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Monday, February 20, 2012

written by Holly Henry, Director of Marketing
Most everyone has either heard of or read about the vast amount of garbage and plastic that exists in oceans around the world.

By some estimates, 46,000 pieces of plastic trash float in every square mile of ocean, with huge quantities coming together to form “islands.” One of those, named the Eastern Garbage Patch, midway between Hawaii and California, is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.
Think about that. A plastic island twice the size of Texas!

While I’ve read about this environmental disaster it never seemed real to me. Sure we’ve talked about it at our Green Team meetings; we’ve encouraged responsible use of products here at the zoo. Still the thought that garbage could actually wash up in a long, colorful line along the beautiful sandy beaches seemed incomprehensible.

Then I visited Mexico and walked along a beach covered with everything from toothpaste tubes, glue and soft drink containers, flip-flops, pieces of carpet and plastic forks and spoons. It was impossible to take off your shoes and feel the sand between your toes without getting stabbed by debris. Oddly, upon close inspection, many of these items had recycle emblems on them.
The littered beach scene runs endlessly along the southern Yucatan Peninsula and elsewhere in Mexico. There are brief reprieves in front of resorts, where staff tend to the beaches with garbage bags and rakes several times a day. Ironically, all of the poolside drinks and meals are delivered to resort guests in, you guessed it, plastic containers!

In its simplest form, the trash on these beaches looks bad. But far more impactful and far-reaching, this garbage threatens the mangroves and coral reef eco-systems of these fragile and naturally beautiful landscapes.

I’ve long remembered this story from my childhood: One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?" The youth replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die."

"Son," the man said, "Don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!"

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "I made a difference to that one."

Never has the story ever resonated so clearly with me as it did when I saw the garbage on these beaches. One of us can not fix our environmental disasters. Each of us, however, can make a difference. Not only have I resolved to stop and pick up every errant piece of garbage from now on, I will also curb my use of plastic and step up my recycling efforts.
I hope you will join me in this effort!

For 101 other ways to help the ocean visit

posted by Keely Johnson at

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Written by Anya Russom
I’ve been afforded some pretty incredible travel opportunities in my life, most recently the chance to participate in a three week study abroad workshop in Bali, Indonesia. The course was sociological in structure and intent on questioning the relationship between traditional Balinese culture and the tourism industry that drives their economy. Before leaving, we were asked by our professor to choose a topic that would be the focal point of our research while abroad. I, having been involved with the zoo for close to ten years, chose to look at the environmental effects of tourism and animal welfare throughout the country.

My program was focused in a centrally located town, called Ubud. It, like so much of the country, is surrounded by gorgeous forests filled with banana and coconut trees and valleys that are so beautiful, they’ll make your head spin. While there, I grew to understand and appreciate a new kind of natural beauty. I’ve lived in the Northland all my life, and it will always be lovely, but really, who wants pine when you can have papaya? It’s the kind of landscape that makes you question whether or not it could possibly even exist. It’s also the kind of place that uses its beauty in order to attract and deter from obvious blemishes that are found within.

The environment in Bali is suffering, tremendously. There is garbage everywhere, with the worst problem being the amount of plastic. In the past, the Balinese relied on banana and palm leaf as plates, bags, parcels, etc. which would be dropped and discarded whenever the user was finished. However, the surge of tourism also brought with it an increase in foreign materials, plastic especially, and unfortunately, the change in materials did not bring with it a change of mind. Discarded trash is choking the environment, clogging irrigation systems, being eaten by local wildlife, and poisoning the earth.

There is a belief in Bali that any place which houses an unusual grouping of animals constitutes something sacred. In Ubud, there is a section of forest called the Sacred Monkey Forest, wherein live hundreds of crab-eating macaques. These monkeys are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they will eat nearly anything edible that comes their way. Now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bali, the monkey forest draws in hundreds of tourists a day, many of whom bring in food for the monkeys to eat. I, myself, walked through the forest twice a day in order to walk to and from town. However, in addition to the fruits and veggies that people bring in and distribute, the monkeys also have access to water bottles, bags, and other harmful materials that they ingest without question. The once sacred monkey forest has now become a tourist commodity, and though the monkeys are friendly and well-fed, they are also subject to the foreign materials brought in to the forest each day.

During my trip, I was able to visit several places of interest to my studies, one of them being the THK (Tri Hita Karana) Environmental group. The main proponents of the group are located in a sustainable coop made from bamboo and human hair-infused cement. They have an earthworm farm to help them compost and irrigate, chickens for food, pigs for pets, and have easy access to their organic red rice farm. The group focuses on three main components of Balinese philosophy that reflect a harmonious relationship between God, people, and nature. Their cause is to help heal the environment and correct the attitudes of local residents, with an emphasis on teaching children the importance of sustainable living. Their hope is that the younger generations will become proactive in the conservation of their environment. To learn more about the THK organization, please visit

Another stop on my journey was BAWA (Bali Animal Rescue Association), which is focused on rehabilitating, vaccinating, and spay/neutering dogs and cats in Bali. While there, I met and spoke with several Australian volunteers, all of whom were participating in two week to two year volunteering programs and help to run the clinic and storefront offices. Several years ago, a wide-spread rabies outbreak in Balinese dogs caused a mass panic. To combat the disease, many people started destroying infected animals, which led to a rise in the rat population across the country, and with it brought disease. BAWA stepped in to help battle the disease and help to preserve Bali’s local animal life. Their cause helps to educate those who do not understand how to properly care for animals and also strives to protect the living population of animals all over Bali. To learn more about BAWA, please visit

What I learned from my experience is that it’s not about eliminating tourism from Bali. International tourism is what the country depends on, and whether you’re backpacking, spa touring, or attempting to eat, pray, and love, I firmly believe that everyone should experience what Bali has to offer. Honestly, most of the BAWA and THK’s volunteers were once tourists themselves, not to mention myself. What’s important is finding a balance that serves to maintain the tourist industry without depleting Bali’s natural beauty. I mean, that’s why people go in the first place. Arriving, I was ignorant; departing, I’m inspired. I want to take what I learned and apply it to my life at home, and I’m lucky enough to be in the perfect position to do just that. My adventures in Bali didn’t end when I landed back in Minnesota. I’ve just started the next leg of the journey.

posted by Keely Johnson at

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