Thursday, 30 October 2014

Whale wars ...

The Sea Shepherd vessel Sam Simon is currently moored at Princes Wharf, downtown Auckland, where the Creative Hub writing centre is located. Shepherd's campaign to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean made for one of the more enthralling reality TV series of recent years. The series featured helicopter tracking, collisions and sinkings, and a variety of other guerrilla tactics against the whalers. After an International Court of Justice ruling early in 2014, the Japanese have called a halt to killing whales. Their explanation that they were taking whales for 'research purposes' was widely regarded as a sham.

Sea Shepherd can claim credit for exposing the Japanese actions, which have their origins in a complex set of cultural and historical mores, and a desire not to lose face by backing down to Western and international pressure.

French sailor Antoine (clip below) told me the Sam Simon's next mission was a campaign to stop the illegal fishing of the Antarctic tooth-fish in the Southern Ocean. Antoine said Spanish boats sailing anonymously under flags of convenience are plundering the stocks of this remarkable deep water fish which can live up to about fifty years, and reach a length of more than two metres. There is furious debate going on between fishers and conservation groups, with Greenpeace having recently placed the tooth-fish on their red list of protected fish species.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Volcanoes I have known ...

Speaking of active volcanos (see previous post) ... in a fit of madness, I once made a pledge to climb each of the eight mountainous volcanic Aeolian Islands off the north coast of Sicily.

A wonderful, evocative archipelago, the group consists of a loose assortment of mountains poking their heads out of the Mediterranean. They include the verdant Lipari; Vulcano, where you can immerse yourself in warm bubbling volcanic mud to cure your skin ailments, and the only continuously erupting volcano in Europe, Stromboli.

The eight islands have been created by the violent tectonic movement of the African continental crust against the European crust. Believe me, it's hot down there. Stromboli features in the climactic scenes of Jules Verne's 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth'.

After a night ascent of the 900 metre volcano, I bedded down on its rim with a group of Germans, to watch the gouts of ejected lava, a spectacular display of glowing scarlet that never ceased. The warmth attracted rats the size of guinea pigs, their silhouettes stark against the eruption as they leapt over my sleeping bag. The warm black volcanic sand made for a surprisingly soft mattress ... but for obvious reasons, sleep didn't come easily.

Stromboli - Europe's only continuously erupting volcano

Ruapehu's moods ...

Skiing on Mount Ruapehu today, I recalled a visit in September 1995 on the day it decided to erupt, throwing ash up to 15,000 feet, and diverting air traffic throughout the North Island. My brother Tim looked at the summit on a ski run, 'Where has all that cloud come from?' he asked innocently. In fact lava was rapidly vaporising the crater lake, and sending up a plume that heralded a major eruption. Fine sandy, black ash fell on the surrounding countryside for weeks, destroying animal pastures and the surrounding ski fields. An acidic ash plume was blown hundreds of kilometres causing destructive surges in the national electricity grid.

My next ski visit to Ruapehu happened to be on September 11, 2001, another volcanic day of sorts, and I recall stumbling out into the lobby of the Skotel, and watching in disbelief as the Twin Towers collapsed. Another massive plume of smoke ... and by now, Ruapehu had begun to be associated with unexpected and catastrophic events, at least in my mind.

So it was with some trepidation that I visited this weekend, wondering what might happen ... As I write at 9pm (again from the Skotel) after having eaten my vegetarian pizza without incident, there are no reports of lahars sweeping down the mountain, or dramatic rises in the temperature of the crater lake.