(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
(This is part one of a two-part series on a report regarding the dismal state of our oceans. Part two of the series tackles the situation’s repercussions on humans and what we can do to help our oceans recover.)
A team of marine experts announced this week a new summary report arguing that climate change and other man-made factors will spur colossal levels of extinction in the world’s oceans. The catastrophe is forecasted to be “unprecedented in human history.”
The proverbial excrement, it seems, is about to hit the fan.
Not surprisingly, it appears that changes in our atmosphere, ecosystems, and habitats across the planet are accelerating too quickly for many species to adapt and be able to survive.
“The speed of change, particularly related to climate change, is so great there simply isn’t time for marine life to adapt to these new conditions,” said Alex Rogers, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford.
He explained that mass extinctions have been tied to considerable changes in the oceans’ carbon systems in the past.
“That’s what we’re bringing about through our own actions today,” he noted, reports ABC News.
Rogers and a team of 26 other researchers from various countries met earlier this year for a three-day workshop in England to study ocean stressors. Their full report is set to be published in the near future.
Ocean stressors at play
Ocean acidification is one key factor. Here’s what it’s about: carbon dioxide (CO2) (along with methane and other gasses) plays a huge role in heating up our planet and thereby causing climate change, which includes melting polar ice caps and rising ocean levels. Okay. What you might not know is that one-third of the planet’s CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, and that the more CO2 the ocean absorbs, the greater the waters’ acidity. This phenomenon is called ocean acidification and it’s noxious to our planet for many reasons. For example, rising acidity levels in our oceans have been found to:
- Impair fish hearing and smell, putting their survival in danger
- Kill off endangered species such as northern abalone
- Threaten the survival of krill, itself the basic food source of nearly all animals in the ocean
Apart from ocean acidification, rising water temperatures, overfishing, pollution, and even tourism are all exacerbating the rapid decline of species such as reef-forming coral. (Go here, here, and here for more on the state of coral reefs.)
Sharks and other species may be next, warned Rogers, lead author of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) report.
Further, he said that, in many cases, the impacts of ocean stressors were found to have a greater overall effect than any single effect when taken together. For example, the decline of coral reef ecosystems due to overfishing and reef bleaching, plus the acidification that causes bleaching, will eradicate “the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet.”
“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” Rogers said. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.”
Stay tuned for part two of this 2-part series.
Last week I wrote about the efforts of certain companies to deceive consumers into thinking they are purchasing sustainably caught fish.
If you remember, I discussed the problematic Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which offers eco-certification to fisheries across the globe and has never refused the certification to any fishery that has completed the certification process. Ahem.
Well, it turns out that the independent adjudicator has ruled in favor of MSC last Monday, which means that the endangered Fraser sockeye salmon stocks have been ruled sustainable. Environmentalists are wailing and independent salmon trollers railing.
The certifier will now submit the Final Certification Report to MSC, recommending that the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery be certified as sustainable. The certifier may issue a certificate and MSC would announce certification after a final internal MSC review of the documents takes place.
So what’s the problem?
“This certification could actually result in well-intentioned consumers buying an endangered Fraser River sockeye with an eco-label on it,” explained Jeffrey Young, aquatic biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation, one of the groups who filed a notice of objection to the MSC’s intent to provide eco-certification to the stock.
I would like to reiterate that some Fraser River sockeye stocks harvested in the fishery that is getting certified by MSC are already classified as “endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, whose scientists consider overfishing a key threat to the stocks’ health.
Further, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recently set up a commission to study the decline of the Fraser River salmon stock.
This is definitely bad timing for an eco-certification, don’t you think?
Next time you’re shopping for seafood, remember that MSC-certified seafood is probably not actually sustainably fished, and steer clear of Fraser River sockeye salmon.
Peru and Brazil signed a pact last month to build six hydroelectric dams in the Peruvian Amazon — and the indigenous peoples in Peru as well as the environment will have to suffer the calamitous consequences.
Populations will be displaced and ecosystems disrupted if these projects are realized, environmentalists say.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Peruvian President Alan García signed the pact in question.
Peru has thus committed to deliver a permanent percentage of electricity to Brazil for 30 years. Also, if anyone wants to back down, this will only be possible 15 years into the agreement, according to Peruvian Energy Vice Minister Daniel Cámac. The idea is that Peru will get all the electricity it needs out of the deal, although it hasn’t yet decided how much it will require.
But not everyone thinks this makes sense.
“What is the point of signing a pact without having determined if this is what we need as a country?” asked lawyer César Gamboa, director of the NGO Law, Environment and Natural Resources (DAR). “Why don’t we conduct the studies before we make commitments we can’t back out of?”
The idea of the pact, born in 2006, is to generate 6,000 megavolts (mv) (note: 1 mv = 1 million volts) through the construction of generators in Peruvian turf that will prioritize internal supply and allow for the sale of surplus energy to Brazil, the official version goes.
On the other hand, engineer Alfredo Novoa says this is BS. The director of the NGO ProNaturaleza said,
“Peru doesn’t need energy projects in the Amazon to cover its demand. There is a 22,000 mv potential in the Andes and thousands more along the coast. Why more?”
Professor of the Institute of Electrical Engineering and Energy at the University of Saão Paulo Célio Bermann said the plants won’t meet Peru’s energy needs. Further, the agreement will irrevocably harm the Peruvian Amazon’s ecosystems.
“Yet the energy that will be produced will serve the interest of international and Brazilian mining, and metallurgy companies that are ever-expanding in the Amazon. The power will not go to meet the needs of everyday Peruvians or Brazilians,” he stated.
Moreover, it is still unclear where these generators will be built – it may happen in the Andes instead of the Amazon, Cámac told.
Mariano Castro, former executive secretary of the Peruvian National Environment Council and lawyer with the Peruvian Society of Environmental Rights (SPDA), said the dams will not ensure clean and renewable energy for Peru.
“On the contrary, it will impose a series of negative environmental and social impacts such as displacement of indigenous people and deforestation in at least five departments of Peru, putting at grave risk the future of the Peruvian Amazon,” Castro said.
One of the controversial projects is to take place in the Inambari River, located in the Amazonian limits of the Cusco, Madre de Dios and Puno regions in the southeastern part of Peru. This would be the largest hydroelectric plant in the country and the fifth-largest in Latin America.
The other is the Paquitzapango Project in the Ene River in Junín, home of the indigenous asháninka population.
Three other projects exist in the pact. The building of all five entails an investment of between USD 13.5 million and USD 16.5 million.
A more important cost will be that paid by the indigenous peoples. More than 4,000 inhabitants of the Inambari region and up to 10,000 in Paquitzapango would be displaced. To make matters worse, the unfortunate asháninka of Paquitzapango were already displaced during the internal Peruvian armed conflict of 1980-2000.
Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise by 5.9% as a result of the project.
Love your beaches
On Monday, June 10, we celebrated World Ocean Day 2010.
On June 26, you can head to your local beach and join hands to oppose offshore drilling and endorse renewable energy. Look up Hands Across the Sand events near you or email everyone in your area and start one up in your community! And don’t worry if you’re not in the U.S. — the event is taking place across the globe!
Read more about the event here.
Be sure to travel green
Remember to do your part and be eco-friendly, whether at the beach or anywhere you travel.
Going on a road trip? Read this.
And if you’re planning to get married, remember that coastal weddings are a no-no!
And finally –
The top 10 U.S. beaches
For the past 20 years, a coastal scholar known as Dr. Beach has compiled a list of the best beaches in the country. Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman is the director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University.
He uses 50 criteria to evaluate the nation’s beaches, including water and sand quality, beach width and environmental management, according to CNN.
Here’s the list:
1. Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York
2. Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida
3. Coronado Beach in San Diego, California
4. Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks of North Carolina
5. Main Beach in East Hampton, New York
6. Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
7. Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts
8. Beachwalker Park in Kiawah Island, South Carolina
9. Hamoa Beach in Maui, Hawaii
10. Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, Florida
By the way, I have been to Siesta Beach (#2) and I can attest that it is amazing! It’s got sand like flour and warm, luscious waters. Hopefully it will remain unscathed by the oil spill currently taking over the Gulf of Mexico…
If spring is coming up for you (and you’re not near the Gulf) enjoy the beach!
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.
By Cinthia Pacheco
This is the first of two posts on the Virungas region of East Africa, by some called the ‘darkest Africa.’ In this first post, we will look at the history of African region and, in the second, the specific ecotourist options that exist there.
The mountain gorillas of the Virungas
The Virungas stretch along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Uganda. This dense jungle is home to a community of mountain gorillas, “the rarest of subspecies.”
“There are roughly 720 mountain gorillas left on Earth; half live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the other half 15 miles south in the Virunga Mountains.”
Why are these gorillas different from others? Their low-fruit diet makes them less likely to move in a large range throughout the forest and the rugged terrain creates clear visibility. Further, because they have not been traditionally hunted for food by humans, they are not alarmed by tourists and are more easily observable.
The history of the Virungas and nearby regions is indeed dark, with a heavy past of civil war, disease, and poaching. It began in the 1960s, when primatology and anthropology were ripe: the perfect conditions to study gorillas. And thus, the Karisoke Research Center was founded by Dian Fossey with a mission to research developmental behaviour and ecology in conjunction with the conservation of these mountain gorillas.
The researchers captured data from different regions of the Virungas, including the Virungas National Park and Volcanoes National Park. They studied everything about the gorilla’s lives and it soon became evident that this information could be revolutionary when studied over long periods of time.
During the 1970s, anthropology was blooming with gorilla research, but there were very little conservation efforts in motion. The gorilla population declined in the Virungas between 1958 and 1973 because of habit loss linked to human settlement and cultivation of cash crops. Also, tourism played a part in gorilla poaching and hunting.
“In the mid 1970s, a gruesome trophy trade in gorilla heads and skulls surfaced in Rwanda, with the main market being foreign residents and visitors.”
It wasn’t until the end of the 1980s that gorilla-based tourism began to thrive, starting in Rwanda. Conservation and education were also being implemented at this time.
However, in October 1990, war broke out in Rwanda and, as a result, the Virungas were no longer considered tourist-friendly for a long time. Again in April 1994, instability hit Rwanda with war and genocide and the national parks in the Virungas became a base for rebels. Poaching activities mounted again and the survival of the gorillas was at stake.
Since then, there have been time gaps when the Virungas have been restricted to tourists. Today, tourists are advised to avoid certain parts of Congo and Rwanda, but gorilla tours and trekking in the national parks are slowly gaining popularity.
So, does tourism play a critical role in the protection of these beautiful animals? Or will it only bring more destruction to the area?
In the next post, I will look at the different existing ecotourism companies in the Virungas and whether they are really there to watch out for the gorillas – or just their own bank accounts.
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.