Canada Fights Ban on “Bulldozers of the Sea”

By Stephen Leahy

Oct 12 (IPS) – Canada is trying to scuttle a proposed United Nations moratorium on destructive bottom trawling of the open ocean that has received surprisingly strong support from the United States, as well as other countries.

“Canada’s attitude towards the oceans is embarrassing and archaic,” said Elliott Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, a scientific environmental group in Washington State.

“Canada treats the oceans as if nothing could harm them,” Norse told IPS.

The U.N. General Assembly started debate this week on an Australian-led plan for a temporary moratorium on deep-sea bottom trawling in unmanaged high seas and to impose tougher regulation of other destructive fishing practices.

Because of Canada’s good international reputation, other nations are listening and that greatly increases the risks the U.N. will not act on the proposed moratorium, Norse said.

Canada’s opposition, especially from a recently elected government, comes as a surprise.

“Canada doesn’t have any open ocean trawlers and has everything to gain from a ban,” Norse pointed out.


Related stories by Stephen Leahy

Trawling seamounts threatens ocean’s biodiversity
Hundreds of deep-sea species new to science are disappearing before they can be identified or studied, oceanographers are warning. The organisms are being pushed to extinction by trawlers targeting undersea volcanic mountains called seamounts. — New Scientist Magazine

A Plan to Torpedo the Trawlers
Environmentalist groups will soon be dragging deep-sea trawl nets the size of Boeing 747s across cities, rolling out ad campaigns featuring photos of unique creatures from the ocean’s depths, and sending out ships to dog the movements of ocean-going trawlers. — Wired News

How To Exit Gridlock? Don’t Build Roads, Lessons from Brazil

Stuck in a traffic jam? Choking on car fumes? Then take the next exit and head south past the equator to the city of Curitiba, Brazil, where you can board a bus to a public transit utopia.

By Stephen Leahy

[This 2002 magazine article offers a positive example of urban transport while cities continue to grow exponentially often without creating sustainable ways for people to move around.]

By the year 2025, two-thirds of the planet’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations. And almost all of this growth – a staggering 90 percent – will take place in countries of the developing world.

Third World cities usually conjure up images of traffic and pollution, poverty and shantytowns. But the remarkable city of Curitiba in southern Brazil is trying to paint a different picture. This mid-sized city of just over one-and-a-half million has become a Mecca for urban planners, transit officials and environmentalists the world over.

Cities as far flung as Cape Town, Santiago, Lagos, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Amsterdam and Bogota have come to learn how Curitiba fought the car congestion and pollution nightmares that haunt many, if not most, of the world’s cities.

What’s even more remarkable is that by most standards, Curitiba is a poor city. Its annual per capita annual income is under $3,000 (all figures in U.S. dollars). Yet polls show that residents of Curitiba love their city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Visitors call it one of the most liveable cities anywhere.

The story of Curitiba’s transformation into a self-styled ‘Capital of Ecology’ begins in the late 1960s when the city of then 360,000 faced a population growth boom, like other cities in Latin America.

Curitiba was industrializing rapidly, levelling the old to make way for the modern. And like most cities, it was suffocating on its own traffic.

The solution, of course, was to build more roads.

So in a scene repeated hundreds of times the world over, the narrow, main street, and many of its magnificent turn-of-the-century buildings, were to be obliterated by a modern expressway. But in 1971, a young architect and newly-minted mayor by the name of Jaime Lerner thought the unthinkable.

He wanted to stop the construction and instead create Brazil’s first pedestrian mall. However, not even the shopkeepers on the old street were in favour; how would people shop if they couldn’t drive their cars?

Lerner, who had trained in Paris, believed that once people experienced a pedestrian mall they’d love it. Over one weekend Lerner pushed the public works department to rip up the pavement and put in cobblestones and flowerbeds.

By Monday afternoon the shopkeepers wanted the mall extended.

–full story

No Bailout for America’s Beaches

By Stephen Leahy

02:00 AM Jun, 02, 2006 WIRED NEWS

Beach cities around the country are fighting to save their coastlines by dredging and dumping millions of cubic feet of sand on their shores. But environmentalists say it’s a futile endeavor.

San Diego, for example, dumped 54 million cubic feet of dredged sand on 12 badly eroded beaches in 2001 — the biggest beach-replenishment project ever attempted on the West Coast. Most of the sand was gone in two years.

“Dredging sand from someplace else for beach replenishment is a temporary fix because the waves will simply wash it away again,” said Rick Wilson, coastal management coordinator for The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization.

Some San Diego beaches will be worse this year than they were before the project began, said Rob Rundle, project manager of the San Diego Regional Beach Sand Project. “That’s because there hasn’t been any additional replenishment since 2001. It has to be an ongoing effort.”

That would mean dumping another 54 million cubic feet of sand every other year, at a cost of about $15 million, he said. But there’s no funding to do it. “People expect beaches to be there but they don’t want to pay for them,” he said.

As global warming raises sea levels and powerful storms sweep sand from shores, pumping and dumping sand onto beaches has become a billion-dollar fix — temporary though it may be — along both coasts. Virginia Beach completed a $120 million beach-replenishment and sea wall project in 2002. Between 1995 and 2006, 17 states spent $1.25 billion in federal taxes on beach nourishment, according to Marlowe and Company, which lobbies Congress for sand money on behalf of communities. States and local municipalities spend hundreds of millions more.

“Beaches are America’s top tourist destinations and buffer shoreline properties from storms,” said Paul Ordal, vice president of Marlowe & Company. “For every dollar invested in beach nourishment, you get another three to four dollars back,” Ordal said.

More-powerful ocean storms will pound beaches in the future, according to study results reported by Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center. The study found that warmer oceans due to global warming are producing more tropical cyclone activity, including hurricanes. In another study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that warmer waters are largely responsible for the recent strengthening of Atlantic hurricanes into superstorms like last year’s Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

The costs of protecting beaches and shoreline property will rise dramatically, scientists say. As sea levels rise, erosion rates in the greater New York City and Long Island region are projected to double by 2020 and increase six times by 2050 (.pdf), making it impossible to dredge up enough sand to keep pace, scientists say.

More than 75 percent of Florida’s shoreline, 47 percent of New York’s shoreline and 26 percent of New Jersey’s and Virginia’s shorelines are critically eroding, according to Surfrider’s State of the Beach 2005 Report.

About 62 percent of the Texas coastline is actively eroding, the report said, with some areas losing five to 10 feet every year.

The generally low-lying East and Gulf Coasts will be hardest hit, while the West Coast is somewhat protected by the Coast Range mountains — but beach deterioration is increasing there as well, Wilson said.

Sea levels have already risen four to 10 inches depending on the location over the past 100 years.

“Another foot to 18 inches of sea-level rise and we’re in real trouble,” said Orrin Pilkey, professor emeritus of geology at Duke University in North Carolina and author of numerous books on beaches and shorelines.

Levels will likely rise even higher as warmer global temperatures melt the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and mountain glaciers. That could mean sea levels three to five feet higher by 2100, putting major coastal cities like New York and Miami at serious risk, Pilkey said.

Beaches have their own mechanisms for maintaining sandy shores, but sea walls and jetties have blocked those processes. As bluffs and shorelines erode, they become a natural source of new sand. But by preventing erosion, sea walls and jetties cut off this source, Wilson said.

Natural erosion also dumps millions of tons of sand into rivers that eventually carry it to the sea. But dams, particularly in Southern California, have cut off this flow of sand, he said.

And while building sea walls or revetments save shoreline property temporarily, they ultimately accelerate erosion by reflecting wave energy back to the sea, said Gary Griggs of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

“Shorelines are dynamic, and without a chance to retreat there will be a lot fewer beaches in the future,” Griggs said.

With more than half the population of the United States living in coastal states, the sea-walling of America is well under way. There are 30 miles of armored shoreline in North Carolina, 110 miles in California and more than that in Florida.

Shorelines have been slowly retreating from the sea since the last ice age, but global warming has accelerated the retreat. Powerful storms that move a shoreline back up to 20 feet in a day also seem to be increasing, he said. “It’s hard to be optimistic about America’s beaches.”

Binational Crusade to Save Wetlands

Stephen Leahy*

TORONTO, Sep 8 (Tierramérica) – With 20,000 hectares of bright green in a sea of sand in the state of Sonora, the Ciénaga de Santa Clara is one of Mexico’s richest coastal ecosystems. Faced with the imminent reopening of a desalinisation plant just across the border in the United States, a binational team is working to protect the vast wetland.

Ongoing drought conditions in the south-western United States has prompted the George W. Bush government to finance the restart of the long unused Yuma Desalting Plant (YDP) in the border state of Arizona in 2007.

“Full operation of the desalting plant would mean the ciénaga will get less water and the water would be much saltier,” said Karl Flessa, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

And “that would completely eliminate the wetland,” according to Jaqueline García-Hernández, a scientist at a food and development research centre (Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo) in the Mexican city of Guaymas, Sonora.

The Ciénaga de Santa Clara is home to some 225 species of birds, like the Yuma clapper rail (Rallus longirostris yumanensis) and southwest willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), which are rare in the United States.

— Tierramerica and Inter Press News Service

60 Years to Restore the Ozone Layer Over Antarctica

Stephen Leahy*

TORONTO, Sep 20 (Tierramérica) – Another giant ozone hole has opened up over the Antarctic, while evidence mounts that 20 years of international efforts have finally helped the atmosphere to start to heal itself.

The “hole” over the South Pole — actually an annual thinning of the ozone layer, which protects Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation — measured about 24 million square kilometres, nearly the size of North America, according to the Sep. 8 estimate by the renowned British Antarctic Survey, a scientific organisation that has been studying the region for the past six decades.

The ozone hole will continue to grow and likely be one of the larger and “deeper” ones, perhaps 28 million square kilometres, predicts Andrew Klekociuk of the Australian government’s Antarctic Division. The largest ever recorded was 30.3 million sq km in 2000, according to NASA, the U.S. space agency.

— Tierramerica and Inter Press News Service