Did you know that…

all life on Earth has a common origin?

The chemical elements are the basis of all matter (from rocks, minerals, and ores, to air, water, plants, animals and humans) and are the foundation of all life. For example, the human body is made of following elements:

  • Oxygen – 65% (site of origin: supernovae)
  • Carbon – 18.5% (site of origin: Red Giants)
  • Hydrogen – 9,5% (site of origin: Big Bang)
  • Nitrogen – 3,3% (site of origin: Red Giants)
  • Calcium – 1,5% (site of origin: supernovae)
  • Phosphorus – 1,0% (site of origin: supernovae)
  • Iron – 0,006% (site of origin: Super Giants)

By studding meteorites, scientists discovered the origins of these elements in the space – nuclear fusion reaction deep inside a star, like our Sun, produces Hydrogen, whereas Iron is formed at high temperatures and under high pressure by other fusion reactions in the interior of old dying stars, or other elements are formed during supernovae explosions, whose remnants are expanding gas clouds that distribute the elements into space, which provide the raw material for new stars and planets – and for us) – and hence the famous expression: “We all are stardust” !

During the course of Earth’s history, each biologically bound nitrogen atom has been recycled 1.000 times already, while oxygen atoms have gone through 60 cycles so far. Death, decay and decomposition close natural resource cycles. The nutrients taken up during feeding are released again and thus made available to other organisms. The increase and loss of matter is negligible. Each year about 100.000 tons of cosmic dust reach Earth. Conversely, a small amount of atmosphere is lost by erosion through solar wind.

When it comes to living organisms, more proof of same origin and similarities occur:

  • all organisms use the same 23 amino acids to form proteins although there are more than 250 potential amino acids
  • all amino acids in organisms are left-handed molecules, although right-handed variants exist in nature as well
  • all organisms use the bio-molecule DNA as the carrier for genetic information
  • the sources of energy for life are charged hydrogen atoms, packed in the energy-storage molecule

This reemphasizes the connectivity between all life on Earth, and similarity between humans and other animal species and plants! For all the external differences, deep down, we’re very much alike! 

Earth

Israel and Wildlife conservation

Isreal is a small country in Near East, but with a fundamental role in wildlife conservancy, thanks to its location at the junction of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa, making it one of the busiest flyways of migratory birds.

Israel is also known as the Start-up Nation, being internationally renowned for its creativity in technology, and 2 applications stand above others in their use to benefit people, as well as the wildlife, setting an example for other countries, that technological innovations can and should be employed, to mitigate some of the negative impacts on the environment that result from our current way of living. Firstly, as extensively explained in Seth Siegel‘s book “Let there be Water“, Isreal managed, through technological innovation but also good practice and education, not only to avoid a water crisis due to its geographic reality (biggest part of the country being desert or semi-desert) and high population density, but to be self-sustainable from agricultural point of view (most water-intensive activity) and even become a fresh water exporter (through sewage treatment and re-usage in agriculture, water efficient drip irrigation, desalinization, underground aquifers usage, fair pricing of water to its population without government subsidies, extensive school education in water usage and floods water capture infrastructure)! Israel has come a long way to reach this status in water availability and practices and now can afford to allocate some of this fresh water and land into conservancy (government is still in charge of its water resources and its distribution, this has never been privatized in Israel by current market models of other developed countries, where even if regulated, the main stakeholder would only be interested in profit, which would be proportional with higher irresponsible consumption by population), for few key locations used by birds every year (managed by Israel Nature and Park Authority, birding sites click here) as resting and feeding ground on their annual journey from Nordic plains in summer to warm grounds in Africa in winter. The second invention was of special radars to monitor the seasonal bird migrations and adjust the time-table and routes of their military and commercial flights to avoid the risk of collision with the birds, reducing the number of incidents from 123 in 1983 to reportedly less than 10 per year in present, again benefiting both people and wildlife!

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In terms of land conservation for wildlife mammals unfortunately only the minimum possible seems to have been made, with some iconic Biblical species (the Somali Wild Ass, the Addax, the White Oryx or the Onger), living in large enclosures, like the one we visited called Hay-Bar Nature Reserve. The Negev desert was once the home also for the iconic Arabian leopard, but since 2017 it is considered officially extinct, at least in Dead Sea area. Based on the individuals still living in captivity, hopefully more can be done for these superbly adaptive species, to be reintroduced in the wild, to be once again part of a healthier desert ecosystem!

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Some sources for more details, for the ones of you interested in visiting Israel for wildlife monitoring:

Israel Birding Portal

ebird.org – maybe the best known birds monitoring website, where anyone can contribue

10 best locations for Bird-watching in Israel

Hula Valley

Hay-Bar Nature Reserve

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.

activityactivity 2me with WWF Bcn

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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