International Cleanup Day Results – Job Well Done!

Recycled 2009 Banner - we practise what we preach!

Once again, Project AWARE‘s International Cleanup Day was a smashing success! This past Saturday, 25 September 2010 we tackled Mission Bay Beach’s shores for our beach and underwater cleanup.  Volunteers, divers and non-divers alike, showed up to help us collect about 12 kilograms of rubbish from the beach and the ocean.  And again, the most numerous bits of trash left behind were cigarette butts and drink bottle caps/lids.  Food wrappers and containers were the next most prevalent, indicating that in the more populous areas, individuals littering is the biggest issue we need to tackle – as well as getting food shops and food suppliers to use more biodegradable materials when packaging food and/or handing out utensils.

And once again, more than half of the volume we picked up was recyclable material.

Bearing that in mind, my suggestion for trying to curb this behaviour?  Why, yes, as always, education! If we tirelessly continue to educate ourselves, our kids, our friends, loved ones, colleagues, et cetera about the need to dispose of/recycle our trash responsibly, we can help stop thousands (yes, thousands) of tonnes of garbage from polluting our seas.  Last year on International Cleanup Day 2009, 220,000 kgs of debris were removed from the ocean alone (see Project AWARE’s global data here).  This was what was collected in one day.  Also, getting involved in being part of the solution – as our wonderful volunteers from NIWA, Global Dive, the White Shark Conservation Trust and my own dear (unaffiliated) friends did – helps raise awareness among the general public too, and of course reminds us to be responsible with disposing of our own rubbish.

Another bright moment from Saturday, other than the intermittent sun showing its face once in a while, was the chance to meet with Sam, Camden and Simon from Sustainable Coastlines, a charity organisation based in Tirau, Waikato.  Sustainable Coastlines takes a holistic approach to developing solutions for keeping our coasts clean and working with communities and individuals to implement solutions throughout New Zealand.  I am hoping to meet with these guys again soon – I’m looking forward to working with them toward a common goal, and gain some insight into what projects they are planning – and see if I can help.

Some photos from the day are below.   Thanks again to all of you who helped out, I am so grateful for the support shown and I am proud of the efforts you all put forth!  And of course, a big thank you to Global Dive for sponsoring the materials and the barbecue on the day!

-Diverkat

Divers getting kitted up for the underwater search

Bruce and Zoe sweep the west end of the beach

Francois and Juliet team up

Harry is all smiles - before he realised he'd be in 3m of water!

Jonas getting ready for the dive

Andreas, Alex and Kate on land duty

Update on Sharkilage: A Small Victory (so far)

A few weeks ago, I wrote an open letter to Brian and Dave Blanchard of Good Health and posted it here, along with various links to research defending the reasons behind why using shark products is an unsustainable endeavour.

I am thrilled to say that Brian Blanchard has responded to my emails, as well as responding to other emails that were sent from many of you, so I humbly thank you for putting forth the effort.  I’m so glad to see that we can band together and make a difference – I know that sounds ridiculously cliche, but I am genuinely so stoked to see changes brought about by our efforts.

The communication between us was extensive, but I will sum it up here:

Brian was quick to respond to my emails, and I’m glad to say that he had some pretty decent news to share.  Sharkilage is still present on Good Health’s website, and they are still selling it in order to exhaust their current stock, but they no longer source their  chondroitin from sharks – now the chondroitin they use in their joint care formulas are derived from bovine sources, and as they are farmed animals, are certainly more sustainable.  My arguments about lauding the value of shark fin have also encouraged them to change the wording of the Sharkilage page, so they are no longer indirectly showing support for an unsustainable practice.  Small victory, indeed.

Brian shared with me the sources from which they gather their shark liver oil, or squalene, and the company they use (SeaDragon Marine Oils Ltd).  The company mainly targets deep water shark species for meat used in fish and chip shops (FYI – ‘dogfish’ and ‘lemonfish’ on fish and chip shop menus are actually shark meat), and they had sent him a list of the species they target, which Brian then passed onto me.  I have checked each these species with the IUCN Red List, and according to the list, most of them are under the “LC” category – least concern.  This would seem like a good thing, and it is on the surface, but the problem is that there is no data listed for these species regarding population density, fecundity, prevalence, location, breeding habits/grounds, ecology, et cetera.  There were a few (Leafscale Gulper, Seal Shark and the Portuguese Dogfish) which were listed under “vulnerable” or “near threatened” status, which is a greater concern that I will be bringing up with SeaDragon when I have a chance to sit down and write them a letter.

We also discussed the possibility of contaminants, and Brian assured me that both Good Health and SeaDragon adhere to the TGA guidelines, which state that 1.0mg/kg (of body weight) of mercury is considered an acceptable level; however that does not specify for methyl mercury, which is 1.0 microgram/kg (1,000 times less), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (USA).  More information on this can be found here.  As previously stated, methyl mercury is much more dangerous, and inorganic mercury is stored as methyl mercury in organisms, so these TGA guidelines sound dubious to me.  According to this study and this one (which also refers to other studies, which I haven’t linked because I am running out of time), the people most at risk for mercury poisoning/defects are unborn children.

I am trying to find more information on TGA guidelines and the resources they have used to determine ‘safe’ levels of mercury and methyl mercury, but I am having a little bit of trouble there – I would wager, however, that as most of us are human, the ‘safe’ levels determined by one research body would hardly differ extensively from those found by another.  The first study listed in the previous sentence does reference a New Zealand study, but I haven’t located it online.

On top of this, Brian has expressed interest in finding other sources of squalene, from plant-derived, sustainable New Zealand companies, if possible.  I have told Brian that I would do my best to find any NZ companies that do source squalene using sustainable methods, and so again, I’m asking for your help my friends – do you know of any health companies, or corporations that could possibly help in this instance?  Squalene can be sourced from olives, rice bran oil, amaranth seeds, and other plants.  If you have any information on this, please share it in the comments.

And seriously, everyone – thanks for ALL you have done.  Although we are digging with teaspoons, we are still making changes.  This outcome is evidence of that.

-Diverkat

Sharkilage – an unsustainable product from a “sustainable” business

Today, it was brought to my attention by Bruce Goorney of the White Shark Conservation Trust that Good Health, a New Zealand owned and based natural supplement/naturopathy company sell two shark-based ingredient products: Sharkilage and Squalene.  Sharkilage is, as you can guess from the hybridised name, shark cartilage.  The description on the website states “Shark fin has been highly prized by some cultures for many years.”  Which is true, but it was not really prized for its health benefits – shark fin soup is mainly prized for its status-giving properties.  Shark fin soup is a sign of affluence, holds no nutritional value, has no flavour, and most health benefits that are quoted (many claim it has cancer-fighting properties) have been shown to be insignificant.

Chondroitin is a naturally occurring glycosaminoglycan, or GAG, a large molecule that is essential in building connective tissues in the body. Chondroitin sulfate, while administered with glucosamine, has been shown in some studies to slow (but not prevent or reverse) the degeneration of joint cartilage in humans – however whether or not there is any pain relief is still contested.  Chondroitin is found naturally in all sorts of intra-skeletal animals (including humans) and can be sourced from bovine cartilage as well as shark cartilage, or synthetically produced – therefore there is no need to obtain it from shark cartilage.

Shark liver oil benefits are less hocum; claims that shark liver oil has cancer-fighting abilities have undergone much testing and there may be some benefit to using the active organic compound, squalene.  However it is important to note that squalene can be derived from plant sources as well, such as olives or wheat germ, therefore there is no need to source squalene from shark liver.

Good Health’s environmental policy claims they “employ environmentally sustainable practices in our business.” As I have mentioned in previous posts, shark fishing/finning is not an environmentally sustainable practice.  Low fecundity rates coupled with slow rates of maturation means that sharks take longer to have offspring, and have fewer – so replenishing their populations takes a much longer time than say, tuna, who mature in 4-6 years and have numerous offspring.  The white shark, for example, takes about 15 years to reach sexual maturity, gestation is 11 months, and as intrauterine cannibalism is a common phenomenon in white sharks, only a few pups are birthed.  There is no doubt that we are fishing sharks at a much faster rate than they can replace their populations, which is the very definition of un-sustainability.

I have been living in New Zealand for over 3 years now, and I have made it my home.  I consider myself, for all intents and purposes, a Kiwi.  I want to support kiwi-owned businesses and purchase kiwi-made or kiwi-grown products, and I do.  But this company demonstrates exactly the problem I’ve noticed in this great country: with the undeserved “green reputation” that New Zealand seems to have overseas, there is a great margin of disconnect with individual kiwis, and kiwi-owned businesses alike.  Good Health, for example, spout the sustainability of their products, yet they indirectly promote one of the most unsustainable fishing practices in the world.  This cognitive dissonance is not rare, I’ve seen it in the New Zealand government’s behaviour at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen last year as well, I see it in the lack of recycling facilities and campaigns at home, and I see it every time I pick up rubbish off the side of the road or a beach.  There is a trend here in NZ, a lack of foresight when it comes to environmental sustainability – and that needs to change.  But that I think is for another post, and begins at an individual level as I’ve said before.

I want to make this clear: I do not for a moment think that the people at Good Health are promoting the use and sale of shark products out of malice; I think there is simply a lack of knowledge about shark products, how they are sourced, and how they impact the environment.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: the best way to combat this is through education. I cannot state that enough.

Therefore, in the light of educating those who may not be aware of the damaging effects that come from sourcing certain ingredients, I have written a letter – one that I am posting below, and sending on to salesnz@goodhealth.co.nz.  I encourage you to do the same, my friends, and by all means use my letter if you want, or write your own.  I’d love to hear whether or not anyone gets a response – and I will certainly let you know if I get one.

-Diverkat

_______________________________________________

Dear Messrs Dave and Brian Blanchard,

As a fellow New Zealander who proudly supports Kiwi businesses, I am shocked and disappointed in the disconnect between your environmental policy and the unsustainability of the main ingredients, shark cartilage (or chondroitin) and shark liver oil, in your products Sharkilage and Squalene.

Your environmental policy as stated on your website says:

”Good Health believes every New Zealand business should do its best to preserve New Zealand’s clean, green reputation and we accept our share of responsibility for the environment.

For this reason our endeavours to employ environmentally sustainable practices in our business.”

Sharks are slow-growing apex predators, and their reproduction rates are substantially lower than those of other apex predator fish.  Apex predator populations are of vital importance to the health and welfare of marine ecosystems, and they are not fished in sustainable or ethical methods.  An estimated 70 – 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, and shark populations have been estimated to have declined by nearly 90% in the past three decades.

Shark finning itself is an unethical and unregulated practice – shark meat is often laden with high mercury levels (like other slow-growing marine animals), and holds little market value.  The most common finning method is to land the shark onto the boat, cut off all of its fins, and toss the carcass back into the water.  This does not necessarily kill the shark.  The shark can take up to five days to die by either starvation or asphyxiation (as it cannot swim to pass oxygenated water through its gills).  Other times the shark can be eaten alive by other sharks.  The whole process is extremely wasteful and very inhumane.

Encouraging shark fishing/finning through the promotion and sale of shark cartilage and shark liver oil is irresponsible business practice at best, and disingenuous to your environmental policy.  I encourage you to remove these products from your online store and encourage your suppliers to remove these products from their shelves, and reinstate the integrity of your environmental policy.

Both chondroitin and squalene can be obtained from more sustainable sources – chondroitin can be found in bovine cartilage or synthetically produced, and squalene can be found in olives, wheat germ and other plant sources.  Please consider using more sustainable sources for your products in order to be consistent with your policy.

I will be sharing this information with everyone I know and discourage them from using your products until a change is made.  If you do remove Sharkilage and Squalene from your line of products, I will happily and proudly support your Kiwi business once again.

Dolphins for dinner… Not for me, thanks.

Water isn't supposed to be red.

Water isn't supposed to be red.

Yesterday, 1 September 2009, marked the first day of drive dolphin hunting in Taiji, in which thousands of dolphins will be killed for their meat, and a select few will be sold for an outrageous price and chosen to live in captivity in various marine parks.  Dolphin meat has high levels of mercury and methyl mercury, and is not considered fit for human consumption; but it is being sold for just that all the same.  A documentary called The Cove was recently released, exposing the inhumane methods of the Taiji fishermen and those who support them, who are involved in this lucritive business.  The documentary gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘investigative journalism’ and has won several film festival awards.  I highly recommend seeing it if you can.

The Cove Team

The team that uncovered the dark side of Taiji, using spy tactics and camouflaged recording equipment.

The cove at Taiji is well protected from prying eyes; tarps, barbed wire, “KEEP OUT” signs and tight security make it nearly impossible for anyone to get in.  The team that infiltrated the cove did so at great personal risk, and the lucrative business they uncovered was terrifying.

Here is a list of facts about the dolphin drive hunt, which is supported by  the international dolphinarium industry – it’s the easiest way for them to obtain ‘show-worthy’ dolphins for commercial use and entertainment, such as captive dolphin shows and “Swim with Dolphins” programs offered in many tourist venues throughout Japan and some other countries.

Again, this all comes down to money – those who are in need of it, like the local fishermen who depend on the dolphin drive for their livelihoods, and those who perpetuate the wrongdoings by using their money to get what they want, at great cost to the environment, to the health and well-being of wild creatures, and to the health and well-being of the humans who are unknowingly consuming dangerous toxins contained in their food.  Personally, I don’t think we can fault the locals who are depending on that income to survive.  But the locals are not hauling in the riches; the people controlling the operations are.  Those who are willing to pay top dollar to pillage the oceans for a few ‘pretty’ animals and exploit them for the entertainment of others are the driving force behind this disgusting practice.

There are simple things we can do.  If you are in New Zealand, you can copy and paste the following letter into an email to the Japanese Embassy, at japan.emb@eoj.org.nz.  If you are not in NZ, you can locate your local Japanese embassy using a google search – the embassies all have their contact information available online.

________________________________________________________

Dear Mr Toshihiro Takahashi,
 
I am writing to you to ensure you are aware that today (September 1, 2009) the waters and coves around Japan will once again run red with the blood of dolphins to fuel the marine park industry. After the few ‘show-worthy’ dolphins are captured, the hundreds, even thousands of dolphins not sentenced to a life of confinement will be slaughtered, and their poisonous meat sold to people and put into children’s school lunch programs.  
 The dolphins are killed in a secluded cove three hours south of Osaka.  The slaughter is hidden from public view with tarps and nets.  Access is blocked by steel gates, barbed wire, razor ribbon and guards.  The act is nothing short of barbaric, and the very fact that those involved go to great lengths to hide the slaughter from everyone shows that they know its barbaric and would be strongly opposed, not only by the rest of the world, but also by the Japanese people.

Japan officials and fishermen will then endanger their own people by selling this toxic dolphin meat to unsuspecting consumers.

“The dolphin drive brings dishonour to Japan and the world is watching.” 

イルカ追い込み猟が日本の恥です。世界が見てる


You can help.  Please help spread the word back to your contacts in Japan that this is not acceptable. 

Please help save these beautiful creatures and stop the few greedy people that are bringing dishonour to your name and country.

_________________________________________________________

Thanks for reading.  There are a few websites you can visit to get more information on dolphin drive hunts and conservation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolphin_drive_hunting

http://www.savejapandolphins.org/educate.php

http://www.wdcs.org/

http://www.seashepherd.org

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it another thousand times: Best thing we can do is educate ourselves, and educate others. 

-Diverkat

Life hangs in the balance…

I originally had the video embedded into this site, however due to different server locations the embedded video would not work. I have linked it below:

HOME.

1 hour and 33 minutes of excellent cinematography and chock-full of valuable information about how we as humans affect our environment.  A few things I would ignore are the proclamations of grandeur and overuse of words such as ‘miracle’ and ‘perfect’ (such words, I think, lack scientific merit).  However the feature-length video certainly does bring to light the many things we’ve done to throw off the balance of the many delicate systems on which our planet operates, and what we are already doing to change it. The film starts off telling us where we’ve gone wrong – but ends on a high note, reminding us where we’ve gone right, and how we can continue to move in that direction.

Many of us feel that we have no control over what happens to the earth; we’ve gone too far, we’ve upset the order and there’s no way to get things back on track.  What so many of us fail to remember – and this film helps remind us – is that we DO have the power; it lies mainly with those of us fortunate enough to live in developed nations, and we are in control. We have the power to choose where our capital goes.   A few minor changes can go a very long way, for example:

reduce! – printing pages double-sided, having bank statements and bills sent via email and making payments on the internet instead of posting cheques, buying what you need rather than what you want.  This reduces paper waste, reduces superfluous spending, and reduces clutter.  And with less clutter, we’re usually less disorganised too.

reuse – put food into tupperware containers instead of foil and clingfilm, take a thermos/flask to put hot drinks in (many coffee shops will give a few cents off the cost of a drink if it is put in a reusable container – which of course means saving money), and bring reuseable shopping bags to the grocery store/mall/shoestore and others.

recycle, recycle, recycle.  It reduces the volume of rubbish that heads to landfills, helps us create sustainable jobs and supplies material for environmentally sustainable products.

buy free range/organic products such as beef, chicken, eggs, etc.  Organic animal products are more expensive, but they are also much better quality.  Also, think of all the chemicals you are not ingesting, and knowing that the food you eat hasn’t had a lifetime of misery feels a lot better than knowing that it has.

conserve water by sticking a brick or two in our toilet tanks (you’d be amazed how much water this actually does save), turning off the taps when brushing teeth/washing hands and face, and collecting rainwater in buckets to use to water the lawns.

when light bulbs burn out, purchase compact flourescent (CFL) bulbs, and turn off lights when we leave the room.

we can purchase environmentally friendly detergents and recycled materials.  Supporting businesses that are working to create sustainability helps create more work for those who are trying to be part of the solution.  Plus larger companies, when they see the economic profit of environmental sustainability, will want to follow suit.  We really can influence the mountainous corporations to do what we want them to do.

we can turn off the computer when it isn’t in use, turn off TVs, stereos and other electronics that default to ‘standby’ – this saves money as well as energy.

when possible, we should buy local. This supports local businesses, cuts down on fuel usage that would normally be consumed by shipping imported goods, and often times can be a great deal cheaper (for example, when shopping at farmer’s markets).

plant some of our own herbs and vegetables. This saves money and petrol we would normally use to drive to the store to pick up produce.

taking public transport or walking short distances, taking a bicycle for longer distances. This can cut down immensely on the cost of petrol, also free up some time to catch up on reading on the bus or train. Staying active can keep us healthier and therefore out of the doctor’s office, which is always a bonus for our quality of life and our wallets.

only eating fish and seafood that is caught responsibly.  Bottom-trawling, a popular method of commercial fishing, destroys entire coral reef systems which are vital to the oceans’ health and sustainability.  when coral reefs are destroyed, a vast majority of fish can no longer live in the area – which means they can’t replenish their numbers after we’ve fished them.   Bottom-trawling is the equivalent of putting massive parking lots in the middle of the Amazon.  Have a look at Project AWARE’s list of things you can do to help, and further links on that page to direct you to what seafood items should be avoided and what is responsibly caught.

The most important thing of all: education.  We have a responsibility to the generations that follow us to teach them how to survive on a planet with limited resources.  Human population is expected to grow to 9 billion by the year 2050.  Without sustainable living, there will not be enough water, food or other resources to support such a huge number of people.  By becoming good role models for our children, stressing the importance of taking care of our planet (which has taken care of us for so many millennia), and showing them how to live harmoniously within our environment, we can change the outcome of our future.

If you’re looking to improve your health and are willing to take these small changes a step further, consider going vegetarian. Methane gas is 20-25 times more potent as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide, and the number one cause of methane released into the atmosphere is animal farming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, farmed animals produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport system worldwide.

Photography by Alexandria Leonard

Photography by Diverkat

As individuals, there are so many things we can do.  We often feel helpless against a rising tide of apathy, but we cannot – and should not – allow ourselves to be bogged down by the complacency of a few.  We have overcome so many obstacles in the short short time frame of our existence.  In as little as several thousand years, we went from inventing the wheel to being able to fly into outer space.  If we can achieve such great heights as to leave our planet, surely we can develop more ways to help her.  In fact, we already have.

-Diverkat