July 19, 2008

On The Brink of Extinction:

The Politics of Endangered Species

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) is the United States’ most powerful wildlife conservation tool. But where there’s power, there’s controversy. When a species is listed under the ESA, a recovery plan must be developed and implemented to protect the species from extinction. Recovery actions may involve setting aside large tracts of undeveloped land, limiting hunting, fishing and grazing activities, and curtailing natural resource extraction (logging, mining, oil drilling, etc.) in certain areas. While listed species stand to benefit from protection, there may be a few people who stand to lose financially. Money is power and can be the driving force behind the politics of listing and recovering endangered species.
Take salmon, for example. Salmon are born in rivers, swim to the oceans to mature, then return to their birth rivers to spawn the next generation. Salmon need healthy unobstructed rivers and oceans to survive. Logging next to rivers causes runoff that suffocates salmon eggs. Dams obstruct the passageway for salmon. Hydroelectric power diverts water from salmon streams. Overfishing doesn’t allow enough salmon to reproduce. Development along waterways pollutes spawning habitat. All of these factors over time have contributed to the recent listings of five species of salmon as threatened or endangered. Now that salmon are listed, recovery plans must be implemented. But logging companies don’t want to give up any trees, hydroelectric companies don’t want to give up cheap power, commercial fisheries don’t want to give up any salmon and developers don’t want to give up prime waterfront properties. See how fast the issue of endangered species can become political?

Is the Endangered Species Act in Danger of Extinction?

While certain industries and individuals may oppose a particular listing of a species, some are pushing to abolish the ESA altogether. Getting rid of the entire act will be difficult. But limiting its funding and staff resources may be just as effective.
In November 2000, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a moratorium on listing any new species as threatened or endangered through September 2001. This means that the 43 species proposed for listing will have to wait for protection, the 234 candidate species will not be reviewed and no new petitions will be considered. In the interim, the actions that contribute to species becoming endangered continue: habitat loss, overharvesting for food and products, pollution, etc. For every day endangered species wait for protection, they are another day closer to extinction. According to FWS, the moratorium is necessary because funding isn’t sufficient to address the listing of species, and comply with court orders and settlements arising from lawsuits. Many lawsuits have been filed by citizen groups to force the agency to comply with the ESA by designating “critical habitat” (see glossary for definition) for listed species. At present, only 11 percent of listed species have critical habitat designations.
The most recent attempt to change the ESA comes from the present administration. At press time, the administration had included a provision in the 2002 budget proposal that would restrict how FWS uses its allocated funding for listing endangered species. The agency only would be allowed to: 1) comply with existing court orders, and 2) undertake actions under a priority system to be developed for listing activities. What does this mean for endangered species? Under the current law, anyone can file a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered, and FWS must meet specific deadlines in reviewing the petition. Under the administration’s proposal, the deadlines could be waived if the petition is deemed low priority. As an example, let’s say Thelma Smith files a petition to list the fictitious purple frog as endangered. If FWS determines that the purple frog isn’t a high priority listing, then the petition can be shelved indefinitely — regardless of biological evidence supporting the frog’s listing.
In addition, FWS would not be allowed to spend any money on enforcing new court orders that impose deadlines for lower priority listings and actions. In the example of the purple frog, if Thelma Smith won a court decision stating that the frog petition had to be reviewed, FWS couldn’t spend any money to comply with the order. In the past, citizens have filed suit to enforce the ESA if deadlines were missed or required action wasn’t taken once a species was listed. According to the group Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, 92 percent of all species listed in California during the last nine years were the result of citizen petition and court order.
The Bush administration says that the proposal is necessary to ensure that available funding is directed to the highest priority listing and critical habitat activities. Citizen groups see the administration’s proposal as an attempt to gut the ESA by shutting the public out of the legal process of protecting endangered species.
Global Statistics
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) tallies the world’s threatened species in its Red List of Threatened Species.Number of threatened animal and plant species worldwide: 11,046. Countries with the greatest number of threatened species:
  • United States: 998*
  • Malaysia: 805
  • Indonesia: 763
  • Brazil: 609
  • Australia: 524
  • India: 459
  • Mexico: 419
  • Peru: 398
  • Philippines: 387
  • China: 385
* Does not correspond directly with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s list of threatened and endangered species.

  • National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources 1315 East West Highway, SSMC3 Silver Spring, MD 20910 www.nmfs.noaa.gov
  • World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species 219c Huntingdon Road Cambridge CB3 0DL


Migaloo, said to be between 13-15 meters long, (42-49 feet) Famous Albino Whale of the South Pacific is once again in danger and Australia, one of the worlds most popular vacation spots, famous for the Great Barrier Reef , and best of all, avid whale watchers, are rightfully upset when whalers venture near Australian waters.
Japan, who stake claims to legally kill whales, supposedly are using a loophole in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) laws to hunt over 1,000 whales each year in the southern hemisphere, allegedly for scientific research, and they will target humpbacks for the first time. Heading to Antartica, the Tokyo whalers have been given a quota of 50 humpbacks whales, along with 50 fin whales and 900 minke whales this year, (pregnant females included), minkes are the usual preference of the Japanese whalers.
The whales who live in the Antarctica, migrate through the channel into the Great Barrier Reef to mate and bear their young. The Aussies enjoy watching the mother whales and their calfs frolic in the waters, from a distance as close as standing on the beach, or while sitting on their deck at a barbie, or even a view from the docks, and of course their yachts. Their boats will gather round a pod and watch the whales as they make their way along the Australian coast, the Aussies aren't the only ones having fun, the whales dont seem to mind the attention, as they show off for the tourists, sometimes for hours as they frockic in the harbours.

The Australians respect these majestic creatures, they do all they can to preserve nature in all its form, including the Great Barrier Reef itself, the migration of the sea turtles, and every year, thousands of people line against the coastal lines, keeping an eye out on the horizon for the one they call Migaloo.

Migaloo is actually an indigenous name, its an Aboriginal word meaning, white fella, and every year, the media will report on Migaloo, and they let everyone know when Migaloo is swimming by their town. He's been called the Moby Dick of the seas, the Great White Whale. And every year, the Aussies fear, will this year be the year that the Japanese kill their favorite whale. With Migaloo accustomed to human attention on yachts and sail boats, it makes Migaloo an easy target for the Japanese.
Japan hasn't ruled out the hunting of the Great White Whale, and abruptly said "No Comment" in a press conference when asked if the whalers intended to hunt the white humpback Migaloo, in their list of humpback whales.
For the record, Migaloo, as any Aussie will tell you, is the most angelic of all sea creatures. When she is present in the water, she actually emits a glow that lightens the water around her by her snow white features, and when she breaks the surface of the water, and emerges into the brightly lit sunfilled Australian skies, all in eyesight, stand in awe, stand at attention, and their breath is caught, by her remarkable beauty.
The Sea Shepard Conservation Society took matters in their own hands last year, and decided to protect the helpless whales from whalers, and threatened to ram into the Tokyo fishing vessel with their ship, which had a bulldozer sized harpoon. This year the Tokyo Whalers are calling the Conservationists environmental terrorists, and they asked New Zealand and Australia to protect their whalers, to which the conservationists were appalled, saying Its the WHALES who need the PROTECTING!!
The Captain of the Sea Shepherd, (The Conservationists Ship), Paul Watson stands firm in his position, as far as he's concerned, the Tokyo Whalers are in violation of the anti-whaling laws in Australian waters and he's confident the law is on his side. The Japanese have doubled their security and are prepared to defend themselves against the anti-whalers, who have no intentions on backing down.

The Japanese have widely been accused of using a loophole to hunt whales in international waters, claiming they are hunting whales for research, and yet Japan kills over 1000 whales in the South Pacific Region each year in the name of said research. Thats not including the whaling going on in the Atlantic side. What gets the Conservationists blood boiling, are the lack of results produced for such an abundance of research? One whale alone is a massive amount of a creature, what type of research would require the use of over 1000 whales per year? The accusations stem from such grounds, and many endangered animal protecting agencies will tell you, Japan is using the loophole called research, as excuse to perform commercial fishing in international waters. That's the opinion of the conservationists, not the one writing this article, before you post your comment below. (For the record, Japan isn't the only country who hunts whales, and other creatures such as sea horses, and unique reef fish are also targeted.)
Australians do an incredible amount of research themselves, and have had many remarkable advances in medical research, including vaccines for specific types of cancer, some of which have hit the market, and some of which will be released within one to two years from now, plus, they also do research on whales. The Australian Conservationists will proudly tell you, that not one single spot on a whales head would be harmed during any research done by an Australian on a whale, infact, they do rese
arch on the creatures from afar, and its proven affective, lets explore that just a little.

Whales are the biggest creatures in the sea, but remarkably, they truly have no method in protecting themselves. Its not like they have razor teeth and burly strong jaws like a shark, or a killer whale (Killer whales are actually members of the dolphin family, and are not whales, and killer whales are actually a whale's worst predator).
Whales are gentle creatures, and have come to be more understood by the Australians as the migration process along their coastline has enabled Australians to study the whales, to the point that last month the Aussies made a break through in decoding whale communications with each other. The Aussies discovered that all the beautiful sounds, after recording thousands of songs, up to 4000 recordings, and studying pod after pod of whale families, that the whales are indeed, families. They argue, they play, they complain, the kids whine, the parents reprimand. It's like an annoying family road trip, with the kids saying, are we there yet?, and most importantly the whales care for each other. The Australians take the welfare of their whales very seriously. They are avid whale watchers, and can't comprehend why anyone would want kill off a species that is so gentle and majestic.
I only wonder if the Australians could put Migaloo on the endangered species list, as the only one of its kind, the only recorded White Humpback Whale. I wonder, if that in itself, would prevent any country from putting Migaloo on the hunting list.


Muddy Waters: Techniques for Low-Vis Diving

That happened to me in the Galapagos Islands. Beautiful day, clear water and suddenly we encountered a wall of green. Instantly visibility decreased from 60 feet (18 m) to less than 3 feet (1 m). It even happens in Hawaii. On days when it rains heavily in the mountains you often get a brown-water line where mountain streams empty into the Pacific. Longshore currents whisk the muddy water down the coast, quickly overwhelming a number of popular dive sites. On rare occasions divers might be greeted by 100-foot (32-m) visibility when entering the water and before the dive is over be literally feeling their way back to the boat.
Many divers, especially those accustomed to clear water, become uncomfortable when faced with limited-visibility conditions. Even if you know that visibility is going to be less than optimum and have dived in those conditions before, it is easy to lose your way. So what do you do if you encounter turbid water conditions and become disoriented?
The first rule of any stressful diving situation is to remain calm — stop, think and act. Unless you are in immediate danger, cease all activity and try to relax — take controlled deep breaths and force yourself to exhale slowly and fully. Repeat this until the initial wave of anxiety passes.
Once under control, consider your options. Unless you have completed a limited-visibility diving specialty course, you may not know how to react to being disoriented in turbid water, but you have to do something.
Begin by checking your gauges — air supply, depth and bottom time. If you run low on air or are near your planned bottom time limit, surfacing may be the safest solution. However, in severely turbid water sometimes you may momentarily have difficulty discerning up from down.
The one sure way of telling is by observing a tiny amount of water inside your mask — it will always pool on the downside. So if water is accumulating anywhere other than in the bottom skirt of the mask, you are not right-side up. It may be necessary to let a little water into your mask to perform this test.
In most disorientation situations, a diver can tell up from down by observing the direction of his exhaled bubbles (photo 1). Bubbles will always float upward, except in rare cases when the diver is experiencing a downwelling current. I have observed this only twice, once at Costa Rica’s Cocos Island and again at Blue Corner in Palau. Downwellings are not uncommon at these venues but are rare most everywhere else. These situations do, however, confirm that watching your bubbles is not a completely fail-safe way to determine up from down.
When disoriented in turbid water, swim into the current to avoid being swept away from the area you are diving. Observe your exhaled bubbles to verify the direction of the current. The bubbles in photo 2 are drifting backward as they rise; these divers are swimming into the current as they should.
Swimming into the current helps you avoid ending up downcurrent from the exit site or far away from the boat. Going beyond the site while swimming into the current is not a concern; you can always drift back after surfacing.
In good visibility many divers do not navigate by compass except when finding a site such as a wreck for which they have compass bearings. Since the water is clear, natural navigation techniques usually work well. However, before descending I always take a just-in-case compass reading toward shore. That way, I’ll never get caught swimming aimlessly in the wrong direction if I become disoriented or lose my way. By following the compass heading eventually I will end up on shore.
Another good habit to form, even in good visibility, is checking the depth beneath the boat. Upon reaching the bottom when descending, take a quick glance at your depth gauge. And as you swim away take a compass heading for the anchor location. If turbid water moves in and you become disoriented, you’ll have two references.
In turbid water your gauges — depth, compass, timing device and pressure gauge — are your eyes. When you descend into turbid water or anticipate the possibility of worsening visibility, plan to follow a compass course throughout the dive (photo 3). Combine depth, time and direction to navigate the site and safely find your way back.
Due to the absence of references, a constant depth is challenging to maintain in turbid water. The best solution is keeping a close eye on your depth gauge. The divers in photo 4 are slowly ascending, constantly checking their depth gauges so they don’t exceed the safe ascent rate.
The buddy system also takes on renewed importance in turbid water. To avoid becoming separated, most buddies stay especially close when they can’t see beyond arm’s length. In zero visibility it is a good idea to maintain physical contact or use a short lead line — each buddy holding an end — to stay together.
If you become separated from your buddy listen intently for his bubbles and do a couple of slow 360-degree rotations while looking for your buddy’s bubbles and light beam before completing the standard lost buddy routine.
Divers who become disoriented in turbid water sometimes forget or intentionally omit the safety stop while ascending. Even when you are anxious about getting to the surface, it is still important to make a complete safety stop. Keep a hand on your buoyancy compensator’s inflation/deflation control and pay special attention to your depth gauge. Unless you are running low on air, complete the stop, followed by a slow, in-control ascent for the final 15 feet (5 m) just as you would in clear water.
Any diver, regardless of experience level, can become a victim of disorientation in turbid water. Remembering to remain calm, using your gauges — depth, time, compass and air — and not deviating from safe diving practices will eliminate the anxiety often caused by poor visibility.






Photobucket For filmmaker Rob Stewart, exploring sharks began as an underwater adventure. What it turned into was a beautiful and dangerous life journey into the balance of life on earth. Driven by passion fed from a lifelong fascination with sharks, Stewart debunks historical stereotypes and media depictions of sharks as bloodthirsty, man-eating monsters and reveals the reality of sharks as pillars in the evolution of the seas. Filmed in visually stunning, high definition video, Sharkwater takes you into the most shark rich waters of the world, exposing the exploitation and corruption surrounding the world's shark populations in the marine reserves of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. In an effort to protect sharks, Stewart teams up with renegade conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Their unbelievable adventure together starts with a battle between the Sea Shepherd and shark poachers in Guatemala, resulting in pirate boat rammings, gunboat chases, mafia espionage, corrupt court systems and attempted murder charges, forcing them to flee for their lives. Through it all, Stewart discovers these magnificent creatures have gone from predator to prey, and how despite surviving the earth's history of mass extinctions, they could easily be wiped out within a few years due to human greed. Stewart's remarkable journey of courage and determination changes from a mission to save the world's sharks, into a fight for his life, and that of humankind.