Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Greener Passing

This is not a topic most people like to deal with; however, it should be decided before the final passing in order to ease the burden on those left behind. My own beloved mother passed away approximately 18 months ago; and, I remember it as if it were today. Fortunately, we knew what her wishes were; but, we had made no plans whatsoever.

She was cremated according to her wishes.

ALL photos and images courtesy: Margaux Ruyant

Though conventional 'deathcare' is hardly green, thanks to the use of embalming chemicals, concrete vaults and non-biodegradable caskets, burials are getting greener each year with various eco-friendly options and smarter approaches.

But what about keeping it simple, yet also tying death back into nature's cycle of renewal? That's what French designer Margaux Ruyant does with Poetree, a funeral urn that infuses a poetic spirit into the mourning process. Poetree is a funeral urn that evolves over time, allowing loved ones to plant a tree in the ashes, while also providing a simple but elegant monument.

The Poetree is made out of a ceramic ring with the deceased's details, plus a cork container and stopper. Relatives can place the deceased's ashes in the urn and take it home, along with a boxwood tree sapling in a biodegradable pot. When they are ready, the cork stopper is removed, soil can be poured inside the urn, and the small tree may be planted in the ashes.

After giving the boxwood tree some time to grow, the urn can then be planted outside, where the cork container can biodegrade, leaving only the ceramic ring as a marker and a living, growing tree to commemorate those who have passed on. It's a gorgeous idea that transforms the traditional 'static' view of death into something that is fluid and triumphantly hopeful.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Boy! Have I Got a Car For You!

ALL photos courtesy: Kenneth Cobonpue

I can see me now...cruising the highway, hair blowing, oldies blasting on the radio...aaahh, I can feel the warm breeze already.

With bamboo popping up everywhere in product design, and even in vehicles like bicycles and electric scooters, it was only a matter of time before cars got the same treatment. We've seen some not-so-successful bamboo car designs, but this streamlined bamboo-made concept car by Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue and German product designer Albercht Birkner is one that actually looks pretty convincing, even if there are still some kinks to work out.

Made with bamboo, rattan, steel and nylon by craftsmen over a period of ten days, the Phoenix Bamboo Car is designed to be primarily biodegradable, and cheaper to produce and refurbish than conventional cars. Says Cobonpue:
This project attempts to unveil the future of green vehicles using woven skins from organic fibers mated to composite materials and powered by green technology.

Not only that, the prototype strikes at the heart of the idea that modern automotive design has to be based on an industrial means of production. Like the concept "Ajiro" bamboo bike that's farmed, not factory-made, one can imagine that the bamboo material for the Phoenix could be likewise grown and harvested locally.

In the aesthetics department, the car biomimics the fluid shape of a leaf. Measuring 153 inches long, the sides of the shell are woven to meet at the tail-end of the leaf's 'stem.' The lifespan of the shell is designed for at least a five-year cycle -- the average time that a person keeps a car before replacing it.

It's a beautiful concept, but practical issues like road safety, how it's going to be powered (electric?), how much of the car will actually biodegrade, and how it's going to be distributed and recycled on a larger scale, would ultimately need to be addressed in the event that the idea does takes off.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Paper Coupons Destroy 13 Million Trees a Year

and 99% of them never get used.

Photo courtesy: crustmania via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In order to promote its online paperless coupon business, SavingStar has rolled out a new ad campaign designed to appeal to the environmental sympathies of department store bargain hunters: In an infographic and accompanying news release, it claims that 13.6 million trees are destroyed every year to produce paper coupons. And worse yet, 99% of those coupons never even get used, and are instead thrown out with the Sunday paper.

Here's the infographic:

Infographic courtesy: SavingStar grocery coupons

Coupons double for advertising merely by existing in that fold between the Lifestyle section and Sunday Business, so I doubt that companies mind being dumped out. But it's certainly another example of the mindless wastefulness that our consumer society promotes. 13 million trees makes for a lot of forest being felled in the name of the fleeting promise of marginally cheaper potato chips.

And one last note about this infographic itself, and that 13 million number -- the source the company offers as producing its tree-killing stat is another green product company, Marcal. I couldn't find confirmation on the website that the number was accurate, and the company has not yet responded to a request for clarification. Suffice to say that even if it's not exactly 13 million, there are no doubt innumerable trees being destroyed in the name of incentivizing frugal shopping. And there's no doubt the vast majority of coupons end up littering recycling bins and trash cans instead of saving consumers 39 cents on laundry detergent.

As such, I welcome this guerrilla ad campaign against traditional coupons, which, like styrofoam cups and classified ads, are increasingly looking like relics of the past.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Three-Eyed Fish Caught Near Argentine Power Plant

Photo courtesy:

Way back in 1990, an episode of The Simpsons, a wildly-popular cartoon in N. America, introduced Blinky, a mutated orange fish with three-eyes caught in the waters near the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, emblematic of mean Mr. Burns' callousness towards the environment -- and now, it seems, life has imitated cartoon. Recently, a group of fisherman on a lake in the Cordoba province of Argentina reeled in a fish that had an extra eye. And it just so happens that the lake this three-eyed fish was caught in is situated right next to a nuclear power plant, too.

According to, the lake where the three-eyed fish was caught is a reservoir where hot water from the nuclear facility is pumped, and that folks living nearby have started to grow worried after seeing undeniable evidence of mutation. Never had such a fish been seen there before.

"We were fishing and we got the surprise of getting this rare specimen. As it was dark at that time we did not notice, but then you looked at him with a flashlight and saw that he had a third eye," said fisherman Julian Zmutt of his unusual discovery.

Considering the ecological ramifications, and threat of widespread disaster, posed by nuclear power plants, it's no wonder that they seem far less of a viable option to fullfil the world's energy needs as does renewable sources like wind and solar. But of course, we've known that for a while.

Perhaps where a bit of foresight failed, three-sight will prevail.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aquamantra Slammed for False Advertising

Photo courtesy: aquamantra/promo image

Four years ago, a bottled water company claimed that its water was special. They claimed that by using the basic principles of quantum theory, the "molecular structure of water was changed by a Zen Buddhist monk's thought. Based on this premise, Aquamantra uses the design on its labels to affect the molecular structure of California natural spring water to make it more refreshing and wholesome to drink."

Two years ago, Roberta Crueger followed Aquamantra's "launching the world's first biodegradable-compostable bottle�or so they say."

Now the California Attorney General is suing the manufacturer of Aquamantra's bottles for making false claims of biodegradability. She is quoted in Huffpo:
"Californians are committed to recycling and protecting the environment, but these efforts are undermined by the false and misleading claims these companies make when they wrongly advertise their products as `biodegradable,'" Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement.
Aquamantra is, of course, shocked, shocked.
"I'm shocked that they have nothing better to do than go after companies that are doing their best for the environment," Aquamantra president Alexandra Teklak said. "We're such a small company. We don't even make $100,000 a year."
Doing their best for the environment does not usually mean selling bottled water in containers that a) don't actually biodegrade the way they say they do (Chemist Christine looks at their technology here) and b) contaminate the waste stream where they are mixed with PET bottles. No wonder California banned such claims as "biodegradable," "degradable" or "decomposable".

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mysterious Inflating Volcano

Uturuncu is a nearly 20,000-foot-high (6,000 meters) volcano in southwest Bolivia. Scientists recently discovered the volcano is inflating with astonishing speed. Photo courtesy: Noah Finnegan

Should anyone ever decide to make a show called "CSI: Geology," a group of scientists studying a mysterious and rapidly inflating South American volcano have got the perfect storyline.

Researchers from several universities are essentially working as geological detectives, using a suite of tools to piece together the restive peak's past in order to understand what it is doing now, and better diagnose what may lie ahead.

It's a mystery they've yet to solve.

Uturuncu is a nearly 20,000-foot-high (6,000 meters) volcano in southwest Bolivia. Scientists recently discovered the volcano is inflating with astonishing speed.

"I call this 'volcano forensics,' because we're using so many different techniques to understand this phenomenon," said Oregon State University professor Shan de Silva, a vulcanologist on the research team. [See images of the inflating volcano here.]

Researchers realized about five years ago that the area below and around Uturuncu is steadily rising — blowing up like a giant balloon under a wide disc of land some 43 miles (70 kilometers) across. Satellite data revealed the region was inflating by 1 to 2 centimeters (less than an inch) per year and had been doing so for at least 20 years, when satellite observations began.

"It's one of the fastest uplifting volcanic areas on Earth," de Silva told OurAmazingPlanet."What we're trying to do is understand why there is this rapid inflation, and from there we'll try to understand what it's going to lead to."

The peak is perched like a party hat at the center of the inflating area. "It's very circular. It's like a big bull's-eye," said Jonathan Perkins, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who recently presented work on the mountain at this year's Geological Society of America meeting in Minneapolis.

Scientists figured out from the inflation rate that the pocket of magma beneath the volcano was growing by about 27 cubic feet (1 cubic meter) per second.

"That's about 10 times faster than the standard rate of magma chamber growth you see for large volcanic systems," Perkins told OurAmazingPlanet.

However, no need to flee just yet, the scientists said.

"It's not a volcano that we think is going to erupt at any moment, but it certainly is interesting, because the area was thought to be essentially dead," de Silva said.

Uturuncu is surrounded by one of the most dense concentrations of super volcanoes on the planet, all of which fell silent some 1 million years ago.

Super volcanoes get their name because they erupt with such power that they typically spew out 1,000 times more material, in sheer volume, than a volcano like Mount St. Helens. Modern human civilization has never witnessed such an event. The planet's most recent supervolcanic eruption happened about 74,000 years ago in Indonesia. [Related: The 10 Biggest Volcanic Eruptions in History]

"These eruptions are thought to have not only a local and regional impact, but potentially a global impact," de Silva said.

Uturuncu itself is in the same class as Mount St. Helens in Washington state, but its aggressive rise could indicate that a new super volcano is on the way. Or not.

De Silva said it appears that local volcanoes hoard magma for about 300,000 years before they blow — and Uturuncu last erupted about 300,000 years ago.

"So that's why it's important to know how long this has been going on," he said.

To find an answer, scientists needed data that stretch back thousands of years — but they had only 20 years of satellite data.

"So that's where we come in as geomorphologists — to look for clues in the landscape to learn about the long-term topographic evolution of the volcano," Perkins said.

Perkins and colleagues used ancient lakes, now largely dry, along the volcano's flanks to hunt for signs of rising action.

"Lakes are great, because waves from lakes will carve shorelines into bedrock, which make lines," Perkins said.

If the angle of those lines shifted over thousands of years — if the summit of the mountain rose, it would gradually lift one side of the lake — it would indicate the peak had been rising for quite some time, or at least provide a better idea of when the movement began.

The local conditions, largely untouched by erosion or the reach of lush plant and animal life, lend themselves to geological detective work, Perkins noted.

"It's a really sparse, otherworldly landscape," Perkins said. "Everything is so well preserved. There's no biology to get in the way of your observations."

Perkins said that surveys conducted on the lakes last autumn didn't indicate long-term inflation. However, tilting lakes are only one indicator of volcano growth, he said.

De Silva said the geological detective team is working to combine data from a number of sources — seismic data, GPS data, even minute variations in gravity — to pin down when and why the mountain awoke from its 300,000-year-long slumber, and better predict its next big move.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

UK Company Quits Kenyan Biofuel Project

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia/CC BY 1.0

Local Kenyans and environmentalists are celebrating British firm G4 Industries Limited's recent pullout from a 28,000-hectare biofuel project in Kenya that they say would have destroyed a wetland ecosystem crucial for regional wildlife, the Tana River Delta. The company said it is pulling out because of increasing evidence of environmental issues.

As the rush to boost biofuel crop production continues, arable land in Africa and other regions is being compromised for agriculture that many argue is not sustainable. In a press release, the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said about G4's announcement:
The RSPB and others have been fighting the proposals which will destroy one of the most important wetland wildlife sites in Africa. Now G4 Industries Limited, based near Cambridge, have withdrawn their proposal for a 28,000ha project at Tana, citing growing evidence of environmental issues.
The decision by G4 Industries is refreshing at a time when other companies push forward to develop biofuel crop projects with no apparent regard for consequences on local environments. RSPB says that Canadian company Bedford Biofuels Inc., for example, has started work a jatropha project, a crop that has been touted as important for biofuel, on a 10,000-hectare plot in the Tana River Delta. And that is just the pilot phase—the full plan is to develop jatropha plantations on more than 60,000 hectares in the Delta and surrounding area. Italian-owned Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited has been pushing a similar plan in Kenya's Dakatcha Woodlands.

Executive Director of G4 Industries Mike Pond explained the reasoning behind the company's pullout from the project: "We have become increasingly concerned about the environmental implications of operations in the Tana Delta and we have now decided to withdraw from the region."

He said, "Sustainable farming is key to the world's development but it is essential that these operations are carried out in harmony with the environment and working hand in hand with local governments and environmental organisations. This means avoiding areas of wildlife habitat and green field sites where a natural balance cannot be maintained."

He made another important point that is often overlooked: "It is interesting to note that 90% of African farming operations, particularly subsistence farming, are delivering less than 30% of the yield that could be achieved. Much work is required to address this issue."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Drug Promises to Keep Hair From Going Grey

Photo courtesy:

A wonder(?) pill which is being developed can stop hair from turning grey, a media report said.

Experts at beauty firm L'Oreal claim it will keep your crowning glory the same natural colour forever, The Sun reported. They promise the daily drug will not be expensive; and, is totally natural because it uses a fruit extract.

Bruno Bernard, head of hair biology at the cosmetics giant, said: "People will take it like a dietary supplement. They need to start using the pill before their hair goes grey."

L'Oreal - which has been developing the drug for more than a decade - says it won't be available until 2015; AND, it will take 10 more years before they can prove it works based on whether the pill poppers go grey or not.

Grey hair happens because, as you age, your cells don't produce as much of a "helper" enzyme called tyrosinase-related protein-2. L'Oréal has developed a proprietary fruit-derived enzyme that it thinks will be able to mimic the effects of your natural protein; but, it won't be revealing exactly what the enzyme is until the International Investigative Dermatology in 2013, closer to the pill's release date.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Using Wild Chamomile as a Wild Animal Repellent

Photo courtesy:

No matter the problem, there is always an environmentally-friendly solution; and, Kathmandu in Nepal is leading the way in creativity for finding this environmentally-friendly, win-win solution to the problem of elephants grazing their fields.

Villagers in the western Nepalese district of Bardiyal has resorted to the use of chamomile flowers to keep away wild animals. The villagers - threatened by wild rhinos and elephants who destroyed their crops and charged at locals - resorted to the simple, non-violent measure after discovering that mint and chamomile plants repelled the animals.

As an added bonus, chamomile is a wonderfully, medicinal plant that the locals can use in traditional medicines. Chamomile has long been used as a sleep aid. A tea is made that can be sweetened with honey. When drunk, chamomile relaxes the drinker's system enough for natural sleep to be obtained. Preliminary research suggests chamomile is an effective therapy for anxiety as well.

In Russia, chamomile tea is used for stomach troubles, colds, and muscle aches as well as the usual anxiety and insomnia.

Mint is a powerful digestive aid that soothes irritated digestive tracts and helps to expel gas. It is used in cooking due to its pleasant flavour and delightful aroma.

The project has been nominated for the World Challenge 2011 which recognizes projects bringing social and environmental benefits through enterprise and innovation.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shark Finning Larger Industry Than Previously Thought

ALL photos courtesy: Shawn Heinrichs for the Pew Environment Group

I have never tasted shark fin; and, never want to. The cruelty involved in finning is so overwhelming that I will not even patronize a restaurant that sells any form of shark fin. After reading this article, you may not want to patronize them either. I always make it clear that the reason I am not staying to eat is because they sell shark fin; and, as long as they sell it, I will eat elsewhere. The restaurant must be fully aware that this product is costing them customers.

Without our purchasing dollar, these atrocities cannot continue to exist. Money talks louder than anything else. If these restaurants realize they are losing patrons because they are selling shark fin; it won't be long before they remove it from their menu. This financial loss then goes up the food chain until (hopefully) shark finning become unprofitable. Then, and only then, will it stop.

Pew Environment Group this week released a series of photos that are simply jaw-dropping as they reveal the scale of shark fishing for fins. The group released a report earlier this year noting the world's 20 largest shark catchers, including Taiwan, which is where these photos were taken.

Bags of shark fins. In 2009 the Taiwanese-flagged fishing trawler, Chien Jiu 102, was seized at Cape Town harbor, South Africa with 1.6 tons of dried shark fins.

According to Pew, the images captured depict "fins and body parts of biologically vulnerable shark species, such as scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip, being readied for market."

And it isn't hard to determine that this is just a snapshot of the larger picture of shark finning.

An assortment of shark fins. From 1985 to 1998, shark fin imports to Hong Kong and Taiwan increased by more than 214 percent and 42 percent, respectively; and between 1991 and 2000, trade in shark fins in the Chinese market grew by six percent a year.

"These images present a snapshot of the immense scale of shark-fishing operations and show the devastation resulting from the lack of science-based management of sharks, "said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group. "Unfortunately, since there are no limits on the number of these animals that can be killed in the open ocean, this activity can continue unabated."

Taiwan has the fourth largest number of reported shark catches. It, along with Indonesia, India and Spain account for 35% of total global catches. Taiwan is reportedly instituting a ban on shark finning to go into effect next year; however, it is hard to say how that will be enforced if it is such a large industry right now.

As Mike noted earlier this year, "Since a whole shark takes a lot more space than just a shark fin, this means that the fishing boats should be able to catch fewer sharks before coming back to shore, and that shark fishing should be less profitable. But this will depend heavily on whether there are inspectors looking at catches and enforcing the law, and if the boats don't just bypass Taiwan and go dock at other ports to drop their fins."

It will take a serious investment in enforcement to have the ban really mean anything at all.

Many of these fins come from pelagic shark species. According to the IUCN, over 50 percent of pelagic sharks are Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction.

Pew Environment Group states, "The demand for shark fins, meat, liver oil, and other products has driven some populations of these animals to the brink of extinction. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually to support the global trade in their fins. The International Union for Conservation of Nature assessed in its Red List of Threatened Species that 30 percent of shark populations around the world are Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction. Since sharks are top predators, their depletion also has risks for the health of entire ocean ecosystems."

Studies have shown that sharks can be worth far more alive than dead to a coastal community.

Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Western Australia found that a single reef shark can contribute as much as $2 million over its lifetime to the economy of Palau because it is an attraction to shark divers and tourists, and it helps keep reefs healthy which is a benefit for both tourism and fishing.

However, sharks are not safe -- even in sanctuaries.

We have heard of so many wonderful strides in countries across the globe declaring waters safe for sharks. The world's first shark sanctuary was declared in Palau in 2009, followed by the Maldives in early 2010. Then Indonesia set aside the waters around an entire island, and this year Cocos Island dedicated waters to a sanctuary bigger than Yellowstone, Honduras coughed up over 92,000 square miles, followed by the Bahamas with 250,000 square miles. And finally, Micronesia has declared plans to create the world's largest sanctuary to date.

But it means nothing without enforcement, which we have seen first hand recently. Illegal boats were caught with over 350 dead sharks in the Galapagos where shark fishing is banned, and an estimated 2,000 sharks were slaughtered in the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary in Columbian waters.

This picture of over 3,500 shark fins provides a snapshot of a tiny percentage of the estimated 30 to 73 million sharks killed every year to supply the global shark fin industry.

To address the overfishing of sharks, the Pew Environment Group recommends that governments should immediately establish shark sanctuaries; end fishing of sharks for which management plans are not in place or that are endangered; devise national plans of action for conservation of sharks; and eliminate shark bycatch in fisheries.

These are goals that would go a long way to help shark numbers recover, and bring these important apex predators back from the edge of extinction. However, in reality we have a long way to go before we could get many governments to not only agree to these goals but also enforce them. Indeed, first we need to diminish the demand for shark fins and other shark products in the first place.

If there is demand, and money to be made, it will be an uphill battle. Some US states have already implemented bans on the shark fin trade, including Oregon, Hawaii, Washington and California. Toronto, Canada also has a ban in the works. More bans worldwide on possessing or selling shark fins, as well as significant education efforts about the importance of sharks are as important as any changes in fishing practices.

Shark carcasses, also known in the fishing industry as "logs", are offloaded at a processing warehouse.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Tamarack

Tamarack needles and cone.

One of the only conifers to drop its needles, the tamarack (Larix laricina) or American larch grows in every province in Canada. They can reach heights of 10-20 metres or 33-66 feet. Its flexible needles are two- to three- centimetres (.4-1.2 inches) long and grow in tufts of up to 20. Spring through summer, they're light blue-green. They turn a brilliant yellow in autumn before falling to leave pale pinkish-brown shoots bare through winter.

The cones are one- to 2.3-centimetres (.4-.9 inches) long and egg-shaped with 12 to 25 seed scales. They are bright red, turning brown when ripe.

The trunk is up to 60 centimetres (23.6 inches)in diameter with smooth grey bark on young trees that turns reddish brown and scaly as the tree grows. Tamaracks tolerate a wide range of soil conditions; but, grow most commonly in swamps, bogs and lowland areas. They're one of the first trees to invade filled-lake bogs and one of the first to grow after a fire.

People have found many uses for tamarack wood, including making decoys, canoe parts and medicine. Its sap, which tastes like maple syrup, can be chewed like gum.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Great Wall of China Crumbling Due to Mining

The Great Wall of China. Photo courtesy: Matt Barber / Creative Commons.

Once again, greed rears its ugly head; and, another irreplaceable relic from the past stands close to collapse. Mankind is the only animal that refuses to learn from past mistakes; and, will destroy anything or anyone who stands in the path of their financial gain.

China's rapid push to develop the country's resources is now threatening its most iconic landmark. According to recent reports, both legal and illegal mining near the Great Wall are causing parts of the ancient, 4,000-mile-long structure to crumble away.

"The Great Wall of China may have survived the Huns and Mongol hordes, but widespread neglect, underfunding, and mining means that it is now falling down," The Telegraph reported earlier this month, citing photographs that show "huge holes...punched through the wall in some areas" and entire sections up to 100 miles long in ruins.

"We have no idea how many enterprises are engaged in mining along the Great Wall," the British newspaper quoted Guo Jianyong, an engineer from the provincial architecture protection agency, as telling the People's Daily.

The stability of the centuries-old wall is threatened by prospecting for copper, iron, molybdenum, and nickel, with some mining operations coming within 100 meters of the famous structure, Reuters reported. It said the country's Land Resources Bureau is not required to consult with the Department of Cultural Heritage before issuing mining permits.

The Great Wall of China. Photo courtesy: thetelegraph

Villagers in Hebei Province told the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency that "about 700 meters of the wall, which was built during the reign of Emperor Wanli during the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620), had already collapsed, and more walls and even towers are likely to collapse if the mining continues unchecked."

According to both The Telegraph and Reuters, maintenance of the wall has focused on the most-visited segments near Beijing, with other parts neglected and left to fall into disrepair. Xinhua quoted an engineer as saying that resources are so limited, many segments of the wall are only inspected once a year.

"There was a regulation to protect the wall in 2006, but the wall is so long it is hard to enforce... And the general awareness of the wall's problems is low," Dong Waohui, the vice-chairman of the Great Wall Association, told The Telegraph. "People just think of the famous sections and assume that the rest of the wall is in the same condition."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Eco-Farming Could Double Yields

Some rice farmers have started using ducks for weeding instead of indsutrial methods. Photo courtesy: Anupam Nath/AP via

A move by farmers in developing countries to ecological agriculture, away from chemical fertilisers and pesticides, could double food production within a decade, a UN report says.

Insect-trapping plants in Kenya and ducks eating weeds in Bangladesh's rice fields are among examples of recommendations for feeding the world's 7 billion people, which the UN says will become about 9 billion by 2050.

"Agriculture is at a crossroads," says the study by Olivier de Schutter, the UN special reporter on the right to food, in a drive to depress record food prices and avoid the costly oil-dependent model of industrial farming.

So far, eco-farming projects in 57 nations demonstrated average crop yield gains of 80 per cent by tapping natural methods for enhancing soil and protecting against pests, it says.

Recent projects in 20 African countries resulted in a doubling of crop yields within three to 10 years. Those lessons could be widely mimicked elsewhere, it adds.

"Sound ecological farming can signficantly boost production and in the long term be more effective than conventional farming," De Schutter said of steps such as more use of natural compost or high-canopy trees to shade coffee groves.

It is also believed "agroecology" could make farms more resilient to extreme weather conditions associated with climate change, including floods, droughts and a rise in sea levels that the report said was already making fresh water near some coasts too salty for use in irrigation.

Benefits would be greatest in "regions where too few efforts have been put in to agriculture, particularly sub-Saharan Africa," he said. "There are also a number of very promising experiences in parts of Latin America and parts of Asia.

"The cost of food production has been very closely following the cost of oil," he said. Upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia have been partly linked to discontent at soaring food prices. Oil prices were around $115 a barrel on Tuesday.

"If food prices are not kept under control and populations are unable to feed themselves ... we will increasingly have states being disrupted and failed states developing," De Schutter said.

Examples of successful agroecology in Africa include the thousands of Kenyan farmers who planted insect-repelling desmodium or tick clover, used as animal fodder, within corn fields to keep damaging insects away and sowed small plots of napier grass nearby that excretes a sticky gum to trap pests.

The study also called for better research, training and use of local knowledge. "Farmer field schools" by rice growers in Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh had led to cuts in insecticide use by between 35 and 92 percent, it said.

De Schutter also recommended a diversification in global farm output, from reliance on rice, wheat and maize.

Developed nations, however, would be unable to make a quick shift to agroecology because of what he called an "addiction" to an industrial, oil-based model of farming – but a global long-term effort to shift to agroecology was needed.

It cited Cuba as an example of how change was possible, as the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to supplies of cheap pesticides and fertilisers being cut off. Yields had risen after a downturn in the 1990s as farmers adopted more eco-friendly methods.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shark Massacre in Columbian Waters

A school of scalloped hammerhead sharks, Cocos Island national park, Costa Rica. Photograph: Jeffrey Rotman/Corbis via

OMG!! If the angels in heaven aren't weeping over this one. I've done this blog for several years now because environmental issue are a huge; if not, overwhelming issue for me. Sometimes, I get to report a success; but, mainly I have nothing to report but bad news. This is one of those days when I begin to feel that I could be tempted to leave my pacifistic ways and return tit for tat.

Imagine cutting off the shark's fins and tossing it overboard to drown... and... in a wildlife sanctuary of all places. Eventually, karma will catch up with their sorry asses...if not this life; then, the next. Of this, I am totally convinced. Meanwhile, read on for details.

Colombian environmental authorities have reported a huge shark massacre in the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary in Colombia's Pacific waters, where as many as 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and silky sharks may have been slaughtered for their fins.

Sandra Bessudo, the Colombian president's top adviser on environmental issues, said a team of divers who were studying sharks in the region reported the mass killing in the waters surrounding the rock-island known as Malpelo, some 500 kilometres from the mainland.

"I received a report, which is really unbelievable, from one of the divers who came from Russia to observe the large concentrations of sharks in Malpelo. They saw a large number of fishing trawlers entering the zone illegally," Bessudo said. The divers counted a total of 10 fishing boats, which all were flying the Costa Rican flag.

"When the divers dove, they started finding a large number of animals without their fins. They didn't see any alive," she said. One of the divers provided a video that shows the finless bodies of dead sharks on the ocean floor.

Calculating an average of 200 sharks per boat, "our estimates are that as many as 2,000 sharks may have been killed," Bessudo said.

The sanctuary covers 8,570 square kilometres of marine environment that provides a habitat for threatened marine species – in particular sharks. Divers have reported sightings of schools of more than 200 hammerhead sharks and as many as 1,000 silky sharks in the protected waters, one of the few areas in the world where sightings of short-nosed ragged-toothed shark, known locally as the "Malpelo monster," have been confirmed. In 2006 Unesco included the park on its list of World Heritage sites.

Bessudo, a marine biologist, has spent much of her career in Malpelo and fighting to preserve the unique marine environment there.

But the high concentration of sharks in Malpelo and the remoteness of the marine sanctuary draws illegal fishing boats from nearby nations which trap the sharks, strip them of their fins, and throw them back into the water. Shark fin soup, considered a delicacy of Chinese cuisine, can fetch £63 per bowl in a Hong Kong restaurant.

Colombia's navy sporadically patrols the waters and maintains a small outpost on the 1.2 square kilometre island, which is 36 hours from the nearest port. At the time of the reported shark finnings, however, no navy ships were nearby.

Once the report of the finnings were made public, the navy dispatched a ship to the area and on Sunday reported the seizure of an Ecuadorian fishing boat, caught with an illegal catch of 300kg, including sharks and other species.

At the same time, Colombia's foreign ministry took up the issue with the Costa Rican government, which vowed to co-operate to help stop the practice by ships registered under its flag.

In a communiqué, the Costa Rican foreign ministry said it "energetically condemns" the reported finning and said it would prosecute if the participation of Costa Rican flagged ships were involved. At least three of the ships were identified by their names: the Marco Antonio, the Jefferson and the Papante.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nanotechnology Powered by Breath

Stretchable piezoelectric PZT ribbons. (Image: McAlpine Group, Princeton University) Photo couretesy: nanowerk

When it comes to nanotechnology, the seemingly smallest motions can provide reliable and renewable energy. This is what is being discovered at the University of Wisconsin in Madison by Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Xudong Wang, postdoctoral Researcher Chengliang Sun and graduate student Jian Shi, who have created a plastic microbelt that vibrates in low-speed air movement, such as that of human respiration. But it not only vibrates--the polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) used in the microbelt actually gathers an electric charge in response to this mechanical stress in what is known as the piezoelectric effect. This electric charge is sufficient enough to power tiny electric devices, the kind used in nanotechnology.

A device that could get its energy from the body's natural motions, such as respiration, blood flow, motion and heat, could drastically change the face of biomedical technology. With this consistent source of power, pacemakers, for example, would never have to be replaced, and devices could regularly measure blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes.

To create the microbelt, Wang and his team used an ion-etching process to shave the PVDF thinner and thinner without removing its piezoelectric properties. In time, and with some improvements made to the process, Wang believes that the PVDF can actually be thinned to a sub-micron measurement. As an added bonus, PVDF is bio-compatible, making it a candidate for the advancement of micro-sized medical devices.

"Basically, we are harvesting mechanical energy from biological systems," Wang said. "The airflow of normal human respiration is typically below about two meters per second. We calculated that if we could make this material thin enough, small vibrations could produce a microwatt of electrical energy that could be useful for sensors or other devices implanted in the face."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Liberated Battery Hens Sent to Prison

Photo courtesy: bhwt

It's the "only in Britain" category for this one... The British Hen Welfare Trust (bhwt) has proudly announced that it has rescued 20 battery hens and "re-homed" them in a high security prison for women.

The jailbirds will live at the prison as part of a garden programme offering educational and therapeutic projects to the inmates.

Photo courtesy: heritage-explorer; Holloway Prison, 1851

The British Hen Welfare Trust is a national charity that re-homes commercial laying hens. Since its inception in 2005, they claim to have rescued 60,000 hens from slaughter and to have found caring pet homes for them.

The Trust also educates the public about supporting UK farmers and buying free range eggs. Its ultimate goal is to see a British egg industry where all the commercial laying hens have a good quality of existence.

While it is ironical that liberated battery hens are going to jail, the placement in the prison is a wonderful experiment for the Trust and the prisoners. There have been many stories about the therapeutic benefits of animal and plant rearing in prisons. As a spokesman said: "It is apt and extraordinary on so many levels that some of the prisoners will be able to take care of something as vulnerable as a battery hen that has had a restricted start in life, that has been kept, literally behind bars in a small cage without access to sunlight or fresh air. I truly believe in the therapeutic benefits of keeping animals and the value of being responsible for and caring for hens such as these."

Apparently the hens have settled in well and have lots of space.

Photo courtesy: bhwt

The fact is that more and more people are taking chickens as pets and as sources of eggs and food. Chickens are wonderfully intelligent animals; and, make excellent pets. (My pet chicken's name was Henny Penny.) Even Tesco, the supermarket, is selling chicken coops. Nearly 700,000 Brit's now keep chickens, this is a rise of 80% in three years and the biggest increase since WW2. It probably has to do with households trying to cut grocery bills by growing their own food.

Not to mention, that home-raised, free-range eggs taste better and are better for you than eggs laid by battery hens. Plus, I believe more people are concerned about the living conditions of the hens that lay supermarket eggs. They want to continue to enjoy eggs (Brits [like me] love their eggs); but, don't want to contribute to the abuse suffered by battery hens.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Photo courtesy:

This is probably not what most people would call a fun fact; but, it is a fact nonetheless.

From the climate files: British researchers have discovered that a species of microscopic plankton is migrating back to the North Atlantic, more than 800,000 years after its extinction in the region.

This is good news, you might be thinking; but, the shift is likely due to warming ocean temperatures and melting polar ice. And though the plankton is a food species, its return is not being welcomed, as it signals changes at the base of the marine food chain that could have harmful consequences for other species.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Biker Training in Africa Gets Taken Out By a Buck

This video shows a mountain biker training in Africa. All of a sudden, out of nowhere comes this enormous buck racing at full speed. The buck and biker collide with the following result.

So, remember: when in foreign countries obey all laws, wear all safety gear; and, always give locals the right of way.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And I Thought Thieves Were Brazen in Surrey, BC, Canada

Photo courtesy: WTAE/Public Domain

I thought I had seen the epitome of brazen criminal behaviour, right here in my own building, just a few months ago.

When one of my friends went down to the lobby at 5:30 am to leave for work she was shocked to see a grubby, skinny man using a blowtorch ...yes, I said blowtorch ... on our glass-enclosed entryway. Fortunately, the instant he saw her, he ran. She phoned police and.....

However, these thieves I'm about to tell you about have surpassed even that theft.

In Baltimore, thieves stole aluminum lampposts. In Philadelphia, you had to watch where you were walking, lest you fall into an open manhole; the covers were being stolen. Bar owners had to lock up their empty aluminum kegs. Meth heads were getting electrocuted stealing wire. It was all part of Peak Metal, where the commodity prices were getting so high that it was worthwhile for criminals to recycle just about anything metal.

In my neck of the woods, the problem is wiring and copper plumbing being stolen from abandoned homes. Of course, once they have the wiring and plumbing, the house is in rough shape.

Photo courtesy: Global informine/Public Domain

The creative recycling fell off as prices collapsed during the recession, but it is back as people get desperate. And in North Beaver Township, Pennsylvania, thieves have pulled off perhaps the biggest heist ever: an entire bridge, estimated to have $100,000 worth of steel. You can watch the worst news video ever about it here.

Image courtesy: googlemaps/Public Domain

Now, Consumerist reports that the thieves have been caught and according to the Post-Gazette, "face felony charges of criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property and conspiracy".

Although the bridge was rarely used, it apparently had some notoriety:
Some people in Lawrence County believe Covert's Crossing might have been haunted. The historical society, in a video about haunted spots in the county, says some residents claim that a beautifully dressed woman haunts the bridge on prom night.

Now, it can add being the first; and, hopefully, only bridge stolen under cover of darkness.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Melting Nepalese Glaciers Causing Danger of Flood to Villagers Below

It's strangely calming to watch the Imja glacier lake grow, as chunks of ice part from black cliffs and fall into the grey-green lake below.

But the lake is a high-altitude disaster in the making – one of dozens of new danger zones emerging across the Himalayas because of glacier melt caused by climate change.

If the lake, situated at 5,100m in Nepal's Everest region, breaks through its walls of glacial debris, known as moraine, it could release a deluge of water, mud and rock up to 60 miles away. This would swamp homes and fields with a layer of rubble up to 15m thick, leading to the loss of the land for a generation. But the question is when, rather than if.

Mountain regions from the Andes to the Himalayas are warming faster than the global average under climate change. Ice turns to water; glaciers are slowly reduced to lakes.

When Sir Edmund Hillary made his successful expedition to the top of Everest in 1953, Imja did not exist. But it is now the fastest-growing of some 1,600 glacier lakes in Nepal, stretching down from the glacier for 1.5 miles and spawning three small ponds.

At its centre, the lake is about 600m wide, and according to government studies, up to 96.5m deep in some places. It is growing by 47m a year, nearly three times as fast as other glacier lake in Nepal.

"The expansion of Imja lake is not a casual one," said Pravin Raj Maskey, a hydrologist with Nepal's ministry of irrigation.

The extent of recent changes to Imja has taken glacier experts by surprise, including Teiji Watanabe, a geographer at Hokkaido University in Japan, who has carried out field research at the lake since the 1990s.

Watanabe returned to Imja in September, making the nine-day trek with 30 other scientists and engineers on a US-funded expedition led by the Mountain Institute. He said he did not expect such rapid changes to the moraine which is holding back the lake.

"We need action, and hopefully within five years," Watanabe said. "I feel our time is shorter than what I thought before. Ten years might be too late."

Unlike ordinary flash floods, a glacier lake outburst is a continuing catastrophe.

"It's not just the one-time devastating effect," said Sharad Joshi, a glaciologist at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University, who has worked on Imja. "Each year for the coming years it triggers landslides and reminds villagers that there could be a devastating impact that year, or every year. Some of the Tibetan lakes that have had outburst floods have flooded more than three times."

But mobilising engineering equipment and expertise to a lake 5,100m up and several days' hard walking away from the nearest transport hub is challenging in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world. People living in the small village of Dingboche below the lake say scientists and government officials have been talking about the dangers of Imja for years.

Some years ago one of the visiting experts was so convincing about the dangers of an imminent flood that the villagers packed up all their animals and valuables and moved to the next valley. They came back after a week when the disaster did not materialise, but say it's hard to dismiss the idea that there could be a flood one day.

"When I was 21, I went to the lake and it was black and really small," said Angnima Sherpa, who heads a local conservation group in Dingboche. "Two years ago I went there and it was really big. I couldn't believe it could get so big. It was really scary."

But scientists and engineers still cannot agree on whether to rate Imja as the most dangerous glacier lake in the Himalayas, or a more distant threat.

Mobilising international assistance for large-scale engineering projects during a global recession is also difficult. The Mountain Institute's initiative was to call in experts from the Andes, where Peruvians have developed systems for containing glacier floods since a disaster in the 1940s killed nearly 10,000 people.

Cesar Portocarrero, who heads the department of glaciology at Peru's national water agency, has overseen engineering works to drain more than 30 glacier lakes, building tunnels or channels to drain the water and reduce the risk of flooding.

But he conceded it would be an enormous challenge to apply these methods at Imja.

"It's not easy to say 'we are going to siphon the water out of the lake'," Portocarrero said. "Where do you find the people who can work at high altitudes? How do you move in the equipment? What do you do in bad weather? You have to have exhaustive planning." There are also other contenders for immediate action, with some 20,000 glacier lakes across the Himalayas, although many are concentrated in the Everest region. Bhutan alone has nearly 2,700.

Three of those, known as the Lunana complex, are practically touching, increasing the possibility of cascading floods far more devastating than any rupture at Imja.

"If the barrier fails between them we are going to have a massive glacier lake outburst flood," said Sonam Lhamo, a geologist for the Bhutanese government.

The United Nations Development Programme and other agencies have supported a project to drain the lakes but those funds are running out.

John Reynolds, a British engineer and expert on glacier lakes who has worked in Nepal, argues that the international community has focused on Imja because of its proximity to Everest and trekking routes popular with western tourists. He says there are other, more hazardous lakes elsewhere.

The Nepali government ranks Imja among the six most dangerous glacier lakes in the country largely because it is growing so quickly. More than 12 other such lakes are also seen as high risk.

But Reynolds argued: "Just because a lake is getting bigger doesn't necessarily mean that it is getting more hazardous. As the climate is changing, generally speaking more glacial lake systems are forming.

"The question is how to decide which ones are hazardous now and which ones have the propensity to become hazardous in the future."

Imja, though fast-growing, is held in by a relatively wide moraine, which makes it secure in comparison to some others.

Most glacial lake floods begin as high-altitude tsunamis. A large block of ice falling from a glacier at great height sets off a series of giant waves that wash over the moraine.

That's not such a risk for Imja. The glaciers feeding the lake are gradual in slope, which reduces the risk of a large chunk of ice falling from a great height and setting off large waves.

Watanabe concedes the geography of the lake could keep disaster at bay, at least in the next year or two. But, he says, there are signs that an outlet channel at the bottom of the lake may be widening dangerously.

Reynolds said Nepal and the international community need to think of a Himalaya-wide action plan.

"As the climate is changing more glacial lake systems are forming," he said. "The question is how to decide which are hazardous now and which are going to become hazardous in the future."


Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Bee Champion Has Entered The Food Industry

Photo courtesy: Honeydrop

Business giving, and even campaigning, is nothing new. But it has been heartening to see how many food industry brands have rallied around the plight of the honeybees to develop serious, substantial responses — from Haagen Dazs' bee boy mayhem to The Cooperative Group's Plan Bee — to Colony Collapse Disorder and other threats to pollinators. It's almost as if they know that without bees, there would be very little food...

Now Honeydrop, a maker of natural teas and beverages, has launched a major campaign to save honeybees. And they are partnering with a leading New York urban beekeeper to do it.

For each purchase of Honeydrop's teas and natural beverages in the tri-state area, the company will make a contribution to NYC beekeeping guru and founder of Bees Without Borders Andrew Coté's efforts to revive urban beekeeping.

Crucially, for an issue that is having an impact across the Unites States, donations will be made according to regional sales to community beekeeping partners in each area:
Through "Buy a Bottle - Save a Bee," Honeydrop will help save the threatened bee population, as a percentage of profits from every bottle sold will be donated to the brand's community beekeeper partners, helping them to build and maintain new beehives. Each new beehive increases the bee population by 40,000-60,000 bees, actively combating Colony Collapse Disorder.

Check out Honeydrop's Buy a Bottle, Save a Bee campaign for more information.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

NYC 9/11 Responders Still Suffer From Disease and Psychological Problems Ten Years Later

A crane lifts a large piece of rubble from the debris of the World Trade Center. (Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty Images) Photo courtesy:

Nearly 3,000 people died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. But the twin towers’ collapse and their smoldering ruins also exposed thousands of rescuers, firefighters, and cleanup crews to toxic ash and smoke.

Ten years later, medical researchers say many of these people are suffering higher-than-normal rates of serious disease and psychological problems.

When the World Trade Center towers collapsed into the neighborhood below on September 11, 2001, roiling clouds of smoke and dust filled the air with toxic chemicals. New York City’s police and firefighters ran into those toxic clouds to save whomever they could.

Now, studies show that large numbers of these rescuers and cleanup workers are likely to suffer illnesses related to their 9/11 experience for the rest of their lives.

Dr. Michael Crane, who heads the World Trade Center Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says some 20,000 Sept. 11 responders have been treated in the program. Dr. Crane contributed to a study published in the medical journal Lancet on the 9/11 health problems.

“Asthma, from the irritation of the bronchial tubes; rhinitis, the inflammation of the nose; laryngitis; sinusitis, the fever and face pain and the nasal stuffiness that it brings—all of these are now chronic,” Crane said.

Ken George was a recovery worker who spent 700 hours in the dust and debris with fellow responders.

“Every morning I wake up, I’ve got to take 33 pills within the course of the day,” George said. “At 47-years-old, I have lungs of an 80-year-old man that would have been a smoker. People say you have to forget about 9/11, and I say, ‘How could I forget about 9/11 when every morning I got to take this medication and walk around with an oxygen tank?’”

Doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital also noticed that a lot of the responders suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and extreme anxiety.

“Our population has a similar rate of these symptoms to people who’ve been in recent wars,” Crane added.

Another study links exposure to the toxins with cancer.

“Our findings show that there is an increased cancer [risk] in the World Trade Center- exposed New York City firefighters,” said Dr. David Prezant of Einstein College of Medicine. “We found an increase of 19 percent in the cancer likelihood.”

The cancer study has lasted only seven years, a short time when cancers can take up to 20 years to develop. Dr. Prezant wants more of those exposed to the toxins from the twin towers to be screened for cancer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

New Gum is Biodegradable

Photo courtesy: Rev7

Throwing out gum isn't much better for the environment than swallowing it is for your stomach. That's because conventional gum doesn't biodegrade. Ever. And Americans chew around 100 million pounds of the stuff every year.

But now there's a new kind of gum on the market, so you can freshen your breath without sullying the planet - Rev7, the degradable gum that dissolves into a fine powder in a matter of months. (Caution when hitting the link to Rev7 - it opens with loud music and flashing stuff. Bit of a shock.)

This isn't the first time we've seen eco-friendly gum; a co-operative in the Mexican rainforest brought an organic, biodegradable version to Britain in 2009.

A big part of the problem is that many chewers don't bother to dispose of their gum properly; but, throw it on sidewalks or stick it to the undersides of furniture instead. Cleaning gum off of sidewalks is a major headache because it's so sticky; and, unfortunately, the passage of time does nothing to ease the problem. In fact, it became such a problem in Singapore that its importation has been banned.

But Rev7 is designed not only to degrade, but to be easily cleaned. Normal gum is hydrophobic (does not mix with water), and things that dissolve immediately are hydrophilic (mix well with water). But Rev7 is amphiphilic, a combination of both. So you can chew it, but it allows enough water to penetrate it that it will slowly break down, and can be removed from a sidewalk with normal cleaning techniques (a hose and a broom).

The new gum comes in peppermint, spearmint, and cinnamon.

Now, call me paranoid; but, I have to wonder how much of this fine, white powder is inadvertently swallowed by the chewer before disposing of the gum and moving on to the next piece. My next suspicion is concerning the properties that eventually turn this gum into this fine,white powder. Exactly what are they and what effect do these properties or this powder have on our bodies?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Did You Know That...

Venus rotates clockwise which is the opposite direction from the other nine planets in the solar system.

Jupiter is the fastest rotating planet. It can make one complete revolution in less than 10 hours.

Giraffes, camels and cats all share an interesting trait. When giraffes, camels or cats walk, they move both their left feet and then both their right feet. They are unique in the animal kingdom; and, their method of walking ensures speed, agility and silence.

Many desert plants have extremely long roots that can find their way into deep underground water reserves. The Mesquite, for example, can extend its roots as deep as 70' to find the water it needs to survive.

When you're asleep you usually reach the REM or dream state about 90 minutes after nodding off. People with depression reach this stage in about half the time and experience REM more intensely.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Eco-Tourism Haven in Greece Created by Protecting Monk Seals

Coastline near Alonissos, Greece. Photo courtesy: Anca Pandrea / Creative Commons

As mega-resorts continue to sprout along much of the Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines, one North Aegean island in Greece is thriving on lower-key, eco-friendly tourism -- thanks to the discovery there nearly 30 years ago of one of the world's most endangered marine mammals.

German marine biologist/filmmaker Thomas Schultze Westrum's footage of Mediterranean monk seals breeding in Alonissos, Greece, caused a stir when it was first shown in 1984. Many of the marine biologists watching the film at a conference in Rhodes had never seen a monk seal before, even on film, according to a short video about the area produced by the eco-tourism travel service provider Greenloons. International organizations that had thought the animal was already extinct began to lobby for its protection, an effort that brought the local community together as well.

"It was the Mediterranean monk seal, which is very closely tied to the Greek heritage, that has helped to bring a community together, create an eco-tourism movement, and assist sustainable economic development in the region," said Greenloons founder Irene Lane.

The National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades, the first designated marine park in Greece and the largest in Europe, was set up in 1992 to protect the habitat of the seals, which number just 600 individuals due to hunting, overfishing, and habitat destruction. A conservation group created in 1990, The Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal, or MOm, has rescued, rehabilitated, and released about 20 injured or orphan seal pups thus far and also conducts educational programs about the significance of the seals to the Mediterranean ecosystem.

Restrictions on human activities in the park and a desire to protect the seals has also made Alonnisos a haven for travelers looking for low-impact ways to explore the area's beauty: conservation- and education-based sailing trips, hiking tours, photography, and snorkeling around red coral reefs and a sunken ancient city in crystal-clear waters.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Bull Sharks Were Stranded Where?

All images courtesy: SkyNews video screengrab

I thought it was only in cartoons that a place would have a shark-infested lake in a random place like a golf course; but, apparently it is a reality in Australia - the land down under. After a flood several years ago, a handful of bull sharks found themselves stranded in a lake on a golf course. Bull sharks are able to survive in fresh water and rather than this lake posing an issue for survival, the six sharks have thrived -- and even started breeding.

Bull sharks are able to survive in brackish and fresh water, and have been known to swim far up rivers and hang out for months and even years at a time. However, living in lakes is something quite rare.

SkyNews reports that the sharks became stranded when water receded after a flood, but that they seem perfectly happy in their new home. In fact, it seems that they could become ambassadors for sharks, getting some to realize how amazing these animals are despite having gained the unfortunate nickname of "man-eater."

"You can't believe how close you are...just six feet away," club general manager Scott Wagstaff told SkyNews. "There's no drama, it's become a positive thing for the golf course. They are amazing. I've become a shark lover since working here."

That's a wonderful thing to hear considering the pressure being put on sharks by humans. Somewhere around 80 million or more sharks are caught every year, mostly for their fins. Populations of sharks have dropped by over 90% in many places, and many species are on the brink of extinction. If a lake full of sharks can convince people that they're worth saving, then that is one lucky flood that brought the sharks into the lake in the first place.

"Golfers often pause during games for a few minutes to see if they can spot the sharks before they head off to the next tee. The sharks, which are between 8 and 10ft long, have proved quite a hit at corporate events and their fins have even been spotted during wedding ceremonies held on the course," reports SkyNews. Here is a video segment on the sharks:

I'm just wondering what they eat in this little golf-course enclosed lake. I'll bet it's not golf balls!

Friday, August 5, 2011

WalMart China Facing Allegations of Mislabelled Pork

Photo courtesy: Bill Lehane via flickr

My least favourite company has made yet another slight blunder. Personally, I refuse to buy from them. I'd rather go without than go to WalMart.

Walmart stores in southwest China's Chongqing have been forced to close following allegations that they have been labeling non-organic pork as organic and selling it at a higher price. There's speculation that the incident is a result of increased interest in organic pork in China after the tainted pork scandal earlier this year that caused hundreds of people to fall ill.

If only it were that simple. According to Xinhua, the false labeling has been going on for two years and has involved 63,547 kilograms (more than half a million dollars' worth) of pork.

BBC says there were also reports of a similar incident in 2009—when people became sick after eating pork believed to be tainted with the same illegal additive, clenbuterol.

Authorities warned Walmart last month that they planned to fine the company for deceptive labeling, but that resulted in no action. Walmart has not denied the accusations, which some say threaten Walmart's success in China, a key market for the company's growth.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Chongqing officials ordered 10 Walmart stores to close, as well as two Walmart-owned Trust Mart stores.

Although food scandals involving mislabeling are not new, The Financial Times reports a Shanghai analyst saying this is the first time a non-organic product has been labeled as organic.

Demand for pork has been exploding in China — consumption has doubled over the last 10 years. And China is not alone, as demand for animal products increases in more and more countries that are adopting factory farm-style practices.

The latest incident with Walmart is indicative of practices in which the company is willing to engage in order to boost profit.

But it's also a sign of how China's increasing demand for pork is enabled in part by an unsustainable industry that tries to make people believe that an endless supply of pork and other animal products is something the world can, and should, have.