Healthy coral at the Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize. Photo by Justin Catanoso
This represents my first ocean-related climate change story, based on reporting in early March 2016 some 50 miles off the coast of Belize. Invited by my friend and mentor Miles Silman, a Wake Forest tropical ecologist, I joined his coral ecology students over Spring Break and snorkeled every day. My story for Mongabay.com is here. Summary by my editor Glenn Scherer:
Lighthouse Reef Atoll in Belize is part of the Caribbean Sea’s Mesoamerican reef system, the world’s second largest. It is stubbornly resilient, and one of the last best places in the western Atlantic in need of total preservation. But virtually no action is happening to conserve it.
To save it, the entire reef needs to be a “no take zone,” allowing minimal livelihood fishing by local families, but banning the Guatemalan fishermen who the government of Belize has licensed to legally fish for sharks — exported for shark fin soup to China, at $100 per bowl.
The only thing that can save this World Heritage site is full protection: a ban on all large-scale commercial fishing, and the encouragement of eco-tourism to support the local people economically and to generate the funds needed for enforcement and high-tech monitoring.
Belize cannot, and will not likely, do the job alone. If this aquatic treasure is to be preserved for the future, the international conservation community will need to awake to its likely loss, and rally vigorously to the cause of permanently protecting it — now, before it is gone.
Miles Silman snorkeling. Photo by Justin Catanoso
Starfish in the sea grass. Photo by Justin Catanoso
Naomi Oreskes. Photo by Harvard University photographer Claudio Cambon
Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor of the history of science, and an outspoken champion of the climate science surrounding global warming, spoke at Wake Forest on Feb. 16, 2016, in a high-energy panel discussion moderated by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry. When i told my Mongabay editor Glenn Scherer about the event, he recommended I interview Oreskes for an online Q&A. I did. With so many similar interests (tobacco industry malfeasance to climate change science), we had a long, intense discussion. The result is a very readable and insightful Q&A, linked here.
Excerpt regarding climate denial: It’s a cliché to say that knowledge is power. It’s not true actually. Knowledge is knowledge. In our society, knowledge resides in one place, and for the most part, power resides somewhere else. And that disconnect is really the crux of the challenge we face right now.
Emel Salazar in La Oroya, Peru: “The life of the plant is more important than anything the pope says.” Photo by Jason Houston
Every Pulitzer Center journalist must ensure that his or her work will be published or broadcast before a grant is considered. That’s the model. They pay expenses so that your work can fill the gaps of news organizations that want foreign reporting, but no longer have staff abroad. When my Pulitzer turn came around around again last spring, I called an editor I’ve long admired but never had the opportunity to work for: John Drescher of the New & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. After explaining my project, he readily agreed to take one of my stories. I was thrilled.
So on Sept. 20, 2015, I had my first page 1 story in a Sunday daily newspaper since I left the News & Record in Greensboro in May 1998. That’s a long time before Sunday fronts, but given that the N&O practically cleared page 1 for me and published all 1,900 words I wrote, plus several photos, it was worth the wait. It’s funny, but in buying papers in Chapel Hill, I felt the same thrill I did when I was a kid, seeing my first byline in print.
Front page, The Sunday News & Observer, Sept. 20, 2015. Photo by Justin Catanoso
Wake Forest ecology student learn first hand the perils of plastic on Long Caye. Photo by Justin Catanoso
During the week of March 7, 2015 — Spring Break — my wife and I traveled with a group of Wake Forest University students and faculty in a coral ecology class. Arriving in Belize City late morning, we all boarded a boat called the Great White and piloted 47 miles into the Caribbean to Lighthouse Reef Atoll, a remote and mostly untouched set of six islands on the world’s second-largest coral reef. We set up home for the week on Long Caye (2.5 miles long; 0.9 milewide) and the Itza Lodge, a fabulous, rustic eco-lodge used mostly by university groups and some intrepid tourists.
The beauty of the coral reef on Lighthouse Reef Atoll is unsurpassed. Photo by Justin Catanoso
My goal journalistically was to return with a story tied to the underwater marvels we saw while snorkeling daily in the clear turquoise water in the Atoll — including the famous Great Blue Hole. Instead, I came back with a heartbreaking story about our voluminous, reckless use-and-disposal of all manners of plastics, and how it is marring a place as beautiful, pristine and remote as Long Caye.
My radio commentary for March 27, 2015 was based on my Spring Break trip to Lighthouse Reef Atoll and Long Caye, which is located 47 miles off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean. In such a tiny, remote and pristine place, I was stunned by the sight of so much plastic waste. I wrestled with how to localize this international problem for my Triad Business Journal column. Fortunately, Will Scott, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, offered exactly what I needed to hear. The radio report with Keri Brown is here.
Excerpt: “I think the first thing is understanding that when it comes to the environment, our actions here have an impact just about everywhere else. That’s when you realize that how you answer the question ‘paper or plastic’ can make a difference. So can buying a Brita filter instead of a case of bottled water.”
The view from 13,000 feet in Manu National Park, Andes Mountains, southeastern Peru.
This radio report (7:17 minutes) for WUNC-North Carolina Public Radio overviews my climate change reporting in summer 2013 from the Amazon basin of Peru. It discusses the implications of upslope tree migration in the Amazon jungles as a result of warming temperatures.
The second recording (12 minutes) is of Wake Forest biologist MIles Silman and me on the afternoon news program at WUNC, The State of Things, with Frank Stasio, discussing the same topic.
Wake Forest biologist Miles Silman in the Peruvian cloud forest.