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You may not know it, but your kitchen is one of the biggest resource hogs in your house. You use electricity and natural gas for your appliances. You use water in your sink and dish washer. Your fridge is stocked with foods grown and transported from all over the world that require chemicals, water and fuel to be produced and transported. And then there's the non-recyclable packaging that goes straight to a landfill.
Here is a list of things you can do in your kitchen to lower your environmental impact, and also to live in a healthier home. We have recommendations for appliances, products and new behaviors.
Any chance you are planning a kitchen remodel? We also have great recommendations for you– wonderful new materials for countertops,cabinets and floors, leads on top-rated green architects and interior designers, and more. Just scroll down if you're focused on a remodel.
Get Green in the Kitchen
1. Use energy-saving appliances. You can greatly reduce your power and water usage and your greenhouse gas production by using Energy Star appliances. Energy Star appliances can save as much as 50% of your energy and water use, and can cut your carbon footprint by 1000+ pounds, compared to standard appliances.
2. Use compact fluorescent lighting. Compact fluorescent lights use 1/4 the energy and last up to 10 times as long as standard bulbs. And they come in versions that are dimmable, recessed-ready, and daylight spectrum–any version of light type you can think of. Each high-use bulb you replace will save up to $10 and 100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and they last for many years.
3. Recycle and Re-use. Can you rinse that ziplock and use it again? Can you reuse the containers you got from take-out? And don't get plastic bags every time you go to the store for groceries– take durable reusable sacks with you.
4. Eat Organic, Eat Local. Not only is eating organic healthy for you and your family, but it keeps chemicals from running off into our oceans and rivers from non-organic farms. Eating food sourced locally–like from farmers' markets– means tons of carbon dioxide are not released into the atmosphere in the process of transporting food to you. To learn more about eating organic,see our selection of great books on organic food and cooking. Also, you can find a farmer's market near you to get delicious, organic, locally-grown foods.
5. Get green cleaners. Each time you spray a standard cleaner on your counter you breathe in a fine mist of harmful chemicals. Use non-toxic, organic dish soap, detergent and cleaners to protect yourself and your family.
6. Compost. Don't throw out those coffee grounds and banana peels– save landfill space and make your own rich potting soil using a composter. It's easy! And there's even a model that works right in your kitchen.
7. Only run your dishwasher when you have a full load. It takes the same amount of energy to run a full or a half load– so wait another day and fill up that machine. Also, remember that washing dishes or pots by hand takes more water than doing them in the washer– so go ahead and put them in the machine.
Remodel Your Kitchen the Great Green Way– it's healthy, sustainable and gorgeous!
If you remodel a kitchen the "normal way" you'd likely use some combination of new woods for cabinets, marble or tile for countertops, and perhaps some new tile or wood flooring. These standard materials consume resources and contain many toxic chemicals. Fortunately there is a very different way to design and build your new dream kitchen– a way that is sustainable, healthy and jaw-dropping gorgeous. We'll show you how.
First you should find an architect or an interior designer who is skilled in working with sustainable materials and knows how to build in an eco-friendly manner. Use our nationwide listing of green architects and interior designers to find a great one near you.
Now let's focus on materials you should consider. Let's talk about countertops.
Terrazzo is so beautiful you will not believe it is sustainable. Terrazzo consists of recycled glass and crushed stone held together by cement or epoxy. It is buffed to give it a smooth finish. Terrazzo is low maintenance, long-lasting, and has high recycled content. Recycled materials can make up as much as 95 percent of the materials in terrazzo. Terrazzo from EnviroGlas and Icestone are particularly good for their high recycled content.
"Paper Stone" is another great countertop option. Comprised of paper and other fiber suspended in resin, these materials look surprisingly like stone and come in a variety of exciting colors. The material is heat resistant and very durable. It is also easy to maintain with a nonabrasive cleaner and a cloth. PaperStone and Richlite are two of the more well-known brands. Richlite uses pulp from sustainably managed forests, and PaperStone incorporates up to 100 percent recycled paper pulp.
On to kitchen cabinets.
Everyone automatically thinks "new cabinets" when they start to plan a kitchen remodel. But cabinets are often made from wood harvested unsustainably and saturated with chemicals used in sealing, gluing, and painting. Many of the chemicals used can be cancer-causing and can offgas into your home for years. Fortunately there are some great, safe alternatives.
First, save whatever parts of your existing cabinets that are still servicable. Are the shelves okay but the fronts have to go? Already, you've saved a lot of wood and money. For the new cabinet elements, you can use reclaimed wood, or formaldehyde-free pressed fiberboard. Or you can even get cabinets made from compressed plant material (such as wheatboard).
For the best in wood cabinets, you want to find ones that use either reclaimed wood or FSC-certified wood (FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council–www.fscus.org– and they assure that wood is grown and harvested in a sustainable manner). For reclaimed wood, you can turn to several companies that make cabinets using salvaged wood. CitiLogs uses reclaimed wood and custom milling to produce beautiful products. A company that will sell you reclaimed cabinet-grade wood is Elmwood Reclaimed Lumber.
You can also go the "new but sustainable route" with cabinets. AlterECO manufactures cabinets out of bamboo (a fast-growing grass) and wheat board. Check out AlterECO's cabinet selection here. Another great supplier is Breathe Easy. Breathe Easy cabinets are made using bamboo, FSC Certified plywood and/or wheatboard (all formaldehyde free). Both companies offer low- or no-VOC finishes. Also check out Kirei board, which makes panels out of the pressed stalks of harvested Chinese sorghum. Visit www.kireiusa.com.
You also have some great flooring options.
Marmoleum is not your grandma's linoleum. It is made of linseed oil, rosins, and wood flour, affixed to a natural jute backing. It is durable, comfortable to walk on and comes in a mind-blowing array of colors and patterns. To learn more about Marmoleum and find a dealer near you, please click here.
Another great sustainable flooring option is bamboo. Bamboo is a fast-growing grass and is very renewable, durable and attractive. We recommend Teragren bamboo flooring, a company whose mission is to help reduce our dependence on dwindling timber resources by manufacturing flooring, stairs, and panels from bamboo sustainably harvested in the Zhejiang Province of China. Click here to find a Teragren supplier near you.
Also have a look at these amazing tiles made out of recycled rubber– they come in blue, gray, shades of orange, and many other colors. They are both durable and springy, which means they're easy on your knees. Visit www.ecosurfaces.com to see samples.
Lighting is also critical
Why not use some skylights or solar tubes? Natural light is best for your health and for the environment. If you do need electric lights, there are many great recessed, track and decorative light fixtures that work great with compact fluorescent bulbs. You'll save a lot of power and money going this route.
Last but not least, don't forget about appliances. We've already mentioned them in the section above, but don't forget that appliances will consumer energy for as long as they are in your kitchen, so make the right choices from the start and buy Energy Star appliances.
Thanks for learning how to green your kitchen. Please make sure to check out our new Green Products Ratings & Reviews on main site at www.lowimpactliving.com where we're adding new and exciting features every day!
In the old chicken coops on his New Jersey farm, artist George Segal has been wrapping plaster-impregnated bandages around friends and family members since 196l. When the casts dry, he cuts them off the models, using them as molds for life-size sculptures in the "environments" he constructs. In The Diner, 1964-66, for example, a man sits at a counter aimlessly watching the waitress draw coffee from a huge urn. The scene has an eerie sense of reality. "I've found," says Segal, "that the inner state of the mind connects to the outside surface of the sculpture." For the new FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., Segal created three works in bronze-- Appalachian Farm Couple 1936, Depression Bread Line and Fireside Chat. These works, which Segal says express "how ordinary people felt," have been extraordinarily popular with visitors to the memorial, many of whom can't resist snapping pictures of their family and friends standing in the breadline.
Next month, a major retrospective of George Segal's art will open at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it opened last fall, the show will later travel to the Jewish Museum in New York and the Miami Art Museum in Florida.
America and France weren’t officially at war between 1798 and 1800. But it sure looked like they were.
This period, the result of a diplomatic faux pas, is known as the Quasi War. Its contemporaries knew it as “The Undeclared War with France,” the “Pirate Wars” and the “Half War,” according to Katie Uva, writing on the website of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic estate. John Adams was president during the Quasi War, which is not well-remembered today but which helped to shape American foreign policy. It forced the United States to reassess its Revolutionary relationship with France and helped the fledgling U.S.Navy gain experience, helpful in the War of 1812.
In the late 1700s, writes the State Department's Office of the Historian, the new post-Revolutionary French government, known as the Directory, was having money troubles. And France and the United States were in conflict over the States’ decision to sign a peace-establishing treaty with England. “While largely a commercial agreement,” writes Kennedy Hickman for ThoughtCo., the French saw this treaty as violating a previous treaty made with them during the American Revolution–the 1778 Treaty of Alliance.
At the same time, the States were refusing to make debt payments to the French government, arguing that the government they made the deal with during the Revolution was a different government than the current one and so the States weren’t obligated to pay.
This presented multiple problems for the French. So, writes the State Department's history office, the French government decided to kill two birds with one stone and seize a bunch of American merchant ships. Ready cash and a statement of force all rolled into one.
Adams sent three envoys to France in an attempt to cool things off, but at the time the French government was a post-Revolutionary den of intrigue and tense politics, and they found it hard going. In the end, France made a series of demands that the Americans were not willing to meet, and the two countries reached an impasse. Congress officially rescinded the Treaty of Alliance on this day in 1798.
It was a complicated situation. “The Quasi War was the first time that American neutrality, which had been championed by Washington as president, found itself under attack,” writes Mount Vernon. Adams was angered by the French demands, and after Congress read the letters he’d received from the American diplomats detailing their treatment, many other lawmakers were angry too.
The United States had an interest in preserving peace with both France and Britain, two superpowers who were at war with one another and had been for a long time. Both of those countries had historic interests in the States. At the same time, the young country was still establishing its foreign policy.
In his 1798 State of the Union address, Adams spent some time speaking about the Quasi War. Although both parties seemed to be interested in reconciliation, he said, “hitherto… nothing is discoverable in the conduct of France which ought to change or relax our measures of defense. On the contrary, to extend and invigorate them is our true policy.”
Among the other measures Adams took during the two years of the Quasi War was to bring George Washington out of retirement and reinstate him as Commander-in-Chief. Skirmishes at sea were fought between French warships and American sailors, according to Spencer Tucker in the Almanac of American Military History, and the States re-mobilized the Navy.
Despite this tension, cooler heads prevailed and the United States renegotiated the 1778 treaty with France, producing the Convention of 1800. Unlike the Treaty of Alliance, the Convention contained no declarations of alliance, and because it replaced the Treaty, the United States was no longer allied (on paper or otherwise) with France. “It would be nearly a century and a half before the United States entered into another formal alliance,” writes the Historian.
Of course, by 1800, Napoleon had overthrown the Directory and the United States was negotiating with yet another French government.
During a renovation project at the Liberty Hall Museum on the campus of New Jersey's Kean University, historians recently found American wine’s holy grail: almost three cases of Madeira wine, some from 1796, the year John Adams was elected president, reports David J. Del Grande from NJ.com.
“We knew there was a lot of liquor down here, but we had no idea as to the age of it,” museum president John Kean tells Del Grande. “I think the most exciting part of it was to find liquor, or Madeira in this case, that goes back so far. And then trying to trace why it was here and who owned it.”
Madeira is the founding wine of the United States. Brittany Dust at Wine.com explains that the fortified wine comes from the Portuguese island of Madeira off the coast of Morocco. Not only is the alcohol content of the wine boosted to between 17 and 21 percent, (most wine is between 12 and 15 percent) it is also heated to help preserve it, making it well-suited for the long journey across the Atlantic that would spoil more delicate wines.
During the late 1600s and 1700s it was the New World’s number one wine, drunk by gentlemen and ladies. John Hancock was famous for smuggling ships of Madeira into the colonies and evading British taxation. In fact, the seizure of his ship Liberty, full of black-market Madeira, set off riots in Boston. Dust reports that ace attorney John Adams got the charges against Hancock dropped, but such incidents helped set the stage for the Revolution.
It’s believed Jefferson toasted the Declaration of Independence with Madeira and George Washington celebrated the British leaving New York City with the fortified wine.
Kylee Tsuru at CNN reports that the workers at Liberty Hall discovered the historical beverage, along with 42 demijohns of wine from the 1820s, behind a plywood and plaster wall constructed during Prohibition. While most old wine will eventually turn into vinegar, the fortified Madeira can last indefinitely if stored correctly.
According to Tsuru some of the bottles included Madeira produced for the personal use of millionaire wine importer Robert Lenox. Though the museum is not willing to publicly put a price on the bottles of booze, Mannie Berk of the Rare Wine Co., tells Tsuru that the Lenox bottles are incredibly rare and could be worth as much as $20,000.
Meg Baker at CBS reports that the museum owns the wine and will decide if anyone will be allowed to sample the Revolutionary libation. Liberty Hall itself was originally built in 1772, growing over time from a 14-room house owned by New Jersey’s first elected governor to a 50-room mansion owned by the Livingston and Kean families who ultimately turned it into a museum on the campus of Kean University.
Del Grande reports that Alexander Hamilton stayed in the house in 1773, where, it can be assumed, he sampled a little Madeira (though the founding father was a bigger fan of coffee).
Almost exactly three years ago, in August 2014, residents of Toledo, Ohio were told to immediately stop drinking their city water. The “do not drink” advisory lasted three days, and sent residents across state lines in search of bottled water. Nearly half a million people were affected.
The culprit? A blue-green algae called cyanobacteria in Lake Erie, the city’s water supply. When conditions are right, cyanobacteria blooms into large, sludgy mats. These blooms can produce a toxin called microcystin, which causes a number of health effects in humans, ranging from rashes and diarrhea to liver damage. Due to climate change and human impacts like agricultural runoff, these toxic blooms are becoming more common.
“The problem is really worldwide,” says aquatic ecologist Tom Johengen, associate director of the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan.
Johengen and his colleagues hope Lake Erie, one of the worst-affected lakes in America, may be one of the first to benefit from a new solution. They’re experimenting with a new technology – a lake-bottom “robotic lab” – to test water and give information and early warnings about pollution.
The technology is called an environmental sample processor, or ESP, and is positioned on the lake bottom four miles from the water intake for the Toledo municipal water supply. Looking rather like an industrial garbage compactor, the ESP is sometimes described as a "lab in a can." The fully automated ESP tests the water once or twice a day, and sends the results wirelessly to researchers.
This is much faster than the traditional process, which involves researchers traveling by boat to various locations, collecting, filtering and extracting watering samples, then analyzing them for toxins. That can take up to two days. And while water treatment plants monitor their supply for toxins as well, they test the water at the point of intake. This means if they find something, it’s already essentially inside the water treatment plant. The lab-in-a-can could give up to a day of warning about the approaching of algal toxins.
Lake Erie’s ESP is the first of its kind to be used in a freshwater system. There are similar labs off the coasts of Maine and Washington, as well as other locations, used mainly to monitor for toxins that might affect shellfish. Research from Stanford has shown ESPs can help give early warning to fishermen and recreational boaters in a saltwater setting, letting them know the water and fish within it might be contaminated. But as cyanobacteria blooms get worse, researchers say ESPs will likely become more common in freshwater.
Climate change is going to exacerbate the problem for two reasons, Johengen says. The first is warming waters. Cyanobacteria like warmth, and thrive in temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Other algae prefer cooler temperatures, so when waters get warm enough, cyanobacteria begin to outcompete them and take over large areas. The second reason is runoff. Climate change alters weather patterns and produces more intense storms. Heavy rainfalls generate a lot of agricultural runoff, draining fertilizers from farms into the water supply. Cyanobacteria devour and thrive off these nutrients.
“The combination of warmer waters and high inputs from runoff can really spark these blooms,” Johengen says.
The researchers hope to use the ESP data in conjunction with computer models to understand exactly how the cyanobacteria blooms behave. They plan to track bloom movement both horizontally and vertically within the water, using information about currents and wind. This is important because the location and movement of a bloom can predict how it might affect humans. A surface bloom might only affect water recreation, meaning swimmers and boaters should be cautioned. But a bloom being driven deep by currents can affect water supply, as treatment plants generally intake their water from close to the bottom. Ultimately, the researchers hope to use the data to help prevent blooms as much as possible.
“Bloom eradication is likely never going to happen, but we can absolutely reduce the size and impact of these blooms,” says Tim Davis, an ecologist formerly of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
The project, a collaboration between the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, plans to bring two more ESPs to Lake Erie. Two will be deployed all the time, and a third can be rotated in on an as-needed basis.
The ESPs aren’t a “silver bullet,” Davis says. Researchers will still do weekly monitoring to get a greater variety of information about the water in multiple locations, not just where the ESP is deployed. But he and his colleagues believe similar technologies will become more common as they become smaller and cheaper. Right now an ESP weighs about 1,000 pounds and costs $375,000.
Some eleven million people live on the shores of Lake Erie, the shallowest and therefore warmest and most algae-prone of the Great Lakes. All stand to be affected by increasing toxic blooms. So do residents near many other American lakes, including enormous bodies of water such as Lake Okeechobee in Florida and Utah Lake, near Salt Lake City. Budget cuts and relaxation of environmental regulations under the current administration may scuttle plans for water cleanup, leaving lakes even more prone to toxins. With ESPs, perhaps residents may at least get a warning before the toxins arrive in their drinking water.
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
Ralph Fabri, American painter, 1894-1975.
Orig. negative: 8x10, Nitrate, BW.
copy 1 negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
What was the Big Apple like in the second half of the 19th century? The daily diary of piano manufacturer William Steinway opens a window into a New York of concerts, politics, sports, theater, restaurants, and much more. Steinway’s diary resides in the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center as part of the Steinway & Sons Records and Family Papers, 1857–1919. The diary covers the period from April 20, 1861, through November 8, 1896, about three weeks before Steinway’s death.
“I wanna wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep…”
In the last half of the 1800s, long before Frank Sinatra sang those words, before the city had a subway, when there were no Yankees and Knicks, the singer’s words would still have resonated with many residents. Piano manufacturer William Steinway, who lived in upscale Gramercy Park in Lower Manhattan, was among them, and his daily diary opens a window into the New York he knew.
He saw great artists in a great concert hall, which he happened to own. He smelled the sea as he ate oysters at the famous Fulton Fish Market. He attended a ball—and mocked some of the ladies—at the old Madison Square Garden. A German immigrant, he attended plays at a German-themed theater. He went to a grand hotel to meet with the Democratic Party bosses. He left work one day to take in a baseball game at the Polo Grounds. He was a regular at the restaurant that was the “in” place for songwriters. Browse through the diary and you’ll find the New York that Steinway knew.
Steinway was a bit of a genius in building one of New York’s finest concert halls, which opened on East 14th Street in 1866. Concertgoers had to walk through Steinway & Sons piano showrooms to enter the hall, and the manufacturer demanded that artists appearing there could only press the keys of a Steinway piano. Steinway once caused the New York Philharmonic—then the resident orchestra—to cancel a performance when a guest wanted to play on a rival’s keyboard, according to Music and Culture in America, 1861–1918. Steinway Hall hosted 40 to 70 major concerts a year and other programs such as Charles Dickens’s reading before a capacity audience on December 9, 1867. The hall’s last event was in 1890, and Carnegie Hall opened the next year as the city’s top concert venue.
Fulton Fish Market
In March 2005, as the Fulton Fish Market got closer to its move from Manhattan to the Bronx, the New York Times wrote that it was “easy to become sentimental” in the market’s 184th year. “Arrive at daybreak, when the sky is turning pink beyond the Brooklyn Bridge, and you have found a forgotten city,” the article said, describing salesmen hoisting fish over their shoulders, workers pushing carts, and night laborers huddling around bonfires in cold weather. But the famous market also had a sordid history. A Time magazine report on organized crime in 2001 mentioned the mob influence on the fish market, and noted: “In 1988 the U.S. succeeded in placing a trustee at the fish market with a four-year mandate to battle racketeering. . . . In reality, little has changed.” William Steinway’s love of oysters took him to the Fulton Fish Market but, by 1927, New York’s oysters were exposed to too much pollution to eat. The Billion Oyster Project, launched in 2014, is working to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor by the year 2035.
The Thalia, previously the Bowery Theatre, was in the Bowery section of the Lower East Side, and lasted for 103 years under different names. It survived a succession of fires but burned down for good in 1929. Productions at the theater were geared to different ethnic groups, depending on the ownership, and at different times servedJewish, Italian, and Chinese audiences. German plays were performed there from 1879 through 1888, and Jewish actors gave performances in 1889 and 1890, according to King’s Handbook of New York City. Lyricist Yip Harburg (“Over the Rainbow,” “April in Paris,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”) once said, “On many a Saturday . . . my father packed me up and told my mother that we were going to shul to hear a magid. But somehow . . . we always arrived at the Thalia Theater.” (A shul is a synagogue, and a magid was an itinerant Jewish preacher, or story narrator.)
Hoffman House Hotel
Political power brokers from Tammany Hall, the city’s Democratic political machine, considered the hotel on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets their headquarters. The major attraction, however, was not politics but rather William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s painting Nymphs and Satyr showing four nude women prancing around a faun. In The Epic of New York City, author Edward Robb Ellis recounts how, during the paralyzing blizzard of 1888, actor Maurice Barrymore—“his face flushed with brandy”—began reciting Shakespeare in the hotel’s bar. After a stockbroker tried to silence him, a free-for-all broke out. But Barrymore “kept his perch on the table, and ignored the shattering of glasses and the smashing of furniture, his eyes flaming and his magnificent voice booming, ‘A horse! A horse! My Kingdom for a horse!’” from Richard III. The hotel closed in 1915.
Madison Square Garden
Steinway went to the second of four Madison Square Gardens, built by a syndicate that included business titans J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and W. W. Astor. Opened in 1890 at the site of the original, Madison Avenue and 26th Street, this Madison Square Garden was a Beaux Arts building designed by renowned architect Stanford White. Ironically, White was shot to death in the upstairs cabaret in 1906 by the husband of his previous lover. There were 5,000 seats with the floor area left open, and 9,000 with floor seats. The Madison Square Garden had a movable skylight that covered half the building, giving operators the option of bringing in fresh air. The building had a cafe, a concert hall, a roof garden, and events that included circuses, concerts, horse and dog shows, and bicycle tournaments. A tower offered great views of the city, with a statue at the top, of the Roman goddess Diana. She was unveiled in 1891, with “a grand illumination of red fire, colored lights, and rockets” revealing that Diana was nude, according to Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. Moralists protested, “but J. P. Morgan liked it and it stayed.” The second Madison Square Garden was demolished in 1925
Steinway held a board meeting on this Saturday but then ditched any further work to attend a Giants-Reds doubleheader. His diary suggests he only saw one of the games. As noted in an earlier post about Steinway’s visit to the Polo Grounds, the Giants “lost the first game and won the second by the identical scores of 8-6. The attendance in the box score of the second game was 12,000. And the reporters who covered the doubleheader wrote of what then appeared to be a missed opportunity in the pennant race, since the 68–38 Giants were playing the 45–60 Reds.”
August Lüchow opened his famed German restaurant in 1882. Some reports said he received a $1,500 loan from William Steinway, but the diary doesn’t mention it. The restaurant was at East 14th Street, now the site of a New York University dorm. Steinway’s concert hall and showroom were across the street, and the piano manufacturer was a regular. In 1914 composer Victor Herbert and eight associates founded the organization that became the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers in the restaurant, according to a plaque erected at the site in 1965. According to The Big Onion Guide to New York City: Ten Historic Tours, Luchow’s and nearby restaurants “became legendary hot spots where celebrities and performers mingled . . . while critics wrote their reviews at the dinner tables. The popular tune ‘Yes Sir, That’s My Baby’ is said to have been written one drunken night by Gus Kahn on a Luchow’s tablecloth.”
Larry Margasak is a retired Washington journalist and museum volunteer. He previously wrote articles on the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Fair Housing Law, Steinway’s seven-year struggle to plan New York’s subway, and Steinway’s vision of suburban America, which became a reality in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, New York.
In December 2000 while exploring the depths of Sodwana Bay, South Africa, scuba diver Pieter Venter came face-to-face with something no diver had ever seen alive before. At 320 feet, he and his colleagues encountered a coelacanth, an extremely rare type of fish that has existed for 400 million years—well before the time of the dinosaurs. The team recorded three fish in the area on that dive and in a later expedition, confirmed that a colony of these so-called “living fossils” lurked in deep water canyons in the bay. That colony of about 30 fish has more or less been left alone for the last two decades, but Tony Carnie at The Guardian reports that oil and gas drilling in the area may threaten the endangered species in the near future.
For decades, paleontologists knew about the human-sized coelacanth from the fossil record. It was believed the big fish went extinct 65 million years ago during the same event that put an end to dinosaurs. But in 1938, a fishing trawler working along the coast of South Africa alerted a local museum that they had found something strange in its nets. It turned out to be a living coelacanth. The creature was a sensation, proof that life is more resilient than we imagine and a reminder of how little we understand the oceans.
Last week, the Italian energy group Eni announced plans to drill in an exploration area known as Block ER236, a 250-mile long area just 25 miles south of Sodwano Bay, which is off the shore of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. In their environmental impact statement, the company says that it is unlikely that coelacanths live in the deep underwater canyons in the exploration area since the morphology is different than the shallower canyons they prefer in Sodwano. They also write that modeling shows no threat from oil spills.
But conservationists disagree. Andrew Venter, head of the South Africa group Wildtrust, tells The Guardian’s Carnie that an oil spill in the area could be a disaster. “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 decimated fish populations – so if we had an oil spill off iSimangaliso it is very likely it could wipe out these coelacanths.”
South African ichthyologist and author Mike Bruton agrees that drilling in the area threatens the fish, and that anything that could interfere with their ability to absorb oxygen could harm them. “The risk needs to be carefully evaluated before this commercial venture has progressed too far and it is too late,” he said. “Oil spills do not respect the boundaries of marine protected areas.”
John Platt at Scientific American reports that this isn’t the only threat to coelacanths. The West Indian Ocean population, which includes fish along the coast of Africa and in the Comoros, is estimated to be between 230 and 650 fish. In the last couple decades, deep water fishing trawlers along the coast have pulled up many coelaconths, revealing new populations but also reducing their numbers. There are more specific threats as well. Tanzania is expected to begin construction of the industrial Mwambani Port Project soon in the Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park, which is expected to disrupt the habitat of the rare coelacanths that live there.
Keeping coelacanths around, however, is important. These strange and little understood creatures are a link to nearly half-billion years of evolutionary history and there’s a lot they can teach us about primitive fish. They have weird fleshy fins that they move in a walking motion, a partial vestigial lung inside their chest and a unique hinged jaw that allows them to open very, very wide. They live to be 100 years old and give birth to live young. They also have a special rostral organ in their nose that allows them to sense electrical currents. And they do all that with a tiny, tiny brain that fills less than 2 percent of their head.
Somehow all of that came together to produce the ultimate, albeit odd, survivor. But the big takeaway is this: if a fish in the deep sea can survive 400 million years of comets, volcanic eruptions and everything else history has thrown at it but can’t survive a couple hundred years of industrialized humanity, there’s little hope for the millions of other species on the planet, including us.
Pete Seeger, vocal and banjo accompaniment, with the Hooteneers. Lead singers vary.
The songs on this album were recorded between 1950 and 1955. Some were recorded "live" at various hootenannies sponsored by "Sing Out!" and some were issued on the now defunct Hootenanny Records label. Others were recorded as parts of other "Sing Out!" projects.
Margaret Barry, banjo; Michael Gorman, fiddle; Seamus Ennis, Uilleann pipes (bagpipes); Joe Heaney, vocals.
Recorded at the Kings Arms, Kentish Town, London and the Bedford Arms, Camden Town, London.
Baalbeck (Lebanon): Umayyad Mosque within the Citadel: View of Arabic Inscription No. XXVII, in Naskhi Mameluke Script [graphic]
Photo File 14, vol. 1, image No. 146
Finding aid available in the Archives Department and on Internet http://www.asia.si.edu/archives/finding_aids/herzfeld.html#series4
Handwritten notes accompanying related print in photo file 14, vol. 2 reads, "Baalb. XXVII."
Additional information from Finding Aid reads, "Subseries 4.14: Photo File 14 (2 vols.), "Syria: Architecture & Inscriptions," Subseries 4.14.1: vol. 1; Image No. 146 (Negative Number: 3792). Baalbek. Inscription. XXVII."
Additional information from staff reads, "Under the Ayyubids (1175-1250) and the Mamluks (1279-1516), Baalbek witnessed a revival of its political and economic role. To defend the city from crusader attacks, the Ayyubids built a citadel on the site of the temples of Jupiter and Bacchus, which continued to be used during the Mamluk period. Of this citadel and the town that existed within, the fortification wall, a gate, the towers and a mosque remain. Outside the fortified citadel, the old Shiite Mosque, the great and the small Ras al-Ain Mosques, Qubbat al-Amjad, Qubbat Douris and Qubbat as-Saadin were constructed."