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A Guide to Pooping in the Galápagos Islands

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Galápagos National Park is an ecological treasure trove, a biological hoard guarded fiercely by conservationists. Visitors to the islands must abide by the park’s rules, which include not taking anything from the wilderness—or leaving anything behind.

The park is prized for both its mind-boggling biodiversity and its historical significance, for it was on those desolate, craggy shores and in those primeval forests that a young Charles Darwin observed and collected the unique plants and animals that would inspire his theory of evolution. The archipelago, mused the naturalist in his journal, “seems to be a little world in itself.”

Darwin’s research there transformed the islands into an object of scientific and cultural fascination, as well as a bucket-list destination. In 1978, UNESCO honored the archipelago and its living treasures by naming it the first-ever World Heritage site. Ninety-seven percent of the islands’ area was designated a national park; the remaining 3 percent was set aside for human habitation. The parklands and their inhabitants are truly wild, offering no shelter, no Internet access, and no bathrooms.

Which raises the question: How do you poop in the Galápagos Islands? You’ve got a few options, none of them luxurious. According to naturalist guide Fabian Bucheli, if a park tourist has an urgent need to go, he or she will be told to hold it (island visits last a maximum of four hours), or directed back to the tour boat or toward one of the islands’ few inhabited areas. Leaving isn’t always possible, however, and Bucheli admitted that in some cases he and other guides will simply “dig a hole and cover the sample.”

Why is pooping there such a big no-no?

That moment when the crap hits the sand is actually where things get interesting. Human poop contains millions of unique bacteria, not to mention the remains of non-native plants and animals. Our waste takes more than a year to biodegrade, and in that time a single human “deposit” has the potential to shift the future of entire ecosystems.

“Whatever you eat, whatever is inside you, you introduce," says Chuck Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona who also answers to “Dr. Germ.” Our fecal bacteria, he says, are a force to be reckoned with. The human gut has been described as “the densest bacterial ecosystem known in nature.” Of all the bacterial warriors in our bellies, Dr. Gerba believes that three in particular could cause problems in the Galápagos: Campylobacter, which can infect birds; Salmonella, which can infect reptiles and amphibians; and E. coli, which can infect just about everything.

When a disease passes from a non-human animal to a human, it’s known as zoonosis. Some of the most dreaded diseases in human history—anthrax, cholera, plague, and HIV/AIDS, for example—result from zoonotic infections. The reverse situation, in which human beings transmit disease to non-human animals, is far less considered. The field of reverse zoonosis is a young one, according to Dr. Gerba. “Everybody’s always worried about wildlife infecting us,” he says. “They never think about it the other way around.”

Whether we’re worried about it or not, it’s already happening. A 2012 study discovered that some land and marine iguanas and the islands’ famed giant tortoises harbored antibiotic-resistant E. coli and Salmonella bacteria. The affected populations had only one thing in common: proximity to human settlements or tourist sites. Years of isolation have rendered the park’s flora and fauna vulnerable to any disease we bring in from the outside world.

There’s also the issue of plants. For thousands of years, the immobile plant kingdom has relied upon the legs and wings of animals for dissemination. Birds, bears, and humans eat the plant’s ripe fruit and poop out the indigestible seeds, carrying the plant’s genes farther than they could have gone alone. Could plant matter in human feces introduce entirely new plant species to the Galápagos? It’s “a distinct possibility,” says Stephen Walsh, a professor of geography and the director of UNC’s Center for Galápagos Studies. “What has kept the islands so unique all these years is their isolation. But they are isolated no more, and the human imprint is dramatic.”

So What Can Be Done?

Poop problems are not unique to the Galápagos. To protect high-traffic wildlands and prevent the spread of human diseases, some U.S. parks now require hikers and campers to “pack out” their own waste in plastic bags. (Needless to say, these new regulations have not been enthusiastically embraced by park regulars.) Other parks have set up authorized toilet sites, which are emptied by unfortunate staffers on a regular basis.

The toilet issue even has its own Lorax. Conservationist and activist Kathleen Meyer has devoted her life to exploring and protecting our planet, but she’s best known as the author of the international bestseller How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art. Meyers is a strong proponent of “packing it out,” whether that means using a portable commode, a double-bagging system, or her own “Shhh!-it Kit,” which is still in its prototype phase.

Meyer’s methods are not without their detractors. If an iguana can turn a beach into a bathroom, the skeptics want to know, then why can’t we? One word: airplanes. The crucial difference between our poop and an iguana’s, says Meyer, is range. Other animals have limited territories, but we humans can fly around the world, bringing all our little nasties with us. The same isolation that makes the Galápagos Islands a desirable vacation spot transforms them into a volatile hub of international microbe activity.

The bottom line (no pun intended): when we set foot on islands like the Galápagos, we set in motion a chain of events that we cannot control. Our bodies are portable universes, teeming with galaxies of germs and tiny, strange creatures that Darwin would have loved to see.

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Check Out This Online Database to See Which Chemicals Are in Your Tap Water
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One of the responsibilities of the Environmental Protection Agency is imposing limits on the amount of harmful chemicals allowed in tap water. But sometimes these regulations aren't enough: In many of parts of the country, Americans are drinking water that passes the legal test but could still pose a threat to their health. Fortunately, checking local water contamination levels is easy for anyone with web access.

As Fast Company reports, the Tap Water Database from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, non-partisan environmental health organization, provides the public with water-quality information on 50,000 utilities around the country. Visitors to the website can search for their local water facilities by state or zip code. Once they find those, they're directed to a list of chemicals that exceed the limits set by health professionals. Common contaminants like chloroform, nitrates, and trichloroacetic acid increase the drinker's risk of cancer if they're exposed to them over extended periods. Each report also includes chemicals that are present in the water supply but conform to the recommended health guidelines.

The tool is the only comprehensive and fully accessible database of its kind. Earlier in 2017, the website was updated for the first time in eight years with information collected from 2010 to 2015. But even if the data is a couple of years old, the resource is valuable to people who rely on their local utility for drinking water. This is especially true for people living in low-income neighborhoods where contamination levels tend to be highest.

Identifying the unwanted chemicals in your water can also help you get smart about purifying it at home. Different home purifiers are built to filter out different chemicals, which makes understanding the quality of your tap water before purchasing one essential. Here's our guide to picking the best water filter for your home.

[h/t Fast Company]

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8 Bizarre Places People Have Gotten Stuck
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Some days it just doesn’t pay to venture outside, particularly when you wind up the subject of a police and fire department rescue because you’ve somehow trapped yourself inside an ATM machine. Check out eight other strange environments that have ensnared bystanders and prompted emergency responses.

1. A CLAW MACHINE

A giant see-through container full of plush toys is any child’s idea of paradise, and they will attempt any means possible to inhabit it. For three-year-old Jamie Bracken-Murphy of Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland, that meant crawling through the small flap from which the toys can be retrieved and finding himself lodged in a claw machine. Murphy was on display for about 10 minutes before an off-duty fireman was able to coax him back out the way he came in. Jamie’s father, Damien, expressed little surprise at his son’s predicament, saying that, "He's a very mischievous, sharp kid who's always pushing boundaries."

2. A TRAFFIC CONE

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In 2013, a man in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England thought he’d have a bit of fun by sticking a traffic cone—otherwise known as a bollard—on his head. To his dismay, the large cone slid down over and past his shoulders, entombing him in plastic. John Waterman, a witness to the incident, captured it all on his cell phone. "It was very random," Waterman told The Telegraph. "It's not the usual thing you see in the middle of Hemel Hempstead on a Sunday lunchtime." The man stumbled around for more than two hours before anyone bothered to call police.

3. A CEMENT HOPPER

Aurora, Illinois was the site of a recent cement mix-up, when an unidentified man became trapped in a cement hopper. The worker had climbed into the machine to clean it, but found he was unable to move when residual cement on the machine's floor began hardening around his legs. It took firefighters more than two hours to extricate him from the hopper. He was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for minor injuries, but released the same day, according to the local fire department.

4. A TOILET

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In 2016, a Norwegian man named Cato Berntsen Larsen found himself in deep trouble after he tried lowering himself into a public toilet to retrieve a friend’s cell phone. The toilet’s tank was located underneath the seat, allowing enough room for Larsen to become trapped. To his dismay, the tank—which is not connected to a sewage system and is only emptied sporadically—was full of human waste. Adding to the putrid nature of his enclave, Larsen vomited and was bitten by an unknown animal: His situation did not improve until authorities were able to come and pull him out. "It was damn disgusting," Larsen said, "the worst I have experienced. There were animals down there, too."

5. A GIANT STONE VAGINA

Tourists and residents of Tübingen, Germany are quite familiar with Chacán-Pi, a giant stone sculpture of a vagina created by Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara. The towering display sits just outside Tübingen University’s Institute for Microbiology and Virology and has attracted curious onlookers since 2001. In 2014, an unnamed American student decided to go spelunking in the 32-ton carving for a photo opportunity and became trapped, necessitating rescue by 22 firefighters. The Guardian called them “midwives” and reported that the student was “delivered by hand.”

6. A WASHING MACHINE

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Sometimes, games of hide-and-seek can go very wrong. That was the case for a man near Melbourne, Australia in 2014, who climbed into his top-loading washing machine fully nude to surprise his partner. Unfortunately, he was unable to climb back out. Responders were able to grease him with a liberal application of olive oil and pull him out. First Constable Luke Ingram told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that, as a rule, “My advice would be for people not to climb into appliances.” The warning went unheeded by another Australian man in 2015, who found himself lodged in a front-loading machine and had to wait while rescuers disassembled the entire unit in order to free him.

7. A BABY SWING

If you’re ever challenged by your adult friends to fit into a baby swing at a public park, you can confidently say that it won’t work. That’s because a man from Vallejo, California tried it in 2011. While he managed to slide into the seat using liquid laundry detergent, he couldn’t slide back out. As his legs began to swell, his friends abandoned him overnight. He wasn’t rescued until nine hours later, when a groundskeeper heard his screams for help at 6 o'clock the following morning. "The man sustained non-life threatening injuries to his body," the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "but there’s no word yet on the condition of his ego."

8. A CHIMNEY

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There are many Santa jokes to be made, but when you’re the man trapped in your own home’s chimney for four hours, there probably isn’t a huge urge to start laughing. In late 2016, a Tucson, Arizona homeowner who had locked his keys in his home opted to retrieve them by re-entering his abode via the chimney. While it was a spectacularly bad idea, he actually almost made it: His feet were touching the floor of his fireplace before the space grew too narrow to allow for any further passage and he got stuck. Firefighters were able to pull him out from the roof, covered in soot but otherwise unharmed.

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