25 February 2010

Greening the Friendly Skies

The carbon footprint of flying may be the most vexing issue for ecotourism operators. The reality is that to get people from places where they live to where they want to go, flying is sometimes the only way to get there. We at SEE Turtles believe that climate change is a huge threat to people and wildlife (especially sea turtles) and actively advocate for policies to reduce emissions. However, we don't think giving up getting on airplanes is a real solution to the problem and airplane boycotts would have dramatic impacts on many conservation projects and nearby communities and have little impact on emissions.

So for us and many of the tour operators we work with, the question becomes how to reduce the environmental impact of flying for our customers. Many operators have embraced carbon offsets, which we think can be a good way to support the development of renewable energy but aren't a full solution to the problem. The only long-term answer is to put a price on carbon that will speed up the transition to more efficient use of fuel and conversion to sustainable fuels. Here is a good place to let your representatives know you support climate legislation.

One simple and inexpensive first step that all airlines can take is to recycle onboard waste. Up to 7.5 million pounds of waste is generated every day on airplanes according to a recent New York Times article, of which 75% is recyclable. I'm frequently frustrated at how few airlines recycle, though was pleasantly surprised recently to see the flight attendants on Alaska Airlines separating their waste for recycling. Conservation group Green America has just released a new report on how awful airline recycling is and which airlines are better than others. Check out the report and let the airlines know you want them to recycle here. You can also fill out a survey on your experience to help their research. Delta came out as the top recycler and US Air came out the worst (seems to be a pattern with that company).

Another simple solution for airlines to reduce waste would be for airline attendants to ASK people if they actually want the little bag of peanuts instead of just handing it out. Asking people to think before handing those out would almost certainly reduce the number of bags given out and disposed of, also reducing the weight that the flight carries.

-Brad Nahill

08 February 2010

Turtles & Whales & Dolphins, Oh My!

Baja California Sur is like no other place in the world; stark deserts contrasting with deep blue oceans full of life. Most people know that the region is one of the only places in the world where whales (specifically gray whales) will approach boats and allow people to touch them. Most people don't know that there is a unique new way to interact with sea turtles in the region; I took my young daughter Karina on a trip organized by Baja Expeditions to see for myself.

I'd seen many pictures and always wondered just how friendly these whales are and how well the interaction is managed. By the time we got out into Magdalena Bay, near the town of San Carlos, we saw spouts, flukes, and breaches in every direction, more whales than could be counted. A relatively small number of whales are friendly at any given moment, but once one is found, it will hang around the boats for hours. They will show their belly, roll around to show off their flippers, rise their noses out of the water, and pass under the boats. The boats we saw were respectful, just a couple at a time with any one whale, calmly taking turns so that each gets a chance to spend some time with the whale.

However, the whales were just the warm-up act for our real reason for being there, to participate in a sea turtle research monitoring conducted by the EcoTortugueros, led by our friend Julio Solis. The project is run by local conservationists working to develop an alternative to fishing in the region and to financially support research efforts. Setting nets across an active turtle route, our friends were able to catch 4 black turtles (a sub-species of green turtles), which were tagged, measured, and then released.

Karina was overwhelmed by the turtles, helping at every possibility to keep them wet, and get a closer look at their shells and flippers. One was even named after her. The trip was topped off by seeing a pod of bottlenose dolphins on our boat ride home, the perfect ending to a fantastic trip. There's a couple more of whale and turtle trips in 2010, though time is running out.

Check out a quick video of the trip:

-Brad Nahill