A Perspective on the Ivory Crush in Times Square

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Onlookers amidst ivory waiting to be crushed at NYC’s Ivory Crush on June 19th, 2015.

           On Friday, June 19th, I went to New York City’s Times Square to watch the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, together with NGOs such as NRDC, Wildlife Conservation Project, and others, get together to destroy over 1 ton of ivory. We are losing elephants at an alarming rate – up to 96 individuals a day – or 1 elephant every 15 minutes. 
           I spent most of my childhood in Sub-Saharan Africa. Days were often spent visiting David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Refuge on the outskirts of Nairobi. Back then it was an intimate affair where we could get up close and personal with young elephants whose parents were victims of poaching. Weekends were spent in the game parks watching these animals lumber through eye-high grass. Once, on our way back home, a matriarch blocked our way to our airplane. We waited in a stand-off as she continually mock-charged our vehicle. Her ears wide, head high. 
           I went to the Ivory Crush in Times Square because I take a strong stance on poaching, but I wasn’t sure if I supported the destruction of ivory to send that message. As a conservationist and a poet, I wanted to get the pulse of the event before I cast my vote. Many well respected scientists, environmentalists, and organizations support the destruction of ivory. Yet I couldn’t help but balk at the idea. 
            A little before I moved to Kenya, then President Daniel Arap Moi set the precedence by burning 12 tons of ivory in Nairobi National Game Park. It was the first event of its kind. Many hailed it as taking a strong stance on poaching, and many other countries followed suit. In the last four years 37 tons of ivory has been removed from the market and destroyed.
           Has the ivory market responded? At Friday’s Ivory Crush U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said “we’re not only crushing ivory, we’re crushing the ivory market.” The ivory crush on Friday was the sixth ivory crush that has taken place in the world in the last two years. Has the ivory market responded? Yes. But not favorably. 
           Since 2011 ivory prices have doubled. According to a report, elephant poaching has also increased. If you look at the trends and numbers, it appears that these ivory obliteration events are counter-productive. By destroying the ivory the prices and demand is going up. Ivory is getting scarcer with each tusk that is destroyed. This makes poachers scramble to try and kill every elephant in sight. They are now going after younger elephants with smaller tusks, and the large tusker gene appears to have been wiped out. 
           But what are the alternatives? Selling the ivory is out of the question. This sends the message that poached ivory has value and trading it is acceptable. Even if the ivory is used for altruistic purposes – such as increasing ranger capabilities to battle poaching – it is still putting the ivory back in the market that we are trying to terminate. Likewise stock-piling the ivory is also unfavorable. There have been some “dirty officials” that leak out the goods from these stockpiles and they also create a target for crime, not to mention require a great amount of funds and manpower to keep safe. 
           Some argue that the market should be flooded. I am not quite clear how this would happen as we cannot release stockpiles. Ivory also is not necessarily cultivatable. American alligators were on the brink of extinction in the 1970s. There was a high demand for their skins for luxury goods. What ultimately saved the alligator from extinction is farming them. But you cannot farm elephants the way you can farm alligators. A single alligator lays 35 to 50 eggs a year, sometimes up to 90. Once the babies are born, they’re left to fend for themselves. An African elephant has the longest gestation, more than any other animal on Earth. They give birth to only one calf, which needs to stay with its mother for 16 years. This is not sustainable for the ivory trade.  
           There are many alternatives to ivory, however. A common alternative is bone, a byproduct of the cattle industry. It can be carved just as intricately as a tusk. Additionally, elephants aren’t the only animals that have ivory. Hippos, walruses, whales, and warthogs do as well. The latter is much more sustainable than the others, although they don’t yield giant tusks like elephants do. There is also a tree called the Tagua that produces a giant nut (up to 20”) that is remarkably similar to ivory.  Jewelry artists have said “it is beautiful, with natural whorls of color in its satiny ivory surface – less brittle and more durable than bone, less porous and polishing up more nicely than antler.” The tree, also known as the “ivory palm,” produces hundreds of nuts a year, therefore a much more renewable product.

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Which is elephant ivory?

           The message that all these crushes want to send is that ivory has no value unless it is on an elephant. This is a tough message to send when the prices and value of ivory is higher than ever. Unfortunately, I have no answers. I went to the crush to try to get some, but after seeing the ivory get destroyed I left with a more sour taste in my mouth than a positive one.
           Before the crusher was turned on, many individuals gave colorful speeches. They stated facts about elephants, statistics from the ivory trade, and kept reiterating why they were destroying the ivory – to send a message that ivory is useless. Once the crusher was turned on though, I felt people’s actions spoke louder than their words. 
           What disturbed me is the rather celebratory sensation around the event. These are pieces of brutally murdered individuals. Here are notable officials and activists posing and cradling intricately carved pieces of ivory. They were all quick to take the photo-op, holding up a horse, a figure, and more disgustingly, a carved elephant, before placing it rather unceremoniously on the conveyor belt.

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Waiting to place ivory on the belt to be crushed

           Once the ivory rode up this contraption and into the crusher, people seemed to forget about it. Few people sat around the machine. They seemed more interested in the ivory (you know, the stuff we’re not supposed to be interested in) being loaded than the process of crushing. And it wasn’t so much crushing as it was chipping. It was absolutely horrific. Not only did plumes of ivory dust rise in the thick New York City air, but also chips of ivory kept flying out, landing up to twenty feet away. No one seemed to notice. Once in a while a large piece of ivory shrapnel would come catapulting out of the chipper and a United States Fish and Wildlife Service agent would unceremoniously pick it up and toss it in a pile to be chipped up further. 
           At the opposite end the ivory remains swooshed and rained into the bed of trucks. Interestingly, it was this shrapnel that the officials seemed more concerned with guarding than the whole pieces, not allowing any photographs to be taken or anyone to get near. I waited until crowds began to thin to see what would happen with the shards that littered the cobbles, but nothing happened as long as I stayed. 

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Chips of ivory litter the ground, seemingly forgotten

           I wish I could give my readers answers, but I cannot. I wish I knew what could be done to solve the brutal murder of elephants. I wish I could say that the Ivory Crush made me feel hopeful that it would solve this issue. But I cannot. Instead I am left with more questions and an even more dismal outlook. I also can safely say that I will never attend another mass destruction of ivory again

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1 ton of ivory waiting to be crushed.

The Quest to Find a Decent Decaf Coffee

After trying these three coffees all week, I feel like I can give an official review of them. Due to health reasons, I cannot have loads of caffeine, hence the decaf. I purchased these three coffees off Amazon after reading high reviews. They had their other merits too. My favorite coffee of all time is Dominican caffeinated coffee. It has a heavy and richness that I have not found anywhere else. Thus, when I found they had a decaf, I jumped on it. The other Tiny Footprint Coffee I bought because it’s obvious environmental merits. The Café du Monde I bought because of the fame of the café in New Orleans – it has got to be good!

I brewed each coffee twice, with varying degree of intensity to try to find the best taste. I also sweetened each with avocado honey (I find this honey closest to sugar – it doesn’t have that pollen taste that most honeys have) and with organic pure cane sugar. Overall, the coffee sweetened with the sugar was the best. I generally do not like dairy in my coffee so I didn’t try any of these with milk or cream.

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Like I mentioned, this is my favorite coffee of all time – when it is caffeinated. Dominican coffee is predominantly “wild” from what I’ve seen – it grows with minimal cultivation and often in the shade of established forests. This makes it more environmentally friendly. Caffeinated Dominican coffee has a delicious deep, rich, dark taste to it. It has a subtle cocoa taste to it and medium acidity.

For the most part  – I did taste the deep, rich, cocoa taste. However, it was a weak coffee. It almost tasted watered down. In a blind taste test you could clearly taste that it was decaf. Enter my disappointment. The sugar was definitely better and enhanced the coffee. The honey didn’t quite give it the extra kick, but hey – honey is better for you. I tried to make it a little stronger – but it just made it bitterer. I give this coffee at 6.5 out of 10. It wasn’t a complete dissatisfaction. I could still identify it as Dominican coffee.

Tiny Footprints Coffee
Coffee is a major cause of deforestation. Every cup of coffee consumed destroys roughly one square inch of rain forest. These are the lungs of our Earth. Coffee has one of the highest (top three) pesticide user after corn and soy. This contaminates the water and kills the soil. Furthermore, coffee is originally a shade-grown crop. The highest yields of coffee are those that are shade-grown. Shade-grown coffee also requires less water, less pesticides, keeps weeds from growing. In my experience, shade-grown coffee tastes better too (as evident by caffeinated Dominican coffee).

Enter Tiny Footprints Coffee. According to the website, it is “the world’s first carbon negative coffee. Roasted locally, sourced ethically.” In addition to being the leading cause of deforestation, coffee also produces a lot of carbon dioxide from growth to distribution. Tiny Footprints eliminates their carbon footprint by offsetting their coffee trees with planting trees that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also use Arabica coffee beans – these are shade-grown and have a high yield. Their coffee is organic certified and Rain Forest Alliance fair-trade certified. Their bags are biodegradable, have a green building and factory, and compost their waste.

All that environmental stuff is all good – but how does the coffee TASTE? Pretty good. The first sip there’s a slight weird taste, but it quickly dissipates. The coffee is rich, deep and tasty. It is full-bodied with hints of chocolate and apricot. It doesn’t taste watered down or weak at all. It makes me wish I could have caffeine so I can taste their caffeinated coffee since the decaf is so good. I sweetened it only with sugar – haven’t tried the honey yet. I would give this coffee a 8/10. The taste is great – but it also gets extra merits for it being environmentally friendly.

Café du Monde Coffee & Chicory

Chicory is a weed. You know those lilac colored flowers you often see on the side of the road during the summer? That’s chicory. It has been cultivated and used for over 5000 years – the ancient Egyptians and Romans used to use it for medicinal purposes. It was a common coffee substitute during hard times – like slavery and the Great Depression. It is also caffeine free.

Chicory1I can’t speak to the environmental aspect of this coffee. I am going to guess it’s on the “conventional” coffee list though. Chicory is grown a lot like sugar-beets – a very dirty crop. However most cultivated chicory comes from Europe who have higher standards than we do in the USA. I also cannot find anywhere as to what beans they use or where they get them.

That being said, this is some of the best tasting decaf I have ever had. It was so good that I didn’t believe that it was decaf. I waited for my heart palpitations, a migraine to start, and trouble sleeping – my telltale signs of having caffeine – but none happened. This coffee truly is decaf. And it is damn good. It makes me regret not visiting Café du Monde when I went to New Orleans. The first time I brewed it, I used only 2tbs and sweetened it with sugar – this is when I had my coffeegasm. The 2nd time I brewed it I put a little bit more coffee in the brewer and sweetened it with honey. I prefer it with the sugar. I also read that it should be brewed on the light side since it tends to be stronger tasting than coffee. Lesson learned! I would give this coffee a 9/10. I would like to know more about the environmentally friendliness of this coffee, but the taste is so good!

The Verdict

Santo Domingo Coffee – 6.5/10 – you can tell it is decaf, but it does have some environmental merits.
Tiny Footprints Coffee – 8/10 – super tasty and has great environmental merits.
Café du Monde Coffee – 9/10 – you can’t tell it is decaf, but no clue on how environmentally sound it is.

New Year’s Revolutions

Okay. I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions. I like to do what I call, New Years Revolutions. I have a little list of things I would like to accomplish this year:

1) Be more of an advocate for the environment. I grew up free-diving the reefs of the Caribbean. I remember an over-abundance of life. While scuba-diving in Mauritius, there was an impressive quantity of fish, but the coral and the reef itself was suffering. So much of it was dead or dying. I feel like I do not do enough for this beautiful home that we live on. So I vow to do more this year.

2) Along the same lines, my last meal containing an animal was 1/8/14. I am going to become a vegetarian. I also want to be more aware of my food footprint in general. The more I read and the more I see the conditions of this Earth, the more I realize I need to curb my carbon footprint. Meat is one of the largest carbon bombs. I cannot be an advocate for the environment and climate change and continue to eat meat.

3) Do more of the things that I enjoy. I love rock-climbing, but certain things have kept me from it. I need to do more of it, no matter what. And this goes for other things as well. I let certain things take over my life or get in the way of things I want to do or enjoy. I will not let that happen this year.

4) I want to read more books. While I was on vacation I read 4 books. I read when I am at home I don’t read as much. This kind of goes along with #3. I love to read, but at home, TV and other things distract me from it. Books are such a great source to get information from. They can transport you to different lands. I want to go on more journeys and to educate myself more.

5) I want to watch less television. I am not sure how much I watch compare to others. I like to watch the news and some shows. But I want to watch less. In an effort to watch less, I have already disconnected my cable and am cable-free.

6) I am going to abide by the 7 Deadly Sins of Speaking: Don’t gossip. Avoid judgment. Ditch the negativity. Quit complaining. Stop making excuses. Don’t exaggerate. Ditch the dogma. And follow the 4 Rules of Good Speaking: Be honest. Be authentic. Have integrity. Operate from a place of love.

7) I want to list things I am THANKFUL for every day. And let people whom I am thankful for know that I am thankful for them. I am reminded of one of my favorite poems: “I tell [God] I have begun to learn what/ Heaven is about. She wants to hear./ It is, I say, being thankful for eternity.” When I express gratitude, I feel so much better. And I know that spreads. Gratitude is something that is not expressed enough in this day and age.

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I don’t want to be a witness to an extinct species

I remember once while living in Kenya, on a cool, dreary afternoon, we drove up to a pair of rare animals in the Land Rover. We were instructed to quietly get out and approach the animals. Quietly, methodically grazing were two white rhinos. Beside them were two guards armed with assault rifles. They were with them 24/7. In my youth I remembered being let down that these behemoths were not in fact white, but gray like the rhinos. I loved how calm they were, how serene, how they grazed without putting their heads up. One of the guides called them lawnmowers. The park was closed and the sun was setting. The rhinos and their escort slinked away.

I really hope that this moment will not go down in my memory as the moment I witnessed an extinct species. I hope that human beings will come up with a solution for these majestic animals – that we can figure out how to get them to reproduce, that it will not become necessary that they have to be guarded by guards with automatic weapons 24/7. I hope we will wise up and make this world a better place for all animals on this planet.

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Grow Your Own Food

The best thing about growing your own food is the intimacy you have with your plants. This is something most people disconnected with their food will probably laugh at, unless they try it – who can be close to a plant? But when every morning you walk around the garden, taking note as to what the progress it has made, you come to know every leaf, tendril, and fruit. Are the tomatoes ripening yet? Do I need to help pollinate the watermelons? Can I see the corn tassels emerging yet?

A lot of people think that gardening and growing your own food is a lot of work. It isn’t. Sure it takes some effort, but it is hardly the back-breaking work that some lead you to believe.  People with busy lives and jobs still manage to grow a good amount of food.

There’s something beautiful in knowing food for its entire life. Many people do not have that luxury and are disconnected from their food source. There’s nothing like helping pollinate your watermelons in the early morning haze, watching the finger-nail sized melon grow into a whole melon, and then the prize: eating it! Tomatoes have never tasted better when you eagerly watch the fruit ripening on the vine every day, pruning regularly to achieve health, and then finally getting to pick the warm fruit and eat it fresh off the vine. No worry of pesticides because you nurtured the fruit and know exactly what’s in it.

The ultimate gift of the home garden though, is feeding others. No matter how small a garden is, there’s often more than enough to share and give to others. When your hard work goes to feed the food pantry, when you make a salad entirely with ingredients from your garden for a BBQ, or when you just give bags of produce to friends – the simple act of giving your hard work and seeing the people’s smiles and surprise is worth all the effort. 

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Endurance

ImageThis is perhaps my favorite Antarctic picture. It was taken by Frank Hurley during Shackleton’s Endurance expedition 1914-1916. Whenever I am down, I look at this photo. It is the last time this beautiful ship, the Endurance, was in full sail. It was completely encased in ice and had been this way for many months. Shackleton was low on fuel and supplies. To put this ship at full throttle with those sails open was Shackleton’s Hail-Mary to get her free. She never left the ice again and not too long after this photo was taken, the Endurance was crushed and swallowed by ice.

There’s so much that this image means to me. First off, the name of the ship – Endurance. She endured more than any other ship and put in a valiant effort to resist the ice. Shackleton himself showed immense endurance himself. When this photo was taken, his last hope to free his home that served his men and him so well, he still had hope. He had hope to get her free and get either to his destination on the continent of Antarctica or to one of the whaling stations. After this photo was taken, when he realized that the Endurance would not come free, was probably Shackleton’s darkest moment.

Instead of giving in and surrendering to the ice, at his darkest moment, Shackleton decided to endure. He had to make some of the most difficult decisions anyone ever had to make. He went on to lead 28 men to safety. They camped for many months on the sea ice, they sailed without modern navigation to the nearest land mass. Once there Shackleton knew they couldn’t stay there forever and took off with 6 men to make an epic journey to South Georgia where there were several whaling stations. When he made landfall he realized he was on the wrong end of the island and hiked across never-navigated lands (which were not navigated again til a couple years ago) with no equipment. They put nails into the soles of their shoes to make crampons. They reached their destination and were able to rescue all of 28 men.

So whenever life to me feels impossible, and it seems like I cannot go on, I look at this photograph. It shows both hope and despair. It shows people who wouldn’t give up, even in the face of the impossible

India vs. Africa on Lions and Rhinos

When the rest of the world is having conservation issues with endangered and threatened species drastically on the decline, India has been seeing the populations of their species thriving. A new report out has shown that the endangered Indian rhinoceros population is growing – despite poaching. This is a stark contrast compared to its African counterparts who are disappearing faster than they can be counted and are expected to only be in zoos by 2030. Another animal in India that has an African equivalent, the Asiatic lion, has also been making a comeback. What is India doing right and how is Africa failing so severely?

In the early 1900s there were around 200 Indian rhinoceros alive in India. Over the years the numbers grew with a surge between 1975 and 1986 where they went from 600 to 1700. The numbers were starting to show a downward trend from 2002 to 2006, but thankfully this did not continue. Rhinos showed a 27 percent rise since 2006 with numbers of the enigmatic giant going from 2,006 to 2,544. This is an impressive increase, especially since poaching has not been eradicated and is still ongoing – 18 rhinos were killed this year.

Similarly, Asiatic lions have seen a population increase in India as well. Their success story has been beautifully captured in Roshan Patel’s film, Pride, which has received much recognition. In 1905 there were less than 50 Asiatic lions alive and they were facing extinction. Today there are more than 400 and the number keeps increasing. The population has grown 13 percent since the last count in 2005. A good portion of these lions, 40 percent, are young, which bodes well for the future of the species.

In contrast, Africa is losing both their rhinoceros and lion population that could potentially render both extinct in the wild by 2030. Western black rhino, a subspecies of black rhino, was officially declared extinct last year. Since 2002, black and white rhino populations have fallen. The lion population has fared no better. Back in 1860, there were 100,000 lions in the wild. Today there are approximately 32,000 left. The population decrease of lions is largely due to habitat loss, spread of diseases due to climate change,  and drought.

India nevertheless faces similar threats but still manages to have impressive increases in population. What are they doing right? In the case of the Asiatic lion, the Indian state of Gujart which is home to the entire population of the feline, they have tremendous pride for their lions. There have been many efforts to educate the public of the important role the lions play in the habitat. And they paid off. For the Indian rhinoceros, similar efforts have also been made. Anti-poaching camps have been established in and around wildlife sanctuaries and preserves, the Environmental and Forest Minister has sought out conservation and legal experts to figure out more effective ways to protect the beasts. Africa has made similar efforts, but it seems like they have not taken the matters as seriously and are corrupt internally. Hopefully if India keeps getting recognition for their efforts Africa will pay attention and follow suit. 

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Thanks to Climate Change, This Might be the End of Breakfast as We Know It

Thanks to human-induced climate change, we are digging our own graves by endangering our food system. Sure everyone is aware that there is a drought going on in California jeopardizing certain crops and industries. Yes, everyone is also aware that there is a crisis going on with honey bees and that they account for 1 out of 3 bites of food that we take, but are people personally taking account for their actions? Nope. They’re still buying Round-Up at Home Depot. They are still planting invasive species and decorative species that starve bees rather than help them. They are still watering their lawns and carelessly using water.

Besides the global bee crisis and drought, there are some staples in our food system that are close to collapse – with or without bees. Due to climate change, there seems to be a rise in disease and fungus. Breakfast will never be the same. How would our mornings be without that latte? Or a cup of orange juice? Or that bowl of oatmeal without slices of banana?

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A new study came out recently from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in England that 70 percent Arabica beans could be nonexistent in 36-66 years. With a warming climate also comes disease and pests and mountainsides that are now becoming too warm for the beans to flourish. When the plants are exposed to warmer temperatures the beans grow and mature too fast resulting in foul, bitter tasting coffee. The warmer temps also allow pests like berry borer beetles and diseases like leaf rust fungus to thrive. The study showed a very high risk of extinction of the world’s 2nd favorite warm beverage (after tea, which is not in as much danger as coffee, yet). Sadly, the study leans towards the conservative side because it did not take into account extensive deforestation in the highland forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan, so it could be a whole lot worse.

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Citrus
This 2013-2014 citrus season has been Florida’s worst season in 29 years. This is due to a disease called greening which infected the entire state’s population of citrus. It impedes the trees’ ability to hang onto its fruit and the harvest falls before it can mature. This has affected grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, and tangelos. The price for citrus has already risen domestically. In addition to the fungus, there is also an introduced little Asian pest that is eating away at citrus in California (besides the drought) that is not helping our lemons and limes. Environments that were previously uninhabitable to pests are becoming more inhabitable as they become warmer.

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Banana
There is a serious threat attacking bananas all over the world that has yet to reach the banana crop in Latin America, the world’s largest exporter of bananas, but really, it’s only a matter of time. There’s this fungus called Panama disease that rots the shallow and fragile roots of the banana trees. It was found in Asia in the 1990s and recently it has been decimating the banana crop in Mozambique. Some scientists already believe that the fungus has already spread to Latin America, which provides us with 70% of the world’s bananas. Should the fungus continue to spread, and should we find no cure, economies and countries collapse and we will lose the beloved banana.

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We need to start taking account for our actions and educating ourselves about the threats to our food system. This is only a fraction of the food that is suffering at our hands. While larger issues of climate change may seem far away and not affect us directly, like melting icebergs in Antarctica, our morning breakfast is in our kitchens every day. Perhaps more people will be willing to make little changes in their daily lives to make big change in the long run.

Breaking the Vicious Cycle

             Not even a month ago people all around the world were celebrating Japan’s end of whaling in the Southern Ocean. My last article warned that folks were celebrating far too soon and that Japan will waste no time to try to resume their whaling efforts. Honestly I thought they’d wait a bit longer than 3 weeks, but over a meal of whale, they tried to renew their efforts for whaling in Antarctic waters in 2015.
              The Minister of Agriculture said that this refurbished plan would be more sustainable – with less whales (250 as opposed to 950) being slaughtered, with actual scientific samples being taken. Never mind that these samples could be taken without killing the whales. But other than that, there was not much detail in their announcement.
              This goes to show that it is important not to monitor Antarctic fishing – but to not allow it altogether. Antarctica used to be the last pristine environment on Earth. The Southern Ocean, until recently, had remained the same temperature for thousands of years. This allowed animals to not change, live for decades where in other environments they live for a few years, and create an environment not found anywhere else on Earth.
              Now, thanks to increased fishing and climate change, the Southern Ocean has become a place that we most need to protect. Humans are burning the candle at both ends. We are killing apex predators – the Antarctic Toothfish (more commonly known as Chilean Sea Bass) so now that there’s hardly any of them being found. We are also over-fishing the base of the Antarctic food chain – krill. Literally everything in Antarctica depends on krill – fish, penguins, seals, whales – and even humans since if krill are left in the ocean they act as a carbon sink.
              On December 1st, 1959, world leaders did mainland Antarctica a big favor by signing the Antarctic Treaty which protected the land from exploitation. Only scientific activities can be carried out on Antarctica. No one can own the continent. They failed to extend the treaty to the ocean.
             For the last few years countries have met to try to create a marine sanctuary around Antarctica. These efforts have been repeatedly blocked by China, Russia and the Ukraine. They’ve tried decreasing the size of the marine sanctuary to conciliate the countries, but they still resist. The fishing and reaping of the Southern Ocean still continues.
              The exploitation of the Southern Ocean will continue as folks will never realize the importance of this ecosystem to the rest of the world. The Southern Ocean essentially mixes the rest of the currents of the world as it gyrates around the Antarctic continent. It is often “the forgotten ocean” being down there where few visit and experience.
              This Earth Day we need to create an awareness for the Southern Ocean and all that it does for us. We need to build a movement to demand that it be turned into the world’s largest marine sanctuary. If not, the vicious cycle of abusing it for our needs will continue.

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Before You Celebrate End of Whaling in Antarctica, Read This

Yesterday the International Court of Justice concluded that Japan’s whale hunt in the southern ocean near Antarctica was not, in fact, for “scientific research.” For the last few years, Japanese boats have gone into the Southern Ocean, gotten their quota (850) of whales per year. Sometimes they never reach that quota because Sea Shepherd, an Australian organization, watches them very closely and manages to halt them and drive them out of Antarctic waters. Theoretically, Japan’s little slap on the wrist for whaling and temporary halt, happens every year. The only change this year is that it came from the United Nations – which is why everyone is calling victory.

This may be a victory, but it is very small one. The real issue at hand is being completely ignored. Yes, whaling has temporarily been halted in Antarctica. As one of Antarctica’s biggest fans, I am thrilled. But the bigger issue has not even been mentioned once in any of the articles about Antarctic whaling – Antarctica’s waters are under attack. Whaling is the smallest offense. If we want to be true stewards of the environment and truly protect this irreplaceable environment, we need to designate the entire Southern Ocean a marine sanctuary and halt ALL commercial fishing.

Perhaps while you have been out to a restaurant recently or in the past you’ve seen something called Chilean Sea Bass on the menu. It is often described as a sweet, flakey firm white fish that lacks a fishy taste. What’s not to love? The truth. Chilean Sea Bass does not come from Chile. It comes from Antarctica. Its real name is Antarctic Toothfish but its name was changed to make it more appealing. These fish are the most dominant fish predator in Antarctica – in other words, they are the largest fish in the sea. They not only feed on smaller things, but they themselves are also food for seals, whales, squid, and a subspecies of orca that almost exclusively feeds on them. Since humans all of a sudden developed a taste for this fish, their numbers have reduced drastically. Since Antarctica is a cold place, things happen very slowly there. Things change slowly (or never), things mature slowly, things reproduce slowly. The toothfish numbers have not been able to keep up with insatiable human consumption and cannot support the environment’s needs as well.

Toothfish is not the only resident of Antarctica in danger at the hands of commercial fishing. On TV and on the web there are ads and commercials for the benefits of krill oil over fish oil. Not only are these little red pills more attractive than the golden fish oil ones, they supposedly offer no fishy burps and faster Omega-3 absorption! What is there to lose? EVERYTHING! Krill are the backbone, the nucleus, the spark of Antarctic life. EVERYTHING alive in Antarctica feeds on krill – from little icefish, to penguins, to seals, to humpback whales. If krill were to disappear, there would be no Antarctica. The truth is krill ARE disappearing. Krill numbers have declined 80% in the last 30 years. That is huge. That is much bigger than 850 whales being taken out of the water a year. Just let that sink in. 80% of the mainstay of Antarctic ecosystem has declined.

So yes. Hooray! Antarctic whaling program has been temporarily halted. That is good news. But you know what would be GREAT NEWS? No more fishing in Antarctica. Hearing that toothfish numbers are bouncing back. Hearing that krill no longer will be taken from Antarctic waters. And the best news of all? That the Southern Ocean, once the most pristine place on Earth, is designated the largest marine sanctuary. Each year many nations come together to try, and every year they fail. Maybe with this temporary halt of the whaling it is a first step.
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