Have you heard about the best job in the world? It’s in China, being a panda caretaker at the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Ya’an.
According to China Daily, those who wish to partake in this amazing opportunity — which pays about $32,000 per year, plus meals, board and the use of an SUV — should be 22 years old or older, and have writing and photography skills as well as “some basic knowledge of pandas.”
Here’s some knowledge for you — though, unfortunately, it’s kind of depressing: Generous estimates show fewer than 2,500 giant pandas in the wild, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature says that population is going down, partly as a result of habitat loss, and partly because of restricted bamboo supplies. (Pandas are technically carnivores, but they eat mainly bamboo — again, problematic, since bamboo does not provide much nutrition, which is why pandas have to spend about half their day eating.)
Here’s what we don’t know, but hope to learn: Will the panda nanny’s tasks include the production and/or dissemination of panda porn — which is a real thing, given to sexually reluctant pandas who need some encouragement to propagate the species — or the professional wearing of panda costumes?
An executive with Ford Motor Company, which is co-sponsoring the panda nanny recruitment drive, told China Daily of one potential downside to this gig: ” We expect that the applicants will be mainly white-collar workers from big cities,” Ye Mingxin said. “They are used to eating whatever they want, but inside the giant panda base, the choices will not be plentiful.” We expect there will be more than bamboo, anyway.
One of the purposes of this panda nanny program, China Daily reports, is to increase awareness of and interest in pandas. We’re aware! And interested! But, of course, not all of us can actually become panda nannies. Some of us can’t even figure out how to apply for the job. (That WEBSITE.)
Believe it or not, there are some apostates who probably won’t think being a panda caretaker is the best job in the world; some people question the value of panda breeding programs at all, arguing that giant pandas aren’t worth saving.
We can only respond that the four parties who spent $6,000 each for a private audience with the National Zoo’s panda cub, Bao Bao — and the various countries involved with the fraught, exciting, adorable world of “panda diplomacy” — would likely disagree.
Source: huffingtong post.com
Climate change is the biggest and most controversial environmental issue of our times. Or rather, the cause of climate change is.
The fact that the Earth’s climate has changed over its history – sometimes with cataclysmic consequences, called mass extinctions, for many of the planet’s inhabitants – is not disputed. However, what has been the cause of fierce debate is whether or not human activity is currently causing a warming of the world.
What climate change, man-made or not, is not – is short term weather. These trends are much bigger and much longer term than a hot summer or a cold winter, we’re thinking more of ice ages than cold snaps when we talk about climate change.
There are a number of reasons why the Earth’s climate has changed historically. As the continents have moved through the process of plate tectonics they see changes in their climate, both as a result of the influence of the changing oceans and the size of landmass.
The Sun also plays a role: as the main source of heat and light for the planet, its activity is a major player in our climate and it is not a constant; fluctuating both cyclically and as it goes through its lifespan as a star.
The Earth’s position relative to the sun is also not as constant as you might like to think, we’re not in a circular orbit and the tilt of the planet also changes, causing changes in how all that heat and light from the Sun hits the planet’s surface. Volcanic activity too can change climate by putting large amounts of material into the Earth’s atmosphere and thus reflecting heat away from the surface.
Such large eruptions are however rare, in fact, the phrase ”once in a blue moon” probably comes from the change in the atmosphere caused by ash plumes from the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. It’s also been theorised that asteroid strikes on the planet have a similar effect, throwing material into the sky, and some scientists believe that the end of the age of the dinosaurs may have been caused by a giant asteroid hit.
The final reason why climates change – and this is where the controversy comes in – relates to human activity, or anthropogenic global warming, which is what is meant when you read a news story about climate change.
Primarily, this has referred to the misleadingly named greenhouse effect. While a greenhouse warms the air by allowing in and retaining heat and not allowing in cooling air, greenhouse gases warm the planet by absorbing the Sun’s heat and then reemitting it into the atmosphere.
The main greenhouse gases are: water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2),methane, water vapour, ozone, nitrous oxide and CFC-12, a chlorofluorocarbon the use of which in many countries as an aerosol propellant and refrigerant has been banned. With the exception of CFC-12, which is man-made, these gases have historically existed in the atmosphere and there have been natural fluctuations (for example volcanoes emit CO2) in their levels.
The most common of these gases and thought to be the most significant greenhouse gas is water vapour but it’s one on which human activity has little effect. As air warms it can hold more water, the increase in water vapour is said to be responsible for a possible amplification of global warming as the temperature warms.
Plants, which rely on CO2 to survive and which use and store it as they photosynthesise are said to be natural carbon sinks and over history natural variations in the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are thought to have been balanced by their action.
However, since around the middle of the 18th Century, human activity affecting the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has rapidly increased. Since the industrial revolution took hold we not only burned more CO2-emitting fuels, from wood to coal to oil, but we have also massively reduced the amount of vegetation on the planet.
Is the Climate Changing
In July 2010 the British Government’s Meteorological Office and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued findings that they said showed unequivocally the world was warming. Using 10 indicators, seven temperature measures and three ice or snow cover measures, they said that each of the last three decades has been warmer than the last and successively broken temperature records.
Action on Climate Change
The reason why climate change has become so controversial is because people are being asked to make massive lifestyle changes in their lifestyle to help mitigate the effects of man made global warming. If action on climate change amounted to legislation to outlaw, say, wooden pencils then, while scientists may debate the rights and wrongs of the issue, you can almost be sure that our media would not be filled with the dispute.
The roots of world-wide action on climate change date back to the 1988 foundation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the World Meteorological Organisation, a department of the United Nations in 1988.
Since its foundation it has reported regularly on the state of climate change, with its 1990 report inspiring the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the first international treaty that aimed to reduce global warming, which was signed at the so-called Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
One of the key moments in the growth of concern about global warming was the release in 2006 of the film, An Inconvenient Truth. The documentary followed former US Vice President Al Gore as he tried to convince audiences about the seriousness of climate change. Gore won a Nobel peace prize as a result, but, like everything else to do with climate change the film has been the subject of much debate, particularly when schools have tried to show it to pupils.
The countries that signed the treaty have met since, with much fanfare, but often to little effect. The most recent major meeting was at Copenhagen in 2009 and was widely criticised by environmentalists.
Much of what has been agreed is also controversial, particularly so-called carbon trading arrangements which aim to set a marketplace for carbon credits sold by those who live with a small carbon footprintor contribute to carbon reduction by, for example, planting trees, to those who pollute.
Most countries have set targets for the reduction in carbon emissions. For example, the British Government’s Climate Change Act of 2008 set legally-binding targets of a 34% reduction by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050.
Again, the possible consequences of climate change are the subject of much to-ing and fro-ing with accusations of irresponsible scare-mongering and reprehensible complacency flying between the parties.
However, the IPCC has produced estimates – and the sheer complexity of climate systems and thus the difficulty of predicting how they will react using computer models makes them open to criticism – of what may happen as temperatures rise. Broadly speaking, most are catastrophic to both human life and to many other species on the planet.
Unless you’ve already moved under a rock in preparation for climate chaos, you will have noticed that the issue of global warming is a controversial one.
There has been criticism of the IPCC and its work, the so-called climategate scandal involving leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s climate studies centre and doubt has been cast on the very idea that humans could be causing warming of the globe.
Even the controversy is controversial. Environmentalists often refer to climate sceptics as climate deniers, claimed by their opponents to be a deliberate attempt to ally them in the public mind with far right wing holocaust deniers. Many who criticise the science that claims to show that human activity is causing global warming are accused of being funded by the oil industry and free market think tanks who oppose the sort of government regulation that it seems will be necessary to implement large reductions in greenhouse gases, especially CO2
One of the strongest ideas of the green movement has been ‘think global act local’, which empowers people to believe that their own actions can have an effect on problems that are as big as the planet.
This applies to climate change arguably more than any other issue. What can I possibly do? Has even become a plaintive refrain of whole western nations shrugging their shoulders as they watch the rapid and dirty industrialisation of new economic giants like China and India.
However, once you accept the idea of climate change, then doing nothing doesn’t really seem an option. It’s possible to join any number of groups which campaign for environmental issues and almost all of which make global warming a major part of their efforts. Lobbying your elected representatives as an individual or as part of a group is your right as a voter.
The good news is that changing your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint might not just be cheap; it might even save you money, because broadly speaking, the less you consume, the less damage you are likely to do. You can, of course, speed a good deal of money on advice and carbon trading too.
Reduce your car use and try and drive more fuel efficiently, if you can, buy a car powered by alternative, greener means. Try not to use products made from oil, looking for green and vegetable-based alternatives is a good idea. Cut down on your power use – while efforts are being made to introduce renewable energy (and you can opt to pay a little more to use them with some providers) to western societies, the vast majority of our heating, light and power comes from carbon emitting production methods
And, grow! Plants are carbon sinks, if you have land and can plant trees then you’re making a difference. Find more on how to reduce your carbon footprint.
As the biggest of the 32 dolphin species, the orca is able to run riot with present-day marine mammals. Even the large baleen whales are not beyond its hunting abilities. Well-known to most sailors because of their ubiquitous distribution, they have also been called “wolves of the sea,” and assassin whales when seen hunting these cousins.
They have even been known far up large rivers and estuaries such as the Rhone, Elbe and Thames, hunting anything from fish (65 per cent of the average orca diet) to seals. They have more than 40 large, recurved teeth with which to capture and bite in various modes.
The modus operandi for much of their feeding behaviour involves high intelligence and even play. With one of the greatest brain/body size ratios known, these whales are probably the most adaptable alive. There are certainly at least two basic habits: the resident pods of an area which specialise in fishing, and transient groups, which are more likely to eat mainly marine mammals.
These two groups are said by experts to be forming a deep split leading to two varieties and eventually, two different species. Herding prey and multilateral attack are two simple strategies that are often seen. More complex tactics have been researched extensively, such as the successful toppling of seals from ice flows. The unfortunate prey is knocked off the ice by waves made by the actions of collaborating orcas. With cosmopolitan distribution, there are several races such as the quite isolated ray and shark-eating New Zealand groups.
Females become mature before ten years, with males tending to mature sexually after this. Gestation takes 17 months, which is longer even than the baleen whales. Weaning is at 12 months. The attractive black and white markings have often been used for scientific and other identification.
Here a breaching whale shows off his beautiful “magpie” pattern, easily identifying him to those who know of him, including perhaps other orca!
In ecological terms, the orca’s niche is at the apex of marine food pyramids. As such predators, they are as vulnerable to pollution as birds of prey were in “Silent Spring.” PCBs and thousands of other pollutants have been building in orca’s prey since WW2.
If majority rule applied to all things natural, then the oceans would win the bid for status and recognition hands down, making up 71% of the planet, providing a habitat for 50% of all species, providing large volumes of oxygen and being the conveyor belt for climate. It was the production of oxygen in the oceans in prehistoric Earth that created the atmosphere and enabled diverse life.
The ocean is integral to life on earth, sustaining the atmosphere with moisture, keeping the planet cool enough, acting as a carbon sequester, ensuring the hydrologic/water cycle is constant and providing an invaluable protein supply to humans. It has taken humans just two hundred years to destroy the natural equilibrium that nature has established to keep the cycles going, the crisis disequilibrium we are facing is that of climate change, the human-induced radical changes to our climate system globally.
The Earth is a closed system, nothing exists in a vacuum, pollution emitted from a land-locked site, kilometres from the oceans will inevitably reach the oceans through the various interdependent cycles from the atmospheric cycle to the hydrologic cycle to biochemical cycle. Pollution released in one medium e.g. air emissions moves to other mediums such as soil and water and spreads across the globe.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) reaches the oceans through various industrial and agricultural sources; and is a top toxic green house gas (GHG). The main source being the fossil-fuel industry. The oceans CO2 levels were balanced prior to reckless human industrialisation without consequence, wreaking ecological havoc. It would seem that much of the polluting industrial technological choices and processes continue unabated.
Oceans as Carbon Sinks
“Over the past 200 years the oceans have taken up 500 GtCO2 from the atmosphere out of 1300 GtCO2 total anthropogenic emissions (IGOC, Unesco, 2007).” The pH of water in the ocean has been altered by a decrease of 0.1. pH indicates the level of acidity or alkalinity of liquid as represented on the scale of 0-14 (pH 0-6 = acid; pH 7 = neutral; pH 8-14 = alkaline). Scientists during the early days of climate change impacts, recognised the invaluable role of the oceans as sinks for CO2 but over time studies revealed how the oceanic environment is suffering due to this overload of CO2, altering the biochemistry and ecosystem functioning of the oceans. It is estimated that the oceans absorb about a quarter of CO2 emissions.
Chemistry of Ocean Carbon
Atmospheric CO2 reaches the ocean through precipitation, fallout, wind-blown particulate matter, in the ocean CO2 forms a chemical reaction with salt water, forming bicarbonate ions and carbonic acid. This creates irreparable damage to the ocean’s pH balance, making it more acidic and thereby having a direct impact on pH dependent processes such as calcification. Calcium carbonate minerals, necessary for the formation of shells and skeletal structures of marine organisms are depleted, thus decimating species and having consequences for the entire marine food chain. This food chain extends to the terrestrial and ocean-land interface food chains where humans and bird life depend on the oceans as a direct food source.
Ocean Food Chain
Increased acidity in the ocean changes the ability of species to build the necessary physiological material needed to survive, shellfish need shells, marine animals require their skeletons as do we land animals. Can you imagine having your skeleton eroded with acid? Well that’s exactly the painful reality been forced upon by humans on existing marine life-forms, let alone the reproductive and birth defects being suffered by new offspring due to the hindered calcification process arising from high content acid in the oceans.
What will be wiped out eventually? Corals – shallow and deep corals, the coral reefs. Coral reefs are a haven habitat for biodiversity, we have already destroyed them with marine development, ocean acidification will corrode and erode the reefs.
Shellfish – oysters, clams, mussels, snails. Snail species such as the vital pteropod, a winged snail species providing a food source for many commercial fish, has shown shell dissolution. Phytoplankton and Zooplankton – from single-celled to multi-celled organisms, these calcifying organisms will dwindle. Fish and Invertebrates species – may suffer from a impeding health impact called acidosis, which increases carbonic acid content in body fluid and blood, affecting immunity, altering physiological and reproductive health.
Similarly, as with human-induced climate change impacts, increased oceanic CO2 levels and acidification, are happening at such a rapid pace, that unlike prehistoric changes over million-year timelines whereby nature can evolve and adapt, human destruction is happening in the blink of evolutionary time.
Overfishing and environmentally destructive fishing methods have not only wiped out target fish species but also non-target species. Fishing methods such as trawling have caused untold damage to the diversity of the ocean floor habitats. The once undisturbed oceanic carbon sinks have come undone a while ago with interference to the ocean bed with drilling, dragging and mining extractions.
Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS)
Like it isn’t enough that we release tons of pollutants into the air, water and soil. We now want to ‘inject CO2’ into the ocean as a solution to the high-level atmospheric CO2. Manual injection of CO2 into the oceans is being proposed by industry and government as one of the bright plans to resolve the carbon crisis.
Do the environmental impacts of this further damage need to be spelt out? So, redirect our emissions and store them in the ocean floors at varying depths and what happens when a natural disaster or another intelligent human process like offshore drilling, releases all this concentrated CO2 back into the atmosphere?
What of the other high probability of the slow release injected-CO2 from those human created sinks into the ocean that is already acidic? How is redirecting pollution from one medium to another solving the crisis? The crisis lies with the dirty polluting technologies that we still use and our hard-headed refusal to radically transform our societies into dominant clean technology proponents with the urgency that this crisis warrants.
According to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (2011), estimates of future carbon dioxide levels, based on business as usual emission scenarios, indicate that by the end of this century the surface waters of the ocean could be nearly 150 percent more acidic, resulting in a pH that the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years.
The impact of the altered natural chemistry of the ocean is dire for us, dire for marine ecosystems and the survival of marine animals. Once the link or several links of the chain are compromised, broken, destroyed, altered or minimised, the entire chain weakens and suffers. Nothing we do is without consequence and the sooner we realise this the better for all life-forms on the planet.
Habitat loss is possibly the greatest threat to the natural world.
Every living thing needs somewhere to live, find food and reproduce. This is known as its habitat. In order for a species to be viable its habitat must have sufficient territory, necessary food and water and a range of necessary physical features. These features can include tree cover, rocky hills or deep pools, as well as the organisms and ecosystems that are needed to complete the life cycle.
Habitat loss is when land cover, or its aquatic equivalent, is changed, usually as a result of changing use by humans. Whenever we humans take over natural areas for our own use, we are encroaching on the habitat of another creature and progressively we are doing this at an alarming rate.
The world’s forests, swamps, lakes and other habitats continue to disappear as we make way for agriculture, housing, roads, pipelines and all the other hallmarks of industrial development.
Human activity is responsible for the loss of around half of the forests that once covered the Earth. Although these can recover and can even be sustainably harvested, their rate of loss is about ten times higher than the rate of regrowth.
Europe’s wetlands are traditionally an important habitat for countless numbers of creatures, but around 60% have been damaged, even though they are often an essential provider of clean drinking water.
Taking just one example: because of rainforest habitat loss it is estimated that at least 120 out of the 620 living primate species (apes, monkeys, lemurs and others) will be extinct within the next 10 to 20 years.
Habitat loss is generally more serious for the larger animals because they need a greater area in which to have a healthy breeding population. Tigers, mountain gorillas, pandas and Indian lions are good examples, but habitat loss does not just affect animals.
A recent study has indicated that more than 40 species of fish currently found in the Mediterranean could disappear in the next few years. Tropical orchids that thrive in the rain forests are at serious risk as are numerous species of birds from a wide variety of habitats. In fact the only species that are not truly affected by habitat loss are creatures that benefit from human activity such as cockroaches and rats.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has a Red List of species officially classified as ”Threatened” or ”Endangered”. Habitat loss has been identified as being the main threat to 85% of these.
Habitat loss is also a huge problem in the marine environment. Destructive fishing, using deep trawlers and dynamiting coral reefs destroy entire ecosystems. Coastal habitats are destroyed when land is drained for development. Excess nutrients from fertilisers or domestic sewage flow into the sea, causing harmful algae to form, blocking out the sunlight and depleting the water of oxygen.
Pollution from toxic substances such as industrial chemicals, pesticides and motor oil are also a real problem. Dredging ship channels will stir up accumulated sediments and pollutants and the removed material is often dumped on salt marshes, destroying the habitats of the creatures that live there.
Accidents at sea have also had a profound effect on habitat destruction. Several large oil tankers have been involved in major spills, and of course there was the Deepwater Horizon oilrig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In each case, enormous quantities of oil have been released into the ocean, devastating the entire ecosystems of the area.
Diversity loss is yet another feature of habitat degradation. A particular ecosystem is home to a number of species and as these begin to go into a rapid decline following the loss of their habitat, a more aggressive species might take the opportunity and move in. As the original species struggle to survive in an increasingly hostile environment, the aggressive invader causes further decline until it eventually reigns supreme.
The proliferation of invasive species poses a strong threat to native species as they struggle to cope with highly fluctuating environments. In order to mitigate diversity loss, it is important for conservation efforts to focus on reducing the numbers of invasive species.
The world is getting warmer and climate change has already had, or is expected to have, a serious influence on habitat loss. Many former habitats have already become inhospitable. Plants that thrive in damp, cool conditions now simply wither and die during prolonged dry periods.
A study in Nature indicated that within the next 50 years a quarter of the world’s land animals and plants could become extinct. This is around a million species.
In the UK, as sea levels rise, marshland close to river estuaries would disappear. The loss of inland wet grassland and coastal sea marsh would lead to the loss of breeding habitats of birds such as the redshank. A continued rise in level would mean the loss of feeding areas needed by waders and other shore birds.
Still in the UK, trees such as the oak and the ash would find it difficult to survive frequent prolonged droughts. Wetland areas that are home to rare moths and other creatures would simply dry out. Warm hot summers also encourage algae to flourish on rivers and lakes, at the expense of fish and bird life.
Milder winters will allow the survival of pests and bacteria that cold weather would formerly have eradicated. This will have a serious effect on crops and wildlife. Thin soils will dry out and erode in summer and flash floods will cause more soil to be washed away.
Rapidly changing weather patterns will also disrupt growing patterns. In parts of the world where rainfall is already scarce, as in parts of Africa and China, crop failure and subsequent famine will become a real danger.
Extreme weather events are increasingly occurring as a result of climate change. These events can be enormously destructive and have a disastrous effect on habitat, since they are often associated with high winds or floods.
We are fortunate to be part of a world that is characterised by the diversity of its many species of plant and animal life. Countless numbers of these species are under threat of extinction, mainly through loss of habitat. The chief reasons for this loss are human intervention and climate change.
The world is already warming and although there is little that can be done about it, we can slow the process down by reducing the amounts of greenhouse gas currently being released into the atmosphere and concentrating more on energy saving measures and renewable energy systems.
We are all jointly responsible for the world around us. If mankind can be persuaded to be more environmentally aware of the responsibility to safeguard the habitats of these endangered creatures, there is yet some hope for their survival.
Since the beginning of time hunter-gatherers recognised fish as a good nutritious source of food and with the gradual development of trade a fishing industry began to establish itself.
In the Middle Ages a fish pond would be a common feature of every monastery and coastal areas saw the growth of a small and localised industry, but in pre-refrigeration days it was not until the growth of the railway network that sea fish could be brought to inland populations for the first time. The expanding towns of the industrial revolution provided a ready market.
In these days of swift global transport, coupled with developments in the freezing and preservation of food, large quantities of fish are eaten in many countries around the world. Directly or indirectly fishing provides a livelihood for over 500 million people in the world’s developing countries.
A commercial fishing enterprise can range from one man with a small boat and a hand casting net or a few pot traps to a fleet of trawlers or a factory ship. Fishing can now be very big business. Large-scale commercial fishing is now truly industrial fishing.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that in 2005 93.3 million tonnes of fish was landed as a result of commercial fishing in wild fisheries, with a further 48.1 million tonnes produced by fish farms.
China is the world’s number one fish consumer and has the world’s largest fishing industry, accounting for a third of the world’s catch. This is followed in order by Peru, Japan, the US, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, India, Thailand, Norway and Iceland. Together these countries account for more than half of the total amount caught.
Although Peru is number two in the world for catching fish, Peruvians eat hardly any of this and it is exported. On the other hand, fish is so popular in Japan that although at number two in the catching list, Japan has to buy as much again from other countries in order to meet the domestic demand.
Fishing methods will vary according to the region, the species being fished for and the technology available to the fishermen. There are large and important fisheries worldwide for various species of fish, molluscs, crustations and echinoderms, but a very small number of species support the majority of the world’s fisheries. The most popular are herring, cod, anchovy, tuna, flounder, mullet, squid and salmon.
Traditionally 99% of the worldwide annual commercial ocean catch has come from coastal waters, within 200 nautical miles of the coastline, but while these narrow coastal fringes are both the most productive they are also the most vulnerable.
In an effort to conserve stocks, fishing quotas have been introduced. These restrict the numbers of particular species that can be landed. Unfortunately this does not restrict the numbers that are caught and fish that are on the restricted list have to be thrown back into the sea, by which time they are usually dead.
Overfishing has resulted in marine fish stocks being depleted, overexploited or at their biological limit. In the commercial fishing areas between North America and the British Isles, there has been a 90% decline in predatory fish populations, notably cod.
The simple reason for this is that the fish population has not been able to regenerate itself quickly enough to replace the fish that have been caught.
This has done nothing to reduce the incessant demand, worldwide, for more fish. The result is bigger and more efficient ocean-going ships that are effectively floating factories with extensive on-board facilities to process and freeze caught fish. According to FAO there are now approaching 40,000 vessels greater than 100 tons in the world’s factory fishing fleet.
Contemporary factory ships are highly automated and can operate at great distances from their home ports. Sometimes they act as mother ships that can support a fleet of smaller catching vessels.
There are various types of these fish processing ships, including stern trawlers, freezer trawlers, longline factory vessels, purse seine freezer vessels, and squid jiggers. All are highly efficient, but all fish in a slightly different way.
Stern trawlers can stay at sea for weeks at a time. They pull a fishing trawl net behind them and pull the catch up a stern ramp. They have onboard processing facilities and can also operate in pairs towing a huge net with a mouth 900 metres in circumference.
Freezer trawlers will fully process the catch on board to the specifications of the customer. They will have a crew of over 35 people and can stay at sea for six weeks at a time. Fish will be processed within hours of being caught and since trawling is completely indiscriminate, all of the unwanted fish is processed into fishmeal for animal feed.
The world’s largest freezing trawler is 144 metres long and is able to process 350 tonnes of fish each day with a capacity to store 7,000 tonnes of frozen processed catch.
Longline factory vessels, as their name suggests, use hooks strung on long lines. The hooks are baited automatically and many thousands are set each day. The setting and retrieving of hooks is a 24-hour operation and again, the ships will stay at sea for six weeks at a time and the fish will be processed within hours and packaged up ready for the market.
A purse seiner is used to catch tuna and other school fish species. Again it is very efficient, with a large net being set around a school of fish that are close to the surface. These nets can be up to two kilometres in circumference and will trap everything.
The net is then pursed, closing the bottom and pulling it in so that the fish are caught alongside the vessel. The usual procedure is then to transfer the fish into a tank filled with extra salty refrigerated water that freezes large numbers of fish very quickly. The fish are held in the tanks and taken directly to the cannery, or transhipped into carrier vessels leaving the purse seine to carry on fishing.
The factory squid jiggers use powerful lights to attract squid and then ‘jig’ many thousands of hooked lures from hundreds of separate winches. Most of these ships are Japanese or Korean and their crews will stay at sea for as long as two years at a time. Periodically the processed squid is transferred to larger refrigerated vessels.
Understandably fishing in this concentrated, highly efficient, but completely indiscriminate way can have a disastrous effect on the ecological balance of a region. Birds, whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks are all just as likely to be caught up in the process as the fish that are being sought. In the trade this is simply known as “bycatch”.
The effects of overfishing on the ecological balance can be dramatically illustrated by the reduction of the numbers of herring in various parts of the world. Herring are an important food-source for cod and since cod is also on the danger list, the loss of an important element in its food chain makes it even harder for it to recover.
Other species are also showing a marked decline in numbers as their food supply becomes increasingly threatened.
As stocks of fish get smaller and harder to find, trawlers are resorting to deeper and deeper waters to fill their nets. The point has now been reached where ecosystems are becoming seriously threatened as deep-water trawl nets scrape everything off the bottom of the ocean, destroying everything in their path.
Shark Finning: A soaring worldwide demand for shark fins is putting at least one third of the world’s deep-sea sharks in danger of extinction. In Asia shark-fin soup is said to be good for your virility and it is held in high regard as a status symbol at weddings and other celebrations. An estimated 10.7 million blue sharks alone are killed each year for their fins. Some populations of hammerhead sharks have declined as much as 99% in heavily fished regions and although demand for shark meat is “strong” in Europe, for the Far Eastern market the fins are all that are required. After finning the carcass is often dumped back into the sea.
Dolphin drive hunting is a method of hunting dolphins by driving them together with boats and then usually into a bay or onto a beach. They are then dragged out of the water and butchered, often in a very brutal fashion. Small whales are also hunted in the same way. This is a traditional way of hunting in the Faeroe Islands and in Japan. The Japanese town of Taiji on the Kii peninsular is the only town where dolphin drive hunting is now said to take place. Although officially the annual number of animals killed is less than 100, conservation activists put the true number at several thousand. The method of killing is very cruel and a film The Cove analysed, exposed and questioned this method of hunting in Japan. The film won the 2010 Academy Award for the best documentary film.
According to the United Nations, over 70% of the world’s fisheries are either “fully exploited”, “over exploited” or “significantly depleted”.
The journal Science released a major scientific study in November 2006 which said that about one third of all fishing stocks worldwide had reached a point where they were less than 10% of their maximum observed abundance. In other words they had effectively collapsed. The report prophesied that if the current trend continued, all fish stocks worldwide would collapse within fifty years.
The sad fact is that the point is rapidly being reached where commercial fishing from wild fisheries is fast ceasing to be viable. Perhaps the only hope for future supply is the expansion of fish farming.
Currently about a third of all the fish eaten in the United States comes from fish farms, but fish farming is not without its problems. Salmon, for instance, are very commonly farmed and global farmed salmon production exceeds a million tonnes a year. However, to feed this number of salmon requires the catching and processing of between 2 and 3 million tonnes of wild fish.
An average salmon farm has around 200,000 fish and inevitably some will escape, where they can have a significant impact on the surrounding ecosystem as they compete for food with wild salmon and spread diseases that did not previously exist in wild fish populations. In addition, farmed fish are often genetically modified and may interbreed with the wild fish and alter the natural genetic makeup of that species.
Furthermore, 200,000 salmon produce the daily equivalent amount of faeces as a town of 62,000 people. This waste sinks to the sea bed and generates killer bacteria that consume the oxygen vital to wild bottom fish.
The oceans of the world have always been rich in their ecological diversity and since the beginning of time they have been a bountiful supplier of nutritious food. Now, due largely to a mixture of greed and lack of foresight, the future is beginning to look very bleak.
The hope is that if given a chance, the oceans of the world might eventually recover from the ecological harm that has been done to them, but unless something can be done to stop overfishing and habitat destruction, the point will be reached where recovery is no longer possible.
The formation of the Earth occurred some 4.6 billion years ago but it was only in the last 570 million years that the first familiar life forms began to evolve. These were arthropods and were followed 40 million years later by the first fish. The first land plants began to appear around 475 million years ago, with the first forests appearing 90 million years later.
Dinosaurs began to evolve around 225 million years ago and effectively ruled the world before suddenly becoming extinct 160 million years later. Our species,Homo sapiens, have only inhabited the Earth for the last 200 thousand years.
Most people will know of the mass extinction that saw the end of the dinosaurs, but many will not realise that this was actually the fifth such event in the Earth’s history.
The first occurred around 440 million years ago at the end of the Ordovician when a period of relatively severe and rapid global cooling caused such a pronounced change in marine life that 25% of families were lost.
The second came around 370 million years ago near the end of the Devonian Period. Again this was possibly the result of climate change and this time 19% of families were lost.
Around 245 million years ago at the end of the Permian period came the third major extinction when 54% of families were lost. Various theories exist as to why this should have occurred. It has long been felt that it was the result of climate change brought about by tectonic plate movement, but recent evidence suggests some form of extraterrestrial impact.
The fourth major extinction came at the end of the Triassic Period around 210 years ago. This was shortly after dinosaurs and mammals had first evolved. 23% of families were lost at this time and speculation continues as to the cause.
So we come to the fifth major extinction that occurred 65 million years ago. Speculation continues among scientific circles as to the exact reason for this. The general consensus is that it was the result of a catastrophic collision between the Earth and one or more extraterrestrial bodies such as a comet, but other scientists believe that it was caused by a great volcanic event. In either case it is thought that debris blotted out the sun’s rays, causing disruption to the world’s climate and ecosystem.
Virtually no large land animals survived, plants were greatly affected and tropical marine life was decimated.
These events illustrate the vulnerability of the world and there is concern that we are now in the middle of the its sixth mass extinction. The difference between this one and the previous five is that this one is the result of human activity.
Some scientists maintain that this latest mass extinction began when the first modern humans began to disperse to different parts of the world around 100,000 years ago, but the rot really set in when they turned their attention to agriculture around 10,000 years ago. It was agriculture that brought about the most profound ecological change since life on Earth first began. Humans no longer had to interact with other species in order to survive and were able to manipulate them for their own use.
As long ago as 1993 Harvard biologist E.O.Wilson was estimating that the Earth was losing around 30,000 species per year, which equated to about one species every 20 minutes.
Thousands of creatures are now endangered and appear on the so-called Red List of Endangered Species. A survey revealed that at least 1,141 of the world’s 5,487 mammals, including marine mammals, are facing extinction and at least half are in decline. One in three amphibians and one in five reptiles is fighting for survival.
Loss of habitat and degradation by agriculture and deforestation affects 40% of the world’s mammals. Over harvesting is wiping out larger mammals. This is a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems of the land where they live.
Many creatures have been lost for ever as a result of human action in what shows every sign of being the world’s sixth mass extinction. There is still time to reverse this trend. Swift international action is necessary if we are not to wipe out many of our closest relatives.