Fall 2010

Protecting and Restoring the World's Alpine Ecosystems

Mt. Everest
National Geographic Society »

The 2010 Blackstone - National Geographic Innovation Challenge Grant has been awarded to a collaborative team of explorers that includes an alpine ecosystem specialist (Alton Byers), a global communications innovator (Ken Banks), and a renewable energy specialist (Thomas Culhane).  The team will develop new ways of better managing the ecologically influential alpine ecosystems located in the world's highest mountain ranges.

The major alpine systems, particularly that of the Himalayas, directly impact the lives of close to half of the world's population through their river systems.  They are also among the most valuable of the world's biodiversity reservoirs. They have all been badly damaged in recent decades by the rapid increase in trekking and recreational climbing and the practices of many of the communities that make a living off trekking tourism.  Erosion from the cutting of trees for fuel has contributed to the massive floods in recent years in Bangladesh and more recently in Pakistan.  Many of these systems are being turned into alpine deserts.

The National Geographic team will build on a recent project done by the American Alpine Club and the Mountain Institute, which have developed community projects that provide greater protection to natural ecosystems -- such as high altitude nurseries for juniper seedlings, pasture restoration projects, and curricula for local schools.  The team will move it to the next level by helping communities develop local, renewable energy as an alternative to expensive fossil fuels or the cutting of trees and by starting a global awareness campaign aimed at cultivating better practices among individual climbers, outdoor gear manufacturers, the adventure tourism industry, and the trekking/climbing industry.

The work will begin on Mt. Everest, and will serve as a pilot project for future efforts in other alpine ecosystems of the world, including the Andes of South America and Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa.

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