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Thousands of Chinese Ships Trawl the World, So How Can We Stop Overfishing?

The UN has pledge to ensure healthy, productive oceans, but demand for fish has never been higher

When I was in Senegal in 2003, the few Chinese vessels fishing along the coast from Mauritania to Liberia were unseaworthy rust-buckets, existing off what licenses they could cadge.

Then in the past five years shining new trawlers appeared on the horizon, churned out by subsidized Chinese shipyards, earning their owners handsome subsidies if they travel outside China, where they run on subsidized fuel and exploit subsidized freight rates to get their frozen cargo back home. There seem to be unlimited funds available to buy licenses to fish in ways that are far from transparent — and which have long been exploited by other Far East fleets and resourceful members of the European Union.

photo of trawlersphoto by Rene LeubertTrawlers off the coast of Namibia. China has the largest distant water fleet in the world, with some 3,400 vessels fishing in the waters of nearly 100 countries.

China’s distant water fleet is now the largest in the world, with about 3,400 vessels fishing in the waters of nearly 100 countries. Researchers estimate that nearly 75 percent of all the fish it caught came from African waters with almost 3 million tons from West Africa.

And there is, as far as we can see, a problem. Scientists working for the University of British Columbia, using a new way of estimating the size and value of catches, reported this year that just 9 percent of the millions of tons of fish caught by the Chinese in African waters is officially reported to the UN. All nations have to report annual catches to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Once, if you wanted to understand how global trends in food consumption were affecting the health of the ocean, you would travel to different countries, stand on the fish dock and watch the boats come and go. Now you get a far better grasp of what is going on from a computer program that tracks fishing vessels by satellite. Focus in on West Africa and you will notice the extraordinary upsurge in the number of Chinese trawlers fishing there in the past four years. The program displays the routes of more than 400 industrial vessels, 220 of them from China — more than any other nation.

Zoom in on the coast of mainland China itself and you will understand why the Chinese fleet ranges across the world from the south Pacific to the Caribbean to bring home the …more

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Rescued Animals Find Refuge in New Middle East Reserve

First lions, tigers, and bears transferred to region’s largest wildlife sanctuary in Jordan

The October opening of the largest-ever animal sanctuary of its kind in the Middle East offered a rare sign of hope amid the many ongoing conflicts in the region. Jordan’s Al Ma’wa Wildlife Reserve is now home to its first residents: seven lions, two tigers, and a Syrian brown bear. All ten animals were rescued from lives in captivity elsewhere in the Middle East — and transferred to the sanctuary by Four Paws, a Vienna-based animal welfare nonprofit.

photo of brown bearPhoto courtesy of Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife A Syrian brown bear was among the first animals transferred to Al Ma’wa, the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Middle East.

The plan was long in the making — animal welfare advocates have struggled for years to address inhumane treatment of captive animals in the region, as well as a strong illegal wildlife trade. “It was an idea for all these years,” said Amir Khalil, an Egyptian-born veterinarian and director of emergency response for Four Paws. “Now it is a reality. The animals are there. We’re happy and proud. We were able to move mountains.”

Subsequent construction will see the sanctuary expand from its current 70 hectares to 140 hectares, which is “far larger than any similar establishment in the region,” Four Paws said in a statement.

Working with Princess Alia of Jordan, the sister of King Abdullah II, and her namesake, the Princess Alia Foundation, Four Paws culminated a six-year planning process with a three-day animal transfer, moving the large mammals from a smaller sanctuary, the New Hope Centre near Jordan’s capital city, Amman, to the larger reserve sanctuary near Souf, 45 kilometers to the north. The first Al Ma’wa animals were darted and anesthetized before being placed in “very heavy” crates, Khalil said. The crates were, in turn, placed on trucks and escorted by police for the hour-and-a-half long drive between the two reserves.

A pride of five lions were the first animals to be moved. A day later, they were joined by two tigers and Balou, the Syrian brown bear. All of these animals had been rescued from captivity, Khalil said. Two more lions arrived on the third day; they had been rescued from the Al Bisan zoo in the northern Gaza Strip in late 2014. Al Bisan lost 80 percent of its animals during a war between Israel and Hamas earlier that year, as zoo staff struggled to keep the animals healthy.

Asked what would have happened …more

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In India’s Remote Delta Region, Women Document Their Daily Struggle with Climate Change

As rising seas swallow islands, turn farmlands fallow, everyday life becomes a challenge

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the low-lying Sunderbans delta region by the Bay of Bengal is one of the most visible victims of the ravages of climate change in India.

An archipelago of several hundred islands of varying size, the Sunderbans stretches nearly 186 miles across the Indian state of West Bengal and Bangladesh. It is part of the world’s largest delta (30,888. sq miles) system formed from sediments deposited by three rivers – the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna – as they empty into the Bay of Bengal. It is also home to one of the world’s largest mangrove forests.

photo of a woman standing in water, jug balanced on her headPhoto by Lakshana Debnath“This is a common sight in the smaller islands of the Sunderbans,” says photographer  Lakshana Debnath. “Portions are perennially waterlogged as some of the breaches still remain for the water to gush in during high tides. The women have to repeat this choice quite a few times. every day. The water level is considerably higher (sometimes chest high) during monsoons.”

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change had warned nearly a decade ago that areas like the Sunderbans would be among the first to bear the brunt of climate risks caused by sea level rise and salt-water intrusion into farmlands and underground aquifers.

Sea levels in this area are rising at twice the global average, submerging islands, destroying homes and livelihoods. Women and children are especially at risk. Loss of farmable land, rising salinity in soil and groundwater, has led to men migrating in search of work. As a result, the workload on women has increased – they have to tend the fields, run the household and care for family members. This often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to factors like sudden weather-related natural disasters. 

A unique project has enabled the women in the Sunderbans to put together their stories about living with climate change in a vulnerable region. The women documented their lives as a part of a participatory research project that taught them how to wield cameras.

photo of a woman digging in sandPhoto by Parul Bhakta“Crab collection is the main livelihood of a substantial portion of women islanders living near the forest zones,” Parul Bhaktra, one of the women who participated in the project, says. “Sometimes they travel back and forth daily around 15 times a month. Most of them have …more

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Taking On Environmental Racism in Nova Scotia

Ongoing research project raises awareness of the issue while mobilizing affected residents to action

When an activist working on environmental racism first met with Ingrid Waldron in 2012 and asked her to become involved with his efforts, Waldron was hesitant. A sociologist and assistant professor of nursing at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she didn’t know much about environmental racism. The term describes situations where industrial polluters and environmental hazards — such as landfills, trash incinerators, or coal plants — are disproportionately placed near low-income or minority communities.

photo of a landscapePhoto (CC BY-SA): Silver Donald Cameron An aerial view of a landfill in Lincolnville,  which is an African Canadian community in Nova Scotia.

“I was hesitant to take on a project, as it wasn’t an interest of mine,” Waldron says. “But I thought about it more. It seemed challenging. It would be political, and there would be an opportunity to make real change in communities. Those things excited me.” The researcher decided to say yes.

Four years later, The ENRICH Project (Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities, and Community Health) still consumes Waldron. As director of the project, she leads a team of fourteen community members, seven academic researchers, three research staff — including Dave Ron, the activist who got the whole project started — and 10 students, all determined to investigate and address environmental racism in African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities. (Also known as Mi’kmaq, members of this First Nations people were the first inhabitants of the Atlantic provinces of Canada. Today, there are 13 Mi’kmaw communities in Nova Scotia.)

Cases of environmental racism have been documented around the world, with one of the first high-profile cases occurring in the 1980s in Warren County, North Carolina, when a hazardous waste landfill was constructed in the small, predominately African-American community. In many situations, inexpensive land combined with a community’s perceived lack of power to resist leads industry to build environmental hazards in such communities.

Using research to mobilize communities

“We’re looking at the issue from a research perspective, and using that research and data to mobilize communities to action,” Waldron says. The project’s activities range from a youth arts and education project to a series of workshops hosted in 2013 and 2014 to hear residents’ concerns and encourage action. A filmmaker documented those events and created a film called In Whose Backyard?

In these workshops, Waldron and others on the team met with people in affected communities, including those in Lincolnville, an African Nova Scotian community settled by Black Loyalists in in 1784. Residents …more

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Paris Climate Deal Thrown into Uncertainty by US Election Result

Many fear Donald Trump will reverse the ambitious course set by Barack Obama and withdraw the US from the accord

Just days after the historic Paris agreement officially came into force, climate denier Donald Trump’s victory has thrown the global deal into uncertainty and raised fears that the US will reverse the ambitious environmental course charted under Barack Obama.

photo of coal plantphoto by Pembina InstituteAn oil sands facility in Canada. Environmental groups are worried about what a Trump presidency means for international climate action.

International environmental groups meeting at the UN climate talks in Morocco said it would be a catastrophe if Trump acted on his pledge to withdraw the US from the deal, which took 20 years to negotiate, and to open up public land for coal, oil, and gas extraction.

Trump has called climate chance a “hoax,” placing him virtually alone among world leaders on the validity of the science. The real estate magnate has promised to embark upon a four-year process of withdrawing the US from the Paris deal and has targeted the “billions and billion and billions” given to UN climate programs and clean energy development.

Domestically, Trump has promised to reboot America’s ailing coal industry, as well as expand gas and oil drilling, despite the fact the growth of natural gas use has caused the downturn in coal.

He also plans to scrap Barack Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan, which is the main policy designed to lower US emissions.

Recent analysis by Lux Research estimated that a Trump presidency would raise US greenhouse gas output by 16 percent by the end of his second term, should he get one, compared to a Hillary Clinton administration. Such a shift could prove key in not only pushing the world towards dangerous climate change but also dissuading other nations from making the required cuts in emissions.

Green groups have urged the president-elect, as the leader of the second greatest greenhouse gas emitter, to act in the interests of all the world.

 “The new president must protect the people he serves from climate chaos. No personal belief or political affiliation can change the stark truth that every new oil well and pipeline pushes us all closer to catastrophe. The administration has moral and legal obligations to meet international commitments,” said May Boeve, head of climate campaign group 350.org.

Christian Aid warned that any attempts by Trump to ditch the Paris deal would be an act of “economic self-sabotage.”

“The global transition to a zero-carbon economy will not …more

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Red, White, and (Hopefully) Green All Over

Here are some of the most environmentally important contests in today's election

The 2016 election has become infamous for its visceral polarization — and environmental issues are no exception. Conservation was once a trans-partisan concern that seemed above party labels: George H.W. Bush, for example, backed several important environmental measures, and a Teddy Roosevelt spirit of lands preservation held strong among Republicans for decades. Since 2000, however, voters’ views on the environment, especially global climate change, have increasingly diverged along party lines. According to the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, climate change is now a more divisive issue than abortion or gay marriage

But US environmental organizations say that below that discouraging fact lies a broad commitment to environmental protection among the new American electorate of younger and more ethnically diverse voters. To mobilize those voters, green groups have poured huge amounts of financial resources and staff time toward campaigning for Hillary Clinton and electing a climate action majority to the Senate. Environmental groups are projected to spend more than $100 million on influencing the election outcome, with the biggest efforts coming from venture-capitalist-turned-philanthropist Tom Steyer’s Next Gen Climate ($55 million) and the League of Conservation Voters ($45 million). 

image of solar energy and US flagimage by Natasha MayersGreens are hopeful that the environment can be a winning issue on election night.

Greens’ best hope rests with millennial voters, who have by the far the strongest commitment to environmental protection of any age group; according to a July poll, more than three-quarters of eligible millennial voters agree that “climate change is a severe threat that we must start addressing now.” To mobilize the millennial vote, environmental organizations have set up operations on more than 300 college campuses and launched a sophisticated text-message-driven GOTV effort targeting young people who aren’t in college. “We need a bigger tent that the environmental movement has now in order to win,” says Michael Kieschnick, the national campaign manager at Next Gen Climate, which quickly poached Bernie Sanders’ top tech talent after Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination. “That led us to the millennial generation, which is the most progressive on environmental issues. They are skeptical about elections, but not about progressive issues. So we have made a very big commitment to young voters.”

Environmental groups are also optimistic about their ability to use climate and pollution to motivate voters of color. If 2016 proves to be the coming out party for a powerful Latino voting bloc, as many pundits are …more

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Wisconsin’s Dwindling Commercial Fisheries Contend With A Farmed Future

The collapse of Great Lakes fisheries foretells the future of our oceans

At Empire Fish in Milwaukee, you can buy a frozen octopus the size of your head — from South Africa. Red king crab legs the length of your arm — from the Bering Sea. Or as many pounds of tilapia as you can fathom — farmed in China.

But on this particular weekday in the fillet room at the market, four men are slicing along the spines of lake whitefish and walleye, native species from the Great Lakes region. These fish were caught wild in Canadian waters.

Photo of fisherman Great LakesPhoto by Theresa Soley Kevin Anschutz has been commercial fishing in Lake Michigan for the last 40 years. Due to overfishing, invasive species, and pollution, few wild Great Lakes fisheries remain.

One man brings his slender blade to the fish’s head and removes it, chucking the discard into a grey garbage bin beside him. He presses his knife through flesh until it hits hard abdominal vertebra. Next the man follows the fish’s backbone with his blade past pectoral fin, then dorsal fin until meeting caudal fin: its tail.

The man tosses a one-pound chunk of meat into a silver tray with one hand, and flips what’s left of the whitefish with the other. As instinctually as a plumber tightens a washer, he carves out the fillet. After removing the meat, the only remains are spinal column to tail. The skeleton gets tossed into the garbage bin, piled high with heads, tails and bones.

Next fish. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

While lake whitefish and walleye are from the Great Lakes, local fish are a minority at the market. Empire Fish is only 10 miles from Lake Michigan, one of the world’s grandest freshwater bodies, yet its stock is mostly exotic. The United States imports 80 percent of its seafood from other countries — like octopus from South Africa.

Not all of the fish at the market was caught wild, either, as aquaculture has become a widespread phenomenon. In 2012, the United States was ranked third in overall fish farming production by country worldwide, after China and Indonesia, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has determined that Asian countries including Thailand, India, and China use unsustainable fishing and farming practices. That’s why 
a frozen bag of imported tilapia fillets at Empire Fish costs proportionately less than locally sourced fish.

In the Great Lakes region, fishermen are feeling the brunt of global …more

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