Friday, June 29, 2007

Wind, sun, tide

Craeg Bennett notes a report from UPI that Cypress Semiconductor Corp. is donating six 90-watt solar panels to power MIT's First-Step Coral Reef Rehabilitation project.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Barely-Imagined Beings

C R McClain of Deep Sea News happens to flag up a short movie of deep sea creatures from Les Watling and NOAA Ocean Explorer. It includes a marvel called Iridogorgia (50 seconds into the clip). Don't let the name put you off: Iridogorgia is at least as strange as anything in Dr Seuss and much more beautiful. This is well worth a watch (but lose the New Age jazz sound track!).

Last weekend's Cambridge convivium Passionate Natures was rich indeed, with some brilliant contributors including Richard Mabey, Jules Pretty, Jeremy Purseglove, Marina Warner, Patrick Wright etc. More power to the convenors! My 0.002 eco-cents of speechifying came in five parts: The Undiscovered Country; Crossing a Threshold; Making a Place in the Imagination; Destruction; and Memory and Hope. It was pretty informal, but I may polish it for publication.

One point to mention here. I am framing part of the Coral Bones project as a Book of Barely-Imagined Beings. With a nod to Jorge Luis Borges, it links fragments of philosophy, science, history, politics, anthropology, poetry and other things through stories about sea creatures. All the creatures really exist but many are so strange that they are almost beyond imagining; many, perhaps most, face destruction by humans because we can hardly imagine what that means.
“All that is told of the sea has a fabulous sound to the inhabitant of the land and all of its products have a certain fabulous quality, as if they belonged to another planet”.
So wrote Henry David Thoreau, a guiding voice for Passionate Natures. But the convivium opened on a darker note with a reference to Edward Hoagland's Endgame: Meditations on a diminishing world, which is said to contain the coinage "tsunamic" in reference to the human impact on the biosphere. (I haven't been able to access Hoagland's essay, but my 0.001 eco-cents worth is that I may have got some of the way there in early 2005 with Tsunami coming for us all). Hope dies last, of course, and there is always a chance that enthusiastic gloomsters are wrong: the end of coral reefs in human experience over the next few centuries or thousands of years, for instance, is not necessarily a slam dunk while some are brave and resourceful enough to act effectively.

(A Benthoctopus sp. investigating ALVIN's port manipulator arm: "Those inside the sub were surprised by the octopod's inquisitive behavior". Image by Bruce Strickrott, Expedition to the Deep Slope)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

'Protect Bastimentos Island'

The Center for Biological Diversity has launched a campaign to protect Panama's Red Frog Beach and Bastimentos Island:
Bastimentos Island...shines as an ecological and cultural gem rich with coral reefs, dense tropical rainforests and indigenous communities. Among the diverse wildlife species of Bastimentos are night monkeys, three-toed sloths, numerous tropical bird and fish species as well as two distinct color variants of the strawberry poison dart frog -- the namesake of the fabled Red Frog Beach. The island [is] also critical breeding habitat for endangered leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles.

However, because of a massive, U.S.-fueled luxury-development boom, Bastimentos Island's sensitive marine and terrestrial habitats are under siege due to the construction of...a high-end tourist resort.

Red Frog Beach Club, an American-based development corporation, is currently constructing phase one of its development plan...And the company is seeking approval from ANAM, Panama's national environmental agency, to begin construction on phase two of its massive, proposed residential resort, which would include up to 800 additional living units, luxury hotel facilities, and a large marina. Such extensive development would profoundly affect Bastimentos' delicate rainforest, beach and coral-reef habitats and jeopardize the cultural heritage of the island's indigenous peoples, who have consistently voiced their opposition to the Red Frog Beach Club project through direct protests and petitions.
CBD's take action page is here, with more on "what's at stake" here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

'Countries reverse decision to protect red corals'

Seaweb has the story here:
...The unusual reversal, which took place after the conference was scheduled to have ended, means the trade in red corals will be allowed to continue unchecked, threatening the species’ survival. There was significant support for the listing from the United States (the largest red coral importer in the world), the European Union (a major exporter), Mexico, the CITES Secretariat, as well as numerous NGOs, including SeaWeb, TRAFFIC, WWF and the Pew Institute for Ocean Science.

Opponents to the [protection measures included] Japan, a major red coral trading nation, and industry group ASSOCORAL...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ecology and the imagination

I am taking part in Passionate Natures: Ecology and the Imagination, a conference open to all in Cambridge from 22-24 June. There are some awesome, near legendary people speaking over the three days.

The panel I will join, just before lunch on the Saturday (so people may still be awake), will focus on 'wildness'. The chair and convenor is the tremendous Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places: A Wonder-Voyage (forthcoming, 2007). The other panelists are Jay Griffiths, whose recent book Wild: An Elemental Journey is reviewed in several places including here and here (and extracted here), and Gareth Browning, a partner in Wild Ennerdale. Please join us if you can!

What to say about coral reefs? I will probably build on some remarks in this review of Steve Jones's recent book, together with a not-yet-published review of Julia Whitty's The Fragile Edge. If there's time and it seems the right thing to do I will also explore some hard political and scientific issues that can shape imagination, and vica versa. I may post a paper based on those remarks on this site, but please come to the conference. Meanwhile, some science and some art: a very impressive animal. It has eyes larger than a blue whale's, a sharp slicing beak as big as a rockmelon and a tongue covered in sharp teeth. Its eight arms and two longer feeding tentacles are armed with toothed suckers and sharp hooks. It swims with muscular fins and a big funnel for jet propulsion, and the undersides of its eyes have rows of lights like truck running lights.
-- from Monster warning to protect oceans by Mark Norman, curator of molluscs at Museum Victoria, Australia.
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him well
Huge sponges of millenial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
-- from Alfred Tennyson's The Kraken, quoted by Jorge Luis Borges in El libro de los seres imaginarios.

Friday, June 08, 2007

'Our Ocean Future: The Glass Half Empty'

I will assume that mankind is basically evil, the ocean is doomed, and society as we know it will eventually crush itself under the weight of its own befuddled obesity. I don't really believe people are evil so much as apathetic but the result is the same...
--cheerful thoughts for World Ocean Day from Craig R McClain

Thursday, June 07, 2007

'Caribbean Corals in Danger of Extinction'

A 7 June press released from Conservation International and IUCN says a new (sic) study shows that Caribbean coral species "are dying off, indicating dramatic shifts in the ecological balance under the sea":
The study found that 10 percent of the Caribbean’s 62 reef-building corals were under threat, including staghorn and elkhorn corals. These used to be the most prominent species but are now candidates to be listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species...
The study, which analyzed data on Western Tropical Atlantic corals, seagrasses, mangroves and algae, is "the first in a series of Global Marine Species Assessments (GMSA) of key marine primary-producers on a global scale"
...Next to corals, mangroves appear to be the hardest hit. Mangrove cover in the region has declined by 42% over the past 25 years, with two of the eight mangrove species now considered Vulnerable to extinction and two more in Near Threatened status...

...The scientists noted that some healthy Caribbean coral reefs still exist in well-managed marine protected areas such as Bonaire Marine Park in the Netherlands Antilles. Direct human impacts are reduced in these areas allowing most corals to thrive; however, thermal stress from global warming affects all corals in the Caribbean and must be reversed if these refuges of Caribbean beauty are to survive...

“The Caribbean tourism industry relies heavily on the beauty and health of its sea life,” said Dr. Kent Carpenter, GMSA Director. “Concentrated marine conservation and a global effort to halt man-induced climate change are necessary to preserve this vital economic engine in the region.”
At the time of writing, the press release is not posted in the relevant sections of the web sites of CI or IUCN. Photos are posted here.

[P.S. 10 June Not everyone is convinced that corals are wll protected in Bonaire. See comment attached to this post]

Sunday, June 03, 2007

From the edges

The Many Strong Voices alliance says 'societies of the Arctic and Small Island Developing States [in the tropics] are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in similar ways.' It aims to bring the two regions together 'to take collaborative and strategic actions on climate change mitigation and adaptation.'

They met in Belize from 28 -30 May to agree a five year action plan, including a 'push for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change' and a 'plan to inform and warn the world of the dramatic effects of climate change in their regions':
'Together, we have identified common problems as a consequence of climate change, and our communities are suffering,' said Taito Nakalevu, Climate Change Officer with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, based in Samoa. 'We insist that those countries that are causing the problems have a responsibility to those whose lives are being affected.'