Monthly Archives: April 2012

Not for those with delicate stomachs…

A common method of extracting the Guinea Worm from the skin. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

If you woke up this morning feeling like life was getting you down, that it was too cold, or too hot, annoyed that the internet wasn’t working, or upset because your flat mate drunk the last of your milk, reading this article may just make you feel a bit better about your situation.

 Guinea Worm Disease (aka Dracunculiasis) occurs in individuals who have become home to the roundworm Dracunculus medinensis.

 It is contracted by drinking stagnant water which contains water fleas (copepods) infected by Guinea Worm larvae.

 The Guinea Worm larvae mate inside the human host. Females may grow up to 1 metre long during the time they spend maturing inside the body, and be ‘as thick as a spaghetti noodle’. After mating, the male dies, and, after a year of incubation, the female emerges through blisters in the skin. This is an incredibly painful process, and often the sufferer will immerse their limbs in drinking water, stimulating the emerging worm to release eggs into the waterway, continuing the cycle.

 Symptoms of Guinea worm disease include fever, chills nausea and a lack of energy, before the formation of the blister which the worm emerges from.

It takes at least ten days for the worm to fully exit the wound, and commonly the worm is wrapped around a stick, and pulled a little every day. There are no vaccinations or treatments for Guinea Worm Disease.

 For a photo essay on the fight against Guinea Worm disease by Time Magazine, click here.

Eradication

 As humans are the only host for the disease, it is hoped that this will be the first disease eradicated without the use of vaccines or medical treatment. If those who contract the disease can be prevented from infecting waterways, then the cycle can be stopped.

 From the other end, filtration of drinking water inhibits the ingestion of the water fleas which are host to the Guinea Worm larvae.

 The Carter Centre, a charity founded in 1982 by former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, has been instrumental in the fight to eradicate Guinea Worm Disease.

Together with the U.S Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), the Carter Centre launched a global eradication campaign in 1988. The campaign aimed to educate villagers, and provided access to safe drinking water.

So far, the Carter Centre has had outstanding success. In 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases across 21 different countries, while in 2011, there were only 1060 cases reported, with 97% of these occurring in South Sudan. For more on the Carter Centre’s work, watch the video below.

 All in all, this makes me feel very lucky to live in a house where fresh, clean, and safe drinking water flows from a tap.

I greatly admire those who have turned Guinea Worm Disease eradication into their personal fight, and hope that you all can take some inspiration from this story.

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Africa… not as dry as you thought

Okavango delta is home to 650 species of of birds, including the whte fronted bee eater. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Okavango Delta is top on my list of must see places.

For those of you who don’t know anything about Okavango, it is the worlds largest inland delta at 15 000 km2, and is located in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana.

The water flowing into the Delta first falls in Angola, and travels through Namibia before reaching the delta, and forming an enormous wetland.

The amazing thing about the delta is the seasonal flood from the Okavango River, which increases the delta to three times its usual area, and leads to a wildlife explosion.

This usually occurs between the months of March and June, and is driven by summer rainfall in the Angola highlands.

Eventually the floodwater is lost to transpiration (by plants), and evaporation, with a small amount percolating through the soil, and flowing into Lake Ngami. None of the water reaches the sea.

The seasonal flood provides food for everyone... Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

Animals of Okavango

The Okavango comes alive with migratory animals when the river floods.

An estimated 200,000 large mammals live seasonally in the delta, made up of 32 different species. These include the African bush elephant, African buffalo, hippopotamus, wildebeest, giraffe, Nile crocodile, lion, cheetah, leopard, hyenas, both black and white rhinoceros, zebras, warthogs, and the endangered African wild dog.

Additionally, the Okavango delta is home to 71 fish species, including the 1.4 m Sharptooth catfish, and 650 species of bird.

Protection

In 1994, Botswana, Angola and Namibia signed the OKACOM Agreement, which commits them to promote environmentally sustainable water resource developments, while addressing their national social and economic needs.

Fortunately, the near pristine environment draws many eco tourists, with tourism being the second largest economic input for Botswana. These tourist dollars rely on the protection of the wetlands.

Okavango delta is a RAMSAR site (a recognized wetland of international significance), and this has been ratified by both Namibia and Botswana.

The Okavango basin covers three countries, Angola, Namibia, and Botswana.

Threats to the Okavango

Unfortunately, the Okavango River is the only “exploitable perennial” river which flows through Namibia and Botswana, and over one million people live in the Okavango Basin. This has led to the extraction of water by the Namibian government to support the growing population, and plans for construction of a hydropower station upstream of the delta

Other threats include the intrusion of fishing further into the Delta region, poaching, and as the National Geographic  tells us, there are even suggestions of extracting oil from the underlying rock formations.

And, on a slightly less serious note…

So, I hope this opened your eyes to one of the lesser discussed, yet totally incomparable places in our world. Who knows, maybe you’l put it on your bucket list too…

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Water as Art

Marbled paper has been used as book covers for hundred of years. This book dates from 1829, and is from a copy of Plutarch's Moralische Schriften (Moralia). Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

Something a little different today.

Motivated by Dr Jenny Rock, lecturing on the link between science and art, and a friend who gave me Masaru Emoto’s best selling book, The Hidden Messages in Water, today I’m going discuss how water can transcend the perceived barrier between science and art. 

Water Crystal Photography

Masaru Emoto is a Doctor of Alternative Medicine, and has sold over 2 million books, including The Hidden Messages in Water, a New York Times Bestseller.  Emoto is best known for his claims that exposing water to loving and positive words and thoughts (such as love, peace, harmony) create attractive water crystals, while those exposed to negative words or thoughts (Hitler, hate, war) would form dirty and muddled crystals.

Emoto is not a scientist, and his ideas are controversial in the Western scientific community, but one thing that cannot be argued is that he is a skilled artist who effectively uses nature as a canvas.

Below you can watch one of Emoto’s clips of ice crystals growing while being exposed to the American National Anthem.

Emoto’s ideas are very popular, and a simple Google Search will give you many examples if you are interested in finding out more.

Paper Marbling

Another type of water art that I discovered was Turkish paper marbling or ebru. This technique has links to Persia, China, Japan, and Mughal India.

Paper marbling is done by filling a shallow tray with water, and dripping ink on it. These colours float on the surface of the water, and can be carefully manipulated into different shapes (it reminded me a little of coffee art when you get a skilled barista).  The art piece is then carefully transferred to a paper or fabric canvas.

I find these methods both hugely skillful and beautiful, and would love to hear more about them from anyone who has used these techniques, or has other examples where water is used as art.

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Fracking Confusion

Should we listen to this guy...

...or this one? (Photo source: Green Party).

In 2008, residents of Pavillion, Wyoming began to complain to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about adverse tastes and smells from their drinking water, drawn from nearby wells.

The EPA went to investigate the water quality and found that the aquifer that they were drawing water from contained “compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing” from nearby gas fields.

The water quality tests found:

  • Methane (from below surface origins)
  • Foaming agent
  • Gasoline
  • Diesel fuel
  • Benzene (a carcinogen), toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene
  • Naphthalene
  • Isopropanol
  • Synthetic chemicals

All these ‘enes and ‘nols can be found in fracking fluid. The EPA found that frack pits (surface holding pits for fracking fluid pumped from underground) were a source of shallow ground water contamination. You can read the draft report here.

As a result of this, residents were warned not to drink their water, and to ventilate their homes while showering or washing clothes to prevent an explosion from the methane.

However, EnCana, the major oil and gas exploration company in the area refutes EPA’s findings.

“We have and continue to work extensively with Wyoming regulators and independent laboratories to determine whether natural gas development is affecting the community’s water quality. To date, all studies found no connection. We care about the impacts of energy development on the environment and we are committed to working to ensure our operations do not impact groundwater,”

On the flipside, fracking is carried out in many places in a way that does not contaminate groundwater. Here in New Zealand, our Minister for the Environment Phil Heatley claims hydraulic fracturing has been used in Taranaki for twenty years, and the Taranaki Regional Council say there have been no instances of groundwater contamination relating to fracking.

Again, Gareth Hughes of the Green Party disagrees:

“A Shell Todd Oil report from 2011 found that discharge of fracking fluids in Taranaki resulted in groundwater contamination that was unsuitable for drinking or stock use, or for irrigation.”

Fracking has been banned in several countries, including France and Belgium, and in many states in the US and in Québec, Canada.

Currently in New Zealand, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is investigating the risks that fracking may have, focusing on water contamination, storage of fracking fluids, whether fracking triggers earthquakes, and air pollution as a result of methane gas emissions.

 This is a highly debated topic, both within New Zealand and around the world. I look forward to the Commissioners report, and hope that (for me) it will shed some light on an issue that is surrounded by controversy and confusion.

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What the Frack?

The fracking process. Picture source: Wikimedia Commons.

Yes, today I am going to talk about the hottest current event. The great fracking debate. This controversial mining technique has been linked to pollution, groundwater contamination, radioactive pollution, and earthquakes.

Only yesterday New Zealand’s Energy and Resources Minister, Phil Heatley declared he had “no concerns” about the use of fracking in New Zealand, despite the process currently being investigated by the Commissioner for the Environment.

Heatley told TV ONE’s Q+A program that expanding oil and gas exploration (using fracking) could pay for schools hospitals, and extended paid parental leave in NZ. Click here for the full interview transcript.

However, not all of our parliamentarians are as keen on fracking as Heatley. The Energy spokesman for the Green Party, Gareth Hughes yesterday said: “Given there are so many concerns, given there are so many unanswered questions, we think the most responsible thing the Government could do is put a moratorium in place until investigations can assure Kiwis it’s safe.”

Furthermore, last week Christchurch City Council, became the latest council in NZ to declare their area a ‘Fracking Free Zone’. The Clean Country Coalition lists other NZ Local Authorities positions/decisions on their webpage.

I’m going to put aside the obvious environmental debate about oil and gas drilling in the seas around New Zealand, and explore the controversial issue of fracking.

So what is it anyhow?

Fracking, aka Hydraulic Fracturing is done to increase the rate of extraction in natural oil and gas reservoirs, by creating conductive fissures through the rock for oil and gas to flow. This is done by pumping fluids (most often water and chemical additives) into deep geological formations, hundreds of meters below ground.

The pressure of the fluids exceeds the strength of the rocks, and creates or enlarges large cracks throughout the formation. A proppant agent, such as sand or ceramic is then pumped onto the cracks to keep them from closing when pressure is released.

How does this affect our water?

Fracking fluid typically contains water, proppants, and chemical additives. If not removed properly, the deep ground pressure forces the fracking fluids to rise to the surface along with any contaminants that it contains. In some cases they may end up in a groundwater aquifer.

Chimicals commonly used in the fracking fluid. Picture source: American Petroleum Institute.

Its not very nice to think of any of these things coming out of our taps.

However, my next blog will present a case study of a community in the USA who did find harmful contaminants in their water due to poor fracking techniques at a nearby oil field.

Until then, here’s a little light relief for you all.

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Law of the Rights of Mother Earth

This law displays the strong link between indigenous Bolivians and elements of 'Mother Earth' including water. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

Searching water on the internet and you get almost five billion hits. Yet I was lucky enough after a few minutes to stumble across this intriguing and fascinating law from Bolivia.

 While not specifically relating to water, the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, or Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra was passed in Bolivia in December 2010. This is a short bill, leading the way for a longer more specific law.

 This law gives ‘Mother Earth’ legal rights, meaning that any infringement on her rights can be addressed in court. 

 Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra defines Mother Earth as “”…the dynamic living system formed by the indivisible community of all life systems and living beings whom are interrelated, interdependent, and complementary, which share a common destiny”

 Furthermore, it defines ‘Life systems’ as “…complex and dynamic communities of plants, animals, micro-organisms and other beings in their environment, in which human communities and the rest of nature interact as a functional unit, under the influence of climatic, physiographic and geologic factors, as well as the productive practices and cultural diversity of Bolivians of both genders, and the cosmovisions of Indigenous nations and peoples, intercultural communities and the Afro-Bolivians.”

 And these are the rights that mother earth and her life systems are legally entitled to:

  •  To life: It is the right to the maintenance of the integrity of life systems and natural processes which sustain them, as well as the capacities and conditions for their renewal
  • To the Diversity of Life: It is the right to the preservation of the differentiation and variety of the beings that comprise Mother Earth, without being genetically altered, nor artificially modified in their structure, in such a manner that threatens their existence, functioning and future potential
  • To water: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of water to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components
  • To clean air: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of air to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components
  • To equilibrium: It is the right to maintenance or restoration of the inter-relation, interdependence, ability to complement and functionality of the components of Mother Earth, in a balanced manner for the continuation of its cycles and the renewal of its vital processes
  • To restoration: To Restoration: It is the right to the effective and opportune restoration of life systems affected by direct or indirect human activities
  • To live free of contamination: It is the right for preservation of Mother Earth and any of its components with regards to toxic and radioactive waste generated by human activities

I thought this was pretty cool, and really look forward to seeing the direction this legislation takes in the future. For more, visit Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra (Translation available in the top RH corner).

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Good on you KFC!

It was the humble mallard duck who came out worst off in this story. Photo source: Alain Carpentier.

Last week, the fact that Restaurant Brands was fined $15,000 for a cooking oil spill into Kaikorai Stream was big news.  Restaurant Brands owns many fast food chains, including KFC, the outlet that was responsible for this spill in Dunedin on the 8th of October last year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Restaurants Brands was convicted under the Resource Management Act, after oil and grease overflowed from the KFC outlet, into a carpark, before going down a gutter into the Kaikorai Stream.

This unfortunate situation was made worse by the inaction of the staff at the store, who were alerted on the Saturday night that the accident had occurred, but no action was taken until the following Monday, when the grease trap was cleared.

It was not until the Otago Regional Council was advised on Tuesday by the SPCA, concerned as the oil was coating the ducks which live in the stream, that further action was taken. Sadly, two of these ducks which had been covered in oil subsequently had to be put down.

From this point on, I feel that KFC, and Restaurant Brands must be commended for their actions.

Once management became aware of the issue, they ordered the outlet cleaned, and hired contractors to clean the stream. They paid the costs of Fish and Game, the Regional Council, and the SPCA. They have reviewed maintenance of waste disposal systems, and informed staff of the issues.

Furthermore, they entered an early guilty plea when taken to the Environment Court, and acknowledged that they “should have dealt with this earlier and better”.

So today, I just want to say: Good on you Restaurant Brands, for behaving decently and accepting responsibility.

It gave me hope after my dark blogs about pollution and extinction, and industrial waste, that here in New Zealand we have solid environmental laws for situations like this, and our corporations are aware of (and act accordingly to) the general public feeling.

I hope that this trend continues, and believe that we should cherish our environmental protection laws and regulations. And, I hope that in the future, as we have in the past, New Zealanders will stand up, and vociferously fight against any attempts to weaken or diminish their strength.

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