Wildlife

Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Posted on Dec 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Akademik Shokalskiy

SMH Photo: Andrew Peacock/www.footloosefoto

Ice-cave-antartica-herbert-ponting-main

 Herbert Ponting – the Terra Nova

Antarctic rescue musings by David McGonigal

No I’m not stuck in the ice

Thanks for all the queries but fortunately I’m not stuck near Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay on board the Akademik Shokalskiy, awaiting rescue or evacuation. Rather I’m sweltering in Sydney on New Year’s Eve. In my 100+ voyages to the Antarctic I’ve yet to be on a ship beset in ice (touching wood as I type). However, I’ve assisted in rescues and experienced much that the Southern Ocean can throw at you. So, since the Shokalskiy became stuck, I’ve been following the saga with great interest and here are a few observations. These are based on no more than the news reports everyone else has been seeing, too.

A summer of setbacks for Antarctic Science

Today (the morning of Tuesday 31 December) it looks like the decision has been made to take passengers and staff off the ship (by Chinese helicopter from the ice to the Aurora Australis), leaving just the Russian crew. That will take the drama out of the situation and allow the Chinese and Australian vessels to return to their resupply work for the summer science program  that runs on a very tight timetable during the short polar summer. This year looks set to be a setback for ongoing Antarctic science programs – by far the the biggest being that the US budget dispute was not resolved in time to allow US programs to run this summer and, more relevant for Australian science, my understanding is that the Aurora Australis left for the rescue attempt halfway through resupplying Casey Base.

Once there is just the 20 or so crew left on the Shokalskiy they simply wait until they can get free. That won’t be a problem for the crew – the ship normally carries months of extra provisions and Russian polar ships’ crews have done extended research in the past where they only returned home after more than a year at sea. The ship is their real home and I’ve worked with some who have been on the ship since it was built more than 20 years ago.

“Like an almond in toffee”

The Shokalskiy was built to ice-strengthened Russian specs in Finland in 1982. It’s Shuleykin-class so it’s quite small (1753 GRT) and sturdy. However, it’s getting quite old and several of the others in this class have been withdrawn from working in Antarctica. Ideally, the wind will change and the ice will scatter and the ship can escape. Or it will spend a while “like an almond in toffee” as one of Shackleton’s men put it. From what we hear, I don’t have much fear for its safety. The two main risks are that the ice will push it towards land or shoals or that an iceberg could collide with it. The sea ice that the ship is stuck in is moved mainly by the wind; icebergs, on the other hand, with their deep ‘keels’ are moved by ocean currents and sometime a large iceberg looks like an icebreaker plowing through sea ice.

I hope everyone has been impressed by the way the Chinese, French and Australian vessels rushed to the rescue?  That’s the seafarers’ code – to always aid a stricken vessel when it calls for assistance. However, once the people (and ship) are safe there’s the matter of who pays? This operation will have already directly cost millions of dollars (and many more in curtailed programs) so there will be a hefty bill. I’ve known rescuers to bill at exorbitant full commercial rates. Hopefully, insurance will cover it.

Down the line deeper questions will be asked. How and why did the ship get stuck? I have no idea but I bet there are rumours soon enough – and they will only be dispelled after a lengthy enquiry, if there is one.

Science, safety and tourism

For me, once the passengers, crew and ship are safe, the most worrying ramification will be the impact this has on Antarctic tourism. Antarctica is a continent run by the nations of the Antarctic Treaty “for peace and science”. There is provision for tourism and generally that operates in a safe and responsible way. Even so, many scientists regard tourism as a diversion and an unnecessary risk and some would like to see it limited or stopped. This incident will add to that pressure. Never mind that tourist ships often help scientific research programs and research bases, just as the science ships are helping a tourist ship right now. Antarctic tourists soon become and Antarctic advocates with an important role to play in promoting its preservation. The outcome of the next Antarctic Treaty meeting may be crucial to those of us who love Antarctica and love the opportunity to show it to travellers with a passion for the last great wilderness.

 

David McGonigal is an expedition leader in Antarctica who has visited it on more than 100 occasions. He heads back at the end of January 2014. He, with co-author Dr Lynn Woodworth, is the author of “Antarctica – the Complete Story”, “The Blue Continent” and “Antarctica – Secrets of the Southern Continent”.

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Kruger NP Goes Flat Screen

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Kruger NP Goes Flat Screen

kruger map sm

The Kruger National Park has installed flat screen television screens to enhance information dissemination to tourists in the park.

The screens have been installed and are already in use at the gate and camp receptions. Making use of text, images, audio and video, the screens will present visitors with content such as updates on the developments of the park, park rules and regulations, emergencies like road closures, park events and campaigns, scientific research and other projects, rare animal sightings and more.

“The expectations from the public are changing, they want the speed on access to information; they want prompt delivery of the answer, rather than guidance or instruction. We were looking at introducing the kind of communication and marketing tool which would afford us a chance to communicate in an interactive way with our tourists, when Anglo American responded positively,” indicated Mabasa.

The screens were donated by Anglo American and Phillip Fourie, Head of Safety and Sustainable Development, for Anglo American’s thermal coal business at Paul Kruger Gate, presented them to the park.

“Anglo American believes that the impact of mining should be positive and to the benefit of South Africa, its people and the environment. We look forward to a successful partnership with Kruger National Park,” he said.

“Like broadcast media, these TV screens will allow us to disseminate information on time; allowing tourists to respond by either making follow-ups with our front office staff or contacting the relevant park officials for more information,” concluded Mabasa.

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iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 | Comments Off on iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

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On Sunday September 1, Luxperience 2013 opened in Sydney, Australia’s Town Hall with a “Thought Leaders” evening. David McGonigal of iTravelTree was asked to present as the opening speaker –
his topic was “The Luxury in the Experience”.

Good evening. From Andrew’s introduction you may gather, I’ve been a travel writer/author and photographer for too many decades.

100 places to visit

In fact, a friend recently send me one of those Facebook quizzes on  “100 places to see before you die” –  and I had visited 90 – I’m either well travelled or ready to cark it.

My latest venture is a start-up called iTT. Basically, iTravelTree conducts a meta search of travel data filtered by your social preferences. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to “luxury” lately – the trend I see in luxury is to collect exotic experiences not things or famous hotels.

If you had asked my mum, she probably would have defined travel luxury as a grand old hotel – like Sydney’s Australia Hotel.

Marstrand-Island-in-Bohuslan-Photo-Lisa-Nestorson

I suspect Scandinavia may agree with her. While flying on SAS last month I read in the in-flight mag: “Marstrand has something that no new luxury resort can buy: dignity and soul”.

It was both a sweeping generalization and wrong. Marstrand may do it well but so do many new resorts. Brilliant architecture, environmental sensitivity and empathy with local residents lie at the heart of dignity and soul. Some go further:

D on ele

© David McGonigal

The Anantara Golden Triangle gives you a chance to be part of a care centre for mistreated Asiatic elephants. More on that later.

My last 18 months have been special as my wife Sandra, stepped down from running Rupert Murdoch’s Australian magazine division early last year and, after a lifetime of being tied to an office has finally had a chance to travel. We’ve been referring to it as her executive gap year. Seeing our industry through her eyes is enlightening. Fittings and service are a given – and only noted in their absence – but special moments like hugging a baby orang utan or being taught to cook Tiramisu by the head chef of the Villa San Michele are prized.

Galleria

* This is Milan’s Galleria Hotel – self proclaimed 7-stars

First can I say how I hate the attempt to add more stars – Dubai’s Burj al Arab started it and the Galleria has taken it further. I think the trend is in reverse: high degree of comfort is no longer limited to 5-star properties. Some 4-star resorts now offer a standard that would have been 5-star a decade ago. And why is it new hotels that think they might be 6 or 7 star: what about grand, established hotels like Monaco’s Hotel de Paris that could probably lay a better claim?

And, anyway, many of us would forego the front door being opened (or yet another chandelier) in exchange for free high-speed internet or the chance to make a cup of coffee and tea in the privacy of our room.

So what makes a property or travel experience truly special? There are three possibilities:

  1. The destination itself is enough
  2. The travel experience itself is enough
  3. The experience maximizes the location

1.       In some rare cases, the place itself is enough.

Simply being there is a luxury. And here I’m talking about discerning, experienced travellers. For the first timer in London, a dodgy hotel in Kensington might seem like paradise – it isn’t.

What’s a destination where the privilege is simply to be there?

Paro

  • Bhutan Paro Festival © David McGonigal

I was fortunate enough to go to Bhutan some 15 years ago. The food was terrible, the accommodation basic and the roads were shocking. But the richness of the culture – and its lack of cultural pollution from modern pop culture – left all of us, all very experienced Himalayan travellers, saying that we had found Paradise. And, then and now it wasn’t cheap.

But what’s the impossible dream? As a boy, I always thought I’d go to the moon but never thought I’d visit Antarctica.

Breaking Ice South of the Antarctic Circle DSC0727

  • Antarctica © David McGonigal

I now work in Antarctica as an expedition leader – I’ve been there more than 100 times and feel privileged every time. Passengers will pay the fare for a basic cabin on a Russian icebreaker that would give them five star accommodation for the same duration anywhere in Europe: $60,000 for two weeks.

The luxury to travel to Bhutan or into polar ice is at least as special as 5-star luxury.

Lunar

Space remains the ultimate travel destination and it looks like I won’t make it there. Space travel is coming but affordability might be a problem. Mike McDowell popularized Antarctica as a travel destination – and his Space Adventures have arranged all 8 people who have paid (a lot) to go into space.

Virgin Galactica

Virgin Galactica says it’ll have first flight on Christmas Day this year. Cost for 2.5 hr flight to 360,000 ft is $250,000. Not bad value for 110 km up.

This is the category where indulgence doesn’t correlate with luxury. There are people prepared to pay $1/4M to throw up in a capsule a long way from home.

2 What about creating the unusual? Manufacturing the whole experience from scratch?

castlebuilding

In the non-luxury market, it’s hard to go past Disneyland then DisneyWorld as places that create their own need. While you’d go to London or Paris regardless, would you go to Anaheim or Orlando without Walt’s worlds?

MONA

© David McGonigal

Closer to home – both in terms of location and audience – we have David Walsh’s MONA that has brought a whole new travel group to Hobart. When a gallery is talked more about in tourism stats than in the Arts pages you know it’s significant. Amazing and confronting, too.

Dubai

Creating something from nothing is hard. Yet that’s what Dubai has done – taken a small fishing village and turn it into the world’s hub of luxury hotels and shopping.

us on eles

© David McGonigal

I go back to the Anantara because it epitomizes the luxury in the experience. And it drew us to a place we wouldn’t have visited. We signed up for a three day mahout course – and we were allocated our own elephants for the duration. Having your own elephant is absolute luxury – coming to understand the likes and dislikes of this giant gentle creature was very special. We still dream of elephants.

Oasis

*Oasis of the Seas

The modern cruise industry has done it, too – created a huge growing industry out of nothing. Of course there were cruises before but ships were mainly a form of transport not entertainment.

Fat DuckFat Duck © David McGonigal

Then we have the modern phenomenon of food tourism. Perhaps it has always existed in a small way. nearly always directed towards France.

But now Noma has as much drawing power as the Little Mermaid, El Bulli rivals Sagrada Familia and The Fat Duck has put Bray UK on the map. Even in my suburb of Balmain, many hear the name and think Adriano Zumbo’s macarons.

When you are creating something from nothing, you are limited only by your imagination. Here luxury can be indulgence and the experience.

3      Finally we have the experience that works to enhance the location – the most common scenario

Cipriani

  • Cipriani Hotel © David McGonigal

Every company that delivers a travel product needs to be thinking “what next?” There was a time when just having been to the rim of the Grand Canyon was enough. Then people said “what next?” So now we can raft through it, hike to the bottom or walk out on a glass platform. Likewise, Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb changed the bridge (and Sydney) from a static setting to an experience.

I experienced this first hand in Venice last year. Once it would have been enough to have Venice as my destination. And for luxury it’s hard to go past the legendary Hotel Cipriani. But then the Cipriani raised the stakes into the stratosphere – “come stay with us and kayak the canals of Venice.”

kayak Venice

© David McGonigal

This was luxury at all levels – the pampered indulgence of the hotel and the experiential indulgence of seeing Venice from my own kayak. I fondly remember the Cipriani – especially breakfast on Easter Sunday – but I’ll never forget paddling under the Rialto at sunset then turning to glide under the Bridge of Sighs.

It’s hard to up the arms race in hotel amenities. Better champagne – but when you get to Krug vs Dom, what’s next? Better beds? More service? If you want to stand out you have to think laterally and offer the unusual – as the Cipriani has done.

David Bowie

Luxury can simply be service. A great concierge is there to realize your dreams. A couple of weeks ago I was London for the day and wanted to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but it was sold out. So we contacted Red Carnation Hotels where we had stayed the last couple of times we’ve been in London and Egerton House Hotel provided a couple of passes that they were offering their guests. They have our loyalty.

Summer Palace

  • Summer palace, St Petersburg © David McGonigal

The ultimate luxury is not more brocade but rather “Access All Areas”. So a cruise that features a private dinner in one of Catherine the Great’s palaces has special appeal. Or a Danube cruise that includes rare tickets to Oberammergau Passion Play. In Sydney you’d hope a hotel has some Springsteen tickets in a drawer. Think big – come to LA and we’ll take you to the Academy Awards. Who would say “no”?

Hugh Jackman

“Access All People” is a luxury for the sociable. I spent a weekend at Gwinganna Health Retreat when Hugh Jackman was there (he’s a part owner) and that’s been good for a few stories afterwards. The lesson I learned was don’t try to hold eye contact with any woman when Hugh is heaving himself out of the pool behind you. I always thought the ultimate would have been on the Antarctic cruise that had the reclusive Neil Armstrong on board.

&Beyond

There’s also the wonderful experience when the environment and the property perfectly interlink. I first discovered this in South Africa where game parks like &Beyond’s are luxurious but have strong links to not just wildlife conservation but also the local community. Luxury for visitors is feeling part of the place not a casual observer.

Turtle Island

Things change. Many years ago I was asked to give Bernie Eccleston suggestions for a tropical Australian resort with no expense spared. I suggested he go to Fiji instead. Places like Turtle Island gave a better experience because you are immersed in local culture while being treated royally. Australia has evolved – today I’d say to Bernie – have a look at the website of Luxury Lodges of Oz.

Southern Ocean Lodge

  • Southern Ocean Lodge

We’ve come a long way from the days when Australian tourism culture was a reflection of Crocodile Dundee.

Bulgari Bali

It’s predicted that more hotels and resorts will align themselves with luxury brands – think the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Missoni Hotel in Kuwait and the Bulgari resort in Bali. I hear even Vogue is considering moving into the area. Of course, the name gives instant cut-through but I think it’s lazy.

Doing the hard yards to find a way to offer a unique experience that provides your property with an authentic, memorable life moment that ties to its location will result in enduring success.

Easter island

  • Easter Island © David McGonigal

A recent report  by the Adventure Travel Association and George Washington University  defined adventure travel as any trip that includes at least

2 of

a)    physical activity,

b)   interaction with nature, and

c)     cultural learning or exchange

It valued the industry at $US263 billion pa, with 65 per cent annual growth since 2009. There’s certainly money in experiential travel.

But, if I can distill a lifetime of travel into a few words – For me luxury is not about limos or five-star fittings and glamorous furnishings, it’s about taking time to create a memory that’s held in my heart and stands out among all others. In our privileged world we can always buy ‘luxury’ things but access and experience stands out as the ultimate luxury!

Hindu devotees travel on a crowded passenger train in Goverdhan

Sadly, there are a lot of ordinary travel experiences being sold. Exceptional ones stand out – from the time you hear about them to the moment you do them. It doesn’t have to be grand –

Cafe Tartufi

© David McGonigal

I smile when I think of Café Tartufo in Florence where we had perfect truffle paste rolls and good red wine for lunch on a rainy day – it was the perfect Florentine experience.

Bora Bora

© David McGonigal

It was a highlight as much as snorkeling with stingrays in Bora Bora lagoon or

Mig 21

flying a Mig 21 jet fighter as a paying guest of the Slovakian Airforce.

It’s no coincidence that it’s 2013 and we are here at an event called Luxperience. We’re in a Golden Age of Travel and you are at the cutting edge of it. Thanks for the experiences you offer – and the wonders that are yet to come.

If you have special vision – please come and tell me about it. Meanwhile, please “like” iTravelTree on Facebook or bookmark the webpage to follow us as we develop.

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The State of Modern Nature Photography – stunning

Posted on Jul 19, 2013 | Comments Off on The State of Modern Nature Photography – stunning

Penguins, ice and light… the beauty of nature captured on camera by the world’s greatest wildlife photographers

By MARK DUELL

PUBLISHED: 01:18 GMT, 16 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:39 GMT, 17 July 2013

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2364780/Penguins-ice-light–The-beauty-nature-captured-camera-worlds-greatest-wildlife-photographers.html

 

Stare at the beautiful sight of African elephants at twilight, and witness the split second before a grizzly bear shuts his jaws on a sockeye salmon.

Or study a western lowland gorilla walk through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed, and see a greater bulldog bat’s reflection as it catches a fish.

These extraordinary images feature in a new book bringing together the work of ten of the world’s greatest wildlife photographers for the first time.

Underwater: Penguins, Ice and Light by David Doubile is one of the most extraordinary images featuring in a book called The Masters of Nature PhotographyUnderwater: Penguins, Ice and Light by David Doubile is one of the most extraordinary images featuring in a book called The Masters of Nature Photography

 

Red on white: Ice Formation is by Pal Hermansen, a photographer who is a specialist in the use of light and dark, and featured in the new Natural History Museum bookRed on white: Ice Formation is by Pal Hermansen, a photographer who is a specialist in the use of light and dark, and featured in the new Natural History Museum book

 

To the surface: Featured in the book is Antarctica Expedition - Climate Reality by Paul Nicklen, who has become known for his pioneering underwater photographyTo the surface: Featured in the book is Antarctica Expedition – Climate Reality by Paul Nicklen, who has become known for his pioneering underwater photography

Mane image: Horse Spirit by Jim Brandenburgh is in a new book book bringing together the work of ten of the world's greatest wildlife photographers for the first timeMane image: Horse Spirit by Jim Brandenburgh is in a new book book bringing together the work of ten of the world’s greatest wildlife photographers for the first time

 

Birds at play: Dancing Cranes by Vincent Munier. The photographers are all past winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitionBirds at play: Dancing Cranes by Vincent Munier. The photographers are all past winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

The Masters of Nature Photography features the artistry of Jim Brandenburg to the underwater images by David Doubilet and Paul Nicklen.

The book also includes Pål Hermansen’s use of light and dark, the viewpoints of Frans Lanting and Anup Shah’s intimate portraits.

In addition there are the visual statements of Michael Nichols, Thomas Mangelsen’s landscapes and Christian Ziegler’s images of wild behaviour.

Each photographer has a biography along with a portfolio of the ten images that they consider is most representative of their work.

It's lunchtime: Catch of the Day by Thomas Mangelsen shows the split second before a grizzly bear shuts his jaws on a sockeye salmonIt’s lunchtime: Catch of the Day by Thomas Mangelsen shows the split second before a grizzly bear shuts his jaws on a sockeye salmon

 

Pretty pink: African Elephants at Twilight by Frans Lanting is an astonishing photograph taken at Chobe National Park in northern BotswanaPretty pink: African Elephants at Twilight by Frans Lanting is an astonishing photograph taken at Chobe National Park in northern Botswana

 

Splash: Perfect Trawl is a beautiful photograph by Chris Ziegler, showing a greater bulldog bat - also known as noctilio leporinus - catching a fishSplash: Perfect Trawl is a beautiful photograph by Chris Ziegler, showing a greater bulldog bat – also known as noctilio leporinus – catching a fish

 

Flying around: Anup Shah's photograph shows a western lowland gorilla walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in the Central African RepublicFlying around: Anup Shah’s photograph shows a western lowland gorilla walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in the Central African Republic

 

Visual statement: Whiskey by Michael Nichols is one of many photographs featured in The Masters of Nature Photography, which will be published on September 19Visual statement: Whiskey by Michael Nichols is one of many photographs featured in The Masters of Nature Photography, which will be published on September 19

For every photographer there is a brief biography defining the essence of their art and what drives and inspires them.

The photographers are all past winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is now in its 49th year.

The Masters of Nature Photography will be published by the Natural History Museum of South Kensington, central London, on September 19.

A collection of some of the best pictures from past years of the competition is featured in Wild Planet, also published by the museum.

 

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Fogo Island Inn now open

Posted on May 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Fogo Island Inn now open

The Canadian Press

On a gorgeous rocky shoreline where slabs of granite meet the moody North Atlantic, one of the most intriguing gambles in Canadian tourism will soon play out on Fogo Island off Newfoundland.

The new Fogo Island Inn looms over the brightly painted salt box homes and fishermen’s sheds in Barr’d Islands, one of 10 distinct communities that are home to about 2,400 people.

The Fogo Island Inn is the culmination of a major community revitalization project. The building’s rugged minimalist architecture balances traditional influences with a contemporary sensibility, which architect Todd Saunders has made and built just for Fogo.

A cultural destination in its own right where visitors and locals meet, the Inn includes an art gallery, heritage library, cinema and rooftop sauna. Each of the 29 guest rooms is unique, with every detail chosen with purpose and handcrafted by locals. A new artist’s studio on Fogo Island called Squish (meaning off-kilter). It’s one of four new studios built to host artists from Canada and around the world.

A three-year building project expected to cost more than $25 million.

The inn won’t be just any place for weary travellers to lay their heads. Its 29 rooms with panoramic ocean views, hand-crafted furniture and quilts, locally inspired cuisine, rooftop hot tubs, saunas, conference space, and a publicly accessible art gallery, library, and cinema are meant to please discerning tastes.

Multimillionaire Zita Cobb, a native Fogo Islander who is the driving force behind the new inn, says there’s a niche of well-to-do tourists who will pay for a unique, world-class travel and cultural experience, she said there’s no reason why Fogo Island’s natural beauty should not draw big money as successfully as other exotic, albeit warmer, destinations.

The ebbs and flows of a troubled fishery have threatened Fogo Island’s survival in the past, and its future is by no means secure.

Cobb is investing more than $10 million of her own money in the inn as the provincial and federal governments add $5 million each.

“There’s risk, no question,” she said in an interview. “I mean, to do nothing is a gamble.”

Marketing Fogo
One of Cobb’s biggest marketing challenges is the widespread notion that her beloved home is on a freezing rock in the Far North. In fact, it boasts what she describes as seven seasons including hot summers, snowy winters, the ice season around March and April when mammoth icebergs drift south from Greenland, fog, rain and sun in May and June, and spectacular berry picking in the fall.

It’s a place where caribou roam, seals frolic, and people go out of their way to share directions or a good story.

A slender woman who all but hums with energy, Cobb was the only girl among seven siblings raised on Fogo Island in Joe Batt’s Arm – an inlet community named for a popular early settler, as legend has it.

Cobb moved back to the island six years ago after making her fortune as a high-tech executive and ending a long run in the corporate fast lane. Now 54, she helped create the Shorefast Foundation, a federally registered charity that aims to use business as a tool to rejuvenate the local economy in ways that work for people, not against them, she said.

“Business is not unethical. It has just been practised that way too often and for too long.”

Cobb stressed that any profits from the inn, which has already created dozens of construction jobs and is expected to employ up to about 50 people when it opens next spring, belong to the people of Fogo Island and the nearby Change Islands.

But the inn will not be Fogo Island’s saving grace, Cobb said.

“Fogo Islanders are pretty darned good at saving themselves, which they’ve done for centuries,” she said. “I’m just another Fogo Islander trying to do my bit.”

Keeping it undisturbed
Wherever possible, renewable features were incorporated into construction of the inn such as a wood-burning heating system and rainwater cisterns for laundry and toilets.

If you go: Fly to Gander, rent a car and drive about 30 minutes to catch the ferry in Farewell, which takes about an hour to Fogo Island. It’s about a four-hour drive to Farewell from St. John’s.

“We’re trying absolutely to not disturb a single lichen we don’t have to destroy,” Cobb said of the land around the 44,000-square-foot building on four levels.

Three small white crosses still standing between the new inn and the sea are testament to her respect for what she calls “sacred” surroundings. They mark a decades-old pet cemetery that’s believed to be the final resting place for at least one horse, a dog and a cat, Cobb said. They will stay.

The asymmetrical X-shape of the structure is a metaphorical intersection of old and new partially supported on stilts, recalling the fishing stages where generations of Fogo Islanders cleaned, salted, and dried their cod.

Minimal outdoor lighting will create a “dark-sky” effect for star gazing. And guests will be escorted down a foot path from the nearest parking lot by two Newfoundland dogs named Make and Break, after the old-style engines, who will live at the inn.

Artists welcome
Four smaller buildings around the island are studios for artists, filmmakers, and writers invited from Canada and around the world to spend a few months.

Author Lyn Hughes arrived earlier this summer from Sydney, Australia to work on a new novel. As she settled into her dramatic new work space perched on a seaside rock, she expressed no doubt that Zita Cobb is on to something big.

“This is a very, very rare place on our planet, a very special place,” she said. “The only place I can even compare it to that I’ve been is the Azores Islands of Portugal.”

Nicole Decker-Torraville, owner of Nicole’s Cafe, said many Fogo Islanders have great hopes for the new inn, mixed with some fear and skepticism about whether it will succeed. She is part of a small wave of 20- and 30-somethings that have moved back and want their own children to have the chance to stay.

“They can travel, but they’ll know this is their home.”

Frank Lane of Tilting, an Irish settlement on the island’s east coast, is a traditional small boat builder who hopes the inn will create new jobs but help preserve old ways.

“It’s going to be a wonderful building. I don’t know if it’s going to be for me,” he said with a smile.

“You know, I might not have the money to stay there.”

 Fogo Island Inn

Behind the Scenes

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Swim With Whales – Yes or No?

Posted on May 20, 2013 | Comments Off on Swim With Whales – Yes or No?

Scuba Diving produced For and Against stances on whether you should swim with whales – both sides are worth reading. Tell us your view.

http://www.scubadiving.com/article/news/should-you-swim-whales

Responsible whale and dolphin encounters take place on the water, not in it

By Regina A. Asmutis-Silvia 

Whale and dolphin-interaction programs, from touching and feeding, to swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving in the cetaceans’ environment — be it captive or wild — are increasing in range and popularity. An understandable love for whales and dolphins might encourage the public to want to get close to them. However, while understanding the reasons why the public is keen to engage in such activities, we have several serious concerns about these practices.

Swimming with wild whales and dolphins is, potentially, an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. Sadly, it’s very difficult to ensure that the encounter takes place on the whale’s terms and is not an intrusive or stressful experience for what are, after all, wild animals. While there are responsible and thoughtful operators, sadly it’s also true that in some locations, wild whales or dolphins are harassed and repeatedly disturbed by boats, which tend to drop swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers in the water as close as possible to the animals. Research indicates that, in some areas heavily targeted by commercial swim tours and other human activities, dolphins are actually leaving their traditional habitat in favor of quieter areas. There is concern that disruption to feeding, resting, nursing and other behaviors can have a long-term impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations.

Another consideration is the safety of both scuba divers and cetaceans. Whales and dolphins are large, powerful animals and if not treated with respect, they are capable of injuring people in the water — either accidentally or on purpose, if they feel threatened. Like all animals, cetaceans are protective of their young.

Cetaceans have also been injured by boat propellers and by thoughtless behavior from swimmers, including damage to dolphins’ sensitive skin caused by scratches from jewelry. Two-way disease transmission is also a possibility. Finally, in some areas, swim-tour operators offer cetaceans food, encouraging them to remain in the vicinity of swimmers. This practice might encourage “begging behavior,” causing the cetaceans to neglect their normal foraging activities.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has funded research into the potential impact of swim tours upon wild whales and dolphins. Until we are satisfied this activity does not represent a risk to both swimmers and cetaceans, our policy is to recommend that the public opt for a solely boat-based trip — one that does not involve entering the water. We urge the industry to work toward a regulation system that ensures these concerns are no longer an issue.

Regina A. Asmutis-Silva is the Senior biologist and Vessel Strike Program lead for WDCS-NA (www.wdcs.org). Regina also serves on federally appointed Take Reduction teams reducing cetacean-entanglement risks.

Whales actively seek out interaction with divers and snorkelers

By Mike Ball 

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions has been swimming and diving with minke whales for more than two decades, and has worked with scientific teams to study whether the interactions are adversely affecting the whales. This will be our 16th year working with the James Cook University Minke Whale Project research team, headed by Dr. Alistair Birtles.

It was recognized very early on that the minke whale encounters were not an occasional happening but a regular occurrence. Minke whales will follow us to and from dive sites, or appear from nowhere when the vessel has been at anchor overnight. The whales will swim with our snorkelers and divers, sometimes from a distance, but usually making very close repetitive passes. Research conducted by the JCU team shows that minke whales voluntarily seek out this interaction.

The Minke Whale Project team studied not only the behavior and biology of the minke, but equally the sustainable management of a “Swim With Minke” program. Best-practice guidelines and briefings have evolved around the findings of the research studies and input from the nine permitted operators in Queensland. Ultimately, after a comprehensive 15-year study, no reason has been found for us to discontinue this activity.

What’s more, our encounters are carefully conducted. Participants hold onto a line trailed from the stern of the vessel and are given a thorough briefing beforehand with simple but nonnegotiable rules, such as 1.) no letting go of the line; 2.) no duck diving; 3.) no swimming toward the whales; and 4.) no flash photography. These rules might sound restrictive, but by simply abiding by them, our snorkelers have better, safer encounters. The whales very quickly establish their comfort zone, which allows them to approach on their own terms. Some of the whales come to within a few feet of snorkelers, presenting their bellies and even spy hop. While appearing more reserved, the whales will still approach scuba divers. (Divers are not permitted to enter the water within 100 feet of a whale.)

The same individuals return year after year, some with calves in tow, and seem as curious about us as we are of them. For this particular species of whale, and after 20 years of interaction, there is no question in my mind that this program has proved to be sustainable.

Mike Ball is the owner of Mike ball Dive Expeditions (mikeball.com). For 40 years, Mike has been an innovator of diving services on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea.

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Unknown wonders: Christmas Island

Posted on May 20, 2013 | Comments Off on Unknown wonders: Christmas Island

 http://theconversation.com/unknown-wonders-christmas-island-13648?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+17+May+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+17+May+2013+CID_12ac64e3cf1067c9c5dc806ffc729c49&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Unknown%20wonders%20Christmas%20Island
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Christmas Island is a shelter for cultural and environmental diversity. Flickr/Hadi Zaher

Australia is famous for its natural beauty: the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Kakadu, the Kimberley. But what about the places almost no one goes? We asked ecologists, biologists and wildlife researchers to nominate five of Australia’s unknown wonders.

Christmas Island is a dot in the Indian Ocean. Like any isolated island, it is peculiar. But here this peculiarity is especially pronounced. It has a strange history, an odd culture and a remarkably distinctive biodiversity. Unfortunately, it is now best known to Australians simply as an entry point for refugees. Remoteness has that effect, of distorting truth and value.

Christmas Island is small (about 135km2) and little-populated (about 2,000 permanent residents). It has been settled only since the 1880s; for much of the period since then it was administered by the Straits Settlement (Singapore), with inclusion as an Australian territory only since 1958. Phosphate mining was the reason for its settlement, and has persisted as the main (sometimes only) industry ever since, leading to loss of about 25% of the Island’s rainforest area.

 

Christmas Island: a dot in the Indian Ocean, but important nonetheless. Photo by John Woinarski

 

Reflecting that history, its ethnic make-up is now mainly Chinese and Malay (arising from workers imported as “coolies”). The small community is remarkably vibrant and tolerant: there can’t be any other place in Australia with two public holidays per year celebrating Christian holy days, two for Muslim holy days and two for Chinese festivals.

The call to prayer rings out over the community from the small mosque; everyone is welcome at the Chinese festivals.

Christmas Island is old. It is a volcanic seamount island, rugged and isolated, rising more than 4km from the deep sea floor, with the nearest land being Java, about 360km distant. Over the long period of its isolation, these features have crafted a unique environment. It is characterised by high levels of endemism for many groups and idiosyncratic ecological structuring.

Most of its reptiles, native mammals, and terrestrial birds occur (or occurred) nowhere else; and nearly 200 invertebrate species are considered endemic. There are very few areas in Australia (indeed, in the world) that can match such narrow endemism.

 

Very few regions in the world can match Christmas Island’s narrow endemism, including the Christmas Island Frigatebird.ChrisSurman/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives

 

It is also a haven for seabirds, recognised internationally for such significance. It is the only breeding site for the threatened Abbott’s Booby and Christmas Island Frigatebird, and for the exquisitely beautiful golden-coloured subspecies of White-tailed Tropicbird (which graces the Island’s flag). These seabirds and others soar and float above the settlement, and nest in and around it. Fringing the Island is a rich coral reef, and its clear warm waters are home to more than 600 fish species, with regular visits by Whale Sharks.

These values would readily meet World Heritage criteria. But, except among some twitchers, keen to visit to build their Australian bird lists, these attributes are little known to most Australians. Instead, Christmas Island’s nature is known, if at all, mainly by reference to its land crabs. In staggering abundance, diversity and ecological potency, these are indeed remarkable.

Christmas Island is a haven for many species, including the threatened Abbott’s Booby. Christmas Island Tourism Association archives

 

The endemic Red Crab is the most conspicuous, with a population of at least 40 million. It is the Island’s ecological lynchpin, engineering the forest structure and productivity. It is everywhere; but spectacularly so in its annual breeding migrationfrom forest to sea, when the forest floor, roads and gardens become moving masses of crab: one of the world’s great animal migrations.

 

Perhaps Christmas Island’s most conspicuous creature: the Red Crab. JustinGilligan/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives

 

There are many other land crab species present, but none more strangely charismatic and enigmatic than the Robber (or Coconut) Crab, the world’s largest terrestrial invertebrate. This species, growing up to four kilograms, was formerly abundant on many other islands, but has been greatly reduced or lost from most places, and Christmas Island now represents its major stronghold.

For the Robber Crab and other species, laws, large areas of retained native vegetation, limited human population, and a large national park (comprising 63% of the Island area) offer unusual levels of protection. But problems for Christmas Island’s biodiversity are more insidious and deep-rooted.

Christmas Island’s Coconut Crab is the largest terrestrial invertebrate in the world. Flickr/BlueBec

 

Reflecting the dominance of the phosphate mining industry over its settled area (and consequential disregard for its natural values), the Island has had little or no quarantine or biosecurity system. It has been the fate of most islands worldwide, with impacts often pronounced and fatal because of small island size (and consequently small and tenuous populations of endemic species). Once the isolation that has moulded the biota is breached, that biodiversity may be doomed.

Now, the Island supports nearly as many introduced as native species, and the introduced species include many of the world’s most pernicious invaders.

The most problematic is the Yellow Crazy Ant. Fuelled in part by resources provided by super-abundant invasive scale insects, it forms immense supercolonies within which all Red Crabs (and much other biodiversity) are destroyed.

Invasive Giant Centipedes, Giant African Landsnails, geckoes and Wolf Snakes compete with or consume native species.

 

Christmas Island’s native species, including the iconic Red Crab, are threatened by introduced pests. JustinGilligan/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives

 

Such loss in turn disrupts the narrowly-based ecological functionality, leading to “invasional meltdown” or ecological collapse. The most recent manifestation of this collapse, in 2009, was the extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (reducing the original complement of five endemic mammal species to just one species known to have persisted). Others will follow: the Christmas Island Forest Skink is known now from only one individual, eking out its solitary existence in a cage.

These problems are being addressed, by intensive and extensive baiting which temporarily reduces the number of crazy ants, by captive breeding for two endemic reptile species now almost lost from the wild, and by research that aims to find more enduring and effective methods for control of some of the pests and weeds. But the challenge is immense.

This is a most remarkable isolated world. In such a small place there is so much that is unique, inspiring and wonderful. It has existed little changed for millions of years; but its natural environment is now dissolving at a rapid rate. It will bring you much delight and sorrow.

Read the whole series here.

 

The stunningly beautiful Golden Bosun’s elegant form graces the Island’s flag. Until recent control efforts, its many nests in and around the settlement had been heavily predated by cats and rats. Tony Palliser/Christmas Island Tourism Association archives

 

 

Map of Christmas Island Google Maps
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Friday – Are we there yet?

Posted on Mar 22, 2013 | Comments Off on Friday – Are we there yet?

Baby_gorilla_sleeping

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Well almost Furry Friday

Posted on Mar 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Well almost Furry Friday

Baby Oranutan

The orangutans are the two exclusively Asian species of great apes. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are currently found in only the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Both orangutan species are considered to be Endangered, with the Sumatran orangutan being Critically Endangered. Human activities have caused severe declines in the populations and ranges of both species. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction, and the illegal pet trade. Several conservation and rehabilitation organisations are dedicated to the survival of orangutans in the wild. If you want to help their survival in the wild click here

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Socialising with Bears – Don’t Try this at home

Posted on Mar 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Socialising with Bears – Don’t Try this at home

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Very eastern part of Russia, Chukotka peninsula, where lands of the USA and the Russian Federation nearly adjoin each other.  Apparently the local community used to feed the hungry bears with tinned Condensed Milk which they had in abundance.  For more photos follow this link

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