Saturday, March 31, 2012

Living green on a small island

sounds easy, sustainable food, organic vegetables and so many resources to tap into, right? Well sometimes its not always what it seems. Being sustainable is a much more costly way of life........

We are lucky in many ways with the way things came about, we always wanted to run renewable energy but it seemed so expensive. At the time, it was not easy to install solar and wind on the main island in Vava'u,  you had to be so far from a power line and many little or large obstacles depending on how you look at things!  The land that we leased to build our house on was just that distance away, however we still had to get permission from the power company, the power board and many other delegations that just had an "interest". We did so legally and had all inspections and permits produced though it did take some time and many visits by different people. To have installed power cables and lines all the way to our house would have cost the equivalent as to the system we originally put in.

Our first set of batteries arrived, and not a surprise with shipping but they were damaged, we "5200'd" the damage and they lasted 1 year. Our second set of batteries, we run 8 x 6v batteries to make a 48v system turned up and were not damaged in shipping so we breathed a sigh of relief.  We are now on our 3rd set of batteries in 7 years and fingers crossed for a while. The biggest issue with renewable energy here is the cost to set it up, the cost to maintain and have spare parts and the time it takes to get the parts you need.

Today, we raised our second windmill, the first one did great and wind power here is by far the best to have. Fingers crossed, the first one was damaged when it fell off its post when I was in the US and though we could have fixed it we came across this one that could be something very good for not only us but businesses and communities here. So our trial begins today.....

Well I was hoping for pictures of the windmill moving, he he, however since putting it up we have had zero wind, typical but never mind, it will come. Luckily our solar panels have been filling our batteries up nicely.

The nice thing is being self sufficient, despite being expensive has worked in our favour. Hopefully the Tonga Renewable Energy Roadmap will go ahead and see island communities provided with solar panels for basic energy and the spread of renewable energy through tourism properties on the main island, reducing the demand on the generator power supply as of now.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ice is simply stunning.......

coming to the continent of Antarctica was a dream for a long time and the reality of being there is still something I think about every minute of the day. Goose bumps pop up on my arm when I remember and allow myself to drift back to moments of our trip.

One of the first trips we did was a zodiac tour around an ice field, the weather was the dullest day of our trip but the icebergs and flows were tremendous despite the grey skies. Leopard seals lay upon icebergs and allowed us a close up view of this formidable predator.

Leopard Seal on Iceberg

The colours that are reflected both above and below the water are mind boggling, the depth the icebergs go to is not seen from the surface, but it is estimated that the part above the surface is only between 10-20% of the actual size of the iceberg. Icebergs need to be 5m or 16 feet in length to qualify for the title of "Iceberg" otherwise they are bergs and growlers.

Crab Eater Seal

We were lucky enough to see several icebergs rolling, where they completely turn upside down in the water, though only small icebergs were seen by us the pure size of some of the icebergs sent a shudder down my spine at the thought of them rolling.

The importance of icebergs and ice to the ecosystem of Antarctica is huge, algae grows on the underside of the ice and are fed upon by krill during the winter months when the ice is at its thickest. Seals and penguins use the icebergs for resting and escape from predators such as Orcas.

Estimates of over 25,000km2 have been lost in the last 50 years from the 10 floating ice shelves, and on the peninsula 40% of the sea ice coverage has declined. 

Yes it does change, but once great areas have been lost the amount of time for it to come back to even one tenth of what it was takes far greater time than it did to lose it!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Conservation: The Antarctic Convergence.....

not something visible by the eye, and is 20-30 miles wide and changes in latitude slightly each year, though normally between 49S and 55S. It was first crossed in 1675 and described by Sir Edmund Hilary in 1700.

The Antarctic convergence zone is where the cold antarctic waters mix with the slightly warmer subantarctic waters, the colder waters sink below the warmer waters creating a highly important zone for Antarctic Krill to feed. The Antarctic Convergence Zone is natural like the Arctic tree boundary, however it  not only separates 2 hydrological zones but separates two areas of distinctive marine life and climates.

This is a highly important area that is currently being monitored very closely as sea temperatures change in the warmer zones. Krill is critical to almost all species that reside and migrate to and through Antarctica. Both the mixing and upwelling and health of the ice and glaciers are habitats and feeding zones for krill and other microscopic animals.

There are many threats facing all areas of marine and ocean life, the threats to Antarctica start from us and where we live and what we do. It does not matter how far away you are from any ocean or sea, our actions can still make a difference.

 In a series of blog posts coming soon I will write about some of the further changes we are making and how easy and cost effective they can be. Whether you believe in climate change or are skeptical about the impacts and future, ignorance does not count. Small things can create a big difference not just to the environment but also to you, your family and your life.

Drake Passage and beyond......

The Drake passage, known as the most dangerous body of water on the planet,  was extremely tame on both our crossings. The 800km stretch of water between Ushuaia and the first Island Livingstone island, was a mere 10ft on the way to Antarctica. This did allow for great bird watching of the spectacular Albatross and Petrels that followed the vessel for the first day.

Wandering Albatross

As you can see from the Wandering Albatross above has a blue line that runs around its neck in front of the wings, we believe this albatross must have gotten caught on a line but somehow managed to escape. Wandering and other albatross species will stay on the wing at sea for long periods of time, resting on the waters surface when the wind is not strong enough to aid them. Their wingspan is the largest of all birds measuring up to 3.50m. Their breeding season is in early November and occurs on the subantarctic islands above 60S. We did not stop at these islands, so did not see the Albatross chicks, at this stage the adults are out feeding and returning to shore to feed the chicks often.

Below is another regularly seen bird the Giant Petrel, found only in the Southern Hemisphere and again around the subantarctic islands in South Georgia. They are distinguished from the albatross by their bill, which is a double tubed nostril joined together on the top of the bill where as on albatross they run on the side of the bill. Petrels are harder to distinguish from one species to the next as the changes are only slight in colour and not easily noticed by the eye.
Giant Petrel
Their amazing wingspans and size as they glide over the surface of the ocean, so nearly touching and yet so controlled is just breath taking to watch. Paul and I stood for hours that day just watching.
 Albatross preening on the fly.

Shy Hourglass dolphin that played off the huge bow. Note how calm the ocean is!
 The trip back from Antarctica was even calmer, and the winds not even blowing enough to get the albatross and petrels flying.

The Albatross and many sea birds still remain threatened and on endangered species list due to long lining and fishing methods as well as all the plastics that float around on the surface of the ocean which end up being eaten and digested by these birds. For more information please visit