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Gone fishing… gone…

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

UK Environment Minister Hilary Benn will give a speech in Copenhagen today highlighting the changes in our seas which could be related to climate change, especially increasing acidity.

Back in the summer, researchers from the wildlife conservation charity Marinelife were already extremely concerned about what they were NOT seeing in the Bay of Biscay.

Marinelife’s unique long-term monitoring project, the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) has been conducting scientific monthly whale, dolphin and seabird surveys through the English Channel and Bay of Biscay for the last 13 years, using the P&O Cruise Ferry, The Pride of Bilbao, as a research platform. In addition, a BDRP full-time Wildlife Officer collects daily data on dolphin abundance. The BDRP surveys have detected more than 20 species of whale and dolphin in the Bay of Biscay and counted over a hundred thousand animals. 

Through the recent work of BDRP and other research groups, the Bay of Biscay has become known as a worldwide hotspot for whales, dolphins and seabirds with many passengers each year experiencing wonderful encounters with the marine wildlife, especially groups of dolphins that may number several thousand.

However, this summer there has been a very obvious and worrying dearth of sightings, which is significant given that the Bay of Biscay is of European importance for dolphins and other cetaceans.

Early indications have shown that during June and July, the total number counted of the 3 main dolphin species, Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin, are down by around 80% on the same time last year. Seabirds, such as auks, shearwaters, and gannets have also been in short supply and the situation has been ongoing since the early spring, with no signs of an improvement thus far during August.  

Marinelife are worried that this very apparent decline in sightings of both dolphins and seabirds along the ferry route, could be more wide-ranging and could indicate a big reduction in fish stocks due to over fishing or a change in distribution of fish stocks due to temperature changes (in turn linked to climate change). This year has already been marked by a failure of the anchovy fishery, with bans being put in place for the Spanish and French fleets, but what else could be happening?

Marinelife’s Research Director, Dr Tom Brereton said: “Whatever the cause of the disappearance of dolphins this summer, it shows both how vulnerable they are and how alarmingly quickly local declines can occur when environmental conditions change. The changes highlight how we need to act quickly, to address major issues such as climate change and over-fishing.”

Once again the sea is proving a valuable barometer of the declining state of the planet. Marine life is especially susceptible to changes in natural conditions and we would do well to heed the message that the world’s oceans are sending on an increasingly regular basis.


The human cost of climate change

December 13, 2009 Leave a comment

The climate change sceptics have been very vociferous in and around Copenhagen over the past week, especially after they latched on to the stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia. They saw these as a weapon with which to beat the vast majority of scientists and politicians who agree that global warming is happening and who warn that it threatens the very survival of humanity.

There is vast evidence, scientific and anecdotal, that climate change is real, that it’s man-made, that it’s accelerating and that it needs to be tackled now. But often the most convincing arguments are the simplest. Like this video clip from the One Campaign. There’s really nothing more to say.

Food for thought?

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

This is something I’ve seen before and something you may have seen too. Some of the costs shown are probably a bit out of date now but these images are still a powerful indictment of the inequality that exists in our world and how the country and community you happen to be born into will shape your life… and your death.

Each of the pictures below shows the amount of food eaten by each family in one week.

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide Germany
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07


United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98


Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11 


Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55


Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03


Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23


We do not want riches…

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of a nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.

Red Cloud (Makhipiya-luta) Sioux Chief

War and peace… Obama’s prize is a sick joke

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I like President Obama. Not just because he’s a Democrat (although given how barkingly insane most Republicans are, this is obviously a good thing) but because he seems to be a man of principle.

He has to do his job in one of the most politically conservative countries in the world but, despite this, he has taken principled stands on healthcare and on the need to close the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp and distance the US from this appalling example of America’s abuse of human rights (although he still hasn’t done this yet, of course). Very commendable.

However, how Mr Obama can be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (which he will receive in Oslo today) for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” when just last week he escalated the unnecessary war in Afghanistan (which has already seen the deaths of up to 30,000 civilians), is totally incomprehensible.

The announcement of the award was made in October and, at the time, it was seen as a reward for the president’s promising start in promoting diplomacy and global co-operation and to encourage him to carry on with this approach. But even the president himself said that he “did not feel he deserved to be in the company of some of the ‘transformative figures’ who had previously received the award.”

And then, barely two months later, as if to support this statement, he announced a huge increase in troop numbers in Afghanistan which will obviously result in more deaths and injuries, to both military personnel and civilians.

The decision to award Obama the prize in the first place was clearly a politically motivated one and it would appear that it actually means very little to the recipient. The Nobel Committee should be embarrassed and ashamed… or perhaps they have a different definition of peace to the one I have.

What’s Christmas really about?

I have never really understood why the celebration of the birth of Jesus – Christmas – has become, in the west at least and particularly, perhaps, in the UK and the USA, a time for over-indulgence in all things. People eat too much, drink too much and spend vast amounts of money on expensive presents for friends and family.

I am not a Christian but Jesus, if we are to believe the bible, valued poverty and humility. He threw the money lenders from the temple and said that the meek would inherit the earth. Yet, in celebration of his birth, the poor and weak of the world are mostly forgotten in an orgy of spending and over-consumption.

If you are one of those who will eat, drink and be merry this Christmas, stop for a while and consider this short passage which comes from a piece written by Nash Colundalur, amateur winner of the 2009 Guardian International Development Journalism Competition. It describes a scene in Turkana, Northern Kenya.

The vast expanse of the harsh landscape is broken by a gathering of a few hundred people, standing and crouched down in an unruly circle, all eyes focused on the centre. Emotions are running high among the ashen women, with some having slumped and collapsed to the ground. The men, desperately trying to take control of the situation, wave their long sticks furiously and yell agitatedly into the circle. Bellowing goats, sheep and cattle recklessly try to break into the ring.

They are all desperate for water. Abumon throws her arms up in the air, breaks out of the circle and in resignation crashes to the ground. She looks fretfully into the horizon. “I don’t care any more, I will die here.” She lifts a weak arm to point at the mountains. ‘They will come and take everything.” She beckons her small, severely malnourished child towards her. Suddenly there is great clamour from within the circle. A small container is making its way up, passed from hand to hand. A fresh flurry of yelling and stick-brandishing follows from the men, until the yellow plastic container finally arrives. The black sludgy water is first fed to the children, who lap it up quickly and cry for more.

Merry Christmas.

It’s up to you New York…

The World March for Peace and Non-violence reached New York City earlier this week. Ironic that it should do so in a week that saw President Obama escalate the war in Afghanistan with the announcement of the deployment of an extra 30,000 US troops.

For more images of the World march in New York go here.