Cycling Silk launched last Friday, a year-long, two-woman field research expedition that aims to explore and promote wilderness conservation and connectivity across borders. Kate Harris and Melissa Yule, both young wilderness conservationists, are riding nearly 13,000 kilometers through the shattered mountains and vast deserts that span the Silk Road between Istanbul and northern India.
Along the way, they are applying their academic training in biology, earth sciences, conservation, and sustainable development to investigate the natural and social impacts of existing and proposed transboundary protected areas. The 2011 expedition’s goals are to research and raise awareness about the importance of transboundary conservation in mountains along the Silk Road, and in wildernesses beyond.
“The greatest threats our planet faces today transcend political borders, whether climate change, poverty, peace and security, water issues, or habitat and biodiversity loss,” says Harris. “These are all tightly interlinked challenges, and to tackle them we need to think beyond borders.” Cycling Silk will study these issues in the mountains and deserts of the Silk Road. Through 2011, the expedition will explore transboundary conservation initiatives straddling the Caucasus, Tian Shan, Pamir, Himalayan, and Karakoram mountains. Starting in Istanbul, Turkey, the geographic edge of Europe and the origin of the historic Silk Road, they will bike through Georgia and Azerbaijan, cross the Caspian Sea by ferry, then continue from Kazakhstan through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, and Nepal to the expedition’s final destination in northern India.
Throughout their trip, Harris and Yule will conduct research to develop case studies on cross-border conservation at six existing or proposed transboundary protected areas or “peace parks” along the mountainous route. They have planned periodic stops along their route to explore and document each transboundary protected area case study; interview scientists, conservationists, government officials, and local communities; and continually update followers via their website, www.cyclingsilk.com. The expedition is sponsored by Seven Cycles, Polartec, The WILD Foundation, OneWorld Sustainable Investments, and Wings WorldQuest, among others, and endorsed by the IUCN-WCPA.
Cycling Silk is comprised of two conservationist-explorers, Kate Harris and Melissa Yule, friends since childhood. Kate is a writer, scientist, adventurer and photographer. She won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where she completed her Master’s thesis on transboundary conservation and peace parks. She also holds a Master’s degree from MIT in earth and planetary sciences. Melissa is a social scientist, environmentalist and endurance athlete. In her work and research, Mel combines community development with environmental science to study ecological impacts on human health. She holds a Master’s degree in International Development from the University of Guelph, and worked as a researcher at the International Development Research Centre in Canada. Harris and Yule have previously biked coast-to-coast across the continental USA in 2005, and they spent four months cycling through Xinjiang and Tibet in western China in 2006.
Harris and Yule will share their explorations through a multimedia website and classroom outreach, and they plan to make a documentary film upon their return. “We believe that people must first care for a place before they feel compelled to protect it, so our goal with Cycling Silk is to leverage adventure into environmental advocacy,” says Yule. “We hope to instill a deeper understanding and inspire a greater appreciation for wild spaces and species that transcend borders, both on the Silk Road and beyond.”