2014 Bucket List


2014 Bucket List

By Rowena Mynott


I go through this every year. I sit down, I make a list of resolutions but when end of the year rolls around and it’s time to sit down to write the next years list, inevitably I find that I haven’t fulfilled many of the resolutions on the previous list. Although it is an ancient tradition, it seems I am not alone in my failure to adhere to ‘the list’. That’s probably not a bad thing. We punish ourselves enough for putting on weight over christmas, for not being good enough at our jobs, for not having the big house or earning enough money. So how about this. How about we set positive goals for the next year? There are plenty of people online that I come across who are doing just that. Similarly to a resolution list they write a list of things that they want to achieve that year, the difference being that they are bucket list items. Items that the author is excited about achieving be it taking a skydive or tasting 6 different types of chocolate. And if you don’t manage to tick every item off? It really doesn’t matter! So here we go. Here is my list for 2014:

1 – Kayak with orcas

2 – See grizzly bears in the wild

3 – Train through the Rockies

4 – Pay off a strangers lay-away Christmas gift for their children

5 – 52 Project

6 – Cage dive with crocodiles in Darwin

7 – Read the top 10 novels of all time

8 – Write an e-book

9 – Learn to play the guitar

10 – Visit a new country

11 – Take a new class

12 – Exercise regularly

13 – Sail around Haida Gwaii

14 – Visit Jasper NP

15 – Visit Banff

16 – Dive Fiji

17 – Visit Tintagel Castle in Cornwall

18 – Take part in an archaeological dig

19 – Eat baguettes, cheese and drink wine in France

20 – Take a helicopter flight

21 – Visit Halden Forest Park with Ethan

22 – Celebrate the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

23 – Take a narrow boat trip around the English canals

24 – Explore Lundy Island

25 – See how many whales we can spot in the Bay of Fundy

26 – Taste chocolate in Belgium

27 – See otters in the wild

28 – Tobermory, Isle of Mull

29 – Edinburgh Castle

30 – Ride on a steam train

31 – Shoot a quiver of arrows

32 – Introduce my son to a monkey

33 – Hold a bird of prey

I am super excited about this list and can’t wait to start achieving it and sharing with you.  What is on your list this year? I’d love to hear – perhaps pick up some inspiration.






Top 10 of 2013 – #5 Learned About Animals


Top 10 Instagrams of 2013: #5 Learned About Animals

By Rowena Mynott

As 2013 starts to wind down its a good time to reflect on the year that has just passed and the year that is to come. I have obviously been in a reflective mood recently as last month I decided to start a monthly ‘Taking Stock‘ routine: pausing life for a few moments to realise what you are happy and thankful for right in that very moment. Right now as I sit here and look through my images from 2013, I embrace the good and the sad, the ups and the downs and the growth that has taken place. This year has focused on family: Visits and holidays with family from overseas early in the year, my grans passing mid year and these days realising my son is no longer a toddler but is growing into the most incredible child I could ask for.

72&Rising is also growing and developing. I left the magazine format behind and embraced the world of blogging. Thank you to all those that embraced that change with me. It was a difficult decision to make as I loved the old product, but for me right now this is where we need to be. Who knows what the future holds but in 2014 you can certainly expect some exciting things happening here as this process of writing, taking pictures and posting on a regular basis becomes more fluid. I’m re-defining 72 and I look forward to hearing from you about what you would like me to focus on a little more.  There will be plenty of the old: travel and photography but also some new … Let me know.

So as a way to reflect on 2013 I decided to give you a little glimpse into my life and share some of our Top 10 family highlights as seen from my Instagram.  If you would like to follow along, I will be posting one each morning for the next 10 days. Today is Learned About Animals.

Learned About Animals

I have always loved animals from a young age.  I grew up in the country and was surrounded by both domestic animals, cattle and wildlife. We would often pop down to the farm which we lived next to and play with the calves letting them suckle our fingers. I have memories of being woken up in the middle of the night so we could watch another farmers sheep give birth to tiny lambs in the barn opposite. My brother and I were always bringing home an assortment of kittens that “needed” homes, injured birds or frogspawn from the local moat. Between us we had an impressive collection over the years of dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, a tortoise, hamsters, rats and stick insects.

From very early on I have taught my son to engage with wildlife. To sit quietly on our deck and watch the lizards scurry around, to watch and listen to birds in the trees. Understanding the value of each creature no matter how big or small makes you appreciate nature as a whole and gives a new understanding of your place in the world. Mr 3 knows to respect wildlife but not to fear it.  He knows not to touch snakes that visit our yard but also that he doesn’t need to put a shovel in them either. We pick caterpillars from our vegetable patch and keep them in a jar, feed them and watch them turn into butterflies rather than kill them. When we visit national parks, we explore animal tracks and cicada shells, leaf shapes and bird sounds. This year we have learned about the cycle of life from the birth of tadpoles, to the death of birds on a shorelines.

As I write this post I listen to the sad news of Nelson Mandelas passing. He has been an incredible inspiration to so many of us.  Over the years I have had his quotes posted on my wall or in the old days of Facebook posted in my ‘quotes’ section, but I’d like to share this quote with you. It is a sentiment that I have used time again especially during my marine education programs. It is the key concept to reducing impacts on our marine environment such as overfishing, shark nets, pollution. R.I.P Nelson Mandela and thank you for your light, your inspiration and your vision.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world

– Nelson Mandela


Image 10
We found a cicada shell on one of our nature rambles
Image 11
Learning about silk worms at play school
Image 14
Our ‘pet’ carpet python sunning himself on the roof after a few days of rain
Image 18
Saying ‘Hi’ to some friendly goats
Image 21
We found this beautiful specimen whilst we were out walking one day
Mr 3 always likes to pop over to visit this lonely fellow
Spotted hiding amongst the grass in the playground
We hatched our very own tadpoles this season and watched them grow into stunning little frogs
They grew up big and strong
And moved on to find a home of their own
We also sadly learned about death after hundreds of shearwaters died from exhaustion on our local beaches
Image 19
This lovely lady who nested by our house abandoned her two chicks after a particularly large storm. Unfortunately they didn’t survive.
Did you have pets as kids? Do your children? Do you feel that it has had a positive impact on their interactions with nature?

Wildlife of the South Orkney Islands



Wildlife of the South Orkney Islands

By Rowena Mynott

South Orkney Map

Originally named the Powell’s Group after the two sealers who discovered them in 1821. The South Orkney Islands were given their present name a couple of years later in 1823 as their latitude is roughly the same as their namesake – the Orkney Islands, in Scotland.

Becoming the world’s first ‘high seas’ marine protected area in May 2010, the South Orkneys cover 94,000 square kilometres of chilly Southern Ocean. This protection prevents fishing and waste disposal in the area as well as providing increased opportunities and improved coordination for scientific research activities. Scientists have recently discovered that these barren looking islands may in fact have more biodiversity than the Galapagos Islands.

The southerly location means that about 90% of the islands are glaciated. Fauna inhabiting these environments is similar to those found in the Arctic such as marine mammals and oceanic birds.

The Southern Orkneys mark the southern limit of The WeddellScotia Confluence – an area where the outflowing Weddell Sea waters converge with the eastward flowing waters of the Scotia Sea. This area is a key habitat for the heavily harvested and heavily relied upon food source – Antarctic krill.

Antarctic Krill – Euphausia superba

krill sketch

These little creatures are so small that an area of just one cubic metre can contain up to 30,000 individuals. Although small, Antarctic krill are actually the largest of the species at around six centimetres long, making them quite visible to the naked eye. As crustaceans, their shells are often transparent allowing an insight into their last meal: microscopic plants known as phytoplankton.

Krill are, in terms of biomass, the most abundant species in the world. They are near the bottom of the food chain and are responsible for feeding the majority of life in the ocean, either directly or as food for larger predators.

As a keystone species their decline in the ocean environment would have dramatic knock-on effects. Unfortunately, over the years, scientists have been witnessing such a decline. It is believed that over the past 35 years krill numbers have decreased by 80%.

The calcareous tests of krill are susceptible to ocean acidification and although little is known at the moment about how this affects krill, other species with a calcareous exoskeleton are severely compromised. Scientists have recently identified devastating effects of increased ocean acidity on . Up to 54% of the larvae did not survive with increased acid levels. This is particularly worrying for Antarctic krill as ocean acidification is notably worse in the polar regions.

Krill are targeted catch by fisheries for use in animal food and fish bait products. The Antarctic krill fishery nets around 100,000 tonnes of krill per year with the main consumers being Asia and Scandinavia.

Weddell Seal – Leptonychotes weddellii

weddell sketch

From one of the smallest creatures in the ocean to a much larger one, the Weddell seal grows to 3.5 metres and 600 kilograms feeding mainly on krill, fish and squid. They are well known for their incredible diving abilities, diving to 750 metres to forage for food in and around icebergs. A high level of myoglobin in their muscles allows these seals to stay submerged for up to eighty minutes at a time. Living in Antarctica in winter is difficult and despite such a great ability to hold its breath, the seals are well aware that they need to return to the surface to breathe. Being trapped under the ice is a real issue, so by using their long canines to rasp away at the icebergs, the seals create new breathe-holes.

With healthy population numbers – around 800,000 individuals – these animals are heavily researched. Although these seals have been on the decline recently, population numbers are considered stable. Their main predators are larger marine mammals such as the orca.

Weddell seals will give birth to one pup at a time, however they have a unique ability called delayed implantation. A seal can be carrying a fertilised egg that goes into a suspended state for up to 90 days before implanting. If the mother’s body is in a poor state or she is under severe stress the blastocyst will be reabsorbed into her body. If she is fit and well she will become pregnant. Pups are fully self sufficient by around six weeks of age.

Grey-headed Albatross – Thalassarche chrysostoma

Grey Headed Albatross sketchb

Species of the albatross family are the largest of all sea birds. A two-metre wingspan enables them to glide for long distances without expending much energy, something that is vital to an individual’s survival as they are largely pelagic birds, choosing to forage in open ocean and only coming ashore to breed.

They are legendary birds particularly to sailors, notably from the poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner written by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797 that describes the experiences of a sailor who has returned from a long voyage. As the sailor’s ship is pushed off course towards Antarctica by bad weather, an albatross appears and leads the ship to safety. Much to the despair of the crew, the mariner shoots the bird leading to an ongoing saga of curses. The crew forces the mariner to wear the albatross around his neck (which is where the modern saying originates from) and upon the death of his crew he is forced to wander the Earth, telling his story and teaching a lesson as penance for shooting the albatross.

Unfortunately, these days, the albatross is not regarded in such high esteem. Rapidly declining numbers have put this bird on the IUCN list as Vulnerable. Longline fisheries have a significant impact on these birds as they become snared upon the hooks and are dragged under the water. The slow reproduction rate of the albatross only serves to worsen the problem. It is believed there are around 250,000 individual grey-headed albatross currently but that the population has decreased by up to 49% over the last 90 years.

Leopard Seal – Hydrurga leptonyx

Leopard Seal Sketch

Named for its spotted coat and its ferocity, the leopard seal is the second largest seal in the Antarctic and the largest of the phocid (or ‘true’) seals – meaning they have no external ear flaps.

Living for around 25 years, these seals have few predators. , Humans were once the largest predator, however these days orcas are the main predator. Whilst there are not many reports of incidents with humans, these days it is advisable to give the leopard seal the respect that it deserves, particularly as it is the only seal to hunt on warm-blooded prey such as other seals.

Living a solitary life on the pack ice, leopard seals are also quite the nomads of the seal kingdom. Whereas most Antarctic seals do not leave the confines of the cooler waters around Antarctica, the leopard seal has been seen as far north as Tasmania and even in the warm waters of Heron Island in Australia.

Females are larger than the males and weigh up to 500 kilograms. After digging a hole in the ice for the pup to rest, they will give birth to a single offspring upwards of about 30 kilograms before returning to the ocean to forage.

Commander State Biosphere Reserve



Commander State Biosphere Reserve

By Rowena Mynott

Commander State Biosphere Map Drawing

Russia is not your average tourist destination, but it’s here in an isolated corner of the Bering Sea where the Commander State Biosphere Reserve (CSBR) can be found.  Created in 1993, this reserve covers 36, 648 square kilometres including Bering Island, Medny Island and 13 other smaller islands and outcrops.  As well as terrestrial sanctuary zones, there is a 21, 774-square-kilometre area of marine buffer zone – an area where fishing is prohibited.

The Commander Islands are appropriately called the ‘land of winds and fogs’.  With fog descending on the islands for two months of the year and hurricane-force winds of 110 kilometres per hour roaring for days almost every month, survival here is harsh.  High precipitation feeds inland waters such as rivers, springs, streams, lakes and swamps; areas that are used by wildlife to live and breed.  A former sea bay, Sarannoye Lake is the largest lake in the area and is the lake of choice for red salmon that visit to spawn.

The CSBR is a refuge for over a million seabirds as well as 25 species of marine mammals (including several large cetacean species as well as smaller cetaceans) and two rare endemic species of arctic fox.  Flora is also prevalent across the area with 383 species of rare plants living here.



Siberian salamander – Salamandrella keyserlingii

ARKive image GES116894 - Formosan salamander

The only species of salamander found within the Arctic Circle, the Siberian salamander is famed for its ability to survive deep freezes.  In fact, some have been known to survive frozen in temperatures of -45°C for years and, more remarkably, having walked off once thawed.  It manages this impressive feat by replacing the water in its body with anti-freeze chemicals.

Its nine-centimetre-long body is covered in olive-grey smooth skin.  The tail is longer than the body and the male salamander’s tail is longer than that of the female.  As well as a longer tail, the male’s front legs are longer, and both sexes have four toes on each foot, all of which are clawless.

The eggs of the salamander will hatch four weeks after being laid, releasing up to 240 larval salamanders up to 12 millimetres in length.




Kamchatka brown bear – Ursus arctos beringianus

brown-bear-animal drawing

Reaching up to 700 kilograms, Kamchatka brown bears are one of the largest species of bear, and compared to their brown bear cousins, they are fairly good-natured with only an estimated 1% of bear/human interactions ending in an attack.

The Commander Islands have some of the best bear habitat in the world.  The area that a bear requires to thrive can vary greatly.  During salmon spawning season or in areas where salmon are prolific, bears only require around 12 square kilometres.  Where food is harder to obtain or predation higher, bears roam further and will claim a territory of 1100 square kilometres or greater.  The abundance of inland waterways within the Commander Islands provide an ideal resting and breeding ground for salmon, which attract large congregations of bears that can be found along the many streams and waterways.

Given their size and impressive stature, these bears are prized trophies for hunters visiting the region.




Snow sheep – Ovis nivicola

Bighorn Sheep Yellowstone N.P., WY   February 2010

The snow sheep is an adept mountain dweller that relies on its agility to reach grasses, lichens and mosses.  A light brown woolly coat assists to protect against the harsh winter weather.

Both male and female are recognisable by their large antlers, a feature that unfortunately makes them a prize target for hunters.  The horns are lighter than other horned species such as the bighorn sheep, containing 35% less horn substance.  In older animals, the bases of the horns are large measuring 38 centimetres in diameter.  The horns corkscrew around past the animal’s ears and may even reach a second rotation.  Horns are occasionally used like battering rams, to show dominance.  The larger males will face off at a distance and, with heads lowered, will run towards each other crashing their horns together upon impact in attempt to throw their rival off balance.




Puffins – Fratercula spp.

puffin-eating-fish drawing


Puffins are pelagic seabirds that are easily recognisable by their characteristic large yellow and orange beaks, stocky bodies and black and white plumage.

Two species of puffin can be found in the Commander State Biosphere Reserve: the tufted (F. cirrhata) and the horned (F. corniculata).  During the breeding season the puffin’s bill is at its most vibrant.  However, once this season comes to a close, the outer shell of the beak is shed, leaving behind a smaller dull beak.

The horned puffin is similar in appearance to the Atlantic puffin with the same colouration and a small dark tick mark through their eyes.  These birds winter far out to sea, with the parent returning to its chick with several small fish in its beak at a time.  Whilst the population of these birds are still listed as not threatened, there has been a decline due to the introduction of rats onto some of the nesting islands.

The tufted puffin varies in appearance from the other two species.  Although its plumage is lacking in white colouration, the characteristic large puffin beak is still present which, in the tufted puffin, is predominantly red.  Yellow tufts appear on the bird’s head during breeding season and their feet turn bright red.

As with the other puffins breeding takes place on isolated islands with 25,000 pairs being recorded in one colony alone.




Arctic fox – Alopex lagopus

arctic fox drawing

Native to Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, this small white fox is critically adapted to live in some of the harshest environments on the planet.  Thick fur, a good supply of body fat and a system of countercurrent heat exchange in the circulation of the paws allow these small mammals to keep warm in temperatures that drop as low as -50°C.

Living in such harsh terrain it is necessary to be in possession of some very specific adaptations.  The scientific name of the Arctic fox literally translates from the Greek word ‘Alopex’ meaning ‘a fox’ and the Latin ‘lagopus’ meaning ‘hare foot’, an adaptation that allows the foxes to walk on ice in search of food.  Other features include lighter coats to allow a natural camouflage amongst the treeless snow covered terrain, and in summer these coats change to brown in order to camouflage with the muddy grasslands.

Forming monogamous pairs, the parents will raise their litter of up to eight kits in dens that are formed underground.  These dens are a complex system of underground networks that may house many generations of foxes.

Taxonomy remains unsettled but there may be two subspecies of Arctic fox found in the Commander State Biosphere Reserve; one of which (A. l. semenovi) is endangered and endemic to the area.


Short-Tailed Shearwaters Face a Tragic End


By Rowena Mynott

There is an old saying “The only sure things in life are death and taxes”.  For some death is expected, others as I discovered recently, will have a more tragic demise.

It was business as usual for tourists that visited the beaches of Northern New South Wales over the weekend. I was at the beach with my family on our regular weekend outing but when I arrived I could instantly see that something about the picture laid out before me was wrong. The tourists were there as usual but they were sunbathing, swimming and playing ball games amongst the scattered bodies of hundreds of dead short tailed shearwaters.

Beach goers sit and play amongst the carcasses of short-tailed shearwaters

The short-tailed shearwater is a medium sized seabird with a wingspan of one metre. Each year during spring, thousands of birds embark on an incredible 32,000km migration, one of the longest of any bird, as they return from the Bering Sea in the Arctic to their homes in the Bass Strait, Australia.  Such a grueling flight takes it toll physically, and a bird can lose up to half its body weight by the time it reaches home, leaving it physically exhausted and depleted. WIRES estimate that up to 150,000 to 280,000 birds die each year during this migration, many from exhaustion but some from starvation and others are caught in gillnet fishing lines.

An unfortunate shearwater and the ocean over which it flew

Often known as a mutton-bird, it is one of the few seabirds in Australia to be commercially harvested, with around 200-300,000 chicks taken from their burrows each year by commercial operators in Tasmania. The meat is used for food; its red colouration when cooked gives it a similar appearance to mutton, which is how the shearwater also became known as mutton-bird. Other parts of the bird are also used. Their down and feathers are used for pillows and bedding, and oil from their stomach is taken for pharmaceutical use.

Whilst they are the most common sea bird in Australia, with around 23 million individuals, harvesting, gillnet fisheries, erosion of burrows, plastic ingestion and attack from feral animals are taking their toll on population numbers. In 1798, it is reported that Matthew Flinders recalled having seen approximately 100 million birds in a single flock in Bass Strait.

The popular beaches of Byron Bay littered with dead short-tailed shearwaters

It is not uncommon to occasionally see carcasses of these birds on the shoreline, it is after all part of nature, but it is quite unusual to see them in these numbers. The strong winds that have been present on the east coast of Australia of late (some gusts up to 120km/h) have been the catalyst that tipped so many already exhausted birds over the line from life into death.

Large numbers of dead birds have also been seen further south around Sydney beaches and along the southern coast of New South Wales. It is common for exhausted individuals to also be found along the coasts of Japan and North America.

If you find any of these birds alive, please call WIRES on 1300 094 737 or take the animal to your local vet.

An unfortunate short tailed shearwater that died from exhaustion during its annual migration.
An unfortunate short tailed shearwater that died from exhaustion during its annual migration.

Children of the Spills


 By Katie Gavenus


My sister was born in Homer, Alaska on 9 February, 1989.  I remember nothing of her arrival, although it must have been a pretty life-changing event for me as an only child used to basking in the attention of my parents in our small cabin overlooking Kachemak Bay.  I do remember, however, the events that unfolded less than two months later.  At two and a half years of age, I experienced a strange feeling of dread looming.  Although I lacked the cognitive abilities to understand what was going on, I could sense the fear, anger and sadness of my parents and their friends.


In those days and weeks of early spring, it seemed as though the whole town was anxiously waiting to discover its fate.  In fact, we were waiting, waiting to see if any of the more than 11 million barrels of oil that had spilled from the oil tanker Exxon Valdez would reach the pristine shores, critical habitat and fishing waters of Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet.  When I think of that waiting an image comes to mind.  It must be a collage of my own memories, the stories of my parents and my experiences later in childhood.  I see myself with my family – Mum, Dad, baby Erika – along with other fishing families.  We are standing at the old scenic lookout, gazing out at Kachemak Bay.  Instead of looking at the glittering blue glaciers or snow-capped mountains like the tourists do when they stop on the way in to Homer, our attention is directed to the mouth of Kachemak Bay.  In this memory, we are nervously searching, hoping not to find evidence of the deathly blackness coming towards our Bay.


The oil did eventually come into Kachemak Bay, although it was a tiny amount compared to what was fouling the waters and coastline in Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Alaska and areas around Kodiak Island.  With the oil came the dead and dying animals – sea otters, seals and birds – too many to count.  I can recollect just a piece of my first experience with these animals.  My mum helped me to choose a treasured baby blanket to deliver to the sea otter rehabilitation effort.  We drove to the middle school, where they had set up a temporary location for sea otter cleaning.   People in gloves and raingear were using dish soap and water to remove oil from the luxurious fur of the otters.  If you asked my mum, she would tell you that we quietly walked past otters waiting patiently and peacefully in cages to be cleaned, fed, or released.  These otters were cuddled up in blankets like mine to keep them warm and comfortable.  I know these details from my mum’s stories.  When I close my eyes and think of that experience, however, I don’t see anything.  I just hear the haunting screams and cries of sea otters.  My mum didn’t hear them, but I somehow did, and that memory has stayed with me.


I am grateful though, that at a time when many Alaskans were feeling helpless and hopeless, my parents empowered me to do something.  While donating my scrap of a baby blanket may not have had a significant impact on the oiled otters, I know it had a tremendous impact on me, and it is something that I have remembered to this day.  When the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill occurred in April 2010, I was both saddened and angered by the news.  Another rich and diverse ecosystem thrown into disarray, another fragile fishing economy gone awry, another set of communities devastated, and another group of kids who have learned dread and despair far too young. I felt that awful sense of helplessness.  When I was two years of age, I donated a baby blanket.  Now that I am a young adult, I have the power to do something more.


In early 2011, I embarked upon “Children of the Spills,” an oral history project that aims to connect these two generations and regions affected by oil spills.  Children of the Spills is an effort to compile the stories of young people affected by oil spills, focusing on young people in Alaska who grew up in communities disrupted by the Exxon Valdez disaster and children in Gulf Coast communities that are now affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  By empowering young people in “oiled communities” to share their memories, stories and childhood artwork, this project strives to both broaden the public understanding of the long-term effects of oil spills and to assist communities as they work to protect and support their children growing up in the wake of an oil spill.  My belief is that the experiences of these young people will help to illuminate ways in which children can be nurtured and encouraged to build positive paths forward after an oil spill.


In the past few months, I have travelled to the coastal Alaskan communities of Cordova, Seldovia, Port Graham, Kodiak and Homer to gather the stories of people who were children at the time of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  I have come to greatly value the innate worth of simply sharing these stories.


“Everybody has a different story with the spill, but it’s nice to hear people who have similar stories, and you go, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of what happened to me.’  Kind of like a therapy group almost. Which sounds kind of corny, but that was a big component to my emotional suffering from that, it was kind of feeling like a little bit alone, because our lifestyle was alone.”  – Micah Ess.


Ess was twelve at the time of the Exxon Valdez event.  He had spent most of his childhood up until the spill with his family on a houseboat in a remote part of Prince William Sound where they trapped shrimp.  Growing up on the houseboat, Ess remembers living in a bulky life jacket and becoming well acquainted with the local flora and fauna.  Ess was able to recognise the individual whales and seals that frequented the area around the houseboat, and he came to view them as close friends.


He and his family were in Homer at the time of the oil spill and waited a few weeks to return to their houseboat.  Remembering the trip as being unnaturally quiet, Ess neither saw nor heard any of the animals he had come to know as childhood friends.  The biggest shock though, was to find the houseboat full of oily material stored there during clean-up efforts.  Seeing their ruined home, Ess and his family immediately headed back to Homer.  They never returned to their home on the water, and eventually sold the houseboat.  You might expect to hear anger in his voice as Ess recollects these injuries.  Instead though, he tells his story with grace and strives to learn from his experiences.


“When you’re out there and you get kind of taken without any warning, it is a wonderful lesson in looking for the good and to seeing what’s next.”


Makena O’Toole was three years of age at the time of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and he always knew what was next for him.  He grew up in a fishing family in Cordova and saw his family and friends struggle with the financial and emotional toll of the disaster.  Yet, he tries not to dwell in the anger.


“The biggest thing I think that we can take from what we learned here is to move on.  Get over it.  If it’s not something that you can continue to make a life out of there, then you need to leave.  If you can, then you need to get over it and don’t let yourself be put on hold for twenty years listening to false promises or false hopes because that doesn’t help anybody … it’s just not worth it.”


O’Toole didn’t let himself be put on hold.  In high school, he was the first Cordova kid in a long time to risk buying the permits, boat and equipment necessary to get into commercial salmon fishing.  “I think that it was just always something that I wanted to do” O’Toole explains as he recalls a story of himself as a toddler, waking up in the middle of the night to proclaim “My daddy’s a wisherman and I’m gonna be a wisherman too.”


O’Toole has worked tirelessly to become the fisherman he always dreamed he would be, despite the effects of the Exxon Valdez event.  Although he loves Cordova and Prince William Sound, he cannot support his family on the money he earns fishing salmon in the summer.  Because the Prince William Sound herring fishery no longer exists, something many blame on the oil spill, he has to spend his winters and springs fishing elsewhere.  O’Toole has had to travel thousands of kilometres and target a wide range of species to simply make a living on the water.  He has fished for a number of species including squid in California, sea cucumbers in Southeast Alaska and cod along the Aleutian Chain of Alaska.


The impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill are as varied as O’Toole’s catches.  The oil itself touched over 1600 kilometres of coastline, yet the effects spread even further, forever changing ecosystems and economies, communities and children.  For many people, one of the most devastating effects of the oil spill was the curtailment of important subsistence activities.  This problem was especially grave in places where subsistence was the cornerstone of both traditional culture and practical survival.  In the Traditional Native Village of Port Graham, Elder Simeon Kvasnikoff remembers the pain he felt when he took his young children to the beach after the oil spill.  He had to tell them not to touch or eat some of their favorite foods, like bidarki, clams and mussels.  Kvasnikoff says “You can see they really wanted the food down on the shoreline, they wanted that food, because they lived with it, they were raised with it … tell your little one ‘you are not to eat the candy that’s there’ they get hurt … I told a lot of these kids here, I said, ‘You want to live?  Don’t touch anything on the beach … they’ve got oil and oil kills.’” A number of people in the villages like Port Graham feel that this oil may have killed some of their subsistence traditions forever.


Through the oral histories I’ve collected, I’ve learned much about the lasting effects of the spill on the cultural, social and economic fabric of many towns and villages.  I was surprised to learn though, that in some ways it seems the resulting clean-up effort may have had equally disastrous consequences.  Referred to by some as the money spill, the clean-up effort divided communities, introduced strangers to remote areas and delivered a surplus of cash.  There was fighting within communities for the lucrative boat and individual contracts in the clean-up effort.

Those that didn’t receive a coveted contract were left struggling not to lose their home or boat, or both.  With the fisheries closed in numerous places during that spring and summer, a clean-up contract was the only hope for many to maintain fiscal solvency.


Many of those that were awarded contracts became “spillionaires” and yet, the influx of money often created more problems than it solved.  As the cash flowed in, a number of communities saw a dramatic rise in alcohol and drug abuse.  Some people spent the money on expensive boats or renovations, only to see the fisheries crash in the following years and their investments squandered.


Consequently, in the aftermath of such a crippling technological disaster, confusing clean-up effort and drawn-out litigation process, it was inevitable that jealousy, anger, frustration and bitterness developed.  Surely it did, but the young people I have interviewed have been able to learn from the oil spill and move forward as much as is possible.  For some, the oil spill serves as motivation for the work they are doing now, whether it be fisheries management, community counselling, environmental education, or campaigning for protection of important fishing areas and wild places.  For others, the oil spill serves simply as a reminder to cherish what exists now and plan wisely for the future.


For this particular child of the spill, hearing all of these stories has helped me to come to terms with my own memories and frustration.  I believe that the stories can do the same for others, which is why I will be taking them with me this spring when the project travels to the bayous of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi to work with young people affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


I don’t plan on stopping at any ExxonMobil gas stations though, and I know from my interviews that I’m not the only Alaskan who has been boycotting Exxon since long before I could drive.


The Greater Flamingo – A Winters Tale


By Dee Marshall

Flamingos running

The greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is an ungainly bird. Its long spindly legs and large curved beak give it a rather ugly appearance, but it has a strange charm. Its pink webbed feet seem oversized for its legs. Indeed the legs look too thin to support the body and its beak looks large and heavy.

Because of their size, flamingos have to run for a few metres in order to take off. It is a strange spectacle to see these large birds running through the shallows, flapping their outstretched wings. During flight, the neck and legs are stretched out in a long line and their beating wings reveal red wing coverts and black primary and secondary flight feathers.

They fly in formation and it is wonderful to watch their elongated shapes overhead. With their large wings beating slowly and regularly, they can maintain speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour for hundreds of kilometres.

Flamingos often stand on one leg, the other tucked beneath the body. They sleep in this position with their head buried in their wing and when the wind blows they sometimes sway slightly in the breeze -a curious and slightly risky position that seems to defy the impossible!

Their beak is unique. It is angled so that the birds can feed while standing with their heads lowered, scooping up their meals from the water. They feed by slowly walking through the shallow water and moving their head from side to side. In this way, the birds stir up the mud, then suck water through their bills and filter out small shrimp, seeds, blue-green algae, microscopic organisms and molluscs. Their beaks are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they eat. This filtering of food items is assisted by hairy structures, called lamellae, that line the mandibles, and by a large rough-surfaced tongue. The lamellae filter the water, catching the algae and small invertebrates the bird finds in the water or soft mud. The pink or reddish colour of flamingos comes from carotenoid in their diet of blue-green algae. Flamingos whose sole diet is blue-green algae are darker in colour than those who get it second-hand from animals such as the brine shrimp that have already digested the algae.

Flamingos are very social birds living in colonies that can number many thousands. The greater flamingo is found on mudflats and in shallow coastal lagoons in parts of Africa, southern Asia and southern Europe.

In France, these birds are found in the Camargue, a wetland area in the south bordering the Mediterranean. With its network of saltwater and freshwater lakes and marshes the area attracts a great variety of birds. Situated on the migration route of birds between north Europe and Africa, it provides an important resting place – a major migratory stopover for ducks and other water birds. Over 150,000 birds transit here each year.


It became a ;Parc Naturel Regional’ in 1970. Nature conservation and the development of human activities are high on the agenda and the park aims to help natural, cultural and human activities to coexist. It has an exceptional biodiversity and is home to a great variety of flora and fauna. Preserving the quality of the water, the biodiversity and the human activities in the area is of primary concern.

The Camargue is therefore an area where water management is extremely important. It is on the edge of the Mediterranean, just in the Rhone Delta, between the two arms of the river. To the west, the Petit Rhone flows into the sea at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. To the east, the perimeter of the park stretches past the natural border of the river and encompasses the natural areas on its left bank that have a high environmental value.

Within the Regional Park of the Camargue is the ’Parc Ornithologique‘, founded in 1949. It covers 60 hectares and is a protected reserve for the water birds of the area. It is home to many species including the greater flamingo, herons, swans, egrets, avocets and many others. Coypu can also be seen enjoying the waterways that run through the park.

The park has become a centre for conservation of the greater flamingo and through research and protection programmes, the birds are flourishing. In the park, a centre for treating injured birds has also been created and on average they look after 350 birds each year. This winter, however, the numbers soared and the centre was inundated with birds suffering because of the cold conditions.

The south of France rarely sees temperatures drop below freezing. However, this winter was extremely severe and the Camargue experienced temperatures that dropped to below -10°C with the disastrous result of 90% of the wetlands in the park becoming frozen.

These conditions caused a natural catastrophe for all the birds of the Camargue. For the flamingos, it meant they could not reach their staple food. Almost all of their wetland area was frozen, transforming the shallows into skating rinks. Deprived of their habitat, food and a safe haven, the situation for the flamingos was serious. Spending most of their time, waking or sleeping, in water, meant they had nowhere to go. Their feet and beaks are usually permanently in the water searching for food. Their food was inaccessible. There was also no shallow water for them to be able to take off or land.

Incapable of reaching their natural food that was frozen in the water, many starved to death. With temperatures falling and winds of up to 90 kmh, conditions were extremely difficult. Those who did not die of hunger died as a result of the cold or found they were prisoners – their feet frozen to the ice. Many birds suffered broken feet as they struggled to free themselves.


Some flew for hours circling the area searching for food and looking for water on which to land. Sometimes it took hours for them to find a small area that had not frozen where they could land safely. They tired and collapsed exhausted, often injuring themselves as they were often forced to land on ice.

In the treatment centre, it was almost impossible to restore the blood circulation in their legs. A unique method was conceived to deal with this problem – a suspension system was created so that the birds could stay upright without putting weight on their legs. This saved a large number of birds and those who were still struggling outside were fed dried dog food and broken rice.

More than 200 dead birds were found – this number only accounts for birds that were accessible – many more undoubtedly perished but were not found. The Camargue breathed a sigh of relief that the damage was nowhere near as extreme as the havoc wreaked by the freezing conditions in the winter of 1985, when more than 5,000 dead birds were found.

However, the general population is not under threat as there are an estimated 30,000 greater flamingos on French soil. The protected area of The Camargue provides a safe haven for these strange birds that have enjoyed complete protection in France since 1981.

The European population of the greater flamingo dramatically increased between 1970 and 1990, mainly in France. The species exists on ten sites in Europe. If there is a problem on any one of these sites, it could have serious consequences for these animals. The main threat is the destruction of Mediterranean wetland areas but the Camargue is one of the success stories for the greater flamingo.