Author Archive

Friday, April 27th, 2012 | Author:

“Conservation” is not simply putting a fence around a few acres of nice forest and hiring some rangers to protect some pretty animals and plants.  The reality of the situation is that by saving the wildlife and plants, we save ourselves.  Everything in nature is interconnected, and the growing population of humans, in particular, have an enormous impact on the environment.  For instance, if you plant a tree in your backyard, that tree can hold down a little soil and draw out excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Now imagine how much more soil could be preserved and how much less carbon dioxide would be in the atmosphere if the entire neighborhood or even the world planted trees.  In turn, we have more soil to grow food and cleaner air to breathe. Unfortunately, if we don’t conserve the environment, it can also have a huge impact on the ecosystem and on ourselves in particular.  Overfishing, deforestation, and many other environmental problems not only leave us with a degraded environment, but less resources to live.

I can’t think of a better way of showing how conservation keeps us alive than Robert Marks’ presentation.  As a chief of the nomadic Maasai in Tanzania, he has had a first-hand look at how the different tribes have been trying to cope with negative aspects of their environment.  When Europeans colonized Africa, they imposed traditional European methods of mining and farming on the tribes.  Now that Tanzania is independent, the effects of the degraded environment has become more apparent.  Farmers are arriving from refugee camps from neighboring countries, like Rwanda and Kenya, with tumultuous projects, and are cutting down the trees in native forests for better soil.  It has gotten to the point where trees are being cut down on Mt. Kilimanjaro because the tribes desperately need wood for cooking.  Fishermen are using the leaves of a poisonous plant to kill fish, which provides them with a quick meal, but pollutes the lake so they cannot fish in the long term.  When you add the aspect of overcrowding in cities and villages and the lack of an active government, the result is nearly 50% of people lacking access to clean water, trash buildup, the spread of disease, and decreasing resources.  Slowly, however, the tribes are trying to fix the destruction of their environment by learning about conservation, talking to others about the problems in the environment, and taking part in projects to grow back the forest and restore nature, like the Takare Project below:

Before this semester started, I wanted to preserve the environment simply because it was pretty.  When we started to read Jared Diamond’s Collapse, however, the stakes became higher.  Our case studies of Easter Island and the Anasazi in the Southwest United States helped me realize that civilizations don’t fall by accident.  Easter Island fell because “human environmental impacts, especially deforestation and destruction of bird populations [for food], and the political, social and religious factors behind the impacts” (Diamond 118). The Anasazi tribes collapsed because of deforestation and “salinization resulting from irrigation” by planting too many crops in an arid environment (Diamond 154).

The world seems to be Easter Island on a global scale. Haiti, for instance, was not always poor, but traded a lot of sugar cane until “rapid deforestation and a loss of soil fertility” (Diamond 340) from a climbing population in a small area.  Australia was once covered with forests until colonizing Europeans replanted the soil with shallow-rooted plants so that “groundwater tables have risen, bringing with them the dissolved salt” that ruins crops (Walker and Salt 43). The South Pacific island of Tuvalu was once above water until neighboring developed countries put out carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which made the ocean levels rise from melting polar ice caps.  The ecosystems of the United States, which we would normally think of as fertile, are losing valuable topsoil and are becoming polluted with pesticides, fertilizers and manures, from factory farms and overtilling crops, as we saw in “Food Inc” and other documentaries like “King Corn”.

We can preserve the environment in so many ways.  We do make mistakes in the environment, by growing crops in arid regions or by using up common resources like fish, but the fact that we are willing to learn how to fix these problems is a reason to hope for our future.  Personally, I am trying to live more sustainably, which has its ups and downs (organic yogurt tastes great, but I love chicken too much to go vegetarian)!  The sheer amount of ways to preserve the environment, from building “green” buildings to cutting down electricity output , always astound me.  The class may be over, but I haven’t stopped learning.

Magic Planet Productions, LLC. Easter Island Picture. [Photograph]. Magic Planet Productions, LLC. 2010. 28 Apr 2012.

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Saturday, April 21st, 2012 | Author:

When it comes to the issue of restoring Rocky Mountain wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, there’s good things, bad things, and a whole lot of, well, gray.  At first, when I learned that the Rocky Mountain wolf was taken off then endangered species list in 2008, I was happy about this.  However, when I looked up the actual reasons why the wolf was being taken off the endangered list, I was concerned.  The number of Rock Mountain wolves has risen from just 6 packs in 1995 to about 1650 wolves in 2010.  So yes, the population has definitely recovered to an extent, which would normally be good, since it could keep populations of prey in check.

However, the recent decision to take the Rocky Mountain wolf off the Endangered Species List is not simply because their numbers have increased, as I realized when I read this article:   Congress, instead of a scientific federal agency, decided that Rocky Mountain wolves should be taken off the list.  The article doesn’t mention whether Congress had enough data to determine that the wolves were no longer endangered, but it seems to hint that it did so partly due to political reasons.

The state governments of Idaho and Montana wanted to regulate the Rocky Mountain and other gray wolves, because they thought that Congress wasn’t taking into account that Rocky Mountain wolves attack the livestock of ranchers, and that there are concerns that the wolves are decimating herds of native elk.  Personally, I don’t think that the ranchers and state governments aren’t the bad guys in this scenario.  They have good reasons for opposing the release of wolves into the wild – how can you live near a predator that can harm your livestock (and therefore, harm your way of life and method of providing for yourself and your family)?  Meat is in high demand throughout America, so one can’t expect the ranchers to quickly switch jobs with a large loss of money.  If the wolves are harming other species of wildlife, is it worth bringing them back?

So how does one live beside an endangered species that is potentially harmful?  Should Congress give the states more control over their population of endangered species?

Niemeyer, C. (2000). Wolf Picture [Photo]. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved April 21, 2012 from

Robinson, M. (March 14, 2011)”Wolf Population Declining in the Rocky Mountains.” HOWL Colorado. Retrieved April 21, 2012 from

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Saturday, April 14th, 2012 | Author:

We all know that when it comes to nutrients, fish pack one heck of a punch.  They’re definitely brain food – those omega-3 fatty acids provide proteins and minerals to your brain, and keeps your blood pressure low (so eat lots of fish around finals!).

However, what about the downsides of eating fish?  We all already know that if we’re not careful when we  eat the carnivorous fish higher up on the food chain, we can get mercury poisoning. That’s a problem that can easily be solved; just eat herbivorous fish and limit your intake of tertiary consumers like swordfish (and sharks, although few people in America eat shark on a daily basis).

However, when we went over fisheries in class, there was one small fact that bothered me.  One of the slides stated less than 2% of our seafood is inspected by the FDA.  Remember, we import 80% of our food.  Have you ever seen a label in a fish market stating that the shrimp is coming from new, well-contained farms, or if it’s from old-fashioned shrimp farms with water polluted by banned antibiotics?  We rarely know if our fish was caught in the wild and is part of an endangered species, or if it was raised in an overcrowded fish farm, or if it was raised in a more contained fish farm in a well-made cage.  It’s like “Food Inc.” all over again!

We shouldn’t just be concerned about antibiotics in the fish we buy, however.  There’s also the diseases the fish can bring.  About 20% of fish inspected (and thankfully rejected) has salmonella.  There was also an outbreak of ciguatera in Texas in 2007.  Cigueatera is basically a severe form of food poisoning.  Victims usually get the basic symptoms of food poisoning – fatigue, nausea, and so on – but they also slow the victim’s heart rate and cause neurological problems that can last for years.  You can read about one woman’s brush with fish-based ciguatera here:

The good news is that we’re actually more likely to get sick from beef or turkey than seafood (Ahmed).  Yet we should still try to make our seafood safer.  The question is, how can we do so?

Ahmed, Farid. “Seafood Safety.” The National Academic Press. 1991. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>
Gilbert, Nicole. “Tainted Seafood Reaching American Tables, Experts Say.” 5 Oct 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. <>
Health, Washington State Department of Health – Environmental. “Health Benefits of Fish – Washington State Department of Health.” 26 Jul 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>
Segre, Alex.  “Picture of fish in supermarket”. Photo, The Guardian 5 May 2011. 14 Apr 2012. <>
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Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 | Author:

In the middle of the South China Sea, there is a group of tiny islands that go by a multitude of names – the Pratas Islands, the Tungsha Islands, or the Dongsha Islands. For the past 66 years, China and Taiwan have been feuding over these islands that are only 1.2 square miles long.  Why would Taiwan and China fight over such a small area?  It’s a coral atoll – a goldmine for fishermen from Taiwan, China and Vietnam.  There’s 614 different species of fish, 295 species of coral and 210 species of underwater plants that live in the atoll.  Fish from the Dongsha reef are in great demand in Hong Kong, where the fish are often used in famous Cantonese cuisine.  Mainland China and Hong Kong’s growing population also needs more food.  This has made the fighting over the islands even more intense, as China wants the islands to provide fish, whereas Taiwan wants to keep the islands as a national park:

Despite the efforts of Taiwan to keep the coral safe, fishermen use dynamite and cyanide to bring up multitudes of fish.  If that’s not bad enough, some bigger fishing companies used trawlers to catch these fish.  As we discussed in class, these trawlers drag their nets along the bottom along the ocean floor, not just picking up their catch, but other fish and corals as well. Not only that, but some trawlers have vacuums that “suck up” all the fish along the floor of the coral bed, including the fish that aren’t part of the catch.  Sedimentation from heavy farming in China and Taiwan drifts south to land on top of parts of the seabed, killing the coral by blocking out sunlight and causing eutrophication from the excess nutrients.

However, there is hope for the Dongsha Atoll.  The Coast Guard expelled 641 fishing boats in 2009 alone, and have starting removing illegal supply platforms for the fishermen.  Researchers have also started to chart the destruction of the reef. The question is, how can fishermen be persuaded to be more careful with their catch?  How can fishermen get involved in saving the reefs when they need the money and food?

Huang, Vicky. “Taiwan Review – Reviving Dongsha’s Coral Forest.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <>
“Southeast Asia.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012.<>
“Taiwan Environmental Monitoring Network in the South China Sea.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <>
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Saturday, April 07th, 2012 | Author:

One of the owls from the bird show


When I stepped out of the car at the Patuxent Wildlife Center, bluebirds and wood thrushes circled above my head and watched me curiously from the bushes.  Even though I have never seen these birds in my own suburban backyard, they were thriving here.  When I went on a tour around the center,  I could see why:  Many trees and bushes helped the birds to nest in safety.  There were a  conservation garden, filled with native plants that were part of their diets, like black-eyed susans or speedwell.

I also saw a movie inside the center, a documentary called “Anna, Emma and the Condors”, a story about two girls named Anna and Emma Parish, who raise endangered Californian condors.   The rangers at Patuxent had raised endangered Andean condors, and explained to me that both condors got poisoned by eating the lead bullets in carcasses during hunting season.  Without the condors, the number of dead, disease-ridden animals would increase, putting living animals (including humans) at risk of getting sick.   That’s a scary thought, especially since there were only 22 condors in the wild before the Parish family started their conservation efforts.

The best part was the live bird show after the movie.  Some of the rangers showed off a kestrel, a barred owl, and three screech owls.  The screech owls were particularly interesting, because they each have different kind of “morphs”, or colors: some are tawny, others are grey.  However, the rangers had spotted screech owls that were mahogany, a mix of the two colors.  They realized that the tawny owls were running out of territory due to development, so they bred with the grey owls.  The result were aggressive mahogany owls, which took over the other screech owls’ territory and food.  Not only that, but development in D.C. affected other species as well.  Owls started to eat plants, and seed-eating cardinals even ate some meat.  The rangers said that urban sprawl wiped out the plants the herbivorous birds needed, and the carnivorous birds had less herbivorous birds to eat.  This frightened me, because I’ve seen this happen in my own yard – our local robins eat seed, even though they’re supposed to eat worms.

If my garden, and the gardens of my neighbors, were more like those the conservation garden at the center,I think the ecosystem could be restored.  The birds could seeds from the native plants, the worms could eat the decomposed plants (and provide food for robins), and the birds of prey could eat the herbivorous birds again.  Perhaps the birds could make a comeback, like the Californian condors.

Patuxent Wildlife Center:

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Saturday, March 24th, 2012 | Author:

When genetically modified crops were first created in the 1980s, they were seen as genetically engineered miracles and were actually created with very good intentions.  They could resist pests and diseases, grow in salty soil, clean up pollution and survive extreme temperatures.   A growing world population could harvest and eat food grown in regions that were formerly considered harsh and lifeless. Not only that, but scientists today hope that they could develop genetically modified tomatoes and potatoes that contain vaccines to cure diseases.

However, we found out in class this week that GM crops have some downsides as well.  We learned that some species of pests are becoming resistant to crops that were genetically modified to destroy these same pests.  Pollen from genetically modified crops are contaminating the fields of farmers who don’t want to grow GM crops.  I decided to do a little research and see what else I could dig up (no pun intended) on genetically modified crops.  Critics of GM crops tend to bring up the same points we learned about in class, but there was also another criticism that actually scared me even more.  Some of these critics, Anup Shah from in particular, said that GM crops were ruining entire economies, especially in developing countries.

Shuh explains that developing nations can’t afford the expenses of creating their own genetically modified food.  That shouldn’t be a problem; developed countries using genetically modified crops could simply trade the seeds of these crops so the farmers in developing countries can grow their own food.  However, there’s a factor that stands in the way of this happening: patent genes.

We’ve already learned that genetic engineering companies like Monsanto are refusing to allow farmers to save seeds from GM crops to prevent farmers from crossbreeding the GM companies’ patented crops to make their own.  That same regulation applies to countries around the world, including very poor developing ones. Not only that, but as  Nnimmo Bassey of the Friends of the Earth International points out in the video below, the pesticides embedded in the genes of the crop don’t always work.  This is particularly true in countries that farm to support their own families in developing countries, particularly those that use pesticides like DDT.  This causes the pest resistance we learned about in class.  The farmers can’t eat anything, they protest the rising food prices set by their governments, and the economy collapses.

So I’m closing out with one big question: Do you think GM crops are worth it?  Can we overcome the costs to reap their benefits, or will we have to choose a new method of agriculture?

Whitman, Deborah B. “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?”, CSA. April 2000, accessed March 24 2012.  n.d.

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Saturday, February 25th, 2012 | Author:

We had some good news in class this week: The Everglades are recovering! However, the nearby Chesapeake Bay is still struggling to recover from the loss of its local wetlands.  These wetlands aren’t as big or diverse as the Everglades, but they’re still an important resource to Maryland and Virginia alike.  Like the Everglades, they provide homes to many birds and fish, as well as the famous Chesapeake Bay crab and oyster.  They give local fishermen jobs and nature lovers a variety of animals and plants to enjoy.  They filter out chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides used in suburban lawns and rural farmland.  However, all these benefits are at risk due to one pesky invasive species that does a lot of damage: phragmites, also known as common reed.

Common reed Phragmites have  been in the Chesapeake Bay area since the 18th century, when European ships accidentally dropped phragmite seeds along the Atlantic coast.  However, phragmites really got a population boost in the 20th century.  When parts of the Chesapeake Bay marshlands were drained for construction purposes, runoff and chemicals from the newly built roads, houses and businesses killed off much of the native wildlife.  That gave phragmites space to spread out.  Nutrients from fertilizer helped phragmites crowd out the native plants (and the same fertilizer helped algae to spread, which helped keep the competing native plant population down).  That meant that the native birds didn’t have any grasses to eat, and the native fish didn’t have a places to lay their eggs, so they left.  To sum up: one plant nearly wiped out an entire ecosystem.

There’s some good news, however.  Environmentalists now know about the risk that phragmites pose, and are taking steps to get rid of the plants.  Organizations like Weed Warriors are planting more native species in the area.  Environmentalists who want to manage phragmites usually apply herbicides as carefully as possible (so they don’t kill the native plants), or burn it after it flowers.  There’s no known way to get rid of it biologically, but there’s hope that phragmites will disappear for once and for all.

– Katie Diemer, <>

Amsel, Sheri. “Wetlands of the World.” The Chesapeake Bay. Exploring Nature Educational Resource. © 2005
       – 2012. February 25, 2012. <>
“PCA Alien Plant Working Group – Common Reed (Phragmites Australis)”, n.d.                                          /alien/fact/phau1.htm.
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Saturday, February 11th, 2012 | Author:

Before the earthquake in 2010, I had only seen old pictures of Haiti from Toussaint l’Ouverture’s slave rebellion from my French textbooks.  The land in the background of the pictures was lush and full of palm , bushes and tall, tropical trees.

So I always imagined Haiti as some sort of beautiful, jungle-covered island.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw pictures of Haiti that looked like this:

This is an aerial photograph of the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  The Dominican Republic is full of those lush tropical trees I always imagined, while Haiti’s side is extremely dry and bare.  Only a few shrubs and bushes are left on the Haitian side of the border, and 1% of the trees are left.  How could so many trees be destroyed?

We learned in class that many Haitians chop down the trees to use as firewood, or turn it into charcoal to sell at the local market.  For a day or so, they can have some fuel, hot food and money for their families.  However, when they run out of food and charcoal, they have little choice but to cut down more trees for more firewood and charcoal to sell.  Our class discovered that the large amount of deforestation from a growing population causes the roads to collapse from looser soil, since there are less trees to hold the soil together with their roots.

This made me wonder why Haitians if could get jobs that would provide a steadier income without destroying the remaining forest.  After all, Haiti used to have thriving farms and sugar plantations.  Yet the presence of these farms and plantations may have made the problem of deforestation even worse.  They had to clear the forests for these plantations and farms, and the lack of trees caused the soil to become loose and erode away.  The Haitians can’t hunt for food, because there are few animals left to live among the trees.  They could fish, but the soil from the landslides and eroded landscape has polluted their streams, along with human waste from the cities.  Haiti can’t attract foreign businesses the citizens can work for, because Haitians citizens have a hard enough time finding clean water, food and shelter for themselves, not to mention dealing with the corrupt government.

How can Haitians save their lost forest without losing their daily food and fuel?  They could plant trees, but where would they get the seeds?  Can they do this despite the questionable policies of the government?  Are the Haitians doomed to relive the cycle of poverty and resource loss over and over again?

– Katie D., 11 AM class


“Deforestation Won’t Stop Killing Haitians.”  Ekspoze! -The Final Word, n.d. JPG.
  Dubois, Laurent, and John D. Garrigus.  Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. First ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.  Illustration.



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Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 | Author:

Welcome to UMW Blogs. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging! If you need some help getting started with UMW Blogs please refer to the support documentation here.

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