Thursday, December 9, 2010

Belly Crawling for Conservation

By Clay Bolt

A few years ago I became fixated on one simple, elegant statement in Piotr Naskrecki’s landmark book, The Smaller Majority. Simply put, the author writes that 99% of life on planet earth is smaller than a human finger with most being smaller than a fingernail. This immediately sent my head spinning. I looked out onto my backyard and began to wonder what might be out there to discover, photograph and share with the world. It didn’t take me long to realize that even in an area with a temperate climate such as where I live, this statement inevitably holds true. As a macro photographer, my obsession with insects, plants and other small creatures suddenly found a renewed sense of purpose.

Considering humankind’s obsession with discovery, it surprises me that more photographers aren’t as obsessed with macro photography as I am. What other discipline of nature photography offers so much in terms of an opportunity to make fresh new imagery, which may in fact, also represent behaviors and species completely new to science? Going a step further, these images can also make a tremendous contribution to conservation due to the well-documented fact that invertebrates and other small creatures are tremendously important to the well-being of every eco-system in the world.

The July-August 2010 issue of Audubon Magazine contained a fascinating article on the All Taxa Biological Inventory (ATBI) project currently being conducted in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to the variety of species being found and its inherit biological richness, the article compares the GSMNP to the tropics. Kevin FitzPatrick, a photographer and iLCP member who has spent the last several years working for the ATBI recently shared with me that researchers believe that they have discovered an estimated 1,000 new species in the park over the past 10 years. What else is out there waiting to be discovered is anybody’s guess but most believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

I’ll leave you with this: What if every major nature photography “star” decided to focus their cameras on their own backyards over the span of a year? Can you imagine the incredible new insights and imagery of our natural world which would result from such an experiment? All of us who have a passion for nature and photography should be out getting our knees and elbows dirty from time-to-time. There is so much to see with such little investment if we can only slow down, and change our perspective. It will change the way that you see the world.

Clay Bolt is an award-winning natural history and conservation photographer whose work has been featured by The Nature Conservancy, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, The Telegraph UK, Outdoor Photography (UK), Garden & Gun, Partnership for the Blue Ridge and Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine. In 2009 his work was highly commended in the CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year awards in London. Clay was a major photographic contributor to the book Conserve A Legacy: Natural Lands & Waters in South Carolina (2010) and is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Although Clay Bolt has photographed nature around the world, his passion and focus continues to be educating the public about the importance of protecting and cherishing the wild places, plants and animals of the Southeastern, United States.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

MTR Mining - What About the Science?

By Carl Galie

According to the EPA website, “The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment – air, water, and land – upon which life depends.” In theory this sounds all well and good, but in practice it is another story. Every time there is a change in the Whitehouse, the EPA is required to play ball and enforce the environmental laws of the land as the current administration sees fit. This was never more apparent than in the Bush years when it appeared that the EPA lost its power to protect public health and became almost invisible in the coalfields of the Appalachians.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an EPA hearing in Charlotte, NC on coal ash regulation. For eight hours I sat and listened to testimony from passionate witnesses on both sides of the argument. Opponents against coal ash regulation gave compelling testimony about the potential for job loss in the construction industry if coal ash was to be considered a toxic material. There was also testimony in favor of regulation from everyone from scientists who offered facts about the toxicity of coal ash to concerned residents who live near impoundments, and told stories about health issues brought on because of living near a coal ash site. As I drove home from the hearing and thought about the compelling arguments from both sides, I was left with one burning question: What about the science?

If coal ash was as toxic as the scientists presented it, and they had cold hard facts to back their research, what was the point of these hearings? It seemed like a no brainer to me if the EPA’s mission is to protect public health, then regulate coal ash. Unfortunately it is not that easy. We are a nation of laws, and according to the law, public hearings must be held before enacting something like coal ash regulation. So I left the hearings wondering if the old adage that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” applied here. Was this how environmental regulation worked? Whoever makes the most noise wins? What about the science?

According to the website, “Last April, the Environmental Protection Agency took a bold step toward curtailing mountaintop removal coal mining when it issued draft guidelines that reduced the practice of valley fills — which bury streams and poison Appalachia’s water sources — unless they met a high standard. The guidelines were just one of a series of draft rules issued that day that would reduce the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining. And every day since then, Big Coal has been arguing that the rules are too costly and need to be overturned.” The EPA is currently accepting public comment on its restrictions on mountaintop removal and we will soon know if the EPA will be allowed to rely on good science or if congress will once again interfere.

Another example of political interference can be found in the introduction of H.R.6113: The Electricity Reliability Protection Act of 2010. The purpose of this bill according to those who introduced it is “to protect electricity reliability by prohibiting the use of funds for carrying out certain policies and procedures that adversely affect domestic coal mining operations, and for other purposes.” Translation, it would cut off funding to the EPA for doing their job in the coal fields. Bills like this show the power and influence the coal industry has over our elected officials. You either play ball with the coal industry or loose. Fear tactics work.

With the shift in the balance of power in Washington, the next two years could be very challenging for the EPA without our support. On November 4, I attended an EPA public meeting regarding the Ore Knob mine superfund site in Ore Knob, NC. The meeting was to inform the public about the assessment, cleanup, and upcoming activities at the site. Ore Knob mine was a copper mine that operated from the 1850’s until 1962. While this was not a MTR site, this mine is located in the New River Basin, and many of the water problems the community is facing near this mine could possibly be repeated in the coalfields. I decided to attend this meeting in order to better understand what was happening at this old mine, and learn what the estimated cost of cleanup was since this scenario could repeat itself over and over in coal country as MTR sites are mined out and closed. What I heard was both startling and heartbreaking.

The EPA concluded that high concentrations of manganese and cadmium were contaminating many of the wells and springs near the old mine site and they had determined which direction the contamination was spreading. The immediate cost of doing a quick fix to slow down the pollution was over $7,000,000. When asked how long it would take to find a permanent solution for the problem, the EPA told the community they had no idea because it could take years once a solution was decided upon since they would have to wait for funding approval. Since most of the property owners attending the meeting were elderly, my guess is that a permanent solution will not occur during their lifetime because once again their fate was in the hands of politicians who hold the EPA purse strings.

As I left the meeting, I began to think about the cost of remediation for this 47-acre site and wondered what the cost could be 50 years from now if an MTR site like the Hobet 21 mine in West Virginia, which is over 10,000 acres, began contaminating the water in surrounding communities. The cost would be astronomical. Who would end up paying for the cleanup? The American taxpayer is funding the cleanup at Ore Knob.

Just to put this into perspective, I’ve attached an overlay of the Hobet 21 mine superimposed over a map of Washington, DC provided to me by Maybe the next time our congressmen introduce a bill to protect us from the EPA we should all think about who ultimately ends up paying for the sins of industry before buying into political fear tactics. It’s time we make congress accountable and ask them “what about the science” before allowing them to cut off any EPA funds?

Carl Galie is a North Carolina photographer who left his home in the West Virginia coalfields in 1986to follow a dream. For the last 15 years Carl has devoted his work to conservation issues. Working with organizations like Roanoke River Partners, The Roanoke River Basin Association, and The North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Carl’s photographs of the Roanoke River basin have helped protect and preserve that region since 1995.

He is currently documenting the vanishing beauty of coal country, focusing his attention on the devastating affect mountaintop removal of coal is having on our nation’s water resources.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The POWER of Art in Conservation

If any of you artists and photographers ever doubt the power of your work to open eyes and change minds, just take a look at this video from respected wildlife artist Robert Bateman.

As artists and photographers with a passion for the planet, we have so many communication tools at our disposal with the new technologies that we can and must share our message, our concerns and our passions in diverse venues. It’s infinitely easier than it’s ever been before to “talk” to multitudes of people with our paintings, photographs, poetry and prose. The internet and venues like Facebook, You Tube and countless other sites make it easy to reach out and find a like minded audience to inspire to action through our work.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the power of one”. So make a promise to yourself to take some time to figure out where to focus your power to help the planet.

And if you aren’t already doing so, you might consider selling your work in the Art for Conservation Gallery. You choose the organization and the amount of your proceeds you wish to donate from each sale of your work.

If you are not ready for selling, you can always BUY something from You’ll be helping an independent artist, a conservation cause and a small but fabulous business!

Linda Helm
VP, Art for Conservation

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Going for the Green

By Justin DeMutiis

My photographic style for weddings and portraits has been called natural and organic, stemming from my background in nature photography, but also because of my use of natural light and natural posing. So it is only fitting that my product from start to finish reflect qualities of the natural and packaging that is as eco-friendly as possible.

In 2006, I was 1 of 10 students in North America awarded the College Scholarship award to attend NANPA’s annual Summit. My passion for nature, conservation, and photography were already evident, but to call that experience life altering would be an understatement.

Now I'm a full-time wedding and portrait photographer deeply rooted in my beginnings as a nature photographer and conservationist.

In Florida, being green is a hard sell. Yet, I’m not discouraged. Since college I have been passionate about creating recycling campaigns. It started by putting recycling bins in all the dorms at the University of South Florida. Through the years, I’ve participated in local coastal cleanups and river clean ups. Recently I had the chance to organize my own river clean up and beach cleanups. Today, I find myself making a difference by picking out recyclables out of the garbage on a nearby beach, almost on a weekly basis. Recently, I was contacted by Greener Corners, who specialize in creating public space recycling programs, after a blog posting about my efforts.

From image creation to the final product, I want to create an experience for my clients that is memorable, long lasting, and eco-friendly. All my packaging and shipping material is 100% recycled, and many of my products are eco-friendly or sustainable. I have spent countless hours searching for products that are not only beautiful and timeless, but also contribute to a greener tomorrow. The minimal paper I use with for printing, envelopes, and packaging is 100% recycled kraft paper. I deliver my digital files in a tin-case, or a Loktah DVD case, which are both eco-friendly. I’m also excited to begin working with Cypress Albums, who create the most gorgeous and elegant albums while having strong green business practices as well as green products. Finally, I recycle everything I can, and all boxes and packaging material that comes in is repurposed or recycled.

One of the most effective ways I’ve been able to reduce paper waste is an amazing system called ShootQ. Not only have I improved my client experience, but now my pricing, details about sessions/products, questionnaires, and contracts are all online, so no paper waste!

I have made many efforts in my personal life to be “green”, but I always have new goals to make my business as eco-friendly as possible, here are just three:

1. Spread awareness of Greener Photography methods to at least 3 portrait/wedding photographers.

2. Create at least 2 campaigns/competitions to reward clients and friends for being green this year.

3. I will recycle 100% of my failed discs (Something I just recently became aware of).

This is just a start! While I worked hard to make much of this happen, I didn’t anticipate how excited I would be to make a more eco-friendly business. There are more opportunities than ever to be green, so no excuses! Every little bit counts!

Some of the companies I have used:
Eco-Friendly Packaging:
Tin DVD Case:
Natural Media Products:
Green Album of Choice:

Links to more Green Products and Suppliers:

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's All About the Water

By Carl Galie

When we hear about mountaintop removal of coal, we visualize a devastated landscape, ravaged by what some call “strip mining on steroids”. We have seen the images of mountaintops reduced to rubble, but have we ever stopped to think of the real consequences of this mining practice?

Some view mountaintop removal as a regional problem only affecting a small group of people in the Appalachians and that it should be regulated by the states rather than the federal government. If you look at the larger picture though, you will soon come to realize that mountaintop removal is a national issue that is really all about the water.

The New River is a perfect example. The headwaters of the north fork begin as a small spring located on Snake Mountain near Boone, North Carolina and flows north through Virginia before merging with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River in West Virginia. On its journey north it passes through some of the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems found in the Appalachians.

The Kanawha River begins in the heart of coal country where many of the headwater streams like the one I found on Snake Mountain have been buried by valley fills with the blessing of the federal government thanks to an executive order by the Bush administration in 2002. By simply changing the “fill rule” in the Clean Water Act by reclassifying mining debris from objectionable “waste” to legally acceptable “fill,” the mining industry was given free rein to dump mine waste and bury over 2,000 miles of headwater streams.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Bush era appointee, J. Stephan Griles, who was the Deputy Secretary at the US Department of the Interior and a former lobbyist for the National Mining Association, placed pressure on scientists and staff to disregard extensive scientific findings conducted by five separate federal and state agencies over four years in preparation for an environmental impact statement for the Office of Surface Mining. He felt that the EIS should focus more on centralizing and stream-lining the permitting process rather than concentrate on the negative impact of MTR.

Many of the scientists involved felt this was a disservice to the public and the heart of the Clean Water Act. Besides being the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Griles was also the highest Bush administration official sentenced in the Abramoff scandal for lying to congress.

When will we wake up and understand that political appointees are often given their positions as payback for their support and end up representing special interest groups rather than “we the people.” There is a lot of talk in coal country about how bureaucrats at the EPA are costing jobs, but I can’t help but wonder if the scientists at the EPA were allowed to write and enforce the environmental laws of the land without political interference if this wouldn’t actually create more jobs in the coal fields because coal companies would have to place worker and public safety over profits and hire more employees to comply.

The propaganda machine of the coal industry would lead you to believe that without coal West Virginia would be in worse economic shape than it already is, yet state statistics show that coal production is approximately 7% of West Virginia’s GDP. While the coal industry does provide around 20,000 jobs, many believe that the coal industry has held back West Virginia’s economic growth because of the political leverage it holds over politicians. As long as there is no real competition in the state, the coal industry will continue to enjoy political favors.

Clean water and public health should be above partisan politics. On March 4th, 2009, HR 1310 The Clean water Protection Act was introduced to congress to restore The Clean Water Act to its original intent. As of August 11th, 2010 this bill is still in the first step in the legislative process. Introduced bills and resolutions first go to committees that deliberate, investigate, and revise them before they go to general debate. The majority of bills and resolutions never make it out of committee. This bill and S 696 The Appalachian Restoration Act have been stuck in committee since March 2009, and the possibility exists that these bills may die in committee, especially with any major changes in Washington after the mid-term elections.

A few years ago, while working on a project in eastern North Carolina, there was a push for some industrial development along the lower Roanoke River. Environmentalists argued against the development because of the negative impact it would have on the river. Those in favor of the plant argued that because of the high volume of water flowing down the Roanoke and because water quality was well above minimum government standards there was “room to pollute.” I could not believe someone actually had the audacity to make that statement. For too long we have relied on technology to fix our mistakes. This is an arrogant, misguided line of thinking that we will all pay the price for in the end if we continue down this path.

Contrary to what corporate America would like us to believe “dilution is NOT the solution to pollution.”

Water is the life blood of this planet and clean water is a right we should all enjoy in this country. We should not be held hostage by corporate interests, especially if the laws and environmental impact studies were tainted by political pressure from appointees whose loyalties lie with large corporations. This is not about being conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. Clean water is necessary for our very existence, and we should all band together to demand passage of these 2 bills, regardless of what party is in power. The only thing our representatives in Washington have done collectively is destroy our trust. It is high time they get the message that they represent us too, not just corporate America.

For more information on:
S 696

Carl Galie is a North Carolina photographer who left his home in the West Virginia coalfields in 1986 to follow a dream. For the last 15 years Carl has devoted his work to conservation issues. Working with organizations like Roanoke River Partners, The Roanoke River Basin Association, and The North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Carl’s photographs of the Roanoke River basin have helped protect and preserve that region since 1995.

He is currently documenting the vanishing beauty of coal country, focusing his attention on the devastating affect mountaintop removal of coal is having on our nation’s water resources.

* Text and photos copyright Carl Galie

Monday, July 12, 2010

Numbats – charming and endangered, Part II

By Sharon Wormleaton

Way back in March, I introduced the Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) to Art For Conservation blog readers. For those of you who missed the blog, the numbat is a small termite-eating marsupial found in the wild in south-west Western Australia. It once existed across much of southern Australia but predation by introduced animals such as the European red fox, and land clearing lead to the devastating reduction in distribution and population size.

Numbats are listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and there are thought to be less than 1000 mature individuals remaining in the wild. Recovery efforts for the numbat are largely managed by the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation, and currently include such things as regular fox control at all Western Australian numbat sites; translocation of both wild and captive bred numbats between conservation areas; periodic monitoring of numbats fitted with radio tracking collars; an annual driving survey and an annual radio tracking project. Despite all these efforts, the numbat remains at risk of extinction with feral cats being the main cause for concern at present.

Numbat recovery efforts are currently underfunded. Prior to 2009, funding was readily available through Australian Government grants, but single species recovery has fallen out of favour at the government level, and landscape-based environmental rehabilitation has become fashionable focusing more on habitat quality and threatening processes.

The Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia has kindly offered assistance with respect to raising awareness and much needed funds. One off donations can be made or there is the opportunity to join the monthly donation program for as little as $10. There is also an informative fact sheet for those wishing to learn more about one of Australia’s most remarkable little marsupials.

As far as developed nations go, Australia has the worst record of mammal extinctions and near extinctions. In 2009, Australia quite possibly saw its first mammal extinction in over 50 years with the disappearance of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi), so plenty needs to be done to ensure the same fate doesn’t befall other unique and remarkable animals such as the numbat.

Profits from the sale of Sharon's work on Art For Conservation will also go to numbat recovery efforts.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Condor Conservation in The Andes

by Shyamala Rao

I stood at the edge of the northern shore of the beautiful Nahuel Haupi Lake in the Andes and watched the sunbeams light up the ripples over the sparkling blue water and soaked in the glorious landscape of this enormous lake ringed by Andean peaks. I saw a large bird gliding in circles over the lake. The bird was flying without so much a flap of the wings. “What is that, a hawk?” I asked. The guide said “It is an Andean Condor.” I stared at the huge bird in wonder.

This was my first glimpse of a condor in the wild, completely free and unfettered.I watched as the bird flew in circles, higher, ever higher and eventually was out of sight. Clearly this bird was not in search of food, he was flying into the heavens for sheer joy and perchance to commune with the gods. Small wonder that the Incas believed the condors were God’s messengers and that condors fetched the sun and got it to rise every morning.

We set off in the travel coach and as we turned the corner there were tall and forbidding cliffs to the left and the shimmering lake to the right. The guide said these mountains housed the nests of the condors and pointed out to a couple high up on the mountainside, where we thought we saw the birds crouching and peering into nooks, presumably occupied with feeding offspring.

The cliffs were steel grey, dotted with pink, ochre and umber. There was no vegetation anywhere in sight. The bleakness and the immense height of these nesting grounds made me shudder. Wingless and without flight as I am, the very notion of a little chick high up in a nook or cranny on the side of these mountains made me feel faint with the myriad possibilities of danger and mishaps.

The nesting grounds are between 9800 feet to 15000 feet above sea level. I was informed that the female condor lays just one egg in a recess in the cliffs. The male and female birds guard the egg tirelessly until it hatches after 54 days of incubation. Both parents share the duty of feeding the chick. In the second year the chick is taught to fly. This goes on for another year. Only then does the chick fly away to start on its own life. Mating pairs have one chick every other year.

Condors are part of the scavenger family of birds. These birds are the ‘clean up crew.’ They eat carrion which means they find dead animals and consume them. If the scavengers didn’t do this, then the carcasses would rot and fester. The smells would be overpowering. Flies and other insects would be attracted to the decaying matter and would multiply and spread diseases galore. The decomposing material would contaminate the water source and poison everyone. For some reason the scavenger birds have been associated with death in the minds of humans. This is akin to blaming the undertaker for human death. So over the centuries hunting, poisoning and killing these birds has been engaged in with utter abandon.

Andean Condors are the largest of the flying birds on the planet weighing up to 33 pounds, standing 4 feet tall with a wing span of 10 feet. Their habitat is the Andes Mountain range. They have a wattle on the forehead called a caruncle. They often fly 200 miles a day in search of food. After a good meal they can go for a week or two without food and water. This huge bird flies on warm air currents called thermals and can fly to heights of 28,000 feet. When the bird is circling it is riding the columns of thermal currents. On cloudy days when there are no thermals the condors stay grounded.

On January 19, 2010 a formal partnership was signed between the Directors of the US National Park Service and the Argentinian Administracion de Parque Nacionales. The goal is to have these majestic birds soar the skies of North and South America. These birds have an important role in the folklore of the native population in both continents. They are a symbol of power, liberty and strength. They are believed to carry the wisdom of the gods from the heavens to our earthly realm. The plan is to raise the chicks in captivity for a year and then release them into the wild in Argentina. Many more of these glorious birds will soon be gliding in the pristine skies of the Andean Mountains.

Shyamala Rao is a guest blogger on Art for Conservation. She is a wildlife artist living and working in San Antonio, Texas where she is a practicing psychiatrist. Her interest in wildlife was stimulated by a visit to the Serengeti in 2007 and since then she has been putting her feelings about animals onto canvas. She has just begun writing about conservation issues and hopes that by writing and painting she can do her part in helping conserve the glorious diversity of species on this planet.

This post was excerpted from the full article which can be found on her
Her art can be purchased at

If you would like to guest blog for AFC, sign up here:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is Your Studio Green?

By Kate Dardine

I’m not talking about color here, I’m talking about eco – and health – friendly. Most of us paint away without considering the ramifications to our own health and the health of the planet.

My intention for today’s Earth Day blog was to write about all the ways that you can “green” your studio. The reason was two-fold: to learn ways that I can, as an oil painter, lessen my environmental impact, and to share that info with you. I naively thought that after typing in a few keywords into Google that I’d come up with enough info to write a book. Hardly. There is very little information out there, and what is available can be ambiguous, contradictory and in many cases, impossible to interpret. But I was determined…

Since I am an oil painter, I decided to start there. I use mostly Gamblin paints. Gamblin has a long history of environmental conscientiousness. Their website contains a lot of great information about studio safety. Their odorless mineral spirits (Gamsol) can be used as both a painting medium and a brush cleaner. Unlike regular turpentine, dirty Gamsol can be recycled with paints at the local recycling center. Of course, it is still made from a petroleum base, which by its very nature has an environmental impact. Dick Blick sells a turpentine substitute made by Eco-House called Orange Turpene which is made from “food-quality ingredients” and no petroleum. However, it still is classified as a hazardous material. I use Gamsol and have never had any problems with it – haven’t yet tried the various orange-based solvents made by Eco-House.

I was interested to learn that the cadmium pigments used to make paint are not considered harmful to humans during normal use. Gamblin does not make their Flake White with lead as other paint manufacturers do. However, they, as do all paint manufacturers, highly recommend that you wash your hands thoroughly after painting, or wear protective gloves.

One product that is icky is one that most oil and acrylic painters use – varnish. The best products I could find are still hazardous, and extreme caution should be used - proper ventilation, clothing, gloves and a respirator are all advised, particularly when using spray. Of course there is no law that says you HAVE to use varnish, but most of us like the extra layer of protection and the way it evens out surface reflection and deepens the colors.

And how about the support you paint on? Take canvas – seems environmentally friendly enough. But was the cotton grown using pesticides? Was the wood harvested using sustainable methods? Where was the canvas manufactured? I found some canvas made from organically grown hemp – but it comes from China. The amount of fuel used in transportation may offset the good of organic and sustainable hemp. You’d think someone in the States would figure that one out. I didn’t find any artist canvas made from organic cotton grown and manufactured in the USA. Maybe as artists we need to start demanding it? I know I am going to mention it to the company I buy most of my canvas from: Signature Canvas in Kansas. They use high quality materials all grown and manufactured in the USA, which is a big plus in my book.

How about wood support? According to the manufacturer, “Ampersand panels are made from FSC certified sustainable US Forest products. We use completely green manufacturing processes that protect the natural environment. No harmful chemicals used, no dangerous emissions for artists.” Ampersand panels come in a variety of surfaces for all types of painting processes, from watercolor and pastel to oil and acrylic, scratchboard and encaustic. They are available at a variety of art supply stores, including Jerry’s Artarama. Worth checking out – I know I’m going to try them!

A quick word on cleaning up after painting. Wipe as much excess paint off your brushes onto paper towel (recycled!) or painting cloths as possible. Swirl your brushes in odorless mineral spirits, wipe off on paper towel or painting cloth. Then use an environmentally friendly soap, such as Murphy’s Oil Soap or one of the brands made specifically for brush washing. (If you paint with hog bristle brushes, don’t use soap and water, as water will cause the bristles to get mis-shapen. Use lanolin lotion instead. Dispose of the painting cloths or paper towels into a metal trash bin with a lid.

You can recycle your solvents like this: Get two glass jars with tight fitting lids. Dirty solvent is put into one of the jars and left to stand overnight. By the following day, the pigment in the solvent will have settled to the bottom of the jar. Pour the recycled solvent into the second jar for reusing. The pigment sludge at the bottom of the jar can then be poured into a separate container and disposed of at any paint recycling center.

Make sure your studio is well ventilated – if possible, cross ventilate with a box fan in one window blowing air out of the studio and a second window open to let in fresh air. Researchers have identified several varieties of houseplants that excel in removing chemical pollutants from the air. Some common ones are philodendron, spider plant, and golden pothos, gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum (mum).

Obviously, there are many more ways to green up your studio and your art work. I’d love to hear from you on what you do to protect yourself and the environment while creating your art! Please leave your tips in the Comments section – thanks!

Here are some links you might find helpful:

If you have other resources you’d like to share, please do so in the Comments section. Thank you! And Happy Spring!
Kate Dardine is a professional artist and the Marketing Director for Fine Print Imaging.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Green Spaces Provide Great Economic Potential

Some of the more heavily discussed topics of early 2010 include obesity, green infrastructure, clean water, and more. In particular, the addition and/or substitution of green spaces have been quite controversial as of late. Senior resident of Urban Land Institute Ed T. McMahon states "Green space adds value to property." Not only would these areas of conservation drive economic trends upward, but they also improve the overall health of the surrounding community. For example, substituting things like golf courses with conservation areas would essentially increase surrounding property value while diminishing overpriced maintenance fees. The same holds true for airports and other large acre-eating developments.

Some of these areas are already abandoned or unkempt. For instance, park and recreational areas that were once highly visited have become urban wastelands. In an article from the Salt Lake Tribune, Lindsay Whitehurst discusses how an area that was capped with tennis courts to replace an old reservoir had been empty for some time now. She further explains how the University of Utah received a loan to fill the old reservoir and turn the land into a conservation area. Bob Sperling, manager of the water design team for Salt Lake City public utilities, infers high costs when he mentions challenging structural design. Aside from this, safety was a tremendous issue which was later justified when a large piece of slate gave way. It wasn't soon thereafter that it was noticed by Sperling during a routine inspection.

Much larger metropolitan areas are also playing their role in promoting sustainability by implementing many Green Spaces within the city. In Meg Muckenhoupt's new book Boston's Gardens & Green Spaces, she discusses different green space within the city of Boston. With very low cost maintenance fees and little liability, these areas are perfect for protecting our wildlife and the environment. They also attract further tourism; which would in turn generate revenue from ticket/tour sales.

This aligns with the implications of "economic viability" and long term sustainability, posing the question, "Would the substitution of golf courses and airports in the short term lead to an abrupt economic downfall? It's true that this type of architecture provides undoubtedly high revenue. On the contrary, they both come with ridiculously high expenses and maintenance. Incorporating various elements of green architecture implies things like green roofing, which could in turn drive down electrical/gas costs dramatically.

Larger organizations are already taking a step in the right direction in Haiti. Brainchild behind the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative), Doug Band, has been working closely with organizations like AFH (Architecture for Humanity) to discuss potential means of green restoration. Combined with the additional efforts of many large collaborative units like the USGBC (United States Green Building Council), AFH hopes to shed some light on a terrible situation.

Recent findings have driven people like McMahon and fellow conservationists to investigate further into upgrading and expanding green infrastructure efforts. As earth day 2010 slowly approaches, it's important that we as individuals follow and support these ventures. It's equally important that we adapt greener disciplines to support both our planet and our economy.

Guest writer: Jack Lundee - "Taking a more progressive green approach."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Give a Voice to the Wildlife in Your Community

What is it about human nature that makes us continually seek out the new and unfamiliar? As a species, a common trait that we all seem to share is a longing for the emotional high that comes with a 'puppy-love' of people, places and things. However, as anyone can tell you, the inevitable conclusion to this roller-coaster of passion is a sudden dulling of the senses, when that object of our desire suddenly doesn't look as shiny anymore, and new things must be sought to sustain the level of euphoria that we crave. Our relationship with the natural world is no exception: How often do we find ourselves flitting from one flower of intrigue to another, without ever really tasting the sweet nectar of a deeper relationship built through careful observation and respect?

In his book Photography and the Art of Seeing, photographer Freeman Patterson recounts the story of a friend in South Africa who desperately attempted to grow a patch of dandelions in her garden, all the while trying to subdue the beautiful African daises, which could do nothing but thrive. And yet, here in the U.S. I know of gardeners who treasure these beautiful flowers because they are exotic and different from the local norm. This irony has not been lost on me: I didn't truly appreciate the beauty of my own state of South Carolina until after I returned from my first trip to Western Australia in 2001.

With the smell of eucalyptus and the laughter of kookaburras still ringing fresh in my mind, I recall looking out of my kitchen window at the autumn leaves which seemed so incredibly vibrant after visually digesting weeks of blue grey bush land. At that moment, a fiery male cardinal landed on a nearby shrub and I immediately recognized that its beauty was every bit as striking -if not more so- than the crimson rosellas that I had been drooling over for days during my time in Oz. I began to wonder what other amazing things I might have overlooked as a casualty of a mindset that had led me along in a high-speed pursuit for "bigger and better" things.

It didn't take long for me to recognize that there was a great deal which had in fact I had been missing. As I began to work with local conservation organizations, biologists, and naturalists, the deep diversity of the Southern Appalachians and surrounding landscape generously fed my growing curiosity both day and nig
ht. Whether I was in my backyard or out on a remote trail, I always found something that I hadn't seen before, which in-turn led to something else, and something else again. As I began to share what I had learned with others, another realization also began to materialize: virtually no one that I came in contact with had any knowledge of what was in their own backyards as well. I began to wonder, is this a trend that exists in other parts of the U.S.A., or even the world as a whole?

In attempt to answer this question, and change the perception of the value of close-to-home nature, Meet Your Neighbours was born. It is a concept that I have developed with a long-standing advocate of local wildlife, iLCP Founding Fellow and accomplished conservation photographer Niall Benvie.

Meet Your Neighbours is, in its essence, an environmental education program, which uses beautiful imagery as a vehicle to spread the message that common, local species are amazingly beautiful, are all around you, are in danger of becoming the endangered creatures of tomorrow if they are not recognized and protected today. It is our mission at MYN to offer participants a platform where they can create a dialogue within their own neighborhoods about these wild things and encourage people to get out and see them for themselves. Perhaps more importantly, we hope to press upon viewers that our children need to see and experience nature first-hand so that they might be future champions for conservation.

So photographers, how about it? Are you willing to take a stand for the wildlife in your neck of the woods? Niall and I surely hope so, because your wild neighbors need you to step up and give them a voice. If you are a conservation-minded photographer why not drop us a line at or visit our website at more information.

We are accepting applicants for the first round of submissions until April 30th, 2010.

Clay Bolt is an award-winning natural history photographer whose work has been featured by organizations and publications such as The Nature Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, Partnership for the Blue Ridge and Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine. His work focuses on environmental issues facing the Southeastern, United States and its amazing diversity of native flora and fauna. He is an Affiliate Council Member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Numbats - Charming and Endangered

By Sharon Wormleaton

The Numbat Myrmecobius fasciatus is a small Australian marsupial found in south-west Western Australia. Sadly, it is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species .

It once existed across much of southern Australia but by the 1980s only two small populations, comprising around 300 individuals, could be found in south-west Western Australia.

The devastating reduction in distribution was attributed to the introduction of the European red fox, changes in fire regimes and land clearing. At present there are thought to be no more than 1000 individuals remaining in the wild, and the population trend is declining.

Numbat recovery efforts include fox baiting, translocation of wild numbats to establish new populations, and a captive breeding program. The recovery efforts have seen an appreciable increase in numbers and successful re-introductions into six conservation areas and two fenced sanctuaries.

Despite all efforts, the numbat remains at risk of extinction with feral cats being the biggest threat to numbat populations at present.

Ongoing research initiatives from the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) include a radio tracking project. The project is an annual affair that has taken place in Dryandra Woodland near Narrogin since 2006. The radio tracking project requires a family of numbats (mother and young numbering as many as four) to be caught and fitted with radio tracking collars. Four fixed radio tracking towers are then erected in the mother's home range and simultaneous 'fixes' are taken on each collared numbat at 20 minute intervals for a two week period. The radio tracking towers are manned by volunteers for three 4-5 hour shifts from 6am until 7pm. The data collected is subjected to computer analysis to provide a map of each individual numbat’s movements throughout each day. This will hopefully enhance knowledge of juvenile numbat development.

Driving surveys are another key aspect of the project. As many numbats as possible are found and fitted with radio tracking collars so they can be periodically monitored throughout the life of each numbat to gain further information. Some of these collared numbats are re-caught at later stages and released in other locations, while others are re-caught to supplement the captive breeding program. Ultimately the radio tracking project has many benefits for numbat conservation efforts, and will hopefully help ensure the survival of this remarkable and beautiful little mammal.

I have been involved with the radio tracking project in a volunteer capacity for the last two years. It was certainly a privilege to have the opportunity to contribute to the conservation efforts for this unique little mammal. We were informed last year the project didn’t have the funding to continue anymore, like many threatened species projects in Australia, so I decided I would try my luck at raising funds for the project to continue at least one more year. Thankfully the Paddy Pallin Foundation have chosen the numbat radio tracking project as the recipient for their next ‘Don’t Bag the Environment’ (DBTE) fundraiser. Whenever anyone makes a purchase from a Paddy Pallin store and declines a plastic bag, 20 cents is donated to the project. Donations can also be made in-store or online .

Besides raising funds to support environmental projects, the DBTE program also reduces packaging waste and land fill, and conserves energy resources required to manufacture plastic bags, so it has many benefits for the environment. The DBTE program has a new beneficiary every six months with all proceeds for the next six months (April to September 2010) going to the numbat radio tracking project, so any support is most welcome.

The Crescent Nailtail Wallaby was the last mammal to become extinct in Australia in 1956, but in 2009 Australia possibly saw its first mammal extinction in 50 plus years. In January 2009 there were thought to be less than 20 Christmas Island Pipistrelles (microbat) remaining, so a rescue mission was initiated with the hope of capturing the remaining pipistrelles to start a captive breeding program. The rescue attempts were unsuccessful and there have been no recent sightings, so the outlook doesn’t look good for the pipistrelle. As far as developed nations go Australia has the worst record of mammal extinctions and near extinctions, so plenty needs to be done to prevent further extinction of unique and remarkable mammals such as the Numbat.

Profits from the sale of Sharon's work on Art for Conservation will also go to the numbat radio tracking project.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Pretty UR What??

by: Maria Montano - webmaster for Art for Conservation

A “pretty url” is a way for you as an artist on AFC to send people directly to your collection of work for sale on Art for Conservation. It is short, and easy to remember – it helps you tell people how to support you as an artist, as well as the conservation cause that you are supporting with your work.

Your URL on Art for Conservation is picked by you when you sign up for your account. Your “username” that you use to login becomes your URL. For example, my username is “mariamontano” so my URL is: When you type this into your favorite web browser (internet explorer, Mozilla Firefox etc.) you will be sent to a webpage that is just yours! It features one of your images, your artist’s bio/statement – and tells the world what organization you choose to support with your print sales!

So this is wonderful right? But how do you use it to drive traffic to your work on AFC? Here are 5 easy ways to use this tool to help raise awareness about your work.

  1. Put a link in your e-mail signature.
    You should always have a link to your website and your work on Art for Conservation in your e-mails.
    Mine looks like this:

    Maria Montano Photography
    Fan me on facebook
    Support Conservation – Buy My Prints on Art for Conservation
    (I have used an “embedded link” here instead of just my URL)

  2. Do you have a website?
    If you do you should put a link to your work for sale on Art for Conservation!
    You can do this by using a bit of html code (simply copy/paste the code below and replace my username with yours!)

    <a href="">Prints for sale on Art for Conservation</a>

    Your viewers will see the following on your website:
    Prints for sale on Art for Conservation

  3. Are you on facebook or twitter?
    If so, do what I do, and post links to your work on AFC! You can even do a “featured” image of the week – use this space to sell your art and promote your work on AFC at the same time!

  4. Link from your e-newsletter
    While talking about what shows you got into, and showing off your latest new work – take the time to talk about Art for Conservation and always (and I mean always!) provide a link to your work on Art for Conservation. I do this with all of my e-newsletters – see what I did on my newsletter - click here

  5. Business Cards!
    Do you have a business card? If so, providing a link to view your work online is important!
    Don’t have a website? Use your pretty URL and send people to your work on Art for Conservation.

Remember your pretty URL on Art for Conservation is like having your own mini-website on our site! Use it to send people to your work, learn about you as an artist and purchase prints of your art. Hopefully these 5 tips will help you increase traffic….and SALES on Art for Conservation!

Maria Montano is the webmaster for Art for Conservation as well as a photographer.

She is passionate about using her images to create social change, be it conserving our natural resources or raising awareness about social justice issues.

Learn more about Maria - and her work - click here

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Endangered Species Condoms - Part 2

If you caught the previous post on Endamgered Species condoms, you'll want to watch this video of one volunteer handing out condoms in varying locations on the street. It is both funny and illuminating in that it shows the disconnect that many people have between over-population and depletion of resources, habitats and species.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mike Forsberg - Great Plains

This is a splendid book, both visually and informationally. You will come away from it with a renewed appreciation for the Great Plains and the treasures that abound there.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Curtain of Camouflage

by Shyamala Rao

We had booked a three day stay at the Safari Lodge nestled at the edge of the Bandipur National Forest in the state of Karnataka in South India. Safari rides were scheduled twice a day for about 2 hours apiece. It was hot and dusty, with dried out vegetation everywhere. The trees, grass, shrubs were all uniformly brown and kindling dry. Every ride was “shake, rattle and roll” time. The vehicles were noisy beyond belief and they spewed out foul smelling vapors. The diesel filled fumes intermingled with the red dust of the forest floor rose up like a shroud and draped over us. With each breath our throats got more parched and dry.

In the forest we were treated to a surfeit of birds and animals. Peacocks and wild cockerel dotted the entire landscape. There were wild boar, looking and acting quite mild, macaques galore gamboling freely, sambar and chital leapt and frolicked and then settled down to graze contentedly, gaur at a distance, munching peaceably and seemingly unperturbed. As for the elephants, there were several large herds and we watched their browsing and their play. We had not spotted any of the big cats.

Off we went, with camera, sunscreen and hat in hand, into the depths of this dry and dusty forest in the Western Ghats. As we entered the park we were greeted with the darting flashes of iridescence, the usual welcoming committee, the male cockerels with their arching tail feathers and male peacocks with their straight long tail feathers, strutting their stuff and the females shrouded in their muted colors, sienna and umber, stayed by the sidelines and watched with nonchalance. We saw some elephants at a distance as we hurtled along and approached a pond.

The truck came to a stop and there in the murky water was a tiger swimming and cooling off from the heat. Unhurriedly the tiger climbed out of the water and stood by the water’s edge, looked around as he shook off the water from his fur. He was gorgeous, glistening in his Halloween colors. Slowly, leisurely he walked towards the shrubs and as we watched he simply disappeared into the forest. We stared long and hard and couldn’t see any signs of him. He was totally hidden in the thorn forest of Bandipur. One moment we could see this gorgeous big cat, his muscles rippling as he walked away, clad in his incomparable black and orange coat with their singular stripes and the next moment he was no longer visible. It was as if the curtain of camouflage had come down, the show was over and we, the audience were left bereft.

It had been an awesome experience, my first glimpse of a tiger in the wild, living free and unfettered, in territory that he had conquered on his own and has established as his home. He was the progeny of a line that went back 2 million years and every one of his ancestors had lived free in the wild. He placed his life on the line every single day of his life, from other tigers that might seek to displace him and from poachers and villagers who might entertain malevolent intentions towards him. He lived his solitary existence, hunting only to feed himself, engaging in no gratuitous killing, patrolling his territory and living his life as he was meant to do, just as each of his ancestors had done. He required a modest territory with vegetation, a source of fresh water, plentiful prey, and privacy. I was overwhelmed by the privilege that had been granted me. I had been permitted to enter his territory, his home, his space and observe him for a few moments. As he eased back into the forest he took with him his entire history, brave and proud descendant of a species that goes back to the Pleistocene era.

In 1973 there were 1400 tigers remaining in India. Project Tiger was established to help improve habitats and provide protection to this animal. In the 1990s the numbers increased to 3500. By 2007 the numbers were down to 1411 and today it is probably lower still. The drastic decline is reported as being to be due to illegal poaching.

So we are at the brink of extinction. Surely this ought not to be allowed to happen. These glorious, adaptable, strong, brave and independent animals are being besieged by man’s needs. It is humans that have laid these burdens on these big cats and it seems to me that which we have wrought, we ought to be the ones to relieve and rectify. I trust and believe we can do so.

Shyamala Rao is a guest blogger on Art for Conservation. She is a wildlife artist living and working in San Antonio, Texas where she is a practicing psychiatrist. Her interest in wildlife was stimulated by a visit to the Serengeti in 2007 and since then she has been putting her feelings about animals onto canvas. She has just begun writing about conservation issues and hopes that by writing and painting she can do her part in helping conserve the glorious diversity of species on this planet.

This post was excerpted from the full article which can be found on her
Her art can be purchased at

If you would like to guest blog for AFC, sign up here:

Friday, February 26, 2010

So What’s Up With Condoms and Endangered Species?

By Linda Helm
In so many words, that was my first question when I read an email from the Center for Biological Diversity asking me if I wanted to volunteer to distribute endangered species condoms starting on Valentine’s Day. Annnnd of course my second question was “Why would endangered species need condoms?” Ba dum dum …. It seems counter intuitive on first glance, doesn’t it?

So here’s the scoop – the goal of the condom campaign is to highlight the connection between unsustainable human population growth and the decline and extinction of many other species.

5 reasons I chose to “spread the love” for other species by handing out condoms to my fellow homo sapiens:

1. Most biologists agree that we have entered the sixth mass extinction event in the planet’s history and this time the cause is not a geologic or cosmic event, but human overpopulation. The earth’s extinction rate is now around 1000 times the normal background rate.

2. All of the key factors that threaten the viability and longevity of fragile species are driven by the pressure of 6.8 billion humans on the planet:
a. Destruction of habitat due to urban and industrial development
b. Competition for water and other resources
c. Environmental contamination on land, in the sea and in our air.

3. Global population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050 but without efforts to make birth control widely available, it could reach as high as 15 billion – far beyond the earth’s carrying capacity.
4. In studying the interrelation between climate change and overpopulation, Oregon State University researchers recently developed a measure of environmental impact they call “carbon legacy”. This refers to the amount of carbon emissions that would be produced by a child over the course of it’s lifetime as well as the descendants of that child over succeeding generations. The carbon legacy of a child born in the US is 168 times that of a child born in Bangladesh.

5. The London School of Economics estimates that investing in making birth control available to all people of the world who want it is nearly 5 times as cost effective as controlling greenhouse gasses through technology.

Overpopulation is an issue that transcends borders, just like many of our other environmental concerns today. The problem does not lie just in the US, China, India or any of the struggling 3rd world countries – it belongs to all of us - as do the solutions.

So …. Who wants some endangered species condoms?
I only have 3 boxes left to give away!
Email me at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yes You Can!

by Kate Dardine

Can you really sell art on the internet?
The answer is yes…IF.

One of the biggest misconceptions artists (for the sake of this article, photographers and other 2-D artists will be lumped together under the umbrella term “artist.”) have is that by having a website, or joining an “online gallery” such as Art for Conservation or other online galleries, that sales will just “happen.” There seems to be a thought process that goes something like, “I put my images ‘out there’ – now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the buyers to buy!” You could be waiting a long time. With all the images “out there” on the internet, what is going to make a potential purchaser find YOUR art?

For those of you who have read my posts before, you know my mantra. The internet is not a magic bullet. Tried and true marketing techniques still come into play. And as much as all of us would like to be able to just create and let “someone else” handle the marketing aspect, the truth is that it is up to you, the artist, to create the buzz about your work that will lead to sales.

So how do you create a buzz? The easiest way is to use social networking sites such as Facebook. I recommend having a “personal” profile for posting events about your life that are NOT necessarily related to art and a professional fan page where you can promote your art. One of the biggest benefits of posting your images on Facebook is the immediate feedback you get from comments and “likes” – you know pretty quickly which images resonate with your fan base and which don’t. In my earlier post, Marketing Your Art With Social Networking, I cover this subject in detail.

The second part of creating a buzz is to get your fans involved. Have a “name this image” contest or post a “daily painting.” Two artists I know have had great success with their daily painting series – check out Kimberly Kelly Santini’s “Painting A Dog A Day” blog and Deborah Flood’s “Painting A Child A Day” blog. Both these artists have done a great job creating buzz and getting fans and friends involved by asking for photo references to paint from. In addition, Kimberly goes one step further by aligning herself with animal welfare organizations and donating proceeds from the sales of her Dog A Day paintings.

Partnering with established non-profits is one of the best ways to get your work in front of buying eyes. For instance, the Art for Conservation online gallery requires all artists to donate a percentage of proceeds from sales of prints to a conservation or social justice organization.
Those who are having the most success on the site donate a substantial amount and make sure the organization who is benefiting is aware of what the artist is doing. They ask the organization to link to their work on the site, and to promote the fact that buying art benefits the organization.

For example, a few years ago, artist John Fawcett created two stunning paintings of the racehorse Barbaro. All proceeds from the sale of prints went to the Thoroughbred Charities of America. Did TCA promote John’s work? You bet they did!

Selling prints of your art through an online gallery site is perhaps one of the safest ways to promote and sell your work on the Internet. Most require purchasers to pay with credit cards, and most, like AFC, will do the printing without charging the artist upfront – their fees, commission and material costs are taken out of the sale price of the print.

Selling original art or photography from your own website can be a little trickier. First, you don’t have the luxury of lots and lots of people finding – or stumbling upon – your work (at least not at first). Second, there is the risk associated with payment. I have a paypal shopping cart attached to my website, and handle most payment that way. Sometimes buyers would rather send a check – and I let them. However, I don’t send out the painting until the check arrives and clears.

My first sale from my website (which I have through Fine Art Studio Online) came about three months after I first put my site up. The funny thing is, I didn’t even know I’d made a sale. I saw the sold button had popped up on a painting, but didn’t have my paypal account set up to send me notification when someone purchased from me. I thought something was wrong with my site! The poor guy waited 3 months before writing me an email inquiring when, if ever, I was going to send his painting. Of course I did right away! Strangely, that is the only sale of an original that I have made from my website that I can’t trace to my own marketing efforts. He truly did just stumble upon my website when he was trawling the artist websites on the FASO website.

So the bottom line is this - whether you are selling your art through your own website or through an online gallery site, the same principals of marketing apply. You must use all your marketing tools to drive potential buyers to your work. When adding new work to my website, I make sure to add in relevant keywords and phrases that someone might use in a search. I use Facebook, my blog, a weekly e-letter, Twitter and occasionally "snail mail" to keep my name and images in front of potential buyers. I also promote my work on two "daily painters" blogs. In addition, I regularly donate reproductions to non-profit organizations.

During the month of January, I turned what is normally a pretty slow sales month for me into one of my best sales months ever - by promoting my studio sale of older works, studies, and slightly damaged paintings. I am also promoting my Painting A Day project - 52 small (up to 6x8") studies in roughly 52 days. Since I know a good portion of my fan base is struggling in this economy, I am keeping the price of these paintings under $60. My fans are happy - they can get an original piece of art, and I am happy having a cash and energy flow!

Lest you think that all I do all day is paint and promote my work, think again - I do all of this AND work 32 hours a week at Fine Print Imaging. If I can do can you.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Conservation, Chennai Style

By Shyamala Rao
A friend said “You know, we could take a Turtle Walk”. I stopped dead in my tracks. Had I inadvertently timed my visit to Chennai to coincide with the Olive Ridley Conservation season? The walks began at Velangeri beach around midnight and ended at Besant Nagar.

On Friday, excited and a little scared, we headed out to Besant Nagar and parked. Neither of us had any idea as to how safe it was for two gals to be at the beach around midnight. Oh well, if we were risking life and limb, it was in search of adventure and experience.
We hailed one of those noisy, polluting three wheelers, the ubiquitous phut-phuts and the driver balked at going all the way to Velangeri. He took us halfway and handed us to another phut-phut driver and off we roared towards Velangeri. We flagged a pedestrian as we approached the beach and inquired if he knew where the Turtle Walk started. “Sure”, he replied, “I am one of the Scouts”. We made room for him in our vehicle and took off once more.

At Velangeri beach there were at least 50 people gathered for the turtle walk. They were chatting amiably and looking relaxed. We were introduced to Anil, Akila and Aadit. They were absolutely charming and happy to impart information. Anil was the leader of the Turtle Walk that evening. He belonged to the Students Sea Turtle Conservation Council. Akila worked for the World Wildlife Fund and was one of the scouts. Aadit and a host of others were also scouts.

We sat down in a circle, moonlight bathing us in a silvery glow with a cool breeze wafting in from the bay. Anil educated the newcomers on Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and on the ground rules for the walk. The Olive Ridley which is the smallest of the Sea Turtles grows to 2 to 2 ½ feet in length. The turtles weigh 80 to 100 pounds when full grown. They live 60 to 80 years. Their nesting season is between January and April. At high tide, the female turtles come to the shore, form a nest in the sand, deposit 50 to 100 eggs, cover the nest up and slide back to the water and go away forever. The eggs hatch in 45 to 60 days. The hatchlings are small, fragile and vulnerable and do not yet have a sense of smell. They follow the light and try to get to the water and swim away.

Anil told us that for this conservation program in Chennai the 30 kilometer stretch of beach has been divided into 7 kilometer segments and scouts patrol their segment every night from January to April. The eggs are harvested from their nests and relocated eggs to a hatchery. When the hatchlings emerge they are hand carried to the water.

With the talk over and the ground rules for that evening’s turtle walk delineated we set off on our walk, dutifully staying several feet behind the scouts. It was past midnight. High tide was receding. Less than 15 minutes into the walk, Aadit found tracks of a turtle. I peered around and saw nothing. No tracks. No nest. No one else could see anything either. Then Aadit pointed to the marks on the sand showing the path taken by the female turtle heading back to the ocean after having made her nest and deposited the eggs. Once the tracks were identified it was easier to tell the path this female sea turtle had taken. Aadit directed us to the nest and we watched him scoop out 58 eggs. They were delicate, fragile, cream coloured and spongy to touch. The eggs, Anil reminded us had to be placed in the hatchery within 3 ½ hours of being laid. After that they formed their hard shells and cannot be handled any further.

We resumed the walk and kept at it till 5 a.m. We saw 2 more nests with 70 and 120 eggs each. Thence to the hatchery. We watched as the scouts, cautiously and carefully, placed the eggs into nests fashioned by human hands. In 45 to 60 days there would be a new generation of hatchlings. Gentle human hands would be carrying the hatchlings to the water. God willing every one of them will survive.

The big picture in conservation of species can be crushingly depressing but these students have found the answer. They chose a species, defined a technique of intervention and worked like the dickens, year after year, for 21 years. “It will all add up and make a difference,” said Anil. “From your mouth to God’s ear”, I prayed silently.

Shyamala Rao is the first of what we hope to be many guest bloggers on Art for Conservation. She is a wildlife artist living and working in San Antonio, Texas where she is a practicing psychiatrist. Her interest in wildlife was stimulated by a visit to the Serengeti in 2007 and since then she has been putting her feelings about animals onto canvas. She has just begun writing about conservation issues and hopes that by writing and painting she can do her part in helping conserve the glorious diversity of species on this planet.

This post was excerpted from the full article which can be found on her
Her art can be purchased at

If you would like to guest blog for AFC, sign up here:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Join the Conversation on Conservation!

Sheesh! Say that a few times really fast!

Anyway, here’s the deal – all of us at Art for Conservation are very committed to the idea of creating community - through the website, the gallery, the blog and assorted social networking venues … the list goes on. We want to generate dialogue because ideas spring from dialogue and action springs from ideas and community turns small actions into BIG RESULTS!

We want to hear from you your ideas, your pet projects, your strategies for making a difference for the planet. And of course we would love it if you want to share some of your images in the process!

Our vision is to give guest writers a variety of opportunities to be published on Art for Conservation – the main categories on the website are Conservation News, AFC in Action, and People Making a Difference. We also have a monthly E- newsletter and our AFC Blog.

So there are lots of places for us to feature your writing, your projects and your images or videos. We want to share, to highlight, to bring attention to you and your work or the work of others – and we’ve only just begun!

Sign up here to become a Guest Writer for Art for Conservation and let’s
Start the Conversation!

Linda Helm
VP, Art for Conservation