29 April 2005

South Africa hopefull to get coelacanth research and exploration mini-submarine

South Africa is hoping to get its own full-time coelacanth research and exploration mini-submarine, thanks to the efforts of a world-famous marine scientist and explorer, "Her Deepness" Dr Sylvia Earle.

The international ocean ambassador, who holds the record for the deepest-ever solo dive by a woman - 1 000m in a submersible - completed a visit to Sodwana Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal coast this week, home of the country's rare coelacanth "fossil fish" population.

The 69-year-old former chief scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and current explorer-in-residence for the National Geographic Society amazed local divers with her energy and enthusiasm while scuba-diving to depths of up to 40m at Sodwana.

"She seemed like a sprightly 30-year-old while hopping in and out of dive boats," said Dr Tony Ribbink, head of the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme.

Earle, who is also known as "The Sturgeon General", said she was optimistic that South Africa would get its own permanent coelacanth exploration submersible (mini-submarine) as early as next year.

She said a vessel capable of carrying up to three people was needed to pursue dedicated deep-sea research work around Sodwana and further up the east African Coast.

"We are trying to get a submersible which could go down to at least 600m to 800m to really see what treasures lie under this ocean.

"I would also hope that it could be kept here, as South Africa's gift to the oceans."

It is believed that the initiative to buy a modern, purpose-built submersible has support from senior officials of the department of science and technology and the department of environmental affairs and tourism.

Ribbink said he thought it was premature to speculate at this stage, but noted that Earle was hoping to enlist financial support from major world conservation groups, including the National Geographic Society and Conservation International.

He confirmed that South Africa's three-year contract for part-time use of the German-owned "Jago" submersible had expired and that Earle had been providing advice on the design specifications for a new research vessel, which might be financed with core-funding support from the South African government.

The coelacanth project has also been expanded to include several east African nations and islands - including Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Madagascar and the Comores.

A total of 24 coelacanths have been identified individually off Sodwana, while Tanzania has discovered 22 of these ancient fish since the start of the South African-led project.

Earle is travelling with financially influential council members of National Geographic, and Dr Sheila McKenna, head of marine biodiversity analysis at Conservation International in Washington, US.

The marine biologists are visiting South Africa to conduct a preliminary assessment of deep-water exploration techniques in KwaZulu-Natal and further along the eastern coastline.

Earle, who has spent more than 6 000 hours under water and is regarded as the world's best-known woman marine scientist, has explored the ocean depths extensively but has yet to see a coelacanth herself.
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South Africa hopefull to get coelacanth research and exploration mini-submarine

Tuna fishing policy 'misguided'

A study of Atlantic bluefin tuna has shown that tighter fishing restrictions are needed to protect the animal, Nature magazine reports this week.

At the moment, there are two separate fishing quotas for western and eastern Atlantic tuna, because experts believe the two populations do not mix.

But a new tagging study has suggested this is not the case and in fact tuna move freely between the zones.

A new fishing policy is needed to keep tuna numbers stable, scientists say.

"Our science doesn't support maintenance of a management system that assumes tuna from the eastern Atlantic remain in the eastern Atlantic, and tuna from the western Atlantic remain in the west," said chief researcher Barbara Block, of Stanford University, US.

"We believe it's time... to introduce management measures that recognise the fact that there is a complex spatial and temporal mixing of the two populations in both the west and east Atlantic, except on spawning grounds."

The Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is a bulky marine predator, which can weigh up to 650kg (1,430lbs). It is highly prized for its flesh the world over. In Japan, a single fish can fetch up to US$100,000.

In recent years, an international scramble to net as many bluefin as possible has left populations pretty battered.

According to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the western population has fallen by more than 80% since the 1970s and the eastern population has also declined, so appropriate fishing restrictions are essential.

Long migrations
For the past 10 years, a team of researchers led by Dr Block has carried out an unprecedented study of bluefin tuna migrations.

The scientists fastened tags on to wild fish, which tracked their movements as they travelled thousands of kilometres across the sea, to depths below 910m (3,000ft), in search of food and mates.

Dr Block and her colleagues analysed the data over a nine-year period and discovered that bluefin have a complex migratory life-cycle that varies depending on the season, as well as the age and body size of the fish.

The study confirmed that the North Atlantic is home to at least two populations of bluefin - a western stock that spawns primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and an eastern stock that breeds in the Mediterranean Sea.

The tagging data also revealed that, contrary to popular belief, western bluefin from the Gulf routinely swim with their eastern cousins who spawned in the Mediterranean.

"It appears that some adolescents from the east feed and frolic in the western Atlantic until they're old enough to become breeders, at which point they go back to the Mediterranean spawning grounds and are unlikely to return to North America," said Dr Block.

New controls
However, according to ICCAT, the populations rarely mix - and current fishing policy is based on this assumption.

Because western tuna have suffered such a major decline over the last 35 years, they receive more protection. Fishermen are only allowed to catch 3,000 tonnes in the western Atlantic, whereas a 32,000-tonne catch is permitted in the east.

But according Dr Block's team, this strict control might not do the fragile western population much good, if they are regularly venturing into the east where fishing is intense.

"Right now, any western tuna that swims to the east of the 45 meridian can end up as part of the vastly larger eastern catch," said study co-author Steven Teo, of Stanford University.

"What we're suggesting is that ICCAT establish a new central Atlantic management zone with an extremely low quota. That way we can reduce the mortality of giant western tuna that regularly forage there."

Dr Block added: "We cannot conserve the western Atlantic population without protecting these fish in the central Atlantic. Or put another way, eastern fishers, particularly high-seas longliners, may be impacting on western recovery."

An ICCAT spokesman told the BBC News website that they were aware of the research, and the commission would consider changing fishing policy to reflect it.
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Tuna fishing policy 'misguided'

Global warming 'proof' detected

The Earth is absorbing more energy from the Sun than it is giving back into space, according to a new study by climate scientists in the US. They base their findings on computer models of climate, and on measurements of temperature in the oceans.

The group describes its results as "the smoking gun that we were looking for", removing any doubt that human activities are warming the planet.

The results are published in the journal Science this week.

The study attempts to calculate the Earth's "energy imbalance" - the difference between the amount of energy received at the top of the atmosphere from solar radiation, and the amount that is given back into space.

Rather than measuring the imbalance directly, the researchers draw on data from the oceans, in particular from the growing global flotilla of scientific buoys and floats, now numbered in the thousands, which monitor sea temperature.

Slow changes
"Measuring the imbalance directly is extremely difficult, because you are looking for a very small number on a background of very large numbers," Gavin Schmidt, one of the research team from the US space agency's (Nasa) Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told BBC News.

"But we know how much energy is going into the oceans - that has been measured and over the last 10 years confirmed by satellites and in-situ measurements - and from our understanding of atmospheric physics, that has to be equal to the imbalance at the top of the atmosphere."

So data gathered from the oceans is plugged into a computer model representing the Earth's complex climate, including the atmosphere, oceans, winds, currents, greenhouse gases and other "pollutants". What emerges is that at the top of the atmosphere, our planet is absorbing 0.85 watts more energy per metre squared than it is emitting into space.

The reason the extra energy is trapped, the researchers say, is the human-produced greenhouse effect - elevated levels of gases such as carbon dioxide that absorb radiation from the Earth's surface which would otherwise disappear into space.

Like other "climate change sceptics", Dr Kininmonth believes too much reliance is placed on computer models rather than hard data.

"I do not believe this research team has made a compelling case to suggest that their computer models are sufficiently realistic to justify the implications of anthropogenic (human-induced) global warming that they make," he said.

But Damian Wilson, manager of clouds and radiation parameterisation at the UK's Meteorological Office, was more enthusiastic.

"The computer model matches temperature changes at the Earth's surface quite well - but that alone doesn't prove it's right," he said.

"Having a model that also matches ocean heat uptake well suggests that the model is doing a pretty good job. I wouldn't like to say the research proves that 0.85 watts per metre squared is the right figure, but it does give us more confidence that the models are doing a good job of producing a reasonable simulation of the energy imbalance."

Computer climate models have grown much more sophisticated over the years. But there are still problems modelling some atmospheric processes, notably heat convection within clouds.

And any model can only be as accurate as the data which goes into it. There is still a need, most researchers agree, for more data from the oceans, and on the role of aerosols (small particles of dust, soot, soil and other substances) in the atmosphere; but gathering that data is easier said than done.
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Global warming 'proof' detected

The future of Greens

SUNNY skies, blue seas, verdant forests, abundant wildlife. We all want our children, and their children's children and beyond, to experience the majesty of our planet.

It was for this core reason that the environmental movement gained such ground in the previous century. But, as with any political and intellectual movement, there has to be growth for it to remain relevant and viable.

There is growing consensus that the green movement is losing this battle. A recent essay written by two committed greens - The Death of Environmentalism - claims that the environmental movement's foundational concepts and its institutions are outmoded. The crux of the essay, according to The Economist magazine, is that environmental groups are out of touch.

One would not have thought so, given that the United Nation's Kyoto Protocol has so recently come into force, signed by more than 140 countries that have committed to cutting the industrialised world's greenhouse gas emissions by 5,2% by 2012. And just this weekend, the 25-member European Union launched the world's first international carbon dioxide emissions trading scheme. The scheme is the implementation tool for monitoring how energy-intensive businesses are reducing carbon emissions.

While the Kyoto Protocol is often lauded as a victory for the environmental movement, it is worth considering two issues. There was a strong lobby against the emissions trading scheme by some environmentalists, particularly in Europe, who feared some companies and countries would be let off lightly.

The second issue is that even if the Kyoto Protocol is fully implemented as envisaged, it is estimated that it will shave a mere six years off the current global warming trajectory. Opinion remains divided about whether global warming is the result of mankind's activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, or a natural phenomenon.

Whatever the case, we cannot turn back the clock on global warming. We can merely slow down the inevitable. So perhaps environmentalists should consider a modified approach. The world needs to be prepared for global warming. People need to know that sea levels will rise, that crops will be affected, that clean water could become scarce.

Lobbying for funds to educate the world on the effects of global warming, while developing more pragmatic policies, may ultimately be more useful to the world than the current save the planet approach.
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The future of Greens

South Africa must continue to be the champions

President Thabo Mbeki says South Africa has an obligation to ensure a sustainable environment. The president was speaking at the Union Buildings in Pretoria where he received the Champions of the Earth Award from Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Minister Van Schalkwyk received the award on behalf of President Mbeki and the people of South Africa at a glittering event hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the UN Headquarters in New York last week.

South Africa was recognised for its commitment to cultural and environmental diversity and its strong leadership role on the African continent through the environment component of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad).

Accepting the award today President Mbeki said it presented challenges to all South Africans to continue to be the "champions."

"We also need to improve inter-state development with regard to issues pertaining to the environment."

"It is also our responsibility to promote peace and stability in the entire continent."

The Champions of the Earth award was created by UNEP in 2004 to honour individuals or groups who have made a significant and recognised contribution to the protection and sustainable management of the Earth's environment and natural resources.

South Africa was also honoured for its efforts towards achieving the goals and targets encapsulated in the 2000 Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Plan of Implementation, particularly in the area of clean water and sanitation.

According to the Environmental Affairs and Tourism Department, South Africans have not just made substantial progress in the sustainable development of their own country, but have also provided leadership and support to the continent.

South Africa has also enacted a wide range of domestic legislation backed up by specialist environmental courts to protect South Africa's environment.

Six other recipients of the award were the King and people of Bhutan, the late Highness Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands Ms Julia Carabias Lillo of Mexico and Mr Zhou Qiang and All-China youth Federation.
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South Africa must continue to be the champions

28 April 2005

SuitJuice lubricant for wetsuits

SuitJuice is a slick viscous lubricant you can use to slip effortlessly in and out of your neoprene wetsuit.

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    About.com Guide Review - SuitJuice Lubricant
    I don’t know about you, but I always have to jump, squirm and wiggle into my wetsuit. Not anymore. SuitJuice eliminate quite a bit of that calorie burning activity.

    I tested SuitJuice with a 3mm neoprene wetsuit. I applied the product to my right arm, wrist, leg and ankle. I compared its performance to my left arm, wrist, leg and ankle, which had no application of any product. SuitJuice made it easy to slip in and out of the wetsuit. The thicker the application, the easier it is.
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    SuitJuice lubricant for wetsuits

  • Toxic red tide spreads across Cape peninsula

    There is now a toxic red tide stretching from Blouberg to Kommetjie and the authorities have warned the public not to eat shellfish collected from this area.

    The red tide, an algal bloom, contains dense concentrations of toxic organisms which can cause paralysis if eaten. Filter-feeding shellfish, like mussels and oysters, consume the organisms and so become poisonous themselves if they are eaten.

    Cases of severe poisoning can be fatal.

    Grant Pitcher, a red tide expert from Marine and Coastal Management, said on Wednesday they had not had any recent reports of people being poisoned from eating shellfish.

    Last month at least four people were treated in hospital for paralytic shellfish poisoning after eating shellfish collected during the red tide on the West Coast.

    "The warnings to the public about paralytic shellfish poisoning still apply and have done so since March. The municipalities and marine inspectors are all well informed about the toxic red tide, which is probably why there have been no more incidents of poisoning," Pitcher said.

    He said the toxic red tide seemed to have moved south of Cape Columbine.

    "At the weekend satellite images showed it very well, with high concentrations in Table Bay. It has broken up a bit with the wind, and has lost a bit of colour. It is a dark red to maroon-brown," said Pitcher.

    Typical symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning include tingling and numbness of the mouth, lips and fingers, difficulty in breathing, accompanied by general muscular weakness and lack of coordination. In severe cases it can cause paralysis and death.
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    Toxic red tide spreads across Cape peninsula

    Nature gurus slam alien crayfish investment idea

    Environmentalists have slammed Economic Development MEC Lynne Brown's announcement that the province will invest R500 000 in developing a hatchery for alien freshwater crayfish.

    They say the marron crayfish, which can climb over fences, walk across land and live for several days out of water, pose a risk to the natural environment should they become established in the wild.

    No risk assessment or environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been done for the proposed hatchery. The first the environmental authorities knew about the venture was when Brown announced it in her budget speech last week.

    Marron crayfish, Cherax tenuimanus, have been declared a noxious species in Victoria, Australia.

    Irene de Moor, a research associate at the SA Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity in Grahamstown, did an assessment for the department of agriculture in 1999 on the potential environmental impacts of four alien freshwater crayfish, including marron. She recommended that none of the species be allowed to be imported into the country.

    However, many years prior to the study, several provincial nature conservation departments had already granted permits for marron to be imported and bred in the country.

    De Moor said although marron posed the least environmental threat of the four species, it was "clear that environmental damage has outweighed economic benefits accruing from the importation of this species". Further importation should not be allowed, she said.

    Roger Bills, a freshwater fish specialist from the same institute, said the fact that marron had not yet established themselves in the wild did not mean they would not do so eventually.

    He believed existing marron operations should be shut down.

    "The problem with any alien species is that it takes a very long time to see the impacts they have on the indigenous environment. It may be 20 or 30 years before they establish themselves properly, and another 20 years before one can see the environmental changes they cause. By that time it will be too late to do anything about it," Bills said.

    He added: "Once they are established in the river systems, you will never get rid of them. I don't understand why the nature conservation authorities even consider allowing alien species introductions."

    Kas Hamman, director of biodiversity for CapeNature, said his organisation would not allow the new hatchery to be developed without a full EIA and risk assessment being done.

    James Visser, the proponent of the hatchery, says marron is quite safe. He has farmed them here for the past 14 years, with permits from nature conservation. At the time there was no requirement to do an EIA.

    He said there had been several instances of marron getting out of dams, but they had never established themselves in the wild as they were "predated on 100 percent".

    "The necessary requirements were met for the permit conditions. I am running a hatchery at the moment, so there is really no difference," Visser said.

    Instead of involving a big company in developing the new hatchery, he had chosen to see the marron industry grow in the small sector.
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    Nature gurus slam alien crayfish investment idea

    Climate change poses threat to food supply, scientists say

    Worldwide production of essential crops such as wheat, rice, maize and soya beans is likely to be hit much harder by global warming than previously predicted, an international conference in London has heard.

    The benefits of higher levels of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, will in fact be outweighed by the downsides of climate change, a Royal Society discussion meeting was told yesterday. It had been thought that the gas might act as a fertiliser to increase plant growth. Rising atmospheric temperatures, longer droughts and side-effects of both, such as higher levels of ground-level ozone gas, are likely to bring about a substantial reduction in crop yields in the coming decades, large-scale experiments have shown.

    The two-day meeting, entitled Food Crops in a Changing Climate, is focusing largely on tropical countries where most of the world's food is grown, and where people are most vulnerable to climate change.

    It is bringing together leading scientists in the fields of meteorology, climate science and agriculture to report on the latest research, including growing crops in experimental conditions in the open air that simulate advanced global warming. Previously, such experiments had taken place in closed chambers, and these had suggested that the "fertilisation" effect of rising CO2 would offset the detrimental effects of rising temperatures and drought incidence on crop production.

    But, a new technology known as Face (Free-Air Concentration Enrichment) is allowing treatment of large areas of crop with elevated levels of CO2 and ozone, and these experiments have painted a very different picture.

    "Growing crops much closer to real conditions has shown that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have roughly half the beneficial effects previously hoped for in the event of climate change," said Steve Long, from Illinois University.

    "In addition, ground-level ozone, which is also predicted to rise but has not been extensively studied before, has been shown to result in a loss of photosynthesis and 20 per cent yield loss. Both these results show that we need to seriously re-examine our predictions for future global food production, as they are likely to be far lower than previously estimated," Professor Long said.

    Additionally, studies in the UK and Denmark show that just a few days of hot temperatures can severely reduce the yield of major food crops such as wheat, soya beans, rice and groundnuts, if they coincide with the flowering of these crops.

    These results suggest that there are particular thresholds above which crops become very vulnerable to climate change.

    On a more positive note, the meeting also highlighted new developments in forecasting techniques, the basis of which can act as early warning systems of famine.

    The techniques incorporate a climate prediction model with a model that simulates crop growth under varying environmental conditions.
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    Climate change poses threat to food supply, scientists say

    Zimbabwe turns to wildlife as food source

    President Robert Mugabe's regime has directed national parks officials to kill animals in state-owned conservation areas to feed hungry rural peasants - a move that could wipe out what remains of Zimbabwe's impalas, kudus, giraffes, elephants and other species.

    The directive is a major blow to efforts by conservationists to try to rehabilitate the wildlife sector which was devastated after Mugabe ordered his supporters to invade and confiscate white-owned farms in 2000.

    The chaotic farm invasions saw party militants storming into conservation areas - both private and state-owned - to slaughter animals.

    Unscrupulous South African hunters also joined in the looting, paying hefty kickbacks to politicians to go into conservation areas and shoot lions, leopards and cheetahs for trophies.

    But because of the general abundance of certain species of wildlife in southern Zimbabwe and the establishment of the transfrontier park, which allows animals from Mozambique and South Africa's world-famous Kruger National Park to move freely into and out of Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou (home of the elephants) National Park, there have been high hopes among conservationists that Zimbabwe's wildlife sector could be restored to its former glory.

    This now appears highly unlikely as Zimbabwe's department of national parks and wildlife management, the custodian of this embattled country's wild animals, has been given the green light to work with rural district councils to kill animals to feed more than four-million hungry rural Zimbabweans.

    National Parks officials said the recent shootings of 10 elephants for barbecue meat at festivities to mark Zimbabwe's 25 years of independence around the country had been carried out in the broad context of the directive to kill animals to feed the hungry, particularly those living within the vicinity of national parks.

    The 10 elephants were killed by National Park rangers. Four of the giant animals were reportedly shot in full view of tourists near Zimbabwe's Lake Kariba, a major haven for wildlife.

    Zimbabwean conservationists have been particularly scathing about the killings of the elephants for independence celebrations.

    Rural peasants in Zimbabwe have sold or fed on their own livestock in the past three years of unprecedented hunger, induced by Mugabe's chaotic land seizures.

    National Parks officials say many of the peasants living in areas bordering National Parks have already been venturing into these parks to hunt and kill animals using snares.

    But they said the impact of snare hunting by the villagers was limited compared to what would happen if armed National Parks rangers were allowed to enter conservation areas to kill for meat to feed millions of hungry peasants.

    "Killing of animals for any reasons other than conservation can be very disastrous," said one National Parks official.

    "The politicians think we have enough animals to feed people without wiping out different species. We as professionals don't think so. We are talking to them (the politicians) and we hope we will reach consensus on protecting our wildlife heritage."

    Other government officials said Mugabe was so happy about his rural constituency which ensured him a majority of seats in last month's parliamentary elections that he wanted to do everything to please the peasants.
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    Zimbabwe turns to wildlife as food source

    26 April 2005

    Coral reef damage may impact world - experts

    The demise of the world's coral reefs could threaten coastal communities as global fish stocks fall, an international conservation group said on Monday.

    A fifth of the world's reefs have been damaged beyond repair, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) said.

    Another 50 percent are under imminent or long-term threat because of rising sea levels most scientists blame on global warming, the group said.

    "The reefs help to feed millions of people in the developed world," the group's co-chairperson Rolph Payet told reporters at the group's annual meeting in the Seychelles.

    "Many species of fish depend on coral reefs for their food or protection and the collapse of the reefs would lead to elevated costs of fish worldwide," he said.

    Although islands are perceived as the principal victims of coral degradation, Payet said it could affect many other countries worldwide.

    "The threat to coral reefs is certainly not just an island problem because reefs, including the largest ones, border continents and large countries alike," said Payet, who is also a top environmental official in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

    Payet urged industrialised countries "which contribute overwhelmingly to global warming" to commit more money to coral reef monitoring and management programmes.

    ICRI has reported coral damage in almost 100 countries around the world, with some parts of the Indian Ocean so badly affected researchers fear large areas could be without any living coral within two decades.

    The ICRI meeting of scientists and government officials is expected to produce an assessment of the damage to reefs caused by the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.
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    Coral reef damage may impact world - experts

    Tiny reef fish has shortest lifespan - study

    A tiny reef fish which survives for up to 59 days has the shortest lifespan of any vertebrate animal, researchers in Australia said on Tuesday.

    The discovery of the pygmy goby's lifespan has helped broaden understanding of the evolutionary limits of animal biology, according to a statement from James Cook University in the north-eastern city of Townsville.

    Postgraduate student Martial Depczynski and Professor David Bellwood studied the life cycle of the pygmy goby (Eviota sigillata) on the Great Barrier Reef.

    The fish, which grows to between 11 and 20mm, lays down a series of daily rings in its otoliths or ear stones, helping researchers record lifespan.

    "We believe the extraordinary life cycle of pygmy gobies has probably evolved in response to the high mortality rates seen in small coral fish," Depczynski said in the statement.

    In such cases, he said, evolution often favoured a "Live fast, die young" strategy in which rapid growth and maturation compensates for reduced life expectancy.

    This theory was supported by the Turquoise killifish, which was previously thought to have the shortest lifespan among vertebrates (animals with a spinal cord). These live in rain pools in Africa and must finish their reproductive cycle before the pools dry up.

    Even though pygmy gobies survive less than two months, they lead a hectic life.

    "They hatch from minute eggs which are vigorously defended by the father," said Depczynski.

    "They then develop as ocean larvae for three weeks, nearly half of their lifetime, before settling on a coral reef where they grow to sexual maturity.

    "With a reproductive life span of just 25 days, the female pygmy goby lays only three clutches of about 136 eggs in a lifetime."
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    Tiny reef fish has shortest lifespan - study

    WSSD review session sets the world on a common path towards a better future

    The WSSD Review session, known as the Commission on Sustainable Development Thirteen (CSD 13) ended on 22/04/05 with the adoption of a agreement that defines a common international agreement on water, sanitation and human settlement. This session was held at the United Nations in New York , USA from 11 to 22 April 2005.

    "The outcomes of CSD 13 reaffirm our resolve that this is the African century. The adopted agreement confirms the world community's resolve to turn the tide against practice that will ultimately deny us and our future generations a save and healthy planet" said Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism , Marthinus van Schalkwyk as he reflected on South Africa's impression on the outcomes of CSD 13.

    Delegates at CSD 13 included representatives from over hundred fifty country countries with Ministers of portfolios that include the environment, finance, development, housing, water, etc, Also attending was over five hundred civil society and business representatives. The involvement of all stakeholders in all aspects of this CSD process is considered a significant achievement since it sets the trend for upcoming CSD sessions that will focus on areas like energy, climate change, etc.

    Ministers of Environmenal Affairs and Tourism , Water Affairs and Forestry and Housing led South Africa 's delegation. Also attending was the Western Cape MEC of Environment and Development Planning, Tasneem Essop, Executive Mayor of Johannesburg Metro, Amos Masondo, who was also attending in his capacity as President of the international local government network, ICLEI, Valli Moosa in his capacity as President of the world conservation union, IUCN, Reuel Khoza from Eskom and Cosatu Deputy General Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali.

    "In South Africa we have committed to clear the backlog of water by 2008 and sanitation by 2010 and intend to have eradicated informal settlements by 2015. We now have commitment from the global community that we will get support in the form of funding, capacity and technology transfer as we strive to realise these goals" said Buyelwa Sonjica, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry as she emphasised the significance of the outcomes of CSD 13.

    "Knowing that this year, 2005, is the third anniversary of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the fifth anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals, we believe that CSD13 will help us to strengthen the links between the WSSD targets and the Millennium Development Goals. At the Millennium Declaration Review scheduled to take place in September 2005 we will start discussions against the appreciation that there must be emphasises on obstacles like financing and capacity gaps in efforts to address challenges in Africa" further added Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu.

    Some of South Africa 's highlights at CSD 13 included:

    • Monday, 18 April 2005 when the Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel was a joint moderator of a panel of Finance Ministers . This session informed discussions related to economic benefits of implementing sound policies on water, sanitation and human settlements at country, regional and global levels; and
    • Receipt of the "Champions of the Earth" award from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Tuesday, 19 April 2005 . This award recognises President Mbeki and the people of South Africa 's commitment and contribution towards cultural and environmental diversity as well as implementation of globally agreed sustainable development efforts.
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    WSSD review session sets the world on a common path towards a better future

    Volunteers clean up Everest

    Tibetan mountaineers and a team of volunteers have begun a six-week clean up of Mount Everest, where tons of rubbish has been dumped by expeditions, state media said Monday.

    The team is scaling the world's highest peak from the Chinese side and will spend until World Environment Day in early June collecting garbage, Xinhua news agency reported.

    The clean-up campaigns will take place annually until 2008, when the Beijing Olympic torch relay will be taken to the mountain.

    In the first stage of the project last year, a Tibetan team and 24 volunteers removed eight tons of trash left between 5 120 to 6 500m above sea level.

    It is estimated that there is a staggering 615 tons of waste on the 8 848m-high mountain left by past expeditions.

    Since 1953, hundreds of mountaineers have conquered Everest, leaving behind tents, food bags and oxygen cylinders.

    Beijing Olympic organisers are planning for the Olympic torch to be taken up the southern side of Everest before being carried down along the northern slope, some time in 2008.
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    Volunteers clean up Everest

    Elephants in South Africa remains a huge headache

    Park authorities in South Africa have delayed making a decision on ways to curb the exploding elephant population in the Kruger National Park as experts remain divided on the issue, according to a news report on Sunday.

    Scientists and managers at South African National Parks have asked for a delay in a report, due to be released at the end of this month, recommending methods to reduce the number of elephant in the park, the Sunday Independent said.

    Scientists, wildlife officials and conservationists are divided on how best to deal with the park's 13 000 elephants - more than double the number the area can accommodate.

    South Africa has no national management plan for its elephants - the entire population is estimated at about 16 500 - and the report is expected to provide guidance beyond the Kruger. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has welcomed the decision to delay the report, according to the newspaper.

    Initiatives to translocate some of the large creatures to other parts of the region where the animals have become a rare sight because of war or poaching have been limited. Park officials generally site the high cost and expertise involved in such efforts.

    In a separate report, the Sunday Independent said that at least nine elephants were shot - some in front of tourists - in neighbouring Zimbabwe during celebrations to mark the 25th year of independence recently.

    Zimbabwean National Parks' scouts reportedly shot four of the animals in an area near the Matusadona National Park for celebrations where the meat was consumed by humans, the report said.
    Read the full article:
    Elephants in South Africa remains a huge headache

    25 April 2005

    Great White sharks tagged off New Zealand

    For the first time, great white sharks in New Zealand waters have been outfitted with satellite tags, researchers said today. The devices will help scientists learn where and how deep the creatures go. Four sharks were tagged in the project with devices that collect detailed information about the depth, temperature, and light levels of water through which they travel. After a few months, the tags will detach from the sharks on pre-determined dates and float to the surface, where they'll broadcast data back to ground stations via satellite.

    Researchers will combine the data with genetic information to study whether New Zealand's great whites are interrelated to other populations. The project will also help scientists better understand threats to the sharks.

    "An important first step in the conservation and management of any species is to identify critical habitats and migration routes," said Clinton Duffy of the New Zealand Department of Conservation. "White sharks are difficult to study due to their naturally low abundance, large size and mobility. This technology provides us with a window into their lives for the first time."

    Scientists have tagged great whites off South Africa, Australia and elsewhere in recent years. Last month, a great white that killed two other aquarium sharks in California was tagged and released back into the ocean.

    Great whites can reach 21 feet (6.5 meters) in length. Their reputation as a maneater is undeserved, scientists say. Most attacks occur when the sharks confuse humans with their preferred prey, including sea lions and seals.

    Game fishing and commercial fin harvesting have put the great white's survival at risk, experts believe, though there are no exact figures on regional or worldwide populations of the beasts.

    The new project is supported by the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
    Read the full article:
    Great White sharks tagged off New Zealand

    Coral reefs: rainforests of the seas

    Coral reefs are the rainforests of the sea. They are home to incredible biodiversity, provide food and shelter to over a quarter of all marine life and have the highest concentration of marine life than anywhere else. The beauty and rainbow like colours of coral reefs make them one of the most beautiful ecosystems found in the world. Their beauty is not their only attribute, as coral reefs have many extremely important uses. They protect coastlines from the destructive action of waves and prevent erosion. Coral reef fisheries supply communities with seafood, a crucial source of protein and income. Coral reefs also attract large numbers of tourists who come to marvel at the beauty of reefs while diving and snorkelling, providing local communities in these destinations with an important source of income. Marine organisms found in reefs are increasingly used in the treatment of cancer, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other diseases.

    The destruction of these fragile ecosystems is just as disastrous as the destruction of rainforests. The time has come to take a stand against the devastation coral mining is inflicting to our reefs. We gain no long-term benefits from this. Are we really prepared to mine coral and destroy one of our most precious resources to make a quick buck? Sadly the answer is yes. Presently our coral reefs are dying as the result of coral mining, dynamite fishing and other destructive fishing methods.

    Destructive fishing practices are an important threat to coral reefs. Dynamite fishing has become a serious problem in Sri Lanka, commonly practised by operators of trawlers. This type of fishing uses dynamite or other explosions to capture fish from a coral reef or other marine environment. This practice has negative long-term impacts on the fish populations and other reef organisms. All types of fish, including those in larval stage and inedible ones, are killed, alongside coral and the surrounding reef.

    Cyanide fishing is another destructive fishing practice that severely damages coral reefs. No incidents of cyanide fishing have yet been reported in Sri Lanka. It is more common in countries such as the Philippines. For those who are unaware of what cyanide fishing is, it is a mixture of cyanide and water that is used to stun fish so that they can be easily caught for the aquarium trade. The problem is that cyanide spreads in the reef killing coral and other marine life. Fish caught using this method do not survive very long either. Ghost fishing is also an important threat to reefs. Ghost fishing occurs when a fishing-net tears. Fishing nets are, unfortunately, not biodegradable and remains in the sea for many years, killing fish, turtles and soft coral.

    Another serious threat to coral reefs is pollution. Sewage lines are diverted into the sea for many years, killing fish, turtles and soft coral. Sewage lines, in countries like Sri Lanka for instance, are diverted into the sea without the use of a treatment plant to make sewage safe for proper disposal. Nutrients used for agriculture also often enter the sea, causing algae blooms, which smother and slowly kill coral.

    Coral reefs around the world are suffering heavily from human threats. About 11 per cent of the world's coral reefs have already been destroyed, and scientists predict that 30 per cent more may be lost in the next 30 years if these threats are not reduced. In 1998 reefs in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Red Sea and Persian Gulf were affected by one of the most extensive bleaching events ever recorded. In some areas, 100 per cent of the coral were bleached and 70 per cent were killed. Although the exact cause for this event is hard to determine, global warming and pollution are suspected to have been central factors.

    All in all, conserving Sri Lanka's coral reefs makes complete sense. They protect the island, feed the children and generate jobs and income to the people through tourism and fishing. They have the potential to generate millions of dollars in tourism in the future, if they are properly taken care of. More coral reef protected areas need to be created to ensure this.

    It is very ironic that local inhabitants like the Sri Lankans, do not see the beauty and uses of their coral reefs, whereas tourists are spending hundreds of dollars to see them. The time has come for each and every one concerned to realise what destruction is taking place and to initiate action to stop the ruin. We want our children and grand children to experience the true beauty of Nature in all glorious aspects.
    Read the full article:
    Coral reefs: rainforests of the seas

    Rare loggerhead turtle saved near Dyer Island

    Sea-goers were surprised to come across a loggerhead turtle near Dyer Island at the end of last week. The young turtle was swimming slowly near the surface and upon closer inspection was found to have fishing line entangled around both fore flippers and its neck. The turtle was apparently tired and put up little resistance when Shark Diving Unlimited's Mike Rutzen picked it up to free the fishing lines.

    This species is rarely seen in the area - the Cape is at the southern boundary of its range. Sea turtles tend to remain in warmer waters - they breed along the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast.

    This individual was in water of 11 0C and was less than a metre long, but this species reaches only one metre in adulthood.

    Mike Meyer of marine and coastal management was with Rutzen at the time and both freed the turtle from its lines, photographed it and released it.

    The fishing line had caused deep cuts in the animal's neck and front flippers, but it should survive its ordeal.

    Loggerhead turtles feed on a range of prey including bluebottles, crabs, prawns and cuttlefish. The Loggerhead turtles have endangered species status in law, but habitat destruction and entanglement in nets and fishing gear still pose a huge threat.

    The sighting was in addition to the baby turtle found at Pearly Beach by local resident Andy le Roux last week. The little turtle was missing part of a hind limb.

    These reptiles have been around for about 200 million years. They have evolved flipper-shaped limbs to propel them through the water. The females come ashore to lay eggs in holes on the beach.

    Turtles have salt glands to remove excess salt which drips out of their eyes and look like tears.

    Turtles are endangered. Many die from eating plastic bags which they mistake for food such as jellyfish. Other threats are over-exploitation of adults and eggs, habitat destruction and fishing nets.

    Dyer Island Cruises arranged for it to be taken to the Two Oceans aquarium and White Shark Ecoventures transported the animal. It will be fed a mix of prawns, squid and jellyfish.

    The last time a turtle was rescued off Kleinbaai was in May 2003.
    Read the full article:
    Rare loggerhead turtle saved near Dyer Island

    Beaked whale beached near Cape Town

    A beaked whale that washed ashore on Sunday morning was found dead on Long Beach, Hout Bay, by walkers and members of the town's National Sea and Rescue Institute (NSRI) team. The cause of death has not yet been established.

    Annie Bradshaw and Lee Otter said they were walking on the beach when other walkers asked them to call authorities about a beached dolphin.

    They searched the beach for 15 minutes, came across an animal they thought was too big to be a dolphin and phoned the NSRI about 11.45am.

    NSRI coxswain Ian Klopper and his team attached a rope to the whale's tail and tried to pull it out of the water with a Primi Sea rescue vehicle.

    The whale, which weighed an estimated one ton to 1,5 tons, according to Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) spokesperson Mike Meyer, could not be moved far enough with the vehicle.

    An NSRI deep-sea rescue craft was then used to tow the whale back to sea where a larger vessel, the MCM's Pegasus, could take over. The carcass is to be examined to determine the cause of death.

    It could end up in the Cape Town Museum, said Yohan de Witt, chief marine conservation protector for the MCM.

    Inspectors said the whale was about 30 years old.

    It had three wounds that Meyer identified as bites from "cookie cutter sharks" that prey on whales.

    They said it was probably a True's Beaked whale, a deep diver that feeds on squid and is rarely seen near the shore. True's Beaked whales are most commonly found off New Zealand and were first sighted in South African waters in 1959.

    "I can't see any reason at all why it has beached," said Meyer, who called it a fairly valuable animal scientifically and said there was a small chance it could be a rarer Hector's Beaked whale.

    A Hout Bay police officer accompanied Meyer to the beach to put the whale down, but it died before they arrived.

    PJ Veldhuizen, an NSRI trainee coxswain, said that before the whale, the most recent beachings in the area had been in August, when dolphins came ashore in False Bay.
    Read the full article:
    Beaked whale beached near Cape Town

    Striped marlin caught off South Africa Cape coast

    Arguably the most unusual catch of the decade was made when a striped marlin was caught 35 nautical miles (about 65km) from Hout Bay Harbour. "It is the only striped marlin caught in the past 10 years," said angler Derek Kaplan.

    The long-billed fish usually lives in the warm blue waters of the tropics. The 3,5m catch weighed 83kg.

    But Earl Fenwick, the longest serving member on the Cape Boat and Ski Boat Club, said the last recorded striped marlin was caught in 1973.

    The acrobatic, sporty fish gives even the most hardened angler a tough time.

    "The marlin reeled off so much line that I needed assistance," said Kaplan.

    He had to go back to steering and follow the fish while Charles Watt took control of the rod. Kaplan said the marlin's head and tail would be mounted and housed at the Iziko South African Museum.
    Read the full article:
    Striped marlin caught off South Africa Cape coast

    Iceberg collision rewrites map of Antarctica

    The world's largest iceberg has crashed into a glacier, snapping off a chunk of glacial outflow, changing the coastline of Antarctica. The predicted "collision of the century" between the B15-A iceberg and the 70km-long Drygalski ice tongue, an extension of the David glacier, had been expected months ago, but the icy colossus became stranded a few kilometres from the tongue, starving penguins and blocking ships supplying food and fuel to Antarctic research stations.

    Now the iceberg, which holds enough water to supply the River Nile for 80 years, has broken free, snapping a 5km chunk off the ice tongue.

    Scientists are watching anxiously to see if the 115km-long iceberg becomes trapped in Terra Nova bay or drifts out to sea.
    Read the full article:
    Iceberg collision rewrites map of Antarctica

    Kruger Park cull put on hold to win consensus

    South African National Parks (SANP) has at the last minute delayed a crucial report on the highly controversial issue of elephant population management in the Kruger National Park and elsewhere in an attempt to achieve greater consensus on the issue. The report was scheduled to be presented to Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the environmental affairs and tourism minister, by the end of this month.

    Scientists and managers at SANP have pushed for the delay to allow a re-examination of the large body of research data at their disposal and to consult more widely on the extent to which South Africa's burgeoning elephant population should be managed. The decision has been welcomed by scientists and a wide range of animal welfare groups.

    In March Dr Hector Magome, the director of conservation services at SANP, caused a furore by suggesting that SANP was leaning towards culling to reduce the elephant population in Kruger National Park.

    In response, international animal welfare and rights groups with millions of members worldwide expressed outrage and warned that culling would damage South Africa's reputation as a responsible manager of natural resources. Culling in the park was suspended in 1994.

    "We will no longer be handing over the report at the end of April," Wanda Mkutshulwa, the director of communications at SANP, said.

    "Our scientists have asked for an extension because they still need to consult further. The research is there already and they are now going to go through what they have.

    "There is a large body of data they are still looking at. There is no need to rush the report."

    Mkutshulwa said a new committee would be formed to overview, interpret and package the information. The committee would consist of a wide range of experts including scientists from SANP, universities and other organisations throughout the county and from neighbouring states with elephant populations.

    "We are going to include as many experts as we can. We are still in the process of approaching people, but not everyone has the time to commit to the work," Mkutshulwa said. "I cannot say how long it will be before the work is completed."

    Other interested parties would also be consulted, but she denied the decision was due to pressure from scientists or animal welfare groups who disagreed with culling.

    Wildlife managers in other areas of South Africa with elephants have eagerly awaited the report in the hope it will help give guidance on how they should handle their elephant populations.

    South Africa has no national elephant management policy and each province has its own conservation and wildlife regulations.

    "We have been awaiting this report with great interest, but it seems we will have to go back to the drawing board," Koos Herbst, the manager of protected areas for North West Parks and Tourism, said.

    "We have our own programmes and plans in place but we would not act without consulting widely."

    The Pilanesberg National Park and Madikwe Game Reserve in North West have large elephant populations in relatively small reserves. Pilanesberg has more than 150 and Madikwe more than 450, but existing management plans recommend much smaller populations.

    Professor Rudi van Aarde, the head of the Conservation Ecology Research Unit at Pretoria University, welcomed the decision to examine the issue more deeply.

    "I think it's marvellous," he said. "We are increasingly seeing the extremes being removed from conservation with people seeking solutions at an intermediate level. I am regularly seeing the emergence, here and elsewhere in Africa, of a more positive approach among conservationists," Van Aarde said.

    He and his colleagues are working on the concept of the formation of large conservation areas - "megaparks" - which treat the elephant populations in southern Africa as a whole and not as separate entities.

    He believes the parks should eventually be linked, which will allow natural limitations of elephant populations, for instance by drought.

    Other groups, sometimes critical of SANP, also believe the decision is a step in the right direction.

    "I am very glad they have done this but we believe they should have done it long ago. We have consistently called for wider consultation and a deeper examination of the issues," Michelle Pickover, of animal rights group Xwe African Wildlife Investigation and Research Centre, said.

    "Since the culling moratorium a wealth of complex information has been compiled and this must be properly understood."

    The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), which represents more than 2,5 million supporters worldwide, said the decision was to be applauded.

    "Ifaw welcomes SANP's decision not to hurry through a management plan for Kruger's elephants and is particularly pleased that independent scientific advice has been sought in planning for the future," Jason Bell, the director of Ifaw in southern Africa, said.

    There is considerable and often acrimonious debate on the issue of elephant management and the need to control populations. Some argue that limited or no intervention is necessary, while others say culling is the only cost-effective and practical method of limiting the effect large numbers of elephants have on vegetation.

    The pro-culling lobby argue that the elephants consume vast quantities of food, knocking down trees and shrubs in the process, and alter habitats to such a degree that other species suffer.

    They point out that game reserves exist to protect a wide range of animals, birds and plants, not only elephants. But many scientists and managers dispute the extent to which elephants adversely affect other species.

    South Africa has an elephant population of approximately 16 500 on state and privately owned land.

    The KNP and the complex of private reserves on its western boundary have an elephant population of about 13 500.
    Read the full article:
    Kruger Park cull put on hold to win consensus

    22 April 2005

    Scuba diving - what types of diving is out there?

    As a scuba diver, you have many kinds of diving that you can participate in. Most divers choose diving "open water" which includes an ocean, sea or lake. Wreck diving is a dive that is specifically targeted at visiting a sunken vessel. Cave diving is an exhilarating experience for divers who are careful and who are not claustrophobic! Rescue diving is a specialized dive for paramedic or rescue operations and is usually attempted only by trained emergency personnel. Deep diving is a risky, but attemptable, pursuit given the proper training. Divers go below 100 feet. Night diving using underwater torches is simply amazing and every certified scuba diving enthusiast should try it at least once. Some scuba divers do not consider rivers to be "open", since the range of movement is limited to the banks of the river, so "river diving" is sometimes considered a separate kind of diving.

    The most common kinds of diving are:
  • open water diving
  • wreck diving
  • cave diving
  • rescue diving
  • drift diving
  • night diving
  • deep diving
  • ice diving
  • river diving
  • high altitude diving
  • kayak diving
  • professional/industrial diving

    More on these types of diving will follow soon.

    Source: www.thescubaguide.com
    Read the full article:
    Scuba diving - what types of diving is out there?

  • New coral reefs discovered

    Australian scientists on Friday said they had discovered new coral reefs stretching 100 kilometres in the remote Gulf of Carpentaria off the country's rugged north coast. Geoscience Australia said the reefs, estimated to be at least 100 ,000 years old, were a major discovery.

    They were found by a survey team that went to the Gulf of Carpentaria to follow up on initial exploration work carried out two years ago, when three "patch" reefs, one 10 kilometres across, were found.

    "The exciting part of all this is that it really highlights how little we know about the continental shelf around Australia," voyage leader Peter Harris said.

    "The water is turbid and deep, in a lot of places we can't see the sea floor - there's undoubtedly more large areas of these kind of reefs in the waters of tropical Australia that we haven't found yet."

    Harris said the reefs were previously unknown because they were about 20 metres under water, making them invisible on satellite photographs.

    Biodiverse ecosystems
    He said the reef's existence was confirmed by state-of-the-art sonar mapping carried out by Geoscience Australia's ocean research vessel "Southern Surveyor".

    "This discovery makes the Gulf of Carpentaria an important modern coral reef region of Australia, encompassing as many as 50 small coral patch reefs, one to 10 kilometres in diameter, plus an elongated platform coral reef that is around 100 kilometres in length extending westwards from Mornington Island," Harris said.

    "The thickness and wide distribution of the reefs point to a long history of reef growth extending possibly over the past 100 000 years or more," he added.

    Australia is already home to the world's largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches over more than 345 000 square kilometres off Queensland's coast and is home to 1 500 fish species.

    It is considered the world's largest living organism and has been listed by the United Nations as a world heritage site.

    However, coral reefs worldwide have been under threat in recent years from coral bleaching, believed to be caused by rising sea temperatures that result from global warming.

    Harris said the newly-discovered reefs could be included in a maritime national park being planned for the area.

    "We need to know where these reefs are so we can look after them and make sure they're properly managed," he said.

    "Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth and they need to be protected."
    Read the full article:
    New coral reefs discovered

    Mass slaughter of rare Mediterranean sharks sparks outcry

    Conservationists and shark researchers have expressed their disgust and disappointment with Israeli authorities over the killing of at least 70 rare sharks this week off the nation’s Mediterranean coast.

    Last week, Israeli press reported how a large aggregation of smooth hammerhead sharks – a species under considerable threat across the Mediterranean – had appeared off the beach at Ashkelon, near Israel’s border with Gaza. The animals had apparently been drawn to the area near a warm water outlet from a power station, sparking considerable local interest and providing unique opportunities for photographing the sharks as they cruised at the surface (see http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3073153,00.html).

    Shark experts from the Plymouth-based Shark Trust, alongside colleagues working for IUCN (World Conservation Union) Shark Specialist Group, urged that the sharks be left unharmed and noted that they were of no threat to people, despite some local claims to the contrary.

    Recently, the IUCN’s group of Mediterranean shark specialists made an assessment of hammerhead shark status in the region, concluding that these once-common species – first described by the ancient Greeks - had dramatically declined over the past 50 years through overfishing and coastal tourism development.

    Targeted fishing for sharks is supposed to be unlawful in Israeli waters, and yet on Monday (20 April), news emerged that at least 70 hammerhead sharks – along with other species, including sandbar and spinner sharks – had been killed at the site off Ashkelon by fishermen. The carcasses were later marketed in Gaza (see http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3075319,00.html).

    Ian Fergusson, a patron of the Shark Trust and shark researcher specialising on Mediterranean species, said the slaughter was “an utter disgrace.”

    "This disgusting mass cull, fuelled by misinformation, greed and publicity, has managed to exterminate a sizeable number of these endangered sharks without so much as a peep from the Israeli authorities. It’s frankly shameful," he said.

    "If this sort of behaviour was being directed at dolphins or turtles in the Mediterranean, there would be immediate repercussions. Yet again, in 2005 – the 30th anniversary of JAWS – sharks get a bad deal, slaughtered by people who have little care for the long-term future of the Mediterranean and its increasingly beleaguered marine life."
    Read the full article:
    Mass slaughter of rare Mediterranean sharks sparks outcry

    Climate change taking a toll on glaciers

    Scientists have issued a fresh warning about the effect of climate change on Antarctica, saying that more than 200 coastal glaciers are in retreat because of higher temperatures.

    Of the 244 marine glaciers that drain inland ice on the Antarctic peninsula, a region previously identified as vulnerable to global warming, 87 percent have fallen back over the last half century, according to research by British experts.

    Using 2 000 aerial photos dating back to the late 1940s and 100 satellite pictures, experts from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) compiled a record of glacier-ice shelves and tidewater glaciers along the peninsula - the tongue of land that juts 800km northwards out of continental Antarctica.

    Glacier-ice shelves are floating glaciers on the shoreline that are still connected to the land glaciers from which they flowed.

    Tidewater glaciers rest on rock and break off into the ocean when they reach the water's edge.

    Over the last half century, during which time regional temperatures have risen by around 2°C, these glacier fronts have reversed direction, the authors note in a study published on Friday in the US weekly journal Science.

    Until the mid-1950s, most of the glaciers advanced. For the next decade after that, they were roughly stable. Since then, though, most have been shrinking.

    In the past five years, the retreat has accelerated, and the pattern of retreat is widening. It started in the warmer northern tip of the peninsula and is heading progressively to the colder south as atmospheric temperatures rise.

    "Fifty years ago, 62 percent of the glaciers that flowed down from the mountains to the sea we looked at were slowly growing in length, but since then this pattern has reversed," said lead author Alison Cook.

    The average retreat of the 212 shrinking glaciers has been 600m over 50 years.

    But this does not take into account a dramatic acceleration in recent years, exposing numerous islands that were once ice-smothered.

    Sjogren Glacier, at the northern tip of the peninsula has fallen back eight kilometres since 1993, while Widdowson Glacier, on the west coast of the peninsula, has been retreated at 1,1kms per year over the past five year.

    As for the cause, the BAS team caution against a leap to judgement.

    At present, it is unclear that the man-made "greenhouse effect" - the burning of fossil fuels which disgorged carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping solar heat - is entirely to blame, they say.

    They note that over the past 50 years, a minority (32) of glaciers has grown, by an average of 300m, and that key data on local ocean temperatures and circulation remain scarce.

    Antarctica's geology is split into three main regions: East Antarctica, which comprises the bulk of the continent; West Antarctica, which has two huge ice shelves on either side; and the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out of West Antarctica.

    Previous research had already identified the peninsula as a vulnerable "hot spot" for global warming, although the reasons for this are debatable.

    In February, BAS researcher Chris Rapley presented evidence that ice flows into the Southern Ocean from three big inland glaciers were accelerating, spurred by the loss of the vital shelves of floating glacial ice at the coast.

    Like a cork released from a bottle, the lost shelves let the icy river flow swiftly into the sea, causing sea levels to rise by about 1,8mm per year.

    The new study repeats that warning, although without giving figures. It says the erosion of floating glacier ice could spur glacier flow from inland and "make a substantial contribution" to rising sea levels.

    Antarctica, the fifth largest continent in the world, contains more than 90 percent of the world's ice, most of it above sea level.

    If even a small part of this cap melts, rising sea levels could drown low-lying island states, cities and deltas.
    Read the full article:
    Climate change taking a toll on glaciers

    21 April 2005

    Anglers urged to stick to new fishing limits

    Anglers and ski-boat fishermen have been urged to educate themselves about several changes to fishing bag and size limits gazetted by the government to protect and rebuild threatened fish stocks.

    Some of the most notable changes involve a reduced daily bag limit for shad, new size and bag limits for kob and protective measures for popular bait fish such as mullet and karanteen.

    A number of fish, including seahorses, pipefish and basking sharks have also become specially protected and cannot be caught, sold or kept.

    The provincial nature conservation agency, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, said the new regulations would be enforced with immediate effect, although officials were also producing and distributing awareness pamphlets to help anglers learn about and interpret the new regulations.

    Published earlier this month in Government Gazette No 27453, the regulations apply to all recreational shore-based and ski-boat fishermen.

    Spokesperson Wayne Munger said his agency welcomed the long-delayed changes which had been conceptualised during former environment minister Valli Moosa's tenure.

    "It follows the declaration of an emergency in the linefish sector and an attempt to rebuilt threatened fish stocks. While every effort will be made to assist anglers, the onus will be on individuals to ensure that they abide by the new laws."

    For shad, the bag limit has been reduced from five to four fish per person per day during the open season (December 1 to September 30).

    The closed season for shad has been shortened by one month and will now run from October 1 to November 30.

    For kob species (caught in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape) only five can be taken per person per day. Four or five can be between 40 and 110cm and only one may be over 110cm.

    However, for kob species (taken by anglers from the shore and estuaries of KwaZulu-Natal or the Eastern Cape), only one of these fish can be taken and must be longer than 60cm.

    The regulations create a new "permitted" list of fish, which contains about 80 species, as well as a "prohibited" list of fish which can be neither caught, sold nor kept.

    The bag limit for yellowbelly rockcod is one fish per person per day.

    For rays, sharks and skates only one specimen of each species can be taken per day.
    Read the full article:
    Anglers urged to stick to new fishing limits

    SA receives “Champion of the Earth” award: Recognised for global enviro leadership

    At a glittering event hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday night, President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa were recognised for outstanding achievements in the field of the environment.

    Accepting the Champions of the Earth award on behalf of the President and all South Africans, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism said: "For our world to perish, all that is required of us is to do nothing. It is possible to integrate environmental protection and poverty eradication in a sustainable synergy. In beating poverty and in building prosperity we must not sacrifice our future by pillaging the planet."

    The premier environmental award of the United Nations, this was the first time that the Champions of the Earth awards were presented. The six other recipients were the King and people of Bhutan; the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates; the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands; Ms. Julia Carabias Lillo of Mexico; Ms. Sheila Watt-Clourier of Canada; and Mr. Zhou Qiang and the All-China Youth Federation.

    South Africa was recognised both for its own commitment to cultural and environmental diversity and its strong leadership role on the African continent through the environmental component of the New Partnership for Africa 's Development (NEPAD). "The timing of this ceremony could not be more significant," said the Minister. "With the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD13) meeting at the same time here in New York , we are demonstrating that the needs of people and the needs of our planet are one and the same. Sanitation, fresh water resources, global warming, climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification – these are all intertwined and interconnected challenges, shared by both the developed and the developing world."

    Amongst the many specific South African achievements highlighted by UNEP was the fact that South Africa had pioneered the Peace Parks initiative, brought nearly 19% of its coastline under direct protection through the declaration last year of four new Marine Protected Areas, had created specialist environmental courts to back up a wide range of cutting-edge environmental legislation, and was party to more than 43 multilateral environmental agreements.

    "There is no greater asset for humanity than the long-term health and well-being of our planet. There can be no goal more crucial to our survival than the protection and nurturing of our natural environment," said Minister Van Schalkwyk. "One of our most urgent challenges as the global community is to convince all nations to join and support the international effort to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses. I have no doubt that the next few years will be crucial to move us out of an approach of stalling, of avoidance, and of excuses to one where we all accept our responsibility to deal with climate change within an inclusive multilateral international framework. Climate change is a global scourge and requires a unified global partnership for action."

    Thanking UNEP for the award the Minister added: "Such recognition is high praise and greatly motivational for our further efforts in environmental protection and promotion."
    Read the full article:
    SA receives “Champion of the Earth” award: Recognised for global enviro leadership

    Giant iceberg hits glacier

    The world's biggest iceberg has hit the end of an Antarctic glacier, snapping off a block about five square kilometres, a New Zealand scientist said on Wednesday.

    The giant iceberg, known as B15A, ran into the tip of the Drygalski Ice Tongue in "more of a nudge than a collision", said Lou Sanson, chief executive of the government scientific agency Antarctica New Zealand.

    The clash between the 160-kilometre-long iceberg and the 70-kilometre-long glacier near McMurdo station on the North Antarctic coast was first predicted by scientists in late December.

    The collision was discovered by scientists reviewing satellite photos taken over the weekend, Sanson said.

    "That's the only record we've got of it," at this stage, he said.

    The last of the sun's rays were hitting the frozen southern on Wednesday, as the southern hemisphere winter closes in on the region. Sunlight will return to the Antarctic on August 20.

    Sanson said it was possible the iceberg would now head back out to sea.

    The giant iceberg had blocked sea access to the region, threatening penguin breeding colonies and blocking ships supplying food and fuel to Antarctic research stations for some months.

    The US McMurdo Station and New Zealand's Scott Base are located on the sound, and Italy's Terra Nova base is nearby.

    McMurdo station has a staff of about 1 000 during the summer and about 100 remain for the harsh polar winter. Scott Base has about 100 staff during the summer and only about 12 in the winter.

    The iceberg, which contains enough water to supply the River Nile for 80 years, had blocked wind and water currents in the sound, causing a build-up of ice which impeded ships needed to supply food and fuel to the three research stations.

    Two icebreakers managed to smash a 50-kilometre track through the ice to McMurdo Pier, enabling ships to deliver supplies.
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    Giant iceberg hits glacier

    20 April 2005

    NSRI called out to rescue Hout Bay crew

    The NSRI was called out in Monday night's storm to assist a 50-ton Hout Bay fishing boat.

    The Hangberg, which was fishing between the Sentinel and Karbonkelberg, had a crew of 14 on board and a full cargo of fish.

    The call-out was one of three for the NSRI on Monday off the Western Cape coast.

    Brad Geyser, Hout Bay station commander, said the fishing vessel had had intermittent engine trouble and had been battling a 40-knot gusting north-westerly and pouring rain. It had called for help about 9.30pm.

    But by the time two NSRI craft reached the Hangberg, the crew had managed to restart the engine and the rescue boats escorted the vessel to harbour.

    Earlier, the NSRI Plettenberg Bay station was called when Raymond Farnham, the station commander's son, was thrown out of a boat in the Keurbooms River.

    Commander Ray Farnham said Raymond had been instructing a student, Gordon Mowatt, in his practical skipper's course and Mowatt was at the helm when the boat was hit by a wave. Both were thrown out of the boat, with Farnham hitting the centre hatch and hurting his sternum as he fell.

    The kill-switch worn around the ankle to cut the engine had not yet been attached to Mowatt, so the boat continued circling. Mowatt swam away, but the boat ran over Farnham, injuring his back.

    He was wearing a thick drysuit and was not badly hurt.

    The NSRI retrieved both Farnham and Mowatt. The boat was fetched when it ran out of fuel.

    Earlier a woman called the Ocean View police station to say a boat had capsized off Kommetjie.

    The Metro Rescue Red Cross AMS helicopter was launched and NSRI stations at Kommetjie and Simon's Town alerted. A helicopter search from Cape Point to Hout Bay found nothing. It was decided the call was a false alarm.
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    NSRI called out to rescue Hout Bay crew

    Indaba to be 'better than ever before'

    With their focus firmly fixed on retaining the Indaba show in Durban, staff at Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN) are going to make a "bigger push" at the massive trade event than ever before.

    Their efforts, including a special plan of action, have been spurred on by the determination of other South African destinations which also want to scoop the massive trade show for themselves.

    Miller Matola, TKZN's chief executive, said he understood that the other bid cities would be "pulling out all the stops" to grab Indaba from Durban, which has it until 2006.

    The four-day Indaba - it starts in just 17 days - has been held in Durban for the past 14 years and will go out to tender for the 2007-2009 period in September.

    However, Durban and other bid cities will have to wait until next year's Indaba to find out which has been successful.

    The first pre-bid committee meeting has already been held between TKZN, Durban Africa, the city's marketing body, the city manager's office and the International Convention Centre, which will become the biggest conference venue in the country when the new multimillion-rand extensions are completed next year.

    TKZN will be carrying out an in-depth survey at this year's Indaba to find out what delegates think about Indaba.

    The plan is to harness support to prove what the authority already knows: "Indaba belongs to the Zulu Kingdom."

    This year's Indaba is worth about R43-million, with some insider sources predicting it may well be worth R50-million to the region.

    More than R10,5-million would be spent on accommodation by the 1 623 exhibitors and 2 222 delegates who had already booked, a media conference was told on Monday.

    "Indaba has a huge impact on the region. We say we should retain Indaba. It's also an issue of capability," said Miller, referring to the size of the ICC.

    There had been a "significant growth" in the number of delegates and exhibitors, up by 555 and 272 so far, Miller said.

    The number of "small and medium entrepreneurs" exhibiting was also up 10 percent, and 10 black-run tourism businesses which previously shared the TKZN stand would now be entering the "main stream", exhibiting on their own.

    TKZN has already been laying the foundations for next month's Indaba, spending money on advertising and editorials in overseas publications to increase awareness of the event and the region as a destination.

    The tourism body has also been involved in joint promotions with South African Tourism, SAA and Durban Africa at big trade shows in London and Germany, which has contributed to the increase in visitors to the Indaba.

    And, for six months, TKZN has been running a programme among travel agents and tour operators in the UK - a key market - who have never been to the Indaba before.

    Now they are bringing in 50 agents to the Indaba, who will then "sell" KwaZulu-Natal to their customers back home.

    International media representatives who have never visited the Indaba, as well as 10 German tour operators and journalists, will be brought in.

    TKZN will be hosting functions for UK trade delegates, all aimed at increasing destination awareness and boosting tourism sales to the province.
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    Indaba to be 'better than ever before'

    South Africa high court OKs trophy hunting

    The High Court ordered on Tuesday that game and trophy hunting on private game farms bordering the Kruger National Park could go ahead.

    Judge William de Villiers had set aside the order of March 29 by the Limpopo provincial government in terms of which all hunting activities on these farms were suspended.

    He also ordered that the provincial government must issue hunting permits, without delay, to the private game farms.

    The order was granted provided it would not prevent the department from suspending hunting activities in future.

    The suspension, however, must then be reasonable, lawful and procedurally fair, ordered the judge.

    The applicants and the respondents agreed to the order.

    The hearing followed an urgent application by Associated Private Nature Reserves, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve as well as the Klaserie and Umbabat nature reserves.

    In January this year, the Limpopo local government department granted the private game farms permission to hunt, among other animals, elephant, buffalo and certain buck.

    Regular game census done
    Thomas Hancock, chairman of Timbavati, said in affidavits that hunting was regulated and a game census was undertaken in August and September each year.

    This determined the number of a certain species, sex and even the age in respect of which hunting allocations were proposed.

    The issuing of hunting permits to clients was a formality (once the allocations had been approved by the department) and the permit was issued only a few days before the hunting was due to start.

    On March 29 this year, the provincial government suspended all hunting activities on the private game farms due to "conflict of interests".

    However, earlier this month the provincial government revoked its suspension of the hunting activities and gave the private game farms the go-ahead.

    The applicants said this did not change the situation much, because the local government department still refused to issue hunting permits.

    Lorraine Pietersen of Timbavati told the court that when she applied for permits, she was told "...head office has not received any instruction to issue any hunting permits..."

    'Not considered on merits'
    Hancock said: "Even if the applicants are not technically precluded from applying for such permits, it is clear that their applications will not be considered on their merits."

    The court heard the situation was urgent as trophy hunters from abroad were, in many cases, on their way to hunt on the farms.

    The hunting season on many of the farms already had started, while others will begin this week.

    The main hunting season was generally in the months between April and early September.

    Hancock said the decision to suspend all hunting activities on land joining the Kruger National Park was irrational, in any event.
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    South Africa high court OKs trophy hunting

    19 April 2005

    Heart attack kills scuba diver during pre-dive briefing

    A scuba diver has died after suffering a heart attack.

    The victim was a 51-year-old man from Simon's Town who told his scuba diving instructor that he felt tired during the pre-dive briefing.

    The stricken man was rushed to False Bay Hospital and then transferred by a SkyMed helicopter to a trauma facility where he was pronounced dead.

    According to a local official, the man had no history of heart disease and had recently undergone a full physical check-up.

    Police have not yet released the victim's name.
    Read the full article:
    Heart attack kills scuba diver during pre-dive briefing

    South Africa and Mozambique sign visa waiver agreement

    FROM April 18, Mozambicans and South Africans will no longer be required to apply for visas if their stay in each other’s country does not exceed 30 days.

    South Africa and Mozambique officially signed a visa waiver agreement in Pretoria on Friday, April 15. The signing of the agreement coincided with the visit of the Mozambican President, Armando Guebuza, in the country as part of the economic bilateral meeting between President Thabo Mbeki and his counterpart President Armando Guebuza.

    Home Affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the visa waiver pact "is meant to encourage legal entry and to keep a proper record of people who come into our country".

    The other SADC countries with which South Africa has a reciprocal 30-day visa waiver are Zambia, Swaziland, Namibia, Mauritius, Malawi and Lesotho. Added to that, South Africa has a 90-day visa waiver with Botswana.
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    South Africa and Mozambique sign visa waiver agreement

    Corals suffer blow

    Three months after the Indian Ocean tsunami, divers are still pulling mattresses and metal from the coral-lined bays of Thai paradise isles, although experts say overall reef damage is not that bad.

    However, in other countries hit by the Dec 26 killer wave, the delicate "rain forests of the sea" have sustained injuries that could last for centuries.

    "Corals grow very slowly, and many species suffered a blow on 'Black Sunday'. It will take them hundreds of years to acquire normal size again," said D.V. Rao of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI).

    Particularly hard hit were India’s remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, home to around 175 coral species, where surveys have showed silt stirred by the tsunami is choking the fragile ecosystems that attract thousands of tourists each year.

    "Coral of this particular area did not suffer a direct blow from the tsunami, but the deposition of sand, mud and other debris due to the tsunami is threatening the corals," said the ZSI’s Jaya Bhaskaran.

    On the southern Thai island of Phi Phi – the backdrop to cult Leonardo di Caprio movie The Beach – scores of backpackers and divers have started an ad hoc clean-up operation to rid the bay of the worst of the debris swept into the sea.

    Despite a daily haul of anything from corrugated iron roofing to tailor’s dummies, dive operators are confident Phi Phi will retain its reputation as a mecca for lovers of the underwater world.

    "There’s some great diving out there at the moment. The visibility is amazing," said Steve Goff, an English dive-shop owner on Phi Phi.

    Scientists said other prime-time reefs in Thailand, where a government marine survey suggests only 13% of 174 sites had been severely affected, had also escaped the worst of the impact.

    James Conley of Britain-based Coral Cay Conservation, which has just completed a study of the Similan Islands, a tropical chain 50km off the mainland, described overall reef damage as "pretty much insignificant at the archipelago level."

    "Human disturbance from before has left far greater damage than the tsunami," Conley said. "The tsunami was the worst that nature could have thrown at the reefs, but they have bounced back," he said.

    Others hope the monsoon season, which starts around May, will help stir up the water anew and wash tsunami sediment off the coral, allowing it to "breathe" more easily.

    "Getting rid of sediment is not easy, but monsoon storms and currents can really help remove it," said Niphon Phongsuwan, a Thai marine biologist on the southern Thai resort island of Phuket.

    In the remote Maldives archipelago 800km off the toe of India, coral reefs still recovering from severe damage suffered during the 1998 El Nino had a lucky escape.

    The waters surrounding the idyllic chain of 1,200 tiny palm-fringed islands are home to 8,920 sqkm of reef – or around 5% of the world’s coral – and have helped turn the Maldives into a scuba diving paradise.

    "While our reefs escaped direct damage, its fragility and sensitivity to even slight climatic changes warrants the implementation of additional measures to safeguard its health," said Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

    A report compiled by the Australian Government found that while there was damage to coral and movement of sediments, they varied in intensity and overall tsunami damage to the Maldives’ reefs was relatively minor.

    "However, the report has pointed out that the tsunami had unfortunately retarded the promising re-growth of our coral gardens after the 1998 El Nino bleaching incident," Gayoom added.
    Read the full article:
    Corals suffer blow

    New coral dating technique helps resolve changes in sea level rise in the past

    Corals from Papua New Guinea and Barbados indicate that changes in sea level, one of the key indexes for global climate change, may have been more frequent in the past than previously thought, according to a report in today’s issue of Science.

    Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Columbia University developed a new set of dating equations to determine the ages of corals from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to help resolve a longstanding question about the influence of Earth’s orbital variations on sea-level rise in the past. Their approach improves sea-level reconstructions using coral ages and indicates that past sea level changes have been too frequent to be explained solely by orbital changes.

    Reef corals are commonly used to reconstruct changes in sea level over time because they grow near the sea surface. Fossil corals found above or below current sea level show variations in sea level and can be dated by radiocarbon for the past 40,000 years and by the radioactive decay of uranium to thorium for the past 500,000 years. Unfortunately, corals that appear to be otherwise pristine often have more of the isotopes used for dating than can be explained by radioactive decay, making their ages unreliable.

    "Sea level is more variable than previously thought over a period between 70,000 and 250,000 years ago," said Thompson, a postdoctoral fellow in the WHOI Geology and Geophysics Department and lead author of the study. "Substantial shifts occur over a few thousand years, during both glacial and interglacial periods, with rates of change that exceed estimates of modern sea level rise. Although sea level over the past few thousand years appears to have been relatively stable, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule."

    The new method used by Thompson and co-author Steven Goldstein of Columbia University has provided a detailed sea-level record for the period of time between 250,000 to 70,000 years ago. Little accurate data has been available for this period, when some of the changes could be explained by orbital changes but others could not.

    Most radiometric dating techniques rely on the assumption of a closed system, meaning that once the ‘clock’ starts there is no gain or loss of the isotopes used for dating. The parent isotopes are put into a box, and the box is closed. At some later time, if you count the number of parent and daughter isotopes, you can determine the length of time the box has been closed very precisely.

    "In the case of corals, it’s been clear for a long time that most samples have not behaved this way," Thompson said. "We’ve discovered that corals behave as a two-box system. There is a very small leakage, usually an addition, of daughter isotopes to the coral from the surrounding material. The key is that this transfer also depends on radioactive decay. You can simply rewrite the decay equations to account for the transfer of daughters between boxes, allowing you to calculate ages for corals that have behaved as 'leaky boxes'. We refer to this new dating approach as 'open-system' dating."

    Thompson and Goldstein compared speleothem records of sea level and climate from caves in the Austrian Alps, France, Tasmania and Brazil with their sea-level reconstructions for corals. They found agreement for high sea level at times of warm, wet climate conditions and lower sea level at times of cold/drier climate conditions. They also compared their data with salinity records from the Red Sea and found similar agreement, further verifying their model.

    The team’s findings raise questions about the conditions required for the growth of ice sheets and the causes of rapid changes in sea level.
    Read the full article:
    New coral dating technique helps resolve changes in sea level rise in the past

    Shoddy Robben Island risks delisting as UN Heritage Site

    ROBBEN Island has been forced to launch a rescue plan to save its status as South Africa's premier world heritage site after maintenance failed to meet Unesco standards.

    Steps are already being taken to address the situation. African countries in general, it seems, don't have the resources to maintain these places.

    The site is one of several in Africa that has been at risk of being delisted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) for failing to meet maintenance standards.

    It comes as South Africa proposes new sites - including the Kimberley Mines and Pilgrims Rest - ahead of a Unesco World Heritage conference in Durban in July.

    Problems at Robben Island cited by a Unesco inspection team in a report last year included:

    • A lack of an integrated management plan to administer the site;
    • Corrosion of the island's limestone quarry;
    • Poor building maintenance;
    • A lack of balance between exposing the island as a tourist attraction and conserving it as a world heritage site;
    • The impact of too many tourists;
    • Over-harvesting and poaching of perlemoen;
    • Invasion of alien plants;
    • Uncontrollable fires;
    • The presence of feral cats, unsuitable large herbivores, European rabbits and black rats; and
    • The impact of vehicles and residents or tourists on endangered animals.

    During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. The duty of those who ran the island and its prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Many freedom fighters, including former President Nelson Mandela, spent more than 20 years in prison for their beliefs.

    The island has since become one of SA's most important attractions with hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting each year.

    Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan said this week that Unesco's World Heritage Committee (WHC) had conducted an inspection and compiled a report saying that "if certain measures were not taken the place would be in danger of being delisted".

    Unesco encourages the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage sites around the world.

    "Steps are already being taken to address the situation," said Jordan. "African countries in general, it seems, don't have the resources to maintain these places."

    The ministry had convened a meeting of African experts last month to address the problem of important sites on the continent being in danger of losing their status.

    "Unesco has high standards for the maintenance of world heritage sites. The problems at Robben Island regarded management of the site but not the merit of the site itself," Jordan told a parliamentary briefing.

    Paul Langa, interim director of the Robben Island Museum, said a task team had been appointed to implement the recommendations of the Unesco report. The team has compiled a draft integrated management plan which has been forwarded to Unesco.

    Langa said some Unesco recommendations had already been addressed, including the over-harvesting and poaching of per lemoen, and drinking-water facilities.

    Langa said it would cost the Department of Arts and Culture R2-million to implement the plan.

    He said the Robben Island Museum had requested more funding for repairs and maintenance.

    Sonwabile Mancotywa, CEO of the National Heritage Council - SA's heritage co-ordinating body- said the WHC had accepted the plan to address concerns.

    "Robben Island has been pro- active, it has saved itself," he said this week.

    It had addressed most issues to the council's satisfaction and had committed itself to installing a chief executive officer by the end of the month. Museum board member Laura Robinson said a series of interviews for the post had already taken place.

    "We've got to do a lot of maintenance and repair work to the buildings," she said.

    "The maximum security prison is our priority for the forthcoming year. We are developing a detailed conservation plan to address how we do the appropriate maintenance without destroying the quality of the prison."

    Mancotywa said Unesco also recommended "that a memorandum of understanding" be established with the Department of Public Works to strengthen co-ordination for conservation and maintenance.
    Read the full article:
    Shoddy Robben Island risks delisting as UN Heritage Site

    South African government to invest more in wildlife parks

    GOVERNMENT will invest R193m over the next three years to develop national and transfrontier parks, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said at the weekend.

    The development of national parks was one area where government and business had not yet taken maximum advantage of the worldwide growth in the tourism sector and developing parks was one way to ensure SA remained a top destination, he said.

    "Regional parks can carry 7-million visitors per year, but they currently carry only 2-million visitors per annum. We need 15000 extra beds in national parks alone to realise the parks' potential," Van Schalkwyk said at the annual general meeting of the Tourism Business Council, an industry body.

    Tourism-related companies say their margins have come under pressure from the strong rand, which, they say, has reduced SA's competitiveness.

    The industry, which contributes 7,1% to gross domestic product (GDP) , is regarded as one of the key job-creating sectors of the economy.

    It has stagnated, with the rand gaining 95% against the dollar since the end of 2001, pushing up prices

    Van Schalkwyk said the money allocated for national parks would be used to purchase thousands of hectares of land.

    The minister said business tourism, and meetings, conventions, events and exhibitions, contributed R20bn a year to GDP and he expected the sector to improve.

    The tourism department would also unveil the black empowerment scorecard for the industry during a tourism indaba to be held next month, he said.

    "The scorecard will expand co-ownership and ensure that the industry belongs to all South Africans," he said.
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    South African government to invest more in wildlife parks