Tag Archives: Nature conservation

The Ocean Cleanup project: the best intention of the century!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 17th April 2013

There are many good and bad news every day when it comes to nature and ocean conservation and one of the best news of the year for me is the newly added species of sharks and manta rays on the CITES list of endangered species but I must say that the “Ocean Cleanup” project is by far the one which gives me the biggest thrill of all of them simply because I am aware of the huge problem we are facing with omnipresent plastic and garbage pollution and should this project materialize it could make a well needed difference to worldwide plastic pollution.

Some of you may or not have heard of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” also called “Pacific Trash Vortex”. It is a gyre of marine debris mainly made of pelagic plastic floating in the seawater; its size is estimated between 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 sq mi) to 15,000,000 square kilometers (5,800,000 sq mi). The source of the debris is mainly land-based but also ocean based (from ships). There are 5 gyres in the world.

The result is dramatic for the marine life, plastic ending up in the digestive system of many birds, turtles (turtles mistake floating plastic bags for jelly fish and end up eating whole plastic bags) and other sea organisms but also on us as floating debris absorb organic pollutants that end up in fish and therefore in our alimentation.

The “Ocean Cleanup” project is led by Boyan Slat an Aerospace Engineering student at the Delft University of Technology who also happens to be a very inspired diver. As the name clearly states, his project is to clean up the ocean garbage patch.  In 2012, The Ocean Cleanup Array has been awarded Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology, and came second at the iSea Clash of the Concepts sustainable innovation award by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The project which is still in study and testing phase is quite promising. The idea is to use huge floating booms like telescopic arms instead of nets to funnel all the plastic debris floating in the ocean. One of the great points of the project is to use the surface currents to help funnel the debris avoiding the by-catches as the booms would divert the debris and not catch them. Beyond the sustainability aspect of the project, from a business perspective what is interesting is that it could potentially be financially profitable.

A very good example of plastic recycling has been made by “Method” a producer of cleaning products who marketed a dish soap whose container is made partly of recycled ocean plastic[1].

According to Boyan Slats calculations the cleanup method he is working on could potentially clean up the garbage patches in 5 years which would be a miracle considering the situation. For the moment, we cannot be sure of the results as Boyan Slats mentions on his website, they are at about 1/4th of completing their feasibility study so the whole study is far from over.

I truly hope that Boyan Slats project will materialize and will successfully help overcome the garbage patches in the ocean however, should the project not materialize yet, I must say that it is great to see that the young generations are aware of the current global situation and are actively involved in finding solutions. Without mentioning the fact that once more, divers help and contribute to valuable ocean conservation projects maybe because diving makes them ever so aware of the underwater invaluable beauty and biodiversity but also of the daunting presence of plastic and garbage in the oceans.

Cleaning the ocean would be a virtually miraculous step forward and would put us back onto the planet’s sustainability path; not just for us humans but for all the others forms of life on this planet, however, this will not tackle the source of the problem. For this we need a deep structural change to our consumption habits and work to implement more biodegradable solutions again. This will require global cooperation going from industrialists to consumers and passing by political and legal authorities. Every one of us is concerned directly or indirectly by nature and ocean pollution, either as a food toxicity issue or as a simple financial or health issue so every one of us has or will have to act or contribute to conservation initiatives.

Last but not least, I will add a petition that pleads to ban non-biodegradable packaging for food, should you want to contribute in a couple of clicks:

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

 

Petitions: do they really work and how?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 7th April 2013

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

The straight answer to this question is yes, petitions do work!

Successful petitions put pressure on corporations, governments and other local authorities.

How? By helping information circulate in an unbiased way, petitions keep people informed of what is going on and help spread the word on particular aspects of information that may not be covered by the mainstream medias. The great thing about petitions and particularly about online petitioning or e-petitioning is that it makes it very easy for people to do something about a cause they may have at heart to defend and to force groups or institutions who may not want to hear to actually listen to people’s opinion.

How does the petition process work exactly? To create an e-petition it’s very simple; you can go on different online petition websites such as www.avaaz.org , www.care2.com , www.change.org  and many others. Should you want to find a petition site in your country, you just need to search for the petition in your own language in Google and you find many in your own language or related to your country. Before creating a petition, make sure that there is not one already existing which defends the same cause.

Some people think that signing e-petitions will not make any difference in the great scheme of things, well, they are simply wrong and I am going to give you some examples showing that in a couple of clicks and less than a minute people can make a positive difference in society. Of course, I am not talking about “all heroic happy-ending” unrealistic scenarios like “petitions-will-save-the-world” type of scenarios, I am saying that thanks to e-petitions, people can easily gather as a powerful group of individuals whose voices and opinions cannot be ignored by institutions.

In the UK for instance, when an e-petition reaches 100 000 signatures, the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee receives a notification from the Leader of the House of Commons (Parliament) about the petition which is then taken into consideration and discussed during the weekly hearing of MPs representations. MP’s have to make the case for the e-petition consideration.

Here are a few examples of successful outcomes thanks to e-petitions:

In December last year, thanks to a WWF[1] “I Will If You Will” campaign for Earth Hour 2012 which gathered the voices of 120,000 Russians and presented it to the government, the Russian Parliament voted a long-awaited law to protect the country’s seas from oil pollution.

On March 8th 2013 the California Coastal Commission (CCC)[2] who heard people’s outcry and petitions voted unanimously to reject the US Navy’s request to maintain military testing, sonar and bomb deployments throughout Southern California, Hawaii, Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. Many dolphins and whales have been killed already but should the CCC have approved the maintenance of the Navy’s project, millions of cetaceans would have been killed in the next 5 years so this is a prime example of how efficient petitioning helped towards life preservation of numerable cetaceans.

In his very comprehensive article “Slacktivism: Why Snopes got it Wrong About Internet Petitions”[3] Randy Paynter gives a few good examples of how petitions can make a positive difference like the striking story of independent journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee who were imprisoned in North Korea, charged with grave crimes against the state, and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. As Randy Paynter relates, “Their friends and family created petitions on “Care2” to raise awareness and call on North Korea to free the women. Close to 90,000 people signed these petitions, helping to keep the story in the national spotlight for months and eventually former President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea and negotiated Laura and Euna’s release”.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/slacktivism-why-snopes-got-it-wrong-about-internet-petitions.html#ixzz2PagpvGwg

I personally sign about 2 to 3 petitions a day on average because this is a great way to help causes and raise awareness about things that are happening in the world and that people may not know about, because people don’t necessarily have the time to get informed or simply because some issues receive very low mainstream media coverage. So, if like me, you care about justice and want to get involved, then, think about petitioning as a first easy step to make a positive difference!

To conclude, I will cite Margaret Mead’s famous words:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I will finish with a petition working towards Nature and Ocean Conservation which mainly pleads to ban non-biodegradable packaging for food which would help reducing the dramatic impact of plastic on nature and a whole array of animals and especially aquatic life:

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

Many thanks.

Angelina Cecchetto

 

Nature is sheer genius and beauty

Actions speak louder than words. In the same way, pictures and videos can speak louder than a million words. This is why I would like to share this sublime video entitled “Celestial Lights” from  Ole C. Salomonsen as it shows in a stunningly powerful manner how amazingly beautiful nature is. Nature is sheer genius and for me pure inspiration, this is why we need to protect it. We come from nature and we are part of it.

Celestial Lights from Ole C. Salomonsen on Vimeo.

If you were ever so slightly touched by what you have seen and care about the protection of nature, please take one minute to sign a petition:

  1. Avaaz petition calls for Commission to curb new incineration capacity:

http://ukwin.org.uk/2013/02/18/avaaz-petition-calls-for-commission-to-curb-new-incineration-capacity/

  1. Ban non-biodegradable packaging for food:

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

Thank you.

Conservation : People’s voices are being heard ! Some historic steps forward have been made.

By Angelina Cecchetto on 21st March 2013

Nature together with the existence of many species have never been so much in danger of extinction, there is a lot to do to protect Life. Thankfully some people do care and act about it and thanks to these people’s solidarity and efficient campaigning, some great steps forward have been achieved.

The first great news is surely the decision to finally place five species of highly traded and endangered sharks (oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerheads), both manta rays and one species of sawfish on the protected list at the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting held this month in Bangkok, Thailand. This was one of the first strong engagements to admit the criticality of sharks and rays situation and to finally protect them.

On March 8th 2013 another great step forward was achieved by the California Coastal Commission (CCC)[1] who heard people’s outcry and petitions and voted unanimously to reject the US Navy’s request to maintain military testing, sonar and bomb deployments throughout Southern California, Hawaii, Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. Many dolphins and whales have been killed already but should the CCC have approved the maintenance of the Navy’s project, millions of cetaceans would have been killed in the next 5 years so this is great news for the life preservation of many cetaceans in these areas so thanks for signing the petition everybody!

The other step forward was also achieved in Thailand when Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced that Thailand is ending the sale of elephant ivory. This is a fantastic step towards elephant conservation there. Once again this was achieved thanks to people’s mobilization and especially WWF actions and campaigns gathering thousands of petition signatures.

In December last year, thanks to a WWF[2] “I Will If You Will” campaign for Earth Hour 2012 which gathered the voices of 120,000 Russians and presented it to the government, the Russian Parliament voted a long-awaited law to protect the country’s seas from oil pollution.

Last but not least, we will mention the fantastic work achieved by the Sea Shepherds team who returned to Melbourne last Monday after “Operation Zero Tolerance” which is their most successful campaign to date. Their courage, solidarity and perseverance saved the lives of hundreds of whales in the Antartic and showed yet again that when people get together to defend the right cause they can have a positive influence on events or history. As many environmentalists, I was also delighted to hear that Germany finally dropped their warrant against Captain Paul Watson.

To conclude, I would say that we can all make a positive difference in this world, there is no right or wrong way to do so. As Zachary Scott rightly said, “As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do” so if you want to do something about what is happening you can.

We have a voice and we can use it! Here are a few petitions to sign should you want to use your voice to make a positive difference:

  1. “Stop Japan Killing Dolphins!”

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/632/220/224/stop-japan-killing-dolphins/

  1. “Don’t Eliminate Protections For At-Risk Marine Species!”

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/275/718/873/

  1. “Mexico: Protect Critically Endangered Sea Turtles”

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/410/105/666/

  1. Ban non-biodegradable packaging for food

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

Thank you.

Angelina Cecchetto

Manta giving birth or intestinal eversion?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 9 February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Following the great feedback I received from the last post “The first breathtaking photo of a giant oceanic Manta Ray giving birth??” it would seem that the picture could well show a case of what is called “gastro-intestinal eversion” where the manta actually ejects the lower part of its intestine out of the cloaca in order to clean its intestine from indigestible debris.

This is an event which has so far been rarely recorded in the wild. One other case has been recorded in 2007 at a cleaning station in waters off Maui[1].

Since I am no marine biologist I will leave it to the specialists to decide whether the picture shows a manta giving birth or everting its intestine. In any case this is a very rare and lucky shot!

What this information leads me to wonder is whether the regularity at which the mantas evert their intestine has been increased by the anthropogenic pollution factor? It would also be interesting to know what sort of impact this has on the mantas habits and behaviors if any.

It would also seem that the shot could be of a Manta alfredi rather than Manta birostris, this is still to be defined with other shots. The differentiation between Manta alfredi and Manta birostris is fairly recent and dates back from 2009[2]. In fact Manta alfredy, also known as Reef Manta Ray and Manta birostris are both part of what is called the “genus Manta” family and they can easily be confused. It would seem that manta birostris do not display markings between the gills.

What is pretty certain is that the situation of the mantas alfredy is also critical. The same over fishing threats apply to both species and the population is drastically decreasing. The IUCN[3] categorized the manta rays as “Vulnerable” in between the “Near Threatened” and “Endangered” species and states that “Overall, the rate of population reduction appears to be high in several regions, up to as much as 80% over the last three generations (approximately 75 years), and globally a decline of 30% is strongly suspected.”

As I mentioned in the previous article, there are various factors that led to this critical state of affairs: overfishing, very low fecundity rate and anthropogenic pollution.  It would seem that in the wild female mantas give birth to a single pup every 2 to 3 years cycle. When we add this factor to the overfishing trends we can easily understand that populations are being easily depleted.

Whether this picture shows a Manta birostris or a Manta alfredi and whether it is showing a birth or a gastro intestinal eversion (I leave it to the knowledgeable marine specialists and scientists to decide), the important message is that Mantas are in danger and they need a strong global protection. I am hoping that this picture will raise awareness, open up discussions, ideas exchange and humbly contribute towards global mantas protection.

Angelina Cecchetto

[1] “Intestinal eversion in a free-ranging manta ray” by Springer-Verlag 2007. http://www.himb.hawaii.edu/sharklab/Clark_et_al_manta%20intestine%20eversion.pdf

The first breathtaking photo of a Manta Ray giving birth??

By Angelina Cecchetto on 7th February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

When my friend and Film Maker Martin Ureta came to the Maldives for a dive holiday he was far from imagining that he would be the amazingly lucky and first ever photographer of a giant oceanic manta giving birth in its natural environment!

Despite a growing number of scientific studies on manta populations very little is known thus far about the giant oceanic Manta ray also known as Manta Birostris. No one has ever seen them give birth so far. So it would seem that Martin is the first person to have ever photographed a Manta Birostris in the process of giving birth in its natural environment, and this happened during the first week of January 2013! The shot was taken during a dive in the southern part of the Ari Atoll in the Maldives in a dive spot famous for spotting mantas. During the dive a group of 3 Mantas Birostris were twirling over the shallow reef to feed to the delight of the group of divers observing their graceful underwater moves. The divers were all mesmerized by the spectacle and couldn’t believe their luck to have spotted the mantas and have them twirling over them for some magical minutes. Martin was busy enjoying the show and capturing this underwater ballet on camera. None the divers, nor their guide noticed anything particular happening with the mantas during the actual dive but when they came back to the island and viewed the pictures we noticed something unusual in one of the manta’s pelvic area. I immediately thought this might be the unbelievable capture of a manta birth but I am not a marine biologist.

When he returned from holidays, Martin contacted The Manta Network[1] in California to get an opinion on what is actually happening on the photo. Robert Aston, The Manta Network Executive Director shared the photo with Dr. Robert Rubin who is one of the foremost experts on Manta Birostris and from their very enthusiastic feedback, it would seem that the picture is indeed the first picture of a Manta Birostris giving birth.

We would like to use this picture as a flagship picture to defend mantas and especially the giant oceanic mantas. We hope this picture will create the awareness that mantas are some of the most peaceful and graceful underwater creatures. Very little is known about them so far but all the studies being led are highlighting a drastic decline in their populations. According to the IUCN[2] “The rate of population reduction appears to be high in several regions, as much as 80% over the last three generations (approximately 75 years), and globally a decline of 30% is strongly suspected.”

The IUCN categorized the manta rays as “Vulnerable” in between the “Near Threatened” and “Endangered” species. There are a various factors that led to this critical state of affairs.

The first main threat comes from fishing as mantas are highly valuable in international markets and in particular in Asian markets. As Africa Geographic’s Science Editor Tim Jackson[3] mentions in his article entitled “Myths about manta rays”:  “In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that the gill-rakers of mantas and other rays cure chickenpox and alleviate high blood pressure. They don’t!”

The fact that mantas are easy to spot from the surface due to their large size, and easy to fish out because of their slow swimming speed and the fact that they don’t avoid humans, make them a very easy prey for many fishing boats.

Another important factor to understand is mantas reproductive cycle. Although there is a lot to be learnt still, it is thought that Mantas Birostris have a gestation period of one year and generally give birth to a single pup at a time. It is still not quite clear whether females have a pup per year or one every 2 years. At this rate it is important to understand that if the fishing rate is higher than the manta rays reproductive rate, they will soon be extinct.

Another factor to mention is the anthropogenic factor such as water warming and pollution which indirectly affects mantas habitat although it is pretty difficult to evaluate in which measure.

To conclude I would say that in the light of all of the above it appears quite vital that worldwide measures are taken as soon as possible. Some countries have already applied strong measures to protect mantas as the UICN states, mainly the United States, the Republic of Maldives, the Philippines, Mexico, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand. Whilst this is a great start, Mantas are in danger and need a strong global worldwide protection.

Mantas are some of the most peaceful and graceful underwater creatures I have been given the chance to see. It would be a lot more than just an “awful shame” to loose such a magical underwater specie in the name of an unfounded cure property.

Angelina Cecchetto

When all natural resources will be poisoned will Men survive eating money?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 2nd February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

I have been lucky enough to turn one of my passions into a job and to become a dive instructor.  When I dive every day I see a fascinating underwater world that never ceases to amaze me and the divers that I take underwater. The underwater world is simply magical. Unfortunately every day I dive I also see the devastating mark of human consumption everywhere in the ocean.

Every day, I see plastic bottles both at the surface and in the sea. In the sea and in the heart of the reefs I see baby nappies, plastic bags, metal cans, plastic and glass bottles, fishing lines, constructions materials to name just a few. I pick up as many things as I can but this is nothing compare to the amount of trash we pour in the ocean every day.

We are all culprits of this “poisoning”. In the Indian Ocean, the safari boats simply dump their rubbish in the sea. The island resort hotels do the same. Instead of taking their refuse to a processing island they just wait for night to fall so no one sees them and dump the rubbish in the sea a few miles off the island. It’s cheaper. The profit that these island resort hotels make could very easily provide for a refusal budget but the greed for profit at all costs seems as infinite as the universe itself.

The governments worldwide seem to be turning a blind eye to the situation so I am inclined to think that the refuse processing is a big money scam in many countries not to say worldwide.

In Italy the rubbish are being buried in fertile agricultural grounds… In his book “Gomorra” the journalist and writer Roberto Saviano denounces all these refuse processing or rather non processing scams. Of course the fact there is no regulation or control about the rubbish processing results in constant daily poisoning of our soil and seas.

We are poisoning our own environment and killing many other innocent species in the process… In the sea the situation is dramatic. The land to water ratio on the planet is about 30 to 70% so the ocean covers about 2/3 of the planet. With this in mind you would think, the ocean is so big that you would hardly ever see traces of human consumption there. Well that’s precisely where the situation becomes alarming, the reefs are not only the victims of the overall global warming phenomenon which is more subtle to perceive but they are also ridden with human rubbish everywhere and this we cannot ignore.

We all know that the oceans are overfished, we all know about global warming, we all know about species disappearing due to human over consumption and damage so the question is what do we do about it? Individually we can do localized actions but separate we cannot change the big picture. So when are we going to get involved all together?

The main issue beyond the refuse processing is the whole consumer product industry. Packaging. Do we really need 3 layers of plastic around our products? Do we really need to have our strawberries in a plastic container and an extra cellophane layer around it?  Do we really need baby nappies made out of Polyethylene i.e. plastic?

It is time to rethink the whole consumer products packaging worldwide and fast! It is not only killing or endangering many innocent species worldwide; it is also endangering us humans. The bottom line of the issue is that “money rules” in this world as we all know.

My question to conclude is simple:  when all natural resources will be poisoned or extinct will Men survive eating money??

Angelina Cecchetto