Climate change intensifies seaweed infestation in Caribbean Sea

July 2, 2019 by  
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Many consecutive years of sargassum — large brown seaweed — infestations have driven countries around the Caribbean Sea to consider declaring national emergencies. The smelly seaweed blankets beaches, turns the water brown and smothers coral reefs and marine life. Its rotten stench and unsightly appearance is causing many tourism-dependent communities and nations to lose revenue, and it is even causing a public health concern. “It produces an acid gas with a rotten egg smell [when it decomposes] that can be harmful to human health,” read a letter from the local government of Quitana Roo in Mexico, where a public emergency was declared. Mexico already spent $17 million USD trying to clear away the seaweed from popular beaches along the Riviera Maya, which contributes about 50 percent of the country’s tourism dollars. The government cleared more than 500,000 tons of the brown seaweed, with some hotels lamenting that they often have to have their staff clear the beach two or three times every day. Related: Woman arrested in Florida for stomping on sea turtle nest For nearly a decade, scientists have been concluding that the influx of seaweed is likely from fertilizers and raw sewage entering the Caribbean Sea via drains and watersheds. New research indicates that climate change is also playing a role. “Because of global climate change, we may have increased upwelling, increased air deposition or increased nutrient source from rivers, so all three may have increased the recent large amounts of sargassum,” said Chuanmin Hu, an oceanography professor at South Florida University. While small amounts of sargassum are natural and normal on beaches — and even provide habitat for crustaceans and other marine life — it is detrimental to nearshore ecosystems. Hatchling sea turtles , for example, cannot swim out to sea through the heavy seaweed, and many simply get stuck and die. Some agricultural communities are turning the seaweed into compost for crops; however, none are able to keep up with processing and clearing the massive quantities that periodically plague coastal areas. Via The Independent Image via Tam Warner Minton

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Climate change intensifies seaweed infestation in Caribbean Sea

Architects envision sustainable bamboo mass housing for Malaysia

July 2, 2019 by  
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Overshadowed by steel, brick and concrete, bamboo is no longer a major material for everyday Malaysian construction. Yet Cyberjaya-based architectural firm Eleena Jamil Architect believes that the sustainable material should and can join the ranks of modern construction materials. To prove that bamboo is not only a sustainable building material but also a viable one for long-term construction projects, the architects have designed Bamboo Terrace Homes, an eco-friendly proposal for mass contemporary housing built predominately from locally harvested bamboo. Modeled after the typical 22-foot-wide terrace houses found across Malaysia, Eleena Jamil Architect proposed Bamboo Terrace Homes can be used in both urban and suburban areas. Although bamboo has historically been used in Malaysian architecture, the material fell by the wayside due to its low natural resistance to pests and rot when alternative materials, such as steel and brick, rose to prominence. However, the architects said that properly treated and preserved bamboo is strong and resilient enough to be used as a long-term building material. Related: Competition-winning Bamboo Stadium is a sustainable solution to Lagos’ former landfill In their proposal, treated bamboo forms the main structures save for the bathroom enclosures, which will be made of prefabricated lightweight concrete volumes to keep moisture away from the structural bamboo components. The structural bamboo frames would be prefabricated , mass-produced and flat-packed to reduce costs and environmental impact. Bamboo columns would be used to hold up the engineered bamboo floors and roofs, while the internal and external walls would be built from a lightweight bamboo composite board system. According to Eleena Jamil Architect, the Bamboo Terrace Homes would have lower construction costs and a small carbon footprint as compared to standard terrace homes without compromising quality of living. Each contemporary house would include an internal courtyard, balconies and an open-plan floor layout to enhance flexibility. Ample natural light and ventilation would be welcomed indoors through large glazed openings, while large overhangs and balconies reduce heat gain. The proposal is only in the conceptual phase; however, the firm hopes that the design will inspire developers and the local government to adopt bamboo as a sustainable building material. + Eleena Jamil Architect Image via Eleena Jamil Architect

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Boa Mistura turns 52 fishing boats into art to bring awareness to the plight of the parrotfish

April 16, 2019 by  
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Inspired by the natural design and shapes of the tropical parrotfish, these previously-rusty old boats now don bright new exteriors. The venture was another in a long line of community projects aimed to create “art as a tool for change” organized by the Madrid-based art collective Boa Mistura . The Pepillo Salcedo village in the Dominican Republic has limited access to electricity and running water, and fishing is an essential facet of the economy and life. Boa Mistura, known for inspiring neighborhoods with its artwork, incorporated the community into the endeavor. With the help of local fishermen and their families, 52 fishing boats were sanded down, removed of mollusks, repaired with fiberglass and painted with primer to prepare them for their colorful transformations. The fishermen of Pepillo Salcedo took to the project enthusiastically, some paddling for hours to reach Los Coquitos Beach, where their boats were to be painted. Related: Old fisherman’s shack is reimagined as a dreamy eco retreat The utilization of the parrotfish conception was a mindful decision, as the animal holds a special significance in the tropical Caribbean region. The parrotfish feed off algae that collect onto the coral reefs , contributing to the cleanliness and therefore survival of the vital coral. What’s more, when the parrotfish eat the algae, it allows for the coral polyps (the soft, tiny organisms that help to form the structure of reefs) to become more resilient to other stressors, such as pollution or global warming. The fish feeds off of the coral itself as well, which is then turned into sand through the parrotfish’s digestive system and the animal’s tough teeth — some of the strongest teeth in the ocean , according to scientists. It is a fragile balance and relationship that benefits both the fish and the reef. A single parrotfish can produce hundreds of pounds worth of white sand in a single year, which means a substantial portion of the Caribbean beaches is made of parrotfish poop. Though the parrotfish is a protected species, intense illegal fishing has caused a devastating deterioration in both the fish population and the delicate harmony of the ecosystem. Needless to say, if the parrotfish numbers continue to decline, the region’s iconic white sand beaches and the colorful coral reefs will be in big trouble . The entire project took about four weeks, and now the 52 yolas (the local term for these traditional fishing boats) that cruise the Bay of Manzanillo serve as a reminder for the respect and mindfulness required for the survival of the Caribbean parrotfish, white sand beaches and coral reefs. + Boa Mistura Images via Boa Mistura

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Boa Mistura turns 52 fishing boats into art to bring awareness to the plight of the parrotfish

Azulik, an eco-paradise in Tulum, celebrates the four natural elements

February 28, 2019 by  
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The four elements of earth, fire, water and air are reflected in every material, design and spa offering throughout the campus of the Azulik eco resort in Tulum, Mexico. With the goals of conservation and fair-trade at every turn, Azulik is a 48-villa haven of relaxation built seamlessly into the jungle and along the postcard-perfect shoreline of the Caribbean Sea. All of the villas are hand-built from wood with eco-friendly materials sourced locally. There are a range of accommodation styles, each centered around one of the four natural elements, with a focus on relaxation, rejuvenation and healing. Each villa contains a traditional Mayan mosaic tile or volcanic stone tub, extra king-sized beds, mosquito nets and immersive views. Some are intricately interwoven into the surrounding jungle while others hover on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. Some special features exclusive to select villas include outdoor hot tubs, private stairways and even a 24/7 butler service. One obvious omission from the villas is electricity, including a lack of television, radios, Wi-Fi and lights. Related: This breathtaking Tulum art gallery was created by Peggy Guggenheim’s great-grandson The lack of electricity highlights the natural aspect of Azulik, noted by the candle-lit walkways and rooms. It’s not difficult to absorb the natural surroundings with walkways that meander throughout the property. These walkways are designed around existing trees for preservation. Nestled along the gorgeous Caribbean, the property also houses a cenote that feeds traditional mineral water into the villa bathtubs (sorry, no showers here). The on-property wetlands area provides water purification, flood control, carbon sink and shoreline stability. When you drag yourself away from your villa, you can explore the property and the surrounding area through the Mystikal Wanders program, which immerses guests in a unique blend of culture, nature and local history. Follow a tribe guide to meet a traditional shaman and Mayan family, swim in the mineral waters of the cenote and explore the Mayan jungle and ruins. Participate in meditation, paddle yoga, spiritual rituals and massages, or get away on a catamaran to snorkel and explore the sea. On site, take in the IK Lab, an environmentally-conscious art gallery that highlights the work of a variety of local and resident artists. The spa offers a variety of options to disconnect from hurried modern life with processes that highlight spiritual heritage and natural healing. Experience biomagnetism, a temazcal, medicinal music circles, workshops, shamanic chant, yoga, sound massages and human design techniques for memories exclusive to Azulik. While this eco-paradise offers an array of memorable culinary, art, spa, cultural and historical experiences, it won’t come cheap with a price tag ranging from $700-$7000 per night. + Azulik Images via Azulik

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Azulik, an eco-paradise in Tulum, celebrates the four natural elements

Can the Caymans save the Caribbean’s remaining coral reefs?

February 13, 2019 by  
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A rehabilitation program for coral reef species has proven to be successful for an ongoing project to combat a massive disease spreading throughout the Cayman’s pillar coral species, according to the Department of the Environment in the Cayman Islands. The rapidly spreading disease, called “white band disease”, was first noticed on a famous dive site called the Killer Pillars in February 2018. It has ravaged pillar coral throughout the Caribbean and destroyed almost 90 percent of the species along the Florida coast. Scientists in the Cayman Islands removed diseased coral from the reef and selected healthy fragments to grow in a nursery. They later planted healthy coral back onto the reef, in hopes the fragments became resilient enough to resist the disease and build back the reef. Though the project is still an experiment, the results look promising thus far and can have wide implications on how other islands respond to this disease throughout the region. The Caribbean already lost 80 percent of all coral reefs Throughout the world, coral reefs are seriously vulnerable and rapidly dying. Reefs are thought to host the most biodiversity of any ecosystem in the world– even more than a rainforest . Despite their importance, reefs are critically vulnerable to small changes in the environment. Slight increases in ocean temperature cause widespread die-off throughout Caribbean and Pacific reefs. Additional threats include pollution, over fishing and run-off of nitrogen from farms that fertilize algae and causes it to smother reefs. Abandoned fishing gear also wreaks havoc on reefs and creates an opportunity for disease. “Fishing line not only causes coral tissue injuries and skeleton damage, but also provides an additional surface for potential pathogens to colonize, increasing their capacity to infect wounds caused by entangled fishing line,” says Dr. Joleah Lamb from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Coral reefs are home to nearly 25 percent of all marine species and sustain the fishing industry. They are paramount to Caribbean economies and are an important defense for small islands and coastal communities during hurricanes . Evidence shows their structures reduce damaging wave energy by nearly 97 percent . Also, reefs attract dive tourists and help build beaches by breaking down into sand. Experiments such as the one in the Cayman Islands are critically important for ensuring the reefs that do remain, are healthy and functioning. How does the project in the Cayman Islands work? Along with marine scientists from the U.K. and U.S., coral experts from the Department of the Environment removed diseased coral from the reef in order to stem the alarming spread of the disease. They then cut segments of healthy coral to regrow in nurseries. Coral nurseries, a growing trend in coral restoration, are structures constructed in clean, sandy sections of the ocean floor. Scientists attach healthy coral fragments to the simple structures, often made out of PVC pipe, and monitor them as they grow in a safe environment. Once the corals are strong, healthy and considerably larger in size than the original fragments, the scientists plant them back onto the original reef or select new sites to start a reef. Related: Using nature to build resilient communities Coral nurseries are popping up around the Caribbean Impressively, 100 percent of the coral fragments in the Department of Environment’s nursery survived. Coral nurseries are a restoration technique popular throughout the Caribbean basin, including Bonaire, Curacao, Grenada, the Virgin Islands and many restoration and research laboratories in Florida. Disease is still a threat After their successful growth in the nursery, 81 percent of the fragments re-planted were still alive after five months. This is a considerable success rate given the threats these corals face. However, 23 percent of the planted fragments also showed signs of the relentless “white band disease” (Acroporid white syndrome). Researchers have not given up hope and recognize that if kept contained, disease can be a natural part of ecosystems. “We do know that diseases have their seasons, they come and go, they are vigorous for a while and then they die back, and at that point we have to see some kind of coral colony recovery,” Tim Austin, Deputy Director of the Department of Environment, told Cayman 27 News . “We are monitoring it and we are hoping to have a better handle on how this disease progresses.” In addition to techniques such as reducing marine debris, pollution and establishing protected conservation zones around reefs, coral salvage projects are an important technique to ensure that Caribbean’s the remaining corals survive. “If longer-term monitoring results prove equally successful, the salvage, relocation and restoration of actively diseased coral colonies could become an everyday tool in the restoration toolbox of coral reef managers,” the Department of Environment reported . Via Yale 360 Image via Shutterstock

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Can the Caymans save the Caribbean’s remaining coral reefs?

ODA to transform Rotterdams historic post office into a vibrant destination

February 13, 2019 by  
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After sitting vacant for over a decade, Rotterdam’s former Central Post Office, the Postkantoor, will soon undergo an extraordinary transformation into a vibrant, mixed-use destination. Designed by ODA New York , the adaptive reuse project will span 58,000 square meters and sensitively restore the building’s early 20th century architecture while injecting new programming ranging from retail to a five-star hotel. ODA will work in close collaboration with local architecture firm Braaksma & Roos Architectenbureau in addition to Omnam Investment Group to create POST Rotterdam, a civic hub that’s slated to begin construction in 2019. Built in 1916, Rotterdam’s former Central Post Office is one of the only original structures left standing after the 1940 Rotterdam Blitz that decimated much of the city’s historic core. ODA New York was tapped to revive the building with a mixed-use design that mixes new construction with preservation efforts, from the new 150-meter tower that will rise at the rear of the Postkantoor to the restoration of the dramatically vaulted 1916 Great Hall, which will serve as the project’s public heart. Public amenities will reactivate the building’s curbside appeal and include retail, gallery spaces, restaurants and cafes woven throughout the hall and courtyard spaces. A five-star hotel operated by Kimpton will take over the upper floors that formerly housed the Post Office’s telegraph and telephone services. The renovated Postkantoor will be accessible from every side and not only offer open sight lines to the Coolsingel and Rodezand streets, but also serve as a bustling city hub and connection between Rotterdam Centraal to Markthal. Related: This floating park in Rotterdam is made from recycled plastic waste “We believe that it’s time for the POST to stand not only as a memory, but also as an expression of the strength of Rotterdam today as a vibrant, connected, center of culture, renewal, and quality of life. We believe that the hidden treasures that it holds should be shared by all citizens,” says Eran Chen, Executive Director at ODA. “The POST tower is a reinterpretation of both urban living and the Post Office’s architectural assets, extending the elegance of the main hall through to the tower. This modern addition to the Ensemble Buildings in the Coolsingel district is based on an extremely rigorous investigation combined with the expertise gained over two years working with city partners.” + ODA New York Images by Forbes Massie via ODA New York

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New research shows an organic diet shrinks pesticide exposure

February 13, 2019 by  
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The bad news isn’t news to many — eating a conventional diet leads to pesticide buildup. But a new study published in Environmental Research reveals surprisingly good news. Switching to an all-organic diet quickly and significantly reduced synthetic pesticide levels in study participants. After six days of an all-organic diet, their pesticide and pesticide metabolite levels dropped by an average of 60.5 percent. Four American families of different races participated in the study, titled Organic Diet Intervention Significantly Reduces Urinary Pesticide Levels in U.S. Children and Adults . The families lived in Atlanta, Baltimore, Minneapolis and Oakland. Related: Is a flexitarian diet right for you? The most significant finding was a huge drop in levels of organophosphates, insecticides that are commonly used in agriculture , gardening and household products, such as roach spray. Farm workers often administer them when growing apples, peaches, strawberries, spinach, potatoes and other common crops. The study showed a 95 percent drop in the organophosphate malathion, a probable human carcinogen linked to brain damage in children. Levels of pesticides associated with endocrine disruption, autism, adverse reproductive effects, thyroid disorders, lymphoma and other serious health issues dropped between 37 and 83 percent after a week of all-organic eating. “This study shows that organic works,” said study co-author Kendra Klein, PhD, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “We all have the right to food that is free of toxic pesticides . Farmers and farmworkers growing our nation’s food and rural communities have a right not to be exposed to chemicals linked to cancer, autism and infertility. And the way we grow food should protect, not harm, our environment. We urgently need our elected leaders to support our farmers in making healthy organic food available for all.” The study’s authors are affiliated with the University of California at San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Friends of the Earth U.S. and the Commonweal Institute. Friends of the Earth is urging the U.S. Congress to pass a bill to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that causes brain damage in children. In 2017 under President Trump, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos. + Friends of the Earth Image via Paja1000

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We could avoid 3.3 million cases of dengue fever each year if we limit global warming

May 29, 2018 by  
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Climate change: it’s not just about rising oceans. According to new research from the  University of East Anglia (UEA), action on climate change could help avoid millions of cases of dengue fever . If we limited global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a Paris Agreement target — we might be able to avoid around 3.3 million cases annually of the tropical disease  in the Caribbean and Latin America alone. There are around 54 million cases of dengue fever, caused by a mosquito -spread virus, in the Caribbean and Latin America every year, and approximately 390 million people are infected worldwide. But by around 2050, in a 3.7 degrees Celsius warming scenario, this number could increase by 7.5 million additional cases a year. While dengue fever is only fatal in rare cases, a specific treatment does not exist, and symptoms include headaches, muscle and joint pain, and fever. Related: Climate change could reverse all reductions in child mortality over the last 25 years But if we take action against global warming , we might be able to prevent millions of cases, according to UEA’s research, which drew on computer models and clinical and laboratory-confirmed reports of dengue fever in Latin America. Keeping warming to two degrees Celsius could lower cases by as many as 2.8 million per year by 2100, and keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could see an extra drop of half a million cases a year. Lead researcher Felipe Colón-González of UEA said, “While it is recognized that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would have benefits for human health , the magnitude of these benefits remains mostly unquantified. This is the first study to show that reductions in warming from two degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees Celsius could have important health benefits.” Co-author Carlos Peres of UEA said, “Our economic projections of the regional health costs of climate change show that developing nations will bear the brunt of expanding arbovirus infections, so a preventative strategy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later is the most cost-effective policy.” The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the research this week; researchers from Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso in Brazil contributed. + University of East Anglia Image via Depositphotos

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Catastrophic weather shakes up the reinsurance market

January 23, 2018 by  
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Events in Australia, Mexico, the Caribbean and the U.S., including three hurricanes, caused catastrophe losses over $100 billion for the third year on record.

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More than 20 organizations launch Solar Saves Lives to electrify Puerto Rico

November 14, 2017 by  
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Puerto Rico’s electricity crisis continues – and the solar industry plans to help. More than 20 organizations and companies, including The Solar Foundation , Sunrun , and the Clinton Foundation , launched the Solar Saves Lives initiative to bring solar technology to American citizens in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) after the recent hurricanes . Their priorities are two food markets in San Juan and 62 rural medical clinics. Puerto Rico’s loss of power doesn’t just mean people sit in the dark. It also means it can be harder to obtain fresh water or food. Many rural medical clinics are still closed, meaning it can be difficult for people to receive medical attention they need. Several organizations and companies are responding with over $5 million in solar equipment commitments to work towards restoring power in Puerto Rico and the USVI and helping the islands be more resilient to future storms. Related: Richard Branson is planning to rebuild the Caribbean with clean energy Former president Bill Clinton said in a statement, “Seven weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall in the Caribbean, people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still in urgent need of assistance. The solar equipment donated through this effort will save lives by aiding recovery efforts, providing power for people in remote areas, and solarizing critically needed services like refrigeration and medical care.” Direct Relief, Operation Blessing, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, SunSpec Alliance, BayWa r.e. Solar Systems, Prana Power, CAM Solar, Campervan HQ, Carolina Solar Energy, Renogy, and Solight Design are among the companies and organizations involved. Solar Saves Lives will be bringing equipment like lanterns, cell chargers, solar refrigeration units, solar water purification units, battery packs, solar panels, and inverters to impacted areas. Solar Saves Lives is asking for both product and monetary donations; find out how to help here . + Solar Saves Lives Images via Solar Saves Lives and Wikimedia Commons

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