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No, SeaWorld Is Not Phasing Out Orca Shows

The marine entertainment company is reworking its orca shows, not eliminating them

Yesterday’s headlines proclaiming that SeaWorld will be ending orca whale shows were almost as misleading as the alleged "educational value" of the shows themselves.

On Monday, SeaWorld announced that it will “phase out” the San Diego park’s theatrical killer whale show in 2016, and unveil a “new orca experience” in 2017. According to the announcement, which was made in a presentation to investors, the new experience will be "informative." SeaWorld also says the new shows will be take place in a “more natural setting” and that they will carry a "conservation message inspiring people to act.”

Photo of SeaWorld Orca ShowPhoto by Josh HallettSeaWorld is not phasing out orca shows, just calling these shows by a different name.

This announcement was quickly picked up by media outlets around country, generating headlines that SeaWorld was “ending,” "getting rid of," and "drawing the curtain on" its killer whale show.

Unfortunately, many of Monday’s headlines exaggerated the announcement. SeaWorld’s infamous orca shows are being reworked, rather than eliminated, at the San Diego, California park. (The announcement does not pertain to SeaWorld’s other parks.) The announcement does not mean that SeaWorld will end orca exploitation, or that it will release orcas to marine sanctuaries, the preferred course of action among many advocates.

The lack of meaningful change left many advocates frustrated. “SeaWorld fully intends to continue forced breeding of orcas in captivity,” says David Phillips, director of the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP), an Earth Island Institute project that works to protect dolphins and whales. “They will continue to keep orcas in concrete tanks with no intention of retirement or release. They intend to continue to import and export orcas to other captive facilities as they see fit.”

Responding to the announcement in a press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said: “This move is like no longer whipping lions in a circus act but keeping them locked inside cages for life.”

SeaWorld has faced mounting public pressure in recent years. The 2013 release of Blackfish, a popular documentary criticizing SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas, sparked public outrage, and company profits have taken a hit. The marine mammal giant has also faced several lawsuits this year, including one by Earth Island’s IMMP, arguing that SeaWorld has misled the public about the health and …more

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Anti-Dam Activists Gather in Sarawak State to Celebrate Second Anniversary of Baram Dam Blockades

Indigenous communities successfully prevent any progress on the dam for two years

In October, Indigenous activists from around the world gathered on the banks of the Baram River in Sarawak to celebrate the second anniversary of the Baram Dam blockades. Indigenous Kenyah, Kayan, and Penan people have continuously occupied the two blockades for the past two years. The blockades have successfully prevented any progress on the Baram Dam, one dam in a series of 12 proposed hydro-electric dams in Sarawak. If built, the 1,200-megawatt Baram dam would displace as many as 20,000 Indigenous people living in more than 26 villages, and would flood 400 square kilometers of rainforest.

Photo of Baram Dam BlockadesPhoto by EWISER participants and people from Baram standing in solidarity at the Baram River. 

The anniversary event was preceded by Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem’s July announcement of a moratorium on the Baram dam Sarawak state, a huge victory for activists on the ground that have been working tirelessly to save their communities. This victory is met with cautious optimism from activists in Sarawak. According to Peter Kallang, chairman of the indigenous grassroots network SAVE Rivers, there is still "a great sense of anxiety" because the land gazetted for construction of the dam has not been legally returned to the communities and logging continues. 

Residents of Sarawak are already all too familiar with the devastating impacts of mega dams. In 1998, an estimated 10,000 people were moved from their ancestral lands to facilitate construction of the Bakun dam, which began operating in 2011. More than 15 years later, they are still struggling to get by in their resettlement village of Sungai Asap.

Indigenous anti-dam activists from Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Brazil, the US, Honduras, as well as activists from throughout Malaysia, travelled to Sarawak to stand in solidarity with local activists at the blockade anniversary event, named the World Indigenous Summit on Environment and Rivers (WISER). The weeklong summit was hosted by SAVE Rivers, a network that has been working to stop the Sarawak dams by spreading awareness among communities that will be displaced.

In addition to celebrating the success of the Baram blockades, WISER helped strengthen ties between Indigenous communities around the world. During celebrations — which took place at the two blockade sites, the proposed dam site, and at a conference in the town …more

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Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline

President says transporting crude oil from Canada won't help the economy, lower gas prices, or increase the United States' energy security

In a huge win for environmentalists, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline proposal today.

Had transport company TransCanada's proposal been approved, the pipeline would have transected six states, carrying crude oil 1,700 miles from Canada’s Alberta tar stands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

President Obama at his desk Official White House Photo by Pete SouzaThe President said that the pipeline was neither be a silver bullet for the economy, nor the express lane to climate disaster.

In a White House press briefing this morning, Obama said that the pipeline “would not serve the national interest of the United States.” The President cited three main reasons for rejecting the project — it wasn’t going to help the economy in any meaningful way, it wouldn’t lower gas prices for Americans, and it wouldn’t increase the country’s energy security.

“Now, for years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse,” he said. “It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

Echoing what many pipeline opponents have been saying, and acknowledging the impact the project would have had on climate change, he added: “Ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

The announcement was major victory for environmental advocates, who had been campaigning against the project for years based on its climate impact as well as the precedent it would set for American energy policy.

“This is a big win,” May Boeve, executive director of, said in a statement. “President Obama’s decision to reject Keystone XL because of its impact on the climate is nothing short of historic — and sets an important precedent that should send shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry.” Boeve said Obama’s decision affirmed “the power of social movements” to change politics. “We’re looking to build on this victory, …more

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Mauritius’ First Female President on Science, Biodiversity, and Climate Change

In Conversation: President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim made history in June when she became the first female president of Mauritius, a small island state in the Indian Ocean. She was appointed to the ceremonial position by parliament, and took office on June 5.

Photo courtesy of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim Gurib-Fakim is the first female president of Mauritius.

Gurib-Fakim has a background in chemistry and ethnobotany rather than in politics. After earning her PhD in chemistry from Exeter University, she returned to her native Mauritius in 1987 as a professor at the University of Mauritius. She left the university in 2010 to open a research center, Centre International de Développement Pharmaceutiquem (CIDP), where she served as managing director. CIDP conducts research on the medicinal, nutritional, and cosmetic uses of plants.

Gurib-Fakim believes her background in science will come in handy as president. In particular, she thinks that innovation and research can facilitate sustainable economic growth in Mauritius. In the field of ethobotany alone, the country’s incredible biodiversity offer a vast resource for research and development. Noting that the small island nation is already feeling the effects of climate change, she also hopes Mauritius will receive the support it needs from other countries for climate adaptation efforts.  

What inspired you to pursue a career as an ethnobotanist?

Actually, I did not intend to go into ethnobotany. I got drawn to ethnobotany while I was still following my passion for chemistry. I returned home to Mauritius with a PhD in organic chemistry and realized that I could not do organic chemistry the way I was used to so I started exploring plant chemistry and eventually discovered the beauty of ethnobotany. Ethnobotany, examines the relationships between people and plants, and links culture, traditions, and the sciences. It is a short cut towards the discovery of new potential biologically active molecules from natural sources that can be used in modern medicine, as well as in other fields.

As president of Mauritius what issues are you focusing on?

As president, I am limited by what the constitution allows me to do. But I think there is still a place to focus on issues that are important for the country. I am very keen to drive the science, technology, and innovation agenda, which can be transformative for any economy. After all, the difference between the North and …more

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Climate-Smart Conservation in the San Francisco Bay

Integrating climate science into marsh restoration and conservation efforts

Its pre-dawn and the gate to the Oro Loma marsh in San Leandro, California is locked. On the metal latch hangs a necklace of about ten U-locks, which grant scientists and land managers access to the marsh. I have the key to one of the locks and am here this morning to collect data on birds in the ecologically restored tidal marshes that lie beyond the gate as an intern biologist with Point Blue Conservation Science.

Photo of Don Edwards MarshPhoto by JKehoe_Photos A marsh in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The sun has risen, and I stand motionless at my first survey point, watching and listening for birds. North of here, San Francisco looks like a ghost-city in the fog, only the tops of the tallest buildings visible and wavering in the light. My surveys are focused on species of birds that tend to indicate healthy marsh habitat in the Bay Area, including song sparrows, marsh wrens, and the endangered Ridgway’s Rail. Land that was described to me by one biologist as being mostly mud flats in the mid-1990s is now teeming with marsh vegetation and birds. The data I am collecting today will help assess what changes have occurred here since restoration work began, part of Point Blue’s long-term study of marsh birds in San Francisco Bay.

Thought to have once covered nearly 200,000 acres, San Francisco's tidal marshes saw a drastic decrease in area during the late nineteenth century and much of the twentieth century due to dredging, infilling, and diking. Beginning with the amendment of the Clean Water Act in 1972, development of wetlands in the San Francisco Bay mostly ceased. Since then, a host of organizations have been working to restore ecological function through tidal marsh restoration at the landscape scale. The 365 acres of marshes at Oro Loma were restored in 1997 by breaching the levee that had held back tidal water of the San Francisco Bay. It is one wetlands restoration project among many in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is currently under the transformative gaze of conservation organizations interested in restoring ecological function of the San Francisco estuary at the landscape scale.

Unfortunately, despite restoration efforts, sea level rise caused by climate change is an emerging threat …more

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The Comeback of the Atlantic Great White Shark

Along with rising numbers, sharks are enjoying improved public perception along the US Atlantic Coast

Beachgoers in Cape Cod made headlines this year by taking action that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago and rushing to the aid of several stranded great white sharks. Their efforts, which saved one of the three sharks that washed ashore this year, indicate not only that the species has made a dramatic comeback in the Northern Atlantic, but also that popular attitudes toward these predators have changed drastically in recent years.  Once seen as mindless killing machines, great white sharks are now increasingly understood as a key facet of the ocean's ecosystem.

Photo of Great White SharkPhoto by Elias Levy Public outreach efforts along the Atlantic Coast have helped improve public attitudes toward sharks.

In the late 1970s, great white sharks experienced an unprecedented onslaught of negative publicity. With the 1976 release of the film Jaws, the public became terrified of entering the water, lest they encounter a "rogue" great white that would habitually target humans. Both the Jaws novel, released in 1974, and the film were inspired by Victor Coppleson’s 1958 book Shark Attack, which advanced the theory that once a predatory animal like a great white shark tasted human blood, it would be inclined to strike at the same prey again. This theory has since been widely discredited

The myth of the blood-thirsty great white proved dangerous for the sharks. Already in demand for their fins and jaws, anglers also began to target white sharks as trophies, which further decimated the species in the Northern Atlantic. Though research on great whites is scarce, by the 1980s the Atlantic population had declined to an estimated 27 percent of its 1961 size.

In 1997 the great white shark became a federally protected species in the Atlantic, which meant commercial and recreational harvest were prohibited in the region. This marked a turnaround for the species. According to NOAA, the number of great whites in the Atlantic is now at 69 percent of its 1961 population size, a significant increase from the 1980s. Thanks to one of the world's largest seal colonies, located at Monomoy Island, a global great white hotspot has also developed around Cape Cod. 

The growth of the Atlantic population has stimulated shark research in the region, as well as education and outreach efforts …more

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EPA Slow to Halt Use of Toxic Pesticide Endosulfan

Subject to a gradual phase-out rather than an outright ban, "DDT's cousin" is still being used in the United States

On a cool November day in 2009, farmworker Jovita Alfau was transplanting hibiscus as she’d been instructed in a section of Power Bloom Farms and Growers nursery in Homestead, Florida. 

Photo of Farmworkers harvesting cabbagePhoto by Bob Jagendorf Farmworkers harvesting cabbage.

As she began pulling up the seedlings from the pots, she began to “feel dizzy and weak, experienced numbness in her mouth and vomited,” according to a complaint she would later file against her employer in federal district court in southern Florida. 

Alfau had no idea why she was feeling so ill, but lawyers from the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project representing her in a lawsuit learned through deposition that the area of the nursery where the hibiscus grew had been sprayed with the pesticide endosulfan less than 24 hours earlier, according to the lawsuit. Her employer allegedly failed to warn her about the required elapse time before it was safe to enter. Alfau had been wearing no protective gear. 

Alfau alleges in the lawsuit that there were times when the applicators sprayed the nursery even while she and her fellow farmworkers were tending the plants. 

The nursery denied wrongdoing, but settled with the then 43-year-old single mother of three in 2012 for $100,000. Asked by New America Media recently whether his nursery was still using endosulfan, Power Bloom president Steve Power said he had no comment.

It was pesticide poisonings like Alfau’s, as well as years of pressure from a broad coalition of environmentalists, health care advocates, farmworkers, and scientists, that many believe were responsible for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement of a six-year phase-out of the pesticide in 2010.  

The federal agency negotiated an agreement with the compound’s sole manufacturer, Makhteshim Agan, based in Israel at the time, to stop using the pesticide crop-by-crop. 

In an email justifying the gradual phase-out, the agency said that it needed to give growers “time to research and adopt lower risk alternatives,” especially for crops with limited choices. 

The EPA acknowledged that even though it had not fully addressed all of the ecological and human health risk concerns regarding endosulfan, it had taken a number of mitigation measures to make its use safer. 

Environmentalists and advocates were upset. Eight years after the federal agency said on its own website that endosulfan “can …more

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