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  • Welcome on the new server.. :-)

    Sitenews moved, what you see here is on the new server. Nothing should be broken, but statistics (as well as ten solid minutes of testing) say something will be. So please report any errors you see :)


  • By Pepijn on 27 02 07 - 17:13 | three comments |

  • Sea Shepherd spam


    A point of order: Please (or actually: I urge you to) have a look at the fifth comment on this article if you are a Sea Shepherd enthusiast and / or plan on making a comment regarding the Sea Shepherd organisation on this site.

  • By Pepijn on 26 02 07 - 21:57 | |


    Fisheries, Sitenews

    I have just registered My aim with the site is to put information on -take a quick guess-... overfishing on it. It will be a small, fairly non-interactive, informative site at first and I haven't thought trough all the ins and the outs yet. In the future it might become an extensive database driven repository on overfishing. That's the future though, first I have think about it some more and actually get it started...

    Any ideas? I'd love to hear them! Post them in the comments or send me an email. Want to contribute (in the future or now)? I'd love to hear that too!

  • By Pepijn on 26 02 07 - 17:43 | 275 comments |

  • Pristine Antarctica: The Plants

    Antarctica, Biology, Tourism

    In a time and place where giants are fighting to save the whales. And where wide concern is arousing about the way the Japanese government is handling the disaster that took place on the world's sole remaining whale floating factory, the Nisshin Maru. It is worthwhile to see what precious nature is actually there to protect . A little series about the Antarctic environment.

    Ask someone to describe Antarctica and he or she will most likely say "a bloody cold and icy place with a penguin or two". With a bit of luck he or she will also know about the birds and some other animals. What most people don't know is that a stunning one- to two percent (depending on the time of year) of the continent is ice- and snow free. Some of these places are along the coasts. But often these are between "wetter" inland mountain ranges and nunatak areas. Many of these rare spots are covered with a variety of unique Antarctic plant life.

    The terrestrial plants can be divided in five groups; higher plants, lichens, fungi, mosses and algae. Due to the harshness of the environment not a lot of diversity is found and, using one page per species, a book with 500 pages is probably enough to cover the continent's plant life. The sub Antarctic islands up North -very confusing for a European who associates north with cold and south with warm- have more moderate and wetter climates and thus can sustain a more diverse flora with larger plants.

    Antarctica has two species of flowering plants; Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis). These only occur in the moderate regions. The most abundant as well as most adapted plants are the lichens. Found almost at the south pole the continent has about 300 different species. They grow very slowly -0.01 to 1 millimetre a year- and the oldest ones (Usnea sphacelata) found are about 4500 years old. Then there are the mosses and macro-fungies with 100 and 20 species.

    Maybe the most wide spread ones are also the smallest: Algae (non-marine)! These little buggers are found everywhere from cracks in rocks, to melt water streams, to muddy areas. The most spectacular to see probably are the snow algae which form large red, yellow, blue or green patches in areas of everlasting snow.

    The small species are very sensitive and it has been shown that fumes from fossil fuel burning (ships, generators) already had an impact in the direct vicinity of research stations. With the arrival of more and more tourists vessels (see the IAATO statistics) every year it is to be seen what kind of impact this will have.

    As with other Antarctic lifeforms most of these species, and their interaction with the environment, has had little study. What is know is that many of these species depend on clean air and because of their characteristics (e.g. slow growing) are extremely vulnerable to changes.

    Ice free zones surrounding the Amundsen glacier. Photo from the USAF

  • By Pepijn on 23 02 07 - 02:10 | No comments |

  • Pristine Antarctica: Greenpeace Esperanza webcam

    Antarctica, Weird and Funny

    As you probably know the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza is currently in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica as part of the organisation's save-the-whales campaign. I made a short music video of yesterdays webcam feed. Enjoy! :)

    The enthralling music track is Les Marionnettes by Zbigniew Preisner.

  • By Pepijn on 21 02 07 - 16:30 | five comments |

  • Pristine Antarctica: The Deep Sea

    Antarctica, Climate, Conservation, Ecology, Marine Reserves, Science

    In a time and place where giants are fighting to save the whales. And where wide concern is arousing about the way the Japanese government is handling the disaster that took place on the world's sole remaining whale floating factory, the Nisshin Maru. It is worthwhile to see what precious nature is actually there to protect . A little series about the Antarctic environment.

    Far below the icy top layer of the Antarctic waters a small man-made apparatus is roaming around looking for anything of interest. The ROV, named Isis, is the UK's first deep-sea remote operated vehicle and is capable of diving down to 6.5 kilometre below the surface. Isis's mission, here on its inaugural science mission, on the Antarctic seabed, is the first time men is looking at the deep sea near this vast continent. A continent we know little about and still we have began commercial exploitation of its resources already.

    The first results of the scientific mission, performed from the British Antarctic Survey's ship RSS James Clark Ross, are already appearing; it found interesting evidence of the "ice-driven evolution of Antarctica's coast" and it found huge ancient "meltwater channels" which can learn us how the ice sheet will change in the years to come.

    Although mostly a geology mission Isis also looked at the fauna and did some interesting finds, causing a Professor Tyler to proclaim "The wealth and diversity of the fauna in this area was incredible!", which in itself led me to proclaim: We want picture proof! (and found some here) What the researchers found was beautiful but also included a warning on the fragility and vulnerability of this remote ecosystem to the climate change we see everywhere. As the sea water is now a bit warmer as ten years ago the temperature has become right for the king crab to enter, and these were actually found closer to the coast as ever before.

    Isis found unique communities of filter feeders with proof of these flourishing there for millions of years. The rapid entering -invasion- of king crabs and other species alien to the system might endanger that. While more research is needed this is yet another example of climate change affecting everything and everyone. Not all is lost though, overall the Antarctic deep sea ecosystem is a fascinating one that we hardly know anything about. Sciencemag wrote some good articles about the mission and the first results.

    A king crab caught by the Isis grabbing arm. Photo by BAS.

  • By Pepijn on 21 02 07 - 05:00 | nine comments |

  • The fuels of destruction

    Conservation, Ecology, Fisheries, Marine Reserves, Sustainability

    During a visit to the fish handling port of Sargo, Portugal I found pieces of coral all over the place in and around the fish crates. The fish market was just taking care of the cargo delivered by the small reefer (refrigerated cargo vessel) that just arrived. The catch included many rare and protected deep sea species from the Mediterranean sea as well as West African seas which according to some of the port workers had been caught by two local trawlers in the week before. The government inspectors happened to be on a late lunch break just as this only ship of the day arrived...

    The effects of these fisheries -as unsustainable as they probably are- diminish compared to the effects the 200 (rough estimate) massive deep sea bottom trawlers worldwide have on the ecosystem of our oceans. In international waters many of the fisheries are virtually unregulated. Here the trawlers operate in utter and complete unmonitored freedom, and use state of the art technologies to plunder the depths and destroy its populations of slowly maturing orange roughy (McDonald's fish fillets, i'm lovin' it!), sharks, millennia old coral reefs, and other wonders of the deep.

    Like a biblical plague of locust the deep sea fishing fleets of mass destruction are systematically devouring the ocean bottom and its sub-sea mountains of all living matter. When passing by they leave in their trail a barren wasteland stripped from all life and with an uncertain future.

    Often suggested and now confirmed is that these destructive and unsustainable form of fishing would be unprofitable without heavy government support. Scientists from the US University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre recently examined subsidies paid to bottom trawl fleets around the world and found that over $152 million US are paid world wide to keep deep sea fisheries afloat. Without these subsidies the global deep sea fisheries would operate at a loss of $50 million a year. Most of these subsidies are for fuel as the fleets burn around 1.1 billion liters of fuel annually.

    From an ecological perspective the world cannot afford to lose the deep sea, and from an economical perspective this fish mining can only occur with heavy government subsidies. It comes down to these fisheries not being sustainable in any way, except maybe for the bank accounts of the small number of ship owners from the eleven countries -including the US, Japan, Spain, China, South Korea, Russia, Australia and France- operating these ships. It's time to act before there is no use in acting any more. Maybe individual countries will do some good where the UN failed to do so.

    Pieces of coral found between the fish crates in the port of Sargo, Portugal.

  • By Pepijn on 19 02 07 - 16:52 | fifteen comments |

  • How to become a legal pirate


    • This is a guest blog from international law student Juliette. She blogs @ Lots Of Imagination on international law, the environment and more.

    If you know your geography well, you know that Bolivia is in South America. If you know it better, you also know that Bolivia is one of the very few countries in the world that does not have access to the sea. In all logic, Bolivian ships should be very few. After all, they don't even have ports.

    However, Bolivia is one of the biggest maritime nations on Earth. Number one and two are tiny Panama and Liberia. This is due to the practice of flags of convenience.

    Maritime law states that no ship is allowed to sail on the seas and oceans without bearing the flag of a country.
    It is not very difficult, though, to find a flag. Many countries, like Panama, Liberia or Bolivia, are only to eager to give out their flag; the money that can be obtained in exchange is non-negligible for a developing country. Most of the time, when a ship is registered in another country than the country of ownership, it is for financial reasons, or to find a more convenient legislation. Indeed, the ship is then considered national territory, and only the laws of that country apply - at least in the high seas.

    This is contrary to the United Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that states that there should be a "genuine link" between the ship and the country of nationality (art 91). However, since the same convention states that any country is free to give its flag to any ship, regardless of access to the sea (art 90), we find ourselves in a bundle.

    This bundle can have tragic consequence. Lax legislations can let sail ships that should not - if we listen to reason at least - ever see a wave. They pollute and endanger the sea and their crew. We can find many examples of these, here are two recent ones:

    • Erika. In 1999, this tanker sank near Brittany, creating one of the worst oil-related disasters in French history. The Erika had been build in 1975. In less than 25 years, it changed three times of flag - Panama, Liberia and Malta. When it sank, it belonged to a Maltese society, which was controlled by two Liberian firms, the actions of which were owned by an Italian based in London. The crew was Indian.
    • Probo Koala. In August 2006, this Panama-registered tanker dumped toxic waste in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, that killed ten people. It was owned by a Greek shipping company and chartered by a Dutch one. After dumping the toxic waste, the Probo Koala was not stopped for over a month, and one can wonder if it ever would have been, had Greenpeace not come in the scene and blocked it in an Estonian port.

    In this legal micmac, it is almost impossible to find who is responsible for the disaster - and this is exactly the goal. However, one entity can make a big difference: the country of nationality can enforce stronger legislation to avoid these disasters.

    Both these cases attracted international attention, and one can hope they will get some thing moving. The European Commission is currently trying to pass a single legislation on the minima required to sail a ship - at least flagged under a EU country. As long as all countries do not agree to minima, unfortunately, polluting ships will still sail.

    Another problem of the system of flagging ships is the unflagging of convenience. It is a much rarer occurrence, and in this case, the reasons are often not financial, but political. The organisation Sea Shepherd is currently a victim of this.

    Sea Shepherd is a highly controversial organisation, that fights whaling with rather radical ways. Their targets are whaling ships, which annoys whaling nations to no end. In particular, Japan is trying to stop them. The latest method used is to ask all countries in which Sea Shepherd tries to register its ships to refuse their flag.

    It seems to be working, as Sea Shepherd is now sailing unregistered. They can now be stopped by any ship - most likely a Japanese one - the crew arrested as pirates and the ship detained. Sea Shepherd doesn't seem to care about such trivial matters, though, and is still at sea, trying to stop whaling.

    Legitimate or not, this raises an interesting issue: if it's possible for a country to lobby so that a ship won't get a flag, why isn't this done for the more polluting ones? Many vessels that are known for fishing above their quotas, for discharging toxics in the sea, in short for being disasters waiting to happen are allowed to sail.

    Many ships are unfit for the high seas, or any seas at all, yet not many people are keen on stopping them.

    Who are the real pirates here? Sea Shepherd prides itself in being pirates (they regularly fly a Jolly Roger), but they're certainly not the only ones here. What can be said about vessels that practice illegal, unregulated and unregistered fishing? Or the whalers killing in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary? Are they lesser pirates because they steal with a flag?

    The Japanese lobbying against Sea Shepherd is proof that all it takes is some mind-set to stop a ship. Why not put this lobbying to good use?

    This flag means either "Juliet" or "I am on fire and have dangerous cargo on board; keep well clear of me.". Take your pick.

  • By Juliette on 11 02 07 - 23:39 | four comments |

  • Fishy books, or conservation literature

    Conservation, Fisheries

    Many of the people reading this blog know that we are overfishing, they know the devastating techniques that are used, they know (and use in some cases, care to do an -anonymous- guest blog? I would greatly appreciate it :-)) the loopholes in the legislative system, they know the environmental damages and they know the incentives that are driving industrial fisheries. Yet sometimes it's good to sit down on your sofa and read a good, well written, book about it.

    It so happens to be that in the past years two of these books were published. The first one, Cod, A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlanksky, focusses around the impacts of the collapse of the cod stocks and even comes with a good deal of historical recipes. Refreshing and invigorating, full of fascinating facts according to the Independent on Sunday, and an Engrossing and timely little epic according to the Scotsman. I fully agree with both.

    The second book I'd like to boost here is a bit more recent and a bit more dramatic as it aims to be a life changing eye opener to the general public on the worldwide scandal of overfishing. And that is exactly what The End of the Line, How overfishing is changing the world and what we eat by Charles Clover manages to do. Asides of simple writing up the drama he also explains conservation measures like Marine Reserves, fish management and quota systems. Not the happiest book of the two, but a mighty interesting birthday present for your conservation minded friends. Oh, and he points out how Jamie Oliver is a *bit* of a hypocrite, I happen to like that. (for reasons I won't put on this blog ;-)

    Now go out and buy -at least- one of these books! You won't regret it and will enjoy these books long after the last fish has been consumed!

    The Sch-302. A Dutch flagged deepfreeze sterntrawler. One of the largest fishing vessels in the world until it burned to the ground early February.

  • By Pepijn on 10 02 07 - 17:24 | No comments |

  • A modern border dispute in western Europe

    Law and Legislation

    Germany and the Netherlands have been happy EU palls for many years now. They have open borders, shared management of many natural resources and a common interest in the EU subsidy system. Little known is the fact that these two buddies have an active disagreement over the exact line of the border in the far north.

    The modern history of this dispute sits in the Eems-Dollard treaty of 1960 in where agreements were made on the accessibility to the sea of the various ports. In 1962 a further treaty (or amendment, I'm not 100% sure) was signed dealing with gravel, salt, oil and gas extraction. These two treaties are both open to interpretation when it comes to the exact border though. And that's exactly what the two children have been doing.

    Only in 1996, with the signing of the Eems-Dollard Environmental protocol, a working solution was thought to be found for water management and nature protection. Unfortunately there have been some incidents in recent years when the German government giving out licenses for mussel fisheries in an area where the Dutch government banned bottom disturbing fisheries. Another sensitive point are the benefits from the gas extraction taking place in the area. Most of the surrounding Wadden Sea is designated as a Particular Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) under European rules. Although this little bit is excepted from that protection for now talks are taking place to include this area in the PSSA designation.

    The orange bit on the image is the disputed area. The Dutch claim the border is on the right side of the orange bit, the German claim the border is on the left side. The two red circles point out the bits where the German claim goes over bits of Dutch land. The dotted black line in the middle is the middle of the river stream and placed there for reference. The orange bit is created in ArcView and based on (line-) coordinates used by German and Dutch environmental ministries.

    Eems-Dollard disputed area between the Netherlands and Germany. A larger version of the image and a GIS shapefile are available via email.

  • By Pepijn on 01 02 07 - 16:54 | five comments | - About overfishing.