Saturday, June 1, 2019

Image of the week : Malaspina glacier

Piedmont glaciers occur when steep valley glaciers spill into flat plains, where they spread out into bulb-like lobes.
The massive lobe of Malaspina Glacier in Alaska is clearly visible in this Sentinel2 image.
The glacier covers more than 3,900 km2

 Malespina Glacier with the GeoGarage platform (NOAA nautical chart)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Fishing fleets have doubled since 1950—but they’re having a harder time catching fish

Surprising new study finds that the number of fishing vessels more than doubled to 3.7 million between 1950 and 2015.
These findings reinforce the urgent need for increased transparency of fishing activity to improved management.
The United Nations says 90% of the world's fisheries have collapsed, and the Chinese are the biggest culprits.
By a long way, China has the world's largest deep sea fishing fleet including 2,600 mega trawlers stripping the ocean floor.
They're helping satisfy China's insatiable appetite for seafood.
The Chinese eat more than a third of the world's fish supplies.
Despite tough new laws to help ensure stock, there are serious concerns about how long it can be sustained.
From ScienceMag by Erik Stokstad

The number of boats harvesting seafood has increased significantly since the middle of the previous century, a new global analysis finds, and is much higher than some scientists assumed.
Meanwhile, ships’ motors are getting larger, expanding their range and ability to bring more fish to port.
But as competition increases, fish stocks are being taxed and it is taking more effort to find fish, the researchers warn.
The trend is likely to continue, they say, and highlights the need to improve fisheries management in many places.

“The new study is a big step forward” in understanding the nature of global fishing, says fisheries biologist Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved with the work.

Previous studies of global fishing fleets have typically relied on intergovernmental agencies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which don’t have complete records.
For the new work, Yannick Rousseau—a graduate student in the lab of Reg Watson, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia—gathered additional data from about 100 countries, examining local reports, national registries, and scientific papers.
Rousseau was able to analyze trends for three groups of vessels: both motorized and unmotorized small-scale fishing boats, often called artisanal, and industrial fishing boats, which are typically longer than 12 meters and can go farther offshore.

The number of ships more than doubled to 3.7 million between 1950 and 2015, the team reports this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; in Asia, the number quadrupled.
Another important trend is the spread of motors.
In the 1950s, only about 20% of fishing vessels around the world had motors; by 2015, 68% did, most with power under 50 kilowatts—a small engine, or outboard motor, for example.

Tabulating all these figures, Rousseau and his co-authors found that the combined engine power of small vessels equals that of the industrial fleet.
“It was a very counterintuitive result,” Rousseau says, given the public and political attention attracted by large fishing vessels.

Still, just because a fleet of small boats boasts as much engine power as large trawlers “doesn’t mean it will have the same impacts,” cautions Ratana Chuenpagdee, a policy expert at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St.
John’s, Canada, who studies small-scale fisheries.
The type of fishing gear influences ecological health, she notes, and politics can play a strong role, too.
When a community has control over the resource, a fleet of local boats may have more incentive to conserve the fish stocks than a large ship from overseas.

The huge engines used today in industrial fisheries allow boats to go much faster and farther, spend more time catching fish in distant waters, and store them in freezers.
“The killing power of these vessels goes up,” Watson says.
“It really ups the game.”

But compared with ships in the 1950s, today’s global fleet catches only 20% as much fish for the same amount of effort.
This metric—called catch per unit effort, sometimes measured by days at sea—is a key indicator of fish population size and responsible management, which limits the number of fishing vessels or stops them from overfishing.
These actions have stabilized fish stocks in the past 2 decades in North America, Western Europe, and Australia, where government regulators have tightened the rules and subsidies have made it more attractive to retire ships.
Not so in Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, and Latin America.

The BBC investigates illegal and unsustainable fishing off the west coast of Africa to find out how one of the most fertile ecosystems on earth has been pushed to the brink.

The situation could get worse.
At current rates, the researchers expect a million more fishing vessels to become motorized by 2050, and engine power will increase on others.
Fleets of larger vessels will continue to move into territorial waters of other countries and also into the high seas.
These trends will make it harder to sustainably exploit fish stocks, Watson says.
“We haven’t reached the peak of intensive fishing.”

Many developing nations will need help to improve their fisheries management, Watson says, as well as better information on fish stocks.
The new data on vessels could help.
In places where biologists have not assessed the size of fish populations, they could use information about the fleets to estimate the pressure on local stocks.

Fisheries scientists and marine ecologists will also be interested in the new data to better understand the global picture, Hilborn says.
“It will be the basis of a lot of further work.”

Links :

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Epic view of Moon transiting the Earth

This shot is beautiful and should be taught in any film studies class.
This animation features actual satellite images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) and telescope, and the Earth - one million miles away.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

'Legendary' map of Pacific by James Cook's Tahitian navigator Tupaia finally unlocked

Tupaia's first draft map of the Pacific.
Copy of a Chart made by … Tupaïa’ by Georg Forster, 1776, Stadtarchiv Braunschweig 
Tupaia used the centre of his map as north, or noon, and the readings from north changed depending on which island you were on.

From Stuff by Anana- Zaki

The secret of a "legendary" map has finally been unlocked.

After six years of research, two German professors believe Tahitian navigator Tupaia's map of the Pacific, once thought to be "unreadable," was "fully understandable".
And in another "breakthrough", the Potsdam University researchers, Lars Eckstein​ and Anja Schwarz,​ believe the map, co-produced by Captain James Cook, was completed when Cook's ship the Endeavour was anchored at Queen Charlotte Sound.
Schwarz said she "firmly believed" their views about the 248-year-old map, and they had evidence to back up their theories.

Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755.
He saw action.

Tupaia took part in Cook's first voyage as a navigator and translator, and was "highly regarded" by the Endeavour captain, and drew the map between 1769 and 1770, she said.
"This map was co-produced by many people including Cook, and although not very well known, has been written about in the past. It's usually been written about in two primary ways.
"One way was, Tupaia showing his knowledge of the Pacific. Another way it has been read is, Tupaia knew of these places but he didn't know where they were, and half of the places didn't exist and the names were all wrong," Schwarz said.
But for Schwarz and Eckstein, the map made "a lot of sense".

 Tupaia’s Map, 1770, British Library, London

A reworked version of Tupaia's map, which numbers the islands in the order Cook and his crew visited them on their first voyage.

"It was meant to be read and we just had to figure out how to do it," Schwarz said.
To begin understanding the map, the researchers had to put their minds in the "Polynesian way of navigating".
According to Eckstein, when compared to Europeans, the Polynesians took a very different approach to travelling and mapping where they were in the world.

A replica of the Endeavour in Poverty Bay on the east coast of the North Island.

"Europeans abstract space, they objectivise it, externalise it and fix it. They then measure it with the invisible lines of latitude and longitude, measure where you are and then travel," he said.
Polynesians imagined a world where "people didn't move", but the "world moved around them", Eckstein said.
"If you know your bearings, the sea will throw out the island from the horizon and bring it to you. You see how completely opposite those kinds of world views are?

This is Tahitian high priest and navigator Tupaia’s only known drawing of New Zealand. A remastered drawing by Tupaia depicting an unknown Māori and naturalist Joseph Banks exchanging a crayfish and what is believed to be a tapa (bark) cloth. 

"The idea with Polynesian navigators is that the world is not fixed, the world constantly moves," he said.

The beginning of Tupaia's map being drawn up was when the Endeavour left the Pacific Islands in search of Australia in 1769, after extensively touring the region with the help of the Tahitian.
"So they left that world, and that was the moment Cook said to Tupaia, 'you've told us about all those islands, why don't you draw a chart for us?'.
"This is how the story unfolds," Eckstein said.

An "important find" in the research was German explorer Georg Forster's copy of Tupaia's first draft map of the Pacific.
Forster took part in Cook's second voyage to the Pacific.

A list of Pacific Islands supplied by Tupaia in the order they were sighted by the Endeavour.
Robert Molyneux’s Master’s Log, National Archives Kew, London 

He said Forster's copy "helped understand" how Tupaia's map began.
"What would have happened is, sitting around the drawing table in Cook's cabin aboard the Endeavour, the Europeans take out an empty sheet of paper, they drew the cardinal points and they would have indicated north, east, south, west.
"They begun by drawing all the islands that they had themselves seen on the first voyage in 1769," Eckstein said.

After the Endeavour officers added their own islands onto the map, they handed it over to Tupaia to complete, due to the Tahitian's extensive knowledge of the Pacific, he said.

 Voyaging paths on Tupaia’s Map; visualized on the British Library copy

 Voyaging paths on Tupaia’s Map, as shown on a Mercator Map of Oceania.

Mercator Map of Oceania with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO map)

Extract from David Rumsey maps collection
overlaid on Google Maps with the GeoGarage platform

But instead of following the European approach to navigation, Tupaia used the Polynesian method, Eckstein said.

The researchers first used a list of islands written down by Tupaia, which he listed in the order the Endeavour sighted them.
They then numbered the islands in that order, and translated the numbers onto Tupaia's map, and that was the "magic moment", Eckstein said.
"What seems to be chaotic, suddenly resolves into some form of order.
"So you can see the six, seven, eight, nine, something [is] happening there. There are sequences all over the map."

Why were the researchers so sure of this?
It was due to another "major discovery".

 Rima-roa, five captions and three ships


The discovery was around the word Avatea​, which appeared on the centre of the map.
"Avatea in Tahitian, according to the European vocabulary lists, means noon. Noon is marked by the pinnacle position of the sun in the daily course of the sun's movements.
"For some reason, Tupaia chose to place that word at the very centre of the map," Eckstein said.

The researchers believed that reason was due to a daily "ritual" on board the Endeavour, which happened at noon.
"Everyday at noon, all the officers had to report on deck, all the precious instruments like sextants would be brought on deck and checked.
"So Tupaia would have seen this everyday on board," Eckstein said.
That was how Avatea came about, he said.

Come with us on Cook's world-changing expeditions.
Trace their routes and find out the ambitious aims behind them.
Continue your journey into their impact and legacy on the British Library website.

Using the Polynesian approach to navigation, the researchers came up with the theory that every island on the map was in fact the centre, in Tupaia's view.
"From the centre, you can get your bearings by looking at noon.
"The European north was the noon [Avatea] on the map, and you could calculate the bearings by using the island and pointing to the map's centre," Eckstein said.
By using this technique, the map's bearings could be figured out, he said.
"If you want to go from Rarotonga and want to go to Tonga, you go west," Eckstein said.

But "unfortunately" for New Zealand, it was not included in the map.
However, the researchers believed the map was finished in the country, when Cook anchored at Ship Cove.
"We firmly believe this map was finished here in New Zealand and there are several indicators of that," Schwarz said.

Created by Dutch explorers, this incredible map shows European knowledge of the Pacific
prior to Cook’s voyages in the 18th century.

In one of the copies of Cook's manuscripts, the admiralty copy, he listed islands sighted by Tupaia and the Endeavour, and he included a version of the map, which included New Zealand, Schwarz said.

1784 map of the Pacific Ocean showing the routes of explorers

on 8th Oct. 1769 Captain James Cook landed in New Zealand
National Archive 

Chart of New Zealnd, explored in 1769 and 1770 by Lieutenant J. Cook, engraved by I. Bayly

The researchers believed the manuscript with the map that included New Zealand was finished while the Endeavour was anchored in the Queen Charlotte Sound, because that was the only way Cook "would have had the time" to do so, Schwarz said.

But Eckstein and Schwarz said they were still researching the theory surrounding the last known location of where the map was finished, but they were "confident" in their theory.
The researchers toured New Zealand in February this year to present their findings and theories.

Who is Tupia ?
  • He was a Tahitian navigator who sailed aboard the Endeavour in Captain Cook's first voyage.
  • He also acted as a translator in Cook's encounters with Māori.
  • It was thought he was born around 1724-25 and died in 1770 from an illness, he was buried in an unknown grave on the island of Damar-Besar, Indonesia.
  • There are no known drawings or paintings of him.
  • He was not only known for his navigation skills, but was known for his knowledge on genealogy and spirituality.
Links :

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

L'Hermione ship leaving Nantes

localization of L'Hermione with the Weather4D R&N iOS mobile app,
through a AIS data flow provided by the GeoGarage AIS antenna

SpaceX's bright Starlink satellites won't ruin the night sky

SpaceX’s goal is to launch a total of 720 satellites by the end of the 2020,
and eventually increase the number to more than 4,000.

From Space by

Musk says Starlink won't mess up astronomy.

The brilliant "train" in the night sky that is SpaceX's first 60 Starlink satellites has wowed some skywatchers, but it also sparked concern among some astronomers wondering what so many visible satellites could mean for scientific observing.

A swarm of Starlink satellites in the sky over Russia.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, it seems, is listening.

Musk wrote on Twitter today (May 27) that he's already instructed teams to look into making future Starlink internet communications satellites less shiny to lower their "albedo," or reflectivity. He pointed that out in response to a direct call from a com menter on Twitter.

"Agreed, sent a note to Starlink team last week specifically regarding albedo reduction," Musk wrote. "We'll get a better sense of value of this when satellites have raised orbits & arrays are tracking to sun."

(Image: © SpaceX)
A view of SpaceX's first 60 Starlink satellites in orbit, still in stacked configuration,
with the Earth as a brilliant blue backdrop on May 23, 2019.
SpaceX launched the Starlink satellites Thursday (May 23) into an initial orbit 273 miles (440 kilometers) above Earth. Each satellite is equipped with Krypton ion thrusters to raise its orbit to a final 342 miles (550 km).

"I know people are excited about those images of the train of SpaceX Starlink satellites, but it gives me pause," planetary astronomer Alex Parker wrote on Twitter Saturday (May 25) as the first videos of the Starlink "train" were popping up.
"They're bright, and there are going to be a lot of them."
The Starlink satellites are the vanguard of a planned 12,000-satellite megaconstellation designed to offer affordable internet service to people around the world who otherwise would not have such access.

 Space debris
(image : Southampton University)

Parker added that 12,000 bright satellites could potentially outnumber the stars visible to the unaided eye in the night sky.
But he was holding off on any final judgement until the Starlink satellites reached their final orbit, as they may be less visible at that time.

In a series of Twitter posts today, Musk assured astronomers and the public that the Starlink constellation shouldn't pose an issue for astronomy.

"Exactly, potentially helping billions of economically disadvantaged people is the greater good," Musk wrote in response to a comment on the service Starlink's constellation would provide. "That said, we'll make sure Starlink has no material effect on discoveries in astronomy. We care a great deal about science."

SpaceX’s Starlink is a next-generation satellite network capable of connecting the globe, especially reaching those who are not yet connected, with reliable and affordable broadband internet services.

And the satellites can be moved to reduce reflectivity, he added.
"If we need to tweak sat orientation to minimize solar reflection during critical astronomical experiments, that's easily done," Musk wrote.

Starlink shouldn't affect radio astronomy research either, Musk added.
"We avoid use of certain lower Ku frequencies specifically for radio astronomy," he wrote.
And then there's all those other satellites up in space, he added.
"There are already 4,900 satellites in orbit, which people notice ~0% of the time,"Musk wrote. "Starlink won't be seen by anyone unless looking very carefully & will have ~0% impact on advancements in astronomy."

Fraser Crain of Universe Today suggested to Musk that SpaceX consider using the Starlink satellite chassis for small space telescopes as an olive branch to the astronomy community.
"Would love to do exactly that," Musk replied.

Live view of 800 satellites in activity

SpaceX is not the only company developing megaconstellations of internet satellites.
OneWeb launched the first six satellites of a planned 648-satellite constellation earlier this year. Telesat is aiming to build a 292-satellite network, while Amazon has unveiled plans for its own 3,236-satellite constellation.

Meanwhile, Starlink's first 60 satellites should remain visible over the next few days as they raise their orbits. Here's a guide on how to see Starlink in the night sky from our columnist Joe Rao.

"The Starlink satellites just passed directly overhead. They were glinting, some as bright as Polaris," Parker wrote Sunday night.
"Quite an eerie looking thing. And yes, the stars are out."

Links :

Monday, May 27, 2019

British Isles & misc. (UKHO) update in the GeoGarage platform

34 nautical charts updated

‘This is a wake-up call’: the villagers who could be Britain’s first climate refugees

Fairbourne in north Wales: ‘To watch it go under water would be heartbreaking’

From The Guardian by Tom Wall

As sea levels rise, Fairbourne, sandwiched between mountains and the beach, is being returned to the waves.
But where will its residents go?

It is an almost perfect spring day.
The sky is milky blue and there is barely a ripple on the mirror-flat expanse of Barmouth Bay.
The sunshine is warm and the mountains are beginning to turn from slate-grey to luscious green.
Bev Wilkins, a former businesswoman, launches a ball down the beach for her beloved German shepherd rescue dog, Lottie.
In a blur of legs and black fur, the dog dashes into the frothy surf.
“It is a lovely spot when the sun comes out,” she says, welcoming her dripping pet back with an affectionate rub.
“Horrible when it rains.”

Fairbourne (Wales) with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO map)

This is how Wilkins, 67, expected to spend her retirement when she sold her family home in Warwick and moved to Fairbourne, in north Wales, in 2002.
For many years it was blissful: she spent her summers swimming in the sea and drying off in the back garden.
Winters were harder, although she always had the views of Snowdonia’s rugged slopes to lift her spirits.
But if Wilkins lasts nearly as long as her mother, who is 98 and also lives in the village, she could be among the first residents to be moved out: Gwynedd council has decided it can no longer defend her home from rising sea levels driven by increasing global temperatures.
“This is a wake-up call for the country,” she says, making her way up the steep shingle bank to the wall that protects her white bungalow from the waves.
“This is going to happen elsewhere. Sometimes you have to see someone else go through it – we just happen to be the first.”

In 26 years – or sooner, if forecasts worsen or a storm breaches the sea defences – a taskforce led by Gwynedd council will begin to move the 850 residents of Fairbourne out of their homes.
The whole village – houses, shops, roads, sewers, gas pipes and electricity pylons – will then be dismantled, turning the site back into a tidal salt marsh.

It will become the first community in the UK to be decommissioned as a result of climate change; while other villages along England’s crumbling east coast have lost houses to accelerating erosion, none have been abandoned.
It may also create hundreds of British climate refugees: the residents of Fairbourne are not expected to receive any compensation for the loss of their homes, and resettlement plans are unclear.

 House behind the sea wall: a breach could sweep them away and drown villagers

It will not be the last village to meet this fate.
Sea levels around the UK have risen by 15.4cm since 1900, and the Met Office expects them to rise by as much as 1.12m from modern levels by 2100, putting at risk communities in coastal floodplains and on sea cliffs, which are found around much of the east and south coast of England.
The west of Wales and north-west England are also vulnerable.
Even if the world’s governments succeed in reversing increasing emissions in line with their Paris climate commitments, sea levels are set to rise for centuries, as the impact of higher global temperature and warmer oceans takes effect.

Fairbourne rises, somewhat improbably, from reedy mudflats that slide into the Irish Sea.
A straggle of white bungalows, holiday cottages and Victorian apartments, the village spreads out between the brackish waters of the Mawddach estuary mouth and the pale uplands of the Snowdonia national park.
On a bright day, with birdsong carrying on the warm breeze, it is easy to understand why the Victorian flour merchant Arthur McDougall chose this spot to build his ideal seaside resort in the late 1890s.

Since then, it has developed sporadically into a thriving and joyously eccentric English-speaking village of about 410 homes, with a shop, deli, chippy, butchers, campsite and a popular model railway.
Many retired couples moved here from industrial towns and cities in the Midlands, inspired by vivid memories of childhood holidays in north Wales.
Others were attracted by the spectacular landscape and the uncrowded beaches – along with relatively affordable house prices.

 Around 850 people live in Fairbourne, but no money will be spent on defending it after 2054
(Image: Keith Morris)

Gwynedd council decided it could not afford to defend the village indefinitely in 2013.
But the first time most local people heard about the new shoreline management plan was the following year, when BBC Wales’s investigative television series, Week In Week Out, highlighted parts of it in the wake of ferocious storms.
The village, which is barely above sea level, is protected by a sea wall, earth banks and a network of drainage channels.
These defences were recently improved as part of a £6.8m scheme to extend the life of the village; but from the middle of the century, increasingly regular flooding could render Fairbourne unhabitable.
A breach of the wall during a storm surge could sweep away houses and drown villagers.

As word of the council’s decision spread, house sales fell through and prices collapsed.
Some residents simply stopped maintaining their homes and gardens.
Others formed a campaign group, claiming that the reporting of the plan was misleading, and that the village had been unfairly singled out by Gwynedd.
They argued that flooding was much worse in Aberystwyth, Barmouth and Borth in 2014.

The campaign petered out when key members moved away, but much of the bitterness remains.
Wilkins, one of the original campaigners, feels the village has been badly treated.
“There are hundreds of residents in Fairbourne,” she says, as we talk in her living room.
“We’ve got the little railway. We’ve got the shops. We’ve got a post office. We are a thriving community, and that’s all going to be wiped out.I don’t like to think about it.”

Fairbourne is a village on the coast of Barmouth Bay in Arthog community, to the south of the estuary of the River Mawddach in Gwynedd, surrounded by the Snowdonia National Park.
Before the seaside resort was built the coastal area was known as Morfa Henddol, while the outcrop now occupied by the Fairbourne Hotel was called Ynysfaig.
Fairbourne was founded as a seaside resort by Arthur McDougall (of flour making fame.)
It is in an area listed by Gwynedd council for managed retreat due to rising sea levels.

Houses have started to sell again, but only to cash buyers looking for bargains; some calculate they can make a profit from rental income in the time Fairbourne has left.
However, many of the villagers cannot drop their asking prices £40,000 or £50,000 below the already depressed market rate for the area, because they could not afford to buy anywhere else.

Halfway along a quiet, sun-dappled cul-de-sac, Cathy Bowen, 83, and George Bowen, 76, are struggling to sell their two-bedroom bungalow for £125,000.
The couple moved to the village from Staffordshire 18 years ago after falling in love with the area on family caravan holidays.
But they want to sell because George, a cancer survivor who has type 2 diabetes, needs to be near a hospital.
“We want to move because George is not very well and I’m 83,” says Cathy, perched on a stool in their cosy lounge.
“I won’t be able to look after him for long.” There has been no interest so far.
“It’s been on for three months and not a soul has been here to see it,” she says, glumly.

For Mike Thrussell, 64, a well-known angling journalist, this is the untold story of Fairbourne.
Thrussell lives in one of the older, McDougall-era properties just below the sea wall, and claims the council has abandoned the villagers without any solutions.
“There are a lot of people in my position. I’ve been here 38 years. My house is paid for. I’m two and half years away from retirement,” he says.
“And then this comes along.”

Thrussell, who used to co-present BBC Five Live’s Fish on Five, says houses in Fairbourne have lost a good 40% of their value – and are bound to drop further as the decommissioning date approaches.
“People who want to sell are taking very cheap cash deals. I can’t do that. Where am I going to go? I wouldn’t get enough money to get another house,” he says, slamming his kitchen table in frustration.
Many villagers, he explains, had been planning to use their homes to pay for their care.
“How the authorities can sit there and push this forward with no solutions beggars belief,” he says.

Elsewhere in the village there is a mixture of sadness, denial and confusion about the long-term threat.
Standing at the bow of his boat, Barmouth’s former harbourmaster, Julian Kirkham, is adamant that he will not leave his home and says even scientists can’t agree on sea-level rises.
“It is just panic,” he says.
“There has been so much waffle that nobody knows what will happen.”

Younger residents will almost certainly experience the decommissioning of the village – although many question the likelihood of flooding.
Julia Walker, 32, who is buying groceries in the local shop, tells me she cannot move out.
“Our house is nice, but the thought that you might be in negative equity isn’t great when you have a young family starting out.”
She has three children, and is pregnant with a fourth.
The villagers feel powerless, she says.
“We don’t have options. We are just pawns.”

Shane Healy, 27, is leaning on a post outside the shop.
His mother moved to the village from Sutton Coldfield in the Midlands shortly before he was born.
“It will be a shame to lose everything. It has been built up from scratch and to watch it go under water would be heartbreaking for a lot of people,” he says.

Benjamin Winfer, 18, is walking his two dogs along the beach.
He works in a nearby chocolate factory.
He would like to buy, but banks refuse to lend in Fairbourne.
“I love it here,” he says, over the crackle of the tide dragging the shingle back and forth.
“I want to live here for the rest of my life, but I can’t get a mortgage.”

Despite the uncertain future, some people are moving into Fairbourne.
One of the new arrivals is Angie Brown, a retired tax officer.
She parks outside the shop and dashes in to pick up some beer for an impromptu barbecue.
“This is la-la land – flooding is not going to happen,” she says.
“Yes, the prices will continue to drop, but we will get the pleasure of living here in the meantime.”

Next day, the weather turns.
The sea is wild and frothy.
A bitter wind blasts the village and hailstones the size of boiled sweets pound the beach.
The engineer responsible for maintaining Fairbourne’s flood defences, Gareth Evens, is sensibly waiting in his Natural Resources Wales van.
He knows better than anyone the multiple risks the village faces.
“At high tide you can see how vulnerable Fairbourne is,” he says.
“There are not many places where the houses are almost lower than the level of sea. If the sea defence fails then people are at risk straightaway. It would be catastrophic.”

Evens says that, while other areas along the coast might appear to have a worse history of flooding, rising sea levels make it hard to defend Fairbourne in the long run.
“It is a low-lying area.
It is kept dry by sea defences, tidal defences and a network of ditches,” he says.
The tide is predicted to reach ever higher up the beach as the century progresses.
This makes it more likely that waves could come over the top or break the concrete sea wall, which sits on a single bank that is steadily being swept away.
“If the defence is breached, there would be an immediate torrent of water.
We are talking about loss of life, because the houses are built just behind,” Evens says.

The people of Fairbourne on the coast of West Wales have just found out they are one of fifty coastal communities earmarked what is known as managed retreat - basically the acceptance that the cost of maintaining sea defences cant be justified.
It makes economic sense - but is that good enough?

The threat doesn’t just come from the sea.
Rainwater pours off the mountains and water surges up and down the estuary.
Higher tides mean the water cannot always drain away through tidal flaps and backs up in the village.
“You have almost got a basin in Fairbourne.
All the runoff water naturally wants to come here,” he says.
Would Evens buy a house here? “Knowing what I know, I probably would not,” he says.

As hail drums on roofs and wind rakes the beach, the council officer tasked with the decommissioning, Lisa Goodier, arrives in her car.
She has grown to know the area well since she was appointed to work with the community in 2014, and is greeted warmly by a few brave dog walkers.
“It is sad to think this will all be gone,” she remarks after taking cover in a seafront cafe.
“But I hope it will be a big moment in this country for taking climate change seriously.”

Goodier has been drawing up a masterplan covering the timetable for decommissioning the village.
“Based on the current rates of sea-level rise, we are planning to start in 2045,” she says.
This will involve removing all trace of human existence.
“It means we would eventually return this land to the sea,” Goodier says.
“We would have to move everybody out, and then every ounce of infrastructure to return it to a salt marsh over time.”

However, the plan is on “a piece of elastic”: the process may have to be brought forward immediately if the sea wall is breached and inundated.
“If we have an early breach in the next two years then we need to be able to condense that very quickly,” she says, cradling a cup of takeaway tea.

Goodier says the villagers are “unlikely” to get any compensation but will receive help to resettle.
“The idea is to work with the community to gradually move them out and provide solutions that we can all live with.
They will not be great solutions, given where we are financially,” she says.
Gwynedd council has been cutting spending for more than a decade and is facing a shortfall of £13m in 2019/20.

Goodier is aware that the stakes are high for residents who may end up with no assets.
“What we don’t want to do is create a bunch of climate refugees, because Fairbourne is at risk of that,” she warns.
There are no plans to rebuild the village elsewhere, not least because there is no land available in the Snowdonia national park.
Instead, residents are likely to be placed in existing towns and villages in north Wales.
Goodier admits that this will be challenging: “Are those places capable of absorbing that number of people?”
Added to this is the risk that Welsh-speaking communities may not accept them.
“Do people want to go there, and do people want to receive people from Fairbourne? Fairbourne is unusual because it is an English-speaking community in the most Welsh county in the whole of Wales,” Goodier says.

This is uncharted territory for local authorities.
There has never been a similar decommissioning project in the UK, and there is no fund to manage the impact of climate change, Goodier says.
She has searched in vain for international precedents, but found only a flood-prone Alaskan village that was voluntarily relocated in 2016.

The Welsh minister responsible for flooding, Lesley Griffiths, is sympathetic to the villagers’ plight but says the government is under no legal obligation to provide compensation.
“I know that sounds hard, but we don’t want to raise expectations that financial support could be available,” she says.
Griffiths admits that rising sea levels could mean that other Welsh communities are given up to the sea.
“There may come a time when it is not sustainable or safe to try to continue to defend low-lying areas, if our seas rise as predicted,” she says.

Talk of decommissioning angers the Arthog community council, the equivalent of an English parish council.
Stuart Eves, the council’s vice-chair, lives in a rambling stone farmhouse on the outskirts of Fairbourne.
He arrived from Buckinghamshire 40 years ago and runs the 30-pitch caravan park, which fills up every weekend throughout the summer.
“Goodier is wrong to say she is going to decommission the village.
You decommission a factory or something like that.
We are not a factory – the village is full of humans who have spent their life’s money to come and live here because it is such a beautiful place,” he says in his living room, which is infused with the rich tang of wood smoke.

The community council is opposed to Gwynedd’s plans for Fairbourne.
“We are going to object strongly to this masterplan. There are no hard facts,” he says, leaning forward in his chair.
“Nobody can really say if the sea level is going to increase or decrease.”

Other communities are likely to face similar battles in the coming decades.
While cities and areas with important industries are likely to be defended, smaller coastal communities are most at risk.
Norfolk villages such as Happisburgh, which has lost 35 homes to the sea, and Hemsby, which has lost 18 homes, are on the frontline of accelerating coastal erosion.
But these are not facing decommissioning because only the outskirts are threatened at present; in a few cases, demolished homes have been relocated further inland.
There’s no such option in Fairbourne, caught between the sea and the mountains.

A report for the government Committee on Climate Change (CCC) last year found nearly 530,000 properties at risk along the English coast.
By the 2080s, up to 1.5m homes will be at risk of flooding, with more than 100,000 homes at risk from coastal erosion.
In Wales, 104,000 properties are at risk of coastal flooding.
The lead author of the CCC report, Jim Hall, says existing plans to protect the coast are unfunded and unrealistic, and that the public are being kept in the dark about the real risks.
“The situation on the coast is a timebomb,” he says down the line from Oxford University, where he is professor of climate and environmental risk.
“About half the coast of England is protected with sea walls, promenades and other coastal defences.
But many of these are reaching the end of their lives.
It is just not going to be affordable to continue to protect large stretches of coastline.”

Hall argues that the chancellor will have to foot the bill to defend densely populated areas with important industries; he says the CCC’s analysis shows councils are claiming wrongly that they can afford to protect at least 185km of England’s coastline.
“Some coastal communities are being told by councils that they can hold the line for part or all of the century,” he says.
“But funding for these locations is unlikely.”

Hall would like local authorities to lead difficult conversations in these threatened communities, which could include the relocation of existing homes and limiting the approval of new properties.
“We need to start making hard choices now,” he says.
“This needs to be an inclusive process with some accompanying funding because communities need to be supported if they are going to adapt.” Instead of making impossible promises to build bigger defences, authorities should allow a new coastline to form, to protect communities further inland.
“Coastlines are naturally resilient.
They roll backwards.
Beaches, wetlands, mudflats provide a natural buffer against storms and waves,” Hall says.

The Environment Agency’s new flood and coastal erosion strategy for England, published earlier this month, admits its engineers cannot win a war against water and accepts some coastal communities will have to be moved.
But it doesn’t propose any funding streams.

While rising sea levels will be far more devastating for the millions living in low-lying regions in the developing world, British coastal communities still need help to adapt.
“Poor, densely populated, coastal mega-cities like Lagos [in Nigeria] are less able to invest in defences and cope with flooding,” Hall says.
“But climate change will create many victims in the UK, too – and we do not have those excuses.”

The residents of Fairbourne never expected to be test cases for the capacity of climate change to tear a community apart, but in 26 years’ time they will witness the end of a village that has existed for more than a century.
Mike Thrussell, the angling writer, takes a walk along the top of the darkening sea wall.
The wind is searing, turning his skin red.
He scans the line of homes below and searches for the right way to encapsulate the mood of the village.
“It gives you an inner feeling of doom.
It is despondency.
Everything you do is futile,” he eventually says.
“I cannot pass my home on to my son – it is lost.
What have I worked for?”

But Thrussell knows their pain will soon be felt by others on Britain’s rapidly changing coastline.
“It is not just a Fairbourne problem.
You’ve got all these other communities in Wales and England – where the hell are they going to go?”

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Sunday, May 26, 2019

How sea cucumbers can help the ocean

Sea cucumbers are a prized aphrodisiac in China.
But like many coastal species they have been chronically overfished.
One remote community in Madagascar has started a pioneering coastal-farming project with astonishing results.
 The ocean is facing environmental catastrophe.
Overfishing is a ticking time bomb for both planet and people.
In one remote coastal village the locals appear to have found an unlikely solution.
A strange little sea creature that’s a popular aphrodisiac and just possibly a fisherman’s salvation.
In the first business of its kind in Madagascar, Dadiny has recently started farming these animals.
Sea cucumbers.
Sea cucumbers are under threat.
Growing them in designated and contained areas is helping to protect both this important species and other kinds of marine life here in the south-west of Madagascar.
Because of the part sea cucumbers play in cleaning up the seabed it’s believed that they help maintain stocks of other marine life.
In this region, not just sea cucumbers, but all kinds of marine life have suffered from chronic overfishing.
When marine conservationist Alasdair Harris first visited Madagascar in 2001 he was shocked to discover the extent of this devastation.
To reduce this overfishing the NGO that Alasdair runs helped train 700 local fishermen and women in small-scale sustainable sea-cucumber farming.
It’s meant many locals are no longer using the techniques that contributed to overfishing in this region. Alasdair’s research suggests fish stocks have doubled here since 2006.
But it is not marine conservation that has fundamentally persuaded the local population to buy in to aquaculture - It’s hard economics.
There’s a strong demand for sea cucumbers in Asia where they’re prized as an aphrodisiac.
Farmers here can now make up to $50 a month, about twice that of a regular fisherman.
While this is still substantially below the average global wage, it’s brought dramatic improvements in the local quality of life.
NGOs, including Alasdair’s, are now working on similar farming ventures in other coastal villages around Madagascar.
Localised efforts can only go so far in countering the vast damage to ecosystems across the ocean.
But in the face of an increasingly urgent crisis that could still be a very long way.

While ordinary vegetable cucumbers cost $3 per kilo, sea cucumbers can cost over $3,000 per kilo.
These animals are prized as a delicacy in Asia, and are used by pharmaceutical companies to treat diseases like cancer.
Unfortunately, over-harvesting now threatens many sea cucumber populations

The eating behavior of some sea cucumber is definitely stunning