A whirlwind tour across one of the world’s greatest natural incubators
By Dr. Tom Mullikin
PLEASE FORGIVE THE INTERRUPTION WITH THIS IN-FLIGHT HOME UPDATE, but as I push deeper into the jungles and seas around the world I become more convinced of the interconnectedness of nature: One that calls for human awareness of our actions and consequences of our impacts on earth. The Bible speaks of dominion of nature but dominion in a Christ-like stewardship of Earth that God created.
I search for that balance where environmental sustainability and economic sustainability can co-exist as concurrent objectives. It is sometimes a lonely road.
I am just returning from an expedition in Ecuador to further understand our environment through the eyes of a man who has been considered the father of the environmental movement, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). A visionary German naturalist and polymath, Humboldt insisted that the actions of humankind across the globe could affect future generations. He offered that the earth was one great living organism where everything was connected. More about Humboldt momentarily.
In my most recent expedition, I traveled first to the Galápagos Islands, one of the most unique ecosystems on earth. There on the storied archipelago made famous by Charles Darwin, a visitor is able to see and enjoy many endemic species. Unfortunately, one may also find evidence of the global problem with plastics. Many of the remote bays have plastics and other trash that have made their way through the three the ocean currents that influence Galapagos marine life: The three currents are the Humboldt Current, the Panama Flow, and the Cromwell Current. Plastics are a petroleum product that break down into micro and nano plastics and they are consumed by marine life that ultimately make their way into the human food chain. This problem impacts “advanced societies” on various land and sea animals as well as humans. This interconnectedness is where ecology meets epidemiology.
Humboldt believed that knowledge of this complex system should be shared, exchanged and made available to everybody. I enjoyed giving a lecture to local school children in the Galapagos about the need to keep their islands clean and free of plastics and other trash. While on San Cristobal, Galápagos, I also met with scientists and executives from the Intergovernmental Bank in South America about participating in a sustainability study to support a reduced environmental impact on the Galapagos.
After some fascinating SCUBA dives with various sea life including hammerhead sharks and various other sharks, I departed for the Amazonian jungle and the Tiputini Research Station of Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). A greater diversity of reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds, and bats have been found at Tiputini than anywhere else in South America, and perhaps the world. To get to USFQ’s Tiputini Research Station we took a seven-hour canoe trip down the Amazon River to witness firsthand the incredible life and passionate contributions of the scientists who are working in the jungle to better understand the impacts of a rapidly changing climate on its rich ecosystems. Along the way we were joined by pink dolphins, monkeys on the shore, and various other jungle plants and animals. At the research station, we met with scientists who were bat experts and learned about the infamous vampire bats.
On our return trip back up the Amazon River we were stopped by a Waorani warrior who demanded payment to continue on our way. We were able to trade for his spears which have been used for warfare and for hunting peccary. We learned that his aunt had recently died and the family blamed the fever from the bad spirits traveling past their home. Upon our return to Cocoa along the banks of the river, I enjoyed my first meal of maggots. I am not sure that I would recommend them, but it was a culinary experience I will definitely check off my list.
Upon returning to Quito, I made a quick trip out to the volcanic region around Mt. Chimborazo, the highest place on earth. My plan was to climb Mt. Carihuairazo (also Carihuayrazo), an eroded stratovolcano in order to witness the rapid glacier retreat of the mountain. The glacial retreat and its consequences climbing Carihuairazo has shifted from a PD glacier route (peu difficile or slightly difficult climb) with some rock scrambling to an AD route (assez difficile or fairly difficult) with a technical climb to the summit tower. The elevation is 16,463 feet from sea level, but with the Ecuadorian bulge, the mountain extends approximately 25,000 feet into the atmosphere. The impacts of a rapidly changing climate are palpable on this mountain. My guide said as a young boy they would ski down the mountain. The glacier today was fully receded until we reached near the summit.
Some may consider my efforts and love of the environment to be quixotic. But by traveling to different locations we can learn about similar challenges and best practices and bring them back to South Carolina in an effort to maintain a position as a global leader.
We are now coming home to prepare for the South Carolina 7 (SC7) expedition. For the fourth year we will traverse more than 300 miles across the Palmetto State – hiking, climbing, rafting, kayaking and diving across one of the most beautiful places on earth –
from the mountains to the sea. Come join us as we will climb the highest summit in South Carolina, hike across beautiful landscapes, build an artificial reef off of our coast and learn how we can protect our state while enhancing our economy.
For more information about SC7 2023, please visit southcarolina7.com.
– Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Thomas Stowe “Tom” Mullikin, PhD, is a global expedition leader, energy-environmental attorney, author, film producer, and university professor. A former U.S. Army officer and retired commanding general of the S.C. State Guard, he currently serves as chairman of the gubernatorially established S.C. Floodwater Commission. His leadership of the acclaimed SC7 Expedition is in its fourth year.