BATW meeting, Hakone Gardens - copyright John Montgomery

BATW meeting, Hakone Gardens – copyright John Montgomery

“Tourism and Climate Change at Hakone Gardens”

By Bob Bone

BATW members and guests welcomed the first day of spring this year by meeting at the century-old Hakone Estate and Gardens in Saratoga on March 19. More than 40 attendees gathered in the Cultural Exchange Center, an authentic reproduction of a 19th century Kyoto tea merchant’s house and shop. Speakers for the Tourism & Climate Change panel were Jennine Cohen, Managing Director for the Americas for GeoEx (Geographic Expeditions) in San Francisco, and Doug and Gail Cheeseman, founders (in 1980) of Cheeseman’s Ecology Safaris, headquartered in Saratoga.

Cohen said, “Travel companies, including ours, are being forced to respond to climate change. Glaciers are receding in Patagonia. Near Sao Paulo, drought is killing the rainforest, as the fast-disappearing vegetation no longer traps moisture. We know what’s happening in polar regions, and the Himalayas are flooding. Rising temperatures are even encouraging the proliferation of mosquitoes that spread Zika and other diseases.

She said, “Our goal at GeoEx is to have a net positive impact on our destinations, which are on every continent, and to protect people, places and wildlife. We educate our guests and our partners on the concept of ‘leave no trace,’ hoping to inspire them to want to protect the environment.”

Her views were echoed by the Cheesemans, who have spent the last 35 years leading tours, including scientific expeditions, in Africa, the Americas, and the Arctic and the Antarctic. Giving examples of the power of “citizen science,” Doug Cheeseman said, “We try to get people involved in saving wildlife habitats.”

“The new president of Tanzania has a degree in chemistry!” he said enthusiastically. He also reported on successes in remote places such as South Georgia Island where reindeer are now being sent back to Scandinavia, leaving the island safe for petrels and other indigenous, endangered species. Doug described extensive desertification in Africa, including a story of how he encountered Masai herders allowing their cattle to destroy grasslands and water holes which were previously off-limits, and he said, “Third world countries know what’s happening to their environment and they need help.”

Gail Cheeseman claimed wildlife conservation and carbon neutrality for their company as their main goals. They are currently involved in research into the effect of melting glaciers on whales. She said, “The PH of the oceans is changing due to temperature rise, the krill are crashing in population and whales are lacking their usual food supplies.”

BATW tour, Hakone Gardens - copyright John Montgomery

BATW tour, Hakone Gardens – copyright John Montgomery

After the panel discussions, the group went on a docent-led tour of the spectacular gardens, the oldest traditional Japanese estate gardens in the Western Hemisphere, which have been designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Bursting with cherry blossoms, wisteria and azaleas, with rushing streams and water falls, a koi pond and a Zen garden, Hakone is dotted with antique stone lanterns and statuary, and anchored by the moon-viewing house, which was constructed in 1917 entirely without nails.

General Manager of Hakone Gardens, Shozo Kagoshima, hosted a delicious lunch on the deck, and BATW photographers headed out for a springtime shoot!

Note: Thanks go to Jeanne Sullivan, one of our Corporate members, and to Karen Misuraca, the event coordinator.