Monday, July 27, 2015

Growing wildlife at Dubai's Al Quadra Lakes

In attempt of spending a weekend evening outdoors in Dubai's harsh summer, we decided to explore Al Quadra Lakes and glad we did that. Al Quadra lakes are manmade 4-5 lakes in middle of dessert surrounded by planted local trees. But results of these local government efforts are stunning. It is one of the best example of creating natural habitat. According to sustainable development principles, if we need to disturb any natural habitat, we need to create almost double the size of natural habitats to keep the balance in nature. Once we create this natural habitat, flora fauna start growing there and local birds, animals start thriving on it. and the natural biodiversity cycle starts again in a place where there was no significant life before.

When we reached near Al Quadra Lakes, first glimpse of growing wildlife was a running and jumping gazelle! It was amazing to see this beautiful local animal in wild. I have always seen gazelle in captivity before. But in wild it ran very fast and far away. It jumped high in air few times and ran farther. We did not expect this so couldn't catch this moment in our phone camera but it was a moment to remember, feast for our eyes!

The waters in lake were clean and clear. Tilapia fish are released in water to attract fish eating birds in turn, provide their faeces as organic manure to the lake water. Thus, many planktons, zooplanktons and insect larvae grow in the lake water, making this attractive to many migratory as well as resident birds.

Ducks who made these lakes their home, was a great attraction for kids. Next time we need to bring bread with us for duck feeding, Ruhaan would love this activity. Their were lot of dog owner and their dogs were enjoying swim in waters to cool down in summer. This definitely a great place to play in water, making sure that we not leaving any of our traces like garbage behind. In such places, everyone should carry their garbage back to city or to the mosque next to Al quadra lakes, where their is garbage disposal facility. There is cycle track near lakes, which is very popular. Or if you want to take a walk around all lakes it can take almost an hour.

We spotted many different birds on lake, this is a great new spot for bird watching. Lauging dove, pigeons, sandpiper, Red wattled lapwing were amongst the birds which we spotted. There were also huge falcon like large winged birds, but we could see them properly after sunset. But the great thing was weather was less humid, as it's away from coast and there was constant breeze around sunset. So it was feeling good outside. As this place is away from residential area, it is also a great spot for sky watching. The sky was clearer than cities (because of lack of light pollution).
On the way back we were lucky to spot the gazelle again, this time it was complete dark but the gazelles eyes were shining like two bright stars on Earth! We could see it's figure clearly, this time it didn't run or jump but just looked at our car in alert. We stopped, not to disturb it and it vanished in second. No surprise! because some gazelle are able to run at bursts as high as 60 mph (97 km/h), or run at a sustained speed of 30 mph (48 km/h).

I am sure we'll go there again and hope next time we can see addition to existing biodiversity!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Story of our trip to Sustainable Switzerland

Recently we been to our summer vacation in Switzerland! The dream land of Alps, snow, waterfalls, glacier water, wildflowers, cheese, chocolates! Everybody knows the natural beauty of Switzerland.

The moment our plane started landing in Zurich I could actually see, how sustainable Switzerland is. You get to see many roofs of homes covered in solar PV cells. This has to be the most sustainable country amongst all countries I have visited in my life.

The water in Switzerland is heavenly. The best thing we loved about water here is, there are many
drinking water fountains in middle of busy roads in cities and also everywhere in small villages of country sides. And you can drink this water and it tastes heavenly, fresh, chilled and with lot of natural minerals.

Water fountain, Staubbach fall, Lake Lucerne, stream from lake
Compared to other countries, Switzerland has over-averagely large water reserves to fall back on with its many lakes, glaciers and naturally groundwater. Solely 2% of annual rainfall makes its way into drinking water reserves. The majority of water is collected in artificial lakes and dams from which electricity is generated. More than half of the electricity produced in Switzerland stems from these sources – in other words it’s renewable energy and CO2-free at the same time!

80 percent of drinking water stems from natural springs and groundwater, and the rest from lakes. Strict regulations concerning water and the quality of it have led to such positive development that, in some places, you can drink straight out the lake without second thoughts!

In the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland,  we could see how this water, melted from glaciers, flows down the mountains creating numerous beautiful waterfalls (72 nos. in Lauterbrunnen valley, where we stayed). My paragliding pilot told me that the beautiful cyan color of water comes from the minerals.

There is hardly any water pollution in water bodies in Switzerland. Every lake, river, stream we saw had such clear water, it felt almost unreal.
It's not a toy train :)

The fantastic network of public transport (mainly trains) contribute to make this country very clean and pollution free. Unlike many countries even in cities you can breathe the freshest air. We came to know that Zurich has only 22 taxies in total!!! This shows how public transport make people rely on it. According to; on the roughly 3,000-kilometer-long SBB railway network a total 9,000 trains are underway daily. In fact, every 12 minutes a train runs over one of Switzerland’s rail routes. The entire 5000 kilometer-long national and regional rail network is, in addition, practically all electrified. The trains thus run through 671 tunnels and over 6000 railway bridges at minimal cost to the environment.
And of course there are many car free villages all over Switzerland like Zurich old town, Appenzell town, Murren-Gimmelwald, St. Gallen.

Campanula, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Teasel, Unknown Wildflower (clockwise)

Fitness conscious Swiss people cycle and walk a lot. They live in most beautiful part of our Nature and they live very close to Nature, (the epitome of sustainable living). During our hikes we went through funny situations because the fitness level of average Swiss person is so high that hike times mentioned for them almost doubled for us. It also reminded us how sedentary lifestyle we lead in UAE.

Swiss people are generally particular people so no surprise to see that there are segregation bins kept
for recycling, everywhere - on train station, throughout cities and even in small towns in the Alps. More importantly, these bins were filled with right recyclables in it. I have seen in Dubai, many residents don't throw the recyclables in right bin (you get to see PET in General waste and Aluminum cans in plastics). We visited Zoo Zurich and even there we could see their large in-house facility for recycling. According to statistics, 94% of old glass and 81% of PET containers make their way to special collection points instead of household bins. This is definitely a great thing we all can learn from Swiss people. Though the systems here in Switzerland are perfect, but because of particular common people these systems are running smoothly.

Solar Power
Another amazing thing I observed is; solar power is well established thing in Switzerland. Individual houses had Solar PV and solar thermal installations on their roofs. Even on Jungfrau, the tallest mountain of Europe; I spotted installed solar panels!

To make our vacation in sustainable Switzerland even greener, we travelled on our own by public transport all the time and walked, hiked whenever we can. We introduced hiking to Ruhaan, I felt 2.5 year is great age to start exploring. He enjoyed that a lot, he used to tell us how he's climbing mountain and naming different colors of wild flowers. I totally loved the constant ringing sound of cow bells. We had one of the best hike in Appenzell canton, we went up to Ebenalp by cable car and walked up to a restaurant in middle of Ascher Cliff and hiked back after lunch. We passed through caves and old church. Ruhaan was stunned by this experience. There were cows all over the mountains grazing on the slopes.

Ebenalp- Ascher cliff restaurant, Swiss Cows

After that we hiked to see Seealpsee, that was the most satisfying experience we had. The lake water was so clean and the surroundings were so serene it felt like Nature is meditating.


Another hike Ruhaan enjoyed was from Murren to Gimmelwald, it was the most scenic walk we had.

Murren to Gimmelwald Scenic Walk

Snow capped Alps, beautiful valley, wooden chalets and wildflowers. We played game of naming colors. He was particularly fascinated by cable cars! At the end of our long walk, he slept holding tightly a pine fruit he had picked up on the way. Which I'll always preserve as Ruhaan's souvenir from Switzerland.One more activity Ruhaan loved on our trip is feeding swans in lakes. We used to save breads from our breakfast for swans in Zurich and Lucerne. Ruhaan learned many things on this trip; his first ride in real train, cable car. He saw a natural waterfall for the first time. Showing the highest in Europe - Staubbach falls to first timer is great thing. He used to see that from our window and used to explain us in cutest way how water is falling from that height.

One of the major highlights of our trip was obviously playing in snow on Jungfrau. It was first time for Ruhaan and me too. Seeing Great Aletsch Glacier in front of you from Jungfrau Plateau, was an awesome moment!
Aletsch Glacier- UNESCO world heritage natural site

At the end I would say Switzerland is heaven on earth, more importantly Swiss people are taking efforts to maintain their country that way. It is not just the Swiss government that is giving high importance to sustainability but also all citizens have made their lifestyle sustainable.

Wildflowers of Switzerland

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Eco-friendly Travel Planning and Packing

We are going on summer vacation soon (can't wait :)) ! I am busy planning and packing for it. We always try to have eco-friendly travels as much possible and I have been sharing our Eco Travels with you, my readers all these years.

But this time I am sharing my eco-friendly travel planning and packing tips, which somehow I didn't thought of before. Eco tourism is not just staying in eco-friendly resort, but there are many things involved to reduce our carbon footprint while we travel.

Eco-friendly Packing

1. Pack Light. The more weight planes, trains, cars are carrying, the more fuel they use. Plus it's convenient to travel light though it's difficult for us ladies, I know :). But try to limit clothes by creating combinations of outfits out of few pieces. And better to take just one or two universally matching shoes.
2. Travel size refillable bottles with ecofriendly toiletries. Instead of disposable bags or carrying full size containers of toiletries use refillable travel size bottles. After returning I finish and clean them and use it for my next travel. This time I have packed my favorite eco-friendly and biodegradable shampoo, body wash, face wash, scrub, multipurpose detergent from newly found Forever Living Aloe products range. If you are staying in sustainable hotel, they provide you biodegradable toiletries or always request you to bring the same with you.

Travel size Toiletries
3. Reusable Tote bags for shopping for groceries, souvenirs, picnic etc. To avoid using plastic bags and increasing garbage use these reusable tote bags. These bags fold into small size which can fit easily in your purse, bag pack or handbag.

Tote bags

4. Refillable water bottle. Instead of buying plastic bottles  for water repeatedly. Just make sure the tap water of your destination is safe to drink or not.
5. Opt for rechargeable batteries for alarm clock, cameras, flashlight and toys.
6. Travel literature- Don't buy too many books and maps for your travel. you get better and updated information on internet. And your luggage is reduced too. You can always find maps in information centers of your destination. This way you are helping cutting many trees.
7. Reading list on travel- Avoid buy too many books and magazines for your travel. There are newspapers, magazines always available on plane, in hotel. Some people now a days buy ebooks and read it, it's smartest way to reduced paper use. And some people instead of reading on travel, explore as much as possible and take surround in whenever seating or waiting for something.
8. Carry a tiffin box. Specially if you are travelling with kids to store food or leftover food from your lunch. Instead of using zip lock plastic bags or take away containers this is best, healthier and greener solution.

Before you leave home

1. Turn off and unplug all the lamps and household electronics. Unplugging is important since electronics leach power even if they are turned off.
2. Turn off water and gas valves. It's safer that way.
3. Put filled bottle upside down in planters, so that you won't come back to dried up plants at home
4. Recycle all those packaging cardboard boxes of things you bought for your travels.

Enjoying destination greenway

1. Avoid using transport when possible. Walk as much as possible, you get to explore more when you walk. And you can indulge in eating local food without worries about extra gain in weight on travel. We have a great memory of cycling on the scenic roads of Cappadocia in Turkey.
Cycling in Cappadocia

2. Use public transport instead of hiring car. On our upcoming travel we are going to travel internally by train; not just our son but we too are excited about it. We had travelled by bus overnight on our Turkey trip few years back, while I was planning my husband was not very happy. But that trip is most memorable and one of his favorite from that trip. You get so many interesting experience when you travel with locals, by keeping your CO2 emissions lowest.
3. Choose eco-friendly hotel/resort. It's amazing to see how they lessen their impact on environment by creating their own power, innovative recycling, employing locals and you get to eat amazingly fresh food grown in their gardens. You can always get great tips for greening your home from these hotels.
4. Support Eco-friendly housekeeping- You stay in eco-friendly hotel or not you can always reuse your towels and hang them on rack for drying after use. And can always request not to change your bed sheets everyday. this way you will save lot of water by not asking your hotel to wash your towels and linen everyday.
4. Shopping Locally-purchase things from local market fruits, food, local handicraft etc and use that reusable tote bag you packed for it.

Bought exotic fruits, vanilla and spices from farmer's market in Bali!

5. Recycle you waste on travel. If your are staying in eco-friendly hotel there will be recycling bins. Else there are generally recycling bins kept on airports, public transport stations and parks. Use your one of the tote bag to store recyclables till you reach the bin.
6. To offset your travel, you can always plan sustainable plants either in your travel destination or back home. But make sure you are planting a specie which can sustain without much maintenance (water, sunlight etc) and is local to that terrain. Buy the seeds or plants locally. There are restrictions on taking foreign species to countries like Australia etc.
7. Wrap gifts after landing back home. Security check on airports might ask you to open the gifts you bought for family and friends. And there is chance of getting the gift wrapping damaged in transport. So instead of wasting wrapping papers and boxes; just wrap them after you land.
8. Cooking from locally grown- If you have kitchenette facility available in your hotel, buying from local farmer's market and cooking a meal for your family on travel is great fun. During our vacation in Australia, I couldn't stay back from buying fresh organic vegetable from Queen Victoria market and cook it for dinner. According to my husband that was one the best meal on that trip.
Cooking in Melbourne

9. Eating locally and sustainable- There is no better experience that to eat from local eateries. This way you get to eat fresh food, local cuisine, explore their food culture and you can give back this way to that community. Less logistics and carbon emission is involved in eating locally. So next time you are ordering your meal from Mac Donald on your vacation think twice.
10. Go outdoors, explore the natural beauty of your destination. But remember not to disturb the local flora fauna and environment. Have as less impact as possible when you are out in Nature. Go for nature trails, walks, hikes it's great way of teaching your kids about environment and conservation. This will be great family bounding time too.

Hope these tips will help you to make your travels eco-friendly. Please share any of your eco friendly tips for travel which I skipped here.