The Red Sea corals

The Red Sea is a rich and diverse ecosystem, and one of the 10 most famous diving spots in the world. More than 1200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere else! Not to mention the dolphins and sea-turtles, or other charismatic wildlife species! 8 countries have access to the coast of the Red Sea, these are: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen, Jordan and Israel (our recent tourist destination – city of Eilat).

The rich diversity is in part due to the 2,000 km (1,240 mi) of coral reef extending along its coastline; these fringing reefs are 5000–7000 years old and are largely formed of stony acropora and porites corals (mostly stony corals, but also many soft species). Corals are colonial animals which construct skeletal structure of limestone, often forming extensive reefs. Corals, or polyps, attach permanently to a surface such as a rock face, and slowly build themselves the protective structures and networks we see as the coral reefs. They mostly live in shallow tropical waters, as they depend on algae, that live inside them, as a source of food. The algae need sunlight, and through photosynthesis provide oxygen to the coral, and in turn, the coral gives off the carbon dioxide that algae needs (a genuine symbiosis relationship). Fish species are also dependent on coral reef for food, protection and reproduction.

Approximately 10% of the world’s coral reefs are dead. About 60% of the world’s reefs are at risk due to human-related activities. The threat to reef health is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where 80% of reefs are endangered. Over 50% of the world’s coral reefs may be destroyed by 2030! A healthy ocean, which is paramount to the full ecosystem from which we are part, depends on the health of its corals (a map of world’s coral spots attached below). Today coral reefs are under stress around the world, from pollution, over-fishing, disease, digging of canals, unsustainable tourism and broader threats like sea temperature rise, which may alter the pH and cause ocean acidification (associated with green house emissions), causing coral to break easier and eventually bleach (die). And their natural recovery period is taking much longer than in the case of forests or other ecosystems, so their destruction is more lasting!

coral map

Other type of negative impact the Lessepsian migration (also called Erythrean invasion) – the migration of marine species across the Suez Canal (Egypt), usually from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and more rarely in the opposite direction. To this day, about 300 species native to the Red Sea have been identified in the Mediterranean Sea, and probably others are as yet unidentified.  While some alien species can have a positive impact on an ecosystem, either by fulfilling a need in an area under stress, or by providing an additional food source, others can become invasive, displacing native species and degrading local habitats.

The Red Sea is already one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, owing to high evaporation. In addition, there are at least 18 man-made desalination plants along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia which discharge warm brine and treatment chemicals that bleach and kill corals and cause diseases to the fish. Other countries are not scoring higher in terms of sustainability. Even Israel, one of the smallest countries in the world (however one of most densely populated) but with most advance economy in the region, puts a lot of stress on the environment, due to its limited space, semi-arid climate, high population growth and resource scarcity, which may lead to water shortages and long-term unsustainable practices to produce it, pollution, shrinking of the Dead Sea (a human accelerated ecological disaster), waste production and its disposal practices.

We can always make a difference as tourists to assure sustainability and health of the Red Sea corals! While your presence will give the economic incentive to the authorities to protect the corals through special laws, your sustainable practices in terms of plastic usage, or chosen means of local transportation, or eco criteria of picking local providers of services, or other personal consumption habits, or usage of ecological sun-screams, or underwater coral protection from touching or hitting! This way we will protect nature and we will surely enjoy a wonderful time, allowing future generations also to benefit from these underwater wonders!

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sdrdavCoral Reef and Tropical Fish in the Red Sea, Egypt

More professional pics here: Eilat Underwater Observatory, enjoy!

Exclusive interview with the Brown Bear

Wildlife-Reporter: Wow, I see you have put on same weight since we last met! What happened?

Mr. Bear: Well, this is nothing, you should see my cousin from Kodiak, twice my size! It’s winter time and as you know, food is more scarce, so we have been gorging during the summer, eating pretty much everything, from grass to salmons, from insects to wild flowers, from forest raspberries to wild honey, from…

W-R: Never mind, before I get hungry…we invited you for an exclusive interview, as you are our nomination for 2018 most famous wildlife icon! And we promise not to keep you long, as we know you must be on your way to winter residence for the long hibernation sleeps! How have you been?

Mr. B: We, bears, are creatures of habit, shy and peaceful, so we try not to capture much attention, while getting on with our routine! That is why we acquired some nocturnal habits, to avoid company of men. And as always, we are mostly busy with… surviving! That involves storing enough fat for winter, raising our cubs and avoiding humans!

W-R: And how well do you manage to… survive?

Mr. B: We are pretty good at that, our kind evolved to be one of the most competitive large species in nature! We out-strong or out-smart our natural enemies, we have keen senses, we eat pretty much everything and we are very creative in finding the food, we can endure harshest weather conditions and our organism is adapted to recycling the nitrogen from our waste during the winter sleep and turning it into muscle building proteins thus coming stronger in spring and ready to resume activity immediately! We have no real natural predators, except for our own kind, large males which may be a threat to our cubs! But we are doing rather poor when coming to avoiding impact from human activity, our real protection here is the weather, while before modern human society we inhabited most of the planet (from African continent to North Pole, from Tibet to Mexico and up all the way to Alaska), now we retrieved to colder Northern regions or very remote mountain locations!

W-R: Which are the main human related threats, if I may ask?

Mr. B: Direct threats like trophy hunting, but also indirect ones through destruction of our main habitats, global warming (mainly for the Polar cousin) or poaching for our bladder, an organ of zero nutritional value to humans, but highly appreciated in Chinese culture, for its presumed magical powers! To these bile eaters I say one thing: If you want to be strong as a bear, don’t eat parts of the bear, but live like a bear, as only the strongest survive in our environment!

W-R: What about the human protection you get in the national parks?

Mr. B: We do appreciate the national parks, and we thank all our fans to come and see us, and teach their children and friends about us and about the places where we live! If it wouldn’t be for such places, we would have no presence in many places which we have always inhabited. Thanks to our fans and the boost that the local tourism gets, we are allowed to exist under protection and do what we know best, to survive, as wild bears! But these national parks cannot be our only home, nature doesn’t work like this, we need space, we sometimes need to migrate to other regions to avoid isolation and in-breeding, we need to live by nature’s law where strongest males father the new generations rather then decorating the wall of a rich hunter! We are the symbol itself of all there is, wild and free!

W-R: What should people learn, why it is so important for bears to continue being part of this new world, which is changing too fast under our own eyes?

Mr. B: Humans need to understand that bears, as well as other large carnivores, represent the top-chain of healthy ecosystems, that are providing free services worth trillions to human kind, but which are sensitive and whose resources are not able to regenerate faster than current exploitation levels! There cannot be a healthy ecosystem without carnivores, and there cannot be human kind in long run without a sustainable ecosystem! We are all part of this world, as we know it, remove one piece, and this world will turn into something else, totally different, with many unpredictable consequences!

W-R: Thank you Mr. Bear, we cannot agree more! And to conclude with, a poem for all to read, from one of your fans! And for those fans who would like to see you “live” in action, fishing salmons in Katmai/Alaska (during season), here is access to the parks video cameras: Live from Katmai

“I am bear. I am not just “a” bear. I am the forest. I am the fragile ecosystem. I am the running streams, the canopy of the pines, the whistling winds, the fertile soil, and the radiant sun. I am everything that is natural, beautiful, and mysterious in the universe. I am not one of many. I am all that is one. I am bear.” Poem by Jennifer S. Clayburg

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Planting trees is good for wildlife and environment

Dedicating few hours and calories on a weekend, you can greatly help environment through an activity that is available to anyone interested: planting trees! Initiated by WWF Barcelona, one of the activities I joined had the purpose to “reclaim” (on behalf of nature) a riverbed (from humans habits and invasive species, apparently), as apart from planting local species of trees, we also had to participate in the removal of an invasive species of plant, called American cane (although it arrived here from Asia), which grows so tall and can take over full territories out-growing the smaller local plants, and also to collect the ubiquitous plastic waste, left by barbecue lovers in the area.

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Especially in proximity of cities, these places are equivalents of oasis in the desert for many species of birds and insects, used as shelter, resting and feeding grounds, and even as home for this handsome pheasant!

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Either you are planting trees in your own garden, or in a friend’s garden, or in public spaces, it does help nature and wildlife! You may never be able to replace a pristine forest, or be as efficient as nature is (when not disturbed by human activity), but people can be a true force as well, if each of us contributes, considering the large population today, number do counts, especially closer to urban areas! Don’t hesitate, join a larger group if you have to, there are plenty organizations willing to accept your volunteering! I am sure you will enjoy, as I did!

group photo

Pollinators: what’s all the buzz about?

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from a male part of a plant to a female part of a plant, enabling later fertilization and the production of fruits and/or seeds. According to latest Living Planet Report 2018 by WWF, the majority of flowering plants need pollination, as much as “from an average of 78% in temperate-zone communities to 94% in tropical communities“!

Between 100,000 and 200,000 species of animal act as pollinators of the world’s 250,000 species of flowering plant, as per Wikipedia. The majority of these pollinators are insects (more than 20,000 species of bees, many other types of insects e.g. flies, butterflies, moths, wasps and beetles), but about 1,500 species of birds and mammals also visit flowers and may transfer pollen between them. Our food production depends heavily upon these pollinators – more than 75% of the leading global food crops. From economic point of view, pollination increases the global value of crop production by US$235-577 billion per year to growers alone and keeps prices down for consumers by ensuring stable supplies.

Agricultural intensification (through use of pesticides) and urban expansion is one of a number of key drivers of pollinator loss, especially when natural areas, that provide foraging and nesting resources, are degraded or disappear. The abundance, diversity and health of pollinators is also threatened by a number of other drivers including a changing climate, air and noise pollution, invasive species and emerging diseases and pathogens (as I learned in a local crash-course I recently attended – photos here -, domestic bees in Europe are now entirely dependent on humans for medication and protection from invasive parasites, from which they have no natural immunity).

Pollinators are the foundation for a stable ecosystem. If only a few species of plants depended on pollinators the overall effect would not be as devastating however, but this is not the case! As the artistic graffiti shows below, this is bad news for all ecosystem, including wildlife and people, the world as we know it would vanish! In this regard, to help humans be more environmentally responsible, we made few suggestions to follow (on our @Eco page) in our daily lives, to avoid such a terrible probability, knowing the risk is real and time is running out!

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Power of example

There is nothing more pleasant than a walk in the country side, on a sunny autumn day! Very fast you come to accept the slower pace of life – meaning the normal pace of life, the one that exists outside office and city life but you are not very familiar with lately – and you come to terms with nature, which gets along its way regardless. This time of year, trees and wildlife prepare for the colder season, already the lower temperature at night and shorter days have turned the leaves yellow or red, just before falling on the ground and turning into rich black soil, from which fresh life will flourish next spring, resuming relentlessly the cycle of life! The sheep are coming down from the mountains to lower winter grounds, a nice spectacle to watch, still unfolding in many corners of the world, whereas some wildlife species have their underground borrows ready, storing latest provisions from the rich autumn menu – forest fruits, acorn, nuts, herbs etc, in preparation for hibernation!

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However one thing disturbed the picture and my peace of mind, the plastics left behind by the ubiquitous consumer. But I did come prepared, as this is not something new I come across in nature, so I rolled my sleeves, dived in, and almost filled the two large bags I brought with me, leaving behind a clean trail, and making sure I showed my capture to all the passer-by, existing consumer and maybe, future environmentalists! Power of example, you find it in any specialty books, and doesn’t apply to office activities only, nature can also benefit, if you are willing to contribute!

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Ideally this plastic can now be recycled, but at least it wont turn into micro-plastic to be swollen by births or fish, once it reaches rivers and eventually seas and oceans!

At the end of the day, I was very happy I could turn a favor to the Nature, after spending such a wonderful day outdoor, so I not only relaxed, but also came back home with a great sense of satisfaction! Try it sometimes, you will understand what I mean! 😉

Wildlife crossings

During the early 20th century, with the development of the internal combustion engine and the automobile, infrastructure had to be adapted. As Wendell Berry puts it in his “The World-Ending Fire” book, we moved FROM paths, described as a little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place, a sort of ritual of familiarity, a form of contact with a known landscape TO roads, whose reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste, wishing to avoid contact with landscape, seeking to go over the country rather than through it, its tendency being to translate place into space in order to traverse it with least effort. A road is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way.

FROM paths:

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Today’s road infrastructure looks as science-fiction already, keeping us disconnected from life beyond the windshields and, as Wendell Berry mentions, a road advances by destruction of forest, or in case of modern roads, by destruction of topography.

TO roads:

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The development of roads affects wildlife by altering and isolating habitat and populations, deterring the movement of wildlife, and resulting in extensive wildlife mortality, roadkill becoming a common sight in most industrialized nations. Very large numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are killed on the world’s roads every day, the number in the United States being estimated at a million per day, an estimated 1.25 million insurance claims are filed annually due to collisions with deer, elk, or moose, amounting to 1 out of 169 collision damage claims. About 350,000 to 27 million birds are estimated to be killed on European roads each year. Not to mention the number of reptiles and insects as well…This is important because of the animal suffering, loss of wild animals (paving the way to extinction for many endangered species), road safety, and the economic impact on both drivers and road management. 

What can be done? As a driver always respect the speed limit and pay attention to the warning signs, in non-urban areas. Politicians could do even more, by including in the infrastructure budgets the so called wildlife crossings, which again, are a must, considering how much asset damage and suffering can avoid not only for wildlife, but also to their voters.

deer-crossinggreen corridorsman-made-wildlife-crossing-over-highway

Have a safe drive!