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Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books Classics) by Tim Robinson">Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books Classics) by Tim Robinson
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Aran's first green roof in centuries starts to bloom

Aran Islands

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Beautiful yet rugged,
the Pabshsaer Barr Aille, aka the Sea Pink, clings to a crack in the limestone cliff near Synge's Chair. Now hundreds of cultivars of this wild Inis Méain plant are growing on the first green roof to be built on the Aran islands in centuries. The Clochán, built in the bronze age which a few feet behind our green roofed studio still has an intact green roof on it. Its a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.  We have plenty to learn about becoming sustainabile from looking at the past. Read more about the living roof here here


Al's Big Plan

our_choice_463_2.jpgAl Gore's new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, is not just a broad overview of the key strategies for preserving a livable climate -- it's also a truly beautiful book, replete with lush photos and simple but powerful charts. In it Big Al spells out the work ahead that An Inconvenient Truth left us a-hankering for. Also, check out the smartest and crankiest responses to the new book.
Read more at Grist
SAMSO JOURNAL, (It could be Inis meain)

By JOHN TAGLIABUE of The New York Times

SAMSO, Denmark -- The people of this Danish island have seen the future, and it is dim and smells vaguely of straw.

With no traffic lights on the island and few street lights, driving its roads on a cloudless night is like piercing a black cloud. There is one movie theater, few cars and even fewer buses, except for summer, when thousands of tourists multiply the population.

Yet last year, Samso (pronounced SOME-suh) completed a 10-year experiment to see whether it could become energy self-sufficient. The islanders, with generous amounts of aid from mainland Denmark, busily set themselves about erecting wind turbines, installing nonpolluting straw-burning furnaces to heat their sturdy brick houses and placing panels here and there to create electricity from the island's sparse sunshine.

By their own accounts, the islanders have met the goal. For energy experts, the crucial measurement is called energy density, or the amount of energy produced per unit of area, and it should be at least 2 watts for every square meter, or 11 square feet. "We just met it," said Soren Hermansen, the director of the local Energy Academy, a former farmer who is a consultant to the islanders.

In December, when the United Nations-sponsored summit meeting on climate change convenes in Denmark, many of the delegates will be swept out to visit Samso. They will see its successes, but also how high the hurdles are for exporting the model from this little island, a hilly expanse roughly the size of the Bronx.

On a recent visit, Mr. Hermansen recounted, the Egyptian ambassador to Denmark admired all the energy-creating devices the islanders had installed, then asked how many people lived here. When he was told about 4,000, he replied with exasperation, "That's three city blocks in Cairo!" Undaunted, Mr. Hermansen told him, "That's maybe where you should start, not all of Egypt, take one block at a time."

Jorgen Tranberg, 55, agreed. "If there were no straw, we'd have no fuel, but we have straw," he said, sipping coffee on the 250-acre dairy farm where he milks 150 Holsteins. "Everywhere is different," he said. "Norway has waterfalls, we have wind. The cheapest is oil and coal, that's clear." The farmers, he said, used to burn the straw on their fields, polluting the air. Now, they use it to heat their homes.

Counting only the wind turbines on the island, but not those that the islanders have parked offshore in the Kattegat Strait, the island produces just enough electricity for its needs. (With the offshore turbines it can even export some.) However, its heating plants, burning wheat and rye straw grown by its farmers, cover only about 75 percent of the island's heating needs, continuing its reliance on imported oil and gas.

The islanders have been inventive. Mr. Tranberg uses a special pump to extract the heat from his cows' milk, then uses the warmth to heat his house. He has even invested in wind turbines. He purchased one outright for $1.2 million, with a bank loan; it now stands in a row of five just behind his brick farmhouse. He later bought a 50 percent stake in another turbine.

But all that spins is not gold, he soon found out. When a gearbox burned out in one mill three years ago, the repair cost more than $150,000. He did not say how much he makes from selling the electricity.

Energy experts emphasize that it is crucial for the islanders to squeeze energy out of their island without relying heavily on sea-based turbines. Not every region of the world is blessed with an expanse of thousands of miles of ocean at its doorstep.

Please read the full story here

Mystery of the basking shark

Basking shark.jpg


ANOTHER LIFE: Arriving once, in innocence and at the wrong or right time (depending on one's sensibilities) at the cliffs above Achill's Keem Bay, I found myself watching the execution of a large basking shark trapped in nets in the water below. As a lance was thrust from the crowding currachs, the scene had little in common with bold battles in wild seas re-enacted for Flaherty's famous "documentary" Man of Aran. Blood trailed briefly through the limpid water as the beast was towed ashore for the great oily liver that made, perhaps, one third of its weight.

Forty years on from the peak of the Achill enterprise that killed 12,342 of the world's second largest fish, Irish marine researchers have had an amazing summer. In forays off Inishowen in Co Donegal and around the Blasket Islands off Kerry, they caught up with no fewer than 101 of the sharks swimming at the surface and reached out from their rib with extendable painter's poles to plant colour- coded tags in the dorsal fins.

Even a decade ago, remarkably little was known about the comings and goings of Cetorhinus maximus.What had been sorted out was its maximum size (rarely more than 10 metres) and phenomenal, open- mouthed throughput of ocean (nearly 1,500 cubic metres every hour) to gulp the pink-centred zooplankton, Calanus, that fills its stomach with something like tomato ketchup.

The big mystery was where the animals went in winter.....

read more here

Michael Viney welcomes observations at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo. E-mail : Include a postal address

Originally published by MICHAEL VINEY.

(c) 2009 Irish Times.

From Deep Ocean, Ugly and Tasty, With a Catch


The answer to the eternal mystery of what makes up a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich turns out to involve an ugly creature from the sunless depths of the oceans, whose bounty, it seems, is not limitless.

The world's insatiable appetite for fish, with its disastrous effects on populations of favorites like red snapper, monkfish and tuna, has driven commercial fleets to deeper waters in search of creatures unlikely to star on the Food Network.

One of the most popular is the hoki, or whiptail, a bug-eyed specimen [not unlike the pollack] found far down in the waters around New Zealand and transformed into a major export. McDonald's alone at one time used roughly 15 million pounds of it each year.

The hoki may be exceedingly unattractive, but when its flesh reaches the consumer it's just fish -- cut into filets and sticks or rolled into sushi -- moist, slightly sweet and very tasty. Better yet, the hoki fishery was thought to be sustainable, providing New Zealand with a reliable major export for years to come.

But arguments over managing this resource are flaring not only between commercial interests and conservationists, but also among the environmental agencies most directly involved in monitoring and regulating the catch.

A lot of money is at stake, as well as questions about the effectiveness of global guidelines meant to limit the effects of industrial fishing.

Without formally acknowledging that hoki are being overfished, New Zealand has slashed the allowable catch in steps, from about 275,000 tons in 2000 and 2001 to about 100,000 tons in 2007 and 2008 -- a decline of nearly two-thirds.

The scientific jury is still out, but critics warn that the hoki fishery is losing its image as a showpiece of oceanic sustainability.

"We have major concerns," said Peter Trott, the fisheries program manager in Australia for the World Wildlife Fund, which closely monitors the New Zealand fishery.

The problems, he said, include population declines, ecosystem damage and the accidental killing of skates and sharks. He added that New Zealand hoki managers let industry "get as much as it can from the resource without alarm bells ringing."

The hoki lives in inky darkness about a half-mile down and grows to more than four feet long, its body ending in a sinuous tail of great length. Large eyes give the fish a startled look.

Scientists say its fate represents a cautionary tale much like that of its heavily harvested forerunner, orange roughy. That deepwater fish reproduces slowly and lives more than 100 years. Around New Zealand, catches fell steeply in the early 1990s under the pressures of industrial fishing, in which factory trawlers work around the clock hauling in huge nets with big winches.

Hoki rose commercially as orange roughy fell. Its shorter life span (up to 25 years) and quicker pace of reproduction seemed to promise sustainable harvests. And its dense spawning aggregations, from June to September, made colossal hauls relatively easy.

As a result, the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries set very high quotas -- roughly 275,000 tons a year from 1996 to 2001. Dozens of factory trawlers plied the deep waters, and dealers shipped frozen blocks and fillets of the fish around the globe.

Moreover, the fishery won certification in March 2001 from the Marine Stewardship Council, a private fisheries assessment group in London, which called it sustainable and well managed. The group's blue label became a draw for restaurant fish buyers.

"Most Americans have no clue that hoki is often what they're eating in fried-fish sandwiches," SeaFood Business, an industry magazine, reported in April 2001. It said chain restaurants using hoki included McDonald's, Denny's and Long John Silver's.

Ominous signs of overfishing -- mainly drops in hoki spawns -- came soon thereafter. Criticism from ecological groups soared. The stewardship council promotes hoki as sustainable "in spite of falling fish stocks and the annual killing of hundreds of protected seals, albatross and petrels," the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand said in May 2004.

When the stewardship council had to decide whether to recertify the hoki fishery as sustainable and well managed, the World Wildlife Fund, a Washington-based group that helped found the council, was strongly opposed. "The impacts of bottom trawling by the hoki fishery must be reduced," the fund said.

The wildlife fund was overruled, and the council recertified the fishery in October 2007. At the same time, the New Zealand ministry cut the quota still further, reducing the allowable commercial catch from roughly 110,000 tons to about 100,000 tons.

Some restaurants cut back on hoki amid the declines and the controversy.

Last year, Yum Brands, which owns Long John Silver's, issued a corporate responsibility report that cited its purchases of New Zealand hoki as praiseworthy because the fishery was "certified as sustainable."

Now, Ben Golden, a Yum Brands spokesman, said hoki was "not on the menu."

Denny's said it served hoki only in its New Zealand restaurants.

Gary Johnson, McDonald's senior director of global purchasing, said hoki use was down recently to about 11 million pounds annually from roughly 15 million pounds -- a drop of about 25 percent. "It could go up if the quota goes up," he said in an interview. He noted that McDonald's also used other whitefish for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

Mr. Johnson called the diminishing quotas a sign not of strain on fish stocks but of good management. "Everything we've seen and heard," he said, "suggests the fishery is starting to come back."

The Ministry of Fisheries agreed. "If you look at the current state of the fishery, it's apparent that the string of management actions that we've taken, which came at severe economic impact, have been effective," said Aoife Martin, manager of deepwater fisheries.

But the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group in East Norwich, N.Y., that scores seafood for ecological impact on a scale from green to red, still gives New Zealand hoki an unfavorable orange rating. The fish is less abundant over all, the group says, and the fishery "takes significant quantities of seabirds and fur seals."

Mr. Trott of the wildlife fund was more pointed. He called the fishery's management "driven by short-term gains at the expense of long-term rewards" -- a characterization the ministry strongly rejects.

But he, too, held out the prospect of a turnaround that would raise the hoki's abundance off New Zealand and significantly reduce levels of ecological damage and accidental killing.

"We are currently working with both industry and government to rectify all these issues," he said. "Our hope is that we will see great change and willingness by industry and, importantly, government to improve the situation dramatically."

Rising Ocean Acidity Erodes Fisheries

The Arctic's increased vulnerability to climate change is not limited to higher temperatures and melting permafrost.

New research from the University of Alaska Fairbanks suggests Arctic oceans are particularly susceptible to acidification, with potentially dire consequences to Alaska's rich crab and salmon fisheries.

"Everything is acting in unison on the environment - it's not just the ice loss or the warming or the acidification," said UAF chemical oceanographer Jeremy Mathis. "The Arctic is taking a multilateral hit."

Mathis' newest data from the Gulf of Alaska shows acidity levels far higher than expected are already having an impact. In several sites the increasing acidity has changed ocean chemistry so significantly that organisms are unable to pull crucial minerals out of the water to build shells, he said.

Ocean acidification, often called the sister problem to climate change, refers to the rising acidity of the world's seas as seawater absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

New research from the University of Alaska Fairbanks suggests Arctic oceans are already seeing the effects of acidification, with potentially dire consequences to crab and salmon fisheries

By some accounts the oceans have absorbed 30 percent of the carbon dioxide humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age, buffering the atmosphere from the harm posed by that greenhouse gas.

But that storage comes with a price. The ocean's pH has dropped nearly 30 percent over the past 250 years to levels not seen in the last 800,000 years; if emissions continue unchecked, the oceans could be more acidic than anything experienced in the past 12 million years. Scientists increasingly consider this change in ocean chemistry to be as consequential and potentially catastrophic for the globe as any temperature rise associated with climate disruption.

"When people talk about ocean acidification, it's a whole suite of changes in the chemical system," said Joanie Kleypas, an oceanographer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "There's all sorts of stuff going on, and it's hard to piece it all together."

But one of the most noticeable impacts is hampered shell formation: As ocean pH drops (and acidity rises), organisms such as corals, oysters, clams and crabs have trouble pulling minerals necessary for their shells out of the seawater.

It's too soon to say whether an acidifying Arctic means curtains for Alaska's lucrative king crab fishery, Mathis said.

The impact is already being felt by a tiny creature at the base of the food web supporting the state's legendary salmon runs - the pteropod, or swimming sea snail. Accounting for up to half the diet of pink salmon, pteropods have trouble building shells - and hence surviving - at the Gulf of Alaska's current acidity, Mathis has found.

Mathis, talking with commercial salmon fishermen in Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, said many have reported that fish this year weighed 20 percent less than those from past runs. The change could be significant for all Americans: Alaska in 2007 accounted 62 percent of the United States' commercial seafood catch, according to the Marine Conservation Alliance.

"The increasing acidification of Alaska waters could have a destructive effect on all of our commercial fisheries," Mathis said. "This is a problem that we have to think about in terms of the next decade instead of the next century."

But others are more cautious about stating that Arctic ecosystems are any more at risk by acidification than tropical ones.

Cold water holds more gas than warmer water - the reason why a refrigerated can of cola fizzes less aggressively when opened than a warm one. While this means frigid waters off Alaska's coasts can absorb more carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, it also means the waters were naturally more acidic and that species in those waters are adapted to lower pH levels.

"It won't necessarily have a more severe impact," said Oceana marine scientist Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb. "It's having an earlier impact."

Mystery of the missing salmon

sockeye_w600.jpgMILLIONS OF SOCKEYE SALMON have mysteriously failed to turn up in a Canadian river as part of their annual spawning, leaving experts baffled and the local fishing industry in despair.

The Canadian government projected that between six and 10 million sockeye salmon would return to the Fraser river this month.

But the official count for the annual 'summer run' -- by far the largest of four salmon migrations that see millions of fish return to Canada's lakes and rivers from the Pacific each year from June to late August -- is now just 600,000.

Where the others went remains a mystery.

Local fishermen, described the situation as "shocking," a "catastrophe" and a "crisis," while public broadcaster CBC said 2009 could end up being the worst year ever for the industry.

A record number of salmon smolts were born in the Fraser in 2005 and migrated to the ocean. Nature dictates that most of them should have returned by now to spawn.

"It's a bit of a mystery," Stan Proboszcz, an expert fish biologist from the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

"Honestly, we don't know what happens to them when they go out into the ocean," he said. "There's a myriad of factors that could explain what's going on." It is "quite shocking," he added.

Officials and ecologists speculated the salmon which are extremely temperature sensitive   could have been affected by warmer ocean temperatures, fewer food sources, or juvenile salmon may have contracted sea lice or other infections from some 30 fish farms in the Strait of Georgia as they migrated out to sea.

Proboszcz, however, suggested that fishing industry officials may have miscalculated their complex forecasts or that the fish could just be late arriving -- although he conceded the latter theory was highly unlikely.

Wild salmon are under threat in many rivers of the north Pacific and north Atlantic because of overfishing at sea.

Environmental groups in Canada, Norway and Scotland have been fierce critics of salmon farms because of fears over sea lice -- naturally occurring parasites of wild salmon that latch onto the fishes' skin in the open ocean.

Salmon farms are a haven for these parasites, which adult salmon can survive but which small, thin-skinned juveniles are vulnerable to, especially when heading from the river to the sea.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokeswoman Lara Sloan said the main Fraser river fishery had not opened due to the drop in numbers and that another local fishery had scaled back this season's catch to just five percent of the norm. No recreational fishing has been allowed.

Sloan would not be drawn on the reason behind the lack of fish.

"There are a lot of variations in the ocean," she said. "They're all interconnected, so it's impossible to point to one reason for this happening.

"So far, they're not coming back in the numbers we expected, but we will continue to look for them."

Other species, pink salmon and chum salmon, are due to arrive around the end of August through October. So far there is no indication they have been affected.

Chinook salmon are also returning to spawn in the region, but they have been a "conservation concern" for several years, and their numbers remain low.

Jem Casey

A young basking shark was discovered caught in fishing net along Derrynane Long Beach in south-west Kerry.

The rare basking shark was found dead by locals Peter Sweeney, a photographer, and his friend Chris Gleeson on Sunday evening.

It is believed to have been an accidental "by-catch" by a fishing boat which died out at sea and was washed ashore where it was discovered.

The basking shark along with the great white shark are classed as vulnerable to extinction. The 1933 film Man of Aran by the American filmmaker  Robert Flaherty celebrated a hunt for the basking shark and was part of Hollywood's long infatuation with sharks and their supposed threat to man. The lastest of course was Jaws. In fact most sharks are harmless, especially the basking shark which does not even have teeth but filterfeeds. 

Basking sharks were once very common off Ireland but are rarely seen anymore

A major international campaign is now underway to protect sharks from commercial fishing. Some 70,000 sharks are taken from the world's waters eveyr year just for their fins which fetch $300 a pound, making them more expensive than caviar.

The sadndiscovery of a dead basking shark off Ireland  follows unusual events along the coast of Kerry where several bottlenose dolphins have died in Tralee Bay. A dead animal was also found floating off Fenit, while there was also another stranding off Camp.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) is appealing for any reports on stranded dolphins in the Kerry area, following the unusual sequence of marine mammal beachings over the last few days.

More at The Irish Times

About Flaherty's Man of Aran film

BSP's new score for Man of Aran

Mental Health break

Try Blowing on it:
This cartoon, from Alex Gregory at "The New Yorker" (May 11, 2009), is a pause for fresh air. windturbines.jpg

Got here yesterday and have nearly two weeks to enjoy the peace and quiet. Fantastic dinner in the restaurant last night - fresh-caught crab and delicious skate with hazelnuts - and a good hike along the cliffs while the sun was out this morning. The clifftop along the south-west side is extraordinary - like a stone beach set high above the sea itself, a flat expanse watered by the spray from the breakers below and unsure in itself whether it's part of the land or the sea. Fabulous bird life too - just this morning I saw ringed plover, whimbrel, a pair of shelduck, cuckoo, whitethroat and all the normal ones you would expect. Robins rule the island: on every field wall, a proud bird sings its heart out to mark its territory.

The green green roof of Aran

The Aran Green roof project......
Thatch is traditionally used to roof Aran cottages,  but we are now building the first living green roof on the island. Watch the progress as Sean restores a dilapidated shed using locally sourced materials to make a snug environmentally friendly room that one day soon will be a studio, library, retreat and low carbon hideaway.
Our thanks to one of Ireland's  foremost environmental and conservation specialists David Brickenden for his valuable  advice on this project
Watch the green roof grow here

Inis Bofin houses saved from falling into the sea

Houses on Inis Bofin have been saved from falling into the sea in a multi-million euro project. Decades of coastal erosion had threatened several cottages and a major road on the island off the coast of Co Galway. The eight million euro Government project included coastal protection, the construction of a new slipway and major pier improvements. Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon O Cuiv said: "There was a pressing need for many years to protect the island from the detrimental effects of coastal erosion and the very real danger of the island's main road and houses actually falling into the sea." The works on the island, which has a population of almost 200, were carried out under the supervision of Galway County Council. "The project will be of great benefit, socially and economically, for this vibrant island community for many years to come," Mr O Cuiv said. An airstrip was recently completed on Inis Bofin. Last month a 14 million euro harbour was opened on Inis Meain, one of the Aran Islands.