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Rainforest in ruin. Mighty Earth

Chocolate Barons Devastate National Parks in West Africa

By Davis Harper

For several years, chocolate barons have devastated forests to make room to plant cocoa, a crop that naturally grows in shade. Now, a report from Mighty Earth—a nonprofit that works to conserve threatened landscapes—shows new evidence that illegal deforestation is occurring in protected areas; specifically, in the national parks of West Africa.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce a combined 2.6 million tons of chocolate—60 percent of the world's supply. It's no wonder so many of these nations' protected lands are at risk. According to Mighty Earth's report, 10 percent of Ghana's tree cover has been replaced by cocoa monocultures. The Ivory Coast, once heavily forested and extremely biodiverse, has lost seven of its 23 protected areas to cocoa. Due to habitat loss, its chimpanzees are now endangered, and its elephants are nearly extinct. This means that companies like Mars, Nestlé, Hersey's and Godiva are on the hot seat for making products using cocoa grown by uncertified sources.

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The Old, Hidden Pipeline at the Bottom of the Great Lakes

By Conor Mihell

At dawn, I launch my kayak and paddle into a velvety expanse of turquoise water. Here, in northern Michigan's Straits of Mackinac, Great Lakes Michigan and Huron meet like the middle of an hourglass. To the east, the rounded form of Mackinac Island is the centerpiece of an archipelago in Lake Huron.

According to an Ojibwe creation story, this is Mishee Makinakong, the Great Turtle, whose surfacing shell became a refuge for plants and animals as floodwaters surged in the days before time. Today, droves of ferries buzz to and from the island, a bustling summer tourist destination replete with kitschy fudge shops and horse-drawn carriages.

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Wildlife Rehabilitators: The Hidden Heroes of Hurricane Season

By Meredith Brown

Thousands of people affected by the past two months' hurricanes owe their lives to the brave emergency responders at state and city police departments, 911 call centers, fire stations, the National Guard, and the Red Cross. But what about the wild animals whose habitats have also been destroyed? That's where wildlife rehabilitators, or "rehabbers," come in—specially trained and licensed individuals (often working as volunteers) who typically work in collaboration with local wildlife centers to retrieve and rehabilitate mammals, birds, reptiles and other species in distress.

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Mogun Frejo outside his home in Stillwater, OK and Morgun Frejo at Pawnee Camp in Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock. Joseph Rushmore

Standing Rock: One Year Later

By Liz Blood

A little over a year ago, Morgun Frejo, a member of the Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria, Navajo nations, began camping at Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock. The Missouri River is sacred to both his Pawnee and Otoe-Missouria tribes and Frejo recalls elders in both tribes telling him stories of its importance as a child.

He lived at Standing Rock from mid-August 2016 to late February 2017, just before the camp was evicted and closed by the National Guard and local law enforcement.

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October Astronomical Highlights: Harvest Moon, Orionid Meteors

By Kelly Kizer Whitt

Orionid Meteor Shower

October boasts the Orionids, one of the better meteor showers of the year. You can see the meteors between Oct. 20 and 27, with your best bet being the night of Oct. 21. Orionid meteors zip quickly across the sky but leave persistent trains, so if you catch a glimpse of one, keep your eye trained on the spot and you might see a fading yet still luminous glow marking its path. At the shower's peak, up to 25 meteors an hour can be seen–all debris left over from Halley's Comet, which spewed off gas and dust that we barrel through every October.

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The Torrey pine is one of California's most iconic trees. Jill Hamilton

'Genetic Rescue' May Be the Secret to Saving This Iconic Tree

By Jake Buehler

The wind rips across California's Santa Rosa Island, howling as it flattens dry grass and sage in unrelenting waves. Downhill, a small group of trees, stark against the cobalt blue of the Pacific, stand firm. Their gnarled branches barely sway, knotted up in a cloud of green needles, perpetually pinned backward like a flag in a storm.

The trees seem like an avatar of resilience in an austere environment, but Torrey pines (Pinus torreyana) are some of the most rare and critically endangered pines in the world. A century ago, the pines went through a near-extinction-level population crash when the trees, never common, were largely cleared for pastureland development. The survivors were mostly in isolated areas—like Santa Rosa Island—that had only been settled by a few trees to begin with. The number of trees has increased since then, and their blown-up bonsai appearance has made Torrey pines popular ornamental trees. But the population bottleneck caused by the near-extinction meant the obliteration of nearly all of the species' genetic diversity.

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Puerto Ricans Face Uneasy Future After Hurricane Maria

By Wendy Becktold

As Hurricane Maria approached Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Sept. 19, Adriana Gonzalez prepared as well as she could. She readied her campstove, a supply of canned food and two seven-gallon jugs of water. By late afternoon, she and two friends hunkered down in her apartment in San Juan.

They had a restless night. At 11 p.m. the power went out. At around 1 a.m., they woke up to a roaring wind, followed by the sound of trees breaking. "They make a really specific sound, like thunder," Gonzalez told Sierra by phone on Monday. A large branch fell from the mahogany tree in front of her house.

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Meet the Hummingbird Whisperer

By Jason Daley

Ask around the UCLA campus for the crazy hummingbird lady and they will direct you to the office of Melanie Barboni—a post-doctoral fellow on the ground floor of the geology building. There, Barboni overseas a fairyland of hummingbirds, where more than 200 of the diminutive feathered sugar-fiends perch on four 80-ounce feeders. Not only do they nest in the surrounding trees, some even fly into her office and perch on her fingers for belly rubs. Barboni is so bonded with the birds, she has named and can easily recognize 50 of the resident hummers, including Marshmallow, Zircon and Stromboli.

We asked Barboni to tell us how a geologist became the hummingbird whisperer and how to get a few of the beautiful birds in our own backyards.

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Fly Fishing in Yellowstone: How One Veteran Found a New Life in the Outdoors

By Lindsey Robinson

Evan Bogart never wanted to sleep in a tent again. Between 2004-2011, he'd served in the U.S. Army as an infantryman and spent three long combat deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. He'd spent a good portion of his years in service living in a tent in hot and hazardous deserts. He'd had enough of the outdoors; he wanted to be in places with air conditioning, electricity and no reminders of the war-torn lands he had experienced.

Evan separated in 2011 as an E6 Squad Leader, with an honorable discharge and two Purple Hearts. But his own heart was heavy and troubled. He'd become disillusioned with the U.S. military and its goals in the Middle East. The violence and destruction he'd witnessed left him feeling both angry and guilty. He distinctly remembers one moment in Iraq: "An old woman told me I was a bad man, and I realized I agreed with her."

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