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Paradise found: Saint Lucia preserving beauty through data and policy action

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If ever an island justified the label “paradise” that tourist brochures liberally apply to destinations, it is Saint Lucia.

Shaped like a teardrop, this tiny Caribbean nation has everything. Crescent moon beaches of white sand. Jagged volcanic mountains jutting up from the azure waters. Eclectic biodiversity that manifests in a riot of colour, no more so than in the Saint Lucia Amazon, a spectacular parrot found only on the island.

Unfortunately, as is the case in so many places, human activity is endangering this beauty and the benefits it brings to humanity. The threats are many, including extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, forest habitat loss from land-use change and over-exploitation of marine resources.

We can deal with these challenges, as the return of the Saint Lucia Amazon, or Amazona versicolor, shows. In the 1970s, only around 100 of these birds remained. Thanks to a conservation programme, the species is now on an upward trend. While still classed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the last census of the bird, carried out between 2007 and 2009, found a stable and viable population of 2,258 individuals.

The Government of Saint Lucia, with the support of UN Environment, is determined to repeat this success for all the island’s natural resources while ensuring a better future for its estimated 180,000 residents.

The nation is signed up to global treaties, including the three Rio Conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under which the Paris Agreement falls.

In order to meet its obligations and to design and implement meaningful interventions, the government needs to have a clear picture of where it stands in terms of data and required policies.   

“While we pursue on-the-ground initiatives that guarantee our survival, it is equally important to pursue the soft initiatives that will allow us to make sound decisions on the strategic interventions needed,” said Annette Rattigan-Leo, Saint Lucia’s Chief Sustainable Development and Environment Officer.

In August 2018, the island took a big step forward. Working with UN Environment on a Global Environment Facility-funded project, the Saint Lucian government launched its first national environmental information system. Information on the three big treaties is available to ministries, the private sector, academia, multilateral environmental treaty focal points and the public. For each convention, indicators related to broader policy goals and objectives are being integrated to support reporting and translate data into useful and actionable information.

“This is certainly an encouraging endeavour, as it will allow Saint Lucia to work closely with UN Environment,” said Gale Rigobert, Minister for Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development. “We acknowledge the crucial role environmental information continues to play in helping us meet our national and multilateral environmental agreement obligations.”

As part of the project, 17 major environmental data providers signed an agreement to cooperate on the development and use of the system, ensuring that the bigger picture will be as complete as possible. Meanwhile, the project developed a set of core sustainable development and environmental indicators for the Rio conventions, which all derive directly from the 1992 Earth Summit. According to Teshia Jn Baptiste, who managed the project, the system and associated common data storage facility have “significantly improved collaboration among the public and private sectors”.

Those who work on the ground are hopeful that the new system will help Saint Lucia meet its commitments and so improve the health of its ecosystems.

“If we reach our targets, the livelihoods of fishermen and others depending on marine resources will be protected in the face of climate change impacts,” said Allena Joseph, Fisheries Biologist in Saint Lucia’s Department of Fisheries. “We can do this through better-informed decisions in areas relating to biodiversity conservation and resilience building.”

The government has previously called for an end to illegal logging, which has led to habitat loss and landslides. Karl Augustine, a research officer in the Forestry Department, believes that the new system will help claw back some of the damage.

“We see a positive impact on human and wildlife cohabitation and a transition to forest in areas historically affected by land degradation,” he said.

For species such as the Amazona versicolor and the people of Saint Lucia, this can only be good news.

UN Environment

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Extra flavour and fraud prevention on the menu for Europe’s beer and wine industries

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BY DANIELA DE LORENZO

The debate over whether fermentation was a more important human discovery than fire will continue forever. In the meantime, with Europe as the world’s premier producer of wine and a significant manufacturer of beer, Horizon-backed scientists are researching ways to reinforce Europe’s competitiveness in the drinks industry.

In 2019, European Union wine sales were 16 billion litres with an export value close to € 20 billion, while beer production in the EU in 2020 amounted to 33.1 billion litres. Europe accounts for 63% of global wine production while the number of breweries in Europe now exceeds 11 000.

The wine sector has built its reputation and dominant market share based on quality but all the turmoil of recent years and the risks from climate change mean that the drinks industry cannot afford to stand still, especially with imported beverages becoming increasingly popular.

Enhancing beer and wine flavours through research into new yeast strains is one way the drinks industry is trying to keep ahead. At the other end of that, more secure supply chains are needed to ensure delivery of a quality product. This will help Europe’s drinks industry retain its market position.

Distinct aroma

Alcoholic flavours result from complex metabolic reactions performed by yeasts. A type of fungus that transforms sugars into alcohol during fermentation, yeasts also help to give each wine its distinct aroma and taste.

The Horizon-funded Aromagenesis project, led by the University of Dublin in Ireland, focused on understanding the genetics and biochemistry in yeast strains that are responsible for aromas and flavours in lager beers and wine.

‘The traditional wine and beer industry uses specific and limited numbers of yeast strains,’ said Ursula Bond, professor of microbiology at the University of Dublin. ‘We thought it was important to make a big survey of different wines’ and lagers’ yeasts and characterise them to see whether some already existing in nature have more favourable aroma and flavour.’

Aromagenesis, which finished researching in May this year, assessed whether science could help by varying the flavour profile of certain strains. Working with the drinks industry, through experiments, co-fermentation and hybridisation, the researchers were able to select new yeast strains.

They then created a bank of natural yeast that can produce different flavour compounds and in varying amounts. This led to a bounty of new yeast varieties and taste profiles.

Yeast palette

The new yeast palette is currently available to companies involved in the project. They include German brewer Erdinger Weissbräu and Canada-based Lallemand, who develop of yeasts for the global market.

‘We are now finishing the first trial fermentations in our experimental wineries,’ said Jose Heras, technical manager at Lallemand Oenology in Spain. Spain is Europe’s second largest exporter of wine with 27% of the market in 2019. The project will turn to the winery to ‘validate four of the hybrid yeast strains created for aromatic white wines,’ he said.

The drinks industry intends to put the yeast research to immediate effect with commercialisation of more flavourful Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo wines potentially starting in 2023, according to Heras.

Some consumers have reservations about genetically modified organism (GMO) products, so the research was conducted exclusively with non-genetically modified (GMO) yeasts. This will potentially broaden the appeal of the results within the drinks industry as a whole, according to Bond.

Aromagenesis research is published as a publicly available resource which could also end up benefiting many others in the drinks industry. 

‘Part of our research is open-source and our data will be published soon,’ said Bond. If a beer or wine producer wishes to avail itself of the new strains, it can make licensing agreements, she said.

Wine fraud

Alcohol ranks among Europe’s most counterfeited products. Unfortunately, the consumer appeal of such household names as Spanish Rioja, Portuguese Porto and Italian Prosecco, attracts the attention of criminal gangs seeking illicit profits. Wine fraud, where a cheaper product is passed off as a fine wine, is estimated at €1.3 billion annually, or around 3% of total sales.

At the moment, a wine label provides consumers with information about the origins and flavours of the product. However, it can’t enlighten them about the number of intermediaries between the vineyard and the shop or restaurant where it’s purchased.

The TRACEWINDU project, which began last year, has set out to change this.

The Horizon-backed project is focusing on a decentralised blockchain technology that, with a printed QR code, could register information about a wine bottle’s whole life cycle in a manner that is transparent.

Blockchain technology is familiar to users of so-called digital currencies such as bitcoin, because it promises security and traceability.

‘Wine producers are concerned about illicit trade, so we need to identify in an unambiguous way the origin of the wine,’ said Gustavo Pérez González, senior project manager at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain.

Tracewindu are also investigating the possibility of including information derived from analytical chemistry techniques in the QR code. These can be used to specify the unique features of a bottle of wine, such as the geographical location, providing a further guarantee of the contents.

Winemakers participating in the project also suggested tracking the temperature during transportation. This would help ensure that the wine hasn’t been degraded when it reaches its destination, creating improved consumer satisfaction.

Environmental goals

In line with the European Green Deal plans to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers, the project also has environmental goals.

‘We are now looking at ways to reinforce the immune system of grapevines and therefore reduce the need for additional chemicals,’ said Pérez González.

This resilience will be reflected in the label too. If it can be shown that the organic characteristics of the wine are not altered, this feature could add value by showing which winegrowers comply with European sustainability goals.

Pérez González also foresees a possible bottle-return system. This would require winemakers to commit to the QR coded and laser-printed bottles on a long-term basis – but it would align with the circular- economy objective of reusing food packaging rather than producing more of it. This would lead to job-creation in the traceability, distribution and logistics sectors.

Research in this article was funded via the EU and it was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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Discover Unexpected Adventures at These Unique Beach Locales

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DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Racine Harbourwalk

Those hoping to hear waves crashing and feel sand beneath their toes are naturally drawn to coastal hotspots such as Miami and Waikiki. While these destinations no doubt offer a chance to unwind and relax in a sun-soaked setting, they aren’t the only beachfront vacation spots worthy of exploration. 

From marveling at towering redwoods to floating in delightfully clean freshwater, spotting harbor seals or fishing from a downtown pier, these beach locales offer unexpected opportunities for waterfront adventure.

Embrace Clean, Accessible Waters

When planning a beachy getaway, don’t overlook the salt-free waters of the Great Lakes. Nestled along the Lake Michigan shore, Racine offers a bounty of sandy beaches in a setting brimming with Midwestern hospitality and charm. Be sure to check out Wind Point Lighthouse, one of the oldest and tallest active lighthouses on the Great Lakes, and sunbathe on North Beach, Wisconsin’s first Certified Blue Wave clean beach. Not only is this freshwater playground free from pollutants, but it also offers a Mobi Mat, a non-slip mat that allows persons with disabilities to enjoy the beach.

When it comes time to settle in for the night, stroll on over to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Racine Harbourwalk. The hotel’s harbor front location offers the chance to take in lake views from your room, or while sipping a cocktail in the hot tub!

ATV Over Sand Dunes

California has more than its fair share of well-known beach towns, and while you may find crowds flocking to southern hotspots like Santa Monica and Laguna Beach, consider heading north instead to the wetlands of Arcata Bay. Located just a half-hour away from Redwoods National Park, home to the tallest trees on earth, Arcata offers epic birdwatching opportunities, making it an ideal spot for nature lovers to explore. But thrill seekers will also find plenty to love at the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area, a sandy off-highway vehicle play area where you can go for a thrill ride in an ATV or other off-road vehicle for a wild, wind-swept adventure!

Cruise down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, check out even more redwoods at the Arcata Community Forest, take in live music in downtown Arcata, then settle into your room at the ideally located Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Arcata.

Stroll a Tree-Lined Bayfront Trail

The original commercial pier in the alluring town of Fairhope now serves as the city’s town square. Designed for both strolling and fishing, the pier offers sweeping views of Mobile Bay. From here it’s an easy walk to North Beach Park and the Beach Park Tree Trail, which contains nearly 500 species of trees. The town’s easygoing vibe makes it a picture-perfect setting for a waterfront getaway.

Downtown Fairhope boasts a delightful array of boutique shopping, restaurants, and street markets. Stay within walking distance of them all at the Hampton Inn by Hilton Fairhope-Mobile Bay, which is situated across the street from the exhibits at Fairhope Museum of History.

Soak up Harbor Views from a Hammock

A vacation to the “Great White North” might evoke images of snowy tundra and thick parkas, but the coastal Canadian town of Halifax offers a mix of sandy beaches for sunbathing and boating excursions that provide opportunities to spot whales in the wild. The city’s Harbourwalk is one of the world’s longest continuous boardwalks, dotted with brightly colored orange hammocks that make for ideal seating for taking in the sweeping water views and gentle breezes. As you explore the area, keep an eye out for harbor seals and jellyfish at high tide, and clusters of white barnacles and black mussels at low tide. 

In downtown Halifax you’ll find street art, museums, gardens, parks, playgrounds, shopping, entertainment, and waterfront restaurants teeming with the day’s fresh catch. Located in the heart of it all is The Hollis Halifax – a DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel, which also offers an indoor pool should you crave a swim in temperature-controlled waters.

Experience Coastal California as it Once Was

Nestled between popular Santa Barbara and Malibu you’ll find the town of Oxnard, which serves as the gateway to the Channel Islands. Accessible only by boat, and protected by national park status, the Channel Islands offer a truly natural look at coastal California. The largest of the islands, Santa Cruz Island, features steep cliffs, large sea caves, coves, sandy beaches, and the chance to view local wildlife.

After catching a boat back to the Oxnard visitor’s center, check into the soon-to-be reimagined Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, Curio Collection by Hilton. Guests of this Spanish Hacienda-style oceanfront resort can pack light and enjoy a wide range of amenities, from longboards and hoverboards to craft coffee and cocktails, while savoring a luxe environment in which to unwind after days filled with exploration. 

Regardless of where your travels take you, keep in mind that Hilton Honors members can earn up to 5,000 Points and save on qualifying car rentals from Alamo, Enterprise and National. And if you rent a car for five or more days between Aug. 15, 2022 and Oct. 5, 2022, you’ll receive 1,000 Bonus Points on top of the Points you already earn. 

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A dream getaway at Rokeby Manor, Mussoorie

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Dreams are beautiful and it’s even more beautiful when reality is better than a dream. Mussoorie is a beautiful Himalayan destination in North India. Often called the Queen of Hills, it attracts travellers from afar. Rokeby Manor is a quaint place in Mussoorie and hands down my favourite place to stay. 

Rokeby Manor is a mandatory annual trip that I make every year, ever since I got introduced to the property. Here are some things that I absolutely love about the place. 

It’s located in Landour Cantt – Landour Cantt is even above Mussoorie in terms of height above sea level. We get the best sunset views from the spots around Landour. More than anything else, it’s cut off from the noise and bustle of Mall Road offering a truly serene getaway for those looking for some peace and genuine connection. I’m not a big lover of noise or crowds so Rokeby Manor is definitely my favourite choice of place to stay. 

Landour Bakehouse is at a walking distance – Rokeby Manor infact owns and runs the mysterious Landour bakehouse with its wonderful desserts and baked goodies. Be it their cinnamon rolls or cheese croissants or the beautiful Himalayan views, Landour Bakehouse attracts people from Dehradun all the way only for their breakfast. Can you believe it? People drive up almost two hours just to grab breakfast here and go back home! Honestly, I traveled all the way from Mumbai for their cinnamon rolls. 

The rooms are rustic and homely – Mussoorie has grown over the years and it’s charm has attracted many commercial hotels. However, none of them present an authentic rustic Himalayan feel. There is nothing like Rokeby Manor with its rustic rooms, homely feel, direct views of the Himalayas and the most beautiful sunset in all of Mussoorie. 

There are meaningful quotes painted on their walls – In life, we search for meaning. No better place to find meaning than Rokeby Manor’s walls with the hard hitting quotes about life that make you realise how important it is to connect with yourself. I truly felt connected with myself when I was there. It was almost like I was surrounded by signs telling me to live in the moment and connect with people I was close to deeply. 

Beautiful views of the winterline – Mussoorie is one of the only places in the world from where one can see the Winterline, a false horizon that’s created during sunset time. I’ve seen stunning Winterline views from Rokeby Manor while sitting in their tea garden. I watched magic in the mountains right in front of me. The mountains were mysterious and I felt like something beautiful was unfolding before me. 

Every room has something special – On holidays, I want to feel special. Rokeby Manor has something special for everyone in the rooms. No two rooms are designed the same way. One room had beautiful views of night sky, the other is facing the tea garden and the rhododendrons, there’s one with a focus on other flowers. Each room is designed uniquely. What’s even better is that they have rooms for families and solo travellers too, basically no matter who you are, you’ll find a place here. 

The food is some of the best I have ever had – Emily’s is a famous restaurant at Rokeby Manor Mussoorie. Their food is some of the best I’ve ever had. With overlooking views of the Himalayas and Dehradun city, the food at Emily’s tastes even better. Much like Landour Bakehouse, people come to Emily’s from distances afar! 

The stunning Char Dukan walk goes around here – There’s a road diverging in the woods from Char Dukan that leads around Victor Banerjee’s house, crosses a church and some rustic homes. This route is often traversed by locals who want to explore the woods and find peace. The sunrise view from here is stunning because during sunrise the clear sky leads a view to the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas (ones generally hidden because of clouds in the sky during normal hours of the day). When you’re at Rokeby, you’ll have the privilege to explore this path. 

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