Thursday, November 26, 2009

Animal Profile: Sunda Slow Loris

The sunda slow loris is a nocturnal, tree dwelling primate found in the tropical rainforests of South East Asia from Java and Borneo up to Peninsula Malaysia and Thailand. Feeding on fruits, young leaves and tree sap, the slow loris creeps about the canopy in an almost comically slow and calculated manner.

The loris is an omnivore and will eat insects, lizards, molluscs and even small birds. It is the only mammal known to have a venemous bite; they produce a toxin from glands inside their elbows which is then licked up and mixed with saliva to be used as a defense against predators. A slow loris bite will cause painful swellings and in some cases the toxin can cause death due to anaphylaxis. The loris is also capable of curling into a ball if it's bite does not deter a predator. However the animal is not known to be vicious; in fact the local name for a loris in Malaysia and Indonesia is Malu Malu, meaning 'Shy One'.

Sadly, this wonderfully unique creature is threatened with global extinction. Apart from loss of habitat, another main threat to the survival of this animal is hunting for its large eyes which are prized in traditional medicine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Prawn Fisheries: A Net Loss

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” – Chinese proverb.

For millennia humans have taken from the seas. As hunter gatherer tribes we learnt to rely upon the ocean’s bounty to feed ourselves and our villages. Historically, humans have occupied coastal settlements and lived in harmony with the surrounding ecosystems, taking to the seas with spears, lines and nets to gather edible marine life. In the last fifty years, the population of our planet has exploded to the extent that we now have more than twice as many mouths to feed. This population explosion is still happening at an exponential rate, and with every passing day we increase our demands on the planet’s precious natural resources. Long gone are the days of the Chinese proverb when fishing meant feeding your family; we are now a global population of seafood lovers, with an appetite far greater than ever before. How long will it be before we are left fighting over the scraps of a plundered ocean?

Bluefin tuna for sale at Tsukiji Fish Market, Japan

To meet ever-increasing demands, we have devised more efficient, more intensive fishing methods which increase catches to a level that can fuel the global fish market. One of the most destructive and intensive of these practices is trawling. This involves sinking a weighted net to the bottom of the ocean and dragging it along seabed. The nets can be kilometres wide, and will trap anything in their path, often removing things like corals from the seabed, thus destroying entire habitats and anything that inhabits them. Bycatch from these nets can often include turtles, sea birds, and even marine mammals such as dolphins and whales!

Trawlers will typically target one individual species, and so edible fish such as tuna and sharks are often discarded as bycatch and thrown over the side, dead or alive. According to the WWF, up to 30 million metric tonnes of bycatch is dumped back into the ocean every year.

A deep sea bottom trawler hauling in the catch

The most wasteful of trawl fisheries is prawn fishing, and it is estimated that for every 1kg of prawns taken from the ocean around 15kg of bycatch is discarded. In the Gulf of Mexico alone shrimp trawlers drag up 35 million juvenile red snappers as bycatch every year (WWF); enough to have a devastating effect on the population. A number of countries have banned deep sea trawling in their waters and imposed the use of Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) in an attempt to reduce the impact of intensive fishing on their marine environment. However, trawling is still the only method to fish for prawns on a commercial scale and continues uncontested in international waters.

Endangered species such as turtles and sharks are often caught as bycatch. For every 1kg of prawns, we waste 15kg of marine life.

An alternative to trawling for prawns is prawn farming. Rearing prawns in ponds is a common practise in tropical regions especially and can produce huge yields. This aquaculture method is however no less destructive to the environment. Areas suitable for prawn ponds are typically located along the coast as they need salt water. In order to make way for the ponds, aquaculture companies will have to clear mangrove forests which are important habitats for both marine and terrestrial life. Mangroves are essential to the health of our oceans as they are the nursery grounds for our fish and act as a natural coastal defence, protecting the land from tsunamis and protecting the coral reef from sediment runoff. According to the UN Food Agency we have destroyed 20% of our mangroves in the last 30 years alone, making it the fastest disappearing ecosystem on the planet.

Furthermore, prawn farms require a large amount of fish to feed the captive prawns; for every 1kg of prawns harvested,2kg of fish is needed as feed. These fish are usually small species with little market value, however they are species which many poor people typically rely on to form the main source of protein in their otherwise restricted diet.

Prawns are a favourite of seafood lovers the world over, but how much longer can we sustain the demand?

Currently there is no guaranteed way to ensure that the prawns you buy in supermarkets or restaurants are ethically sourced. Due to the nature of their harvesting, prawns are one of the most environmentally damaging food options available to us. Unlike issues such as climate change which some may explain away as a ‘natural phenomenon’, this problem is undeniably manmade and the solution is clear; reduce the demand and we reduce the destruction.

Please feel free to add your comments below; we would like to hear your opinions on this matter.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

People You Should Know About - Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was the political and spiritual leader of India during their move towards independence from British colonial rule. Known as the 'Father of the Nation', Gandhi's strategy for leading his nation away from the shackles of the British Empire was not to incite violence or hatred. Instead Gandhi pioneered a concept called satyagraha; a resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience. His movement was entirely pacifistic, even when the British military were massacring Indians in their own country. His values and determination have inspired civil rights movements around the world and he is often quoted wherever there is need for a spot of wisdom.

Following a British imposed salt tax, Gandhi famously marched 388km across the country in 1930 with a band of followers to make salt himself in the Bay of Bengal. This move was to greatly upset the British hold on India, but not before the Empire imprisoned 60,000 Indian people in retaliation for Gandhi's public display of defiance. His mantra was to tell the truth at all times and live a simple life; only wearing the traditional dhoti and shawl which he spun himself and eating a simple vegetarian diet.

In response to his call for independence, the 'Quit India' movement was launched. This was founded on Gandhi's pacifistic principles and aimed at encouraging Britain to withdraw their hold on India. During negotiations with King George, Gandhi was invited to stay at Buckingham Palace but famously declined the invitation, choosing instead to stay among the poor in the East End of London.

India became an independent nation at midnight on 15th August 1947.

On 30th January 1948, Gandhi was shot whilst having his nightly public walk around the grounds of Birla House in New Delhi. The assassin was a Hindu extremist who cited Gandhi as responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan.

Gandhi remains an icon for truth and pacifism.

"There is no god higher than truth"

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind"

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes"

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it"

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty"

"You must be the change you want to see in the world"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Music Spot - The Gift of The Trees - Xavier Rudd

If you don't know Xavier Rudd, check him out! An Aussie environmentalist and campaigner for indigenous rights, he is a one man band and a great inspiration. Below is a sample of his lyrics taken from 'The Gift of The Trees'.

I'm disgusted at times, by things that I see,
Like mountains with holes, where trees used to be...
And I'm disgraced here and there, when I look to the sea,
All the pollution we feed her, well some comes from me...
And I'm uneasy at times, on the bridges I cross,
When palings are missing, and things are in knots...
So I guess I should say, this is all that I need,
Music and you and the gift of the trees.


Why a Fig Tree?

The fig tree is the most important tree in the rainforest and the ultimate expression of how fragile and complex our planet is.

Providing fruit all year round, figs are essential to the survival of many animals in the tropical rainforest. However, without the activities of a tiny wasp, this most vital of producers would have no chance of survival.

This blog is aimed at highlighting just how fragile our ecosystems are, and how easy it is for humans to disrupt the intricate relationships between plants and animals that hold the fibres of our planet together.

I would like to encourage any young conservationist to step forward and share their views and discoveries on this platform. If there is anything that you feel strongly about and want to shout it from a mountain... well I don't have a mountain but maybe this is a start!