In the course of writing a book about what free-living animals learn from each other, I find myself on the Tambopata River in southeast Peru. The nearest town is Puerto Maldonado but from there the trip is all upriver. Wheeled vehicles are useless in this forest, and there are none. The surrounding forest has been officially protected with designations of national reserve and national park.
Perhaps the strangest thing is that while it takes very special skills for humans to exist in the Amazon rainforest, my trip into the forest is amazingly comfortable. I'm here to hang out with scientists of the Tambopata Macaw Project at the Tambopata Research Center, a special privilege. My logistics are all being facilitated by the expert eco-tourism company Rainforest Expeditions, which is why my trip upriver is so easy.
Our first night, we stop at a tourist lodge called Refugio Amazonas. The next day we visit a Harpy Eagle nest with a big chick. I get lucky enough to see mama, too, when she delivers a monkey to her babe.
Harpy Eagle chick.Carl Safina
Adult Harpy Eagle.Carl Safina
From there it is upriver to the Research Center. There I have the enormous privilege of hanging out with researchers Don Brightsmith and Gaby Vigo, spending many hours watching wild macaws at their nests and visiting the "clay licks" from which they derive the sodium they require.
Macaws at clay lick. Carl Safina
The forest is wholly overwhelming. From ground to canopy, the impression is of a wall of green. Through the ferns of the ground rise saplings and centenarians. Every vertical level is occupied. Trees vary enormously. There are hundreds of species of trees, some with straight dark trunks, spiny trunks, blotchy trunks; some are variegated; some mossy, viney, some bare. Some trees drop prop roots to the ground and others splay head-high buttress roots that emanate from the base of the trees like garden walls.
Within the forest.Carl Safina
Giant fig tree with buttress roots.Carl Safina
Occasionally a troop of peccaries trundles by, or an agouti, while the trees are rustled by howlers, titis, tamarins, capuchins, spider monkeys and squirrel monkeys.
Titi monkey.Carl Safina
But most of my time and attention are devoted to the macaws I've come for. They light the emerald jungle with their flaming bodies.
Scarlet macaws.Carl Safina
Blue-and-yellow macaws.Carl Safina
Seeing flocks of macaws helped me remember how big the natural world is supposed to be. And how beautiful it is—where it remains.
Macaw flock.Carl Safina
If this is not magic enough, the morpho butterflies provide an added shock of beauty, looking like dried leaves when folded in prayerful rest, then weaving their electric blue through the sunshafts and shadows.
Morpho butterfly.Carl Safina
Overall it's a miraculous glimpse of the original world. May it stay protected from chainsaws and bullets. May we find a way to let it be—this beautiful home of millions of beings—as it has been for millions of years. Because this is where the living world gets its power, and catches its breath.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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