Environment Forum

Why is this Great White Shark smiling?

For this Great White Shark, it’s even better now in the Bahamas.

The long-running tourist slogan has a new meaning for all 40 of the shark species around the Caribbean island chain after the Bahamian government banned all commercial shark fishing in the approximately  243,244 square miles  (630,000 square kilometers) of the country’s waters.

What’s good for sharks is good for the Bahamian economy. These big fish bring in about $78 million each year, or more than $800 million over the last 20 years, according to the Bahamas Diving Association — the Bahamas is one of the world’s premier shark-watching destinations for divers.

This latest conservation move adds to a 20-year-old ban on longline fishing gear in Bahamian waters. The prohibition on longline fishing — which often nets sharks along with tuna and other big fish that are the fishers’ main aim — is one reason that sharks are thriving around the Bahamas.

That is not the case elsewhere. Worldwide, shark populations have declined by as much as 70 to 80 percent, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts released last month. Some 30 percent of all shark species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction, and there isn’t enough data to make an accurate assessment of an additional 47 percent of shark species, the report said. Because these ancient fish — they were swimming when dinosaurs roamed the earth — grow slowly, mature late and produce few young over their long lifetimes, they are exceptionally vulnerable to exploitation. Great White sharks have been documented to live 14 years but probably live much longer. Female Great Whites produce two to four live young every year or two, compared with Bluefin Tuna females, who each produce 10 million eggs a year.

The decision by the Bahamas to make its waters a shark sanctuary is the latest of several moves that makes 2011 feel like the Year of the Shark. The island nation joins Palau, the Maldives and Honduras in prohibiting the commercial shark fishing. All told, this means 926,645 square miles (2.4 million square kilometers) of ocean are places where sharks can swim safely.

from Tales from the Trail:

Panda diplomacy: the remix

USAThe latest chapter in the long story of panda diplomacy was written at Washington's National Zoo, where the Chinese government agreed to lengthen the "loan" of popular panda pair Mei Xiang and Tian Tian for another five years. Actually, the loan is conditioned on whether they produce a new heir or heiress to the cuteness of panda-dom in the next two years;  one or both could be exchanged for more fecund substitutes.

They have a good track record: Washington native Tai Shan, born in 2005, headed back to China last year.

This was a big enough deal for President Barack Obama to mention it at an elaborate state dinner at the White House for Chinese President Hu Jintao.

from The Great Debate:

Bottom-up biodiversity

ENVIRONMENT-BIODIVERSITY/

By Karol Boudreaux
The opinions expressed are her own.

At the recent UN biodiversity conference in Japan, participants were tasked with finding a new approach to preserve threatened ecosystems.

In the end, government and UN officials, NGO representatives and others reached an agreement that some are calling historic. The executive director of the UN's Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said: "This is a day to celebrate in terms of a new and innovative response to the alarming loss of biodiversity and ecosystems." But how different is it?

The new "Aichi Target" (named after the prefecture in Japan where the meetings took place) creates a 10-year strategic plan to meet 20 goals for stemming species loss. It is set to take effect in 2020 but will need to be ratified by nearly 200 signatory nations, then implemented at the national and local levels by government officials, and then funded in order to work. This is yet another highly complex and inefficient process to address a very important problem. A more effective model would be to keep things simple.

from Tales from the Trail:

Steven Chu: Energy Secretary, Nobel Laureate, Zombie

67613_449706237290_79707582290_5525360_4352855_aYou sort of have to like a U.S. cabinet secretary and Nobel Prize winner who knows how to have a little fun while getting out a message.

That would be Steven Chu, who posted a picture of himself as a green-faced, blood-dripping zombie on his Facebook page. Just in time for Washington's scrupulously-observed Halloween weekend, Chu used his own zombification as a platform to point out power-sucking appliances -- energy vampires, he called them.

"Garlic doesn't work against these vampires," Chu wrote. "But by taking some simple steps – like using power strips or setting your computer to go into sleep mode – you can protect yourself, and your wallet." Then he linked to the Energy Department's "energy star" page .

New monkey puzzles scientists: why does it sneeze in the rain?

A monkeynew species of monkey has been found in northern Myanmar, puzzling scientists because of a snub nose that means they are often heard “sneezing in the rain”.

Why would anyone want — let alone evolve – nostrils that fill up with water?

The find of the new type of snub-nosed monkey (story here) coincides with a U.N. meeting in Nagoya, Japan, this week to decide what to do about accelerating losses of species of animals and plants because of human threats, such as loss of habitats to farms or cities or the effects of climate change.

Backyard tigers

ENVIRONMENT-TIGERS/Would you keep a tiger as a pet?

A puppy-sized tiger cub can be bought in the United States for as little as $200, and there are probably about 5,000 such backyard tigers across the country, about the same number of privately owned tigers in China, according to World Wildlife Fund.

That is far greater than the approximately 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, compared to the estimated 100,000 wild tigers a century ago. The growing number of these animals in captivity poses a threat to the species in the wild, WWF reports.

“People don’t realize when they buy a $200 tiger cub that it grows into a full-grown tiger, which means a huge enclosure and costs about $5000 a year just to feed,” says Leigh Henry, an animal conservation expert at WWF. “So you end up with a lot of unwanted animals that are very poorly regulated.”

Attack survivors at UN: Save the sharks!

THAILAND/Jaws needs help.

Nine shark-attack survivors from five countries headed for the United Nations in New York City to plead the case for shark preservation. U.N. member countries could take this issue up this week as part of an annual resolution on sustainable fisheries. They’ll also be reviewing the Millennium Development Goals — a long-range set of global targets that includes stemming the loss of biodiversity, including sharks.

“I’m very thankful to be alive,” said Krishna Thompson, a Wall Street banker who lost his left leg in a shark attack while visiting the Bahamas in 2001.  “I have learned to appreciate all of God’s living creatures. Sharks are an apex predator in the ocean. Whether they continue to live  affects how we as people live on this Earth. I feel that one of the reasons why I am alive today is to help the environment and help support shark conservation.”

DSC00087 aAnother survivor, Yann Perras of LeMans, France, had his leg severed while windsurfing off the coast of Venezuela in 2003. “Even if the movie ‘Jaws’ has scared entire generations, we have to remember that it is only fiction,” Perras said in a statement.

The wrong odor for a rich ecosystem

Three oil-coated white ibis sit in marsh grass on a small island in Bay Barataria near Grand Isle, Louisiana June 13, 2010. Sean Gardner/REUTERS    It has an odd odor, oil mixed with dispersant. It’s reminiscent of the inside of an old mechanic shop or boat house, and out of place in the open water of Southern Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the state’s fragile marshland.

One one point during a tour of the bay to see damage from the BP Plc oil spill, Capt. Sal Gagliano stopped his boat in a spot where reddish brown specs of the oil and dispersant mixture accumulated on the surface. It is slightly gooey to the touch.

The pollutants are why he was ferrying conservationists and reporters around and not taking customers out to fertile fishing spots. In other years this would be his busy season.

Rainy Taiwan faces awkward water shortage

jennings Chronically rainy Taiwan faces a rare water shortage as leaders ask that people on the dense, consumption-happy island of 23 million finally start changing habits as dry weather is forecast into early 2010. 

Taiwan, a west Pacific island covered with rainforests and topical fruit orchards, is used to rain in all seasons, bringing as much as 3,800 mm (150 inches) on average in the first 10 months of every year. But reservoirs have slipped in 2009 due to a chain of regional weather pattern flukes giving Taiwan too much dry high pressure while other parts of Asia get more storms than normal, the Central Weather Bureau  says.

Deadly typhoon Morakot  in August brought more than half the year’s rain to much of south Taiwan, washing away drought fears as well as a lot of other things. But the three-day storm dumped too much rain at once for much storage or use. Despite the typhoon, southern Taiwan’s anchor city Kaohsiung was 20 mm below average in the first 10 months of 2009, with the typhoon’s contribution about half the 1,747 mm total. Below-average rainfall resumed after the typhoon, the weather bureau said, and the same is forecast through February.jennings2

U.S. hunters, anglers weigh in on climate change

When people think of hunting and fishing politicians in America — at least prominent ones – two things spring to mind: 1. Republican and 2. Climate change skeptic. Former President George W. Bush, his vice president Dick Cheney and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin all fall into both categories.

But the hunting and fishing crowd — widely seen as reliably Republican because of that’s party’s successful portrayal of itself as the defender of God and guns — has also started to take note of climate change. After all, hunters and anglers are in the outdoors in pursuit of wildlife season after season, year after year.

But what may concern some Republican strategists is that many of them also accept the science of climate change, which overwhelmingly points to fossil fuel emissions as the main cause driving global warming.

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