This Week on Earth: February 11-17


A $40 million plan yields less than favorable results

In 1983, fishermen in California noticed a decline in their prized white seabass catches. State lawmakers teamed up with marine biologists at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute in San Diego to attempt raising the seabass in a hatchery, then releasing the fish into the ocean.

The concept of raising fish in hatcheries wasn’t a completely new one, but this would be the first time scientists would try it with white seabass. This program, aimed at boosting dwindling populations of wild fish, ties in with a process known as marine enhancement.

According to NPR, the project, formerly known as the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program, has been around for 35 years now, and has used almost $40 million so far. But results are less than desirable. The first formal evaluation reported that the program had increased white seabass populations by less than 1 percent.

Many of the white seabass raised in hatcheries died within just a few months after being released into the wild. Unlike other species of fish that instinctively return to their original spawning grounds, the white seabass rarely return.

State and federal officials, as well as researchers from California Sea Grant and the science advisory committee, are not so quick to dismiss the program as a failure.

Although the actual numbers of wild populations were only increased slightly, proponents of the program still say that they succeeded in other ways. A science adviser for NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture, Michael Rust said that the results gained from the program, satisfactory or not, are as valuable as the fish in some ways.


Around half of all orangutans vanished from Borneo in 16 years

Nearly 150,000 critically endangered orangutans living on the Southeast Asian island, Borneo, have disappeared in the past 16 years. Deforestation appears to be the main driver of habitat loss on the island.

Orangutans, which live on both the Indonesian and Malaysian sides of Borneo, are an endangered species, with some critically endangered populations. Their primary habitat is the lowland rain forests on the island.

Palm oil plantations cause local rivers to load up with sediment from soil erosion, which can gradually destroy the waterways with nutrient overload and pesticides and eventually, harming local fish populations. The cultivation of palm oil, combined with illegal logging activities and land clearing for other agricultural activities, make up the biggest causes of deforestation in Borneo

BBC reports that in some areas of the island, man-made “forest canopy” bridges have been constructed to allow orangutans to travel across the fragmented habitats. These bridges are only a short term solution, however, with replanting forests as the main goal.


A ban in China’s coal country creates unintended consequences

In recent months, the local government of Qiaoli, China, called for the removal of coal stoves, in an effort to move towards cleaner-burning natural gas furnaces. This official action shows how far the government has gone in imposing environmentalism, especially in smaller provinces who trying to follow in Beijing’s footsteps.

Many of these coal stoves were removed before new furnaces could be installed. This left tens of thousands of people without heat in the winter’s first cold snap. Also, natural gas prices started soaring when so many districts began switching over at the same time.

China has been very adamant about reducing its emissions in recent years. However, public unrest as a result of these strict regulations has caused the government to take an unusual step and ease its restrictions, allowing places with heating failures to keep using coal.

According to the New York Times, in Beijing, authorities has to abandon a policy to end all municipal coal use, and even restart coal power plant in the Southeast.

Not surprisingly, people in China have found ways to work around this coal ban. In Qiaoli, some people are selling coal in somewhat of a makeshift black market, supplying local residents with coal to continue their daily activities.