• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

April 4, 1997

Air Date: April 4, 1997


Paupa New Guinea: Natural Resource Conflict Turns To War

On the island of Bougainville, a province of Papua New Guinea, fighting began 8 years ago over a copper mine operated by an Australian company. The Paguna mine desecrated sacred lands and destroyed the livelihoods of many local residents. The miners also unearthed long standing ethnic and political differences between Bougainvillans and the Papua New Guinea government and recently the conflict brought down Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Julius Chan. Steve Curwood spoke with two experts on the crisis. (07:40)

Gravity: What's Up Is Down / Bob Carty

GRAVITY: WHAT'S UP IS DOWN - The mysteries of gravity are taking scientists to the frontiers of the universe. Scientists are building huge devices on earth to measure gravity from the deepest reaches of the outer space. They say these gravity observatories will be as revolutionary as the first telescope; and will completely change our image of the universe. Living on Earth contributor Bob Carty prepared this report on the ups and downs of the Big "G". (12:10)

The Living On Earth Almanac

Facts about... NASA project Spaceship to Planet Earth. (01:15)

Sport Fishing in Flordia / Alexis Muellner

It's been eighteen months since Florida voters approved a ban on gill net fishing in state waters, to reduce the catch. But, the transition hasn't been easy. The 1995 referendum was bitter, pitting a disorganized commercial fishing industry against a powerful sports fishing lobby. Still, the ban appears to be working as populations of Spanish Mackerel and Sea Trout are on the rise. But so are violations of the law. As Alexis Muellner reports from Miami, the commercial fishing industry is fighting the new ban in court and at sea. (10:15)

Museum Message / Richard Schiffman

About sixty-five million years ago, back in the Mesozoic Age, it's believed that a huge asteroid hit the earth. One theory holds that its impact kicked up a massive dust cloud which blotted out the sun and chilled the planet's surface killing off the dinosaurs and many other organisms. Today, according to a new, major exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it's the impact of human activity, not asteroids, which is putting thousands of species at risk. Richard Schiffman reports. (08:40)

Hydro Radio

This week marks Living on Earth's sixth year on the air. We thought we'd note the occasion by dipping into our archives to listen to what we we're doing back in the spring of 1991. We came up with what we think is a prime example of the kind of radio we set out to do from the start: tell a good story about environmental change. Here's our profile of public radio station WJFF. (05:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript


HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: James Jones, Janet Heimlich, Fritz Faerber, Andrea DeLeon,
Bob Carty, Alexis Muellner, Richard Schiffman, Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Bruce Beehler, Eugene Ogun

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
On the edge of the Pacific Rim on the island of Bougainville, a civil war that has its roots in environmental concerns is heating up.

BEEHLER: You can understand that the people who have lived on Bougainville for hundreds of generations revere this land, consider their forests and mountains and watersheds sacred, and you can understand how they find the compensation in dollars inadequate to satisfy their future needs. The needs of the generations to come.

CURWOOD: An analysis of the crisis in Papua New Guinea, is just ahead. Also, the study of gravity takes a big step forward with a project to map the universe in relation to waves of gravity. We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, but first this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The Environmental Protection Agency says it overestimated the health benefits of stricter clean air standards it hopes to finalize this year. As James Jones reports, the mistake could be a costly one for the Agency.

JONES: The admission that the EPA made a mistake in calculating the health benefits of the proposed rules to reduce smog and soot will likely provide a new opening for opponents of the proposal in Congress. Citing a mathematical error, the EPA said the new standard would save 15,000 lives, not 20,000 as the Agency originally projected. While most analysts call the change a minor adjustment, the move comes at a bad time for the EPA. The Agency is battling skeptics in Congress who are questioning the Agency's scientific rationale for tougher air pollution standards. Many conservatives doubt the new rules would save any lives, arguing the standards would merely be an unnecessary burden on industry. But Agency officials say the error does not change the basic assumptions supporting the need for tougher air regulations. They point out that numerous studies have linked current levels of smog and soot to a wide range of health problems, from respiratory illnesses like asthma to death. For Living on Earth, this is James Jones in Washington.

MULLINS: In Texas, a Federal judge says the Clinton Administration violated the Endangered Species Act when it delegated responsibility for protecting rare salamander to the state. In Austin, Janet Heimlich has our story.

HEIMLICH: The decision marks a huge victory for environmentalists who battled for years to get Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to list the Barton Spring salamander as an endangered species. The judge cited Babbitt for missing deadlines and denying time for public comment after he opted for the state agreement in place of a Federal listing. But the most stinging part of the court's decision was its finding that Babbitt had allowed political pressure from Texas Governor George Bush and pro-development lobbying groups to influence his decision, saying Babbitt had, quote, "acted arbitrarily and capriciously." Babbitt has 30 days to make a final listing decision. For Living on Earth, this is Janet Heimlich in Austin.

MULLINS: The Interior Department has also been ordered to reconsider its refusal to declare the lynx an endangered species. A US District Court Judge says the Agency's decision not to protect the cat was made despite overwhelming evidence the animal has disappeared from 17 states.

The US Park Service recently reopened California's Yosemite Park after fixing the worst of January's flood damage. But officials say the loss of key camping and parking sites means they can't accommodate the expected summer crush of traffic. Reservations for cars entering the park had been planned, but as Fritz Faerber reports, officials recently dropped the idea.

FAERBER: In February, park officials announced summer visitors would need reservations to enter Yosemite by car. For years the Park Service has considered the measure to alleviate the traffic jams that choke Yosemite Valley on peak summer days. But this year, the loss of camp sites and parking spaces to flooding spurred a decision. Last week, however, officials backtracked, postponing the car reservation plan for a year. They cited opposition from surrounding communities and difficulties in working out the details before summer. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups agree there wasn't enough time to institute the plan this year, but say they worry that gridlock will increase until the reservation system is put into place. Officials say they still plan to cut the number of cars in the park by 20% by closing park gates when traffic is too heavy. A park spokesman said tourists can avoid getting locked out by reserving lodging or traveling by bus. For Living on Earth, I'm Fritz Faerber.

MULLINS: For the first time the state of Maine is warning anglers about potential health hazards from eating saltwater fish. Maine Public Radio's Andrea DeLeon reports that the state has expanded its advisories, which already warn recreational fishermen about the danger of eating some freshwater fish.

DELEON: Maine's recreational fishing season opened April first on a grim note. The State Bureau of Health expanded the annual list of health warnings for anglers. Pregnant and nursing women, women who may become pregnant, and small children are advised not to eat warm water fish because of dioxin, PCBs, and mercury. Others are told to limit themselves to a couple such meals a month. And now Maine has joined other states in the northeast and warned anglers to limit consumption of striped bass and bluefish as well. State officials stressed that the expanded warnings are the result of better testing and not an increase in pollution. And they released some good news: the latest sampling shows a decline in dioxin and PCB contamination. For Living on Earth, this is Andrea DeLeon in Portland, Maine.

MULLINS: Sharks will receive sweeping protection under a new Federal management plan aimed at increasing their numbers. After decades of intense fishing, populations of several species have plummeted to dangerously low levels. Environmental groups are applauding the plan, which reduces quotas for both commercially and recreationally caught sharks by nearly 50%.

And that's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Paupa New Guinea: Natural Resource Conflict Turns To War

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the first 5 years of the 90s nearly 100 wars were fought all over the planet. Ethnic and religious differences, poverty, and greed all can start wars. So can conflict over natural resources. In the Pacific islands at least 5 armed struggles are linked to competing claims on timber, oil, and minerals. One that's been in the news lately is the civil war on the island of Bougainville, a province of Papua New Guinea. Fighting there began 8 years ago over a copper mine operated by an Australian company. The Paguna mine desecrated sacred lands in the middle of Bougainville, where a mountain once stood, and also destroyed the livelihoods of many local residents. The miners dug up more than copper. They also unearthed longstanding ethnic and political differences between Bougainvillians and the Papua New Guinea government. Displaced landowners blew up the mine's electric generator, forcing it to close, and launched a war of independence. Recently, the conflict brought down Papua New Guinea's prime minister, Julius Chan. The army forced him out when it learned he had hired foreign mercenaries to fight the rebellion while Papua New Guinea's own army remained underpaid. Bruce Beehler works in the US State Department's Office of Ecology and Terrestrial Conservation. He studies birds in Papua New Guinea, and describes Bougainville as a magnificent island with huge volcanoes rising out of the rainforest.

BEEHLER: I've camped up just above the mine and it's really quite spectacular -- everything festooned with moss and beautiful gnarled trees, and all sorts of fantastic bird sounds and the like. It's -- it's quite a spectacular place.

CURWOOD: Mr. Beehler says that while the people of Bougainville are poor, their island is rich in minerals. Like the rest of the country, it's also home to an enormous variety of plants and animals. After years of colonial domination, these are resources that Bougainvillians want to keep.

BEEHLER: You can understand that the people who have lived on Bougainville for hundreds of generations revere this land, consider their forests and mountains and watersheds sacred, and you can understand how they find the compensation in dollars inadequate to satisfy their future needs. The needs of the generations to come.

CURWOOD: Bougainville is a case study of what can go wrong when the people who bear the environmental and social costs of resource extraction don't fully share in its benefits. That's the view of Eugene Ogun, Professor Emeritus in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Ogun has studied Bougainville for 30 years and has close ties to the Nasioi people whose land was taken for the mine.

OGUN: Initially, the mine, mining company assured everyone that, you know, when the mine was played out there would be action taken that would restore it so it could be used for subsistence agriculture. And now the mining company itself admits no, it's impossible. That land will never be good for anything at all. One of the worst and most obvious environmental effects was to pollute the Yaba River, because a mine produces, you know, junk. And the tailings were sent down the Yaba River, which completely polluted that river system all the way down to the ocean.

CURWOOD: So, in other words, this was a bad deal for the people of Bougainville.

OGUN: Oh it was a terrible deal! The original mining agreement of 1968 was so bad that when the Harvard Business School, which is hardly a left-wing organization I think, the Harvard Business School wrote it up as a case study, their conclusion was this is the kind of agreement that countries make when they have no experience making mining agreements with multinational corporations. The original deal was the Nasioi were going to get nothing, just that simple. But the Bougainvillian who was in the first house of assembly in New Guinea fought very hard and got what was widely trumpeted as a 5% royalty. Well, nobody asked 5% of what. Well, the 5% royalty was 5% of the 1-1/2% royalty that the central government got. That works out to, like 6 cents per $100 of value of the minerals produced. That's not a good deal.

CURWOOD: Now, Bougainville isn't the only place in New Guinea that's rich in natural resources, I mean --

OGUN: Oh, no. I've read a number of predictions that said if you could ever get all the potential on-line in mining, that Papua New Guinea would replace South Africa as largest producer of gold in the world.

CURWOOD: And there's timber and of course there's oil, right?


CURWOOD: But how is it that the mining and timber extraction companies are operating in other parts of Papua New Guinea without a civil war?

OGUN: Well, the main thing I think is that they've all learned from Bougainville. I mean, they saw that not enough thought had gone into the planning, getting the local people, getting them on side to a certain degree. That doesn't mean that they're doing a great job, but at least there's been more attention paid to, you know, setting up some kind of at least apparently equitable arrangement with the local people. It was never considered in Bougainville.

CURWOOD: So, how many of these issues have been resolved? The unfair distribution of profits, the environmental devastation, the social dislocation?

OGUN: Nothing. Nothing's been resolved at all that I -- well, I shouldn't say that. The mining company, to it's credit, I guess I have to say, realized that they were better off dealing directly with the local people and just stepping around, making an end run around the government of Papua New Guinea. So they did work out separate compensation agreements for different kinds of environmental damage, different kinds of land use and so forth. So as a result the landowners did start getting a better deal. When independence came in 1975 there was kind of an outpouring of secessionist sentiment in Bougainville. And the government of Papua New Guinea did give its 1-1/4% royalty to what had then become the North Solomon's Province, which is what Bougainville is. So that was a better deal for Bougainville, but it didn't necessarily have any trickle down effect to the Nacioi, the local people.

CURWOOD: You know, I understand the mine really is not the only thing at stake now in this war. What else would you say is driving the Bougainvillians away from the government of Papua New Guinea?

OGUN: Well, it's -- it's the sense of, you know, a continuing raw deal. It's the sense that we never belonged with you in the first place; we didn't ask to be part of Papua New Guinea. The Germans did this to us a long time ago. And then the Papua New Guinea defense force has angered everybody. But now, you see, you've got the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, the Bougainville resistance forces, which are those non-Nacioi who are cooperating with the government of Papua New Guinea. You have a whole lot of weaponry they didn't have before, some of which has been captured from the Papua New Guinea defense force. So you've got undoubtedly a lot of young hotheads running around just settling old scores, all this kind of stuff. Because there's so much resentment now, and so much division, I think, within Bougainville, that it's going to take a long time for any of these wounds to heal.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking all this time with us today. Dr. Eugene Ogun is Professor Emeritus in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He spoke to us from Hawaii Public Radio. Thank you, sir.

OGUN: You're welcome.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: What's up with what's down. New research on the force of gravity is just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Gravity: What's Up Is Down

CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Living on Earth, the process if not the program, wouldn't be possible without gravity. One of the 4 fundamental forces of nature, gravity is the least studied. We don't really know why things have gravity; we just take it for granted. But now, the mysteries of gravity are taking scientists to the frontiers of the universe. Scientists are building huge devices here on Earth to measure gravity from the deepest reaches of outer space. They say these gravity observatories will be as revolutionary as the first telescope and will completely change our image of the universe. Living on Earth contributor Bob Carty prepared this report on the ups and downs of the Big "G."

(Music up and under -- James Brown: "Gravity! Yeah!")

VOGT: You have no idea. We have never seen the universe through the gravitational wave window. It is going to open up a new window in the universe and it's going to open up a new discipline of science: gravitational wave astronomy.

(James Brown continues: "Gravity! The Big G! G-R-A-V-I-T-Y!)

CARTY: James Brown, the godfather of soul, the -- uunh! -- I feel good man of rhythm & blues, is not, whatever else he may be, a theoretical physicist. James Brown has, however, captured some of the excitement that scientists are now feeling about gravity. In Pasadena, California, physicists are spending 350 million US dollars on something they call the ...

VOGT: Laser interferometer gravitational wave observatory.

CARTY: Fortunately, the laser interferometer gravitational wave observatory has an acronym, something that sounds like little toy building blocks.

VOGT: Named it a LIGO.

CARTY: That's right. LIGO. And Robbie Vogt is its principal scientists.

VOGT: The universe which was known before World War II optically was a serene universe. It was, everything was so harmonic and quiet and peaceful and elegant. And then in World War II we developed radio science and applied it after World War II to radio astronomy. And when we started listening in the radio astronomy band, our whole perspective of the universe changed from this serene universe became the violent universe. Quasars and exploding supernovae and all that kind of stuff. I mean, violence. Now, we are moving to a totally new force. There is every right to believe that there will be fantastic new discoveries to be made, and our eyes will open with completely new insights about the universe.

CARTY: New insights about the universe, all from gravity. Albeit from a more complex understanding of gravity than most of us studied at high school. Back when we were young, gravity was just the good old fashioned what goes up must come down. The kind of gravity you find at an amusement park.

(Amusement park music, rides, shooting galleries)

MAN: This ride is called the Colossus.

(Shouting children; clanking gears)

MAN: They're an old wooden roller coaster. It's my first time on.

CARTY: You know what gravity is?

MAN: Yes.

CARTY: What is gravity?

MAN: It's the natural pull against the earth. We have a tendency to want to go down but we're taking it up.

CARTY: What my roller coaster colleague and I are about to experience are the basics of gravity. Everything that has mass exerts a force, and as Isaac Newton figured out under an apple tree 3 centuries ago, that gravitational force is proportional to the product of the masses of the 2 objects and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. You might recall memorizing that in high school. And even if you don't, it still

(Clanking continues)

MAN: Here we go! Sit...

(Children scream as the roller coaster drops)

CARTY: But it doesn't always work. Newton's concept of gravity works just fine in our daily lives, but it tends to break down inside the atom, in the realm of quantum physics. And Newtonian gravity also doesn't work on the really big scale.

(DRAMATIZATION FROM A FILM: Knocking. Man: "Yes? Oh. You're Albert Einstein." Einstein: "Thank you." Man: "Wow. That thing you wrote about light being bent by gravitation and the whole relatively thing? Man, I'm still trying to figure it out." Einstein (laughing): "Me, too.")

CARTY: Mention the name Albert Einstein and you usually think of E=MC2, the relationship between energy and matter. In fact, most of Einstein's noodling was on the subject of gravity.

(Einstein: "We have a little gravity problem.")

CARTY: For Einstein, the problem was to figure out how gravity works on the level of galaxies and neutron stars and black holes: the Big G. Einstein predicted that really massive objects would bend a ray of light, even space and time itself. The project director of LIGO is physicist Gary Sanders.

SANDERS: One way to think about it is, if the whole universe was on a rubber membrane like a drum head, and I put a stone on the drum head, it would curve the drum head down near the stone. And if I were an object, a little ball bearing on the drum head near the stone, I would fall down into that curvature. A property of mass is that it distorts, it curves the space and time about it. The beam of light leaving the vicinity of a black hole actually travels through space and time that is so highly curved that it curves back in on itself.

CARTY: We're talking here about gravity so strong it could be unpleasant.

SANDERS: If I were an astronaut and I were falling slowly into a neutron star, like a little neutron star with one and a half times the mass of our sun, the force on my feet, if I were falling feet first, would be so much stronger than the force on my head that I'd be torn in half.

(Xylophone descending. Einstein Character: "That gravity, it's a killer.")
Fade to James Brown: "G-R-A-V-I-T-Y. Gravity! Who! The Big G!
G-R-A-V-I-T-Y! Gra-vi-teeeee!...")

CARTY: Now as James Brown would say --

(Brown: "Wait a minute...")

CARTY: Wait a minute. All this space time stuff is fine and good, but why spend $350 million dollars on it? How is LIGO going to work as an observatory to explore the universe? To figure this part out, we have to go from the roller coaster to the beach.

(Surf's up)

SANDERS: We're standing on the beach at Santa Monica near the Santa Monica pier, and we can hear the sound of waves rolling in. Some are out there; something made those waves. A wind, some disturbance. This is very much like what we hope to do with LIGO. We hope to be sitting on our shores here on Earth listening to the sounds of the universe as the gravitational waves roll in.

CARTY: Waves. That's the key to understanding the universe with LIGO. It was another of Einstein's great insights: big masses not only have gravity. When they move very quickly they make waves. Gravitational waves. Wrinkles in space and time.

SANDERS: When a gravitational wave reaches the Earth from 2 neutron stars colliding, it will pass through me and it will make me taller for an instant and narrower, and an instant later, shorter and wider.

CARTY: Why can't we feel it?

SANDERS: We can't feel it because the distortion -- I said the gravitational wave would make me taller for an instant. But it would make me taller by about a 10,000th the size of an atomic nucleus, and I can't feel that.

CARTY: And that's why scientists are now building the LIGO.

(Fans and motors)

SANDERS: We're standing in the clean room in which the LIGO 40-meter prototype is located. And we're looking down the 2 arms.

CARTY: In an old building at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the LIGO prototype is 2 long steel tubes arranged in the shape of an el. The tubes are exactly the same length, a fact that is measured by a green laser light bouncing back and forth on mirrors inside the tubes. The real LIGOs, 2 of them, are much bigger. They're being built in the countryside of Louisiana and Washington State.

SANDERS: In the full LIGO instrument the tube you're looking at will be 4 foot in diameter. You can crouch down and walk through it and it will be 2 and a half miles long, and there will be a mirror suspended at each end of them. And in between these 2
mirrors will be traveling the laser light. If a gravitational wave passes through the Earth and passes through our apparatus it will make one of these arms a little bit longer and the other one a little bit shorter.

CARTY: And when that happens, the 2 LIGO instruments will tell scientists where in the universe the gravitational waves came from, and what made them. That's because gravitational waves are a Christmas pudding of information. Robbie Vogt, the principal scientist at LIGO.

VOGT: The exciting thing about gravitational waves is, they're like, very much like radio waves. They carry information, like in a radio wave you have a symphony or a newscast or something like that. And if you for example play back gravitational wave through a conventional medium like a microphone or something like that, the frequencies are in the audio range, in the range which we hear music.

CARTY: You're saying we can hear gravitation?

VOGHT: It's fun. You can actually simulate how a gravitation wave would sound.

(A sound like crickets humming)

CARTY: And it sounds like this. This is the song of 2 neutron stars, each weighing about one and a half times more than our sun. The note is made by the 2 stars spinning around each other at the incredible speed of 57 orbits a second.

(Sound continues)

CARTY: Then the spinning increases to 4,000 times a second just before the 2 stars collide into each other and become one.

(Sound continues, with another rising from the bass range to match frequency; quick fade out)

VOGT: It's basically, space is compressed and elongated and compressed and it's squeezed and pulled apart. And the frequency with which this deformation take place is the audio frequencies. And that's kind of fun, you know; you can hear the symphony which comes out of space.

(Music up and under: synthesized sounds)

CARTY: And the symphony could be revolutionary. LIGO's potential for discovery is akin to Galileo looking through the first telescope and Columbus arriving in the Americas, combined. Robbie Vogt says it's worth the multi-million dollar investment.

VOGT: You have no idea. We have never seen the universe through the gravitational wave window. And when you remember that 90 percent of the universe is admittedly invisible to us right now,I don't know what fractional gravitational waves will fill in, but it will be a significant fraction. So they will give us new information. It is going to open up a new window in the universe and it's going to open up a new discipline of science:
gravitational wave astronomy.


CARTY: Scientists hope that in the year 2001, LIGO will be ready to detect the first gravitational wave ever observed by humans. The project expect to find at least 3 neutron star collisions a year. And then, by improving its technology, LIGO could gain the capacity to draw a new map of the universe using gravitational waves. Our knowledge of the skies and of gravity will never be the same. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty.

(Amusement park ride clatters. CARTY: "Hey! You know what gravity is?" Children scream as roller coaster descends. Fade to James Brown: "G-R-A-V-I-T-Y. Gra-vi-teee, yeah!")

CURWOOD: Ooh! Good God! It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(James Brown up and under: "Ain't it funky...Ain't it funky...God...God...")

Back to top

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1-800-PRO-COWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(James Brown continues: "Ain't it funky...")

CURWOOD: Florida battles to enforce its ban on the gill netting of depleted fish stocks. That story is coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

The Living On Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Not all space missions go where no one has gone before. Five years ago NASA launched a mission to the local planet, Earth. The goal of the 20-year project is to expand our understanding of how natural processes affect us, and how we in turn might be affecting them. Using data from space shuttle flights and satellites, scientists are monitoring international treaties to protect the ozone layer by measuring the concentration of gases that eat away at the Earth's protective shield. They've also been calculating how much humidity sits above North America's forests, to help improve weather forecasting. Satellite images are even allowing regional planners to better manage suburban sprawl. Next year, Mission to Planet Earth will send 2 new satellites into orbit. Dubbed Lewis and Clark, the machines will push the frontiers of science even further. They'll be transmitting data on tropical rainfall, one of the driving engines behind our global climate. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Sport Fishing in Flordia

CURWOOD: It's been 18 months since Florida voters approved a ban on gill net fishing in state waters to reduce the catch. The move followed similar conservation efforts in Texas and California. But in Florida the transition hasn't been easy. The 1995 referendum fight was bitter. It pitted a disorganized commercial fishing industry against a powerful sports fishing lobby. Still, the ban appears to be working. Populations of Spanish mackerel and sea trout are on the rise, but so are violations of the law. As Alexis Muellner reports from Miami, the commercial fishing industry is fighting the new ban in court and at sea.

(Boat engine; a boat cuts through water)

MUELLNER: It's nearly midnight along Florida's Atlantic coast.

(Boat continues)

MUELLNER: State Marine Patrol Officer Jeff Sidor idles in his unmarked Boston whaler near the mouth of the Indian River, about 100 miles north of Miami. He's one of a handful of officers working to enforce the 1995 gill net ban.

(A woman's voice on CB radio: "Jupiter 281." Sidor: "281, go ahead.")

MUELLNER: After a moment he glides toward an area of shallow grassy stretches known as flats. Sheltered from the sea, the flats are popular passageways for Spanish mackerel and pompano. He shuts down his engine and pulls out night vision goggles to scope for gill netters fishing illegally.

(Water slaps against boat)

SIDOR: This is a hot spot for pompano when they're running. There's flats all up in here, so what they'll do is they'll set their net in between 2 flats and let the fish go run into them.

MUELLNER: It's quiet tonight and that's unusual. In the last month, patrol officers have cited 17 fishermen in the area for a range of net ban violations. But Sidor says fishermen are becoming more sophisticated.

SIDOR: They've got the good equipment. I mean, they're all using cell phones. They've got spotters out here. I mean, those boats right there could just be the boats out looking for us. You know, if we're out they don't make their set. So.

MUELLNER: Increasingly, run-ins with fishermen are getting violent.

SIDOR: We've actually been having 2 people on a boat because we've had a lot of threats lately. We've been catching them, and as a matter of fact last time we caught somebody, they threatened to shoot us. So now our lieutenant has paired us up. We're always in twos if we come out.

MUELLNER: Fishermen are getting bolder and more aggressive in part because the gill net ban has effectively shuttered one of the most lucrative commercial fisheries in Florida. The economic cost of the ban is still being tabulated. But a year after the new law went into effect, the state estimated 2,000 fishermen had lost their jobs. It also estimated the ban cost at least $40 million in lost revenue and job training. But gill net fishermen have come under fire for taking more than their fair share. Gill nets, a thin mesh of up to 600 feet long, entangle fish and end up ensnaring many unintended species, including sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins. They've also been blamed for depleting some popular stocks, like Spanish mackerel. Still, commercial gill netters say banning their livelihood goes too far.

(Engines running)

LANE: Big chief, big chief, come on, you ordered the base try on Channel 19.

GEORGE: Go ahead.

LANE: George, are the fish biting today?

GEORGE: Like yesterday...

MUELLNER: It's early morning and the seas are calm in Fort Pierce. The once thriving fishing community along South Central Florida's Atlantic coast. But these days business is slow along the town's industrial wharves.

GEORGE: ... we probably have... porpoise...

LANE: I got you, Skipper. All right, George, catch 'em up, we'll call you a little later.

MUELLNER: Hudgin's Fish Company has been a mainstay here since 1911. Manager Cecil Lane has definitely seen better times.

LANE: The fishermen's boats are basically mothballed. You see a yard full of ex net boats out here. This is one sitting here that isn't being used.

MUELLNER: Lane once employed more than a dozen workers to clean and pack fish caught by the gill net fleet. Now, Lane is just one of 3 workers left. The net ban, he says, has caused a lot of suffering.

LANE: We need to understand that some of the old values, the old traditions, the old customs, need to be given at least some dignity as we change in a transitional mode from one thing to another. When you summarily take a simple fisherman's ability to make a living for himself and his family, you destroy his dignity and his self respect. And that's not the way to do things.

BROWNLEY: The public did understand that there would be people that would be hurt by this. We never said that there wouldn't be people that would be displaced.

MUELLNER: John Brownley is an editor for Saltwater Sportsman magazine, a journal for recreational fishermen. He's also a member of the commission that oversees fishing rules in South Florida. He says the net ban was a drastic but necessary step.

BROWNLEY: We said the people needed to be displaced. Because there was too much damage being done to the fisheries by too few people, and that's what was going on with the net ban. This unsound environmental practice needed to be stopped.

MUELLNER: Needed to be stopped, says Brownley and other sports fishing enthusiasts, because gill netters threatened the health of the recreational fishing stocks. And the $2 billion sports fishermen pump into the state annually.

BROWNLEY: You know, I'm a native Floridian and I see the loss of Florida culture as a tragedy and a sad thing as well. But you can't go on living like it's 1911 forever. You can't -- you have to change with the times. And the fact of the matter is that we're killing too many fish. The net fishermen fought every reform that came down the pike. That has to be said. They fought every single reform that came along. They tried to derail the various mullet plans, the sea trap plans. Everything that came along through the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission, they fought it tooth, fang, and nail.

MUELLNER: But Cecil Lane says voters weren't told that fishermen are already burdened by more than 200 existing regulations. He says it's outrageous that his industry is being fingered alone.

LANE: It seems ludicrous to me that all of a sudden the smallest user group is getting the kick for being the worst environmental predator. And we absolutely are not.

MUELLNER: Dredging, building and tearing up mangroves, not gill netting, are the real culprit, says Lane.

LANE: When you look at the Indian River back in the early days, fishermen were the only people who were raising the danger flags in what we were doing to the environment. When they gutted the Indian River here with their dredges to make the channel deeper to allow the big northern sportsmen to bring their boats to Palm Beach, that destroyed millions of acres of grasslands and clams and oyster beds that were out here. And the spoilage you see out here that came from the refuse of that dredging project have interdicted the flow of the river. You don't have the natural health in the Indian River Lagoon that you had at one time.

(Mechanical sounds)

MUELLNER: It's almost time in the manufacturing workshop of DOA Lewars in Stuart, Florida. Hundreds of partially painted, multicolored soft plastic shrimp lures are in various stages of completion. It's the busiest season yet for this fledgling business reliant on a healthy sports fishery. DOA's owner Mark Nichols says he can understand the plight of commercial gill netters, but he doesn't think the net ban has to totally destroy a way of life.

NICHOLS: Truthfully, when we've been talking about the netting issues and that sort of thing, ultimately a lot of those people were hurt because they love to be out on the water and I sympathize 1,000% with that. I love being out on the water as well. I sympathize with that feeling 100%, and the ones who still love being on the water are going to learn to adapt and make a good living because there's still a lot of living to be made on the water here.

MUELLNER: He knows of former gill netters who are getting captain's licenses and becoming sports fishing guides. Others are working solo, learning to get decent money out of the smaller cast nets still allowed in state waters. They're being encouraged, he says, by rebounding fish stocks.

NICHOLS: I know that I fish certain flats, and I know suddenly those flats have an existence and a stock of fish that seem to roam them and stay on them. Prior to the net ban those fish would not be able to stay on that flat because it would get netted every night. Even if they were a sport fish and even if the netter were sensitive to that sport fish, he can't help but push that fish off its natural environment, its natural feeding area, when they're netting the other fish that they want to target.

MUELLNER: So far, despite rising numbers of fish, the net ban hasn't yet brought a new wave of recreational fishermen to Florida. But Brownley says he's optimistic.

BROWNLEY: The net ban, in my opinion, is the single most important reform in the history of marine fishing legislation in Florida. It's going to help stabilize the stocks so that future generations will have fish to fish for. And that means future generations of commercial fishermen as well as recreational fishermen. It's not going to be a panacea for all problems. It won't solve a great many of the problems that we still have. We have a lot left to do. If we're smart and we choose sustainable methods of harvest, we can sustain a limited commercial fishery where a limited number of people can make a good living.

MUELLNER: But that scenario is by no means a given.

(Boat engines; boat cuts through water)

MUELLNER: Back near the fish spawning grounds along the coastal mangroves, enforcement officers are struggling to control the rising tide of violations. Commercial fishermen can still gill net in Federal waters 3 miles out, and they've also developed creative ways to get around the ban. Some stash the nets on outer mangrove islands. Others have figured out how to funnel fish toward smaller, legal-size nets using long plastic camping tarps. Patrol officer Sidor says the worst offenders are habitual.

SIDOR: Well I know them. I mean, I've been here long enough to know pretty much all the fishermen around here. So, you know, when you arrest them, you know, they don't have much to say. They're just trying to make a living for their families is what they tell you. And most of them, when you catch them, they think it's a cat and mouse game. You caught me this time. And they're decent about it. You know, write me my ticket, do what you have to do, and I'll see you tomorrow. They'll tell you that straight up.

MUELLNER: Meanwhile, commercial gill netters are taking their own chances in court. They've brought a case, now pending in the Florida Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the ban. For Living on Earth, I'm Alexis Muellner in Miami.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: A New York museum puts endangered species on display. A tour of the exhibit is next on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Museum Message

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. About 65 million years ago, back in what's called the Mesozoic Age, it's believed that a huge asteroid hit the Earth. One theory holds that its impact kicked up a massive dust cloud that blotted out the sun and chilled the planet's surface, killing off the dinosaurs and many other organisms. Today it's the impact of human activity which is putting thousands of species at risk. That's the message of a major new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Richard Schiffman has our report.

(Children's voices echo in museum hallways. Fade to growling sounds. A woman's voice: "This is one of the most famous dioramas in the American Museum. It recreates a family of gorillas on a forested mountainside in Zaire...")

SCHIFFMAN: Some visitors are taking an audio tour of the museum's vast collections.

(Woman's voice continues: "Curator Ross McPhee." McPhee: "When the Aikley expedition collected these specimens in the 1920s, the mountain gorilla population in Africa was estimated to be in the thousands. Today only 600 survive. In fact, today, the spot you see here in this diorama is terraced farm land.")

SCHIFFMAN: Generations of New Yorkers have marveled at these animals in the cavernous Aikley Hall of African Mammals. They were collected early in the century by President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid big game hunter, and naturalist Carl Aikley, and mounted against realistic backdrops of rainforest, desert, and Serengeti grassland. What museum goers may not realize is that many of these animals, including the mountain gorillas and the black rhinos on the far side of the hall, are now in trouble.

EMILY: I didn't know that they, their front horn could grow so big.

KATE: I knew that! They can grow a little longer than that.

SCHIFFMAN: Young Emily and her friend Kate have stopped in front of the diorama with the black rhinos. As part of a museum workshop on endangered species, they're answering a series of questions.

EMILY: Why do you think this animal is endangered? Because its horns are pretty nice, and people probably want their horns.

KATE: And they kill them for the horns.

SCHIFFMAN: Museum researchers warn that by the time these children have grown up, the black rhinoceros and many other species may exist only in dioramas like these. That's one reason they've launched a special exhibition: Endangered: Exploring a World At Risk, just down the corridor from the African hall. Memologist Ross McPhee is the curator. He says the greatest danger to wildlife is habitat destruction.

McPHEE: The original name of this show was going to be Endangered Species, and I had a problem with calling it Endangered Species, because in many regards it's not individual species that we need to be concerned about. What we need to be concerned about is the collapse and loss of whole habitats and ecosystems.

SCHIFFMAN: Ecosystems like the Everglades, for example.

(Growling sounds)

SCHIFFMAN: We step into a virtual swamp, replete with overhanging trees, running water, and an alligator that seems to be striding out of the painted backdrop.

(Alligator growl continues)

McPHEE: We're now looking at a diorama that is meant to depict a part of the Florida Everglades during the dry season. In a nutshell, what's happened in the peninsular part of Florida is that it has been converted from one of the most elaborate, interesting wetlands on the surface on the planet to a greatly diminished figment of what it used to be.

SCHIFFMAN: Ross McPhee says that as more water gets diverted to Miami and for crop irrigation, the Everglades are literally drying up, leaving it dotted with small ponds like this recreated gator hole we're looking at. Alligators actually dig these small ponds. Now, with alligator numbers declining, there are fewer gator holes. And some of the plants, birds, and fishes which depend on them to survive Florida's dry season are currently endangered.

CHILD: Hey, it's alive! It's a live animal.

SCHIFFMAN: Just across from the Everglades display is a pool with live baby Chinese alligators from the Yangtze River. These specimens are on loan from the Bronx Zoo's Species Survival Plan breeding program. A scant 300 of these yellow and black skinned reptiles exist in the wild. A bit further on, there is an open diorama featuring 2 stuffed pandas collected early in the century.

(Asian music. A woman's voice: "Giant pandas hold a special place in the hearts of people around the world. In the zoo they seem safe and secure, but for most pandas in the wild this isn't the case.")

SCHIFFMAN: As the last bamboo forests are cut to make room for China's growing population, the pandas and other endemic species like golden monkeys and Chinese pheasants are at risk. Until as recently as the 1980s, panda skins fetched upwards of $10,000 on the Asian black market. Strong anti-poaching laws are now enforced in China. But the worldwide trade in animal parts continues to imperil many species.

(Growls; children's, then adults' voices in the background)

LANGAM: I'm Larry Langam. I'm an exhibit designer here at the American Museum of Natural History. With this area, what we call Exploitation Avenue, we've taken a number of products that have been made from endangered animals and displayed them in storefronts.

SCHIFFMAN: The miniature business district in the exhibition includes a well-stocked Chinese apothecary, with items like tiger bone tincture, rhinoceros horn potion, and tortoise anti-toxic pills. And there's also a fashionable boutique with a python skin belt, a monkey fur dress, and a leopard hat.

LANGAM: I think that we're able to engage people and entertain them with the beauty of this display, but at the same time it's very clear that there's something really grotesque about it.

SCHIFFMAN: After habitat loss and the hunting and poaching of wild animals, the third major threat to wildlife, according to Ross McPhee, is the introduction of non-native species. Some insects, seeds, and animals are carried to new areas as stowaways on ships and airplanes, while others are deliberately brought in.

McPHEE: Species that live in their normal ranges tend to be well adapted. If you take them out of their local environment and put them elsewhere, where they would now be considered introduced, anything can happen and it's very hard to predict.

SCHIFFMAN: In the 1950s British officials introduced Nile perch into Lake Victoria, hoping to augment the villagers' diet. It proved a boon to the local fisher folk. But the voracious perch wiped out many of the unique species of fish which populated the lake.

McPHEE: Although the ambition was humanitarian, the end result has been an ecological disaster. So that the lake, the fish, the people are now much worse off than they ever would have been had nature been left alone.

(Dramatic music and ambient voices)

SCHIFFMAN: The exhibition ends in a round tomb-like structure. It's filled with models of extinct species like the Great Auk and the Stellar's Sea Cow, set in alcoves in the granite wall.


McPHEE: This is the last stop of the story, in a sense. If you do nothing about the leading causes of endangerment in terms of over-exploitation, habitat loss, and introduced species, then this increasingly is where the world's biota is going to end up: in little niches in a catacomb like this.

(Gongs continue. Child: "Oh my God, 1,146 animals just got extinct." Dramatic music and gongs up and under)

SCHIFFMAN: As you leave the tomb you pass a digital counter which estimates how many species have gone extinct since the exhibition started. Based on a rough calculation of 3 extinctions per hour, the counter will read over 27,000 on September first, the day the exhibition closes.

(Gongs and music continue)

SCHIFFMAN: From the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, I'm Richard Schiffman reporting.

Back to top

(Music continues, up and under)

Hydro Radio

CURWOOD: This week marks Living on Earth's sixth year on the air. We thought we'd note the occasion by dipping into our archives to listen to what we were doing back in the spring of 1991. We came up with what we think is a prime example of the kind of radio we set out to do from the start: tell a good story about environmental change. Here's our profile of Public Radio station WJFF.

(A car engine runs)

CURWOOD: In Jeffersonville, New York, in the heart of the Catskill Mountains and just down the road from the site of the Woodstock Music Festival, the Calcoun Creek backs up behind a 20-foot-high dam to form Lake Jefferson. A decade ago, Lake Jefferson was just one of about 250 small dams in New York State with the potential for small-scale hydro power. Today, a hydro facility there generates enough electricity to supply nearly 30 homes and one nonprofit business.

(Woman: "And you are listening to WJFF, Jeffersonville. Stay tuned for Terri Gross and Fresh Air." Fresh Air theme up and under)

CURWOOD: On the air for just over a year, WJFF is one of the country's newest public radio stations. Malcolm Brown, recently retired from teaching philosophy at Brooklyn College, is the station's general manager.

BROWN: There's literally no electric company meter on the studio building, because all of the juice for the radio comes from right here. We're rather proud of that. And we're told by our network friends that we're the only station that can claim that.

(Loud sounds of turbines spinning)

CURWOOD: WJFF's "juice" comes from Jefferson Hydro. Located at the foot of the Lake Jefferson Dam in Malcolm Brown's basement. Water rushes down an intake pipe from the lake 20 feet above and spins 2 small turbines. The turbines drive a generator, which makes electricity.

BROWN: Today they're putting out roughly 40 kilowatts. This one does about 15 kilowatts and that one does about 25.

CURWOOD: The turbines are running at full force today, propelled by a torrent of spring runoff. Come late summer, though, Brown says the flow from the dam may be just a trickle.

BROWN: But even the trickle, 20 times less than I have today, is still enough to run it. See, because the studio part of the station just requires roughly what one household requires.

(Turbines continue)

CURWOOD: Jefferson Hydro provides free electricity to WJFF and to Malcolm Brown's house. When there's power to spare, and there is usually plenty, it flows backwards through Brown's power lines and into the local utility grid. The utility pays Brown the
wholesale rate of 6 cents a kilowatt.

BROWN: Essentially I send them a monthly bill.

CURWOOD: You send the power company a monthly bill?

BROWN: Yes, sir, I send them a monthly bill. You can see that that might be some of the fun of it, that so?

CURWOOD: I guess so.

From the money he makes selling his electricity to the utility, Brown covers the hydro plant's expenses. And, when all the bills are paid, there's a little left over.

BROWN: You see, so it can be, to a small extent you can get a profitable little enterprise out of it.

CURWOOD: Forgive me if I'm wrong, but are you trying to prove something here?

BROWN: I think it's fair to say that I am, yes. I do want to say that little guys can make at least a little difference, and you can maybe do something that'll spread.

WOMAN RADIO ANNOUNCER: And I think you'll find that if you were maybe having a little after lunch slump and feeling like a nap, that this will wake you up.

(Accordion music)

CURWOOD: So, where came this idea to have a radio station?

BROWN: Well, now, that happened in an odd way. A visitor from Vermont wanted to listen to a radio show. In fact, the Garrison Keillor Prairie Home Companion. And I said Joe, we don't get public radio here. To which his response was a rather cavalier: well, then, you're going to have to make a station. So anyhow, it was a bit of work, and we didn't get the show that night. In fact, we still can't afford it. (Laughs)

CURWOOD: WJFF is a low-budget operation with just a couple of paid staff members. But the station's audience is growing, and its programming reflects the same unconventional approach that led Malcolm Brown to build his hydro plant. It's got a little bit of everything: news, classical music, jazz, rock.

There is even opera on this station.

BROWN: Yes. Now, we're going against the advice of our industry friends, you know. They say must never do opera. Audience research will prove you shouldn't do it. So I say to hell with the audience research.

(French Opera plays)

CURWOOD (Then): And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our program is produced by Peter Thomson, Gary Covino, and George Homsy, with help from...

Back to top


CURWOOD (Now): And 6 years ago that was Living on Earth. By the way, WJFF is still on the air and still operating with hydro power. And yes, despite the advice of marketing experts, they still play opera. Peter Thomson is still with us; he heads our western bureau. And George Homsy is here, too; he directed this week's program. The rest of our staff includes Kim Motylewski, Julia Madeson, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Colin Studds and Jesse Wegman. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Our engineers are Mark Navin at WBUR and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. And thanks for all your support over these past 6 years.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth