Reef safeguard sacrificed secretly for US, Singapore

Reef safeguard sacrificed secretly for US, Singapore

THE federal government has secretly wound back a critical environmental protection for the Great Barrier Reef against shipping accidents in order to avoid a diplomatic stoush with the United States and Singapore.

Leaked US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks have revealed that the government has “weakened” the compulsory pilotage regime for large vessels, including oil tankers, chemical tankers and liquefied gas carriers, sailing through the sensitive maritime environment of the Torres Strait.

Owners and masters of vessels that fail to use a pilot to navigate the narrow and hazardous channel will not face any penalty if they do not subsequently call at an Australian port.

On learning the Torres Strait pilotage regime was quietly amended 17 months ago, the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Henry, said it was “absolutely essential” that all shipping [through the strait] has pilotage.

The cables reveal that the US and Singaporean governments reacted strongly against the Howard government’s October 2006 announcement of a compulsory pilotage regime in the Torres Strait designed to reduce the risk of oil and chemical spills in the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister, George Yeo, wrote directly to his Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, “to complain about the decision and its negative impact on larger strategic interests”.

The leaked cables show the US shared Singapore’s concerns and served as Singapore’s “closest ally on the Torres Strait issue”. American diplomats lobbied other countries with large registered merchant fleets such as Panama and Cyprus to protest to Australia as well.

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

All eyes on Hong Kong after latest victory in Shark Finning…

Shark-Fin Vote Adds to Pressure on Hong Kong

As Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in Sunday’s Times, the battle to protect the world’s endangered shark population has passed another major milestone with a California Senate vote that bans the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins.

Last week’s vote was greeted with much delight by environmental campaigners. The global shark population has been decimated over recent years, largely because of soaring demand for shark fin soup among the newly wealthy in China, Hong Kong and other Asian nations. Soup made from shark fins is considered a delicacy and a status symbol in Chinese culture and commands hefty prices that make finning highly lucrative.

he California bill now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. If he follows through, California will become the largest economy in the world to take a strong stand against the shark fin trade so far, according to the New York-based group Shark Savers. Hawaii, Washington and Oregon have also banned imports of shark fins, which means that the measure could officially close down shark-fin traffic in all remaining ports on the West Coast.

Elsewhere in the world, Chile and the Bahamas recently banned shark fishing in their waters, and Taiwan introduced legislation in July to regulate the trade by requiring that fins be landed with the full carcass attached. (Fins, the most lucrative part of the animal, are frequently cut off by fishermen while the shark is still alive, leaving it to die a painful death with no means of swimming.)

The pressure is now on Hong Kong, where I live, to follow suit -– if not with an outright ban, then at least with much clearer action to discourage the consumption of, and trade in, fins.

Hong Kong is believed to handle at least half the global trade in shark fins, making it the shark-fin capital of the world, so what happens here matters.
But to date, not much is happening -– at least not on the legislative front.

Asked whether the California decision might prompt action here, the Hong Kong government simply referred me to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Yet that agreement protects just three shark species rather than the many more that environmentalists say are now endangered.

The authorities seem out of step with many in the West and possibly with public opinion in Hong Kong itself: slowly but surely, awareness has risen, and the list of companies that have pledged not to buy or sell or buy shark fin soup as part of their corporate activities keeps growing.

The last time I queried the Hong Kong government on the issue, for a columnback in April, it response was, “We do not think it is appropriate to lay down guidelines to regulate the kind of food to be consumed in official banquets and meals.”

Yet the California decision has galvanized campaigners here. Six environmental organizations in Hong Kong issued a joint statement calling on the government to follow the state’s lead. “All eyes are now on Hong Kong,” it warned.

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

Final whale stranded off FL Keys gets to SeaWorld this week :(

Final whale stranded off FL Keys goes to SeaWorld

KEY LARGO, FL (AP) – The final whale that was stranded in May off the Florida Keys has arrived in Orlando.

The 1,100-pound, 12-foot-long female pilot whale calf arrived at SeaWorld early Monday. The whale was placed in a water-filled transport unit for the 300-mile trip from the Marine Mammal Conservancy in the Keys.

Marine mammal experts and a veterinarian accompanied the whale.

The whale is entering the rehabilitation facility because her injuries are too severe to withstand the rigors of the wild.

The whale is one of the nearly two-dozen that stranded near Cudjoe Key on May 5. Most died, but two were later released back into the wild and five were taken to the conservancy for treatment.

The Associated Press

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

Coral reefs ‘will be gone by end of the century’

Coral reefs ‘will be gone by end of the century’

Coral reefs are on course to become the first ecosystem that human activity will eliminate entirely from the Earth, a leading United Nations scientist claims. He says this event will occur before the end of the present century, which means that there are children already born who will live to see a world without coral.

The claim is made in a book published tomorrow, which says coral reef ecosystems are very likely to disappear this century in what would be “a new first for mankind – the ‘extinction’ of an entire ecosystem”. Its author, Professor Peter Sale, studied the Great BarrierReef for 20 years at the University of Sydney. He currently leads a team at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

The predicted decline is mainly down to climate change and ocean acidification, though local activities such as overfishing, pollution and coastal development have also harmed the reefs. The book, Our Dying Planet, published by University of California Press, contains further alarming predictions, such as the prospect that “we risk having no reefs that resemble those of today in as little as 30 or 40 more years”.

“We’re creating a situation where the organisms that make coral reefs are becoming so compromised by what we’re doing that many of them are going to be extinct, and the others are going to be very, very rare,” Professor Sale says. “Because of that, they aren’t going to be able to do the construction which leads to the phenomenon we call a reef. We’ve wiped out a lot of species over the years. This will be the first time we’ve actually eliminated an entire ecosystem.”

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

‘Monster croc will go crazy in zoo’

‘Monster croc will go crazy in zoo’

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) senior campaigner Ashley Fruno expressed her organization’s dismay at keeping “Lolong,” the giant crocodile of Agusan del Sur province, as a tourist attraction.

Despite the imminent danger that the crocodile may pose to humans living around its natural habitat, PETA underscored the importance of animals’ rights, especially their freedom.

“It will be unacceptable for Lolong (dahil) wala siyang freedom, walang choice of food, kaibigan and habitat,” said Ashley Fruno, senior campaigner of PETA Asia-Pacific.

With PETA’s advocacy against keeping animals from being tucked away in zoos, especially poorly-managed ones, Fruno also wishes the same fate for Lolong.

“Animals in zoos exhibit a condition called zoochosis, where they will be frequently banging their heads, pace aroud and repeatedly (show other abnormal animal behavior).” said Fruno. “The result of zoochosis might be dangerous. He poses a risk of escaping. No matter where he is, he can still  be dangerous to humans. It depends on how we’re going to deal with it.”

nstead of keeping Lolong in a zoo, PETA suggests keeping him in an area with very few people, citing that it is better for him to live his long life comfortably and at peace.

Fruno is urging the government to give Lolong the life that he truly deserves, and not forcing him to live according to what a tourism park demands.

“Please have pity for Lolong, he deserves to have freedom. He is denied of what is natural and important to him, think of his health and welfare,” she added.

PETA also said in a press release that “the promoters of this park are thinking only of their bank balance, without so much as an afterthought as for the animal’s well-being.”

Fruno did not disclose what PETA will be doing in their protest against Lolong’s captivity. However, she added the government should “be worried because PETA will always speak up for animals.”

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

Concern mounts for ‘missing’ penguin Happy Feet

Concern mounts for ‘missing’ penguin Happy Feet

Fears are growing for the wellbeing of Happy Feet, an emperor penguin who washed up on a New Zealand beach, after scientists lost contact with the bird.

A transmitter attached to the penguin earlier this month on his release back into the wild stopped relaying information on his location on Friday.

Researchers said Happy Feet may have been eaten, or the tracking device may have failed or fallen off.

The bird was found emaciated on a beach in June, hundreds of miles off course.

There are many theories abounding over the sudden loss of contact with Happy Feet.

Kevin Lay from Sirtrack widlife tracking team told local media that the most likely explanation was that the transmitter had fallen off the penguin.

“To be uninvasive, we only glued it on so that it would fall off. We hoped it would stay on for five or six months, but it appears in this case it’s only stayed on for two weeks,” he told TVNZ.

Mr Lay said it was possible the penguin had been eaten, but that this was doubtful.

“There are some species that will forage on Emperor penguins. It’s not likely that it has happened to Happy Feet because of the area he was in,” he said.

Wildlife expert Colin Miskelly, who advised on Happy Feet’s treatment, told AFP news agency that efforts to find the penguin would continue.

“It is unlikely that we will ever know what caused the transmissions to cease, but it is time to harden up to the reality that the penguin has returned to the anonymity from which he emerged,” he told the news agency.

Happy Feet was released from the research vessel Tangaroa on 4 September into the Southern Ocean about 50 miles (80km) north of the remote Campbell Island.

He was returned to the wild after recovering from surgery to remove 3kg (6.6lb) of sand from his stomach.

His unexpected appearance on Peka Peka Beach – north of Wellington and 3,000km (1,860 miles) from his Antarctic colony – stunned wildlife experts who said he was only the second emperor ever recorded in New Zealand.

He is thought to have eaten the sand, having mistaken it for the snow penguins swallow to stay hydrated.

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

Mass starvation of dugongs and turtles on Great Barrier Reef

Mass starvation of dugongs and turtles on Great Barrier Reef

By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney

Along hundreds of miles of beaches and on the shore of small islands, the rotting carcasses of green turtles and dugongs have are being washed ashore in alarming numbers – victims, scientists believe, of the after effects of the cyclone and floods that have afflicted this part ofAustralia in the past year.

Now naturalists fear that up to 1,500 dugongs – a species of sea cows – and 6,000 turtles along the Reef are likely to die in the coming months because their main food source, sea grass, which grows on the ocean floor, was largely wiped out by the floods and cyclone.

In some places the plants were ripped from the seabed by currents created by the storms and in others they were inundated under silt and soil washed out from the land by the torrential rains.

Beachgoers have reported stumbling across groups of turtles in shallow waters near Townsville – only to discover they were dead or dying.

“This is a long-term environmental disaster,” said Dr Ellen Ariel, a turtle expert at James Cook University.

“It is not like an oil spill where you can clean the water and move on. It is such a large stretch of coastline… We have had mass strandings of turtles. The turtles are sick and starving and can’t go on any longer. They don’t have anywhere to go.”

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it expects more dugongs to die than in any previous event.

Marine experts have expressed growing concerns about the future of the Reef’s dugongs, which are regarded as a vulnerable species. The herbivorous creatures, related to the Florida manatee and believed to be the source of the mermaid myth, helped the Great Barrier Reef gain its listing as a World Heritage area in 1981.

But their number around the southern parts of the Reef, which attracts the largest number of tourist, has declined by an estimated 95 per cent over the past 50 years. Some 5,500 live in the main section of the Reef, and here growing numbers of carcasses have been washing up on to coastal golf courses and island beaches.

Clive Last, who works as a groundsman on a privately-owned island near the town of Gladstone, was making his way back to the shoreline on his boat last month when he spotted a “black bulge” on the rocks of a small island, Witt Island. He made his way to the pontoon and discovered the marooned body of a seven-foot dugong, with much of its skin peeled away.

“I could see straight away there was something there that shouldn’t be there,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

“I thought, not another one. It was a big grey and white dead mass, but it was intact. There was no sign of trauma or cuts or bruising. Something is going wrong. I’ve lived here for 50 years but I have never seen deaths in such numbers.”

Mark Read, a protected species expert at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said turtles and dugongs were the “lawnmowers of the sea” and their losses could have a damaging impact on the overall marine ecology.

“We are looking at the highest ever record for stranded dugongs and the same for turtles,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

“Turtles and dugongs play a key role in maintaining healthy seagrass beds. We have concerns about the likely effect from a marked decline of turtles and dugongs. We don’t know what the consequences are.”

One of the world’s experts on dugongs, Prof Helene Marsh, from James Cook University, said she was concerned about the dugong’s future in the southern section of the Reef. “It is unprecedented that such a huge area of coast was affected. In this case, because the floods and cyclone were so huge and the damage so widespread – and it followed a wet year last year – we are wondering whether these animals have anywhere else to go.”

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

Fishermen blame dolphins for declining fish numbers…Seriously?!

Fishermen blame dolphins for declining fish numbers

TAIPEI — The head of the Hualien Fishermen’s Association claimed yesterday that “over-protection of dolphins” is to partly blame for reduced catches by fishermen in the eastern Taiwan county.

According to Wang Teng-yi, dolphins are the top predators in the marine food chain, eating even large fish, making them the “natural enemy” of fishermen.

“Fishermen are often annoyed to find that fish caught on their long-line hooks have only the heads remaining,” he said, attributing this to the work of dolphins.

“Fishermen can do nothing to prevent dolphins from stealing their catches as they are protected under existing government policy,” Wang went on.

Wang also described the government’s efforts to urge fishermen to shift to “dolphin watching” tourism as “impractical,” as most fishermen are not equipped, either financially or technically, for the newly emerging leisure business.

“Most fishermen respect the idea of dolphin protection initiated by environmentalists, but the government should also pay greater attention to the problem of over-populations of dolphins, as they are a threat not only to fishermen’s livelihoods but also to other marine lives,” he said.

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

Judge dismisses lawsuit by parents of child who witnessed SeaWorld trainer drowning

Judge dismisses lawsuit by parents of child who witnessed SeaWorld trainer drowning

An Orange Circuit judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by the parents of a child who witnessed the drowning of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010.

Judge Julie O’Kane ruled that parents Suzanne and Todd Connell “have failed to state a cause of action against SeaWorld for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

She said amending their civil lawsuit would “be futile” and that the deficiencies in their case “cannot be corrected.”

O’Kane dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning they may not refile the claim.

The Connells and their son were guests at SeaWorld. They witnessed the drowning of Brancheau on Feb. 24, 2010 during the “Dine with Shamu show.”

“The court has no doubt that RTC was traumatized by witnessing this event,” O’Kane noted in her dismissal.

However, in her ruling O’Kane also noted that she could not find and the parties “have not submitted, any case where a complete stranger to the injured party was allowed to proceed forward with a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress.”

O’Kane also ruled that the Connells did not allege “outrageous” conduct directed at RTC. They did allege that SeaWorld “knew of the aggressive and violent tendencies of the killer whale before it allowed the whale to be near Mrs. Brancheau.”

But, O’Kane ruled, “absent any allegations that outrageous or extreme conduct was directed at RTC, the Connells cannot state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress against SeaWorld.”

O’Kane’s dismissal order came last week.

In December, O’Kane tossed another part of the negligence claim by the New Hampshire couple. Suzanne and Todd Connell initially sued, claiming their son was only 30 feet from Brancheau when she was pulled underwater and drowned by Tilikum, a 12,000-pound killer whale.

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment

Trainer’s Family sues over images of SeaWorld death

Trainer’s Family sues over images of SeaWorld death

he family of a SeaWorld Orlando (Fla.) trainer who was killed by a whale filed a lawsuit that seeks to ensure images of the woman’s death won’t be released.

The husband, mother, brother and sister of Dawn Brancheau, who died Feb. 24, 2010, at SeaWorld, say they want a court to block the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration from publicly releasing copies of any videos or photos that depict the tragedy, the Orlando Sentinel reported Thursday.

Brancheau died after she was pulled underwater by Tilikum, the largest and most dangerous orca whale at SeaWorld Orlando.

The video and photographic materials in question include underwater surveillance video from a camera operated by SeaWorld and photographs taken by Orange County Sheriff’s Office investigators.

The lawsuit also asks that none of the footage be displayed during an upcoming hearing in which SeaWorld is challenging the findings of OSHA’s investigation into Brancheau’s death. The hearing is set to begin Sept. 19.

The lawsuit says the family members have a “deeply personal and intimate privacy interest” in the materials depicting the woman’s death and that displaying them serves no public interest.

Posted in News & Articles | Leave a comment