement: the Animal Liberation Front.” Having a girlfriend who was already trusted and well connected within activist circles was one of the easiest ways to become a “deep swimmer,” a phrase used by members of the SDS to describe spies who completely immersed themselves in the groups they were monitoring. In addition to Jacqui, Lambert is known to have had romantic relationships with three other women during his career as an undercover operative. Seven other women have also filed charges against the Metropolitan police.

The revelation that she shared her life with a man she did not really know has wrecked Jacqui’s life. The Guardian reports: “The woman has been receiving psychiatric treatment and has contemplated suicide since she read a newspaper in 2012 and found out the true identity of the man who …more

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Indigenous Communities Challenge Big Oil in Belize

Groups push to keep US Capital Energy out of Sarstoon Temash National Park

The old school bus rattles along the dirt road, heading through the rainforest to the southernmost reaches of Belize. The sign would be easy to miss. Morning glory vines climb the small, rusted notice off to the right, nearly blending in with the banana plants and palm-thatch roofed houses in the Mayan community of Midway. Sarstoon Temash National Park. No Hunting, Fishing, Logging Or Fires.

A few hundred feet down the road, there is another rusting metal sign outside a small building that serves as the community health clinic: U.S. Capital Energy Belize. Oil Company Working For The Community. Like the clinic, the school and pre-school across the road are painted in the Texas-based oil company’s colors, yellow and green. Even the metal garbage bins around here are emblazoned with the company slogan: Energy that becomes life. The road ends where it meets the Caribbean Sea in the small Afro-indigenous Garifuna community of Barranco, one of the villages buffering the park.

Sarstoon Temash NationalPhoto by The Advocacy Project Temash River in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, near where US Capital Energy has been conducting seismic tests.

The Belizean government created Sarstoon Temash National Park — a 42,000-acre swath of waterways and lands rich in biodiversity that forms part of traditional Mayan territory — in 1994 without community consultation, but local communities have largely come to embrace the protected status of the area. And they have refused to cave to US Capital Energy as it attempts to develop oil prospects both in and outside of the park, pointing to the lack of consultation as well as the government’s double standards when it comes to environmental protection. 

“I mean, [the Belizean government is] going to tell me you can’t go and cut the leaves you want to make a thatched roof without their permission, you can’t go and fish, and you can’t do farming there — but it’s okay for a company to come and put a big rig in there?” says Tricia Mariano, president of the local Barranco branch of the National Garifuna Council, a group that works to preserve and strengthen the culture of the Garifuna people. “It’s contradictory,” she says, laughing.

Communities in the Toledo District of Belize have pursued two distinct paths of resistance, advancing a local indigenous conservation model within the park while also challenging oil …more

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Washington Completes the First Fully Electrified Scenic Loop Drive

Travelers can now take 440-mile zero-emissions ride through the Cascades’ glacier-clad peaks and evergreen forests

One of the most scenic road trips in the nation, Washington’s Cascade Loop Scenic Highway leads travelers on a 440-mile journey through a wilderness of glacier-clad peaks, past towns that proclaim their Western heritage, amid lush evergreen forests, alongside thriving vineyards, and across islands jutting into Puget Sound. With the recent installation of the final charging station, travelers can now navigate the entire scenic loop drive in an electric vehicle. Whether it is a day trip from Seattle, a week-long adventure, or something in-between, the strategically placed charging stations make it possible for electric car enthusiasts to undertake green travel as they wind their way through Washington’s diverse landscape.

With more than 60 charging stations along the route, even cars designed for the urban commute can navigate the loop without losing their charge. A 2014 Nissan Leaf, with a range of less than 100 miles, was the perfect vehicle for a test ride.

CascadesPhoto by Craig Damlo View from Diablo Lake Overlook in the North Cascades National Park.

Everett, located 30 miles north of Seattle, is an ideal starting point for those on the western side of the state. Heading out from Everett, the Stevens Pass Greenway provides electric vehicle drivers their first challenge as it climbs from sea level to the 4,000-foot pass. Charging stations along the way offer the opportunity to enjoy the scenery of quaint mountain towns, and the ski area at the summit allows drivers to charge before heading down to the Wenatchee Valley with its multitude of recreation possibilities.

From the Wenatchee Valley, the route heads north along the east side of the Cascades, hugging the Columbia River past fruit orchards and vineyards and eventually climbing into the heart of the North Cascades. Charging stations are available in picturesque towns such as Chelan, on the shores of magnificent Lake Chelan, and in the old west theme town of Winthrop. The final charging opportunity before climbing the pass is the mountain resort village of Mazama. From Mazama the route climbs over Washington Pass, which, at an elevation of 5,476 feet, is closed in winter. West of the pass, a charging station in Newhalem provides the boost needed to make it back down from the mountains. The route continues into Puget Sound over the Deception Pass Bridge and along Whidbey Island. Scenic island hamlets …more

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50 Years Ago, the Anti-Nuclear Movement Scored Its First Major Victory in CA

An interview with Bill Kortum, who helped lead the opposition to a nuke plant at Bodega Bay

Fifty years ago, on October 30, 1964, the American environmental movement scored a major victory when California utility Pacific Gas & Electric said it was abandoning plans to construct an atomic energy plant at Bodega Bay, about 70 miles north of San Francisco.

photo of a rugged coastlinephoto by Woody HastingsBodega Head

The struggle to protect Bodega Head is widely viewed as the launch point of the US anti-nuclear movement. The mass demonstrations at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, the opposition to PG&E’s development of the Diablo Power Station on the California Coast, the long-running American Peace Test actions against the Nevada nuclear test, the massive Nuclear Freeze marches – all of them came in the wake of the struggle against building a nuclear plant outside this small fishing village that would soon become better known as the setting of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Birds.

To many Northern California residents today, it is amazing that such a proposal ever existed; that otherwise sane people thought it was a good idea to build a nuclear power plant at the Bodega Head. At the time, however, most Americans were pro-nuclear, including most self-indentified “conservationists” or “environmentalists,” a word that was just then coming into use. So it fell to an ad-hoc band of citizen-activists to raise the alarm about the power plant and to spearhead the opposition to it. If those concerned citizens had not risen up to oppose this ill-conceived plan, we would be living in a different Northern California today, saddled no doubt with an aging industrial forbidden zone on what had once been a beautiful rocky outcropping on the coast.

I had the chance to speak with Bill Kortum, one of the few people still living in Sonoma County who was involved. Although I had prepared a set of questions to ask for the interview, most of them were swept away by Kortum’s eagerness to just spill his thoughts and memories of the six-year “Battle of Bodega Bay.”

Today, the pit that PG&E started excavating for the planned power station, known locally as “the hole in the head,” has become a small pond on the ocean’s edge – evidence of how nature can heal itself when we stop our destructive practices and get out of the way.

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