Eco Film Fest Review: Plastic, plastic, everywhere – and not a drop to drink

Eco Film Fest Review: Plastic, plastic, everywhere – and not a drop to drink

Our May meeting will focus on the problems with plastics, how it affects the oceans and our health. Sue Swain from Biowise will highlight the plight of wildlife in our oceans,  and she will also create awareness how to recycle plastics. Below an article highlighting the problems of plastics. LIFE, ETC MARELISE VAN DER MERWE LIFE, ETC 28 MAR 2018 (SOUTH AFRICA) Journalist Craig Leeson was planning to film blue whales when he instead encountered a soupy mess of microplastics in the deep sea. What followed was the documentary A Plastic Ocean, screened at this year’s Eco Film Festival. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE. In the same week that Australia announced a pending ban on plastic bags, Indian media reported that the Maharashtra government had imposed a ban on plastic carry bags and thermocol cutlery – the 18th state in the country to impose a similar ban. Meanwhile Health-e News has reported on the dangers of microplastics in water, saying “microplastic is everywhere – from the fish to our water supply”. Enter the documentary A Plastic Ocean. It began when Australian journalist Craig Leeson was on the lookout for blue whales. Except he didn’t find majestic creatures frolicking in pristine waters. Instead, he found a polluted soup of degrading plastics. So he and free diver/ environmental activist Tanya Streeter began investigating the extent of the problem, and what they found wasn’t pretty. “How do we call something disposable,” asks Streeter, “when it’s indestructible?” Exhibit A: a brutus whale dying slowly on a beach. When it finally breathes its last, six square metres of plastic sheeting are found in its stomach. Verdict: it couldn’t eat and slowly starved, dying a drawn-out, agonising death. Exhibit B: A sea bird is found desperately ill, one of many. After it dies, 234 shards of plastic are recovered from its stomach. This is not a record. Previously, 276 shards have been pulled from the stomach of one 90-day-old chick. An estimated 90% of seabirds have swallowed plastic. Exhibit C: A turtle is found floating strangely on the ocean surface. It is found to have so much gas due to swallowing plastic bags that it is unable to dive for food. Exhibit D: Tuvalu, which has finally begun to fill in some of its unsightly borrow pits in the interim, is so covered in waste that residents have simply begun to build over it. But their living conditions are desperate. The subtext is clear: this could be the surface of the earth one day. The film does not only make the case for saving marine life. Many will be familiar with the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch; what A Plastic Ocean does is lay out in bite-size chunks what happens to the...

Read More

KNYSNA REHABILITATION – AN OPPORTUNITY LOST?

KNYSNA REHABILITATION – AN OPPORTUNITY LOST?

I’m going to add my penny’s worth …. I believe the current infestation of Alien Invasive species is out of control. The areas affected are too vast, it is too costly for concerned  individuals to do regular follow ups and most property owners are reluctant to remove the bit of greenery that is on their barren plots regardless of the fact that these plants are declared invasives. There are colonies of aggressive aliens establishing themselves where they never before occurred.  Madeira vine, Bugweed, all proclaimed Wattles, Pampas grass and many more species  are now seen growing along road verges and empty plots in Paradise.  What makes the situation worse is the fact that home owners that have lost their homes and  had their payouts are now taking NO responsibility for the land they own. The Municipality  published a little leaflet citing the responsibility of landowners to clear their properties of alien invasive species, yet nothing has been done  by the Municipality  to eradicate these plants from road verges and open spaces which falls under their jurisdiction. Dr Tony Rebello said last year that if the  invasive species can’t be controlled,  the next fire will not be in a hundred’s year time, but it can be as soon as twenty years from now! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Tuesday, 20 March 2018, 10:01 Wattle regrowth in Belvidere heights. GARDEN ROUTE NEWS – “We have grave concerns about achieving environmental restoration goals in the Knysna burn scar without appropriate and dedicated funding,” says Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI), based in George. According to Meiring several high-level applications to national government (disaster management funds), are pending. However, almost a year later, no funds have, as yet, been released, and there is no indication from the authorities as to how much will be made available. Established by Premier Helen Zille in 2017, following the severely destructive Knysna fires, the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative (or better known as the GRRI), is aimed at building a better Garden Route. “In many respects, the fires led to initiatives aimed at creating a better environment for Knysna communities. However, there is much debate on the matter, and if the progress has been adding value,” says Meiring. The GRRI Environmental Work Stream, one of several aimed at restoring fire-related damage (including e.g. training, infrastructure development and social services), intends to host a seminar in June to not only commemorate the fires but more importantly, to reflect on the state of the environment. We are not achieving environmental restoration goals in the Knysna burn scar Following the Knysna fires, an immense amount of work was conducted to ensure that large-scale erosion was to be averted, and that remaining dead/ dry...

Read More

Garden bird feeders help spread disease among wild birds.

Garden bird feeders help spread disease among wild birds.

A few weeks ago something very unusual happened whilst we were having tea on our veranda. A Cape turtle dove flew in and came to rest on my husbands head.  The poor creature had the most awful growths on its head and it was evident that he /she was in great discomfort. We tried to catch him, but he flew away. A few days later he was back again.  Unfortunately this time we found him dead in the gutter. I mentioned it to a friend of mine who said that they have found two doves with the same condition on Thesen Islands.  You may have seen birds inflicted with this disease, perhaps there is someone who can shed some light? I came across the article below that was published in The Guardian a couple of days ago.  You may find it of interest. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Some previously rare illnesses are becoming epidemics in some bird populations, scientists say. Patrick Greenfield  @pgreenfielduk Mon 12 Mar 2018  A 35% drop in the population of breeding greenfinches in the British Isles since 2005 illustrates why disinfecting feeders is key to protecting the birds. Photograph: Alamy Garden bird feeders are contributing to the spread of serious diseases among wild birds, scientists have warned, causing previously rare illnesses to become epidemics in some populations. Poor garden feeder hygiene, droppings accumulations and stale food are promoting the transmission of illnesses between garden birds as the animals repeatedly congregate in the same location, coming into contact with species they would not usually interact with in the wild. A study by the Zoological Society of London, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and Fera Science analysed more than 25 years of wild bird health data, including the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, and found dramatic changes in some British bird populations, which scientists believe could have been caused by disease spread at bird feeding sites. “We’re calling on everyone who feeds wild birds to be aware of their responsibilities for preventing disease. Simple steps we’d recommend include offering a variety of food from accredited sources; feeding in moderation, so that feeders are typically emptied every one to two days; the regular cleaning of bird feeders; and rotation of feeding sites to avoid accumulation of waste food or bird droppings,” said Kate Risely, from BTO. The study analysed data on the protozoan parasite responsible for finch trichomonosis, which has caused a 35% drop in the population of breeding greenfinches in the British Isles, falling from 4.3m to 2.8m birds since the disease emerged in 2005. Gardeners can combat the disease by regularly disinfecting feeders and feeding sites, and rotating the position of feeders in the garden. Paridae pox and passerine...

Read More

Ultraviolet light reveals alien-like colours and fairy sparkles in seemingly normal plants.

Ultraviolet light reveals alien-like colours and fairy sparkles in seemingly normal plants.

Published by National Geographic. Take a look at some of the flowers photographed by Craig Burrows and you might feel as if you’ve suddenly been transported into the alien world of Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar. Brightly pigmented petals starkly contrast a black background as specks of light, like glitter or fireflies, scatter across the blossoms. It’s hard to believe, but Burrow’s work isn’t fiction—it’s science. To capture these otherworldly images he uses a technique called ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence photography, or UVIVF for short. The process uses ultraviolet light to cause substances to fluoresce, so the light being imaged is actually radiating from the subject itself. Think: the way your white t-shirt glows while cosmic golfing. (See a miniature shark species that glows in the dark.) “It’s definitely not an especially easy type of photography,” says Burrows. Typically, he’ll mount his floral subject to a metal stand and use a remote trigger to sound off a 10 to 20 second exposure—holding his breath while the shutter is open. Even the smallest air movement or petal droop will result in motion blur. The tricky nature of Burrows’ method is what make flowers an attractive subject. “They can’t run away,” jokes Burrows. Though he says that one of the most well-known uses for UVIVF is spotting arachnids, notably scorpions. His next objective is to work on photographing full scenes rather than singular subjects. Though the outcome is always unpredictable, he’s found that compound flowers such as daisies and sunflowers often have the strongest pollen fluorescence. One of the biggest surprises he’s found while photographing flowers is a cucumber flower glowing a bright orange and blue with very bright pollen. Burrows says he collects his specimens while roaming around his neighborhood, inspecting flowers with a portable light and plucking up promising subjects. Many natural objects from rocks and minerals to hard corals and crustaceans fluoresce under ultraviolet light, though its exact function in nature is still insufficiently studied. Researchers have suggested a correlation between UV-dark areas of flowers used to navigate pollinators, but this has not been proven. (Watch colorful rainbow corals glow in the dark.) Burrows has been approached by a STEM fair to exhibit his photographs, and has also been tapped to participate in a forensic photography program using UVIVF. He believes that the real benefit of his photography, though, is that it sparks an interest in people to learn about the physical processes that allows the pictures to be taken. “Reflected ultraviolet and infrared photography reveal secrets which we can’t see, but are nonetheless very important in nature,” says Burrows. “I think it’s important that these things remind us to keep exploring and looking for things that go ignored or unobserved.” You...

Read More

Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist

Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist

This article appeared in The Guardian. Damning assessment by one of the UK’s chief scientific advisers says global regulations have ignored the impacts of ‘dosing whole landscapes’ and must change Damian Carrington  Environment editor@dpcarrington Fri 22 Sep 2017 12.23 BSTFirst published on Thu 21 Sep 2017 19.00 BS   Shares 6,809   The assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false, according to a chief scientific adviser to the UK government. The lack of any limit on the total amount of pesticides used and the virtual absence of monitoring of their effects in the environment means it can take years for the impacts to become apparent, say Prof Ian Boyd and his colleague Alice Milner in a new article. The damning assessment of pesticide regulations that are meant to protect the global environment follows a growing number of highly critical reports including research showing farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and a UN report that denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world. “The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false,” state the scientists in their article published in the journal Science. Boyd is chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where Milner also works on secondment, but their criticism reflects their own views. “The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems,” the scientists said. “This can and should be changed.” They contrast this situation with pharmaceuticals, for which there is a system of rigorous global monitoring after a drug is approved in case adverse effects emerge. “Vigilance on the scale that is required for medicines does not exist to assess the effects of pesticides in the environment,” they said. They cite the UK as an example of one of the most developed regulatory systems: “Yet it has no systematic monitoring of pesticide residues in the environment. There is no consideration of safe pesticide limits at landscape scales.” The scientists’ article also criticises the widespread use of pesticides as preventive treatments, rather than being used sparingly and only when needed. Farms could slash pesticide use without losses, research reveals Read more Milner told the Guardian: “We want to start a discussion about how we can introduce a global monitoring programme for pesticides, similar to pharmaceuticals. It can take years to fully understand the environmental impact.” “Any chemical you put into the environment has the potential to be widely distributed,” she said. “We’ve known this for decades, particularly through the early work in the 1960s – the Silent Spring,...

Read More

Plants are capable of complex decision-making

Plants are capable of complex decision-making

 Earth Matters > Wilderness & Resources They might not have brains, but that doesn’t mean they’re dim-witted. BRYAN NELSON December 29, 2017, 4:51 a.m.   Are plants smarter than we think they are? (Photo: brewbooks/Flickr) Have you ever had the distinct feeling that your houseplants know more than they’re letting on? Well, your intuition might not be far off. We already know that plants are capable of learning and adapting to their environment, just like any organism. But a new study out of Tübingen University seems to suggest that plants can do more than just adapt. They can actually make decisions, and fairly complex decisions at that. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Plants might be rooted, but their environments can be intricate, and the contexts where they’re situated can change. In fact, researchers discovered that competition and a dynamic environment are what really pushes plant decision-making to its limits. For instance, when vying with competitors for limited sunlight, a plant is faced with having to choose among a number of options. It can attempt to outgrow its neighbors, thus gaining more access to light. It can also attempt to go into a low-light survival mode, if it doesn’t deem an arms race to be worthwhile. The plant might also need to determine which way it should grow to best maximize its resources. “In our study we wanted to learn if plants can choose between these responses and match them to the relative size and density of their opponents,” said Michal Gruntman, one of the study’s researchers, in a press release. In the experiment, whenever plants were presented with tall competitors, they would go into shade-tolerance mode. Conversely, when plants were surrounded by small, dense vegetation, they would attempt to grow vertically. But there were also subtler decisions built into each of these scenarios, too. For instance, plants in shade-tolerance mode would make their leaves thinner and wider (to capture as much light as possible) relative to the level of their competition. “Such an ability to choose between different responses according to their outcome could be particularly important in heterogeneous environments, where plants can grow by chance under neighbors with different size, age or density, and should therefore be able to choose their appropriate strategy,” said Gruntman. All of this essentially means that scientists are beginning to look more closely at how plants work through their decisions. Obviously plants don’t have nervous systems, so more research will be needed to see exactly how these decision-making mechanisms operate within our flora friends. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click...

Read More