Monday, January 29, 2007

2000 Indonesian islands "to disappear by 2030"

...or so says Rachmat Witoelar, the Indonesian Environment Minister, according to a report on Alertnet.

An important part of the answer, he suggests, will be increased biofuel production, which will reduce emissions. So, Minister, how much additional land would need to go under palm oil to make a difference?

Irony free ethical bypass

The Guardian/Observer, which prides itself on "ethical holidays" (even to the extent of including those words in the URLS of its articles), published a feature yesterday on Ten wonders of the vanishing world... and how to get there. Destinations include the Belize Barrier Reef and the coral atolls of the Maldives:
Like a string of pearls, the Maldives - made up of hundreds of tiny islands - are many people's idea of the perfect tropical paradise: white-sand beaches, palm trees and a handful of tasteful, luxury resorts where wooden bungalows perch on stilts over the cobalt blue sea. But they are also poised on the brink of extinction...At a time of rising seas, melting ice caps and increasing storms, experts warn a large number of islands are likely to become submerged in the next two decades.
All yours...for seven nights from £1,380 ($2,740) per person, room only, including flights and transfers.

But it's OK: "Ripping up our passports and vowing never to fly again will not solve the problem of global warming" says Joanne O'Connor, one of the journalists.

Another cigarette? One more cannot not possibly make a difference, can it? After all, these are *ethical* cigarettes. And those children can make up their minds for themselves. Now run along and play...

[Note: a version of this post appears on as Holidays on death row]

Visayan Sea ecosystem on brink of "collapse" -- and what to do about it?

The Philippine STAR reports survey results indicating that the heart of the Visayan Marine Triangle -- a region fabled for its tremendous biodiversity -- "trembles on the brink of ecosystem collapse."

As a result of the study, says the STAR, the Law of Nature Foundation -- mother organization of the Visayan Sea Squadron which undertook the survey -- will conduct an environmental compliance audit in selected areas during the summer:
The project will assess the level of compliance by the local governments concerned with the provisions of the law, the Visayan Sea Squadron said.

"Particularly, they will assess the performance of the local government unit on marine resources protection and on the compliance with the solid waste management law"...

"It is time to use the power of the law to hold accountable the very people to whom we have given powerful positions and whose salaries we pay," said environmental lawyer Tony Oposa, [and expedition] team leader...

"If they have not performed up to their legal mandates, it is but right that their constituents and the people who elected them into their positions are properly informed, especially during election season," added Oposa.
I am going to the Philippines in a few days, and will be travelling to the Visayan region to learn more about the challenges and responses, including a remarkable project called the School of the Seas.

Historically, the Philippines had some of the world's most amazing coral reefs, and there is probably nowhere in the world with stronger human pressure on corals and associated marine resources. What should be the priorities now? Is it feasible to restore ecosystems in such circumstances? Anyone reading this who thinks they have a well informed view as to what most needs scrutiny please contact me as soon as possible as I have some flexibility in my travel schedule while in the Philippines (click on complete profile on right hand side of this page to find my e mail address).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Gutless, buttless and surprisingly versatile

You don't find many organisms even stranger than some of those that live on coral reefs. The eye-popping mimic abilities of octopuses on a reef, for example, are only made more wonderful when you consider that they have copper instead of iron in the blood, three hearts and high intelligence. But tube worms living on hot vents in the deep sea look like a new avenue in strangeness.

These 6-foot-tall, red-tipped characters, also known as Riftia pachyptila, have no mouth, digestive tract, or anus. Instead bacteria living inside the tubeworms’ bodies in an organ called a trophosome convert carbon dioxide into organic carbon by using chemical energy. This makes them the "first known [macro] organism that makes organic carbon by different means", according to a Woods Hole press release about a paper in Science by Stefan Sievert and colleagues.

[Not to be compared with Robert Gates, late of the Iraq Study Group, now defending George W Bush's new strategy]

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Edging up

2007 is likely be the warmest year since modern record keeping began, according to a forecast from the UK's Met Office (see BBC report).

Could the impacts include coral bleaching as bad as those in 1998? It is thought El Nino will be weaker this time, and will not -- I am told -- coincide this year with the Indian Ocean dipole, which is said to have reinforced the extreme event in 98.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Coral" by Steve Jones

Coral - A Pessimist in Paradise will be published on 1st March this year. Its author, Steve Jones, is professor of genetics at University College London, a former Reith Lecturer and has written several best selling science books for a general readership. Tim Radford of The Guardian says Coral could prove to be "biology's book of the year"

From what I have learned so far it looks as if Prof. Jones covers some of the ground -- "from the origin of life to Man's fate" -- being explored for the book planned with this blog.

Last year I was told several times by professionals in the publishing business that there would be no interest from mainstream media in a book about coral, life and everything. That much, at least, has been proven incorrect.

Is it sensible to continue with the book part of the Coral Bones project? Prof. Jones and several other wise people have emphatically told me "yes". There is a lot more to investigate, anaylse and reflect upon ahead of the International Year of the Reef in 2008, including the best efforts of who want to save the reefs, and their enemies.

The most recent good book for a non-specialists on coral and what it means that is not a coffee table book -- Osho Gray Davidson's The Enchanted Braid -- appeared in 1998. Now -- a bit like buses -- several may be coming close together.