Sunday, May 13, 2018
With a habitat ranging across the North Atlantic Ocean from North America to Europe the Atlantic salmon has always been an important and popular species for sports and commercial fisheries. But habitat destruction, over fishing, and warmer waters have decimated the wild population to the point where conservation measures have been introduced in most countries. The numbers for farmed Atlantic salmon, on the other hand, have increased exponentially with over 3 million tonnes now being produced annually vs. the 3,000 tonnes of Atlantic salmon being caught in the wild.
Atlantic salmon are the preferred species for fish farming because they grow quickly and consistently, are resistant to disease, and taste great. Salmon is also popular with people looking for healthy food alternatives because they provide Omega-3 fatty acids. Combine all this with the fact farmed salmon cost less than wild salmon and are available year round and you can see why the salmon farming industry is exploding.
Over the years Atlantic salmon have been bred to more efficiently turn "feed into flesh" but recent genetic development has now allowed the fish to reach market size in just 18 months or less than half the time if it was in the wild. By adding the growth hormone gene of the Chinook salmon (the largest species of Pacific salmon) with an antifreeze gene of the Ocean Pout to the fertilized egg of an Atlantic salmon the fish is able to grow continuously while eating less than half the amount of feed. After more than 25 years of testing and red tape this amazing breakthrough for the AquaBounty salmon has finally been certified by the Canadian & American governments as being safe for human consumption.
No matter how you look at it raising animals for protein is highly inefficient with feed inputs many times over what is ultimately produced. Because salmon are carnivorous it's even worse as more wild fish end up being harvested for fish food than for human consumption. But with this new genetically modified salmon the food cost ratio drops to 1:1 and this has profound implications for worldwide food production and the sustainability of other ocean populations.
Killer whales for example in the Pacific Northwest are a fish eating species that relies particularly on wild Chinook salmon. Competition with commercial fishing and a decline in the wild fish population is causing serious concern for their survival and another reason we should be getting our salmon from farms, just as we do for every other food group, and leave the wild salmon to the whales and recreational fishery. The demand for aquaculture products is huge and growing larger every year with salmon being one of the most important products.
Most farmed salmon are raised in open net pens that can hold up to 90,000 fish. While they provide a lower operating cost than closed land based systems, they also discharge a lot of waste, parasites, and disease into the surrounding water and this is what concerns folks who worry about Pacific wild salmon picking something up as they pass through on their migratory route. They also worry about Atlantic salmon escaping into the wild and competing with native Pacific salmon species.
Strangely enough various governments over the last 100 years have tried to introduce the Atlantic salmon to the Pacific coast and none of these efforts have been successful. Every species of salmon has the same life cycle which means being born in fresh water, moving on to the salt water ocean to become an adult, and then returning to the same fresh water it was born in to spawn and die. For whatever reason the Atlantic salmon couldn't make it through the adult stage in the ocean and return. To worry about any of them escaping from a net in the middle of nowhere and taking over the Pacific Northwest is ridiculous. But just to be safe the AquaBounty salmon are being raised in fresh water pens and they are only using sterilized females so there is no chance of interbreeding.
The hysteria over genetically modified food and animals is another version of the science vs. religion debate where fear, ignorance and misinformation combine to create a toxic dialogue. We've been eating genetically modified plants for quite some time now and this technology holds open the door of possibility for many parts of the planet that are currently unsuited to agriculture because of salinity, lack of moisture or other issues. There aren't any 2-headed fish coming our way only fish that cost half as much to feed in half the time and I call that a bargain.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
It's been 48 years since the first Earth Day was declared, though of course the environmental movement has been around since the smokestack days of the 19th century Industrial Revolution. While there has been an increasing awareness of how humans have affected the planet with their various forms of pollution, nothing has really changed in their behavior. Relentless population growth with its emphasis on deforestation, the burning of fossil fuels, and the dumping of our collective waste into the ocean, has led to species extinction, ruined the land, sea, and air, and raised Earth's temperature.
|SpaceX Interplanetary Base On The Moon|
If we persist in ruining planet Earth for ourselves to live on, and by all indications that is exactly what we will do unless a stray asteroid does it for us like it did 65 million years ago for the dinosaurs, then we need to get behind the movement for interplanetary colonization. The SpaceX folks are making plans to use the Moon or Mars as an exploration base for Space travel and other organizations will be soon following suit. After all, in another 2 billion years our Sun will burn out and Earth will disappear so we might as well get started.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Neither the government or the railway company have dealt with the washed out tracks from the winter of 2017 and the town of Churchill continues to sit in limbo as it waits for the politics and lawsuits to eventually decide things. Tourism of course has been down as well for the polar bear and beluga whale viewing. But worst of all is the shutdown of the port itself.
|Port of Churchill|
Even more interesting and exciting would be the establishment of an Arctic Bridge between Churchill and Murmansk in Russia which is connected by rail to St. Petersburg and the rest of Europe. Ships would travel between the two ports for at least 6 months of the year aided by icebreakers that, in the case of Canada at least, would be based out of Churchill as part of our commitment to establishing a permanent and viable Arctic presence.
For now it's all talk and pipe dreams. The ice comes and goes every winter and spring and everyone has to make the best of whatever opportunity presents itself. But whether you are a husky dog, a polar bear or the Town of Churchill it would be nice to finally break on through the impasse.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
The Aurora Borealis is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the Sun, during sunspot or solar flare activity (referred to as coronal mass ejections) that collide with the oxygen and nitrogen gases in the Earth's atmosphere. Driven by solar wind these particles enter the Earth's atmosphere through the north or south pole where the Earth's magnetic field is weaker. A roughly oval shaped area near the north pole called the Auroral zone offers the best viewing opportunity and, in Canada, one of the most perfectly located viewing spots is Yellowknife.
It was a perfectly clear night when we arrived at the viewing station and the Aurora started as soon as it was dark. Driving out of town to get away from any streetlight we were quickly overwhelmed by the display that shimmered and danced across the heavens with incredible speed. Constantly shifting shape, as if an unseen hand was stirring up a cosmic light show, we never knew where to look from one moment to the next.
Overwhelmed by our incredible good fortune we spent over 4 hours in the cold night air (minus 20 Fahrenheit) watching in stunned admiration as the mostly green light kept changing the night sky. Luckily we were dressed for the occasion in specially designed thermal clothing, but was nice to get back to our hotel where we fell fast asleep after taking in all the fresh night air.
On the second night we were ready for another session under the stars but wondering how Ms. Aurora was going to top off her last performance. We need not have worried as once again the sky was lit up with yet another spectacular display of rapidly moving curtains of light. Northern lights are mostly green in colour caused by the interaction with oxygen at approximately 60 miles above Earth but they can also be purple at the edges and at an altitude of 200 miles they can be red.
It's a long way from Vancouver to see the Aurora Borealis (even further if you want to see the Southern one called Aurora Australis) and people come from around the world (particularly Asia) where it's considered good luck if you see the lights. There's never any guarantee but, when it does all come together, you feel very privileged. It's a national treasure and it's free, no wonder so many folks are beginning to see the light.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
The one thing that affects all scuba divers, regardless of the water temperature, is pressure and the deeper they dive the greater is the surrounding pressure their body has to face. At sea level the atmospheric pressure (ATM) is only 1 but every 10 metres or 33 feet deeper adds another ATM. The deeper you go the faster you consume your air supply because at 2 ATM you are inhaling twice the number of air molecules as you would at the surface and, at 4 ATM, or 30 metres deep, each breath is 4 times what you would at the surface. Understanding how the body reacts to all this pressure is the key to safe diving.
Pressurized air in a scuba tank still contains the approximate 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen we are accustomed to breathing on land. However, during a dive, the body tissues are absorbing nitrogen in proportion to the surrounding pressure, which is anywhere from 2 to 5 times more than normal depending on depth. As the diver ascends and the pressure decreases the excess nitrogen will slowly leave the body (off gassing) but if the pressure is reduced too quickly the nitrogen will form bubbles in the tissues and bloodstream causing decompression sickness or what is referred to as the "bends".
There are two types of decompression sickness (DCS) with Type 1 usually characterized by musculoskeletal pain in the joints and mild skin itching and rashes. Type 2 on the other hand is much more serious and life threatening as it can affect the lungs, spinal cord or brain and the symptoms include difficulty with bladder control, and numbness and paralysis in the legs. The only treatment for DCS 2 is hyperbaric oxygen therapy delivered in a recompression chamber. Getting the bends and having to go to the "Chamber" is every diver's worst nightmare.
|The "Chamber" at VGH - photo by Junie Quiroga|
Unfortunately for me I came down with DCS 2, following an otherwise very pleasant day of scuba diving in Howe Sound with my friends and the good folks at Sea Dragon Dive Charters this past weekend, and had to be taken by ambulance to the "Chamber" at Vancouver General Hospital. Luckily a hastily gathered team of 5 specialists were there to make me comfortable and put me through the standard regimen of being taken down to the pressure of 2.8 ATA, or 60 feet below sea level, and given pure oxygen to breathe for a session that lasted just over 7 hours.
|Nelson in the Chamber - photo by Junie Quiroga|
As I sat in my chair watching movies I could feel the nitrogen slowly leaving my legs, and I happily began to regain all normal feeling, but I wasn't out of the woods yet. While I appear to have avoided serious permanent injury it will be 6 months before my recovery can be properly assessed and I may never be able to go scuba diving again. How and why the nitrogen built up to such an extent in my bloodstream is something I'm still examining from my dive profile, but there's no arguing with the physiology and the frightening power it had to bend and shape me.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
The most significant event of the year so far was the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket by Space X on Feb 6th. A private enterprise undertaking that, thanks to its reusable boosters, dramatically reduces the cost of rocket launches, the Falcon Heavy looks to reinvigorate the NASA Space program with space tourism and missions to Mars. While capable of carrying a payload of up to 140,000 lbs. the maiden voyage featured a Tesla Roadster as cargo complete with an astronaut mannequin modelling the latest in space wear and grooving the tunes by David Bowie.
|Rocket Man/Major Tom in a Tesla Roadster|
The key to all of this succeeding will be the re-usability of all the rocket ship components, building a propellant production plant on Mars and, of course, the lucrative commercial contracts for satellites and Space Station work. As fantastical as this may seem it was all put to rest when the first 2 re-usable booster rockets made their dramatic and seemingly effortless return to the launch pad (the 3rd one ran out of fuel and hit the ocean). The digital rocket technology of today is vastly superior to the mechanical technology of the 1960's and, if they could put men on the Moon then with slide rulers, a trip to Mars no longer seems like much of a stretch.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
On December 3rd the world was treated to a spectacular supermoon sighting. A supermoon being a full moon that approximately coincides with the closest distance the Moon gets to Earth in its orbit and thus makes it appear to be larger than usual. Because of the eliptical nature of the moon's orbit the distance from Earth to the Moon ranges between 357,000 and 406,000 kilometers; so when that 50,000 kilometers coincides with a full moon it really makes a difference.
But the Moon doesn't emit light it only reflects sunlight and only half of the Moon is lighted at any one time. It doesn't mean there is a dark side it just means we can only see up to half of the lighted side depending on where it is in relation to the earth and sun. The reason we are always looking at the same part of the Moon is because it takes 29 days to make a complete orbit around the Earth which is also the same amount of time it takes to make one rotation around its axis. The two happenings are locked together.
Also locked together of course are the Earth and Sun as the Earth rotates around its axis while orbiting the Sun. Unlike the Moon, which is relatively upright and therefore having the same season year round, the Earth has quite a tilt to its axis and, over the course of the year, this causes the Sun's radiation to strike the hemispheres at different angles. Whichever hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun experiences winter and when tilted towards the Sun has summer. In the polar regions this can also lead to 24 hour sunlight or 24 hour darkness.
|Near and Far Sides of the Moon|
Thanks first to the 1959 Soviet Luna 3 probe and later NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009 we now have images of the "dark side" of the moon or "far side" of the moon as it is more appropriately called. Prior to this the only humans to have seen this side of the moon were the Apollo astronauts who orbited it in exploratory missions or before landing on its surface. Strange how, at this time of year as the days get progressively shorter and darker, it's the moonlight that seems to brighten our existence (even if it's only reflected sunlight from the near side).
Monday, November 13, 2017
|Nelson scuba diving - photo by Michael Mehta|
|Sunrise photo - by Junie Quiroga|
|Construction photos - by Junie Quiroga|
|Pigeons bathing - photo by Junie Quiroga|
But it was on Remembrance Day the sound of silence really hit home. For just a moment, at 11:00 a.m. things came to a sudden halt, people stopped what they were doing, and nobody spoke. Total silence. Such a profound way to mark the sacrifice of others and what an impact an absence of noise can make. It begs the question that if silence is golden why aren't we making more of it?