such as are the very foundations of Loch Eishort?

“All living things have one need in common: Habitat ... persistence of habitat
is the fundamental basis of persistence of a species.” – Prof. Richard Fortey

“The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which
it lives, because there's a mutual dependency between it and millions of
other species of both animals and plants.” – Sir David Attenborough

Here is an example of what can happen when we take our eye off the ecological ball. Continuing that metaphor, we can't be expected to take our eye off the ball if we can't see where the ball is, and that is the current state of ecological understanding - a fair modicum of knowledge about an astonishingly complicated subject about which we still have a great deal to learn. So if we have any idea at all what circumstances might result from an action, we should take precautionary measures, not blunder ahead regardless. We know this (and many other catastrophes like it) have happened, so you would think we might have learnt by now that tipping large quantities of polluting waste nutrients into any body of water is a very bad idea.

A Cautionary Tale Recent research (Fabricus et al., 2010 here and here) has detected a chain of apparently unconnected events that link sugar cane farming in Queensland, Australia to appalling coral kills on the Great Barrier Reef. Cause and effect combine make a bizarre story.

  • Queensland farmers, as is conventional, applied fertiliser to their sugar cane crops.
  • Rain and river floods washed a proportion of that fertiliser off the land into streams and rivers that empty into the Coral Sea.
  • Microscopic marine plants (the phytoplankton) thrived on elevated nutrients inadvertently provided by sugar cane farmers ...
  • ... leading to a population explosion in the marine phytoplankton (‘algal bloom’).
  • The larvae of the Crown-of-Thorns starfish feed on the phytoplankton, which became more plentiful and, therefore, better fed than usual, the baby starfish enjoyed a greatly enhanced survival rate ...
  • ... which caused a population explosion among Crown-of-Thorns adults.
  • Crown-of-Thorns starfish adults feed on coral polyps ...
  • ... so the corals got grazed to death ...

... all because of nutrient excess unintentionally finding its way from far inland into the sea. Population explosions of Crown-of-Thorns starfish Acanthaster planci since the mid 1980s have been estimated to account for 42 per cent of coral damage on the Great Barrier Reef. This is a complicated example of catastrophic environmental nutrient overload, known as eutrophication.

Now consider the nutrient overload that constantly seeps into our sea lochs through the HOLES in salmon fish farm cages.

I mentioned precautionary measures. They are enshrined in law, at least currently, though we have to keep reminding our leaders or the conveniently overlook ... ► THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE







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