Earthwatch Institute

To engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.
Jul 28, 2016

Massive Translocation Effort Underway in Malawi!

Helicopters guide animals into holding pens
Helicopters guide animals into holding pens

Greetings! Earthwatch's Animals of Malawi in the Majete Wildlife Reserve's fourth year of field research got underway last month with two full research teams of six volunteers each joining Dr. Alison Leslie to collect data on the ongoing restoration and recovery of the reserve which features elephants, rhinos, impala and other herbivores; carnivores such as leopards, lions, and hyenas; and many other iconic African species.

Also underway is a massive translocation effort – a human-assisted wildlife migration from Majete to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in the northern part of the country (a journey of approximately 500 kilometers). Helicopters are used to guide selected animals into holding pens, where they will be guided into large transport containers hitched to trucks that will drive them to their new homes. This enormous undertaking began this month and will continue into 2017.

This remarkable achievement provides a wonderful ending to what started out as a conservation horror story. Not long ago, the Majete Wildlife Reserve was devoid of wildlife. Rampant poaching, logging, and charcoal burning destroyed the region’s habitat. By the mid-1980s, only a few hippos and crocodiles remained. But in 2003, everything changed. African Parks, a non-profit organization, launched a partnership with the Malawian government and local communities to return Majete to the wildlife haven it once was by “re-stocking” the park with 14 native species.

Today, 13 years after the initial conservation efforts, 2,500 elephants, buffalos, waterbuck, nyala, hartebeest, zebras – even critically endangered black rhinos – have been reintroduced in the reserve. And many species are doing so well that, to prevent destruction of vegetation in the park, some of the animals are being re-located to other protected reserves where populations are struggling. As the Majete Reserve continues to thrive through excellent management policies, other parks in the region will be given a chance to rewrite their conservation stories as well.

Thank you again for your ongoing support that makes long-term research and conservation victories like this possible. We couldn't do it without you!

With gratitude,

Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving & Advancement Services
hwilcox@earthwatch.org
978-450-1208

P.S. Remember, you don't just have to read about this research from afar... you can be at the center of the action as an Earthwatch research volunteer! Please follow the link below to see which teams are still accepting volunteers for 2016.

Zebras are corralled for transport
Zebras are corralled for transport
Zebras are herded into shipping containers
Zebras are herded into shipping containers
Earthwatch volunteers collect data on wildlife
Earthwatch volunteers collect data on wildlife
Mother and baby elephant
Mother and baby elephant
Buffalo
Buffalo
Impala
Impala

Links:

Jul 28, 2016

Tracking Fire & Wolves: Early Findings from 2015

Volunteers walk a transect in front of the Rockies
Volunteers walk a transect in front of the Rockies

Greetings! With your support, Earthwatch’s Tracking Fire and Wolves Through the Canadian Rockies citizen science expedition is roughly half way through its second year of field research, which runs from May through the end of August. In 2015, 9 teams of 28 volunteers joined Dr. Cristina Eisenberg and her research team in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta to collect data on the dynamic relationship between fire, aspen, elk and wolves.


Fire increases both resources available to elk (aspen sprouts) and predation risk (thick post-fire vegetation that makes it hard for elk to detect and escape predators). By studying the effects of controlled burns across multiple sites, Dr. Eisenberg will answer the following research questions:

  1. How has the extent of aspen cover changed? 
  2. How have fire and herbivory by elk impacted the ability of aspen to grow into the forest canopy)? 
  3. How does the presence of wolves influence elk consumption of aspen?
  4. What factors influence elk browse on aspen?
  5. What factors influence aspen recruitment?

As is the case with any fire study, multiple years of data collection are necessary because it takes several years for the full ecological impacts of fires, which are quite complex, to develop. The goal of this project is to record at least a 5-year time series for each burn site. However, several key observations are already emerging.

Prescribed fires stimulated vigorous sprouting of aspen, but didn’t kill significantly more trees than those that were dead before the fire. It also improved wildlife habitat. Post-fire, ecologically important native grasses were thriving and shrub biodiversity increased. Aspen sprouts, native grasses, and shrubs provide important foods for elk, deer, songbirds, and insects. Consequently, within ten weeks after one of these prescribed fires, one study site had turned into a wildlife magnet teeming with activity.

Other data show that between 2008 and 2015, the density of young recruiting aspen increased while the density of mature and senescent aspen declined. This could suggest several things: 1) elk are avoiding aspen and are eating more grass, which increases in nutritional quality post-fire. 2) there are so many aspen sprouts to eat, that elk impacts on these sprouts are proportionately lower; and 3) elk may be avoiding aspen sprouts because it is more difficult to escape predators when browsing in an aspen thicket that has grown more dense also as the result of the fire.

We look forward to expanding on these preliminary observations after data collection is complete for 2016. Thank you again for your support! Ecological restoration requires long-term research that wouldn’t be possible without the generosity and commitment of caring conservationists like you.

With gratitude,

Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving & Advancement Services
hwilcox@earthwatch.org
978-450-1208

P.S. Remember, you don't just have to read about this research from afar... you can be at the center of the action as an Earthwatch research volunteer! Please follow the link below to see which teams are still accepting volunteers for 2016 and beyond.

Volunteers measuring aspen footprint
Volunteers measuring aspen footprint
The majestic elk, key prey for wolves
The majestic elk, key prey for wolves
Dr. Eisenberg leads volunteers to research site
Dr. Eisenberg leads volunteers to research site
Waterton Village, temporary home to volunteers
Waterton Village, temporary home to volunteers
A howling wolf caught on camera
A howling wolf caught on camera

Links:

Jul 28, 2016

Saving Sea Turtles Update from The Bahamas

A green sea turtle is gently captured and measured
A green sea turtle is gently captured and measured

A note of thanks from Lead Earthwatch Scientist Dr. Annabelle Brooks following the conclusion of the 2015 fielding season for Saving Sea Turtles in the Bahamas, now in its third year of research:

Thank you so much for helping make 2015 such a successful year for this study. Your efforts were vital in collecting a vast amount of data, despite having to cancel a team due to Hurricane Joaquin, and also allowed us to see some incredible things in the field, including attempted predation events and turtles with missing flippers.

Throughout the season, field work was a very exciting and rewarding time. Our research teams completed 175 sea turtle abundance surveys, 255 baited remote underwater video surveys, 229 sea turtles captures (121 or 53% recaptures), and 8 accelerometer retrievals in 2015. We have gained insight into the seasonal trends of sea turtles and their predators and are able to start addressing some of the larger questions posed by this project. As we complete the third year of research in 2016, the large data set compiled will be analysed and the insight gained will be ready to publish.

2015 also marked a new chapter for the sea turtle research program. Evidence of poaching at field sites encouraged us to address the lack of awareness and enforcement of the sea turtle harvest ban. We therefore began a new collaboration with the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources to address this urgent issue. The data collected by Earthwatch volunteers will allow us to assess long-term population trends that will help determine if the regulation is an effective conservation measure.

This project also made it possible for school children from Eleuthera and Nassau to see sea turtles up close and learn more about their ecology and the importance of sea turtle conservation, which helps to raise local awareness and supports community engagment. The staff of the Cape Eleuthera Island School also ventured into the field to experience a day in the life of an Earthwatch volunteer. They were thrilled! These individuals are now part of the wider community of sea turtle advocates and conservationists.

I thank you again for supporting this important work.

Sincerely,
Dr. Annabelle Brooks

 

On behalf of everyone at Earthwatch, thank you again for your ongoing support that makes long-term research like this possible. We look forward to sharing more results and updates with you after the 2016 season concludes.

With gratitude,

Heather Wilcox
Director of Annual Giving & Advancement Services
hwilcox@earthwatch.org
978-450-1208

P.S. Remember, you don't just have to read about this research from afar... you can be at the center of the action as an Earthwatch research volunteer! Please follow the link below to see which teams are still accepting volunteers for 2016.

A sea turtle is weighed aboard the research boat
A sea turtle is weighed aboard the research boat
The view from the Research Station
The view from the Research Station

Links:

 
   

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