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Logical absurdities 23 Oct 2008

Posted by cat64fish in Land-lubber stories.
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Quotes from “The Human, the Orchid and the Octopus” JY Cousteau and S Schieflbein:

Logical absurdities of:

– industrialists who contend that they cannot afford the luxury of expensive waste disposal;
– fishermen who respond to declining catches by doubling their effort, thereby wiping out the stock;
– military officers who propose offsetting the dangers of a neighbours nuclear and bomb stores but augmenting their own;
– leaders who profess to support human rights, but ignore the rights of future generations;
– believing that every single scientific fact we discover must be applied;
– subordinating human interests to new technology instead of the other way round;
– bolstering the world economy by institutionalising the mass market, enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor.

No truer words have been written, I think.

Jacques Cousteau in Rio (1992) 24 Jul 2008

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A quote from the book “The Human, the Orchid and the Octopus” by JY Cousteau and S Schiefelbein.

“Rio declares war on poverty, but delegates are offering only one prescription to eradicate it: their so-called sustainable development. What they are really suggesting is economic development, and sustainable economic development is a contradiction in terms. The earth cannot “sustain” an increased assault on its nonrenewable resources. [The delegates] are saying to the poor: Do as the rich have done! … If each individual of the earth ‘s expected population … zealously follows that example … it will finish off our planet.”

Cousteau said this after delegates, having just completed the Rio meeting, refused to take a group photograph, unless the luminary joined them. His honest assessment of the Summit and its conclusions ring true in my mind as I re-read that passage for the 10th time. How much more damage can our planet take, before we push it beyond its capacity to recover. Will we even recognise that we have past the point of no return? Or will we continue blithely on, secure in our thinking that nothing we do will affect so severely the only home we have?

A sobering thought, no?

Shark attacks!! 2 Jul 2008

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I was reading “The Human, The Orchid and The Octopus” by Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein. Coustaeu, as (hopefully) everyone knows, was a world renowned ocean explorer and environmentalist, and Susan was formerly an editor for the Saturday Review, and had co-authored several books with Cousteau.

In the opening chapter, Susan recalls the time she and Cousteau were having lunch, and their conversation turned to shark attacks. Cousteau looked disgusted and said that he has never known a shark to have attacked. Looking surprised, the author pointed out the various people who have lost limbs and even lives to such attacks. Pointing to the eggs they were eating, he said, “It is eating. Are you attacking that egg?”.

I couldn’t stop laughing at the very clear understanding the man had of shark behaviour. What we perceive as an attack on us, is merely the shark behaving as it should – as the top predator of the sea – to which everything that enters its domain is but prey. There is no malice on the part of the shark, as we often subscribe to in cases where the victim is human.

I am still reading the book, but I am already sure that I would like to have a copy of the book as my own (the one I am reading is a library copy), for an insight into the man I count as having inspired me the most to persuing my studies in marine biology.

Landfill island or island landfill? 10 May 2007

Posted by cat64fish in Land-lubber stories.
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An article in the New Scientist caught my eye, entitled “Garbage of Eden” (14 April 2007).

Catchy title …. but, upon further reading, I noticed that the author seemed to have this misconception that Semakau was “created” because of the landfill, and that the biodiversity there was “attracted” to the island. Wrong and wrong, I thought … could the author have not visited the island at all in writing this paper? Who knows?

What I know of Pulau Semakau is that it is one of the largest islands in the south of Singapore. This pear-shaped island now has the Semakau Landfill “attached” to the eastern side of the it like cancerous outgrowth.

The landfill is the result of Singapore’s affluent society, which generates about 2.5 million tons of rubbish yearly. About 80% of this is incinerated and disposed of at the landfill.


Pulau Semakau, the Landfill and the patch reefs surrounding it.

The landfill covers over 350 hectares, and was built over what was Pulau Sakeng, a few patch reefs, and anchored to Pulau Semakau. In the process, part of the Semakau mangroves was lost, but were replanted to the north and to the south of where the landfill is anchored to Semakau.

Singaporeans have only just began to “rediscover” Semakau’s riches, but in as early as 1990, after extensive surveys in the southern islands, the Reef Survey and Conservation Project proposed the western half of the island and its surrounding reefs as a Marine Nature Area. This was one of four that were included in the 1992 Singapore Green Plan.

The island houses three major coastal ecosystems, namely:

In the southeast and northeast, adjacent to the Landfill, remnants of the original mangrove, and the newly replanted mangrove patches;

In the western inter-tidal zone, a seagrass meadow that is the largest known in Singapore, covering about 70ha. At least 6 species of seagrass occur here, besides the dominant Enhalus acoroides, Halophila ovalis and the rare Syringodium isoetifolium have been recorded.

At the outer edges of this large inter-tidal area, the corals begin to dominate, until the seagrasses are edged out. Corals continue to grow in relative health – along the almost 1km-long reef, hard coral cover is between 40 and 60% (see Coral Reefs of Singapore). Almost all the genera of corals (about 55 of them) known to exist in Singapore can be found along Semakau’s reefs.

Even in the murky depths (the seabed is at about 15m depth), seafans and other invertebrate fauna irk out a tenuous existence. In some places, once vibrant patches of the seabed are now covered in silt. Where this silt comes from is still somewhat of a mystery. All that is known is that somewhere along the way, surveying of the deeper transects at one of the sites was no longer possible because of the silt build up. Some of the seabed experiments (conducted by NUS) with gravel beds also “disappeared” under layers of choking silt.

The misconception that the wildlife is there because of the landfill is one that I would like to dispell. It is important to understand that the landfill and the island are two separate entities.

While I do not dispute that there is wildlife in the landfill, many of the wonders reported in articles have always been there, even before the landfill was even built. That the wildlife can co-exist with the landfill points to the good work put in during the concept and design of the landfill, but we should not forget that a large portion of our marine and cultural heritage was lost to build it, including our only remaining coastal village on Pulau Sekang, as were the mudflats and mangroves on the eastern side of Pulau Semakau – a favourite haunt of the few bajou from Indonesia who traveled to our shores (presumably by rowing!) to irk out a merge living fishing in our waters!

What will become of this island paradise in the face of an ever-increasing population that demands more and more land, and generates more and more rubbish? The landfill is expected to last till 2070, and a new landfill will probably need to constructed some time before that. What other reef will we be sacrificing for our “progress”?

Other resources on Semakau:
Blue Water Volunteers
Habitatnews
The Blue Tempeh
Wild Singapore