George and Sara live on São Miguel
Interview conducted in Horta, Azores
I was finishing up some land based chores, walking back to the R Heritage Too when I saw a couple looking over the edge of the pier. They were naming the fish species they were seeing. The port in Horta is covered with paintings sailors create for good luck as they resupply, often for trans-Atlantic crossings. Nearly everybody who has walked down this dock has focused on this artwork and not over the edge at the grey and brown fish in the harbor. Their words follow.
What is your favorite part of living in São Miguel?
It is difficult to say where we live. We work as biologists so we must go where grants and work take us. We have been living on São Miguel in the Azores for a year now and are researching the population of freshwater eels that live there. We like the tranquility, the access to nature and the small towns. We are not a fan of big cities.
What is your least favorite part of living in São Miguel?
We do not like the speed at which it is getting discovered. The wrong type of tourism seems to be coming in. People coming in, renting cars for three days, driving hectically around the island and getting out.
Do you see the natural world changing?
We have not lived here long enough to know but we hear from the locals that the weather used to have more structure. Seasons were predictable. This year it has been very dry during the rainy season. There were massive loses to the eel population due to the drought.
Have you seen changes to the natural world elsewhere in you work?
We worked in Iceland, and the changes to the biodiversity of the ocean were obvious there. As the oceans warm the types of fish in the waters surrounding the islands have changed. The capelin and herring used to be the dominant fish. They are being displaced by mackerel who used to live further south. The puffin colonies that previously relied on the small fish are suffering. Their chicks are starving and dying before they leave their burrows. It is sad because puffins are one of the species of birds that return to the same nesting grounds every year. The most common type of whale used to be Minke and now they have been replaced by Humpbacks. This is also due to changes lower down in the food chain.
What do you do to reduce you impact?
Everything we can. We have tried to minimize our needs to the extent that is possible in today’s world. We reduce our plastic use and try very hard to buy locally. It is crazy to us that the pineapples from Costa Rica are about half the price of the ones that are grown on São Miguel. We buy the local ones anyway. They taste so much sweeter since they ripened on the tree instead of in a container while crossing the ocean. It is pretty easy to buy local food products here. The soil is so fertile and the climate temperate. It was harder in Iceland. Not everybody has that luxury to shop for food locally.
We were in Flores when Hurricane Lorenzo hit. The locals thought it was just going to be another storm. The houses all held up to the wind, but they were not expecting the storm surge and waves. It destroyed the harbor and now the stores cant fill their shelves with foods from a far. The older people on the island seemed concerned for the young people who want to buy their food from the shelf. They remember the times when the island sustained itself. It was only in the 1980s when TV and electricity became common in households. This experience contributed to our feeling that these islands are becoming commercialized to rapidly.
As I reflect upon the interviews conducted so far I am beginning to appreciate what those who have been willing to talk about climate change have taught me. I am learning a great deal about people and places in the world.
George asked me after the interview what I was doing to offset my carbon footprint. I answered that the boat was solar, wind powered and various stats about electricity consumption. Nothing really about me. It was yet another good lesson. I was not prepared to answer the same questions I am asking others. The honest answer is not enough. I have been fortunate to live in climates where I’ve been able to grow, produce and preserve a significant portion of the food I during summer months. My driving habits and poor use of public transportation leave me knowing I’ve much room to improve. I hoped this page would motivate people and indeed it is beginning to motive me.