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Bird of the Day: Humboldt Penguin (Pucusana, Peru)

August 1, 2015

Humboldt Penguin by Ben Barkley - RAXA Collective

A Battle on the Ocean Bed

August 1, 2015
The potential opening of sea cucumber fishing in Galápagos has scientists and conservationists surprised and concerned after news leaked of a July 10 agreement that would allow the collection of 500,000 of the creatures, considered vital to the marine environment. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The potential opening of sea cucumber fishing in Galápagos has scientists and conservationists surprised and concerned after news leaked of a July 10 agreement that would allow the collection of 500,000 of the creatures, considered vital to the marine environment. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Sea cucumbers are in the news – again. The marine creature has been talked about as an adjunct treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy. They have also been tipped as a “wonder ingredient” in cosmetics. Not to forget the sea cucumber capsule industry, Asian cuisines that consider it a delicacy, and its place in the underground market of aphrodisiac market. This time around, the news isn’t good.

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Bird of the Day: Weaver bird – male (Bangalore, Karnataka)

July 31, 2015
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weaver bird - male by Anukash - RAXA Collective

Will Greece Look to the Sun God?

July 31, 2015

Greenpeace activists spread a banner pointing at a Greek oil-fired power plant under construction in Rhodes, to reveal one of the most unacknowledged causes of the Greek crisis; the country’’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Yes, the Greek people are going through difficult times. There are scenes of pensioners queuing at cash machines to withdraw part of their monthly pensions. And there is also a significant need for reform. Even the International Monetary Fund is going back on its word, prompting the country to look at what best it can do. The space of energy would be a good place to start with, given that the country has under-utilized its natural and most abundant asset.

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Two Tablespoons of Salt Please

July 31, 2015
This eco-friendly lamp runs on just 2 tbsp of salt and a single glass of water. PHOTO: SALt

This eco-friendly lamp runs on just 2 tbsp of salt and a single glass of water. PHOTO: SALt

When you discuss abundance of resources, it’s inevitable that shortage creeps into the conversation. So when one looks at how many of the 7,000 islands that make Philippines lack electricity, it’s also difficult to miss the natural and abundant seawater. Engineer Lipa Aisa Mijena and team put both in the same equation and the result is a a lamp that’s capable emitting light for 8 hours on just 1 cup of saltwater.

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Bird of the Day: Eastern Bluebird (Lawtons, NY)

July 30, 2015

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Can a Casual Birder Have a 500+ Life List?

July 30, 2015
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A Swallow-tailed Kite — a common species I first saw just last week — spotted from the El Copal Reserve in Cartago, Costa Rica.

About three years ago, I wrote in a post from Ecuador that “Even after taking a pretty intense ornithology class at Cornell University and working for the Lab of Ornithology, I don’t really consider myself a birder.” Last year I revised that statement a bit, clarifying that “now, as James and I add our observations around Xandari to eBird every day, my opinion may have changed slightly (though I can’t yet subscribe to the labels of bird-head or bird-nerd by a long shot).” Then, this January I wrote of myself and my friends John and Justin that, “Although none of us are the type of birder that pursue ‘life lists’ — a checklist of the thousands of bird species in the world that one has seen — we all use eBird and are definitely interested in seeing and identifying wildlife of any sort.”

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Food for the Soul

July 30, 2015
Sun Woo directs the visitor program at Jinkwansa, a Buddhist temple outside Seoul famous for preserving the art of Korean temple food. Behind her are giant jars filled with fermented soybeans. PHOTO:  Ari Shapiro/NPR

Sun Woo directs the visitor program at Jinkwansa, a Buddhist temple outside Seoul famous for preserving the art of Korean temple food. Behind her are giant jars filled with fermented soybeans. PHOTO: Ari Shapiro/NPR

When it comes to faith matters, it’s interesting to see how matters of divinity are linked to food. One interpretation of it could be the need to connect the intangible with the tangible. And no better universal language than food as a medium to impart lessons for the soul. While most Hindu temples distribute prasadchurches have the Eucharist, Jewish rituals revolve around the seder meal and so on. The Buddhist temple at Jinkwansa too has a food tradition, one that goes back 1,600 years and is renowned for its detoxification power.

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Recycling the Core of Computers

July 30, 2015
This wooden computer chip could make recycling electronics a lot easier as it replaces most of the silicon with biodegradable cellulose. PHOTO: Co Exist

This wooden computer chip could make recycling electronics a lot easier as it replaces most of the silicon with biodegradable cellulose. PHOTO: Co Exist

A recent report from United Nations University (UNU) found that the world produced 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste in 2014 – an amount that would fill 1.15 million 18-wheel trucks. Lined up, those trucks would stretch from New York to Tokyo and back. Computers and smart phones are among the ditched items, which could top 50 million tonnes by 2017, UNEP estimates. Virtually all electronics contain toxic materials and a lot of this hazardous stuff is in the circuit board, including lead (in the solder), mercury (in switches and relays), and brominated flame-retardants. Some electronics, like smart phones and laptops, contain heavy metals like cadmium, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, or arsenic, which have been shown to build up in our bodies and the environment. Also, the wires and cables that run through all this stuff are often coated with PVC, which contains toxic additives called phthalates.

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Bird of the Day: Yellow-headed Caracara (Bosque del Cabo, Costa Rica)

July 29, 2015

Many Foods, One Power

July 29, 2015
This startup turns almost-expired fruit Into tasty nutritional powder to fight hunger. PHOTO: Co Exist

This startup turns almost-expired fruit Into tasty nutritional powder to fight hunger. PHOTO: Co Exist

According to a 2013 report by UNEP and the World Resources Institute (WRI), about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. When this figure is converted to calories, this means that about 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten. About 24 percent of all calories currently produced for human consumption are lost or wasted. In a world full of hunger and volatile food prices, these statistics make a case for ideas to combat food waste. And this Swedish startup may have a solution in which grocery stores and their stock of nearly expired food are the main players.

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India to Antwerp, this Story of Diamonds

July 29, 2015
Indians have come to control almost three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry.(Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)

Indians have come to control almost three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry. (Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly)

What New York is to the world’s money markets, Antwerp is to the global diamond trade. Antwerp is also the centre of the secondary or rough diamond market. More than 50% of global production of rough, polished, cut and industrial diamonds passes through Antwerp. Around 80% of the world’s rough diamonds are handled in Antwerp generating an annual turnover of some €30 billion. The most valuable diamonds are usually cut in Antwerp, but as the economy globalises Antwerp remains a nerve centre with much of the actual diamonds shipped out to other, cheaper locations.

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Bird of the Day: Spot-billed Pelican (Bangalore, Karnataka)

July 28, 2015

Spot-billed pelican by Brinda Suresh - RAXA Collective

Witnessing (and Separating) Color

July 28, 2015

One must always be camera-ready at Xandari; otherwise one might miss the unexpected beauties that present themselves. On Friday I postponed my dinner (despite my grumbling stomach) in order to take a picture of the breathtaking sunset that was slowly sinking behind the mountains. I had to get to the sunset pool to capture this marvel, and believe it or not, I actually ran. Every second spent getting to the pool meant one less streak of vivid color highlighting the darkening sky. Not to mention, it also meant one second less of battery life on my camera phone with 4% battery left. The stakes were high.

I had not yet witnessed nightfall from the sunset pool, and as soon as I reached my destination I drew in a quick, shallow breath and let out long whispered ‘wooow.’ I was paralyzed with wonder. Birds were swooping down to drink some water from the pool, dodging and weaving one another with such swiftness that I’d lose track of which one I was looking at, all the while the sunlight retreated in the background. It was the ‘bleep’ of my “dying” phone that woke me to my senses and reminded me why I had run here in the first place. I took my pictures quickly and then observed the fleeting moment in stillness. Read more…

A 3D Printed Shell for Fred

July 28, 2015
Fred the tortoise received a 3D printed shell after a horrific fire destroyed his original. PHOTO: 3DPrint

Fred the tortoise received a 3D printed shell after a horrific fire destroyed his original. PHOTO: 3DPrint

This one’s a win for goodwill and technology, a fine example of how how ideas can traverse diverse spaces and change lives. The high cost of human prostheses has long been a challenge for amputees and people born with missing limbs, but 3D printers have begun to change that. Unlike traditional manufacturing, 3D printing can create an object in almost any shape by reading a digital model. Using cheap materials, companies and non-profits can now print simple prosthetic hands and arms for as little as $50. And animals like Grecia and Derby, and now Fred, stand to gain, too.

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Bird of the Day: White-bellied Cinclode (Ticlio Pass, Peru)

July 27, 2015

White-bellied Cinclode by Ben Barkley - RAXA Collective

Notes from a Natural History Museum

July 27, 2015

Harvard Natural History Museum

I recently had the chance to visit the Harvard Natural History Museum. Despite having lived in Cambridge for nearly a year, and having often thought about visiting the museum when I passed by going to and from my apartment, I had not stopped in until now. What a treat! The collections are full, diverse, and well curated. On this occasion, I spent most of my time in the animal wing, but I plan to return soon to take in the flora and minerals, and spend much more time in choice display rooms (e.g. the absolutely gorgeous Mammals/Birds of the World permanent exhibit: see below for pictures).

A ground sloth skeleton. It is hard to get an idea of the size of this creature from this photo, but it probably weighed several tons while alive!

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Playing to Light Up Lives

July 27, 2015
Uncharted Play is a social enterprise based in New York City founded with the mission of harnessing the power of play to achieve social good. PHOTO: UP

Uncharted Play is a social enterprise based in New York City founded with the mission of harnessing the power of play to achieve social good. PHOTO: UP

1.2 billion people around the world lack access to reliable electricity. They end up using kerosene lamps or diesel generators for their lighting requirements. But did you know that the annual collective emissions from kerosene lamps all over the world is equal to the carbon emissions of 38 million automobiles? It’s not just the carbon footprint – burning kerosene lamps indoors is as bad for the lungs as smoking two packs of cigarettes per day.

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Here’s to the Orchid Observers

July 27, 2015
Orchid Observers is a collaboration between the museum and Zooniverse, the citizen science platform established at the University of Oxford. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Orchid Observers is a collaboration between the museum and Zooniverse, the citizen science platform established at the University of Oxford. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A citizen science project to study when and where orchids bloom around the UK has already revealed 200 new flowering locations for particular species. Members of the public are submitting and identifying orchid photos, and also annotating historical specimens. Called Orchid Observers, the initiative aims to measure the effect of warming, and other environmental changes, on the distribution of 29 different orchids. Orchid Observers is a collaboration between the museum and Zooniverse, the citizen science platform established at the University of Oxford. The data it yields will not only be used by researchers at the museum, but will feed into the biological records data held by the BSBI.

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Bird of the Day: White-throated Sparrow (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

July 26, 2015

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