Monday, 1 June 2009

Thoughts on Ocean Pollution after a Visit to Where the Portuguese Began Their Adventuring

Back from Portugal to find the garden overgrown and a mass of news to digest. While in Lisbon I watched far more television than I do here, largely to work on my Portuguese comprehension. Canada made the news a couple of times—a second death due to AH1N1, the Stanley Cup finals (only on BBC sports,) Alice Munro winning the International Man Booker, J’ai tué ma mère running away at Cannes and the CAW making more concessions to GM. Other big stories here didn’t rate a mention there.

It’s going to take me a while to digest what’s happened, to say nothing about making sense of what I learned in Lisbon. But I was struck by one observation I made there as I watched fishermen on the Tagus River—the mass of plastic and tangled abandoned fishing line floating at high tide—and a most interesting story by Louis-Gilles Francoeur in last Friday’s Le Devoir which was waiting for me when I got home. In it he cites a United Nations study showing that 650,000 tons of discarded fishing gear now are floating on the oceans’ waves, making up about 10 per cent of all detritus that is seriously harming their health.

The report was issued in early May, although I haven’t seen mention of it anywhere. The international community must take effective steps to deal with the problem of marine debris as a whole, it quotes Ichiro Nomura, FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture.

“There are many ‘ghosts in the marine environment machine' from over fishing and acidification linked with greenhouse gases to the rise in de-oxygenated ‘dead zones' as a result of run off and land-based source of pollution, ” adds UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Lisbon was settled 2,000 years ago or more where the Tagus enters the Atlantic Ocean. The sea-going prowess of the Portuguese was honed in the great river’s waters. That it is polluted is not surprise, but it is a terrible shame.

By the way, that's the suspension bridge now called the April 25 th Bridge, after the day when Portugal had its most effective and quiet revolution in 1974. More about that later probably, but in the meantime note how much it looks like the Golden Gate. If I were to sum up my impression of Lisbon in a phrase it would be: a smaller Paris set down in California.

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