Alistair’s “Random Rambles” (33)

kathy-newBy Kathy Martin…

Written September 2014

Planet Mars

Planet Mars

In the international news, India has successfully completed its space mission to the planet Mars at a cost of £45 million. After travelling for almost one (earth) year, the spacecraft will begin analysing the atmosphere and geology of “The Red Planet”.

All my British Ex-pat friends here are up in arms about Britain sending aid to a country that can afford to join the space race.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, using pure logic, to put over the message that £45 million is only a cupful out of the bucket load (£280 million) that the British taxpayer very kindly sends to India.

£235 million would still (theoretically) be available for the poor and needy. Indeed, if £45 million was to be distributed evenly among the poor of India, It is unlikely that anyone would get as much as a pound in their pocket to buy food!

What does provoke my curiosity is that, almost simultaneously, a spacecraft launched by NASA has also arrived in the proximity of Mars! Guess what? It, too, will be analysing the atmosphere and the geology of the planet, and, like the Indian probe, is not designed to land!

Firstly, when there are literally millions of dollars, pounds, rupees being invested by taxpayers throughout the world (NASA is an American Federal Agency, therefore, funded by government money that is provided by the American taxpayer!) why do two (apparently non-competing) countries initiate identical missions at the same time?

Colditz used as a Prisoner of War camp in WWII

Colditz used as a Prisoner of War camp in WWII

In Prisoner of War camps during the Second World War “Escape Committees” ensured that individual prisoners escape plans didn’t interfere with others that were in progress at the same time. Is there a need for a “Space Race Committee”?

My curiosity was also aroused by the price tag difference. Both missions appear to be designed to achieve the same objectives, but India’s cost (a mere!) £45 million pounds, while the American NASA mission cost £410 million, nearly 10 times as much! Rise up, American taxpayers, demand that NASA moves its base of operations half-way round the world!

Written October 2014

This part of this week’s ramble is dedicated to “the plastic age”.

American Express and Diners cards

American Express and Diners cards

The plastics in this case are not the thin rectangular debit and/or credit cards issued by banks, financial institutions or stores that cause instant gratification, leading to (in some cases) ultimate misery.

No, the plastics in question are the plastic shopping bags, water bottles and many other “everyday” objects and items that have made their way into our seas and oceans.

It has been reported that there are, at least, FIVE immense “floating islands” of plastic detritus in the oceans. The constituent parts of the islands don’t float away, because they have been captured and then trapped in “gyres”. A gyre is a (usually) slowly rotating sea current, which, if it became more aggressive, or simply took pep pills, would become a maelstrom!

The area of the largest of these “islands” has been found to be the same size as the country of Wales – 20,779 square kilometres or 8,023 square miles. Wales is the “pregnant tummy” (although I believe that pregnant tummies are now “baby bumps” in the popular press!) of mainland Britain, just above the foot, visually provided by Devon and Cornwall. Well, if you stand on my planet, tip your head sideways and screw your eyes up, that is what it looks like!

Cyprus twice

Cyprus twice

Perhaps a more visual comparison for people living in this part of the world would be an area slightly larger than twice the size of the island of Cyprus, which is 9,251 square kilometres or 3,572 square miles.

These “islands”, or rather their constituent parts, because plastic isn’t bio-degradable, are wreaking havoc on both the marine and birdlife that use the oceans as feeding grounds.

Marine turtle

Marine turtle

Plastic bags, especially the clear, semi- transparent ones, are, in appearance, not dissimilar to jellyfish, a favourite snack of marine turtles. Should the turtle be successful in swallowing the plastic bag, its digestive juices will be unable to break the plastic down and the bag will, therefore, remain in the turtle’s stomach, occupying space that should be available for “real” food! Eventually the turtle, despite having a full stomach, starves to death!

Albatross

Albatross

Similarly the albatross population is being affected. Because the plastic islands are usually about a thousand miles away from land, albatrosses are the only seabird that possesses the stamina and endurance to stumble (if the word “stumble” can be used in the same sentence as the very graceful albatross) across them.

From the air the colours and shapes of the individual bits of floating plastic must appear to be a food store stocked with fish, squid, and other tasty morsels. Should an albatross feed itself on plastic, or carry a treat back to feed it’s nestling, the plastic will not pass through the bird by natural process, and, like the turtle mentioned above, will starve to death with a full stomach!

There is an environmental danger that will likely spread to land based animals, including humans, from another source. Plastic does not degenerate into its component parts, but does, over time, disintegrate into smaller and smaller particles.

Eventually extremely microscopic particles are absorbed by zooplankton which is microscopic plankton consisting of small animals and/or the immature pupae or larvae of animals. I presume that most readers are familiar with the saying “cheer up; there is always someone worse off than you”.

Well, if they could talk, zooplankton are the last creatures who could justifiably say this as the only creatures that are further down the food chain are the even smaller creatures called plankton!

Zooplankton, along with the microscopic amounts of plastic, are swallowed intentionally by “gulpers”, or accidentally, by marine creatures that prey on the gulpers.

Can you see the problem? Plastic does not pass through an animal’s digestive system easily; therefore, the more gulping or predation that occurs, the more plastic is left in the gut and other organs of marine life.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson

I think it was in the early or mid 1960’s that the American scientist, Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”.

I remember reading it in the late 1960’s, and was turned into an eco-warrior! To cut a long story short, the book described a “future history” where very little animal life, (including human life) existed.

The cause for the near extinction was the use of insecticides that were based on DDT, one of the chemical weapons that had been developed for possible use during the Second World War.

Insecticides

Insecticides

When the insecticide was used in (for example) a mosquito breeding area it was very effective in killing the mosquitoes. However, the “poison” that killed the mosquito (I think that it was mercury or a similar element) remained in the body of the mosquito.

Dead, and dying, mosquitoes were consumed by insectivorous birds. Also, when they ended up on the surface of a lake or pond (calm water is essential for mosquito breeding) they were also eaten by fish.

The poison was absorbed by the predators. The miniscule amount of poison required to kill a mosquito would have little effect on a bird or fish, but because it is accumulative, when consumed in the hundreds or thousands…….!

Fisherman with his rod and line

Fisherman with his rod and line

Then along comes a fisherman with his rod and line, even if he ignores the fish floating “belly-up”, any, and all, of his catch may have enough accumulative poison to eventually kill him and his family!

Rachel Carson, having forced insecticide and herbicide manufactures to “clean up their act” is certainly the one of the most unsung saviours of animal life and the human race in the history of the world!

The two paragraphs above are purely to emphasise that when any “foreign” substance enters and then remains in any animal’s body, the end result is almost certain to be catastrophic to the host and subsequent predators or consumers further up the food chain.

What amazes me is that, at an international level, so little has been done to clean up these plastic “islands”. With the number of spy satellites criss-crossing the globe it cannot be argued that because they are outside the normal shipping lanes they haven’t been noticed.

The plastic pollution in our seas and oceans has had such an adverse affect on the marine, bird and, maybe ultimately, land-based life. Certainly any decrease in marine life, or the extinction of a food-fish species will have a serious affect on the millions of people throughout the world who depend, either on a commercial, or, (more relevantly) subsistence level of fishing!

Next blog will continue with Alistair’s rambles

These rambles were written by Alistair initially for the “The KibKom Times” then “The KibKom Forum

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