Nature meets culture: Invasive species recipes, snares to sculptures and more

© Greg McFall/NOAA

At a time of lockdowns and social distancing, connecting with nature is not easy for most. 

With that in mind, here are a few shows, art and more that can help bring you closer to nature, wherever you are.

The bluestripe snapper, or taʻape, is a vibrant tropical fish, easily identified by its electric-blue stripes and lemon-yellow skin.

But its beauty often disguises its destructive nature: While the species ranges from the Indian Ocean to parts of the Pacific, in Hawaiʻi, the taʻape are an invasive species that competes with native fish and causes economic losses for local fishers.

To find a sustainable — and tasty — solution to limiting this species’ environmental impact, Conservation International recently partnered with local chefs, restaurants, seafood distributors and fisheries to develop new ways to bring taʻape to tables across Hawaiʻi.

Live virtual cooking demos and technologies such as augmented reality and Instagram filters are highlighting the potential uses for Ta’ape and helping to demonstrate that consumers can eat a meal while supporting the local economy and the environment.  

“By eating and buying locally sourced taʻape, people contribute to providing an economic benefit to our fishing community, help our beautiful ocean environment by helping to take out invasive species and also help reduce our dependence on imported seafood sources,” Jhana Young, who leads these efforts at Conservation International, told Honolulu Magazine

“Hawaiʻi has been called the invasive species capital of the world, [so let’s] ‘eat ‘em to beat ‘em.’”

In Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, there are more illegal snares per square mile than anywhere else on the planet, according to recent research

Set by poachers, these wire traps capture a variety of species — from buffalo to warthogs — which then die from starvation, blood loss or dehydration if they cannot escape. 

However, one organization is working to save these species by transforming the snares into sculptures of the very animals they were set to entrap. 

Since 2015, the community-based non-profit “Snares to Wares” has trained and employed local people as artisans to convert recovered wire snares into designs of iconic African wildlife, including giraffes, elephants and lions. 

Employing more than 620 artists, the organization gives local people — who may have otherwise turned to poaching for food and jobs — an alternative source of income. At the same time, Snares to Wares helps generate funds to collect traps from the park every two weeks. 

According to park officials, the program has already helped reduce incidents of poaching in the area. 

“It’s about alternative food sources but also empowering [locals],” Tutilo Mudumba, the co-founder of Snares to Wares, told National Geographic. “Most of the group members are youth whom we believe, with time, will influence the elders who usually recruit and train them to become poachers.”

Throughout his 60-year career as a naturalist, David Attenborough has experienced the wonders of some of the most spectacular ecosystems on the planet — from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. 

He has also witnessed these ecosystems collapse.

In his new film, “A Life on Our Planet,” Attenborough chronicles Earth’s loss of biodiversity over the course of his lifetime — and explains why humans are to blame. 

“Our imprint is now truly global,” explains Attenborough in the film. “Our blind assault on the planet has finally come to alter the very fundamentals of the living world.”

Attenborough drives home this point with a list of increasingly unsettling stats: “We have overfished 30 percent of fish stocks to critical levels. We cut down over 15 billion trees each year. By damming, polluting and over-extracting rivers and lakes, we’ve reduced the size of freshwater populations by over 80 percent.”

Using archival footage from trips to the rainforest of Borneo and Indigenous territories in New Guinea early in his career, Attenborough illustrates what life was like on the planet just under a century ago, when more than 66 percent of Earth’s land remained wild. Now, just 35 percent of land remains wild, according to the film

However, in true Attenborough fashion, his distressed pleas for the planet are followed by innovative ideas to build a better future. From sustainable farming in the Netherlands to fishing restrictions in Palau, conservation success stories around the world offer hope that the planet can bounce back, says Attenborough.  

“To restore stability to the planet, we must restore nature,” he explains. 

“If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us.”


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A school of blue ta'ape fish in Hawai‘i (© Greg McFall/NOAA)