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Daily Archives: April 20, 2008

Early typhoon hits

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 by Nigel Huxtable

Macau was hit by Typhoon Neoguri yesterday, uprooting trees, scuttling scaffolding and causing flooding.

At 1.30pm the Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau (SMG) raised the warning signal from 3 to 8, which prompted a surge of phone calls which appeared to temporarily bring down the mobile phone network.
Coming two months before the official start of the season, it was the earliest typhoon warning the bureau had issued in at least 40 years, said the duty-supervisor yesterday.
Cranes swayed, trees were uprooted and scaffolding damaged in the following five hours of gale force winds which reached up to 109 kilometres an hour.
Waters rose and waves battered the coast while the bridges connecting Taipa with the peninsula were closed at 3pm. The lower deck of the Sai Van Bridge was then opened to traffic. The volume of cars looking to pass through the bridge caused delays at both ends.
With bus services suspended commuters desperately tried to flag passing taxis which were charging up to 200 patacas for the “high risk” ride.
All ferry services were suspended yesterday afternoon and Fisherman's Wharf was closed.
The high winds peaked at around 5pm, however as Neoguri made her way further north-east into the mainland she weakened and the warning signal was again dropped to 3 at 7.30pm.
“It is moving in a north-east direction and is approximately 100 kilometres to the east of Macau,” said the duty-forecaster.
“The typhoon is being weakened, however we will continue to forecast the strong-wind warning number 3 until at least tomorrow morning.
At 7pm yesterday some 12 trees had been uprooted and 11 scaffolding structures and billboards damaged. Two people had been taken to hospital after sustaining injuries during the high winds.
The Centre of Civil Protection was called into action with the signalling of a typhoon and attended to floodings and downed electrical cables across the city.
The SMG blamed the La Niña effect for the early typhoon and said history shows the periodic cooling of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific is likely to about more typhoons in the coming months.
“We are assuming there will be more typhoon activity in the west and north pacific, which may not necessarily effect Macau,” said the duty-forecaster.
“However more typhoons in the pacific generally means more typhoons will come to Macau.

Eritrean coral reefs provide hope for global marine future

Sample Imageby Peter Martell*

Silver bubbles pop to the surface as a snorkeler glides over a colourful coral reef, bright fish speeding to safety in its protective fronds.
Experts say this small Horn of Africa nation has some of the most pristine coral reefs left anywhere worldwide, a "global hotspot" for marine diversity supporting thousands of species.
Known also as Green Island for its thick cover of mangroves, Sheikh Seid is only one of 354 largely uninhabited islands scattered along Eritrea's southern Red Sea desert coast, many part of Eritrea's Dahlak archipelago.
The remote reefs are exciting scientists, who see in Eritrea's waters a chance of hope amidst increasingly bleak predictions for the future of coral reefs — if sea temperatures rise as forecast due to global climate change.
Unlike the deeper, cooler waters elsewhere in the Red Sea, Eritrea's large expanses of shallow — and therefore warmer — waters have created coral uniquely capable of coping with extremes of heat, scientists say.
"Eritrea has the most temperature tolerant corals in the world," said marine expert Dr John 'Charlie' Veron, dubbed the "king of coral" for his discovery of more than a fifth of all coral species.
"That bodes well, for climate change is set to decimate coral reefs."
Leading scientists warn that most reefs — vital for the massive levels of marine life that depend upon them and a crucial component of coastal economies — will be largely extinct by the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed.
They say many will be killed by mass "bleaching" and irreversible acidification of seawater caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide into surface waters, with at least 20 per cent of coral reefs worldwide already feared lost.
But with Eritrea's surface water in summer an average temperature of 32.5 C (90.5 F) — reportedly peaking at a sweltering 37C (98.6 F) — corals here have evolved to survive in an environment that would kill others elsewhere in the world.
Eritrea's isolation due to long years of bloody war with neighbour Ethiopia, combined with minimal tourist numbers and government efforts to protect the coastline, have left much of the country's extensive coral reefs untouched.
"Around most of the world, especially Asian and African coastlines of the Indian Ocean, coral reefs have been plundered in one way or another, the most damaging activity being explosive fishing," added Veron, former chief scientist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
"The reefs of Eritrea look as if they have been in a time warp — they have not been touched."
On a recent three-week diving expedition along Eritrea's 3,300 kilometres (2,046 miles) of mainland and island coastline, Veron found five species new to science — something the scientist described as "most unusual".
Eritrea probably has the richest suite of corals of the Red Sea, and its 'coral gardens' are in exceptionally good condition," he said.
Such findings have encouraged ambitious plans offering hope for the future of reefs worldwide, with some believing that Eritrea's corals offer a potential nursery for future "re-planting".
Alain Jeudy de Grissac, a French marine scientist who has spent the past three years diving along Eritrea's coast, believes small coral buds — comparable to taking cuttings from plants — could be placed in areas where coral has died because of sea temperature increases.
"The coral here is already well accustomed to high temperatures for long periods of time," Jeudy said, a former technical advisor to Eritrea's marine conservation body.
"If you seed the coral it would spread out, it would of course take some time, but they could occupy the area left by others."
The principle of re-seeding coral, or "ecological restoration," has already proved successful, Jeudy added.
"It has already been done in the case of accidents, such as if a ship grounds and the coral is crushed," he said.
"Testing would be needed, as this would be a totally new concept for coral reef researchers, but it could be one future of coral survival for many countries."
It also offers a potentially lucrative opportunity for tourists. Veron pointed out that just north of Eritrea, visitors to Egypt's Red Sea reefs generate more cash than visitors to its famous archaeological sites.
"The Eritrean reefs are a tourist industry gold mine waiting to be opened," Veron said.
Eritrean tourism still has far to go, hampered both by concerns of renewed conflict with Ethiopia, and reports by human rights groups that the military regime is guilty of widespread abuses.
However, the government says it is deeply committed to conservation, with Dr Woldai Futur, Eritrea's minister for national development, calling climate change the "most challenging global issue," which, if not addressed, would have "catastrophic consequences".
On Sheikh Seid, planned to be Eritrea's first marine protected area, those snorkeling over the reefs are excited by the sights beneath the waves.
"The colours are fantastic," one swimmer said, emerging from the sparkling blue water. "The fish are all around me."

* AFP

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