31 March 2005

South Africa shark feeder denies reports it mutilates sharks

The Gansbaai shark cage dive operator who hosted British diver Mark Currie last year is planning to take legal action against the media groups who propagated the inaccuracies of the day's events, White Shark Ecoventures owner Mariette Hopley said on Tuesday.

Mike Me�er, spokesperson for Marine and Coastal Management (MCM), agreed that the statements attributed to Currie in the British press about being attacked in the cage by a Great White were not consistent with what was apparent in the footage.

The footage had been taken with Currie's video camera by someone else on the boat.

"This is a case of somebody trying to make some money out of something that didn't happen," Me�er said.

He added that the fixed cage that White Shark Ecoventures used for Currie was in line with "clearly defined permit conditions" that MCM enforces for all operators.

He said it was firmly attached to the side of the boat and even though the shark had broken one of the fenders, the cage was never at risk of coming loose and sinking.

"There was no danger to that person. I'm sure he got a hell of a fright, though," he said.

Hopley, who is also chairperson of the Great White Shark Protection Foundation, said that the story first came to her attention when she saw the footage on Sky News on Saturday, followed by an interview with Currie.

She recognised her cage from the footage.

She said that, at the time, Currie had emphasised what an "awesome" day it had been and how he would do it again.

She added that he had tipped both the dive master and shark handler when he got off the boat.

"There's no way that would have happened if his life had really been in danger," she said.

All operators lure sharks with fresh fish chum and it is not uncommon for the shark to misjudge the distance to the chum and take a bite out of a fender instead, as was the case when Currie was in the cage, she said.

She added that it appeared as if the shark had got its lower jaw stuck in the wire but had retracted it immediately afterwards and swam away.

"The shark could never get to him. There were wires all around and the shark cannot break the cage.

"It's 100 percent safe," she said.

Hopley attributed Currie's excitable comments to the adrenaline rush.

"That's why we call it educational adrenaline sport. A lot of people who get into the cage get anxious."

Currie was quoted on the UK's BBC News website as saying that the captain had kept hitting the shark on the head with a big metal pole.

He is also heard saying words to that effect on the interview that accompanied the footage.

But Me�er said there wasn't a stick or pole visible and Hopley denied that had occurred.

"We are here to protect the sharks," she said.

"Some media groups like to create sensation," she added.

Although the name of her company was not mentioned in any of the media accounts, she said she was taking legal action because Currie's comments had put a negative spin on the shark ecotourism industry.
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South Africa shark feeder denies reports it mutilates sharks

Two Oceans Aquarium to release shark

THE Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town is to release its second ragged-tooth shark, "Val", on April 4 as part of its shark conservation and awareness programme.

The aquarium also aims to tag a wild ragged-tooth shark around the same time as the release of the "Val". This, says the marine attraction, provides a unique opportunity to gain much-needed scientific information about the lifestyle of ragged-tooth sharks off the South African coast.

There will be a competition to guess where "Val's" satellite tag will surface. Check www.aoca.org.za for the start of the competition and information on "Val's" progress.
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Two Oceans Aquarium to release shark

Ecosystems on edge of irreversible collapse

Planet Earth stands on the cusp of disaster and people should no longer take it for granted that their children and grandchildren will survive in the environmentally degraded world of the 21st century.

This is the considered opinion of 1 300 leading scientists from 95 countries who on Wednesday released a detailed assessment of the current state of the world.

The academics found that two thirds of the delicately balanced ecosystems they studied have suffered badly at the hands of man over the past 50 years.

The dryland regions of the world, which account for about 41 percent of the Earth's land surface, have been particularly badly damaged and yet this is where the human population has grown most rapidly during the 1990s.

Read the full article on www.iol.co.za
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Ecosystems on edge of irreversible collapse

Protest against seal-clubbing begins

Animal rights groups have begun fresh public campaigns timed for the start of the annual seal hunt off the coast of Canada this week and suggestions that South Africa may kill elephants for population control could spark similar protests here.

Campaigners believe barbaric portrayals on film and still pictures of hunters clubbing fluffy, big-eyed seal pups or emotive images of elephants set alongside boycotts and public stunts will rally public opinion against such practices.

Canada said last week it would allow hunters to kill 320 000 young seals on the ice floes off its Atlantic coast from this week and earlier this month a South African official said national parks were leaning towards culling elephants.

Anti-hunt activists held protests earlier this month in 50 cities around the world. Groups like the Humane Society International (HSI) said they would press ahead with calls for a boycott of Canadian seafood.

"We are joining in a specific boycott of Canadian seafood products, focusing on snow crabs," said HSI vice-president John Grandy by phone from the eastern Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.

Big beasts strike a chord with the public, making them the perfect "poster animals" for conservationists who have branded Canada and South Africa as outposts of wildlife tyranny.

"The things that seem to attract the layman the most is the big animals. I think people connect to them," said Chris Hails, the Global programmes director for WWF International.

Ottawa says the seal hunt helps ensure the health of what it describes as a booming seal population. It insists the activity is humane, but animal rights groups say many seals are skinned alive and die in agony.

For many fishermen in Newfoundland, struggling in the wake of the collapse of the cod fishery over a decade ago, sealing is one of their few sources of income.

Critics have questioned the science behind the hunt.

"The Atlantic seal hunt management plan is based on bad science, incorrect assumptions and flawed modelling," said Mhairi Dunlop of Greenpeace.

In South Africa, national park authorities say the burgeoning elephant population in the flagship Kruger National Park has made culling a necessity.

The park has an estimated 12 000 ponderous pachyderms, well above the estimated "carrying capacity" of around 7 000.

Animal rights activists are horrified at the prospect of a return to culling elephants, which involves the herding and shooting of entire family groups.

"We signed an agreement to give South African National Parks more than $1-million (about R6,3-million) in the 1990s and we did it on the strength and the integrity of their management programme which did not involve elephant culling," said HSI's Grandy.

"If there is a return to culling not only will we not provide them with any more money but we will urge our members and supporters not to visit South Africa," he said.

All the so-called "iconic" species of animals tend to be big, bright and warm-blooded - but the image that humans have of them does not always fit with the reality.

Elephants are intelligent and caring creatures.

But if they are confined to an enclosed area they can be hugely destructive, laying waste to large tracts of vegetation, trees, fences, buildings and eating themselves and other animals out of house and home.

Animal rights group WWF uses the panda as its trademark symbol, a cute and cuddly bear with black and white markings.

"It actually is solitary, ill-tempered, and aggressive, but never mind... mere facts cannot compete with perception," natural history writer Stephen Budiansky writes in his book The Covenant of the Wild.
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Protest against seal-clubbing begins

Human damage to Earth getting worse and worse

Humans are damaging the planet at an unprecedented rate and raising risks of abrupt collapses in nature that could spur disease, deforestation or "dead zones" in the seas, an international report has said.

The study, by 1 360 experts in 95 nations, said a rising human population had polluted or over-exploited two-thirds of the ecological systems on which life depends, ranging from clean air to fresh water, in the past 50 years.

"At the heart of this assessment is a stark warning," said the 45-member board of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

"Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted," it said.

Ten to 30 percent of mammal, bird and amphibian species were already threatened with extinction, according to the assessment, the biggest review of the planet's life support systems.

"Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel," the report said.

"This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on earth," it added. More land was changed to cropland since 1945, for instance, than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined.

"The harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years," it said. The report was compiled by experts, ranging from UN agencies and international scientific and development organisations.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the study "shows how human activities are causing environmental damage on a massive scale throughout the world, and how biodiversity - the very basis for life on earth - is declining at an alarming rate."

The report said there was evidence that strains on nature could trigger abrupt changes like the collapse of cod fisheries off Newfoundland in Canada in 1992 after years of over-fishing.

Future changes could bring sudden outbreaks of disease. Warming of the Great Lakes in Africa due to climate change, for instance, could create conditions for a spread of cholera.

And a build-up of nitrogen from fertilisers washed off farmland into seas could spur abrupt blooms of algae that choke fish or create oxygen-depleted "dead zones" along coasts.

It said deforestation often led to less rainfall. And at some point, lack of rain could suddenly undermine growing conditions for remaining forests in a region.

"We're seeing an increasing risk of abrupt changes in many ecosystems," said Walt Reid, executive director of the assessment.

The report said that in 100 years, global warming widely blamed on the burning of fossil fuels in cars, factories and power plants, might take over as the main source of damage. The report mainly looks at other, shorter-term risks.

The study, to be handed to governments, said big changes in consumption, better education, new technology and higher prices for exploiting ecosystems could brake damage.

"Governments should recognise that natural services have costs," A.H. Zakri of the UN University and a co-chair of the report said. "Protection of natural services is unlikely to be a priority for those who see them as free and limitless."
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Human damage to Earth getting worse and worse

700 aftershocks rattle island

More than 700 aftershocks have rattled the Indonesian island of Nias since a massive earthquake hit on Monday, meteorologists said on Thursday.

According to records, the region was shaken by 48 aftershocks after the initial earthquake late on March 28, a further 628 over the next two days and 51 in the first eight hours of Thursday, said Burhas Simanjuntak of the Meteorology and Geophysics office in the Sumatra city of Medan.

"Their magnitude varied but they have stayed mostly between 4.1 and 5.5 on the Richter scale since Wednesday," he said.

The strongest aftershock recorded on Thursday was 5.5 on the Richter scale.

"There was a moderate earthquake reported at around 02:00 GMT but we are still computing its magnitude," Simanjuntak said.

Monday's massive earthquake registering at 8.7 on the Richter scale, centred under the sea near Sumatra between the Indonesian islands of Nias and Simeulue, caused extensive damage and killed hundreds.

It occurred three months after a quake measuring in excess of magnitude-9.0 left 220 000 Indonesians dead and missing and devastated vast areas of Sumatra's western coastline.
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700 aftershocks rattle island

NOAA emphasizes need for global tsunami warning system

News of a major undersea earthquake in Indonesia resonated across the globe on Monday. Fortunately a destructive tsunami did not follow, unlike the previous strong earthquake that occurred only three months ago. Steps taken since the December 26 disaster allowed for a better exchange of information between NOAA and countries under the threat of a potential tsunami, but many hours of waiting for confirmation highlights the need for a more robust tsunami detection system.

The NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, received notification of the 8.7 quake in northern Sumatra eight minutes after it occurred, analyzed the data to determine location and magnitude, and issued a tsunami bulletin 11 minutes later. PTWC alerted the U.S. State Department, which then sent messages to the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, Myanmar, Jakarta, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius.

Also, within 35 minutes of the quake, the Pacific Region Headquarters of the NOAA National Weather Service notified the consulates of India and Indonesia who then informed emergency management in those and surrounding countries.

According to PTWC's initial bulletin, there was no tsunami warning or watch for the Pacific Basin and no tsunami threat to the Pacific coastlines, but given the severity of the quake there was the potential for a widely destructive tsunami to originate from the quake's epicenter. Those regions were warned of the possibility and urged to take immediate actions.

With buoys and tide gauges currently absent from the Indian Ocean, an actual tsunami could not be confirmed until observation reports were received from local authorities or until a tsunami reached an existing gauge, which took several hours.

Sea level readings from several of these gauges, far from the epicenter and received more than two hours after the earthquake, indicated a non-destructive tsunami was generated. A 10 cm wave was recorded at Cocos Island, followed by a 23 cm wave 20 minutes later.

"Here we go again. We knew quickly about the earthquake, its approximate magnitude and location, yet it took hours to determine if, in fact, it created a tsunami," said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of the NOAA National Weather Service. "The world needs more observing systems to issue timely, accurate and focused warnings."

"We believe that with a worldwide tsunami detection and warning system in place?one that includes Deep-ocean Assessment and Recording of Tsunami, or DART, buoys along major known subduction zones?the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center could have had a deep ocean measurement for this event in one hour, and based on that data, the warning message would probably had been canceled," Johnson said.

The United States, with NOAA as lead agency, is currently working with approximately 60 countries, the European Union and many non-governmental agencies in planning and implementing GEOSS, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, that includes a global tsunami warning system.

"The Global Earth Observation System of Systems would certainly help us understand what is happening in our environment and assist in developing recommended actions to hazards like tsunamis in a more timely, accurate and focused manner," Johnson added.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation?s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
Bulletins from the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
NOAA Earth Observing System
NOAA Tsunamis Page
NOAA Tsunami Research

Media Contact:
Chris Vaccaro, NOAA National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622 ext. 134
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NOAA emphasizes need for global tsunami warning system

30 March 2005

Shark experts set to sue over dramatic shark encounter claims

South African shark experts are considering legal action against foreign media over "sensational" coverage of an attack by a Great White during a shark-diving excursion.

Marietta Hopley, Chair of the Great White Shark Protection Foundation and Co-Owner of White Shark Ecoventures, voiced her annoyance today at the sensational and extensive media coverage of the cage diving ?incident? as reported by British tourist Mark Currie.

Over the weekend Mr Currie spoke at length to the World?s media, providing dramatic details, and some footage, of his version of an event that occurred on a White Shark Ecoventures boat in December 2004. A video of the incident was screened on British and American TV.

According to reports, Currie narrowly escaped death after the shark suddenly attacked the cage.

Hopley said the video footage showed the bait, thrown for the shark, floating past the cage.

"According to guidelines we have to follow, we are not allowed to feed the sharks.

"The bait is immediately pulled back into the boat if a shark goes for it.

'These are all lies'
"In this instance, the shark bit one of the rails. It happened twice more and when he realised it was not food he swam away."

Hopley said reports that someone on the boat had scared off a shark with a steel pole were incorrect.

"These are all lies. We are considering legal action against the media that first spread the stories."

She said this is not the first time something like this had happened during an excursion.

"One mustn't lose track of the fact that shark diving is an adrenalin sport.

This incident was simply a common action-packed day on such an excursion. We put the safety of clients and sharks high on our priorities list."

Incensed by the coverage, Ms Hopley has collected sworn affidavits from the Skipper, Dive Master and other passengers who were on the vessel with Mr Currie, and intends to take legal action against Mr Currie, suing for damages.

The Shark Trust has expressed dismay that the recent coverage and images have fed public misunderstanding of sharks and compounded the popular-culture image of them as being solely aggressive, violent creatures.

Richard Peirce, Chairman of the Shark Trust said, ?This event and its repercussions are most unfortunate. Such an unfounded negative projection of sharks undermines the excellent work undertaken within the conservation community. An opportunity to witness a White Shark in the wild is a great privilege and it is a pity that the experience was a negative one for Mr Currie.?
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Shark experts set to sue over dramatic shark encounter claims

Surfer Sullivan 'fine' after shark attack

Shark attack victim Chris Sullivan is "doing fine", according to Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic emergency unit manager Barbara Lander.

Sullivan underwent surgery on Monday afternoon for lacerations to his lower right leg and will be recuperating in the clinic for a few days.

He was not feeling well enough to talk to the press yesterday but was planning a press conference today.

"The day before this attack we were discussing how the whole wave of shark sightings has gone down," NSRI spokesman Ian Klopper said.

Around the time Fish Hoek resident Tyna Webb was killed by a shark last year, there was a "massive volume" of sharks in the water. Klopper said that it was not the same this time.

Skymed pilot Lefan Blake, who flew Sullivan to the clinic on Monday from Noordhoek beach, said that last Thursday on a flight from Hermanus he had spotted 15 sharks in Betty's Bay about 150 metres from the beach.

"It was very unusual for us to see so many sharks grouped together so close to the beach," he said.

They had alerted local authorities who had warned bathers to get out of the water.
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Surfer Sullivan 'fine' after shark attack

3rd Asian earthquake possible

A prominent seismologist said on Tuesday he could not rule out the risk of a third big quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where two massive temblors have occurred in just three months.

"The probability of a third quake in the coming months and years, cannot be excluded," said Mustapha Meghraoui, who is in charge of active tectonics at the Institute for Planetary Physics in Strasbourg, eastern France.

"The theory is that this particular region has seismic cycles of between 150 years and 200 years.

"The December 26 event caused extreme disruption, and one possibility is of a cascade of quakes."

Monday's 8.7-magnitude quake - one of the biggest in a century - came just more than three months after a 9.0 event further to the north which unleashed the tsunami that scoured the coastline of the northern Indian Ocean, killing more than 273 000 people.

The two events happened in so-called subduction zones where plates of Earth's crust overlap, bumping and grinding.

Burma microplate
The December 26 event happened at a stress point where the Indian plate slips under a tongue called the Burma microplate.

That quake unleashed a huge amount of energy to a Sunda Trench, the undersea fault that runs to the west of Sumatra, where there were big quakes in 1833 and again in 1862.

"It's like two metal springs that are adjoined," Meghraoui said. "If you tense one spring and then release it, some of the energy is transmitted to the neighbouring spring."

In this region, the Indian Ocean is sliding beneath Indonesia at the rate of seven centimetres a year, he said.

But this is not a smooth movement. Tension builds up as the plates jam, and when the tension is suddenly and violently released, the result is an earthquake.

What significantly ratched up the tension, explained Meghraoui, was the energy imparted on December 26.

"Cascade earthquakes" - a series of earthquakes that decline in magnitude until the tension is eased - are a known phenomenon in seismology.

Quake was smaller
In the Nankai Trough southeast of Japan, five of the seven large earthquakes of the past 1 500 years unleashed earthquakes in the fault's next section within the following five years.

Although tsunami alerts were issued after Monday's event, no big wave occurred - or more exactly, nothing as big as the wall of water up to 10m high that caused so much devastation on December 26.

The reason, said University of Ulster seismology professor John McCloskey, was Monday's quake was about 12-15 times smaller in magnitude than the December 26 behemoth.

"That's crucial, because the bigger the energy released, the greater the chance that the seabed will move," said McCloskey.
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3rd Asian earthquake possible

Epic protests mark the start of seal cull

The world's largest cull of seals began on Tuesday in the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada, targeting 325 000 seal pups.

Dozens of animal rights activists also arrived at the ice floes to demonstrate against the controversial hunt, arguing that many of the pups are clubbed to death and often skinned while still alive.

The activists also demanded a worldwide ban on seal products, following a recent similar such ban in the United States.

According to the government, the annual hunt supports fishermen in the Province of Newfoundland, which has little income from industry. The government also maintains that the number of seals has increased to a point that they were affecting cod levels in the North Atlantic.

Ottawa has allowed more than a record one million seals to be killed in the hunt in the past three years.

The furs, which are harvested just as the pups' colour changes from white to grey, have increased tenfold in price over the past five years and are currently traded at between $70 and $100. The hunters also sell the oil which is produced from the animals.

Most of the pelts and seal products are sold to China and Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway, which have not protested against the controversial hunting methods used in the annual event in the past.

Rebecca Aldworth, the head of the organisation Canada Wildlife, pointed out on Monday that 95 percent of the seals are killed before they reach three months of age.

A number of animal rights organisation have called for a boycott of all Canadian marine products, including fish and crabs.
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Epic protests mark the start of seal cull

Hunting banned next to Kruger National Park

Limpopo imposed a moratorium on Tuesday on hunting in nature reserves that border the Kruger National Park.

Fences that divided neighbouring reserves from the Kruger park were removed in 1996.

Charles Maluleke, senior manager of Limpopo department for economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, said on Tuesday no hunting would be permitted in reserves such as Timbavati, Umbabat and Klasserie until the dispute involving trophy hunting had been resolved.

Nor would hunting permits be issued for the new season that starts on Friday and ends at the end of July, he said.

"All permits that already have been issued will be cancelled."

The decision to ban hunting in the area followed a meeting about the controversial issue of trophy hunting in nature reserves.

The meeting was between the owners of Timbavati, the Limpopo government, the management of SANParks and Environment Affairs and Tourism MInister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

'Only for the wealthy'
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa raised the issue about two weeks ago when he said "only a group of wealthy people" were allowed to hunt the country's "natural heritage" in nature reserves.

Since the fences had been removed, animals roamed freely between the Kruger Park and the nature reserves.

Maluleke says he realised "something strange is going on" when a rich foreign hunter pays R1 000 for a permit to shoot a leopard that earns the nature reserve R30 000.

He said part of the investigation called for by Van Schalkwyk in connection with the so-called agreement between SANParks and the nature reserves would be to determine how much tax the hunters and landowners had paid recently.

Tom Hancock, chairperson of the Timbavati committee and who is in favour of trophy hunting in the reserve, said on Tuesday he had not received "anything in writing" about the hunting ban.

Hennie de Beer, a Timbavati landowner who is in favour of eco-tourism, welcomed the moratorium.

"Now we can start from scratch and come to a new arrangement with SANParks."
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Hunting banned next to Kruger National Park

Gordon's Bay another sandy bay

Conditions at Gordon's Bay harbour could become life-threatening if a solution isn't found urgently for sand silting up the entrance.

Yachtsmen have been complaining for wuite a while about a sandbank at the entrance that makes it dangerous to sail there, but now rescue organisation have entered the fray.

The sandbank is being formed by a combination of the wave action and sand being let in through holes in the harbour wall from the bordering Bikini Beach side.

At low tide, the sand virtually creates a separate beach on the harbour side of the wall, rendering numerous docking spots useless.

The situation has become so severe that the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) fears that its vessels in the harbour could be stranded if they were called out in an emergency.

Stuart Burgess, commander of the NSRI station in Gordon's Bay, said he feared it could have catastrophic consequences.

Dredging brings temporary relief
He said large fishing trawlers already had to wait outside the harbour for the tide to come in, otherwise it would be too dangerous for them.

"If one of them tried to enter the harbour at low tide, they could become stranded and even block the harbour entrance. Even our own vessel has touched the sand."

The department of public works recently did some dredging in the harbour, but it's said this provides only temporary relief.

The dredger was in the harbour for only a few days.

Although it relieved the urgent problem, it would take another 20 days and cost about R100 000 before the harbour was properly dredged out.
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Gordon's Bay another sandy bay

29 March 2005

An increase in shark attacks?

The shark attack off Noordhoek beach on Monday has again raised the questions whether shark attacks are more common nowadays and why they happen.

The so-called ?increase? is really a public perception fuelled by media hype, says Leonard Compagno of the South African Museum?s Shark Research Centre. Your chances of being attacked by a shark, Compagno points out, are very low. This doesn?t mean people shouldn?t be cautious, but there are other far greater dangers to worry about in the ocean ? drowning, for instance.

According to Geremy Cliff, head of research at the Natal Sharks Board, although the numbers of attacks in KwaZulu-Natal have actually decreased, in the Eastern and Western Cape they have increased slightly over the years. The national average now stands at about four or five a year. Some years do exceed this, says Cliff: ?In 1998, there were 18 attacks. But not all are fatal.?

But when increased numbers of shark attacks occur, it may be because of changes in human rather than shark behaviour. There are more people taking up salt-water sports like surfing and spear-fishing, and people may be taking more risks in the water.

?When you think of the thousands of people swimming off our beaches, the shark attack figures are really very low,? says Cliff. ?The increase in attacks may simply be because there are more people in the water. Also, there are more surfers these days than in the past, and they?re able to stay in the cooler waters for longer because they have better wetsuits. Most of the attacks we?re seeing happen to people like surfers who spend a lot of time in the sea, and go further out.?

Chumming, where shark tour operators use a mixture containing fish blood to attract sharks, has also often been proposed as a cause of attacks, although this is hotly contested. ?It?s hard to prove that chumming causes more attacks,? says Cliff. ?The practice has been going on in this country since 1991, and in 15 years the increase in attacks has been slight.?

What about 'dead zones'?
Southern African coastal waters don?t fall into one of the 146 currently recognised ?dead zones? ? oxygen-free areas that result from nitrate pollution ? which may force sharks to look for food in areas closer to popular beaches. Most of the dead zones are situated in coastal areas near developed countries, from where the bulk of nitrates is entering the environment.

"That doesn?t mean, though, that nitrates from South Africa?s fertilisers aren?t having an impact on ocean life, but at this stage it can?t be said to be affecting numbers of shark attacks," says Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24?s Envirohealth expert.

"Shark attacks are way down on the scale of health risks facing the average person (even surfers and divers). Just consider our road death stats. That?s cold comfort, I know, to victims of shark attacks and their families, but the point that shark conservationists and scientists are trying to make is not that sharks aren?t dangerous ? rather that they have been unfairly ?demonised?.?
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An increase in shark attacks?

Earth's movement prevented tsunami

The latest big earthquake to strike Southeast Asia did not cause a tsunami because the earth must have moved downwards rather than upwards, a British seismologist said on Tuesday.

David Booth of the British Geological Survey said he was "very surprised" that Monday's quake had not created a killer wave because it was almost similar in force and depth to the December 26 temblor that caused so much devastation.

"It appears Monday's quake caused a downward movement of the earth rather than the upwards jolt of the Boxing Day quake which caused a vertical displacement of the ocean floor, which creates the tsunami," Booth said.

"On Boxing Day, the quake pushed the earth beneath the ocean shelf upwards, wedging the Indian oceanic plate beneath the front edge of Sumatra," he said.

"This caused enormous pressure which, when released, made the front edge of Sumatra leap upwards by several metres."

"It generates the energy of tens of Hiroshimas, making the earth ring like a bell and squashing it like a football."

Booth added: "I'm very surprised there was no tsunami yesterday. The people of Asia are extremely fortunate the quake movement appears to have been downwards."

The seismologist, who is based in Scotland's capital Edinburgh, said predicting such quakes was an imprecise science but the one certainty was they would continue.

"Indonesia is one of the most seismic parts of the world and this movement has been happening, and is likely to go on, for millions of years," he said.

Officials say at least 400 people were killed in northwest Indonesia as a result of Monday's earthquake which prompted tsunami warnings and panic spread across Indian Ocean rim states.

The epicentre of the temblor, which measured 8.7 on the Richter scale, was only 320 kilometres south of the December 26 quake that sent giant waves crashing into 12 nations.
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Earth's movement prevented tsunami

Quake death toll rising

At least 430 people have been confirmed dead on two islands off the coast of Indonesia after a massive earthquake, officials said on Tuesday.

Budi Atmaji Adiputro, chief of staff at the National Co-ordinating Disaster Relief Agency, said 330 people had been found dead on hard-hit Nias island and more bodies were expected to turn up under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

"I expect the number to increase because to collect bodies we have to sift through the rubble," he said.

The head of the health office in Sumatra's Aceh province, Mulya Hasjmy, said that a disaster taskforce in Simeulue, off the southwest coast of Sumatra island, had accounted for 100 dead.

Indonesia's vice-president Yusuf Kalla earlier said up to 2 000 people could have been killed by buildings collapsing on Nias, but officials who have flown over the area say the damage could be less than expected.
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Quake death toll rising

Quake puzzles tsunami experts

Tsunami experts could not understand why Monday's forceful earthquake off Indonesia failed to produce massive waves similar to those generated by the December 26 quake.

A magnitude 8.7 quake shook Indonesia's west coast, killing hundreds of people and spreading panic that another devastating tsunami was on the way.

There was no tsunami, but a small wave was detected by a tide gauge on Cocos Island near Australia, about 2 400 kilometres south of the epicentre, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre on Oahu.

"I'm baffled an earthquake this size didn't trigger a tsunami near the epicentre," said Robert Cessaro, a geophysicist at the centre, which is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Centre Director Charles McCreery said earthquakes of at least 8.0 magnitude usually generate major tsunamis.

"We expected some destructive tsunami with some distant destructive effects. It was surprising," he said.

The latest event also demonstrated "there's a whole world of uncertainty about trying to judge a tsunami based on the earthquake data", he said.

The warning centre initially estimated the December 26 earthquake to have a magnitude of 8.0, but it turned out to be larger, with a magnitude of 9.0.

Depth of the quake
Monday's preliminary estimate was magnitude 8.5 but had no destructive tsunami.

"The one we initially thought was bigger turns out to have no effect," McCreery said. "The one we initially thought was smaller had a huge effect. This is the challenge of tsunami warning."

Some scientists believe the depth of the quake was the reason no tsunami was generated.

The US Geological Survey said Monday's quake struck about 30 kilometres under the seabed. The December 26 quake was closer to the surface.

"What causes a tsunami is if the ocean floor heaves, so if it's a very shallow tsunami, it's apt to heave the floor more than a deeper one. If it's very deep, it sort of gets absorbed on its way up," said Allen Clark, director of the Pacific Disaster Centre on Maui.

The warning centre, established in 1949, came under heavy criticism following the December tsunami for not being more aggressive about warning Asian nations and possibly saving thousands of lives.

Earlier this month, a group of 58 European tsunami survivors and relatives of victims sued NOAA and other agencies, alleging the centre did not do enough to warn people about the disaster.

"Although we certainly wish that somehow the event unfolded in a way that we could've done more for the region, we really did all we could under the circumstances," McCreery said.

Since then, several Indian Ocean nations have established communications with the centre and are now on its alert list. On Monday, the facility was able to alert those nations.
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Quake puzzles tsunami experts

Cyclone batters South Africa's KZN coast

Several swimmers were injured and shark nets torn from their moorings when the effects of Cyclone Hennie, currently raging in the middle of the Indian ocean, were felt 3 000km further on the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

A swimmer from Gauteng had several ribs broken when waves of several metres high crushed him against the sand at Amanzimtoti on Sunday.

Hundreds of other swimmers were stung by bluebottles, sprained joints or sustained grazes because of the strong swells, Jace Govender, spokesperson for Nokia Sea Search and Rescue, said.

The South African freestyle jetski champion, Ricky Sneddon, had a narrow escape at Durban's North Beach on Sunday when he hit the water very hard during a competition and was nearly dragged under.

Sneddon's jetski was shattered when one of the giant waves threw him more than six metres up into the air.

The local leg of the freestyle jetski championships, which forms part of Durban's Easter Adrenaline Beach Festival, as well as a swimming item in the life saving competition had to be cancelled because of the 3m swells.

The big waves were caused by the tropical cyclone Hennie, which hit Mauritius on Thursday, Andy Davidge of the South African Weather Service, explained.

The southeaster and spring tide amplified the strength and size of the waves along the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

Sea conditions over the weekend also tore shark nets along the South Coast from their moorings and washed them onto the beach. On the North Coast, anglers could not take their boats out to sea, Mike Anderson-Reed, chief executive of the Natal Sharks' Board, said.

The shark nets were restored on Monday.
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Cyclone batters South Africa's KZN coast

Up to 2 000 feared dead

A powerful 8.7-magnitude earthquake hammered Indonesia's west coast, flattening houses, killing up to 2 000 people and sparking widespread panic across Indian Ocean countries still traumatised by the December 26 quake and tsunami disaster.

"It is predicted - and it's still a rough estimate - that the number of the victims of dead may be between 1 000 and 2 000," vice-president Jusuf Kalla told the el-Shinta radio station on Tuesday morning.

He said the estimate was based on the number of buildings damaged when the quake hit about an hour before midnight on Monday, not on bodies counted. Local officials earlier said nearly 300 were dead.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would fly to the stricken Nias island to assess damage.

Extent of damage not yet known
"The president would like to find out the extent of the damage and casualties," Presidential spokesperson Andi Malarangeng said early on Tuesday.

Early reports suggested the town of Gunungsitoli on Nias, which lies off Sumatra island's western coast, was worst hit.

"From the window I see very high flames," the Rome-based missionary news agency MISNA quoted Father Raymond Laia as saying by telephone. Laia was stationed about 3km from town. "The town is completely destroyed," Laia said, adding that reports said thousands were injured.

Thousands more fled to the island's hills and remained there Tuesday morning.

"It's difficult to get information - all the government officials have run to the hills because they are afraid of a tsunami," said presidential envoy TB Silalahi.

The earthquake - the largest aftershock yet of the massive 9.0-magnitude temblor that caused the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami - triggered panic in several Asian countries when governments issued warnings that another set of deadly waves may be about to hit.

In Banda Aceh, capital of Indonesia's Aceh province, which was hardest-hit by the December tsunami, the latest quake cut electricity and thousands of people poured into the streets, most getting into vehicles to flee low-lying areas.

"It was like reliving the same horror of three months ago," said Fatheena Faleel, who fled her home with her three children.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said it had warned six Indian Ocean nations of the possibility of a tsunami after its offshore tidal gauges detected a 25cm tsunami off Sri Lanka and a smaller one off the Maldives.

Several hours later, the agency lifted its warnings saying the danger of the water rising further had eased.

On Nias, about 70% of the houses and buildings in the market area in Gunungsitoli town collapsed from Monday night's quake, local police Sergeant Zulkifli Sirait said.

Indonesian officials said the epicentre of Monday's quake was 90km south of the island of Simeulue, off of Sumatra's western coast, and just north of Nias.
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Up to 2 000 feared dead

Shark survivor in good spirits

He's going to buy a new wetsuit and a shark's tooth as a souvenir, said Chris Sullivan, who survived a shark attack at Noordhoek beach on Monday.

Sullivan was recuperating in the Constantiaberg MediClinic where he had undergone surgery after he was attacked by what is believed to have been a great white shark.

Sullivan, 32, from New Quay, in Cornwall, and friend Keith Lawson of Scotland, were surfing about 09:45 when the attack took place.

Lawson said he saw the shark only after it had attacked Sullivan.

"The shark was between us and Chris was fighting it. I saw the shark's dorsal and tailfin, and they were about two metres apart.

The shark's mouth was about a metre wide, he said, and estimated that shark measured between three and four metres.

Barbara Robinson, Sullivan's girlfriend, who had arrived with him in South Africa on Saturday, was not at the beach when the attack took place.

She and Sullivan were in Cape Town for two reasons, namely to surf and to check it out with an eye on moving to South Africa. She said: "Chris and Keith wanted to surf and we were considering emigrating here. But I'm not so sure whether I want to live here anymore."

Shortly after the attack, Sullivan phoned her and repeatedly told her not to panic.

"I couldn't believe it when he told me he had been attacked by a shark. I thought he was phoning to tell me someone had broken into our car."

"Yet, I feel I'm the luckiest person in the world, because how many people can say their loved one has survived a shark attack?"
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Shark survivor in good spirits

Quake upgraded to 8.7

Buildings collapsed, killing "tens" of people on an outlying Indonesian island after a major earthquake, but despite warnings and major panic, officials said on Tuesday there was no tsunami.

An official on the island of Nias, south of Sumatra and close to the epicentre of the magnitude-8.2 sub-sea quake that struck late Monday said hundreds of houses had collapsed in the islands capital Gumung Sitoli.

Many were left trapped under rubble as thousands of residents fled for higher ground, fearing a repeat of the devastating waves that followed a 9.0 earthquake on December 26, causing the deaths of at least 126 000 people.

"I can say that tens of people died but I cannot be sure," Agus Mendrofa, the deputy chief of Nias island told Jakarta's Metro TV station.

"The roads are broken and public facilities were damaged."

He said there were several aftershocks after the main quake.

Indonesia issued a tsunami warning shortly after the quake at 23:15, but meteorologists said that as no ocean upheaval had been reported two hours later, there was no danger.

Yet, a US seismologist said there was a "100%" chance of a tsunami threatening Indian Ocean nations.

Ramlan, an Indonesian meteorological official, said the quake was measured at magnitude 8.0, some 90km southeast of the island of Sinabang, which lies off the southern coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island. Other measurements put the quake at 8.2.

The magnitude was later upgraded to 8.7 from a preliminary reading of 8.2, making it one of the biggest quakes in the last century, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

The earthquake, which was felt in neighbouring countries where it sparked similar alerts, caused windows to break in Sumatra's largest city Medan and brief power outages across the island, including the devastated Aceh region.

In Aceh, where the trauma of last year's disaster is still fresh in the minds of many people, there was widespread pandemonium as people fled their homes, running or driving to reach higher ground.

Similar scenes were reported in coastal cities and towns across Sumatra.

Police in Aceh urged people to remain calm while local mosques broadcast similar appeals over their loudspeakers, saying: "Don't panic, there is no tsunami".

Danger not over yet
But from New Delhi it was reported that India's meteorological department had warned that a close watch should be kept on the country's coastal areas for at least "six to eight" hours after the earthquake.

"We have alerted the people. There is a need to keep (a) close watch for ... six to eight hours," SK Swami, director of the emergency response control room in the home ministry.

Swami said the window for any potential tsunamis to strike the Indian coast was longer than during the December 26 disaster because the latest quake occurred in the northeast of Sumatra rather than along the west coast.

"It may take slightly longer this time," he added.
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Quake upgraded to 8.7

Tsunami alert after 8.2 quake

A powerful earthquake of measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale hit Indonesia's tsunami-devasted Sumatra island late on Monday, causing major panic and power blackouts, officials and reports said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the quake which was felt in Malaysia, officials said, pinpointing the epicentre off the coast of the southern coast of the island.

However, the Japanese Kyodo news service said the quake had triggered a tsunami warning.

Suharjono, the head of earthquake division of Indonesia's Meteological and Geophysics agency, told SCTV television station that the tremor struck between the offshore isles of Nias and Simeuleu, 33km under the sea.

The quake was close to the epicentre of a magnitude-9.0 seismic thrust which struck on December 26, throwing up a tsunami that killed more than 273 000 people around the Indian Ocean.

It was felt in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where guests and residents evacuated high-rise hotels and apartments, an AFP correspondent said.

Tremors were also felt in Padang, the capital of neighbouring Sumatra province, where it downed powerlines, according to local Metro TV. No telephone contact was immediately possible with Padang or another major city, Medan.
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Tsunami alert after 8.2 quake

Brit attacked by shark in South Africa

A British tourist was attacked by a shark while he was surfing at Noordhoek beach near Cape Town on Monday.

Craig Lambinon for the National Sea Rescue Institute said Chris Sullivan, 32, was attacked about 10:00 by what is believed to have been a 4m great white shark.

Sullivan, of New Quay, United Kingdom, arrived in Cape Town on Sunday.

Lambinon said when the NSRI arrived at Noordhoek beach, Sullivan was already out of the water. He had lacerations to his right calf and puncture wounds underneath his foot.

"He was stabilised and flown to Constantiaberg MediClinic aboard the Metro Rescue Red Cross AMS helicopter for further treatment and is reported to be stable. He is due to undergo surgery to the injury."

Lambinon said Sullivan was surfing with a friend, Keith Lawson from Scotland, who arrived in Cape Town three days earlier, and Mark Sampson, also from the UK, but who now lives in Noordhoek.

He said: "Sampson's board snapped earlier and he had left the beach. The remaining two surfers were attacked by what they reported to have been a great white shark approximately 4 meters in length.

"Lawson was not injured in the attack.

"Dr Spies, from Fish Hoek, who was first on the scene and apparently witnessed the attack, treated Sullivan prior to the NSRI medics arrival on-scene.

Lambinon said surfers and bathers at Long Beach, Kommetjie and Noordhoek were warned of the attack, but the beaches had not been closed.
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Brit attacked by shark in South Africa

Scuba diving Barrier Reef loses popularity as divers down under go elsewhere

Julieanne Van Zyl is one of the many scuba divers shunning the Great Barrier Reef. Will the tourist industry need to adjust? Van Zyl says that talk both on and offline shows a definite shift in where people dive when they go down under. She says even the local Australian divers are shunning the Great Barrier Reef and spending more of their time diving Moreton Bay Marine Park, near Brisbane.

James McVeigh, is the owner of Reality Cruises and said that his company and other large dive guides are now heavily promoting Brisbane as a dive destination. He says that the general feeling in Australia is that Brisbane is better than most parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

The new hot spot down under is Moreton Bay. Moreton Bay was declared a Marine Park in 1993 and boasts Rock, Wreck and Reef experiences for all levels of scuba diving. Flinders Reef at Moreton Bay has 240 different species of choral, causing the tropical fish life to be in abundance, impressing even to most seasoned scuba divers. Diving is also more affordable for non Aussie Divers because the International airport is at Brisbane. McVeigh said all of these things have caused a definite shift in where scuba divers are going today.

Van Zyl says even the way people select their dive destinations is changing. She says that as more online communities are made available more divers will be able to select their destinations without the help of travel agents or even find the ones that are most recommended.
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Scuba diving Barrier Reef loses popularity as divers down under go elsewhere

British tourist almost eaten alive by shark

A British holidaymaker has described how he narrowly escaped being eaten alive by a giant shark in South Africa.

Mark Currie, 32, was on a shark-spotting expedition when the 18ft Great White shark attacked a metal viewing cage he was dangling in off the port of Hermanus, near Cape Town.

Mr Currie told The Sun newspaper that the shark launched a frenzied attack on the cage, ramming through the top of it to come within inches of the shocked tourist.

"It just seemed immense - this huge mass of muscle and power ripping the cage apart," the retail manager, from Barrow-in Furness, Cumbria, told the paper.

"I still can't believe I got out of there alive. Every time I shut my eyes I can see the shark's teeth closing in."

Remarkably, Mr Currie managed to escape unhurt after climbing out of the cage and being pulled to safety by the crew of the boat he was traveling in.

The frightening incident was captured on Mr Currie's camcorder by a fellow tourist.

Shark viewing trips have been blamed for a spate of recent attacks in South Africa.

A 77-year-old woman was killed by a shark in the same area, just weeks before Mr Currie was attacked.
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British tourist almost eaten alive by shark

24 March 2005

20 Shark Facts

The history of sharks dates back millions of years. Mankind's fascination with sharks is a mix of myth and reality, fact and superstition, and it is punctuated with fear of the unknown.

Divers appreciate sharks because sharks are intelligent yet primal predators. The excitement and drenaline rush of observing these creatures in their natural environment keeps divers coming back for more. A little knowledge goes a long way in making shark diving a wonderful experience. Here are twenty of my favorite shark facts.

  • Great White Sharks grow about 10 inches per year. Great Whites can grow to mature lengths of 12 to 14 feet.
  • New teeth are constantly being formed in rows in a shark's jaw. Shark's teeth are normally replaced every eight days.
  • Some species of sharks can shed as many as 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.
  • Whale Sharks have approximately 300 rows of teeth, with hundreds of tiny teeth in each row.
  • Dried shark skin (shagreen) was used in the past as sandpaper. In Germany and Japan, shark skin was used on sword handles for a non-slip grip.
  • In 1937, shark liver oil was discovered to be rich in vitamin A. Sharks were hunted for the vitamin until 1950, when a synthesizing method was developed for vitamin A.
  • The average life span of a shark is 25 years, but some sharks can live to be 100.
  • The dogfish sharks are named for their tendency to attack their prey as a pack of wild dogs would.
  • Great White Sharks can go as long as three months without eating.
  • Not all sharks have to be in continuous motion to breathe.
  • Bull Sharks can tolerate a wide range of salinity and are often found in freshwater rivers and lakes in Africa and South America.
  • More people are killed each year by dogs, pigs and deer than by sharks.
  • The Pygmy Shark has a maximum length of 11 inches.
  • Sharks have no bones. A shark's skeleton is made up of cartilage.
  • There are more than 340 known species of sharks.
  • Sharks first appeared in the fossil record over 400 million years ago.
  • A significant physical trait that separates a modern shark from an ancient shark is the protrusile jaw, which gives the modern shark more biting force.
  • Sharks can generate about six and a half tons per square inch of biting force.
  • A shark's skin is embedded with dermal denticles, which resemble teeth.
  • The Shortfin Mako shark is probably the fastest fish in the ocean, clocked at about 60 mph.
Read the full article:
20 Shark Facts

Mauritius on alert for tropical storm Hennie

Mauritius has issued a storm alert as severe tropical storm Hennie approaches the Indian Ocean island, the world's seventh biggest sugar producer. The Mauritius Meteorological Services (MMS) said "Hennie", spotted at about 330km to the north of Mauritius, was moving in a southerly direction at 10kph.

"This trajectory may bring the centre (of the storm) closer to Mauritius today," the MMS said in a statement late yesterday. "Hence increasing the risk of cyclonic conditions in Mauritius." The MMS said a cyclone warning Class Two was now in force in Mauritius.

Mauritians to take precautions
A Class Two warning urges the 1.2 million population to take precautions such as ensuring they have adequate emergency supplies of food and a gas stove. In the capital Port Louis, there was heavy rain and people queued in supermarkets to stock up on candles, loaves of bread and tinned foods. The impact of cyclonic rains on the sugar crop is a major concern in Mauritius. An economic mainstay, sugar is harvested from June to December.

Mauritius was last hit by a severe cyclone on February 13, 2003, when tropical storm Gerry devastated houses in some poorer areas and caused power cuts. Gerry also hit sugar output, with officials revising down the annual sugar production by 20 000 tonnes. The cyclone season for Mauritius extends from November to mid-May with January and February as the peak months.
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Mauritius on alert for tropical storm Hennie

Coral reefs in Maldives escape tsunami damage

The world famous coral reefs of the Maldives were not seriously damaged by the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunamis, an Australian report released on Wednesday found.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australian experts spent 17 days studying the reefs, which attract divers from around the globe, and were surprised by how little they had been damaged.

"With over 50 per cent of Maldivian GDP derived from coral reef and island-based tourism and a further 12 per cent derived from fisheries ... the report is good news for the Maldives, indicating the tsunami had minimal impact on the country's coral reefs and baitfish populations," Downer said in a statement.

Eighty-seven of the Maldives's 199 inhabited islands house tourist resorts, 19 of which were shut down following the tsunamis.

Downer said hotel occupancy rates, normally 100 per cent at this time of year, were running at about 40 per cent because tourists were concerned about damage to the reefs.

"This report puts those concerns to rest and tourists can rest assured that the tsunami has had minimal impact on the coral reefs in the Maldives," he said.
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Coral reefs in Maldives escape tsunami damage

Artificial reefs to replace Phuket's damaged coral

Local fisheries officials in Thailand's southern resort province of Phuket yesterday promised to closely monitor the activities of trawler vessels, following the discovery that trawlers are destroying coral reefs which provide essential monsoon shelter for dolphins.

The move by the local fisheries office comes after local hotelier Kritaya Sangiamkil submitted a petition to Phuket Governor Udomsak Assawarangkura and Phuket fisheries chief Panya Assawarangkura, calling for a ban on the use of trawler nets near the coral reefs.

Noting that trawlers had already caused extensive damage to coral in the vicinity of Koh Racha Yai, Mrs. Kritaya warned that further damage would be done unless urgent action was taken.

The sea around Koh Racha Yai are not only noted for its coral, which attracts large numbers of tourists, but also for its dolphins using the coral to provide shelter from monsoon waves.

Several dolphins have already been killed after having been caught up in trawler nets.

Mrs. Kritaya's petition yesterday prompted a pledge from the local fisheries chief that he would send his officials to monitor the problems, and that the owners of fishing vessels operating illegally would face legal action.

In the long term, he said, fisheries officials would seek to create artificial reefs to help compensate for the damage already done.
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Artificial reefs to replace Phuket's damaged coral

Upgrade for Sterkfontein World Heritage Site

A MAJOR upgrading project is under way to bring the facilities at the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site into line with international tourism standards.

The first phase involves an extensive revamp of the current facilities and the building of new facilities at the Sterkfontein Caves, in which some of the earliest human fossil remains have been found.

These are nearing completion and some of the facilities will be ready for the Easter holidays.

The importance of the caves' fossil finds attracts tourists from across the globe.

The new facilities will house a scientific exhibition, due to be opened in August this year, as well as a 130-seater conference centre, a family restaurant and a retail specialist shop.

The shop will be run by Tigers Eye, part of the Tourvest Group.

The conference facility and restaurant will be managed by Afritour Management Services, a joint venture between Leswikeng Minerals & Energy and GBD Investments & Consultants.
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Upgrade for Sterkfontein World Heritage Site

Trunk call: jumbos learn to mimic sound

Elephants have an unusual ability to mimic and learn new sounds which scientists believe they use as a form of acoustic communication.

Birds, bats, primates and marine mammals do it but Joyce Poole, of Amboseli Elephant Research in Nairobi, Kenya, said it is the first time the trait has been found in the huge mammals.

"Elephants appear to be capable of imitating other sounds, including those that are not part of their repertoire," Poole said in an interview.

She and her colleagues recorded a 10-year-old African female named Mlaika who imitated truck sounds. She lived in a semi-captive group of orphaned elephants in Tsavo, Kenya.

Her night stockade was 3km from the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. She mimicked the truck sounds for several hours after sunset, which is the optimal time for transmission of low-frequency sounds in African savannahs.

In another case, a 23-year-old African male elephant named Calimero who was raised with Asian females in Basel Zoo in Switzerland learned chirping sounds which are typical of Asian but not African elephants.

"It was probably trying to be part of that social group and to join in with them. Eventually it became about the only sounds he made," said Poole, who reported both cases in the science journal Nature on Wednesday.

In both cases, the elephants may have learned the sounds out of boredom but the ability to mimic is another sign of their intelligence.

Elephants live with other individuals with whom they are closely bonded. But they are not with them all the time because their social groups change.

Poole and her colleagues believe vocal communication could be used to maintain contact with other elephants and for individual and group recognition.

"It is extraordinary complex and very variable - all these sounds," according to Poole.

"They are able to make sounds beyond their basic repertoire. It is yet another sign they are very intelligent and their communication is very complex."
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Trunk call: jumbos learn to mimic sound

23 March 2005

Giant squid again wash ashore Orange County beaches

Dead jumbo squid are again mysteriously washing up along Orange County's coastline, baffling scientists who are trying to find out why.

The Ocean Institute in Dana Point has conducted some of the research, shipping specimens to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Stanford University for further study.

Scientists at the institute this week dissected a 5-foot-long, 15-pound female Humboldt squid that was filled with parasites and sand. More than a 100 squid have been spotted since Sunday between Dana Point and San Clemente.

Still, there are no answers.
"We still don't know what's killing them," said Linda Blanchard, lab director of the Ocean Institute who has dissected about a dozen squid since they first washed up ashore in January. "All we have right now are theories."

Scientists believe the squid are swimming north from Mexico to follow food sources, forcing them to come closer to the surface and shore. Squid normally live and hunt 3,000 feet below the water's surface.

Eric Hochberg, curator of invertebrate zoology with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, said an active fishing industry in Mexico may be depleting the squid's diet, causing them to migrate into Southern California.

He said the squid possibly are discombobulated by sand churned up by tides.

Meanwhile, William Gilly, a biologist at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, is studying their stomach contents to determine whether the squid are being poisoned.

Even if scientists cannot discover why the squid are washing up ashore, they hope to learn about the mollusks' diet, where they spawn and the biology of their beaks.

"Before the squid were found dead on the beaches in the quantities that they have, we weren't studying them as hard as we are now," Blanchard said.

In January, about 1,500 Humboldt squid washed up on the Orange County coastline about a week after an oil spill from an undetermined source coated more than 1,000 seabirds off the Southern California coast. The squid were found on the sands of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Crystal Cove State Park. Some were spotted in northern San Diego County, at San Onofre State Beach.
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Giant squid again wash ashore Orange County beaches

Bleak outlook for rivers on World Water Day

The Western Cape administration is proposing to create a 30m buffer zone along all provincial rivers where no urban or agricultural development can take place.

Tasneem Essop, MEC for environmental affairs and development planning, said at the World Water Day celebrations in Khayelitsha on Tuesday that the province's state of the environment report revealed that 95 percent of Western Cape rivers were not in a healthy state.

Essop said the Western Cape was the first province to have produced a sustainable development plan, emerging from the findings of the WSSD, which would be launched in June.

The buffer zone was one of the "critical proposals" in the plan.

Essop said that, together with the Cape Town municipality and the department of water affairs, the province would embark on a clean-up programme of rivers and canals from April 11, starting with the Khayelitsha wetlands.

Saleem Mowzer, mayoral committee member in charge of trading services, announced at the Water Week celebrations that the city had entered into a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme to implement a system of integrated resources management for urban areas.

The United Nations would provide substantial funding, Mowzer said.

"This will include the implementation of a number of innovative pilot projects linking more sustainable resource use with improvements in housing, employment and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

The project will help the city co-ordinate its energy, waste and water programmes.

Mowzer said it was not clear whether the current drought, the worst in recorded history, was cyclical or whether it was part of world climate change caused by global warming.

Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool urged residents to save water.

"A dripping tap can waste 200 litres in 24 hours. A leaking toilet can waste 100 000 litres in a year," Rasool said.
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Bleak outlook for rivers on World Water Day

Culling: Tourism boycott looms

The international community is exercising a lot of pressure on the government and national parks to give up its proposed plan to start culling elephants in the Kruger Park as early as next year.

The debate was re-ignited by a comment by Hector Magome, Sanparks director of conservation services, to Business Day last week that the Sanparks was seriously considering culling elephants and that the public would have to make peace with this harsh reality.

"Kruger Park has more than 12 000 elephants and is overpopulated by at least 5 000."

Michelle Pickover, founder of Xwe African Wildlife Investigation and Research Centre, said many animal-rights organisations across the globe were on the war path.

The Sunday Independent reported that various animal-rights organisations, such as Humane Society International, Care for the Wild and International Fund for Animal Welfare have already protested against the government's "proposed plan".

Pickover said that her organisation was strongly considering joining forces with international animal-rights organisations to campaign for a tourism boycott.

Pickover accused the government of deceiving role-players who attended the elephant debate in Kruger Park in October last year.

Wanda Mkutshulwa, spokesperson for Sanparks, said on Sunday "that animal-rights groups are pre-empting the process as no final decision has been made on the elephants' fate". "Scientists are currently compiling a report containing all the suggestions made during the elephant debate.

The report will be handed to Marthinus van Schalkwyk, minister of environmental affairs, at the end of April.

The public will then be invited to submit further suggestions. Culling is just one of the many options.

She said she could not comment on Magome's statement.

South Africa ceased culling elephants in Kruger Park in 1994 due to pressure from the international community.
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Culling: Tourism boycott looms

22 March 2005

10-year-old sets record as youngest to dive in city shark tank

The four ragged-tooth sharks at the Two Oceans Aquarium are usually fed at 3.30pm every Sunday, so 10-year-old Julian Ratcliffe picked a good day yesterday to set a record as the youngest person to dive in the aquarium's I&J predatory exhibit.

Ratcliffe qualified as a scuba diver at his uncle's diving school in Indonesia in December, but conceded that he was nervous about being so close to sharks.

As he entered the aquarium his aunt, Cary Yanny, a scuba diving instructor who accompanied him, asked him to say goodbye to his parents "just in case".

Julian became quiet but aquarium diver Dale Morris told the Cape Times that he would join Julian and Yanny on the dive so that he could "keep an eye out".

"How many people have been killed in here?" Julian asked Morris.

But, once he was inside the tank, Ratcliffe appeared calm and waved at his family and friends watching him through the glass.

And, although he seemed to have forgotten about the four mean-looking predators swimming above him, his focus was on the shark teeth that had fallen onto the floor of the shark tank.

As she watched him enter the water, the boy's mother, Hanan Yanny, said scuba diving had made her son more environmentally conscious.

"He's very lucky to be able to scuba dive because you get to see things that you don't get to see on land," she said.

Inside the tank, Julian played with a turtle and a stingray while children visiting the aquarium stared in amazement.

Julian waved to his friends and family and signalled that he was all right.

When he got out of the tank, Ratcliffe told the Cape Times he was proud of himself and that he was no longer scared of the sharks.

"It felt like they were just centimetres away," he said.

Julian managed to pick up two shark's teeth and said he would use them to make pendants.

Would he be prepared to do the dive again?

"Of course," Julian said.
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10-year-old sets record as youngest to dive in city shark tank

Shark search ends in failure

Australian police called off a search on Monday for the remains of a man and for the shark that bit him in half in a horrifying attack witnessed by tourists on a luxury boat off Australia's remote west coast.

Boat captain Geoffrey Brazier, 26, died when a shark described as up to six metres long attacked him while he was snorkeling on Saturday near the Abrolhos Islands, 400km north of the Western Australia state capital Perth.

Brazier was attacked by either a great white shark or a tiger shark, both of which are common in the area, authorities said.

Twelve other passengers and crew from the catamaran Matrix watched the attack in horror, with some saying the shark went straight for Brazier. Several other divers who were in the water with him were unhurt.

"It came in, bit him in half, went away for five or 10 minutes then came back for the other half," said Steve Thorne, a manager for the company that operated the boat charter.

In December, an 18-year-old surfer was killed off a beach in South Australia by what witnesses described as a great white shark measuring up to five metres.

"The reason why it has been called off is that the currents up there are such that anything would have been taken out to sea," police spokesperson Graham Clifford told reporters.

"Also, the Abrolhos is a lot of islands and (has) a big volume of fish and many, many sharks ... we don't think there's anything left," he said.

Australia has a reputation for shark attacks, with Brazier's death the fourth fatal shark attack in the past nine months. International shark file figures show most attacks occur in North American waters.

The first documented shark attack in Australia was in 1791 and there have been more than 625 attacks in the past 200 years, about 190 of them fatal.
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Shark search ends in failure

'Culling is not the state's only option'

Animal welfare and environmental pressure groups supported by millions of people worldwide are gearing up for concerted campaigns to dissuade the South African government from using culling as a means to control the country's burgeoning elephant population.

Some also warn that recent draft legislation on the hunting of large predators, if enacted in its present form, will legalise hunting of "properly rehabilitated" captive-bred lions, cheetahs, spotted hyenas and wild dogs and is so inadequate that some of their members would rather not visit South Africa.

South African game reserves are the most intensely managed in Africa and some conservation officials and scientists have consistently argued that there is serious elephant overpopulation that needs to be reduced to limit the effect on habitats.

This week Dr Hector Magome, the director of conservation services at South African National Parks (SANP), said SANP was "strongly leaning towards culling and we want the public to digest this hard fact".

Although South Africa prides itself on its environmental management skills and promotes wildlife as a major tourism attraction, many lobby groups believe resorting to elephant culling, which was suspended in 1994, will damage the country's status as a responsible custodian of natural resources.

"If they go ahead it will be another black eye for the South African government's international reputation," said Dr John Grandy, senior vice-president in charge of wildlife at Humane Society International (HSI) in Washington.

HSI is part of the Humane Society of the United States and has a membership of more than 8,6-million. It has invested millions of dollars in South Africa since 1994 on the understanding that culling had been stopped.

HSI helped purchase land for the expansion of the Addo Elephant National Park and funded extensive research into the use of PZP (porcine zona pellucida) as a means of elephant contraception.

"South Africa is a sovereign state and can do what it wants, but we would view a return to culling as a betrayal of the philosophy that brought us to the country in the first place," Grandy said.

Dr Barbara Maas, the chief executive of the Britain-based Care for the Wild, argued that the talk of a resumption of culling, coupled with the recently published draft legislation on large predator hunting, presented a very poor image to the rest of the world.

"The concept of hunting captive-bred predators has sparked a major response from our members and over the past year we have delivered thousands of letters and petitions to the South African high commission in London," Maas said.

"Many of our members are outraged at the draft legislation and I know some have said they won't travel to South Africa again until all forms of canned hunting are stopped."

Hundreds of submissions calling for the rewriting of the proposed legislation have been submitted to the department of environmental affairs in Pretoria.

The United States-based International Fund for Animal Welfare, which has 2,5-million supporters worldwide, has also criticised the government on both issues and is planning online petitions and other campaigns to voice opposition and encourage further scientific debate.

Michelle Pickover, the founder of the local animal rights group, Xwe African Wildlife Investigation and Research Centre, went further by suggesting a tourism boycott.

"We have had many discussions with the authorities but have a sense that they have made up their minds on the issue," Pickover said.

"They have pushed us so far that we feel we must advocate a tourism boycott."

Scientists are divided on the issue of elephant overpopulation and the ethics of culling. Some have argued there is no scientific proof of overpopulation and that more research is needed before any action is taken.

Some argue that alternative methods of control should be adopted if population growth is proved to be unsustainable. Yet others say that, unless elephant populations in Kruger, Madikwe and other parks are reduced, their feeding habits will devastate vegetation, and other species will suffer.

"Culling is just one option, and we have tried to include everyone in the debate," said Wanda Mkutshulwa, the head of corporate communications at SANP. She said SANP would present a range of opinions to the minister [of environmental affairs and tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk] and these would be open for comment.

Mkutshulwa said she hoped a decision would be made by October.

John Louw, the chief director of communications at the department of environmental affairs and tourism, said: "It is premature to say anything. It is not for South African National Parks to make a decision on whether there will be culling or not, it is for the minister [Marthinus van Schalkwyk] to apply his mind.

"Everyone is free to speak in this country, but we cannot respond to demands not to consider culling until the minister has applied his mind to the issue.

"The minister may want to convene a team of experts; he may want to consult other interested parties, the parliamentary select committee or cabinet colleagues," Louw said.

"There may not even be a decision by October; it depends on the process."

Elephant culling is an emotive issue in the international community, not least in South Africa, which last carried out such an operation in the 1990s. Since then the elephant population in southern Africa has grown to a reported 250 000, burgeoning to the point, some experts and environmentalists say, of becoming unsustainable. Southern Africa is now home to three-quarters of the African elephant population.

Among other destructive actions, elephants damage endangered trees by stripping them of bark. The trees subsequently die. The pachyderms consume vast amounts of vegetation. Food sources are shrinking and biodiversity is coming under threat. There is also often friction between local rural communities and elephants over resources.
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'Culling is not the state's only option'

Beware the red tide, warn environmental gurus

The public should remain alert to the toxic red tide and not collect and consume any shellfish along the Western Cape coastline, the department of environmental affairs warned on Friday.

The department said in a statement that a response team, made up of scientists and fisheries compliance officers, was monitoring the situation.

"Scientific samples still indicate high toxicity levels, confirming that the consumption of shellfish from the affected areas remains a serious safety and health risk," said the department.

They said the duration of the red tide could not be predicted, and it would probably remain as long as hot, calm weather conditions prevailed.

Affected shellfish remained toxic for days or weeks and must not be eaten.

The popular rock lobster, or kreef as it is referred to locally, was not affected by the red tide.

Anyone suspecting they may have eaten toxic shellfish was urged to contact a doctor immediately.

Symptoms for red tide, particularly the paralytic shellfish poison type, include a tingling sensation, especially around the lips, gradually spreading to the face and neck.

People who have eaten mussels or other filter-feeders also usually suffer from headaches and dizziness, and talk about a floating or gliding sensation, as well as visual disturbances.

More serious symptoms include not being to walk and in severe cases, the development of muscle paralysis - including respiratory failure - within two to 24 hours after eating.

The effects are fortunately completely reversible.
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Beware the red tide, warn environmental gurus

18 March 2005

How to choose the right scuba fins

When it comes to investing in your own pair of scuba fins, you have a plethora of choices from a number of manufacturers who continue to advance the engineering they use to produce the most durable, efficient fins possible. While the original, traditional full foot scuba fins are still popular among some people, there are many more styles available now. Most of the new styles of scuba fins are designed by using technical and involved mathematical angles and engineering so that the fin works to the divers advantage as far as efficiency and ease of use.

Some people find themselves being turned off by the complex and technical features of these efficiently advanced scuba fins, leaving them to be content with basic, traditional fins, which is not a bad thing. The main point to remember when purchasing your own scuba fins is comfort. If you are uncomfortable or awkward in a pair of fins, they aren't going to work for you as intended. The specialized angles or split fins used to create greater kicking efficiency are only effective if you are comfortable wearing the fin and using it in the water. Comfort is important because only when you are fully satisfied with you fins will you be able to use them properly.

To help you choose which type of scuba fins will work best for your intended use you should research each style. First are the traditional paddle fins. Paddle scuba fins can be either full foot or have an adjustable heel strap. For scuba diving purposes, people most often use the adjustable heel strap fins of any style. Full foot fins are commonly used as snorkeling fins. Traditional paddle fins work to move water up and down as you kick and they are complimented by divers as being useful when free diving or in currents.

Several major scuba equipment companies have released a new, specially engineered paddle fin that provides much more move for you kick. Dacor and Tusa both have scuba fins with the optimized pivoting blade which is a design that angles the fin so every time you are kicking upward or downward the fins are at the most efficient angle for getting a more forceful kick. The specialized angles of these scuba fins alter the angle traditional paddle fins have, which makes you loose full force during part of the kick.

The next type of scuba fins are all altered in some way with splits, cutouts or vents that the manufacturers say enhance the kicking force and efficiency. The most prevalent of these are the split fins, also known as "Bio-fins" by some companies. These scuba fins divide the paddle of the fin into two parts with a sliver taken out of the middle vertically. Many people have come to appreciate the efficiency and forceful strokes split fins have been proven to allow you. The modification to these fins is supposed to minimize the number of kicks needed to get a set distance. Some divers still believe the most capable scuba fins are the basic ones. Again, the fins you choose should be primarily based on comfort and how easily you function in them.

Other types of split fins have horizontal splits or cutouts and vents at strategic places on the paddle. The Apollo Bio-fins are split scuba fins engineered to push water back, as opposed to up and down, like most fins. The Bio-fin acts like a propeller instead of a paddle, allowing you a much easier kicking task.

Force fins are an additional style you have to choose from. This type of scuba fins is considerably smaller than others, but if you are comfortable using them, they can provide equal kicking force. Force fins mimic a small scale whale tail, which is part of the reason they are claimed to have successful kicking efficiency.

Choosing between these broad types of scuba fins is only the beginning. Within each type there are several other designs to pick from and choosing which brand can be difficult too. Most people limit their selection by having a budget or price range not to exceed. Limiting yourself to a budget will not spoil a large selection though, because there is a variety of scuba fins in every price range. Obviously, the basic and simple scuba fin designs will be the least expensive and as the fins advance in efficiency technology and specialized features, the price will rise.

If you are an avid diver, owning pair of durable and efficient scuba fins is a must, so it would be wise to spend a little extra money on fins with some of the advanced features. At asudoit.com there equipment sold for many adventure sports, including several brands and styles of scuba fins. Here you can look through the features of all the broad types of scuba fins such as force, split, full-foot, heel strap and traditional paddle fins. DiversDiscount.com also has a large selection of scuba fins of all types. At this site you pay less than half the original price for the Tusa Platina fins, which have dual blade fins for greater propulsion force. These Tusa scuba fins are high-performance and available at a cheap price at the discount site.

As for shopping by specific brands, you may want to start with the most commonly know names in scuba equipment such as Apollo, Dacor, Oceanic, Sherwood and Tusa. Some scuba equipment companies are conglomerates, which means some of the less known and less expensive brand names you see may actually be made by one of the larger companies. This is a plus for you because often the branch off brand equipment will be cheaper price wise, but with quality and durability nearly equal to that of the more expensive, better known brands. Each of these manufacturers will have scuba fins for all types. Brand name preference is a personal choice, but each of the above brands are well known, reliable names in scuba fins.

Choosing scuba fins is a matter that is based on personal preference and each individual's selection will be different, but none of them are wrong. Because of this, it is helpful to have the wide selection available so that everyone's preferences are accommodated. Whatever your choice, know that you are comfortable in the fins before you purchase them and look in to the quality and durability of the fins, as it will determine the fins life span and help you decide if they are worth the money.
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How to choose the right scuba fins

Maritime environment important for global trade

There is a growing appreciation of the importance of marine and maritime environment to this country's global competitiveness and to the future of global trade trends.

Transport Minister Jeff Radebe said this in his address yesterday at the 9th National Maritime Conference, which is underway here.

The purpose of the conference is to adopt resolutions on imperative issues in the maritime industry.

Delegates are also expected to make input towards the development of the 2010 Maritime Transport Policy.

"In these circumstances, it is critically important that we identify every aspect of maritime activity within a broader framework of policy imperatives to ensure complementarities and support of different pillars of policy," he said.

Mr Radebe therefore called for the application of a maritime policy framework towards the broader empowerment and democratisation of this country's economy and its people.

"At the same time, I am not suggesting that we are about to embark on a whole new round of discussion documents and round tables.

"We have passed the target dates for establishing the general framework although we have made some progress towards implementation of concrete plans and programmes in a number of areas, much still needs to be done."

Measured against global trade, South African maritime trade in terms of value and volume of cargo either in or out of the country's ports accounts for 3.5 percent.

However, when distance is taken into account and measured in tonne-miles rather than simply tonnes or Dollars it rises to six percent, bringing this country to the top 12 sea-trading nations around the world.

"I would love to see a situation where regulation in our context remains as simple and straightforward as possible with as much red tapes excised as possible and clearest most logical systems put in place," the minister said.

He also highlighted that "there is a tendency in some quarters to encourage regulation as a means to dealing with each and every problem as they arise but we should guard against establishing systems that strangle opportunity and growth development."

Government is currently a major custodian of the maritime environment of this country but it is committed to bring transformation in this sector and open up opportunities to the masses of this country.

"With the combined expertise in numerous government departments and private sector, I am confident that we will succeed," guaranteed the minister.
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Maritime environment important for global trade

'Plague' is just not cricket!

Residents of countless Boland towns complained about a plague of Biblical proportions on Thursday after "millions" of crickets - the most in years - invaded streets and houses.

Thousands had to be killed throughout the night in Paarl after they took over a sports stadium.

In some parts of Strand, people apparently are not opening their windows any more and in Swellendam "you can hear them crackling under your wheels when you drive down the main street in the dark".

People from Worcester, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Strand, Caledon, Bonnievale, Riversonderend and Swellendam told on Thursday how they had been gathering literally bags of dead crickets since Thursday.

And, in Strand, schools now have a new problem, according to a resident: boys who catch crickets at home and take them to school to throw them down the girls' shirts.

Had to spray sports stadium
"You'll find the crickets especially in business premises and swimming pools," said Albert van der Merwe, Drakenstein municipality's head of parks, on Thursday.

"We killed thousands on Wednesday night in Lady Grey Street. And we had to spray the entire Dal Josafat Stadium so that the SA junior athletics event can take place there this weekend - it was full of crickets."

Van der Merwe says more than 10 large rubbish bins were filled with crickets that they gathered in the stadium.

Dr Mike Picker, an entomologist from the University of Cape Town, said on Thursday that the Mediterranean veld crickets (big black ones could be recognised by two yellow spots on their backs) didn't pose a health hazard, but they could be very noisy.

Poison was sprayed in Swellendam.
Ray Coetzee of the Talking Heads hair salon in Swellendam said the inner town was full of dead crickets. "The main street is pitch black with all the crickets at night."

According to Kobus Rossouw, who lives in Coast Way, Strand, the little wall that separates the beach from the town is filled with crickets at night.

"It sounds like a symphony orchestra. No one dares to leave a door or window open any more."

In Caledon, it looks like "black waves" crashing over Meul Street as the crickets swarm, said a resident.
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'Plague' is just not cricket!

New Asian quake threat warning

The earthquake that triggered the December 26 tsunami has increased stress on nearby faults, making another major South Asian quake more likely, scientists reported today.

The magnitude 9 earthquake was centered off the west coast of Sumatra, an Indonesian island. The quake shifted nearly 97,000 square miles (250,000 square kilometers) of terrain along the Sunda trench subduction zone, where the Indonesian and Australian tectonic plates dive beneath the Burma tectonic plate.

In places, the earthquake caused the ocean floor to shift as much as 65 feet (20 meters). This displacement triggered the tsunami in the Indian Ocean that, according to the United Nations, killed nearly 300,000 people in South Asia and East Africa.

A team of seismologists led by John McCloskey at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, say more shaking could be in store.

McCloskey and colleagues found that the so-called Sumatra-Andaman earthquake increased the stress on adjacent sections of the Sunda trench and the nearby Sumatra fault, which runs the length of Sumatra.

The team cannot predict when another earthquake will occur. But they say the increased stress, combined with historical evidence, raises the likelihood of another big quake in the region. History, they say, shows that one earthquake tends to follow another in the same region.

"People believe lightning never strikes twice in the same place," McCloskey said. "Earthquakes do. Earthquakes cluster in space and time. When you get an earthquake, you are more likely to get another, and our calculations show the stress interaction [in South Asia] is very high."

McCloskey and colleagues Suleyman Nalbant and Sandy Steacy published their calculations in tomorrow's issue of the science journal Nature.

The greatest risk, the scientists say, is for a magnitude 7.5 earthquake on the Sumatra fault near the already devastated town of Banda Aceh. The town is northeast of the epicenter of the December 26 earthquake.

Stress Interaction
McCloskey and colleagues used a map of the slip and displacement from the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake to calculate the stress buildup on the Sunda trench and neighboring Sumatra fault.

The map was created by Chen Ji, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. According to Ji's work, portions of the ocean floor along the Sunda trench moved as much as 65 feet (20 meters) in an area stretching from the epicenter north for about 310 miles (500 kilometers).

Subsequent calculations by McCloskey and colleagues show this displacement and slip resulted in a large buildup of stress in a 31-mile (50-kilometer) stretch of the Sunda trench just south of the rupture zone. They saw an even stronger loading of stress along a 186-mile (300-kilometer) section of the Sumatra fault near Banda Aceh.

"We are very confident in our calculations, and it is clear that there is a relationship between these increased stresses and the increased risk of further activity on either fault," McCloskey said. "However, how this relationship works out in detail is not known."

For example, he added, there is not a one-to-one relationship between earthquake occurrence and stress increases. More research is needed to understand why.

Kerry Sieh is a geologist at the California Institute of Technology who has studied the Sumatra tectonic system for the past ten years. He said the findings of McCloskey and colleagues will come as little surprise but are nevertheless a nice quantitative analysis of the stress buildup in the region.

"Whether or not that means an immediate threat of another big earthquake to the south is a much more complex question to answer," he said. "When a fault is being loaded up by a nearby event, a number of factors go into making the evaluation of whether it will rupture soon."

Pending Earthquake?
Ross Stein is a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. He said the stress calculations by McCloskey and colleagues are reasonable but cautioned that they are not a calculation of the earthquake risk.

The last time a major earthquake struck the southern section of the Sunda trench was in 1866. "In other words, it has stored up quite a bit of stress on its own. Add to it the sudden hit from the earthquake and it would surprise no one if it would rupture again," he said.

According to Sieh, the last large and devastating earthquake anywhere along the Sunda trench was in 1907. Though seismologists are uncertain as to the exact 1907 epicenter, it appears to be the section immediately south of the 2004 rupture.

Sieh added that he believes the section of the trench at most risk for failure lies between about 186 and 620 miles (300 to 1,000 kilometers) south of the 2004 epicenter. That section fails about every 200 years. It last ruptured in a couplet of giant earthquakes in 1797 and 1833.

"A repeat of that episode would produce devastation along the West Sumatran coast similar to that along the coast of Aceh last year," he said.
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New Asian quake threat warning

Global Warming Unstoppable for 100 Years, Study Says

Even if humans stop burning oil and coal tomorrow, we've already spewed enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to cause temperatures to warm and sea levels to rise for at least another century.

That's the message from two studies appearing in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

Researchers used computer models of the global climate system to put numbers to the concept of thermal inertia - the idea that global climate changes are delayed because it water takes longer to heat up and cool off than air does. The oceans are the primary drivers of the global climate.

"Even if you stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases, you are still committed to a certain amount of climate change no matter what you do because of the lag in the ocean," said Gerald Meehl, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide collect in the atmosphere and are believed to act as a blanket, trapping heat and causing the Earth to warm. To stop this warming, many scientists say humans must reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit.

Human activities that make the largest contributions to greenhouse gases include exhaust fumes from automobiles and commercial jets and emissions from power stations and factories.

"The longer you wait to do something, the more climate change you are committed to in the future," Meehl said.

Warming Lag
Meehl co-authored one of the Science studies. He and his colleagues found that even if no more greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere, globally averaged air surface temperatures will rise about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.5 degree Celsius) and global sea levels will rise at least 4.3 inches (11 centimeters) by 2100.

The sea level rise estimate is conservative, because the models Meehl and colleagues used only account for thermal expansion?water expands as it warms, causing sea levels to rise. Melting glaciers and ice sheets will likely at least double the sea level rise.

Since humans are unlikely to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere anytime soon, Meehl and his colleagues also ran their computer models under scenarios in which the gases continue to accumulate at low, medium, and high rates.

Under the worst-case scenario, by 2100 average temperatures are projected to rise by 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 degrees Celsius) and sea level by at least 12 inches (30 centimeters).

The second study was authored by Tom Wigley, also with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He looked at what would happen to temperatures and sea levels if greenhouse gas concentrations stay constant and if humans continue to add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Under the fixed-concentration scenario, the surface air temperature rise could exceed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) by 2400, and sea levels may rise at a rate of 4 inches (10 centimeters) per century.

If humans keep emitting greenhouse gases at present rates, the surface air temperatures could rise between 3.6 and 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2 and 6 degrees Celsius) by 2400, and sea levels may edge up at a rate of 9.8 inches (25 centimeters) per century.

"Avoiding these changes requires, eventually, a reduction in emissions to substantially below present levels," Wigley writes in Science.

Gavin Schmidt is a climate modeler with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He was not involved with either of the studies, but he is not surprised by the thermal-inertia warming demonstrated by the models.

"We have been talking about this for years," he said. Schmidt added that several other teams, including his own, are planning to publish modeling studies in the months ahead that will show similar results.

Like Meehl's team, Schmidt said climate scientists are up against a deadline to publish their results so that they will be included in the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is due out in 2007. For inclusion, results must be published by the end of 2005.

"All of them are going to show very similar numbers. These are just the first out of the gate," he said.

Reversing Direction
Meehl said the modeling results demonstrate the contribution humans have already made to warming temperatures and rising sea levels. To reverse this trend would require humans to at least stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which means a significant reduction in the amount of oil and coal humans burn each year.

"I'm not an expert in the policy area, but it doesn't seem likely to happen in the next few years," he said. Rather, he added, global warming is a multigenerational problem: The choices we make now set the stage for what our grandchildren will be forced to deal with?a little warming and sea level rise, or a lot.

According to Wigley, the most alarming aspect of his study is the finding of a 4-inch-per-century (10-centimeter-per-century) rise in sea level under the fixed-concentration scenario.

"Although such a slow rate may allow many coastal communities to adapt, profound long-term impacts on low-lying island communities and on vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs seem inevitable," he writes.
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Global Warming Unstoppable for 100 Years, Study Says