Order the daily bycatch? Maybe you’re eating manta ray or shark

Rays accidentally caught, likely to be sold as trash

Many average restaurants in coastal Ecuador offer a fixed menu of fish dishes: pescado ceviche, pescado tortilla, pescado spaghetti, etc. What they mostly likely can’t tell you is what type of “pescado” you’re actually eating.

That’s because they might very well be using bycatch, the incidental catch of fish other than a targeted species. If a fishermen is angling for snapper or grouper, he is probably also pulling up loads of other species — from sharks to rays to sea turtles.

Bycatch is particularly bad with shrimp, where one pound of the prawns costs the lives of as much as 20 pounds of other fish.

At least the fishermen are trying to sell the bycatch and the local economy absorbs some of it. Restaurants and residents purchase bycatch sometimes as trash fish, to grind up into a generic meal.

Killing rays and sharks — animals far more valuable alive, either as tourist attractions and/or as vital parts of healthy, breathing ocean — makes little sense.

And in many other instances, other sea creatures pulled up aren’t even broad to market. They’re simply tossed — often already dead — back overboard, treated as competitors (for the record, manta rays don’t eat fish) by the fishermen themselves.

And some still wonder why fisheries are so depleted. See below to understand more.

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Ecuadorian hot pocket

Makes me drool a bit

I stopped eating seafood while traveling down the coast of Ecuador. But not before I had indulged in this 30-cent wonder: a batter-dipped and fried shrimp hot pocket.

Ecuadorians do enjoy their street food and many a poor family’s livelihood is invested in a portable grill or deep frier. See below.

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Se vende pescado

Jungle protein

Fish, both caught in rivers and brought in from the coast, is a primary protein source in the jungle. Though local people also eat chicken and to a lesser extent pork and beef, fish is cheaper and easier to procure. These photos come from the main market in Puyo.

That’s, of course, because it is wild caught and therefore the true cost is not factored in to the price. I’m a convert to the “fish are friends, not food” crowd because of the destructive and unsustainable nature of most fishing operations above the level of one-human, one-rod.

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One-horse burg in the Oriente

Who needs a car?

Most “villages” in the Oriente are little more than a scattering of houses alongside the main road. Few people here have much in the way of major possessions. Large consumer goods — like cars — are almost nonexistant.

But horses, those beasts of burden, are a little more plentiful. Transportation, labor and investment, with four legs.

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Puyo, a jungle market town

Cheep, cheep, fun, fun

I spent several weekends catching up with the world and shopping in the Amazonian market and transit town of Puyo. It’s about an hour by bus from Arutam and a major hub for all the rural communities around.

Puyo is essentially one big market, with few other attractions industries. Store after store sells basic dry goods, fresh foods and agricultural supplies. This is the backbone of the jungle economy. Below, we have dozens of varieties of maiz, fresh vegetables and an armadillo on a butcher’s hook.

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Village markets, small economies

Waiting for dad to buy dinner

Wednesdays are market days in Bhuriakop. That means a few merchants set up shop in the misty valley and locals stock up as much as they can.

Usually there’s a vegetable vendor or two, a clothing man, a spice wallah and a few other sundries. Otherwise, shopping takes place in larger towns which are half an hour or more by jeep.

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Published: Mining giant bills itself as eco-friendly?

My reporting from Madagascar last fall has finally been published. Globalpost.com picked up the story of the Rio Tinto mine that claims to be environmentally friendly.

The company has laid out an ambitious — some say impossible — environmental agenda in exchange for the rights to mine strips of coastal land for titanium

The Web site ran one of my photos as well. You can also see my entire gallery here.

Critics of the mine say its attempts at conservation and community development are little more than window dressing to procure mining rights. Indeed, the mine does have a lot of work yet to do, but it does have some NGOs on its side; time will tell, I suppose.

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Now that’s one ugly mug

Awww, snap. Someone call a dentist.

Camel drivers (yes, they’re occasionally children) ready a disgruntled beast of burden for his sunset trek in the Sam dunes outside Jaisalmer.

Don’t be fooled, though. These aren’t the caravanserai days of old, when traders crossed the deserts from village to city to palace to village. These people live primarily off tourism — the almighty firangi coin — and a bit of subsistence farming. And they’re still dirt (or perhaps dust) poor.

Now, get along little oont! (Oont, being Hindi for camel.)

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That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang…

Midday heat means no work

Repairing the battlements of the Jaisalmer fort. The pressure from tourism and unrestricted, chaotic building means the fort is, in some places, in danger of collapse.

These guys wanted me to take their photo every day. They’re not technically a chain gang. For a day’s work in the sun, they make about Rs. 200, according to one of the younger ones who tried to constantly get my address.

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When no one wants a ride…

Chillin...

The Agra rickshaw wallah chills out. Glamor-shot style.

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