Botswana elephant deaths caused by cyanobacteria

September 22, 2020 by  
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On June 18, 2020, we reported about the mysterious deaths of 154 elephants in Botswana. At the time, wildlife officials in Botswana said that the cause of the deaths was being investigated. According to a statement released by the Botswana Wildlife Conservation on Monday, it turns out that the elephants were killed by cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria is a type of algae that is found in many warm, calm waters around the world. Some species of this blue-green algae can produce toxins that are harmful to other organisms, including humans. The World Health Organization indicates that people who are exposed to cyanobacterial toxins either by drinking or bathing in infected waters may suffer symptoms including skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever. At the same time, animals, birds and fish can be poisoned by the bacteria if it is available at high levels. Related: Scientists discover algae species that may affect coral reefs In May and June, concern was raised after several elephants died in Botswana in the Okavango Delta. According to Botswana officials, a total of 330 elephants died in just two months, prompting investigations into the actual causes of death. The findings have now been released after several months of tests in specialist laboratories in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada and the U.S. Although several of the elephants were found near watering holes, wildlife officials did not believe cyanobacteria to be the issue. Blue-green algal blooms mainly appear along the edges of the water, while the elephants typically drink from the center of a watering hole. Speaking in a press conference, Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ Principal Veterinary Officer Mmadi Reuben confirmed that the deaths had been caused by cyanobacteria. Reuben further noted that the deaths subsided toward the end of June, around the same time that the water pans began drying up. The elephant carcasses had tusks intact, which led officials to rule out poaching as a cause of death. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, 25 more elephants have recently died. Samples have been sent to the U.K. for testing to help determine the cause of these deaths. Scientists and wildlife officials are still looking for possible measures that could be taken to stop such deaths in the future. Via BBC Image via Herbert Bieser

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Painting wind turbines may reduce bird collisions and deaths

August 27, 2020 by  
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A new study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution shows that painting one blade on a wind turbine black may reduce bird deaths at wind farms by up to 70%. For a long time, organizations, such as the Royal Society For The Protection of Birds (RSPB), have been championing for more care when it comes to setting up wind power plants to avoid the deaths of birds through collisions. This study could reveal a simple solution. Although wind farms provide one of the cleanest sources of energy , they are tainted by the effects of the turbines on birds. It is common for birds to collide with the turbines and die on the spot. The study now shows that if the blades of turbines are painted black, the rate of accidents could greatly decrease. The study was conducted off the coast of Norway; the location is home to the Smøla plant, where six to nine white-tailed eagles are killed annually. Related: US and Canada in drastic crisis with 3 billion birds lost since 1970 According to Roel May, researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research and one of the authors of the study, wind power negatively impacts wild bird populations. “Collision of birds, especially raptors, is one of the main environmental concerns related to wind energy development,” May said. The main purpose of the study was to find out if there are any mitigating measures that could reduce the collisions. The researchers found that if one of the main rotor blades is painted black, it reduces the motion smear, making the blades visible to birds when they are in motion. While the findings are promising, the study authors warn that more research still has to be done. The new study provides a platform for more studies to explore the possibility of reducing bird deaths at renewable energy plants. “Although we found a significant drop in bird collision rates, its efficacy may well be site- and species-specific,” May explained. “At the moment there exists interest to carry out tests in the Netherlands and in South Africa.” Further studies will need to be carried out in diverse locations to determine the viability of such a move in different areas and on specific bird species. Members of RSPB are also championing for establishing wind power farms in safer locations, where there are no large populations of birds. + Ecology and Evolution Via BBC Image via Matthias Böckel

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Painting wind turbines may reduce bird collisions and deaths

Off-grid home threads through a South African riverine forest

July 23, 2020 by  
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When a nature-loving elderly couple tapped South African architecture firm  Frankie Pappas  to design their new home, they requested a residence with minimal site impact. The architects responded with a site-specific house that operates completely off-grid and weaves between trees to preserve the natural scenery. Built largely of natural materials , the home — named the House of the Big Arch — seems to disappear into the landscape.  Located within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve between a riverine forest and a sandstone cliff, the House of the Big Arch comprises two main skinny linear volumes joined together at an angle with small additions to the sides. The unusual shape directly responds to the sloped site and the location and size of the surrounding trees. To ensure the preservation of all existing trees, the architects laser-scanned the entire site to create a digital  3D model  that informed critical design decisions.  To “bridge the landscape between the riverine forest and sandstone cliff,” the architects constructed the building with rough stock brick matching the color of the site’s weathered sandstone. The “bridge” portions of the home use sustainably grown timber, and the non-structural walls use glass and aluminum. In addition to blending in with the surroundings, the home operates entirely off-grid and follows passive principles for a reduced energy footprint. Water collected from the roof gets filtered and stored for reuse.  Greywater , stored separately, also gets processed for reuse. A 16-square-meter solar array provides for all the home’s energy needs.  Related: South Africa’s first interior 6 star Green Star awarded to Formfunc The House of the Big Arch spreads across three floors, with an underground cellar for storing food supplies, curing meats and aging wines. The ground floor opens up to  courtyards  and houses a study, library and a small swing beneath the arch at the front of the site. On the first floor, open-plan communal areas connect to a tree-shaded deck and a pool.  + Frankie Pappas Images via Frankie Pappas

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Off-grid home threads through a South African riverine forest

South Africa’s first interior 6 star Green Star awarded to Formfunc

February 14, 2020 by  
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The Green Building Council recently awarded South Africa’s highest possible Interiors Green Star v1 certification to Capetown-based company  Formfunc Studio’s  office spaces — the first such rating to be awarded in the country for an office and distribution center. Spearheaded by local multidisciplinary environmental firm  Terramanzi Group , the design optimizes energy efficiency as well as occupant health and wellness. Designed with the Green Star Rating Tool in mind, the environmental consultants from the Terramanzi Group assessed all elements of the office fit-out to ensure ratings of between 75 to 100 credits for each evaluated category. This meant careful planning on a wide range of factors, from materials used to Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and emissions. Key to the design was a “less is more” approach that led to a minimalist interior design with unplastered walls and exposed ceilings to minimize materials.  Low VOC  paints and sealants were used wherever possible.  Low-tech and high-tech solutions were used throughout, such as the installation of  floor-to-ceiling glazing  that takes advantage of natural daylight and the highly efficient HVAC system that improves outside air rates into the building to achieve above SANS 10400 requirements. Sensors were also installed to monitor and control carbon dioxide, water, and electricity levels. To promote responsible environmental stewardship, the office has been equipped with a recycling station and a composting unit for organic waste. Employees also have access to biking and motorbike parking on-site.  Related: This amazing green office is covered with native plants that were rescued on-site “As we are the exclusive distributor of Humanscale® ergonomic chairs, workstations and other  office  accessories to the southern African market, it was imperative that our office environment went beyond just an ergonomic solution but also reflected our brand and our philosophy of recreating workspaces that are simpler and healthier for our employees to work in,” Kim Kowalski, director and co-founder of Formfunc, explained in a project statement. + Terramanzi Group Images via Formfunc Studio

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South Africa’s first interior 6 star Green Star awarded to Formfunc

Africa’s first sustainable chocolate brand plans to sell in the US

October 7, 2019 by  
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While Africa grows 70 percent of the world’s cacao, very little chocolate is made on the continent. Instead, most of the raw material is shipped to other countries that then produce delicious chocolates. But De Villiers Chocolate is now working on becoming the first African-made, sustainably sourced chocolate brand available in the U.S. “Once we discovered the cocoa beans of the vibrant Bundibugyo region in Uganda , we began to realize the potential of the journey we had embarked upon,” said Pieter de Villiers, CEO and master chocolatier at De Villiers Chocolate. “It became our mission to create a chocolate brand true to its origin and the exotic taste of Africa .” Related: Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa De Villiers Chocolate currently sells its products at its studio on a historic Cape Dutch estate, online and through an upmarket grocery chain in South Africa. Now, De Villiers Chocolate has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 to help bring its chocolate to the U.S. From humble origins in a garage 10 years ago, De Villiers Chocolate has now grown into a Capetown, South Africa-based business producing chocolate, ice cream and coffee in South Africa’s Cape Winelands region. The cocoa and coffee qualify for three voluntary sustainable standards: Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ . De Villiers ethically sources all ingredients. It does not use palm oil, for the health of rainforests and the planet in general. It does not add artificial flavors, colorants, stabilizers, preservatives or hydrogenated vegetable oils to its chocolate. The company uses unrefined brown sugar as a sweetener, and the De Villiers dark chocolate is vegan. In a press release, De Villiers noted that Africans have not historically profited much from chocolate, despite the fact that most of the world’s cacao crop is grown there. “So how does Africa achieve sustainability ? Not by charity; charity to Africa is not sustainable. The only truly long-term endeavor is to facilitate and allow Africans to do it for themselves,” the press release reads. Through its sustainable sourcing and mission-driven products, De Villiers Chocolate is trying to put Africa on the map as a home to world-renowned chocolate artisans. + De Villiers Chocolate Image via De Villiers Chocolate

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The World Surf League is pledging to eliminate single-use plastics and become carbon-neutral by the end of 2019

June 27, 2019 by  
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The World Surf League (WSL)  is known for being the authority for all things surfing, famous for showcasing the most talented professional surfers to the rest of the world. Now, they’ve decided to use that powerful platform to set an example for sports organizations everywhere by committing to substantial environmental initiatives. Earlier in June, the WSL announced a series of pledges that will apply to all WSL Championship Tour and Big Wave Tour events. They include becoming carbon neutral globally by the end of 2019, eliminating single-serve plastics by the end of 2019 and leaving each place better than they found it. The WSL runs more than 230 global surfing events each year. Considering the WSL’s millions of passionate fans, and the organization’s plan to hold competitions throughout Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, Tahiti, France, Portugal, California and Hawaii in 2019 alone, these public commitments are bound to inspire others to address critical issues about the state of our environment. Related: Kin Travel is offering unique vacation ideas that benefit destinations through conservation and sustainability Along with the announcement came an expansion of the WSL’s already-active ocean conservation efforts by their launch of a global campaign to “ Stop Trashing Waves ” with its non-profit arm, WSL PURE (“Protecting Understanding and Respecting the Environment”). WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt spoke of breaking new ground in the world of sports when it comes to the “urgent battle against climate change and ocean pollution,” saying, “We believe it’s our responsibility to be ‘all in’ with our efforts to protect the ocean and beaches amid the devastating climate crisis we all face. We invite everyone who cares about the ocean to join us.” So how does the WSL plan on carrying out these goals? For starters, the organization is offsetting its carbon footprint by investing in REDD+ and VCS (Verified Carbon Standard) certified carbon offset projects. These projects are focused on restoring and protecting natural and renewable energy ecosystems based in each of the WSL’s operating regions. The WSL will also be making an effort to limit non-essential travel and implement policies to reduce carbon emissions within its offices. 11-time WSL Champion and surfing legend, Kelly Slater, spoke of the announcement with enthusiasm. “I think it’s a great stance and an important message to send to people around the world. The ocean is vital to everyone, for food, for oxygen and especially to us surfers. I think everyone should make it their priority to care about this issue and make changes in their lives to help.” + World Surf League Images via World Surf League

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The World Surf League is pledging to eliminate single-use plastics and become carbon-neutral by the end of 2019

Car-free Sundays are the norm in Colombia’s capital city, Bogot

April 15, 2019 by  
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Imagine your city without cars — every single Sunday. At first, you might be frustrated by the inconvenience and inability to complete errands, but once you embrace the throngs of bikes, recognize your friends and neighbors among the people out for a stroll or attend a Zumba class at what was once a congested intersection, it’s likely to become one of your favorite traditions. For 45 years, the Colombian city of Bogotá has closed its major roads for Ciclovía, a weekly event where cyclists and pedestrians reclaim the street. The world’s most successful mass recreation event Vox calls the weekly event “the world’s most successful mass recreation event,” and more than 400 cities around the world look to Bogotá as a model for replication. In Spanish, Ciclovía means “Bicycle Way,” but the roads are open to bikes , roller skates, scooters, wheel chairs, skateboards, runners, walkers and all other types of physical activity, recreation and relaxation. Since its launch in 1974 , the event has expanded to include juice bars, fruit stands and exercise classes at various stops along the now 76 miles of designated roadway. Related: France moves to reshape infrastructure and promote bicycle transportation Ciclovía occurs from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every single Sunday and on major holidays, a frequency that sets it apart from similar events in other cities and is credited for its long-term success. Pulling off such a large-scale event is no easy feat in Bogotá , a major Latin American city that normally moves 1.5 million cars, 50,000 taxis and 500,000 motorcycles on any given day. “The Ciclovía is the moment when motor vehicles make way for human beings,” a director for the event, Bibiana Sarmiento, told National Geographic . In fact, nearly 1.5 million Bogotanos take over the public space every Sunday, which is approximately a quarter of the city’s entire population. Statistics show that the average participant is out there for about three hours, which has significantly helped residents reach widely recommended levels of physical activity. Bogotanos, like most city-dwellers, face limited space for recreational activities and soaring rates of chronic diseases linked to sedentary lifestyles. Although Ciclovía is only once a week, the city-wide emphasis on physical activity and community access to exercise classes and bike routes has caused a marked difference in health indicators. Street closures are good for your health In addition to improved air quality and a palpable decrease in stress and aggressive behaviors, the city of Bogotá is also attempting to analyze specific public health benefits. Program analysts studied savings on medical costs and found that Ciclovía saves between $3.20 and $4.30 in direct medical costs per every dollar invested, which is approximately $6 per participant. General analyses also indicate that public health benefits are more profound and long-term when such recreational events are reoccurring, something that sets Ciclovía apart from other cities with similar programs. To date, more than 400 cities worldwide have implemented similar mass recreation and street closure events, including 122 U.S. cities. A major roadblock (pun intended) to hosting such events is the logistical nightmare of acquiring permits for road closures and the cost of paying traffic staff. The benefits can outweigh the costs According to Vox, researchers recommend establishing reoccurring events to streamline permitting, staffing and signage and to ensure that residents are aware of the event and familiar with the detours.  Researchers argue that if made more frequent, “the cost of coordinating the event could come down and it could ‘help thousands to meet weekly recommended levels of [150 minutes of] physical activity.’” Related: How to make American cities bike-friendly “Over time the system has been perfected in terms of minimization of costs and of making the public aware of the road closures,” Marcela Guerrero Casas, managing director of Open Streets Cape Town in South Africa, told Vox. “When you do this consistently (in terms of time and location), people accept and embrace the program.” In addition to onerous permitting procedures, planners cite overtime for police officers as one of the largest and prohibitive expenditures. As part of the success, Ciclovía and a similar event in LA (called CicLAvía) utilize volunteers for traffic assistance. The city also pays for the program through sponsorships and a tax on phone bills, made possible because the program is so longstanding and beloved by all types of people that it is an accepted part of Bogotano culture and government spending. Going car-free can bring together the community Although the specific health and urban planning benefits aren’t always easy to quantify, there is resounding, worldwide interest in events like Ciclovía and a multitude of examples of its uniting , cross-cultural success. “No one cares about the clothes you’re wearing or what social class you’re from,” director Bibiana Sarmiento explained to National Geographic. “Everyone is welcome, and everyone is equal.” Via National Geographic and Vox Images via Saúl Ortega ( 1 , 2 , 3 ), Cidades para Pessoas and Carlos Felipe Pardo

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Car-free Sundays are the norm in Colombia’s capital city, Bogot

Some of the oldest and largest baobab trees are dying

June 12, 2018 by  
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A new survey of baobab trees throughout southern Africa has shown that most of the two dozen largest and oldest trees in the region have died in the past decade or are currently very ill. While human-caused physical damage to individual trees may explain specific die-offs, researchers believe that climate change, which is occurring faster in southern Africa than many places on Earth, may be the most significant factor in the trees’ poor health. “Such a disastrous decline is very unexpected,” chemist and survey organizer Adrian Patrut told NPR . “It’s a strange feeling, because these are trees which may live for 2,000 years or more, and we see that they’re dying one after another during our lifetime. It’s statistically very unlikely.” The iconic baobab are culturally important for many communities. A common myth explains the baobab’s unique shape as a result of gods punishing the tree for its vanity in its extraordinary size, with the baobab being uprooted and flipped upside down with its “roots” facing upwards. Baobabs can be cultivated for their nutritious leaves and fruit and may prove to be a source of economic development . The trees are also ecologically significant, providing habitat and food for a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. Related: Can this tree provide financial security for 10 million people in Africa? Because of their unique shape and growth patterns that distort their tree rings, accurate dating of a baobab is difficult. Despite some questioning of Patrut’s methods, researchers nonetheless recognize that baobab die-offs is an unsettling trend that deserves more study. As southern Africa likely faces intense temperature increases and drought , the urgency to understand and better protect the baobabs is clear. “The decline and death of so many large baobabs in recent years is so tragic,” ecologist David Baum told NPR . “It is heartbreaking that any should die — but even worse that we might be seeing the beginning of the end of all the giant baobabs on the planet.” Via NPR Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Some of the oldest and largest baobab trees are dying

MIT study shows that China’s climate policy could "more than pay for itself"

April 23, 2018 by  
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Is China turning the tide on pollution ? The country stands to benefit not just environmentally, but financially as well. A new MIT study found if China reduces carbon dioxide emissions by four percent a year, the nation could net around $339 billion in health savings by the year 2030. That figure could be around four times what it would cost the country to achieve climate goals – in other words, according to MIT, “the country’s climate policy would more than pay for itself.” Fulfilling its international pledge to cut carbon emissions makes sense for China in many ways. Not only could the nation contribute significantly to the global battle against climate change (as it’s the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases) – but the health impacts for Chinese citizens could be huge. Improving air quality could avoid a considerable amount of deaths from air pollution in every province — and MIT put a dollar figure on the benefit to society: $339 billion. Related: China reports meeting its 2020 carbon intensity goals three years early MIT associate professor Noelle Eckley Selin co-authored the study published today in Nature Climate Change . In a statement, she said: “The country could actually come out net positive, just based on the health co-benefits associated with air quality improvements, relative to the cost of a climate policy. This is a motivating factor for countries to engage in global climate policy.” How did the team reach their figure? They developed a modeling approach called the Regional Emissions Air Quality Climate and Health framework, combining an energy -economic model and atmospheric chemistry model. They used the energy-economic model “to simulate how a given climate policy changes a province’s economic activity, energy use, and emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants.” They ran simulations under four scenarios: one with no policy and three with policies aiming to cut emissions through 2030 by three, four, and five percent a year. They then plugged in results into the atmospheric chemistry model and estimated particulate matter concentrations for provinces to help calculate the pollution communities are inhaling. Epidemiological literature helped them figure out how many deaths could be avoided. They calculated the economic value of the deaths, which they compared against the total cost of implementing a policy scenario. Their findings? In a no-policy scenario, by 2030 there would be over 2.3 million premature, pollution-related deaths. In the three, four, or five percent emissions reductions scenarios, China could respectively avoid 36,000, 94,000, and 160,000 premature deaths. The savings “gained as a result of health co-benefits equals $138.4 billion, $339.6 billion, and $534.8 billion, respectively,” according to MIT. + MIT Images via Diego Jimenez , Frak Lopez , and Manon Boyer on Unsplash

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MIT study shows that China’s climate policy could "more than pay for itself"

For 16 years, this stork has flown 8,700 miles to return to his one true love

April 16, 2018 by  
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Just when you thought the world was one raging garbage fire , along comes this amazing stork to brighten the day. For the past 16 years, without fail, one male stork has flown 8,700 miles to be with his mate who can no longer fly after being shot by poachers. Klepetan the stork travels from his winter nest in South Africa to his mate’s Malena’s home in Croatia every single March where they reunite and raise a new brood. Malena was injured by a gunshot in 1993, but a local hero took her home after finding her by a lake and nursed her back to health. “If I had left her in the pond foxes would have eaten her. But I changed her fate, so now I’m responsible for her life,” said Stjepan Vokic, the man who cares for Malena. Now, although she can’t migrate any longer, she has a pretty sweet life. Vokic has built an “improvised Africa” where she can stay warm, and he cares for her by bathing her, catching her fish in the river and making sure her feet are moisturized. He even watches stork documentaries with her so she won’t get lonely, and takes her fishing. Related: This friendly fish has visited a Japanese diver for 25 years Klepetan arrives every March as spring begins in Croatia after traveling for a month from his winter home. Every spring, Vokic builds a new nest on his roof so that when Klepetan arrives, the couple can mate, and so far, they’ve had 62 chicks together. In the fall, Klepetan migrates back to South Africa with his new little family, and Malena stays behind with her human friend. Vokic says that the couple struggles to say goodbye every year, and Malena hides and stops eating when she knows Klepetan is about to go. Via Oddity Central Images via HRT

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For 16 years, this stork has flown 8,700 miles to return to his one true love

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