If you were to travel from the United States of America to Japan, you would most likely encounter what could be described as the world’s largest waste dump: a 100,000 tonne expanse of debris floating around a large region of the Pacific Ocean. ENN reports
The total area of this phenomenon has been said to equal the size of continental U.S., but the truth about its true size remains unknown.
Captain Charles Moore first discovered the ‘Pacific garbage patch‘ in 1997. The area in which rubbish gets caught up is known as a gyre, which can be described as a large-scale circular feature made up of ocean currents that ultimately traps waste and moves it around the region.
Plastics constitute 90 percent of all trash in the world’s oceans with 20 percent of this waste being dumped from ships and oil platforms. The rest comes from land.
Plastic is of course, a very useful product; durable and stable, yet it is these very properties that deem it troublesome in marine environments.
“The polypropylene and the polyethylene that make up the majority of floater plastics and consumer plastics are just a little bit lighter than water. So if it’s rough they get pushed down under. When it’s really calm, all these bits and pieces can float to the surface,” Charles Moore told the Earth Island Journal.
To Moore, it is clearly a land-based problem and he believes that what drives the market and what subsequently runs off the streets into our oceans is all part of the same problem.
A one-liter plastic bottle, when in seawater, can reduce to so many small pieces that it is possible a single fragment could be found on every beach in the world. The entire marine food-web is suffering as a result. The breakdown of plastics into small pieces allows them to mimic the prey of all marine animals, from zooplankton to whales. When plastic is so prevalent that it fills up a creature’s stomach, it turns off the desire to feed. If an organism doesn’t put on fat stores for reproduction and migration, its population will crash. Floating plastic will even act as transport for some organisms, introducing them to areas where they could be problematic to resident species.
Seventy percent of the plastic waste sinks to the ocean floor and this mass of waste causes considerable damage to bed-dwelling organisms. In the worst case scenario—suffocation.
Plastics are also very good sponges, as such they are often used in oil clean-ups. But Moore explains that “petroleum-derivative toxins are sticking to these plastics, delivering these toxicants to marine creatures from the very base of the food-web to the top, in addition to killing millions by entanglement”.
- 19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans (inhabitat.com)
- What Is The Plastic Soup? – 6 May 2013 (lucas2012infos.wordpress.com)
- Garbage Patch, the newest country (thestar.blogs.com)
Whaling brings to mind visions of the 19th century. Harpoons into blubber. Captain Ahab versus Moby-Dick. The International Whaling Commission used to be a whalers’ club, but now is focused increasingly on new conservation measures. The International Herald Tribune reports
But in some parts of the world, whaling remains very much alive, despite a world moratorium on commercial whaling that took effect in 1986. In 2011, more than 1,500 whales were hunted and killed, according to figures compiled from the Web site of the International Whaling Commission, an intergovernmental body. That represents a decline from 2008, when more than 1,900 were killed.
Controversy about the practice continues. The International Court of Justice, a U.N. court based in The Hague, is considering a challenge by Australia against the whaling practices of Japan, which killed 540 whales in 2011, according to the commission.
“Australia has a very difficult case to make,” said Cymie R. Payne, an assistant professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey who specializes in international and environmental law. However, she said, the court could side with Australia and order Japan to cease whaling.
Concerned about the over-hunting of whales, fifteen nations came together in 1946 to sign a treaty aimed at conserving the whale population. The treaty created an oversight body, the International Whaling Commission. In the 1980s, after public outcry against whaling intensified, members of the commission imposed a moratorium that allowed no commercial hunting of the animals. Some nations oppose the moratorium and have exercised what they consider their right to continue whaling.
Norway caught 533 whales for commercial purposes in 2011, and Iceland took 58, according to the commission. (Some of the 2011 numbers run roughly from spring 2011 to spring 2012; more recent figures were not available.) Hunters from aboriginal groups in Greenland, the United States, Russia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines collectively took 384 whales in 2011.
The nation that has hunted the most whales in recent years is Japan. It does so under a scientific exemption, saying that the whale hunts are for research purposes. But the whale meat is sold to consumers — officially, as a byproduct of the research. Environmentalists charge that the Japanese whaling program relies on heavy subsidies.
“The fact is that more than half a million Antarctic minke whales can easily support an annual harvest,” Yoshihiro Fujise, director general of the Institute of Cetacean Research, which conducts Japan’s Antarctic whaling program, said in a statement last year. Minke are the type that Japan mostly hunts.
The International Whaling Commission’s most recent estimate, published in 2012, shows that there were about 515,000 minke whales in Antarctic waters in the period between 1992 and 2004.
Tensions over Japan’s whaling practices have existed for years. An anti-whaling group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, regularly pursues Japanese whaling boats, igniting confrontations on the high seas. Japan has complained bitterly about these tactics. Recently, a three-judge panel of a U.S. court in San Francisco took its side.
In a dramatically worded ruling in February, the chief judge, Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, wrote: “You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”
The Institute of Cetacean Research hailed the ruling, which enables a lawsuit brought against Sea Shepherd by the Japanese whalers to move forward.
Sea Shepherd, which is based in the United States, is seeking to have a larger, 11-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit review the case. The group also recently filed suit in the Netherlands, where some of its ships are registered, accusing the Japanese whalers of violent tactics.
The legal battle taking place at the International Court of Justice is not as animated but is potentially more significant. In 2010, Australia sued Japan over its whaling in Antarctic waters, saying it had breached its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the 1946 agreement. This year, New Zealand was allowed to join the case on Australia’s side.
Written arguments concluded about a year ago. Oral proceedings could start this year, although it is unlikely that a final decision will come before next spring at the earliest, according to Ms. Payne, the Rutgers professor.
The International Court of Justice case “hopefully will close legal loopholes in the Whaling Convention,” Peter H. Sand, who teaches international environmental law at the University of Munich, said in an e-mail. Mr. Sand is a former secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, also known as Cites, a group that oversees a multinational treaty.
Politics overlay the courtroom battles. “These are countries that interact with each other on a lot of different issues, and they don’t want this to become something that is going to harm their other political and commercial relationships,” Ms. Payne said.
In a blog post on The New York Times Web site this year, Jun Morikawa, a professor of international relations at Rakuno Gakuen University in Sapporo, Japan, cited a “slight — very slight — possibility” that the Japanese government could move to end research whaling to strengthen relations with anti-whaling powers like the United States and the European Union, as well as Australia.
“Because the general public in Japan does not consider whaling a major issue,” he wrote, “a drastic shift in whaling policy could be a cheap, safe and a fairly effective bargaining chip.”
Meanwhile, the International Whaling Commission, which decades ago was considered something of a whalers’ club, is focused increasingly on new conservation measures. Some whale species are thriving, but others are not. Simon Brockington, the commission’s executive secretary, said that for whales, “being caught in nets or being run over by ships is perhaps as great a source of mortality” as the hunting. A whale entangled in a net can take months to die, he said.
The International Whaling Commission is working to remedy some of these problems, like researching pollution issues and rerouting shipping lanes in areas with heavy whale populations to avoid ship strikes, Mr. Brockington said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 3, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Simon Brockington. He is executive secretary of the International Whaling Commission, not executive director.
- Japanese whalers have ‘worst ever’ catch (stuff.co.nz)
- Japan Report Record Low Whaling Haul, Blames Activist ‘Sabotage’ (latinospost.com)
- Japanese whaling haul at record low (abc.net.au)
- Japan rues low whale haul (theage.com.au)
- Record low catch for Japan whaling season, Sea Shepherd blamed (japandailypress.com)
- Sea Shepherd activists confront whalers (bigpondnews.com)
- Whaling Haul Hits ‘Record Low’ In Japan (news.sky.com)
- Japan whaling haul at ‘record low’ (smh.com.au)
Crash! Conservationists also warned that the vast majority caught were juveniles and had never reproduced . The Guardian reports
The bluefin tuna, which has been endangered for several years and has the misfortune to be prized by Japanese sushi lovers, has suffered a catastrophic decline in stocks in the Northern Pacific Ocean, of more than 96%, according to research published on Wednesday.
Last week, one fish sold in Japan for more than £1m, reflecting the rarity of the bluefin tuna and the continued demand for its fatty flesh, which is sold for high prices across Asia and in some high-end western restaurants.
Bluefin tuna is one of nature’s most successful ocean inhabitants, the biggest of the tuna and a top-of-the-food-chain fish with few natural predators. But the advent of industrial fishing methods and a taste for the species among rich sushi devotees have led to its being hunted to the brink of extinction.
If current trends continue, the species will soon be functionally extinct in the Pacific, and the frozen bodies held in a few high-security Asian warehouses will be the last gasp the species.
More than nine out of 10 of the species recently caught were too young to have reproduced, meaning they may have been the last generation of the bluefin tuna.
Amanda Nickson, of the Pew Environment Group, which produced the latest report, said: “There is no logical way a fishery can have such a high level of fishing on juveniles and continue.”
She said that urgent measures needed to be taken in order to preserve stocks and allow them to recover. “The population of Pacific bluefin is a small fraction of what it used to be and is in danger of all but disappearing,” she said. “It’s a highly valuable natural commodity and people naturally want to fish something that gives them such a high return.”
She called for fishing of the species to be halted as a matter of urgency. Although there are measures to manage the exploitation of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic, and some measures in the eastern Pacific, the main spawning ground for Pacific bluefin tuna in the western part of that ocean is not managed. The main fishing fleets exploiting the stocks are from Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the US, and the high value of the few remaining fish is a further encouragement to fishermen to hunt down the last of the species. A single specimen could make the catchers rich for life, and without catch limits and rigorous enforcement, there is nothing to stop fishermen pursuing them.
Nickson said: “This assessment shows just how bad the situation really is for this top predator. This highly valuable fish is being exploited at almost every stage of its life cycle. Fishing continues on the spawning grounds of this heavily overfished tuna species.”
About two-thirds of the world’s tuna comes from the Pacific, but bluefin tuna accounts for only about 1% of this. For years, the species was neglected in fisheries management, being lumped in with other more prolific species. But in recent years it has become clear that it was in danger, from overfishing and its own biology – being bigger than other tuna, it takes longer to come to sexual maturity, which scientists estimate takes between four and eight years, which limits its reproductive ability and makes it more vulnerable to the predations of modern industrialised fishing techniques.
- Tuna Species Sold at Record Price Faces Overfishing, Study Says – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Bluefin tuna sells for record $1.76 million in Japan; sushi anyone? (grindtv.com)
- Tuna Numbers Reduced By Over 96 Percent (news.discovery.com)
- Overfishing Causes Pacific Bluefin Tuna Numbers to Drop 96% (ecowatch.org)
- Pacific bluefin population down 96.4% (worldfishing.net)
- Bluefin tuna sells for record S$2.14m in Tokyo (todayonline.com)
Is history to repeat? I’ve seen damage first-hand, and hope not!
From the International Herald Tribune: It was perhaps the surest sign that Japan remains unnerved by last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. After a large quake on Friday hit near the same area stricken last year, broadcasters on the public television network NHK threw aside their usual reserve to repeatedly issue worried warnings about tsunamis, with one host frantically urging people to “flee now to save your life!”
For the network, which has long taken pride in its staid presentation of the news, the tone was a distinct break with past, when a premium was put on avoiding panic and retaining the type of composure in the face of adversity that is so valued in Japan.
This time, the country appeared to get lucky. The 7.3-magnitude quake that struck at 5:29 p.m. under the seabed off the northeast shore of Honshu, the country’s largest island, was the largest aftershock since immediately after last year’s quake, according to the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado. But it was small compared to last year’s 9.0 quake, which the center said released about 1,200 times more energy and which created a tsunami that wiped away seaside villages. About 18,600 people died in the double disaster.
On Friday, the water rose only about three feet in some places. And the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency said that the Japanese authorities reported they had detected no trouble at any of the nuclear plants in the area. Last year, the wall of water generated by the quake swamped the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which later had meltdowns in three reactors that spread contamination over wide areas of land.
Although buildings swayed on Friday in Tokyo and as far away as Osaka, about 550 miles from the epicenter, there were no immediate reports of heavy damage, according to news agencies. Several people were injured in the north, news reports said, but as of Saturday morning only one person was reported missing and possibly dead.
NHK reported that the man, a fisherman from the Tohoku region, took his boat out to sea to ride out any tsunami. His boat was later found about three miles offshore without him on it; but since there appeared to have been no large waves, it was unclear what might have happened to him.
Earlier, NHK appeared to be taking no chances of playing down the potential for disaster, flashing the words “Tsunami! Evacuate!” in big red letters until the warnings were lifted about two hours after the quake.
The broadcaster was stung by an outpouring of criticism last year that it had not urged people along the shoreline forcefully enough to flee the destructive waves. (The public network was also criticized for some of its post-earthquake coverage, when it was accused of going too soft on the government.)
In a country that has always kept a studied calm during its all-too-frequent earthquakes, the reaction to Friday’s quake was reported to be swift and orderly, with some residents calmly leaving for higher ground before a tsunami alert was issued. Still, residents spoke of the emotional strain from the continued aftershocks and fears of another tsunami.
A man named Taichi Sato said on Twitter: “For us, the disaster isn’t over. Something could happen that could destroy what we’ve only started to rebuild.” According to his Web site, he runs a project bringing volunteers to do tsunami cleanup in Ishinomaki, which was hard hit last year.
Elsewhere, there were signs that complacency might be creeping back. On Thursday, a radiological cleanup worker helping to remove contaminated soil from Naraha, a town in Fukushima Prefecture that remains partially evacuated because of radiation fears, appeared not to be worried about storing bags of that dirt along the coastline.
The worker, who declined to give his name, brushed off questions over whether those bags might be torn in another tsunami. “There isn’t going to be another tsunami,” he said.
Ken Belson and Shreeya Sinha contributed reporting from New York.
- Japan Quake in Nuclear Plant Area Stirs Brief Alarm (nytimes.com)
- Tsunami hits northeast Japan after 7.3-magnitude quake (straitstimes.com)
- Powerful quake injures 13 in Japan, 1 missing|chinadaily.com.cn – China Daily (chinadaily.com.cn)
- Japan on tsunami alert after powerful quake (abc.net.au)
- Five injured in Japan quake, tsunami warning lifted (vancouversun.com)
- Tsunami alert after 7.3-magnitude quake rocks Japan (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Small tsunami waves hit Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture after strong earthquake (foxnews.com)
- 7.3 magnitude earthquake hits Japan (thehindu.com)
The 1997 pact, which controls the greenhouse gas emissions of rich countries, expires this year.
Negotiators haggled through the night in Doha to finalize details of a deal that allowed Kyoto to live on for another commitment period.
The U.S. never joined Kyoto, partly because it didn’t include China and other fast-growing developing countries.
Countries aim to adopt in 2015 a wider treaty that would apply to all countries and enter force when the Kyoto extension expires.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
- UN climate summit’s Qatari hosts under fire as talks drag on (guardian.co.uk)
- Déjà vu in Doha (maddowblog.msnbc.com)
- Climate change talks deadlocked on final day of UN summit (guardian.co.uk)
- Climate talks risk failure over aid row, lack of emissions goals (reuters.com)
- EU Agrees Rules on Emission Permits as UN Envoys Eye Kyoto Deal – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- At Doha Climate Talks, Modest Results At Best (npr.org)
- Poland to host UN climate talks in 2013 (worldbulletin.net)
- CII calls for extending Kyoto Protocol at Doha talks (vancouverdesi.com)
- New Zealand slams Kyoto extension (bigpondnews.com)