Without people: Where is a good cycle-wallah when you need one?

Noida street

India’s population is set to pass 1.6 billion people by 2050; this is quite possibly the largest obstacle facing the country in the coming decades.

(In truth, population growth the world over will be one of the biggest trials our species faces.)

Anyone who has visited India knows: There are, quite simply, people everywhere, and it has profound effects on culture, social services and life for everyone.

With that in mind, I’ll be posting shots where people are conspicuously absent. Today and tomorrow’s posts will kick this off; I hope to continue it regularly in the months ahead. I’ll use a special tag: “without people.”

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Don’t eat this cucumber

Stop rapacious harvesting of me

Sea cucumbers are gradually being threatened by man due to overharvesting and destructive fishing tactics.

This guy, from the bay at San Cristobal, in the Galapagos Islands is safe, but many aren’t. Please don’t support this trade unless you know it to be sustainable.

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Now that might be sustainable fishing

Old man and the sea

This old man was fresh from his dinghy, which bobbed at anchor in the Puerto Lopez bay. As much as I think widespread fishing remains unsustainable, I’m supportive of small-scale local catches, particularly since the lives of so many poor depend on the sea.

The trick — and what I intend to devote graduate school study to — is finding that appropriate balance between commerce and conserving the planet’s cardiovascular system (i.e., the oceans).

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Highly evolved predator killed by highly ignorant predator

Bycatch

Here I go again railing against the ills of bycatch. Above is a closeup of the beautiful but dead juvenile scalloped hammerhead, a shark that has evolved over eons. Yet like most animals, it has not been prepared for the rapacious habits of man.

Becoming a diver made me appreciate the environment infinitely more, and close encounters like this, in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, gave me the visceral push to become completely vegetarian and abhor the present trajectory of commercial fishing.

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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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For the record, shrimp fishing is hyper-destructive

Hauling it in

Puerto Lopez, that wonderfully sleepy fishing town, unfortunately sees its fair share of shrimp trawlers taking advantage of its rich, cold waters. Sadly, shrimp fishing is routinely harmful to the environment — ripping up vast amounts of reef-supporting life along the bottom of the ocean and catching (and mostly killing) up to 20 kilograms of “bycatch” for one kilo of shrimp.

As tasty as the shrimp are — Lord knows I’ve been a giant fan over the years — they are not fished sustainably. Please, please do not eat shrimp.

Equally unfortunate: the mass destruction of coastal mangroves and estuaries for shrimp farms. There are some alternative versions of shrimp farms that are considered sustainable — multi-species growth ponds like those used for centuries in Asia or modern, high-tech closed-loop systems — but the practice of grinding up other fish to eat shrimp is still a questionable practice at best.

Of course, shrimp fishermen (and dependent people and businesses) are a large block of the poor coastal economies worldwide. This is a huge challenge for the development and conservation sectors to answer: how can we keep these people sustained while also sustaining the environments they’re destroying?

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Jungle roofing

Evil leaves

One of the heaviest days of work for our volunteers involved hauling and collecting leaves from the jungle. These leaves, which resemble palm fronds, were bundled in masse for roofing for a new traditional hut.

Much of the construction material used by the Shuar community comes from its reserve and this is no different. Local materials, locally harvested sounds more sustainable.

The “rope” used to bind the bundles of leaves is actually the husk of young plant stems. See below.

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Welcome to Ecuador, home of the roadside grill

I don't eat it but it smells like heaven

About five months ago, I became vegetarian. In India, it was easy. In fact, it started simply because I was in rural Sikkim and meat wasn’t available.

The conscious effort and discipline was something I had long thought valuable. And I consider it a not eating meat morally good, as meat production — particularly in the developed world — is largely unsustainable.

I was pescatarian to start and gradually weaned myself of fish and shrimp. I stopped eating seafood entirely — which I consider to actually be more problematic and less sustainable than other meats — two months ago.

That doesn’t change that fact that Ecuador was full of tasty-smelling grilled meat that made me salivate. See below for more of this pollo wallah (Ecuadorian Hindi fo “chicken man”).
Mmmm…

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