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Maria Iotova

Maria Iotova has 8 articles published.

Dear Mr President, thank you

in Environment by

In one month, President Barack Obama will leave the White House, but with several good deeds under his belt — one of them being the establishment of the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. As reported by National Geographic, “under authority of the Antiquities Act, President Obama set aside 4,900 square miles of the Atlantic for preservation. The monument prohibits fishing and mining, in an effort to protect deep-sea species that reside in the undersea canyons and extinct volcanoes more than 150 miles off the coast of New England, where the continental shelf drops off into the abyss.”


The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument stretches between two distinct areas. The first, running in a strip along the edge of the continental shelf, will protect three canyons and the species that live on their walls: deepwater corals, anemones, and sponges. The second area — south of the continental shelf — will protect four submarine mountains, which are more than 7,000 feet tall. Bear, Physalia, Retriever, and Mytilus are a hundred million years old volcanoes, which were formed by the same hot plumes of magma that created the White Mountains in the state of New Hampshire.  

The underwater reserve of New England isn’t only protecting endangered species, such as North Atlantic sperm whales forage, and a unique ecosystem with  branching bamboo corals, but as per the White House’s statement and National Geographic’s report, it will also “create natural laboratories for scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change”.  As Peter Auster, senior research scientist at the Mystic Aquarium and research professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut, has said:

“They are places that represent how much we have yet to learn about the oceans. They are outstanding repositories of our natural heritage for the future”.

The establishment of the New England monument comes as an addition to President Obama’s underwater protection actions. Only two months ago, he expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northwestern islands of Hawaii to more than half a million square miles. At the moment, this is the largest protected area on Earth, and Mr Obama is the president who has protected more acreage than any other president, passionately communicating that “there’s no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet”.

Three coastal countries join forces to protect ocean waters

in Environment/Sustainable development by

Two weeks ago in the Galápagos, the presidents of Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia announced an agreement to enhance the protection of marine life by expanding their marine reserves around Galapagos, Malpelo, and Cocos.

Along with Panama’s Coiba National Park, the three protected areas make up the world’s densest cluster of UNESCO Marine World Heritage Sites. Currently, only 2,8% of the world ocean is protected, and less than 1% of it, is a marine reserve, which implies that activities such as fishing are prohibited.

The project, which aspires to meet United Nations target of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020, is a pivotal moment in the history of sustainable development and ocean management.

We are talking about some of the most biodiverse ocean waters, where “sharks, turtles, rays, whales, seabirds, tuna and billfish surge back and forth in response to seasonal changes in water temperature and food availability”, as Scott Henderson, vice president of Conservation International (CI)’s Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape program points out in an interview for Human Nature.


In the same interview, he further explains that these areas “have registered the highest density of sharks recorded anywhere on Earth and some of the highest fish biomass (total weight per unit area) ever recorded”.

But the triumphant agreement in Galápagos isn’t vital only for the corals, the turtles, the penguins, the sea lions, the dolphins and the whales of the area. It’s a strategic movement also for the region’s economic growth and the improvement of the livelihood of industrial fishermen, who can benefit from the abundant spillover on the reserve boundaries.

In practice, the agreement raises the marine reserves of the three nations to 83,600 square miles. As stated in National Geographic’s article by Jane Braxton Little, “Ecuador and Costa Rica also agreed to delineate the boundaries of their national waters, exchanging nautical charts in a step toward protecting the underwater ‘highways’ used by sharks, sea turtles, and other migrating marine life”.

Following National Geographic’s report, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos pledged to double the size of one of the largest no-fishing zones in the region — the Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, established 300 miles off the mainland.

In an effort to protect white-tip sharks, whale and hammerhead sharks, Costa Rica President Luis Guillermo Solís committed to expanding Cocos Island National Park by nearly 4,000 square miles — an action that will increase by four times the area where fishing is restricted. Last but not least, under the new boundary maps, Ecuador’s revised marine territory is now five times larger than its continental territory.


Beyond doubt the agreement among these three nations is an historic moment, as “it’s the first time that three presidents got together to expand protections in their neighboring waters” according to Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Now that the path is set, we can only wish that other countries will follow the steps of these three leaders.

France: Paving the path to a sunny future

in Environment/Innovation/Renewable Energy by
© Joachim Bertrand / COLAS

It’s not the first time we talk about roads that actually act like large solar panels meant to distribute the generated energy to households, street lighting, traffic systems, and why not — electric vehicles driving over them. The first SolaRoad in the world — a 70-meter long bike path — that converts sunlight into electricity was built in Netherlands in 2014. But France enters the game with a much more ambitious plan of installing 600 miles (or 1,000 km) of solar roads in the next five years. We cannot wait to see it happen, and here’s why: one kilometer only of the roadway paved with Wattway panels will power the streetlights in a town of 5,000 inhabitants.

- © Joachim Bertrand / COLAS
© Joachim Bertrand / COLAS

Wattway panels are comprised of photovoltaic cells, which are embedded in a multilayer substrate and collect solar energy via a thin film of polycrystalline silicon that enables the production of electricity. On the underside of the panels there is a connection to a lateral module containing the electrical safety components. But there are several other facts about the Wattway panels that bring them to the top of the innovation list, when compared to other photovoltaics. The panels can be used on any road at any place in the world, are able to bear all types and sizes of existing vehicles, and are just seven millimeters thick but extremely strong and solid. Very important, Wattway panels are installed directly on the pavement, without additional civil engineering work required, such as deconstruction of the road and rebuild.

“Can you imagine our future roads serving not only our transportation and communication needs, but also covering most of our daily energy demands?”

So, can you imagine our future roads serving not only our transportation and communication needs, but also covering most of our daily energy demands?

And doing so in an environmentally friendly way through a renewable energy source. France’s big project, when passes the trial stage and once completed, will be supplying electricity to five million people. But this is just the beginning of the roads of the future, which have the competence to evolve into smart roads, and transmit live traffic information.

France’s goal is to design high-impact transportation environments by applying the idea of solar roads to bigger scale projects than what they were initially conceived for — pedestrian walkways, sidewalks and cycling routes. Although admittedly there is still research and testing in progress, in terms of the long-term vision there definitely will be benefits and positive implications in the battle to stop climate change.

Life in plastic can be fantastic!

in Environment/Innovation by

People produce garbage, and the more our population grows, the more waste we leave behind. But the amount of full bin bags that are disposed per day, isn’t only determined by our numbers — it’s also defined by our lifestyle, which is shifting into a more assiduous and complex way of life.


Plastic, a disposable material which is composed of major toxic pollutants, came as a relief in our busy lives that require fast solutions: open, empty, shove, replace. But what we have given little notice of is plastic’s resistance to decomposition, which makes its lifespan as long as 500 to 1,000 years.

A team of Japanese designers and engineers dared to ask the critical question: “for how long can we sustain this cycle of plastic accumulation?”, and knew that the answer isn’t comforting for the natural environment. Thus, they joined forces, and gave an alternative response to the plastic pollution — a gelatinous material obtained from red marine algae that can be used to replace the cheap, widely available and overused plastic.

Agar Plasticity is the environmentally friendly alternative to plastic … it can be disposed without upsetting the food chain, or harming the land, the air, and the water.

As explained to Good, Agar Plasticity is the environmentally friendly alternative to plastic because — alike plastic — it can disposed without upsetting the food chain, or harming the land, the air, and the water in the process. Agar absorbs and retains water quite well, and it can be used to improve water retention by mixing it with soil in a garden. Even if the agar ends up in the oceans, it won’t violate the marine life, given its original incarnation as marine material.

The process of making agar plastic is similar to the process that is used in Japanese cuisine, where agar is dissolved in water, heated and then cooled until it becomes gelatinous — a perfect ingredient for desserts. The agar powder is dissolved in simmering water and then poured into a mold. Once the agar sets into a jelly, the mold is frozen for two days.  The freezing process forms the agar into a structure that can provide cushioning for a packaged item. After two days, the frozen agar solution is thawed and completely air-dried.


Agar Plasticity is in its early stages, but the goal is to see it replacing mass consumption plastic products, which are harming organisms. In the meantime, we can take our own little step towards a less plastic-oriented lifestyle by incorporating small changes: shop with cloth shopping bags, carry water in reusable bottles, upcycle, use matches, and avoid items packaged in plastic.

Note:  AGAR PLASTICITY is a project by the designing team AMAM, and it is one of four finalists for the 2016 Lexus Design Award.

Organic: The bread and butter of our future

in Agriculture by

Currently, the most organic conscious nation in the world is Denmark. Eight percent of all food sold is organic, with nuts, carrots and milk being the most popular products in 2014-2015, according to Organic Denmark — an association of companies, organic farmers and consumers. The organic agriculture is the way to go with our food, but let’s see why it’s about time to leave conventional farming behind.


We are more or less seven billion living humans on Earth — an alarming increase of 6 billion people in 200 years only. Thus, in a time of population eruption and environmental degradation, organic farming could be established as the most sustainable and healthy way to feed our species.

While the opponents of organic farming argue that the productivity of conventional farming is significantly higher, and at the same time requires less acres of land, Professor John Reganold of Soil Science and Agroecology at the Washington State University along with his team have found that yields are indeed increasing with non-organic farming but at the expense of our personal and our environment’s well being.

Organic agriculture takes a proactive approach, establishing an ecological balance while producing food. Along with the organic label comes a series of long term benefits and great accomplishments. More specifically, GMOs aren’t used intentionally in the production and processing of organic products.  Pesticide-free lands attract new or re-colonising species, including wild flora and fauna, pollinators and predators, and reduce the risks of groundwater pollution. Overall, organic agriculture is a less polluting agricultural system, which promotes biodiversity and quality over quantity.

The number of organic farms is growing, as well as the awareness and demand from the consumer’s side, who are willing to pay more for organic products

As per Professor Reganold’s article in The Guardian, organic farming is also looking after its own people, who are provenly having access to more job opportunities, and are also having less exposure to unhealthy pesticides and hazardous chemicals. Eventually, organic agriculture has the potential to provide for Earth’s population for years and years, as long as public policies and private investments support and encourage conventional farmers to convert to organic methods.


Even though the global agricultural land occupies only 1%, we are heading towards the right direction. We see that the number of organic farms is growing, as well as the awareness and demand from the consumer’s side, who are willing to pay more for organic products — a price, which compensates farmers for preserving the quality of their land.

Surfers united: Catching the big waste wave

in Environment by

The numbers are alarming, but awareness is probably to everyone’s advantage, and will put the ocean waste image into a perspective. According to Beachapedia — a database on coastal environmental information — at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are currently floating at sea. But this fact doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be done, and surf companies are now more than ever taking action to manage ocean waste.

In a photo reportage, Tess Riley from The Guardian, profiles surf companies that find solutions to reduce ocean waste and inspire further stimulus. Here, we have put their efforts together with confidence that this is only the beginning towards cleaner and healthier oceans.

The American athlete Thomas Edward Blake revolutionised board designing between the 1920s-1930s by building the first hollow wooden surfboard, and adapted the hundred-year-old Polynesian technique of surfing into a popular sport. Surfers are taken back to their roots with the production of wood-made surfboards, as opposed to the petrochemical derived mass surfboards. Otter surfboard makers, recycle the wood offcuts, and the sawdust is turned into briquettes that are sold for communal use in log burners.

Sometimes ideas to save the sea come from the shore. Rareform has established that 12′ x 48′ ft of durable vinyl material is rather treasurable to go to waste. Thus, they collect, wash and hand-cut vinyl billboards into unique surf backpacks, wallets, board bags and duffles.

Swimwear is a surfer’s second skin, so it would better be a positive presence in the sea, and have a good environmental impact. Patagonia has launched yulex rubber-made swimwear that is neoprene-free and uses bio-rubber from the bark of the Guayule plant. Other eco-friendly swimsuits like the sustainable RubyMoon use ECONYL nylon yarn from dumped fishing nets and other waste materials that would eventually enter our food chain. 

sea-sunset-sunny-beach-mediumOther surf essentials, such as handplanes and surfboard fins — although they are seemingly small items — can leave a positive imprint too in the path of limiting industrial waste and plastics and producing less emissions. For example, Enjoy Handplanes uses foam and blanks from old boards and neoprene from well-worn wetsuits to make the handles. The materials that would definitely end up in the landfill are turned into fully recyclable products.  

With the convenience of modern life came too must wasteful non-biodegradable plastic and other pollutants that are getting into the sea, are harming marine life and — for the vicious circle to close — are harming us.

Sponge Cities: Don’t waste a drop

in Sustainable development by

At the beginning of June 2016, the river Seine burst its banks, and Paris was witnessing to bewilderment how quickly the water rose up to 6.10 meters. But what was even more alarming, was that the flooding came at the beginning of the summer time instead of the typically expected autumn or winter seasons.

metropolitan-cityThe rapid growth of cities doesn’t only result in demographic and economic novelties, but urbanization brings environmental and climate changes as well. As it’s becoming more common to experience extreme weather conditions, scientists and politicians are tackling the problem with the scheme of “sponge cities”, as discussed by Mark Harris in his article for The Guardian. The new concept of our urban environment suggests that every raindrop is captured, harvested and reused.

Nature is accountable for trillions of litres of rainwater annually falling directly onto our cities — all fresh and clean, but, unfortunately, mostly wasted. Instead of letting the rainwater being channelled into the gutters and drains of our cities, sponge cities collect it for diverse uses for their own benefit. From using it to fill their toilet tanks and water their gardens to recharge depleted aquifers and clean their homes, this natural  resource can become even more precious, if adeptly processed and served into a glass … of water.

In the long term, sponge cities can perform miracles when it comes to the reduction of carbon emissions and the battling of climate change. For example, think of the already popular rain barrels that are collecting rainwater to carry out everyday home maintenance tasks. On a larger scope, rain barrels can be replaced with rooftop gardens for better results on blocks of flats and offices. Such gardens wouldn’t only help towards the water recycling process, but would also reduce the temperature in the air, consequently reducing the need for the use of air conditioning systems.

According to the 2015 statistics of the World Resources Institute, India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam and Pakistan are the top five countries in the world that along with 10 other countries account for 80% of the population that is exposed to river flood risk. Thus, for the least developed or currently developing countries, controlling stormwater is an opportunity not only to save water supplies for the future but to prevent the overflow of water when excessive rainfall occurs.


Changde, a city west of Shanghai, has replaced 15% of its hard-standing with bioswales — an environmentally friendly action that has cut its engineering bill for new drains in half. This is a good example of how sponge cities can have a positive financial impact as well. Whether it is rainwater for storage and use during droughts, or whether we are looking into implementing methods that will prevent flooding during unpredictable and unmeasurable rainfall, sponge cities have been invented to make our lives better.

The benefits of a sharing economy: Anyone need a ride?

in New economy by

You may not be a seasoned traveler, or convinced about your feelings around sleeping in a stranger’s guestroom, but you definitely know of Airbnb — San Francisco’s gem and the most prominent example of a new sharing economy. But what exactly is a sharing economy and why is it important to follow it?


The principle of the sharing economy — as the term suggests —  is to share resources and services. For example, a violoncello owner rents out the instrument for USD 63 per month to another person, who wants to learn playing the violoncello but doesn’t have one to practice. This concept doesn’t sound original, and it might even be characterised as primitive, but the sharing economy  of today is different from anything we have known before due to the availability of vast amount of data about the proprietors, the renters and the things or services.

Airbnb, RelayRides, Uber, SnapGoods are all good examples of a contemporary sharing economy and are all online marketplaces that have flourished thanks to the internet. Their servers match owners and renters with each other, the social networks allow on checking up people’s profiles, reading reviews and building trust, navigation satellites guide people to the nearest available service and bills are processed online.

It’s therefore the world wide web that coordinates the associates of the sharing economy and supports their eco-friendly habits.

Renting a bicycle, a sofa-bed or a camping tent instead of buying your own, immediately reduces your carbon footprint because you save on the resources that are required to make a brand new product.

Airbnb — an inspirer of the new sharing economy — has announced through its chief product officer and co-founder Joe Gebbia that guests in North America alone “use 63% less energy than hotel guests”. Uber,  another San Francisco based multinational online company, also appraises its service as advantageous for the environment: sharing a car instead of driving your own reduces the number of cars on the road, which reduces carbon dioxide.

Sharing economy may have started as a way to cut down on personal costs and supplement our income but it has evolved into an environmental movement and a revolutionary transformation of lifestyle. The players of this type of economy aren’t just trading — they are working towards their reputation, are building trust with each other and are practicing their social skills.Save

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