WorldScan: December 21, 2000

Destruction of Mangroves for Shrimp Farming Outlawed in Ecuador QUITO, Ecuador, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - The purchase and destruction of Ecuador's coastal mangrove forests for shrimp farming has been declared illegal by the President of the Constitutional Tribunal of Ecuador.

Twenty-two articles from the Ecuadorean Law Trole II were declared unconstitutional on December 12, including Article 164 that allowed the Ecuadorean government to sell to the industrial shrimp producers sections of beaches and bays where the mangrove ecosystem lives.

Greenpeace and the communities fighting against shrimp farming have demanded that the Ecuadorean Government impose a moratorium on shrimp farm expansion, shut down all of the illegal shrimp farms, and impose heavy fines on the illegal operators to pay for restoration of the mangrove ecosystems that they destroyed.

The decision is the first time that coastal communities have received a favorable legal decision in their 10 year struggle to defend the mangroves.

"This historic ruling is a clear signal to the aquaculture industry that things are changing in Ecuador and that the local fishermen and concheros are finally being heard. The state has given us the legal instruments to protect the environment and to act against the illegal shrimp farming exploitations," said Mike Hagler of Greenpeace International.

Over the past 30 years, about half of Ecuador’s mangrove forests have been destroyed by the shrimp aquaculture industry. Shrimp farmers clearcut the mangrove forests and block the natural flow of water through the estuaries. This kills the network of life that inhabits the mangrove forests and sustains the traditional way of life of coastal communities.

A presidential decree in 1994 guaranteed a moratorium on mangrove destruction in Ecuador. Few respected it, and Greenpeace estimates of official statistics suggest that, of the 207,000 hectares (512,000 acres) of shrimp ponds existing today, nearly three-quarters are illegal.

The destruction of mangrove forests to make way for shrimp farms causes potentially irreversible damage to coastal biodiversity and productive fisheries in tropical coastal countries around the world.

* * *

Canada Appoints Gilbert Parent Ambassador for the Environment

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, December 21, 2000 - Former Liberal speaker of the House of Commons, Gilbert Parent, has been appointed ambassador for the environment John Manley, minister of foreign affairs, and Environment Minister David Anderson announced Wednesday.


Gilbert Parent during his term as speaker of the House (Photo courtesy Parliament of Canada)
The ambassador for the environment will represent the ministers of foreign affairs and the environment at international environmental and sustainable development meetings and negotiations. Canada is party to 56 international legally binding environmental agreements and is also committed to 18 bilateral international cooperation arrangements.

This will be particularly important as Canada prepares for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, marking the 10th anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the ministers said.

The position of ambassador for the environment has been vacant since another former speaker of the House, John Fraser, left the post in 1998.

The ministers said that Parent would also devote considerable time to engaging the Canadian public, NGOs, indigenous organizations, business groups, and provincial and territorial governments on international environmental and sustainable development issues.

But some environmental campaigners complain that Parent has no experience with environmental affairs. "I don't even know him. Who is this guy?" Greenpeace spokesman Steven Guilbeault said.

Attorney Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said, "I have no knowledge of Mr. Parent having any previous involvement with the environment. He'll have a steep learning curve."

Parent has represented Canada at the United Nations and at congresses of the International Labor Organization. He was elected as Speaker of the House of Commons on January 17, 1994 and re-elected to the position on September 22, 1997. As Speaker, Parent continued and expanded the Greening of Parliament Hill program begun by his predecessor, John Fraser.

* * *

Argentina Moves to Conserve Southern Right Whales

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - The Argentine Institute for Conservation of Whales has signed a cooperation agreement with the Library at the Argentine National Congress, with the aim of exchanging information and documentation. The new partnership will facilitate the access to information for Argentine lawmakers.

The Argentine Institute for Conservation of Whales (ICB, for its capitals in Spanish) is the Argentine branch of the U.S. based Whale Conservation Institute, led by Roger Payne, whose goal is the recovery of the Southern right whale by way of research, conservation and education.

"One of the goals of this agreement is to support the research of the House's representatives on the issues of ocean pollution and the status of these cetaceans," said ICB director Diego Taboada.

Led by Payne, the Institute's researchers have been doing research on Southern right whales for 30 years in the area of Valdez Peninsula, in the west-central coast of Argentine Patagonia. Payne is best known for his discovery that Humpback whales sing songs, and for his theory that the sounds of fin and blue whales can be heard across oceans.

Payne started monitoring the whales with photographs, a method which has allowed ICB to identify some 1,700 individual Southern right whales.

"The population of right whales increases seven percent per year, but faces a kind of natural threat - the seagulls, whose population increases due to the imbalance of the marine ecosystems," says Taboada.

Puerto Madryn is a fisheries area. Fish waste becomes a kind of artificial food for seagulls. In turn, seagulls become agressive and start to bite the back of these right whales, Taboada observes.

"We have detected the first injuries in right whales in 1984. We did not know the origin of them, until we discovered that the seagulls were responsible for this damage," says Taboada. This discovery was made by the researchers at the Patagonic National Centre. Now the main threat is the shift IN behavior of the whales in the May to December calving and nursing period. "Mothers and their young spend some 25 percent of each day they spend during their six months in this habitat escaping from the seagulls," he says.

* * *

Trips Inside Virtual Plants Possible at New Australian Center

BRISBANE, Australia, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - A new research center will use advanced mathematics and high performance computing to create improved crops and lower pesticide use.

The Centre for Plant Architecture Informatics (CPAI), formed by the government research branch CSIRO and the University of Queensland, will be based at the University's St. Lucia campus in Brisbane.

CPAI director Dr. Peter Room says the center will combine the resources of pest management scientists from CSIRO Entomology, with the University's supercomputing and scientific visualization resources, and the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

The center will provide biologists and farmers with computer-aided measurement, design, and testing techniques that engineers and architects have used for many years. It has taken longer to develop these technologies for plants because they are more complex than machines and buildings, constantly changing shape as they grow.

"The center will help in the design of improved crops through linking information on genes, physiology, plant architecture, and ecology," Dr. Room says.

"We will also be able to reduce the use of pesticides by collecting more precise information about where pests are on plants, and how to target them with sprays." The center will be using advanced computing techniques, pushing the boundaries of present technology.

"An even bigger challenge is to add new ways for people to interact with the information, such as digital walks through virtual forests and digital flights through the internal structure of virtual plants, says Dr. Room.

"We will investigate how environmental factors modify plant structure and how structure relates to ecology and productivity. The ultimate goal is greatly-improved management of crops, forests, pests and weeds," he says. "And along the way there will be plenty of fun playing with virtual plants."

In schools and universities around the world, movies of virtual plants are already being downloaded from the center's website: to show students how cotton, rice, red cedar and other plants grow.