WorldScan: September 27, 2002

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Whales Strand Themselves During NATO Exercises

LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA, Canary Islands, Spain, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - Nine beaked whales died as they stranded themselves on the Canary Islands September 24 and 25 during NATO naval exercises. Vidal Martin of the Society for the Study of the Cetaceans in the Canary Archipelago says volunteers from his group managed to refloat six others.

The whales were found on the beaches of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote islands.

All the whale strandings occurred during NATO manoeuvres called "Neo tapon 2002," in which at least 58 boats, six submarines, and 30 planes participated. Martin says, "A Military High Command recognized that they were making acoustic exercises" at the time of the strandings which occurred in the early morning hours. "At dawn, most of the animals were already beached," Martin said.

The naval exercises were suspended at the request of the Canary Islands government. Still, to date military authorities say they have not found any relationship between their manoeuvres and the strandings.

The work of animal rescue and pursuit was coordinated by the Environment Department of the Canary Islands, with the participation of city councils and town halls of the islands of Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria, as well as numerous organizations and volunteers.

The heads of the six animals stranded in Fuerteventura have been transferred to the Veterinary Department of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for analysis. This veterinarian unit is studying their auditory systems and conducting histological analysis.

Similar strandings have occurred in the Canary Islands in 1991, and in every year from 1985 through 1989. In all instances except 1986 and 1987, Martin has documented that naval exercises were taking place at the same time as the strandings.

Members of WWF-Spain protested Thursday in front of the Spanish Ministry of Defense to request that the ministry avoid new events of this type.

Many whales and dolphins depend on sound for their navigation and communication, use echo-location to obtain their food. For a long time, WWF says, it has been known that high levels of noise under water, due to intense a marine traffic, for example, are harmful to these species.

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Indonesian Fires, Loggers Threaten Orangutans

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - Thick haze has covered many parts of Kalimantan, Sumatra, and North Maluku this week, prompting schools to close down and people to stay at home. The haze is created by fires smouldering across these islands due to drought, lightning and fires set for land clearance that get out of control.

Palangkaraya Mayor Salundik Goyong Wednesday ordered all schools to close until further notice. He said the closure was ordered because of the health hazard caused by the thick haze that has blanketed the area for weeks. On Thursday the haze, caused by smoke from burning forests and peat, had reduced visibility in Palangkaraya to around 10 meters (33 feet).

In August, the Kalimantan government put together a team of 370 forest rangers, police and soldiers, to try to put out the fires, without much success. Authorities can only hope for rain, which is not forecast until October.

Orangutan expert Dr. Biruté Galdikas says a fire several weeks ago advanced quickly on the Orangutan Foundation International's new Care Center facility in the village of Pasir Panjang, a suburb of the city of Pangkalan Bun. If not for the quick work of the center's staff, the facility and the orangutans could have been damaged or destroyed.

Many fires have been burning underground for months. Suwido Limin at the Kalimantan Centre for International Cooperation in Management of Tropical Peatland began in late July to battle a fire started in the Natural Laboratory for Management of Peat Swamp Forest where his team has been recording biodiversity and natural resource functions of this threatened ecosystem for the last 10 years.

Limin says, "This area is also home to the largest remaining orangutan population in the world. Its survival is also threatened, and up to 5,000 animals could die if these fires gain a firm hold." So far, Limin's team including a group of 17 young volunteers from the United Kingdom who are living and working at the center, have managed to hold off the fires.

More serious, says Dr. Galdikas, is the problem of illegal logging near the foundation's Camp Leakey orangutan research facility. "Illegal loggers are coming in from another river system and spending many days going through swamps to reach the eastern border of the study area. They are carving out small canals and building wooden rails to float and drag logs out later this year when the rains come. We hear their chainsaws, and are fearful they will begin cutting down the fruit trees for the orangutans in the study area."

Located in the Tanjung Puting Reserve in Central Kalimantan, Camp Leakey was established in 1971 by Dr. Biruté Galdikas. It was named after anthropologist Louis Leakey, who was a mentor to Dr. Galdikas as well as Drs. Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Originally consisting of two huts, Camp Leakey is now a cluster of permanent wooden structures that provides a base for scientists, staff, students, and guards.

"We are mounting police patrols," Dr. Galdikas says, "but the loggers are not always easy to find. Even when the police encounter the loggers, they are only told to leave - they are not forced to leave. After being give a couple of chances, then the police can be more forceful. This takes time and frankly time is running out. We know these people have used machetes to kill orangutans, like Davida, and we do not want anything to happen to the many orangutans we know that live in the study area like Princess, Peta, Unyuk, Tutut, Tom, and so many others."

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Canada, U.S. Both Claim Softwood Lumber Victory

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew today welcomed the ruling of a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel that U.S. duties on Canadian softwood lumber exports violate international trade rules.

"The WTO has found in favor of our position that the U.S. preliminary subsidy determination was flawed and disproves the methods of calculation. Today, the WTO is telling Canadians: you were right," Pettigrew said. "This decision reinforces our position and injects increased optimism in our unified approach."

Pettigrew said the panel agreed with Canada that the United States' finding that Canadian provincial stumpage programs are countervailable subsidies was not made in accordance with WTO rules.

But the United States Trade Representative said today that the WTO panel agreed with the United States that the Canadian provinces' sale of timber from public lands can constitute a subsidy under the WTO Subsidies Agreement.

"Although we do not agree with all of the panel's conclusions, its reasoning on the most important issue of natural resource subsidies is a clear victory for the United States," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

"Canada has long argued that its natural resource subsidies do not fall within the disciplines of the WTO and therefore cannot be subject to countervailing duties under any circumstances. The WTO has conclusively rejected the Canadian argument," Zoellick said.

"Today's findings will have no practical effect on the final countervailing duties that are currently in place," Zoellick said. "The case has been entirely bypassed by events," he said, "because the report only relates to the original preliminary countervailing duties, which have already been refunded to Canadian lumber producers. These preliminary duties amounted to almost US$1 billion."

The WTO panel report released today only addresses the United States' August 9, 2001 preliminary countervailing duty determination. In addition to this WTO proceeding, Canada has also contested the United State's final countervailing determination at the WTO. That proceeding is now underway.

The Government of Canada, the provinces and the timber industry have initiated three reviews under the NAFTA dispute settlement process regarding the U.S. final subsidy, dumping and injury determinations. Those decisions are expected in 2003.

Pettigrew said Canada remains open to working with the United States to find a long term solution to the softwood lumber dispute.

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Mozambique Wins WWF Award for New Marine Parks

MAPUTO, Mozambique, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - On Saturday, the government of Mozambique will receive WWF's Gift to the Earth Award for its decisions to create the Quirimbas and Bazaruto National Parks. The government of the southeastern African nation has recently declared the Qurimbas Archipelago to be a national park, and has extended full protection to the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park.

Bazaruto is a candidate for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the 1970s the islands and the channel of the Bazaruto Archipelago were declared a national park, and now funding and management is provided by the WWF, the South African Nature Trust and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. They control longline fishermen, the sale of shellfish, traditional fishing and conserve the wildlife on the islands.

The WWF says the two new coastal and marine reserves in the Mozambique Channel create a haven for the critically endangered dugong and an ancient fish known as the coelacanth. The coelacanth was discovered in the ocean off Mozambique in the 1950s; its close relatives were swimming here at the time of the dinosaurs.

The dugong is a marine mammal related to the manatee that lives among seagrass beds in only a few places in the world's tropical seas.

The newly protected areas provide shelter for the whale shark, four dolphin species and five of the world's seven marine turtles. The waters are also visited by minke and humpback whales during their annual migration. The parks also contain important populations of fish and invertebrates.

In Bazaruto, the sea is inhabited by some 800 fish species, and the coral reefs in Quirimbas are made up of 50 genera of coral, making the park one of the richest coral reef areas in the world.

The land part of the two parks is made up of extensive coastal forests and miombo woodlands, in places extending all the way down to the shore. Here, important populations of elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and African hunting dog have their home.

The WWF warns of increasing human pressure on the region, including a growing tourism industry along the coast. Coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and fish populations are decimated by destructive fishing such as the use of dynamite and poison, and loss of traditional management practices, the organization says.

In Quirimbas, the mounting number of conflicts between wildlife and people has resulted in the deaths of both animals and people.

WWF is working to establish a network of well-managed protected areas to conserve marine and coastal biodiversity in the East African Ecoregion and views the creation of the Quirimbas and Bazaruto National Parks as an important step towards this goal.

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European Lawmakers Urged to Regulate Chemicals Now

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and its Danish partners today joined European Union politicians and officials, consumer and industry representatives, and environmental organizations to discuss the regulation of chemicals found in daily products, many of which accumulate in our bodies, living environment, and in mothers' breast milk.

The international conference in Copenhagen follows the European Commission's second failure to meet its own deadline for a legislative proposal, prompting concern that further delays will harm the current political momentum of support from all EU institutions.

Speakers at the conference, European Chemicals Policy Reform - from paralysis to action, include the Danish Minister for the Environment Hans Christian Schmidt, European Commission Director-General for the Environment Catherine Day, Director of the German Ministry of the Environment Uwe Lahl, EEB Secretary General John Hontelez and Director of the Danish Society for the Conservation of Nature Gunver Bennekou.

In her conference opening speech Bennekou said, "I want to remind you that when talking about EU's chemicals policy, we are talking about the things around us in our everyday lives - the food we eat, the water we drink and our immediate environment. At stake here is saving people's lives and preventing damage to our children's development and to biodiversity and the environment."

Hontelez commented on industry's and government's failure to produce an effective solution to the chemical problem throughout the last 26 years that the issue has been before them.

He called for immediate legislative proposals that are clear in their objectives, that put the precautionary principle in place, shift the burden of proof on the industry and are robust and adjustable rather than 100 percent perfect in their details.

"We can no longer accept that it takes several years to identify and regulate one single hazardous substance," said Christian Ege, director of the Danish Ecological Council.

"We have seen this single-substance approach with the brominated flame retardants, which are used in electronics," said Ege. "At present, the Commission and the Council seem to be willing to regulate only two out of around 70 of these substances. If this approach is not changed, then we will have to wait decades for hazardous substances to be regulated."

"We are now in a unique time of change," said Hontelez, "where the politicians have taken up the challenge. This change has touched the roots of the paralysis, and shows the way towards a common system that would allow all the players involved to have a responsible role - something that many of them have been seeking for a long time."

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Vinegar Fly Gene Confers Pesticide Resistence

MELBOURNE, Australia, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - Scientists have discovered a single gene that gives vinegar flies resistance to a wide range of pesticides, including the banned DDT. This species is rarely targeted with pesticides, and many of the chemicals it is resistant to, it has never been exposed to before.

"This is a warning that we may need to rethink our overall strategies to control insect pests," says University of Melbourne geneticist, Dr. Phil Batterham. He serves as program leader for the Chemical Stress Program within the Centre for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research (CESAR), a special research centre that includes researchers from the Universities of Melbourne, La Trobe and Monash.

"The fact that a single mutation can confer resistance to DDT and a range of unrelated pesticides, even to those the species has never encountered, reveals new risks and costs to the chemical control of pest insects," Dr. Batterham said.

The Drosophila resistance gene, named Cyp6g1, is part of a large family of genes called the Cytochrome P450 genes that are found in many species, including humans.

The gene has persisted rather than disappearing as the use of DDT around the world has declined since it was banned in 1972 in the United States.

"Unless we reassess our current methods of pest management, our future options for control may become severely restricted," Dr. Batterham warned. "If this mutation was found on a pest insect, many options for the chemical control of that insect would have been removed."

Species will normally lose mutations that protected it against a particular pesticide once that pesticide ceases to be used. This is because, in the absence of the pesticide, the mutation suddenly confers a disadvantage.

In this case, the vinegar fly has maintained the resistance gene. The mutation does not confer any disadvantage, so it persists in the fly population.

"This highlights more than ever that what we do today to control pests could irreversibly change the gene pool of that species," says Batterham.

"This research showed how easy it is for a single mutation to have such a diverse impact. A similar mutation in a pest species could have devastating consequences," he says.

The primary research was done by Dr. Phil Daborn, a former Ph.D. student under Dr. Batterham and Professor John McKenzie at the University of Melbourne. It took place in the laboratory of Professor Richard French-Constant at the University of Bath. Current University of Melbourne students Michael Bogwitz and Trent Perry contributed. Other collaborators include Professor Tom Wilson at Colorado State University and Dr. Rene Feyereisen at Centre de Recherches d'Antibes, France.

The research is published under the title, "Why Bugs Resist Insecticides," in the current edition of the journal "Science," a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.