15 April 2012

Tidepooling in Ecuador

I have recently learned how enjoyable and rewarding it is to discover everything that goes on within tidepools. Unfortunately I have only visited one site, but there is so much life there that I have been more than busy trying to photograph the variety of flora and fauna there. I am excited to do some tidepooling in other sites all along the Pacific coast in Ecuador.

I Googled tidepools Ecuador and all that came up were a couple of pictures of reflections in tidepools and then pictures of my own children, cousin and aunt taken by my own mother when she visited a few years ago!  I guess tidepooling hasn't really taken off as a massive tourist activity in Ecuador quite yet.

I hope this blog post contributes to changing that! I have taken these 20 pictures over the past year on a little beach called Chulluyupe, in the province of Santa Elena, Ecuador. I have no idea what most of these animals are called, or even what some of them are, so any help would be be greatly appreciated!

Getting pictures of the animals that live in tidepools has its challenges. For starters, they are almost all under water, so the reflection gets in the way as does any water movement. I have learned that I have to take an umbrella along to eliminate the sun's reflection in the water to get the right exposure for the pictures. The other challenge is that they are so small that you have to get within a couple of inches, and use macro, to get a good picture. This is not always possible because of the depth of the pools and the formation of the rocks. You have to be a contortionist to get close enough. And don't get the lens wet!

Tidepooling opens one's eyes to worlds unseen. The animals that live in these pools of water have become accustomed to 12 hours of violent movement and 12 hours of relative calm, although it is very difficult to imagine how such delicate animals can live through high tide. I imagine that they all have their little caves where they hide until they can see the sun again. So much diversity exists that it is clear they have evolved into this environment over hundreds or thousands of years. A case in point is the crab that finds places where the waves crash against the rocks and stands right in the most dangerous place. It looks like they will be swept away, but they come out victorious over the waves every time.

This starfish is amazing. The legs don't move at all, but the entire animal creeps along by moving the small filaments. The following picture shows another type of starfish, living alongside urchins.

The underside of this animal is pink and slimy, like a slug. It curls up into a ball in a most amazing way, becoming perfectly spherical.

The next two pictures are the best shots I could get of this kind of crab. It hides when you approach, but its caves are not very deep so I could get the second shot much to his chagrin.

The following picture shows an octopus that likes to hide among the intertidal rocks. It can grow quite big as you can see. This speciman fetches approximately $5 in local markets. This octopus hunter goes through this area every day and catches 4 or 5 a day, but most are much smaller than this one.

This shows the hundreds of hermit crabs that climb all over the seaweed, each with its own shell perfectly suited to its activities and needs.

22 February 2012

RIP Community Composting

One day early in 2012 a petition arrived in my mailbox with 12 signatures of my neighbors demanding that I dismantle our community composting project. It turns out that there were 4 ladies behind the initiative, while the others didn’t really understand what they were signing. They sighted two reasons: infestation of cockroaches, mice, and rats; and that the project made the neighborhood unsightly.

The homeowner’s association called us to a meeting and most of my questions about vermin were left unanswered. Like, why did the rats recently appear when the community composting project has been running for nearly two years? And, why were there rats all over the housing development, and not just on our block?

That unsolved they turned to their surefire argument about how ugly all that “garbage” was in our park. Here they had ready answers: decomposing leaves are ugly, decomposing organic matter is ugly. After explaining things like decomposing leaves make good dirt and getting nowhere, I realized that I had touched a raw nerve. These same ladies had previously cut down three medium sized trees in the housing development because “they made too much garbage.” Garbage is anything that does not belong in the house and it needs to go “away” immediately. Anybody who does not comply with this is dirty.

Although many decades away now, Ecuadorians, and especially Guayaquileños act as if they still collectively recalled the days of the muckrakers, the men whose unsightly job it was to pick up and haul away feces from homes lest it lie in the streets. The fight against infectious diseases scarred generations. There are also more recent memories before the land fill was built of garbage piled in dumps around the city, and even more recently of a protracted garbage worker strike during which people built huge piles of waste in the streets. Infestations of rats, powerful odors and infectious diseases, each associated to varying degrees with these episodes of the city’s past, are burned in people’s memory as natural consequences of not “getting rid” of garbage.

Having dismally lost that argument, I appealed to what I thought would surely stir them to reconsider their demands. People in more modern cities pay to participate in community gardens, in which composting is a central element. There are many reasons for this: to feel a stronger bond with the earth, to cultivate healthy vegetables, to diversify their diet, to build a community of friendly neighbors, to make their neighborhood greener and more beautiful, and to teach their children to value taking care of the earth, to comprehend how food waste eventually generates healthy soil, to appreciate the commitment it takes to sow, cultivate and harvest, and on an even more basic level, so they simply know where food comes from.

I related to them that I have a junior youth group in the neighborhood and that the community service project they chose was to make a community garden with the soil harvested from the compost, and I talked about how transformative this action will become for these youth’s lives.  I even asked them about their own children and their attitudes towards the earth, related these attitudes to the woeful state of the environment in the city and how this awareness is directing the future of more advanced cities and countries. Passionate and sporadically eloquent as it was, my plea fell on deaf ears. “If all of these things are so important to you, then why don’t you buy yourself a piece of property in the countryside and do all of these things there?”, they answered.

I don’t mind dealing with ignorance, as I have plenty of my own, but these ladies had come to the meeting to “win”, and not to learn anything. A closed mind cannot be reasoned with. When I realized this and I had said my piece, I felt that any further arguments or fighting would only kindle their ignorance into a flame of belligerence. For fear of smear campaigns and more aggressive petitioning, I desisted.

Over the next week I dismantled the project and asked the administrator of the homeowner’s association to direct the gardeners to put the humus in sacks so I could use it to make a garden either there or in my own backyard. She agreed but within the week I found that it had been taken “away”, presumably thrown into the garbage. People capable of throwing commercial quality humus to the garbage, ignoring even its monetary value, wear blinders so powerful that the mind and heart are eventually crushed under the weight of their own intellectual isolation.

Other participants in the project expressed their sadness at what happened so weakly that I began to wonder if anything at all had been accomplished through the project. Perhaps a bit more distance is required to properly answer this question. Until I glean worthwhile lessons from this episode, I will detach my heart from it all, make peace with my neighbors and learn to accept them as people who rose up to express their beliefs to improve their neighborhood. For now, their version of the status quo has been restored, fears have been assuaged and control over a “chaotic” situation has been regained. My perspective is not compatible with theirs in the way it was presented and this is my failure. I am the foreigner, and my intention to educate has failed. As an educator, I should have known better.

They certainly have not heard the last from me, though. I will regroup and launch a new and improved initiative that will incorporate all of the valuable lessons I have learned through this turbulent episode.