Month: July 2007

Tuesdays with Turtles – Archie Carr Edition

Archie Carr is considered the father of modern sea turtle research. And now, there’s a book about him about to come out. It’s called “The Man who Saved Sea Turtles”.

Well, I guess saved is going a little too far. I would have said “postponed the extinction of”, given the imminent extinction of the Pacific leatherback. But hey, forget about the title, I am sure it’s going to be a good book to read.

Oxford University Press: The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles: Frederick R. Davis

Archie Carr, one of the greatest biologists of the twentieth century, played a leading part in finding a new and critical role for natural history and systematics in a post-1950s world dominated by the glamorous science of molecular biology. With the rise of molecular biology came a growing popular awareness of species extinction. Carr championed endangered sea turtles, and his work reflects major shifts in the study of ecology and evolution. A gifted nature writer, his books on the natural history of sea turtles and their habitats in Florida, the Caribbean, and Africa entertained and educated a wide audience. Carr’s conservation ethic grew from his field work as well as his friendships with the fishermen who supplied him with many of the stories he retold so engagingly. With Archie Carr as the focus, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles explores the evolution of the naturalist tradition, biology, and conservation during the twentieth century.

Small California Study Finds Correlational Link Between Organochlorine Pesticides and Autism

That would have been my headline! It was a study of 29 women, and the results show a six-fold increase in the incidence of autism in children whose mothers were close to fields being sprayed with organochlorine pesticides. A factor of 6 is a big number, which is why they found statistical significance at such a low sample size.

Most organochlorine pesticides (the most famous being DDT) are already banned in the first world. The ones suspected here, endosulfan and dicofol are banned in quite a few countries including Belize, Singapore. Cambodia and Germany. The Stockholm convention (international treaty to identify and restrict the use of persistent organic pollutants) has identified endosulfan as a possible addition to its list of POPs.

Of course, the US has not even ratified the Stockholm convention thanks to the pesticide lobbies. So, nothing the Stockholm convention decides about endosulfan will  carry any legal weight. In this country, pesticides and most other chemicals in current use are “innocent until proven guilty”, meaning harm must be conclusively proven in a manner that will withstand court challenge. With industry sponsored research and lobbying, such a burden of proof is often insurmountable and therefore, hazardous pollutants are used in the US well beyond their sell-by dates.

Pesticide link to autism suspected – Los Angeles Times

Women who live near California farm fields sprayed with organochlorine pesticides may be more likely to give birth to children with autism, according to a study by state health officials to be published today. The rate of autism among the children of 29 women who lived near the fields was extremely high, suggesting that exposure to the insecticides in the womb might have played a role. The study is the first to report a link between pesticides and the neurological disorder, which affects one in every 150 children. But the state scientists cautioned that their finding is highly preliminary because of the small number of women and children involved and lack of evidence from other studies.

Clearly, the increase in autism incidence has many more factors linked to it than environmental chemical exposure, but this is interesting and good work. This study will doubtless be severely criticized by the pesticide lobby. After all, it’s only a correlation, no mechanism has been proposed, and the sample size is very small. But, as I mentioned before, you don’t normally see six-fold increases in disease incidences with ambient environmental exposure, so there is definitely something going on here.

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Tuesdays with Turtles -Thursday Edition – Pacific Leatherbacks in Trouble

Personal Note
I swear, this blog has gone to pot. Either I’ve been too busy at work (yes, that does not explain everything), or I have not been thinking enough. I started this blog so that when I saw something interesting, I would have to think a little bit, and gather some information to write about what I saw/read. Apparently, I don’t read/see any more (which is not true), I don’t think any more (possible), or I am too lazy to spend enough time thinking to throw a coherent blog post together.

This has got to stop, and it stops right now!!
End Personal Note
Back to the topic on hand…

The Pacific Leatherback is in serious trouble and is slated to go extinct soon.

ENN News Network

Experts at the Bellagio Sea Turtle Conservation Initiative have just concluded a conference to save the imperiled Pacific leatherback sea turtle from extinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has classified Pacific leatherbacks as critically endangered.

The meeting convened an internationally diverse group of scientists, conservationists, economists, fund-raisers and policy makers. One focus was the development of immediate actions to boost hatchling production of the Western Pacific nesting populations by protecting nests from predation, beach erosion and human consumption on the beaches of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Malaysia. Although there are still hundreds of turtles nesting, with 75 percent in one area on the north coast of Papua (Indonesia), researchers are concerned by new information indicating that the majority of nests laid are not producing hatchlings. Some simple procedures have been developed to improve hatch success, and applying these techniques now may ensure the populations are sustained in the future.

Some radical measures have been suggested, including cloning. Well, highly unlikely. Jurassic Park horrors and ethical dilemmas aside, cloning reptiles ain’t so easy.

What ails the Pacific Leatherback? Their numbers have dropped from 115000 reproductive females to less than 3000. This news release from a 2004 conference has more. But the usual suspects are destruction of nesting habitats, long line fishing, egg poaching, and to a more uncertain degree, climate change.

It’s depressing, I’ve never seen a leatherback, I guess I need to get on the case and see one before they disappear for ever.

Water Find to End Darfur War – Well, not so fast!

Beware the dangers of the overhyped press release machine (or sciencedaily, pick your poison). All Farouk El-Baz saw when he did the radar study was a giant depression. It is TBD whether there’s water in them thar holes!’

BBC NEWS | Africa | Ancient Darfur lake is dried up

Alain Gachet, who used satellite images and radar in his research, said the area received too little rain and had the wrong rock types for water storage. But the French geologist said there was enough water elsewhere in Darfur to end the fighting and rebuild the economy.

On Wednesday, Boston Universitys Farouk El-Baz said he had received the backing of Sudans government to begin drilling for water in the newly-discovered lake, in North Darfur.

No wonder they say that water is the 21st century oil. This guy’s going to be drilling for water (also known as well digging!).

Magic Box under your car makes all your problems go away

But, will it make tea? File it under the “too good to be true” department. I’ll believe it when it happens.

From Wales, a box to make biofuel from car fumes: Scientific American

The world’s richest corporations and finest minds spend billions trying to solve the problem of carbon emissions, but three fishing buddies in North Wales believe they have cracked it.

They have developed a box which they say can be fixed underneath a car in place of the exhaust to trap the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming — including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide — and emit mostly water vapor.

The captured gases can be processed to create a biofuel using genetically modified algae.

So, what they’re saying is that they have designed a device that can safely sequester most of the toxic components of automobile exhaust for a little while. Then, you take this “magic box” down to your local refinery where this sequestered gas is mixed with some algae. The algae then uses this CO2 as fuel to make biodiesel.

Very cool in concept. Kinda hard to critcize without the details, No?

Tuesdays with Turtles – Wednesday Edition

Where I’m a day late and a dollar short. It turns out that the Mediterranean sea is awash with plastic and most of the loggerheads there have swallowed plastic bags. So, the next time you’re out looking for loggerhead nests and find one in which all the eggs have been double bagged, do not be surprised! Now. if they start swallowing egg cartons…

Mediterranean drowning in a hidden sea of plastic rubbish – Independent Online Edition > Europe

A recent study of the endangered loggerhead turtle off Spain’s Mediterranean coast found that 75 per cent of them had swallowed plastic bags. Mr Rodriguez said: “We have to understand the sea is not a tip; it will constantly return to us what we throw in.”

Seriously, plastic bags need to go away.

Water find may end Darfur war

It has been posited that the Darfur crisis war genocide is a resource conflict caused by water shortage. If that is true, finding the world’s 10th largest lake (underground) will help.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Water find may end Darfur war

A huge underground lake has been found in Sudans Darfur region, scientists say, which they believe could help end the conflict in the arid region.

Some 1,000 wells will be drilled in the region, with the agreement of Sudans government, the Boston University researchers say.
Analysts say competition for resources between Darfurs Arab nomads and black African farmers is behind the conflict.
More than 200,000 Darfuris have died and 2m fled their homes since 2003.

“Much of the unrest in Darfur and the misery is due to water shortages,” said geologist Farouk El-Baz, director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing, according to the AP news agency.

“Access to fresh water is essential for refugee survival, will help the peace process, and provides the necessary resources for the much needed economic development in Darfur,” he said.

I am a technology sceptic sometimes, in the sense that I don’t believe technology fixes everything. But, this seems to be a promising development. If anything, all that activity, well digging, etc. will bring more people into Sudan and that could slow down the murderous Janjaweed.

India Debates Fitness of Woman Set to Be President

I remember her vaguely from being immersed in Indian politics a lot more in the past than I am now. She’s just another politician, member of the Congress Party, the corruption, nepotism, etc., well, par for the course. Just because she’s a woman does not make her immune. There’s a long history of corrupt politicians becoming president of India (See Singh, Zail!). Indira Gandhi started the rather convenient process of hiring pliant presidents, it was in general a good power consolidation move. It just so happened that the outgoing president, Dr. Abdul Kalam was a nuclear scientist and technocrat, not a career politician.

It looks like the Congress party’s just returning to its politician president ways!

India Debates Fitness of Woman Set to Be President – New York Times

India’s first female president is likely to be voted into office on Thursday, but this milestone event has been overshadowed in recent weeks by an unusually savage debate over whether she is fit to become head of state.

When the leader of the governing Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, announced in June that Pratibha Patil, 72, was her party’s official choice for the post, she added that to have a woman president would be a matter of “great pride” and a “historic moment in the 60th year of our republic.”

But Gandhi’s attempt to promote this as a triumph for gender equality has won Ms. Patil little support.

Instead, the pre-election campaigning has been dominated by a series of vitriolic attacks on Ms. Patil’s credentials.

The opposition has alleged, among other things, that she shielded her brother in a murder investigation, protected her husband in a suicide scandal, and was herself involved in numerous financial irregularities.

And then there are Ms. Patil’s own peculiar statements — most notably, her revelation that she had heard the voice of a dead guru predicting she would rise to power.

You breathe in toxic chemicals too.

Behind a frigging pay wall, as usual! Kelly et al. argue in Science that hydrophobicity, the tendency to favor oil over water (to break it down to the simplest explanation) is not the only factor that explains biomagnification. The underlying theory used to be that compounds that can dissolve in water would swiftly degrade (either chemically or biologically) and not be of any concern to humans. Compounds like dioxins, PCB’s, DDT, etc. accumulated in fat tissue of aquatic animals and these were the compounds that would biomagnify through ingestion (eating!). Kelly et al. uncover another pathway that probably made every scientist go “D’uh”! – Apparently, chemicals animals breathe in can also bioaccumulate if they are not cleared efficiently by the lungs. So, air breathing cows, chickens and pigs can also cause significant bioaccumulation of certain compounds. Which ones? I guess you’ll have to pay to find out more, but this Scientific American article adds some context. Turns out, it is about 10000 chemicals, not all of them known to be harmful, but because they were never suspect, their metabolism is unknown.

Well, if anything, it will keep the biomonitoring folks busy for a while!

Chemical Consequences — 317 (5835): 165g — Science

Global regulators of commercial chemicals apply a scientific paradigm that relates the biomagnification potential of the chemical in food webs to the chemical’s hydrophobicity. However, Kelly et al. (p. 236; see the news story by Kaiser) show that current methods fail to recognize the food web biomagnification potential of certain chemicals. Certain chemicals do not biomagnify in most aquatic food chains, but biomagnify to a high degree in air-breathing animals, including humans, because of low respiratory elimination. Thus, additional criteria for evaluating biomagnification and toxicity in chemicals that biomagnify are required.

Fundamentalism alive and well in the US

As a card carrying agnostic, my Hindu pride is not shattered, but these people need to get a life. Read the whole article, there’s more about “false gods” and such.

Of course, some Hindus happily accept Jesus as another god, or avatar of some kind, so, fret not O denizens of Saved America, your god has already been assimilated into the Hindu pantheon.

Christian activists disrupt Hindu prayer in US Senate-The United States-World-The Times of India

Christian activists briefly disrupted a Hindu invocation in the US Senate on Thursday, marring a historic first for the chamber and showing that fundamentalism is present and shouting in the US too.

Invited by the Senate to offer Hindu prayers in place of the usual Christian invocation, Rajan Zed, a Hindu priest from Reno, Nevada, had just stepped up to the podium for the landmark occasion when three protesters, said to belong to the Christian Right anti-abortion group Operation Save America, interrupted by loudly asking for God’s forgiveness for allowing the ”false prayer” of a Hindu in the Senate chamber.

“Lord Jesus, forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight,” the first protester shouted. “This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before you.”