On the Philippine Island of Danjugan, nature is fragile. Danjugan, a nature sanctuary, is part of an archipelago of 7107 islands that offers an incredible variety of landscapes and biodiversity.
At the same time, the region is often whipped by cyclones, drowned by floods, and rocked by earthquakes. And that’s not to mention the damage caused by human beings. Stories about polluted waterways and reckless deforestation in Palawan have recently made international headlines.
A journey through the Philippines can be a journey of environmental ups and downs, from pristine beaches to filthy rivers, from animal abuse to successful conservation projects. We managed to visit five very different islands, where we had some of the most memorable nature and wildlife experiences of our traveling lives. We dived with sea turtles near Apo Island, met the tarsiers of Bohol, and saw the thresher sharks of Malapascua circle the abyss at sunrise.
We also noticed the darker side of tourist development. We saw wildlife put on display for tourists in terrible conditions. We saw dive sites overcrowded with inexperienced divers, who damage the reef day after day. Families live in shacks right next to luxurious hotels and resorts.
Luckily, there are some success stories. In the case of Danjugan, it’s an uplifting story about nature-loving individuals that decided to making saving this small Philippine Island their entire life’s mission.
In what The Guardian calls “the worst manmade environmental disaster since the BP gulf oil spill,” vast swaths of vital forests in Borneo and Sumatra are being consumed by fire. These fires were intentionally set by palm oil and paper companies, simply because slash & burn agriculture is the cheapest, fastest way to clear land for plantations.
But these fires in Indonesia– tens of thousands of them– are raging out of control due to record drought throughout the region. In places like Pematang Gadung and Sungai Besar, where the forests are filled with orangutans and other endangered species, some animals have died from smoke inhalation, while others have been poached or abducted into the illegal wildlife trade. But a precious few are being rescued by non-profit organizations such as International Animal Rescue.
But it’s not just animal life that’s endangered: The toxic haze from Indonesia’s fires has created a thick layer of smog over the entire country. The city of Palangkaraya has become one of the most polluted places on the planet, and locals are literally choking on the devastating effects of unchecked corporate greed. Experts believe the impact of carbon released from these burning peat forests on climate change will be catastrophic if something isn’t done soon.
“The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire,” says IAR communications manager Lis Key. “Orangutans are badly affected by the smoke. Some suffer upper respiratory tract infections, which can prove fatal. Some of the babies we’ve taken in recently have been suffering from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food, as well as breathing problems from the polluted air.”
Last week IAR sent out a desperate plea for help drawing international attention to (and financial support for) their fire-fighting and orangutan rescue efforts. To get a boots-on-the-ground insider’s perspective on the struggle, we spoke to Karmele Llano Sanchez, Program Director of IAR’s Indonesian initiatives (Yayasan IAR Indonesia).
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When we take family vacations, we often go to a resort. We find it a great opportunity to relax and do as much or as little as we like.
While it’s always tempting to spend our days lounging on the beach or enjoying cocktails by the pool, we do make time to find some meaningful activities to engage in as well. But as our daughter gets older, finding fun activities that we all agree on can be more difficult.
On a recent trip to Phuket, Thailand, I knew that visits to Buddhist temples just weren’t going to do it for her. But when we came across the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre in the Khao Pra Thaew National Park, even our fickle tween was hooked. Not only did we have an opportunity to see these amazing animals up close, but we learned a lot about the need for Gibbon conservation.
Ladakh lies in far north India, in the heart of the Himalaya. The name of the region means ‘land of high passes’, as it’s completely locked by mountains on all sides, and so it can only be reached by air, or via a grueling trip across passes over 5000 meters over sea level.
Ladakh occupies the western half of the Tibetan plateau; its history, language and culture are closely related to Tibet. As such, Ladakh is one of the best places in the world to experience and get to know Tibetan culture, especially in summer when beautiful, colorful festivals take place in monasteries.
However, the future of Ladakh may be bleak. Ladakh is a high-altitude desert, with only 100 mm of rainfall every year. Global warming brought increased rainfall in the region – during the night of August 6th 2010, a year’s worth of rainfall fell in under an hour, triggering mudslides and flash floods that killed over 300 people.
We were in Ladakh that night. This photo story is a tribute to this beautiful land, and to all people that lost their life.
I first discovered the thunderous power of Japan’s Kodo 20 years ago, when the Taiko drumming masters provided the scintillating soundtrack to the Christopher Lambert film, The Hunted. It was like nothing I’d ever heard– epic and exotic, emotionally dynamic, intricate and primal at the same time. I’ve been a devout fan ever since.
Making their debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981, Kodo is based on Japan’s Sado Island. They’ve since given over 5500 performances in 46 countries worldwide under the theme of “One Earth,” using music as a universal language through which they connect their traditional Japanese culture with others. Spending about a third of the year touring overseas, Kodo’s world-renowned performances truly transcend borders, genres and time.
Kodo returns to North America this year with their latest production, Kodo One Earth Tour: Mystery, which was created by its Artistic Director (and Japanese Living National Treasure), Tamasaburo Bando. A leading Kabuki actor and the most popular and celebrated onnagata (actor specializing in female roles) currently on stage, he has proven a catalyst for Kodo to break new ground in their critically acclaimed Taiko expression.
We recently had the chance to interview two members of the Kodo family, Taro Nishita and Eri Uchida, about the history of Taiko drumming, its mythological origins in Japanese folklore, being ambassadors for Japanese culture, and what life is like on remote Sado Island.