Tag Archives: endangered species

The scientific exception: A whale of a problem

Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eubalaena_glacialis_with_calf.jpgRecent news headlines have been splashed with stories of South Korea’s decision to begin issuing scientific whaling permits to its citizens. Earlier this month, South Korea publicly declared this choice; now, amid backlash, the country has indicated that it plans to reconsider.

The world over, societies have hunted whales for thousands of years. Historically, this was for the purposes of religion and survival. More recently, however, stories such as “Moby-Dick” have chronicled whaling as more a sport than a societal necessity.

In 1946, at a meeting in Washington, D.C., the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was inaugurated by nations across the globe. The purpose of the commission was to oversee and regulate whale populations, largely from the perspective of the commercial whaling industry, which had grown unsustainably large. Throughout the 20th century, however, as whale populations continued to decline, the IWC was forced to reconsider its position. In 1982, the IWC officially adopted an indefinite whaling moratorium, scheduled to go into effect in 1986. There were exceptions, however. Aboriginal societies were issued whaling permits, guaranteed as part of their cultural rights and heritage. Today, the North American Inuit population still whales for food and other heritage purposes.

Grads give Strawberry Creek a bit of attention

This past Saturday morning, a contingent of UC Berkeley graduate students awoke extra early, donned “play” clothes, and headed to campus to spend several hours giving our very own Strawberry Creek a bit of much-needed attention.

The grads enjoyed their morning in the campus sunshine, as they socialized with each other and uprooted invasive grasses. Later, the cleared area will be replaced with native plants, as part of a continued effort to return the creek to its natural state. Right now, the plants are just seedlings, being tenderly cared for in the Native Plant Nursery, by Giannini Hall.

Berkeley grads get “trashy” at shoreline cleanup

This past Saturday, I rose early from sleep and donned my very best work clothes and boots in preparation to join eight of my fellow graduate students and two rangers in a morning event that could best be described as “trashy.” The rangers that joined us were representatives sent from the East Bay Regional Parks District. Together, the eleven of us spent three long hours in the warm morning sunshine recovering trash from the Emervyille Crescent Shoreline, which is a part of the Eastshore State Park network. This special shoreline cleanup event was organized by the new Community Outdoor Cleanup and Outreach (COCO) project, funded and sponsored by the Graduate Assembly (GA) of UC Berkeley.

The new COCO project is the culmination of a year’s worth of effort on the part of concerned graduate student Dillon Niederhut, the GA delegate from Anthropology, and the GA Community Outreach Workgroup that he was pivotal in founding. This cleanup was COCO’s trial event, largely organized by fellow Workgroup member Christopher Klein, the GA delegate from Astronomy.

Notes from the field: Brazil’s Atlantic Forest

If I told you that I recently travelled to Brazil and saw a number of the world’s most unique plants and animals while trekking through a densely vegetated, humid environment, you’d probably assume I was referring to a hike through the Amazon rainforest, right? That’s because, for good reason, the Amazon attracts quite a bit of international attention — its struggles against deforestation and pollution make their way onto the pages of mainstream news outlets frequently. Meanwhile, we rarely, if ever, hear about the determined fight for the survival of Brazil’s other great forest: the Atlantic Forest on Brazil’s southeast coast. But the Atlantic Forest is exactly where I found myself over winter break, and while my excursion into a protected area of the forest accounted for just one day of the two-week long trip, its beauty and fragility left a lasting impression on me and my fellow travelers.

The main thing to know about the Atlantic Forest is that it is currently about 85% smaller than it was five centuries ago, yet it still houses nearly as much biodiversity as the much larger Amazon rainforest to the north. A large fraction, up to 40%, of its biodiversity cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Extensive deforestation and fragmentation has made it necessary for NGO’s to step in and help maintain the vibrancy of the now fragile ecosystem. For example, my excursion was guided by members of a non-profit organization called Projeto Juçara, whose mission is to protect the Juçara palm tree. Juçara (juice-ARE-uh) palms are heavily poached for their edible palm hearts, and over time the trees have become one of the many endangered species residing in the Atlantic Forest. As my companions and I walked through the forest, we scattered Juçara seeds alongside the path in the hope that we could help restore the tree to healthy numbers in that area of the forest.