Madagascar Trip: Days 13 & 14

Kate Bjorklund

20160601_112639On June 1, just before leaving CVB and Ranomafana we walked to this scenic overlook of the waterfall in Ranomafana. We took a big group picture there and then another back on campus with Dr. Wright. We also quickly stopped at a local school to give away the rest of our books, clothes, toys, and candy. We hopped back on a bus, this time a blue one, and drove for about 6 hours before stopping in Antsirabe for the night. We had pizza at a restaurant called Zandina and we stayed at a transformed retirement home called La Residence Sociale. We all gave the hotel points for its creepy charm!

IMG_20160601_100930969_HDR Last Morning in Ranomafana

Our Buses

June 2 was chock full of activities and it felt great to get out and start walking again after being in a bus for a sizable chunk of time the day before. We stopped…

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Madagascar Trip: Day 9

Kate Bjorklund

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 8.56.17 PMOn May 28, I worked with three other students and Dr. Wright. The rest of the group ventured off campus to meet an environmental club for a reforestation project in Ambatolahey. They worked at a kids and teen nature center for part of the day. It was wonderful to see pictures from their green activities. Ranomafana has done a great job getting the next generation involved in rainforest restoration!

Back on campus, Dr. Wright gave us the task of sorting some classified bones in her fossil collection. Angele, the house paleontologist, helped us sort the 9,000 year old fossils. The fossils had been dated in Helsinki and were discovered by Dr. Wright and a few colleagues at a “Christmas River” site in Madagascar. The fossils were split into four groupings based on species. We sorted Aepyornis (Elephant bird), crocodile, turtle, and pygmy hippo bones. Two students from Duke University helped…

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Madagascar Trip: Day 4

Kate Bjorklund

On May 23, we got back on the bus to see ring-tailed lemurs at Anja Reserve. On our way to the wildlife preserve, we stopped to go to a market we came across in Alakamisy. The market was a busy one with lots of produce. People walked to the market from far and wide because a town market only takes place once a week. We saw some people driving pigs and zebu down hills and on the sides of the road. We saw a young boy carrying a basket of ducks on his head. We walked through rows of fruit, vegetable, grain, and meat stands. There were also stalls filled with clothes and small electronics. Other people sold metal tools like gardening spades and things of that sort. We could hear people calling us “vaza” or variations of the Malagasy word for tourist. Our first market day experience gave us…

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Madagascar Trip: Day 3

Kate Bjorklund

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 10.22.18 PMOn May 22, we drove down to Centre ValBio in Ranomafana, Madagascar. It was about a 10 hour drive and we got to see some spectacular views throughout the day. As we traveled further south we encountered a lot of potholes. The patches of missing road didn’t stop us though and we coasted down with the help of the driver’s slick maneuvers. We also discovered that the “rules” of the road are quite different in both rural and urban parts of Madagascar. We learned that the road conditions were due to a lack in funding after some fairly recent political crises.

Aside from the smells, we really loved our cute little bus and its curtained windows. You would think being stuck on a bus for 10 hours would be horrendous, but it was nice to rest and take in the views on our trip down. In little towns we saw…

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NYC Bag Tax: Helping Eliminate Waste


On Thursday, April 28th, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito stated her support for a proposal to tax plastic and paper bags in the City. The original proposal was a 10-cent bag fee, which got lowered to a 5-cent fee in order to accommodate opposing opinions. A week after this support, the bill was passed in the City Council with a 28 to 20 vote. Starting on October 1st, 2016, customers will be taxed per bag they use, with the exception of those who receive SNAP or WIC benefits. The plastic bag tax had been an ongoing debate for at least two years in the City Council – and on the minds of many environmental activists for years prior. Although enough supporters were behind the bill to pass it, there are still many who are fully against it.  A likely reason for opposing opinions is the persistence of plastic bags in daily life around the city, and the world.

Plastic bags are easily accessible, can carry a lot without breaking, and are easily reusable; however, for a lot of people once they are out of sight, they are out of mind, too. Many people oppose a tax on them because of the inconvenience factor, but don’t realize the harmful effect they have on our environment. Plastic bags in landfills can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and when they make it into our water systems, they cause harm to marine life, and eventually to humans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a many hundred-thousand square mile area of plastic and other debris in the pacific ocean, comprising of microscopic particles of trash in a patch the size of Texas. These nanoparticles are eaten by fish and other marine life, which, when consumed by larger organisms in the food chain make their way in large concentrations to our plates. For precisely this reason, student groups who recognize the danger of continued plastic usage and disposal have formed across the country to protest plastic bags. Bag It NYC is one such group, which has drawn support from a number of conservation organizations over the past few years, holding student protests at the City Council each year as well.

Among all of this protest, however, organizations have arisen to combat movements like the bag tax, and to “prove” how valuable plastic bags are to our society. “Bag the Ban” is a website sponsored by (you guessed it) a plastic bag-making company, Novolex. On their website, a number of “myths vs. facts” about plastic bags are listed, including the “myth” that reusable bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags. Novolex claims that plastic bags “consume fewer natural resources, generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions, take up less landfill space than paper or “reusable” bags.” While it may be true that each plastic bag uses fewer emissions than each paper or reusable bag, what the website neglects to note is how over one trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000) plastic bags are used each year worldwide. Companies like Novolex have created this pushback for plastic bags simply because it is how they make their money; however, they also appeal to people’s tendency to use what is easiest, without warning them of the environmental harm plastic bags cause.

The aim of the bag tax in New York City is to be annoying; those who don’t want to pay the five cents a bag will ideally start to bring their own bags, saving money over time. However, this tax might not be as effective on those in higher income brackets, who will have less incentive to bring their own bags when they can easily afford to pay the tax. For those whom the tax may not affect as much, it is still important to remember the detrimental effects that plastic bags have on our environment, and our lives. Each time you bring a reusable bag to the grocery store, you will not only be able to save a few cents — you’ll also be keeping plastic out of landfills, oceans, and your own body.

To learn more about the NYC Bag Tax and plastic bag usage, check out the links below:


A Bug’s Life


On May 25th my environmental club took a field trip to a nearby restaurant called Rainbow Gardens. The establishment is well known for its eco-friendly habits, however my class mates and I had the privilege of visiting the secret rooftop beehive.

Chef and owner, Heather Profetto, has been maintaining beehives her entire life. As a child she assisted her father with their backyard beehive. As she grew older she continued this hobby- not as a professional beekeeper, but as she put it, “someone who has conducted many experiments with many different hives; sometimes successful and sometimes not.” Her current project has been a success. Heather has been working to catch a swarm of bees and merge it with a dying beehive.

Bees swarm when they are leaving behind an old dwelling. During this frenzy they follow the queen bee in search of a new home. They may also send out “spotters” to find an ideal location such as a tree branch, abandoned car, or even an empty hive. Catching a swarm is one of every beekeeper’s goals. You can catch a swarm using either a sheet, a bin, or professional bee-catching equipment. Once you have a handle on the bees you provide them with a hive where they will live and produce honey.

After a brief explanation of her experience in the beekeeping world Heather allowed me to suit up and join her on the rooftop to check on the beehive. Once on the rooftop, she explained how to determine whether a hive is working successfully. You can tell whether a queen bee has recently entered a hive based on the presence of tiny, white larvae within the hive. Heather’s hive was thriving and busy with the new swarm of bees.

Without bees, we would have no avocados, peaches, apples, or any produce you can think of. So next time you shy away from their stingers and curse their names, remember their important role.



Madagascar Series Pt. 2

Salama Indray! Hello Again!

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Madagascar (I am on my way there this month) I have been working to finish up a few projects.

In an effort to help the people in Madagascar, I have contacted a public health service called PIVOT that has a center in Ranomafana. PIVOT is an organization strives to strengthen health at the hospital and community health center level. PIVOT has been focusing on tackling issues like malnutrition in Madagascar. I have coordinated a medical supplies drop off with them. I was able to find a local organization called InterVol near my school that collects medical supplies and I have arranged to hold a trip group sorting party. We will be able to gather medical supplies at InterVol to bring to the PIVOT staff.

I am also creating a conservation storybook with a few other students that will be put on iPads that we are bringing to a school in Madagascar. The story is about a species of lemur that is endemic to the island. We will also help the school in Madagascar with a reforestation project, which I am excited about! Stories to follow…