The Glorious Primitive Crane Fly

(Patagonia’s Untold Stories)

Scraping sand grains and pebbles for nutrients, it has wandered the river bed for ten months.  After hiding from predators under submerged rocks it is time to leave the safety of the river behind.

Primitive crane fly (A. gloriosus)  collection site. PHOTO BY R. ISAÍ MADRIZ

Among the rarest species of insects in the world, Araucoderus gloriosus belongs to one of four primitive crane fly species found in South America. Is its rarity a result of what is happening?

Its instincts drive it in search of entangled root mats of marginal vegetation. For that, it must cross a hazardous field of exposed cobblestone. Its body is being pulled against the moist rocks. The unfamiliar sensation of gravity is sobering.

Devoid of legs, it pulls its heavy body forward with its mandibles.

Dawn enshrouds the river bank with a dense mantle of fog. There, not too far from the river’s edge, partially compressed between two fist-sized rocks, the putrid pupal remains of another of its kind is being consumed by scuttle fly larvae; an ominous sign of what lies ahead.

The chaotic arrangement of the rocks and the impoverished diatom film covering them, laid evidence of a violent recent flood, a humbling reminder of the power of the elements.

If it is to survive, the larva must hurry. The morning sun’s rays will soon dissipate the fog, exposing the migrating larva to predators.

It has begun. Hungry ground-dwelling birds scout the surface, while other small passerine birds circle above looking for an easy meal. Deadly parasitic wasps are in search of prey; their young will consume their host from the inside out.

The fourth molt allowed the eyeless larva to develop light-metering primitive eyes, an elemental predatory avoidance tool.

Scanning Electron Micrograph of Primitive crane fly (A. gloriosus) larval head capsule. Photo by R. Isaí Madriz

Halfway from the marginal vegetation, it begins to burrow into the moist sand.

As I observe sitting motionless on top of a large rock I ask myself: Was the drastic behavior change triggered by the continuous sensation of morning rays? Is the larva aware of the constant danger from predators? Perhaps it senses imminent risk of desiccation.

As the day passes by I wait patiently. The night belongs to bizarre creatures. Found only in Patagonia, stoneflies over two inches in length are taking over the night. Emerging in mass, they invade the land in search of a safe place to complete their transformation to adulthood.

At last, the larva reached the entangled root mats of the marginal vegetation. It searches for a secure moist area to begin its transformation. Pupation is the most vulnerable stage in its life cycle.

Its larval skin has been shed. The thin and translucent pupal skin presents a unique view to its internal organs. Highly sensitive long hairs arranged in crucial areas of its body alert of changes in its surroundings.

Safe in the moist microhabitat, its clear skin darkens with the passing days. Within, its organs reorganize for the last time.

A few days pass by and the pupa’s skin is hardened, a promising indication of a successful metamorphosis

Primitive crane fly (A. gloriosus) pupa habitus ventral (left) and lateral (right)view. Illustration by R. Isaí Madriz

High above, recent snowfall failed to remain on the mountaintop. An unexpected flood engulfs the river bank, dislodging the pupa from its shelter. Trapped in the increasing current, the river gradient steepens, as whitewater fills the increasingly narrowing channel.

Unable to move its developing appendages, the pupa relies on buoyancy for survival. It must keep the two respiratory organs on its head above the water or it will drown.

Several hundred yards downstream, in a small foamy pool in the splash zone of a 20ft waterfall, a newly emerged adult male hangs on to the vertical side of a small rock, its discarded pupal skin floats among plant debris. With luck he will spread his wings for the first time.

Nearby, holding on to the exposed roots in the undercut riverbank, a female completes her metamorphosis. At the same time, hanging from the marginal vegetation, camouflaged by their exquisite coloration, males wait for receptive females to take flight.

The male at the base of the waterfall flies away in search of a warmer, drier place away from the cold mist. As I wade through the river, following the male’s path, I feel the soothing sensation of the sun warming my skin. The male’s adult body is being illuminated by the sun for the first time. Does he feel the same calming sensation as I do?

Its dull flight pattern and slow speed diversify, as the morning rays stimulate a graceful aerial dance revealed for the first time before my eyes. I stand motionless in the middle of the river, in awe. The exquisite wing pattern is complemented by an iridescent hue reflecting the sun’s rays. This fly is indeed glorious.

Stacked image of the Primitive crane fly (A. gloriosus) adult hanging from a Magellan’s beech (Nothofagus betuloides) branch. Photo by R. Isaí MadrizR. ISAÍ MADRIZ collecting A. gloriosus larvae. PHOTO BY Gregory R. Curler

In a blink of an eye the magic dissipates. The male is tackled out of the air and onto the overhanging vegetation by a dragonfly several times his size. The predator perches on a broad leaf a few feet away from where I stand. I watch in shock, as it slowly consumes the primitive crane fly, discarding the legs and wings as it gradually devours the thorax. Several thoughts run through my head: How does the fly process pain? Does he? What thoughts would be passing through the fly’s brain? Does he have any?

In the upcoming days little more is revealed of this species’ secretive adult behavior. The population size is a fraction compared to what it was two years prior. With adults becoming increasingly harder to find, their short adult life span and the ever-changing weather make the task at hand troublesome.

With the season passing, the adult population vanishes. It is cold, but the mountaintops have yet to retain any snowfall. Weather fluctuations turn what should be snow into rain, preventing accumulation of snow and consequently scouring the riverbed through the intensifying glacial melts that feed the river. Can this species survive the ongoing climatic challenges, or will it embrace the imminent fate of the bleeding glaciers that it fully depends on?

* The story above is an accurate assemblage of observed field events from 2013­–2018 complemented by a scientific investigation on the species depicted.

Follow Isaí Madriz on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Equipment used for this nine month project is courtesy of Fulbright, National Geographic, Iridium, Alpacka Raft, Aqua-BoundBoo Bicycles, Kokatat, Seal Line, Osprey, TentsilePatagonia, Voltaic & Jax Outdoor Gear.

Originally posted 2018-04-21 04:19:01.

Turn the Plastic Tide—for Seabirds, the Environment, and Human Health

When the United States Embassy in New Zealand asks if you’ll do an Earth Day post about impacts of mismanaged waste on the global environment—with a focus on seabirds—what do you do? Quick, call Lilly Sedaghat and Steph Borrelle!

Sedaghat is one of my four fellow Fellows (2017-2018 Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellows, that is), currently studying waste management in Taiwan. Borrelle is a seabird researcher I’ve worked with during my own storytelling project in New Zealand. She’s based in Auckland but will soon head to Canada as a Smith Fellow focusing on mitigation of plastic pollution.

This week Borrelle, Sedaghat, and I had a group video chat about the plastic problem: what’s so bad about the situation we’re in (for seabirds, humans, and the environment), and what we can do about it. Our conversation about this massive topic is massively simplified below…

Lilly Sedaghat, Steph Borrell, and Abby McBride

How does plastic pollution affect humans and the environment? (And how do seabirds fit into that story?)

Plastic is flooding into the ocean with ever-growing speed: around 8 million metric tons of it entered the sea in 2010, projected to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025. Besides being disturbing to think about, that gargantuan amount of nondecomposing material does all sorts of damage. One of plastic’s most insidious roles, Borrelle said, is as a sponge for toxins. When animals eat microplastics and are in turn eaten by other animals, those toxins get passed up the food chain and concentrated in apex predators—like seabirds, and humans.

In some parts of the world, including New Zealand, humans may actually ingest toxin-laced plastics through seabirds. As we speak, there’s a traditional annual seabird harvest happening on the southern New Zealand islands, just off of Rakiura (where I’m stationed right now). About 400,000 sooty shearwaters—known by Māori as tītī—are harvested on these islands every year, Borrelle said. She is working on a project involving the passage of toxins from plastics to seabirds to humans, and has colleagues studying how that phenomenon “is being translated into human health impacts.” It’s an issue particularly in need of investigation, she noted, because these indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by other negative social and economic factors.

Unsurprisingly, plastic can also harm the seabirds themselves. Toxins carried by ingested microplastics can be absorbed into body tissues; many such chemicals are estrogen mimickers that can cause reproductive problems. Larger plastic fragments pose other problems with fatal results—they can damaging internal organs when eaten, or simply entangle and drown wildlife. The biggest problem, Borrelle said, is when parents feed chicks a regurgitated meal containing plastics, which ends up killing the young birds through starvation and dehydration. Zooming out to the population level, a lot remains to be studied. Borrelle is in the midst of a project looking at the factors that might influence seabirds to ingest plastic, to see if it’s possible to predict the risk for species we don’t have data on yet. She has hopes to get more studies running, with the collaboration of groups such as the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust, to find out more about plastic ingestion and the impacts on wildlife in understudied regions.

It pays to investigate these effects on seabirds, and not just for their own sake. Being long-lived and slow-reproducing animals that spend their lives on the ocean, seabirds are particularly good bioindicators of ocean health. “They’ve been telling us about these sort of plastic pollution levels since the 1970s,” Borrelle said. “New Zealand was one of the first places we found plastic in birds,” specifically in fairy prions washed up on the beach. In the northern hemisphere, she said, a study on northern fulmars is “one of the longest and most extensive plastic ingestion monitoring programs for any species,” but much more study is needed in the southern hemisphere. Seeing Antarctic albatrosses coming from the southern ocean with plastic in them, Borrelle said, brings home the direness of the situation.

What can people do to turn the tide of plastic pollution?

To combat the plastic problem, individual people can take responsibility for their trash—in terms of choosing and using materials, as well as channeling those materials onward to waste management systems. Sedaghat is leading by example: she is currently video-blogging her 12-day zero-plastic waste challenge, and on an ongoing basis is providing resources for people to understand waste management systems and how best to use them (e.g. “7 things you didn’t know about plastic and recycling“).

But in order to navigate that complexity, people have to care—enough to pay attention and change their habits. Borrelle has encountered plenty of resistance while working to make the city of Auckland plastic-bag free. “People like convenience,” she said. “A lot of people tend to resist change when they think it’s going to affect their quality of life.” One way of convincing people that the effort is worthwhile: putting the unsavory effects of plastic into the forefront of public consciousness. Sedaghat is currently working on ways of doing that in Taiwan. “A lot of the challenge has to do with people not visually seeing or being affected personally in their own lives by the results of plastic over the long term: how it affects sea animals, how it affects the human body.”

So educating individuals on consumption, disposal, and effects of plastic is vital. But individuals’ ability to control their own plastic use and disposal depends on many factors, including what products are available to them and what waste management systems are set up where they live. A recycling symbol, Sedaghat notes, is by no means a guarantee that waste is being recycled. In both New Zealand and Taiwan, a lot of “recycling” is currently going straight to the dump (more so now that China has stopped accepting imports of plastic waste), simply because there are insufficient facilities and systems in place. “Recycling companies are only effective if there’s money to be made off those recycled products,” Sedaghat said.

That concept holds true at the production end as well as the disposal end. “Everything comes down to the market, and the price in the market, and what people want in the market,” Sedaghat said. Real change comes from governments pushing against the big industries that have control over the market—which in case of plastics is none other than the petroleum industry. So how can individuals play a role in that change? How can you make a dent in the sea of plastic packaging that greets you in the supermarket, or a city-wide waste system that channels your recycling to the dump?

I asked if community groups provide that much-needed bridge between individuals and the larger political and economic game, and Sedaghat and Borrelle concurred. “Community groups have been the strongest leaders in actually pushing forward these kinds of initiatives,” Borrelle said. She cited the case of New Zealand’s Waiheke Island, where islanders had their own system with “an incredibly high quality of recoverable waste” that was in high demand for overseas buyers.  “That kind of grassroots movement is really important for providing evidence to governments that people actually want to see change.”

Steph Borrelle, Lilly Sedaghat, and Abby McBride

What’s the outlook for the plastic problem?

There are parallels between the anti-plastic mission, Borrelle said, and the crusade against smoking that began in the 20th century. Notably, each of those movements has involved standing up against the marketing and lobbying of a giant industry. “Plastic and oil are intimately related,” she said. “Eight percent if not more of the oil extracted every year is turned into plastic products—so you are fighting against this massive propoganda machine.”

That battle includes dispelling fear-mongering rooted in industry interests. “The idea that you would ‘lose jobs’ is a scary thought, but the reality is that people will adapt to what the market desires,” Sedaghat said. She described a situation in Taiwan where plastic manufacturers—many of them small family businesses—adapted instantly to a demand for corn starch plastics by overseas companies. “They literally just take the same system, same machines, and they just insert the corn-based pellets versus the oil-based pellets into the machines to create the plastics,” she said.  “And they’re able to do that because there’s money that’s made.”

As the smoking status quo has taken decades upon decades to shift, we can expect a similarly prolonged time frame for improvement in plastic waste management. “Social change can be super slow,” Borrelle said, yet it snowballs as people are influenced by the shifting attitudes of their peers. In another parallel, methods that proved effective in changing attitudes about smoking can be applied to plastics. One such strategy for inducing change—particularly at the legislative level—is focusing on human health impacts, which are closely tied to environmental health impacts particularly where plastics are concerned.

Despite the rampant overuse of plastic bags and other single-use products that will never decompose and really shouldn’t be brought into the world by sane humans, it’s important to remember that plastics are invaluable for certain purposes, Borrelle said. Among other things they can offer crucial benefits in medical fields, furnish vital access to clean water and food, and help save the day after natural disasters. But plastic production and use needs to be accompanied by an infrastructure that can actually handle the waste, without the egregious environmental damage we’re seeing right now.

“It’s always more complex than these really simplistic ideas that get bandied about,” Borrelle said. “But if we don’t do anything, the long-term impacts are going to be incredibly severe.”

This has been a very superficial dip into a deep issue that I’m just starting to learn about. To really dive into it, follow Steph Borrelle and Lilly Sedaghat as they each investigate how to turn the plastic tide—for the benefit of seabirds, humans, and everything else.

Originally posted 2018-04-20 03:00:08.

Caught In a Race Against Climate Change, Lizards Hit an Evolutionary Dead End

By Marlene Cimons

Brown anoles are one of the most successful species on the planet. These resilient creatures have settled throughout a large portion of the Western Hemisphere, even landing in such distant places as Hawaii and Singapore by hitching rides across the Pacific in shipments of ornamental plants. In the southeastern United States, they are actually displacing native green anoles, driving them higher into the trees. These cold-blooded creatures are happy almost anywhere, from shady forests to sun-drenched beaches.

“In The Bahamas, it would blow your mind how common these things are,” said Michael Logan, a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who studies them. “Pick any bush along the side of the road, look closely, and I’ll bet the bank you see a brown anole — or three — in there.”

You would think that with so many brown anoles covering so much of the planet there would be a lot of genetic variation within the species. Some lizards would be larger or smaller, faster or slower, lighter or darker — meaning that, by chance, a few anoles here or there would be adapted to new challenges, like climate change, and they would pass on these traits to a younger generation of climate-tolerant lizard. But new research suggests that isn’t happening.

Brown anole. Photo: Thomas Brown

The findings, recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could have significant implications for the future of all cold-blooded species — the anoles, as well as other reptiles, amphibians and fish — whose body temperatures vary with that of the outside environment. Studying these species, known as ectotherms, can help scientists better understand the perils of global warming because their lives are so precisely connected to fluctuations in temperature.

“It was surprising to find such low genetic variation in traits that are important under climate change, such as the body temperature at which lizards run the fastest,” a trait essential to outrunning predators, Logan said. “So how have these guys invaded and adapted to such disparate regions of the globe if they lack what’s necessary for genetic adaptation?”

That’s a question still in need of an answer, although one possible explanation is that generations of anoles have faced challenging environments, and as the species evolved to meet these challenges, it wound up in something of a genetic cul de sac. The result is little variation among brown anoles. Logan explained how, over time, evolution yields very limited variability in certain traits.

“A trait like ‘number of limbs in tetrapods’ — amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals — is almost entirely determined by genes,” Logan said. “But because there is no variation in those genes among individuals — nearly all tetrapods are born with four limbs.” He added that “selection cannot act on a trait that has no variation.”

Michael Logan gathers research data in Great Exuma, Bahamas on brown anole lizards. Photo: Christine Miller

For their study, the scientists captured adult lizards from two very different habitats, one cool and forested, the other a hot, sun-soaked peninsula. They then bred the anoles in captivity and raised their offspring in the same laboratory setting.

“We did this because any differences between the populations would be due entirely to genetics,” Logan explained. “In other words, we controlled for ‘nurture’ so we could see if ‘nature’ played a role.” He said there were marked differences between cold-weather lizards and warm-weather lizards, despite growing up under the same conditions.

Using a high-speed camera, they filmed the lizards running across a wooden dowel rod after exposing them to different temperatures. They used gel packs and heating lamps to create temperatures from around 70 degrees F to around 120 degrees F, recording their responses. Predictably, the warm-weather lizards performed better at higher temperatures, but neither group displayed a lot of genetic variation.

“Our results suggest that natural selection may have used up all the available genetic variation to get these populations adapted to their thermal environments in the first place, leaving them with nothing to evolve further as the global climate continues to change,” Logan said.

Brown anole. Photo: Pixabay

The study showed that thermal traits have a genetic basis “because they differ between populations when we control for the effects of the environment,” he added. “But we also show that within each population these traits lack genetic variation, which means they can no longer evolve in response to selection.”

The brown anole, because of its large population and ability to colonize novel environments, is unlikely to be especially vulnerable to climate change — although it turned out to be more vulnerable than expected, he said. But the study raises troubling questions about the fate of other species in a warming planet.

Other species tend to cover a more limited area than the brown anole, and they tend to live only in one kind of thermal environment, Logan said. “If the brown anole with its success as a global invader lacks the necessary genetic variation to evolve rapidly, what does that say about the rest of biodiversity?” he said. “Species that are less prolific and more specialized should have even less genetic variation for selection to act on.”

Evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton, a postdoctoral fellow at the Universities of Montana, Missoula and Illinois, Champaign-Urbana — who was not involved in the study — said the research provides a critical link to understanding how cold-blooded creatures respond to changing temperatures.

Collared lizard. Photo: Pixabay

“There have been several studies that have shown that extreme weather events and rapid shifts in the environment can cause selective events — organisms with greater resilience to droughts, heat waves or cold snaps are more likely to survive and pass their genes on to the next generation,” Campbell-Staton said. “However, as [the study] points out, evolution — which occurs across generations — can only happen if the traits that allow survival can be passed on to offspring.” With the brown anole, “the traits under selection in high temperature environments don’t seem to be passed from generation to generation very efficiently, meaning that adaptive evolution of those traits would presumably happen on a much slower time scale than the anticipated changes due to global warming,” Campbell-Staton added.

This mismatch “could potentially be a disastrous combination,” Campbell-Staton said. “It means that as the planet warms over time, selection on thermal performance may increase — meaning more individuals may die in a given generation — but the offspring of the survivors may only be slightly better fit to deal with continually rising temperatures, or no better off at all. The end result of this mismatch, if temperatures continue to rise, would inevitably be extinction.”

While the study isn’t directly applicable to warm-blooded humans, “it is clear that many species around the world, including the plants we depend on for food and oxygen, the insects that pollinate those plants, and many other ectothermic species that are important players in ecosystem health could be drastically affected,” Campbell-Staton added.

For species with small home ranges, lacking the ability to migrate, evolution should provide “their main avenue of escape,” from the effects of global warming, Logan said. But this study “hints that many of the species we love and care about may not be able to mount a rapid evolutionary response to climate change.”

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.

Originally posted 2018-06-06 03:02:48.

Los diez mejores consejos sobre cómo inspirar a las comunidades a restaurar el medio ambiente

Los Diez Mejores Consejos

La conservación es un desafío tanto social como biológico. Durante cinco años llevando a cabo un proyecto participativo de investigación de ballenas en un pequeño pueblo mexicano, aprendí tanto sobre el comportamiento humano como sobre los mamíferos marinos. Recopilamos datos innovadores sobre ballenas jorobadas y delfines durante nuestro estudio de 1600 horas, pero el verdadero éxito fue inspirar y apoyar a la comunidad de 600 personas para que se hicieran cargo de la salud de su medio ambiente marino. Después de cinco años, la comunidad está dando los primeros pasos para revertir décadas de degradación ambiental en lo que una vez fue y volverá a ser el país de las maravillas de los naturalistas.

Estos son los diez mejores consejos que aprendí en ese camino.

  1. Priorizar las conexiones humanas por encima de los objetivos establecidos.

La conservación es desordenada, no lineal y difícil de cuantificar a corto plazo. Los científicos son a menudo los primeros en llegar a un lugar, evaluar su estado ecológico y determinar los siguientes pasos. Los científicos exitosos deben tener tendencias perfeccionistas y una afinidad hacia la categorización y cuantificación. También tienden a ser introvertidos. Es difícil dejar la cámara, alejarse de la computadora y tomar una escoba o pasar el rato en una puerta con alguien que no conoces muy bien. Pero es más importante responder a las preguntas sobre lo que viste en el campo ese día que limpiar, preparar y guardar rápidamente el equipo caro del día.

Ganando amigos e influenciando a la gente con nuestros cepillos y escobas de fregaR. Photo Por Terra Hanks

  1. Enfócate en la gente adecuada. (¡Pregúntales a los locales quiénes son!)

Cuando empecé, pensé que estaría trabajando con los pescadores mayores del pueblo. Como pescador que le encanta estar cerca de los barcos y escuchar las viejas sales balbuceando, esto sonó como una excelente manera de pasar cinco años. Pero después de mi desordenado año piloto, pregunté por todo el pueblo cómo podía ayudarles mejor. Me dijeron que si quería mejorar la salud del océano y la vida de la gente del pueblo, debía concentrarme en los niños, las mujeres y los jóvenes que estaban por encontrar su camino. ¿Qué niños? ¿Qué mujeres? ¿Qué jóvenes? Presté mucha atención y pregunté por ahí. Mientras que los niños becados de alto rendimiento en el pueblo se beneficiaron de nuestros programas en la escuela, fueron los niños luchadores de campo libre y aquellos que necesitaban más atención quienes terminaron adquiriendo las habilidades más profundas en computación, recolección de datos y mantenimiento de equipo, además de recibir una fuerte infusión de inglés y nutrición basada en plantas.

Sebastian Cabrera es un chico joven que vive en la misma casa donde se encuentra nuestro despacho improvisado. Nunca perdió la oportunidad de subir a bordo, caminar hasta una estación de observación basada en tierra, y se puso a disposición para limpiar el equipo, hacer diligencias, y entrar en los datos durante el estudio de cinco años. Para el año cuatro, él estaba haciendo presentaciones sofisticadas acerca de las ballenas en la vecina ciudad de Zihuatanejo y él está planeando convertirse en un biólogo cuando crezca. Aquí, Sebastian rastrea a una ballena como lo graba Manolo Mendieta desde arriba con un dron. Foto POR Terra HanksSebastián en su puesto habitual en nuestra oficina trabajando en redactar el Resumen diario de campo junto a Terra, Manuel y Claudia. Foto POR Katherina AudleySebastián ofrece una presentación sobre las ballenas durante un mercado de agricultores en Zihuatanejo. El miembro del equipo, Terra Hanks, el mayor motivador y apoyo de Sebastian, escucha con deleite mientras clava su charla. Foto por Abel Organiz.

Encontré a las mujeres con los restaurantes de cocina más exitosos con quienes las otras mujeres se llevaban bien y alquilaban sus casas, puse a los internos con sus familias y les pagamos para alimentar a nuestro equipo una vez a la semana.

Araceli Oregon organiza sus artesanías inspiradas en la naturaleza durante la Feria de arte del pueblo. Las mujeres artistas pueden ganar lo que un pescador gana en un mes durante este evento tan esperado. Foto por Katherina Audley

Me concentré en los jóvenes que tenían una inclinación hacia el ecoturismo y el emprendimiento.

El pescador local y empresario de ecoturismo, Arturo MELLÍN, recogió datos acústicos y de avistamiento con nuestro equipo. Después de cinco años de trabajo, se convirtió en el experto más importante de la región en mamíferos marinos locales. En la foto, Arturo recoge datos acústicos mientras que el biólogo Pablo CHEVALLARD Navarro registra la temperatura del agua. Foto por Patrick WEISHAMPEL/BLANKEYEDurante un viaje de recolección de datos del campo de Ciencias ciudadanas de la escuela secundaria, levanté la mirada de la grabación de datos para ver que todos los estudiantes habían emigrado a la parte posterior del barco y estaban escuchando, extasiados, a Arturo, como él les enseñó acerca de sus ballenas locales. Foto por Katherina Audley

  1. Mantenga una taza de café y cerveza fría, agua mineral y bocadillos sabrosos en su refrigerador.

Los cambios de opinión no ocurren durante las reuniones. Suceden con un café o una cerveza. La comida crea amistades; las amistades crean confianza; la confianza hace posibles los saltos de fe y las decisiones aterradoras. La conservación NO se trata de los animales que estás tratando de salvar. Se trata de las personas y las relaciones que necesitas construir.

  1. Trabaja duro para integrarte.

Vive en la comunidad hospedada por familias, no en un grupo de científicos. Es mucho más barato poner a su equipo en una sola casa y cocinar sus comidas juntos y compartir los gastos de la casa. Pero es la manera menos eficiente de conocer la comunidad anfitriona. Comer fuera, contratar a gente local, involucrarse, ir a las fiestas, bailar, comer y reírse juntos. Averigüe cómo puede ayudar, ya sea enseñando inglés, recogiendo botellas a medio usar de bloqueador solar y repelente de insectos para repartir a la gente local, o saltando para echar una mano con una llanta ponchada, cavando zanjas o poniendo algo pesado en la caja de una camioneta. Descubrirán cuáles son las preocupaciones y los problemas subyacentes, cómo encaja la comunidad y aprenderán cómo pueden trabajar juntos hacia un futuro más saludable.

Los internos del equipo, Andrea García Chávez y Dane McDermott se casó en una fiesta de la aldea para el deleite y la hilaridad de los mirones. Foto por Pablo CHEVALLARD Navarro

  1. Procura la compasión y humildad.

Escucha más de lo que hablas. Es estupendo cuando los científicos y los educadores comparten sus conocimientos, pero he visto a locales muy bien informados cerrarse y dejar de compartir lo que ven y saben después de haber hablado sobre las maravillas de su entorno. También he visto a más científicos burlarse y agitar la cabeza ante la basura, el abuso de animales, las condiciones insalubres, la dieta poco saludable y la falta de educación que encuentran en el extranjero de lo que puedo soportar. Si usted puede darse el lujo de trabajar en otro país para resolver los problemas de otra persona, se encuentra entre los más ricos y afortunados. Trate continuamente de entender las perspectivas locales, pero suponga que no entiende. Así queda más espacio para la conversación y el crecimiento, en ambos sentidos.

  1. Sea inclusivo.

Invite y vuelva a invitar a todos a asistir a todos sus programas. Además, haga posible que la gente asista haciendo que sus programas se ajusten a los tiempos de la comunidad.

Abel organiz, un interno del proyecto local que aprendió las habilidades de la computadora y de la ciencia que trabajaba con nuestro equipo, montó un hidrófono usando los materiales localmente disponibles para utilizar y para vender a las guías nuevamente minted del reloj de ballena. Foto por KATHERINA Audley

  1. Colabore.

Esté disponible para trabajar con todos, especialmente al principio. Da crédito a todos. Asóciate con otros grupos de investigación y conservación. Comparta sus datos. Algunas personas no estarán de acuerdo contigo y no les gustará o no confiarán en tu agenda. Escúchalos, estate disponible para ellos, asegúrese de que estén invitados a todas las actividades, pero no pase demasiado tiempo con ellos. Siempre habrá algunas personas que no quieren trabajar con usted.

  1. Sea honesto, transparente y accesible.

La gente le preguntará de dónde viene su dinero. Diles. La gente querrá saber cómo es que usted es capaz de estar allí. Cuéntales sobre tu vida, cómo es que eres capaz de estar allí. Comparta sus éxitos y fracasos localmente, todos los días. Ten lista una explicación de por qué su trabajo es importante que cualquiera pueda entender. Explica cómo tu trabajo y hallazgos beneficiarán a la comunidad. Si no lo puedes hacer, es posible que no estés haciendo un trabajo importante.

  1. Llegue a tiempo; sea consistente.

La integridad lo es todo. Cómo se hace cualquier cosa es cómo se hace todo.

  1. Asume la noble intención.

Cree en la bondad de la gente. Sólo un pequeño porcentaje de la gente quiere dañar el planeta o hacer algo malo. La mayoría de la gente quiere hacer lo correcto y disfrutar ayudando. Haz que la gente se convierta en héroes del océano y campeones de la naturaleza – haz que valga la pena. Muchas personas toman las decisiones que toman porque no conocen nada mejor o pueden no tener la capacidad de elegir de manera diferente. Tenemos que ser conscientes de que la mayoría de la gente es buena. Si empezamos en un lugar de juicio, entonces probablemente ya hemos perdido.

Al atender las relaciones y enfocarme en áreas de interés compartido, más que en mi agenda preconcebida, el Proyecto de Investigación de Ballenas de Guerrero ha tomado un mayor propósito. Hemos completado nuestro estudio de cinco años sobre ballenas y delfines, comenzamos un intercambio de conocimientos con grupos de conservación y ecoturismo en Baja California, y ahora estamos co-creando un plan para los próximos cinco años que permitirá a la comunidad transformar su relación con el medio ambiente marino y, como resultado, devolverle la salud. Los invito a seguir aquí en National Geographic Voices, o vengan a aprender más y apoyar nuestro trabajo en

Seguimos oyendo que los niños locales querían ser biólogos cuando crecieron, así que les pedí que dibujaran fotos de lo que ellos piensan que hacen los científicos. Aquí, un chico local ha dibujado una vista aérea de nuestro equipo de trabajo en nuestras computadoras en nuestra casa simple en el centro de la aldea desde la comodidad de las sillas de plástico corona playa. ¡ una descripción muy precisa de la vida de un científico!

Top ten tips on how to inspire communities to restore the environment

I spent the past five years running a participatory whale research project in a tiny village in SW Pacific Mexico. We collected groundbreaking data on humpback whales and dolphins during our 1600-hour study, but the real success was inspiring and supporting the 600-person community to take ownership of their struggling marine environment’s health. After five years, the community is taking first steps to reverse decades of environmental degradation in what was once and will be again a naturalist’s wonderland.These are the top ten tips I learned along that way.

  1. Prioritize human connections over stated objectives.

Conservation is messy, non-linear and difficult to quantify in the short term. Scientists are often the first outsiders to come into a place, assess its ecological state and determine next steps. Successful scientists must have perfectionist tendencies and an affinity toward categorization and quantification. They also tend to be introverts. It is hard to put down the camera, step away from the computer and pick up a broom or hang out on a stoop with someone you don’t know very well. But it is more important to take a little time answering questions about what you saw out there in the field that day with a local than to get the expensive, hard-to-obtain and even harder to repair gear cleaned and put away for the day.


  1. Focus on the right people. (Ask locals who they are!)

When I started out, I thought I would be working with the senior fishermen in the village. As a fisherman who loves to hang out on boats and listen to old salts gnatter away, this seemed like an excellent way to spend five years. But after a messy but successful pilot year, I asked around the village about how I could help them best. They told me if I wanted to improve the health of the ocean and the lives of the people in the village, I should focus on kids, women, and young men who were just finding their way. Which kids? Which women? Which young men? I paid a lot of attention and asked around. I ended up focusing on the feistiest free range kids and those who needed the most attention. They were the ones who rushed our boat when we returned from the field each day, eager to get the daily whale scoop. They ate with us, helped maintain our gear, enter data and rallied the whole village to attend our weekly workshops and presentations. While we lit up thousands of kids through our school and library programs, it is this little posse of kids who have gained skills, knowledge and inspiration over five years with us, that will lead the village toward long term, lasting health.

Sebastian Cabrera (in orange above) lives in the same house where our makeshift office is. He never misses an opportunity to hop aboard and made himself available as gear cleaner, errand runner data enterer throughout the 5-year study. Here, Sebastian tracks a whale as Manolo Mendieta records it from above with a drone. Photo by Terra HanksSebastian at his usual post in our office working on writing up the daily field summary alongside Terra, Manuel and Claudia. Photo by Katherina AudleyBy year four, sebastian was making sophisticated presentations about whales in the neighboring city of Zihuatanejo and he plans on becoming a biologist when he grows up. here, project member Terra Hanks, Sebastian’s biggest motivator and support, listens with delight as he nails a talk at the zihuatanejo farmer’s market. Photo by Abel Organiz.

I found the women with the most successful kitchen restaurants who the other women got along with and rented their houses, put interns in with their families and paid them to feed our team once a week. We also assisted in every way possible with the creation and growth of a women-run village arts fair.

Araceli Oregon arranges her nature-inspired crafts during the village arts fair. Women artists can earn in a day what a fisherman earns in a month during this annual event. Photo by Katherina Audley

I focused on the young men who had a bent toward ecotourism and entrepreneurism and who hadn’t already blown it so many times as to have lost respect in the village.

Local fisherman and ecotourism entrepreneur, Arturo Mellín, collected acoustic and sighting data with our team for five years. Pictured here, Arturo collects acoustic data while biologist, Pablo Chevallard NavarRo records water temperature. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/Blankeye.By year five with our study, Arturo had become the region’s foremost expert on marine mammals. pictured here: During a high school citizen science whale survey, I looked up from writing to see that the students had all migrated to the back of the boat and were listening, enraptured, as Arturo taught them about their neighborhood whales. Photo by katherina Audley

  1. Keep a pot of coffee on and cold beer, mineral water and tasty snacks in your fridge.

Changes of heart don’t happen during meetings. They happen over coffee or a beer. Food creates friendships; friendships create trust; trust makes leaps of faith and scary decisions possible. Conservation is NOT about the animals you are trying to save. It is about the people and relationships you need to build.

  1. Work hard to integrate yourself.

Live in the community hosted by families, not in a clump of scientists. It’s a lot less expensive to put your team in one house and to cook your meals together and share the household expenses. But it’s the least efficient way to get to know your host community. Eat out, hire local people, get involved, go to the parties, dance, eat and laugh together. Find out how you can help – whether it is teaching English, collecting half-used bottles of sunblock and bug repellent to dole out to locals, or jumping in to give a hand with a flat tire, ditch digging or lifting something heavy onto a truck bed. You’ll find out what the underlying concerns and issues are, how the community fits together and you’ll learn how you can all work together toward a healthier future.

Team interns, Andrea García Chavez and Dane McDermott get faux married at a village party to the delight and hilarity of onlookers. Photo by Pablo Chevallard Navarro

  1. Strive for compassion and humility.

Listen more than you talk. It is great when scientists and educators share their knowledge but I’ve seen very knowledgeable locals shut down and quit sharing what they see and know after having been speechified to on the wonders of their environment. I’ve also seen more scientists scoff and shake their heads at the garbage, animal abuse, unsanitary conditions, unhealthy diet and lack of education than I can stomach. If you have the luxury of working in another country on someone else’s problems, you are among the very rich and fortunate. Try continuously to understand local perspectives, but assume you don’t understand. It leaves more room for conversation and growth, both ways.

  1. Be inclusive.

Invite and re-invite everyone to come to all of your programs. Also, make it possible for people to attend by having your programs fit with the timing of the community.

Abel Organiz, a local project intern who learned computer and science skills working with our team, assembled a hydrophone using locally available materials to use and sell to newly minted whale watch guides. Photo by Katherina Audley

  1. Be collaborative.

Be available to work with everyone, especially at first. Give credit to everyone. Partner with other research and conservation groups. Share your data. Some people will not agree with you and will not like you or trust your agenda. Listen to them, be available to them, make sure they are invited to all activities, but do not spend too much time on them. There will always be some people who do not want to work with you.

  1. Be honest, transparent and accessible.

People will ask where your money comes from. Tell them. People will want to know how it is that you are able to be there. Tell them about your life and how it is that you are able to afford to be there. Share your successes and failures locally, every day. Be ready with an explanation on why your work matters that anyone can understand. Explain how your work and findings will benefit the community immediately and in the long term. If it will not, you might not be doing important work.

  1. Show up on time; be consistent.

Integrity is everything. How you do anything is how you do everything.

  1. Assume noble intent.

Believe in the goodness of people. Only a tiny percentage of people want to hurt the planet or do the wrong thing. Most people want to do the right thing and enjoy helping. Set people up to be heroes of the ocean and champions for nature – make it worth their while.  Many people make the choices they make because they don’t know any better or may not have the ability to choose differently.  We need to be aware that most people are good. If we start from a place of judgment then you have probably already lost.

We kept hearing that local kids wanted to be biologists when they grew up, and so I asked them to draw pictures of what scientists do. Here, a local kid drew an aerial view of our team working on our computers in our simple village house, ensconced in plastic Corona beach chairs, glued to our computers. A truly accurate depiction of the life of a scientist!

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