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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
July, 1998 Vol. 1 No. 7

Coastal Alert





POPs Face Global Ban
Scientists Reach Consensus: We Will Have La Niña
Tilapia: Insulin Source?
Trees to Help Catch Illegal Loggers
Leyte Fishers: No to Fish Cages
China Urged: Join Fight Against Global Warming
Nature’s Services Worth $54 Trillion

POPs Face Global Ban
Thirty-four northern industrial nations have adopted two new United Nations agreements and pledged to phase out 19 toxic industrial pollutants, including 16 POPs. Known as the Aarhus Protocols, after the Danish city where they were signed, the agreements call for mandatory controls on POPs – that is persistent organic pollutants – and on the heavy metals (lead, mercury and cadmium). When ratified by 16 of the signatory nations, both agreements will become treaties and will have the binding force of International Law.

At a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) meeting in Montreal, representatives of 92 nations began a process to enact similar global controls on 12 of these POPs: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans and the pesticides aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and toaxphene.

Participants at the meeting, however, "have yet to even come up with a good definition of a POP," revealed Michael Williams, a UNEP spokesman in Montreal. "Indeed, that will be the heart of this convention – agreeing on criteria for defining POPs and how additional ones might be added (to the list requiring global controls)."

UNEP negotiators will not tackle the other four POPs slated for control – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chlordecone (kepone), hexabromobiphenyl and lindane.

Many countries have already banned the production and use of some of the POPs, but the resistance of these compounds to breakdown and their propensity to evaporate and settle out hundreds of thousands of miles away mean that distant populations, even those who have never used the chemicals, may still feel their toxic impacts.

POPs’ long life gives them time not only to move around the globe but also to build up in the food chain. "If you make these chemicals, there’s nowhere that won’t eventually have them," Michael Gilbertson of the International Joint Commission in Windsor, Ontario said. PNA in The Freeman, 07.13.98

Scientists Reach Consensus: We Will Have La Niña
La Niña is about to steal El Niño’s thunder as it starts to set in, the Washington-based Science News warned in a report.

Meteorologists were divided earlier this year on whether an episode of La Niña cooling would follow El Niño’s demise, but a recent Pacific shift has brought consensus. According to the Science News report, water temperatures in parts of the equatorial Pacific Ocean have dropped precipitously in the last two months, chilling El Niño’s fever and setting the stage for the arrival of La Niña.

"All of the forecasts are consistently indicating that we will have La Niña shortly and it will continue over the next winter," said Vernon E. Kously of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Camp Sprints, Maryland.

La Niña and its sibling, El Niño, are opposite extremes of a Pacific pendulum that causes the equatorial waters to swing from warm to cold and back again. But researchers are finding it difficult to forecast what kind of weather will arrive by winter as the Pacific basin enters its cold phase. "It’s not as simple as the reverse of El Niño," said Arthur J. Miller of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

In the Philippines, where many farmers went hungry during the El Niño because they could not plant for lack of rain, a top official of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) issued a challenge to the media "to pressure local government officials" into mobilizing their disaster coordinating councils in preparation for La Niña. Angel Gaviola, OCD regional director and vice chairman of the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC), explained the RDCC cannot compel local governments but can "only recommend to [them] what to do".

Meanwhile, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) identified 29 cities and municipalities in Region 7 that are prone to the effects of La Niña. These include the cities of Cebu, Toledo, Mandaue, and Lapulapu in Cebu province, as well as Kanlaon in Negros Oriental. Also in the list are the towns of Naga, Consolacion, Carcar, Tuburan, Sogod, San Remegio, Daanbantayan, Balamban and Talisay in Cebu province; Anda, Ubay, Loboc, Jagna, Inabanga, Talibon, Valencia, Pres. Garcia, Pilar and Guindulman in Bohol; and Bindoy, Ayugon, Tayasan, Tanjay and Guihulngan in Negros Oriental. PNA in The Freeman, 07.14.98; RV Ayuman in The Freeman, 07.14.98

Tilapia: Insulin Source?
Scientists are studying the possibility of using tilapia as a source of insulin for the treatment of diabetes through genetic engineering.

Insulin is naturally produced by what are known as "islets of Langerhans" in the human pancreas and is needed by the body to properly metabolize glucose and other carbohydrates. In diabetics, the body’s ability to produce insulin is impaired, necessitating daily injections of insulin.

Researchers say tilapia can be genetically engineered to produce insulin that can be used in humans. Tilapia has two pancreas – one for the production of digestive enzymes and the other for the production of insulin. This makes the isolation of insulin-producing cells easier. Moreover, tilapia can be raised at a high density in ponds with low levels of oxygen, needing only one-fifth of the oxygen required by human cells.

Fish insulin works poorly in humans, however, as it differs from the human insulin by some 17 amino acids. Scientists have successfully transplanted the tilapia pancreas islets in mice and rats and are now cloning and modifying the tilapia gene that controls the production of insulin to make it similar to the human gene. With enough injecting and screening, some of the fish will eventually express the human gene either in their eggs or sperm, they said. The goal is to breed a stable line of tilapia that will exclusively produce human insulin for the treatment of diabetes. NFISS in The Freeman, 07.13.98


Trees to Help Catch Illegal Loggers
Illegal loggers, beware: Research conducted by the Canadian Forest Service will soon enable authorities to trace illegally cut logs by comparing the DNA of the lumber being sold with that of the stump left behind. If it’s a match, the illegal loggers – known in Canada as tree rustlers – could be sent to jail.

Each tree, like any other living organism, has a unique DNA signature. High levels are found in leaves and needles and just under the bark, but improvements in technology now make it possible to extract some from ever deeper inside the tree, so even an innocent two-by-four can now be linked to the stump it originally belonged to.

Analysis of tree DNA could become a powerful weapon in the fight against tree rustling. Until recently, the only way to stop illegal loggers was either to catch them in the act or somehow physically match the wood in their possession with the stump left in the forest – a very poor way of fighting crime, according to law enforcers. "We used to have only two or three convictions (for tree rustling) a year," said Jerry Hunter, a compliance and enforcement practices officer at the British Columbia Ministry of Forests. "That increased to seven or eight last year, and we should have significantly more this year."

Scientists still have to get the DNA markers for most commercial species of wood, however, and each species can take several months to analyze. Only yellow and Western red cedar have so far been marked. Reuters in Sun.Star Daily, 07.03.98.

Leyte Fishers: No to Fish Cages
Majority of fishers in Guadalupe, Kabulihan, Bilibol and Sto. Rosario in southern Leyte expressed strong opposition to proposals from Cebu and Ormoc entrepreneurs to put up fish cages in their area. They said the construction of these fish cages could damage marine habitats and eventually reduce fish stocks. It would also, they said, affect their livelihood as sustenance fishers. One fisherman said he was not convinced that the investors would allow small fishers to come near the fish cages, much less fish there. In Palawan where there are fish cages, he noted, small fishers are not allowed to catch fish near the fish cages. "They were driven away by guards," he said.

The fish cage project is supported by municipal council members who said it will provide the area with a sustainable method of producing fish and fingerlings and a supplemental source of income for community residents. QM Gorpido Jr, in The Freeman. 07.06.98

China Urged: Join Fight Against Global Warming
US President Bill Clinton called on China to join the US in its battle to reduce "greenhouse" gas emissions blamed for global warming. "Because the US and China are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, we must do more to avoid increasing droughts and floods and ther other kinds of destructive things that will occur" if no action is taken, Clinton said.

Six of the world’s 10 largest cities with the worst air pollution are in China, while the water in 40% of rivers in Chinese urban zones is not even clean enough for irrigation.

"Polluted air and water are threatening your remarkable progress," Clinton said, calling on China to develop alternative sources of energy to coal. AFP in The Independent Post. 07.03.98

Nature’s Services Worth $54 Trillion
Scientists say the value of nature’s services is worth $16 trillion to $54 trillion. Majority of the value from these services, however, are currently outside the market system, that is, they are not traded in economic markets. "This means that current market signals are not adequately incorporating the value of these services," said Robert Constanza of the University of Maryland’s Institute of Ecological Economics in the United States.

Constanza organized 13 ecologists, geographers and economists from the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden and Argentina to assess each of 17 categories of services for the range of environments on earth, including both marine and terrestrial. The research was sponsored by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The researchers acknowledged the huge uncertainties involved in their estimate. They also suggest that their values are probably on the low side. "This is because improving the estimates – by studying more ecosystems more intensively – would likely increase their value," explained Constanza.

The researchers also cautioned that their economic estimates do not state that many ecosystem services are "literally irreplaceable".

One practical use of the estimates is to "help modify systems of national accounting" to better reflect the value of ecosystem services and natural capital. A second practical use is for weighing the ecosystem services lost against the benefits of a particular project or policy. The researchers said that making good decisions – on questions such as whether to drain a local wetland for development, or curb fossil fuel consumption in order to limit climate change – all depend on adequately valuing ecosystem services. AL Maguilas in The Independent Post, 07.28.98



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