Have you ever wondered why a certain plant or a certain animal finds itself in a certain place at a certain time? Some places seem so inhospitable, inhabitable, yet you still find life. Some species have evolved individual adaptations to these places, others employ group-behaviours that will make their environment more hospital.
Think of marine species that are semi-stuck on the seabed but rely on food from the water column - they can cooperate into forming spatial patterns that will maximise water movement for maximum filtration capacity. Yet, even then, when conditions are really unfavourable, they will not be able to be the even with these behavioural adaptations. Another example of how animals can use behaviour to survive in hostile places is by finding a better place : so migration. They can be intended as whole population shifts, perhaps driven by larval settlement or survival of juveniles and adults, or for more mobile species, changes in breeding grounds etc. Migrations may also be temporary, seasonal. Which is what we normally associate with such word. The hostile places may in fact be less-hostile in certain time of the year, with benefits outweighing costs during these periods and animals are adapted to move to better areas when conditions worsen. Usually this resolves in having feeding grounds and breeding grounds. But even then, these migration patterns may be changed by changes in climate that we are observing. The feeding grounds may become poor in food, the breeding grounds may become hostile, the feeding grounds may not provide enough energy anymore to reach the breeding grounds, and so on...
When new scientific evidence of species distributions shifts due to climatic changes arises, we don’t seem to be that surprised - I mean it’s obvious that species have upper temperature limits, that some of those may be food for others and that these others may therefore move poleward to cooler climates or decide to eat something else if they can find something suitable, right?
You may wonder what all of this animal talk has to do with sustainability. My next thought should hopefully answer your question.
If we are not so surprised by these animals and plants mass migrations, or by their changes in migration, then why are we so surprised when we are told that climate change is also one of the biggest causes of human migrations? Yes, according to recent reports, climatic changes are even a bigger migration cause than war zones. And no, it’s not necessarily because it’s becoming unbearably warm, but has to do with increased dryness and the consequences of this for agriculture and farming, the main food supply for people inhabiting most of the affected areas, which incidentally are some of the poorest regions in the world ( think Africa...).
And worse of all, we in the more temperate regions, are not only less affected but are also the cause of these climatic shifts, and also the home to people (and politicians) saying that we should send them all back home.
So, my take home message is to think of human migrations in similar terms to the way we think about animal migrations. Then try and find solutions to fight the climate-change-derived hunger (with better adapted crops for example). And of course, keep fighting climate change, both as individuals and as society. Switch off what is not necessary, consume responsibly, reduce fuel consumption, and overall try and live an eco-friendly life...
This week I had a first. First time on fieldwork with snow.
For the new readers out there, I am a marine biologist and most of my fieldwork is on intertidal mudflats. Which don’t freeze that often, so you might understand my surprise when I sank knee high in snow carrying back some buckets full of mussels... and this is not the middle of winter, but the beginning of what is supposed to be spring. Or, at least it felt like spring and summer where coming just last week when the temperatures reached a wooing 14 degrees...
so, what’s happening ? Isn’t the climate meant to be warming? I know what you are thinking “Are all of this climate change scientists lying? Perhaps the climate change deniers are right... “
This crazy weather (as I am writing it is again actually beautiful weather and relatively warm!) may well be the result of climate change - note the word, change!
Why? Explained in very simple words, and perhaps too simplistic, because the warming is happening somewhere a little farther than us, and it is contributing to melting the ice in the arctic. Melted ice (freshwater) mixing with seawater is causing changes in water densities, which in turn is slowly changing current circulations, just enough to cause some shifts in weather patterns, bringing this… crazy!
And although march is known to be a “crazy” month (as we learnt in school), I wonder whether this is just a bit too crazy and whether this nice filastrocca will still hold for our children (and their children) to learn, or wheter they will need to find new words for crazy to rhyme with every month…
Gennaio freddoloso January is always feeling cold
febbraio spiritoso February is funny spirited
marzo pazzerello March is crazy
aprile mite e bello April is mild and beautiful
maggio sognatore May is dreamy
giugno cantatore June is a singer
luglio nuotatore July is a swimmer
agosto gran signore August is a great gentleman
settembre grappolaio September is a grape picker
ottobre castagnaio October is a chestnut picker
novembre triste e stanco November is sad and tired
dicembre tutto bianco. and December is all white
If you are on social media, chances are that you have seen #plogging popping up.
And if you haven't, well maybe you should and I will explain you what it is...
The term plogging comes from the Swedish word "Plocka upp" which means to pick up (in this case rubbish) and combines it with Jogging. Yes, you guessed right, plogging is picking up rubbish while running, a way of being sporty while being socially involved - fitting perfectly within a sustainable lifestyle.
Now, was inventing a word for it really necessary?
Maybe not, and maybe making it into an hashtag wasn't either. But if it gets more people involved into cleaning our environment - why not?
Rubbish and particular plastic rubbish is a great polluting problem, as my readers are aware (and if you are a new reader then I recommend to look at articles in the environment, marine conservation, recycling or waste category).
But here comes the best part of plogging: I believe is more than just a benefit for the environment! Plogging is in fact a social event, whether you actually do it with friends or share your achievements on social medias.
As L.J Hanifan said in his book titled the "social capital": "The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself. If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors."
So.. let's all go plogging this weekend!
Today I want to talk about something so normal in our western routine : personal hygiene.
While just soap and water may be your favourite choice when it comes to a bubbly bath, chances are that you use a sponge. But here comes my question : what sponge do you use? And have you ever thought about the impacts you may have?
You may think that by using artificial sponges you are helping the environment by eliminating the needs for harvesting what is in fact an animal (yes, sponges are animals to all effects!) - but think again! Artificial sponges are often made from plastic materials such as nylon which involve harvesting of oil with much greater environmental impacts. Not to mention their non biodegradability !!!
So - can we call ourself sustainable if we use natural sponges for our bathing routine?!
Bath sponges have been collected for centuries, since prehistoric times, and so one may think that it must be a sustainable practice. But studies on population levels of these sponge species (because, think carefully, not all sponges make a good bath sponge!) are far and few, with some reporting a steady and slow decline in numbers since 1986 in the Mediterranean, likely due to a combination of factors including climatic changes...
Greece is and was one of the main exporter of sponges and one of the most comprehensive studies on sponge populations health comes, in fact, from the Aegean Sea (voultsiadou et al 2011). The authors observed that while some declines in number were obvious, some healthy populations are still present in the area. Which is good news for sponge enthusiasts out there!
Still, they call for some management actions such as increased monitoring and regulations on harvesting.
Other measures can include establishing a sponge aquaculture in the Mediterranean. Sponge aquaculture already exists in other parts of the globe such as Asia and it can be fairly successful. You can get your hands on some of these online, however, depending on where in the globe you are, shipping may have a greater carbon footprint, defeating the point of being more sustainable!
Moreover, as sponges could be cultivated as part of integrated aquaculture techniques, sponge aquaculture may actually bring some extra benefits such as offsetting the environmental costs of other fisheries (contributing to the nutrient cycling in these set ups!).
So to answer our question
Is it sustainable to wash yourself with a natural sponge?
The answer is Yes BUT there is a BUT..
Which is that you have to make it sustainable by following these simple steps:
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