Turtles on the Upswing

ENCOURAGING NEWS COMES FROM the beaches of Tortuguero, Costa Rica, where endangered green sea turtles nest by the thousands. Continuing an upward trend, the 2005 nesting season was one of the busiest on record with a total of 91,615 sea turtle nests recorded over a 4-month period. Researchers from the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) documented that in one night alone, sea turtles laid 3,000 nests on a 21-mile section of beach. In spite of poachers, beach disturbances, and turtle-eating jaguars, Tortuguero’s sea turtle population is growing steadily. “What we’re seeing are the positive benefits of long-term conservation,” explains Dan Evans of the CCC’s education program.

Located in northern Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero supports the largest nesting population of green sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. By day the sand tells the story of the evening’s activity where rows of perfectly parallel turtle tracks cover the beach. Some of the tracks lead past the high tide mark to the deep pits the turtles dig to lay their eggs, while others only reach halfway up the beach and head back to the water. Researchers call those tracks “half moons,” when a turtle starts the egg-laying process but then changes her mind and returns to the sea. At night, it’s much harder to track the turtles’ activity. The black sand reflects the darkness of the night sky, and unless the moon is clearly visible, it’s nearly impossible to see.

Scientists and volunteers have been patrolling this beach since 1955 when renowned scientist Archie Carr set up a turtle-monitoring program with his students, friends, and family. At the time, Tortuguero’s green sea turtle population seemed on the verge of collapse. But in the years that followed, Carr and his successors at the CCC led a sea turtle campaign that helped sea turtle nesting populations rise from a low of 19,731 nests in 1972 to an all-time high of 92,523 nests in 1998. In half a century they established a permanent research station, welcomed the start of the ecotourism boom, developed a model volunteer research assistant program, and became an international force for sea turtle conservation. The data generated by the CCC’s nearly 50 years of sea turtle work has helped scientists understand the mysteries of the sea turtle and develop strategies to protect it.

CCC’s presence in Costa Rica has had positive effects on the people of Tortuguero as well. CCC collaborates with the local government, provides a variety of jobs, participates in school programs, and assists resident entrepreneurs with their ecotourism ventures. “The community has really shifted and embraces the idea that a sea turtle is worth more alive than dead,” Evans explains. Instead of killing turtles for their meat or shells, villagers can make money by hosting, guiding, or providing services to tourists coming to see the turtles.

Beginning in 1997, the scientists added a new data set to their study when beach-going jaguars started to regularly visit Tortuguero. Based on tracks, motion sensor video, and chance encounters, the researchers have determined that at least one adult male and one female and her cubs are coming out of Tortuguero National Park’s forest to feed on nesting sea turtles. CCC Scientific Director Sebastian Troëng estimates that jaguars kill about 100 of Tortuguero’s sea turtles each year, and although that number may seem high, Both Evans and Troëng agree that jaguars eating turtles are part of a natural process that doesn’t pose a threat to Tortuguero’s thriving sea turtle population. For more information about CCC and their volunteer program, visit ccc@cccturtle.org or call 1-800-678-7853.

Published in Americas magazine: By Chris Hardman

The Grand City of Granada

MARAUDING PIRATES, bloodthirsty mercenaries and roughneck gold rushers all played a part in the history of the colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua. But in spite of being burned to the ground twice and taken over as a stronghold for a foreign filibuster, Granada has managed to persevere and even prosper—while emerging as Nicaragua’s best hope for its entry into the international tourism market.

History dominates Granada’s landscape. Founded by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in 1524, Granada is known as the oldest city in the Americas. Additionally, in 1524, Córdoba founded the Nicaraguan city of León to the North. The two cities have sustained a long rivalry since then.

Nicaragua became a republic in 1835; and in the years that followed, Granada—which supported a wealthy and conservative populace—and León—whose citizens were much more liberal—battled for dominance of the fledgling nation. Hostilities increased irreparably in the 1850s resulting in a civil war. Once Managua was chosen as the capital of Nicaragua in 1857, the fighting diminished.

Looming over this colonial city is the now dormant volcano Mombacho.”

Granada became Spain’s showcase for elegant colonial buildings and high society, and the city’s residents prospered. Because of its proximity to Lake Nicaragua—which provides access to the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River—Granada flourished through commerce and trade.

This access also made Granada vulnerable to Dutch, French and English pirates who attempted to invade and then destroy Granada. When Granada’s most important churches and buildings were burned by outside forces, its citizens would rebuild their beloved city again.

Another source of wealth was Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company that was used to transport thousands of gold-rushers to California. In the 1800s the most expeditious route from New York to San Francisco was to go through Central America. From the Caribbean, prospectors followed the San Juan River inland to Lake Nicaragua and then crossed Nicaragua by stagecoach to the Pacific Ocean.

granada 3

Granada’s strategic location on the gold route attracted the attention of William Walker, a well-known 49ner living in California. In partnership with Granada’s bitter rivals in León, Walker contracted 300 men described as “colonists liable to military duty” for an expedition to Nicaragua. What followed was a series of military campaigns against Granada beginning in 1855.

Walker and his men eventually conquered Granada and ruled Nicaragua for nearly two years. Walker even managed to win a presidential election. During his presidency, he drafted a new constitution that reinstituted slavery and made English the official language. To gain favor and financial support from wealthy Southerners in the United States, Walker promoted the idea of establishing a slave trade in Central America.

Once Nicaragua’s neighbors, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras, began to suspect that Walker might infiltrate their territories, they joined with the most powerful enemy Walker had made—Cornelius Vanderbilt—to depose Walker and his men.

Vanderbilt used his Accessory Transit Company to shut off Walker’s only means of communication with the United States. He withdrew his ocean steamers and left Walker without men or ammunition, and he hired soldiers of fortune to block any attempt at escape to the Caribbean. He aligned with the Costa Ricans and contributed both money and men to wage war against Walker.

Boxed in with no way of securing additional men and supplies, Walker reluctantly retreated from Granada. Unfortunately, upon leaving Granada, Walker ordered his troops to burn the city to the ground, leaving behind many destroyed or damaged colonial buildings and an ominous placard declaring, “Here was Granada.”

Even after he was expelled from Granada, Walker planned to return to the country to which he believed he was the rightful ruler. At the end of his book, The War in Nicaragua, he wrote:

“The history of the world presents no such Utopian vision as that of an inferior race yielding meekly and peacefully to the controlling influence of a superior people… I trust the foregoing narrative shows that the stronger race kept throughout on the side of right and justice. Nor kings nor presidents can arrest a movement based on truth and conducted with justice.”

In 1857 he attempted once more to take over Granada but was arrested and sent back to the United States. The last paragraph of his book illuminates his mindset at that time:

“By the bones of the moldering dead at Masaya, at Rivas, and at Granada, I adjure you never to abandon the cause of Nicaragua. Let it be your waking and your sleeping thought to devise means for a return to the land whence we were unjustly brought. And, if we be but true to ourselves, all will yet end well.”

After writing those words, Walker returned to Central America one more time where he was captured by the British and turned over to a Honduran firing squad.

In the book, The Real Soldiers of Fortune published in 1906, writer Richard Harding Davis portrayed Walker as defiant to the end. Squarely he faced his executioners and declared in Spanish:

“I die a Roman Catholic. In making war upon you at the invitation of the people of Ruatan I was wrong. Of your people I ask pardon. I accept my punishment with resignation. I would like to think my death will be for the good of society.”

Davis described the final chilling moments of Walker’s life: “From a distance of twenty feet three soldiers fired at him, but, Walker was not dead. So, a sergeant stooped, and with a pistol killed the man who would have made him one of an empire of slaves.”

Granada’s tumultuous history is chronicled at the Museo del Convento de San Francisco located next to the blue and white Igelsia de San Francisco. Founded in 1529 under the name Inmaculada Concepción by Fray Toribio Benavente Motilinia, the convent mirrors the history of Granada.

It was built in 1529, attacked by the English pirate Henry Morgan in 1665 and burned again in 1685. More than 100 years later in 1856, William Walker commandeered the church to house his troops and intern his prisoners. The Iglesia de San Francisco was one of the buildings Walker destroyed when he fled the city with his men.


Today the covenant and church have been restored, most recently with aid from the Swiss government. Rooms surrounding the museum courtyard display paintings, religious artifacts, a scale model of the city of Granada and pre-Columbian stone sculptures from Zapateria Island in Lake Nicaragua. Sprawling catacombs underneath the convent and church house the remains of priests and other prominent citizens of Granada dating back to 1546.

A second museum named Mi Museo, which is free to the public, specializes in pre-Colombian pottery. Under glass on top of plain, white pedestals are ceramics from throughout Central America that date from 2,000 BC to 1550 AD.

This private collection is open to the public due to the generosity of its Danish owner Peder Kolind. In addition to receiving nearly 12,000 visitors a year from Nicaragua and other countries, the museum supports archeological digs and restores ceramic archeological pieces.

The spirit of this museum is beautifully explained by archeologist Geoffrey McCafferty from the University of Calgary in Canada: “Mi Museo esta designado a ser un museo de la comunidad, el que se ha vuelto el punto focal para importantes reunions. Y no simplemente para los ricos y famosos, sino para toda la gente de Granada: ricos y pobres, educados y no educados. No es solo Mi Museo, sino nuestro museo.”

The best way to explore Granada is by walking. Gritty streets with uneven sidewalks painted in pastel colors, showcase 16th and 18th-century Spanish colonial architecture.

Behind thick wooden doors and wrought iron gates are colonial homes with 12-foot high adobe walls, ornate pillars and dark wooden accents. The living areas of the homes are typically built around a garden courtyard complete with a bubbling fountain and a squawking parrot or two. When remodeling a home in the historic center of the city, owners have to follow strict regulations to keep in line with the true traditional Spanish colonial architecture.

Granada 1.JPG

The people of Granada are proud of their city’s resilience. The faithful regularly worship in churches blackened from the fires of the past. A standard horse and buggy tour through the city takes visitors to William Walker’s old house—now a high-end souvenir shop—and past several of the buildings Walker burned to the ground. The local tour guide describes Walker plainly as “muy malo.”

Looming over this colonial city is the now dormant volcano Mombacho. Even though it hasn’t errupted  in the past 1,000 years, visitors can visit cracks in the Earth called fumaroles where clouds of sulfur drift out of the ground. From the top of Mombacho, Granada appears to be a flotilla of red tile roofs floating between Lake Nicaragua to the east and Laguna de Apoyo to the west.

Only recently has Nicaragua garnered international attention as a desirable tourist destination. Nicaragua’s tourism board INTUR (Institute Nicaraguense de Turismo) is aggressively courting European and North American tourists touting Nicaragua as a safe country with natural beauty and cultural experiences.

In June, INTUR hosted the country’s first International Tourism Fair at the Crowne Plaza Convention Center in Managua. “Many countries had a decrease in foreign tourists, and yet, Nicaragua showed positive results both in tourist arrivals and revenues in the sector,” says Nicaraguan Tourism Board President Mario Salinas. According to INTUR, the amount of foreign tourists to visit Nicaragua in 2009 was 931,904, representing an increase of 8.6% compared to 2008.

INTUR predicts that at the end of 2010, Nicaragua will receive around 1 million tourists, 7.5 percent more than in 2009. The agency also forecasts an increase in activity revenue of $400 million, a 14 percent increase over the previous year.

One way that Granada has successfully attracted international tourists is through its Spanish schools. Students stay with a local host family while attending intensive Spanish classes.

As a tourist destination, Granada has long been popular with backpackers from Europe. Plenty of low-budget hostels and cheap, but, tasty restaurants are located close to the central Plaza.  The streets are safe to stroll on, and the people are courteous to foreigners. A variety of higher end hotels with full service rooms are located in the tourist part of town.

Many travelers like to use Granada as a base to explore Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, nearby Volcan Mombacho and the cities of Masaya and Leon.

But it is Granada’s history that draws most of its visitors. They come to see the beauty of the colonial churches and homes. They come for a carriage ride through narrow city streets. They come to learn about the city that could not be destroyed, the city that survives against all odds, the city that is Granada.

Published in Americas magazine by Chris Hardman



Saving the Moai on Easter Island

THE GIANT STONE HEADS on the island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile, have captured the imagination of countless explorers, dreamers and scientists. Hundreds of monoliths of solid volcanic rock provide indestructible evidence of man’s mastery over his environment. They hint at great feats of engineering and the ingenuity of men. Up close, the statues show their vulnerability. Their sharp features have eroded, growths invade their surface and many lie in piles of rubble.

A combination of natural and human forces threatens the statues, which are called moai in the native Rapa Nui language. To combat these forces and save the moai, teams of native and international scientists are working on reconstruction and restoration projects.

At 400 to 1000 years-old the moai are young compared to other archaeological monuments in the Americas, but the very properties of the stone that make them ideal for carving also make them susceptible to rapid deterioration. Nearly all of the statues were carved in the Rano Raraku Quarry located on the northeast corner of the island. Many of the statues never made it out of the quarry and remain there today in varying stages of completion. The red scoria stone used for headpieces found on some of the moai came from solidified froth of volcano lava.

These soft, volcanic rocks are particularly vulnerable to erosion from Easter Island’s relentless wind and rain. “When the stone is wet, the clays present in it absorb moisture and expand; as the stone dries, they contract. The internal stress of these repeated expansions and contractions results in microfissures within the stone which serve as channels for water migration and its corrosive effects,” wrote A. Elena Charola in a 1994 publication of the World Monuments Fund. Another natural process that weakens the stone is the growth of algae and lichens. Not only do they trap water—which plays a part in the wet/dry cycle of the stone—but they also eat away at the stone surface.

While nature has been hard on the moai, man has been even harder. The human toll on the statues has been immeasurable. Starting with the carvers themselves—who not only knocked over their beloved statues but also beheaded some of them—people have had a sort of fatal attraction to the heads. Archaeologists estimate that between 1,100-1,500 AD islanders meticulously carved approximately 900 statues and their accompanying stone platforms from the island’s soft volcanic rock. Most likely the carvers belonged to family groups who were competing with each other to produce larger and larger moai. The biggest statue, named el Gigante, weighs between 145-165 tons and would reach 71.93 feet high if it were standing. But for reasons unknown el Gigante was never raised and remains in the Rano Raraku Quarry.


The islander’s obsession with larger and more impressive moai wreaked havoc on the environment. More and more trees had to be cut down to provide scaffolding for the statues and to build wooden sleds to move the statues overland. By the time Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen landed on the island on Easter Day in 1722, he found a desolate landscape void of trees or bushes over 10 feet high with no birds, bats or lizards. The people were hungry and fighting amongst themselves. Sometime after contact with the outside world, the islanders knocked over and destroyed most of the moai probably as a result of clan warfare. Contact with the outside world brought new diseases, a new form of religion and kidnappings for the slave trade. By 1877 the native population of 15,000 had declined to a mere 111.

The relationship between man and moai is complex, and similar to the admirers of the past, modern-day man’s fascination with the statues has produced both positive and negative results. As the island’s only industry, tourism provides a way to make a living for the most remote civilization on Earth. Unfortunately the occasional unscrupulous visitor has encouraged islanders to sell broken parts of the statues for souvenirs. Further damage comes from foreigners and locals alike who defile the moai with graffiti or accidently step on fallen rocks or buried petroglyphs. In spite of admonishments from local tour guides, some visitors touch the statues or climb on their platforms. In the early 90s, the World Monuments Fund, reported an increase in graffiti by 20% in a two-year period.

At 400 to 1000 years-old the moai are young compared to other archaeological monuments in the Americas

Locals warn that the island is not prepared to support the number of tourists that come. According to Easter Island officials, in just 3 years tourism doubled from 22,000 visitors in 2003 to more than 50,000 in 2007. Not only does increased tourist traffic stress the monuments, masses of visitors strain the island’s resources as they struggle to deal with piles of trash and to meet the increased demand for food and water.

Although Easter Island has been an official historic monument and national park since 1935, it took until 1966 for the government of Chile to actually send a small staff to the island. The Rapa Nui National Park takes up nearly half of the island and includes nearly all of the moai sites. In 1995 UNESCO named Easter Island to its world heritage list of the world’s greatest monuments. The world is so captivated by the moai that Easter Island was a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of the World campaign in 1997 where 100 million people from around the world voted on the Internet for cultural heritage sites.

One of the first scientists to realize the archaeological and cultural significance of the site was University of Wyoming Professor William Mulloy, who tirelessly campaigned UNESCO for support to study the island’s monuments. During his first official mission to the island in 1966, Mulloy and Gonzalo Figueroa led a team of experts who developed a plan for studying, conserving and restoring Rapa Nui’s cultural treasures. What followed was a series of projects with international support that restored moai and their platforms and eventually the Orongo village from 1974-1976.


In 1986 Chile’s Centro Nacional de Conservación y Restauración worked with UNESCO to investigate possible treatment plants to prevent or slow deterioration of the statues. They chose a moai at Hanga Kio’e that had been re-erected but was highly deteriorated. After spending several months drying out under a protective tent, the moai was cleaned of all growths and dirt. The restoration experts applied a consolidation treatment to harden the stone and prevent erosion and a hydrophobization treatment to prevent water from seeping into the stone. Although these treatments have worked so far, they do not provide permanent protection of the moai and need to be reapplied periodically.

From 1992 to 1996 a team led by University of Chile archaeologists professor Claudio Cristino and professor Patricia Vargas completed an ambitious reconstruction project of ahu Tongariki, the largest and most impressive ceremonial center on Easter Island. Both Cristino and Vargas had extensive knowledge of the island’s monuments. From 1977 to 1996, they were part of the Easter Island Archaeological Survey, a University of Chile research program that recorded more than 20,000 archaeological sites and features. At its peak, the ahu Tongariki measured nearly 220 meters long, with a central platform measuring 100 meters and a wing on either side. A total of 15 statues weighing between 40 to 90 tons once stood on that platform.

The ahu Tongariki was leveled in 1960 by an earthquake that destroyed most of the central and southern regions of Chile. That deadly quake, some 3600 kilometers away, triggered a powerful tsunami that swept over the four meter high monument wall destroying the ahu platforms and dragging the statues inland. The broken moai were covered by tons of rocks from the destroyed platforms.

Fans of Easter Island feared that this great archaeological treasure was lost forever. Then in 1991 a Japanese company donated a crane to move the statues and partial funding for reconstruction costs. Cristino and Vargas led the reconstruction project which lasted 4 years and took a team of 50 people, most of them islanders themselves. Each rock fragment had to be studied, drawn and then input into the computer.  Due to the soft nature of volcanic tuft, the rocks were in poor condition.

The team covered the moai with huge plastic tents and once they were dry, the statues could be moved without falling apart. “The first statue that went up was about 45 tons [and] went up in a few days,” Cristino explains. Painstakingly the team reconstructed the statues and placed them on their ahu platform. The result is a monument as tall as a five story building with 15 Moai and their topknots called pukaos.

A combination of natural and human forces threatens the statues

“We started from zero, little by little, trying to put this back together,” Cristino explains. “We used historic photographs and maps. Our main goal was the reconstruction of a largely destroyed monument.”  For his mostly local staff, the project was a revelation. “Little by little [they] realized what their ancestors did was incredible. Their sense of pride was enormous.”

UCLA archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg considers herself to be “a friend of the family” to the moai. Since 1982 she has surveyed the moai compiling what she calls “biographies” of 1045 sculptural objects that include full or partial moai. Van Tilburg runs the Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) with Co-director Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, a native Rapa Nui artist and surveyor. “The statues today do not look the same as when I saw them in 1982,” she says. “I could see the change over time.” Van Tilburg appealed to the Archaeological Institute of America to fund a preservation project to develop treatments for the fragile stone. With the grant, EISP installed a weather monitoring station near two moai in the Rano Raraku quarry. For the first time, scientists will be able to record fluctuations in wind, moisture and temperature near a statue and observe how the stone reacts to changes in weather. Van Tilburg says with this information, the team will be able to develop a treatment plan that could be used not only on the sample moai, but also on the 400 other statues that reside in the quarry.

As part of the same project, Research Associate Christian Fischer of UCLA and Conservador Jefa Monica Bahamondez P. of Chile’s Centro de Conservación y Restauración used a portable sprayer to apply two different types of water-repellent solutions to the test statues. Although the mixture will take several months to evaporate and dry, the team could see that it was already working when they poured water on the monuments and watched the water droplets run off the stone.

To better educate and manage visitors to Easter Island, the Corporación Nacional Forestal de Chile (CONAF)—the government agency that manages all of Chile’s national parks and reserves—opened a sustainable visitor center in May of 2011. The center is located at the entrance to the Orongo Ceremonial Village, which is one of the most visited archaeological sites on the island. “Easter Island is a landmark in the tourism world and that is why we need to work hard to preserve its resources as well as offer all kinds of information and education to its visitors, both national and international,” says CONAF Executive Director Eduardo Vial Ruiz-Tagle.

The moai of Easter Island tell different stories depending on the listener. For the islanders, they tell the story of their ancestors. For scientists they tell the story of a society gone awry and for the rest of the world they tell the story of human ingenuity.  “Without something to remind us of the achievements or problems of the past, we don’t pay attention,” says Jo Anne Van Tilburg. To make sure that we continue to pay attention, scientists and conservationists are working to protect the statues for the generations of listeners in the years to come.

Published in Americas magazine, November-December 2011, by Chris Hardman


Eating Local at the Ballpark

AS A FAITHFUL Detroit Tigers fan, I have been known to purchase my share of ballpark food. It’s one of the only places I’ll let my kids eat cotton candy and one of the few places you’ll see me munching on a hot dog on a white bun. But as the editor of a local food magazine I am always interested in who produces the food we’re buying and where they are from. The more I researched, and the more I ate, I began to realize that one of the largest venues for Michigan foods is indeed Comerica Park.

Having a hot dog at the ballpark is almost obligatory. The most famous of all hot dogs, the Ball Park Frank, made its debut right here in Detroit. In 1957 the owner of the Tigers challenged local sausage makers to create the ideal ballpark hot dog. Hygrade Food Products Corp., a Detroit-based meatpacking company, answered the call and baseball history was made. Although Ball Park Franks are no longer made in Detroit, their tie to the Tigers remains.

The ideal vessel for the hot dog had already been in use at the park in the form of soft, white hot dog buns. Brown’s Bun Baking Company in Detroit has been baking buns for Tigers fans since the 1930s. The buns are also used for Winter’s sausage, the official sausage of the Detroit Tigers. This family-owned company was started in 1951 by a German immigrant and master sausage maker named Eugene Winter. His daughter, Rose Mary Wuerz, runs the company today.

Another Michigan company, Garden Fresh Gourmet, sells chips and fresh salsa in the ballpark. From humble beginnings in Ferndale, Jack and Annette Aronson have created a top-selling brand that is sold throughout the country. Not only has the company received awards for taste and freshness, Garden Fresh has also been recognized for its commitment to Michigan’s economy and to helping other small businesses.

Comerica even has local pizza makers. Little Caesars has six stands in the park. The well-known pizza franchise is owned by Ilitch Holdings, the same company that owns the Tigers. When Mike Ilitch, who once played shortstop for the Tiger’s farm system, purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992, his baseball dreams came true.

For the gourmand, the exclusive Tiger Club offers a scratch kitchen utilizing local produce when possible. Regional Executive Chef Mark Szubeczak’s enthusiasm for good food sets the stage for this upscale venue. The menu varies from game to game, but freshness and quality stay the same. A beautifully appointed cheese table features house-made bread and a rotating selection of cheeses—from Michigan and beyond—displayed on cutting boards in the shape of the Michigan mitten. Fresh smoothies and sushi are prepared in front of waiting fans.

A baseball game wouldn’t be complete without at least one or two snacks. My kids always go straight for the cotton candy and now that I found out the candy is spun on site, I can’t use “It’s not local” as a reason to say no. As a matter of fact, many of the snacks are from local companies. Nuts come from Germack Pistachio Company, located on Russell Street near Eastern Market. The popcorn comes from the Detroit Popcorn Company on Telegraph Road in Redford Township. And the exclusive Tiger Traxx ice cream comes from a 118-year-old creamery on the west side of the state.

Hudsonville Creamery introduced the limited edition Tiger Traxx to fans last year. Imagine vanilla ice cream infused with chocolate-covered pretzel baseballs and thick fudge swirls. According to Hudsonville sales and marketing lead Randy Stickney, the flavor was so popular with park-goers that the creamery was unable to keep up with the demand. This year Hudsonville has increased production and plans to offer the flavor at the park and at grocery stores until October or even November, “if the Tigers do what I expect them to do,” Stickney says.

Also debuting last year, was the Michigan craft beer stand near the standing-room-only section of the park. The stand features 26 local brews, 10 on draft and 16 in bottles. According to Bob Thormeier, general manager of Comerica’s concessionaire—Delaware North Companies—sales in that space went up 600% following the introduction of Michigan craft beers. The growing interest in Michigan specialty beers has created an entire generation of beer lovers who are faithful to their brands. Beer comes from local breweries including New Holland, Bells, Atwater, Motor City and Arbor Brewing. Thormeier points out that Michigan fans have supported the Tigers during good times and bad, so the Tigers simply want to give back.

While I enjoyed tours and tastings, the rest of my family shivered in the stands enduring high winds, sleet and temperatures below 40°. Within an inning of returning to my seat, I was too cold to dance during the seventh inning stretch. As I pulled my hood up over my Detroit Tigers baseball cap, I saw hail falling into my bag of Detroit Popcorn Company popcorn. I turned to my family and whined, “There’s no hail in baseball!”

But there sure is a lot of Michigan food in Comerica Park.

Published in edibleWOW magazine by Chris Hardman


Cancun Makes a Comeback

NEARLY A YEAR after one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record ravaged Mexico’s number one tourist destination, Cancun is reinventing itself. “In addition to improved airport facilities, returning guests will also witness that Cancun’s resorts, attractions and beaches have experienced a great deal of change since Hurricane Wilma last year, thanks to a destination-wide commitment to revitalize the area,” says Artemio Santos, executive director of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.

More than just a popular vacation spot, Cancun generates a significant source of income for the country as a whole. According to the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau, approximately three million tourists visit Cancun each year accounting for 30% of all tourism dollars spent in Mexico. When hurricane Wilma blew through the Yucatan peninsula on October 21, 2005, the damage to Cancun’s hotels, restaurants, and beaches was immeasurable. Ranked a category 5, Wilma battered Cancun for more than 24 hours with top winds estimated at 145 mph.

The slow-moving hurricane decimated Cancun’s top attraction, its beautiful shoreline with miles of soft sand. What was once a boulevard of powder-white sand, was reduced to a thin strip of beach in some locations and to no beach in others. To fix the famous beach, the Mexican government hired Jan De Nul, a global leader in dredging, stone placement, filling and salvage services, to reclaim the sand that was swept out to sea.

On February 1, Jan De Nul embarked upon a massive dredging project they finished in record-time only two months later. Working around the clock, workers dredged sand from 22 miles offshore and delivered it through a pipe for distribution on Cancun’s shoreline.  The project cost $21.5 million to complete and gave Cancun an even wider beach than before Wilma.

In addition to beach improvements, the city is using this opportunity to upgrade its infrastructure and add new attractions, condos, and restaurants. Many of the hotels have been rebuilt with additional first-class services.  The airport, which ranks second to Mexico City as the country’s busiest airport, is expanding and upgrading to accommodate more tourists at a higher level. “A lot of what was done was trying to make [Cancun] a more luxurious destination,” says Claire Kunzman a representative for the Cancun Tourism bureau. Upgraded services, and increased high-end hotels are designed to appeal to a more upscale visitor.

The city of Cancun has launched a massive public relations campaign—which included a $77,000 two-page advertisement in the official 2006 World Cup guide—to convince people to come back to Cancun. According to the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau’s most recent statistics, 700,937 tourists visited Cancun from January to April of 2006. Although that number is less than the 1,277,847 tourists who visited Cancun in the same time period last year, the public appears to be welcoming the new Cancun.

Recently the leading online travel company Orbitz ranked Cancun as the third most popular destination in the world for the summer of 2006. “We expect that both new and returning visitors alike will be excited to see the brand-new Cancún and all that the island now has to offer,” Santos says.

Published in Americas magazine by Chris Hardman


Cutting a Course of Pollution

CRUISE SHIPS introduce millions of people to exotic places throughout the Americas. As the industry grows, so does the size of the ships. Some carry as many as 5,000 passengers and crew. According to a study conducted by analyst G.P. Wild, the number of people taking cruises will reach 20.7 million by 2010. The Caribbean is the principal destination accounting for almost half of all cruise traffic.

The problem — according to Oceana, a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. — is that cruise ships are legally able to dump raw sewage into the ocean. To address this issue, Oceana has launched the Stop Cruise Ship Pollution campaign with two goals in mind: create federal legislation in the U.S. to control cruise ship water pollution and convince cruise ship companies to install modern sewage treatment equipment. “These boats go to some of the most beautiful places on the planet, places that are already struggling with all kinds of pollution from development,” says Oceana Pollution Program Director and Senior Scientist Jackie Savitz. “These boats are capitalizing on the glory of the marine environment and in the meantime they are dumping all kinds of waste.”

Each day an average-sized cruise ship hosting 3,000 passengers and crew generates 30,000 gallons of sewage. An additional 255,000 gallons of waste water comes from sinks, dishwashers, and laundry — much of which contains toxic chemicals from industrial cleaning products, dry cleaning, and photo processing. Under current environmental laws, all of this waste can be dumped untreated into the ocean once the ship is more than three miles away from shore. “Harmful nutrients in sewage like nitrogen and phosphorous are well known pollutants that cause low oxygen problems like the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico,” explains Savitz. She says that raw sewage contaminates marine ecosystems and contains viruses that can make humans and marine life sick.

The cruise ships have responded to public pressure by voluntarily adopting memorandums of understanding and waste management policies that agree to fully comply with laws and regulations, welcome new technology, and minimize waste. “We make our living off of pristine environments and we have no reason not to be invested in the future of the environment,” explains International Council of Cruise Lines President Michael Crye. He says that the industry has invested millions of dollars in advanced waste water treatment on board cruise ships and that some of the new systems — like those in use in Alaska —  discharge water that is drinking-water quality. “Our mandatory waste management practices and procedures basically mandate that none of our members discharge anything within four miles of the shore unless they have these advanced wastewater treatment systems installed,” he explains.

Oceana wants all cruise ships to install the most current waste treatment technology and estimates that cruise ships could install new technology within five years at a cost of only $1.50 dollars per day per passenger. In order to find out if cruise customers would support  the cost of new technology, Oceana hired Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Inc. to conduct a survey of cruise ship patrons. The poll revealed that six out of ten cruisers are willing to pay extra to make sure that cruise ships never dump sewage into the ocean. More than 90 percent of this group said that they would pay more than $25. “What we want them to do is get into the 21st century and upgrade to state-of-the-art sewage treatment and then we’ll be off their back,” Savitz says. “If they treat the stuff and stop dumping raw sewage, we think the customers will be a lot happier and the oceans will be a lot better off.”

Published in Americas magazine by Chris Hardman


Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls

THE TINY COUNTRY of Guyana, situated on South America’s northeast coast, is called the “land of many waters” due to the large number of waterfalls, rivers, and wetlands found throughout the country. The most spectacular of all Guyana’s water attractions is the Kaieteur waterfall located about 150 miles inland on the Potaro River. At 741 feet — 5 times the height of Niagara Falls — Kaieteur Falls is the largest single drop waterfall in the world.

The falls were discovered in 1870 by British geologist and explorer Charles Barrington Brown. Nearly 60 years later, Kaieteur became the country’s first national park. Recent legislation has increased the park’s size to 762 square miles. The falls are named after an old Patamona Indian chief called Kaie. According to Patamona legend, Kaie saved the Patamona from a warring tribe by canoeing over the falls as a sacrifice to Makonaima, the great spirit.

The falls have served as Guyana’s most well known tourist attraction, and tours are led by small plane from Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. The one-hour flight takes travelers from the plains on the coast to the lush green mountains of the interior. Some travelers may choose the overland route to the falls that involves a 2-day drive from Georgetown, an 8-hour hike to the base of the falls, and a 4-hour climb up the side of the gorge. All tours include a guided tour of the forest surrounding the falls to see Kaieteur’s other natural wonders. Kaieteur sits on the eastern edge of the 1,500-foot-high Potaro Plateau that covers southeastern Venezuela, northern Brazil, and western Guyana. According to the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana, at the height of the rainy season the falls span more than 450 feet and drop 35,000 gallons of water per second into the 741-foot gorge.

The ever-present mist from the waterfall has created a cloud forest that is rich with mosses, ferns, and orchids. One of the most spectacular plants is the giant tank bromeliad that grows as high as 12 feet. Bromeliads create microhabitats for frogs and insects by funneling and storing water in the center of the plant. At Kaieteur, the one-inch golden frog spends its entire life living in bromeliad tanks where it eats, swims, and breeds. Although these frogs are related to poison dart frogs, this particular species is endemic to Kaieteur and is found nowhere else on earth.

Along the forest trails, visitors can glimpse the Guianan cock-of-the rock. The males are easy to spot in the dark forest understory, because their brilliant orange feathers and orange crown stand out against the sea of green trees and plants. During mating season, small groups of males clear out a spot on the ground where they compete for female attention through lively dances. Another visible bird is the white-collared swift that makes its home on the cliffs behind the waterfall. Thousands of these insect-eating birds fill the sky at dawn and dusk as they exit and enter their roosts with amazing speed and agility.

Little is known about the mammals that live in Kaieteur. Howler monkeys, foxes, agouti, paca, tapir, red brocket deer, jaguarundi, raccoon, and collared peccary are found in the park, but are rarely seen during a short visit. A thorough study of Kaieteur fauna has yet to be completed. One of the few scientific publications focusing solely on Kaieteur covers the flora of the area. The Preliminary Checklist of the Plants of Kaieteur National Park, Guyana, was written by Smithsonian Institution scientists C.L. Kelloff and V.A. Funk

Currently Kaieteur is an undeveloped site. There is a small airstrip, a few cleared trails, and a rustic guesthouse. The Guianan government hopes to attract more visitors to the area by building full-service lodges and a visitor center. The challenge will be to make the area more accessible to tourists without detracting from the beauty of the environment.

Published in Americas magazine by Chris Hardman

Galapagos’ Shrinking Iguanas

THE ANIMALS on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands have developed amazing ways to adapt to their unique environment. In the last couple of years scientists have realized that marine iguanas are doing something once thought impossible in the natural world: when their food source is particularly low, the animals shrink, sometimes as much as 20% of their body length.

“When we put all the data in the computer and found in some years these animals were decreasing body size, we thought, this is totally wrong,” says University of Illinois Professor of Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution Martin Wikelski. “We mis-measured or we entered data in the wrong way.  Then after this long-term El Niño that happened between 1992 and 1997, we found that they shrank about 20% in body length, and we decided that this is way too big to be ignored.”

In the 12 years Wikelski has been studying the Galapagos iguanas shrinkage occurred in 1987-88, 1992-93, and 1997-98 – the same years that El Niños hit. The correlation was consistent, and the connection had to be food. Marine iguanas feed exclusively on algae, and when an El Niño turns cold, nutrient-rich waters warm, massive algae die-offs occur. Wikelski speculates that shrinking is a way to cope with decreasing food sources. Iguanas are cold-blooded and need to warm up in the sun before they can start eating. With a smaller body size they can warm up faster and feed for longer time periods. In addition, their smaller body makes them more efficient foragers.

Because El Niño is a natural weather phenomenon, animals like the marine iguanas have learned to adapt to its powerful effects in a variety of ways. Although an El Niño may kill 70% of the iguana population, the animals make a fast recovery.  They reproduce more often, reproduce at a higher rate, lay more eggs per clutch, and then after 3 or 4 years the population returns to normal. Potentially, body shrinkage can now be added to the list of adaptations marine iguanas have developed to deal with El Niños.

“We don’t know yet entirely what determines the shrinkage or what causes the shrinkage,” Wikelski explains, “So what we are looking at now are certain hormones [such as] growth hormones.” Wikelski and his team have begun to x-ray their study group of some 400 iguanas. (They started with 12,000 animals in 1981, but several El Niños have hit since then, and Wikelski decided not to add any new animals to the original group.) They are also taking blood samples of hormones that could be related to shrinkage. Future research will include simulating El Niño conditions to document the animals physiological responses to changing conditions.

“The thing that is more interesting is not the shrinkage itself, but the re-growth after shrinkage,” Wikelski says. “They shrink and re-grow again. If we understand how they do that, we can actually do something about osteoporosis or the problems that astronauts face [of bone density loss] in space.”

Research on marine iguanas by Wikelski and others will continue only if there are enough iguanas to study. Unfortunately on some of the islands, introduced predators – such as feral cats and dogs – are destroying marine iguana populations. Wikelski warns that if that problem isn’t solved, in 10 or 15 years some of the islands will lose their entire iguana populations. Wikelski has limited his research to undisturbed islands, where animals face only natural challenges. “It’s an ideal situation because in most of the animal populations you have predation and competition and lots of interaction with other species, but in marine iguanas you only have this one species and its interaction with the environment. You can really test a lot of ecological and evolutionary theory there.”

Published in Americas magazine by Chris Hardman