Latest Tweets

Follow us on twitter

Make a Donation


Route Description

NAO News Feed

NAO main Feed


A Bleached Coral Reef that Recovered

Print PDF

Can Coral Reefs Recover?

In our last post, we shared a conversation we had with Madhu (MD Madhusudan), one of the founders of NCF (Nature Conservation Foundation).

We talked about how conservation should be rooted in science.  And how the best solutions include partnership with local people to be successful.

Our last post was about tigers and other large animals.  But Madhu also shared with us a story about a coral reef off India’s coast, and how it survived a worldwide bleaching event when many other reefs didn’t.  The story begins with El Niño.

El Niño and Coral Bleaching

El Niño is a warming of the water temperatures off the Pacific coast of South America, about every 2 to 7 years.  It’s a natural event, and has occurred regularly for at least the past 300 years, and probably for a lot longer.  Recently, El Niño events have been more frequent, likely due to global warming.

Coral needs a certain water temperature to live.  If temperatures get too high, the coral begins to die and turn white.  This is called bleaching.  There was a worldwide coral bleaching event in 1998, as a result of rising sea temperatures caused by El Niño.

Many reefs didn’t recover, but the Lakshadweep reef off India’s coast did.  Why?

Location of the Lakshadweep Islands. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Location of the Lakshadweep Islands.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

NCF studied the issue and discovered the answer:  after the bleaching event, algae started to grow on the Lakshadweep reef.  Too much algae can destroy a reef, and in many areas around the world, algae outcompeted the coral.  But in India, it didn’t.  There were two key factors that made a difference:  people, and fish.

Understanding the Human Impact

The government had given residents of a nearby island boats and training, so they could fish for pelagic tuna in a dolphin-friendly way.  Pelagic fish live in open oceans, not near the shore.  So, with their new boats and training, the people of this island started fishing further out at sea.

As a result, the Lakshadweep reef was largely free of fishing pressure at the time of the worldwide bleaching event in 1998.  And when algae started to develop on the bleached reef, large numbers of herbivorous (plant-eating) fish, like surgeon fish and parrot fish, were there to eat the algae.  So the reef started to recover.

In many other areas of the world, where people fish more intensively around reefs, the coral has a harder time recovering, because there aren’t as many algae-eating fish.

Staying With the Problem

But this isn’t the end of the story.  NCF has continued to monitor the reef.  Taking a long-term approach — studying an issue over long periods of time — helps NCF see what changes may be happening, and identify new problems and pressures.

By continuing to monitor the Lakshadweep reef, NCF has seen a new problem:  now, the reef is under intense pressure from fishing.  This increased fishing pressure may leave the reef less resilient in the event of future coral bleaching.

Why is there more fishing now?  What’s changed in the 16 years since the reef was affected by coral bleaching?  One change is that now, fishing operations have access to cold storage — caught fish can be kept cold and fresh, making it easier to catch larger numbers of fish.  And fish prices have changed, making certain fish now very profitable.

NCF is looking at solutions; one unexpected solution may be… recipes.  There are local recipes that completely depend on particular species of fish at the reef.  If these species disappear, a part of the local culture will be lost, so NCF is getting older people to talk with younger people about their importance.  This is a great example of how conservation programs can be created thoughtfully, in harmony with local people.

If the reef isn’t protected, it may impact local people dramatically.  Coral reefs sometimes protect islands.  If a reef is destroyed, nearby islands may be as well.  So, the stakes could be very high for local people if reef areas are overfished.

Why We Shared This Story

Despite the current concerns about the reef, we wanted to share this story because it carries a hopeful message:  that natural systems, like coral reefs, can be resilient, given the right circumstances.

We also thought this story illustrated how good conservation combines scientific research with an understanding of how humans impact the environment.

And, it shows how conservation is a long-term issue:  conditions change, and new solutions may be needed.  By continuing to support conservation efforts over the long haul, we give them the best chance of success.


Study Guide Questions

1. What is El Niño?

2. What has been the likely impact of global warming on El Niño?

3. What is coral bleaching?

4. What did local fishermen do that helped Lakshadweep reef recover from the bleaching that occurred?

And, if you want to see more about coral bleaching, check out the video post we did about the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia a few months ago.

If you are an educator, we’ve created a page to help you leverage content we’ve created, including an index of our posts.







The post A Bleached Coral Reef that Recovered appeared first on Wilderness Classroom.

Tiger conservation programs in India

Print PDF

In our last post, we talked about tigers.  Here, we’ll share some more thoughts about how tiger conservation programs (and other conservation programs) can be created successfully.

We went to the Nature Conservation Foundation to find out about conservation in India.  We left after learning about many other things, too:  science; government policy; climate change; and working with local people.

It’s hard to sum up such a rich conversation, but there were two key ideas.

- Conservation should be based on science.  Without scientific data, conservationists may mean well, but their actions may not have the impact they want.

- Conservation policies should be created in harmony with local people.  Policies that tell local people what they can’t do — without considering the impact on those local people — are likely to fail.

How to be a Conservationist

MD Madhusudan (Madhu) and three young friends met 21 years ago.  Trained as scientists, they set out to explain the world through science.  They went to remote areas:  mountains, oceans and forests.

MD Madhusudan (Madhu)

MD Madhusudan (Madhu)

But the environmental impacts they studied in all these places were from one species:  humans.  So they started looking at how humans interact with the environment.  And then, they wanted to do something about it.

Now they work on programs all over India.  They investigate problems and causes.  They work to understand people’s attitudes.  They intervene by creating partnerships with local people.  And they stay with projects long-term, to measure success.

To Begin:  Understand the Problem

First, when starting a conservation program, it’s important to understand the problem.  For example, there are two areas where tigers disappeared in India:  Sariska Tiger Reserve and Keladevi Sanctuary (adjacent to Ranthambhore, where we saw a wild tiger).  According to Madhu, you could just put solutions in place to protect tigers… but they might be the wrong solutions.

Here’s why:  In Sariska, prey for the tigers was plentiful.  The problem was poachers.  But in Keladevi, local livestock had overrun the park, and tigers had lost their prey.  The problem in Keladevi was food for the tigers, and conflict with local people.  So in areas where tigers are threatened, the potential solutions may be very different.

The tiger we saw in Ranthambhore reserve

The tiger we saw in Ranthambhore reserve

Work With Local People

A major problem with large wildlife is that it creates lots of difficulties for local people — like restrictions on areas of forest, livestock being killed, and attacks on people.  How is it possible to save wild animals, like tigers, when they can cause such difficulties?

Amazingly, according to Madhu, people in India have shown their willingness to live in harmony with wild, dangerous animals such as tigers, leopards and elephants.  Understanding people’s attitudes toward wildlife is key.  People in India don’t hate elephants and tigers — mostly, they respect them.  But they do cause real problems.

NCF realized that it can’t do conservation without also helping address these problems.  By using this approach, they, and other conservation groups, have had some successes.  Here are just a couple of examples:

Problem:  Tigers Preying on Livestock

When they stray from their reserves, tigers sometimes go after people’s livestock — sheep, cows, horses, goats — in search of food.  People may then try to kill the tigers to protect their livestock.

Tiger we saw in Ranthambhore

Tiger we saw in Ranthambhore


Tigers may leave reserves for different reasons:  lack of prey, or too many tigers in one area.  And, even within their own territories, tigers may encounter livestock that have come there to graze.

So, to deal with predators, like tigers, NCF has worked with villagers on better fencing for protecting livestock.  They’ve helped farmers fence in areas so they can grow feed crops for their animals to graze, instead of letting them loose to graze.  In some areas, NCF has also started community-based compensation programs — sort of like having insurance for your livestock, so if an animal is killed by a tiger, the farmer gets paid.

Problem:  Cooking Fuel

Although it isn’t an NCF project, Madhu shared another great example.  In Bandipur, there are thousands of families living near the forest, and the average family was collecting about 3 tons of firewood each year.  This was taking a huge toll on the forest as a habitat for wildlife, including tigers.  The government protected the forest, which cut off the primary source of firewood for villagers.

Solution:  LPG Stoves

So, an organization called Namma Sangha provided LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) stoves to villagers at a reduced cost.  LPG stoves are healthier for people’s lungs than cooking over fire.  And, instead of gathering firewood, people now have more time to earn additional income.  Now, more than 17,000 families participate in the program.  (If that many families stop collecting firewood completely, that could mean 50,000 tons of forest preserved each year.)

LPG stove

LPG stove

Madhu reminded us that some conservation problems come, not from criminals, but from honest, decent people doing reasonable things.  It’s easy for urban people to be concerned about saving wild animals.  But sometimes they overlook how someone else bears the cost of that conservation — like lost livestock, or lack of fuel to cook.

NCF is working hard to understand both sides of the equation, and hopefully, by respecting the needs of people, conservation can go hand-in-hand with programs that help people, too.


Study Guide Questions

1. What are the 2 key conservation principles we learned from MD Madhusudan?

2. True or False: All of the problems with loss of tigers in India have been caused by poachers.

3. Why would a tiger leave a nature reserve?

If you are an educator, we’ve created a page to help you leverage content we’ve created, including an index of our posts.

The post Tiger conservation programs in India appeared first on Wilderness Classroom.

The dogsledding season ends in Minnesota (but continues in Greenland)

Print PDF

3_24_14StudentResponse (Lower)


Yesterday Amy and I said goodbye to the 70 sled dogs that we spent the winter working with at Wintergreen. We are heading to Chicago to visit schools. We will also be getting ready to head to the Amazon Rainforest in May. It is sad to think that another dogsledding season in Minnesota is coming to a close. However, the owners of Wintergreen, Paul and Sue Schurke, are about to head north on an amazing dogsled adventure. In a couple weeks, the Schurkes will fly to the one of the northernmost villages in the world—Siorapaluk, Greenland. Siorapaluk is a tiny village of less than 100 people in northwestern Greenland. Can you find Siorapaluk, Greenland on a map?


Northern Greenland is one of the last places on earth where people still hunt and travel using dogsleds like they have done for thousands of years. The Inuit hunters use large sleds call qamutiq. Sled dogs are usually connected to the qamutiq with a fan hitch. In a fan hitch, each dog has a long rope that connects it to the sled. The fan hitch works well for these dog teams that travel over jumbled sea ice.

greenland 2014


In Minnesota we dogsled over frozen lakes and rivers, as well as over trails through the woods. A fan hitch would not work because the dog team would be too spread out. We use a tandem hitch in order for the dog team to fit on narrow trails in the woods. The tandem hitch means the dogs are running in a line two by two.


When traveling in the Northwest Territories, we learned about one more way to hook up a dog team. There, the Dene First Nations people would traditionally run dog teams on really narrow trails in the woods. They would hook up their dogs in single file to travel on these trails.


These are three examples of how people traditionally dogsled in three different parts of the world. What kind of dogsledding would you like to try? What type of dogsledding would be best suited for the area you live in? Thank you for taking part in our Boreal Wilderness Adventure. We hope you learned a lot about dogsledding and the boreal forest. Let us know what your favorite lesson was! Do you have any suggestions for how we can make your learning adventures better?

Keep Exploring!


The post The dogsledding season ends in Minnesota (but continues in Greenland) appeared first on Wilderness Classroom.

Dog of the Week: Inuk

Print PDF



Type of dog: Canadian Inuit

Age: 6, born in August of 2007
Favorite position: Lead


Hello. My name is Inuk. I am in charge. I just want to make sure there is no question, in case you were wondering. I run in lead. When I run with a partner, I tell him or her what to do. Usually I end up running with a younger dog. They can be so wild and curious. I quickly tell them what to do with a sharp bark or a growl. I am good at leading. I won’t let you down. You can depend on me. I am bigger than most of the other female dogs in the kennel. Like I said, I am in charge!

The post Dog of the Week: Inuk appeared first on Wilderness Classroom.