Connecting to Nature in a Pandemic

Welcome to Connecting to Nature in a Pandemic.

It has been an infinitely challenging year in more than a few ways. The world has been faced with a haunting coronavirus and many have lost their lives, it has shown us that although we are becoming more and more detached from nature, nature can take control in the end.

Natural disasters such as pandemics are predicted to become an increasingly prevalent part of the worlds future should we not aim to become more in touch with nature and more aware of our surroundings. This blog will show you ways in which you can being connecting to nature in a pandemic and in your every day lives.

Tree in a field


Climate Change has been indicated as a major catalyst to this natural disaster, and despite all the craziness the world is experiencing, there are things which can be done to remain in touch. Animals Around the Globe, as you know, is a booking platform for animal experiences in the wild.

It is highly selective about the tours which are offered to ensure that all the animals encountered are in their natural and safe environment. However, with the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions and bans we urge individuals to seek nature in their very surroundings.

From where I’m writing this blog, in Cape Town South Africa I am overwhelmed for choice of nature to see. For those of you reading this blog who have visited or even lived in Cape Town know, we have amazing beaches and amazing mountains and in fact most kind of landscape you could imagine. With that luckily comes a great deal of opportunity to get back in touch with nature.

This blog will give you a few ideas to pursue to reconnect to nature from where you are currently living. Make use of the below headings to guide you through the blog, otherwise enjoy the whole blog in its entirety!

Look out the window…

Close your eyes and listen…

Take a walk where and when you can…

Firstly, look out the window

What does the sky look like from where you are? Step outside on a clear day this summer and look up. What do you see? Blue. And maybe a plane or a bird up there, but otherwise … nothing.

Or so you think. It turns out that right above you, totally invisible, is an enormous herd of animal life. There are so many creatures up there, they are so busy, so athletic, so tiny, that scientists have to fly up and give take a peek just to know what they could potentially see.

When British scientist Jason Chapman did studies on the insects and wildlife in the sky he discovered that there are 3 billion insects passing over your head in a summer month (he was talking about his survey in Great Britain). Closer to the equator, he says, the numbers should rise. He wouldn’t be surprised, for example, that in the sky over Houston or New Orleans there could be 6 billion critters passing overhead in a month.

What Are They Doing Up There?

Sometimes insects and spiders need to leave where they are and go someplace else for food, for mating or just for space. For a variety of reasons bugs disperse. You can see them launching themselves, says entomologist Matt Greenstone:

“They just stand straight up on their little back legs and just by doing that they can get part of their body up into this layer [of air] where it’s more turbulent and then, if you can get a ride on a parcel that’s going up, you can get off the ground and then if you’re lucky you can get carried aloft.”

Next, close your eyes and listen...

listen

Humans have become completely desensitised by manmade sounds that occur around us every day. Have you ever considered that these sounds are unnatural? The simmering whisper of cars driving, and sirens ringing, and phones pinging is not what occurs in nature at all. All the manmade sounds have completely dulled down our ability to appreciate silence and appreciate others around us which might be sharing our environment and are not humans… 

I’ve narrowed down a small list of 4 sounds in nature that humans rarely hear. See if these sounds you can listen for in your area or somewhere near you!  

Natural sounds occupy one-fifth of our human senses, and it’s easy to miss the subtler tones. But scientists around the globe have put microphones in clever places to document the lesser known twangs and beats. Here are seven examples. 

1. The sound of a choking ocean

Ocean

A red tide is usually seen, not heard. 

Red tide consists of colourful hazardous algal blooms (HABs) that spawn in coastal seas where excessive organic nutrients from agricultural runoff or human sewage feed the reproduction of microscopic dinoflagellates, a type of phytoplankton. 

Some of these microorganisms produce neurotoxins that fatally paralyze marine life. At high concentrations, an algal bloom can also decompose and sap the water of oxygen. The result is a dead zone, void of fish and other marine animals. 

Such was the case in 2005, when the worst regional red tide in 30 years struck Tampa Bay, Florida. But these toxic algae did more than just paint the water, according to a study published this September in Royal Society Open Science.

This red tide also silenced the water.

As part of a long-term survey on dolphins, marine biologist Shannon Gowans and ecologist Peter Simard placed audio recorders 15 feet underwater in Tampa Bay. These recorders — called hydrophones — were in place during the red tide summer of 2005, but also during non-red tide summers of 2006, 2011 and 2012. And the team was surprised by the absence of sound near Bunces Pass — a channel connecting the bay to the Gulf of Mexico — among the 2005 recordings. 

“Bunces Pass is normally healthy. It’s bordered by very healthy mangroves and sea grasses. There are usually lots of fish, dolphins and marine life,” said Gowans, who works at Eckerd College in St Petersburg, Florida.

The investigation, which was led by Eckerd undergraduate Kate Indeck, examined the calls of three marine species that were silenced by the algae. And the high-frequency claps of snapping shrimp, normally plentiful in the area, were muted, because the shrimp had died off. This marked the first evidence that this species is influenced by algal blooms, according to the authors.

To read more about this phenomenon, head over to National Geographic for more explanations and examples.

2. The burps and moans of sand

desert


Next time you’re at the beach, traipsing along a sand dune, keep in mind that each step might be creating a little chorus of Gregorian chants. 

Physicists from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge recorded these groans by visiting huge sand mounds in Death Valley National Park and the Mojave Desert. Looming more than 30 feet tall, these dunes experience avalanches that can last for minutes at a time. Geomechanicist Nathalie Vriend and her colleagues decided to record these avalanches using geophones, devices that measure the velocity particles being pushed by sound waves in the earth or underwater.

“The waves travelling through the dune move individual grains of sand, which exert a force on the geophone that we use for measurements,” Vriend told AIP News. To start avalanches, she and her colleagues would slide down dunes on their butts or run a hand through the loose earth.

The avalanches produced a mixture of harmonies, but in their analysis, the group paid special attention to booming and burping noises. Avalanching sand from dune faces in the Mojave Desert can trigger loud, rumbling “booming” or short bursts of “burping” sounds that resemble a tuned musical instrument. Great way to Connecting to Nature in a Pandemic.

Though related, the two sound effects originated from different physical properties of sand. The burps started first, within the first three seconds, and were caused by Rayleigh waves. Rayleigh waves travel slowly on top of a solid surface and are often the last seismic vibrations felt during earthquakes (They also cause the most damage).

In this scenario, the Rayleigh waves were nonlinear, meaning the early waves didn’t match the late waves in terms of amplitude and speed. This has to do with the composition of individual grains of sand. The burps also exhibited dispersion, or the tendency to break down from a complex noise into basic pitches and frequencies. (Fun fact: You can make burps at home by shaking sand from a desert dune inside of a jar.)

desert in namibia


Booms came later relative to burps, 15 to 17 seconds after the avalanche starting point. Booms were primarily composed of fast-moving P-waves that traveled internally through the sand dune. During an earthquake, P-waves are the first to reach and be recorded by a seismograph. In contrast to the wave responsible for burps, these P-waves were linear and non-dispersive, showing a more regular and harmonious pattern. Slower S-waves were also detected, but faintly.

“A blow of a hammer on a plate triggered a natural resonance — around the booming frequency — inside the dune, which is something we’ve never seen described in literature,” said Vriend, who now works at the University of Cambridge.

These dual characteristics — burps and booms — suggest that the sound produced by large dune avalanches lands somewhere in between that of a kid kicking sand at the beach and the tectonic shifts that cause major disasters.

3. Singing Spiders

If you need a Ringo Starr for your jam band, call the “purring” wolf spider, Gladicosa gulosa. Many species of male wolf spiders are known for their mating calls, which feature leg vibrations against a piece of woodland debris, like a dead leaf. But G. gulosa wolf spiders play a slightly different tune, 

The spiders don’t only beat against a “drum” but they also produce an accompanying vibration, like a backup vocal, that floats through the air.

However, the lead author of the research, biologist Alexander L. Sweger, isn’t sure if these secondary vibrations’ are intentional.

“They’re quiet — nothing on the order of crickets,” Sweger told Live Science. “We think this airborne sound is primarily a byproduct. As far as we can tell, they may not deliberately be producing a sound.”

4. A whale song for climate change

killer whale in norway

For a sad song from a whale, talk to oceanographer Kathleen Stafford from the University of Washington. Stafford’s team has collected acoustic recordings of whale songs to track their migratory habits at the boundary of the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Over a five-year span, they’ve secured hydrophones on moorings strategically placed along this oceanic border to catch the calls of seals, walruses as well as fin, humpback, bowhead and killer whales.

“This passive acoustic monitoring technique allows us to detect the presence of vocalizing marine mammals continuously — 24 hours per day — in all weather conditions, over periods of weeks to months, over distances of 20 to 30 kilometers, and is a proven sampling method in the waters offshore Alaska,” Stafford said. 


They’ve documented a climate-based shift in whale habits. Male humpback whales sing throughout the autumn in the Chukchi Sea, located north of the Bering Strait. This behaviour is typically only observed at their tropical breeding grounds and comes in parallel with the humpbacks extending their summer stays in Arctic into the fall. Fin whales, another whale that summers in the Arctic, acted in kind and stayed longer than normal. Killer whale calls were recorded irregularly.

“Summer whales have always occurred north of Bering Strait, although not in great numbers, and not in September, October, or November, when we hear them now,” Stafford said.

Winter-loving bowhead whales arrived in the fall, after the departure of the summer whales, but as Arctic ice melts due to global warming, Stafford projects more overlap between the seasonal species. As a result, the bowhead could face more competition for food and territory.

Lastly, take a walk where you can...

Rabbit on a bank

Make an effort to really take a walk away from a city setting, for example in a city park, or on the beach or for a hike near you. Besides listening to the sounds around you and observing the sky from where you are, how about exploring your surroundings for what they’re known for.

Everywhere around the world has animals that naturally live there, how about making an effort to look out for them in their natural habitat. In Cape Town, the mountain has an enormous amount of flora and fauna, my favourite being the caracal which is very hard to spot! Every time I walk on the mountain I look out for one.

There are many ways you can take ownership of reconnecting with nature, this blog aims to show you that through observing the sky, listening to faint but natural noises and sounds. And then finally immersing yourself in a natural environment near you and absorbing any little bit of life to help you appreciate nature.

I believe that until individuals can truly appreciate our surroundings in all its beauty and wonder, one will never actually be able to make a difference to combat climate change. Where is somewhere you are dying to travel once Corona Virus is not a factor? I know I cannot wait to get out their again and book some animal encounters with Animals Around the Globe. 

Thanks for reading Connecting to Nature in a Pandemic.

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