31 January 2005

Peace and healing mark memorial for ill-fated diver

Michael Vickers, Dave Shaw's priest, looked Theo and Marie Dreyer in the eye: "No guilt," he said.

Theo then turned to 23-year-old Steven Shaw and said: "Your dad inspired people. He lived in love. You had a great dad. You can treasure that."

This was moments after yesterday's memorial service in Pretoria for Steven's father, Dave, the Australian who died on January 8 trying to fetch Deon Dreyer's body from a watery grave for his parents.

Vickers, the Shaws' priest in Hong Kong, where Dave and his wife Ann had lived since 1989, came to South Africa with Steven for the service.

Shaw's ashes will be scattered in one of the dark caves that the 51-year-old airline pilot had lived to explore. Boesmansgat, the Northern Cape cave in which Shaw died, might be his final resting place.

"His ashes might remain at the place where he died - that would be nice - but we are thinking about leaving them in one of the other caves he dived at," said Steven, a theology student.

Boesmansgat will become Deon's final resting place on August 7 - on what would have been his 31st birthday - when his parents sprinkle his ashes in the cave that claimed his life a decade ago.

During the service, Vickers spoke about Dave the explorer.

"Dave pushed boundaries," he said.

It was while pushing boundaries at Boesmansgat on October 28 that Dave stumbled on Dreyer's remains.

Dave had broken the world depth record for a diver using a rebreather system (where his air is recycled) when in the beam of his torchlight he saw Deon's body in his wetsuit.

At the service, Steven, wearing a shirt emblazoned with the legend "No Fear", recited a prayer. Vickers read a letter from Lisa, Shaw's 21-year-old daughter.

"It is only with his death that I have come to realise the profound effect that my father has had on so many people."

"My father approached the world with the desires of a 20-year-old but with the wisdom of a 50-year-old, always striving to discover new things," she said.

"Although, I would like to say that I find it very odd that a man who could master two very difficult professions - diving and being a pilot - with such skill was completely incapable of undertaking a simple task such as making a sandwich."

"He has gone out with a bang and I cannot think of anything more fitting or anyone more deserving of such a departure than my father."

On January 12, in a dramatic twist to the ill-fated dive, Deon's and Dave's bodies resurfaced when technical divers were fetching cylinders used in the dive.

Although Vickers and Steven both stressed "No fear, no guilt, no condemnation", Theo said he couldn't help but feel responsible for what had happened.

"Dave did his best to fetch my son, and his attempt proved fatal. It sits in the back of my mind."

"I believe it was Dave's choice and that he had decided to fetch Deon when he saw his body. For him it was another challenge."

The cause of Deon's death is unlikely to be established, considering the length of time the body was underwater.

On Saturday, police released his remains to his parents.

"I touched Deon," Marie said. "I've been through so many emotions since Dave phoned to tell us he had found Deon."

"I've been waiting for him for 10 years. I know people don't understand it, but seeing his body has given me the chance to say goodbye."

Marie said it had been a difficult time, especially losing Dave, but the family were beginning to heal.

"I'm happy that I had a chance to say goodbye to Deon."

Steven put the tragedy into perspective when he said: "I'm glad that Dad was able to fulfil his mission and bring Deon back. My dad died doing something he loved - diving. He also died helping people."
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Peace and healing mark memorial for ill-fated diver

South Africa's wetlands threatened

Wetlands purify water, stop floods and even provide water in times of drought, yet more than half of them have been destroyed in South Africa.

We can't afford to lose any more, warned spokesperson for Mpumalanga's department of agriculture and land affairs, Freddy Ngobe, on Thursday.

"They are important to South Africa, because at the current demand and supply South Africa will run out of water by the year 2030," he explained. "We must start fixing and protecting those that are left."

He made the appeal ahead of World Wetlands Day on February 2.

The slogan for this year's celebration is, "There's wealth in wetland diversity - don't lose it".

Wetlands, with their dense plant matter, act as a huge filter, sieving sediment and pollution from water and purifying it.

They remove nitrates and phosphates from fertilisers, pesticides and household detergents.

Metals like lead and mercury are also removed.

Wetlands control erosion by binding soil together, keeping water cleaner and preventing the erosion of riverbanks further downstream.

"Wetlands are also huge flood-busters," said Ngobe. "The water that hits a wetland during floods is spread out and loses velocity and power."

He said that in times of drought, the sponge-like wetlands release the water absorbed during the rainy season, ensuring that the rivers keep running.

"They're not just a bit of squelchy ground where frogs flourish," he said.
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South Africa's wetlands threatened

Polar bears, seals in jeopardy

Many Arctic animals, including polar bears and some seal species, could be extinct within 20 years because of the effects of global warming, a major conservation group said on Sunday.

Traditional ways of life for many indigenous people in the Arctic will also become unsustainable unless the world "takes drastic action to reduce climate change," according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

"If we don't act immediately the Arctic will soon become unrecognisable" said Tonje Folkestad, a WWF climate change expert. "Polar bears will be consigned to history, something that our grandchildren can only read about in books."

By 2026, the earth could be an average 2� Celsius warmer than it was in 1750, according to research commissioned for WWF to be presented to a February 1-3 conference on climate change in Exeter, England.

"In the Arctic this could lead to a loss of summer sea ice, species and some types of tundra vegetation as well as to a fundamental change in the ways of life of Inuit and other arctic residents," WWF said in a statement.

The total area covered by summer sea ice in the Arctic is already decreasing by 9.2% a decade and "will disappear entirely by the end of the century" unless the situation changes, WWF said.

Food source in jeopardy
This would threaten the existence of polar bears and seals that live on the ice, which in turn would remove a major source of food for the indigenous communities who hunt them.

Forested areas will spread northward as those areas become warmer, threatening habitats for birds like ravens, snow buntings, falcons, loons, sandpipers and terns.

"Migratory birds will lose a vital breeding ground in the Arctic, affecting biodiversity around the globe," WWF said.

Indigenous peoples such as the Eskimos in North America and Saami in Scandinavia could lose their traditional livelihoods, and their communities will be threatened by the thinning sea ice, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost.

WWF said it was calling on participants at the Exeter conference to send a clear message to governments of the Group of Eight nations, meeting in Britain later this year.

Must reduce climate change
"If we are to ensure that unique ecosystems like the Arctic are not lost, the G-8 meeting must take drastic action to reduce climate change," said Catarina Cardoso, a WWF expert on sustainable energy, adding that this must include a commitment to keeping global average temperatures down.

Findings released in November 2004 by the Arctic Council - which comprises Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States - showed that the annual average amount of sea ice in the Arctic has decreased about 8% in 30 years.

In the past 50 years, average yearly temperatures in Alaska and Siberia have increased by about 2� Celsius to minus 15� C.

The United States is the only country in the Arctic region that has not signed the Kyoto Protocol. Russia ratified the UN-sponsored accord to combat global warming in November 2004.
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Polar bears, seals in jeopardy

Ribbons to help tsunami victims

AN initiative has been launched amongst the hospitality and food industries to raise funds for tsunami victims. Ribbons are sold for R10 each and are to be worn for 10 days from January 29.

The South African Chefs Association (SACA), who is spearheading the initiative, is urging members of the industry - hotels, lodges, restaurants, tourism companies and other related businesses - to purchase these ribbons for staff and customers as a show of support and solidarity.

?We would value the industry and the public?s support. This initiative is undertaken with the full knowledge that some other initiatives have taken place and therefore this project is undertaken with particular focus upon the hospitality industry,? said Bill Gallagher, honorary president of the SACA.
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Ribbons to help tsunami victims

Tourism dept condemns canned hunting

MINISTER of environmental affairs and tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk has said that government condemns the practice of canned hunting and has published a draft document that he says will aid the department in eliminating the ?abysmal practice?.

On February 28, the minister published a draft document on the norms and standards for the sustainable utilisation of large predators as well as regulations on the keeping and hunting of indigenous predators in the government gazette.

?The publication of the draft norms and standards and regulations will provide the opportunity to the South African public to assist government to achieve an acceptable national position regarding the keeping and hunting of large predators,? said Van Schalkwyk. He added that government has, since 1997, condemned canned hunting.

The aims of the draft norms and standards and draft regulations are:
*To provide a national approach and minimum standards to all aspects relating to the management of large predators;
*To regulate the hunting of large predators;
*To promote the ethical hunting of large predators;
*To regulate the control of damage-causing animals;
*To protect the rights of owners of properties neighbouring those on which large predators are introduced;
*To regulate the import and export of large predators;
*To protect the genetic integrity of indigenous predator populations; and
*To ensure sustainable use of large predators.

?These norms and standards are the minimum and do not prevent provincial policies from being more restrictive,? added Van Schalkwyk.

The norms, standards and regulations will be effective from July 1 and they will be enforced in terms of the provisions of the Biodiversity Act.

Cheetah; spotted hyena; wild dog; brown hyena; lion; and leopard will, according to the department, be covered by these norms and standards and these animals will be listed as threatened and protected species in terms of the Biodiversity Act.

The closing date for public comment is March 15.
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Tourism dept condemns canned hunting

Lifesaver of elderly crewman lauded

The Natal Sharks Board has a shy hero, Marc Lange, who swam for 30 minutes in rough seas to rescue an elderly man who was one of four people from a boat that had capsized off the North Coast.

On Friday, Lange, a member of the board's operations staff, was honoured by his employers, Surf Lifesaving South Africa, the Commonwealth Life Saving Society and the International Lifesaving Federation.

"In view of his heroic actions, the Sharks Board presented him with a bravery award at their annual awards function," said the board's deputy chief executive officer, Mike Anderson-Reade.

Dhaya Sewduth, the President of Lifesaving South Africa, presented a certificate of bravery on behalf of the national body. Jelle Meintsma, of the International Lifesaving Federation, presented Lange with the Prince Michael Award.

Lange declined to talk about his heroics, saying he believed in "just getting the job done".

He was at the Mapelane Billfish Classic in February 2004 when a boat with a four-man crew, two of whom were over 60, capsized in rough seas.

According to the citation, "Lange put on his spear-fishing fins and swam out through the pounding waves to the rescue of one of the elderly crewmen, known only as Lappies."
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Lifesaver of elderly crewman lauded

South Africa ranks low on environmental index

South Africa has been ranked 93rd out of 146 countries in an environmental sustainability index.

Other African countries like Botswana was ranked ahead of South Africa at 34, Cameroon at 50 and Senegal at 59. Burkina Faso came in at number 97 and Burundi at 130.

The 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), unveiled at the World Economic Forum being held in the Swiss resort of Davos, named Finland the world leader and put the United States in 45th place, although ahead of Britain in 66th.

North Korea, Iraq and Taiwan were ranked at the bottom.

The index is based on an assessment of a country's natural resources, past and present pollution levels, environmental management efforts and how well it improves its environmental performance over time.

While the United States scored well for its water quality and environment protection capacity, its overall score was brought down by waste generation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Dan Esty, a professor at Yale University who created the index, said North Korea, Taiwan and Turkmenistan were the lowest-ranked countries as they faced many natural and man-made challenges and had poorly managed policy choices.

Lower industrialisation
In contrast, "I was surprised by the relatively strong performance of the Latin American countries", he told a press conference.

Uruguay ranked third highest in the index, behind Finland and Norway.

Esty put Latin America's overall strength down to lower industrialisation that spared it many "pollution stresses" faced by the more developed nations, adding that "they also don't have the intense pressures of poverty that you see dragging down a number of countries in Asia and Africa".

He pointed to South Korea as among the most improved since the first index was published in 2002.

"South Korea probably gets high marks as the greatest effort by any country, the ministry there has used this index as a performance guage and has really tracked its success over time against these results," Esty said.

Seoul "has therefore jumped up a number of spots, 20 slots or something like that", he noted.

Esty stressed that "one does not have to sacrifice competitiveness to be environmentally successful, one can achieve both at the same time."

Finland stood out as the best example of that, the study found.

"Finland is the equal of the United States in competitiveness but scores much higher on environmental sustainability and outperforms the US across a spectrum of issues, from air pollution to contributions to global-scale environmental efforts," an ESI statement said.
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South Africa ranks low on environmental index

Kenya pressured to drop planned wildlife swap

Wildlife activists on Friday stepped up pressure on Kenya to drop controversial plans to send hundreds of wild animals to zoos in Thailand, appealing directly to President Mwai Kibaki to cancel the deal.

An umbrella group of African primate sanctuaries said it was reviewing plans to hold an annual conference in Kenya in light of the agreement while a leading conservation organisation warned Kibaki that his country's reputation as a wildlife champion was at risk.

And they reiterated dire predictions that the deal would adversely affect Kenyan tourism - a badly needed revenue source - rather than luring larger numbers of foreign visitors, the government justification for the project.

The British-based Born Free Foundation said the plan to send more than 300 animals - including elephants, hippos, lions and rhinos - from 30 different species to Thailand "could undermine Kenya's credibility as a positive global force for animal welfare and conservation".

"I urge and most sincerely and respectfully request the president of Kenya to reconsider this proposal, which I am sure was conceived with the best of intentions but is deeply flawed," foundation chief Will Travers said.

In a letter to the Kenyan Wildlife Service and the Ministry of Tourism, the Pan-African Sanctuaries Alliance (Pasa), which represents 16 primate refuges in 12 countries, said it was re-evaluating a decision to stage its 2005 management workshop in Kenya because of the plan.

Pasa is "shocked and dismayed" by the deal which "appears to display absolutely no understanding or knowledge of the current wildlife situation in Kenya, East Africa or Africa, and would be a terrible setback for Kenya wildlife", it said in the letter.

"We feel it is important that the Kenyan government understands that decisions involving wildlife can have serious consequences in other areas of Kenyan tourism, commerce and trade," Doug Cress of the group's secretariat said in an email message.
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Kenya pressured to drop planned wildlife swap

Banned chemical may cause deafness in whales

A toxic chemical used to prevent barnacles from clinging to ship hulls may cause deafness in marine mammals and could lead whales to beach themselves, Yale University researchers say.

The hearing loss would be the latest environmental hazard linked to TBT, a chemical already known to be harmful to some aquatic life. TBT is banned in many countries but is still widely used.

Yale researchers based their theory on a study of guinea pigs, because mammals have similar ear structure.

Since many marine mammals use sonar to get around, "it's possible this could be contributing to whales and dolphins beaching and hitting ships", said Joseph Santos-Sacchi, professor of surgery and neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine.

"I think it's a reasonable hypothesis that this could possibly be happening," said Theo Colborn, a senior fellow at the World Wildlife Fund who has studied TBT but was not involved in the Yale research. "It sounds very logical."

Many scientists also believe the beaching of whales occurs for non-chemical reasons - primarily the Navy's use of sonar.

The Yale study will be published in the Biophysical Journal in March.
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Banned chemical may cause deafness in whales

28 January 2005

Scuba diving in South Africa

South Africa is one of the most diverse and enchanting countries in the world. Exotic combinations of landscapes, people, history and culture offer the traveller a unique and inspiring experience.

Scuba diving in South Africa is a fast growing sport and of a high standard. All major organization's qualifications are recognized and good quality dive gear is easily hired. Foreign divers are welcomed with typical South African hospitality and are without exception made to feel at home.

This truly beautiful country at the southern tip of dark and mysterious Africa offers diving and wildlife experiences beyond your wildest dreams...

The coastline offers a diversity of beautiful dive sites giving a diver the chance to dive with sharks and wrecks on rugged wild coasts, or simply relax with whales and dolphins and enjoy pristine coral reefs and abundant wildlife.

The coastline ranges from about 35�S to 27�S, and that means that one has a choice of diving in the cold waters of the Cape Province, the warmer waters of KwaZulu Natal or the tropical waters of Mozambique.

The Cape Province is mostly good for wrecks, white sharks, kelp and colourful sponges. KwaZulu Natal is primarily for mantas, rays, sharks, wrecks, whales, dolphins, turtles, reef and pelagic fish, hard and soft coral reefs, and Mozambique for whale sharks, mantas, turtles, dugongs and tropical hard coral reefs.

Most of the diving are done from semi-rigid boats, with a few hard boat and shore entries. The only "liveaboards" are found in Mozambique and are not of international standard and size.

What you can see
Eels, Great White sharks, Hammerhead sharks, Humpback whales, Mako sharks, Mantas, Nesting turtles, Pelagic fish, Raggedtooth sharks, Rays, the annual Sardine run, Seals, Shad run, Southern Right whales, Tiger sharks, Tropical fish, Turtles, Whale sharks, Zambezi sharks.
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Scuba diving in South Africa

Two lost at sea - then their luck changed

Luck was on the side of two Hout Bay men who spent 22 hours adrift at sea, covering at least 117km in a rowing boat.

Dirk van Wyk, 54, and Melvin Maarman, 26, had been fishing from a small rowing boat near Hout Bay at 8pm on Tuesday when they were swept out to sea by strong winds.

"They drifted an estimated five nautical miles from Dassen Island and attempted to row back toward Cape Town," said Chris Hudson, station commander of NSRI Hout Bay.

The men were reported missing the next day and the NSRI was alerted.

An extensive search was mounted but there was no trace of the two men.

Van Wyk and Maarman's luck changed at about noon on Wednesday when the wind changed direction and they were swept back to Clifton where they were found by lifeguards.

"It was a sheer stroke of luck that these guys were found floating off Clifton Fourth Beach, said NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon.

"When we started our search there was no telling where they could have been, but they turned up in the area which was plotted by the Marine Rescue co-ordinators."

Both men were in good health although tired and hungry.

"It's amazing. They had no water or food on their boat, only the clothes on their backs," said Lambinon.
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Two lost at sea - then their luck changed

Environment Reporting Still a Grey Area

Global players not giving full picture - MOST global companies still fail to disclose to investors how environmental and social issues pose both strategic risks and opportunities for their businesses, according to an international review of reports on corporate sustainability.

The review was compiled by SustainAbility, an independent business consultancy, the United Nations Environment Programme and ratings agency Standard & Poor's.

The review indicates that well over 50000 multinational companies still fail to report on environmental and social issues.

An analysis revealed that most companies failed to give any real insight into what they were reporting on and why they were doing so.

Few companies linked their nonfinancial reporting with their financial reporting.

The review notes that corporate governance is an area where the quality of coverage has jumped strikingly. But it seemed that companies' boards did not yet grasp the evolving links between corporate governance and the "triple bottom line" agenda that environmentalists and regulators favour.

Triple bottom line reporting requires companies to disclose not only their profits, but also their corporate social responsibility and environmental activities.

The review finds that only three out of 50 global companies surveyed assess their balance sheet's implications of key environmental and social risks, despite this information being increasingly important to analysts, investors lenders, insurers and reinsurers.

More than 350 company reports were submitted for the survey and 50 were selected by an international independent expert committee for a full analysis.

Out the 50 top companies trying to meet the requirements, five South African companies fell within the top 25.

Co-operative Financial Services (UK) was the leading company passing the 70% mark of the benchmark set, with other companies Novo Nordisk, BP, British American Tobacco, British Telecom, BAA, Rabobank, Rio Tinto, and Shell following close behind.

South African companies featuring in the top 25 saw Anglo American leading the pack, ranked 12th, BHP Billiton ranked 16th, and SABMiller 22nd. MTN and Sasol were ranked joint 25th.

Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of SA's Top 50 companies also have investment grade credit ratings.

The review says that while it would be inappropriate to suggest a link, it is striking that enhanced transparency and disclosure via sustainability reporting is clearly linked to companies that display strong levels of credit quality a widely recognised indicator of their operating and financial stability.

The review shows some companies have improved transparency on corporate responsibility.

SustainAbility chairman John Elkington said corporate governance was the hottest topic, but recent scandals had meant most boards were focused on financial integrity issues to the detriment of the bigger picture of nonfinancial risks and opportunities.
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Environment Reporting Still a Grey Area

27 January 2005

Cave diver suffocated

Experts say Australian diver Dave Shaw, who died in Boesmansgat earlier this month while trying to retrieve a body, probably suffocated.

Shaw, 50, was trying to bring the body of 20-year-old Deon Dreyer, who died in the cave ten years ago, to the surface.

Their bodies were unexpectedly pulled from the depths of Boesmansgat as divers raised equipment attached to a line.

Post mortems have been done on both bodies, but police spokesperson Ernst Strydom says they haven't yet received the results from the pathologists.

However, doctors involved in the fateful dive on January 8 have already posted their findings on the website of the International Association of Nitrox Divers.

The doctors
- examined the actual diving equipment;
- analysed the gas mixtures used;
- critically reviewed of the video footage from Shaw's camera;
- re-enacted the breathing patterns on the Mark 15.5 re-breather to capture the last 10 minutes of the diver's life and
- re-enacted the orientation of Shaw in relation to the body and the associated equipment.

They say Shaw successfully reached Dreyer's body, but was unable to recover it due to a number of unforeseen practical factors.

He appropriately aborted the attempt at six minutes - as planned - but subsequently became entangled in the line previously used to mark the body.

In his effort to free himself he succumbed to the combined effects of carbon dioxide build-up and nitrogen narcosis.

The doctors say they are certain that Shaw drowned after becoming unconscious, about 22 minutes after going underwater.

They say evidence suggests that Shaw suffocated.

"Overfilling of his re-breather appears to have prevented him from exhaling properly.

"The breathing impairment, combined with the increased activity of recovering the body, led to a critical build-up of carbon dioxide over a period of 10 minutes.

"This is sometimes called 'deep water black-out'."

"David became increasingly incapacitated, eventually lost consciousness and ultimately drowned.

"While relatively swift, the duration of the process favours carbon dioxide build-up as a cause rather than a lack of oxygen.

"Nitrogen narcosis may have significantly interfered with his ability to solve the problem before it was too late.

"Once he lost consciousness, drowning became inevitable.
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Cave diver suffocated

Things are likely to get even hotter

Greenhouse gas emissions could cause global temperatures to rise by up to 11�C, according to first results from the world's largest climate modelling experiment.

The top end of the predictions, which range from two to 11�, is double estimates produced so far and could make the world dramatically different in the future.

"Our experiment shows that increased levels of greenhouse gases could have a much greater impact on climate than previously thought," said David Stainforth, the project's chief scientist, from Oxford University.

Without significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, scientists estimate the Earth's temperature and sea level will rise, leading to increased flooding and drastic climate changes.

The temperature range predicted is based on assumptions of carbon dioxide levels double those found before the Industrial Revolution. Scientists estimate these levels will be reached by the middle of this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.

"This is really just the beginning of the process to try and understand the uncertainty and predictions of climate change," Stainforth added.

From Uruguay to Uzbekistan and Sierra Leone to Singapore, 95 000 people from 150 countries are taking part in the climateprediction.net experiment to explore the possible impact of global warming.

By downloading free software from the site on their personal computers, participants run their own unique version of Britain's Met Office climate model.

While their computer is idle, the programme runs a climate simulation over days or weeks and automatically reports the results to Oxford University and other collaborating institutions around the world.

Together, the volunteers have simulated more than four million model years, donated 8 000 years of computer time and exceeded the processing power of the world's largest supercomputers. The first results of the continuing experiment are reported in the latest edition of the science journal Nature.

"It is entirely possible that even current levels of greenhouse gases, if stable and maintained for a long period of time, could lead to dangerous climate change," Stainforth told reporters.

The Kyoto protocol, the main United Nations scheme to reduce greenhouse gases, aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 5n2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

"The danger zone is not something we are going to reach in the middle of this century. We are in it now," said Dr Myles Allen of the Met Office.

Climateprediction.net was conceived more than five years ago and launched in 2003. It is funded by Britain's Natural Environment Research Council.
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Things are likely to get even hotter

26 January 2005

New punch in fight to save ravaged perlemoen

The law-enforcement officials standing on the sand at Pearly Beach laugh as they watch two kelp-draped heads bobbing about 100m offshore.

The reason for their mirth is because the heads belong to two rather obvious perlemoen poachers who have actually pulled the fronds over their heads in a futile camouflage attempt.

But escaping detection is impossible when at least three pairs of binoculars and one telescope are trained on them.

After watching the pair for a few minutes, and scanning other kelp beds nearby for their co-poachers, the law enforcement officials decide to flush them out and send in a team of three no-nonsense SA Navy divers.

On this particular occasion the divers are backed on the beach by their team leader, who carries an R5 rifle just in case of trouble, a couple of fisheries inspectors, a handful of uniformed policemen, and several Marines.

Marine is an acronym for "management action for resources of inshore and nearshore environments", and this squad is a new anti-poaching task force of 46 which starts work officially next week.

In the water the tough, well-trained divers are more than a match for the poachers - although one of the navy men carries a baton tucked down the back of his wetsuit for "insurance" - and they quickly persuade the pair to swim to shore where they emerge spluttering, coughing and shivering.

But, like virtually all the poachers confronted in this way, the pair have emptied their diving pouches in the sea before the navy divers arrive.

So the law enforcement officials confiscate only the empty pouches, the tools used to lever perlemoen from the rocks and - from those who have them - powerful headlamps which enable the poachers to dive after dark.

One of the Marines picks up one of the empty pouches and sniffs it.

"Here, you can actually smell the perlemoen," he says. "We could send it away for a DNA test on the slime residue that would prove there were perlemoen in here, but the tests cost R4 000 each and it's not worth it."

After warning the poachers that they're playing with fire and will end up in jail, they send them on their way up the dunes - until the next time.

Although the law enforcers are only human and need to laugh occasionally, the task at hand is no laughing matter.

And given the level of the poaching and the absolute decimation of the perlemoen resource along this coastline, it's much closer to tragedy than to comedy.

The poachers have told the law enforcers there's another group further down, so the small convoy of three 4x4 vehicles races along the beach and within minutes have spotted another five poachers in the water.

But these poachers have also seen the vehicles and are bobbing quietly out among the kelp.

"They're just lying there - they'll wait until it's dark and then they'll come out," remarks one of the law enforcers.

So the navy divers set off into the water again to get them out.

Because it's difficult for the divers to spot the poachers among the kelp, their team leader fires a couple of red flares from the beach to direct them.

Again, these poachers are persuaded to return to the shore, where they in turn tell of another group still further down the beach.

Soon afterwards, the law enforcement team is called to a "safe" house in Pearly Beach which is used as an observation post.

"There are eight right in front of the house ... you see that rock just on the beach? Follow that line out and just to the left," says the animated owner of the house.

"Then there was a group of 12, there are nine there (he gestures in another direction towards the sea) and three have left the water already.

"I also saw five at Antoniesklip - there must have been 25 or more altogether."

After watching carefully through his telescope for a couple of minutes, the navy dive team leader rushes down to the beach with his men to tackle first the nine poachers who are in two groups.

"I'll start with this lot (of seven)," one of the divers remarks matter-of-factly.

His colleague adds resignedly: "Those other two are to hell and gone out there - they're moerse far off."

Again the team leader uses flares to guide the men; again the poachers are fairly quickly brought to shore; again they have nothing in their bags.

In just two hours, at least half-a-dozen different groups of poachers totalling more than 30 are chased from the water along just a few kilometres of coastline.

Some of them play dumb when questioned, pretending not to understand.

Others seem happy enough to point out where their fellow-poachers are operating - probably because they know they're unlikely to get caught with any perlemoen in their possession.

On one occasion there's a bit of pushing and pulling, but none of the poachers offers any real physical resistance - at least not on the beach, where they are clearly outnumbered, although some of the navy divers have apparently been threatened with perlemoen levers in the water.

It's nearly 8pm and the navy divers are still at work, flushing out poachers.

Three poachers emerge to say there's a fourth further down the beach, so the team moves down and, silhouetted against a brilliant sunset and a rapidly darkening sky, stand on the rocks and scan the sea for the remaining poacher.

Later, Marines manager Johann Erasmus reveals that others of his men have reported that three 4x4s, all known poaching vehicles from the Hawston area, have arrived at Pearly Beach, carrying about 35 people.

"They've just parked there, and they're waiting for us to leave," he explains, and asks rhetorically: "Poaching has created a false economy in this region - what's going to happen when this resource (perlemoen) has been completely stripped?"

But he's clearly pleased at the prospect of their new
R5-million-a-year budget allocation and additional resources which include assistance from the first of the government's new environmental protection vessels, the Lilian Ngoyi.

And they've enjoyed particular success during the past week.

In the Kleinmond marine reserve they've made three arrests and seized 416 perlemoen: "That's one of the biggest cases in the past four years in that area," says Erasmus.

And they also made one arrest, seized more than 3 800 perlemoen and confiscated a Toyota Corolla on the road between Pearly Beach and Buffelsjags.

"The perlemoen from Kleinmond were still quite big, but here they've taken out so much that it's all this size now," he says, holding his thumb and forefinger together to indicate the tiny size.

"Oom Johnny" Robertson, a fishery control officer from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Forestry, remarks: "It's like this every day. I've been with 'Sea Fisheries' for 30 years and for the past 10 it's been going on like this."

He tells of one occasion at Quoin Point where there were an estimated 500 poachers at work, about half of them divers in the water.

"We were about nine or 10 guys - what could we do against that lot? Nothing."

That particular story may have become slightly exaggerated in the telling, but the essence of it is absolutely true. huge numbers of poachers are continuously targeting this entire coastline wherever perlemoen occur, swarming into the water at every opportunity and brazenly defying the law.

Those taking part in the new initiative, Operation Trident, are extremely pleased by the many new resources put at their command and there's a palpable air of new confidence and commitment about them.

They believe - possibly for the first time in a decade - that they can now win their battle against the poachers.

But the enemy is relentless, remorseless and, seemingly, equipped with an unlimited supply of foot-soldiers.

At the moment, it's still a very real question as to whether there will be any spoils left when the perlemoen war is finally over.
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New punch in fight to save ravaged perlemoen

More than 40% of water 'lost'

More than 40 percent of water consumed in South Africa was unaccounted for, said Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Buyelwa Sonjica in Pretoria on Tuesday.

She said an estimated R200 to R300-million a year was unaccounted for in the Rand Water area alone, noting that it all went missing "somewhere" between the supplier and the consumer.

"This is mainly due to burst pipes and the non-metered supply of water to organisations."

This was especially damaging considering the current water situation in the country, she said.

Sonjica said her department was working closely with local municipalities to ensure they upgraded and maintained their water supply infrastructures.

"We are calling for all South Africans to use water wisely and efficiently," she said noting that the country was one of the 30 driest countries in the world even without below average rainfalls.

Discussing the current crisis, Sonjica warned that more water restrictions loomed despite the recent good rain.

She said the figures up until the end of December showed that rainfall had been below average but had improved towards the end of December and into January.

"We have not recovered the figures for January yet."

Already many provinces, including the Western Cape and Limpopo, were enduring water restrictions with farmers in some provinces being prohibited from irrigating their land as local municipalities tried to build dam reserves for domestic use.

Sonjica said plans were being devised in the Western Cape to capture water from the aquifers on Table Mountain, if the situation became much worse.

"We have even considered desalination plants but they are very expensive," she said.

Dam level's across the country this week stood at 59,6 percent but reservoirs in the Western Cape were only 42,4 percent full.

Dams in Gauteng were 32,4 percent full but Sonjica said the main supply dams - Vaal and Sterkfontein - were supplied by the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme and so the level was not of too great a concern.
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More than 40% of water 'lost'

25 January 2005

Diver's ashes to be scattered in Boesmansgat

The ashes of Deon Dreyer, the diver whose remains Dave Shaw went to fetch in a doomed mission, will be sprinkled in Boesmansgat.

"There's only one place for my son's ashes," Theo Dreyer said on Monday.

"I know people will think it's ironic, but we know that this should be the final resting place for our son."

Theo said he would fetch his son's ashes on Tuesday after attending a memorial service for Shaw - the 51-year-old Australian pilot and deep-cave diver who died earlier this month trying to retrieve the remains of Dreyer by plunging 271m to the bottom of Boesmansgat.

Dreyer was 20 years old when he lost his life at the Northern Cape cave a decade earlier.

"I will attend the service to pay my final respects to Dave. Dave came out to do me a favour and I want to give him a hero's sendoff," Dreyer said.

Shaw had discovered Dreyer's remains when he explored the silt bottom of Boesmansgat during a world-record dive on October 28. Shaw then told the Dreyers that he would return to Boesmansgat and fetch their son's remains.

But on January 8, about 22 minutes into a dive that was scheduled to last 12 hours, Shaw lost consciousness.

For four days, his body lay next to Dreyer's. On January 12, when the support divers were retrieving the cylinders from the doomed dive, Shaw's body floated up to the roof of the cave - and dangling from his body were Dreyer's remains.

It wasn't the way he had intended, but Shaw had kept his promise and completed his mission.

"I want to meet Steven (Shaw's 23-year-old son) and tell him what a great man his father was," Dreyer said.

On Monday, Steven Shaw arrived in Johannesburg to attend the memorial service. It was Steven who introduced his father to diving seven years ago.

"I had gone to the Philippines and learned to dive. The next year my dad and I went on a holiday in the Philippines. His passion for diving just took off from there. He loved exploring. For him it wasn't about going deep; it was about being the first person to discover something," Steven explained.

He said his father had been doing "dangerous stuff" for years and the family had accepted it. "This is who my father was."

After the memorial service, Steven was due to travel to Boesmansgat. "My mom wasn't ready to come to South Africa; she will come later this year."

Meanwhile, specialist dive doctors Frans Cronj�, Hermie Britz and Jack Meintjes released a report about what went wrong during the dive.

The doctors said they had examined the diving equipment, analysed the gas mixtures used, reviewed footage from Shaw's camera and re-enacted the breathing patterns of the last 10 minutes of his life. They concluded that a number of unforeseen problems arose.

"Shaw appropriately aborted the attempt at six minutes as planned but became entangled in the line used to mark Dreyer's body. In the ensuing effort to free himself he succumbed to carbon dioxide poisoning."

"As he had enough gas reserves, the question that remains is 'Why?' "

The doctors add that even though the equipment was functional and the gas was appropriate for the depth, the inability to exchange gas effectively eventually resulted in a rise in carbon dioxide.

"At times Shaw's breathing rate increased to 36 breaths a minute, his distress was obvious and gas exchange would have been greatly impaired," the report states.

Shaw eventually lost consciousness and drowned at a depth of 264m.

The doctors warned against diving at such depths. They said they were aware of only six divers who had ventured beyond 250m.

"Three are dead and two of the remaining three have been seriously injured during their attempts."

The report goes on to say: "It's our view that 150m is a more realistic depth limit for this very advanced and hazardous form of recreational diving."

"We hope David's death will urge future technical recreational divers to be sensible and realistic about their ambitions," the report says.

"Even Dave, who was a highly trained and experienced technical diver, was not immune to the dangers," according to the doctors.
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Diver's ashes to be scattered in Boesmansgat

Mount Everest to be measured

China will send a scientific team to measure the height of Mount Everest, state media reported on Tuesday, citing worries that global warming may be causing the world's highest peak to shrink.

The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, working with the Chinese national women's mountaineering expedition, will use radar and global positioning system equipment to remeasure the peak, known in Chinese as Mount Qomolangma, the state-run newspaper China Daily reported.

China last conducted such research in 1975, it said.

Everest is now said to be 8 848 metres high. The newspaper said a recent survey found the peak of Everest had dropped by 1.3 metres due to melting of glaciers resulting from global warming. It did not give any details on that survey.

However, Nepalese Sherpas who often climb the peak have reported seeing widespread evidence of receding snowlines due to warmer temperatures that are said to result from greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
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Mount Everest to be measured

Behind the tsunami tragedy

The December 26 tsunami devastated lives around the Indian Ocean's coastline but, for science at least, there was a silver lining.

Satellite images, seismic sensors, even TV footage, photographs and eyewitness accounts have provided a goldmine of information, helping experts to understand more about this force of nature and how to tackle it in future.

The data "will be of great use in preventing future disasters," said David Booth, senior seismologist at the British Geological Survey (BGS).

"It will help to identify vulnerable areas, set up an alert system, and help to build structures and breakwaters that deflect or slow down the wave before it reaches habitation," he said.

Earthquakes of the December 26 intensity, which measured nine on the Richter scale, occur on average only once every 30 or 40 years. Detailed evidence of the tsunamis they unleash is even sketchier.

Wealth of data
But in this case, earthquake sensors and orbiting monitors have supplied a wealth of data as to how the event began.

And film, photos and the testimony of survivors have provided useful information about its climax, revealing beaches and building designs that were terribly at risk.

A mosaic of knowledge is now building up about the tsunami-prone fault which lies off the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The earthquake "did not happen at a single point along the fault", said Booth.

"It actually ruptured over a length of at least 400 kilometres. The rupture started off the coast of Sumatra and propagated northwards at around two kilometres per second.

"There was an upwards movement of the seafloor, approximately northwards. It only came up a few metres, but with all that water on top, there was a massive release of energy."

One worry is that the quake failed to release all the pent-up energy between these two rubbing plates of the earth's crust.

Further earthquakes
The northern and southern tips of the fault may be prone to further earthquakes, "perhaps within decades, and ... they might be even powerful enough to cause another tsunami," the British journal Nature says, quoting US and Japanese seismologists.

As good luck would have it, two hours after the wave radiated out to the west, north and northeast, a pair of US-French satellites, Topex/Poseidon and Jason-1, happened to be passing overhead.

They took radar measurements of sea levels of the Bay of Bengal along a 3 000-kilometre stretch just as the tsunami's leading edge was reaching Sri Lanka and India, the British weekly New Scientist says.

What the orbiting scouts saw was unique: Two waves of a maximum height of about 50 centimetres, travelling 500-800kms apart. In between were smaller ripples about 100-200kms apart.

By turning all the data in computer models, scientists should be able to give quick and accurate advice when the planned Indian Ocean tsunami alert system gets under way next year.
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Behind the tsunami tragedy

Beached dolphin dies in tidal pool

A male dolphin, aged about one, died in the Brass Bell tidal pool in Kalk Bay on Sunday after it had beached twice in four days at Glencairn.

Pat Stacey, chief fisheries control officer at Kalk Bay harbour, said he moved the animal to the pool from the beach on Sunday after being alerted to its location by Nan Rice of the Dolphin Action Protection Group.

It is unclear how the dolphin was separated from its school.

The cause of death is also not known.

Shortly before the animal died it leapt out of the pool at Brass Bell onto rocks.

Stacey said on Sunday he had planned taking the animal in a fishing boat to release it into the ocean.

Dolphin expert Peter Best of Pretoria University's Mammal Research Institute, based in Cape Town, said he had received the first call about the stranded dolphin only on Sunday.

"Even if the animal had lived it would have struggled to survive alone in the open sea," he said.

Best said the animal would be used to gain genetic information about the species.
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Beached dolphin dies in tidal pool

Tsunami disaster: A failure in science communication

At the heart of the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunamis lies a failure to communicate scientific information adequately to either decision-makers or the community.

Important lessons are to be learnt about the need for professional skills. For several years, fishermen in Nallavadu, a coastal village in the eastern India state of Tamil Nadu, have benefited from a small telecommunications centre linked to the internet, set up by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Centre in Chennai.

The main purpose of this facility, widely cited as a successful example of the application of information and communication technologies to rural development, has been to provide access to satellite data of weather patterns in the Bay of Bengal.

Internet connection
The internet connection has already been credited with providing the fishermen with valuable information about anticipated storms that has saved several lives. But the warning that arrived on the morning of December 26 came by a different route. The son of one of the fishermen was in Singapore, watching a news item about the earthquake that had just occurred off the coast of Indonesia.

Worried about the potential impact on his family of giant waves that were reported to be spreading across the Indian Ocean, he telephoned his sister in Nallavadu, who told him that water was already beginning to seep into her home. He told her to leave immediately, and to urge others to do so. The villagers broke into the telecommunications centre. Using the public alert system set up for weather forecasts, they told the 500 families in the village that they had to leave immediately.

The result of the warning was that although 150 houses and 200 boats were destroyed, not one of more than 3 500 villagers lost their lives. The incident is a small but powerful reminder of the vital role that modern communications technology can play in mitigating the impact of natural disasters.

Rescue efforts
Other examples include the way that mobile phones became an essential component of large numbers of rescue efforts, indeed were often the only available form of long-distance communication following the destruction of conventional telephone lines by the tsunami. With the hindsight of experience, there are already several national and international schemes being promoted to establish sophisticated detection systems to provide an early warning of similar threats in the future.

The role of science communication Behind all this, however, is the large, unpalatable truth that many thousands of lives could have been saved if adequate measures had been taken, even using existing detection and communications technology, to ensure that news of the impending tsunami was spread rapidly to those living in coastal regions around the Indian Ocean.
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Tsunami disaster: A failure in science communication

Countdown to climate change catastrophe

Global warming is reaching the point-of-no-return, with widespread drought, crop failure and water shortages the likely result, according to a new international report highlighted in the British press on Monday.

The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt out by a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics.

In 10 years or less, they predict, the catastrophic point-of-no-return may be reached, The Independent daily reported.

The new study, "Meeting The Climate Challenge", has been timed to coincide with British Prime Minister Tony Blair's promised efforts to advance climate change policy this year as head of both the G8 group of richest nations and the European Union.

The report was assembled by the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, the Centre for American Progress in the United States and The Australia Institute.

It says the danger point will be signalled when temperatures rise by two degrees centigrade above the average world temperature prevailing in 1750, before the industrial revolution.

Timebomb ticking away
But it points out that global average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees since then, with more rises already in the pipeline - so the world has little more than a single degree of temperature latitude before the crucial point is reached, the paper said.

The consequences of such a rise could include widespread agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease, sea-level rise and the death of forests. according to the report.

The researchers calculated the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere after which the two-degree rise will become inevitable, and say it will be 400 parts per million by volume (ppm) of CO2.

The current level is 379ppm, and rising by more than 2ppm annually - so it is likely that the 400ppm threshold will be crossed in just 10 years' time, the report adds.

"There is an ecological timebomb ticking away," said Stephen Byers, former British transport minister and a close Blair ally, who co-chaired the task force that produced the report with the US Republican senator Olympia Snowe.

The report urges all G8 countries to agree to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and to double their research spending on low-carbon energy technologies by 2010.
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Countdown to climate change catastrophe

Leave Dave Shaw in peace, beg couple

Australian deep diver captain Dave Shaw became a close friend of Andries and Debbie van Zyl through his expeditions on their farm, Mount Carmel, near here.

The Van Zyls were quoted in a joint statement they issued on their farm on Monday, signed by both parties, as saying: "The friendship between Debbie and Dave was described as something sinister in the media because certain comments by Andries were taken out of context.

"It upset Andries because of the serious influence it has had on our family life."

Shaw was the diver who went to retrieve the remains of 20-year-old Deon Dreyer of Vereeniging on January 8 this year from Boesmansgat Cave on Mount Carmel.

Dreyer drowned in Boesmansgat more than 10 years ago.

Things went awry, and Shaw died in the attempt.

The Van Zyls said in their statement: "Please allow Dave Shaw to rest in peace, and give his loved ones space and time to mourn and heal."

Want privacy in 'difficult time'
They said that for various reasons - none of them related to Shaw - they have been, and are still, reviewing their marriage of 19 years.

"We are deciding what the best would be for us as individuals and for the family. We ask that our privacy be respected in this difficult time."

The daughter of a spokesperson for the Shaw family (who lives in Hong Kong) answered the phone on Monday and said the media must stop meddling in other people's affairs.

Superintendent Hendrik Swart of the police said the result of the post-mortem could not be released at this stage. It would form part of an inquest, so it was sub judice until then.
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Leave Dave Shaw in peace, beg couple

Learn lessons from tsunamis, conference told

Paris - A United Nations-backed conference on biodiversity was told on Monday that Asia's tsunami disaster was a brutal warning for humanity to tackle the world's worsening environmental crisis.

Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), said the amplified toll from the December 26 calamity - more than 227 000 dead - was due in part to the destruction of natural buffers against killer waves.

"Once the immediate humanitarian needs are accommodated, it is time to rehabilitate impacted ecosystems and to look at lessons learned," said Zedan.

"Early reports indicate that areas with healthier ecosystems, such as dense, intact mangrove forests and coral reefs, have been less affected than areas that have been disturbed or degraded," he said.

"We have to use this knowledge in the reconstruction," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). "When we strip away these natural forms of protection, we place ourselves in harm's way."

The conference, taking place at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), gathers 1 200 experts from about 30 countries.

Their task is to focus on action on combating the planet's alarming loss of biodiversity, as wild species are battered by habitat loss and climate change.

The graphic opinion of some scientists is that the world is facing its biggest mass extinction in 65 million years, when the dinosaurs were wiped out by climate change inflicted by an asteroid impact.

French President Jacques Chirac, who proposed the forum at the G8 summit in Evian, France, in June 2003, cited figures from the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which estimates that nearly 16 000 of identified species are close to being wiped out.

"The destruction of this heritage, bequeathed by thousands of years of evolution, is a terrible loss and a grave threat for the future," he said.

Chirac threw his weight behind a proposal for setting up a world panel of biodiversity experts, who would deliver neutral, informed and timely advice on species loss.

France will push the idea at the CBD, the treaty set up under the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, Chirac pledged.

A similar scientific panel for climate change exists under UN auspices, and its findings have helped shaped the political agenda for reducing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Of the estimated 10-30 million species on Earth, only around 1,7 million have been identified and described. Each year, between 25 000 and 50 000 species die out, the vast majority of which have not even been identified, according to scientists' estimates.

The loss is likely to accelerate this century under the impact of habitat loss and rising global temperatures, stoked by fossil-fuel gases which trap the Sun's heat.

As with so many problems involving the environment, resolving the biodiversity crisis will not be simple, for it raises questions that are tangled, not separate.

Population pressure and poverty are often interlinked with deforestation, overfishing, pollution and other perils to habitat.

The 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Wangari Maathai, who is also Kenya's deputy minister for the environment, said it was senseless to ignore the connection between the environment and poverty.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the tsunami provided an "opportunity to take a hard look at what we are doing to protect the environment".

"The tsunami and its aftermath underscored not only the overwhelming power of nature, but also the fragility of our own existence."
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Learn lessons from tsunamis, conference told

Conservationists slam wildlife swap

Nairobi - The Kenyan government plans to send hundreds of exotic and endangered animals to Thailand in a wildlife swap that drew harsh criticism on Monday from conservationists and concern from tourism officials.

Under the deal, Kenya is to trade more than 300 animals - including elephants, hippos, lions and rhinos - with Thailand in exchange for a small number of Asian tigers and pachyderm training expertise, officials said.

The swap was arranged last year during a visit to Thailand by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki but had attracted little notice until animal welfare campaigners got wind of the arrangement and protested.

An official from the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) said the animals, from about 30 different species, are to be captured from national parks and wildlife reserves and sent to a safari park in northern Thailand starting next month.

"It's a political decision that was reached when Kibaki visited Thailand in October," the official said on condition of anonymity. "In return, we shall be given a few tigers and expertise on elephant training."

However, the official added that the transfer process was likely to be delayed due to difficulties in preparing the wild animals for living in captivity abroad.

The official added that KWS animal behaviour experts had registered opposition to the trade as "transferring animals from their natural habitat to zoos affects their welfare."

Conservationists, meanwhile, expressed outrage and maintained the plan would harm the animals and efforts to protect them, and damage Kenya's tourism sector which relies heavily on wildlife safaris.

In addition, they argued, Kenya was getting a bad deal as it would receive in return a non-native species for which it has no need and the experience of Thai elephant trainers, whose methods they said are suspect.

"This is completely shocking," said respected wildlife expert Daphne Sheldrick, who has worked in the field in Kenya for more than 50 years.

"Wildlife in Kenya is under pressure from poachers and sport hunters, this government is completely ignorant of the kind of mess it is getting into," she said.

"It's barbaric to transfer animals from their natural habitat to captivity, this will not go down well," Sheldrick said. "We do not need tigers, they are not indigenous animals. And training of elephants ... is abuse of animals."

The tigers will be kept in a KWS zoo pending a decision on their final home, while the Thai trainers will try to educate the local elephants - a more intractable animal than the Asian variety - into doing menial tasks.

Kenyan government officials have defended the deal, citing overpopulation of the species involved, but the state-run tourism board has also questioned the trade, noting that it would likely generate negative attention.

"There is concern that international animal welfare organisations could create some negative publicity in our overseas tourism source," said Jake Grieves-Cook said, chairperson of the Kenyan Tourism Board.

"This might have an adverse effect on our tourism image overseas," he said.

Sheldrick was more certain.

"Animal welfare is a very important aspect of tourism, the government must reverse this or the tourism sector will suffer in the arms of animal campaigners," she said.

Despite the outcry, the trade looks set to go ahead as a team of Kenyan experts left Nairobi earlier this month to assess conditions at the animals' new home, the Mae Hia Safari Park in Thailand's Chiang Mai province.

Conservationists already protested last month when the Kenyan parliament voted to amend the law to allow sport hunting and authorise farmers to kill wildlife that strayed on to their land.

Kibaki vetoed the amendments at the end of December.
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Conservationists slam wildlife swap

24 January 2005

KwaZulu Natal faces more stormy weather

KwaZulu-Natal can expect more storms in the next few days, says the weather bureau.

Sifiso Ngubane of the South African Weather Service said that the storms were a typical feature of summer weather in the province.

"It is a typical summer scenario," Ngubane said.

"Normally thunderstorms will occur almost every day, more especially in the Drakensberg."

He said the storms usually developed in the Drakensberg and made their way eastwards through the interior.

It was difficult to predict the severity of storms as they could be spotted only within 24 hours of forming.

Ngubane said Monday would be cloudy with evening rain.

"Storms will be confined to the western part of KZN, in areas such as the Drakensberg, Ladysmith and Colenso."

He said there would not be any storms tomorrow, but that there would be some rain in the morning and evening.

Ngubane said more storms were expected from Thursday.

He said the storms would be widespread.

In the past few weeks storms have left families homeless in the Midlands, Greytown, Ulundi and other parts of Zululand and have killed at least 13 people.

Government aid has been given to families in the form of food, and private companies and welfare organisations have donated clothing, food and money.
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KwaZulu Natal faces more stormy weather

Green groups seek ban on canned lion hunting

The Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa and animal rights groups are hoping that the government is going to ban canned lion hunting. A long-delayed policy on the "sustainable use of large predators" will be released within weeks for public comment.

The association fears that the game hunting industry, which has grown substantially in the past 10 years and earns the country billions of rands in foreign currency, could be seriously damaged if it becomes associated with canned lion hunting.

There are now almost 9 000 game ranches in South Africa. Through the legitimate hunting industry alone, which follows strict principles of "fair chase", 9 000 to 10 000 foreigners pour $1-billion (about R6-billion) every year into hunting, according to Gary Davies, the chief executive of the association. Trophy hunters pay at least $20 000 to hunt a male lion.

Davies is concerned that if laws banning canned hunting are not enforced, the industry as a whole will be tainted. "It can kill our industry," he said.

"That's not worth selling your soul for."

The world was scandalised in 1997 when Carte Blanche broadcast the Cooke Report, which used undercover video footage to show foreign hunters at game farms in Mpumalanga shooting drugged lions from the back of air-conditioned vehicles. The expos� also showed a lactating female lioness that was separated from her three cubs and shot in front of them.

Shortly afterwards, then-environmental affairs minister Pallo Jordan issued a moratorium on the licensing of captive lion breeding centres in an effort to stop the supply of canned lions.

The moratorium was voluntary, however, and there is widespread confusion about which provinces - if any - disallow the breeding of lions in captivity for hunting.

According to Gareth Morgan, the Democratic Alliance spokesperson, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the environmental affairs minister, only last year commissioned a study to determine the severity of the canned hunting problem.

"All credit to him for doing it," said Morgan, "but I cannot fathom how seven years after the Cooke Report and just months before the public participation process, the department doesn't have the facts and figures at its fingertips."

Morgan said he was "left with the feeling that the department is not entirely committed to eradicating this" - a concern echoed by conservation and animal rights groups.

SanWild, a rehabilitation sanctuary in Limpopo, currently cares for 17 lions that have been confiscated from the canned hunting industry.

Louise Joubert, who has run the sanctuary for 14 years, said new captive lion breeding projects were still being licensed.

In December 2003, the SABC reported that canned lion hunting was becoming such a major problem in Limpopo Province that authorities were battling to keep up with the number of lions being confiscated.

Wildlife groups estimate that there are currently 3 000 captive lions in such institutions.

If new laws ban captive breeding, these animals will have to be put down - an option Joubert said she would rather see than allow the continued psychological cruelty, problems with disease control, and degeneration of genetics that come with captive breeding.

In its current form, the draft policy on canned hunting (released in 2003) allows hunting only on foot and prohibits pack-hunting with dogs, baiting and hunting at night. An animal must have lived in the wild and have been sustaining itself for six months before it can be hunted, and must not be "human-imprinted".

While this all looks good on paper, it would be difficult to enforce. A nature conservation official would struggle to determine whether a lion had been human-imprinted, whether it had been free-ranging and had been supporting itself for six months, and whether it had been hunted in an ethical manner.

Karen Trendler of Wildcare Africa Trust, a rehabilitation centre that has operated outside Pretoria for 20 years, said she had seen a steep increase in lions and other animals arriving at the centre in recent years as a result of the commercialisation of the game industry.

She said the practice by lion farmers of continually removing cubs from their mothers, to force the female to come into oestrus and breed again, had severe health implications for the lioness and the genetic quality of the cubs.

The captive breeding industry was rife with "really questionable and unethical practices", Trendler said. Some foreign hunters on canned safaris "know what they are getting and don't have an ethical problem", she said. They don't want to go into the hot sun, and so shoot from the vehicle.

Others are conned into believing they are on a legitimate hunt, pay a huge amount of money and are driven around in circles until they are presented with a lion that has been drugged and dropped off.

A disturbing practice that had become popular in the past three years was that of "green hunting", Trendler said.

Not wanting to kill an animal, and believing the practice to be in the interest of conservation, foreigners were paying huge sums to dart an animal and then have their picture taken with it.

What the tourists don't know was that the animal might have been darted several times in the space of a few weeks, leading to liver, kidney and brain damage. The fifth or sixth time a lion was darted, she said, it was so ill that it was "ready to be hunted and shot".

Free-ranging wild lions, "not Simba the circus lion", would fetch a premium price once captive-bred lions were no longer allowed to be hunted, said Davies.
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Green groups seek ban on canned lion hunting

Bickering threatens tsunami warning system

Differences appeared to be emerging at a United Nations-sponsored conference over plans for a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean region, threatening efforts to quickly put it into place.

More than 225 000 people died in the December 26 tsunami, thousands of whom might have been saved if an early warning system were in place.

Numerous proposals have emerged at the conference in Kobe, Japan, prompting some delegates to say they feared different nations were jockeying for leadership of the high-profile project.

During a special session on the tsunami on Thursday, Germany, France, Japan and the United States were only a few of the nations lining up to make proposals, while India highlighted a system of its own.

The US ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, suggested extending the current Hawaii-based Pacific warning system, which was set up after a 1960 earthquake in Chile triggered a tidal wave that killed more than 100 in Japan and other Pacific nations, while Japan pledged the highest level of support.

Some delegates felt politics could trump generosity, but others acknowledged that Japan, with its long history of earthquakes and tsunamis, had a crucial role to play.

"I think that a competition is sadly possible, as it was in which country donated most," said Walter Ammann, director of the Department of Natural Hazards in Davos, Switzerland.

UN officials, who promised to have the system up and running in 12 to 18 months, have denied the rivalry and say the UN intends to keep on co-ordinating the process over the next weeks and months as the details are worked out.

But many delegates, already worried that an early warning system has overshadowed long-term goals of making disaster reduction a key part of aid to developing nations, said they feared disagreements over the warning system symbolised the differences as a whole.

Many are also concerned that the final statement, due out when the conference ends today, will contain no concrete goals or measures to hold governments accountable for their pledges for either disaster reduction or the early warning system.
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Bickering threatens tsunami warning system

Adapt Or Die, Farms Warned

As Cape Town's water storage dams drop to a five-year low, agricultural experts say climatic changes mean the face of agriculture in the Western Cape will have to change, and soon.

And Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool has warned that without these changes, the province's farmers run the risk of being overwhelmed by drought and international competition.

But a wine-growing expert said increasing temperatures were unlikely to have a serious impact on the wine industry, although wine styles might have to change.

Yesterday the City of Cape Town announced that the average level of dams supplying the region was 42.5% full, a five-year low for this time of year. This time last year the dams were at 60% full, in 2003 they were 79% full and in 2002 87% full.

While Steenbras upper was still 75% full, Vo'lvlei was 36% full, Theewaterskloof was 41%, Wemmershoek dam at 42.4%, and Steenbras Lower 64.9%.

The good news, for Cape Town's gardeners at least, is that the City of Cape Town has decided not to tighten water restrictions nor to set a more stringent water-saving target.

In September both the city and the Department of Water Affairs said a targeted saving of 30% would be necessary if dam levels dropped to 43%.

But last week the department's regional director, Rashied Khan, said the present 20% target would remain until the current cycle of restrictions ends in September.

Saleem Mowzer, the member of the mayoral committee responsible for trading services, said it would be pointless to introduce the 30% cut if Capetonians were struggling to achieve 20%.

The results of the more stringent restrictions introduced on January 1 are not yet available, but it is clear that if the drought continues, we may find ourselves in a much worse situation by June.

If last year's rainfall patterns continue, by June average dam levels will have sunk to just 14.6%, and after some winter rainfall would be up to just 25% by the end of the year.

The acting manager of the city's technical operating centre, John Potgieter, said levels of 14% would be difficult to recover from.

"Unless drastic measures are taken, this would put us into crisis."

Recent rainfall in the Western Cape has been between 50 and 75% below average.

Yesterday agricultural experts said the shift in rainfall patterns and longer dry periods would force the sector to adapt to fresh crops and new cultivars.

Grain and livestock farmers in various parts of the province were struggling to survive, and on some farms there is no available drinking water left, as boreholes are drying up.

Rasool said: "Not only should we adapt crops and livestock to available water resources, but we must also adapt to international competition. China is planting hectares and hectares of apples and oranges which will probably flood the international market in 10 years. Where will that leave South Africa? Agriculture will have to grow cultivars for niche markets.

"The more time we waste on making the changes, the greater the risk of being overwhelmed by drought and international competition."

Dr Pieter van Rooyen, provincial head of agriculture, said some areas were not suitable for the crops currently being grown there.

"For example the Sandveld, north-west of Piketberg, is a very high-risk area for wheat. Instead lupins - a form of fodder - should be planted there."

Van Rooyen said research by the department annually suggested farmers diversify crops on their land.

Professor Andr� Agenbag, of the department of agronomy at the University of Stellenbosch, said researchers were always on the look-out for ways to keep up with climate changes.

Emphasis was also placed on the adaptation of production techniques and new crops.

"Researchers are looking at cultivars that are heat- and drought-resistant, and crops with a shorter growth period."

New crops being looked at included flax, coriander and various forms of peas and beans, canola (rape), and triticale - a hybrid cereal that is a cross between wheat and rye.

Boegoe, honeybush tea and other aromatic plants could be grown in mountainous areas.
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Adapt Or Die, Farms Warned

R2 million Probe for Water Sources

The Western Cape government has set aside R2 million for an urgent investigation into alternative water sources, including evaluating desalination and the use of other aquifers.

President Thabo Mbeki will also be approached today by the provincial government to declare drought-stricken parts of the Western Cape disaster areas.

And the provincial cabinet has adopted a strict approach to enforce the three-metre firebreak rule in informal settlements.

Premier Ebrahim Rasool yesterday described the cabinet's first meeting for the year as a "floods, fires and drought" meeting.

'Desalination and other aquifers will be evaluated'

"Discussions were dominated by disasters, natural and otherwise, over the last while. One of the longest discussions we had was about the drought and where we are going to with agriculture," he said.

Some Western Cape farmers are running out of drinking water in the second consecutive dry spell. Drought-stricken areas include the area north of Vredendal, Bitterfontein, the Cederberg region, the Rooi-Karoo in the Piketberg region, Ceres and surrounding areas as well as parts of Beaufort West, Murraysburg and Touws River.

In the metropole thousands of Joe Slovo residents were displaced at the weekend after a devastating fire.

Rasool said the provincial government had noted the increasingly evidence of climate changes. Research conducted by UCT's Climate Analysis department had shown that rain patterns are changing, with longer dry periods interspersed by shorter concentrated periods of rain.

"The impact of this on the Western Cape in terms of water sources, crops, flora and fauna, economic and infrastructural planning, energy needs and attitudes must be understood and integrated in all provincial activities."

He said only one more dam could be built in the province, which would be on the Olifants River, which will then exhaust the province's current surface water catchment abilities. "We are in for long-term climatic changes, therefore this province will have to drive a process to lay the basis for long-term alternatives.

"An amount of R2 million has thus been allocated to conduct an urgent investigation into alternative water resources, including the evaluation of desalination and other aquifers as a response to the impact global warming is having. The province's alignment with the Kyoto protocols will form part of this assessment," Rasool said.

Declaring parts of the drought-stricken areas in the province disaster areas would pave the way for the government to raise an additional R26m to supplement the feed of livestock and facilitate keeping farmworkers on farms, Rasool said.

"The R26m is absolutely critical, otherwise livestock will just die.

Farmers continue to remain a vital part of the Western Cape economy. The department of social services and poverty alleviation as well as agriculture will conduct a social assessment of the extent of the needs of farmworkers for assistance to sustain livelihoods."

Asked how the government will enforce the three-metre firebreak rule between shacks in informal settlements, MEC for local government and housing Marius Fransman said a massive public awareness campaign would be embarked upon.

"The police services, community organisations and ward committees will assist to make sure the rule is enforced. A renewed awareness campaign about the firebreaks will be started in communities."

Rasool said that law enforcement would be used as a last resort and suggested that shacks be built in blocks which are three metres apart, thereby effectively creating roads.

"The cost of enforcing the three-metre rule and maintaining fire hydrant access will be less than the expected cost of R10m that government will incur in direct response to the Joe Slovo fire alone."

He added that the government would sign an accord with communities to adhere to the three-metre firebreak rule.

Details about a multi-faith day of prayer for rain led by Rasool, will be announced soon.
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R2 million Probe for Water Sources

21 January 2005

Jumbo squid washes up on Californian beach

Hundreds of jumbo squid washed up dead over the past two days in one of southern California's most popular beach communities, authorities said on Thursday.

The Newport Beach fire department said about 500 squid, measuring roughly 1,5m and weighing about 4,5kg to 7kg each, added to the tons of debris already littering local beaches after recent heavy rains.

"I think that they were probably chasing some bait or some prey at high tide and just swam too close to the beach," said Eric Bauer, a lifeguard captain with the fire department in the coastal city 72,5km south-east of Los Angeles.

Southern California was battered by heavy storms in late December and early January, dumping more rain in the space of a few days than the area usually gets in a year. City officials said the water locally was dirtier than usual at the moment, in part because of the storms.

Bauer said regular squid sightings were not uncommon but added the jumbos looked "extra-terrestrial".

Newport Beach's squid problem is the latest in a string of cases of the sea creatures washing up dead on Pacific beaches. More than 1 000 were found in south-west Washington state in October 2004 and they inundated the San Diego area in mid-2002.
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Jumbo squid washes up on Californian beach

Better rains boost southern Africa crop hopes

Good rains have left most of southern Africa expecting better crops in 2005 than in recent years, but the "lean season" before the new harvest is boosting short-term demand for food aid.

But the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), a major regional buyer, is facing a funding shortfall as donors focus on relief efforts after the Asian tsunami, and some Africans who would normally expect food aid may go short.

"Generally the picture looks good," the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's regional emergency co-ordinator Graham Farmer told Reuters. "We saw a bit of a late start to the rainy season but December has been good."

In 2002, poor rains across the region left 16 million people short of food, but better weather and agricultural recovery - particularly in Zambia, which has gone from a serious shortfall to significant surplus in only a couple of years - have improved the situation.

But shortages remain, particularly in Malawi and the mountain kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho, where soil erosion and erratic rains have hit crops and former miners made redundant by South African mines can no longer feed their families in a bad year.

Farmer said a belt of poor rainfall across southern Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique gave some cause for concern, and that further north rains had been so heavy they had caused some flooding in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique N though it was not yet clear whether these factors would affect food production.

Drought fears in the main regional producer, South Africa, pushed staple maize prices above 1000 rand a tonne in late November, but good rains since then have pushed prices sharply lower, down to R630 rand a ton on Wednesday.

In 2004 the WFP switched the purchase of the majority of its food aid from South Africa to Zambia, whose maize was cheaper, but WFP senior regional advisor George Aelion said the South African price slump had made its maize competitive again.

"We'll bring the South African equation back into the tender process," he said.

But the WFP has received no donations for southern Africa since the December 26 Asian tsunami, and this may threaten its operations - which it had planned to increase in the coming months, he said.

The 2004 crop has now been consumed and the 2005 crop is not due to be harvested until April or May, so that southern Africa is entering its "lean season".

Observers say that as the hungry period begins, food prices across the region have been rising - more slowly than expected in Malawi but more rapidly in Zimbabwe, where the government had forecast a bumper harvest but where agencies say shortages are emerging.
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Better rains boost southern Africa crop hopes

South Africa needs rain and plenty of it

South Africa needs to pray for rain - and lots of it.

Although Pretoria has seemed fairly wet in recent times, the country faces a critical water shortage. The ongoing drought in large areas is causing dam levels to drop steadily.

According to Agri-South Africa, the only hope is for rain to fall within the next two or three months.

Agri-South Africa says that the past four years have been extremely dry and, despite some rains, the situation has not improved markedly.

The Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Buyelwa Sonjica, said on Wednesday that she had grave concerns about the country's water resources.

"Some areas are green and the crops are growing, but that does not reflect a true picture of our country's water situation," she said.

In the Koue Bokkeveld, north of Cape Town, the water table has sunk by around 14m.

Sonjica said the average increase in dam levels in Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga was a mere one percent by the first week of January.

The situation in the Western Cape is deteriorating, with dam levels dropping steadily by as much as 43 percent, resulting in the enforcement of severe water restrictions. "That province faces hardships if rain does not fall soon. Areas that are particularly dry are along the west coast and the Karoo," Sonjica said.

The minister appealed to all water users to use water sparingly and said farmers and other large water users needed to carefully review their commitments and use the resource with the utmost care.

Agri-South Africa President Lourie Bosman said water scarcity had already had a huge impact on agriculture.

"Most of the dams are fairly low and some places have already had restrictions for over a year," he said.

He said the water situation was impacting mostly on sugar cane crops in the Lowveld areas, where water restrictions have been imposed for more than a year, as well as fruit and vegetable crops that need a lot of water.

"We need heavy rains for the level of dams to increase. It is quite critical that we get good rains from now until March," Bosman said.

The dam levels in the Free State, Gauteng, the North West and the Western Cape are lower than a year ago. In the North West province, some dams are recording water levels of between 14 percent and 33 percent.

In Limpopo, three of the main dams are only a third full (the Magoebaskloof dam is, however, at 100 percent).

The Free State's dams are almost empty and the department of water affairs is recording levels there ranging between five percent and 16 percent. Dam levels in Mpumalanga range between 16 percent and 94 percent, with most only being around 37 percent full.
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South Africa needs rain and plenty of it

20 January 2005

Not only mermaids can go under the sea...

What was once a preserve of marine scientists or James Bond films has become a popular tourist activity.

About 16 million people have enjoyed a view of the exotic underwater world from a submarine since underwater tours began as a viable tourist business in the late 1980s.

Tourist submarines - whether based in Hawaii, the Canary Islands or the Caribbean - can take holidaymakers to depths of between 20 and 40 metres.

They are often painted white or yellow and invariably dive down to the Beatles' tune: "We all live in a yellow submarine."

"Cruise ship passengers, especially in the Caribbean, are our most important clients," says Dennis Hurd, president of Atlantis Submarines based in Vancouver.

About half of the 30 submarines currently operating worldwide come from the Canadian city. Most of the other boats are built in the Finnish city of Turku.

The constructors of these special tourist submarines with their large panoramic windows may live in cool northern countries, but the vessels operate mainly where the sun shines all year round and where there is a coastline with beautiful fauna and flora.

American visitors to Hawaii are especially keen on the subs. There are days when up to five submarines per day take 2 500 visitors underwater. Until 1994, the submarines could at the most take 48 passengers. Then bigger vessels were built, with one of them based in Waikiki Beach in Honolulu taking 64 passengers.

Security standards are high. Submarine crews are constantly in touch with a guide ship by radio. Entry and exit holes are bigger than on military submarines and every seat is next to a window.

The air pressure regulating system on board means that passengers have no feelings of dizziness or ear problems.

The first such submarines went on a dive in the late 1980s near the southern Caribbean island of Aruba. Others such as Barbados, Cayman or St Thomas followed.

The submarine Atlantis is based near Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the American Virgin Island of St Thomas. A cruise liner is anchored offshore. Passengers including many families with children watch the swirling water from the ship railings.

A periscope appears, then the tip of the commando tower and the shiny back of the Atlantis. A hatch opens next to the platform and the occupants of the submarine disembark, well tanned and in the best of moods. Then it is the turn of the next group of cruise liner passengers to enter the submarine.

Atlantis starts its dive gradually. At a depth of 15 to 20 metres the coral reef becomes more dense. Numerous marine inhabitants have their home here.

Two children pull their mother closer to the window. "Look they are kissing each other," seven-year-old Carla from Florida calls, pointing to the blue fish known as the Kissing Fish.

At a depth of 30 metres we see the outlines of a shipwreck covered by algae and sea vegetation. Giant tortoises swim around.

"The animals have long become used to the boats and know that they are no danger," says submarine captain Rob Carlin.

But tourists need not travel all the way to the Caribbean to enjoy a submarine trip. Dives are also offered on the Spanish island of Majorca.

"There is a big interest from tourists," says Stuart Dickon, director of Nemo Submarines Baleares.

The Nemo dives into the Mediterranean up to ten times a day. The entire excursion together with a video presentation, transfer to the vessel and the 45-minute dive takes more than two hours. Adults pay a fee of ?50 (about R400) which is about the same price elsewhere in the world.

Submarines also dive near the Canary Islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote.

"The demand is huge. More boats have been ordered and are being planned," says Lindsay Laverty of Submarine Safaris in Lanzarote.

For more information visit: www.atlantisadventures.com, www.discoverlanzarote.com, www.nemosub.com.
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Not only mermaids can go under the sea...

Nine South Africans still missing

Nine South Africans remained missing or unaccounted for by Wednesday afternoon after the December 26 Asian tsunamis, the foreign affairs department said in Pretoria.

The number of people considered unaccounted for dropped by half from 10 on Tuesday, as five people were located "safe and sound" on Wednesday, it said in a statement.

People listed as unaccounted for are believed to have been in the area when the giant waves struck, and have not been traced since. But they are not yet considered to be officially missing.

Those on the official missing list, feared dead, remained at four by Wednesday.

"In this regard, the ministry is awaiting the outcome of DNA processing initiated by the Thailand authorities for utilisation in the victim identification process," the statement said.

The foreign ministry's consular services, working with affected families, have managed in the past three weeks to trace 2 900 individuals initially unaccounted for in the tsunami-stricken region, the department said.

Of those, 11 have been confirmed dead.

"In the meantime, the foreign ministry will continue to work with (the international police agency) Interpol with a view to tracking down all missing and unaccounted for South Africans."

The department expressed gratitude to affected families and members of the public for their assistance in tracing missing South Africans.
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Nine South Africans still missing

Rare elephant twins watched closely in Port Elizabeth

Twin elephants have been born in Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth - only the third time that twins have been born in the history of the park.

The baby elephants, now one month old, are both doing well so far, and staff are watching their progress anxiously.

Megan Bradfield, the park's social ecologist, said on Wednesday the second month of life of elephant twins was critical.

"Elephant twins are very rare. We've had two sets of elephant twins born in the park in the past, and in both cases one of the twins died during the second month.

"Elephant mothers don't really have enough milk for two babies, so usually the stronger twin manages to get more milk than the weaker one, and gradually the weaker one loses condition," Bradfield said.

She said there were elephant twins in Kruger National Park which were now three years old, showing they could survive.

The Eastern Cape had had good rains recently, which meant there was plenty of food for the twins' mother, so her milk production should be good.

All three sets of twins born in Addo have been born to the same family herd, to closely-related females.

The twins are called Dawn and Dusk, and their mother is Dina.

"All the Addo elephants are named, not to be cute, but for research so they can be identified.

"Dawn and Dusk come from the family group which all have names that begin with a 'd'," Bradfield said.

Naming the elephants had created one of the most comprehensive family trees in any elephant herd, she said.
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Rare elephant twins watched closely in Port Elizabeth

19 January 2005

Tsunami Clouds Future of Marine Animals

The depth of human tragedy resulting from the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster is incalculable, even though the scale of visible devastation to coastal towns is now shockingly clear.

But what of marine life? When the tsunami struck, land and ocean merged in a most terrifying way. People and uprooted trees were carried out to sea, while stingrays and sharks were left stranded in fields and parking lots.

The impacts are difficult to gauge. Scientists and conservationists say the future of coastal towns will be closely intertwined with that of fragile marine ecosystems. If coral reefs and mangroves aren't nursed and protected, they say, many human livelihoods will be hard to revive.

The most obvious marine casualties of the tsunami waves were washed up in their wake. In Thailand, for instance, dolphins were swept 500 yards (500 meters) inland. Many dead and injured sea turtles were left high and dry, and a three-foot (one-meter) shark ended up in a hotel swimming pool. Beaches were littered with dead fish as well as human bodies.

And while there are fears for some marine species?such as threatened dugongs and saltwater crocodiles in the Andaman Islands?scientists are most concerned about the habitats these animals depend on.

While it says the overwhelming priority remains the human relief effort, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has begun to assess environmental damage caused by the tsunami triggered by the massive earthquake off northern Sumatra on December 26.

Early reports indicate that many coral reefs have been extensively damaged, according to Stefan Hain, head of the Coral Reef Unit at UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, England.

Researchers are particularly worried about the backwash of mud and other debris as the tsunami waves receded. "We have satellite images of regions such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which show that a huge amount of sediment and debris has been washed from the land and back into the sea," Hain said.

Turbidity Clouds
Hain said experts are working to determine whether these "turbidity clouds" could smother affected coral reefs.

Coral reefs are highly diverse, complex communities. Reefs are built by coral polyps and symbiotic algae, which need pristine waters to thrive.

"The algae depend on sunlight and, via the algae, so do the corals," Hain added. "If you deprive them of sunlight, it is very difficult for corals to survive. To a certain extent, corals have self-cleaning mechanisms, but we will just have to see whether they will cope with this amount of debris."

Hain said that fish and many other coral reef organisms would have been dislocated and washed ashore by the tsunami, but it is difficult to say how long they will take to recover.

Because corals reefs are among the world's most productive ecosystems, Hain said it's vital that their socio-economic role is taken into account as shattered human communities are rebuilt: "There are millions of people who depend directly on these reefs for food?without them they have no livelihood. As we rebuild coastal zones we have to ensure this is done in a way that will ensure the reefs can still provide these services."

And without coral reefs, the wave of destruction could have been far greater. "Where coral-reef and mangrove ecosystems were intact, we have reports from areas like the Maldives, saying they took the brunt of the wave impact, taking the initial energy away," Hain said. "Lives have been saved."

WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature or World Wildlife Fund) said it has had similar reports from Andhra Pradesh, in southeastern India, where mangroves are credited with saving people who took refuge in them.

"Coral reefs act as a natural breakwater, and mangroves are a natural shock absorber, and this applies to floods and cyclones as well as tsunamis," said Simon Cripps, director of WWF's Endangered Seas Programme.

Turtle Nesting Beaches Vanish
Sarang Kulkarni, a marine biologist with Reef Watch Marine Conservation, based in Mumbai (Bombay), India, is currently in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. He says the latest generation of leatherback, green sea, hawksbill, and olive ridley turtles has been washed away.

"The nesting beaches in South Andaman, Little Andaman, and the Nicobar group of islands have almost vanished as all these islands have gone down by one to three meters [three to ten feet] due to tectonic activity," Kulkarni said. The turtle nesting season runs from November to January.

Kulkarni said early reports suggest coral reefs were not too badly hit in the Andamans, but he fears widespread damage in the Nicobar Islands, which took the full force of the tsunami strike.

Kulkarni is also concerned for the region's dugongs as these threatened marine mammals are not equipped to cope with violent currents.

"Dugongs are not great swimmers, unlike dolphins, and that is a worry," he added. "The same goes for saltwater crocodiles, as the creeks [where these crocodiles live] also experienced severe impacts."

Given the scale of devastation in the region, Kulkarni said it will take some time before a full environmental assessment can be carried out. Kulkarni said coral reefs and mangroves shield the islands during the seven-month monsoon period.

"Seas are very turbulent at that time," he said. "The reefs and mangroves play a crucial role as a barrier, minimizing the impact of waves on the shore."

Marine Nurseries
Mangroves are tropical, intertidal forests composed of salt-tolerant trees and plants. They support a huge variety of marine organisms and are considered vital nursery areas for many species of fish and crustaceans.

Researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington, D.C. said nearshore mangroves, estuaries, and sea turtle nesting areas are likely to have been inundated by the tsunami. They said the impact on organisms that inhabit shallow, inshore environments?particularly those that burrow in seabed sediments?could ripple through the marine food chain for decades.

By contrast, NOAA researchers have found that tsunamis usually do little damage to life in deep ocean waters.

But for coral reefs, the tsunami strike represents the latest of many threats to their survival.

Abnormally high sea temperatures in 1998 affected 75 percent of coral reefs around the world, leading to a condition known as bleaching?the corals eject their life-sustaining algae, causing the corals to turn white.

"If water temperatures remain high for long periods, the corals die," Stefan Hain added.

Hain listed other problems afflicting the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean: overfishing, unsustainable fishing methods involving explosives, soil erosion and sedimentation, coastal development, and reef mining for building materials.

"This is not the first tsunami, and it will not be the last," he added. "What we have to ensure is that the additional pressures on those reefs are reduced, so they can recover and function properly."
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Tsunami Clouds Future of Marine Animals