Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Musings: Screw Nature

I’m not sure if comment sections in newspapers or blogs are representative of wider public opinion, but I certainly hope not given the sort of responses posted to an Advertiser article on Congress appropriating $5.7 million for Hawaiian monk seal recovery.

Aside from the fact that many readers seem to be ignorant of the difference between state and federal funds, among other things, there was a discouraging “screw nature” attitude running through the comments. Guess when money gets tight, although not, curiously, for military expenditures, the first thing some folks want to cut is money for environmental programs.

This sort of comment was typical:

$5,700,000 for the seals. Polihale closed for 2 years unless you people on Kauai get out your shovels and start digging out your STATE PARK. I might kick the next Seal I see at Polihale when it opens back up. Joking, but sounds good.

Lots of folks are lauding the volunteer effort that got Polihale re-opened to the public after heavy rains washed out the bridge and road. But farmer Jerry wasn’t so sure. “Mother Nature closed that park,” he said, “and maybe it needed to stay closed for two years so it can recover from overuse. Now it’s open again so people can four-wheel out there and tear up the dunes and the plants.”

It does seem a few heavily-used places would benefit from a breather, like Kealia and Kee, to name two.

Of course, some people do understand the value of malama `aina. Was talking to a couple of Hawaiian friends who farm taro yesterday and they were expounding on the need to care for the land even before you take care of yourself and your family, because without the land, you won’t be able to care for yourself and your family.

“It’s simple, but people just don’t get it,” one friend said.

Perhaps that’s because so many people are so far removed from anything that comes from the land that they think if you just take care of the supermarket, bank and mall, then you can screw nature.

As Jerry noted the other day in response to a recent call out for Kauai folks to start 1,000 gardens a year until we achieve food self-sufficiency: “that’s not going to make much difference in meeting our food supply, but at least it might make people appreciate how much work farmers do to feed them.”

Meanwhile, the state DLNR is participating in an aquaculture project at Kapaa High School. It’s great to teach the kids how to raise fish and give them real world learning experiences. But why are they talking about releasing alien fish — bluegill and catfish — into the Wailua Reservoir as being part of an “ecosystem restoration” process? Those fish are not part of the native ecosystem, and in fact compete with native freshwater species. Are we going to have a whole generation of kids growing up believing tilapia are native because they’ve never seen or eaten an oopu?

Finally, as both the Associated Press and Science News reported, a new study shows that dolphins are temporarily deafened by direct exposure to loud military sonar. According to the AP story:

Marine biologists led by Aran Mooney at the University of Hawaii exposed a captive-born, trained Atlantic bottlenose dolphin to progressively louder pings of mid-frequency sonar.

The scientists fitted a harmless suction cup to the dolphin's head, with a sensor attached that monitored the animal's brainwaves.

When the pings reached 203 decibels and were repeated, the neurological data showed the mammal had become deaf, for its brain no longer responded to sound.

The deafness, though, was only temporary and the dolphin was not hurt in the experiment, said Mooney.

Now how does he really know whether it hurt the dolphin or not?

The Science News article offered a little more depth in its coverage:

That’s a mild threshold shift, and physiological changes caused by sonar may not be as important as the animals’ behavioral reactions, comments veterinarian and stranding specialist Paul Jepson of the Institute of Zoology in London. Startled animals may panic and surface so fast that they get decompression sickness, which would explain some of the damage Jepson has seen.

While 20 minutes of deafness in a tank where you’re being fed fish might not be such a big deal, it’s a very different story out in the wild.

Still, as I read these articles, and the perennial scientific conclusion that more tests are needed, I had to wonder what, really, was the point? Even if we find a definitive link between sonar and cetacean strandings, what is the likelihood the Navy will give it up? All they have to do is play their trump card — national security — and it's screw nature.


Dawson said...

The Polihale volunteer effort has hit the national news.

Anonymous said...

here's a clue to what its really about ----

Their livelihood was being threatened

Anonymous said...

nice find dawson