24 June 2011

Re-inspiration

Ok I'm back and have decided I must re-commit to this blog. Exams and first semester are over, not sure how it all went but I'll wait for the results to come out and not worry about it for now :S

I'm back home in Delhi, and good lord it is hot. But the pre-monsoon thunderstorms have been brilliant. I'm a thunderstorm freak. Something about them is awe-inspiring. The lightning, the thunder, the heavy rain, the fact that all the madness is because of a little friction in the clouds above. I always find myself transfixed every time there's a thunderstorm. I obsessively count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to judge how far the storm is - definitely one of my favourite pastimes. So excited for the real monsoon rains to start! Watching the eclipse was also amazing. Normally, we tend to ignore and take for granted the fact that the Earth is rotating not just on its axis but orbiting around the sun, with the moon orbiting around it. Last week's eclipse was my first. I always end up missing them, being asleep or simply in the wrong part of the world to see them but this time I watched almost the entire thing (though some clouds interfered for a while). It's so easy to feel like this planet is all there is to life, but when you see the shadow of your very planet cast on the moon and blocking the light of the star at the centre of the solar system, it's pretty cool :) I realise how silly these observations sound, hehe...just my thoughts on a couple of pretty basic functions of the universe :) But hey, isn't that what this blog is all about? Appreciating nature and science? Haha, jokes, it's actually all just a result of me having far too much spare time :) So let's get back to business.

I've been neglecting the blog for some time now, and even when I have blogged, it's been pretty mundane stuff. So I'm going to go back to square one and do what I always used to do - share the BBC Science and Environment articles I come across on my homepage :) Definitely the easiest way to start. I'll start with the depressing. Lately, there's been a lot in the news about the state of the world's oceans. There's been a lot about increasing ocean acidification and it's impact on marine life. The latest article hasn't got the most encouraging title - "world's oceans in shocking decline". I won't go into them too much, rather just have a read, all pretty self-explanatory. These kind of stories have been catching my eye more lately, I think I've become more marine focused with all this oceanography. I've written about it before but marine conservation has always been an area that's grabbed my attention the most. It's such a huge task, it affects everyone in the world, there are so many different facets to it - coral reefs, fisheries, acidification, pollution, melting ice caps, etc. It's also a classic butterfly effect problem where change in one of these areas can lead to the collapse of the entire ocean system. Anyway, the second BBC article sums it all up, not the most pleasant read.

On the bright side though, an unlikely bit of good news in conservation. Richard Branson doing good for lemurs - shock horror. Being the billionaire he is, he owns a few of the British Virgin Islands and proposed that some lemurs from zoos around the world should be transported to these islands where ex-situ conservation efforts can take place. Basically, the islands will be like foster homes for the lemurs while Madagascar is under threat and unsafe for them. The plan was initially met with some criticism from the IUCN and other authorities, but it has since been fine-tuned into what could turn into a successful conservation plan for lemurs :) Quite impressive, I have more respect for Branson now.

Some more good news, the Tanzanian government has cancelled its plans to build a highway through the Serengeti. Thank the lord. If that project had been approved, humanity would have no hope. How one can even think about building a major highway through a world famous site and interfere with something as great as the Serengeti-Masai Mara migration is beyond me. The people who continue to allow coral reef mining should learn some lessons from this!

I once wrote a slightly depressing blog post (Literally a Conversation on Conservation) about the successes vs. failures in wildlife conservation. When you're passionate about a field like conservation, the bad news you read about generally tends to outnumber the good. You're more likely to hear about increasing extinction rates, habitat degradation, things like that ocean story above. It gets depressing, and it's not easy to feel optimistic about it all. So when you do hear the success stories, like the Kihansi Spray Toad I wrote about in that old post, it's exciting. Last year on my way back to India I bought a Jane Goodall book at O.R. Tambo. I'm actually a terrible reader, it takes months - even years in the case of Shantaram - for me to finish a book (even if it's a good book). I still haven't finished Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth or Lovelock's Revenge of Gaia, they're work in progress. But on this journey home I started reading this Jane Goodall book. It's called "Hope for Animals and Their World", a promising title. And on top of that, it's Jane Goodall, one of my idols, a symbol for hope in conservation. I'm only about a third through it but it's amazing. The book is basically success story after success story, accounts of how so many species have been on the brink of extinction and brought back by captive breeding and other conservation efforts. I'll be honest, she's not the greatest writer, but still, brilliant brilliant book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in wildlife conservation! More about it when I finish reading :) But I must be honest, it's had me with tears in my eyes a few times.

Oh, and I've started watching season 4 of Whale Wars. This is the one that pushed the Japanese to suspend whaling for the season, and hopefully forever. Let's see what happens this year :) My sister told me she was shopping the other day and saw that the shop owner had installed a little TV in his store and on it he was watching Whale Wars in Hindi on Discovery. That makes me so happy, knowing that the common people "आम आदमी" in India are being made aware of these campaigns, even those worlds away in the Southern Ocean. Actually, it reminds me of that guy James Jay Lee - what was he complaining about? I spoke about it in one of the recent posts, but really, natural history documentaries are the way forward for environmental education. In a country like India, you'd think it's poverty stricken and there's no way the general public is going to have access to these programs, but you'd be surprised at the access they have to TV. And the fact that these channels have programs dubbed into Hindi makes it even better.

Lastly, I recommend all nature lovers to get a Tumblr account. It's another blogging site, but most people on it tend to post photos. Some of them are so spectacular, you wonder if these places are real. Stunning stunning stunning!








And that was my big catch up. Currently I'm desperately waiting for the monsoon to start, chilling, catching up with documentary watching now that I have Nat Geo and Animal Planet again, reading (bought James Lovelock's other Gaia book and Prerna Bindra's 'The King and I' today) and attempting to do some oil painting :)

Will try to keep the posts coming!

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05 June 2011

M.I.A.

Apologies, apologies. The conservationist in me died and went MIA for the last couple of months. I don't think I'll have anything meaningful to write about for a while till exams are over and I'm back in India later this month. I've taken a huge liking to procrastination lately, quite a problem. Strange tasting homemade ice tea, sudoku on my phone and listening to a bunch of amazing new music combined with re-discovered old stuff from the archives does not help. It's a disease in fact. Neither does this new addiction to sleep that I have. But it's ok, I'll pull through, go home and blog about exciting things again shortly. Listening to Foo Fighters' M.I.A. while writing this, case in point I guess :)

Once again I'm torn about where this degree will take me...I need to stress on this, so here are all my course options for next year:
  • Life on Land: Plants
  • Human Evolution
  • Global Change Ecology
  • Conservation: Genes, Populations and Biodiversity
  • Ecosystem Ecology
  • Systematics and Macroevolution
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Environmental Change and Challenge
  • Sustainability and the Environment
  • Geographic Thought
  • Marine Systems
  • Ocean and Atmospheric Dynamics
  • Ocean Circulation
  • Marine Ecology
  • Inland Water Ecosystems
  • Vertebrates: Biology and Behavioural Ecology
  • Marine Resources
I used to think having all these options is great, that I'm spoilt for choice. But this is just ridiculous. I want to take almost all of them. Plus I now really want to line myself up to be eligible for this Organised Tropical Studies (OTS) course which consists of 100 days in the field. My friend Nick did it and it sounds like the most amazing experience. I'm absolutely dying to go for it but of course that means I must impress the botany and zoology departments :S Sigh, UCT offers too much for me to choose from...

Something about this story on coral reef mining is really bothering me. I never really knew mining was a threat to coral reefs. You'd think that with every other threat to their survival, mining would be the last thing allowed but no... And now islands are sinking because of it. The best word I can think of to describe this is mind-boggling. Ocean acidification, bleaching, irresponsible fishermen and tourists, collectors, pollution - as if that wasn't enough to worry about now we're mining reefs too? 

Anyway, I'm currently fighting to break this habit of procrastinating so I can study for my final exam. The fact that it's an oceanography does not help. Huge huge nervousness. But I'm excited to finish the semester and blog again. I just rediscovered poems that we had to write in IB English. In spite of the fact that they're hilariously contrived attempts at poetry, they've gotten me really excited to write more. I enjoy it a lot more than I realised. It's fun playing with words to get thoughts out :) Maybe that's what's been missing.

Anyhow, enough rambling. Watch this space :)

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