Let’s Talk About Marine Protected Areas

According to the latest data from MPAtlas only 2.12% of the world’s oceans are currently protected. This surface accounts for 11.333 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the latest significant addition was announced by the British government earlier this year: the area around Pitcairn Islands, which happens to be the largest marine reserve in the world.

In 1988 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at its 17th General Assembly, adopted the following definition of MPAs:

“Any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment.”

Currently there are seven types of compliant MPAs including: Strict nature reserve, Wilderness area, National park (marine park), Natural monuments or features, Habitat/species management area, Protected seascape and Sustainable use of resources.

More marine reserves are needed

More marine reserves are needed

For years scientists have repeatedly shown that the establishment of MPAs results in the recovery of biodiversity and fish biomass, the protection from natural disasters and the reduction in poverty.

In 2009, a scientific paper by Lester et al. has shown evidence that the implementation of no-take marine reserves can counterattack the negative effects of overfishing, resulting in the rehabilitation of biomass and species richness.

Coral reefs and mangroves are natural barriers against natural disasters, including the force of waves. Mangroves protect the coast from erosion and they capture carbon from the atmosphere. The implementation of MPAs in coastal areas is essential both for the marine ecosystems and the 3.5 billion people who inhabit them.

Coral reef

A healthy coral reef next to a mangrove forest

Recently it has been discovered that mangroves in Hurricane Hole in St. John are harboring at least 30 species of corals. The corals have sought the protection of the mangrove habitat in order to escape elevated temperatures and an increasing ocean acidification. Due to massive coral bleaching events around the world, more species may flee the unshaded shallow waters and hide under mangrove forests where they can thrive. The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported that:

 “Boulder brain corals, for example, were found in abundance under the mangroves and were healthy, while many of those in unshaded areas a short distance away were bleaching.”

Boulder brain coral (Colpophyllia natans)

MPAs can greatly boost the economy and it has been shown in a recent analysis commissioned by WWF that increased protection of critical habitats would result in net benefits of between US $490 billion and US $920 billion over the period of 2015-2050.

Despite the massive amount of data that serves as evidence for the benefits of creating more marine protected areas around the globe, there are numerous misconceptions regarding MPAs, including the false assumption that all marine protected areas are no-take or no-fishing zones, when in reality most MPAs are deemed as multiple use conservation areas that allow fishing, diving, boating and swimming. A great deal of criticism comes from tribal communities that live in coastal areas and fully depend on the exploration of marine life and material resources.

Currently there’s an international effort to preserve larger areas of the planetary ocean but I feel these actions are not enough because of the accelerated downfall of marine life and the poisoning of water due to industries, such as oil extraction in many parts of the world. The global economy heavily relies on the oceans and therefore governments should understand better the importance of preserving the marine ecosystems and not take them for granted as if their produce is infinite. Despite our past mistakes, the world keeps forgetting that in the end what we reap is what we sow.

Dandelion: The Beneficial Weed

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“What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction.The promise that life could go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”

Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

Maybe you are wondering why the quote above is in this post. What does it have to do with the medical qualities of dandelion? Nothing. But it could be counted as one of those small things that make our lives more beautiful or it could be perceived as hope. Fortunately, the dandelion’s attributes don’t stop at its beauty.

Dandelions (family Asteraceae, genus Taraxacum) have been known as medicinal herbs since Antiquity. It is a marvel plant indeed. When consumed they can provide calcium, potassium, manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc and vitamins such as C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and other nutrients (source: USDA Nutrient Database).

They are said to have diuretic properties and are also effective in case of constipation or gallbladder issues. Its high content in nutritive salts are effective against acids in the blood and it can soothe irritated stomachs and promote better food appetite and proper digestion. I guess there’s no need to enumerate more properties of this yellowish happy weed. So far, you have figured out it is healthy and nutritious, which is more of a reason to start consuming it. You could consider one of the following:

  1. Dandelion tea (also known as dandelion coffee): It is a herbal tea made from dandelion roots but it is not literally coffee as the alternative name suggests, but it resembles it. Can be used as a tonic for the liver or a successful laxative. The raw Taraxacum officinale roots contain sesquiterpene lactones, carotenoids, flavonoids, coumarins, phenolic acids among others.
  1. Salad made from dandelion leaves

The Oceans of the Future

Thanks to all this extra CO2, the oceans are now thirty percent more acidic than they were in 1800. Assuming that humans continue to burn fossil fuels, the oceans will continue to absorb carbon dioxide and will become increasingly acidified. Under what’s known as a “business as usual” emissions scenario, by the end of this century, the oceans will be 150 percent more acidic than they were at the start of the industrial revolution.

Read here more about ocean acidification. Elizabeth Kolbert’s book on the subject, The Sixth Extinction, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

In acidic oceans, the balance of molecules needed for shell-bearing organisms to manufacture shells and skeletons is altered.

An article on the social and political problems imposed by climate change can be found on EarthIsland’s website.

 

Science As a Candle in the Dark

These days, in this century, being only a good scientist isn’t enough. Your voice has to be heard globally. You have to reach a point where you can make legislative decisions instead of the science-illiterate politicians. All the ecosystems on the planet are under pressure and we should no longer accept a system where leaders bend at the will of their corporate puppeteers. It is mandatory scientists comprehend their necessity in politics, against the profit-driven scoundrels and fundamentalists who want to deepen this world into religious superstition, in a darkness that will never end.

~ Larisa

The Most Underrated Issue in Human History

According to The Living Planet Index, there was a decline of 52% in vertebrates worldwide between 1970 and 2010. That means half the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe was halved in only 40 years! Freshwater species have declined by 76% and marine species by 39%, which is the same as terrestrial species, in the period of time mentioned above. Habitat loss and degradation, and exploitation through hunting and fishing, are the primary causes of decline. Climate change is the next most common primary threat, and is likely to put more pressure on populations in the future.

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The coming years are veiled with uncertainty regarding our planet and its dying biodiversity. It is high time both the governments and the people start fighting for a common goal: to prevent an Anthropogenic mass extinction. Currently, most states in the world are working for corporations that have no other purpose than profit, without thinking about the consequences of their actions in the long run.

I am struggling to become a marine biologist and these days it strikes me, more and more, that our generation of specialists in this field may be amongst the last ones to study the seas and the oceans of Earth as they have been for a very long time. Marine environments have already been and are being abused because many industries rely on them. Yet again, it is the mindless corporations that put wealth above anything else without realizing their way of doing business isn’t reliable or sustainable. People should elect governments that understand the current environmental issues caused by human activities and are willing to undertake the responsibility to change the way we use the resources available to us.

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Many countries around the world have politicians who know absolutely nothing about climate change, biodiversity, ecosystems or, let’s say, aquatic ecotoxicology. But they are the ones making the laws that impact the very resources our economies heavily rely on. Aside from this, corporations try their best to put climate change in a negative light and lately they have been very successful in making people believe climatologists are wrong and that global warming is nothing but a big fat lie.

My message to this kind of people, who would rather believe what they’re being told rather than using their brain to understand a certain issue, is the following quote by Ban Ki-moon, the eighth and current Secretary-General of the United Nations:

Climate change does not respect border; it does not respect who you are – rich and poor, small and big. Therefore, this is what we call ‘global challenges,’ which require global solidarity.”

I recommend the following documentary and I salute Ireland’s efforts to minimize their impact on the environment:

Survival of the Fittest in the Namib Desert

Welwitschia mirabilis (syn. W. bainesii, syn. Tumboa mirabilis, lat. mirabilis = wonderful) is the only species in the monotypic gymnosperm genus Welwitschia.

Its name was derived from an Austrian botanist, Friedrich Welwitsch (1806-1872), who discovered this ancient plant in his adventures in Angola’s Namib desert. This finding was noted as one of the most important in the botanical field in the 19th century, compared to the discovery of Victoria amazonica and Rafflesia arnoldii.

Friedrich Welwitsch

The distribution of Welwitschia mirabilis is quite wide, spreading from the Nicolau River in southern Angola to the Kuiseb River in Namibia and approximately 100 km inland off the coast in an extremely arid habitat with less than 100mm of rainfall annually.

The distribution of Welwitschia in Western Africa

Populations of Welwitschia mirabilis prosper in places where there are natural reserves of underground water but mostly surviving on moisture from fog and dew. Also, the powerful dry winds break its two large leaves (up to 9 metres long) into a multitude of fringes that grow continuously and it looks as if the plant has multiple leaves. Originally, W. mirabilis has a stem base with two powerful lobes situated on its superior end and each holds one integral leaf but the winds quickly change its appearance.

Obviously, these amazing specimens represent an undisclosed desire for every passionate plant collector. Angola’s desert is embroidered with hidden land mines and makes it dangerous for anyone to venture into unknown land hunting this unique desert jewel.

Unfortunately, Namibia doesn’t have any protection against those willing to get their hands on Welwitschia mirabilis. Also, the plant itself doesn’t possess any means of defense against several threatening factors, such as overgrazing, pathogens, off-road vehicles or wild plant collectors.

All in all, its amazing longevity is astounding, carbon dating showing that some specimens are up to 1500 years old. People may not realize now that even this isolated plant is important as well for the world’s flora because it is one of the oldest plants known to man. If humans keep threatening its existence, this two-leaf miracle will disappear forever as many did before and maybe only then we will realize that Mother Earth has just lost one of its crown diamonds. But it will be too late.

A large specimen of Welwitschia mirabilis

How Is Cancer Linked to What We Eat?

This morning I attended a lecture on plant physiology and I learned about the most efficient plant-based foods that can prevent cancer or can be used in association with chemotherapy. I also learned that in a class of fifty people only one person is completely healthy and the rest have pre-cancerous cells that may lie dormant for up to four decades. While we can’t avoid being affected by our genetics, environmental conditions or infections, we certainly can alter our lifestyles in order to ensure a healthy body and mind.

The major risk factors in developing cancer are:

  • Food (30%) – What we put in our bodies often signs our death certificate sooner or later. Nowadays western societies have developed a fast-paced style of doing things and taking the time to cook properly, sit down and enjoy what’s on our plates is seen as a waste of time in most of the cases. The alternative option is offered by fast-food restaurants, takeaways or processed ready meals and it can easily fall into a routine because of our lack of time. In developed countries food has an overall reduced quality because it contains preservatives, dyes and it undergoes numerous processes meant to prolog its shelf-life. While in Asia food is seen as a source of health, in the West it’s merely a source of energy that keeps us going throughout the day.
  • Smoking (30%) – The effects of smoking on the human body are well-known and numerous studies have shown that it leads to smoking-related cancers (42,800 deaths each year in the UK), cardiovascular disease (30,600 deaths each year in the UK), and nearly 30,000 people die each year in the UK because of emphysema, bronchitis and other chronic lung diseases.
  • Hereditary factors (15%) – Even though a person’s genetics is a less impacting factor in developing cancer than food and smoking, it is still to be considered. People who have a predisposition for cancer should pay special attention to what they eat and the vicious habits they engage in their daily lives.
  • Ultraviolet radiation, pollution, drugs, infections, alcohol, obesity and other factors are also responsible for the onset of cancer, yet in smaller percentages. Obesity accounts for 35% of the colon cancer cases in men and 65% of the uterine cancer cases in women. I will explain later how obesity and cancer are closely interlinked.

The least cases of cancer are in India, Thailand and China because they have a diet based on fruits and vegetables, compared to Czech Republic, Hungary and the USA, where is the highest incidence due to an increased consumption of red meat and processed foods.

Cancer is basically the malfunction of a cell that goes into division and invades the proximal tissues, forming new blood vessels (angiogenesis). The progression of cancer can take one to forty years but it can only be clinically identified in the pre-terminal and terminal stages. A person is declared cured if the treated cancer doesn’t relapse for at least 5 years. Cancers with the highest percentage of healing (70%) are breast cancer and prostate cancer, and the ones with a lesser chance of healing (20%) are lung cancer, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.

The treatment for cancer is limited to surgical interventions when the tumor is localized and incipient, radiotherapy with X rays, and chemotherapy with intravenous drug administration. Chemotherapy is by far the most common treatment for sick patients but it is very traumatizing because the drugs that are used are extremely toxic and in the end the rate of success weighs on how much a person’s body can resist the chemical abuse.

A new form of treatment was developed in the past 5 years and it showed better results. The metronomic treatment is a mild form of chemotherapy, but the drugs are administered more often in lower doses and the procedure is associated with a strict diet. It is important to remember that a diet by itself CANNOT cure cancer, but it can increase the efficiency of the treatment.

Sources of food that can be used for the prevention of cancer or that can form a diet that assists chemical cancer treatments:

1. The cabbage family

It includes red cabbage, white cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, radish and others. They are meant to be consumed raw, steamed or quickly fried, at least three times each week. The active substances (polyphenols and glucosinolates) contained in these vegetables are helpful in leukemia, bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon and prostate cancer. Keep in mind that Brussels sprouts have the highest amount of glucosinolates.

2. Onion, garlic and leek

They contain high amounts of polyphenols that are active in stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, colon and prostate cancer, reducing by 70% the risk of development. They should be eaten raw because the active substances in the vacuoles can easily be damaged by cooking.

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3. Soya

Soya in all its forms is a healthy source of phytoestrogen and it is a basic food in Japan (at least 65 g/day), while in Europe it is less appreciated (1 g/day). Phytoestrogen blocks cell division and tumor growth, being useful in breast cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer. Obesity favors the synthesis of sexual hormones in excess, which can trigger the onset of cancer but phytoestrogens function as anti-estrogen compounds by blocking the estrogen cell receptor and therefore stops the cell from going into division.

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4. Turmeric

The active substance in turmeric is curcumin and it is useful in stomach cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, liver and colon cancer. It inhibits angiogenesis and cell division and its potency is increased by a thousand times when pepper is ingested with it.

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5. Green tea

Did you know that 15 000 cups of green tea are consumed worldwide each second? This isn’t the only most consumed drink in the world, but it is also very healthy because it contains polyphenols that have antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is useful in melanoma, kidney cancer, leukemia, prostate and breast cancer. The strongest green tea is Sencha (the Japanese ryokucha) which is made into the green tea beverage by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water. Green tea can be a very potent natural drug if consumed three times per day for a long period of time.

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6. Berries

This group includes strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and others. It containts polyphenols (ellagic acid) that prevent tumor proliferation and inhibits cell division. The antocyanins they contain give them color, maintain tumor latency and reduce estrogen synthesis.

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7. Omega-3 fatty acids

They can be found in plants (walnuts, pine seeds, green algae, olive oil) and in animals (salmon, sardines, trout and tuna). Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t synthesized within the human body, therefore it is essential they are taken from foods. It is advised to consume fish twice each week and a fistful of walnuts each day. These compounds protect the cardiovascular system, reduce cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory properties. They are useful in pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer.

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8. Tomatoes

They contain an active substance called lycopene that has the highest concentration in tomato paste. It is ideal to eat tomatoes or their derived products at least twice a week as it is very useful in preventing prostate cancer.

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9. Citrus fruits

They contain active substances that are good antioxidants against esophageal cancer, mouth cancer, laryngeal cancer, stomach cancer and leukemia. It is important to remember that grapefruit shouldn’t be consumed when following a prescribed drug treatment as it tends to accumulate drugs within the body, preventing them from being eliminated. The high amounts of drugs that accumulate can sometimes lead to death.

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10. Red wine

The recommended dose of red wine each day is 250 ml because it can decrease the risk of death by 25-30 % due to cancer or cardiovascular disease. Red wine contains resveratrol, a substance that reduces cholesterol, inhibits blood clotting and it is very active in breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and esophageal cancer. In countries where the consumption of red wine is reduced there is a higher mortality caused by heart disease (Finland, USA, Canada), while in Italy and France, where high quantities are consumed, the incidence of such disease is extremely reduced. Also, it is important to remember that red wine’s potency is 6 times over that of white wine.

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11. Dark chocolate

This product is obtained from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree and it contains polyphenols that are active in cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancers. The recommended daily dose is 40 grams.

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Lastly, there are certain foods that you need to avoid if you want to prevent cancer development:

– pickles

– smoked foods

– fast-food

– excessive amounts of alcohol

– foods that have been fried in oil for a long period of time