An ever-expanding galaxy of immersive, investigative, uncomfortable, and occasionally uncouth ecological news

Learn more
Featured Articles
Nature
China's fishing armada threatens endangered hammerheads

China's fishing armada threatens endangered hammerheads

Joining the dots from the Galapagos to Hong Kong's shark fin market

Nature
Global superstars demand end to animal mistreatment

Global superstars demand end to animal mistreatment

Ricky Gervais, Dame Judi Dench, Olivia Newton John, Joaquin Phoenix and others call for a reset of humanity’s relationship with nature in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis

Nature
GreenWave

GreenWave

Can we restore our seas through ocean farming?

Culture
The future of work

The future of work

What meaningful jobs will exist in the future ecological society?

Technology
Finite: The Climate of Change

Finite: The Climate of Change

Immersive documentary following frontline communities battling opencast coal mines

Nature
Alliance calls on Scottish Government to help beavers survive

Alliance calls on Scottish Government to help beavers survive

Last year, 20 percent of the total fragile Scottish population were shot

Today's reading
Nature

China's fishing armada threatens endangered hammerheads

Joining the dots from the Galapagos to Hong Kong's shark fin market

Photo credit - Jonathan Green for the Galapagos Conservation Trust

HONG KONG, 05 August 2020 – 260 Chinese fishing boats are now amassing, Spanish Armada-like, on the edge of Ecuador's Galapagos Islands National Park, a park made famous by Charles Darwin that sits inside a pristine marine protected area. The park is supposedly a safe haven for hammerhead sharks, whitetip reef sharks and turtles. But Chinese fishing boats don't have a good track record; they've been busted fishing for sharks in the Galapagos before. In August 2017, Ecuadorean authorities boarded a Chinese-flagged vessel, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 and found around 300 tons of marine species onboard, including more than 6,600 dead sharks, most of which were hammerheads. Park officials also found thresher, mako and silky sharks on board – all protected species.

Add to that Hong Kong's record-breaking seizure in May this year of 13 tonnes of endangered hammerhead sharks smuggled in by ship from Ecuador, a haul estimated to be worth around £815,000. Again, it's not hard to join the dots between China's looming fishing threat to the Galapagos Islands and Hong Kong's dodgy shark fin market.

Shops in Hong Kong openly trading in shark fin products - photo credit - Dorothy Cheng

Fisheries experts have noted that harmful fishing subsidies provided by the Chinese government to its distant water fishing fleet are enabling fishing captains to buy all the diesel they need to make the long journey across the Pacific to the Galapagos. Recent WTO negotiations between China and the United States to discuss the thorny issue have stalled, as American negotiators contest China's lobbying “special and differential treatment” and claim of 'developing nation status' – a claim clearly at odds with the vast size of its distant-water fishing fleet. China's fishing fleet dwarfs the rest of the world's fishing fleets, even as China's fishing boats are often registered to obscure shell companies or sail under foreign flags of convenience.

However, according to Ecuadorean enforcement officials, China's industrial fishing fleet, currently just off the Galapagos, haven't actually broken any laws yet. But in coming days they could be well poised to plunder the national park's lucrative stock of sharks – including its carefully monitored population of endangered hammerheads – if they choose to, by switching off their vessels' communications devices, a common ploy used by fishermen the world over to evade law enforcement.

Chinese fishing boats on the move Photo: China Foto Press. China’s fishing fleet operated more hours in 2016 than the next 10 biggest nations combined

Ten thousand miles away, meanwhile, along the tram tracks of Hong Kong island sits the city's shark fin dried seafood market. Like an underwater dive gone wrong, thousands of dead and dried sea creatures lie in stinking plastic bags on shelves, or in sacks on the floor of tiny shops of 'Dried Seafood Street,' as the Hong Kong Tourism Board likes to tout it. These businesses, often suspected to be nothing more than fronts for money laundering, will sell you a kilo of 'superior shark fin' for an eye-watering £622 per kilo. Or if you prefer the cheaper option, a kilo of raw, unbleached, shark fin will set you back £185 – but you'll have to scrape off the rough grey shark skin yourself.

Shark fin products on sale in Hong Kong - photo credit - __Dorothy Cheng

Even though shark fin soup is still considered a luxury for many Chinese, don't expect that eating it comes without risk. Mercury, and its more toxic cousin methyl-mercury, if found in seafood, can cause Alzheimer's disease. This month a report by Florida International University found that every single sample they collected from Hong Kong's shark fin market for analysis contained staggeringly high amounts of mercury, far surpassing legal limits set by Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety. Garcia Barcia, one of the study's co-authors, said, “The results were astonishing. The mercury levels are [...] six to ten times higher than what a safe level of mercury would be considered in Hong Kong.”

Sharks are in deep trouble, globally. In a separate scientific study, Global Finprint found sharks to be “functionally extinct” in many coral reefs around the world. Scientists placed cameras on 371 reefs in 58 countries but found sharks were virtually absent from 20% of the reefs they checked. It's not unreasonable to suggest that Hong Kong's unregulated shark fin market, where bags upon bags of baby blacktip reef sharks sit alongside Chinese medicine quack remedies, has played a major role in obliterating the world's coral reefs.

Back home there is a growing momentum to ban the UK's dirty shark fin trade. An Early Day Motion to ban the import of shark fin into the UK, sponsored by the Scottish National Party, now has 22 MPs supporting it. A public petition on Parliament's website now has over 17,000 signatures. And as Brexit day looms, the UK government finds itself in a unique position to break free from the European Union's constrictive fisheries laws, much of which are influenced by Spain, which just so happens to be the largest exporter of frozen shark fin to Hong Kong.

Nature

Global superstars demand end to animal mistreatment

Ricky Gervais, Dame Judi Dench, Olivia Newton John, Joaquin Phoenix and others call for a reset of humanity’s relationship with nature in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis

As a galaxy of global superstars, lead by comedian Ricky Gervais, pop star Mýa, actors Dame Judi Dench, Olivia Newton John and Tzi Ma, and renowned conservationist Dame Jane Goodall, have come together to record an impassioned video calling for a reset of humanity’s relationship with nature in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis and its zoonotic origins, two baby bears have attempted to steal the limelight.

In mid-July, as the celebrities recorded their video messages, Animals Asia rescued two three-month-old moon bear cubs that had been illegally trapped and put on sale on the black market, and are now taking care of them at the NGO’s sanctuary in Tam Dao, Vietnam.

The two rescued bear cubs at the Animals Asia sanctuary in Tam Dao, Vietnam

“If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s the power of leaving nature alone - and that The Only Cure is Kindness”, said British comedian Ricky Gervais. “We’ve got so much to learn from animals and nature - and there is so much we can do to help. Animals Asia are actively harnessing that kindness to end bear-bile farming, rescuing bears and taking care of them. Let’s be kinder to nature, and kinder and more forgiving to each other too”.

The actors, musicians and conservationists came together - virtually - to raise awareness of the plight of the Asiatic black bear, or ‘moon bear,’ and the urgent need to end the practice of bear bile farming - where bears are held in tiny cages so that their bile can be extracted for use in traditional medicine. NGO Animals Asia, which created the video to mark Moon Bear Day on August 8th, aims to rescue 500 bears currently in bear bile farms in Vietnam by 2022, so they can live out their lives in a sanctuary with world class care [2]. To date, Animals Asia has rescued 634 bears, and has agreement with Vietnamese authorities to completely end bear bile farming in Vietnam by 2022.

The video, featuring Ricky Gervais, Jane Goodall, Mulan star Tzi Ma, Dame Judi Dench, Downton Abbey stars Peter Egan and Lesley Nicol, Guns’n’Roses rockers Slash and Matt Sorum, and actors Dame Olivia Newton John AC DBE, Virginia McKenna OBE, Joanna Lumley OBE, James Cromwell, Alicia Silverstone, Louis Hofmann, Daniel Gillies, Celina Jade, Maggie Q, Dustin Nguyen, Kristin Bauer, Michelle Forbes, Tara Buck, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, Vietnamese TV Presenter Minh Trang Nguyen, musician Rick Wakeman and singers Han Geng and Mýa, highlights the mistreatment animals as a root cause of pandemics such as the Covid19 crisis, in response “The Only Cure is Kindness”. Actor Joaquin Phoenix, who doesn’t appear in the video, is also spreading the message, appearing on social media wearing a t-shirt bearing the “The Only Cure is Kindness” message. See here for all celebrity statements.

Joaquin Phoenix wearing a t-shirt bearing the words “The Only Cure is Kindness”.

“It’s absolutely amazing, because just as the international stars were recording their video clips, our team in Vietnam got a call saying that two baby bears needed to be rescued”, said Jill Robinson MBE, founder and CEO of Animals Asia, who also appears in the video.

“It’s brilliant to be able to welcome all of these household names into the Animals Asia family. By helping us mark Moon Bear Day and our historic agreement with the Vietnam Government, these global stars are raising awareness about the suffering caused by the bear bile industry”, she continued.

“Our supporters have been so generous in supporting our work, but the task ahead is formidable”, continued Robinson. “Animals Asia plans to help rescue up to 500 bears from 142 farms in Vietnam, so they can live out their lives in a sanctuary with world class care. This will take time, effort and resources - by lending their voices, these luminaries are sending a message to each and everyone one of us: that The Only Cure is Kindness.”

“With the campaign to end bear bile farming in Vietnam close to realisation, Jill Robinson and Animals Asia have truly been leading the way, and I hope that their model of kindness in action will be rolled out across Asia”, said famed British ethologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Founder - the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace. “We’ve all now experienced what it’s like to be cooped up for a few short months and I believe people will now have more empathy for the innocent and intelligent creatures who can be trapped on farms, in horrible conditions, for decades. It’s clear, The Only Cure is Kindness”.

“As a Vietnamese-American, I am proud of how Animals Asia is working closely on a plan with the Vietnamese government to put the bears’ welfare first, in collaboration with the people of Vietnam - the overwhelming majority of whom have nothing to do with bear farming ” said actor and film star and Animals Asia spokesperson Maggie Q, who adopted a moon bear - named Phoenix - in 2019.

“Thanks to the work of Animals Asia, Vietnam’s traditional medical association has agreed to stop prescribing bear bile. Animals Asia is also working respectfully with communities throughout Vietnam, including in areas which have been bear farm hotspots. They’re educating kids in the wider community about animal welfare, and training up Vietnamese veterinarians and animal welfare specialists.” she continued. “I am proud to support the changes that will help moon bears in Vietnam - my country and my mother's country.”

Nature

GreenWave

Can we restore our seas through ocean farming?

Bren Smith, a former fisherman turned ocean farmer, and the founder of GreenWave, shares how they are restoring their local seas by growing seaweed and shellfish.

The GreenWave Model: Regenerative Ocean Farming

GreenWave’s polyculture farming system grows a mix of seaweeds and shellfish that require zero inputs—making it the most sustainable form of food production on the planet—while sequestering carbon and rebuilding reef ecosystems. Since the farms sit vertically below the surface, they produce high yields with a small footprint. With a low barrier to entry, anyone with 20 acres, a boat, and $20-50K can start their own farm.

GreenWave’s model is deployed for both reforestation, to restore ocean ecosystems and capture blue carbon, and commercial farming, to grow seaweed and shellfish used for food, fertilizer, animal feed, bioplastics, and more.

The Approach

Underwater 3D farms could revolutionize food production, using previously untapped space to grow kelp, scallops and mussels - all whilst drawing carbon out of the atmosphere.

GreenWave trains and supports regenerative ocean farmers in the era of climate change. We work with coastal communities throughout North America to create a blue green economy—built and led by regenerative ocean farmers—that ensures we all make a living on a living planet.

As a nonprofit, GreenWave’s 10 year goal is to provide training, tools, and support to a baseline of 10,000 regenerative ocean farmers to catalyze the planting of 1 million acres and yield meaningful economic and climate impacts.

To date, GreenWave has trained and supported more than 120 farmers and hatchery technicians throughout New England, California, New York, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. With over 5,000 people waitlisted for our services, GreenWave works with farmers to launch and scale their businesses through a mix of training and innovation. Our high-and-low touch training ranges from an online seed-to-sale Regenerative Ocean Farming Toolkit and region-specific workshops to hands-on internships and participation in our farmer support network. Their innovation program works to scale markets in four shovel-ready sectors - food, agriculture, bioplastics and Blue Carbon - as well as disseminate the latest farm, hatchery and blue tech design throughout our farmer network.

Markets

Seaweed harvesting once was a major industry in the United States. In the early 1900s, 1,500 workers produced 52 different products from kelp on the docks of San Diego. The industry died after WWII (due to over harvesting), but it’s proof that seaweed was once a tangible part of the U.S. coastal economy.

Fast forward to today and growth projections for farmed seaweed are strong. One recent study estimates the industry will grow to $92 billion by 2025 across a diverse range of markets.

To separate wheat from chaff, GreenWave has identified four industries that they see as viable, shovel-ready sales channels for farmers: food, bioplastics, agricultural products, and blue carbon. These as the primary drivers of near-term market growth.