Is Raymond Williams speaking to me? To you? What is the nature we seek to conserve?

To the conservationist, the naturalist, the nature enthusiast, who embraces conservation as a defensive strategy against the intervention and interference of man on supposedly external nature, of capitalism on the land and sea…

Some people in this defence are those who understand nature best, and who insist on making very full connections and relationships. But a signficant number of others are in the plainest sense hypocrites. Established at powerful points in the process which is creating the disorder, they change their clothes at week-ends, or when they can get down to the country; join appeals and campaigns to keep on last bit of England green and unspoilt; and then go back, spiritually refreshed, to invest in the smoke and the spoil.

— Raymond Williams, “Ideas of Nature,” p. 81 in Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays (1980).

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Please, help me pay for future social ecology research on the Aghanashini like this…


I need your help!

I have an ongoing research project in the Aghanshini River estuary in southwestern India. I’m studying how people depend upon and feel about mangroves, as well as their understandings of and attitudes toward conservation, their environment and the forces of development. The above is the geospatial rendering of household surveys conducted by my team during about six weeks. We’re a tiny NGO but we’re attempting big, robust work.

The research is set amid a backdrop of looming destructive neoliberal development in an area rich in socially important biodiversity. In a related project, colleagues and I have estimated the estuary’s ecosystem service value at some $257 million annually.

My grant-funded research is drawing to a close, so I’m pleading with family and friends to help fund my NGO’s work into the future. At Panchabhuta Conservation Foundation, we do a lot with a little, and while I am writing new applications for grants, I am also running a crowd funding campaign in the interim.

Our campaign has struggled to get traction. For some $300, I could gamble on professional promoters to take over might be successful in raising funds. But for the same amount, I could pay one of my team members for another month.

That’s where you come in. If you make regular charitable contributions, please consider my campaign. And, as important, please spread the word and endorse us as a fundraising option in your networks. Our campaign — Eco-citizens and Green Communities of Aghanshini — will pay for environmental education, biodiversity monitoring, social ecological research and more. Visit our site at the international crowd funding platform Generosity and share this link:

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Third anniversary of one of our weddings…


It’s a lot more fun to celebrate multiple anniversaries. This June 29 is the third anniversary of our St. Louis wedding (above).

Three years down, the rest of our lives to go.

Love you, darling.

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Miss you, dad

I, too, was a kishmish

I, too, was a kishmish

Dear dad:

I am still sad that you’ve missed a lot of recent years. At least you were still there for so many of the early ones.

Remembering you at Father’s Day.

By the way, I just heard the story “about the time you fell off the donkey.” Sam Uncle likes that one. Nice to know you did stupid things, too, when you were 11.

Also, that’s a pretty soul patch.



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Meet the white-bellied sea eagle


My field station sits just off a picturesque beach on the southwest coast of India. Immediately to the north, a rocky headland rises crowned at the top by an ancient fort. The history of the fort, which overlooks mouth of the nearby estuary as well as the beach and sea, is unknown but the stone boundary wall and crumbling foundations inside likely date to the at least the 1600s.

The fort is abandoned but it serves as a commons for local households who harvest the cashews and grasses that grow there. Both the hillside and plateau also have scrub brush, trees and coastal jungle. These spaces provide shelter to all manner of biodiversity — birds, butterflies, lizards, snakes, mongooses, jackals, wild pigs and more.

Flying above them all is my friend the majestic white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster).


We believe a pair roost in a hillside tree very near our field station, but I’ve seen as many as five together soaring on air currents well above the hilltop. They fish the river and ocean, play/fight over their catch and call out with their raucous laughter-like cries (see below).

I’ve also photographed a juvenile which looks like a ragged brown kite until its stark white and grey adult feathers come it.


These photos come from my work and that of my foundation. We conduct biodiversity documentation/monitoring in partnership with a the India Biodiversity Portal. We also involve local school children as a form of biodiversity education.

But without a new funding stream we won’t be able to keep this work up much longer. We’ve initiated a crowdfunding campaign to keep our biodiversity research and education alive. Please consider donating and spread the word.

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Cute kids learning about the environment need your HELP!

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on a biodiversity walk

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on a biodiversity walk

Let me introduce you to the Panchabhuta Conservation Foundation (PCF) biodiversity education program. Based in Kagal, Karnataka, in southwestern India, we work in schools and with students living around the highly biodiverse and important Aghanashini River estuary. We’re really excited about this program but, frankly, we need your HELP.

This program has allowed us to deliver short educational sessions to classrooms, lead groups (like above) on walks through their own forests and grasslands, and contribute actual scientific, spatially referenced biodiversity observations to the India Biodiversity Portal, a national science database and initiative.


Through a few months of even sporadic documentation work, we’ve actually contributed more than 400 biodiversity observations, including some directly captured by students (like below). Members of my team all work on this part-time in addition to other work, and we’ve still managed to hold two half-day biodiversity walks and six biodiversity camps. We estimate we’ve had at least 80 students of different ages engage with us, some for repeat visits. And we’ve paid individual visits to dozens of parents and school teachers to recruit more. We’re now in the process of starting a regular club through which local school-age kids can volunteer, learn and participate in our work — say checking out a camera for an afternoon of hiking or just having tea with a researcher.

Naturalists in the making...

Naturalists in the making…

We’re also now piloting a new project with high school students in the classroom to implement a seasonal tree monitoring exercise, in partnership with the Nature Conservation Foundation. And we’re developing mangrove-specific curriculum and teaching aids for local schools based on our own research with help from WWF-India.

My point: We’re on the cusp of doing a lot.

But this is also threatened by financial reality. We’ve been operating for months on a shoestring budget. We need gear upgrades and the money to devote a full-time staffer to this work at a half-decent (not luxurious) salary.

The team is brainstorming a revenue model that if successful could make this work sustainable in the long-run and I am writing grant proposals for funding in the short-term.

That’s where you come in. I’m also reaching out with a personal funding appeal for our NGO’s work around eco-citizenship and conservation — and our local biodiversity education in particular. Please see our online campaign page, developed through Indegogo, the internationally reputed crowdfunder.

We have suggested donations — and earmarked contribution options — for all sizes of checkbook. But we of course would accept any amount, no matter how small.

One other way that anyone can help us is to share our campaign page in your networks; share this blog post as well.

For questions about this campaign or to discuss other ways to collaborate/help (in-kind, volunteer work, etc.), don’t hesitate to contact me: ajadhav [at] or my personal addresses on the right-hand side of this page.

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Dear urban green thumb, eco-friendly types: You don’t actually need more shiny tech to compost!

Newly planted kale, bokchoy, dill, oregano, coriander and spinach, partially using homemade compost

As per usual,’s too-frequent love affair with technology has me annoyed. So rather than work on the fisheries governance paper that is my primary looming task, I’m sounding off here.

Dear would-be urban composters and other people who wish to adopt more sustainable lifestyles by composting:

Please try to not get sucked into the Zeitgeist of techno-eco-consumerism. I support most anything that moves individuals, communities and societies toward more sustainable lifestyles, but’s periodic zeal for the shiny-package, the new-fangled gizmo or the uber-high-tech is unlikely to be sustainable in the long-run (or even the short).

(E.g. I think Lloyd Alter is a smart dude, but his drooling over a “phase change” shirt from a few years ago still sticks in my craw.)

The primary fly-in-my-soup today is this “attractive” but suspect Bono countertop composting system. Essentially it’s a prettily crafted system that aims to be a fill-it-and-forget composter that magically pumps out fine humus (mixed with a bit of soil).

After swooning for a while about materials and design with very little critical review of feasibility and likelihood of success, TreeHugger’s Kimberley Mok ends with this:

While one can also use any old container to start composting, even as a prototype Bono is admittedly quite an attractive alternative to a regular plastic bin. The extra clever features, such as the liquid collection dish, are a useful bonus. No word on whether it’ll be commercially available soon, but easy-to-use, compact composters like this one may win reluctant composting converts over much sooner.

That is TreeHugger’s defense of these kind of short pieces highlighting a new product — that attractive and convenient will win the “aspirational” eco-citizen and convert them to a more sustainable path. I’m not sure that holds up in general and in this case particularly.

I’ll start with an acknowledgment: Composting is not the absolute easiest practice and requires accepting a few basic precepts: You will get a bit dirty. You might touch a maggot. Rotting food smells sometimes. I’m also admit I am lucky to have even a modest bit of outdoor space at my apartment in Bangalore. That said, it’s also not rocket science or even adapting to a new pointless iTunes update.

Another sort of disclaimer: I disagree with those cost-benefit sustainable-ists who remarks, “Why should I compost? I don’t have a car and that makes me more green than you’ll ever be.”

I, too, don’t have a car but I still compost. This sustainability tradeoff game is a childish debate. It too often compares apples to kumquats or makes a reductionist policy argument that everything sustainable can and should be counted in carbon footprint decreased.

Simply put, I agree composting has benefits for individuals, households, neighbors, communities and the earth. Full stop.

So of course I support efforts to bring more people into the let-it-rot fold. In that, and I are on the same team.

But, but, but… I pray that would-be urban composters don’t fall so easily for the another-thing-to-buy-that-will-make-it-all-easier logic. Especially when that additional thing you hope to buy is a prototype that is unlikely to satisfy.

First, let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s simply not sustainable to believe we can adopt sustainable lifestyles by buying new-fangled crap in the hope that we don’t actually need substantive lifestyle changes (and, in this case, accepting reality that our garbage smells foul). Maybe this counter-top composter is attractive, maybe it wins hearts and minds, but we should at least stop and question: Is it actually a good thing to try to invent the microwave popcorn or K-cup version of composting? Short-term, seems elegant/convenient, long-term, a sustainability fail.

Another analogy: Is this something like a Diaper Genie for compost? The diaper genie alleviates the odor problem of piling up disposable diapers and hides them from sight, eliminating one practical disincentive to using ever-more disposable diapers. I imagine that more honestly confronting the baby-poo-dilemma might encourage realistic problem solving (including regular washing to reusable cloth diapers). I submit that a counter-top composting model aims to alleviate the discomfort of odor or devoting space to a rotting tub of garbage, which allows us to avoid the reality of our waste. Worse, if it fails to work even moderately well (as I suggest below), then it may not even encourage composting in the short-term.

So let’s consider the attractive “tech” critically.

I’m estimating here, as this fawning is all over a prototype (i.e. no long-term demonstration or specs I can see). That jar looks approximately like the depth and diameter of my terracotta pillar system in India. Based on experience with two people consuming a moderate amount of vegetables, a jar this size will fill up in two weeks, long before even the bottom layers have matured. In a healthy US diet, which probably includes more fresh vegetable consumption, that will load up even quicker. If it truly is no-turn composting (just layering), the top, most recently added layers will of course take longer even as the bottom finishes. If you’re aiming to avoid messy compost, that means the “couple months” minimum is from the point at which the bin fills.

So far, this doesn’t make a lot of sense (or a lot of compost). But I admit the demo video is more promotional than explanatory and it is subtitled in a language I don’t speak. I could have misunderstood.

This turn around of well-formed compost assumes ideal conditions re: moisture, air circulation to the core, small grain of organic matter (i.e. chop those rinds, peels and waste bits) and a well-tuned carbon/nitrogen ratio (~25 C to 1 N). Which you won’t get if you’re only adding kitchen scraps and maybe a bit of newspaper. Critiquing the “compost” that the hand model in our demo video appears to take out of the bucket, I think that’s not actually finished compost. And for the record, good soil for growing actually requires more than just compost.

To get more rapid and better-finished compost, you’d need to add even more carbon-heavy materials on a regular basis (to get to that sweet spot of ~25 C to 1 N). Which would of course fill the shiny bucket faster. Which would mean opening the contraption more, which would again release smells, a legitimate composting deterrent for the aspirational. Plus, from a fair bit of experience, to get really broken down humus you’ll need maturation, which means a second vessel to “let it rot” some more. So much for self-contained.

Also, perhaps you could periodically mix the compost in situ (maybe you’re supposed to?); that still seems to defeat the purpose of this shiny, self-contained contraption. That in turn leaves me asking if there’s not a better active solution.

A low-priority nit would be that the hideway juice tray is likely to tip when you first lift it out, spilling compost tea all over the places you don’t want it. It might look “clever” but a spigot (which already exist in other bucket systems) would do you better.

By the way, those smells of rotting vegetables are going to be more pungent and last longer in a no-turn system. Well-turned and managed compost quickly smells like the forest floor. Breath deep. Meanwhile, soaking wet compost with too much nitrogen (what a mix of mostly unturned kitchen scraps will get you) will turn to an anaerobic digestion process that could eventually smell like rotten eggs.

If this is aimed at the tyro composter who is less committed to the cause or someone who has more constraining conditions (e.g. renting a room in a compost unfriendly household or a Japanese pod apartment), then I don’t see it fulfilling its supposed evangelizing mission. The cracks in the powdered spun aluminum veneer —  it fills up too quick, takes too much time, still smells bad, doesn’t produce fully formed compost — become gaping.

I’m envisioning a lot of partially finished compost getting dumped back down the sink disposal or into the trash bin. After that, look for used-but-still-shiny bins on Craiglist.

This adds up to a big function fail that is just overlooked in the name of fashion. It’s too small. It’ll take too long. It’s not a reasonable composting system to generate a yield.

High probability of the opposite of success doesn’t bode well for winning “people who think about going green, stuck thinking that they will have to give up their style and design philosophy,” as a moderator responded to my (I admit) unnecessarily snarky original comment on the above article.

That suggests a counter-top composter (as opposed to a temporary storage jar, collector or “keeper” with say a charcoal filter) is trying to force a function where it doesn’t belong. Toilets go in bathrooms for a reason; I don’t have one next to my bed no matter how superficially convenient that might be.

In the same line of reasoning, the counter just might not be feasible for your actual composter.

Look, I think green-trends blogs like TreeHugger are indeed important. I’m on the daily e-mail list. But I also believe appropriateness of tech/design should be prioritized over aesthetics.

Note: I am certain the writer of the TreeHugger post is smart. And yes, this is probably appealing to a certain set of consumers. I’m even willing to concede that there is probably a narrow margin of users who could make this Bono system work OK (though these same users are probably quite expert and would opt for a more practical, useful and productive system).

But there must a middle ground between catering to aspirations and espousing reality. Aspiring to change our lifestyles as little as possible isn’t aspiring to much at all (and actually may be part of the problem).

Bonus material:

Even as a nascent urban permaculturist, I can brainstorm many other suggestions to address problems of the aspirational composter (and maybe bring about a little system change while we’re at it). In that, I’m certainly not the first or the smartest. I’m not claiming to be an expert or industrial-strength composter (though I grow things on my terrace with homemade compost). Even TreeHugger has various posts relating to the range of DIY composting methods that exists; many of those solutions can be adapted.

If you’re really committed to the urban waste reuse project — or aspire to be — here are some suggestions (I’m not the only one saying this) that could actually make composting (or composting-like activities) work for you:

  1. Don’t care what the composting-takes-too-much-space-crowd-says: A small rotary drum composter won’t take up much space on any balcony, terrace, etc. Certainly no more than your bicycle, patio chair, grill, etc. Well maintained, it also will hardly smell. Check Craigslist for a used one. Or adapt a DIY design if you have even a modicum of initiative.
  2. Not everyone has even that outdoor space. OK. Let me rephrase: A small rotary drum composter won’t take up much space in that unused corner of your apartment. Certainly no more than your bicycle, arm chair, DVD stand, etc. Well maintained, it also will hardly smell. Put a plastic mat underneath and sweep now and then. Check Craigslist for a used one. Or adapt a DIY design if you have even a modicum of initiative.
  3. See points 1 and 2 about terracotta (or DIY) towers with collection, maturation and storage tubs — another way to go.
  4. All of the above essentially require some amount of active compost management — aerating, turning, getting appropriate proportions of ingredients. But even moderate management will deal with most of the smell and unsightliness, if that’s the real problem.
  5. On a more philosophical note, active compost management recognizes that waste is a problem to be actively confronted (as opposed to repacked in a shiny jar).
  6. Getting the right ratio of ingredients could also help cut down your other household waste, as you’ll start adding more cardboard packaging, shredded paper, etc.
  7. I mentioned this already: Well-maintained maturing compost smells like the forest floor. So wonderful!
  8. Also, I bet some used books will teach you plenty more and make you a better, happier composter / urban gardener than a powder-coated aluminum jug. This for composting, and this for the world of soil health beyond composting.
  9. You can DIY additional amendment (say, growing a bit of lemongrass if you have the right light and temp) as a pest prevention additive layer after compost turns. Google “DIY compost amendment.” Voila!
  10. You could make DIY pseudo-EM by fermenting some cooking water (I do it with water left over from soaking chickpeas; water drained from rice or even cooked pasta should also work).
  11. If you do have skeptical/annoyed neighbors, housemates or family members, have you honestly tried discussing it with them upfront. I think I won a neighbor over re: our messy terrace garden by offering him a tomato plant. Agree to pool resources (kitchen scraps and/or “browns”) and share rewards (humus or grown produce)? Now we’re aiming at system change.
  12. Does your residential building have outdoor space? I know enough people who say their landlords/managers/association would never agree to composting in a common space but how many have actually tried it? Can you (and maybe your neighbors) petition for permission?  Parking garages, alleys, garbage rooms, etc. already smell of one fume or another and rooftops have this thing called wind. Also, more system change.
  13. Of course, you need not be limited specifically to composting. A popular tested intermediate tech option for the urban, space-conscious, aspirational, would-be organic waste-repurposer would be the bokashi bucket fermenter (or the DIY version). I don’t actually like it that much, but I get its usefulness. Extract the ferment tea all you want. Then when the bucket fills (since we’re assuming you don’t have land in which to bury semi-finished product), find people at a community garden who would almost certainly be happy to bury your fermented waste to help their garden grow.
  14. The earlier point about community gardens really applies to most organic waste. Buy a cheap air-tight bucket or a filtered compost keeper. Periodically drop off waste for someone else who will put it to good use. I bet you could even trade uncomposted waste for healthy soil.
  15. While you’re at it, try for a community garden plot.

This has turned into a long missive about combining appropriate tech philosophy with a love for green, urban thumbs and living. Skeptics (or perhaps the folks at TreeHugger who are poked a bit) could call it a tirade. Fair enough. Excessive techno-eco-consumerism really gets my goat.

To be clear, I do want to be on the same team as others who encourage the aspirational green people to become formerly aspirational green people. But I also think that a heavy dose of critical evaluation has to be applied; lifestyle change does actually require lifestyle change.

In other words, dealing with excessive waste may actually require smelling the rotten vegetables.

Composting experts out there can surely advise me on where I have gone astray. TreeHugger can feel free to respond as well.

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PAY ATTENTION: We need the ocean and maybe the ocean also needs us


It’s World Oceans Day, a day to celebrate a fundamental global resource upon which so much of planetary life depends. But this is a rather bittersweet, nominally awareness-raising holiday. That’s because the state of the global ocean — the collection of marine ecosystems from shallowest estuary to deepest trench — is well, abysmal. Cheering on an internationally named “day” then feels a bit like “celebrating” our most prized possessions as we set them on fire.

The ocean from the intertidal-level view

I work in a lightly touched coastal estuary and among small- and intermediate-scale ocean fishers in coastal Karnataka (above photo). My team and I mix research with advocacy. And on a lot of occasions, it feels like we’re losing the battle to protect our coastal and marine commons. And given how mission critical (mission=continued existence) the ocean is, I find myself sometimes quite bleak about the future of our planet.

In my latest project — a study on social ecology and dependence upon mangroves in my estuary/playground — we’re asking people how much compensation they would need to accept a large industrial shipping port proposed by the government. The port would wipe out large sections of mangroves and destroy the healthy estuary. Watching the zeal with which the state government pushes this project is pretty depressing.

But then the research surprises me. Through more than 200 surveys conducted so far (about a fifth of the total target sample), the vast majority of respondents refuse to accept any of the hypothetical compensation bids they’re offered. That includes households offered up to 5 million (50 lakh) rupees. For many of these households that’s equivalent to about 50 years’ income.

So many I don’t need to give up on human-ocean relations just yet.

Happy World Oceans Day.

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Research: How much is a healthy estuary worth?


No surprise: A whole heck of a lot.

Take the Aghanashini River estuary (classified above based on World View 3 multispectral imagery). Using a benefits transfer assessment with established global ecosystem service values, my collaborators and I have assessed the annual ecosystem service benefits at more than $250 million.


I presented these preliminary figures at an expert workshop last month; we’re now finalizing an ecosystem service valuation paper which we hope will see academic publication soon.

Of course, valuation of ecosystem services has its downsides. Many have reasonably asked whether environmental resources can truly be valued in monetary terms. One response is that such a monetary calculation is but one of many ways of considering the value of the environment. But they are important for policy and politics. And while many environmental goods may be in reality priceless, without a baseline value, too many policy makers may assign a zero value.

Is it a slippery slope? Yes. So we tread carefully.

Many thanks to Sharolyn Anderson, Paul Sutton and Michael Dyer for a lot of hard work and putting up with my only basic knowledge of remote sensing. Thanks also to the DigitalGlobe Foundation for providing the imagery as a grant.

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This crab ripped off its pants for the camera…


Twitter informs me there’s something called #NationalSendaNudeDay. Am I doing this right?

(Maybe the Post Office and/or Hotmail are desperate to justify their existence.)

Anyway… here is a recently molted crab we found during an early morning intertidal zone hike with students adventure travelers during our seminar adventure tour in the Andamans near Wandoor in 2015.

The one on the right is basically nude. A nude crab. And on the left… crab pants.

For a bit of background on why a crab would take off its pants, let’s turn to NOAA:

Crabs (and other crustaceans) cannot grow in a linear fashion like most animals. Because they have a hard outer shell (the exoskeleton) that does not grow, they must shed their shells, a process called molting. Just as we outgrow our clothing, crabs outgrow their shells. Prior to molting, a crab reabsorbs some of the calcium carbonate from the old exoskeleton, then secretes enzymes to separate the old shell from the underlying skin (or epidermis). Then, the epidermis secretes a new, soft, paper-like shell beneath the old one. This process can take several weeks.

A day before molting, the crab starts to absorb seawater, and begins to swell up like a balloon. This helps to expand the old shell and causes it to come apart at a special seam that runs around the body. The carapace then opens up like a lid. The crab extracts itself from its old shell by pushing and compressing all of its appendages repeatedly. First it backs out, then pulls out its hind legs, then its front legs, and finally comes completely out of the old shell. This process takes about 15 minutes.

Note: It pulls this off while leaving the original shell more or less intact. That’d be like getting out of a wedding saari without actually undoing any fold or wrap and leaving the hole thing standing. Could you do that, Ishani?

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