Sunday, 31 March 2013

EASTER SPECIAL: A Trip to Easter Island

Geography with Dan once featured an article about Christmas Island; it gave my blog a certain festive feel during the season. And so, I continue the tradition this weekend, with a spotlight on its sister, 'Easter Island'.

As one more piece of chocolate slowly melts away and slides down the gullet, you're flicking through the holiday catalogues in search for a perfect summer location, but it's unlikely you'll find even a mention of Easter Island. After all, it's been described as "one of the most isolated places in the world". 2600 miles east of Polynesia, and 2300 miles west of Chile, it's a mere freckle in the Pacific, and only 63 square miles in area itself. It's geological history, it being a volcanic outcrop, makes it one of the remote pockets  on the planet.

Remote, yes, but not uninhabited. Settlers arrived around 400 AD, and colonists grew to about 7000. "They parcelled the island into small territories and ultimately turned on one another in the drawn-out paroxysms of societal and environmental collapse" as my National Geographic reports from March 1993. And yet, although they charred their mark upon the landscape, the island shaped their souls.
Make a visit today, and a fraction of this quintessential primitive lifestyle is still observable. Local knowledge and community culture has only enhanced as a result of the isolation from both occident and orient societies, and what's more, Easter Island evokes great speculation due to the impressiveness of its archaeological sites.

But why 'Easter' Island? Does it hold religious significance? Well, no. As you peel the foil off another egg on this Easter Sunday, consider that the Europeans founded this small island on this day in 1722. Recently, a wave of modernisation has taken place. A surge of amenities that have brought 640 hotels  and 530 motor vehicles. Telephones have been introduced as well as the fax machine. Having said this, the present day community of 2800 live in a concentrated region, in Honga Roa on the South West Coast. Since 1965, in particular, a large transformation has been introduced, induced somewhat by a young school-teacher's open letter of protest to the Chilean government about living conditions on the island. The protest led to the end of military rule, giving Easter Island the civil status it perhaps needed. Two years later, an air service made a base on the island and the tourist industry started to grow.

One of the sights many fly thousands of miles to espy upon are the 'Moai'. Artisans carved the Moai centuries ago from volcanic rock at a quarry  a mile away, using stone tools. These figures range between 4 and 33 feet and weigh up to 80 tons; they embellish the island's primal atmosphere, and give the island a sense of human resilience and ingenuity. Others suggest the contrary and some advise that Easter Island is a "cautionary parable"; a society destroying itself by wrecking it's environment.

Pulitzer Prize Winner,  Jared Diamond, presents this island as "the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by over-exploiting its own resources and a worst-case scenario for what may lie ahead of us in our own future." She goes on to say that the "Moai accelerated its self destruction" calling them "power displays where people competed by building the biggest statues."

"Modern day islanders confront a fresh challenge: exploiting their cultural legacy without wrecking it."

In my own opinion, and I can't possibly speak from experience, but from understanding nonetheless, the lives of the islanders, both past and present, is a testament that there is still strength, despite the confines of the island. They sustain an ingenuity to exploit natural resources,  realising circumstances may indeed change. They are unique, in a way. For once, here's an island where inhabitants know who they are, where they live, and what their role is in society. 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

KEEP CALM AND EXPLORE WITH DAN- Brand New Series for 2013

Next week will see the launch of Daniel's Brand New Series- Keep Calm and Explore with Dan. It takes Dan all around the country, to various cities, but instead of espying the buildings, he makes his way around the quiet, peaceful pockets of natural beauty.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Saturday, 23 March 2013


Last week, the Saturday Supplement took a plunge into the depths of our world's oceans, and with the sad news this week that George Lowe (who was at the aid of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing in conquering Everest, in 1953) died on Wednesday, it's fitting to remind ourselves not just of the captivating diversity of the planet, but specifically the incalculable buckets of energy humans have expended on braving the skin piercing winds and battling the razor sharp fingers of this great mass of rock.

Hillary and Tenzing defied the oppressive elements of the Himalayas in 1953, and made marks atop an unexploited pocket of the world, only a couple of days after Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, but it was an achievement many had attempted in the past, and an accolade that many would pursue in the future. The National Geographic documents in great detail the expeditions over the last century; I am lucky to find many in my collection.

Perhaps this may seem an oddity, but I will begin with an article from January 1961 which wasn't necessarily a year for numb fingertips or Prussian blue noses, but a pinnacle year for Dag Hammarskjold, a security general at the UN. Instead of clambering the peaks, he took a flight around the area and observed with great reverence, the sheer challenge that Hillary and Tenzing faced. "They were an oddly matched pair but combined qualities to bring them to that summit." So very often, the success of these feats relies on the relationship shared between the undertakers; I have no doubt Hillary and Tenzing shared a burning passion for peril and a thirst for exploration. Dag, I think, expresses this himself. "To someone who has learnt to love the mountains and see in mountaineering one of the most satisfactory ways we can test our ability against nature, it is somewhat shameful to approach the Himalayas by plane."

Both Hillary et al. and Dag surveyed the beauty that the summit of Mt. Everest upholds, and yet I suspect Hillary's team savoured more satisfaction from the accomplishment. Climbing Everest has never been easy, and it never will be, so what drives those towards the venture? In August 1963, in the National Geographic, Barry Bishop of Maryland made the acquisition, but not without incident, and bed-bound in hospital for several weeks, he observed that "desire and determination" led him to fulfil his dream. "I'd have crawled on hands and knees."

'Big Jim' Whittaker, in the October 1963 edition- incidentally, the Society's 75th Anniversary Issue- comments that "man is at his best when reaching for something beyond his grasp." Climbing has always been celebrated internationally, and psychologically, it can uplift someone to a summit of euphoria. That seems to be the case for those who attained the apex of Mount Everest, and yet each mountaineer has their own unique feelings. Barry Bishop, upon reaching the zenith, wrote: "All inhibitions stripped away, we cry like babies. With joy for having scaled the mightiest of mountains; with relief that the long torture of the climb has ended." He goes on to make a very poignant point. "In the quiet of the hospital, I ponder the lessons we have learnt. Everest is a harsh and hostile immensity. Whoever challenges it declares war. He must mount his assault with the skill and ruthlessness of a military operation. And when the battle ends, the mountain remains unvanquished. There are no victors, only survivors."

Barry's feelings seem composed, but then he is making them from under the comparable luxury of the hospital bedsheets. In 1981, Reinhold Messner attempted to climb the highest mountain on Earth, completely solitary. From the pinnacle, his thoughts may seem less concrete but then he was probably unstable physically, such is the effect inspired by this altitude. "I still don't know how I managed to achieve the summit. I only know that I couldn't have gone any longer. I was at my limit."

Although George Lowe will be remembered for his notable efforts in the '53 climb, he also assisted a mission in 1983 with a team of 13 or so experienced mountaineers. The July 1984 article draws on the buttress that is named after him, following his scouring of it. It's over 3000 feet and the caption captures, I think, the essence of what a true mountaineer is all about. "George Lowe: one of our strongest climbers strikes a non-chalent pose with nothing beneath him but air."

This week we will mourn the loss of the last of the 1953 team, but Lowe's zeal for brushing so close to danger will live on, and it's this spirit that will support future mountaineers as they edge ever closer to any summit. From a National Geographic in September 1997, I shall draw a conclusion. "Climbers keep coming, not because Everest is the point of exploration, but because it is the path- the ultimate route for an inner journey that leads, they hope, to self discovery. Everest rarely delivers such big personal change. It's like they say," notes photographer Beidleman, "wherever you go, there you are."

Saturday, 16 March 2013

SATURDAY SUPPLEMENT: 'Mining' our oceans- but is it really ours?

I am tapping these keys whilst cruising the M25, having just returned from an open day at the Royal Holloway, University of London; an institution of excellence in which I will be immersed within from September. I will have the pleasure of becoming engrossed under a duvet of innovation, wrapped in a sandwich of cutting edge geographical exploration, absorbed into a warm and friendly society with a shared zeal for learning. In short, pure bliss.

This afternoon, if nothing else, has reaffirmed my passion for discovery and in particular, my ardour for Geography. Even if Earth has been poked and prodded, scrutinised and sampled, modelled and mapped, I know that there are aspects of this planet that we know very little about. Arguably, man knows more about the surface of the Moon than we do about our own sea floor, though interestingly enough, both have sparked interest in the mining industries.

In the news this week, a "new and controversial frontier in mining is opening up" as a British firm- UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin- is set to exploit the ocean floor. Ironically, such a plummet to the depths of our world as we know it, is perhaps a zenith of a triumph, as a survey has revealed that parts of the Pacific sea floor are residence to a huge number of valuable metals. Specifically, (maybe for those with an urge for a spot of deep sea diving) the area concerned here lies south of Hawaii, along the western coast of Mexico; an area twice the size of Wales and 4000m deep. However, litigiously, vacuuming these minerals could result in incalculable damage to marine ecosystems. Any mining activity could generate plumes of sediment that could quite literally choke the aquatic life that feed by ingesting water and filtering out vital nutrients.

In an age where everything has a value, from a Shark's tooth to a Rhino's horn, from the tangible to the 'idea', it's easy to see why UK Sea Bed Resources has secured a license to explore the possibilities of mineral extraction. Shadowing the underwater acts though will be those who fear the risk to marine integrity; arguably a recent league of concern.

I delved back to a National Geographic article from November 1961, where in report is an ocean-bound investigation, 20 miles off San Diego. As it quite proudly states, "they went not to seek oil, but to probe the secrets of our planet's heart and past." In a project known at the time as Mohole, the initial plan was to drill a Mohole through the Earth's crust, and yet nowhere in the article is the slightest hint at the environmental impacts involved. No word or phrase makes even a passing consideration to how the drill- a tool just to settle a few curiosities- might be influencing underwater fauna and floral species. But I then shuttle forwards just a mere twenty years, to December 1981, and the mood is shifted. The Mohole project from the 1960s was incidentally aborted because of soaring costs, a fact the National Geographic have very little trouble reporting twenty years later. But whilst the drilling was taking place, fascinatingly, Hess was drilling through the boundaries of knowledge to make a landmark discovery of sea floor spreading, which he later addressed in a very notable paper called 'An Essay in Geopoetry'. Six years later, in 1968, the Glomar Challenger vessel was negotiating a deep sea drilling project, and sampling deeper than ever before. It was found that water ejects from hydrothermal vents and is rich in minerals, a fact that later on would become a fountain of hope for the mining industries.

Here in this 1981 article, readers are taken to the Red Sea where an oozing mud over 60 degrees C contains a bounty of elements, namely Silver, Lead, Zinc, Copper and Iron worth potentially billions of dollars. "Exploitation has been held back by legal and technical factors," it states. "Inability of the world's nations to agree on a Law of the Sea treaty has delayed the start of deep sea mining for more than 10 years," which is an interesting point to make. Similarly, this week, as the UK Seabed Resources applies to sweep up Manganese like a broom brushes dust, this has been noted as a "controversial frontier" and quite possibly Lockheed Martin will face rigid opposition. After all, it wouldn't be the first time. My 1981 report continues.

"Lockheed has developed a working prototype for Ocean Minerals company...the bottom-travelling miner collects, washes, and crushes nodules, then pumps the slurry past a flotation block that keeps cables and hoses off the bottom. The biggest impediment to full-scale mining is the unclear status of international law to settle the questions- who has to right to mine the ocean, and for whose benefit?" Even if the "stakes are huge", "the chances of polluting the seas, possibly causing irreversible damage to their life forms and the shores they wash, grow with every offshore discovery". The elements found in plentiful supply might have a high price-tag, but does it really compete with the value of nature?

This will forever be a contentious issue, and I'm sure that until collaboration is sought, delays are inevitable. After all, I turn to an article from March 1998: "No one really knows how to manage an ocean," it claims. "Or even part of one."  

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Daniel will be back on the screens next month in a BRAND NEW SERIES!
More details coming soon!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

BANDANA- 10th March 2013

If you missed Daniel's weekly Sunday night radio show, you can listen to it again, by clicking the link below

Saturday, 9 March 2013

SATURDAY SUPPLEMENT: Climate Change- but when will 'we' change?

There's an opulent odour of sweet chocolate truffles and the aromatic fragrance of bath bombs emanating from British households this weekend; it's wafting out the letterboxes as the nation's postmen relieve their vans of a burdened load of gift wrap and 'Me to You' teddies. It must be Mother's Day this Sunday.

I wonder how many of us will celebrate the unparallelled supremacy of arguably the greatest Mum of all: Mother Nature? After all, it's the matchless Mother Nature that offers such a diverse array of flora and fauna for us to savour. It's Mother Nature that makes this planet the vibrant yet intriguing place it is and it's because of her dynamism, that we continue to discover new fascinating gems of information every day.
It's therefore a shame that, whilst we offer ribbons and bows to our own mothers, we aren't really giving much of a gift to Mother Nature. Only this week, in the news, the glaciers of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago will undergo a dramatic retreat this century if warming projections hold true. According to the Geophysical Research Letters journal, "the region's ice fields could lose perhaps as much as a fifth of their volume." Since 2003, as a result of a warming world, ice has been "thinning at a rapid about 70 billion tonnes and is accelerating."

So we return to the heated debate of global warming; pun very much intended here. In my own opinion, and from someone who witnessed first-hand the calamitous effects of a warming planet in Alaska, I ask not what we can do to slow the warming, but just how concerned are we about it. I ask this only because after much delving into my vast collection of National Geographic magazines that this feature regularly returns to, I spot a recurring pattern; decades of disregard, an abandonment of ambition and action, and generally careless negligence on behalf of the world's governments. To back up that latter statement, all I have to do is type one word. Kyoto.

Admittedly, the degree of success we have had to combat any Global Warming, is heavily influenced by the technology available and granted, in the seventies, computers weren't as sophisticated, data loggers weren't as accurate and importantly humans had to do commit to working out their own interpretations rather than to rely on a programme. In the November 1976 issue, scientists were even asking: "Is the world, as a whole, cooling off...or are we instead warming the atmosphere of our planet irreversibly with our industry, automobiles, and land-clearing practises?" With such an indeterminate statement, it's perhaps acceptable that the public couldn't commit to vigorous action; we didn't even know which direction the mercury was moving in our global thermometer. As the article goes on later to say, "Man still does not really know what controls and changes his climate, his daily weather, his seasonal comfort, his year by year livelihood, and the crucial boundary conditions of life." Despite the uncertainty, the article points out that "The question of climate change is no longer just curiosity. We simply cannot afford to arrive unprepared at the doorstep of climate catastrophe."

But we did, didn't we? Turning to an article I've dug from the May 1998 edition, over twenty years later, the first question posed is "How and why does our climate change?" By 1998, the controversy between a warming or cooling planet was perhaps settled, though the editor adds "the debate will rage as long as the evidence is in any way equivocal." For instance, data from satellites and radiosonde balloons indicated a cooling in the lower atmosphere, but warming near Earth's surface, so once again just like in 1976, it's nearly impossible for any united action.

While scientists explore deep into the complexity, the public is left in the dark, and recently it has been more of a case of "Is it too late?" The October 2007 is optimistic in this respect; a stand-first reads: "Global Warming presents the greatest test humans have yet faced. New technologies and new habits offer some promise, but only if we move quickly and decisively."  This glimmer of hope is shadowed somewhat by a gloom of pessimism that casts like a cloud over the body of the text: "No matter what we do now, the warming will increase some. That is, we can't stop global warming. Our task is less inspiring: to contain the damage, to keep things from going out of control."

The challenge to tackle Climate Change is all but inspiring, and it will mean a committed and active effort by all for any progress to take place. As I draw my last National Geographic from the shelf, from September last year, I am aware that, even this week, plans have been unveiled to introduce Global Warming awareness within computer games. Whilst  I have reservations, at least we have accepted the fact that technology can be used for our advantage. But simultaneously, there has to be a 'want' to do it; a genuine will on the behalf of humanity. 
As the article from September 2012 concludes "We need to face up that reality. We don't have to just stand there and take it." And a warming planet is the last gift Mother Nature wants tomorrow!

Thursday, 7 March 2013


A travelling teenager with a passion for geography is hanging up his walking boots to embark on a written adventure about an exploratory trip of a lifetime.
Daniel Evans left his home in Filby to embark on a four-month trip through Alaska, America and Canada at the end of last year after winning a gap year scholarship with the Royal Geographical Society.
And after touching back down on Norfolk soil, the 19-year-old, who has a passion for travel writing and has documented his love of the planet in his online blog, is now penning a book about his adventures.
The former Flegg High School student said: “I’ve always enjoyed travel writing, but on my American trip I only really used my blog to publish my work. I hope that this book will set the foundations for potentially more books, as I embark upon future trips.”
Daniel was among thousands of students who applied for a scholarship. Keen to live the American dream, while exploring some of the world’s most stunning landscapes, Daniel used his £4,000 to jet off to Alaska, the USA’s west coast and Canada. He spent most of his time in Alaska, where he studied the effects of global warming on permafrost, and spent time with some of the world’s leading professors on field trips and excursions.
He said:“The other project I worked on was a pioneering investigation into trying to calculate how much methane is bubbling from our world’s lakes. It meant very cold work out on frozen lakes but the investigation has just featured in the National Geographic and to have worked on a project, which has made it to those glossy pages, is incredibly enriching.”
He is now preparing for his next adventure – studying physical geography at the University of London.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

SATURDAY SUPPLEMENT: Our wars with the jaws

I have to make a confession; I've never watched Jaws, though that's not to say that I wouldn't recognise the memorable two-tone theme. For years, whether it be from personal experience, or from watching teeth-nibbling terrors like Jaws, man has had a negative empathy with Sharks. Even the name is enough to spark ripples on some people's composure. But trepidations aside, we as both a sophisticated and sympathising species have perhaps become too beastly ourselves. This week, the most accurate assessment of commercial fishing suggests 100 million sharks are being killed each year and despite the fact that establishing an accurate rate is difficult, the rate of exploitation is far too high. In 2010 alone, it is predicted that between 63 and 273 million sharks were slaughtered around the world, and this rate hasn't varied substantially in the last 13 years. In some waters, there's more chance of netting marooned treasure than a fin, and now fishing fleets are simply changing location.

When I peeled back a few decades of National Geographic to catch some glimpse of how sharks have been portrayed throughout history, I was astounded to see that the efforts to protect endangered species have most often than not, been rather small-scale and unavailing. In the February 1968 edition, for instance, the core body of the article focuses on just how useful sharks are in the world markets, rather than to raise much needed awareness. Shark livers, I learned, contain quantities of Vitamin A. Until the 1950s, sharks would be slaughtered just for the contents of this one single organ, and it hailed high income for both Japanese and Californian fishermen. From the middle of the 20th century onwards, we learned how to make the vital Vitamin A in large quantities and there is now little demand for shark liver. However, this doesn't stop them from being on the receiving edge of a bullet.

In August 1981, six years after Jaws snapped onto our screens, Australian diver Rodney Fox gave the National Geographic his thoughts on sharks after a serious attack he suffered in 1963. 462 stitches are threaded across the scar; a visual memory of a dive that didn't work out as planned. However, despite his injury "he decries those who kill 'great whites' solely for jaws" as they "bring as much as $1000." Earlier on in the article, Japan was criticised for a poor attempt at protecting sharks. "Despite Japan's leadership in aquaculture and marine conservation, the Japanese public seems unaware of the need to protect sharks." Perhaps the public requires more information and awareness; after all, how can you protect something if you don't know what's threatened? The article closed on a sombre note: "Because we like to swim and dive in an environment unnatural for our species, is it right for us to kill off tens of thousands of harmless residents to ensure our peace of mind?" The Israel Nature Reserve Authority set up a conservation facility off the south coast of the Sinai Peninsula. "We may come to appreciate and understand sharks. As we become more familiar with sharks, the move to protect them may spread."

11 years passed after that '81 article was published, and yet the scene was one of much similarity, if anything more dire. National Geographic from December 1992, took an angle at Whale Sharks; a species in fast decline, and regularly harpooned from small fishing boats. There's a rather arrogant comment from Tokiharu Abe, a Japanese scientist, who said "Japanese fishermen don't like to kill". The truth is, they much prefer to kill sharks than go out of business. From reading, I sensed no immediate efforts to protect the Whale Shark; most reserves were and still are too small to keep up with the number of sharks lost everyday. A thread of hope hangs off the last line of the article: "Shark populations dwindle around the world from overfishing for their fins, fear and vilification are giving way to a more farsighted active concern."

It's only until I reach for the April 2000 National Geographic article on the issue, that I sense some urgency; some sense of impending doom; some switch in consensus. "When Jaws was written, it was genuinely considered that they were anthropophagous- they ate people. Now we know that almost every attack is an accident." Sharks, more often than not, mistake humans for their natural prey. Back in 1975, "it was OK to demonise an animal. Besides, sharks appeared to be infinite in number. No longer." I would have to protest at the sheer length of time it's taken for that to be realised, but at least it has. Scientists estimated the population of some species "dropped by 80%." After much research, two separate issues were highlighted. As well as the fact that sharks are regularly slaughtered for small, yet valuable organs, they're not reproducing at a rate sufficient to maintain a stable population.

The 2000 article tried to seek out a world population count. "We don't even know how many there are around Australia. Not very many though," came the answer. With very little left of some of the most threatened species, the article goes on to state "there has been no public outcry to Save the Sharks." Is our fear for shark perhaps too large? Maybe here's a species we just don't want to protect? Yet, the article concludes with oh so familiar cry of hope: "For them to be driven to extinction by man, a relative newcomer, would be more than an ecological tragedy, it would be a moral travesty."

This week's report calculates about 100 million sharks are caught every year; a figure that has come some way since 2007. I turn the pages of my last shark-infested article, from the March 2007 edition. "73 million sharks die annually for fins" is the rather precise estimate given just 5 years ago, 27 million less than today's figure. Indeed, the issue is, if anything, worsening. "The Oceanic Whitetip- one of the most abundant sharks just three decades ago- is critically endangered." 

Ironically, just like every article I read in research for this week's supplement, I conclude my own article with a sense of hope, though perhaps that's what's been the problem all along. Perhaps mere hope is simply not enough? What is needed now is fast and conscious effort from all countries, not to protect sharks as such, but to inspire economic development. For once a country is developed, it can rely less on the primary fishing industry, and then, at last, can the shark swim without fear.  I do believe that the old saying: "it's scared of you more than you're scared of it" has never been more true.