Friday, October 30, 2009

Ship Loaded With Toxic Waste Goes Down in Madagascar Waters

The Gulser Ana going down. Photo via Australia.

Approximately 2 months ago, on August 26, a ship carrying a large load of toxic waste and fuel ran aground in the southernmost point of Madagascar. It is still not cleaned up.

Madagascar is an ecosystem rich in biodiversity and is home to 5% of the world’s species. Some species are found nowhere else on earth. The tons of pollutants spilled into the ocean are not only affecting the marine life; but the people who live inland as well. These people are contracting respiratory and skin diseases for the first time in their lives.

The Gulsar Ana, a Turkish shipping vessel, leaked its entire load of 39,000 tons of raw phosphates, 568 tons of fuel, and 66 tons of diesel into the Indian Ocean. But this leak did not happen in just any part of the Indian Ocean. According to World Wide Fund for Nature, this portion of the ocean happens to be an incredibly important whale reproduction and migratory corridor zone. As if this wasn’t bad enough, it happens to be mating season.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) called the spill an 'ecological disaster'. WWF compiled a report on the consequences of the spill – and the results are not good.

The report says:
. . . nine whales beached in September alone, and some beach stretches seem to be real death zones, the report found. Villagers suffer from diseases such as respiratory problems, skin diseases and diarrhea.

Whale killed by Gulsner Ana spill. Photo via HLN Site is not in English.

The report continues by revealing that there are oil clumps covering 30 km (19 mi) of beach which are affecting 20,000 people on a number of different levels.

The most obviously affected are those who develop respiratory, skin and other diseases; however, livelihoods are being affected also. Many of the local inhabitants make their livings fishing. Now, because of the toxic waste spill and the resulting pollution of the water, fishing has been banned. This in turn lowers their incomes or they lose their incomes entirely.

The local inhabitants have had their diets impacted as well. While most of their catch used to be sold, some was withheld for consumption by the family. For some, the fish they caught was their main source of protein and they are financially unable to replace it with something else.

The work on cleaning up the spill has been in progress for two months now. The workers are trying to clean up these toxins without the protection of full hazmat gear; and, they are not protected from the waste in any way. The collection bags used to haul away the waste are thin plastic bags that burst easily splashing the contents on the unprotected workers.

And the whales?

"Like human beings, whales suffer from respiratory problems due to diesel odour. They come to the surface from time to time to breathe, so if they happen to surface through an oil film, this might result in the animal's death," Yvette Razafindrakoto, WCS [Wildlife Conservation Society] marine mammal specialist said.

Laws need to be tougher, fines need to be raised and enforced, restitution and restoration need to be made mandatory and enforcement needs to be 100%.

Write your local government representative expressing your concern.

Via TreeHugger

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quotable Quotes...

"May I never miss a sunrise or a rainbow because I am looking down."

- Sara June Parker

Points to Ponder...

"In order to be happy, do not add to you possessions; but, subtract from your desires."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Animals and the Grieving Process

Do animals grieve? This question has been debated for centuries. Some say animals are soulless and therefore are incapable of feeling grief. Others, such as myself, say animals are not only capable of feeling grief, they are capable of feeling every emotion that we do. The only difference being their lack of ability to express them verbally.

There have been many cases of animals displaying grief in such a manner that it is impossible to attribute their actions to anything other than overwhelming devastation at the loss of a loved one.

One of the most beloved stories of all time is that of Greyfriar's Bobby. Bobby was a Skye terrier owned by John Gray, who was employed by the Edinburgh City Police as a night watchman. For two years, they were inseparable; but then John Gray died of tuberculosis. John was buried in Greyfriar's Kirkyard cemetery. Bobby spent the next 14 years scrounging love, food and the necessities of life from the villagers; but, so great was his grief that he slept every night on top of the grave of his master.

More recently, a display of grief was captured on film. In the picture below, Dorothy, a much-loved member of the troop, has passed on.

Chimpanzees appear to console one another as Dorothy is carried to her final resting place in a wheelbarrow.

Dorothy was in her late 40s and died of heart failure. Her fellow chimps at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon, West Africa look on in sorrow as she passes by them for the last time. They all stand together in support of one another.

The chimps at this facility are special with all of them arriving as orphans. Their mothers have all been shot for bushmeat - a thriving, lucrative and illegal trade. The babies have been ripped from their mother's bodies by the hunters to be sold in the pet trade - an equally thriving, lucrative and illegal trade. The lucky ones end up the sanctuary. Local villagers work at the facility and are the chimps' full-time caregivers.

Even with all the evidence of centuries, it is only recently that scientists have even remotely considered the possibility of animals possessing the "higher" emotions usually attributed to humans only. Fortunately, it would now appear that scientists are willing to consider the possibility of animals not only grieving for a lost one; but, having an understanding of what death involves.

More and more scientists are coming forward with what they consider to be evidence that not only primates and/or mammals possess emotions; but, other species do as well. Dr. Marc Bekoff, an ethologist at the University of Colorado, has presented evidence that magpies not only grieve their dead; but, they perform funeral rites for the deceased.

He recites the case of a group of four magpies that approached the body of their dead friend individually. Two birds then flew off and returned with a piece of grass each. The blades of grass were laid beside the corpse and the birds then stood vigil.

Corvids, the group of highly-intelligent birds that includes crows, magpies, rooks and others, have been observed successfully working out problems, using tools and engaging in many sophisticated rituals.

Perhaps the most well-known nonhuman death rituals are those carried out by elephants. Families have been known to spend days guarding a dead body; all the while, running their trunks gently and lovingly over the remains; cradling the bones; and, comforting each other in their grief.

Elephants are highly social and intelligent animals just like dogs, chimps and corvids. It should be no wonder that they have death rituals more recognizable to us as humans. However, this does not mean that lesser-evolved beings do not grieve or have feelings. It means we have not looked hard to identify the actions associated with the feelings.

Via MailOnline

This video narrated by Sir David Attenborough shows a family of elephants stumbling upon the body of a deceased elephant and the ensuing grieving ritual.

Asian Moth Invades Britain?

The pest from Asia: An Euonymus Leaf Notcher spotted in Britain.

Unfortunately, a voracious Asian moth, the Euonymus Leaf Notcher, has begun its invasion of Great Britain. The Leaf Notcher absolutely devours one of the popular garden shrubs in Britain - the euonymus.

A six-year-old girl was the first to discover this pest. She spotted the distinctive-looking moth on the windowsill of her Berkshire home. The moth was already dead; but, the large furry body with wasp-like markings was new to her.

Natural history experts warn it may herald the start of an invasion.

The half-inch-long leaf notchers eat Euonymus (spindles as they're known in Britain). These versatile shrubs are found in millions of gardens nationwide.

One of the many species of the Euonymus shrub.

Katie Dobbins took the moth to her father Julian to be identified. He, too, was stumped so he posted a picture on a wildlife website run by the Open University in hopes someone could identify it.

He ran this message with the photo.

"My daughter found this strange moth on our windowsill. Very keen to find out what it is… and why it is so furry."

It only took 24 hours for Open University researcher Martin Harvey to identify the destructive moth. It was confirmed by an expert in Taiwan.

Mr Harvey said: "This find may just be a one-off, or it could be a harbinger of establishment in the UK. The moth is regarded as a pest in America and Asia, but its food plants are restricted to ornamental shrubs."

Via MailOnline

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Unusual Friendship

Cuddling with a friend.

Every once in a while a story of animals from different species finding friendship and/or love comes along that warms the heart. This is one of them.

The now 12-week-old macaque pictured above was abandoned by his mother and discovered close to death on Neilingding Island in Goangdong Province, China. The rescued macaque was taken to a nearby animal sanctuary where his health began to improve. However he seemed spiritless and depressed...until a white pigeon came into his life.

The macaque and the pigeon developed a deep friendship that helped to revive the macaque's spirit. The staff at the animal sanctuary say he has developed a new lease on life.

The two have become inseparable.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Where Do Dead Whales Go?

GRIM SIGHT: Concerns for the health of Moreton Bay have surfaced with more whale carcasses being dumped and left to rot on Mud Island. Picture courtesy of David Kapernick

Where do you hide a dead whale? If that dead whale is in Australian waters, the state Environment Department tows it to a well-known Moreton Bay island, ties it up securely, and leaves it to rot.

Mud Island has become the secret dumping ground for an increasing number of dead whales. The horrifying discovery has local fishermen and environmentalist wondering if declining water quality may be responsible for killing the whales.

"There are great concerns across the whole eastern seaboard, and water quality in Moreton Bay is undoubtedly going backwards," Wildlife Preservation Society spokesman Simon Baltais said.

Terry Hill, a local crabber, who found a dead whale hidden in the mangroves, recently says he has been crabbing there for decades and has never run across a sight like this before.

"I don't know what's going on but it's certainly a bit suss, especially when we're also seeing big loggerhead turtles dying in the bay," he said.

This is the type of place in the mangrove swamps that the whales are dumped in. Photo courtesy The Australian Marine Conservation Society Inc. Queensland This site also has some material on the loss of the coral reefs surrounding Mud Island and the devasting effects it's having on the ecosystem.

Not surprisingly, a Department of Environment spokesperson says the increase in the number of whales dying in southeast Queensland waters; but, that this was on a par with the increasing “healthy” whale population. Experts say the population is increasing about 10% per year to about 13,000.

My questions are “If you have nothing to hide, why are you towing these whale carcasses to Mud Island and hiding them there? If the population is as healthy as you claim, why not let nature take care of the bodies? She has a very effective system of dealing with death that nourishes other ocean species and does not pollute the coral reefs around this island?”

Three whales that died in southeast Queensland waters in recent months had been towed to Mud Island.

A 14m (16 ft.) dead whale also washed up on Moreton Island earlier this month; but, was too big to move.

"The latest whale intercepted was found floating around the northern tip of Bribie Island about 10 days ago and most likely would have washed up on Kings Beach at Caloundra if it hadn't been intercepted," the department spokesman said.

"Mud Island is an uninhabited mangrove island in the centre of Moreton Bay, not visited by daytrippers or tourists."

The spokesperson went on to say that towing the whales to a place such as Mud Island was in accordance with the wishes of traditional owners. However, I believe that the indigenous owners would be the first people to say that if the environment was being affected negatively by this practice then another route must be taken.

Mr. Baltais, Wildlife Preservation Society, says while he respects the wishes of indigenous owners, dead whales were not good for Moreton Bay.

"They could attract sharks and other scavengers – what does that do for the rest of the wildlife?" he said.

"There has been a significant decline in the health of Moreton Bay with increasing numbers of dead animals, algal blooms and a loss of seagrass. The last thing we should be doing is dropping more dead animals in the Bay."

Not surprisingly to me and many others, the environment department spokesperson rejected concerns about water quality.

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, can be contacted through this webpage site to express your concerns. There is contact info for the Australian Environment Department and the Wildlife Preservation Society on their websites. Let them know what you think.

Via couriermail

Apologies, Friends!


I apologize for the lack of posts lately; but, I have been down and out with flu. I will be posting again; but, not as frequently for about a week as this flu really is knocking the stuffing out of me.

Please bear with me for another week as I recover.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

14 Ways to Help Prevent Swine Flu

This is reprinted from Cause2 written by Dr. Frank Lipman.

Don’t know whether or not to get the H1N1 vaccination? You might want to read some of these precautions before you sign up for the shot. If you’re opting for other ways to dodge the flu, here are 14 tips to boost your immunity and stay healthy this flu season.

1. Optimize your vitamin D level. Adequate levels of vitamin D are essential for our immune systems to function optimally. Unfortunately there are no significant dietary sources of vitamin D, most of our intake comes from exposure to sunlight. If you live far from the equator, you simply don’t get enough sun through Fall and Winter to make all the vitamin D you need. So unless you supplement during this period, your innate immunity will be compromised. vitamin D plays such a crucial role in so many aspects of your body’s functioning, that supplementing with it makes sense whether you decide to get the flu shot or not.

We know that influenza always gets worse during the winter months. Now there is good evidence to suggest that this is because as sunlight hours lessen during the winter, the people living in the northern hemisphere become vitamin D deficient and are susceptible to influenza infections of all kinds.

The current recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine: from 200 to 600 IU/day depending on one’s age, are way too low.

These values were originally chosen because they were found to prevent osteomalacia (bone softening) and rickets. It is now recognized that vitamin D has many additional physiological functions, for which these levels are totally inadequate. A number of scientists are therefore calling for the Food and Nutrition Board in the U.S. and its counterparts abroad to reassess their current recommendations. Get your 25 hydroxy vitamin D level checked by your Doctor (if that is not an option, you can self test your level with ZRT labs)

Although the current normal range is between 20 and 50ng/ml, this is much too low for optimal health. You want your level to be between 50 and 70ng/ml.

This is the most important step you can take to prevent the flu! It may require a number of months taking 5,000 to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily (especially during winter) under a doctor’s supervision, to optimize your blood level. Monitor your 25 hydroxy vitamin D status every three months until you are in the optimal range, then cut back to a maintenance dose of at least 2,000 IU a day.

2. Get adequate sleep. This is an indispensable requirement for a strong immune system.

3. Get adequate exercise. This keeps you robust.

4. Take actions to lower your stress levels.

Do breathing exercises, meditate, practice yoga, spend time doing something that makes you happy. Feeling spent, overwhelmed and or mentally run down has a causal relationship to your physical health.

5. Wash your hands frequently but not excessively. It decreases your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Be sure you don’t use antibacterial soap because of the risk of creating resistant bacteria. Rather use a simple chemical-free soap.

6. Avoid sugar and processed foods as they decrease your immune function dramatically.

7. Eat phytonutrient rich meals (lots of colorful salads and dark greens).

8. Eat lots of garlic, it works as a broad spectrum antibiotic.

9. Take a probiotic daily (look for one with 10-20 billion organisms). A strong immune system relies heavily on having a strong foundation in the gut.

10. Keep a supply of antiviral herbal supplements on hand. As opposed to antiviral drugs, antiviral herbs do not cause resistant strains because they are multifaceted and contain literally thousands of different medicinal compounds. Thus they are able to attack viruses with a full spectrum of synergistic substances. Andrographis, Olive leaf extract, Grapefruit seed extract and Elderberry extract all have antiviral properties. Use one or a combination of some of them as a prophylactic measure, for example, whenever you travel (airports) or enter a potentially compromised environment such as a large office, auditorium, stadium, theater etc.

And if you really want to go all out, here are 4 more tips:

11. Take 1-2 grams of fish oils daily– it’s beneficial for immune function.

12. Take 2 grams of vitamin C daily, yes it does help.

13. Stock your home pharmacy with an immune building formula. Look for one that contains Cordyceps and Astragulus — take it throughout the flu season.

14. Keep homeopathic Oscillococcinum on hand. Take it at the earliest sign of a cold or flu as early intervention is essential.

If you are exposed to someone with the flu directly, you can take one dose twice a day for two days. You can also take one vial once a week throughout the winter, and two or three times a week during flu season, as a preventative measure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Generate Your Own Light To Read By

Images via designboom.

What a fantastic idea!! Sit in a comfy rocking chair, rock gently, and generate all the power needed to provide you with the light needed to read by. Congratulations to designer Rochus Jacob.

The designer says:

"I was looking for opportunities to generate energy through activities we naturally do. The final result is a rocking chair that enables the user to experience production and consumption of electricity in a gentle and rewarding way. An abstract process becomes tangible and eventually cultivates natural awareness. Complexity is covered by simplicity. Advanced nano-dynamo technology which is built in to the skids of the chair and more efficient light sources such as the newly developed OLED generation makes it possible to build a rocking chair with a reading lamp running on electricity generated from the rocking motion. During daylight the energy gets stored in a battery pack. The construction of the flat and bendable organic light emitting diodes allows new form factors such as using the traditional shape of a lamp but instead of having a light bulb the lampshade himself turns out to be the light source. To have a drastic reduction of consumption the big challenge will be to make consuming less feel like getting more."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Did You Know That...

Bright, sunny autumn days with cool nights, are believed to contribute to the most colourful foliage displays. Sugars are produced on sunny days and trapped during cool nights resulting in vivid crimson hues.

Rising Temperatures Affect Mount Kenya Residents

On the 14th of this month, I posted regarding house flies being seen at Mount Everest base camp due to global warming; and, how climate change was destroying the glaciers in the area.

Mount Everest base camp has its house flies; and, now Mount Kenya has malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

Photo courtesy TreeHugger.

TreeHugger tells us:
In its most recent report released in April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cautioned that rising temperatures would likely result in "the altered spatial distribution of some infectious disease vectors" and other "mixed effects, such as the decrease or increase of the range and transmission potential of malaria in Africa."

Stephen Morse, a professor at Columbia University, noted at the 107th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology that "environmental changes have always been associated with the appearance of new diseases or the arrival of old diseases in new places." David Rogers of Oxford University, who also spoke at the meeting, explained that the diseases that are most likely to be affected by environmental changes are those carried by insects and ticks. What isn't clear, he added, is whether the diseases would increase or decrease, an uncertainty he ascribed to the lack of a thorough analysis of historical disease record and the need for present-day ground-based surveillance and good predictive models.

Based on current and projected figures, Morse predicted that rising global temperatures would exert a profound impact on the spread of malaria by facilitating the migration of disease vectors, such as mosquitoes, to altitudes that had originally been too cold to support them. "One of the first indicators of rising global temperatures could be malaria climbing mountains," says Morse.

Insect-borne diseases are not limited to third-world countries. Below is a map of the United States showing the spread of dengue fever.

Image courtesy NRDC

Just a few months ago the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) released a report showing how half of the states in the US already have mosquitoes that carry dengue fever. Again, courtesy of global warming.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Maldavian Cabinet Pulls Creative Attention-Getting Stunt

Photo courtesy Maldivesonlineguide.

The Maldives chain of coral reef islands is southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The many coral reef islands, 1,190 in total, form an archipelago of 26 natural atolls. An atoll is a ring of coral islands and reefs that nearly or entirely enclose a lagoon. The 26 atolls are organized into 19 administrative atolls with the capital island of Male' having the distinction of being the sole component of the twentieth division.

Situated on the equator, the Maldives are a jewel sparkling in the Indian Ocean; and, attract hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. They are a favourite destination of scuba divers, snorkelers, and water enthusiasts the world over.

And they are sinking!

A single boat seemingly floats in midair on the beautiful crystal clear beaches in the Republic of Maldives in the Indian Ocean. In the background is an island that has now been split into two pieces. The section in the middle is now underwater. Photo courtesy funonthenet.

As any of my regular friends will tell you, I absolutely adore creativity and feel that most problems can be solved without violence of any kind – verbal, physical or emotional.

The people of the Republic of Maldives have long thought that enough attention is not being paid to their plight. Since the republic averages a mere 7’ (2.1 meters) above sea level, the spring tides have repeatedly washed over the land leaving the soil that used to support vegetable gardens and fruit orchards salty and unable to sustain plant life. Some coconut trees are still standing; but, they are falling over more and more as the salt water erodes their roots.

Some islanders are having food relief brought in by boat but subsist on a diet of fish and coconut in between deliveries. Some live entirely on just fish and coconut if their island does not receive food subsidies.

Maldivian Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ibrahim Didi signs a document calling on all countries to cut down their carbon dioxide emissions ahead of a major U.N. climate change conference in December in Copenhagen, in Girifushi, Maldives, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. Photo courtesy THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Mohammed Seeneen.

In an effort to draw worldwide attention to their plight, the members of the Maldives’ cabinet put on wetsuits, took the plunge and using hand signals conducted their last meeting underwater.

President Mohammed Nasheed and 13 other government officials submerged and conducted the meeting on the sea floor - six metres below the surface of a lagoon off Girifushi.

"What we are trying to make people realize is that the Maldives is a frontline state. This is not merely an issue for the Maldives but for the world," Nasheed said. The Maldives are the lowest-lying country in the world.

Surrounded by coral and curious fish, bubbles floating around each participant, the president, vice-president, cabinet secretary and 11 ministers signed a document urging all countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions.

At the UN climate change conference in December in Copenhagen, a successor to the Kyoto Protocol will be negotiated to cut the emission of greenhouse gases.

Wealthy nations want broad emissions cuts from all countries, while poorer ones say industrialized countries should carry most of the burden.

President Nasheed has already announced plans for a fund to buy a new homeland for his people if the 1,192 low-lying coral islands are submerged. If the Maldives survive, he has promised to make the islands, population 350,000, the world's first carbon-neutral nation within a decade.

"We have to get the message across by being more imaginative, more creative and so this is what we are doing," he said in an interview on a boat en route to the dive site.

While the President is a certified diver, the other attendees had to take diving lessons before the meeting.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Halloween Safety for Your Pet

Photo courtesy IreneS on Flickr.

My favourite holiday of the year is nearly here again. While Halloween is not what it was when I was a child - back then parents didn't have to worry about their children and we could eat those wonderful homemade treats that ended up in our bags - it is still a fun evening. However, Halloween may be as much fun for our animal companions.

Photo courtesy Dynamick.

Ways to Keep Your Pets Safe (precautions should be taken for several days on each side of Halloween)

1. Keep cats in and take dogs out on lease only. Cats should be kept indoors at all costs as well as off balconies. Even if the balcony is too high for a firecracker to be thrown onto it, the noise may be traumatic for the pet. Unfortunately, there are many people out there who think it's funny to either terrorize or harm a helpless animal. Be especially alert if your cat is black. If you are giving kittens away, wait until after Halloween. Keep your dogs on leases. The noise and smell of the activities and firecrackers could frighten a dog causing it to run away and become lost. If you do take your dog outside, make sure your pet is wearing proper identification (your phone number is a bare minimum).

2. Do not allow the pets any candy of any kind. Not only is chocolate deadly to dogs, cats and ferrets; but, certain types of sweeteners can either kill or cause severe health issues for them. Even small amounts of some sweeteners can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar,lead to depression, lack of coordination and seizures. Symptoms of chocolate ingestion can include vomiting; diarrhea; hyperactivity; increased thirst, urination and heart rate; seizures; and, possible death.

3. Take care when disposing of candy wrappers. Both dogs, cats and ferrets love to play with things they can bat around. Candy wrappers fit the bill perfectly; but, cats, in particular, also love to taste (and/or eat) strange things. If ingested, the wrappers can cause damage to the intestinal tract; or, even block the tract and cause death if not treated by a vet.

4. Be careful with Halloween decorations. Again, pets love to play and/or ingest things. The cobwebbing used at this time of year can cause problems or death if ingested. Lighted candles can be knocked over during Halloween play or possibly set the pet on fire under the correct circumstances. Great care should be taken when using these decorations. If you are a bird owner, remember that your feathered friend can become entangled in cobwebbing or land on a hot candle holder and burn its feet.

5. Be careful if you dress up your pet. Check to make sure there is ample room in the outfit for the pet to move and breathe freely. Be on the lookout for choking hazards or pieces that could be ingested. Also ensure that your pet will not trip when running while in outfit.

6. Even though your pets may be at home, make sure they are wearing identification. With all the comings and goings at the door, all the noise and excitement, a pet can easily slip out when frightened and id is what get them home most of the time. Lost pets without id can (and do) end up at the SPCA, pound or shelter.

Happy Halloween to you and your pets!! May you enjoy it as much as I do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Controlling Climate Change Through Managed Livestock Grazing

Friends: The following blog is my contribution to "Blog Action Day". The badge is on the right-hand side if you want to click for more information. Blog action day is intended to raise awareness of climate change.

Less than a week ago, I wrote a blog showing how global warming and climate change can be reversed through re-introduction of traditional farming methods. While using organically-composted materials to revitalize the soil instead of drowning it in synthetically-produced fertilizers makes sense to all, the thought of managed livestock grazing may be a harder sell. Hopefully, it will become an accepted tool in the battle to reverse climate change.

Land restored by managed livestock grazing. Photo courtesy Soil Carbon Australia.

When most people think of cattle pastures, they think of grass cropped to the roots or pulled out of the soil altogether; dry, lifeless soil lying exposed in bare patches; soil erosion; and, large masses of organic matter left strewn around the pasture.

This is definitely the result of uncontrolled overgrazing with no respect for the land. Livestock needs to eat like any other being on the planet; and, if left unmanaged, they will literally eat grassland to death.

However; when livestock, cattle in particular, are managed properly and the land treated in a respectful natural manner, the soil can be replenished and new life brought back to a region that has been previously decimated.

The land on the right side of the river is being cared for with holistic management and controlled grazing. The left side is not. Photo courtesy: Holistic Management International.

A report put out by Soil Carbon Australia shows the radical differences that can be made not only to the quality of soil and the amount of plant and animal that area can now support; but, how easy it is to incorporate carbon into the soil reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Healthy grasslands actually store more carbon than trees. Grasses remove huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere; and, once captured this carbon is stored in a massive, deep-reaching root system that lives longer than many trees.

Tony Lovell, one of the authors of the report, tells me that “just a 1% change in soil organic matter across just one-quarter of the World’s land area could sequester 300 billion tones of physical CO2.”

Christine Jones, Founder Australian Soil Carbon Accreditation says:
"The fabulous thing about sequestering carbon in grasslands is that you can keep on doing it forever – you can keep building soil on soil on soil... perennial grasses can outlive their owners; they're longer-lived than a lot of trees, so the carbon sequestration is more permanent than it is in trees: the carbon's not going to re-cycle back into the atmosphere if we maintain that soil management... and there's no limit to how much soil you can build... for example, we would only have to improve the stored carbon percentage by one percent on the 415 million hectares (1,025,487,333 acres) of agricultural soil in Australia and we could sequester all of the planet's legacy load of carbon. It's quite a stunning figure."

Photo courtesy: Holistic Management International.

Domestic animals are managed in ways that mimic nature: animals are concentrated and moved in a natural rotation that causes the animals to till packed soil with their hooves; dig bits of dry grass into the ground to compost and build a healthier soil base; distribute fertilizer and seed in their manure and urine; and then move to another pasture before overgrazing occurs.

There is an old saying - Everything old becomes new again. It would appear that returning to our agricultural roots will save us in the end. When we return to a time when we worked in harmony with nature instead of trying to bend her to our will, we will all benefit AND we will be able to feed all our world's inhabitants with fresh, wholesome food.

So, if you can't pronounce it - don't eat it. If it isn't grown naturally - don't buy it.

Ways we can help locally:

1. Buy locally grown organic produce and grassfed meat & dairy.
2. If carbon credits are available in your area, you could buy them for all your personal fuel emissions.
3. Money talks LOUDLY. Invest in products that conserve resources and are environmentally friendly. (water conserving appliances, on-demand water heaters, photovoltaic, etc.)
4. Support low-tech solutions for getting carbon out of the air and high-tech solutions for keeping new carbon from getting in the air.
5. Reduce your ecological footprint. Learn how at:
6. Increase your ecological literacy. Live more in tune with nature so we may all be healthier for the short time we have here.

In this video Colorado rancher Corwin Brown and Ecologist Renee Rondeau talk about how well managed cattle grazing plays a critical role in improving and protecting habitat for wildlife.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Flies Spotted on Mount Everest

Dawa Steven Sherpa is one of WWF climate witness in Nepal. Photograph: WWF

Dawa Steven Sherpa, WWF (World Wildlife Federation) climate witness in Nepal, wrote this report in 2008. Since that time, things have only gotten worse.

Earlier in 2009, he and his companions were resting at the Everest base camp when they heard something buzzing. “What the heck is that?” Dawa asked. He and his companions looked for the source of the noise and found a big, black house fly. Just a few years ago, this sight would have been impossible because no insect would have been able to survive at 5,360 metres (2.27 miles).

"It's happened twice this year - the Himalayas are warming up and changing fast," says Dawa. Dawa only took up climbing seriously in 2006; but, in a few years has managed to climb his way to success. He has climbed Everest twice as well as two 8,000 meter (4.97 miles) peaks in Tibet.

"What I do is climb. It's a family business. And what we see is the Himalayan glaciers melting. It's not a seasonal thing any more. It's rapid. It's so apparent.

"Look at the walls and slopes of the Khumbu glacier [which flows 1.5 miles down from an icefall on the southern flanks of Everest]. You can see a clear line where the black rock becomes white. That's where it's been exposed to the sun. That means metres of thick ice have melted in just a few decades," he says.

Dawa comes from a royal lineage in the climbing world. He was born in Khumjung, a village 12 miles from Everest laying 3,500 meters (2.17 miles) above sea level. His father used to climb with British mountaineer Chris Bonnington; while, his grandfather, a yak trader, toured the world with Mt. Everest’s first summiteer, Sir Edmund Hillary.

The village of Khumjung. The monastery in this village has for years kept a yeti scalp locked in a glass box. Recently, scientists convinced the monks to part with a tiny sample and had it analyzed. It is not the scalp of a yeti. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Dawa’s family, going back three generations, can testify to the major climate changes taking place today.

"Grandfather used to take yaks to a place called Gokio which was on the other side of the Ngozumba glacier, Nepal's longest. He could walk them over the ice but now it's just not there – it's a stony wasteland. The whole thing has melted," he says.

He continues his story by recounting some of the physical changes he has seen and the effects these changes are having on local communities.

"The permanent ice above our village now melts at about 5,500 meters (3.42 miles); but, it used to be 3,750 metres (2.33 miles). Our village is seeing prolonged droughts. They used to last a few months. Now we can go seven months without rain. We have less water now and erratic weather patterns.

"The young girls must now walk two hours to fetch water. Tourism, too, is being hit because villages like Khumjung, which used to have a lot of water for trekkers now don't have it. The villagers lose their business. All the Himalayan glaciers are melting, an average of 10-20m a year," he says.

Again, global warming is effecting the water supply of villages causing children, usually young girls, to have to walk farther and farther away to bring water for home use.

One of the most obvious and potentially dangerous changes is the growth of what has become known as “glacial lake outburst floods” (glofs).

Dawa explains: "A glof happens when a glacial lake is created by a melting glacier and it then bursts. Imja Lake is the most dramatic example of a potential one. It is growing 74m a year. When it bursts its banks, we will have a mountain tsunami. Billions of gallons of water will be released and it could wipe out about 70% of the trekking trail to Everest base camp. Not only will that destroy our homes and potentially kill people, but it will wipe out the jewel in the crown of Nepal's tourism industry."

Last year a very small lake at the edge of the Khumbu glacier burst and it washed away four bridges on a track up to Everest base camp.

"Apa says there was running water on the surface of the South col [a saddle at 7,920m between Everest and Lhotse Mountain] this year," says Dawa.

"Also the summit is getting smaller. You used to be able to get 50 people on the ridge to it. Now there's room for 18 people at most. The cornice is breaking off. A big crevasse is opening. It never used to exist. It seems nothing is safe anymore."

Dawa has a degree in business management from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland and he speaks five languages. He is a WWF ambassador on climate change and runs major expeditions into the Himalayas, climbing with his friend Apa Sherpa, who has climbed Everest 19 times - the world record.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The World's First Known Mainly Vegetarian Spider

The tiny Bagheera kiplingi is somewhat of an oddity in the insect world. This pinky-size spider is the only known spider to have a mainly vegetarian diet.

The spider, found in Central America, is the only species out of approximately 40,000 that is not strictly a predator. They live their lives on acacia plants nibbling the tender young shoots; raising their young on the ends of old leaves where guard ants protecting their acacias from other herbivores don’t patrol; and, avoiding the ants that would run them off.

“This is really the first spider known to specifically 'hunt' plants; it is also the first known to go after plants as a primary food source," said study researcher Christopher Meehan of Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

This uneasy relationship between the spiders and the ants provide both with a reasonably comfortable lifestyle – the plant’s hollow spines provide a homestead and they are provided with acacia nectar and juicy leaf tips to sustain them.

Scientists have found a type of jumping spider (adult female, shown here) dines primarily on leaf-tips from an acacia plant (yellow-orange leaf held by spider). Credit: R. L. Curry.

Since B. kiplingi spends its entire life on the acacia shrubs, they must avoid the ants at all times. When hunting, they actively avoid the ants using a variety of tricks. One of which is to use their silk not for webs; but, as droplines or retreat ladders.

"Most of the big spider textbooks almost outright claimed there are no herbivorous spiders," Meehan told LiveScience. "It's on par with the flying pig in terms of novelty."

The vegetarian jumping spider, called Bagheera kiplingi, nests in acacia plants that are guarded by ants. Here, a female spider guards her nest from one such ant. Credit: R. L. Curry.

The plant-eating strategy seems to be successful. Direct observation, video recordings and chemical analyses of these spiders in Mexico and Costa Rica suggest the animals get most of their food from such plants.

In the Mexican population, about 90 percent of the spiders' diet came from plant tissue, with the rest made up of ant larvae, nectar and other items. In Costa Rica, the spiders got about 60 percent of their diet from acacia plant tissues.

Can flying pigs be far off?

Enterprising Financially-Beleaguered Zoo Takes Action

A good play always has an understudy standing in the wings so if the star is unable to perform, the play can go on anyway with the understudy taking over the role.

Much the same thing has happened in Gaza City in the Gaza Strip. That area is recovering from the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas war. Unfortunately, the small zoo’s two zebras died due to starvation.

The Marah Land Zoo’s zebras were a popular attraction and are too expensive to replace; so, zookeepers got creative. A professional painter was hired and with the help of some French-manufactured hair dye, white donkeys became zebras.

The children who visit love the “zebras” because they can pet and ride them. They’re quite tame – almost like donkeys. The zoo has an aging tigress, two monkeys and a selection of birds, rabbits and cats on display.

Via TreeHugger and MSNBC.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Americans Spend $300,000 Looking For Radioactive Jackrabbit Droppings

Photo courtesy coyotecanada.

Many people will view this search as a terrific waste of taxpayer money.

A helicopter was called in to search for slightly radioactive jackrabbit droppings at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state.

Finding and removing the droppings would have been prohibitive and taken a ground crew many months. However, the helicopter completed the survey in just a few weeks. The helicopter was equipped with radiation detectors and worked from only 80 feet in the air.

According to OfficialWire:
"Nevada-based National Security Technologies received $300,000 in federal stimulus money sent to Hanford to do the helicopter survey."

There is no word yet on how much the total will be once the entire cleanup is finished. The radioactive rabbit feces and surrounding dirt scraped up by bulldozers will be shipped to Hanford, WA, to a radioactive fill.

How did this come to be?

Turns out several decades ago, someone made the decision to store plutonium liquid wastes in underground tanks. Jackrabbits burrowed into the dumps; and, strangely found the salty taste of plutonium to be quite intoxicating. These rabbits did what rabbits do, drank the waste, and; in due time, deposited that waste all around the area.

Wait, wait, it gets even better. Not only are there rabbits depositing radioactive feces over parts of Washington state in the US and contaminating the soil; but, they are also passing the radioactivity up the food chain. Red-tailed hawks, Ferruginous hawks, eagles, coyotes foxes, and bobcats call these rabbits food. They ingest the rabbits and become contaminated.

Let's hope this plan works.

Via OfficialWire and TreeHugger

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Plumpy'nut - A Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Food

Earlier this year, I blogged very briefly about a new RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food). It was a peanut butter based paste enriched with micro-nutrients to help treat malnourished children in the third world. This paste has now emerged as Plumpy'nut and it is saving lives.

Millions of children around the world now owe their lives to this paste that is never advertised and is relatively unknown outside of disaster areas.

The sweet paste is a mix of peanut butter, vegetable oils, powdered milk, sugar, vitamins and minerals. It is the equivalent of royal jelly, acai berries and chocolate combined in a single-serving package that little hands can use themselves. It requires no mixing, no water, and no cooking – just open a corner of the package and squeeze contents into mouth.

Amazingly, all this life-saving nutrition costs just 85p ($1.40)

A story from the Guardian shows how radically Plumpy’nut is changing lives:
One month ago, says Jirma (a health worker), both Barwaco and Mohamed were at death's door. Their muscles were wasting, their hair was turning orange, and they were showing sure signs of marasmus, a type of malnutrition caused by a diet deficient in protein and carbohydrates. When Jirma first saw them he feared for their lives.

Now, with the Plumpy'nut provided by Irish charity Concern Worldwide, they have recovered nearly 10% of their body weight – the difference between life and death for a young child. In another week or two they will move on to a corn and soya blend flour and in two months they should have recovered completely.

Just 10 years ago, their chances of survival would have been slim unless they had been admitted with their mother to a specialized clinic. The severe malnutrition they have experienced may yet lead to stunting and possibly brain damage, but they will survive without ever knowing how close they came to death.

These are just two of the lives out of the 100 million that the UN (United Nations) estimates have been left hungry and malnourished this past year due to global recession, high food prices and worsening environmental disasters.

Land on the Kenya/Ethiopia border that should be full of crops and grazing livestock is now baked hard thanks to the third major drought Kenya has suffered in less than eight years.

In many families a typical day’s food consists of a breakfast of tea with no sugar. Lunch and dinner are combined into one meal in late afternoon consisting of thin gruel of maize flour with a few beans and a little salt. There will not be enough to stop anyone feeling hungry. There is definitely nothing like adequate nutrition present; and, what little food supplies are on hand will be gone in a matter of days.

The world is officially losing the battle to feed its people. There are more malnourished at this point in time than ever before in history. The UN says it expects 642 million people in Asia and 265 million in sub-Saharan Africa (over one billion people) will go hungry this year. A new World Bank report predicts a further 25 million children could be hungry by 2050. Notice that none of these reports mention the poorest of the poor in the more developed countries such as Canada, United States or European nations.

"A four-decade positive trend of nations pulling themselves out of hunger has been reversed," says Josette Sheeran, head of the UN's World Food Programme, which provides emergency food for more than 100 million of the most vulnerable people.

"Poor households all over the developing world are eating fewer and less nutritious meals, and many are cutting back on healthcare and schooling for children. Unless the world responds, we are in danger of losing a generation to hunger and malnutrition. We have the know-how, the tools and the technology to feed the world. Let history not say of our generation that we let the opportunity of ending hunger slip through our fingers."

"The situation here is not good," says Koki Kaylo, Concern's nutritionist in northern Kenya, on the frontline of the growing crisis.

"Acute malnutrition rates among children under five are over 20% in some areas – well above the 15% emergency threshold. We have seen 300 cases of severely malnourished children like Barwaco and Mohamed in just a few months. Normally you might expect to see only 200 in a year. The situation will certainly get far worse by February [when the next crops can be expected].

"People are eating nothing but maize porridge now. That's just carbohydrates and leads to oedema, water retention, swollen legs. It's the beginning of starvation. Here you mainly see the wasting of muscles. This is very common already."

Malnutrition is known to lead to stunting of growth, brain impairment, frailty, attention deficit disorder and worse. The situation is becoming ever more dire as time goes on. The World Food Programme is nearly $3 billion in donations and is having to close offices, cut operations, reduce staff and slash rations to millions of people who have no way of making up this food through any other means. Hungry people become even hungrier.

The UN has reduced its daily minimum caloric needs from 2,100 calories to 1,050. This is the absolute bare minimum for a healthy diet – something that many in the developing world don’t obtain. In case you’re wondering – 1,050 calories is approximately the equivalent of three tins of baked beans.

Fatima with two of her children and her entire food store: one sack of scrawny maize stalks that a neighbour gave her. Photograph: John Vidal.

Global warming, climate change and a global economic crisis have once again taken their toll on those who can least afford it.

UN food supplies very seldom get to everyone in need. Politics plays a major role in who gets aid and who doesn’t. In Mathare slum (the second largest slum in the country) in Nairobi, nearly 800,000 people live in desperate poverty in a maze of tin shacks. The chances of food being distributed in this slum by the government are practically nil.

Help is left to charities, churches and individuals. Magdaline Gitahe of the Redeemed Gospel says, "They have little idea of the size of the problem. There is far more hunger than there was just a year ago. Maize used to cost 40 shillings [34 pence {$0.58}] a pack last year; now it costs 200 [£1.70 {$2.83}]. Sugar was 50 [42p {0.80}]; now its 115 [98p {$1.80}].

"Bread milk, flour, salt – everything has gone up. People are cutting back on food every way they can. We take porridge without sugar, tea is no longer a priority, and instead of buying a big bag of sugar we buy little ones. Water has become very expensive. Last year the government gave out some food. This year we have had nothing. More and more hungry people are coming to us for the first time. Children are dropping out of school because they have empty stomachs. We cannot keep up," says Gitahe.

Food prices have nearly tripled; and, these people have no way of increasing their incomes (if they even have one). The lack of adequate nutrition creates health issues which are not only expensive (and probably unobtainable); but, it could cause any wage earners to lose those wages due to ill health and inability to continue working.

However, many lives are now being saved thanks to Plumpy’nut. The clinics give these packages to mothers who are able to take them home. This eliminates the need for the mothers to stay at the clinic with the child while they are being treated; and, the packages nourish the adults as well.

Via Guardian

A Plumpy'nut video:

A documentary regarding Plumpy'nut:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Could Organic Farming Change Global Warming?

Over a year ago, I wrote a blog called "Is Organic Food Really Worth More Money" in which I touched on the destruction synthetic fertilizers and modern-day farming methods are having on our ecosystems worldwide. Now, it is becoming more acceptable that farming return to the old methods in an effort to turn the tide of global warming.

Organic soils such as those seen here could sequester 40% of global carbon emissions. Image source: Rodale Institute stock.

The scales of sustainability are definitely tipping toward the decline. The recommended safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that we ourselves have set is 350 ppm (parts per million); and, today our atmosphere has carbon dioxide levels of 386 ppm.

Ooops! Looks like we might have finally gone too far this time.

However, there may be an answer with a retro twist – organic farming. After all, before the invention of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers, all farming was organic farming. There was no other choice.

According to a report by Tim J. LaSalle, Ph.D., CEO and Paul Hepperly, Ph.D., Director of Research and Fulbright Scholar of Rodale Institute “organic farming could pull forty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere -- each year”.

Soil samples managed organically, on left, and chemically, on right.

The US Senate’s climate bill has set a cap on the greenhouse gas emissions Americans and their businesses can emit; and, have started a rewards program for the people and organizations that reduce their impact on the climate system.

As the bill stands now farmers are not neither allowed carbon credits nor given a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases that they can emit. This makes no sense since farmers can store atmospheric carbon dioxide in their soil as soil organic carbon which is carbon-credit worthy; but, they should also have a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit since agriculture is responsible for 15% of the US yearly emissions.

So how does agriculture account for 15% of yearly emissions? These gases are mainly produced when chemical companies burn fossil fuels to produce synthetic fertilizers and when distribution companies fly food around the globe.

The agriculture of the future will have to be climate friendly if we want any hope of being able to feed the world's inhabitants. The future farmers will have to use organic, regenerative, local, and biodynamic techniques which don’t produce greenhouse gases at the rate they do now.

The futuristic techniques they intend to employ are advanced crop rotations, allowing fields to lay fallow, intercropping, soil amendments and animal grazing are simply the techniques employed by farmers of the past when we lived in much closer harmony with the land.

Healthier soils stand up to the variations of wet and dry weather better than the chemically-laden soils we have built and depend on today. This is one reason why farmers should get credits based on the measured amounts of carbon they manage to sequester in the soil. It will encourage farmers to work to increase soil carbon rather than be limited by a specific, restricting law.

Rewarding farmers for measured carbon sequestration will not only encourage them to use techniques that hold carbon in the soil; but, soil rich in carbon holds water better, resists erosion and builds increased resiliency for an uncertain climate. It is expected that organic farming could pull 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere -- each year.

Not surprisingly to me, healthy soils perform better and actually mean more food for a growing global population. Reducing or stopping climate change and increasing the world’s food supply works for me!

Via TreeHugger

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Arctic Will Never Be The Same

The icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnicov in pack ice off Canada Photo: Daisy Gilardini

Even though the horrors of global warming and climate change have been kept in the forefront of people’s minds for the past several years, nothing speaks louder than money. The following is the story of vultures, greed and the cashing-in on a dying ecosystem.

As the Arctic ice retreats, surrounding countries are waiting with the patience only vultures can muster to be the first to rob the Arctic of her natural subterranean treasures. The US Geological Survey estimates that 13% of world’s undiscovered oil; 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas; and, precious metals including iron ore, gold, zinc and nickel lie beneath the Arctic tundra.

The weakening of the tundra year by year exposes more and more of the Arctic’s coast to the onslaught of the freezing, unthawing, and refreezing cycles of the cold, merciless Arctic Ocean allowing a little more the Arctic to wash out to sea.

However, this also makes the coveted oil, gas and precious metals more accessible to those who would plunder this unique ecosystem.

As if this wasn’t enough to fight over, the prospect of a new shortcut between Europe and Asia has driven all countries into new frenzies. The prospect of the financial gains this plum could generate is enough to put the countries at each others’ throats.

Not only can the new shortcut slash journey times by as much as one-third causing significant savings in itself; but, with the decrease in ice mass, the passage stays open for a longer period allowing even more sailings per year.

The ice mass has already decreased to such an extent that two German ships have successfully completed their journey from South Korea to Bremen without an icebreaker escort.

Hungry eyes have now become fixated on Canada’s Northwest Passage believing it could be utilized instead of the Suez and/or Panama canals.

The posturing, haggling, wheeling-dealing and political rhetoric has begun. Last year, Russia sent a submarine to plant its flag beneath the North Pole. When spring comes Russia plans to follow up this move by dropping paratroopers there. Quite the statement!

The latest findings from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado have shown that the ice levels now stand well below their long-term average: this summer’s total of 1.97 million sq. mi. is nearly one-third less than the average figure for 1979-2000 despite some minor fluctuations. The data was gathered using remote sensing data from NASA satellites.

While there is talk about an “ice-free” passage, in actuality the passage will only remain ice-free longer during the summer season – it will not remain ice-free year round. If the ice were to melt as some would like the effects would be completely unpredictable. No two areas would be affected by climate change in the same way.

This is borne out by the observations of sailors who have been observing conditions along the Russian coast since the 1930s. Their findings have shown that, while ice in the Kara and Chukchi seas is marginally thicker; there are other areas, including parts of the Laptev and East Siberian seas, where it has become more brittle.

While the insurers of the ice-strengthened vessels tear each other to pieces trying to determine how to set rates when the ice coverage fluctuates dramatically from year to year, there are environmental issues that will probably be overlooked until the problem has hit critical mass.

As the ice melts, the possibility exists that it will start to float more freely creating potentially very hazardous operating conditions for ships – especially during spring and summer. The ice packs polar bears, walrus, and other marine mammals depend on for survival will continue to get smaller; float further and further out of their reach; and, be available to them for shorter and shorter periods of time each year.

Longer ice-free seasons may also cause undue coastal erosion. This would make the building of any infrastructures very difficult (if not impossible). The harbours, terminals and depots needed to support both ships and mining operations may end up having to be built in locations that are inconvenient; or, they may not be available at all.

In the true sense of misery loves company - the last piece of bad news offered here may be the worst of all.

The National Centre for Scientific Research in France has just forecast that 10% of the Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2018. That’s less than one decade from now. This is within most of our lifetimes.

By 2050 it will have risen to 50% of the Arctic Ocean. That’s one-half on an entire ocean; and, still within the lifetime of some of us. I won’t live to see this; but, my children will.

By 2100, if anyone is still around, The National Centre for Scientific Research predicts the entire ocean will be unable to support shellfish. Once one part of the food chain becomes extinct, the effects ripple through the entire food chain.

But, I have to wonder how many of us will be left to care.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Early Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

This article is reprinted from Cause2. I thought it was far too valuable to go without publishing for my readers. The original article was found in

The average general health article on pancreatic cancer states flatly that there are no early symptoms of pancreatic cancer. People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are typically already in advanced stage of the disease by the time it’s caught, and the typical prognosis is death within five years.

With pancreatic cancer much on everyone’s mind due to the untimely death recently of Patrick Swayze, it seems like a good time to ask the question that’s on all of our minds: Are there any early warning signs of pancreatic cancer?

The answer is yes, there are. But to understand these signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, it’s important to understand where the pancreas is, and what it does.

Located deep inside the abdomen, the pancreas is only 4 to 6 inches long and shaped like a tadpole. In the “tail” of the pancreas are cells that produce insulin, and tumors at this end are usually endocrine tumors. They are easier to diagnose, but are much rarer. At the other end, the “head” of the pancreas, are cells that produce digestive enzymes, and tumors at this end are called exocrine tumors. These are by far the most common, and are much more difficult to detect.

However, the idea that a pancreatic tumor is asymptomatic is a bit of a myth. Dig deep into journal articles and ask patients what they remember and the result is a long list of odd signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer to watch out for.

Taken one by one, these symptoms could mean many things. But if you find yourself experiencing two or three of these early warning signs of pancreatic cancer, call your doctor and ask for a scan. Imaging techniques such as MRIs can in fact detect pancreatic cancer some of the time, depending on the location of the tumor.

Early warning signs of pancreatic cancer:

Diabetes, especially if it comes on suddenly. Recently, the Mayo Clinic published startling research showing that 40 percent of pancreatic cancer patients had been diagnosed with diabetes one to two years before discovering they had a pancreatic tumor. Researchers believe the diabetes is caused by tumors that simply haven’t been detected yet. The problem is, diabetes is very common, and the majority of diabetes isn’t pancreatic cancer, so doctors are trying to develop screening tools to tell the difference. Right now, they say family history is an important clue. If you’re diagnosed with diabetes that seems to come on suddenly and you have no family history of diabetes, bring this to your doctor’s attention and ask for further screening for pancreatic cancer.

Yellowing of the eyes or skin. Even a small pancreatic tumor can block the bile duct in the head of the pancreas, causing bile to build up. This causes jaundice.

Itchy skin, palms, and soles of feet. A little-known side-effect of jaundice is itchy hands and feet. It’s due to a skin reaction to the bilirubin, the yellowish brown liver chemical that causes jaundice.

Lack of appetite. An Italian study found that six to eight months before being diagnosed with pancreatic tumors, patients reported a sudden drop in their appetite and a tendency to feel full after eating very little.

Changes in taste
. In the same Italian study, some of the patients surveyed said they’d suddenly lost their taste for coffee, wine, and smoking. In fact, they said, they felt “disgust” for the smell and taste of coffee and alcohol.

Abdominal pain. Pancreatic cancer sufferers remember this pain as a gnawing pain, rather than a sharp cramp or ache, and it radiates toward the back. A characteristic clue: the pain goes away when you lean forward.

An enlarged gall bladder. The same blockage of the bile duct that causes jaundice can also cause an enlarged gallbladder, as the bile builds up behind the duct. The good news is that an enlarged gallbladder can be seen on imaging tests, and it may even be possible for a doctor to feel it during a physical exam.

Pale, floating, smelly stools. If a pancreatic tumor prevents digestive enzymes from reaching the intestine, the result is an inability to digest fatty foods. So you end up with loose, smelly “floaters” as a result of the excess fat. Doctors say this symptom, in particular, can be an early clue and is too often overlooked.

Dark, tarry stools. Bleeding in the upper intestines causes this symptom.
Sudden, unexplained weight loss.

Weight loss is not always, as many people mistakenly believe, a sign of advanced cancer that’s spread to the liver. It can also happen because a lack of pancreatic enzymes is causing fat to pass through the body undigested.

If you’re worried you might have pancreatic cancer, document all symptoms, and report them to your doctor in as much detail as possible. If your doctor’s convinced you have legitimate concerns (and remember, you may have to do some convincing) tests such as an ultrasound, a CT scan, and an endoscopy followed by a biopsy can be used to search for a pancreatic tumor. There’s also a blood test for a biomarker called CA-19-9 that can be used in conjunction with other tests to diagnose pancreatic cancer early.

While tragic early deaths like Patrick Swayze’s and that of “The Last Lecture’s” Randy Pausch are the hard reality of pancreatic cancer, there are also people living productive lives thanks to an early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Such was the case with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s still practicing after having a tiny pancreatic tumor surgically removed. Yes, she got “lucky,” as she put it — but she also got a CT scan, which is how the tumor was found.

Did You Know That...

Owls are one of the only birds who can see the color blue!

Did You Know That...

A lightning bolt generates temperatures five times hotter than those found at the sun's surface!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Real Answering Machine Message

The following is a REAL message on the answering machine of a school in Australia. It is totally self-explanatory. Any comments?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Did You Know That...

Fire travel 16 times faster uphill than it does downhill.

Frog's Ears Can Switch Frequencies

Odorrana tormota is one of only two frog species known to have a concave ear. Researchers believe that its unusual ear structure and high-pitched calls are an evolutionary adaptation to a noisy environment. Photo courtesy of Albert S. Feng, University of Illinois.

Last frog blog for awhile. This was just so interesting that I HAD to post it even though there have been a few frog blogs lately. Scientists have discovered a frog that has developed the art of selective hearing just like some humans have.

A rare Chinese frog has been found to have the unusual ability to shift its hearing from one frequency to another the better to selectively choose what it hears.

The frog, Odorrana tormota, is the only known animal in the world to be able to manipulate its hearing system to select particular frequencies with the exception of the human animal. According to scientists; however, we run a very poor second in a race of two. Our hearing system is very slow when compared with that of the frog; and, our ability to tune in or out with precision is also inferior to that of the frog. We definitely ended up being #2 in this race. Or from a different point of view - dead last.

The rare amphibian likely evolved its hearing talent out of necessity, since its environment is so noisy.

"Their calling sites are on the steep banks of a fast-flowing body of water -- the Tao Hua Creek (at Huangshan Hot Springs in central China)," Albert Feng told Discovery News.

Feng, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, added that the site is particularly noisy after spring showers while pointing out that humans have a similar inability to hear well over heavy rains.

"We pretty much have to shout at one another," he said.

The frog doesn't shout, but it instead sings like a bird either in audible chirp-like frequencies or by emitting very high-pitched ultrasonic sounds. This is the first time a frog has been known to sing in rising and falling harmonies - all other known frog calls go up or down.

Feng and his team were curious as to how this amphibian could hear these different vocalizations. They decided to analyze the frogs’ hearing system which was made much easier than expected since it was discovered that the frogs’ ears are completely transparent. Talk about a natural window!

Using a laser to measure the eardrum’s vibration, the team noticed that the eardrum responded to both audible and ultrasonic sounds. Interestingly, the eardrum’s sensitivity to ultrasonic noise sometimes mysteriously disappeared.

Discovery News tells us:
“Further investigation determined the frog actively opens and closes two narrow channels known as the Eustachian tubes, which connect the pharynx (part of the neck and throat) to the left and right middle ears. When open, the tubes couple the frog's left and right ears, making them sensitive to audible sounds from all directions. When closed, their ability to pick up ultrasonic frequencies kicks in.

"We said, 'Woah! This is bizarre!'" Feng recalled. "In all textbooks on sound communication and hearing in frogs, it is plainly stated that the Eustachian tubes are permanently open!"

This frog also possesses recessed ears instead of ones located on the body’s surface which may give it its ability to localize sound with amazing precision. When a wooing female starts to sing, male frogs have been recorded leaping directly in her direction with over 99% accuracy. They miss the mark less than 1% of the time. This level of accuracy has never been recorded in any other species of frog.

"On the one hand, I am surprised that any frog can open and close the Eustachian tubes," Carl Gerhardt, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, told Discovery News.

"But on the other hand, I am not too surprised that this frog does it because it is also the first to be shown to have ultrasonic hearing and calls with ultrasonic components."

Discovery News also tells us:
“The frog's unique hearing system is already being used as a model for "intelligent" hearing aids that can spatially separate sounds, process them the way that human brains do, and boost sound signals of interest, such as differentiating background noise from that of a desired conversation.”

Via Discovery News