I want to fly away – Destination Flyways
I want to fly away – Destination Flyways
‘Take only memories and leave only footprints’ charms the travel brochure in bright letters. Also the scenery sounds to die for, doesn’t it? ‘A romantic landscape of coastal tundra, near to crystal clear coastal lagoons and bays.’ Let alone the food: ‘Enjoy our three course menu with a fresh variety of larval invertebrates, midges, mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and spiders. Perfected with a juicy smoothie of selected grass seeds and berries.’ It’s definitely time for a holiday.
Mr. Piper couldn’t agree more. Have you met Mr. Piper? Mr. Sand Piper. He is a bit lonely and bored by his wintery home in Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and by the same old cousin of shrimps and other boring see food. So he doesn’t hesitate long and books the advertised adventure trip to northeastern Russia along the Bering Sea coast of the Chukotsk peninsula and southwards down the Kamchatka peninsula. slot gacor
After 8,000 exhausting kilometers, with his neighbor annoyingly close to him and the board entertainment system broken, Mr. Piper finally arrives at the Arctic Circle in the final days of May. The brochure didn’t promise too much: excellent food, stunning scenery and on top lots of handsome girls. The lonely days are over. He immediately begins displaying his best suit he brought. Travel in stile he always says. And before long he meets his dream girl, they get married and live happily ever after. Too good to be true? It was! His wife leaves him only three weeks later and heads back home. Poor Mr. Piper stays behind with their children they just got.
Surely by now you guessed that Mr. Piper is a bird, if the larvae diet didn’t already give him away. He is a migratory Spoon-billed Sandpiper to be more precise. And after his chicks reach fledging age he too departs, with them following the 8,000 km south on their own a few weeks later.
Lay Over Stepping Stones
So to say, Mr. Piper is one of the one billion international tourists every year, spending US$ 1.03 trillion in 2011 alone. But this industry is dwarfed by the billions of migratory birds that set out to travel the world. Mr. Piper doesn’t like to travel alone. He flies together with 200 fellow waterbird species using twice a year the East Asia – Australasian Flyway, connecting Russia to Southeast Asia and Australia. As they travel along, conveniently they don’t have to worry about passports and visas, since they don’t mind any political borders that they cross.
However, one thing they couldn’t get rid of are lay overs. But instead of trying to sleep on an uncomfortable bench in the departure hall of Manila, Jakarta or Tokyo Airport, they use networks of sites that act like ‘stepping stones’ along flyways for resting, feeding, breeding and wintering. Thus spanning continents and oceans, used by a myriad of bird species, flyways represent one of the most spectacular and valuable phenomenon of the world’s natural heritage.
This heritage is used by plenty of migratory animals that are key components of the ecosystems that support all life on Earth. For instance their luggage: Instead of sunscreen and a camera they bring lots of pollen and seeds with them, contributing to ecosystem structure and function. Moreover, they regulate the number of species in ecosystems and provide food for other animals. Animals like us humans – through subsistence, recreational and commercial hunting and fishing. In this way they also have a great significance in many cultures – in legends, stories, religions, medicine and customs, or in the way we measure time and experience seasons. Not surprisingly there is a great deal of people preferring to watch them over eating them: Mr. Piper and co. attract a lot of so called eco-tourists such as whale watchers or bird spotters. The latter already being three million people, give a hint that eco-tourism one of the fastest growing travel sectors in the world.
Quite aware of this, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) partnered up with the World Migratory Bird Day, May 10.-11.2014. This year’s theme ‘Destination Flyways: Migratory Birds and Tourism’ promotes building local sustainable tourism by linking together key migratory bird sites, local communities and the global wildlife watching industry – with benefits for both people and migratory birds.
Seawalls and CO2
To grasp the importance of this effort, we could ask Mr. Piper who is one of only 100 breeding pairs remaining in the wild. Some shorebirds show annual declines of nine % and third of the bird species in the flyway are already critically threatened. Why? Mind you, this region is also home to 45 % of the world’s human population, putting many bird sites under threat from land reclamation and degradation. Just take one example of a stepping stone being lost: Saemangeum, the largest seawall in the world, eliminated one of the Yellow Sea’s most important shorebird refueling habitats, which hosted half a million migrating shorebirds.
But Mr. Piper’s peers also face more indirect threats, such as habitat fragmentation and degradation caused by climate change. While Mr. Piper emits only a few kilos of carbon dioxide on his 16.000 km travel, humans are not as frugal. For the same trip the average airline passage would emit more than 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide. And since they are produced at cruising altitudes high in the atmosphere, they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a multiplying warming effect. Including this effect one passenger emits an equivalent of close to 4 tons. This is four times the emissions of the average Filipino, a year. Thus civil aircraft –ironically fundamental for international tourism, accounts for two to six percent of global warming, with emissions having risen by 83 % since 1990.
Unfortunately this is not the only environmental impact of tourism, consuming vast amounts of energy, water, land and habitats. Mount Everest’s damaged habitats and slopes littered with garbage from countless tourists, deforestation and water scarcity at the Western Indian coast or the loss of Mr. Pipers habitat in Saemangeum are but some reminders.
No Passport, no Boarders
Luckily, governments, conservation organizations, scientists, and others around the world work together to conserve Mr. Piper’s and other migratory birds’ habitats. For instance habitats in the East Asia – Australasian flyway, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity deals with. Its protected area management, supported by GIZ, the German Development Cooperation, focuses on important stepping stones in the region.
Lots of such stones are also to be found in 119 States in the African-Eurasian flyway, used by 255 fellow bird species of Mr. Piper. The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (UNEP/AEWA) aims to conserve those, from the northern reaches of Canada and Greenland, across Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia to the southern tip of Africa.
However, since birds don’t have a passport and don’t know political boarders, international efforts are also crucial. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Program is concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale. As is BirdLife International, a partnership of 116 independent national NGOs.
Within this framework, sustainable tourism has its role to play: Planning and management can dramatically reduce the impact on environments and bird habitats, and help locals to conserve and benefit from their biodiversity. But an even more important role plays the sustainable tourist, respecting local cultures, supporting local economies and being environmentally conscious. The brochure was right after all: Take only memories and leave only footprints.
Nature’s Invisible Hand – Simply Complex
Stuck in a traffic jam? Trouble with your partner? Stressed by your job? Zoom away and relax for a moment in wonderland… a place of rainbows and unicorns. But where can we find such mystic place?
The narrow strip of lush evergreen forests along the mountains of the Annamites called Truong Son in Vietnam, and Sai Phou Louang in Laos, might just be it! Entangled in the rainbow-magic monsoon forests along the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail, look closely and you might just get a glimpse of a unicorn…
The polite Animal
An Asian unicorn to be precise! And its name is well deserved, owing to its long, sharp parallel horns. Undeniably, the chocolate brown Saolas or Pseudoryx nghetinhensis do have a certain mystique about them. Known as ‘polite’ animals, they walk in a gentle, quiet and slow manner. When they sleep, they have their forelegs tucked under their bodies, necks extended and chins resting on the floor. Then again, to witness this wonder you have to be lucky,very lucky. The eight million year old cousin to the cow, goat and antelope is a relic of the last Ice Age and one of the world’s rarest mammals. Only 11 have been recorded alive. The first one during an expedition lead by Dr. John Mackinnon, the co-director of the ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation, now known as ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), who remembers: ‘I knew it was so ‘wow!’ so ‘new’!’
Also with an undeniable wow factor is the Kangaroo rat, which is so adapted to desert life that it won’t take a single drink of water in its whole life. Or the scallops, which have more than 100 single eyes – commonly blue ones. Or take the clam ‘Ming’, the world’s oldest-recorded animal, born 507-years ago when Leonardo da Vinci was just painting the ‘Mona Lisa’. Sadly Ming just passed away, some 70 million years after the Dino Deinocheirus, an odd mix of a sloth and camel, with 2.4-m-long arms and 20-cm claws. Not wow enough? Then you might like the Glowing Jellyfish, or rather the glow-in-the-dark ice cream, a British company is making from the jellyfish’s luminescent protein.
The Economy of Nature
Glow-in-the-dark, 100 eyes, unicorns! Marveling the resourcefulness of nature’s incredibly ludicrous and squandering inventions one cannot help but wonder: what’s the point and how is this even possible? By sheer chance? Surely not?
Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith offers an answer. Exactly 238 years ago, on 9 March 1776, he published ‘The Wealth of Nations’. In this fundamental work in classical economics, he illuminates how our incredibly complex, inventive and powerful economy works and developed – a similarly puzzling mystery to nature’s rich biological diversity. In a nutshell: Each enterprise is doing its best to prosper, yet without the ‘benefit’ of a centralized planner. Something very simple -individual competition- results invisibly to our eye in something very complex – an efficient economy. But how can Smith’s famous metaphor of the invisible hand of the self-regulating market explain our rich natural biodiversity? English naturalist Charles Darwin wondered too, and coined the term ‘Economy of Nature’, according to which life on earth evolves without the guidance of a designer. Instead, in his book ‘Origin of Species’ he explains the ‘invisible hand’ of nature, better known as evolution.
“The survival of the Fittest” – rings a bell? Well, let’s see… To grasp this concept, take a friend and play a little game. You have to guess a word in 20 questions only with yes or no answers. Out of the about one million possible words of the English language that seems impossible, or is it? Just try and see what happens: ‘Is the word an animal?’ ‘No’. ‘Can I eat it?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Is it a fruit?’ ‘No’…
Step by step you get to the answer, quicker than you think. This is how it works: initially you ask for a category of words, which may be wrong. Thus, in the next round you randomly vary the category and repeat asking, coming closer to the word every step. This is the same with nature: a random genetic mutation causes a variation, for instance slightly thicker fur on a formerly bold animal. In a hot climate this variation is useless, or even a hindrance. The environment will answer with no. In a colder climate however, the variation is very beneficial, helping to survive the cold. Thus, the variation will be passed on to the next ‘round of questions’, inherited by the following generation. This way of the environment saying yes is called selection. But instead of passing on variations in words like in the game, evolution uses genetic code, also known as DNA. This does not only happen in one individual but the whole genetic pool of many individuals. Repeated over and over again the animal species will become very furry – or glowing in the dark or have 100 eyes.
Put simply, the stepwise progress of evolution works through hereditary variation plus variation in success of reproduction (selection) plus repetition. Thus, the common understanding of evolution as the ‘survival of the fittest’ can be rephrased as ‘passing on the code of the most successful reproducer’. However, this does not only happen in reproducing animal or plant species. It is a universal principle in many systems, such as culture. Our taste for music, art or food is stored (e.g. in a cookbook), multiplied and passed on (e.g. by a publishing house), and modified (e.g. by the cook). Or take evolutionary algorithms which are used daily for instance by hackers to break password protection or by automated trading systems in the financial sector.
Just like Smith’s invisible hand ‘Darwin’s theory of evolution was a concept of such stunning simplicity – variation, selection, repetition- but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life’ English writer Douglas Adams put it.
Does life get ever more complex then? There are indeed increasingly complex blueprints, like the ones of our eye or brain. But that does not necessarily make it more successful. In fact, the most basic life forms are still dominant on earth, such as the estimated nine million bacteria species which are around for billions of years already.
This notion does not only explain the immense biological diversity around us, but puts us in line with the millions of peer species – inviting a certain humbleness. Sure, throughout history humans tried to push the pause button on their own evolution by building buffers, like houses or medicine, against the natural selection around them. And instead of growing their own thick coat of fur like other animals, men simply learnt to take it off them. But mind you that it is exactly this evolution born diversity around us that makes the global ecosystems resilient to all kinds of threats. If one species fails, the next one steps in. If conditions change, gene pools can adapt. Biodiversity acts as an ecosystem insurance, we are all too dependent on.
But at the same time that we discover our brilliantly rich, complex world in which we live in, we are destroying it at a rate is unprecedented in history- a rate too fast for natural adaptation, since evolution doesn’t happen overnight. While in Smith’s economy enterprises go ‘bankrupt‘, in nature, species go ’exterminated’.
Which brings us back to our unicorn: the latest was photographed in Vietnam last September 2013 for the first time in the 21st century. Let’s hope it was not the last time, as the unicorn is extremely threatened from hunting and habitat fragmentation. To protect its habitat, Barney Long, a World Wildlife Fund conservation biologist is working with fellow scientists in Vietnam, where he woefully reckoned: ‘If we lose the Saola, it will be a symbol of our failure to protect this unique ecosystem’.
Long couldn’t be more right. The Unicorn is only one of its 5000 fellow species endangered in Southeast Asia, almost a third of all 16,928 species listed as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List. And exactly these are the priority of the Unicorn spotter Mackinnon’s heritage, the ACB. the Philippine-based Centre, Since 2010 supported by the German development cooperation GIZ, coordinate sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. Well aware that its loss is bad news not only for unicorn lovers but for all Southeast Asians, utterly dependent on the services biodiverse and resilient ecosystems provide. These services include provisioning of water and timber, cleaning of air or supporting of natural cycles, and also recreational and esthetic values.
Such values come to mind when wandering about Vietnam’s wild jungle or dreaming away with rainbows and unicorns… sounds like a much better idea than letting them go ‘bankrupt’, doesn’t it?