Soviet botanist Ivan Machurin’s immortal phrase “We cannot wait for favors from nature. To take them from it — that is our task” could be the all-encompassing slogan by which Russia’s resource-driven economy now lives.
Even though the early 20th-century scientist was primarily referring to creating plant hybrids, his philosophy underpinned many of the Soviet Union’s ambitious experiments with nature — from reversing river flows to the Kamchatka crabs that were transplanted to the Barents Sea in the 1960s in an effort to increase the productivity of the northern sea.
Half a century later, the spiny giants are the region’s most lucrative catch — but this experiment with biodiversity has had a string of economic, environmental and social effects on the fishing communities of the Barents Sea.
No Accidental Tourist
With a life span of up to 30 years and growing up to 2 meters across, the Kamchatka crab — also called the red king crab — is a hardy native of the North Pacific, taking its name from the peninsula where Russians first encountered it.
Between 1961 and 1969, scientists seeking to boost the commercial productivity of Russia’s Arctic Sea released 13,000 of the creatures and 1.6 million larvae into Kolafjord in the east Barents Sea — thousands of miles from their Pacific home.
The results of the experiment were at first disappointing. Although Norwegian fishermen soon began to find Kamchatka crabs in their nets with increasing regularity — the crabs appear to have marched toward Norway against the warm Gulf Stream current soon after being introduced — at first their presence in Soviet waters was negligible.
But the crustaceans were only biding their time.
Fish, sharks, whales and other marine species are in imminent danger of an “unprecedented” and catastrophic extinction event at the hands of humankind, and are disappearing at a far faster rate than anyone had predicted, a study of the world’s oceans has found.
Mass extinction of species will be “inevitable” if current trends continue, researchers said.
Overfishing, pollution, run-off of fertilisers from farming and the acidification of the seas caused by increasing carbon dioxide emissions are combining to put marine creatures in extreme danger, according to the report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (Ipso), prepared at the first international workshop to consider all of the cumulative stresses affecting the oceans at Oxford University.
The international panel of marine experts said there was a “high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. They said the challenges facing the oceans created “the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history”.
“The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of Ipso. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised.
Over the past 100 years, some two-thirds of the large predator fish in the ocean have been caught and consumed by humans, and in the decades ahead the rest are likely to perish, too.
In their place, small fish such as sardines and anchovies are flourishing in the absence of the tuna, grouper and cod that traditionally feed on them, creating an ecological imbalance that experts say will forever change the oceans.
“Think of it like the Serengeti, with lions and the antelopes they feed on,” said Villy Christensen of University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre. “When all the lions are gone, there will be antelopes everywhere. Our oceans are losing their lions and pretty soon will have nothing but antelopes.”
This grim reckoning was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting Friday during a panel that asked the question: “2050: Will there be fish in the ocean?”
The panel predicted that while there would be fish decades from now, they will be primarily the smaller varieties currently used as fish oil, fish meal for farmed fish and only infrequently as fish for humans. People, the experts said, will have to develop a taste for anchovies, capelins and other smaller species.
Hawaii agriculture gets boost from feds
August 6, 2009
Federal lawmakers have designated more than $16 million in federal funding to improve Hawaii’s agriculture. A large part, more than $11 million, will go to research — that includes addressing Hawaii’s farming struggles, our floriculture industry and tropical fish population.
$106,000 will fund the Hawaii Plant Materials Center located on Moloka’i. The center enables the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission to reintroduce native plant species in their efforts to control invasive plants and erosion on the island of Kaho’olawe. They will also receive a portion of $376,000 to stimulate agricultural development and conservation at the local level.