Friday, October 27, 2006

Harlem Week's Golden Hoops Tournament Tips Off

The myriad of cultural, educational and entertainment venues has made Harlem Week (really Harlem Month) the most celebrated program of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is planning a massive 110th birthday celebration tinder the savvy business acumen of Lloyd Williams, its CEO/President, in the fall. But it's still August, and summer in Harlem means the playgrounds of the world's most famous Black community are filled to the brim with Summer League hoops.

As part of the 32nd Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce Harlem Week, the annual Golden Hoops Basketball Tournament, directed by Bob McCullough, will tip off at Riverbank State Park today (Thursday) with a 3:00 p.m. girls game, followed by a pair of boys games at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. The semifinals are set for Friday and Saturday with the championship games being held on Sunday as a Biddy Future Stars game will begin the show at 1:00 p.m. followed by the girls championship game at 2:30 p.m. and the boys championship at 4:30. An added attraction will feature the Puerto Rican All-Stars facing off against the Dominican All-Stars. That fierce rivalry will tip off at 6:00 p.m.

All the games will be held at the beautiful Riverbank State Park situated on the banks of the Hudson River, New York side. Top high school girls teams who will see action include the 2005 champs, Douglas Panthers, SCAN, Harlem Lady Knights, Kips Bay, Kennedy Center and the Bronx Stars.

El Faro will head up the slate of boys high school teams that will include a team from New Haven, Connecticut, who lost to Brooklyn in last year's championship game, The Metro Hawks, Bronx Gauchos, Harlem Stars, Brooklyn All-Stars and the New Jersey Road Runners.

Source: New York Amsterdam News, 10/2006


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Good Gone Wild

Sometimes, ecotourism hurts what it sets out to help

The island of Damas is a half-hour boat ride from the Chilean coast. On the island, it's dry and rocky. The Humboldt penguins that live there have no ice slopes to slide down in their black-tie apparel. Instead, these desert penguins seek out caves to shade their eggs from the sun. If they can't find a spot beneath a boulder, they may burrow into seabird dung. Sometimes, they nest inside a cactus.

To see these penguins, visitors usually begin in La Serena, Chile. They drive 40 miles north on a main highway and then cut toward the coast on a gravel road that leads to the fishing village of Punta de Choros. Local fishermen there charge a fee to guide the tourists to Damas by boat. On the island, people are free to walk into the caves where the penguins live. Anyone can watch a mother brooding an egg and snap a picture with a flash camera or a mobile phone.

What began in the early 1990s as a place with a few hundred curious visitors has now become a tourism destination that attracts 10,000 penguin peepers a year. Damas provides an example of ecotourism, defined as the practice of visiting sites where exotic landscapes and rare animals are the main attractions. Ideally, ecotourists learn about the habitats that they visit, provide donations to conserve them, and generate income for host communities.

Since this model of tourism emerged some 25 years ago, many special-interest sites, like Damas, have experienced hikes in visitation. Often, ecotourism is a wild success (SN: 12/3/05, p. 364). The United Nations even billed 2002 the "International Year of Ecotourism."

But several recent studies show a more complicated picture of the impact of ecotourism, a practice that remains largely unregulated. The increased crowds lead to population changes in some animals, such as the Humboldt penguin and, some 4,000 miles away in the Bahamas, the Allen Cays rock iguana. A mounting garbage problem caused by over-visitation by turtle viewers threatens the beaches of Tortuguero in Costa Rica. People who live near Ghana's Kakum National Park have lost access to the forest's resources and now suffer high rates of unemployment.

"There comes a time when you have so much interference through ecotourism that you affect the thing you're trying to protect," says Robert E. Hueter of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., who studies ecotourism's impact on whale sharks. Ecotourism's benefits to conservation and public education are considerable, he says, but the downsides may take a long time to recognize.

"I think there's been a glib … championing of ecotourism, that it's a win-win situation," says Martha Honey, executive director of the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C. But by studying how animals, environments, and cultures respond to ecotourism, "we can set up systems that aren't having adverse impacts," she says.

FLIGHT OF THE PENGUINS Ursula Ellenberg decided to study how human disturbance affects the Humboldt penguins when she was quietly counting their population, but not quietly enough. While she was looking through binoculars from a cliff about 150 meters away, the penguins began racing in all directions. One of the penguins had spotted Ellenberg, despite her unobtrusive perch. If a cautious researcher can spark such a reaction, she thought, how would the penguins react to a gaggle of shutter-happy tourists?

To study the effects of human-Humboldt interaction, Ellenberg and her colleagues measured the breeding success of penguins on the islands of Damas, Choros, and Chanaral, which together make up the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. The island cluster serves as a good point of comparison: Damas receives 10,000 annual visitors, but Choros and Chanaral are much less accessible from the mainland and attract only 1,000 and 100 tourists a year, respectively.

Ellenberg's team was the first to study these penguin populations. The researchers monitored eggs and chicks on each island for 5 months after the penguin mothers laid the eggs. If a nest is abandoned during this period, the chicks usually die. Penguins have many chances to breed during their 20-year life spans, and they would sooner abandon a nest than risk personal harm-say, from an approaching human.

In 2003, the only year that Ellenberg's group studied Chanaral, the penguins there bred an average of 1.34 chicks. On Choros, the average was just below one chick in both 2002 and 2003. But on Damas, female penguins produced, on average, a little less than half a chick in 2002, and the birthrate dipped well below a quarter of a chick in 2003, Ellenberg's team reports online and in the November Biological Conservation.

"It's surprising, when you have islands at such close proximity, that you'd already get a difference," says Ellenberg, a biologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. "They should do similarly well."

Working in the Bahamas, John Iverson of Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., has discovered similarly detrimental effects of human presence on Allen Cays rock iguanas, an endangered species.

When Iverson began studying these animals 25 years ago, ecotourism was just under way. At that point, male iguanas outnumbered females two to one. Historically, fishermen had captured iguanas to sell or eat, and female iguanas were easier to trap because they guard their nests rather than flee an intruder. Iverson and Geoffrey Smith of Denison University in Granville, Ohio, propose in an upcoming Canadian Journal of Zoology that poachers created the observed gender imbalance.

Enter ecotourism. As island management increased protection of its main attraction, poaching declined. The balance of the sexes was restored remarkably quickly. Iverson and Smith found that the increased survival of females that came with the end of poaching wasn't the whole story. Male iguana numbers declined as ecotourism increased, they say.

As part of the study, Iverson and Smith in 2000 tagged the largest male iguanas in two ecotourism areas. At one site, the number of tagged iguanas fell from 30 to 9 by 2005. Using death rates calculated from the previous 20 years, the researchers had predicted that 16 would survive. At the other site, the researchers found none of the 17 tagged iguanas in 2005, though they had expected 9 animals to remain.

Part of the problem, the researchers argue, is that the males tend to be aggressive and interact more with human visitors than females do. Some of the 54,000 people who visit the area each year feed the iguanas hazardous material such as spoiled food or Styrofoam, which can kill them.

But Iverson and Smith found some of the missing males at nearby islets that iguanas couldn't have reached themselves. This displacement led the researchers to suspect that ecotourism guides had removed many of the large, aggressive male iguanas from the most visited sites.

Moving the iguanas could have ecological ramifications, Iverson says. For example, some of the displaced iguanas were found at sites that are home to an endangered species of seabirds called Audubon's shearwaters. Because the iguanas and the birds require similar nesting territories, the iguanas might crowd out the shearwaters, he says.

In other words, ecotourism may sometimes rescue some animals at the expense of others.

WASTE OF SPACE Visitors travel 3 to 5 hours by boat to reach the beaches of Costa Rica's Tortuguero National Park-home to hawksbill, green, and leatherback turtles. Since the early 1990s, park officials and conservationists have gone to great lengths to protect these rare animals. The money that tourists pay to watch the turtles nest goes to safeguard the species.

But preservation has taken priority over solving a growing waste-management problem that threatens the environment's well-being and, ultimately the turtles' health, says Zoë Meletis of Duke University's Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C. Since Meletis began going to Tortuguero in 2002, the number of tourists has shot from 35,000 to 87,000 a year. And while tourists don't directly harm the turtles, they leave trash such as water bottles and snack wrappers in Tortuguero, which lacks an adequate waste-processing center.

The local government doesn't take responsibility for clearing much of the trash, says Meletis, and boat drivers scoff at transporting waste when they can make more money carrying passengers. Many villagers resort to burning garbage, releasing hazardous compounds into the air. Burying the accumulating waste isn't an option, because refuse contaminates the underground water supply used by local villagers, and waste buried on the beach is re-exposed by ocean waves, creating a hazard for the turtles.

"It's a classic example of ecotourism as a double-edged sword," says Meletis. The same things that draw people to Tortuguero-its isolation and wildlife-make it difficult to manage as a high-volume tourist destination. "It raises a lot of money for turtle conservation," she says. "But some important negative impacts aren't getting the attention they deserve."

When ecotourism in an area grows, the site becomes vulnerable to the same problems, such as sewage maintenance, that come with mass tourism, says John Davenport of University College Cork in Ireland. In the March Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, he reviewed ecotourism's impact on coastal destinations.

Even for activities that aren't usually destructive, a high volume of tourists can create a problem, he says. Such is the case with scuba diving-traditionally a well-managed, environmentally friendly sport. Throughout the world, researchers have seen a link between dive traffic and coral damage, Davenport says. Divers knock into corals or stir up silt that suffocates the reefs, which regenerate slowly.

When divers add an underwater camera to already cumbersome scuba gear-a juggling act that Davenport compares with "driving while having a shave and a smoke"-the damage becomes worse. In Sodwana Bay in South Africa, divers who took underwater photographs damaged reefs by bumping into them in on average, 9 out of 10 dives, whereas divers who didn't take pictures caused such damage in just 1 out of every 6 dives, he reports.

"Since you've got a million new scuba divers [around the world] each year, it's going to be an uphill battle," Davenport says.

GHOST RAINFOREST At Kakum National Park in Ghana, the mission to protect the rainforest and its diverse wildlife, while opening the area to tourism, has been successful. Tropical evergreens, endangered forest elephants and bongo antelopes, and some 600 species of butterflies have been preserved, and visitors can experience a bird's-eye glimpse of the forest from a unique canopy walk-a hanging bridge connected at the tops of tall trees.

But the people who live around the park have endured "untold hardships" so that conservation can thrive, says Seth Appiah-Opoku of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, who wrote about their plight in the African Geographical Review in 2004 and who continues to study the area.

After interviewing residents of 100 households in four villages surrounding Kakum, Appiah-Opoku found that that the local population had relied heavily on the rainforest: on trees to build homes, on herbs for traditional medicine, and on some animals and plants for food. But once the park opened to the public in 1994, the park's resources became off-limits for these uses.

The restriction has effectively eliminated hunting as a native occupation. In turn, the forest-elephant population has increased, which is bad news for the majority of villagers, who are farmers. The elephants have ravaged roughly 7,800 acres of farmland since the park opened, Appiah-Opoku reports, but killing the animals, even in defense of personal territory, is illegal.

Overall, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed from 3 percent to 27 percent since 1994, and many of the villages are "ghost towns," Appiah-Opoku says. He adds that Kakum National Park officials have confirmed his observations.

"Ecotourism very often is in direct conflict with host communities for its markets and resources," he says. "In a place like this, there should have been an agreement that part of the money would go into the [village] economy, that some of the people would be employed in the park."

But even when local inhabitants participate in the planning, the arrangements often go awry, argues Sanjay Nepal of Texas A&M University in College Station. He reports on the cultural impacts of ecotourism in Taiwan in an upcoming Tourism Management. If members of the native population don't reap profits from ecotourism, they may focus on their diminished opportunity to harvest the natural resources they had access to in the past, says Nepal.

"One of the things I've lately begun to think is we're asking too much from the so-called idea of ecotourism," he says. "Trying to find a balance between the social, economic, and environmental elements-it's ambitious and it's complex."

The key to this balance is more research, says Honey. As scientists study ecotourism's impacts, new understandings "need to be fed back into the industry, to educate what is acceptable behavior," she says. "There needs to be a closer alliance between hard science and the tourism industry."

Currently, good research on ecotourism is difficult to find, says Davenport. Most destinations weren't studied before ecotourism began, making before-and-after comparisons difficult. Moreover, many governments are reluctant to provide funding for investigations because they profit from ecotourism.

Perhaps the major barrier is the working assumption that ecotourism, with the conservation funds it raises, must be better than typical mass tourism. Says Hueter, "My concern is, that's where the analysis ends, and only in rare cases do [researchers] look deeper."

In the case of the Humboldt penguins, a lack of research led to improper viewing guidelines, says Ellenberg. The Humboldt reserve based its rules for approaching penguins on a related South American species called the Magellanic penguin, which is far less sensitive to human disturbance.

Now, only a few dozen penguins reside on Damas, says Ellenberg. Local fishermen estimate that three times as many lived there before ecotourism began. As today's small population slips further, tourists will head to the nearby islands.

If the guidelines aren't changed quickly, the Humboldt penguins-and ecotourism on Damas and then the other islands-will be gone, says Ellenberg. "And once they're gone, that's it."

By: Jaffe, Eric, Science News

Electrifying Facts

1735: Blackpool gets first guest house. By 1780 the town has four hotels and four alehouses

1879: It is proudly said, of the first electrics to light up the promenade, that they emit the electrical equivalent of 48,000 candles. Blackpool is the first place in the world to introduce electric street lighting

1894: Blackpool Tower (below) opens, inspired by the Eiffel Tower. Three thousand punters pay 12d to take lifts to the top

1896: Alderman William George Bean founds the Pleasure Beach as an “American-Style Amusement Park, to make adults feel like children again and to inspire gaiety of a primarily innocent character”

1904: A teenaged Charlie Chaplin plays the part of Billie in Sherlock Holmes at the Opera House

1912: The first ever royal visit to Blackpool, by Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise, is marked by a lights display that the public pressures the local council to repeat annually. The Illuminations begin

1939: The morning after the preview night, Germany invades Poland. The Illuminations are suspended for ten years

1942: Noel Coward premieres and appears in two of his own plays

1982: The escapologist Karl Bartoni (below) gets married while suspended in a cage from the tower

1992: “Tower World” is opened by Diana, Princess of Wales

2005: A new, 100ft screen is installed for text messages during the Illuminations

2006: Surprising bid by Blackpool to become a World Heritage Site. “It’s not about being pretty, it’s about being important,” says a council spokeswoman. l Research by Vanessa Nicholson

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sex, sun and HIV

The Turks and Caicos Islands are known for idyllic beauty.

Unspoiled beaches ramble for miles and coral reefs teem with life. But behind the beautiful façade lies a shocking trend: an explosion of HIV/AIDS illnesses fueled by foreign prostitutes, native gigolos, and the sex tourists who frequent them.

Health officials said that trend is helping to spread AIDS in a country that has one of the highest incidences of the disease in the Caribbean. Only Haiti has a higher percentage of HIV/AIDS cases.

And government officials said they are doing all they can to stem cases of the killer virus.

But the island is not alone. More than half a million Caribbean people live with HIV/AIDS, according to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, and the area has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Western Hemisphere.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are an archipelago of 40 islands about 600 miles off the coast of Miami. Most of the country's population of 32,000 resides in Providenciales, a rocky island dotted with construction sites, resorts and expensive homes.

Sex workers are not the only ones contributing to the HIV/AIDS problem. A culture of promiscuity among Caribbean men is also to blame.

Local men, or "belongers," who have joined in the sex trade, can make a month's wages in an evening by catering to wealthy European and American women, according to native islanders. In addition to sex work, some men practice "sweethearting," or having a relationship with both a wife and a sweetheart.

"Part of the society really doesn't want to work and want a girlfriend to maintain them," said local Ricky Ebanks, 28.

One local journalist, who did not want to be named for fear of job repercussions, said many of the women are the sole earners in their families, and see prostitution as a way to make a lot of money in a short period of time.

"They come willingly," he said of foreign sex workers. "They don't stay once they've made a certain amount of money."

Locals, many who are outraged by the influx of sex workers, told the AmNews that a lot of the women are from Eastern Europe and the Dominican Republican.

But, Ebanks said both locals and the island's large expatriate population have contributed to the demand for sex workers, whose prices can range from $200-$350 per hour.

More than 10 years ago, the government launched an HIV/AIDS offensive to curb the disease. In addition to condom distribution and free medication and treatment to all HIV/AIDS cases, Keziah Nash, assistant coordinator for the National AIDS Program in Grand Turk, said that a number of other programs and services are available to treat and prevent the disease.

Residents receive free AIDS testing, and the government-sponsored "Buddy" program pairs people with AIDS with a buddy who provides emotional support while making sure the client is cared for. The National AIDS Program is currently treating about 64 clients, according to Nash.

The problem, Nash said, is identifying sex workers.

"We don't have a clear idea to who the sex workers are; they haven't been identified," she said in a telephone interview this week from Grand Turk. "We have condom distribution points, though. We leave them at bars, hotels, the airport, and at the National AIDS Program in Providenciales and Grand Turk."

Tony, 31, a short Dominican man with a dead tooth in the front of his mouth, is a one of a handful of men who provide women to customers.

Tony, who did not want his last name used for fear of being deported, said there were three types of sex workers: ones who are looking for a long-term love, ones that are lured into the sex trade after not finding a job with a comparable wage-earning potential and ones that come specifically to work in the sex trade.

"There are plenty of ladies here," he said, motioning to his cell phone.

Inside Providenciales' Club Cameo's, a place where female prostitutes meet clients, several scantily clad women quietly sip beer until a couple of tanned tourists enter. One woman, slender and dark-skinned in a form-fitting white dress, approaches one of the men and whispers in his ear while rubbing her hand up and down his back. After a few drinks, they leave together in his Jaguar.

By: Cunningham, Jennifer, New York Amsterdam News, 8/24/2006

Glacial migration to downtown

Don't look now, but the Toronto to Film Festival is moving. Ever so gradually.

After decades in the semi-chic, semi-boho Yorkville neighborhood, where the rambling U. of Toronto campus rubs shoulders with tony boutiques, the festival is carefully but steadily shifting south toward the city's revivified downtown corridor.

While Yorkville is built out in terms of available screens and hotel rooms, downtown is seeing a massive renaissance in terms of new hotel and condo developments, plus a rash of restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues.

Prompting the migration, above all, is the five-screen Festival Center, set to open in 2009 as the fest's hub at the downtown corner of King Street and John Street. The complex "represents a radical change for the festival," says the fest's sales office topper, Giulia Filippelli. "The city is redesigning itself, and this reflects part of that redesign."

Globetrotters on the festival circuit may sense in all of this an echo of the once-derided Berlin fest's locale change from the city's west quadrant east to Potsdamer Platz. "I foresee this to be similar to Berlin's, only with perhaps less complaining," adds Filippelli.

Observant Toronto visitors can already detect the rumblings of the move. As fest co-director Noah Cowan notes: "We already have venues toward and in downtown, along with our regular gala venue, the Roy Thomson Hall. The Elgin, the Ryerson and the screens in the Paramount Theater multiplex are all far closer to where the center will be than Yorkville, so festival audiences are already getting accustomed somewhat to leaving Yorkville to see films."

Add to this the Art Gallery of Ontario's Jackman Hall, regular home to the fest's "Wavelengths" section (though temporarily moved this year to the Al Green Theater uptown), and the downtown trend is starkly evident.

At the same time, fest CEO Piers Handling acknowledges that there's a distinct risk in spreading what used to be a deliberately clustered number of screens.

"The festivals I love the most tend to concentrate around a center, so you can walk between venues," he says. "Now we're much more spread than we used to be, and we'll have to resolve that. Being in basically two different areas does create problems."

Having examined the crisis in U.S. cities, which had their once-vital downtown cores dissipate with suburban flight, Toronto city planners are determined to stem any possible tide out of downtown and have devised considerable condo and entertainment venue (read: nighttime) construction as a magnet for keeping dwellers in the city proper.

The results are already dearly visible on the downtown skyline, where condo towers, hotels, restaurants and megaplexes, such as AMC's at the corner of Dundas and Yonge, sprout in every direction,

Though it may be counterintuitive, Handling observes land had become more available downtown -- with the large lot for the center as a dramatic example. "It could have been located near Yorkville," he says, "but the land was there downtown, and it basically forced the issue for us. There was then no question that we would be moving south."

By: Koehler, Robert, Variety

60 Seconds

Internet entrepreneur Daisuke Enomoto, who would have been Japan's first space tourist, has failed his medical. He will not be allowed to fly to the International Space Station in September, the Russian space agency Roskosmos announced on Monday. Enomoto could fly at a later date after "additional measures" are taken.

Noise, noise everywhere
There is no escape from industrial noise pollution — not even underwater. Since the 1960s there has been a tenfold increase in underwater ocean noise off southern California, according to a study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The noise is blamed on the increase in global shipping and higher ship speeds. Its effect on wildlife is unknown.

Don't chew on this
Whether it's smoked through a water pipe or rolled up in a dried leaf, tobacco will raise your risk of heart disease, according to a study in The Lancet last week. It looked at over 27,000 people from 52 countries and found that even chewing tobacco — recently touted as a safer alternative to smoking — can double the risk of heart disease.

Biobank gets go-ahead
The UK's huge project to investigate how genes and lifestyle combine to cause common diseases has received the go-ahead to proceed in full. After a successful three-month pilot scheme in Manchester, Biobank's organisers will now begin recruiting half a million citizens aged between 40 and 69 — about 1 per cent of the UK population.

No such thing as a hobbit
More scientists have criticised claims made last year that bones found on the Indonesian island of Flores are those of a new hominin species, dubbed "the hobbit". Flores is too small to have maintained an isolated population for long enough to allow the evolution of a new species, say researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

New Scientist, 8/26/2006