Watching fireflies light up an African night

dsc_0252Every so often life surprises you with an experience so awesome that it simply takes your breath away. Last night I had one such experience. Standing in a dark wood beside a gently-flowing stream with a shower of brilliant stars overhead, I watched fireflies light up a balmy spring night as they danced a mating call in a waltz of dazzling beauty.

As I watched the tiny flashes of the fireflies light up the darkness of the African night, I thought how privileged I was to witness this silent star-spangled display of Nature, as fireflies are sensitive to light, and light pollution from lit-up cities and towns is diminishing their numbers in heavily-populated regions of the world.

Fireflies hibernate over winter in their larval stage and emerge in spring to begin the serious business of perpetuating the species with synchronized flashes of light. These magical flashes of bioluminescence, emitted from glands in their lower abdomen, signal the fireflies’ courtship dance, and each firefly species has a different pattern of flashes.

Without their chemically-produced light show, fireflies are unprepossessing little bugs. They really don’t look anything special in the harsh daylight hours. It is their dazzling courtship dance during the dark hours of the night that utterly transforms them into insect fairies.

Definitely a night I will remember!

Sharing recycling and plastics know-how on the African continent

YogurtLocated along the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean, in the sub-region of West Africa, Ghana is considered an important trading partner with South Africa. There are numerous exciting investment opportunities for South African plastics companies, especially in the agro-processing and food packaging sectors, which a Plastics|SA delegation that recently went to Ghana wanted to investigate. This delegation was part of a Plastics Export Development Programme (PEDP) which aims to grow the industry’s export base beyond the SADC economic bloc.

As part of their trade mission, the Plastics|SA delegation held discussions with local plastics companies operating in the West African region, including Ghana Plastic Manufacturers Association, Poly Tank, Global Plastic Industries and Aspiring Syringes Manufacturer.

The Ghana Plastic Manufacturers Association represents 95% of their local plastics industry and comprises of 110 plastics manufacturers: the country’s national consumption was approximately 815 000 tons in 2015. In terms of recycling, large emphasis is placed on PET bottles in Ghana, owing to the fact that the recycling industry in this country is still very small. The majority of the plastic they collect is baled and exported (primarily to China).

strawberry milkshake“From our talks it became clear that Ghana would welcome South African plastics companies entering their market – especially in the plastics pipes and packaging sub-sectors. They also asked us to provide them with more information about the Plastics|SA Constitution, Programme of Action and other supporting documentation, as they would like to participate with us in global and regional plastics related initiatives,” Tapula said.

“From a corporate governance point of view, our meetings were extremely relevant because we now know which policies, regulations and government institutions to engage with around issues of trade and investment in Ghana. We will continue to explore these and other opportunities for our members in order to unlock the numerous benefits of cross-border trade and investment,” Tapula concluded.

What would an extinction of experience mean for tomorrow’s children?

DSCN0644An eminent professor at Stellenbosch University once told me that at the planet’s present rate of deforestation, habitat incursion and biodiversity loss, our children’s children could have an “extinction of experience”.

This means that tomorrow’s children would be denied the wonder of connecting to and interacting with the natural world, a disconnection that would render them out of touch with what is wild and free. But beyond losing the intrinsic and aesthetic value of different species, tomorrow’s children would be denied the important functional and consumptive benefits that services from nature provide.

Here are some staggering statistics: over the last 300 years the global forest has shrunk by approximately 40%. Since the turn of the 20th Century, the world has lost about 50% of its wetlands. Over the last half-century 60% of the Earth’s ecosystem services have been degraded. Some 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed. In the past two decades 35% of mangroves have disappeared. And over the last decade 13 million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation each year.

WLT0091 pic3In purely monetary terms, ecosystem services deliver a whopping US$21 to US$72 trillion a year in essential services. However, Nature is a life support system, and ultimately we are dependent on living, functioning ecosystems like woodlands, shrublands and grasslands; the biodiversity that exists within them; and the ecological services they provide.

Also, we have forgotten that since time immemorial the natural world has shaped our evolutionary path, a trajectory that started on the African savanna where our first ancestors appeared thousands of centuries ago. In this way we are as inextricably linked to the wind whispering in treetops, to clouds scudding across a darkened sky, to the deep rumble of distant thunder, or to the sigh of the ocean as it leaves the shore as a leopard prowling a rocky mountain ledge.

Therefore, an extinction of experience would mean that future generations would lose not only wild places and the wild creatures that live within them, the monetary value of ecosystems, and the vitally important services they provide. Tomorrow’s children would lose a profound and enduring human connection – a connection that has sustained our species since the beginning of our time.

Photos from Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Cape Town, South Africa.We have reached a crossroads. This momentous moment, and the actions we take in the time ahead, will determine whether tomorrow’s children will live in a world much like the one in which we have evolved. Or whether they will live in an impoverished world that will render them far removed from everything innocent, natural and free. It is up to us to make sure it is the former!

Donald Trump and the rebellious atom

I find it absolutely astounding that Donald Trump, a man who is running for the highest office of arguably the most powerful country on Earth, and who has lived through Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, can dismiss nuclear confrontation with a metaphorical flick of his wrist. This is what I know about the rebellious atom:

Early in the morning of 1 March 1954, a 15-megaton nuclear blast, which was detonated by the US military, and which was codenamed Bravo, caused a blinding mushroom cloud of ferocious heat to soar high into the atmosphere above Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, generating winds of searing intensity that irradiated the ocean and atolls surrounding the the test site. The Rongelap and Ailinginae Atolls, which were situated directly under a deadly cloud of fallout ash, were covered in a thick blanket of white radioactive dust.

DSC_0992This gritty synthetic snow also rained down onto the deck of a Japanese tuna trawler, ironically named Lucky Dragon No. 5, resting at anchor in the vicinity of the test site. Within hours of the settlement of the deadly white ash, both islanders and the trawler’s fishermen began exhibiting signs of acute radiation sickness: nausea, severe vomiting, diarrhea, itching eyes, and burning, blistering ulceration of their skin. Some hours later their hair began to fall out. Many pregnancies of Marshallese women ended in miscarriage or resulted in the births of tragically malformed babies who died soon after their first gasps of air. Islanders have since died from various cancers and leukemia.

In 1985 Greenpeace activists evacuated the people of Rongelap Atoll to another of the Marshall Islands as parts of Rongelap were found to be still too highly radioactive for human habitation. More than 62 years after Bravo’s blast, Rongelap is still too contaminated by radiation for resettlement of its people.

Nuclear bombs of the magnitude of Bravo destroy by blast and fire as conventional bombs do. However, their killing capacity extends long after their radioactive residue has fallen to Earth. Silent and invisible, the ferocious energy released by a nuclear explosion: the alpha and beta particles and gamma rays of radioactive materials, ionize the cells of human bodies, causing molecular changes, cell mutations, and in high enough doses, instant death. At the very least, the immune systems of people exposed to radiation are compromised, opening the way for susceptibility to a host of diseases and debilitating conditions.

Alpha particles only travel short distances, and are not able to penetrate human skin. Beta particles are able to penetrate skin, but no deeper into the body. Gamma rays are capable of penetrating sheets of steel.

strawberriesComponents of nuclear fallout such as Strontium-90, Iodine-131, Cesium-137 and Carbon-14 can be inhaled, ingested in food, or absorbed through drinking water or irradiated milk.

Once inside the body, these radioactive substances irradiate tissues, organs and bones from close quarters, often with devastating results: Strontium-90, the most dangerous radioactive material, goes straight to the bones, damaging the bone marrow which produces blood cells.

It is believed that varying levels of Strontium-90, which is a compound not found in nature, exist in every living person on Earth.

Once the rebellious atom is out of control there is no hiding place from its deadly energy force. And human beings have a variable susceptibility to radioactive exposure: the unborn, youngest, oldest and weakest tend to be at great risk, while women have been found to be twice as susceptible to radiation-induced cancers than men.

wall pictureNuclear confrontation has the potential to wreak radiological havoc on living and, as yet, unborn generations. Indeed, nuclear confrontation has the potential to make a wasteland of the Earth. So please, people like Donald Trump, educate yourself about the terrible danger of the rebellious atom. I’ll let Joan Baez have the last word: “If we don’t heed the Nobel laureates warning of things to come/We’ll all be incinerated warriors of the sun.”