The Story of Birds Brought to Life in a Brushstroke

Just one of the stunning illustrations by Jane Kim in the newly completed exhibit at the Cornell Lab Visitor Center.

Just one of the stunning illustrations by Jane Kim in the newly completed exhibit at the Cornell Lab Visitor Center. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

by Shauna Potocky

Artist Jane Kim’s hand crafted installation, “From So Simple a Beginning: Celebrating the Diversity and Evolution of Birds,” fills the largest wall of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Visitor Center in Ithaca, New York. Also known as The Wall of Birds, it is a striking art and education exhibit, unprecedented in its scope and absolutely stunning to see and explore.

The extraordinary hand painted piece blends the realism of scientific illustration with the dramatic character of the birds it represents. Commissioned by Cornell Lab as a celebration of its centennial, the project features 270 species of birds. Each bird is painted to scale and the artwork brings 243 families as well as 27 ancestors and five recently extinct relatives, into focus. The work connects the evolution and diversity of birds while demonstrating their distribution world-wide.

The project took two and half years to complete, including 16 months of dedicated painting. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

The project took two and half years to complete, including 16 months of dedicated painting. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

This month, Jane Kim, creator of Ink Dwell, an art studio inspiring people to love and protect the natural world one work of art at a time, took a moment from her schedule to share some of the key highlights of the Cornell project—from its vision, content, and life size scale to Cornell Lab’s dedication and commitment to handcrafted artwork.

Through the commissioning of this one-of-a-kind project, Cornell demonstrated how much it values scientific illustration, the of blending art, science and engagement as a meaningful tool for education. In total, the project scope took two and half years to develop and complete, including 16 months of dedicated painting.

A close up view of the Great Hornbill. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

The Great Hornbill. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

Shauna Potocky:  This project is truly inspiring. What do you hope the project work conveys?

Jane Kim: The project is meant to convey the awe of how many birds there are in the world; it also demonstrates how remarkable it is that birds have diversified to such an extraordinary extent. To see two hundred families is remarkable, and they are life size, placed on a world map with relative scale, and viewable in one location.

SP: How can people see and experience the work?

JK: One of the best ways to see it is in person. Since it is featured inside the Cornell Lab Visitor Center, it can be viewed during normal visitor hours. In addition, Cornell is currently building a digital interactive that can be used to experience the wall and will be released in February 2016.  The interactive includes high-resolution images of every inch of the wall! This will allow viewers to zoom in to see the images—you will be able to see every brush stroke. It will allow viewers to select a bird, learn about it, and hear its call. One of the great features is that Cornell has the largest collection of sounds in the world.

SP: What was one of the most exciting aspects of the project?

JK: It is unprecedented—completing a hand painted mural of all the birds–it was such a large project and took so much time. Researching, learning the subjects, developing the work and then painting it. Cornell truly demonstrated that they value hand crafted murals and value the time it would take to complete such a piece. From start to finish it took two and half years and required 16 months of on site painting. Now the piece is bringing art and education to people and engaging them.

SP: What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

JK: The balance of art and science because there was a high demand for scientific accuracy. It was working with a high bar for accuracy and creating a portrait that captured the spirit of the bird. In addition, painting it so it can be viewed from all distances and still be viewed beautifully. The work needed to read beautifully in the interactive and from far away.

Jane Kim at work on the Wall of Birds, a project celebrating Cornell Labs centennial. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

Jane Kim at work on the Wall of Birds, a project celebrating Cornell Labs centennial. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

SP: Were there any species of birds that captured you, that perhaps you had not known previously?

JK: I didn’t know each bird, so every bird was a surprise. I enjoyed discovering fun facts like the Saddle-bill Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) with the only difference between male and female being the color of the eye. So I made it a female, with a yellow iris. I tried to depict females as much as I could, since males are often showier and represented.

The North Island Giant Moa (Dinornis novaezealandiae) female is also depicted because they are the bigger sex. There was a time when it was thought that they were two species—one being a subspecies because of the size differences. Testing showed that the birds were the same, males were smaller, females were larger.

Fun behaviors are also represented, such as the Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis) with its fun little mating dance. There are also Gouldian Finches (Erythrura gouldiae), a set of three because they have three different head colors, yellow, black and red, but they are the same species.

SP: How do you hope this work touches people?

JK: I hope it is inspiring to see, and I hope it is statement that demonstrates how Cornell values hand painted creations that can be inspiring and useful tools for education. I hope it also inspires people to ask a lot of questions and sparks a new generation of scientific illustrators—we need that. I hope it allows others to think big, take the time and make the effort.

Taking a step back to get a view of the scope and scale of the project. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

Taking a step back to get a view of the scope and scale of the project. Photo courtesy of Jane Kim.

In many ways “From So Simple A Beginning” is a remarkable gift—it celebrates 100 years of Cornell Lab’s work and endeavors for birds, while providing an unparalleled learning opportunity through quality artwork that also celebrates the profound and quiet power of scientific illustration—a field that is rarely discussed yet touches so many of our lives.

With the recent completion of “From So Simple a Beginning,” Jane Kim already has new projects in the works, including the next addition to the Migrating Mural—so stay tuned as we wait to see what her next projects and remarkable artwork have to teach us.

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Refuge, Wilderness and Restoration After the Trauma of War

K Bay from Homer SPotocky

Just one of Homer, Alaska’s stunning views. Photo by Shauna Potocky.

By Shauna Potocky

Volcanoes rise out of the mist and gray mirror of the Alaskan sea as the arrival of Fall storms bring rain and cold winds. Born out of the Ring of Fire, islands form the volcanic chain of mountains and ridges that define the West Coast of Alaska and make up the Aleutian Islands, which provide remote habitat for an impressive number of birds and marine mammals.

Alaska’s coastline, including the Aleutian Islands, provides an impressive array of opportunity for a diverse range of species. From mudflats to rugged rocky outcroppings, sandy beaches or cobbled shores, the diversity of landscapes are as engaging as the animals found upon them. Some of these areas are easy to visit while others are incredibly remote, yet all of it comes to life through the story of its conservation.

As recognizable as this landscape is on the map, and as remote as much of it may be, what might be more elusive is the story of its protection. Much of the Aleutian Islands as well as significant amounts of Alaskan coastline are protected and designated as the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Its story steeped in lore, history and war comes to life at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center and Refuge headquarters in Homer, Alaska—a town famously known for being “at the end of the road.”

Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center close up SPotocky

The Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center located in Homer, brings the story of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge into incredible focus for visitors. Photo by Shauna Potocky.

It seems timely to revisit the story of the refuge, particularly the Aleutian Islands, because as the world faces war and human displacement today. This story serves as an important reminder of what war does, and how in the face of conflict wildlife and the environment become remarkably vulnerable and often go unprotected. The story of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge demonstrates what can be accomplished once all the turmoil ends.

The great islands that make up the Aleutian chain and other areas of the current refuge were first utilized and inhabited by people for what is estimated to be over 11,000 years ago. Today, a rich diversity of first peoples, including the Inupiat, Yup’ik, Unangan, Aleut, Dena’ina Athabascans, Alutiiq Koniag, Haida and Tlingit, continue to be deeply connected to this landscape. Their lives are filled with the knowledge of specialized skills, culture, and stories of this unique place.

Beginning in the late 1700s, expanding into the 1800s, these people were affected or displaced by an insurgence of Russian fur hunters. Russian settlements were focused on resource extraction and, once established, their skills and appetite, fed by the fur trade, depleted the area of several marine mammal species, resulting in an awaking.

Fox fur and trap SPotocky

Non-native species, such as foxes, were introduced to the islands, resulting in significant impacts to native species. Foxes were introduced in order to establish and grow fur trading operations and are a significant part of the story on display at the visitor center.  Photo by Shauna Potocky.

Due to the decline of sea otters and other marine mammals, Russians began restricting areas for hunting, essentially setting up refuge areas in order to assure the survival of species they depended on.

In 1867, Alaska was purchased from Russia by the United States. American hunting, development and extraction ensued. Over the course of generations, Alaska was opened for exploration, hunting, fur trade and adventure.

Then something unbelievable unfolded—an event that would mark a moment in time and the world’s history.

In 1942, during World War II, the Japanese began a campaign to take the Attu and Kiska Islands of the Aleutian chain. This followed actions in defiance of a fur hunting treaty and escalating tensions. Once the insurgence began it displaced island populations and included taking a number of native people hostage. This conflict launched the Aleutian Campaign in which Allied troops and military operations ensued on the islands and in the surrounding areas. The islands were horribly affected. Island populations were displaced, communities destroyed, bombs and ammunition rounds unleashed, military operations and encampments established, while contaminants and military waste were discarded and left behind after the war effort.

In the end, the landscape and islands were left ravaged and damaged, scarred with the remnants of bombshells and littered with abandoned waste. They stood in disarray; masses of twisted metal, discarded ammunition, contaminants and a newly raw history of war lay in its wake.

War items on exhibit SPotocky

Remants of war on display at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Photo by Shauna Potocky.

In Alaska the tides are dramatic—a deep pulling out and heaving in, over great distances and heights, similar to a great pendulum swing. Just as remarkable as the tide and its swift sweeping change, the future of this landscape began to emerge into something new, something with wider protections and a future. In the end, something positive is emerging out of the turmoil.

Wildlife refuges and wilderness areas protected significant tracks of land and habitat along the coastline of Alaska. In 1980, via the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), signed by President Jimmy Carter, astounding areas of Alaska’s protected lands, along with newly protected areas, including the Aleutian Islands, were consolidated and established as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Refuge view in Homer SPotocky

Located at the base of the visitor center is a small wildlife refuge area that allows visitors to see the land-sea connection. Photo by Shauna Potocky.

In total the refuge encompasses approximately three million acres, with a mission to conserve habitats and species, manage international treaties related to the habitats and species, as well as provide for local subsistence. The refuge is also used to conduct scientific research and maintain water quality in ways that support the primary role of the refuge.

Today, people carrying out the mission of the refuge are working to repair the damage, specifically on islands that have been touched by fur trade or war. There is significant work being done to remove invasive species, such as rats and foxes, that were introduced to the islands. These introduced species out-compete, destroy and kill native species by eating the eggs of nesting birds, killing young and upsetting the balance of an ecosystem that initially developed without the presence of land-based predators.

Exhibit displays SPotocky

Exhibits bring the story, restoration, research and habitats to life for visitors. Photo by Shauna Potocky.

In addition, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is focused on removing contaminants as well as accumulations of waste and debris that were left on the islands during wartime.

Today, the incredible acreage of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge protects diverse habitat for millions of seabirds and an wide array of marine mammals, while doing something even bigger. With respect to the Aleutian Islands, it serves as an example of what protection, restoration and conservation can look like after truly troubling times. It proves that war is not the end.

Intertidal display SPotocky

Detail of intertidal display in the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Photo by Shauna Potocky.

What the refuge represents to me is that after the conflict is over, when the heartbreak and battles are done, we can choose to pick up the pieces and do something bigger, do something positive. We can take all that seemed broken and left behind, the battle scars, the waste, the heartbreak of war and repair it. Collectively and carefully, damaged landscapes can once again become incredible habitat or a place people can feel comfortable calling home.

Finding Refuge

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Sandhill Cranes and other species find refuge at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

by Shauna Potocky

The morning is damp and cool—not cold, just wet and cool. A thick blanket of Central Valley tule fog keeps the Merced Wildlife Refuge in a dream like state of obscurity. In the gray mist the voices of thousands of birds rise in the morning air. Only a few Whitefaced Ibis, Pintail ducks, Cinnamon Teals, and Northern Shovelers are seen on the edge of the wetland as the fog begins to lift and the sun rises.

Pintail Ducks and more stand at the water line as the fog breaks.

Pintail Ducks and company preen in the emerging sunlight as the fog breaks. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Today, what the fog is hiding is substantial. As California emerges from January with hardly any precipitation, it is clear that the historic drought that California is experiencing is set to continue into a fourth year. With it will come significant challenges—exacerbating last year’s remarkable issues. From critical and hard decisions regarding water allocations to agriculture, wildlife refuges, and rivers with native fish runs. To addressing tree mortality estimated at 40 percent in some areas of the state as well as having faced a prolonged fire season, with no shortage of extraordinary and fast moving wildfires.

Taking action, California is now employing significant steps to address the ongoing drought and provide for both human use and environmental needs. In November, California voters approved Proposition 1, which allocates $7.5 billion via a bond measure for water programs, projects and restoration. The proposition addresses seven key areas: Regional Water Reliability; Water Storage Capacity; Water Recycling; Groundwater Sustainability; Safe Drinking Water; Flood Management; Watershed Protection and Ecosystem Restoration.

Specifically, the proposition focuses on expanding and diversifying water resources and management options. It is clear that one method of water management cannot address the needs of the entire state. Thus, the goal is to diversify water collection and storage, protect and correct current water quality issues—primarily in disadvantaged communities where water pollution is a major issue. In addition, efforts will be made restore ecosystems and river functions and address both short and long-term water needs.

The importance of water has grabbed the attention of representatives, business owners, farmers, public land managers, and citizens. Collectively, the people of California are taking a forward-thinking, diverse approach to address another record-breaking dry year. Of course there may not be consensus on all the initiatives, yet it seems clear a diverse approach will offer more potential solutions than a narrow focus.

Faced with today’s water realities in California, a proactive forward-thinking approach is needed to address these challenges.

Habitat that received water despite overall reduced wildlife refuge water allocations.

Habitat that received water despite reduced water allocations. Photo credit Shauna Potocky

One example of proactive management includes the actions and planning of California’s Wildlife Refuge managers in addressing the dry conditions of this winter’s migratory season. Many planned for a large influx of migratory birds in December and January based on reports of a productive breeding season in the northern habitats of Alaska and Canada. With refuges situated along the Pacific Flyway, it was critical that managers provided habitat for migratory species, despite the drought conditions, which serve as resting and feeding grounds as the birds move through California.

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Faced with reduced water resources, wildlife refuges have concentrated water in critical habitat.  Many California refuges received only a portion of their normal water allotments, making strategic management of the wetlands essential. In addition, visitor use activities have been limited including hunting and tours at various locations. Although difficult for bird enthusiasts, it is a good reminder that the refuges are for the birds. They represent only 5 percent of the remaining historical habitat in California’s Central Valley.

A Whitefaced Ibis forging on a mild winter day.

A Whitefaced Ibis forges on a mild winter day in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

As the fog lifts on this winter day, the Sandhill Cranes begin to dance for their partners. The Ross’ Snow Geese rise in great loud clouds of movement and the reeds that frame the wetlands shimmer with the flutter of Redwing Black Birds—their songs as sharp as their brilliant red and yellow shoulders. With the receding fog, we are reminded that as resources like water become scarce, we are all pressed to be wiser and more forward thinking in our planning, use and conservation.

The fourth year of California’s drought is the perfect time to examine how water is allotted, conserved, and protected. Although facing significant challenges, California is also perfectly poised to embrace responsible, innovative, and robust water planning and management. Its success is critical. Frankly put, citizens, wildlife and ecosystems are depending on it, as California seeks its own refuge during a paradigm-shifting drought.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the wildlife refuge comes to life as the morning breaks.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the refuge comes to life just after daybreak. Photo credit Shauna Potocky

Taking The Long View

El Capitan,  Yosemite National Park, California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

By Shauna Potocky

This week Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall, considered one of the hardest climbs in the world. In fact, due to the sheer face of the wall and its technical aspects, it was considered impossible to free climb—until this week.  Suspended on the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the climb took them 19 days to complete. Yet, what most people may not realize, is that their effort did not start on day one of their 19-day journey.

The journey to the Dawn Wall began more than six years ago—built on vision, planning, and preparation.

In short, the attempt at freeing the Dawn Wall, required taking the long view.

As we begin 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s feat is an excellent reminder for all of us to consider taking the long view. It is the perfect time to reflect on the benchmarks, milestones, and successes of previous work and to be inspired by the work ahead. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge that there will always be work ahead. By taking the long view, we begin to see that success between quick wins and real vision, means being patient, planning and often times includes building a network of support.

Detail of climbers base camp on the wall of El Capitan. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Detail of climbers base camp on the wall of El Capitan. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Consider the remarkable story of the recovery of the Peregrine falcon in the United States. In hindsight, it becomes clear that although the obstacles may have seemed overwhelming at the time, they provided the best opportunity for innovation and creating a completely novel conservation and management strategy.

In 1970, only two nesting pairs of Peregrine falcons existed in the California and the species had already gone extinct on the east coast of the United States. After extensive efforts—some of which people doubted—the Peregrine falcon emerged to re-inhabit its wild spaces as well as take up residence in our urban landscapes.

Ultimately, the Peregrine falcon recovery proved to be a remarkable success with the species being delisted from the Endangered Species List and becoming an inspiration for other recovery efforts.

And, just like the Dawn Wall ascent and its pre-planning and vision, the recovery of the Peregrine falcon and its success was built on significant touchstones, many of which preceded the recovery effort.

Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, bringing to light the challenges to the environment in the face of industry and human impacts. Carson revealed the realities of bioaccumulation and the resulting issues facing wildlife. Within a few years, the Environmental Protection Agency would ban the use of DDT (dichlorodipheyltrichloroethane), which was having a significant impact on Peregrine falcons and other bird species. Soon after, President Nixon would sign into law the Endangered Species Act, and two bird conservation groups would take on the challenge of trying to bring the Peregrine falcon back from the brink of extinction in the United States. All these efforts contributed to groundbreaking change—and collectively, the recovery of the Peregrine falcon is just one example of their success.

Ano Nuevo State Park, located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is well-known for its seasonal Northern Elephant Seal population.

Ano Nuevo State Park, located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is well-known for its seasonal Northern Elephant Seal population. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Then there are the efforts to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which began in 1967 and would not come to fruition until the Sanctuary was established in 1992. Success was realized due to the acknowledgement that the Monterey Bay, along with its associated coastline, featured some of the nation’s most diverse ecosystems—all of which would face significant impacts if not protected from oil exploration or other large-scale industrial operations.

The vision of the sanctuary culminated through various efforts over a long period of time, and included work by the Sierra Club, various counties, and stakeholders. In the end, Leon Panetta, then a representative of California, carried forth the legislation, protecting the Monterey Bay and more than 250 miles of coastline.

Today, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is nothing short of a national treasure.

Harbor seals resting on a beach on the shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Harbor seals resting on the shore of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

There are also important human stories of taking the long view. In Kenya, organizations are establishing relationships with local communities, providing opportunities for innovative and sustainable employment. These solutions allow residents to transform their living situations and the environment. Zawadisha is just one example of an organization that is empowering people to transform their own lives and livelihoods while providing them access to resources that can also make a difference for the environment.

A Zawadisha workshop focused on leadership development in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

A leadership development workshop held in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

The examples do not end with reaching the top of the Dawn Wall or empowering change in Kenya. Consider the ecosystem cascades associated with the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone National Park. The continued habitat protection even in the face of drought in California, which includes assuring wildlife refuges still receive water allotments in order to maintain the integrity of important habitat for resting, breeding or wintering birds along the Pacific Flyway.

There are many successes, and we need to take time to really acknowledge this work and know—it does not always come as a quick fix—often it is a long vision, made real.

The Merced Wildlife Refuge in the Central Valley of California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

The Merced National Wildlife Refuge in the Central Valley of California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

As we enter 2015, we know there are big issues to be decided and no shortage of environmental challenges to face. A vision and what emerges from the idea of what can be, creates the resilience needed to face these issues and challenges with grace and poise.

The successful freeing of the Dawn Wall by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson can inspire us all to consider what it takes to think big–to plan, prepare, practice, and then do. Each pitch on the route was a milestone, and their perseverance is a great reminder to us all of the real value of taking the long view.

Zawadisha: Creating Change, Inspiring Action in Kenya

Zawadisha

By Shauna Potocky

What if one of the best solutions to social and environmental change came in the form of empowerment? What if that empowerment was gifted to the most disenfranchised members of society? What if, in their empowerment, family units, communities and whole economies began to change? What if with that change, came the benefits of education, stable family economics, clean water, clean air, and entrepreneurial businesses operated from the heart while also based on sustainability? In such a paradigm, how might lives, economies, and ecosystems change?

The answers to such an empowerment paradigm are known and the non-profit organization, Zawadisha knows first-hand how profound the changes can be.

Zawadisha, (which meaning “to give a gift”), is focused on empowering women in Kenya with the means, training, mentorship and supportive structure needed to not just lift themselves up but to thrive as an emerging economic force in their home communities. Through an innovative and well informed micro-lending program, designed to set its members up for success, the program also requires the women it engages to create sustainable businesses. In doing so, it transforms women from not only being the backbone of their family structure but also empowering them with the tools needed to become an active part of the local economy. As women emerge into this new role, it shifts and shapes the economic and environmental stability of their community.

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Group leaders participating in a leadership development workshop held in 2014. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

In particular, by employing a culturally relevant and safe micro-lending program, Zawadisha has honed in on a successful focus, one that Jennifer Gurecki, the Chief Innovation Officer describes as, “pro-poor, pro-women and pro-environment.”

Specifically, Zawadisha leverages several critical factors into its successful program model; the first is that it fully engages the participants it serves by completely integrating them into the management of the program. Participants are engaged as members and actively participate in the fiscal and business management of the micro-lending program. This active participation and engagement translates into a partnership that members feel passionate about, resulting in a high degree of personal investment in the program outcomes. This empowerment results in an impressive success rate in the repayment of loans while supporting the much needed disbursement of products and services into communities with significant need.

Zawadisha meeting

Zawadisha’s Opportunity and Empowerment Director, Cindy Mayanka, facilitating a workshop with the Neema Women’s Group. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

There are two other elements that make Zawadisha’s program outstanding. Once the loans are dispersed and the members are engaged by a peer chair-lady, who organizes monthly meetings, the members also benefit through access to both leadership and business training opportunities. These opportunities further advance the women’s potential for success, ensuring that beyond financial investment in their business, they also have the additional tools needed to be successful in their endeavor.

Solar Light and Bright Smile Zawadisha

A solar lighting system and an opportunity for a brighter future. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

In addition, Zawadisha is taking a clear environmental approach to empowering its members. Current members are being “grandfathered” into a new vision, one that will offer training on sustainable business practices. The vision for future members, is that as requirement for obtaining a micro-loan, the women entrepreneurs must demonstrate that they are developing an environmentally sustainable business. It is clear that in communities where businesses are grown based on environmental degradation—future problems arise. Although there may be a short-term economic gain for the community—in the long-term, jeopardizing water, soil or air resources are not a good investment—for anyone. In recognition of this, Zawadisha will only invest in projects that build on sustainable practices or services—most of which are related to solar power lights, rain water catchment tanks and soon-to-be launched, eco-stoves for cooking, which will reduce dependence on coal.

How transformational can solar lighting, a rain water catchment tank or eco-stove be in a women’s life? Subsequently, what can the effects be on her community? Consider these remarkable examples that come directly from the women served in the environmentally impacted community of Maungu, located five hours south of Nairobi. Of note, Maungu is a community situated in a landscape that has suffered from desertification. The women of the community report that, “thirty years ago the area was covered in trees.” Today, the trees have been removed and the landscape suffers from a lack of water and is characterized by dry red dirt and low-lying shrubs. In such a scenario, here is how transformative an investment in what the women say they need, can be.

Maungu landscape Zawadisha

Maungu landscape and the future site of the Neema Women’s Group native tree nursery. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

When a woman receives a loan for a solar light, she directly changes two key aspects within her home—she eliminates the greatest health risk to people within their living quarters related to the use of paraffin burning lamps, which is known for its toxicity. Paraffin is directly related to elevated respiratory issues and significantly impacts the young and the elderly. Beyond elimination of this health hazard, she increases the productivity hours within the home, allowing her to focus her efforts on beneficial aspects of household management and significantly shift household expenses. Paraffin is costly to the household and can be offset by the use of solar lighting. One solar light loan is equal to the cost of a one month supply of paraffin, thus, the solar light can pay for itself within one month of use.

In addition, an unexpected benefit of the new household investment has emerged. Women who have received the lamps have indicated that they have been treated with more respect and support from family members as a result of their contribution to the household.

Rain water catchment tank Zawadisha

A rain water catchment tank can provide increased food security and help transform the landscape. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

For a woman who has received a rainwater catchment tank; her daily life is significantly changed—she no longer is required to spend six hours each day, walking to obtain water. This allows her to focus her daily efforts on activities that can continue to transform her living situation. In addition, with water catchment located at home, many women have started kitchen gardens that are able to supply food to the household and provide food for market, which translates directly into increased food security. These women have also indicated that they too have benefited by increased respect and support for their efforts in transforming and significantly contributing to their households.

JG and Group Zawadisha

Pictured here: Jennifer Gurecki, Chief Innovation Officer and group leaders; together they distribute or manage micro-loans on a financial scale that for $100, can provide a loan for either one rain water catchment tank, four solar lights, or new in 2015, four eco-stoves. Photo Courtesy of Zawadisha.

New for 2015, Zawadisha is excited to begin providing loans for eco-stoves. These stoves will provide a positive alternative to high coal consuming stoves, which have significant impacts on people and the environment. One significant difference in the roll out of the stove program as compared to other microfinance institutions (MFI) is that Zawadisha spent a significant amount of time listening to the women of the community to find out what the women needed and what type of stove will truly work for them. This is critically important because it has been observed that some MFI’s have provided products to communities without investigating the needs of the people and the products to be provided, in order to assure a beneficial match to the end user. This has translated into products being delivered into communities that subsequently were not utilized, as it did not meet the need of the people they were meant to serve. Zawadisha has been very mindful of this and has diligently inquired into the true need of the people regarding cooking alternatives. As a result of the investment in knowing what the women will truly benefit from, the new stove loans will become available to Zawadisha members in 2015.

Garden Zawadisha

An example of landscape transformation, this garden was the result of a rain water catchment tank. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

The coming year also offers another exciting development. Zawadisha will also assist the women of Maungu in establishing a native tree nursery. This nursery will supply seedling trees to the restoration market that is generated by local national parks and through the nongovernmental organization, Wildlife Works.

The women of Maungu represent many of the women of Africa, they are strong, family-minded, and community building. They are not defined by the demographic statistics reported to us and throughout the world. They are the smiling faces, the jovial laughs, the cultural shepherds and entrepreneurial spirit of their communities. They are also the game changers—when provided with the opportunity to empower themselves, without jeopardizing everything in unsafe loans; when they are given a truly supportive opportunity to change the economic expenses of their household, shift the environmental impacts of traditional supply chains, what emerges is a shift in health benefits, the obtainment of food security, and positive impacts on the environment and the local ecosystem.

The women of Maungu represent a deeper hope for all of us. They prove that impacted areas of Africa can be transformed and healed through the vision of its own women. They demonstrate for the world that many of the issues facing communities today can be addressed by engaging and empowering the members of society who may frequently be overlooked—a lesson we can all learn from.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary: Getting Below the Surface

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By Shauna Potocky

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of the marine wonders of the world; it is a biological hotspot—featuring an array of remarkable habitats and teeming with biodiversity. The sanctuary includes sandy beaches, rocky intertidal zones and a near-shore deep-sea canyon—all of which contribute to the unmatched concentration of marine life, world class natural resources and endless opportunities for recreation, tourism and appreciation. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is nothing short of a national treasure.

In fact, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBMNS) is just one of thirteen National Marine Sanctuaries—each of which features world class attributes, making them eligible for federal protections. Examples include Olympic Coast, Thunder Bay, Gray’s Reef, Florida Keys and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuaries. Many people are not familiar with the National Marine Sanctuary system, their various locations and the innovative programs that set them apart as learning institutions. Equally important is helping people understand the valuable work sanctuary staff conduct in order to manage and protect these remarkable places.

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The National Marine Sanctuaries mission as stated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), who manages them, indicates that their role is to “conserve, protect and enhance the biodiversity, ecological integrity and cultural legacy of these underwater places.” The authority for establishing and protecting the sanctuaries comes from the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and NOAA reflects on this as, “one of the strongest pieces of ocean protection.”

Paul Michel, Superintendent of the MBNMS, has a deep passion for connecting people to the ocean and our national marine sanctuaries. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask him about the features that make the MBNMS so unique:

“The MBNMS is unique because of its land-sea connection; it includes 275 miles of California coast—this land-sea connection allows it to be directly adjacent to communities and accessible to user groups. The sanctuary also features an abundance of wildlife—it supports great migrations, charismatic mega fauna such as killer whales, blue whales and more. It is home to the California sea otter, and many of these animals and their unique habitats can be accessed or even seen from shore. For example, the deep–sea canyon is close to shore, it provides easy and accessible wildlife viewing.” He also added, “Because of the concentration of marine science institutions around the MBNMS, it serves as the West Coast’s equivalent of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (a world class facility focused on oceanographic and marine research). The MBNMS itself benefits from equally focused science monitoring and research.”

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It is true, the sanctuary is home to remarkable institutions such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and Long Marine Laboratory, the marine science campus for the University of California Santa Cruz.

Regarding the greatest successes of the MBNMS, Michel reflected on a few recent achievements, including the newly built state of the art visitor center located in Santa Cruz, California, as well as the development of a model water quality protection program. In addition, the sanctuary has developed SIMoN, the Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring System , a website that focuses on long term monitoring of adjoining sanctuaries focused on tracking shifts within these protected ecosystems.

Along with these highlights, the sanctuary also features some of the best subject matter experts in kelp forest ecology and deep-water benthic characterization. Field science isn’t the only area of expertise though, as one of the most recent additions to the sanctuary’s programming demonstrates— new to the suite of programs is Your Sanctuary, a television production that helps visitors to the area connect to the value and resources of the bay.

As stunning as the sanctuary is, it also faces significant challenges. When considering some of the issues facing the MBNMS currently, Michel stressed that there is a need for increased funding for operations and programming. An increase in funding could then help with addressing some of the critical issues such as the pressures and impacts from land-based pollutants, such as chemicals, plastics and other waste that end up in the water, as well as tackling the issue of marine debris, such as lost fishing gear and nets that can continue to capture marine life, damage resources or run the risk of entangling marine mammals such as seals and whales. Of course, as climate continues to shift, the sanctuary is also facing issues associated with ocean acidification and sea level rise—these challenges are significant and need to be addressed and managed.

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When considering if the sanctuary is ready to tackle these challenges, it is reassuring to know that it is in expert hands and ready to address emerging issues. When asked how Michel would face these challenges, he replied, “Boldly! And with the best possible science and partnerships.”

Michel’s track record proves that he is skilled at working in partnerships and one tangible example is the completed MBNMS Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, “Partners are what made the Exploration Center in Santa Cruz happen,” he stated, “Without the donated land and fundraising that covered the cost of the exhibits—it couldn’t have happened.”

Partnerships and engagement take several forms, so if you are wondering if there is a place for citizens in the management of the sanctuary, it is exciting to note that there is a substantial role for both youth and citizens to engage in protecting their sanctuary.

Citizens have the opportunity to participate as a member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council, a working group that consists of representatives from various stakeholder viewpoints including business, tourism, education, and citizens-at-large, all seated along side government and agency representatives. Together the working group provides guidance, recommendations and advises the Superintendent on sanctuary issues or management decisions such as on the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, Southern Sea Otter Translocation Program, Oil and Gas Exploration and much more. Participation on the council is an empowering and insightful opportunity—it is one not to be missed if you are inspired to make a difference.

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Today, there are thirteen NMS and one monument—but why stop there? Perhaps you know of a special marine area that is worthy of sanctuary status. If so, Michel shared this exciting opportunity to get involved—currently there is a program inviting coastal communities to submit nominations for establishing new sanctuaries. With only 1 percent of marine habitats protected worldwide, and only thirteen sanctuaries set aside in the United States—it is clear that together we can do more than just be awed by our nation’s marine wonders— we can actually protect them as national treasures and legacies for the future—perhaps the one you nominate will be number fourteen.

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Photo Credits: Kirk Keeler Photography

 

Creative Connections: An Invitation to BEGIN

Begin!ShaunaP.

Keeping a journal is a powerful way to capture your journey. By looking closely, listening deeply, and capturing that experience, it allows you to discover, remind or reflect on the things you have seen, the remarkable places you have visited—even if this happens to be in your own backyard or beyond.

There are so many ways to utilize a journal—the scientific field journal, personal journaling, bioregional journals, art journals, travel journals, professional journals. The most important part of each of these is universal—you must BEGIN.

So as we start this New Year, this is heartfelt encouragement to grab paper and pen, dig up an unfinished journal or go find yourself a fresh one that can travel with you and BEGIN.

Journaling is actually one of my greatest passions. I began journaling through writing; utilizing journals both for studying the environment while in school and while doing field work as well as keeping personal journals to capture the chapters of my life. During this time, I never delved into drawing unless attempting to create a map of an area or capture some morphology of a plant or animal in order to confirm its identification.

Then—something remarkable happened. With encouragement, I was given safe space to try to draw in my journal—and these early drawings, I can assure you are not beautiful, yet served a valuable purpose, they gave me a place to BEGIN.

Journaling Shauna P.

Observing closely reveals details and patterns; it opens up a new level of understanding such as how the scales of a giant sequoia cone can hold nearly 200 hundred tiny seeds.

Now, with many rough drawings behind me, my journals have a new colorful and artistic element to them—which is not necessary, yet it demonstrates how continued dedication to journaling can transform itself over time.

If the thought of drawing fills you with fear then take this suggestion: write! Do what works for you—just BEGIN.

Don’t lose the opportunity to capture your experience because of fear of your writing or fear of your drawing. Be brave and put pen to paper, capture these fleeting moments and make them more powerful and concrete; create something meaningful and lasting. Today, you may have no idea how meaningful these early journaling efforts may become.

Don't miss the opportunity to get out there!

Don’t miss the opportunity to get out there!

Whether you would like to add journaling to your personal life, are looking for a meaningful family activity that can inspire young children to connect to nature, or if you want to add field journaling to your scientific studies, here are some great ways to get started, stay motivated and be inspired:

1)   Get out there! Grab paper and pen or pencil (one that you really like) and get outside. Slow down… sit quietly, observe and capture. What do you see? What do you hear? What time of day is it? Where are you? Write about your experience or draw what you see. Look at the landscape (big picture) or observe something small and close up. You don’t need fancy tools or training, you just need space to BEGIN.

2)   Take a journaling class: many art centers, nature centers and native plant nurseries offer journaling classes or nature clubs, which can introduce individuals to journal techniques and offer regular field excursions. This is a great way to get inspired, learn new ways of “seeing”, meet new people and… did someone say “Field trip”?!!!!!

3)   Families can journal together! This is a powerful way to encourage young scientists, writers and artists to observe closely and become connected to patterns, seasons, and ecology. This is also a way to provide quality family time and create something meaningful together.

4)   Pick up a journaling book, especially if you prefer to have examples and guidance; there are an incredible number of resources on journaling techniques out there. These can be truly inspirational as they often give you glimpses into other people’s journals and you can see how varied peoples styles are… and trust me, you will have your own style to add to this diverse mix too!

5)   My favorite rule is NO RULES! This is the primary principle in the journal classes I teach. Why? Because if constructs are going to hold someone back from beginning, then it isn’t serving them. So, do what feels natural—write, draw and BEGIN. As time goes on, there will be plenty of opportunities to hone and develop entries—so, do what works today—take pictures, do a collage, write a paragraph, poem or prose, whatever it takes to start!

Journaling is a powerful way to observe nature and the ecology around us. It can help us make connections by looking closely–such as what animals are around at certain times of year, when do the trees begin to leaf out, the flowers bloom and in what order, when do the acorns drop and the trees go dormant—or for this year… how cold is it or how dry?—depending on where you are. In addition, we can make connections not just within this season but from year to year, discovering variations and patterns.

It is also a profound way to capture our life journey and demonstrate how unique our lives are and how connected to place we can become. Our own journals can become our most profound teachers. We may capture moments and observations that serve as important discoveries in hindsight—answering the questions, “When did I see that last year” or “Is that how I was feeling then”? Through journaling, we may discover that perfect place that gives us the space we need to just be present.

A drawing from student, Jesus Angel Dolores, who once introduced to writing and drawing in a journal has now kept a journal each summer for several years.

A drawing from student, Jesus Angel Dolores, who upon being introduced to writing and drawing in a journal has now kept a journal each summer for several years.

There is also no denying how transformative encouraging youth to keep a journal can be. With busy lives and student demands, the opportunity to slow down, observe closely, discover, question deeply, and fall in love with nature and the world around us, can be truly powerful.  Students can discover and hone their own writing, artistic and observational abilities. They can begin to capture the chapters of their lives and perhaps make profound discoveries we could never even imagine.

Of course, all of these amazing outcomes can only happen if we BEGIN!

Resources:

Books

Clare Walker Leslie: Great resources for getting started and staying motivated. http://www.clarewalkerleslie.com/books.htm

Michael Canfield Field Notes: Amazing book that shows an array of journal styles for science and field studies. http://www.canfieldnotes.com/

Classes (California… get inspired and look for a class near you!)

John Muir Laws: Features workshops, demonstration videos and information on a Bay Area Nature Club. http://www.johnmuirlaws.com/

Intermountain Nursery: Nature journaling class with Shauna Potocky, offered at a beautiful native plant nursery, Saturday, August 16, 2014. http://www.intermountainnursery.com/classes.htm

Photo credits:

Journals, Shauna Potocky;

Valley Rim and Shauna P., Kirk Keeler;

Journaling, Kirk Keeler;

Stellar Jay from the journal of student Jesus Angel Dolores; Jesus Angel Dolores.