Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Ghost netting

The island Archipelago surrounding Koh Sdach offers some of the richest coral diversity in all of South East Asia.

Brain coral in the seas surrounding Koh Sdach
But such breathtaking diversity is under threat.

As ever, the complex interactions between humans, fisheries and sustainable development are highly visible, as indeed are such conflicts within the majority of the planet's developing countries.

Whilst the seas in this part of the world offer up a bewildering array of marine resources, man's innate abilities to both squander and waste such bounty remain equally visible.

'Ghost nets', a term commonplace in this part of the world, speak volumes for the simple ways in which sustainability can be embedded, yet it fails to happen at expense to both marine and human futures.

Fishermen in this part of the world routinely drop some 250 to 300 cages and nets, seeking catch to sell into the rich, tourist driven markets of Bangkok.

Yet these cages are sunk with neither marker nor buoy, with fishermen trusting only to luck that they can successfully return and investigate the results of their efforts.

Researchers in this part of the world, speaking with Koh Sdach fishermen, have estimated some 3/4 of the cages dropped are at times never refound.

Discarded ropes/nets on Koh Sdach's ocean bed
They lie silently on the ocean floor, an unsuspecting trap for fish species, which become caught in the cages, struggle and die. Yet more fish are attracted to these remains, themselves become ensnared, so sparking a cycle of pointless death and waste, that continues until cages, ropes and nets ultimately degrade and float away to haunt the oceans, leaving their deathly legacy to linger on.

It seems an astonishingly inefficient, callous and illogical way to fish. Yet marine fishermen here appear neither harsh, uncaring nor unaware of the perilous state of their stocks. More there appears a simple lack of understanding surrounding cost, alternatives, available options and a more innate sense of how to extend resources for future generations.

Often, the most striking examples of unsustainable practices are among the easiest to resolve. Should government cash, NGO's, campaigners or the fishermen themselves take responsibility for how Koh Sdach manages its fisheries? The questions remain timely, urgent and presently without answer.

What future for Koh Sdach's marine ecosystems?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Shallow Waters

Soon, I shall be looking at marine conservation and biodiversity with Shallow Waters...

More news and updates here soon!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Sustainable movement

Giles Crosse
The developed world counts transport among its most environmentally damaging creations. Aviation in particular has enormous impacts.

However, at a more basic level transport is a vital element of everyday life and a crucial development tool.

So many basic systems rely on the ability to move goods, energy, fuels and humans efficiently, reliably and safely. And of course there are many places where the infrastructure to enable this basic requirement remain lacking.

It may seem an unlikely element for discussion from a sustainability perspective, but the development of stable and safe road systems allows so much vital commerce and business to take place.

Moving food, pharmaceuticals and materials to build homes remains largely impossible without a passable road system. The comparatively huge amount of time it takes to travel short distances in the developing world remains a barrier to safer and happier lives.

Giles Crosse
Whether in the Amazon or Madagascar, regardless of species biodiversity or higher end development goals, roads rendered impassable by seasonal rains leave little opportunity for ordinary people to access the goods and services they need.

Luxuries such as ambulances, but perhaps more importantly the roads they run on, are less prevalent in these parts of the world. There is simply no way to access a hospital within hours in the event of a challenging childbirth or an accident in the forest or on a fishing trip.

Giles Crosse
When political infighting prevents transport infrastructure from being maintained, some of the most basic elements of a functional society become threatened.

The seats above may look uncomfortable, but the opportunities and possibilities they represent are infinitely valuable.

Roads, planes and cars may have caused enormous environmental damage. But for the moment they remain the key to offering higher standards of life. Many communities simply do not have the tools or the skills to maintain vast sections of road or highway.

Vast motorways, cut into primary rainforest, can offer little more than an opportunity to shift hardwoods illegally, move species illegally, or pass drugs in or out of a country.

But in more simple ways, a safe, reliable road system can transform the life of villagers and communities so keen to access the basic essentials of modern living.
Giles Crosse

Monday, 26 August 2013

Planetary wealth

Fisherman's pirogue - Saint Luce - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Making a living from the resources provided by nature is something of a normal way of life in Madagascar.

However there is also a crucial role for education in terms of environmental stewardship.

Much of this has to do with ownership.

For example, it is very challenging to create a meaningful dialogue with a local community whose land has been bought up by foreign investors.

All too often, this creates a mindset whereby locals see minimal advantage in stewarding both their marine and land based assets, because as far as they are concerned foreign investors will most likely tear down the forest or pollute the seas.

This creates a short mindedness that damages the environment and the heritage of future generations.

Giles Crosse
But offering a true sense of ownership generally has the opposite effect in terms of long termism and a more meaningful appreciation of how best to protect and utilise natural resources into the future.

When an individual or a community is invested in the local ecosystem, it is so much easier to build bridges, to educate and influence and set up an alternative to short term resource use and exploitation that has unfortunately already damaged many of the planet's ecosystems.

This offers huge benefits to humans and ecosystems alike, of which we are of course a part, and upon which we depend for food, air, water and the materials to clothe and protect our children.

Giles Crosse

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Simple beauty

Giles Crosse
In the midst of poverty and pain, it is easy to forget the breathtaking diversity and scenery of Madagascar.

Vast mountains, desert plains stretching to the horizon and an array of flora and fauna are visible here.

Giles Crosse
Bountiful waterfalls rise to the skies, while spiders cast their webs across the flowing waters.

This is the nature that is at risk should expansion, mining or human greed, and potentially need, impact fully upon this most unique of island habitats.

Giles Crosse
Music, art and creation are so often forms best utilised to express the need for thoughtfulness regarding these matters. Malagasy dance, where dancers join and enter in and out of circles, may perhaps have something to tell us surrounding the oneness and returning nature of man and his environment.

Western writers too have input into these matters.

"It's a beautiful world
And when the city sleeps we go walking
We find a hole in the sky and then we start talking
And then we say "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Buy us some time, buy us some time"" - Richard Ashcroft

There is still time left to look after ourselves and the planet bequeathed in our keeping.

Man's influence casts a long shadow - Giles Crosse

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto operates in Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Rio Tinto has an interesting reputation globally.

Here in Madagascar, the company operates a partnership firm with the government, named QMM. This firm is operating in the Saint Luce region of the island, and had been planning to mine minerals from the littoral coastal forest.

Presently, whether or not this mining is going to go ahead remains uncertain. Back in January, the low prices the firm paid for the land rights sparked fury amongst Malagasy locals who blockaded the QMM site.

It seems that QMM now seems uncertain of precisely how much mineral asset remains, and hence how much profit it will make from the portions of  Madagascar it bought to the outrage of communities living here.

This in turn has led to fears that Rio Tinto will simply sell off its land to the highest foreign bidders, to do with as they will, again denying Malagasy people access, rights and a voice in the future of the island's 80 per cent endemic flora and fauna.

Signage describing Rio Tinto's presence outside Saint Luce - Giles Crosse
Rio Tinto has built a local school in the Saint Luce area. Then again, local community leaders say neither staff nor educational assets were provided.

Equally, Rio Tinto built what NGO staff describe as the finest roads on the island. But they serve only as access points to the port, enabling easy transportation and movement, and offer little or no wider infrastructure benefit.

Rio Tinto operates a 'net benefit' policy. This, according to the firm, illustrates, 'An evaluation of the achievements and above all, impacts of the Biodiversity Program shows positive development towards a net benefit for the Fort-Dauphin environment.'

Such benefits are a little tricky to evaluate, when NGO insiders argue the Tinto plans were to mine some 80 per cent of the unique littoral forest it bought, leaving 20 per cent of the resource intact.

Rio Tinto's presence has sparked controversy - Giles Crosse
Plainly, the illegitimacy of Madagascar's government, which begs questions over precisely how much of a voice any Malagasy natives have in the QMM partnership, does not help the situation.

Locals, working with the Azafady NGO, monitor littoral forest gecko numbers - Giles Crosse
Perhaps the only certainty surrounds the diversity and importance of the species existing in Madagascar's forests. The future of these will largely depend upon the outcomes and decisions to be made by QMM.

Only this month, Azafady researchers suspect they have discovered unique new frog species dwelling in these regions. How many such forms of life will lose their habitat before they even been described or documented?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Paths to the future

Libanona - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Value, society, sustainability and development are all brought into sharp focus in developing countries like Madagascar.

In many ways it might be argued such value of life is cheap here. Arguments spark freely on the streets, poverty is visible in every corner, life is hard, challenging and for some people short.

Perhaps the most arresting images are those of children, hanging outside supermarkets seeking handouts from Westerners. Or combing the beaches, seeking an opportunity to sell trinkets or necklaces.

Yet these are not thieving, offensive nor aggressive youths. These are merely children introduced at too young an age to the concept of working for a living.

Polite, energetic, bouncy and friendly, these youngsters retain a smile and a cheerful demeanour among some of the hardest living conditions imaginable.

An empty plastic bottle, waste to a Westerner, is a resource to a Malagasy child.

Perhaps this might be worth a hundred Ariary to sell, perhaps it could be a handy container for the future. Perhaps it might be a useful tool to build a home made toy or pastime.

Many commentators here tell me that actually one of the main things Malagasy youngsters seek is diversion. Something to do, an occupation, an opportunity to dream and to run like a child.

And indeed this they do in many ways; on homemade stilts, pushing empty bicycle rims or dragging car toys, home made from wood or old cans along the streets.

Libanona - Madagascar - Giles Crosse
Yet minutes from where children work on the beaches, a luxury hotels sits, offering breathtaking views across the bay towards the international port, built by QMM, the Madagascan / Rio Tinto joint partnership to mine minerals from the island.

How many Malagasy youngsters will ever enjoy these views? How many will spend a night in the luxury rooms, pampered in the spa or drinking cocktails in an infinity pool?

How many will find the education they need to climb out of poverty and earn a better future for themselves and for the development of their country and their children? What future form will their lives take.

It may be that the long awaited elections here will take place, offering a sense of power and meaning back to the people and perhaps enabling a return of wider international aid and assistance.

Futures, questions, livelihoods and the balance of life here all hang in the balance.