Bird BS

This is the sort of thing I find totally enraging (and dispiriting, if I am honest):

Known as ashy tailorbirds, they were destined for the Indonesian island of Java, where they were likely to spend their lives in a collector’s cage.

Millions of similar birds are stolen from the wild every year, and prized specimens can ultimately sell for thousands of dollars. These birds are not treasured for their plumage or meat, but for their songs.

An illicit trade that begins in the primeval forests takes many of the birds to Indonesia’s teeming capital, Jakarta, where they are entered into high-stakes singing competitions at which government officials frequently preside.

It is a perfect allegory for how dysfunctional humanity’s relationship with nature truly is, and could only happen in a culture where we value profit and entertainment above all else.

Photo Of The Times: Realism Rather Than Romanticism

“Sewage Surfer.” Photo by Justin Hofman / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This photo is both very sad and very powerful, and tells you all you need to know about what we are doing to our oceans. Fittingly, it is a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year competition, and that is a good thing because it is important that wildlife photography do more to show things as they are instead of romanticizing a pristine and unspoiled natural world that no longer exists.

Here is the explanation of the photo provided by the UK Natural History Museum:

Hopping from one floating object to another, seahorses often hitch rides on currents and grasp onto ocean debris with their delicate tails.

But the subject of photographer Justin Hofman’s lens swam into trouble when it let go of a piece of seagrass and seized a thin piece of clear plastic. As a brisk wind picked up at the surface of a reef near Indonesia’s Sumbawa Island, the small swimmer’s ride became a rough one.

In search of a more stable raft, the seahorse then landed upon a waterlogged cotton bud that washed in on the incoming tide.

Indonesia is known for having the broadest selection of marine biodiversity in the world. But the country is also second only to China in its contribution to marine plastic – fuelling the growing concern that unnatural ocean waste could outweigh fish by 2050.

Justin not only captured the seahorse and its unnatural vehicle, but also murky water filled with debris.

Indonesia has pledged that by 2025 it will reduce the amount of waste being discharged into the ocean by 70%.

You can get more of the backstory of the photo, and comments from Justin Hofman, here. And follow Justin’s Instagram here.

Double Depravity: Dolphins Die So Sharks Can Be Finned

Sorry if you just had breakfast. Because this photo essay by Paul Hilton on the fishing practices he documented in Lombok, Indonesia is not easy on the stomach, or the human conscience. (Hilton recently won a World Press Photo award for a series on shark finning, and his work is well worth a look).

The basic story is that fishermen capture dolphins, use the meat to longline for sharks (to fin), and sell any surplus at local markets. It’s like a perfect storm of destruction. It’s the pictures, though, that really illustrate how sad this is.

Here’s Hilton, describing the scene:

In August of 2011, I headed to Indonesia to investigate. On the first morning I woke to the sounds of prayer at the local mosque, grabbed my camera and a notebook and headed down to Tanjung Luar, the largest fish market in Eastern Lombok. The smell was over powering. The crowd was a mix of tourists and locals.  I watched as the crew of two Indonesian longliners, tied up alongside each other, started dumping large fish over the sides into the shallow waters to be dragged into shore. I quickly made a list of species being offloaded. Scalloped hammerheads, thresher, mako, blue, silky, bull, tiger and oceanic white-tips sharks, manta and mobula rays, spinner dolphins and pilot whales. All coming off the same two boats, and not a tuna in sight.

The pictures, and the fact that this sort of fishing is going on–both killing highly intelligent mammals, and contributing to the destruction of shark species–can easily inspire outrage and condemnation (as it should). But it is important to remember the underlying cause of such a destructive practice is poverty. It may be easy to judge, or to assume that we wouldn’t make the same choices these fishermen are making, but many are subsistence fishermen simply trying to feed their families (though I have only scorn and antipathy for industrial shark finning operations that are all about corporate profit).

So anyone who really cares about ending human exploitation of dolphins and sharks (and other species) has to face this inconvenient truth: these practices (along with so many other destructive environmental practices) will not stop until the world gets serious about addressing global poverty. That’s not easy to do, but it is something that rarely gets acknowledged in policy and political debates.

Poverty and environmental destruction and cruelty are intimately linked. So if you want to oppose what you see here, it is incumbent on you to open your mind to what can be done about the underlying problem.