Thursday, July 24, 2014

louisiana ecotourism destinations and activities

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Vacations and traveling often end up involving extra natural resources and waste, from using extra fuel or using more disposable items…but it doesn't always have to! By following ecotourism principles, getaways can have a smaller impact on the environment.

Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." Ecotourism tends to give you a closer connection and appreciation to nature.

There are many popular ecotourism destinations around the world, but today I'll focus on what's closer to home - destinations in Louisiana!

Farmland in South Louisiana

Louisiana has about 20 national wildlife refuges and almost 20 state parks, giving visitors many opportunities to get closer to nature while staying close to home. These areas provide visitors with miles of hiking and biking trails and have lands for bird watching and exploring. Many areas have long canoe trails - and canoeing is a great eco-friendly form of transportation! Your arms are the only fuel you need!

Canoeing at Vermilionville

For nature lovers, the unique fauna and flora provide opportunity to enjoy Louisiana's unique (usually hot and sticky) environment. Go out for a swamp tour (take a tour of Cajun Country or Pearl River), go deep-sea charter fishing, fish along the inland waterways, or go bird watching.

Charter fishing trip in Cocodrie, LA

Another aspect of ecotourism is agri-tourism, where you can visit and take a tour of local food businesses or working farms. Louisiana is known for many crops, such as rice, sugarcane, cotton, soybeans and corn. And don't forget all the delicious seafood! Hot sauce may not be considered an actual crop, but it's certainly one of our finest local products!

The beauty of ecotourism is that it gives you a closer look at nature in the area, and you learn a bit of history in how our ancestors truly had to live off the land. Sometimes a trip out of civilization and into nature is just what you need to reset yourself.

As with any trip, ecotourism or not, it's important to remember the basic rules of environmentalism. You should make the smallest impact possible on nature. Bring reusable items, recycle what you can, DON'T LITTER (we all remember those photos of turtles getting stuck in six-pack rings, right?), and don't use more than what you need. If you're camping, make sure you leave your campground exactly as you found it.

It's also important to follow the laws wherever you are. For example, if you're fishing, you need the proper fishing license for where you are, and you must adhere to the fishing limits. Many areas in Louisiana are protected natural habitats, but even if they aren't, wouldn't you want to make sure the areas stay clean and natural for future visitors? Littering and trashing nature hurts everyone.

More Louisiana ecotourism resources:

What's your favorite ecotourism spot close to your hometown?

Monday, July 21, 2014

green travel: oahu, hawaii

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Hawaii is known for its beaches, surf, scenic views and vacation spots, but it's also known for being very green. Because so many tourists visit every day of the year, there's a stronger sense of pride for keeping the island clean and beautiful.

I recently got to visit Oahu on vacation and appreciated the work the island does to stay green. There was a recycling bin next to every trashcan out in public.

There are charging stations for electric vehicles. 

EV charging station in Honolulu.

There are bike lanes everywhere, allowing you to ride to almost any part of the island. 

Bike rack in Kailua.

There's even a wind farm out on the North Shore (which seems to come with controversy, of course). 

North Shore wind farm

There are solar panels on at least half the homes that I saw, and I loved how common they are on homes across the island. Because imported energy costs so much, solar energy is a feasible solution for many homes. In 2011, the available tax credits for solar panels in Hawaii (35% state, 30% federal) were second only to tax credits in Louisiana (50%). It at least seems that more homes in Hawaii took advantage of the tax credits.

Solar panels on homes in Lanikai

Not to mention, all the fun activities are outdoors! We hiked mountain trails and waterfall trails, we swam, we snorkeled and we kayaked. While difficult in ocean waters (especially with my tired chicken arms) , kayaking was a great way to travel without using any kind of fuel. 

Hiking was probably one of my favorite things we did on the trip. Each hike was so different from the others, and each one offered its own amazing views. What I love is that hikes allow you to be part of a mostly uninterrupted nature. Of course people hike these trails every day, and some do have man-made structures, but for the most part, it's venturing into these amazing places that nature has created. Manoa Falls will probably always be one of the most gorgeous, surreal and green places I have ever visited. When the wind blew, the tall bamboo stalks would clap against each other and make this incredible sound.

Crouching Lion

Moku Nui off Lanikai

Bamboo forest along the Manoa Falls trail

Manoa Falls trail

Manoa Falls

Natural freshwater pool at Waimea Falls.

Even with the easy access to recycling bins everywhere, I still came across litter strewn about, and it seemed to aggravate me even more than usual. I'm sure most people only have a chance to visit Hawaii once, and to find trash in the most scenic places can put a damper on that exotic getaway feeling. There's no real way to know who's to blame...except for the lazy people. :)

This toy shovel handle literally washed up on the shore next to me at Hanauma Bay, and I picked it up and brought it to the nearest recycling bin. I am sure the fish and sea turtles that live in the bay are happy that this piece of plastic is no longer littering their home.

This was one of the pieces of litter I came across on the Makapu'u Point trail one morning. Not sure that food wrappers are a native island plant.

Most of the island was beautifully clean though. We made sure to bring and use our Klean Kanteens on the plane and on our hikes and beach excursions. One thing I can say about Hawaii is that you need to drink a lot of water! We spent almost all of our available daylight hours outside doing physical activities, and we had to stay hydrated to be able to keep up. There is NOTHING like taking a cold sip of water hours after you've poured it!

The Pearl Harbor memorial had this clearly marked sign at the entrance, and the recycling bins were plentiful.

One thing I learned is that the buildings at the Pearl Harbor museum are LEED-certified. They are naturally ventilated by incorporating trade winds, large roofs for shade and strategically placed landscaping and shade. They also use automatic lighting to save energy, conserve water and use natural sunlight.

Many residents like to pick up cans for recycling because of the redemption program. This guy was set on getting his five cents a can back from the local recycling company!

Hawaii was a surreal, incredible experience, p lus it was wonderful to see sustainability in action! Most of the island takes pride in its beautiful landscape, and while conservation practices and alternative energy sources may be part necessity, it's also a great benchmark for other regions!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

traveling and touristing sustainably

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Whether you're spending a week at the beach, visiting a new city, or simply visiting far-away family, there are plenty of ways to make your trip greener.

I'll start by using one of my favorite green words to describe packing: EFFICIENCY. 
  • Instead of packing everything you own into a set of suitcases, pare it down and bring only what you'll need. Pack pieces that match more than one other piece so you can wear it more than once. Wrap jewelry in socks or scarves and pack those inside shoes, using that available space to cut down elsewhere. 
  • Bringing a smaller or lighter suitcase is not only easier on you, it's less of a weight load on your vehicle as well. Of course, that won't make a lick of difference on an airplane, but it at least might save you an overweight bag charge!
  • Pack a reusable water bottle to encourage yourself to drink more water and use less water bottles. Metal water bottles ARE allowed through the TSA checkpoint if they are empty. It's even better to leave the top off during screening to help go smoothly.
  • If you plan on shopping on your trip (and seriously, what female doesn't!?), stuff a reusable bag into your suitcase or purse to use as your shopping bag. It'll come in handy more than you realize. 
  • If you fly with only a carry-on suitcase (which I usually do!), you get to follow the TSA 3-1-1 rules for liquids. Instead of purchasing travel size toiletries, get a set of empty travel size bottles and refill them for each trip with your existing toiletries. 
  • For those of you going on beach trips, aka, everyone in South Louisiana who migrates over to the Gulf Coast at some point, you know how much stuff goes along with your suitcase. Skip the styrofoam coolers for your beer and food, and bring a regular one. Bring large containers of snacks and make your own snack bags instead of bringing the individually bagged versions. Use food storage containers instead of disposable zip-top bags. 
  • Once you're packed and before you leave, take a walk around your house to make sure unnecessary electronics are unplugged to avoid drawing power. Adjust your thermostat so it runs less, because there's no point to cool an empty home. Just set it to be cooled down when you're scheduled to arrive home. It's also extra important to unplug electronics that draw vampire power as a safety precaution as well.

  • Fuel efficiency is super important on vacation, since there are already enough other expenses. If you're going on a road trip in your own car, make sure your tires are inflated and everything is in proper working order. A smoothly running car is more efficient than one that needs work. It's also safer to travel farther in a car that doesn't need service.
  • If you have multiple cars traveling together, see how you can cut down on the number by carpooling. If there's extra space, maximize it! Plus, when you carpool, chances are, you'll get some gas money recouped.
  • On to flying. Of course, airplanes burn a metric crap-ton (scientific fact) of fuel. I'm not sure what kind of impact any carbon-neutral initiatives are having, but I don't imagine it would be very much. By packing more efficiently and having a lighter suitcase, however, you can reduce your personal load impact. While you're in the airport, you can also be less wasteful. Ask for drinks in your reusable bottle, and refuse a plastic bag at the newsstand. Chances are, you have some kind of bag with you already! I believe at least United has recycling collection onboard the plane, where they accept drink cans and newspapers in a separate bag for recycling instead of trash. Put your items in the recycling collection!
  • Nonstop flights are greener than multiple-layover flights because the majority of fuel is burned during landing and takeoff, but of course, sometimes that's just out of your control. Where you have the option, consider it.

A few eco-friendly gadgets can make your trip a whole lot easier! I've already hammered in the reusable shopping bag and water bottle, but to go further than that:
  • Look into getting a power bank for your cell phone or other battery-powered gadgets. It should charge through your computer's USB port, which doesn't add much electricity generation, if any. The power bank will come in tremendously handy while you're out exploring and your phone is draining quickly. Plug it into your phone, turn the bank on and throw everything back into your bag! A good power bank should be able to fully charge a smartphone without dying itself.
  • GoToobs are food-safe, BPA-free silicone squeezy toiletry bottles. Among the reusable travel size containers, these are more eco-friendly than simple cheap plastic.
  • If you're really set on reducing your waste, pack a set of reusable silverware (or rather, bambooware!) Bamboo is very sustainable and fast-growing, and these utensil sets are heat and stain resistant and won't absorb food flavors. They even come in a handy recycled bag!
  • I would suggest solar-powered chargers for electronics, but the few experiences I've had with solar powered chargers have not been very electric (waka waka!). Read your reviews before investing in solar-powered chargers. 
  • Need portable speakers? Use a cup! Lifehacker has a "DIY" speaker for an iPad (aka cut a hole in a cup), but for phones or iPods, you can simply use the cup both as a holder and a speaker.

Wherever you travel, don't forget your green habits at home! Take the effort to reduce, reuse and recycle.
  • Instead of requesting a fresh towel every day in your hotel, save your towel an extra day. Hotels that practice conservation (or at least put a little card in the room to make it look like they practice conservation, but that should probably be reserved for another post) will let you know where to place towels you want to keep and towels you want to exchange. The EPA acknowledges Green Seal and Green Leaf as reputable organizations that measure and rate the environmental initiatives in hotels.
  • Don't waste water or electricity. Yes, I know hotel air conditioning is like free air conditioning, but it's still pulling extra power from somewhere! You may not have to conserve as much as you would at home, but you should still conserve.
  • Recycle plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans, paper and plastic wherever there are recycling bins, especially as you're out exploring.
  • Respect the natural environment around you. Don't trample landscaping or leave litter everywhere. Don't feed the animals.
  • Look for eco-friendly transportation methods. Rent a hybrid vehicle (or a fuel-efficient compact if price is an important factor), take public transportation (and some large cities have eco-friendly public transportation!), rent bicycles or simply walk around if you can. 
  • If you packed a reusable water bottle and shopping bag, use them!
  • Learn about the green initiatives in your home-away-from-home. What do they do differently from your hometown? It can be interesting and inspiring to see how others practice environmentalism. 
  • Eat local foods! Not only do you get to experience the real culture of your destination, you can be greener knowing the food doesn't travel as far to get to you. One of my favorite vacation rules of thumb is "If I have the same restaurant in my hometown, I won't eat it on vacation."
Other sources for tips:

When you're on vacation, it doesn't mean you have an excuse to trash someone else's hometown. As Sweet Greens puts it, leave no trace! Leave a beautiful place for others to have as good a vacation as you!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

a happy fourth of july

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However you are spending this holiday, I hope that it's enjoyable, the food is delicious, the company is fun and the beer cans are recycled!

And please don't shoot anyone's eye out with fireworks! Safety first, y'all.

Those of you along the East Coast, crack open a beer and enjoy the hurricane party.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

summertime and the livin is...sweaty

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I'm not sure how we're already beginning the second half of 2014, and I'm not sure I like it yet, but I'll embrace it nonetheless! The summertime nights are filled with backyard frisbee, the humidity is out of control, vacation is coming up this month, and two of my favorite guys - my dad and brother - are celebrating birthdays!

This month on Eco Cajun, I'll be featuring green travel! Vacation season is in full swing, judging by my Facebook news feed, so it's a good time to share tips to make traveling greener. Whether you take the eco-friendly approach to packing or you visit an eco-friendly destination, you can still take care of the earth while you explore it!

What are you most excited for this July?

Friday, June 27, 2014

lawn watering ordinances

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While all of us in south Louisiana don't need to worry about watering lawns this week (to say the least!), it's important to heed lawn watering ordinances, if your town has one. Lafayette has had a lawn watering ordinance in effect for many years. Areas that have hotter summers or that are susceptible to drought are common for having watering ordinances and restrictions.

The restrictions help ensure that cities have enough water to fight fires, keep water pressure stable and keep watersheds from drying out. Plus, they make sure everyone is able to water their yards, not just ones with automatic sprinklers. 

Share the water! It's not just for you and your yard.

  • Customers with odd-numbered home/property addresses (ending with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9) water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
  • Customers with even-numbered home/property addresses (ending with 0, 2, 4, 6, 8) water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
  • No watering on Mondays.
  • The designated times for lawn watering are from midnight to 2 p.m. (for 14 hours of possible watering time each designated day).
  • Fines are accumulative and stay on record for three years. 
  • Manual watering, soaker hoses and watering newly planted sod, landscaping and ground cover are exempted by the ordinance. To be exempted for new plantings, you must qualify with LUS.

For extra details, download the LUS water ordinance brochure.

Other example cities or entities with lawn watering ordinances:

Even if you don't have lawn watering restrictions or ordinances, there are ways you can water efficiently:

  • Water by hand with a sprinkler.
  • Use a soaker hose.
  • Use a rain barrel and water your lawn with natural rain water.
  • Don't water your lawn from late morning to early evening, when the sun is at its hottest. 
  • Don't use a sprinkler in the rain.
  • Water every other day.
  • Don't overwater.
Whether you follow your city's ordinance for watering or you adjust your habits to be more efficient, just remember that we all want our yards to look nice, and we all must share our water supplies.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

rain barrel gardening

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Earlier this year, I wrote about rain barrels as a natural alternative to yard maintenance. After doing my research for the post, and after starting to invest some serious time and labor in our yard, I decided that we had to get our own rain barrel.

Luckily, I knew the magic words to use when proposing the idea to my boyfriend: "It will save money on the water bill!"


There are other benefits too, like the fact that rainwater is better for plants, because it's naturally soft water and isn't treated with chlorine or other chemicals. (Of course, rainwater isn't completely pure, thanks to water and ground pollution, but it is better than using treated city water.) Rain barrels also reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and surface water pollutants that enter watersheds, like the Bayou Vermilion watershed around Lafayette.

One $37.50 online order later, we waited until pickup day. And then we showed up not realizing how many other residents had also ordered barrels, so we waited in line for 45 minutes. After inching forward enough, we picked up our new gray barrel and went on our way.


The barrel is a pretty manageable size, and it's got a screen lid, spigot/faucet hookup, and overflow and drain valves. Easy!

I'll admit, we didn't set it up properly for the first few weeks, instead waiting until approximately 15 minutes before it started to rain...for two days straight. Pro tip: Don't do that. Set it up in nice weather. Also, when it's still empty. Because, another pro tip: Full rain barrels are h-e-a-v-y.

We picked up four cinderblocks and four concrete bricks and picked the ideal spot in the backyard near the hose and where the rain falls steadily.

The cinderblocks and bricks raise the barrel to the perfect height to where the watering can fits underneath. It's very easy to flip the spigot and fill the watering can. And it feels so good because you know you're saving money!

It does make watering the plants in the evening a bit more pleasant. I feel like I'm staying true to nature, and just collecting the rain for days that don't have any. So far, the barrel has stayed sufficiently full, and we've used it often to water the potted plants and mulch areas. I personally have not used it with a hose yet, since I tend to stick with the watering can, but I need to try connecting the hose to see how well it performs. The barrel and spigot aren't meant for connecting to a sprinkler, so if you rely on automatic sprinklers, well, you just miss out on the eco gardening fun. 

It's important to water your plants in the early morning or evening, when the sun is not as direct. With the summer heat, water in the heat of the afternoon evaporates faster, so your yard really isn't getting a good soaking. It can actually dry out plants a little more.

We had some good rains yesterday, and I was excited to come home and see the rain barrel being filled up (and the screen doing its job keeping leaves and sticks out).

Just saving the water for a sunny day.