International Coastal Cleanup Day banner

International Coastal Cleanup and World Cleanup Day – 17 September

Join A Rocha for the annual International Coastal Cleanup and World Cleanup Day this September. Founded by the Ocean Conservancy, International Coastal Cleanup Day inspires over 200,000 people every year to restore beaches and waterways. Plastic pollution is one of many threats to our marine ecosystems, with over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste polluting our oceans, rivers and lakes each year.

Dr Robert Sluka, Lead Scientist of A Rocha’s Marine Conservation Programme explains in the video why Christians should care about plastics:

‘God commanded us to take care of the world he’s made… If we are going to love God and obey him by taking care of what he’s made, we need to do something about the plastic problem. We also need to love our neighbour. In order to love your neighbour better we have to think about how we use plastic, where it’s going and what’s happening to it.’

On 17 September, whether you live by an ocean or not, you can join A Rocha’s Marine Conservation Programme in this cleanup effort to help reduce plastic waste and create waters of hope! All waterways are important, and you can do a cleanup wherever you are – at the ocean, river, lake, park or even your neighbourhood!

Here are three ways you can get involved:

1. Join a local cleanup on 17 September and record the litter you collect using the Clean Swell app. Check with local environmental organizations to find cleanup events in your area.

2. If there isn’t a cleanup event near you, organize your own on 17 September with A Rocha’s litter cleanup guide and record your collection in the Clean Swell app, listing A Rocha as your group.

3. If you can’t get to a cleanup on 17 September, take any day this month and clean up a beach, waterway or neighbourhood near you.

Be sure to share your efforts on social media to inspire others to care for our oceans and waterways by using the hashtags: #ARochaMarine #WatersofHope and #WorldCleanupDay

A Rocha also provides additional resources to engage your church and community around plastic waste reduction. See our Plastics Toolbox for free resources to help you contribute to global efforts to fight plastic pollution. Resources include videos, a cleanup guide, devotionals and Bible studies in multiple languages.

Hermit butterfly fieldwork in action - A Rocha France, Courmettes - 2022 July

The Hermit of Les Courmettes

One night in early June, a group of volunteers kitted out with head lamps were on their knees in a field at Les Courmettes, marvelling at the sight of a particular nocturnal caterpillar – that of a Hermit butterfly Chazara briseis.

In fact, two Hermit caterpillars were seen this season! While that may seem a low number, it is actually excellent news, as sightings are very rare. The Hermit is a species about which very little is known, and which is under threat both regionally and nationally in France. The Courmettes team launched a study protocol focusing on the Hermit species as part of France’s National Action Plan on butterflies.

As adults emerged, from mid-July to mid-August, our attention turned to answering such questions as: how big is the population on site? What is the average lifespan of this butterfly? How far does it travel? How does it use the site? We did this through a technique called mark-recapture. The hope is eventually to compile our data with regional (and potentially interregional) data in a population genetics study, finances permitting.

This year we marked 82 individuals – great news for the Hermit population of Courmettes! The next step is to analyse the data, but here are some first observations:

  • Only males emerged in the first week of study; females emerged from the second week. After that, males and females emerged at the same rate.
  • 41% of the individuals were recaptured at least once; some up to six times! Some individuals stayed in the same spot while others travelled further.
  • Individuals captured at the end of the season travelled further than the early individuals.

We even witnessed individuals mating (bonus film here!) – evidence that the cycle of life continues. We still know very little about the host plants the Hermit prefers – come and join us in the 2023 season in our caterpillar hunt!

Photos: Hermit butterfly fieldwork in action – A Rocha France, Courmettes – 2022 July 

Picnic en el Arroyo

Celebrating God’s Creation at A Rocha Holiday Camps

All around the world, A Rocha’s environmental education programmes ignite a spirit of joy and curiosity towards God’s creation. In the northern hemisphere, we have had a fantastic summer of outings, camps and programmes centred on creation care.

Amid an immense drought in Southern California, A Rocha USA’s summer programme was all about water: where we get it, when it is safe to drink and how we can conserve it. With a variety of fun activities, children and their families learned how to be good stewards of this increasingly precious resource. In Texas, we host ‘Picnics en el Arroyo’ gatherings throughout the year in Spanish, which are engaging for whole families: children discover interesting critters during ‘BINGO de la Laguna’; teenagers compete to win the hiking scavenger hunt; and parents learn about birding.

Kara LeBlanc – an environmental educator at A Rocha Manitoba, Canada – explains how their summer programmes help kids who struggle to find beauty in their urban environment: ‘There is a lot of beauty! You actually have to look – there is a lot to see where you live. So, when we’re planning stuff I think, how can I help kids look?’ Sure enough, one camp leader, Emma Siemens, experienced a perfect example of this during a ‘photo scavenger hunt’ where kids practice observing nature:

One day as we were walking to a nearby park, looking for a ‘unique tree’ to take a photo of, Lucy, age 10, said, ‘I think we could really take a photo of any tree, because every tree is unique. No two trees are exactly the same!’ In this moment Lucy was learning how to notice and appreciate nature in all its intricacies.

In all our education programmes, we connect people and nature to inspire action for a sustainable world. Here are more highlights from the A Rocha worldwide family this year:

At the beginning of the year, A Rocha Aotearoa New Zealand local group member from Christchurch, Steven Muir, hosted the Aranui Bike Fixup School Holiday Programme. Over five days, kids developed their love for biking and their skills in bike maintenance.

A Rocha USA’s Wild Wonder curriculum is used by churches, camps and other groups to help children learn about the wildly wonderful world God has made.

A Rocha France offers residential weeks at the Courmettes centre, with an eco-adventure camp for children and a variety of adult seminars.

In May, A Rocha India opened a new Rural Digital Literacy Learning Lab at their field study centre to provide students and villagers in the Bannerghatta Landscape with digital growth opportunities.

A Rocha Kenya teaches young people about biodiversity conservation in the Malindi-Watamu area.

A Rocha Peru conducts eco-club workshops at churches, organizations and schools. Children plant and harvest vegetables in the garden and learn about medicinal plants, composting, restoring dry forests and more.

A Rocha Portugal is celebrating 30 years of environmental education! They offer programmes on (1) birds and habitats of Ria de Alvor, (2) discovering pollinators and (3) microplastics and sea rubbish.

A Rocha Switzerland is offering nature workshops to support biodiversity conservation this September.

A Rocha UK has been hosting ‘Act for Nature’ days to teach about creation care and demonstrate conservation activities.

Alongside their schools conservation environmental education programme, A Rocha Ghana recently co-hosted a nationwide essay writing competition. Children ages 6-16 thoughtfully described how they would take care of our ‘One Earth’.

Bio-sand water filter - cross-section

100,000 litres of clean drinking water

Over the last 14 years, A Rocha Uganda has constructed over 2,700 bio-sand water filters and Pastor Freddie Musisi received one of the very first! Since 2008, it has filtered over 100,000 litres of clean drinking water for his family, neighbours and church members. ‘We never get diarrhoea or any other related sickness because we drink and use clean filtered water from our bio-sand filter,’ says Freddie. ‘We no longer need to buy bottled water again because even when travelling we pack our own water in our reusable bottles.’

Freddie and his wife, Annet live in Namungoona, a slum in Kampala City, with their four children and grandchild. By drinking clean, filtered water, the children’s education has improved. As their water no longer needs to be boiled, their filter saves trees from being cut down to produce charcoal and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere by almost one ton per year! The family also has an extra £50 per year to spend on food, which they would otherwise need to buy charcoal.

In 2016, A Rocha Uganda replaced the sand in Freddie’s filter so that it will continue to provide clean drinking water for his family and church for another eight years.

Through Gifts with a Difference you can purchase a bio-sand filter so that others like Freddie and Annet can have better health, improved access to education, more money to spend on food and a healthier environment too!

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

Rays at risk

Rays are a group of fish whose bodies are flattened and have a skeleton made of cartilage – the same material that forms much of human ears and noses. They occur throughout the world except at the poles. Similar to sharks, rays are targeted by fishers and overfishing is causing a global decline in abundance. A recent study found that rays are even more threatened than shark species: using IUCN criterion, 36% of rays are considered threatened compared to 31% for sharks[1]. These beautiful creatures are particularly threatened in the tropics and subtropics, and several find their home in Watamu Marine National Park (WMNP) where A Rocha Kenya assists local managers in protecting threatened ray species.

Six ray species and one guitarfish, which are technically rays, inhabit WMNP based on A Rocha’s research over the past 10 years[2]. The Shark Conservation Fund provided resources to study these species in more detail this past year, including education and livelihoods work among local fishers outside of WMNP.

Four methods were used to study these species: baited remote underwater video, timed swims, beach walks, and SCUBA surveys. Three of the rays were either Endangered or Critically Endangered and one species is considered Data Deficient with this study helping to better understand its threatened status. Rays were most often found in sandy and seagrass habitats, indicating the importance of these often-overlooked areas in WMNP where the focus has frequently been on coral reefs. Education events in eight local schools and among ten community groups helped children and adults better understand the beauty and value of these amazing species.

Cruzinha

Water woes

Tourist brochures of the Algarve in Portugal are full of the dazzling blue of the sea and multitudes of swimming pools for those who prefer to stay free of sand and salt. But any impression of abundant water is false. Water is an acute issue here and the impacts are starkly apparent at Cruzinha, A Rocha Portugal’s field study centre on the Alvor Estuary.

The ponds and reed bed are dry, the citrus orchard planted decades ago may not survive the summer, and there is barely any rainwater in the cistern. Humans at Cruzinha may not miss the usually abundant mosquitoes, but the creatures that depend on mosquitoes for food suffer from the scarcity. Tinder-dry, the risk of wildfires is ever present.

A Rocha has been in this little corner of southwest Portugal since 1983. Our long-term presence means changes to climate, biodiversity, air, soil and water have been carefully observed and deeply felt. For the team at Cruzinha, the situation can be hard to bear, particularly as it continues to be exacerbated by seemingly mindless agricultural policies – for example, approval of a rash of new avocado plantations which will drain the already dangerously low water table.

However, the atmosphere around Cruzinha’s big old oak table at mealtimes is cheerful as people share stories of their doings: the Waxbill team are excited to report catching an impressive 15 the previous night, there were otter tracks in the transect surveyed that morning and many beautiful moths in the trap below the house. Volunteers tackled invasive species in the garden and a board game is planned for after dinner.

There is no doubt the water situation is dire, but A Rocha has always chosen to live hopefully, in worship and obedience to God, creator of all. In a parched and dusty landscape, roots must go deep. Have no doubt, the A Rocha Portugal team have deep roots of faith. When the rain finally comes, they will still be holding on.

France forum 22_whole family

A family Forum in France

For the first time in four years, the A Rocha family gathered for the 2022 Global Leader’s Forum. The Forum is a chance for A Rocha leaders to come together in community for fellowship, prayer, and advancing the mission of the A Rocha worldwide family. Over 80 delegates convened in the French hills above the Côte d’Azur at Les Courmettes, with over 20 countries represented.

It was inspiring to reunite around our common vision and faith, across diverse cultures, and languages. We are grateful for the hospitality of the A Rocha France team who shared their beautiful centre at Les Courmettes. Special thank you to Canadian cook and farmer, Shelley Spruit, who made sure our bellies and souls were abundantly nourished with daily ground grain, freshly baked bread and other delights.

It was a time of celebration with answered prayers and good news, including updates that the Atewa forest in Ghana remains protected and undeveloped, growth of the African Forest Programme and the new Friends of A Rocha Network. It was a privilege to witness the A Rocha Worldwide Covenant being acted out over the week as thoughtful and prayerful work was done to review and update A Rocha’s mission and vision statements and A Rocha’s commitments, all of which were approved at the first ever Decision-making Meeting held on the last day of the Forum. God’s grace was tangible as the gathered leaders worked together on articulating our Christian commitment to conservation.

It was also a time for reflection and remembrance amidst the grief of losing our dear colleagues, Miranda Harris, Chris Naylor, and Susanna Naylor, at the end of 2019. We thank God for this time to mourn together, and the strength brought through community and fellowship in Christ. Thank you for your continued prayers for the A Rocha worldwide family as we surrender and partner with God through this season of renewal, like new wine in new wine skins (Mark 2:22).

Guillaume de Vaulx, Atif al-Mays, Colin Gibson and Damien Boustani

How God provided in Lebanon (once again!)

When it came time for Colin and Audrey Gibson to retire from their posts at A Rocha Lebanon, they launched the search for a new national director. Guillaume de Vaulx and Damien Kasper both received a message from a common friend encouraging them to go for the role. One position, two friends. Was this a case of letting the best man win? Or was there another way? They decided to apply as joint directors, two heads in one body. The Gibsons and the Board agreed to this creative plan, and the good Hydra of Lebanon was born!

Even for two, the tasks were many and at the Nature Park project in the Bekaa Valley, there was pressure from the local mayor to open the site as soon as possible. Damien and Guillaume immediately set out to ensure the ongoing building works were completed and to make much needed improvements to the irrigation system as, already, some of the recently planted trees and shrubs were dying. A board member – an architect by profession – had volunteered to supervise the building works, but what to do about the irrigation system? In the face of a collapsing economy and the regular delays of life in Lebanon, the situation felt hopeless…

That is, until the surprising and wonderful arrival of Noha.

At 5pm, Guillaume received a text from an Egyptian phone number: ‘Hi Guillaume, I am Noha. I was your student in the philosophy class in 2013. I’ve heard you are doing something connected to the land in Lebanon. It sounds exciting. I am in Beirut now – can we meet?’ They met at 10pm the same day and it turned out Noha was now working on environmental policy and water issues. She asked a friend in London to produce some maps and she and Guillaume got to work.

Noha and Ibrahim (our Syrian volunteer) digging out the old irrigation network

By 6am the next day, Guillaume and Noha were on their way to Mekse with a presentation to explain the solution to the municipal authorities. And now the reservoir is full and the roses are blooming! Two other new volunteers, Philip and Sylvie, plan to make an inventory of the wild flowers present in the park and use the data to update the WildLebanon site. Give thanks with us for these arrivals and please continue to pray for A Rocha Lebanon in this exciting new chapter.

Pictured: Guillaume de Vaulx, present joint-director of A Rocha Lebanon; Atif al-Mays, chief of Mekse municipality; Colin Gibson, the previous director of A Rocha Lebanon; Damien Kasper, present joint-director of A Rocha Lebanon

Photo 2 – Noha and Ibrahim (our Syrian volunteer) digging out the old irrigation network

An outing from the Czech anniversary conference to Sumava national park

A Rocha Czech Republic celebrates 20 years

45 people gathered over the weekend of 17-19 June near the Šumava National Park in Husinec for a COVID-delayed celebration of 20 years since the establishment of A Rocha Czech Republic. Dave Bookless spoke to questions of hope in a time of climate change – very topical as temperatures soared unseasonably high during the conference – and A Rocha co-founder Peter Harris was there to join the celebrations.

Pavel and Radka Svetlik looked back over the early effort to establish their field study centre, Krupárna, which has welcomed thousands of schoolchildren since it opened in 2005. The gardens, and surrounding hillsides and valleys have new ponds and hundreds of new trees and bushes, significantly improving local biodiversity.

Pavel said, ‘It has been moving to gather and reflect on God’s faithfulness to us over more than two decades. The task of caring for his world becomes ever more challenging but we know even the smallest of our efforts are significant and worthwhile.’

Looking ahead they are urgently seeking match funding of €240K to apply for a forthcoming renovation grant of €1.2 million from the EU to increase the residential capacity of the centre. Please get in touch if you or anyone you know might be able to help them towards this daunting goal.

Pavel Svetlik setting up a net to catch Kingfishers
Black-breasted_Button-quail_male_inskip

Bringing back the Black-breasted Button-quail

2021-2030 is the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a global call to heal our planet and A Rocha projects around the world are making a significant contribution.

In Australia, A Rocha is working with Friends of the Escarpment Parks (FEP) Toowoomba at Redwood Park – a 243-hectare property on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range – to tackle invasive weeds that threaten to destroy endangered ecosystems like the semi-evergreen vine thicket by climbing and smothering the trees. On the forest floor, it can become difficult for ground-foraging animals and birds to feed, like the nationally vulnerable Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster. This button-quail has a characteristic feeding habit: it turns on alternate legs as it scratches in the leaf litter to make a circular feeding scrape. Fresh scrapes are a good indicator that button-quail are present in the area.

In late 2020, a small team of A Rocha Australia volunteers started working alongside FEP to control major weeds at Redwood Park. Every month, they have been working at the site to weed out the invasives in the vine-thicket. The benefits for button-quail have sometimes been immediate, with fresh feeding scrapes being seen throughout the weeded areas the following day. Remote cameras have also confirmed that the button-quail are breeding in the park!

The challenge now is to complete weeding in a sizeable section of the scrub and establish a longer-term plan to maintain the habitat for button-quail and other animals.

Photo: Black-breasted Button-quail (Aviceda, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)