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Turn Guantánamo Into a Marine Research Station, Scholars Say

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NASA via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

President Obama entered office with a promise to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility. As his time in office draws to a close, the president is trying to make good on that promise, announcing prison closure plans last month. Two academics have suggested that, if the prison does close, it be transformed into a marine research station and peace park. They published an op-ed outlining their recommendations this week in the journal Science.

The words “Guantánamo Bay” tend to provoke images of violence and human rights violations, but conservation biologist Joe Roman and military law expert James Kraska say the bay has much, much more to offer. Years of isolation and intensive conservation efforts have been terrific for Cuba’s environment and wildlife, Roman said in a press statement, turning the bay into more than just an “accidental Eden,” with coral reefs, wildlife, and fish “unparalleled in the Caribbean.”

Spiny lobster like those found in Cuban waters. Image credit: Claire Fackler, NOAA via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Roman and Kraska say that if the prison goes, the naval base will follow, leaving behind perfectly good buildings that could easily be converted to a jointly owned Cuban-American research station. "Cuba has great conservation scientists," Roman says. "They just don't have money or equipment."

The authors also propose dedicating the surrounding land and water to threatened Cuban manatees and hawksbill sea turtles.

"This model, designed to attract both sides, could unite Cuba and the United States in joint management, rather than serve as a wedge between them," the scholars wrote, "while helping meet the challenges of climate change, mass extinction and declining coral reefs."

"Guantánamo could become the Woods Hole [a renowned oceanographic center] of the Caribbean," Roman said in a statement. "This could be a powerful way for the Obama administration to achieve the president's 2008 campaign promise to close the prison—while protecting a de facto nature reserve and some of the most important coral reefs in the world."

Will the idea take? It seems unlikely, but Roman and Kraska have hope. "For the next generation," they write, "the name Guantánamo could become associated with redemption and efforts to preserve and repair the environment and international relationships."

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Tre' Packard
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Art
Artists Transform the Polar Bear Capital of the World Into Massive Mural Gallery
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Tre' Packard

The freezing village of Churchill, Manitoba has just gotten a whole lot brighter. Sixteen “artivists” recently descended on the self-titled Polar Bear Capital of the World, leaving behind beautiful murals with a meaningful message.

The Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative is an international art project by the nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, which melds culture and environmental activism to increase public interest in saving our oceans. From 2014 to 2017, the program sponsored more than 300 murals in 12 countries by 200-plus artists from around the world.

Churchill’s Sea Walls were created in collaboration with the Polar Bear Fund (PBF), a nonprofit that supports innovative projects to raise awareness about the polar bears’ plight.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Spending more than 80 percent of their time in the water, polar bears are technically sea creatures, PBF founder Kal Barteski said in a statement.

“Polar bears are directly affected by the unprecedented melting of sea ice and subsequent habitat destruction at an alarming rate, resulting in a big challenge for the species to survive.”

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Artist painting a polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Tre’ Packard is the founder and executive director of PangeaSeed. “Public art and activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our seas,” he said.

“Regardless of your location – large metropolitan city or small seaside village like Churchill – the ocean supplies us with every second breath we take and life on Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans.”

All images courtesy of Tre’ Packard. Artists, top to bottom: Kal Barteski, Arlin, Dulk, Jason Botkin, and Charles Johnston.

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Animals
Harry Potter Has Created a Huge Black Market for Owls in Indonesia
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iStock

There are many fantastical things in the Harry Potter world you can’t have. Teleportation. Invisibility. A weird tween’s ghost hanging out in your school bathroom. If you know where to look, though, you can buy yourself a pet owl like Hedwig. And that’s not a great thing for the owls.

In Indonesia, researchers believe that the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise is leading to a significant uptick in black-market owl trading, Nature reports.

A new study in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation examined the number of owl sales in 20 bird markets on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, where wild-caught birds are sold as pets. In the early 2000s, owls were rare in these markets, but now, more owls from a variety of species are available to buy, spelling bad news for bird conservation. (The first Indonesian translation of Harry Potter came out in 2000, and the first film was released in 2001.) In larger bird markets, there might be 30 to 60 owls representing as many as eight species available at once, according to the study. Owls made up less than 0.06 percent of the birds in Indonesian bird markets before 2002, but after 2008, they were 0.43 percent of the market.

While there could be other reasons for the increase in demand for owls as pets, such as greater internet access allowing people to trade info on where to get the birds, the world’s most famous boy wizard surely shares some of the blame. Look no further than the birds' popular name: "Harry Potter birds." They used to be known as "ghost birds," the researchers write.

Technically, selling wild-caught owls is illegal, but the law isn’t well enforced. Indonesia doesn’t monitor its native owl population, so it's hard to pin down exactly how this is affecting the numbers of wild owls in the region. But typically, nothing good comes of large numbers of wild birds being sold as pets, especially when they're kept in sub-par conditions. The paper's authors recommend that owls be placed on the country's protected species list, with better education for both bird traders and the public on the illegality of buying and selling owls caught in the wild. Maybe a "Save Hedwig" campaign is in order.

[h/t Nature]

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