The first day of the IUCN 2014 World Parks Congress marked a significant win for the oceans.
The President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon announced the decision to create a new marine protected area network of ten marine parks covering more than 18,000 square miles (over 46,000 square kilometres). President Ali Bongo Ondimba added that the new protected area will include a 27,000 square kilometer expansion of Mayumba National Park, extending out to the limit of the nation’s EEZ. This news by Gabon means it will be the first Central African Nation to protect its marine resources with the establishment of a marine protected area network. A recent underwater survey led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, National Geographic, and Gabon’s Agence Nationale de Parcs Nationaux (ANPN) uncovered a wealth of marine biodiversity (such as this eel peering out from a enclosure of sea anemones), providing valuable information for the formulation and creation of the new marine protected area network. The parks will protect more than 20 species of whales and dolphins (including humpback whales and Atlantic humpback dolphins) and four species of marine turtles (among them the world’s largest breeding leatherback turtle population and the Atlantic Ocean’s largest breeding olive ridley turtle population). Gabon’s marine protected area network will help protect pelagic fish populations such as these rainbow runners.
We take great pride in the fact that WCS conservationist Mike Fay, along with National Geographic’s Enric Sala, led the research team on these underwater surveys of previously undocumented reefs, sea floors, and lagoons.
For the past 25 years, WCS has supported the Government of Gabon’s initiatives to create the country’s first national park system, designed to save the country’s magnificent tracts of intact forest and abundant wildlife.
Ocean ViewsOcean Views brings new and experienced voices together to discuss the threats facing our ocean and to celebrate successes. The Aquarium of the WorldDescribed by Jacques Cousteau as the "aquarium of the world," the Gulf of California in Mexico is threatened by coastal development, climate change, and other human activities. The carbon dioxide we pump into the air is seeping into the oceans and slowly acidifying them. Photograph: Clownfish reared in acidified water can't recognize the chemical signals that guide them to their unusual home—the tentacles of an anemone. In March 1868 a 29-year-old John Muir stopped a passerby in San Francisco to ask for directions out of town. A hundred years ago, in the early months of 1916, America stood possessed of a magnificent, visionary, slightly confused and inchoate idea: national parks. At that point 14 national parks already existed in the United States, the oldest being Yellowstone, which had been set aside by federal law, back in 1872, as the first national park anywhere in the world.
What the country did not have in 1916, but now realized it needed, was a coherent definition of what a national park is or should be, supported by a single agency empowered to manage, defend, and oversee the expansion of its scattered patchwork of parks and parklike monuments. To capture life around a watering hole in Tanzania’s Serengeti, Wilkes spent 30 hours inside a crocodile hunting blind raised on an 18-foot-high scaffold. The early parks in the American West had been established primarily to protect scenic wonders, splendors of soaring rock and tumbling water and perennial ice, severe places that offered little prospect for economic exploitation—except maybe in the form of tourism as envisaged by railroad tycoons.
On an April day cherry blossoms festoon West Potomac Park, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. The way so far has been a stumbling, incremental process, fraught with politics and economics and conflicting ideals, that has brought us to where we are now. The Grand Canyon is the touchstone American park; whatever happens here could have repercussions throughout the park system. This week on National Geographic Weekend, join host Boyd Matson and his guests as they hold their breath off 50 foot waterfalls, photograph backyard wildlife for National Geographic magazine, study red poop from blue whales, treat pets for depression with counseling and sometimes Prozac, walk through Walla Walla, dedicate your life to saving African wilderness, study volcanoes on the coldest continent, watch the circle of life unfold in the Ethiopian highlands, feed the 5000, and run with wild dogs. This week on National Geographic Weekend, join host Boyd Matson and his guests as they climb El Capitan with young children, stop the kidnapping of Brazil’s wildlife, save lions by saving livestock, lift a 35-ton stone with prehistoric technology, work to save the last 3,000 wild tigers, visit some of the last nomadic tribes, bottle feed a baby cheetah, and clean up hazardous waste.
We’re halfway through the year and what better way to map our progress than to, well, map the many guests we’ve had on National Geographic Weekend since the ball dropped back in January? This week, we share stories of a few harrowing crossings: traversing the Okavango Delta on foot, skiing up and down Mount Rainier, and we leave tire tracks on Mars where we melt rocks for science.
National Geographic Weekend celebrates the new Age of Exploration by meeting some of the most celebrated explorers of our past. The death of Tim Samaras, famous storm chaser and National Geographic grantee, is saddening and surprising as National Geographic Weekend interviewed Samaras just hours before he died on Friday chasing a tornado in Oklahoma.

This week, we chat with Conrad Anker who reflects on how difficult it is for even the best climbers to avoid disaster on Everest, Jon Jenkins who is scouring the deepest reaches of the universe looking for signs of intelligent life, and daredevil Angela Proudfoot who skydives against all odds after sustaining a serious base jumping injury. We visit with Marie Galloway, who is the Elephant Manager at the Smithsonian National Zoo, and her favorite coworker, Shanthi. Join us this week, as Sir Ranulph Fiennes amputates his own fingers after enduring frostbite on Antarctica, then we chat with Jamie Lafferty a freelance writer who took on the British Bobsled team in the national championships (and lost), and we learn a few of the birds of paradise’s dance steps from National Geographic photographer Tim Laman and ornithologist Ed Scholes. The sinkhole appeared Sunday in downtown Guatemala City, swallowing a three-story building.
Human activity, not nature, was the likely cause of the gaping sinkhole that opened up in the streets of Guatemala City on Sunday, a geologist says. A burst sewer pipe or storm drain probably hollowed out the underground cavity that allowed the chasm to form, according to Sam Bonis, a geologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, who is currently living in Guatemala City (map). The Guatemala City sinkhole, estimated to be 60 feet (18 meters) wide and 300 feet (100 meters) deep, appears to have been triggered by the deluge from tropical storm Agatha. But the cavity formed in the first place because the citya€”and its underground infrastructurea€”were built in a region where the first few hundred meters of ground are mostly made up of a material called pumice fill, deposited during past volcanic eruptions. In general, the zoning regulations and building codes in Guatemala City are poor, Bonis said, and the few regulations that exist are often ignored. In fact, Bonis thinks calling the Guatemala City chasm a sinkhole is a misnomera€”a true sinkhole is an entirely natural phenomenon. Natural sinkholes generally form when heavy, water-saturated soil causes the roof of an underground limestone cavity to collapse, or when water widens a natural fracture in limestone bedrock. But there is no limestone beneath the section of Guatemala City where the new sinkhole appeared, at least not at the depth at which the hole formed, Bonis said. Recent eruptions of several volcanoes in Guatemala covered the city in a fresh layer of volcanic ash. Heavy rains from tropical storm Agatha may also have overloaded underground sewage or drainage pipes, leading to a growing cavity that eventually collapsed, Bonis speculated. The geologist added that the new sinkhole shares remarkable similarities with a sinkhole that formed in Guatemala City in 2007.
The danger should not have been news to officials in Guatemala City, noted Bonis, who used to work for the Guatemalan government's national geology institute. As part of a volunteer team that investigated the 2007 sinkhole, Bonis co-authored a report warning the Guatemalan government that similar holes will very likely keep appearing unless action is taken to inspect the city's sewer system for weaknesses.
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The new marine protected area network complements an existing terrestrial protected area system anchored by 13 national parks created in 2002. It was a great way to start the IUCN World Parks Congress, which aims to show that protected areas are vital to securing Earth’s biodiversity. More than 20 species of sharks and rays occur in Gabon’s waters, many of which are threatened, including great hammerhead sharks, manta rays, whale sharks, and tiger sharks. The marine protected area system will help protect the country’s marine wildlife, while taking significant steps to curtail unregulated and unsustainable fishing from the international fleets that exploit much of Africa’s coastal waters.
The new marine protected area system used data collected over two decades of work by WCS Gabon, Gabon’s Agence Nationale de Parcs Nationaux (ANPN) and the University of Exeter to identify priority areas for parks. More than a decade before, Fay led another team of explorers on a terrestrial survey through an intact forest corridor stretching from Congo to coastal Gabon – an astounding 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) journey.
To learn firsthand what's going on in and around this marine treasure of global importance, the National Geographic Society sent its top scientists and officials to the region in January 2016. These would be parks for the American citizenry, not pleasure grounds or private hunting reserves for nawabs and kings; parks to be shared, even, with visitors from around the world.
While the grand parks of the West may elicit more gasps of awe, urban parks draw far more visitors.

National parks were a good idea that has gotten better, and a big idea that has gotten bigger. It has withstood threats from ranching, mining, and logging interests and a federal dam project. In the coming weeks and months, we will introduce the 2013 class of Emerging Explorers on the show. We chat with astronaut Buzz Aldrin about the future of space exploration, American Everest pioneer Jim Whittaker about the past and present of climbing on Everest. Edie Widder caught the first giant squid in a camera trap, we set the hang gliding world record high over Texas, and we learn about an adaptation that gives hyenas and dogs similar – but unrelated.
That means leaking pipes could have gone unfixed long enough to create the right conditions for the sinkhole. There is no scientific term for what happened in Guatemala, he said, adding that he recommends the pit be dubbed a piping feature. If this material got into the city's pipes and drains, it may have clogged the passageways, making ruptures more likely, Bonis said. Gabon’s President has assured the conservation of the globally important breeding populations of whales and turtles found here.
This included a 3-week expedition mounted by WCS, ANPN, the Waitt Institute and the National Geographic Society to survey bottom habitats and collect data on the biodiversity and health of Gabon’s marine environment. They toured the desert islands off the southeastern coast of the Baja Peninsula and they listened to presentations by more than a dozen experts, including several whose Baja California research is funded by the Society.
Stephen Mather, a Californian who had gotten rich selling borax but who cared deeply about conservation, became the first NPS director.
Attractions such as Old Faithful still draw more than three million (mostly well behaved) visitors yearly to Yellowstone; the vast majority of them never go beyond a hundred yards from a paved road. Another factor was the negative example of Niagara Falls, where the best overlooks had been bought up and fenced by private operators, turning a national icon into a cheesy, for-profit peep show. The National Mall hosts 24 million a year, almost twice the number of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon combined.
The system now includes not just parks proper and national monuments but also battlefields, forts, seashores, scenic rivers, grave sites, and other significant places (some still privately owned) that are recognized as national historic landmarks, as well as noteworthy paths through landscape and history, such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. Today’s challenges include a proposed town development on the South Rim and a tramway that would bring 10,000 visitors a day to the canyon floor.
He then continuously shoots thousands of images through day and night, in whatever conditions nature gives him. This announcement also is guaranteeing the livelihoods of the people of the country – ensuring fisheries are sustained for future generations. There were also 21 national monuments—a form of protection more easily achieved because it could come by presidential decree under the Antiquities Act (passed in 1906), as robustly exploited by Theodore Roosevelt during his last three years as president.
His assistant and sidekick was an impecunious young lawyer named Horace Albright, son of a mining engineer, who would serve as superintendent of Yellowstone beginning in 1919 and eventually succeed Mather as NPS director.
If Kipling himself had ventured deeper into the 3,472-square-mile park to witness the splendor of its river valleys and mountain meadows, his rant might well have given way to rapture.
They help us imagine what the American landscape and its resident creatures looked like before railroads and automobiles and motels existed. Jon Jarvis, the current director of the National Park Service, says that its purpose is to tell America’s story, not simply protect parcels of landscape. That early list of national monuments included Devils Tower, Chaco Canyon, Muir Woods, and the Grand Canyon.
That was Everglades National Park, a vast wetland in Florida, lacking mountains or canyons but full of birds and alligators.

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