The focus of a new project run by Contiki is to raise awareness of the threats to endangered sea turtles in the beautiful Central American country of Costa Rica. In doing so – and to pass on the message of conservation in general, they asked some bloggers to share their work in addition to writing about an environmental issue they’ve encountered on their travels. For me, conserving the Great Barrier Reef will be a huge challenge in the years to come. More on this later.
THE CONTIKI TURTLE PROJECT
The video above documents the experience of 12 Contiki Storytellers, brought together because of their expertise in conservation and journalism, as they explore Costa Rica and visit the Sea Turtle Conservancy Project taking place in Tortuguero National Park. If the video reaches 250,000 views, Contiki have pledged to sponsor a turtle, enabling important research on its behaviour, which will help inform measures used to conserve the species.
To help launch the next stage of the Contiki Storyteller Challenge. they have invited ten bloggers to write a post about a wildlife/conservation issue we’ve each encountered during our travels. It is hoped that in doing so, we can inspire others to take steps towards protecting endangered species. In turn, we will also be nominating other bloggers to do the same.
WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT CONSERVATION
As a zoology graduate, I’m particularly passionate about wildlife. Over the past few years, I’ve been on safari in the Serengeti, taken a cruise through the Galapagos Islands, visited the Amazon rainforest, been swimming with whale sharks, helped out in at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand and scuba dived on the Great Barrier Reef. Sadly, one theme common to each of these experiences was the desperate need to make changes to help protect the wonderful creatures that make these places so special.
News sources say that poaching has brought the number of rhinos in Tanzania down to roughly 35. Despite efforts to repopulate the Serengeti by flying in rhinos from other African countries, isolated cases of illegal poaching are still being reported. In the Galapagos, I visited a rehabilitation centre for giant tortoises and learned how the numbers of these creatures had dwindled because introduced species were attacking their nests. The Amazon rainforest is a classic example of how anthropogenic activities are rapidly destroying important habitats. In the Bolivian pampas alone, there are many endangered species, including the Bolivian river dolphin, blue-throated macaw, londra (a giant otter), pampas deer and Magdalena river turtle. I was lucky enough to glimpse just one of these.
CONSERVING THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
I chose to write my Storyteller post on the Great Barrier Reef because it is one of the world’s most treasured habitats.
Estimates suggest that the reef as a whole may only exist for another 15 to 35 years. Since 1985, it has lost more than half of its coral cover. Situated off the coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef comprises 2900 individual reefs, 900 islands, and has an area of approximately 344,400 km².
BUT WHY DO WE CARE?
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest ecosystem of its kind on the planet. It’s so large, in fact, that it can be seen from space.
The reef itself is composed of and built by living organisms – coral polyps.
A wide variety of other organisms are supported by the reef, many of which are vulnerable or endangered, and some of which are endemic to the reef, meaning that they don’t exist anywhere else in the world.
Tourism, if done carefully and sustainably, is an important part of Queensland’s economy. A 2013 survey showed that tourism on the reef brought in AUD$6.4 billion annually and provided jobs for more than 64,000 people.
The reef is home to some famously lovable fish including Nemo and the very friendly and inquisitive Wally.
WHAT ARE THE THREATS?
A major environmental pressure on the reef is climate change. An increase in the water temperature leads to coral bleaching, which increases the coral’s susceptibility to disease.
Runoff from farmland in northeast Australia pollutes the ocean with agricultural sediments, nutrients and chemicals from fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.
The crown-of-thorns starfish feeds on hard coral. Seasonal increases in populations of these starfish threaten the reef and the thorn-like spines that cover their bodies make them a rare target for predation. Those species that can digest them, such as the Giant Triton mollusc, are rare and their numbers are in decline due to overfishing and the gradual disappearance of their habitat.
Shipping accidents, oil spills and cyclones also threaten the reef.–
AND THE CONSEQUENCES?
If the reef disappears, it will have huge consequences on a vast number of species. The Great Barrier Reef is home to more than 1500 species of fish, 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, large populations of dugongs, 125 species of shark, stingray, skates and chimaera, 17 species of sea snake and six species of sea turtle.
And the effects don’t stop there. The Great Barrier Reef lies directly adjacent to the Daintree Rainforest. This is the only place on earth where two World Heritage Sites sit side by side.
The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world, containing some species of plant that are 110 million years old. The rainforest and the reef coexist in a symbiotic relationship. This means that they rely on each other for the mutual benefit of both environments.
If the Great Barrier Reef ceases to exist, this will have major deleterious effects on the rainforest and mangroves, which support saltwater crocodiles and around 430 bird species. The Daintree Rainforest is also home to some endangered species, such as the southern cassowary and the Bennett’s tree kangaroo.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
Awareness is a major step in protection of the reef. Many of the threats are due to human actions. A large proportion of the reef is now part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was passed in 1999, providing guidance on conservation. In 2003, an initiative was launched by Australia and Queensland governments to improve the water quality of the reef.
There was much controversy recently when plans were approved to dredge the seabed to create three shipping channels for construction of a coalport. As a result, 3 million cubic metres of sediment will be dumped close to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. While environmental monitoring will continue during this period, it is the opinion of many that this kind of activity should be avoided all together. We can all help by supporting environmental groups that lobby against such activities.
Understandably, the reef is a major draw for tourists and they can do their bit to help too. There is a daily tourism levy which goes towards reef research. If you plan to visit the reef, only book excursions with companies that are eco-tourism certified. There is a popular saying among these organisations: ‘Take only photos, leave only bubbles and touch only hearts’. Stroking fish can remove a protective layer from their scales, increasing their susceptibility to infection, and while you may be tempted to pose with a Giant Titan, it’s best not to interfere with the marine life at all.
TRAVEL WITH CONTIKI…
AND HELP SPREAD THE CONSERVATION MESSAGE!
SPREAD THE WORD
Spreading the word about conservation is rewarding in itself, but as an extra incentive to bloggers to take part in this challenge, Contiki will award the most enthusiastic, creative and inspirational blogger with a complimentary Costa Rica Unplugged tour, which includes time spent in Tortuguero National Park (home to the Sea Turtle Conservancy).
I’ve racked my brains for some travel bloggers who I know have spent a lot of time getting intimate with some of the world’s most impressive animals and would like to nominate the following inspirational writers to join the challenge…
• Sam from Indefinite Adventure. Sam and Zab are a British couple who spent many months touring South America last year. These boys visited the Amazon from Ecuador and have also spent time in the Galapagos Islands. Now back in Europe, they show no signs of settling down in any one place.
• Helen from Helen in Wonderlust. If you’re interested in solo female travel in Africa, this is the girl to ask. Helen has travelled extensively on the continent. She has been on safaris in Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania, and spent time with the incredibly endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda.
• Victor from Victor’s Travels. Victor is a very intriguing character and his sense of humour shines through in his writing. Originally from Holland, in 2011, he spent eight months travelling from the North Pole to the South Pole, raising money for the World Wildlife Foundation.
1. Share an inspirational wildlife or environmental story from your travels
2. Embed or share the Contiki Storyteller Challenge video on your site
3. Tag three other bloggers to take part
4. Tweet your post to @Contiki including the #contikistorytellers hashtag