Thursday, March 20, 2008


I love the flora fauna here! It’s amazing. It’s the third most biodiverse country (after Brazil and Indonesia). And the Cape floral kingdom (floristic region) is where I live in the Western Cape and is one of the 6 floral kingdoms in the world. The Fynbos (whose leaves are used for honeybush and Rooibos) is the largest plant “kingdom” in the world, and I have swum in the rivers at its banks. It’s a wonderful place to be.

I have tried to volunteer at both the Aquarium and the Observatory but I told you that it’s hard to volunteer though there are so many opportunities that abound (in general in any country). So it’s always a strange paradox. The Aquarium won’t do another training until August. They told me this last November! Oh well. It still looks fun.

If you turn the globe upside down so that the South Pole is that the top and you draw a circle around it, you’ll see something. If you increase the diameter of the circle and draw bigger and bigger circles, you’ll see the circles start to touch land. Finally, if you increase it a little more, your circle will touch the tips of South America, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and a small tiny piece of Namibia. You will have circled all the countries/regions that have penguins (there are no penguins in the Northern Hemisphere like there are no Polar Bears in the Southern Hemisphere). So we have them. And my favorite are Rockhoppers or the African Penguins that grow to be as tall as my 7-yr-old. When I saw Happy Feet commercials, I didn’t know there were actual penguins with the blonde surfer-dude hairdo. But there are.

Here we are as cognizant of the delicate balance of life as you are in the US. That movie Lion King makes me think the awareness could be stronger here, but with all the hunting that is popular in Africa in general, people have learned the importance of conservation and moderation. For instance a number of years ago (in the 90’s), we saw a sharp decline in the number of abalone (these are large sea snails which they call perlemoen (Afrikaans word, I believe); they don’t have swirly curved shells, they have large ear-shaped shells). After studying the tie and the data and the populations of other related animals, scientists discovered just before the decline in abalone there was a sharp increase in the number of rock lobster. Now, why would that matter? Well urchins are part of the diet of rock lobsters. Urchins are also the place that juvenile abalone find shelter during that phase of life. All the rock lobster started eating up the urchins and this decreased the abalone since they had fewer dwelling places as juvenile abalone. But you can even go further. Scientists found that rock lobsters flourished because their predators were overexploited. Today, the rock lobsters are almost gone. There was a time when you couldn’t step on many beaches without feeling the prickly needles; now there are few of them. Red Roman and Red Stumpnose are among fish that are protected because they are endangered.

It’s the same with plankton. In our aquarium here, it’s really cool because they have a microscopic bubble window on one of the displays so you can see the little zooplankton (zooplankton are the animal plankton while phytoplankton are the plant ones). Phytoplankton are responsible for over half of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis. But as the ice caps have been melting (I’m not getting into the controversy about why that is happening), the homes of much of the phytoplankton in the Arctic. Krill (very small shrimp-like creatures) feed on phytoplankton are at the very bottom of the food chain for marine life; many animals (including whales) eat them. Their decrease means the decrease of many animals in the food chain. So you can see the interconnection of it all. It’s rather interesting. Some say you can do anything you want on the earth because we’re all going to die as the doom pronouncers or doomsdayers are supposed to be saying. Others say we must protect what we have and be good stewards of what we’ve been given.

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