December 2007 Archives

Children at the Falealupo Rainforest School, SamoaThe project that originally launched Seacology took place in Falealupo, Samoa and has remained a wonderful example of Seacology's win-win strategy. In the early 1990s the Samoan government told this remote village that if they did not build a better school, teachers would be removed and their children would not be educated. Having no other source of revenue, the villagers sold logging rights to their rainforests. Before this could happen, however, Seacology co-founder and chairman Paul Cox worked with the village chiefs and raised the funds for the school in exchange for a covenant protecting the 30,000 acre rainforest. The Falealupo Rainforest School was constructed, and since that time Seacology has had a close relationship with the village.

Madagascar, Mantas, and More

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What does Madagascar have to do with Mantas, one might ask after reading the title of this blog. Generally speaking not much. You are not likely to see a lemur or chameleon frolicking with a manta ray after all. But on this island travel blog anything is possible. Loyal readers of this column know that I have been writing about a recent Seacology trip to Indonesia. While diving there we had several close encounters with manta rays. Seacology board member Jim Sandler took some terrific videos of these magnificent creatures.

111-1111_IMG.jpg OfficeArt14.jpgHanging on one of our office walls is a Miao Headdress pictured to the right. The Miao people are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in China. Our executive director, Duane Silverstein, purchased this hat from a local woman (pictured above) on Hainan Island during Seacology's 2005 expedition to China. Although not a small island (with a population of millions), the residents of Hainan seemed to have very little contact with the western world, and, according to Duane, many were quite surprised to see a group of foreigners walking down the street!


Christmas trees in snow2.jpgHabits are so hard to change. Take buying a Christmas tree for example; something with which I have personally struggled this year. Culturally, concern for the environment has prompted many of us to take a penetrating look at how our myriad habits can be destructive. For me, acquiring a Christmas tree is one of those activities that merits scrutiny. As a child growing up in Michigan, trees were cheap and plentiful and snow was endless. I could not possibly have imagined that both would become threatened in my lifetime. It's yet another lesson on how a culture can go from abundance to scarcity in a few generations, if it's not paying attention. Global warming and overpopulation do not make my favorite yuletide cocktail, but these world problems are not going away any time soon, and certainly not without our best efforts focused on them.

An integral final step to many of Seacology's projects is for the island villages to erect a sign.  This is a lovely acknowledgment of Seacology's partnership with island communities, but it also is a symbol of one of Seacology's most important philosophies.  I cannot possibly articulate it as well as Dr. John McCosker, senior scientist for the California Academy of Sciences:

"Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, Seacology gets more output than any conservation group that I've seen. They're not giving money away, they're not making grants, they're making deals."

These signs act as an important reminder to the communities that the needed infrastructure we provide is not a handout; it is part of a trade-off in recognition of a commitment to conservation of their precious natural resources.

I thought I'd post photos of some of these signs.

madagascar_mangoro_sign.jpgThe sign at left is on one of 11 schools in Madagascar's Mangoro region that received Seacology-funded repairs in exchange for community agreements to protect the last remaining habitat of the Mangoro Flying Fox.  Due to hunting for bushmeat, uncontrolled fires and logging, just a few pockets of forest remain as roosts for these large bats. 

Seacology is also funding repairs to local municipal offices, and an educational component, with a conservation art competition scheduled to begin in early 2008.  The winning artists will be awarded by members of the Seacology 2008 expedition to Madagascar and South Africa.  Information on this trip can be found here.  Click here for more information regarding the Mangoro project.

Philanthropy can be cultivated from a young age, whether in the form of a lemonade stand to raise money for team baseball equipment or walking door to door collecting pennies for a fundraising drive. Some recent young donors to Seacology are inspiring me to dig in my own pockets this holiday season:

Since 1998 Huff Elementary School in Mountain View, CA has been raising money for Seacology. This past year I had the honor of giving a presentation to the fifth grade students at Huff, and I was impressed with their knowledge of Seacology and their enthusiasm for our projects. The students presented me with their donations, collected from parents, friends, and neighbors who sponsored their walk-a-thon. Huff Elementary's annual donations total almost $13,000 and are a true inspiration.

On this model Seacology recently launched an Adopt-an-Island program for teachers and their students. This free program is dedicated to promoting youthful giving and facilitating environmental education in the classroom to increase awareness about environmental threats to islands.

Naikorokoro kindergarten.JPGStudents from the Cayman Islands and Fiji in front of a Seacology-funded school in Naikorokoro, Fiji.

In the last few weeks we have had quite a few updates from Seacology's field representatives and project contacts on islands throughout the world. Here are a couple of updates from projects in Indonesia and India.

Kabilol Village footpath.JPGIn Indonesia, Seacology field representative Arnaz Mehta notes that Seacology's project in Waigeo, Raja Ampat, is moving along smoothly. In exchange for a nine village agreement to establish a 123,553-acre marine protected area within the Mayalibit Bay, Seacology is providing a series of infrastructure improvements including constructing public washrooms, walking paths, and solar cell electricity for lighting so that children can study in the evening.

Bali Travel

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Map_Bali.gifIn my first three entries about a recent Seacology expedition to Indonesia I spoke about the fantastic diving we experienced in Raja Ampat. Now it is time to give the landlubbers equal time as I conclude this series by focusing on the end of our trip in Bali. Bali is one of the world's special places. This Indonesian island is unique in that unlike the rest of Indonesia the majority of the residents are Hindu. Their religion is closely related to, but is also distinct from, the Hindu religion practiced in India. As is the case with most islands the Balinese people are extraordinarily friendly. Per their religious custom they are often celebrating the anniversary of a temple or school, or some other landmark in the life of a building or person. It seems that every Balinese celebration is not complete without a line of women balancing a very large offering of fruit on their heads. They make the old film star, Carmen Miranda, look like pikers in this regard. You would also be hard pressed to find a celebration without a gamalon band playing the beautiful local music. Our wonderful guide, Dewa Adiwisma, took us to one such celebration in a local Hindu temple where the local people welcomed us with open arms. It was a very moving experience.

Carvings from various types of wood can be found throughout the world. The four examples from the Seacology office that follow are from Palau, Vanuatu, Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

OfficeArt10.jpgTraditional Palauan Storyboard: Presented to Seacology by Chief Urong Victor Joseph of Ollei Village, Babeldaob, Palau. Carvings such as this were traditionally found on bai, or the beams of the men's club houses, but under the influence of Japanese artists during the Japanese occupation of Palau, the depiction of these stories was transferred to a smaller portable board.