(This is part two of a two-part series on a report regarding the dismal state of our oceans. Part 1 of the series discusses the report’s findings and the primary ocean stressors currently involved.)
Entire marine ecosystems could disappear within a generation — a phenomenon that would take a devastating toll on humans, not just marine animals, according to the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) report discussed in part one of this series.
You might be surprised to hear that shellfish and other marine animals comprise 15 per cent of animal protein for 3 billion people throughout the world, and another 1 billion people rely on fish stocks for their main source of protein. It’s important to remember that we need to preserve marine ecosystems, not only because they’re pretty to look at and something to explore when we’re taking a decadent beach vacation, but also because much of humanity’s food security is at stake here.
In fact, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) last December released a report called “Environmental Consequences of Ocean Acidification: A Threat to Food Security,” noting that burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions may have more widespread and complex effects on ocean health than previously anticipated, and that the chemistry of the globe’s oceans is being altered at a rate unseen for 65 million years.
The report confirms worries that corals, shellfish and other organisms may have an increasingly difficult time surviving due to weakening skeletons, and demonstrates that ocean acidification combined with ocean warming would lower the range of temperatures in which crabs and other animals can thrive.
This could powerfully affect, among other factors, catches of shellfish; species reliant on coral reefs and those such as salmon that feed on shell-building organisms lower down the food chain. – FIS
What’s more, climate change is predicted to cause big dents in coastal fisheries resources in the Pacific Islands region, potentially slashing production by as much as 50 per cent by 2100, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Heads of Fisheries communicated in March. It is forecasted that higher sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and loss of important habitats like coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves will dramatically affect the inshore resources that provide myriad coastal communities in New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, and other impoverished countries with food and a livelihood. And let’s not forget that people who live off fisheries in various ways populate most countries on Earth, from the United States and Malta to Argentina and Pakistan.
Some 55 million years ago, 2.2 gigatonnes of CO2 were released annually for thousands of years and numerous species died out. Today, it is estimated that 2.2. gigatonnes of CO2 are shot into the atmosphere every year by deforestation alone.
“The rate of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere and the rate of change in the oceans is extraordinary — there is a very urgent need to get that under control,” stressed Alex Rogers, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study.
And now, the most important part of this series:
What YOU can do
To address the findings, the IPSO report gives several recommendations, such as the creation of “a global body empowered to ensure compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” and steps to improve the fish stock sustainability.
Rogers suggested that anything from choosing the right kind of fish to eat to lobbying politicians helps.
I suggest that fish eaters scan Greenpeace’s canned tuna guide to make sure they are choosing sustainably caught tuna whose harvesting is not wiping out turtles, dolphins, or other species. Also, California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium has a seafood guide that’s really nifty (available as pocket or mobile, too) and the website is rich with information on related issues. Check out their recommendations!
Support green organizations like Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Greenpeace, who work to both spread awareness about vital issues and fight the “bad guys” (in this case, Sea Shepherd – very courageously – goes after poachers hands-on, while Greenpeace targets harvesters of destructively caught fish and the companies that sell them, fights companies that pollute egregiously, and so on).
Attend clean-up days at your local beach or park. Go to Hands Across the Sand each year. Consider volunteering and donating whatever resources you have to anyone working toward a worthy cause.
Whenever a petition appears that could help ocean health, sign it. Visit sites like Care2 and Change.org and sign up for their newsletters to stay informed on new developments, learn how to help, and to find likeminded friends.
Together, we will make a difference.
“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” – Mother Theresa
Many companies tout their hotels as eco, but – as one might, unfortunately, expect – many companies also lie.
So how do you know if the place you’re thinking of staying at during your next vacation is really an eco hotel?
A great resource is EcoHotelology, a blog written by Holly Worton, who has 11 years of experience in the eco hotel industry. Although her blog’s main purpose is to help hoteliers learn how they can green their business (and home and office), Worton’s posts are helpful for anyone interested in expanding her or his knowledge about eco hotels and greening one’s lifestyle.
13 tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with an eco hotel:
- The rooms have a door-key-card-controlled electricity system that allows guests to turn off the electricity to their room by removing their card when they exit it
- Having green options offered to you, such as foregoing daily housekeeping
- Recycling services
- Low flow or dual flush toilets and low flow showerheads in the bathrooms
- Vegetarian meal options (and I don’t just mean spaghetti and salad. Give me something I can use!)
- The food is grown or produced locally, perhaps grown in an organic garden located on the premises
- Mindful ecotours/safaris – this means hummers are not used to drive guests around, nor ATVs; people are not allowed to speak or photograph in the presence of wildlife, and so on. Otherwise, it’s just a regular, nature-unfriendly tour/safari, and nature has enough hostility to deal with from us as it is.
- Only pasture-raised animal products are offered in its restaurants
- Only native plants are used in the landscaping
- Organic massage oils and all-natural products are used in the spa
- Wall dispensers provide shampoo, etc., instead of individual bottles and individually wrapped soaps
- The eco hotel uses renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc.)
- Hybrid cars are used to transport guests and you can rent bicycles to get around the area
5 signs that your eco hotel isn’t:
- The hotel contains a golf course
- The hotel endorses fishing, dolphin swims, visits to zoos, the use of jet skis and other personal water crafts, bonfires, hunting, etc.
- You see foie gras on the menu
- Food or drinks are brought to you in disposable containers and/or you get aluminum foil, plastic wrap, Styrofoam coffee cups or plastic utensils with your order
- You get mineral water in plastic bottles
Make sure to speak up and let the manager, etc., know you aren’t happy with their false advertising or any unsustainable aspects of the so-called eco hotel. And if the place is truly an eco hotel, feel free to inform them how glad you are about their eco-friendly services!
And always remember to do your part to travel green. We are all responsible for taking care of our planet!
Watch out for the lies you’ll get fed during paid tours in Borneo, ecotourists.
A deeply eco-minded friend of mine has been spending a few weeks in Borneo’s various regions – Kalimantan, Malaysia, Brunei, Sabah – and come away with many appalling stories to tell.
Palm oil harvesting
Palm oil harvesting dominates Sabah, surrounded by paved roads and not a single tree lining them. In fact, deforestation is rampant in Borneo precisely because palm oil harvesters want to make room for their plantations.
It seems there is just one hectare of trees – trees that take 300 years to grow! This one hectare of 300 just trees constitutes the government’s efforts to promote ecological responsibility. A pathetic spectacle.
Sounds like enough to make an ardent environmentalist cry, yet my friend said the tourists in his group didn’t find anything amiss with the situation, and busied themselves by photographing the pitiable hectare of trees.
With 40,000 hectares, this reserve (alas, I do not know its name) is Borneo’s second-biggest. Malaysia has a total of 120,000 protected hectares – the planet’s biggest jungle after the Amazon.
I’d like to note that these reserves are two of the biggest CO2-suckers on the planet.
Also, that everything other than these “protected” spaces in Borneo is being cut down.
Gibbons and orangutans inhabit a 50-meter-wide jungle. You read that right.
And behind that it’s all palm oil plantations reaching as far as the shore of the Kinabatangan River in Sandakan. As my friend checked out the jungle from the river, he was able to see artificial light streaming through from the other side of the trees.
The gibbons and orangutans have nowhere to hide from idiotic tourists blasting them with flashes from their cameras, terrifying them, and soon these primates won’t even have this pseudo-jungle to inhabit. The last simians of Borneo, it seems, will soon die out.
Apparently, this is a “protected” area. Numerous parts go under the name “natural sanctuary.” Simply harrowing.
A secondary forest
Moreover, this is a secondary forest. This means that the original trees burned or were cut down and the trees now in their place were planted there. It’s not a pure ecosystem.
More tourist pollution
At night, tourists can board a noisy truck with a huge reflector to take photographs of wildlife. You know, after said wildlife gets woken up by this atrocious intrusion, terrified. And this occurs every single night of the year, apparently.
And did I mention this is taking place within the reserve?
Also, toward Laha Datu you can spot elephants eating grass by the paved roads.
Stay tuned for more news from Borneo.
If you think popping ecstasy has no influence on the environment, let me prove you wrong.
The Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia are the largest pristine area of rainforest in Southeast Asia. They host about 100 endangered species of animals.
Poachers and illegal logging have recently been expanding in the region. As the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime used to roam it, people stayed away. But once the fighting stopped, new criminals moved in. New roads have also made the area more accessible.
The prized ingredient is sassafras oil, which is extracted from the extremely rare Mreah Prew Phnom trees – which are several hundred years old – through a distillation process. The raw, pungent, golden oil is most profitable as the necessary, key ingredient used to manufacture the illegal recreational drug ecstasy, a.k.a. MDMA.
The sale of sassafras oil is illegal in Cambodia, so criminal networks set up secret factories and then smuggle the oil out of the country, usually to Thailand or Vietnam, so it can be turned into a chemical used to make ecstasy.
Additional problems for the ecosystem
The ecosystem must also deal with the logging of trees other than the Mreah Prew Phnom, as the distillation process requires huge quantities of fuel wood.
Tim Wood of Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and Cambodian rangers fly by helicopter to look for smoke and clearings – signs of secret factories– and later visit the sites by foot for days at a time.
The sites are built near streams because the distillation process requires water – and the toxic, carcinogenic by-products end up in the water. After the oil is extracted, the sites are abandoned.
Conservationists are worried that “empty forest syndrome” is taking over the Cardamom Mountains as poachers kill its wildlife for food during their “ecstasy oil” raids.
Set it on fire
Ironically, when sites are found, rangers destroy all equipment and set fire to it. This is considered a necessary evil to prevent the criminals from coming back to the site and reestablishing it once they return, if the site is found to be in use rather than abandoned.
What a mess.
“These factories are located close to streams and by-products from the distillation process causes significant pollution of the environment. In addition, the distillation process itself uses enormous quantities of fuel wood from other rainforest trees. Finally, the factory workers typically engage in poaching wildlife from the surrounding forests to supplement their basic diets,” according to FFI.
Watch a video about the phenomenon here.
Something to think about the next time you consider buying ecstasy, kids. Tell your friends.
The stumps and roots of 10 trees from Ghana are being displayed around Trafalgar Square in London as a ghost forest to get people thinking about deforestation in tropical forests. The height these trees would have reached in the rainforest are marked by laser beams!
That sounds pretty cool. The installation was set up on Monday morning and runs through November 22.
But it gets me thinking about the carbon footprint of having those massive, super heavy tree remains shipped over from the Suhuma forest reserve in western Ghana to the UK (about 3,165 miles!). And, uh, the trees will be shipped to Thorvaldsens Plads in Copenhagen next month for the UN Climate Change summit (another 596 miles). Yowza. The installation there will run from December 7-18.
Oxford artist Angela Palmer, who thought of and developed the installation, said she will “offset Ghost Forest’s carbon footprint by supporting an initiative to introduce efficient cook stoves – Gyapas – in Ghana.”
Whatever. I don’t think that’s good enough.
Anyway, Ghana and other countries have lost 90% of their rainforests over the last 50 years. That is ridiculous.
“The concept is to present a series of rainforest tree stumps as a ‘ghost forest’ – using the negative space created by the missing trunks as a metaphor for climate change, the absence representing the removal of the world’s ‘lungs’ through continued deforestation.” – Palmer
Most of the trees “fell naturally in adverse weather conditions,” she said. They are of the Denya, Dahuma, Danta, Hyedua, Mahogany, Wawa and three varieties of Celtis species.
Maybe next time the trees in such installations could be fake and resemble the trees logged in tropical or other forests.
I appreciate Palmer’s intention, but there is no need to hypocritically pollute the planet by shipping enormous tree stumps 3761 miles.
Greenpeace can be a pain in the ass, but more often than not, I think they rule.
Here is one example: In June, the organization released a report called “Slaughtering the Amazon,” which explains why the Brazilian cattle industry is the main cause of deforestation on the planet, with one acre lost every 8 seconds on average.
Through the release of this information, more and more people became educated as to the link between deforestation and cattle ranching, which then bred widespread activism to boycott cattle products from the region.
Activists demanded that shoe companies Adidas, Nike, Timberland, Clarks, and Geox stop buying leather from the Amazon. And it worked!
Even more amazing,
Each of the companies, JBS-Friboi, Bertin, Minerva and Marfrig, declared the adoption of environmental and social standards to ensure their products are free from cattle raised in newly deforested areas of the rainforest. The Brazilian Association of Supermarkets (ABRAS), which includes Walmart and Carrefour, attended the event and supports the call for zero deforestation.
JBS-Friboi, Bertin, Minerva and Marfrig, by the way, are four of the world’s largest beef and leather companies and monopolize the world export market and supply. They have vowed to ban the purchase of cattle from newly deforested land in the Amazon. This is huge.
Governor Blairo Maggi of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which is responsible for the leading rate of forest destruction in the Amazon and the country’s biggest cattle herd, said Mato Grosso would stand behind efforts to protect the rainforest and “provide high-resolution satellite images for monitoring.”
Well, I’m impressed.
More kick-ass news:
At the United Nations General Assembly in September, President Lula announced a target of 80% reduction in deforestation by 2020 for Brazil.
Hell yes. Go Brazil!
If only more nations would take the lead! I suppose they will when activists annoy them enough…
As we saw in part three of the Peruvian Amazon Interoceanic Highway posts, which also discusses illegal gold mining, Peru’s rainforests are being cut down and the environment and human and nonhuman animals poisoned due to unregulated gold mining.
(Note: Let’s keep in mind that lawful gold mining is destructive as well.)
In the aforementioned post, Peru’s Environment Minister Antonio Brack said that the national government is looking to ban illegal fold mining.
But with such an extensive reach, how can illegal mining be stopped (never mind legal mining)?
We’d need some United States-style, Big Brother-type technology here.
Environmental activist Enrique Ortiz says that a Peruvian mining town near Huaypetue has quadrupled in size in the past six months alone.
“It’s just a cancer that is spreading all around, and with the prices going up of gold, predictions are not so good,” he says.
At the very least, the government would need to send a ton of guards to the Peruvian border with Bolivia and Brazil to span and monitor the entire area.
*Ahem* These guards should ideally not greet bribing attempts with a thumbs up *Ahem*
Brack didn’t even offer information on how the Peruvian government plans to finance the project. I’m not surprised – it’s not as though Peru is known for its wealth, and the region in question is about as large as Belgium (small on a map, yes, but try walking it!).
Gold mining in the Peruvian border with Bolivia and Brazil produced 10% of Peru’s 180 tons of gold output worth USD 5.6 billion in exports in 2008. The country is the fifth-biggest gold producer worldwide, and gold exports constitute its second largest source of revenue.
The Bloomberg article reporters can actually be reached at their respective email addresses here if you have any questions or comments for them.
Hey, how about we do a little bit by boycotting gold? Let’s find out which corporations mining and selling unrenewable natural resources to us – not Peruvians living in extreme poverty and who are desperate for better opportunities – and declare war by boycotting and talking trash about them.
Spreading the word helps, looking for petitions to sign, letters to write, and so on. Whatever you can do!
Here are some disgusting corporations and companies exploiting poor nations’ natural resources and polluting them with cyanide and other poisons:
- Canada-based Manhattan Minerals Corporation, which has also mined gold in Mexico
- Newmont stretches its gold mining operations across five continents and touts itself as the largest gold producer in the world. Good job, guys! Keep on being greedy asshats
- The International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group
- Venezuelan mining company Buenaventura
- Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières
- Boycott Green Karat says it’s an “eco” company because its rings are made of recycled gold. Well, honey, don’t you think that still encourages gold mining? “Ecologically responsible” my ass.
- Chinalco mines copper in Peru and ships it back to China
Illegal gold mining is a multi-pronged mess, spawning social, environmental, and economic unrest. As mentioned in part two of the Peruvian Amazon Interoceanic Highway posts, Peru sees its fair share of this problem.
The easier it gets to travel to the lowlands, the easier it gets for highlanders to venture down to take on whatever work they can – even if they must destroy their own land in the process – to seek a better living.
Natl Govt looks to ban illegal mining
Environment Minister Antonio Brack said last month that the government will seek to ban unregulated mining for gold in the country’s southeastern rainforest, reports Bloomberg.
Mining operations require cutting down stretches of rainforest. Further, unregulated gold mining pollutes 5 million hectares (12 million acres) of the Amazon River basin, he said, in the Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region.
The Ministry is thus looking to reach an agreement with national and regional governments to stop the environmental destruction.
“Informal mining, which doesn’t meet minimal environmental standards, is the country’s biggest social and ecological problem,” Brack said.
“These operations, which are spreading across the Andes and the Amazon, have an enormous impact on biodiversity and native communities.”
Mercury and the environment
Mercury is used to separate gold ore from rock in the refining process.
Alluvial mining, or dredging for gold along river banks, is the norm in these lowlands. It is extensively harmful to the environment and is deadly for human and nonhuman animals alike.
About 32 tons of mercury are dumped into the rainforest’s rivers annually by miners. The pollution has a reach of 500 km. (300 mi.) – all the way into Brazil.
While the new highway being constructed between Brazil and Peru’s Pacific coast is bringing prosperity and job opportunities to impoverished locals, many are emphasizing the detrimental social, environmental, and economic effects.
Previously tranquil isolated towns like Quincemil in Peru are now seeing burgeoning activity – along with violence and other consequences.
Prostitution and violence
“The price of everything has gone up. It’s because there are lots of new men living nearby and working on the road. I am very worried. With all these unknown people that have arrived, there has been violence, men who are drunk, prostitution,” said Rocio Ramirez, the owner of a small store in the town of Quincemil.
“… I don’t like what is happening here. We’ve seen a lot of young girls who’ve gotten pregnant, and we hear that there are a lot of sexual diseases being passed around,” she says.
Given that the town is isolated and the people impoverished, there is no way that health clinics (if any exist) would provide locals with reproductive or sexual education. Hence, the prostitutes are becoming pregnant and infected with STIs. This does not deserve to be taken lightly.
Of course, many of the women who turn to that way of life do it out of desperation and a lack of better options. In this case, their situation points to these women’s inability to access condoms or other barrier methods. And the main victims here are the women and their future children, not the men who seek them out or the corporations making money off the construction and consequent destruction of the Amazon and its natives.
Biologist Pedro Sentero says that Peruvians from the highlands have moved to more fertile lowlands to cut down trees and make room for farming. Some people opt for illegal gold mining instead. He said the new highway could make these migrations and the resulting environmental destruction rocket.
Although sustainable harvesting of Brazil nuts allows for an income without sacrificing the rainforest, some growers eschew it because it doesn’t provide them with enough money.
Amazon Conservation Association President Adrian Forsyth says this rainforest hosts 1,005 species of birds, 13 types of monkeys, and 120 species of bats.
“If we destroy the biological heritage of the Andes and the Amazon basin, we are impoverishing Peruvians, Brazilians and, indeed, the entire world,” says Bruce Babbitt, chairman of the World Wildlife Fund in the U.S.