Spider Silk Researched for Artificial Skin

Two teams of scientists are researching the viability of spider silk being used for skin therapy.  The teams found with the right amount of nurturing the silk fibers provided a means for skin cells to flourish.  If successful, the findings could advance the way medical procedures for skin grafts are performed.

Spider silk has long been considered a natural wonder.  A unique blend of flexible matter with strong fibers, the versatile silk has many practical uses.  Considered the toughest natural material, the Ancient Greeks sought silk to use as bandages.  But, the Greeks weren’t the only ones to find medical benefits of spider silk.  Silk’s uses can be traced back over 2,000 years ago, with medical uses ranging from stemming blood, to healing wounds and even used as artificial ligaments.  Researchers working on the project point to spider silks combination of strength and stretchiness as a key property in the materials usefulness in medicine.

Tissue engineer Hanna Wendt from the Hannover Medical School in Germany, along with her colleagues, successfully grew skin like tissue from harvested silk.  Using golden silk orb-weaver spiders, the team stimulated the arachnid’s silk glands, coiling the produced silk fibers on a steel frame.  The steel frame and woven silk acted as a base for cultivating skin cells keratinocytes and fibroblasts, two of the body’s main cell types.

Keratinocytes, a protein which produces keratin, provides strength for hair, nails and skin.  Developed in the deep, basal cell layer of skin, over a period of a month, the protein migrates to the outermost skin layer called the epidermis.  Fibroblasts on the other hand, are a “cell of connective tissue that produces and secretes fibers [….] to maintain the extracellular matrix, and to provide a structural framework for many tissues.”  Fibroblasts produce collagen, which is an elastic fiber, along with providing support necessary for proper wound healing and tissue repair.  During research, the cells were developed into a tissue pattern that closely resembled the epidermis and the layer under the epidermis that contains blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands and hair follicles, called the dermis.

Physics Professors Daniel Blair and Jeffrey Urbach are also researching spider silk’s properties in hopes of advancing medical technology.  A grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research has allowed the team to study the breakdown and formation of the silk.  Blair explained that spider silk is a form of “soft matter,” which also includes foams, gels, pastes and polymers.  He said this particular field of physics is fast growing because many feel it may be applied to areas of sustainability and energy storage.  Like, Wendt, the physics professors found silk to be much more than just a sticky material.  They say spider silk holds water well, likes the body, is non-damaging, easy to use and above all, non-toxic.

Both teams think spider silk could be an answer to diverse forms of skin therapy applications.  Most notably, they pointed to silk’s versatility as options for skin grafts, bed sores, burn victims and other wound dressings.

Though the findings are impressive, the process is not without some major hurdles.  On a large, commercial scale, the procedure would be timely and costly, deeming the method unpractical.  Wendt acknowledge for widespread daily use, synthetic fibers that contain the same mechanical and cell properties would be needed.  Researchers are working on exploring synthetic spider silk growth, but at this time with no duplicated success.

Photo Credit:  dec.ny.gov/about/68001.html

Shell Gets Backing to Drill in the Arctic

Offshore oil drilling came to a halt last year after BP experienced a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The toxic leak led the Obama administration to impose a clampdown on offshore drilling.  However, regulations seem to be shifting as the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) recently granted Shell a tentative approval to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean starting next summer.

Despite continual opposition from environmentalists and native Alaskans who use the area for their livelihood, Royal Dutch Shell has invested over five years and billions of dollars attempting to secure rights for drilling in the Arctic Ocean.  If the approval passes, Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, plans to drill four exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea.  The proposed wells would be drilled over two years in Camden Bay.  Shallow ocean floors would limit drilling to only a depth of 160 feet and approximately 20 miles off shore.  Many point to BP’s spill in 2010 as proof the depth and mileage of Shell’s drilling could turn devastating.  In contrast, BP was drilling at a depth of over 5,000 feet and 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, yet 11 workers were killed, nearly five million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico and innumerable sea life was harmed or killed.

Those opposed to the Arctic Ocean drilling say depth and mileage is just one of many reasons the plan should not pass.  The proposed site of drilling off the North Slope of Alaska is near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  The water in the area houses a delicate ecosystem made up of marine mammals such as bowhead whales, polar bears, walrus, ice seals and other marine wildlife, many which are endangered.  Another reason argued against the drilling is the Beaufort Sea’s condition.  The frigid water poses unique obstacles if a spill did occur.  Director of Pew Environment Group’s Arctic program, Marilyn Heiman, said the region is considered the harshest in the world for drilling with hurricane-force winds, high seas, broken and shifting sea ice, subzero temperatures and months of fog and darkness.  On top of such conditions, the nearest Coast Guard Station is hundreds of miles away.  And while Shell does have a spill response plan, they acknowledge they don’t know how to address a potential spill on ice.

For the proposal to move forward, Shell still must receive a slew of approvals and permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Despite the need for more authorizations, steps are being taken to allow Shell to begin drilling.  According to a statement by BOEMRE Director, Michael Bromwich, the administrations decision was based on “the best scientific information available.”  In an announcement from BOEMRE, they stated that reviews and analyses found no evidence to suggest drilling would significantly affect the “quality of the human environment.”  The Interior Department vows to closely monitor Shell’s activities and make sure all actions are performed environmentally responsible.

The tentative approval comes after months of continually increasing gas prices.  A report by The New York Times states the move proves a willingness from President Obama to approve expansion of domestic oils. Alaska is being targeted for such an expansion because the state’s waters are considered to hold the second largest oil reservoir behind the Gulf of Mexico.  According to a federal report, the Arctic Ocean could hold as much as 26.6 billion barrels of oil.  If passed, the plan is believed to be the key in alleviating the Untied States’ reliance on foreign oil, along with increasing the national employment rate.

Photo Credit:  boemre.gov/mmskids/explore/explore.htm

Rehabilitated Sea Turtle Released Back into the Water

Wednesday, August 3, nearly 1,500 supports witnessed the release of an endangered green sea turtle in Juno Beach, Florida.  The turtle, dubbed Andre, spent over a year in a marine rehabilitation facility healing from massive injuries.  A team of doctors experimented with first time procedures in an attempt to save Andre.  Though many were skeptical the turtle could be saved, the recovery is being hailed as a miracle.

On Father’s Day 2010, beachgoers discovered Andre stranded at a sandbar with two large, gapping holes in his shell.  The injuries are believed to have been sustained by boat propellers.  Though the sea turtle’s flippers were working and his neurological function was normal, Andre had suffered substantial wounds.  Over three pounds of sand were inside him, along with a severe infection, pneumonia, a collapsed lung and his spinal cord was exposed.  Veterinarian Dr. Nancy Mettee, cared for Andre at Loggerhead Marinelife Center and said any one of the injuries could have killed the turtle.

The injured sea turtle was pulled ashore via boogie board before being loaded into an ambulance.  Hospital coordinator at Loggerhead, Melissa Ranly, rode in the ambulance with Andre and said he exuded a tremendous amount of strength.  “We just noted that this turtle was strong.  Even though he had these really severe wounds, he just had this life about him and was in it for the long haul.”  That long haul turned into 14 months of groundbreaking techniques used to save the endangered green sea turtle.

Dr. Mettee and her staff first had to remove sand and other fluids from the shell’s holes.  Loggerhead Marinelife Center borrowed a negative pressure wound vacuum from Kinetic Concepts Inc. (KCI), located in San Antonio.  The system, also known as V.A.C. therapy, removed debris from the wounded area, along with re-inflating Andre’s collapsed lung.  KCI specializes in new technological and therapeutic advancements “to make wound healing manageable.”  Dr. Mattee and KCI collaborated in an effort to insert Strattice Reconstructive Tissue Matrix.  The procedure allowed an acellular skin matrix to act as a brace until Andre’s injuries could heal through the turtle’s own functions.

With internal injuries stabile and the shell gaps filled, the Loggerhead team turned to orthodontist, Dr. Alberto Vargas to help brace the shell.  Dr. Vergas took casts of Andre’s shell to create modified palate expanders – similar to human teeth braces – to help position the shell, allowing for easier healing.  In total, the sea turtle received six orthodontic applications, four aimed at pulling parts of the shell together and two aimed at pushing apart the shell to increase growth.  For three months, Loggerhead employees used keys mechanism everyday to pull together the gapped areas.  In May of this year, the orthodontic devices were removed from the shell.  The procedure proved successful with some areas closing as much as two centimeters.

During Andre’s stay, the resilient turtle became a celebrity as people followed his progress via webcam and letters of well-wishes flooded the Center’s mail.  Over 200 people from across the globe sent checks in hopes of being honorary adoptive parents.  Much of Andre’s fan base traveled to the beach to wish him farewell as he was released back into the ocean.  Those who worked with the sea turtle said the release was bittersweet, but none more so than for Dr. Mattee.  She said she knows the endangered turtle must be released in hopes he will mate, but she fears what he may face back in the water.  Dr. Mattee continued saying she grew to know Andre very well and feels “[i]f it’s possible that an animal could know that we were trying to help I think that he did.”

Photo Credit:  celebrating200years.noaa.gov/activities/dayinthelife.html 

Undersea Volcano Chain Found Off Antarctica

A little over a week ago, scientist located a chain of volcanoes off Antarctica.  Located near the United Kingdom territories of Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands, the volcanic discovery proved much more vast than expected.  Volcanologist Phil Leat was quoted as saying, “It was amazing finding them.  There were so many of these volcanoes we had no idea about.”

The dozen or so undersea volcanoes were located through research by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).  The British Antarctic Survey “is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council.”  For over 60 years, BAS has stood at the helm of Britain’s scientific research on Antarctica and the surrounding islands.  Based in Cambridge, the organization is considered the premier research and logistic group in Britain.

According to National Geographic’s website, BAS was undergoing a month long expedition, working to fill in gaps of existing seabed maps.  The team used multibeam sonar survey to conduct research covering a 370-mile by 90-mile range.  Researchers acknowledged they expected to find volcanoes, based on the fact that the South Sandwich Islands are actively volcanic and a 1962 incident of a passing British naval ship that encountered large patches of pumice – a rock formation formed by trapped gases in lava.  However, scientists were taken aback by the sheer scope of their discovery.

Some of the giant volcanoes rose to heights within 225 feet of the water’s surface.  Collected data placed measurements of the mammoth volcanoes in the same scale as Japan’s Mount Fuji, which scrapes the sky at 12,388 feet or just over two vertical miles.  In previous documented seabed charts, areas where the volcanoes lie where considered nothing more than deep water.  Phil Leat said the mass of the volcanoes could be unnerving, but also very exciting discovering a huge volcano that was previously unknown.

The new discovery will also help scientist monitor potential tsunamis.  As on land, volcanoes can collapse causing landslides.  Underwater, a collapsing volcano can produce devastating tsunamis.  Fortunately, the South Sandwich Islands provide an ideal research area were no islanders would be in danger.  Scientists hope to continue conducing research to discover how volcanoes generate tsunamis.

Researchers also hope to explore volcanic sea life.  Active volcanoes are known to have hydrothermal vents, which “provide unique habitats for life, some of which might be analogous to organisms that might survive around hot springs on other worlds, such as Jupiter’s Europa.”  Leat said there is no coral on the volcanoes, but the vents act as coral allowing sea life to exist.  He continued by saying previous areas similar to these have lead to findings of new species. 

In related undersea mapping, a United States Navy research is underway to create detailed charts of the ocean floor from South Africa to Chile.  Research ship Melville, setoff from Cape Town in mid-February.  With the use of a sonar system, the ship has reported mountains around 14,763 feet high.  Melville hopes to contribute efforts of providing more accurate seabed mapping.  Many of the sea charts used today were done via satellite data, making charts not nearly as precise.  However, sonar systems cost a great deal more than satellite data.  The cost difference allows for only about 7% of deep water ships to use updated means of mapping.  Professor of geophysics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, David Sandwell, said time also can pose a problem using sonar.  He went on to state “it would take a single ship equipped with a sonar scanner 125 years to map the deep ocean basin completely.”            

Photo Credit:  nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=100385                

Grand Cayman Blue Iguana Beating the Odds

Indigenous to the Grand Cayman Island, blue iguanas were headed for extinction less than a decade ago.  In 2002, surveys of the lizard found less than two dozen left on the island.  The one time abundant reptile dwindled to a threatened species status.  Through persistent conservation efforts, the lizard is once again thriving in the wild.

Grand Cayman blue iguanas (scientific name is Cyclura lewisi) are “the largest native species of its namesake island.”  This regal lizard is a giant in its own right, growing more than five feet long, weighing around 25 pounds and having a lifespan of 60 years.  Previously, blue iguanas could be found roaming the island’s coastal regions or the inland dry shrub areas.  With red eyes and blue skin tones that intensify throughout breeding season, the reptile is a unique species.  But, expanding roads and farmlands brought danger into the iguana’s habitat.

Expansion of roads placed traffic and iguanas in the same vicinity, sadly killing many iguanas as they sunned themselves on the pavement.  Likewise, growth of farmlands placed dogs and cats in the same environment as the lizards.  Feral cats caused mass destruction to the blue iguana population, eating young lizards and lizard eggs in droves.  Though the loss was catastrophic, conservationists are using their knowledge to better protect iguanas.

Fred Burton, Director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, is one of the driving forces behind the flourishing success of the powerful reptile.  In 2002, Burton and colleagues meet on Grand Cayman to discuss iguana conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean.  While there, Burton convinced the group to create a protection plan for the island’s native lizard.  Burton and team set about surveying the land, finding startling results of the decline of the blue iguana.  More disconcerting, was surveyed lizards were far apart, making breeding virtually impossible. 

Since initial surveys, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program developed a successful conservation campaign.  The organization determined the only way to bring blue iguanas back from near extinction, was captive breeding.  Through trial and error, the team learned iguanas benefit most when released back into the wild at around 2 years of age.  By 2, the reptile is large enough to defend itself from feral cats and other predators.  But, before released into their habitat, the lizard goes through extensive health screenings.  During screenings, blood and fecal samples are studied to determine if the iguana is healthy enough to be released.         

Once healthy status is determined, iguanas are tagged before being released into a 625-acre nature reserve called Salina Reserve.  The reserve is a rich mixture of sedge and buttonwood swamps, dry shrub land and forest area.  The combination makes an ideal release place for the iguanas.  Through the Blue Iguana Recovery Program efforts, a weeklong health assessment which ended July 3, surveyed around 500 blue iguanas.  Burton stated within a few years the organization hopes to reach their goal of 1,000 blue iguanas in protected, wild areas.  He goes on to state they will continue monitoring the reptiles “to make sure they are reproducing in the numbers needed to maintain the wild population.”

Burton and company recently received their first natural breeding victory.  A female released last year, Juanita and a male iguana named Zarco, created a nest together comprised of at least eight eggs.

Conservationists believe blue iguanas will be easier to protect, because now everyone on the Grand Cayman Island is aware of the lizard’s presence.  Burton said the iguanas are becoming a mascot of sorts for the island, with shops to cruise ships named after the iconic reptile.         

Photo Credit: islandpeopleunited.com/island-times/travel/set-out-on-a-blue-iguana-safari

Lokon-Empung Volcano in Indonesia Erupts

Lokon-Empung volcano located in the northern Sulawesi province of Indonesia, erupted late Thursday night, July 15th, followed by several large eruptions throughout the weekend.  Villages around Mount Lokon have been under high alert levels since last Sunday, as residents were advised to evacuate the area.  Small eruptions occurred daily throughout the week until Thursday’s volatile explosion of lava and ash.

Mount Lokon-Empung is a two peak volcano situated less than 1.5 miles apart.  Located at the southern end of Sangihe volcanic arc, Lokon is the most prominent landform of the chain extending 1,580 meters above sea level.  The horseshoe arc is more commonly referred to as, the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” because 129 active volcanos and seismic fault lines encircle the area between the Pacific and Indian oceans.  The volcanic area has lain dormant for many years; the last major eruption occurred in 1991.    

The affected Indonesian archipelago region is home to over 33,000 people.  Many of the villagers take advantage of the fertile ashy land, growing coffee and cloves.  With Thursday’s explosion, thousands of residents were evacuated to a 2.2 mile safe zone.  Taking shelter in schools, mosques and emergency shelters, residents agreed the eruption was the largest they have experienced.  Nelson Uada said in an interview with The Daily Caller, “It was very scary, […].  Glowing lava flowed like flames in the darkness and it sounded like we were in a war.”   

Volcanologist Surono, stated a blast occurring Sunday around 10:35 a.m., caused the largest eruption so far.  Debris soared 11,400 feet into the air forcing all air-travel to redirect flights.  Despite the large eruption, no flights were cancelled and the nearby international airport in Manado was unaffected. 

Disaster assistance has already started with eight emergency points erected and 60,000 respiratory masks handed out.  Many heeded evacuation notices, but one report claimed after several days of no powerful explosions, numerous residents moved back home into the danger zone.  After Thursday’s eruption, those who moved back into the evacuation area fled.  As of last reports there was only one fatality; that of woman who suffered a heart attack.

Central Indonesia’s eruption is the latest in a string of spring and summer volcanic activity.  In March, Shinmoedake volcano, which is also part of the “Ring of Fire,” on Japan’s Kyushu Island, erupted for the second time in several months after lying dormant for nearly two years.  The eruption was the largest Shinmoedake blast in 52 years, being heard miles away.  Volcanic debris soared 6,000 feet in the air, sending hundreds of people fleeing.  Scientists are researching if the eruption is linked to the earthquake that devastated the northeastern coast of Japan.

In May, Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano erupted, plunging surrounding regions into darkness.  Air-travel was advised to stay clear of Iceland as ash and soot rained down on parts of the country.  The volcano lies beneath uninhabited Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland.  Not since 2004 has the volcano erupted, but the blast was the largest from Grimsvotn in over 100 years.

Currently, Nabro in northeast Africa is being monitored for a potential volcanic eruption.  In early June, the region experienced a series of moderate earthquakes followed by two strong 5.7 earthquakes.  Eritrean volcano has no history of eruptions, but researchers believe earthquake patterns and the location of the epicenter, equates to looming volcanic activity.

For now, affected Indonesian residents are keeping vigilance as they patiently wait to be cleared to return home.  Henny Lalawi, who was working on a coffee plantation at the time of eruption, told the Huffington Post she will go back to work as soon as things calm down.  She stated, “It’s only ash, after all, and I need the work.”

Photo Credit:  fema.gov/kids/p_vol04.htm

Seaweed Could Be New Form of Biofuel

The slimy ocean strands that tangle onto your body while swimming may have a new purpose.  Researchers are turning towards kelp and seaweed as a viable fuel option in replacing biofuel made from crops.  The new form of biofuel would provide a solution to alleviate over-farming and protect freshwater sources.

Crops for biofuel have long been controversial and opinions are siding more frequently with the practice being a bad idea.  Farming as a fuel option puts stress on the land as scarcity of an area competes for farming purposes.  But, the practice also raises already high commodity prices, putting more of a strain on lower income communities.  According to a release by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), “U.S. and European policy to increase the production of biofuel could lead to almost 200,000 deaths in poorer countries.”  A staggering statistic that proves a need for change goes beyond the land.

Researches see great potential for kelp and seaweed as a means for biofuel.  The marine plant grows in abundance, is not generally a food source, doesn’t need freshwater to grow and doesn’t take up land space, making it a worthwhile solution to research.  Just like crops, the carbohydrates in seaweed tissue can be converted into fuel.  There are three ways conversion can be accomplished; pyrolysis, which is a process of burning to create oil, fermentation with bacteria to create ethanol and through anaerobic digestion which produces methane.  However, unlike crops, seaweed relies on water’s buoyancy, allowing the plant to skip lignin production.  A woody compound that allows land plants to stand up against gravity’s pull, lignin resists degradation, “a key obstacle in bringing terrestrial biofuels […] to the market.”  Since seaweed doesn’t produce lignin, the plant can be more easily converted to fuel.

Teams working on the project acknowledge that there are a few obstacles that must be addressed.  One such opposition is cultivation over harvesting wild seaweed.  Harvesting from the wild would compromise sustainability of the practice.  Michele Stanley of the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences, said cultivation of the sea plants would be supported.  Another factor is cost.  At this time, seaweed farming is not considered economical.  According to the Technical Research Center on Seaweed in Pleubian, France, oil prices would need to rise to at least $300 a barrel before the practice could be considered feasible.  Timing could also produce some shortages.  Statistics found harvesting at different times of the year effects carbohydrate levels.  Kelp and seaweed would need to be harvested in July, when carbohydrate levels are at their highest, in order to “ensure optimal sugar release for biofuel production.”

Despite problems that must be addressed, researchers are already planning for the future of biofuel.  The current proposal is to grow kelp and seaweed forests anchored by flexible material, allowing the plants to naturally move with the waves.  Norwegian company, Seaweed Energy Solutions AS, has already developed a device for growing kelp and seaweed on the ocean floor.  The design allows a single kelp sheet to be anchored in one area, eliminating rope tangles other designs are prone to.  Founder of the company, Pal Bakken, said the design allows for a simpler and cheaper way of harvesting seaweed, and could make deep water cultivation possible.

For now, seaweed farming is still an innovation of the future.  But, with oil prices continually rising, the future may be closer than what we think.

Photo Credit:  lib.noaa.gov/retiredsites/korea/wildstock_enhancement/ecosystem.htm

Hotel Spotlight: 70 park avenue hotel

70 park avenue hotel is located on the corner of Park Avenue and 38th Street in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan’s Midtown.  The luxury hotel sits conveniently located to some of New York City’s most prominent tourist destinations.  Featuring sophisticated amenities with eco-conscious mindfulness, 70 park avenue provides a tranquil oasis in the heart of the Big Apple.

Located close to JFK International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark International Airport, visiting 70 park avenue couldn’t be easier.  However, guests who prefer driving can take advantage of the hotel’s Green Road Warrior Package.  The eco-inspired package provides guests with $20 off parking when they arrive in a hybrid car.

Inside the boutique hotel, guests will find tranquility in the elegant décor, focused on New York’s stylish fashion.  Guests can choose from eight room options ranging from a cozy 225 square foot Double Room to a spacious 475 square foot King Suite.  Each room features a beautiful contrast of decorating elements.  Rich browns and soft whites give a comfortable feel, while lavender accents and glass lamps provide a touch of softness.  Though the rooms present a “pied-a-terre for the young-at-heart nomad,” environmental touches are never far.  All hotel suites are non-smoking, use energy-efficient light bulbs and air conditioning units, provides in-room recycling containers and offers a fully-stocked honor bar with organic options.

Situated within walking distance of major attractions, guests can enjoy a day of shopping on Fifth Avenue, visit Union Square or take in a Broadway show.  70 park avenue’s world-class concierge service will help plan the perfect day.  Going a step further in green practices, the hotel also features an eco-concierge, which will help plan eco-friendly excursions throughout the city.   

From the moment of check-in, guests will enjoy the hotel’s motto of “live life well.”  Infused into all aspects of 70 park avenue’s services, guests need not leave their suites to be pampered.  The hotel offers an in-suite spa service, guaranteeing stress will melt away.  Earth-friendly and organic Kerstin Florian products are used for massages and body treatments.  All massaging oils are made from 100% organic sunflower oil, pure essential oils, natural botanicals and wild-crafted ingredients.  Dedicated to providing a harmonious blend for the skin and the environment, Kerstin Florian creates a perfect blend for the senses.

After spa pampering, guests can refuel at the hotel’s restaurant, silverleaf tavern.  One of New York’s best bar and restaurants, silverleaf tavern serves New York style cuisine with a playful flare.  Silverleaf prides itself on serving seasonal produce, meats and fish, drawing on the diversity of the Northeast.  Not only does silverleaf use seasonal products, but the restaurant also repurposes kitchen oils into biodiesel. 

70 park avenue hotel is part of Kimpton Hotel, which is synonymous with eco-consciousness.  As part of Kimpton, 70 park avenue strives to provide guests with a comfortable, eco-friendly stay.  The hotel cleans with non-toxic, environmentally safe products, uses soy-based inks printed on 100% recycled paper and practices a towel and linen re-use it program.  But, 70 park avenue hotel’s commitment to the earth goes beyond eco-awareness.  Kimpton Hotels work to provide a better community as well.  Putting their own “live life well” philosophy to practice, the chic hotel participates in Parks for People, Dress for Success and Red Ribbon Campaign.  All three organizations focus on social responsibility.

Featured in numerous travel magazines, including Smart Luxury Travel, National Geographic Traveler and Luxury Travel Advisor, 70 park avenue hotel ensures guests will enjoy a rejuvenating, eco-friendly stay.  Travelers can rest at ease knowing their hotel choice is contributing to a healthier earth and more responsible community.         

Photo Credit: 70parkave.com

African Rhino Poaching Crisis Continues to Rise

Rhino poaching continues to rise with nearly 200 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2011.  The majority of rhino slayings have come out of Kruger National Park in South Africa.  Latest tallies of Kruger reached 126 killed rhinos.  Law enforcement initiatives are working hard to protect the animals, but many feel authority organizations cannot keep up with poacher’s technological advantage. 

Rhino horns have long been considered desirable on the black market.  Asian countries believe the horns hold mystical powers, with uses ranging from aphrodisiac purposes to beauty treatments to medical cures.  Scientists have dispelled myths surrounding rhino horns, proving they are nothing more than Keratin, the same protein structure nails are made of, possessing no medical benefits.  Despite scientific backing, rhino horn values continue to soar.  Poachers can make $30,000 per pound.  On average, a horn weighs between six to eight pounds, equating to a profit of $210,000 per kill. 

South Africa is home to nearly 90% of the world’s rhino population.  As of last survey, about 19,400 white rhinos and 1,678 black rhinos roam throughout the land.  Kruger National Park houses 12,000 of the country’s white rhino population.  However, Kruger is considered a hotspot for poaching.  The park borders Mozambique, providing an easy escape route for criminal networks. 

As of 2010, conservationists claim rhino poaching has increased nearly 2,000% over the past three years.  The Chinese Year of the Rabbit is on pace to break last year’s record of 333 killed rhinos.  The hefty sums of money poachers make, allow them to afford state-of-the-art instruments such as helicopters, veterinary-grade tranquilizers and night vision.  Many point to technology as the main reason authority groups can’t keep up with poachers.  Dr. Joseph Okori, manager of the World Wildlife Fund African Program, has said South Africa is not dealing with typical poachers.  Criminal poaching networks are more organized with more money backing, making it harder to stay a step ahead.

Authorities are not only troubled by the increase of rhino deaths, but poachers seem to be expanding their target areas.  Swaziland, a small country about the size of New Jersey, fell victim to its first rhino killing in nearly 20 years.  Dr. Okori warned, “We cannot allow poaching to proliferate across rhino range countries.”  He goes on to state that South Africa is fighting a war that without change, could reverse conservation gains made over the past century.         

Conservationists are taking every measure possible in an attempt to combat the illegal killings.  In Kenya, 24-hour surveillance has been established on all remaining rhinos.  Other parts of South Africa are fighting technology with technology, fitting rhinos with GPS tracking systems.  The device is implanted into the horn, allowing authority personnel to be alerted of any unusual rhino movements.  Head of security for North West Parks Board in the Mafikeng Game Reserve, Rusty Hustler, said GPS systems can be programmed for any number of reasons; from the animal running, to laying in the same area for any extend period of time.  He said in the future, GPS tracking systems could also help locate poached horns, recovering them before they land in the black market.

Heightened law enforcement efforts are seeing some positive results, but not enough. Thus far, 123 people have been arrested, but only six were convicted.  Sadly, human blood is being shed as well with 20 poachers being killed during slaying attempts.  Dr. Okori said the only way to deter poachers is to have swift prosecutions, strict sentences and no leniency.   

Photo Credit: muller.lbl.gov/travel_photos/africawildlifefolder/AfricaWildlifeFolder.html 

Cyclists Bike for Clean Water Awareness

Twenty-six year old Michiel Roodenburg and twenty-eight year old Joost Notenboom are on a mission to bring awareness of the world’s water crisis.  The two men set off on bikes from Deadhorse north Alaska on July 4, 2010.  Through their non-profit, Cycle for Water, they will pedal over 30,000 kilometers (roughly 18,642 miles) in an 18 month period.  Michiel and Joost hope to complete their journey at the southern most tip of Argentina in Ushuaia.

Michiel was raised in Scotland by adventurous parents who focused on international cultures and languages.  As a teenager he enjoyed “tracking elephants and building multi-platform tree huts in Gabon, West Africa.”  Moved by one of the world’s top motivational speakers, polar explorer and environmental leader, Robert Swan, Michiel committed himself to doing something great. 

Dutch born Joost was first confronted with the heartbreak of unsafe drinking water during his efforts as a volunteer in the African Bush within the Amakahala Game Reserve.  His experience provided the foundation for his sustainability and natural resource management thesis focused on transboundary water management in conflict situations.   

The two men met while pursuing a student exchange program in Tel Aviv, Israel.  While cycling through dry regions of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iran the men developed a passion for spreading clean water awareness.  They witnessed heartbreaking scenarios of parents struggling to supply clean, safe drinking water for their families.  Both credited their biking experiences through the Middle East and Africa with planting the seed for Cycle for Water.  The bike excursion showed the importance of clean water and the blaring reality that over 1 billion people are without such a basic necessity.  

With clean water propelling the motivation, the men set out from Alaska on Calfee Design bamboo bikes.  Calfee Design was started by Craig Calfee in 1987 near Santa Cruz, California.  An ever expanding company, bamboo bikes were created as a publicity stunt in 1995.  Positive feedback for the bamboo frame was overwhelming leading to production for the general public in 2005. 

Bamboo provides a smoother ride with the ability to create vibration damping.  To prevent splitting the bike is smoked and heat treated along with hemp fibers tying together lugs.  Each bike is individually customized for the rider with a built to order concept making each bike unique.  Overall, Calfee bamboo bikes use the least amount of carbon dioxide emissions during production.  Design, custom fit and eco-production made Calfee bike a perfect selection for Michiel’s and Joost’s journey.  The choice of bamboo allowed the men to lower their carbon footprint and prove “challenges can be overcome using sustainable solutions.”

Along the sixteen country expedition, Michiel and Joost are pedaling with a bottle of Alaskan Beaufort Sea water.  Their goal is to bike essentially all of North and South America carrying the bottle until reaching Tierra del Fuego in Ushuaia, Argentina.  The act provides a symbolic completion of water’s natural cycle.  Throughout their journey they consistently stop at local villages to learn more about the area’s respected water needs.  They hope to both learn and spread awareness on issues of rain catchment methods and the challenges people face in collecting daily water supplies.   

As of their latest posting on June 15th, the pair was in a little city called Popayan outside of Columbia.  Thus far they’ve completed 362 days of the journey, providing many interviews and spearheading the initiative of clean water for all.     

Photo Credit:  tn.gov/environment/parks/economic_impact/