Environment

Scenes from a Louisiana oyster boat

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At the Society of Environmental Journalists meeting, I got to go out on an oyster boat operated by John Tesvich and his nephew, Luke. We learned about the challenges to oyster reefs, including Katrina, the BP oil spill, the low-oxygen "dead zone" along Louisiana's coast, and the proposed freshwater diversions that will build up wetlands along the coast.

Above all, oysterers want to preserve their lifestyle, and it's clear why. It's not an easy life, but it's a special one.

(All photos are my own.)

 

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News: SEJ Award

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The breeding area in Burghausen in 2012; my first visit. That's my tent in the background.

Thanks to the judges of the SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment for honoring The New Flight of the Ibis with third place in the Outstanding Feature Story category. This is what they said about the story:

At a time when so much reporting on the environment is discouraging, if not downright depressing, along comes a feature story that lifts the reader off the ground with hope.  Writer Chelsea Wald introduces a determined scientist who teaches himself to fly so that he can train a flock of northern bald ibises, nearly extinct, to migrate again. And while Wald's story covers many years and much frustration, she does it with a light touch. The story of this unusual conservation project is not without tragedy, but the overall takeaway is refreshingly sweet.

I don't think the third prize winner gets to make an acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, so I'll use this opportunity to say that this story exists because of the vision and thoughtful editing of Nautilus editor Kevin Berger. And of course because of the Johannes Fritz, the Waldrappteam, and the northern bald ibises, who generously let me hang around and answered questions for hours.

I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and making new at the SEJ conference in New Orleans. If you are reading this and will be there, too, please let me know so that we can meet.


Northern bald ibis resources

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A northern bald ibis flying home to its nest in Burghausen, Germany (credit: C. Wald)

If reading my stories on the northern bald ibis in Nautilus, BBC Wildlife, Science, Nature, and Earth Touch is not enough, here are some resources where you can learn more, keep up to date with developments, or just look at beautiful photos. If you have suggestions for others, let me know.


The largest subterranean lake in Europe

GlueckaufSome people go to the pool when it's hot; my friends and I go to a cave. What the Seegrotte Hinterbrühl, just 17 kilometers from the center of Vienna, lacks in beauty and wildlife, it makes up for in pure cold. Inside, it's 9 degrees Celsius all year round.

Not that the Seegrotte is completely ugly, though some of its history is. Its existence began in the late 1800s when miners dug it out in order to extract grey and red gypsum for fertilizer. So it's not really a cave at all, but a mine. Mining is a dangerous business; so much so that the traditional miners' greeting in Austria is "Glück auf!" a wish for luck. Mining can also be a sad business. The guide informed us that the horses used by the miners lived their whole lives underground, ultimately leading to blindness.

BoatIn 1912, the miners accidentally blasted through a wall that was holding back water. The result was that 20,000,000 liters flooded in, putting an end to the mining and creating the largest underground lake in Europe -- 6,200 meters in area and up to 12 meters deep. Twenty years later, the first tourists entered the cave. It is erily lovely -- the still, lifeless waters glow blue under artificial lights.

Disney decided to film parts of the 1993 movie The Three Musketeers there, and they left behind a spooky gilded boat and the set for D'Artagnan's prison. The boats that took us along the lake were more plain and practical than the movie version, but that's a good thing -- some tourists drowned in 2004 when an older style of boat overturned.

But that unfortunate accident is not even the most haunting thing about the Seegrotte. During the Second World War, the Nazis used the cave as an airplane factory. Concentration-camp prisioners were forced to work there, assembling parts for the first jet plane, which never went into use. At the end of the war, the German armed forces destroyed the factory, but quite a few airplane parts remain and are on display. Working in that cold, dark place must have been miserable.

Not having done my homework in advance, I went to the Seegrotte expecting bats or eyeless fish. What I found instead were ghosts.

(Photo credits to Rachael Lloyd (top) and Florian Pötscher (bottom).)