An Alaskan island plagued by centuries of devastation (not to mention a moniker that left plenty to be desired) is finally getting a new name after an incredible effort to get rid of an invasive species.
In 1780, a Japanese sailing ship ran aground on a remote Aleutian Island coast just southwest of Anchorage. The rodent-filled ship triggered the first and longest-running rat invasion in Alaskan history, and the 10-square mile island has been known as Rat Island ever since. Over the years, the rats wreaked devastating environmental damage, including wiping out all of the island’s native seabirds.
Rat Island, which is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, was so destructive to the local ecological landscape that the United States government got involved. In late 2008, wildlife experts– backed by a $2.5 million dollar federal pledge– eradicated the entire rat population by dropping buckets of rat poison onto the island by helicopter.
In 2010, the U.S. and Alaskan governments deemed the project a success, and native seabirds such as Aleutian cackling geese, ptarmigan, peregrine falcons and black oystercatchers are already returning to nest. In an effort to write a new future for the small island, its name has officially been changed to Hawadax (pronounced “How-ah-thaa”), an Aleut name meaning “entry” and “welcome.”
But Hawadax isn’t completely in the clear yet: Several neighboring islands, such as Kiska (home to a dwindling population of auklets that dwell on its cliffs), are still plagued by the vermin. Hopefully future conservation efforts there will prove equally effective, so that the area’s “Rat Islands” nickname can one day become a thing of the past. –Raffi Simel
This week, the UN’s Global Sustainable Tourism Council announced the first four adopters of its new criteria for sustainable travel destinations. Wyoming’s Teton County, Norway’s Fjord Region, China’s Mt. Huangshan and the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts & Nevis are the first trailblazing locales that will test and offer feedback on the new criteria.
The GSTC’s new Destination Criteria was formally introduced back in April. The program’s organizers envisioned a universally accepted template for world travel destinations that would lay out the minimum standards necessary in achieving social, cultural and environmental sustainability.
The first four sites selected run the gamut in both geographical and physical landscape. Wyoming’s Teton County is a grizzled ecotourism veteran, as it is home to Yellowstone, the world’s oldest national park. Norway’s Fjord Region has attracted visitors to its gorgeous rocky coastlines since the 1800s. China’s Mt. Huangshan is a wallpaper-worthy destination that gets 2.5 million visitors each year. The islands of St. Kitts & Nevis is a burgeoning Caribbean destination just getting its feet when it comes to attracting international travelers.
“After many months of hard work developing these criteria,” says Erika Harms, Executive Director of the GSTC, “we are excited to see them implemented. This will be a real-world test, incorporating the voices of multiple stakeholders: local communities, government agencies, NGOs, and the tourism industry itself.”
Ms. Harms’ words aren’t mere press release filler either. The GSTC wants everyone to play a part in making the new Destination Criteria a helpful set of guidelines. In fact, the council invites comments from the general public on the project here. Additionally, any destinations interested in becoming a part of future criteria adoptions can contact the GSTC at [email protected] as soon as possible. –DeMarco Williams
As of this month, Japan– the world’s third largest economy– is operating completely without nuclear power.
The Hokkaido Electric Power Company recently shut down its nuclear reactor, the last of Japan’s 50 reactors to go off-line. The closing is a result of the government’s inability to persuade the Japanese public to reintroduce production at reactors after last year’s tragic earthquake and the resulting nuclear crisis in Fukusima. The earthquake caused massive criticism over atomic energy in the country, and the reactors that were closed for maintenance in the wake of the disaster will not be reopened.
The public is not naïve to their predicament. According to Japan’s Asahi newspaper, public sentiment is “wavering between two sources of anxiety”– fear over the safety of nuclear power and fear that the country won’t be able to meet its energy needs. The closing of the reactors will have a spillover effect, not just for Japan’s energy needs, but for the nation’s economy as a whole. The government is already predicting energy shortages for the summer months, which are likely to affect Japan’s economic recovery as the cost of electricity rises and the yen continues to appreciate.
Despite the grim outlook, Japan is not new to energy shortages. Last year, the country managed to avoid any blackouts by imposing voluntary energy curbs on the use of power. However, a country with limited energy resources will find it difficult to grow, especially in an already difficult economic time for the country. It is clear that the Japanese government and its people need to come to a consensus about the country’s energy future, and whether or not nuclear energy will be a part of it. For now, the people seem to have raised their voices loud and clear. –Raffi Simel
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In a move Burger King hopes will resonate with environmentally conscious consumers, the fast-food behemoth says it will only be using cage-free eggs and pork in its 12,400 locations by 2017.
“So many tens of thousands of animals will now be in better living conditions,” said Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States, a group that’s been urging BK and other similar companies to consider animal welfare in their purchasing practices. “Numerically this is significant because Burger King is such a big purchaser of these products.”
Perhaps the most interesting element of this announcement is its timing. In March, food industry research firm Technomic Inc. reported that Burger King had sales of $8.4 billion in 2011. By contrast, Wendy’s had $8.5 billion in sales, making it the first time since 1969 that BK wasn’t #2 on the burger ladder to McDonald’s ($34.2 billion).
As if that development wasn’t embarrassing enough for the fast food giant, Burger King also unveiled a celebrity-heavy ad campaign for its new salads, smoothies and other healthy snacks in April. The awkward ad with R&B superstar Mary J. Blige had the blogosphere all atwitter with posts about its racial insensitivity. To smolder the PR fire, the company axed Mary’s commercial.
The company’s new cage-free initiative certainly changes the conversation surrounding BK. The chain uses hundreds of millions of eggs and tens of millions of pounds of pork every year. “For every cage-free egg or piece of bacon from a gestation-free pork system that Burger King sells,” says HSUS food policy director Matthew Prescott, “animals have been spared lifelong confinement in a cage so small they can barely even move.”
Green Global Travel is all aboard with these new steps, but we’ll save our standing ovation for when the “Home of the Whopper” introduces similar eco-friendly practices for cows being housed in tight confinement and fed genetically modified grains. –DeMarco Williams
Travel writers (us included) frequently compare tropical rainforests such as those found in Costa Rica or The Amazon to Jurassic Park. But scientists have recently discovered the world’s largest known fossil forest in the United States, located 250 to 800 feet beneath the ground in a southern Illinois coal mine.
The forest was discovered in a series of eight mines which make up the Springfield Coal mines, which have been heavily mined for several decades now and make up a significant portion of the area’s energy resources. The Springfield forest is believed to be dated to 307 million years ago, which makes it only slightly younger than the Earth’s oldest forest, the Gilboa Fossil Forest, in Schoharie County, New York – which is 380 million years old.
The significance of this discovery is tremendous, according to an interview with University of London paleontologist Howard Falcon-Lang by the New York Times. “Effectively you’ve got a lost world,” Lang said. “It’s the closest thing you’ll find to time travel.”
But the deeper importance is the discovery’s implications on climate-related scientific research. Millions of years before dinosaurs roamed the earth, a river running through the forest flooded due to rising temperatures and heavy rainfall caused by global warming. The flooding river entombed the forest in mud, which can be seen today on the ceilings of the Springfield Coal mines. The discovery offers an incredibly rare insight into a mass-global warming event of the past, not unlike what many environmental scientists are predicting may happen in the future.
The fossilized remains of the Springfield forest are quickly disintegrating due to exposure, but more ceilings are being revealed every day. With what is believed to be 100 more miles of undiscovered fossilized remains in the Springfield forest alone, we can be sure that plenty more secrets of the past will be uncovered as scientists continue to put the pieces of the Earth’s global warming past into perspective. –Raffi Simel
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