Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, another example of Human well-doing

On April 2Oth, the DeepWater Horizon, an offshore oil rig has collapsed off the coast of Lousiana in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster started off with a loud explosion followed by a major fire. The floating platform sank while three leaks were discovered. The amount of oil released in the wild is unknown but estimated to about 160,000 litres per day. The rig also contained 2.6 million litres of petrol (at an extracting rate of 1,27 million litres per day) and it is very likely all these stocks were also released in the waters of the Gulf. Today, the oil spill who measures nearly 1,000 kilometers in width was approaching the coasts of several states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The coastline is very sensitive to pollution as it hosts swamps and fragile environments. Not only rare species of aquatic mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds will be affected but the whole local economy where people often live off fishing. Populations still bear in mind the consequences of Katrina hurricane and now have to deal with this.
  • In terms of wildlife, a group of sperm whales live in the area and although they spend most of their time diving for prey, they come back to the surface to breathe.
  • The region is also the only spawning ground for a wide variety of species, many of which are in the middle of the spawning season. These species include the Western Atlantic blue fin tuna, already endangered by Japanese overfishing.
  • Alabama, Mississippi and Florida beaches host different species of sea turtles that travel in these waters.
  • More species of marine animals and wild birds are in danger such as the brown pelican, reddish egret, mottled duck, royal tern and snowy plover. Read more on the NY Times

Below is a summary video from Fox news as well as some pictures to illustrate the dimension of this disaster.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day 2010: Bill Clinton & Al Gore take action

Earth Day, founded in 1970, was celebrating its 40th anniversary on April 22nd of this year. This date marks an annual opportunity to raise awareness of environmental issues, and appreciation of our planet.

This year, I have gathered two elements for you. The first one is an interview of former US President Bill Clinton organised by Their democratic initiative was welcomed on the Internet as anyone could ask a question to Clinton. He would then reply to the most dugg (=top rated) questions. I have embedded the video below for your own convenience.

The second element is a copy of Al Gore's Earth Day letter to all suscribers of his Repower America newsletter. Al Gore, former US presidential candidate, is also the founder of Repower America, a "Climate Protection Action Fund" that pushes political decisions/actions in fighting climate change. Enjoy the documents below and don't forget to do something for the environment (every day if possible :).

  • Bill Clinton's interview

  • Al Gore's letter
Despite the name, Earth Day is really about humanity.
Our planet has existed for billions of years and will continue to exist, no matter how much oil and coal we burn, no matter how much carbon pollution we dump into our atmosphere.
It's the survival of human civilization as we know it that's uncertain. Human consumption of fossil fuels threatens the conditions that we require to live on Earth -- conditions that only occur thanks to a carefully balanced set of circumstances so delicate and rare that they are now shockingly vulnerable to the impact of our newly powerful civilization. These conditions can change, and our actions on this planet are changing them every day. That is a scientific fact that no amount of political rhetoric can alter.
Taking on climate change is a huge challenge -- for America and the world. But the solutions are within our reach. We have the technology. We know the way forward. Now we have to get started on a scale that will matter.
As with so many global crises, the world is looking to America for leadership. In this case, leadership means action from the United States Congress -- and I am pleased to say that we are far closer than we have ever been. Since Earth Day last year, a landmark clean energy and climate bill has passed the House of Representatives, and as I write this, key Senators are reaching across the aisle to finish the job.
If the Senate steps up and passes strong legislation, success will be within reach.
But the forces of opposition are very powerful. And if we did nothing, we would fail - by falling prey to the cynicism of corporate lobbyists and the misinformation of self-serving politicians and pundits whose blatant disregard for scientific fact endangers us all.
So this Earth Day, I ask all of you to join together to take action to address climate change. [...]
Over the past 40 years, Earth Day has helped strengthen our awareness, sense of urgency and will to preserve the environment we rely on. It has served as a national reminder to reduce pollution, celebrate nature and make our air and water cleaner.
But today our task is even greater. Beyond careful stewardship of our natural resources, we must act to prevent a potential global catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude. We must aggressively respond to the threat of global climate change.
We created this crisis -- and we can solve it. That starts with strong action from Congress. This is a fight that we must not lose -- for the sake of every human being on the planet and for the generations to come.
Remember, Earth Day is about people -- and our future on this planet.
Thank you,
Al Gore
The Climate Protection Action Fund

For more information about other events happening on that day, head to

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cane toads, the slow invasion of Australia

Predator species have been introduced by humans in new environment since centuries. Sometimes purposely like in the case of rodent control, or sometimes accidentally. In either case, the introduction of another species is never good for the environment as it always has negative and serious consequences on native/endemic species and ecosystem balance. For example, humans have introduced Polynesian rats in the islands of Hawaii in order to control insect damage on local agriculture. Unfortunately the rat population grew far too much and when it began harming the environment, humans (them again!) introduced the Indian mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) to eat the rats. However, a new issue rose: Mongoose preferred feeding on bird eggs! As a consequence, the Hawaiian goose came close to extinction and rats kept on damaging sugar cane plantations.

This was in 1883, but we still haven't learned the lesson and find ourselves repeating the errors of the past. This is the story of the cane toads of Australia. Originally from Central and South America, the cane toads were introduced in Australia in the 1930's in order to control the invasion of beetles damaging here again sugar cane plantations. The population of cane toads grew exponentially and spread across most of Queensland and now reaching Darwin in the Northern Territory as well as the north of New South Wales. Not only damaging local ecosystems, cane toads have a toxic gland on their back that they use as defense when attacked. Local animals such as snakes and crocodiles feed on other amphibians and die when attacking cane toads.

From 62,000 toadlets introduced in 1937, the Australian population is now estimated to over 300 million toads. Sadly enough, the cane toads never solved the beetle issue as plantations did not offer the right shelter for these toads during the day...

Below is a very interesting 5-part documentary entitled "Cane Toads, an UnNatural History". Enjoy

Monday, April 19, 2010

Help create the World's largest marine park in the Coral Sea has launched an Australian wide campaign recently to support the founding of the world's largest marine park. The Coral Sea, located between the Australian state of Queensland, Papa New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, is a safe haven for marine life.

While we are at a critical time to make important decisions, less than 1% of the world's seas are currently protected. The creation of such a vast marine park would not only help protect local species but encourage the re-population of other species, including migratory ones. Large marine mammals such as dolphins and whales but also large fish such including sharks and tunas would highly benefit from such a protection.

Learn more about the project, sign the petition and discover how to take action on the website. And don't forget to pass the message on to your friends!

You can also take action using the widget below.

The Ye Zi car, so Eco-friendly it Produces Oxygen!

While China holds the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, it seems like environment is at the heart of many projects. One of these is the Ye Zi, or "Leaf" in Chinese. This concept car presented at the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and General Motors (GM) pavilion is more than eco-friendly.

What can honestly be better than carbon neutral? That's right, a car that actually emits oxygen.
This is possible through different systems spread on different areas of the vehicle. Some include:

  • Photo voltaic units placed on the roof (for solar energy)
  • Wind turbines on the wheels (for wind energy)
  • Metal-organic framework (MOF, which absorbs carbon dioxide and water to produce an electric current and O², just as plants would usually do through the process of photosynthesis
Not quite sure until where this concept will be taken but if affordable, that could make a cute city car!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pictures & Information of the Great Barrier Reef Damage

While the Sheng Neng 1 has been refloated and transferred to another island, an inspection team from GBRMPA and the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management have undertaken observations of the damage caused by the carrier ship. A 20 to 30 meters wide scar stretches for approximately 100 meters. Yes! That's 3,000 square meters of damaged corals and marine life that could take up to 30 years to grow back. We will soon know exactly how much damaged has been done as a ship equipped with high tech sonars and cameras is on its way to the reef.
As it stands now, it seems like oil is starting to wash up on a few surrounding islands where baby turtles usually hatch and seabirds nest. Other reports mention the hulk paint scratched off on the seabed killing corals. This paint contains toxic chemicals such as heavy metals and herbicides which aren't good for marine life for obvious reasons.

I have enclosed more information about the damage at the bottom of this post. Don't hesitate to scroll down after the images.

These photographs of the bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 were taken by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Solar Impulse, New hopes for solar powered flights

Photo: AFP
Bertrand Piccard, you might have heard his name before. He is the first person to have done a non-stop world tour in a hot air balloon in 19 days and 22 hours in 1999. 11 years later, he is back in the news for another of his project. He is the creator of the Solar Impulse.

So what is the Solar Impulse? As you can see on the picture, it is a plane using nothing but solar power as a source of energy. The electricity produced is used to power four propeller engines of 10 horsepower each. It measures 61 meters in width, nearly as much as an Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane! It can also fly at an altitude of 13,000 meters using nothing but the power of its 12,000 photovoltaic cells covering the wings.

On Wednesday morning (07/04/2010), the Solar Impulse took off successfully for the first time from a runway located in Payerne, Switzerland. The prototype flew for about an hour before safely landing. Spectators were astonished by the silence and smoothness of the aircraft.

The Solar Impulse project was initiated in 2003 and around 70 people have been working on it in the past 7 years. According to its creator, the goal of this project is to "stop being dependent to fossil fuels" and to prove that if he can do it for a plane, then major corporations can do it for cars, electronics and heating. At, we like this philosophy! Looking further into the topic, why not imagining in the future a passenger aircraft based on this concept? Silent, eco-friendly, cheap... It's close to perfection!

In the meantime, the Solar Impulse is already planning to go for an around-the-world flight next year. We wish them luck!

Below is the video of the first flight

More videos and photos on the Solar Impulse site.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Oil Spill that Uncovers the Truth, the Sheng Neng 1

Oil escaping from the Sheng Neng 1 (Photo:Maritime Safety QLD)
On Saturday April 3rd, the Sheng Neng 1, a Chinese ship transporting coal hit and stuck itself on a sandbar within the Great Barrier Reef marine park, 70 kilometres east of the Great Keppel Island. The incident caused damaged to the ship, leading to a leak of its fuel tanks.

The ship carries around 975 tons of heavy fuel oil as well as 65,000 tons of coal. I am shocked to read that some newspapers are minimizing the 975 tons, saying it is a fairly small quantity of oil compared to major oil spills in the sad history of man. But to my humble opinion, even 1 kilogram of heavy fuel oil is pollution!. Pollution is bad wherever it is occurring, but the fact that this one is happening within a protected marine park, known as one of the great natural wonders of the world, is simply sickening. When I see how fragile coral reefs are, this really saddens me.

We can't thank enough the people (probably not the ones responsible) doing their best to try and contain the leak in such crucial moments. At the moment I am speaking, oil is still leaking out of the boat, 3 days later, and it is said that bad weather could further damage the boat and break it in half, causing the total amount of fuel to escape from the wreck.

But what shocks me even more, is that the ship was in a restricted zone 15 kilometers outside the shipping lane and that its crew did not notify authorities of their location for two hours. This is a clear example of a wrong practice. It is not a navigation error, the ship purposely followed this route. The reason for this behavior is that ships are ready to take shortcuts, even illegally to beat deadlines and save on fuel costs.

The Sheng Neng 1 (Photo:The Courier-Mail)

According to local fishermen, this is regular practice used on a "weekly basis" by cargo boats and tankers. It is common sense to know that if the zone is restricted, it is for a good reason. If this has been happening for years, an accident had to occur one day.

This event comes one year after another oil spill in the region, when a container carrier, the Pacific Adventurer, spilled oil in the Moreton Island and Sunshine Coast. Two oils spills in two years! Enough is enough!

If not much oil is spilled with the Sheng Neng 1, we can be glad this happened as it will open our eyes and hopefully those of the authorities, on illegal practices that threaten the environment in the name of profitability. From now on, we hope to see ships using these methods be heavily fined and the responsible ones thrown in jail.
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