Saturday, November 3, 2012


Los Bronces mine. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI

Mining copper amid glaciers in the Chilean Andes

Posted on FAUNA & FLORA INTERNATIONAL | 2nd November 2012
While in transit on her way back from a trip to Chile with Anglo American, Pippa Howard shares her reflections on the importance of sustainable water management high in the Andes Mountains. Mining, agriculture and people’s livelihoods all depend on the fresh water that cycles through the alpine wetlands.
Los Bronces mine in the Chilean Andes. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI
     Los Bronces mine in the Chilean Andes. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI

"This week’s TIME magazine shares a series of photographs of melting and retreating glaciers from northern Greenland, British Columbia and Iceland.  I have just returned from Chile, where glaciers are rapidly shrinking high in the Andes Mountains. These glaciers provide an essential ecosystem service to Chile through the provision and regulation of fresh water. Over the past 3 years, the country has experienced record drought – particularly in the central regions where Chile’s enormously productive and economically indispensable agriculture industry is based. Glacier and snow-melt source the high Andes watershed, which feed the river systems that eventually reach Chilean vineyards, fruit orchards and cereal crops. In spite of the drought, water from these mountain glaciers has allowed business to continue as usual.

This past week, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) visited Anglo American’s Los Bronces copper mine where ore is extracted between 3,000 and 4,500 metres above sea level (above 10,000 feet). This is one of the world’s largest and highest grade copper ore bodies. It is also one of the highest mines in the world. Copper has been mined here for 200 years and there is sufficient copper to continue mining for at least another 200 years. The ore body extends deep into the mountains, exposing periodically where glaciers have cut the rock away.

The San Francisco Valley from the air. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI
    The San Francisco Valley from the air. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI

Los Bronces lies within the San Francisco valley, adjacent to Dolores and El Plomo valleys. The mine has completely altered the San Francisco watershed – with a huge stoped hole, massive waste rock dumps, and an old tailings dam. The El Plomo valley has been carefully explored and holds a water storage facility for the operation, while the Dolores valley lies in between, its fate uncertain.

The three valleys support a high alpine wetland system that provides water to Santiago and to vineyards and farming communities in the surrounding countryside. Sophisticated water management systems have been created to divert water around the mine to ensure that water from San Francisco valley can flow downstream uncontaminated by mining. The water needed for mining operations is pumped from the northern Aconcagua Basin (such romantic and dramatic connotations as Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America). Fresh water is used in the copper-rich slurry that is piped 56 km to a concentrator and tailings facility located 3,500 m below on the plains north of Santiago. A water circulation process at these facilities maintains a neutral water balance and water is kept out of the mine pit. Through this water management system clean and “dirty” water are not mixed.

Mining operations at Los Bronces have essentially destroyed the functioning of the San Francisco watershed. Activities in the Dolores and El Plomo valleys have, however, been specifically designed to avoid disruption to the natural ecosystem function of these valleys. To this effect, pipelines have been constructed using design and technology to determine routes that avoid negatively impacting wetlands and enable natural sea pitch into ground water.

The San Francisco Valley from the air. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI
    The water pipes, which do not follow the power lines, were constructed along a path that   minimises negative impacts. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI

One of the most important sustainable water management measures at the mine has been to develop a greater understanding of the role that glaciers play as a source of water for the wetlands, which then gently feed water into the rivers. The inconspicuous and fragile alpine wetlands act as a sponge, and although they are not highly biodiverse they have high endemism and are critical habitats for the ecosystem services they provide. During the summer months, glaciers bleed water into the wetlands providing a constant supply of water to quench the demand of downstream users. During drought, the glaciers act as a water store, maintaining water availability for millions of users.

For a mining operation, glaciers are dangerous and unpredictable impediments to development. Both grey and white glaciers overlie Los Bronces and the surrounding ore bodies which hold hugely valuable resources. Chilean legislation currently prohibits the destruction of glaciers – for good ecological and biophysical reasons! Even the glaciers lying in the path of large mining operations are protected. However, studies are now underway to better understand and predict future glacier dynamics in the mountain-scapes surrounding Los Bronces. Will mining have access to the land uncovered as glaciers retreat? What will happen to the ecological value of glaciers and the ecosystem function they support?

The FFI team atop a glacier (from left): Loraiza Davies, Pippa Howard, and Cynthia Machado. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI
               The FFI team atop a glacier (from left): Loraiza Davies, Pippa Howard, and Cynthia      Machado. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI

We worked with Anglo American this week to identify their dependencies and impacts on ecosystem services. Together, we recognised the extraordinary importance of water to the company and to all other water users in the region. We were able to recognize along the entire watershed profile the key habitats and species whose interaction with water provisioning and regulating services demanded their careful management and protection. We identified stakeholders who are co-dependent on their resources and began to understand some of the risks associated with the company’s operations and their role in the landscape. Thinking 20, 50, even 100 years down the track, we asked the questions which are hard to face: where will their water come from; what will the impacts of a changing environment be; and how might their licenses to operate, abstract water and harvest natural assets be constrained?

We did not get to any final answers, but we did, however, realise that solutions for the sustainability of both business and natural resources are entirely interdependent – and that we need to think about the unthinkable in order to do the necessary.

Anglo American – Copper have embraced an ecosystem services approach. The Chilean Government is in the middle of a process to integrate ecosystem services into their legislation. They now demand those impacting the environment to compensate their actions through biodiversity offsets. For a company, the push-pull tension between regulatory compliance and global best practice performance is generally won by compliance; often to a national rather than global standard. This is extremely disappointing. In Chile, I think we might finally have a context where regulation is catching up and will now lead best practice for the management of biodiversity and ecosystem services."

Director, Business & Biodiversity
Fauna & Flora International

(Published here with permission)


Details from work in progress - Oil on Paper - CB 

We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. 

GK Chesterton

Thursday, September 27, 2012

(We can) Trust the Sea

We can trust the sea
to wrap haloes around hard places

trust it to organize what sometimes seems too much or too brittle 
into patterns of intricacy, intention and beauty.

Infant barnacles colonize a rock's 
deep crevices, transforming them into mooring places 
where new life burgeons. 

The sea knows what to hold
what to release 
and when 

relies on the tides' insistence

and assistance

And sometimes. . . well, sometimes it seems we must stand 
on our heads and do flick-flacks before we see - or can recognize - 
there's a small flinty continent inside each and every one of us 
that is all things at once; breastplate, boat, ancient instrument, stepping stone, ocean, heart. . .

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Mandala for WORLD PEACE

In 1982, the UN established 21 September as INTERNATIONAL PEACE DAY

        Te Rangimarie  _/\_ May Peace Prevail

Friday, September 7, 2012

                                                       In the great oceans there still remain parts
                                                       whose waters have never been disturbed
                                                       by the sounding line of the sailor 
                                                       and where dark, unfathomable places 
                                                       hold secrets in beautiful store.
                                                       And in spite of the diligent searching of men
                                                       an untold wealth still lies hidden 
                                                       in the depths of the earth. 

Monday, September 3, 2012


You may be interested in what's being said on the following sites --- 





BRAINPICKINGS where I came upon the film WHALE FALL - "In an homage to a fascinating recent Radiolab episode about loops, which features an almost-aside about how when a whale dies, its body can sustain an entire microcosm of an ecosystem for up to seven years in a poetic death-life loop, director-animator duo Sharon Shattuk and Flora Lichtman, better known as Sweet Fern Productions, collaborated withRadiolab’s own Lynn Levy on Whale Fall — an equally poetic and absolutely stunning paper-cutout stop-motion animation about the afterlife of a whale. . ."

Friday, August 31, 2012

THE JOURNEY HOME - An Oratorio composed by John Drummond

from the Otago Daily Times

"To commemorate the centenary of Captain Scott's ill-fated journey to the South Pole, the Southern Sinfonia is presenting the world premiere of The Journey Home. Charmian Smith talks to composer Prof John Drummond.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott's last landfall in 1910 before sailing to the Antarctic was Port Chalmers, where there is a memorial, and the news of his team's death came ashore at Oamaru in 1913.
John Drummond has written an oratorio to mark the anniversaries.
The Southern Sinfonia will perform his The Journey Home on September 8.
The idea started when Prof Drummond received a text developed from Scott's journal by librettist and opera historian Jeremy Commons about four years ago. He suggested setting it for baritone and piano, but Prof Drummond thought a significant event like this might need something else.
He looked at poems about the Antarctic by New Zealand poets who had been there and found evocative works by Claire Beynon, Chris Orsman and Bill Manhire.
"I thought it would be nice to do this for a series of soloists - a baritone who could sing Scott's journal, a soprano and tenor who could do the poems.
Then I thought, let's have an orchestra. Then I thought if we are going to go that far, why don't we add a choir. Make it a proper cantata or oratorio." He planned to add texts from the Latin requiem mass, but Commons persuaded him Scott wasn't a Catholic so he found appropriate texts in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
"It finished up with quite a lot of text. Jeremy's text covered the whole of the expedition from the beginnings, but the more I looked at it, the more I felt the interesting part of the story was the last part, which happened 100 years ago this year," Prof Drummond says.
"When Scott realises he isn't the first to reach the South Pole but the second, because Amundsen had beaten him by five weeks or so, that must have been a very disappointing and traumatic moment for him. The journey home from the pole and the sense he hadn't achieved what he wanted to achieve. That became something I wanted to explore."
The Journey Home starts with Scott and his party's disappointment and the prospect of the journey ahead.
They think it will be a journey back to his base camp and then home to England, but as the weather grew worse and then he and his companions struggled, it became a journey to a different home, one we are all going to in the end, a journey to the home of death in the Antarctic, Prof Drummond says.
"I wanted to explore his feelings throughout that experience, but not make it a totally gloomy and tragic business, because I don't think it's necessarily like that. I think what those texts, the Common Prayer texts are trying to do, is to remind us there are things beyond life; there are things beyond this world and there is a spiritual dimension. I want to tap into that. I suppose what I'd like people to feel at the end is an awareness of the tragedy of it all, but I don't want everyone to end up weeping.
"The journey is about contact with things eternal, really, and I think that's one of the things music can do quite well because it can go beyond words and speak directly of other things to us."
Scott made mistakes in his planning for the expedition and the weather was unexpectedly bad, with blizzards and extremely low temperatures.
However, Prof Drummond suggests that another factor making the return impossible might have been Scott's state of mind, his disappointment at having not been the first to the pole.
"It's like getting the silver medal - yes, you are really pleased to have done it, but you had hoped to get the gold. Your state of mind is bound to be slightly different in those circumstances."
He particularly enjoyed setting the poems - there's a wonderful one by Bill Manhire, The Goddess Hypothermia.
"He's written it like the Goddess Hypothermia has come to embrace me. It's a very clever little poem because it's got this amorous flavour to it but nonetheless, underneath, you know it's something very dangerous. I love that poem and really enjoyed having the opportunity to set that."
A more difficult piece to set was the famous quotation by Captain Oates.
"Everyone knows he said 'I'm just going out and may be some time', and it's one of those lines people use in other circumstances, so trying to set that without it becoming funny just because of the associations was very interesting. I had to have quite a few goes at that. I hope it works in the context."
There's a poignant passage in Scott's journal, when he realises he won't see his son again, that Prof Drummond set as an aria for the baritone.
"Scott's son was Peter Scott, who was a great naturalist in the UK, and the song talks about how he hopes his son will grow up to love nature. Having met Peter Scott many years ago - he was a friend of my sister's - I felt it was a really nice poem to set because that is what did happen."
Prof Drummond says he writes music he wants people to enjoy listening to and musicians will enjoy performing, which means they will communicate well with the audience."

See it - John Drummond's The Journey Home will be given its premiere performance on September 8 at 8pm at the Regent Theatre by the Southern Sinfonia, conducted by Simon Over, with soprano Jenny Wollerman, tenor James Rodgers, baritone Robert Tucker and the City of Dunedin Choir. Also on the concert programme are Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien and Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite.

Monday, August 27, 2012


My writer friend SUSAN LANDRY (Portland, MAINE, USA) wrote the following exquisite and piercing piece in response to a New York Times article ---  

"I have remained obsessed with the news about the discovery of a fresh-water lake beneath the ice at Vostok station, in Antarctica. 

(Dr. Luckin, director of the expedition, said, ‘For me, the discovery of this lake is comparable with the first flight into space.’ There have been much–disputed hints that life might still exist there. New York Times 2/08/12)

We live in a pale globe, haloed in the light of underwater moons. Like the blood of a medusa, we are diaphanous; woven of silken threads, spun from microbial skeins, soft as smoke. The skin of our world glows overhead, a membrane holding in fluid and song. We have words; not to say out loud, just to look at. We press them into shapes or memories and release them. The word called blue can be sky or long afternoons. Brown can be sand pebbles or an empty heart. Like birds, blue and brown can soar and glide. They can spin like star motes or flatten, like feathers in a storm.

We dance. The space between us is sacred. The space around us is eternity. We never ask questions. We do not begin or end.

We are crying. There is too much noise, a dark thrum, like music that is wrong, like music with sharp edges.

We are afraid to look: the words break like black ice; splinters of red pierce the grey green sky. Our eyes hurt; we want to shut them, lock them tight as fossils. Our ears are curling up, like seashells. Words like drill or science or discovery pulse through the water like words for pain. We are dying."

Susan blogs here. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012



On The Edge Of The Clearing Weather | Claire Beynon | Oil on Paper 2010

‘It is all one water – a finger in a tide pool brings us all together’ 
Marylinn Kelly

Water, in its many forms and expressions, has been an integral feature of my work for the past three decades - as raindrop and storm, puddle, waterfall, river, ocean, sea ice and glacier. Aside from painting and drawing and creating short narrative films, I fold paper boats - at last count my flotilla numbered around 1600. Since I first began making them in 2007, these boats have taken on a life and presence all their own. You can read their story HERE

Concern about the declining health of our world's waterways prompted me to invite members of the blogging community to participate in a project titled Waters I Have Known.  ( My wish was to create an open, online studio, a space where I could post images of work-in-process, share web links, invite questions, ideas and discussion. This site is the result.  

Waters I Have Known documents recent water-related projects. Some have been solo endeavors - the majority have had a collaborative element to them. 

Early paintings in the Waters I Have Known series were a response to the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. A stream of lively debate around the power, wonder and fragility of our world’s oceans was already under way when I suggested to readers we take our discussion further and contemplate the internet as an ocean of a different kind. Moved by the range and richness of texts gifted in response, I incorporated their words in several G ULF paintings, including an 'ocean of words’ titled Standing In The Heart. These texts were also worked into a collaborative poem* that became the narration for a 2011 climate change film Love The Waters. 

                                                 In the wide sound of the sea
                                                 the song of a vast adventure
                                                 a music that follows flight
                                                 paths of blood rushing 
                                                 through veins. And the roar 
                                                 of the sea is the roar of our planet. 
                                                 Salt. Spray. Ice. Sand.
                                                 Each wave a limb of the earth.

                                                 The oceans are hoarders 
                                                 of holy mysteries, generous 
                                                 to a fault - all heaving movement,
                                                 energy and gorgeousness; life
                                                 packed into every inch and drop
                                                 of it; ah, its drama! Its secrecy.
                                                 The way it carries the past, future
                                                 and present in it.

                                                 Dream of the sea and from its edge
                                                 gaze out to the pencil-thin line
                                                 of the horizon where sky and water
                                                 are one. And the sea? 
                                                 How it murmurs. 
                                                 How it murmurs.  

                                                 It is all one water.
                                                 A finger in a tide pool 
                                                 brings our shores together

One of the things that struck me during this web-based process was the generosity with which these men and women – most of whom have never met – responded to my call. A community comprising writers, artists, scientists, musicians, a police detective and a nun, they hail from places as far-flung as Ireland, Australia, USA, Germany, the UK, South Africa, Italy and Tasmania. Without exception, they offered up their prose and poems as gifts – no strings attached. 

There is a potency and intimacy peculiar to web-based communities that overwrites conventionally-perceived limitations such as age, political bias, ethnicity, kronos time and measurable space. The web is a mighty equalizer – like the ocean, it wraps us around, drawing our continents together. We take our place around the virtual table and at the press of a key, enter worlds we might ordinarily not have access to, with people we might ordinarily never meet. Before we know it we’re engaging in a depth of communication that has all the elements of privileged encounter and sacred space. If water is the medium of the unconscious, might we consider the web its metaphorical equivalent?

During these times of crisis and accelerated change, I am drawn ever more to poetry, music and the moving image as powerful communication tools within our global arena. It seems to me that as our world’s clamor and confusion increases, so listening and stillness are being recognized as vital agents for peace, advocacy and transformation. We are being invited to find new ways of communicating that transcend the all-too-familiar notes of violence, fear and separatism and express instead as a 'protest of poetry and pause.’

This is a second iteration of the film using the same text but different film footage and soundtrack. 

* Collaborative poem by Claire Beynon (NZ),  Marylinn Kelly (USA), Therese Clear (USA), Pamela Morrison (NZ), Elisabeth Hanscombe (AUS), Kay McKenzie-Cooke (NZ) & Scott Odom (USA).

Porcelain sculpture by Christina Bryer (SA). 
Music by Chris Tokalon (SA). 
Hand dancing by Kate Alterio (NZ). 
Underwater photography by Shawn Harper (USA). 
Ice divers - Sam Bowser (USA) & Shawn Harper (USA).
Filmed & produced in Explorers Cove, ANTARCTICA & Dunedin, NZ 2008 - 2011.