By chrisfraser64, Jan 16 2020 02:47PM

I’ve been coming to terms with the death of a friend of mine. Richard Foster was a wildlife filmmaker in Belize who was abducted from his remote home and killed. Sadly, there is a huge gap in wealth between the richest and poorest members of the population and violent crime and drug-running are on the increase. Richard had lived and worked with his wife Carol for 40 years and they had won many international awards for their documentaries. Both of them were generous and well-liked in the local community and hugely respected by wildlife filmmakers worldwide.

The Belize Zoo, which was initiated by Richard and directed by noted environmentalist Sharon Matola, only collects animals that have been injured or maltreated and hosts a popular outreach programme for schools

Belize is about the size of Wales and 2.6 million acres, a quarter of the land and coastline, is protected in 95 reserves. There is a wide range of wildlife including Jaguars, Howler Monkeys, Tapirs, Keel Billed Toucans, Scarlet Macaws, Frigatebirds, Pelicans and Harpy Eagles. One of biggest of these reserves is Bladen Nature Reserve – 100,000 acres of pristine wilderness which has the highest level of protection in that permits are required to enter the area and are restricted to researchers only. The aim, at some stage in the future, is to link all these reserves into the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which will allow for the migration of animals from Mexico to South America.

The reef which stretches the complete length of Belize's coast, is part of the 600 mile-long Mesoamerican Reef from Mexico and Honduras – the second biggest in the World. An epic battle was waged recently by local conservation organisations together with international groups like WWF and Oceana to push through legislation to ban oil exploration on the Reef. Eight marine reserves have also been created along the coast and local fisherman have been confined to restricted areas and enlisted to ensure that only those with licences can fish there.

The Smithsonian Marine Research Station on Carrie Bow Caye monitors sea level rises, the state of the reef, and health of the fish population. The 2018 report initiated by the Smithsonian's Healthy Reefs for Healthy People initiative showed a small but significant improvement in the health of the Reef and helped remove it from its World Heritage danger list.

Despite the tragedy of Richard's death, Belize still holds a magic for me. I went back three years ago and revisited the Marine research station and stayed at Richard’s base where we discussed the film Belize - the Turning Point we had made together in 1988. Great progress has been made since then but there is still a great deal to be done to protect and extend the forests and regenerate the reef in the face of the threat from climate change.

By chrisfraser64, Jan 16 2020 02:04PM

In late summer after a full moon, Elkhorn and Staghorn corals release a snowstorm of pink, yellow and orange globules which drift to the surface and pop open to release a mass of eggs and sperm. The sperm swim around frantically looking for eggs of nearby closely related corals and fertilize them. These fertilized eggs drift down and anchor themselves to the seabed and start begin to grow.

Elkhorn and Staghorn corals are one of the major building blocks of reefs in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, 95% were wiped out by a pathogenic, ‘white band disease’ in the 70s and 80s. This has had a catastrophic effect on the fish population that rely on the reef for protection.

However, recently marine biologists have discovered that these corals have started to develop a resistance to the disease. By cultivating fragments of these corals, they can start to grow disease-resistant branches and plant them to regenerate sections of the reef within a few years. Local fishermen are being taught how to farm these corals. It provides them with an income and the knowledge that, not only will the reef but also fish that depend on them will multiply. It’s a positive story.

By chrisfraser64, Jul 3 2018 03:00PM

This is a tale of good news and bad news. Imagine a sandwich, one of those delicious sarnies you pick up from Waitrose... the bread is the good news... the wrapping … bad news.

The year was 2007, the scene, Modbury, Devon. The plot kicked off with a radical move by local shop keepers: extermination of plastic bags! Some offered alternative cloth bags; the art gallery wrapped paintings in old blankets; and the florist used biodegradable sheets.

How did this happen? I hear you cry. Well, local Modbury resident, Rebecca Hosking, was the inspiration. She had filmed a wildlife documentary in Hawaii showing heart-rending scenes of beaches littered with dead baby albatrosses, humpback whales, seals and turtles. All of them had perished as a result of filling their stomachs with plastic rubbish. She knew that something radical had to be done.

In less than a month, after showing extracts from the film to local shopkeepers, she convinced them to ban plastic bags.

Was this merely a local story. Oh no! The message spread to shopkeepers and councils throughout the UK. Years later in 2015, central government caught up and passed a law compelling large stores to charge 5p per plastic bag. The result has been that over 80% of customers have stopped using single-use plastic bags. Hoskins said, ‘The reason it has spread like bush-fire is because people wanted it to happen.’

Now for the wrapping round that sandwich – the bad news. We are only just beginning to realize the gigantic scale of plastic pollution. Most plastic in its current form has been manufactured in the last 70 years.

In 2017, industrial ecologist, Dr Roland Geyer reported that the total volume of plastic produced worldwide was 8.3 billion US tonnes. By 2015, the bulk of this, 6.3bn tonnes was waste.

A mere 21% had been recycled or incinerated – the remaining 79% had been buried in landfill or released into the natural environment.

In 1997, mind-bending photographs were taken by marine researcher, Captain Charles Moore. While sailing across the Pacific Ocean he saw a vast island of what he described as ‘plastic garbage’ twice the size of Texas. ‘The ocean will eventually spit this stuff out,’ he said, ‘but we have to stop putting it in.’

Another inspirational character, Peter Kohler, founded a campaigning group, The Plastic Tide. He said, ‘So far, we can only account for 1% of the total plastic in our oceans today, which begs the question; where is the missing 99%?’ He is launching a project to map plastic waste on beaches around the UK using aerial drones equipped with sensors capable of monitoring items of plastic. Once the figures are in, responsibility for clearing it will shift to local communities like ourselves and, with vigorous lobbying of our government, laws to prevent further plastic pollution.

Is that it? Oh no, more bad news! In the last two years reports have been issued relating to the impact of plastic on human health:

The Center for Environmental Health has issued a report that nearly 40 percent of American canned foods contain the harmful chemical BPA. This is found in plastic coating lining the inside of tins to prevent corrosion. The chemical is linked to obesity, cancer and birth defects.

The University of Hull and Brunel University, London announced that mussels bought from UK supermarkets were infested with 70 particles of microplastic for every 100 grams of each mussel.

Also, the World Health Organisation is launching a public health enquiry after a new analysis on bottled water revealing that more than 90% contained pieces of microplastic.

With a great fanfare, the UK government has produced a 25 year Environmental Plan with the aim of working towards eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042. How much more plastic pollution will have been generated by this time?

Let’s return to some good news. Closer to home, a new shop has just been opened in Bridport by a young entrepreneur, Lydia Wilson called Waste Not Want Not. She sells organic, unpackaged, plant based whole foods and invites you to ‘rejoice in plastic free shopping!’ You bring a container of your choice to the shop, weigh, fill, weigh again and pay. Simple but ingenious!

Is it all down to inspirational individuals to deal with plastic pollution? So far, it seems like it.

Forgive the pun, folks but that’s a wrap.

By chrisfraser64, Jul 3 2018 02:13PM

There are times when I’m in a trance-like state mulling over a recent event or listening to the voices of the characters in a piece I’m writing - when a louder voice intrudes, ‘Knock, knock - anyone at home?’ It’s my wife dragging me back into the present to put out the rubbish or take the dog for a walk.

For some months now I’ve been processing the implications of a Guardian Masterclass I attended with the seductive title of How to write a best selling novel. Since it was a one-day event, lead author Sebastian Faulks had the grace to admit that it was not possible to give any meaningful advice on this subject. However, he and three other young authors gave valuable insights into their own creative processes. Faulks himself said, ‘I set out to write the best books I possibly can.’ One of the other authors, Alex Preston did me a big favour by recommending Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography ‘Speak, Memory’. I read it and was astounded.

Nabokov had an idyllic childhood in a colossally rich but liberal family in St Petersburg. From an early age he was speaking and reading in Russian, French and English as a result of his father employing a series of tutors from all over Europe. With the coming of the Russian Revolution, he and his family were forced to flee the country. This journey was made with a certain panache. The Greek ferry left Sebastopol Harbour under machine gun fire from Bolsheviks as he and his father calmly played chess on the deck. Somehow he managed to survive the shock of losing great wealth to become a poverty-stricken emigre, scraping a living as a private tutor. Despite the turbulent times and constant movement between Cambridge, London, Berlin and Paris, he continued to publish a stream of poems and novels in Russian.

After 20 years he was forced to flee again, but at his own pace. With his wife and son, he sauntered leisurely towards the last steamer to leave France for America, mere weeks ahead of the Nazi invasion. After reaching safety in America he forsook his beloved native language and mastered the art of writing novels in consummate English.

In his autobiography, Nabokov describes the arrival of the vast form of his French tutor ‘Mademoiselle O’ at a remote Russian railway station on a winter night, ‘frozen to the centre of her brain’. She is greeted by ‘a burly coachman in sheepskin and huge gloves protruding from his scarlet sash’ and driven on a sledge pulled by ‘two black horses, Zoyka and Zinka’ through the frozen wastes to the substantial family estate.

But where is Nabokov in this ‘stereoscopic dreamland’? He’s a trickster who scatters clues throughout the sequence:

‘I can visualize her, by proxy, as she stands in the middle of the station platform, where she has just alighted, and vainly my ghostly envoy offers her an arm that she cannot see.’

And later, ‘Let me not leave out the moon – for surely there must be a moon, the full, incredibly clear disc that goes so well with Russian lusty frosts.’

The truth is, he was never there. He had recreated the scene from his imagination in a snow-bound New England many years later. He explains with a twinkle, ‘The snow is real, though, and as I bend to it and scoop up a handful, sixty years crumble to glittering frost-dust between my fingers.’

Nabokov shows how the human mind can select from memories of the past and with a creative use of vivid imagery create something as though it is happening in the present. It’s a magical combination of elements which reanimates the character of his old tutor. In his novels and poems, he is able to use his own experiences together with his imagination to create fictional characters and situations. He talks about the writer as combining the qualities of a storyteller, a teacher and an enchanter, with the enchanter predominating.

Undoubtedly, Nabokov was an exceptionally accomplished writer but mulling over his life and work I had a revelatory AH-HA moment. I realized and appreciated for the first time the gifts that we, as humans, are all blessed with. We can chose from a myriad of media –not only words but also music, paintings and film - to pass on our experiences to others. Creativity is in our DNA.

These are a series of talks I gave as part of the 'Apothecary' spoken word meetings at the Beach and Barnicott in Bridport