Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Letter to the Editor: Inappropriate to misrepresent sale of sharks as ecotourism

There is nothing ecologically responsible in your recent article on 'ecotourism' in Kuala Sepetang (Oct 14, The Star). The picture of the business owner, Tiong Kawi, holding what looks like a baby blacktip reef shark or spot-tail shark for sale, in an article which is ostensibly about ecotourism, is misleading and harmful, as it creates the impression that the sale and consumption of wildlife constitutes ecotourism. 

The consumption of wildlife, even those that are not critically endangered, is incompatible with the principles of ecotourism. Ecotourism, by its definition, is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people. When implemented properly, ecotourism can encourage local guardianship of natural resources, habitats, and wildlife. Ecotourism should inculcate concern about the plight of wild animals and the environment, not promote the consumption of wildlife. 

Very often, instances of abuse and exploitation of wildlife are passed off by irresponsible tour operators as ecotourism. Tourists often consent to sampling bushmeat, sharks' fin soup and other wildlife products in order to have their “money’s worth” from the holiday package. There are insufficient regulations on what businesses may use the label of ecotourism, despite the existence of a National Ecotourism Plan and a relatively sophisticated legal framework where wildlife and the environment are concerned. 

Blacktip reef sharks and spot-tail sharks are listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List. Sharks play a vital role in the oceans. As top predators at the pinnacle of the marine food pyramid, sharks directly or indirectly regulate the natural balance of these ecosystems. As they usually hunt old, weak or sick prey, they help to keep the prey population healthy and strong, enabling these more naturally fit animals to reproduce and pass on their genes. The effects of removing sharks from ocean ecosystems, although complex and rather unpredictable, are very likely to be ecologically and economically damaging. Sharks regulate the behaviour of prey species, and prevent them from over-grazing vital habitats. 

From a human health point of view, heavy metals and other environmental toxins accumulate in plant and animal tissues through the well-documented process of bioaccumulation. Sharks are prone to bioaccumulation through diet, as they incorporate metals very efficiently and eliminate them slowly. Eating shark meat exposes the consumer to these potentially dangerous toxins, in particular, high levels of the methyl mercury. While a certain amount of mercury in the environment is natural, growing worldwide pollution of our oceans is increasing the risk of high mercury levels in the fish we eat, particularly fish at the top of the food chain like sharks. Consuming sharks will increase the level of mercury one ingests, which will in turn increase one's risk of neurological disorders, autism, infertility, coronary heart disease or even death. 

Despite being portrayed in popular culture as merciless killers, sharks are an incredibly fragile 'keystone species', partly due to the fact that sharks are slow growing animals that mature late, live long, and have a low reproduction rate. The depletion of shark populations may cause the entire marine food web to collapse, resulting in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species as well. 

As a reader concerned with fair and accurate reporting, I urge The Star to refrain from using terms such as 'ecotourism' and 'eco-friendly' loosely. A travel destination is not made environmentally responsible merely by virtue of being near natural spaces. Consumers should be mindful of what actually constitutes 'ecotourism' or sustainable nature tourism before paying for services and experiences that may in fact harm animal populations, the natural environment and the local community. 

As a basic guide, the following activities cannot constitute ecotourism: The consumption and harvesting of wildlife, the feeding of wild birds, marine animals and wildlife, driving off-track to harass animals, rides on elephants and other wildlife, animal performances such as snake charmer shows and dancing bears, and photo opportunities with wildlife, especially restrained wildlife such as chained tigers and bears. 

True ecotourism will take into account natural resource and waste management, provide empowerment and economic opportunities to indigenous and local communities, minimise environmental impact, and foster environmental awareness and respect for the environment, local population and animals. Good ecotourism practices may include activities such as beach and reef cleanups, tree-planting, data collection work and other hands-on activities that enable holidaymakers to make a positive difference to the ecologically sensitive site they are visiting. 

We urge all travellers and netizens to avoid engaging in practices such as consuming wildlife and endangered species, whether or not marketed as part of an ecotourism activity. The trade in and consumption of wildlife should be reported to WWF Malaysia, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks or the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) Hotline. Cruelty to and mistreatment of wildlife should be reported to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the state SPCA, which can then assist in investigations and lodge an official report with the Department of Veterinary Services. Any offence involving marine life should be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Marine Parks. We should be responsible, considerate and mindful enough to appreciate nature and the animal world without having to eat, own, destroy, harass, control or exploit them. 


Friday, October 3, 2014

Green Living Household Tips

Pencinta Alam Newsletter October 2014
Green Living Column

Green Living Household Tips
Compiled and edited from http://www.dailydanny.com/

1. The ultraviolet radiation from the sun can be a natural and effective way to deodorize and kill smelly bacteria in hard-to-wash household items.  On a sunny day, bring items like rugs, yoga and workout mats and throw pillows outside.  Place them on a clean tarp away from animals and cars emitting fumes into the air.  Allow them to absorb the sun’s rays for several hours to fully deodorise before bringing them back inside the house. 

2. If rust has encrusted gardening equipment such as trowels, shovels and shears, brew a pot of strong black tea (about 4 teabags) and allow the tea to cool. Pour the tea into a bucket and fill it with cold water.  Soak the tools for about 1-8 hours, depending on how rusty they are. As the rusty tools soak, the tannic acid in the tea is gently attacking the rust and making them easy to scrub clean. Remove the tools and scour with a coarse brush or sponge and dry off with a soft towel. 

3. If wearing perfumes triggers headaches or makes you feel ill, there are two options for you.  One is to look for USDA certified organic scents, which use food-grade natural oils free of any synthetic chemicals. But if you can’t find an organic scent you like, consider wearing single note scents or absolutes.  Traditional perfumes use about 200 chemicals to create their complicated scents; a single note —like Mint, Sandalwood or Lavender — uses significantly less and may be a calmer alternative to help you smell delicious and fresh. 

4. One way to conserve water when watering your garden is to water early in the morning or at night when the sun’s rays are not at their hottest and won’t quickly evaporate the water droplets. 

5. Donating used items to charity is a great way to find a new home for your old things and help a worthwhile nonprofit raise funds.  However, not everything can be donated to charities, so it’s best to ask before you drop off. Mattresses and boxsprings, for example, are difficult to give, due to sanitary concerns. Used electronics have become very difficult to donate, since prices have come down and functionality is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. It’s best to bring old electronics to recycling centres to be stripped for recycling and materials recovery instead. 

6. Many people are juicing fresh fruits and vegetables at home to create delicious and healthy beverages. But what can you do with all the dry pulp from all that juicing?  One idea is to semi-compost it in your potted plants.  Simply rake the top of the soil of your plants and sprinkle the dry mixture into the soil.  Rake again until it is fully incorporated into the soil.  Very quickly, the organic mixture will break down and become beneficial mulch for your plants.  They’ll thrive and you’ll find a way to deliver great nutrition to your plants via juicing, too.

7. A simple way to keep your stainless steel appliances at home looking clean, shiny, streak-free and almost new is to use olive oil. If you have stubborn stains, watermarks, and fingerprints that just won’t go away, grab olive oil and a microfiber towel. Pour a few drops of oil onto your microfiber towel and buff away. It will help shine the stainless steel all while removing grease and dirt.  The microfiber towel has millions of microscopic fibers that grip onto the surface and absorb grime. Olive oil works as a lubricant that will not leave surfaces greasy.

8. Each rechargeable battery inside a smart phone can be recharged about 1,000 times before it needs to be replaced.  One way of extending the life of these batteries is to do just a few easy things that help to preserve the lifespan of the battery. One easy tip is to never put your phone’s ringtone on “vibrate” mode. The buzzing motion actually uses more power than ring tones. Silent mode is, of course, the most energy efficient.  Also, disable any screensavers that are animated. A still image uses far less energy than one that moves and can also help extend the life of the rechargeable battery. 

9. You’ve heard of staycations, but have you heard of traincations?  When traveling for work or play, choosing a train instead of driving or flying is the greenest way to go. The carbon emissions savings by using a train instead of a car is about 50%; instead of flying saves a whopping 68%.  Plus, not to mention the ease of train travel: most major cities have train stations in the heart of the city, unlike airports that are often far away.    In addition, instead of the stress of driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you have views from a comfortable seat where you can also plug in personal electronics.  Remember, half the fun is getting there, so why not try a traincation?

10. Going camping for the first time?  Are you a white water rafting virgin?  Instead of buying all new gear and spending on equipment you may or may not use again, think second-hand instead.  Trawl local flea markets such as Secondhand Suq for bargains. Look in online sites like craigslist.org to find lower prices on lightly used gear such as backpacks, life jackets, tents and other things you need for your first adventure in the Great Outdoors, or ask around in hiking & camping forums and environmental organisations' social media groups.