Undercover pictures taken by Greenpeace show a harpooned whale being cut up for meat likely to be exported to Japan
The Guardian reports : Iceland has resumed its commercial hunting of fin whales after a two-year suspension by landing the first of an expected 180 whales in Hvalfjördur. The first kill prompted protests from environment and animal welfare groups that the hunt is “cruel and unnecessary”.
Undercover pictures taken aboard the Hvalur 8 by Greenpeace show the harpooned whale being cut up for meat that is likely to be exported to Japan. Fin whales are the second largest animal on earth after the blue whale and are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) condemned the Icelandic whaler Kristján Loftsson who has resumed fin whaling after a two year break. “It is a very sad day seeing these images and knowing that this endangered animal has suffered a cruel death, only to be cut up for meat that nobody needs,” said Robbie Marsland, UK director of IFAW.
“It is time that this dying industry was ended. We urge the Icelandic government to listen to its whale watching and tourism operators and many members of the public both within and outside Iceland and recognise that slaughtering whales is uneconomic as well as inhumane. Whale watching brings greater benefit to coastal communities.”
Iceland cancelled fin whale hunts in 2011 and 2012 partly because Japan, the largest market, was suffering an economic downturn after of the devastating tsunami in March 2011. Seven fin whales were killed in Iceland’s waters in 2006, 125 in 2009 and 148 in 2010.
Loftsson’s company Hvalur plans to hunt up to 180 fin whales in the 2013 season. The International Whaling Commission has banned commercial whaling but its authority is not recognised by Iceland. More than 1 million people from around the world signed a recent online petition against the trading of Icelandic fin whale meat amid revelations that some of it has ended up in dog food products in Japan.
“Whaling is brutal and belongs to a bygone era not the 21st century,” said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK. “It is deeply regrettable that a single Icelandic whaler backed by the government is undermining the global ban on commercial whaling which is there to secure the future of the world’s whales.”
The World Heritage Committee will meet in Cambodia this week to consider a draft decision to place the reef on its 'danger list' in 2014 unless the Queensland and federal governments clean up their act.
Requests include that no more developments are approved along the Queensland coast that would impact individually or cumulatively on the reef.
From the The Independent
Like most people living along the Sahel – the drylands between Africa’s tropical savannahs and the Sahara Desert – Mustafa Ba is all too familiar with the effects of desertification.
Thanks to a combination of overgrazing and deforestation, he has watched the countryside around his Senegalese village, Mboula, turn into a dusty, unproductive wasteland.
“Trees provide us with many benefits,” explains Mustafa, as we sit on a mat in the centre of his village. “They are good for the soil and important for food security.”
But in impoverished regions of rural Africa, selling firewood is a source of quick cash and many trees along the Sahel have been felled. Communities have paid a high price for such enterprise; with no trees to protect the land, vast swathes of the Sahel have succumbed to desertification.
According to the United Nations, Mustafa is one of 850 million people – nearly one eighth of the global population – to be directly affected by this process of land degradation.
But it’s not just a local problem; desertification has an impact on food production, which pushes up grocery bills around the world (the UN estimates Guatemala alone loses 24 per cent of its agricultural GDP due to desertification).
To raise awareness of the issue, the UN reserved June 17 as World Day to Combat Desertification, but behind the rhetoric it has also been supporting projects to tackle the phenomenon head on. One of those is Great Green Wall of Africa, a 4,800-mile “wall” of trees that is being planted across the continent between Senegal and Djibouti.
It took years to secure funding for this ambitious project but with the help of the African Union, European Union, World Bank and other international investors, it was approved in 2011. Mustafa was delighted.
“Instead of feeling alone facing this huge challenge of desertification, we feel connected to the rest of Africa and the outside world,” he says. “We knew we had to protect the land, but the Great Green Wall programme has helped provide us with technical assistance.”
Assuming the initiative is successful – detractors argue that is a big assumption – the Green Wall will snake through 11 countries and will form the backbone of a much wider dryland restoration project involving more than 20 African nations. So far, nearly 12 million trees have been planted in Senegal alone, but it’s not simply a case of sowing seeds and hoping for the best.
“You need to plant the right species in the right place,” says Nora Berrahmouni, a Forestry Officer for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO), as we drive through rural Senegal. “And by species that doesn’t mean a tree only – it could be a shrub or herbaceous plant. It’s about mimicking nature.”
For the Green Wall to succeed, Nora adds, it is essential the project involves and benefits local communities. To illustrate her point we visit Tessekele, a 600-hectare pilot site near the village of Widou. It’s a fairly underwhelming spectacle; the dusty scrubland doesn’t look particularly green, nor does it resemble a wall.
However, its spindly-looking acacia trees are rich in gum arabic, a ubiquitous additive used in anything from cosmetics to confectionary. Demand for this gum – extracted from the acacia by cutting into the bark – is currently outstripping supply thanks to an increase in demand from Asia, Europe and the US. Consequently, prices are rising and the trees are becoming more valuable standing than felled.
However, all trees play a vital role in agriculture, by fertilising the soil and provide shade, and the Green Wall project is trying to educate farmers about the relationship between healthy environments and crops.
“Taking care of the environment is perceived to be a luxury,” says Michele Bozzano, a Research Support Officer for Bioversity International. “But the difference between having a stable environment and not is the difference between being able to grow crops and crops failing.”
It’s not just agriculture that stands to benefit from a healthier environment. “Wildlife has returned to the site,” says Elimane Diop, the Chief Lieutenant of Widou, as he shows me around Tessekele. “We’ve seen antelope, hyena, porcupine and guinea fowl.”
The progress of the Green Wall is being monitored eagerly by other nations, particularly Turkey. “We are interested because in Turkey we are also suffering from desertification,” says Ismail Belen, Deputy General Director at Turkey’s Ministry of Forestry. “People ask me how that’s possible when we don’t have a desert, but desertification is not about the desert, it’s about land degradation.”
Ismail is keen to learn lessons from the Green Wall, which he romantically describes as a “modern-day Silk Road, only green.” But not everyone shares his enthusiasm; critics have expressed concerns about the management of the project.
“The Green Wall is run from the top down and depends on external management and external funds,” says Ced Hesse, a Drylands Researcher for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). “And there is a tenure issue – when you plant a tree who does it belong to, who is going to look after it, who is going to harvest the crop?”
The UNFAO disputes this and claims the project is enfranchising local communities, although it does acknowledge the threat of climate change – how will the Green Wall survive in an area set to become drier and warmer? Well, with technical support from Kew Gardens in London, seed banks in Burkina Faso and Niger are giving it the best possible chance, cultivating seeds from the hardiest plants in Africa. “It’s about bringing back resilient ecosystems that are able to adapt to a changing climate,” says Nora.
But can attitudes adapt fast enough? At a desertification conference in Dakar recently, I entered the washrooms after ambassadors from several Green Wall nations to find the taps had been left running – in a nation short of water. Admittedly these were the actions of a few, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.
Mustafa Ba, on the other hand, does. Before the Green Wall was even approved, he had started a campaign in Mboula to fight desertification through the restoration of local drylands. His scheme has since received support from the Green Wall, but the natural regeneration that has occurred here since is largely down to his efforts.
This bodes well because if ambitions environmental projects like this are to succeed, they will need people like him – hardworking, enfranchised locals – to make it possible. “It really needs to happen at a local level,” explains Nora. “If everyone does their bit, everyone is a winner.”
The federal government insists it is striving to avoid the Great Barrier Reef being listed “in danger” ahead of a crunch UN meeting, after rejecting a Senate recommendation to block new port developments near the World Heritage ecosystem. The Guardian reports
The committee is expected to recommend that the Great Barrier Reef, which has been listed as a World Heritage site since 1981, be placed on the “in danger” list next year due to concerns over coal and gas expansion, increased shipping and water quality.
A draft World Heritage report produced in May noted “concern” over water quality monitoring and the lack of a “a clear commitment toward limiting port development to existing port areas”. Unless “urgent and decisive action” was taken, the reef should be considered in danger, it said.
The federal environment minister, Tony Burke, told Guardian Australiaimprovements made since May showed the government was committed to safeguarding the Reef.
“I’m certainly hopeful that we can get some progress on what was in the draft report,” he said. “We committed a further $200 million for Reef Rescue in the budget, which was since the report. That’s one clear example of where they’ve expressed concern over water quality and we’ve acted.
“It’ll be presumptuous to say what the world heritage committee will decide but I’m confident that we have evidence to show that Australia takes management of the reef seriously.”
But Burke said the government would not support a Senate committee recommendation that a temporary halt be placed on new port developments in Queensland until an assessment, conducted by both state and federal governments, is released in 2015.
The committee, which considered a bill introduced by Greens senator Larissa Waters, said in its report that existing regulations “may not be sufficient to protect the Great Barrier Reef’s outstanding values”.
Burke said the move was unnecessary as there were no new developments planned before 2015. He said it was not straightforward to fulfill UNESCO’s key recommendation of banning substantial new infrastructure outside existing port areas.
“I will follow the process properly, under law,” he said. “If I pre-judge applications, it’ll get thrown out in court. [UNESCO] understands the limits we have under Australian law. It’s a nuanced situation.
“But they also understand that nothing has since been approved in pristine areas, and none was more sensitive than the proposed Xstrata development on Balaclava Island, which was cancelled after the draft report.”
Fuel oil leaks from a Chinese bulk coal carrier grounded on the reef in 2010. Photograph: Getty
It is understood that several World Heritage delegates have been dismayed by what they see as a politicisation of the reef, with Burke involved in a series of public ructions with the Queensland government over the management of the vast coral ecosystem.
Last week, Queensland’s deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, said Burke had been “held ransom” by “radical Greens”.
“Mr Burke is beholden to the Greens who feed him dishonest and deceitful assertions about our government’s actions,” Seeney said. “It’s time Mr Burke represented every person in this state, rather than those he believes will keep the Gillard government in power.”
But Burke has also come under fire from the Greens and environmental groups, who accuse him of doing little to safeguard the reef and caving into the demands of the mining industry, with eight ports planned or expanded during his tenure.
Burke told Guardian Australia: “I find some of the political points quite bewildering. Jeff Seeney’s comments were just odd, certainly one of the weirder moments in Australian politics. I can’t understand what was going on in his head when he launched that diatribe.
“Larissa Waters, the Greens and Greenpeace are, in a large part, using the reef as a proxy for an anti-coal campaign. Those groups say the best way to limit emissions is to price carbon and then they ask for a regulatory mechanism too. They can’t have it both ways.”
Waters said it would be a “disaster” if the reef was placed on the “in danger” list, alongside sites predominantly found in developing or war-torn countries.
“Tony Burke isn’t acting like an environment minister,” she said. “He says a lot of strong things and then doesn’t deliver.
“The UNESCO report was clear that there should be no new ports but there are no state or Commonwealth moves to limit these ports. Responsibility lies on both sides so it’s farcical to see them pointing the finger at each other.
“It’s amazing that it had to come down to me, a new member of the Senate, to draft a bill to protect the seventh wonder of the world because the government won’t do it.
“The world heritage committee aren’t idiots. This is their area of expertise. I imagine the Australian delegation will be pressuring other delegates to water down the criticism because it’s embarrassing.”
The reef faces a number of threats, including chemicals that flow onto it from agricultural land, a plague of crown-of-thorns starfish and climate change, which has been blamed for an increase in coral bleaching and severe weather events such as cyclones, which further damage the ecosystem.
Another potential risk is the dredging of the seabed to allow ships access to new ports. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority recently warned MPs that the impact of dumping dredging spoil onto the reef could be worse than previously thought.
The reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 27 years, the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences says. Last week, 150 Australian and international scientists signed a letter warning the reef was in crisis and required urgent action to protect it.
The Queensland environment minister, Andrew Powell, told Guardian Australia the state government’s policy was consistent with UNESCO’s demand for ports to be kept to existing areas.
“The Newman government firmly believes that we can have sustainable economic development and strong environmental protection – the two concepts are not mutually exclusive,” he said.
“The Newman government is aware of the potential impacts of dredging which is one of the many reasons why we scaled back the previous Labor government’s crazy proposals for a massive multi-cargo facility at Abbot Point.”
“We want to ensure any development occurs in a considered and measured way and as such all development applications are subject to a stringent environmental impact assessment process.”
The Independent reports on a class war!
John Yorke can trace his family’s roots back to the Normans. Like his ancestors, 74-year-old Mr Yorke farms the 3,000 acres of prime Gloucestershire agricultural land that forms the Forthampton Court estate. An Old Etonian and former High Sheriff of Herefordshire, Mr Yorke reluctantly finds himself and his lands at the epicentre of the Government’s highly controversial badger cull.
Opponents of the plan to use licensed marksmen to shoot badgers are focusing on the Yorkes. Killing the largely nocturnal mammals will help curb the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, some experts argue. Badgers, they say, spread the disease from beast to beast and herd to herd. Opponents dispute this and are intent on derailing a pilot cull that has been approved in Gloucestershire and is expected to start within the next 10 days. Their aim seems to be to intimidate Mr Yorke into withdrawing his support for the pilot, which, they say, is crucial to it going ahead.
Until now, Mr Yorke has refused to speak publicly about the cull. He remains reluctant to talk, but in his first comments, made to The Independent on Sunday, he threw his support wholeheartedly behind the scheme.
“I don’t wish to make any points through the newspaper, except to say that 38,000 cattle are killed every year because of bovine TB. If each one is 8ft long, nose to tail, they would stretch from Piccadilly Circus in London to Radcliffe Square in Oxford,” he said. “That represents 50 miles of dead bodies and so I have given my approval to the cull,” he said.
Jay Tiernan, of Stop the Cull, said that Mr Yorke’s background as a member of the “landed gentry” helped activists garner support. “We don’t want to be seen to be harassing smaller farmers; it looks like a big gang of yobs against some guy struggling to make a living,” he said. “We don’t feel uncomfortable targeting the landed gentry.
“What kind of criticism are we going to get for targeting someone who has 3,000 acres, whose heritage is a part of who he is, someone who went to Eton and then Trinity College? Who has sympathy for someone like that?”
Cull opponents believe “on good authority” that if the Yorkes were to pull out of the cull, the county’s licence would be revoked. Under government rules, the cull can take place only if landowners controlling 70 per cent of the culling zone agree to the killing. If the Forthampton estate pulled out, the percentage would fall below the required level.
There are around 700 saboteurs fighting the badger cull, 500 of whom are willing to trespass on property to disrupt the cull, according to Mr Tiernan. Some plan to patrol Forthampton, using LED flashing lights, loudhailers, vuvuzelas and flash cameras to scare away the badgers; many are prepared to put themselves between the badgers and the marksmen.
They are also keeping those involved in the cull under surveillance and have put marksmen’s car details online. Mr Tiernan denied that this amounted to intimidation. “If something happens, bad luck,” he said. “If you are involved in the badger cull, you are going to be exposed.”
Drew Pratten, a 45-year-old management consultant who lives 20 minutes from the estate, is another cull opponent watching events closely. A member of Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting, he insists he isn’t an activist. But, now, after reporting two alleged instances of blocked badger setts on the estate – which he believes could have caused the deaths of more than 40 badgers – he is seeking advice on whether he can bring a lawsuit against the estate and Natural England, the cull licence issuer, in an attempt to prevent the killing.
The Yorkes take an active role in village life and are well liked locally, but views on the cull are mixed. Tim Danter, 41, bar manager at the Lower Lode Inn, near the estate, said: “I couldn’t say I was for or against it. The way it affects us is the police presence.” Michael Barrett, 77, said he was “sympathetic to farmers” but also wary of “unnecessary harm to the animal population”. He thought the “verdict was still out” in terms of the science.
But 88-year-old Fred Remmer, whose wife’s family has lived on the estate since 1841, was more resolute. Protesters are “pests” who “do not know what they are on about”, he said. His son, Fred, 63, a semi-retired deputy head, said something has to be done to stop cows being “decimated”.
The proposed cull has similarly split politicians, scientists, vets and the general public. Some argue that culling badgers, which are known to spread TB among cattle, will reduce the problem. Their opponents say this will make matters worse, as fleeing badgers spread the disease to new areas.