The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
February, 2003, Vol.6 No. 2
Philippines opposes Codex proposal on fish lead
Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. said the proposed maximum level of lead content in fish should not be approved because the presence of lead in fish does not pose a significant risk to public health, nor does it present an expected problem in trade.
There is also no internationally validated assay method for lead in fish at 0.2ppm.
"Continuing the establishment of a maximum level in fish at 0.2ppm is contrary to Codex principles on the establishment of a maximum level for contaminants in foods," Lorenzo said in a letter to David Byron of the Codex secretariat.
The Codex principle states that the maximum level should be set only for those contaminants that present both a significant risk to public health and known or expected problems in trade. It is also a Codex principle that maximum levels should not be level than a level that can be analyzed using methods that can be readily applied in normal product control laboratories.
The CCfac is one of the committees of the Codex, the working group created by the Food and Agriculture Organizatio/World Health Organization to develop food standards and guidelines. JBN in Sun.Star Cebu, 02.15.03
Experts warn: Shrimp farming aggravating coastal
In a report presented to the conference, Isabel de la Torre of the Industrial Shrimp Action Network and David Batker of the Asia-Pacific Environmental Exchange Center said the conversion of vast tracts of tropical mangrove forests and coastal lands into aquaculture ponds for the development of shrimp aquaculture is killing the whole fishing industry. While providing high short-term returns and foreign currency earnings to producers, shrimp aquaculture "has high impoverishing effects on coastal people," they added.
The effects are shown in the decline in coastal fisheries production, increase in storm damage, saltwater intrusion, diminishing mangrove forest products, and displacement of coastal people.
"In addition, shrimp farming is highly pollutant. It is dumping tremendous amounts of wastes into estuaries and coastal waters. It is also dependent on massive amounts of antibiotics, pesticides, fungicides, fish-killing chemicals, fertilizers and commercial feeds... [and] is not sustainable. Diseases invade the ponds, the industry closes, then move down the coast to a pristine new area to denude and pollute. In a dozen countries, thousands of acres of shrimp ponds have been abandoned. Polluted, these lands cannot easily be reclaimed to agriculture or mangrove forests. Local people bear the long-term costs," the report concluded. D. Monera-Tabora and J. Tesorio in Philippine Daily Inquirer, 02.10.03
Growers report good results from ‘environment-friendly’
prawn culture technology
Antonio Campos of Banate, Iloilo reported that he stocked his 0.7-hectare pond at 15 prawns per square meter, and harvested 3.7 tons in 110 days, earning a gross income of Php1.208 million on a relatively small capital.
"The prawns were healthy, and the stocks were harvested with very negligible unwanted species," said Campos.
The technology was developed by the Philippine government-hosted Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center-Aquaculture Department (SEAFDEC-AQD) based in Tigbauan, Iloilo. It employs mitigation measures such as salinity reduction, physical and biological filtration of the culture system, use of reservoir and settling ponds, biomanipulators, good quality shrimp fry, good quality feeds and an efficient feeding protocol, and long-arm paddlewheels for better aerationand water circulation.
Field-tested in 1999 in SEAFDEC-AQD ponds in Dumangas, Iloilo and BFAR ponds in Batangas, Bohol and Lanao del Norte, the technology is now being adopted by a number of prawn pond operators nationwide, including Campos, under the SEAFDEC and BFAR’s Joint Mission for Accelerated Nationwide Technology Transfer Program. R.A. Fernandez in The Philippine Star, 02.02.03
From January to August 2002, the country exported nearly USD3 million worth of sea cucumber, mainly to Hong Kong (80%), South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Canada.
Aurelia Luz Gomez of the University of the Philippines in Mindanao warned, however, that the country’s sea cucumber stocks have become depleted. She said the country’s export production peaked in 1985, and was followed by a drastic drop in 1986. Since them, the volume remained steady until 1999.
Increases in trade volume over decades did not come from abundant stocks but from new species and fishing grounds and smaller individuals being harvested, she noted. To meet demand, fishers resorted to harvesting less valuable species and catching smaller-size individuals.
Sea cucumber fisheries in many parts of the world have collapsed because of over-exploitation. Sea cucumber meat is low in calories and highly prized in Asian markets as an ingredient in haute cuisine and for their alleged aphrodisiac qualities.
Sea cucumbers are important ecologically because their burrowing behavior helps loosen the upper layer of the sea floor, which contributes to the reworking of the sediments.
Gamboa lamented the absence of studies on sea cucumber by government agencies. "The Philippines is already exporting sea cucumber to other countries, but there is no data on the total production as well as local consumption of this commodity," she said. PNA in Cebu Daily News, 02.17.03
Palawan resists release of Chinese poachers
"We are ready to initiate mass actions and mobilize against their release," said lawyer Grizelda Mayo-Anda, executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) in response to a request of Chinese Embassy officials to the Department of Foreign Affairs for the immediate release of the Chinese fishers, who were caught in Malampaya off the coast of Palawan.
Vice Governor David Ponce de Leon, acting governor while Governor Joel Reyes is on leave, said the province has manifested its objection "to any proposal to terminate the proceedings, which are already in court."
Ponce de Leon also vowed to join NGOs and other concerned residents in a mass action similar to the one they organized in September 2002, when 122 Chinese fishers were released because the national government entered a plea bargain and settled for a minimal fine of USD600,000, which, he said, has yet to be fully paid. J. Tesorio in Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01.27.03
NAMRIA sets up municipal water delineation database
The MWDD was developed by the Information Management Section (IMS) of the Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP) upon NAMRIA’s request to monitor the implementation of DENR Administrive Order No. 17 (DAO 17), which contains the technical guidelines for the delineation and delimitation of municipal waters as defined in the Fisheries Code of 1998 (Republic Act No. 8550).
The MWDD is maintained by NAMRIA’s Coast and Geodetic Survey Department. Focal persons are Engr. Mario Princer, Edison Henson and Angie Tabat (Tel. Nos. 02-242-2955 and 02-247-1281).
NAMRIA plans to set up a telephone system to handle queries about the status of the delineation process, as well as make the MWDD available on the NAMRIA web site.
Manila declares municipal waters; delineation of
Region 7 waters gains momentum
The ordinance increased the capital’s area by about one-third.
On the new map of the city, the water territory begins at a point north of the Cavite peninsula near the bay’s geographic center. The map was drawn by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the country’s mapping authority, after validation of the boundaries using satellite mapping technologies.
The ordinance is based on the so-called "exclusion clause" of Republic Act 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, and Republic Act 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Law, which allows local government units to claim as municipal waters all bodies of water up to 15 km from their coastlines.
Councilor Cita Astals, the ordinance’s principal author, said the city government could now stake its claim on all natural resources and marine activities taking place in the city’s portion of the bay.
"The city can now manage and regulate the bay and enforce our laws in this additional piece of territory," she said. The ordinance, which settled Manila’s overlapping claims on Manila Bay with neighboring Pasay City in the south and Navotas in the north, would also cover port operations and other maritime industries that fall under Manila’s jurisdiction, she explained.
She encouraged local government executives to coordinate its implementation with the Philippine Ports Authority, the national police’s Maritime Command, DENR, Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard.
Meanwhile, assisted by their provincial governments and various groups, municipal LGUs in Cebu, Negros Oriental, Bohol and Siquijor, all in Region 7, stepped up preparations for the declaration of their municipal waters.
In Cebu, the municipality of Pilar, a small island in the middle of fish-rich Camotes Sea, has started second reading of its ordinance, and is expected to be the first municipality in the province to delineate its waters. Ten other municipalities (Alcoy, Dalaguete, Boljoon, Oslob, Santander, Ginatilan, Malabuyoc, Alegria, Catmon and Borbon) have successfully negotiated their municipal water boundaries, four (Badian, Ronda, Dumanjug and Barili) have reached preliminary agreement, and 39 are still locked in negotiations. Cebu province is being assisted by the Coastal
Environmental Information Service of the University of the Philippines-Cebu (CEIS-UP) and the German Development Service. The CEIS-UP and GDS have developed GIS-based negotiation tools and instruments for ground validation of Cebu coastal terminal points.
In Negros Oriental, a technical working group has been formed to facilitate arbitration between LGUs in preparation for a province-wide workshop in March, while Siquijor’s six LGUs are expected to complete the delineation process and declare their municipal waters by year-end.
In Bohol, all except four of the 19 coastal LGUs have reached an agreement on their municipal water boundaries. The four -- Alburquerque and Baclayon, and Getafe and Buenavista -- failed to amicably settle their territorial disputes and decided to bring their cases to court. J. Aning in Philippine Daily Inquirer, 02.02.03; M. Guidote, CRMP
El Nino toll: Three Zamboanga seaweed processors
"The cost of pet-food-grade carrageenan is USD3 per kilo, and we are buying the raw material at USD3.50 a kilo," said Benson Dakay of Polysaccharide Corporation, one of the three processors. He is hopeful, however, that the company will reopen "after a month."
Seaweed production dropped by about 55% in December 2002 because of the El Nino. Chinese traders cornered most of the available supplies, as prices soared to USD700-800 per metric ton, or Php45-50 per kilo, from about Php25 per kilo in 2002.
The industry needs 13,000 metric tons of cottonii per month, or 156,000 metric tons annually. In 2002, the total seaweed production in the country reached only 125,254 metric tons.
Zamboanga is one of the largest raw seaweed buying areas in the Philippines. The major seaweed producers are Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Surigao, Zamboanga, Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Palawan, Mindoro, Antique, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, and Quezon. E.M. Dago-oc in The Freeman, 02.15.03
Panglao Island, Bohol is site of
international marine study
Panglao, located west of Bohol’s capital Tagbilaran City, was chosen as research site because of its complete range of bottom types, from mangrove to deepwater drop-offs. The field workshop will last for 45 days, but the work is expected to continue until 2005.
The project is funded by several corporate and French government sources, including TotalFinalElf (TFE) Foundation, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Bangkok Office for Cooperation with Asean and French Embassy in Manila), and other institutional sources, such as the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity Conservation.
TFE has supported the research project since it started in 1992. First implemented in New Caledonia, Loyalty Islands in Lifou, and in Rapa (Australes archipelago), the project culminates at Panglao, which is believed to hold a key position at the heart of the Indo-Pacific’s species richness gradient. Sun.Star Cebu, 02.09.03
Mining poses risk to Donsol’s whale sharks
The Australian company behind the project maintained that the project site -- or its surrounding waters -- is not known for hosting whale sharks, and dismissed the warning as a last-ditch effort to derail the project.
Lafayette Philippines, Inc. (LPI) has been the target of protests since 2000. It was granted an environmental compliance certificate on July 12, 2001 by then Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez.
The project, the subject of a Congress inquiry, is reportedly set to start in April despite continuing protests from environmentalists group.
At last month’s hearings, opponents of the project presented pictures and news clippings that they said provided proof that whale sharks are found in the waters in question, contrary to LPI’s allegations. They explained how sites of other mine operations had been permanently damaged and unable to grow crops or harbor aquatic live. V. Contreras in Philippine Daily Inquirer, 02.12.03
China to finance General Santos City fishport expansion
The expansion project is designed to provide facilities for fish landing and marketing, improve quality of handling of frozen fish products, promote maximum capacity utilization of existing canneries in the area, increase employment opportunities, and accommodate additional volume of wastewater to be generated from the industries expected to locate inside the complex. It will include 500 meters of deep draft wharves that can accommodate fishing vessels over 300GRT; cold storage facility; 500-cubic meter wastewater treatment plant; and a power substation with standby generator set. EHL in Manila Bulletin, 02.02.03
Locally-developed hybrid tilapia goes commercial
Under a GET-Excel tilapia dissemination strategy prepared by BFAR, the government will redesign and retool existing regional and provincial fisheries outreach stations nationwide to enable them to serve as primary multiplier and broodstock mass production facilities for the new strain. PNA in The Freeman, 02.17.03
Program to save Zamboanga City's coasts, air launched
Environment Secretary Elisea G. Gozun signed two Memorandum of Agreements with Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat for the launching of the "Mampang - Talon-Talon Coastal Resource Management Project" and the creation of "Task Force Usok."
The coastal and marine project seeks to protect the existing 15 hectares of mangroves already established in open mangrove areas in Barangays Mampang and Talon-Talon, as well as rehabilitate some 50 hectares more.
Under the MOA, the DENR would provide funds, technical assistance, and livelihood on areas cited for the project, including the development of the area into an eco-tourism destination.
Bgys. Mampang and Talon-Talon have about 300 hectares of open mangrove areas, abandoned fishponds and saltbeds. In Zamboanga del Norte, Silay City, and Banacon Island, there are model areas where fishery activities are integrated within mangrove areas.
Meanwhile, enforcers lead by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Land Transportation Office (LTO) will conduct an intensified anti-smoke belching campaign, which will include the confiscation of licenses, with DENR providing technical assistance on emission standards set by Republic Act 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.
Motor vehicles are the primary sources of air pollution, comprising 80 percent of emissions in the air. There were 3.9 million vehicles registered nationwide for 2001 with 98,392 registered in Zamboanga City alone.
According to the LTO, this figure shows an increase in vehicle registration in Zamboanga City by 9.52 percent compared to the city's registered vehicles in 2000.
Corals struggling to survive in Mactan Channel
A team from the USC biology section led by Dr. Danilo Largo conducted visual and chemical analyses of Mactan Channel’s marine environment, which showed the area to be in "various degrees of deterioration."
Some parts of the Channel’s seabed have corals, but only a few are alive, and those that live are in an "advanced state" of degradation.
There is still a "quite high diversity" of mangroves, seagrasses and invertebrates, but the population per species is low.
The team said that fishers continue to use the Channel as fishing ground, even as their catch has decreased to less than half a kilo per fisher per day. They noted the presence of green algae, which indicates a high concentration of nutrients, mainly, it is suspected, pollutants from industries.
The study also observed the presence of sargassum in the southern part of the Channel. Sargassum, a brown seaweed, can filter chemical pollutants and if allowed to flourish, can help alleviate the effects of pollution. It also serves as a habitat for seahorses and a place for squid and cuttlefish to lay eggs. LAP in Sun.Star Cebu, 02.09.03
The sanctuaries, located at the villages of Legaspi, Sta. Felomina, and Madrilejos, are funded under the Community-based Resource Management Project (CBRMP) of the government. Cebu Daily News, 02.13.03
Chemical spill causes fish kill in Batangas
A local resident said he saw thousands of dead fish floating in Batangas Bay and washed ashore. The sand, he said, has been bleached white by the chemical.
Residents have been warned against eating or selling contaminated fish.
Ingestion of solid or liquid sodium hydroxide can cause vomiting, chest and abdominal pain, and difficulty in swallowing. Liquid sodium hydroxide seeps rapidly into the soil, possibly contaminating water sources. M. Magsino in Philippine Daily Inquirer, 02.05.03
Fish sauce manufacturer wants to employ municipal
fishers as subcontractors
"Preferably, we would like to tap the municipal fishermen who will be taught by the company to clean and preserve the fish for patis and bagoong making, and deliver their stocks to our factory in Navotas," EVP Velia Cruz said.
After Japan imposed a ban on products with sodium benzoate, an important ingredient n fish sauces, Tentay Food Sauces remains the only Philippine fish sauce manufacturing company to meet the Japan’s strict standards for preservatives and food additives.
The company produces two million cases of patis each month, 30% of which goes to the export market, mainly the United States, Australia, Europe and Israel. The United States, with its large Filipino and Asian communities, accounts for almost 50% of its shipments.
Cruz said the company has to import 10% of its fish requirements, as local supplies are not enough. R. dela Cruz in The Philippine Star, 02.23.03
Half of world marine stocks fully exploited, aquaculture
rapidly growing -- FAO
SOFIA, which was presented at the 25th session of FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in Rome last February 24-18, states that global fish production remains pushed by aquaculture. COFI is the only global technical forum for debating international fisheries issues.
"Aquaculture production, including aquatic plants, reached 45.7 million tons by weight and $56.5 billion by value in 2000," according to SOFIA. "China remains by far the largest producer with 71 percent of the total volume and 49.8 percent of the total value of aquaculture production." Global aquaculture production for 2001 showed a further increase to 48.2 million tons with a value of $60.9 billion.
Worldwide, aquaculture has increased at an average compounded rate of 9.2% per year since 1970, compared with only 1.4% for capture fisheries and 2.8% for terrestrial farmed meat production systems, according to the report.
Capture fisheries, including marine and inland water production, decreased in 2001 compared to 2000 from 94.8 to about 92 million tons; however, all major fluctuations in capture production in recent years are due to variations in catches of Peruvian anchoveta, which are environmentally-driven (i.e. El Niño), as global capture production -- with the exclusion of anchoveta catches -- has been fairly stable since 1995.
Regarding the global situation of the main marine fish stocks, the report warns that nearly half of world marine stocks offer no reasonable expectations for further expansion. "About 47 percent of the main stocks or species groups are fully exploited and are therefore producing catches that have reached, or are very close to, their maximum sustainable limits," the report says.
The report also warns against overfishing on the high seas. It is difficult to assess the situation on the high seas, because reports to FAO of marine catches make no distinction between those taken within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and those taken on the high seas. However, the report reveals that catches of oceanic species, particularly the oceanic tunas, almost tripled from 3 million tons in 1976 to 8.5 million tons in 2000.
Marked differences in consumption. More than 1 billion people worldwide rely on fish as an important source of animal proteins. However, marked regional differences in consumption are reported. Of the worldwide 95.5 million tons of food fish available for consumption in 1999, only 6.2 million tons (6.5%) were consumed in Africa.
SOFIA also indicates that "about 56% of the world's population derives at least 20% of its animal protein intake from fish, and some small island States depend on fish almost exclusively."
The report informs on ongoing attempts to predict fish production and consumption. According to projections, by 2015-2030 world capture production will stagnate, while world aquaculture production will continue to increase and will be dominated by freshwater species and mollusks.
According to economic modeling, global annual consumption of fish per person will increase over time, from about 16 kg today to between 19 and 21 kg in 2030.
But the regional picture will be very diverse. Fish consumption per person is projected to increase by more than 84% in China, by almost 60% in South Asia and by almost 50% in Latin America and the Caribbean. In other regions, it may stagnate or decline. In Africa, where the consumption already is low, it may go down by a further 3%.
Commenting on consumption patterns, the report indicates that in many parts of the world changes reflect increased health consciousness and a stronger demand for ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat products. The emergence and growth of supermarkets' shares in the distribution of seafood will continue to facilitate a greater penetration of seafood products in areas that are remote from the sea.
World trade. According to FAO' report, total world trade of fish and fishery products increased to an export value of $55.2 billion in 2000.
Thailand continued to be the main exporting country, with $4.4 billion. China experienced a sharp increase in its export performance to reach $3.7 billion in 2000 and is now the second largest exporter.
Norway lost its second rank due to lower salmon prices and euro fluctuations - the currency of the main trading area for Norwegian fish.
Fish imports reached a record of $60 billion in 2000. Developed countries accounted for more than 80% of the value of the total fishery product imports. Japan was again, the largest importer of fishery products, accounting for some 26% of the world total.
SOFIA is available from FAO sales agents worldwide or directly from: FAO Sales and Marketing Group, Publishing Management Service, Information Division Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100, Rome, Italy. To order by E-mail, contact email@example.com
New research tools shed light on workings of coastal
But at least four emerging research tools in oceanography and marine ecology are now opening new doors to shed light on coastal ecosystems, researchers noted in a peer-reviewed article forthcoming in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the journal of the Ecological Society of America.
The peer-reviewed research, unveiled at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, provides the knowledge needed to design effective strategies for sustaining delicate coastal marine environments, said Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University, lead author of the journal article. "It's a collaboration of high technologies that together allows us to visualize and predict the way marine ecosystems work. Those technologies focus unprecedented power on understanding ocean life."
Examining the "human footprint" on coastal ecosystems grows increasingly important as more and more people settle near ocean coastlines and evidence of rapid changes in these areas continues to emerge, AAAS speakers noted.
"We need to know how these ecosystems work so that we can make better use of applied management strategies," said Robert R. Warner of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a co-author on the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper. "Right now, it's a little like knowing that someone is sick and a particular pill helps, but not understanding why or how. We need to know the underlying mechanisms crucial for sustaining coastal ecosystems."
A key question, Warner noted, is where various coastal marine species travel as they grow and disperse. "These underwater environments are characterized by very complicated ocean processes and by tiny organisms that are drifting in a 'blanket' for weeks or months," he explained. "Eventually, they settle into habitats and replenish populations. But, the real challenge is to describe this dispersal and how coastal communities are put together. When settlement occurs, where do the young come from? We need to know because the current trend is spatial management-that is, drawing lines across the ocean, for zoning purposes."
Innovative new tools, including genetic mapping of marine populations, are revealing that nearshore underwater neighborhoods "are a lot smaller and cozier than we ever imagined," Palumbi said. Thus, Warner added, "action taken locally, in a particular area, can have a very strong effect" in protecting near-shore marine environments.
Indeed, new research shows that many marine species stick close to home, or at least don't always disperse forever, as scientists long believed, according to Palumbi. Such information may ultimately suggest a need to redraw ocean zoning lines.
The Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment article outlines several research tools that will be critical to learning more about the usefulness and impact of one emerging management tool-marine reserves. To learn more about marine reserve effects on the ecosystems in which they are imbedded, the authors proposed, new insights are being achieved using the following four research methods:
By using such new research tools to open the black box of the near-shore underwater world, scientists hope to better assess the array of conservation options, from marine reserves to large-scale restoration. New investigative strategies "help inform management because they describe ecosystem patterns over the spatial and temporal scales that are directly relevant to conservation and ecosystem management," the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment article concludes.
Global study of mercury poisoning released: Eating
fish biggest source of human exposure
Fish is being promoted worldwide as a healthy food. The report notes that mercury is a "major threat" to this important food supply.
Predatory fish, towards the top of the food chain, are generally more contaminated. These include species such as king mackerel, pike, shark, swordfish, walleye, barracuda, large tuna, scabbard and marlin.
"The available data indicate that mercury is present all over the globe, especially in fish, in concentrations that adversely effect human beings," says the report.
In some parts of the world like the Arctic, where marine mammals such as seals are a major part of the diet along with fish, the risks of mercury poisoning are even higher.
The report cites studies from North Greenland, where 16 per cent of the population have blood levels exceeding a level that can be toxic to non-pregnant adults. These levels are much higher than the levels considered safe for pregnant women.
Mercury contamination of fish has prompted many countries to issue warnings about eating them. The report cites Sweden where 50 per cent of the approximately 100,000 lakes have pike whose mercury levels exceed international health limits. Detailed recommendations are now given about eating freshwater fish, such as pike, perch, burbot and eel. "Women of childbearing age are recommended not to eat these fish from Swedish lakes at all, and the rest of the population should not eat them more than once a week," says the report.
Canadian experts, contributing to the report, say that flooded lands can become an important source of mercury contamination in fish because more mercury is released and converted to the more toxic form, methylmercury. Indeed one study found that flooded land increases rates of conversion of mercury to the more toxic form 30-fold.
Mercury poisoning of the planet could be significantly reduced by curbing pollution from power stations, the report suggests.
The report, compiled by an international team of experts, says that coal-fired power stations and waste incinerators now account for around 1,500 tons or 70 percent of new, quantified man-made mercury emissions to the atmosphere. The lion's share is now coming from developing countries with emissions from Asia, at 860 tons, the highest.
Artisanal mining of gold and silver, which is happening in an increasing number of less developed nations, is another significant source of mercury pollution, releasing an estimated 400-500 tons of mercury annually to the air, soils, and waterways. Mercury is used to extract these precious metals from ores, resulting in elevated exposures and risks for the miners and their families, as well as contamination of the local and regional environment.
Once in the atmosphere, this hazardous heavy metal can travel hundreds and thousands of miles, contaminating places far away from the world's sites where the pollution was originally discharged.
Temperature can also influence releases of mercury from contaminated sediments and soils into rivers, lakes and other freshwaters, the report suggests. Here it can convert to methylmercury, one of it's most poisonous and hazardous forms, and build up in fish and other aquatic life forms with potentially harmful impacts on adults and infants. Numerous studies have linked brain damage in babies to mercury poisoning of their mothers as a result of eating contaminated fish.
Most people are primarily exposed to methylmercury through eating contaminated fish. However, additional mercury exposures can occur through dental amalgams and certain occupational activities. Also, personal use of skin lightening creams and soaps, mercury use for religious, cultural and ritualistic purposes, use in some traditional medicines, use of vaccines and some other pharmaceuticals containing mercury preservatives (such as Thimerosal/Thiomersal) and mercury in the home and working environment can contribute to elevated exposures.
A study of women in the United States, also cited in the new report, has found that about 1 in 12, or just under five million have mercury levels in their bodies above the level considered safe by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
The experts who have compiled the report are asking governments to consider a list of options for addressing the dangers of mercury. These include reducing risks by reducing or eliminating the production, use and release of mercury; substituting other non-mercury based products and processes; launching talks for a legally-binding treaty; establishing a non-binding global programme of action; and strengthening cooperation among governments on information-sharing, risk communication, assessment and related activities. They also recommend around a dozen "immediate actions" including public awareness program s targeted at sensitive populations such as pregnant women; waste disposal facilities for the safe destruction of obsolete, mercury-containing pesticides and pollution control technologies for power stations.
UNEP says marketing 'cool' lifestyles key to selling
clean and green products
Experts believe that the traditional messages from governments and green groups, urging the public to adopt environmentally-friendly life-styles and purchasing habitats, need to be overhauled.
There is concern that many of these messages are too 'guilt-laden' and disapproving and instead of 'turning people on' to the environment are switching them off.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said today: " Messages from governments, exhorting people to drive their cars less or admonishing them for buying products that cause environmental damage, appear not to be working. People are simply not listening. Making people feel guilty about their lifestyles and purchasing habits, is achieving only limited success".
Indeed studies indicate that only 5% of the public in Northern countries are embracing so-called sustainable life-styles and sustainable consumerism.
"So we need to look again at how we enlist the public to reduce pollution and live in ways that cause minimal environmental damage. We need to make sustainable lifestyles fashionable and 'cool' as young people might say. We also need to make it clear that there are real, personal, benefits to living in harmony with the planet, " he said.
UNEP experts today cited campaigns by KIA, the Korean car manufacturer, and the European detergent industry, as two examples of selling positive, environmentally-friendly, consumerism and lifestyles.
KIA has a campaign in the United Kingdom which urges people not to use cars for short journeys, only long distance ones. It provides a mountain bike with every new car purchased and helps organize "walking buses". These create networks of parents who assist in escorting children to school on foot.
The European "Wash Right" campaign extols the virtues of low temperature washing by emphasizing the benefits to the clothes as well as the energy-saving made.
The turning to social scientists and behaviorists is being carried out under UNEP's Sustainable Consumption Programme and Life Cycle Initiative which is looking at a wide range of issues, from labeling to eco-friendly product design, to deliver more environment-friendly consumption.
It compliments initiatives, some of which are being orchestrated by UNEP, to develop a network of cleaner production centers across the globe to reduce polluting manufacturing processes.
The UNEP initiative is also drawing up 'green procurement' information material for governments and local authorities in developed and developing countries so that their big purchasing power is environmentally-sound.
"Many developing countries are keen to buy environmentally-sound products and services but do not know where to go. We are developing an information network and Internet service so that if they, say, want to buy environmentally-friendly pens or vehicles, they know where to go," said Bas De Leeuw, coordinator of UNEP's Sustainable Consumption Programme.
Global environment ministers reach agreement on
chemicals pollution and support for Africa
Over a thousand delegates and more than 130 nations attended the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said at the close: "The level of attendance, the intensity of the negotiations and the fruitful outcome of our 22nd Governing Council undeniably underlines the growing importance of the environment, and its role in delivering, sustainable development".
Nations re-emphasized their commitment to Africa and urged UNEP to work closely with not only governments on the Continent but bodies such as the specialized committees of the African Union, the African Development Bank and other UN organizations.
The mercury decision follows discussions on a global assessment report, compiled by UNEP and experts and presented to delegates earlier in the week, which highlighted the threat to humans and wildlife from this persistent, health-hazardous, heavy metal.
Countries agreed that 'there is sufficient evidence of significant global adverse impacts from mercury and its compounds to warrant further international action to reduce the risks to human health and the environment".
Under the action plan, UNEP has been asked to assist all countries, particularly developing ones and countries with economies in transition such as former states of the Soviet Union, in a wide ranging initiative to cut emissions of mercury from sources such as coal-fired power stations and incinerators.
Measures may include advising countries on cleaner coal methods, improving the efficiency of power stations and advice and help on switching to other forms of electricity generation including renewables such as wind and solar power. Assisting countries on reducing other sources and causes of mercury pollution, including contaminated waste sites, dental amalgams and equipment, will also be part of the plan.
The agreement also calls for UNEP to help develop public awareness programs to alert the public to the risks, especially vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and babies and workers and communities involved in small-scale gold and silver mining.
"This is because Australia will become responsible for the ocean that surrounds us, to 200 nautical miles from the coast, under the fully ratified United Nations Law of the Sea.
"It's a territory twice the size of the Australian landmass: 16 million square km of opportunity for wealth creation we need to manage carefully and sustainably."
Haymet says the annual value of Australia's marine sector, already estimated at more than $50 billion, is forecast to double in the next 20 years, placing unprecedented pressures on the marine environment.
"Whether we sink or swim rests on our capacity to understand and manage the change in formal definition of 'Australia', and the opportunities it presents," says Haymet. "Managing these pressures is a huge challenge considering scientists know now roughly as much about Australia's ocean environments as we did about the Australian land 150 years ago," he says.
"Intensive surveys have recorded only 5% of the ocean's physical terrain, and less than 2% of its life and habitats. We know little about many of our most lucrative marine species, the long-term effects of fishing, and undiscovered species that might exist in our ocean territory."
Plans to establish an Australian steering committee for the Census of Marine Life were finalized at a meeting of the project's international scientific steering committee in Hobart.
"The goal of the census is to assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life, and to make this information available to all," Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Marine Research deputy chief and international steering committee member, Dr Ian Poiner, says.
Jesse Ausubel of the US-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that fosters scientific programs and other international leaders of the census were in Australia to cement Southern Hemisphere participation in the project, which began in 2000 with a $4 million investment in a system for storing, linking and accessing census information.
"In 2002, after a few years of talking, the census got in the water," Ausubel says. "In 2003, we will dive to undersea mountain ranges and follow turtles across the Pacific. The Census of Marine Life has gone from dream to reality."
Ausubel says hundreds of people around the world -- at 100 institutions in 20 countries, including Australia -- were working on the Ocean Biogeographical Information System (OBIS) that will support the census.
"This catalogue of life will be linked with information on environmental features such as seabed geology and ocean currents, providing a basis for studying changes in marine populations," he says.
The census itself involves field projects designed to observe marine life in a variety of regions. These will link with surveys conducted by marine laboratories and fisheries and environmental agencies.
The Census of Marine Life will be launched internationally on 23 October 2003 in Washington DC.
Long-lost records confirm rising Australian sea
Observations taken at Tasmania's Port Arthur convict settlement 160 years ago by an amateur meteorologist have been compared with data from a modern tide gauge.
"There is a rate of sea level rise of about 1mm a year, consistent with other Australian observations," says Dr David Pugh, from the UK's Southampton Oceanography Centre. "This is an important result for the Southern Hemisphere, and especially for Australia, providing a benchmark against which Australian regional sea level can be measured in 10, 50 or 100 years time," says Dr Pugh.
In 1837, a rudimentary tide gauge was made by the amateur meteorologist, Thomas Lempriere and probably installed in the nearby Port Arthur settlement. In 1841 Lempriere cut a benchmark, in the form of a broad arrow, on a vertical rock face on the Isle of the Dead, which was used as a cemetery for the Port Arthur complex.
The discovery of two full years of carefully recorded measurements (1841 and 1842) of average sea level was the start of a scientific quest through early European history in Tasmania.
CSIRO oceanographer Dr Bruce Hamon, researching Lempriere's work in 1985, concluded that the surviving benchmark would not be of scientific value today.
"The position of course would be different if Lempriere's original observations ever came to light," Hamon wrote. In addition to discovering the 'lost' files, the project involved analysis of 19th century sea level data, and a suite of modern measurement and analysis techniques.
Australia’s research agencies, fishing industry
join forces to save sharks
The study will assess the effects of fishing on shark, ray and sawfish species taken as 'bycatch' in commercial fisheries off northern Australia, as well as the status of sharks targeted by northern fisheries, to identify those most in need of protection.
The three-year study, funded by the Fisheries Research Development Corporation, involves Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Marine Research and research agencies from Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
The study is strongly supported by the commercial fishing industry. Fishers will work closely with researchers to provide essential information and to ensure the project's success. Results of the study will underpin a national approach to the risk assessment of Australian sharks, rays and sawfishes, and contribute to regional, national and international plans for their conservation and management.
Australia's northern shark fishery landed almost 1700 tons of target species in 2000, valued at more than $9 million. However the species composition of such catches is poorly documented, offering few clues to the impact of fishing on the 128 different types of sharks, rays and sawfishes that inhabit the region.
"Sharks, rays and sawfish are vulnerable to fishing as they grow slowly and produce fewer young than most bony fishes," says John Salini of CSIRO Marine Research.
He says the study will establish consistent and accurate identification and reporting of the sharks, rays and sawfish caught in all target and non-target fisheries (such as barramundi and mackerel). In each state, trained observers will accompany fishing boats to identify and record the catch, and to collect biological information and samples for genetic analysis. Commercial fishers will be trained to record these details on an ongoing basis.
The study will also gather information on the reproduction and growth of northern sawfish species so their populations can be assessed.
Research promises allergen-free shrimp
"It's definitely possible that we'll have foods that are less of a risk for allergy," said Samuel B. Lehrer of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where shrimp is a key element of the local cuisine. "There's a lot of work we need to do to be sure to know what to ask."
Lehrer and others are conducting studies on shrimp to better understand the genetic basis for the proteins in foods that cause allergic responses in some people. An expert in food allergens and allergen detection, Lehrer also addressed issues of allergenicity in new products being developed through genetic engineering, and gave an "understanding of the framework that's involved and changing, and a sense of what's being ensured so we don't have exposure to new allergens."
Research in shrimp allergenicity owes its recent strides to ongoing research in plant foods, such as soy and peanuts.
Food allergies are immune responses to proteins from foods that somehow did not get broken down by cooking or digestion. Instead, they entered the bloodstream and interact with antibodies on cells lining the gut, and in the nose, throat, skin, and lungs, for example. These cells then release chemical mediators including histamines, which create unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening allergic responses.
Lehrer has identified the major shrimp allergen and the epitopes-the allergenic portion of the molecule-that bind with an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The reaction that results from the allergen or epitope causes classical allergic reactions of itchiness around the eyes, throat, skin, and mouth.
Improved detection methods for unknown food allergens can also contribute toward better safety for new food products that are altered through genetic engineering, according to Lehrer, who is in the process of developing an immunological test, with mice, to check foods for allergenicity.
Work on altering animal-based allergens is generally much less further along than that for plant-based food allergens, for which breeding programs and food processing have been used to address allergenicity. Now, working directly at the gene level may put allergen-free peanuts, soybeans, or shrimp on our dinner plates someday, according to Lehrer. "There's concern that new epitopes can be made," Lehrer says of the techniques used to transfer genes in and out of a food plant or animal.
While testing for known allergens has been established, testing proteins that may be expressed in genetically modified foods, which have no previous human exposure, is needed. This scenario raises an interest in developing models for testing allergenicity, says Lehrer, who is developing a mouse-based model to test exactly this. "If there's a way to validate the mouse responses are similar to the human response, this would be a useful way to screen novel proteins.... We saw very good responses to peanut allergens and shrimp allergens and they seem to be similar to human responses. Now, we want to look at responses on an epitope level." Lehrer is also looking at less commonly allergenic materials, like rice, beef and corn.
The biotechnology used to alter food products can also be used to improve food safety by preventing the production of allergy-causing agents, according to Lehrer, who describes his work with shrimp as an example. Lehrer has located the gene sequence that encodes the shrimp allergen and regions of the sequences for the different molecules that interact with the antibody IgE. By altering the epitopes in shrimp allergens that bind to IgE-by just one amino acid-the binding action could be stopped. "This can possibly be used therapeutically or even in reducing the allergenicity of a particular food," Lehrer says.
A new study of the impact of prawn trawling will involve full-scale experiments in (and under) the Gulf of Carpentaria, according to Dr Burke Hill of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Marine Research.
"Prawn trawling has a range of effects on seabed habitats, but these are poorly understood," says Hill. "This project will quantify the rate at which seabed organisms are removed by trawls and the rate at which they recover after trawling."
The trawling experiments will be conducted in a full-scale 'outdoor laboratory', on an area of seabed within the Northern Prawn Fishery that hasn't been trawled since 1985.
"The plots will be surveyed, and then trawled up to 20 times," Hill says. "Researchers will measure how much of the seabed fauna is removed by the trawling and resurvey the plots after the trawling is completed to find out how much of the fauna remains. The plots will be monitored over the next two years to measure the rate at which the seabed fauna recovers from trawling."
Findings from the undersea trials will be linked with satellite-derived maps of fleet movements across the fishery. This will boost the accuracy of a 'trawl simulation' model developed by CSIRO to predict the consequences of trawling on a variety of seabed organisms, and evaluate different management options.
"Australia's $120 million Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) will be able to demonstrate that it can achieve its environmental goals," says Hill.
The number of trawlers in the NPF has decreased from about 250 to 100 in past 20 years. Trawling is highly concentrated in areas of highest catch rates and presently takes place in less than 25% of the area available. Because of this patchy distribution of fishing, it has been difficult to assess the effect of trawling on the seabed fauna as a whole.
"The project will take us a long way forward in our ability to predict the effects of management initiatives on the marine environment," Hill says. "For example, the model will be used to evaluate the consequences for seabed fauna of a 33% reduction in trawl effort imposed by the Australia Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) in 2002."
The project will also map the distribution of trawl effort, using data collected by AFMA using satellites. This Vessel Monitoring System of the NPF fleet, provides very-high-resolution information on where the trawlers fish.
Animal welfare groups protest Texas legislation
criminalizing animal advocacy efforts;
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Sierra Club, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Texas Humane Legislative Network also oppose the legislation.
The HSUS said that, if passed in its current form, H.B. 433 would add a new class of crimes to the Texas Criminal Code. Some of the provisions would:
Pacific islanders use elderly to test fish for
Dr. Lore Fleming of the University of Miami School of Medicine made the claim in a recent paper.
"Using a household pet or even an elderly relative as a simple bioassay was and may still be practiced in many island communities," she said. "Otherwise, only expensive ponderous bioassays in such animals as mongoose, rat and cats were available for screening ciguatoxin-contaminated fish 10 years ago."
A laboratory test now exist for ciguatera poisoning, which afflicts at least 50,000 people a year worldwide, according to the United States Center for Disease Control.
If old people are used as poison-testers in the Pacific, it is not widely known, as AFP reporters throughout the region, including in high-risk areas such as Fiji and the Marshall Islands, have not come across it.
Deaths are very common, however; last year, a family of six died in Kiribati after eating infected fish.
Ciguatera is a real threat in the Pacific, where most societies are dependent on marine life. It is caused by a neurotoxin found in algae related to the deadly "red tides" that kill millions of fish around the world. AFP in The Freeman, 02.18.03
Coral reef 3D film launched
The film shows the immense diversity of the marine life on the reefs and the amazing beauty of the many varieties of coral living there. It also illustrates the dangers threatening and destroying the world's coral reefs. The message is clear: if these threats are not eliminated today then our children may never see the amazing beauty of coral reefs, except perhaps in books or museums.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which supported the movie, believes Ocean Wonderland 3D will make a major contribution to marine conservation efforts worldwide and will use the film as part of its wider public awareness efforts for coral preservation.
Ecologically Based Municipal Land Use Planning, CRC Press 2000. This book provides advice for municipalities and cities on how to develop land use plans that incorporate the protection of ecological infrastructure as a priority. Author William B. Honachefsky discusses the components of both ecological infrastructure and man-made structure that must be considered in planning, and offers solutions to uncontrolled development, or "urban sprawl". Although set primarily in the US, the book has many practical suggestions that land planners in other countries can apply. To order on-line, go to CRC Press. For Philippine readers, a copy is also available at the National Library (TM Kalaw St., Manila).