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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

January 7, 2005

Air Date: January 7, 2005



Tsunami Survival: The Isolated Tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Sophie Grig of Survival International, a worldwide organization supporting tribal peoples. She's been tracking information on the effect of the tsunami on the isolated tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Some of these tribes are hunter-gatherers who came to the islands from Africa 60,000 years ago. It's believed that many tribal members of the Andamans survived the tsunami, while the Nicobar Island tribes may not have fared as well. (07:30)

Indonesian Waters

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The people of coastal northern Sumatra were largely dependent on the sea for their livelihood and nutritional protein. Host Steve Curwood talks with Indonesia specialist Susie Ellis of Conservation International on how the catastrophe could affect human health and ecosystem health in Aceh province. (04:45)

Law of the Sea / Jeff Young

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Oceans experts say one of the best ways the U.S. can clean up oceans is to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty. Nearly 150 countries have signed the treaty and three U.S. presidents, including George W.Bush, support it. So why can't it get a vote in the U.S. Senate? Jeff Young explains from Washington. (05:30)

The White House & the Sea

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Host Steve Curwood talks with James Connaughton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, about the Bush administration’s position on the Law of the Sea. (07:00)

Listener Letters

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This week we dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (03:00)

Emerging Science Note/Doze Years / Jenn Goodman

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Living on Earth’s Jenn Goodman reports that sleeping in is a biological necessity for adolescents. (01:20)

Pampered Pets / Susan Shepherd

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The relationship between pets and humans is changing. As more people see their pets as quasi-human, they’re spending more money on their animals, as well as searching for new ways to keep them happy. Living on Earth’s Susan Shepherd has our story. (15:30)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Sophie Grig, Susie Ellis, James ConnaughtonREPORTERS: Jeff Young, Susan ShepherdNOTE: Jenn Goodman


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. If there are any lessons to be learned from the tsumani disaster in the Indian Ocean, one of them may be the story of how the traditional practices of some primitive tribes, living in the most undeveloped areas, may have saved them from the worst of the destruction.

GRIG: By defending their land from the aggression of the outsiders and from the cultivation and the destruction that much of the islands have suffered from, the tribal people themselves that also added to help them in the wake of the tsunami.

CURWOOD: Also, with the oceans now in mind as both source and scourge, the call is going out for the U.S. to finally sign on to the Law of the Sea Treaty.

WATKINS: The president wants it! The secretary of defense says fine. The secretary of state urges it! Let’s get on with it! And do it.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.


ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

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Tsunami Survival: The Isolated Tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

As aid and recovery teams labor in the wake of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, thousands of people are still listed as missing. At first there were concerns that some tribes that go back more than 60,000 years had been swept away. But now it appears that some - though certainly not all - of these tribes on islands that include the Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal may have fared reasonably well, considering.

These tribes include the Sentinelese, the Onge, the Jawara and the Great Andamanese. Many have fiercely protected their hunter-gatherer lifestyles despite attempts at colonization.

Sophie Grig is a campaigner for Survival International, an organization supporting tribal peoples. Sophie, is it possible that the cultural practices of these tribes who survived helped protect them from the tsunami?

GRIG: It’s difficult to know because actually incredibly little is known about the tribes on the Andaman Islands. Some of the tribes we know absolutely nothing about. The Sentinelese, nobody can speak a word or their language. We don’t even know what they call themselves – it certainly isn’t Sentinelese. They will have a very close relationship with the nature, they live by hunting and gathering, they fish in the sea with bows and arrows.

An inlet of India's Little Andaman Island, located in the eastern Indian Ocean, shows damage caused by the December 26, 2004, tsunami in this satellite image. (Image courtesy NASA.)

They’ve been there for 60,000 years. We understand that probably about every 10,000 years there’s been an earthquake or a tsunami or something that’s affected the area by looking at the geography of it. And so, we understand that probably they’ve had a lot of experience with this in their people’s history, and so probably they do have mechanisms and an understanding, much more than the more recent settlers who wouldn’t have known what to do.

CURWOOD: How did the topography of these islands protect some of these tribes from the worst effects of the tsunami?

GRIG: Well, the areas where the tribal people tend to be are the areas where, actually, there’s been the least ecological damage. And I understand that coral reefs and mangrove swamps are actually very good at dissipating the power of a tsunami. And where the tribal people are is the area where the forests haven’t been damaged, and where the mangrove swamps haven’t been damaged, and where the coral reefs are most intact. So it’s quite possible that by defending their land from the aggression of the outsiders, and from the cultivation and destruction that much of the islands have suffered from, the tribal peoples themselves, actually, that also added to help them in the wake of the tsunami.

CURWOOD: Now, help me in another area. This is not your expertise, but we’ve seen a number of news wire stories that have suggested that many animals survived the tsunami because they had some sort of a sixth sense that an earthquake was coming, and maybe they knew intuitively to head to higher ground. What of those stories do you link to what happened with these aboriginal people?

GRIG: Well, I think it’s quite likely. I mean, the tribal people who live in the forest, they live from hunting the animals. They have an extremely intimate relationship with the animals and an extremely good understanding of what the animals are doing and what they’re thinking, and that’s how they can successfully hunt and live in the forest. And so they may well have watched the animals and seen what the animals were doing and followed their lead. Or maybe they also just have a very, such a close relationship with the land, that they understand what’s happening, too.

Jarawa in a government boat, Andaman Islands, Bay of Bengal, India, in an undated photo. The 270 Jawara, who lived in complete isolation until recently, appear to have escaped unharmed from the tsunmai. They almost certainly were living in the forest when the tsunami struck.
(Photo: ©Pankaj Sekhsaria/Survival)

Forested island, Jarawa territory. Andaman Islands, Bay of Bengal, India. (Undated photo.)
(Photo: ©Pankaj Sekhsaria/Survival)

CURWOOD: What do you think they would have been sensing? Would they, being out in the quiet, have heard the thumps? Or what do you think?

GRIG: Well I know that people heard tremors. I’ve spoken to scientists who were in the Andaman Islands who felt the tremors and, you know, their instant thought was “Get out of the house, get out into open ground,” and then thought, “Oh no, we’re on an island, if you hear a tremor there’ll be a tidal wave that will follow it.” And so them it was a knowledge that they’d gathered from science; it’s quite likely that the tribal people who’ve been there for so many years, maybe in their folklore and their stories they know that if you feel a tremor that means that a wave will follow. No one knows their language well enough, really, to be able to ask them and to discuss issues like their legends and their stories. But it’s quite possible that that’s where they passed on this wisdom and this understanding about getting to higher ground.

CURWOOD: Now, as I understand it the Nicobarese of Car Nicobar Island, who are not hunter gatherers but folks who grow some of their crops on plantations, I understand that they are believed to have had a substantial loss of human life. Do we know how many lives we’re talking about here? And why do think this tribe was hardest hit by the tsunami?

GRIG: Well, mostly it’s geography, I think. Car Nicobar did get the worst of the wave. It’s the closest to the epicenter of the earthquake. And so, really, I think they had no chance. I mean, most of the people didn’t have time to flee even if they had been able to sense something. A lot of it is just to do with where they were, and they were just extremely unlucky to be there.

They have been assimilated. They have much more contact with outsiders. For many years they’ve been trading with spice traders and people for hundreds of years, and they have recently taken to plantations and farming. And so they probably don’t have such a close relationship with the land as the hunter-gatherering people, and so maybe they don’t have such a close intuition. But I think, largely, it’s geography that was their downfall.

CURWOOD: What steps are outside organizations such as yours, Survival International, taking to help these people?

GRIG: Well it’s incredibly difficult. The Indian authorities don’t allow any foreigners to go to the Nicobar Islands anyway. I mean, they’re completely closed to outsiders because of the big naval bases that they have there. I know that a lot of the agencies are very frustrated because they want to be getting in, they want to be taking in aid, and they want to be able to help. There was a big evacuation program to get people out and there are aid agencies in Port Blair, which is the capital of the Andaman Islands, where some people have been evacuated to. But actually it’s been very frustrating because no one really has been able to help very much in the Nicobar Islands.

CURWOOD: Now what about aid for the other tribes? Might the more isolated tribes such as the Jawara and the Sentinelese accept aid from relief organizations or the Indian government?

GRIG: Probably not. I mean the Sentinelese, when the helicopter flew over and did drop some supplies, fired arrows at it, which suggests they weren’t very keen on anything from outsiders. And they generally repel any gifts that they’re given. Because these tribes are not used to anything from outside. They don’t rely on anything. They’re not dependent on anything. As long as their fresh water sources have remained intact they should be absolutely fine. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to just carry along as they were doing before. It’s the tribes like the Onge and the Great Andamanese and the Nicobarese who are either reliant on the administration for their food, like the Onge and the Great Andamanese, or the Nicobarese, who had an infrastructure and relied on that for their existence. Those are the tribes that are going to need help.

CURWOOD: Sofie Grig is Survival International’s Andaman’s campaigner. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

GRIG: Thank you very much.

Related link:
Survival International

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Indonesian Waters

CURWOOD: Many people living in the crowded coastline of northern Sumatra near the most intense effects of the tsumani are deeply impoverished. This is due, in part, to the political strife that has kept them from receiving the benefits of development programs that the Indonesian government has used with some success elsewhere in the nation. So, many of the poor have been forced make a living from the sea.

Susie Ellis is vice president of Indonesian and Philippines programs for Conservation International. She’s here to explain what the disaster means to marine resources and the people who rely on them. Welcome to Living on Earth.

ELLIS: Hi Steve, thank you for inviting me.

CURWOOD: Now, Indonesian waters are some of the most productive waters for fishing in the world. To what extent were these people relying on the ocean for their livelihoods? And what will happen to them now?

ELLIS: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to point out that Indonesia sits right in the heart of the Coral Triangle – it’s an area that has the richest marine biodiversity on the planet. Most of them are fringing reefs that are, essentially, adjacent to the coastline. About 60 percent of Indonesia’s 220 million people live near vulnerable coastal areas and do depend on marine and coastal resources to make a living.

CURWOOD: Tell me what the fishing culture was like there in this region before this disaster. How do people live in relation to the ocean?

ELLIS: Most people live in small villages on the coast in very, very modest homes, usually with thatched roofs. Many of them have small boats. They go out to the reefs or to other areas in the offshore coastal zone and just, basically, do subsistence fishing. There is a deep dependency on marine resources and not a lot of other livelihood options. Part of the reason some of the reefs have been so challenged is that some larger commercial fisheries have come in and been in conflict and in competition with local communities. This has, in some cases, forced local fishers to turn to more destructive fishing techniques. Some of the reefs already were over-fished, but putting the additional pressure of using destructive techniques like cyanide fishing or dynamite fishing on top of other damages forces resource exploitation beyond sustainable limits.

CURWOOD: Now, what has happened to the ocean resources in the area, in terms of the beaches and the coral reefs themselves?

ELLIS: The answer is, we just don’t know and we’re still trying to find out. But an important thing to note is that some of the mangroves, for example, and sea grass beds that lie off these areas have diverse ecological functions. They also provide economic benefits for coastal fisheries by serving as nurseries, as spawning grounds and feeding grounds for fish and shrimp and other marine organisms. So if mangroves have been uprooted there’s definitely a ripple effect on fisheries and, subsequently, the economy because these nursery grounds have been destroyed.

There is no comprehensive historical data set on, for example, coral reef recovery after tsunamis. We do know that past tsunamis have uprooted entire wedges of reefs, sometimes up to one ton. And, you know, depending on the epicenter, depending on how the plates have shifted, some reefs may have been uplifted and exposed. If this is the case then they’ll die because the water will be too warm to be able to sustain the coral colonies. The thing we do know for sure is that economically this area will definitely suffer.

CURWOOD: What’s the best way to help these people rebuild their environmental infrastructure, particularly this marine environment infrastructure, upon which they depend for their livelihoods?

ELLIS: If you recall 9/11, the state of shock this country was in, and you compare the level of damage that’s taken place in northern Sumatra, you can understand that it’s a logarithmic increase, I think, at least for the staff and the people that I work so closely with, in terms of shock and just incredible and profound sadness. Right now, people are focusing on the humanitarian crisis. We have to restore people’s lives. We have to figure out a way to give people hope. And keep a long-term outlook, as well, in terms of natural resource management and linking the quality of people’s lives to natural resources. Because without the ability to fish and simply make a living, it’s going to be almost impossible to turn this around.

CURWOOD: Susie Ellis is Vice President for Indonesian and Philippines Programs for Conservation International. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

ELLIS: Thank you, Steve. We’re very grateful for your time.

[MUSIC: L.S. Gelik “Jeruk Manis" The Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia (World Music Network) 2000]

CURWOOD: Coming up: why a popular treaty to protect the oceans is floundering, perhaps I should say “foundering,” in the U.S. Senate. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Grup Bamba Puang "Los Quin Tallu-Tallu" The Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia (World Music Network) 2000]

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Law of the Sea

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. As the United States pitches in with humanitarian aid in the Indian Ocean, a former minister of Marine Resources and Fisheries for Indonesia says there is an important way the U.S. could help: ratify and join most of the world’s nations as a party to the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Minister Rohmin Dahuri told us that with the United States as an integral part of the Law of the Sea it would be easier to coordinate an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system now under discussion. It would also enhance coming negotiations over fishing rights designed to speed recovery for Indian Ocean marine resources.

The Law of the Sea treaty is decades old. And now, in the wake of government and private reports sounding the alarm on the state of the world’s oceans, the treaty has won broad support. But, as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, a small group of opponents is keeping the treaty from coming to the Senate floor for ratification.

YOUNG: Admiral James Watkins knows a thing or two about the seven seas. After 30 years commanding Navy vessels, he retired to lead a group dedicated to ocean studies. And last month he wrapped up three years of work as head of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. That commission reported on the crisis in the world’s oceans and spelled out ways to turn things around.

At the top of the commission’s list? The U.S. should sign on to a treaty it has considered for some 20 years--the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

WATKINS: It was our very first initiative and it was unanimous by the commission. And we all felt so strongly about it we felt we couldn’t wait until two or three years later and make that statement, particularly since we felt it was timely to pass that convention because there were certain changes going on at the very time and we should have been involved in it. And we weren’t.

YOUNG: One hundred forty-five countries have signed the Law of the Sea Treaty, and three U.S. presidents have supported it. It deals with everything from mining the ocean floor to flying above territorial waters. Watkins says that makes it the ideal international framework to protect ocean resources, regulate dumping from ships, and limit overfishing.

WATKINS: We heard from the long-liner fishermen in the Pacific, very upset that they were denied to go below a certain latitude to fish because of the by-catch of sea turtles. But what about the other Asian nations? Could they go in? Sure. So they went in and fished and can fish it dry. So, we need to be at the table.

YOUNG: When Law of the Sea finally got a hearing for the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee two years ago, it drew support from groups that rarely agree on anything. For example, the National Environmental Trust and American Petroleum Institute joined forces to call for the treaty’s ratification. It passed the committee unanimously last February. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist never brought it to the Senate floor for a vote. Now, a new Congress has convened, but Frist still won’t say whether the treaty will be put to a vote this session.

FRIST: I don’t know, but we will certainly look at it as we will a whole number of other bills. But don’t know the agenda other than the fact we’ll do class action early on.

YOUNG: Frist’s delay has treaty supporters like Admiral Watkins puzzled. He’s sure Law of the Sea would easily win the two-thirds majority required for any treaty ratification.

WATKINS: The president wants it. Secretary of defense has said fine. Secretary of state urges it. Let’s get on with it and do it!

YOUNG: But a small group of Senate opponents stands in the way, among them Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe. Inhofe held his own hearings on Law of the Sea in the environment committee he chairs, and he did not like what he heard.

INHOFE: We are giving some of our jurisdiction to the United Nations at a time when they had clearly demonstrated that they’re not acting, many times, in our best interest. And I think the timing is not right for something like this. Keep in mind, this all started long before 9/11, and now that we have this new threat I think it’s not the time to open the doors wider. It’s time to look at security much closer.

YOUNG: Inhofe’s criticisms echo those circulating on conservative talk radio and web sites urging Frist to sink the Law of the Sea.

SCHLAFLY: Absolutely, Senator Frist is doing the right thing. I hope he never brings it up.

YOUNG: That’s conservative commentator Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly earned her reputation fighting feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment. Now she’s turned her attention to treaties, like Law of the Sea.

SCHLAFLY: They put us under the control of a lot of countries and their dictators who don’t like us and whose purpose in life is to redistribute American wealth to the rest of the world so these dictators can be maintained into the style to which they’d like to become accustomed. There really isn’t any advantage to the United States to accommodate ourselves to what other countries want.

WATKINS: Phyllis Schlafly? I mean, come on!

YOUNG: Admiral Watkins says the treaty’s sovereignty questions were addressed long ago. If he was impatient with the delayed vote, he is exasperated with the reason for it.

WATKINS: The claim is that we would lose our sovereignty. Bananas! That’s nonsense! So, what is it? What is driving that ideology that has no substance to it?

YOUNG: Treaty supporter Mark Helmke has a guess as to what’s holding up ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty. Helmke’s a senior staff member for Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. Helmke says stalling this treaty is a way for Republican leadership to appease some of the party’s more conservative elements.

HELMKE: It’s because, politically, this group that raises this sovereignty red herring would be people who would also be very much opposed to what the United States is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq – if a Democratic president was doing that. So, there have been some who’ve been concerned that the White House politically has basically given these guys a bone to play with in exchange for them not complaining about what we’re doing with nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, the White House is going to have to get beyond that now and argue that, okay, the election is over with, this treaty is too important to the United States from a number of different standpoints, and we just need to move forward and ratify it.

YOUNG: Helmke says until the Bush Administration does that, Law of the Sea and the ocean protection it could bring will stay anchored in the Senate. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

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The White House & the Sea

CURWOOD: We turn now to James Connaughton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Last month, President Bush appointed him to lead the White House Committee on Ocean Policy, and he joins us now from his office in Washington, D.C. Jim Connaughton, Welcome.

CONNAUGHTON: Hello! Real pleasure to be back on the program.

CURWOOD: Now, tell me, what will this new committee do?

CONNAUGHTON: The new committee is going to bring high-level cabinet attention to literally dozens, if not hundreds, of recommendations that we received from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that President Bush appointed.

CURWOOD: Now, we’ve just heard about the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, and how important many say it is to ocean conservation. What’s the White House position on this treaty?

CONNAUGHTON: We strongly support finally ratifying the treaty which has three important components. One is, it will enhance our national security. Two, it will enhance our ability to exercise sovereign rights over areas of the continental shelf that we currently do not have authority over. And three, there’s strong consensus it will greatly enhance ocean conservation.

CURWOOD: Now, if the president supports ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, what’s the holdup here? Why can’t he persuade members of his own party in the Senate to bring it to a vote? In particular I’m thinking of the Majority Leader Bill Frist. Seems, some say, that he has it bottled up. What does the White House doing about this? To what extent are you folks pushing for a vote on the Law of the Sea Treaty in this coming session?

CONNAUGHTON: Well, many members of the president’s own party do support ratification of Law of the Sea. A number of members have raised some very legitimate and serious questions about the security aspects of ratification, especially in the post-9/11 world, as well as needed a greater understanding of the economic aspects of the treaty with relation to development and control over these outer continental shelf areas. And we’re going through the typical process, which takes some time, of the hearings – providing hearings, providing testimony, and working to address the questions that those members have raised.

CURWOOD: Indeed. But as far as you know the White House is satisfied with the Law of the Sea Treaty. There are no big issues about intelligence or sovereignty that have you folks at the White House having reservations about this, at this point.

CONNAUGHTON: That’s correct. We went through a substantial vetting process, though, that took more than a year, to make sure that everybody was satisfied with the renegotiated treaty. And so I think, you know, the Senate is now going through a similar process that we went through.

CURWOOD: Now, in Washington I suppose you could spend every day just reading the newspapers about the actions that you take, so you may or may not have seen an editorial discussing the reaction to the appointment of your committee. But the Washington Post recently said that they don’t believe that the White House has a sense of urgency about the oceans crisis, and that, quote, “until the White House acquires more of a sense of urgency, its response is likely to prove inadequate.” To what extent do you think that the oceans are in crisis?

CONNAUGHTON: I think that the oceans require a significantly stepped-up effort in terms of their long-term conservation. We have massive amounts of coastal development occurring, people are using and accessing the oceans more and more for their recreation, and we rely on the oceans in greater amounts as a vital source of food. With all of those pressures they have very significant, and in some cases potentially dire, impacts that we need to head off.

CURWOOD: And, in this case, the Washington Post editorial saying the White House doesn’t see the oceans as a crisis is wrong, from your perspective?

CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, I think they’ve got it completely wrong. Go take a look at the actions we’ve highlighted which merely represent the top level of what are, literally, hundreds of specific steps that we’re now going to take on a going forward basis.

CURWOOD: The biggest obstacle for you in the short term, this ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty? What’s the biggest hurdle for you right now?

CONNAUGHTON: Well, I wouldn’t speak in hurdles. I think the big challenges that we’re going to take on with relish is further advancement of integrated ocean observation which is a high priority for us, especially in light of the recent tragic events in Asia. Overfishing is a very serious issue and a serious concern to the president as it affects our commercial fisheries and our recreational fishing and the long-term conservation of species. And we’ve identified then a whole series of additional actions. So, Law of the Sea is one of a set of actions that we’ve highlighted in the report we published in December that we’ll be going after very aggressively in the next 12 to 24 months.

CURWOOD: So, what’s your best guess here about what happens to the Law of the Sea Treaty this year? Come some point in this session the United States will join this international agreement?

CONNAUGHTON: We’re hopeful that that will be the outcome, especially because it will give us the additional certainty that our Department of Defense needs for transport along the sea lanes. It will also give us a chance to participate more effectively in the new bodies that are being set up to address who has rights over which areas of the continental shelf…you know, countries like Russia and Scandinavian countries and us all have some overlapping interests in those areas.

CURWOOD: I just want to ask you briefly about a couple of related topics. You’re very concerned about coral reefs. Early indications from the effects of the tsunami in Asia, in the Indian Ocean there, indicates there’s going to be long-term damage to the coral reefs. What does that mean for the people living and using the fishing resource there over the long term? And what could, should the United States be doing about it?

CONNAUGHTON: That will be an area of great study and scrutiny. The effects of natural disasters on coral reef systems obviously have been occurring since the dawn of man, and well before that since the geologic ages. And so, we now are going to have, I think, a greater ability to study the effects of that, and what it means for fisheries and the like, than we’ve ever had before. We know exceptionally little about the interactions of these systems. I think the effects of this disaster in Asia are going to bring even greater international interest and attention to knowing more about what is actually occurring.

CURWOOD: And, of course, what I’m getting at here is that with the tsunami, and with the function of coral reefs as nurseries for fish, that perhaps a whole generation of fish have now been lost that the people have been using to survive on.

CONNAUGHTON: In particular areas. I mean, some fisheries are reef dependent. Many are not. We have the advantage in this day and age of being able to provide food on a global basis. And it promotes, and again, creates a greater awareness of importance in back-up systems, and again, this issue of much stronger and more effective approaches to managing our fisheries so that in an event specific locations are affected we can assure an abundance of fish is a vital food source from other locations.

CURWOOD: Jim Connaughton is the chairman on Environmental Quality for the White House. Thank you so much for taking this time with me today.

CONNAUGHTON: Thank you, I look forward to coming back on the program.

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Listener Letters


CURWOOD: Time now for your comments on our program.


CURWOOD: Listener response to our roundtable discussion about recent critiques of international habitat conservation efforts was a study in contrasts. In our story we looked at charges that some conservation groups engage in preservation schemes at the expense of the indigenous people who live on the lands to be protected.

Katalin Fabian, a listener in Easton, PA, was angered by our treatment of the issue.
“Your interview’s point seemed to be railing against large conservation organizations,” she writes. “The interviewing method you applied omitted the advantages and successes that large, internationally connected conservation groups can and do muster” – gains that she says “would not have occurred without establishing larger-than-local environmentalist groups.”

But Peter DuMont, a listener in Berkeley, CA, who hears us on KQED FM in San Francisco, had a different take on our interviewing method. He praised us for “taking the responsibility of mediating conflict on the air.”

DUMONT: And it was really, really very impressive, very skillful, dog on the leg, you know – sorry for the expression, but, you know, to kind of get to the points and everything and not let people off the hook, but then let them off at just the right moment. You know, it was really very impressive.

CURWOOD: Our story about the displacing effects of climate change in the Alaskan Eskimo village of Shishmaref struck a chord with many listeners as well.
Stan Polanski hears Living on Earth in Franklin, N.C.

“Given the real-world implications of the dislocation of a society attempting to hold onto the core of its traditional life in the face of impending ecological catastrophe,” he writes, “the program is a dagger straight to the heart.”

The report also resonated with Mary Haydon, a former resident of Nome, Alaska, who now calls Montana home. She says, “Thank you for giving the ‘outsiders’ – an Alaskan term for anyone living outside of the state of Alaska – such a realistic picture of the Native people and their predicament. I personally hope that the bureaucrats in Juneau will see fit to provide the funding for relocating the village, thereby sustaining Shish’s culture.”

Sustaining regional culture carried over to our holiday special, which was dedicated to tales from Appalachia. Jennilyn Weight, who listens to KPBX in Spokane, WA, was deeply moved by Pinckney Benedict’s fictional story “Mercy.”

“I found I was both laughing and crying as I listened to this moving love story of a father, son and some neglected horses,” she writes. “I was so touched I had to pull over and listen to the whole story uninterrupted by traffic. It is amazing how much emotional impact can be released by such a short story.”

And finally, a correction and an apology. For those of you who searched in vain on our website after hearing about a Living on Earth South Africa safari trip during last week’s show, sorry. There is no safari trip this year, at least not so far. Last week’s show included elements of a previous broadcast a rebroadcast and a now outdated announcement was included by mistake. Our bad.

Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-99-88. Or you can send real mail to us at 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts 02144. Our e-mail address is comments at loe dot org. Once again, comments at loe dot org. And you can hear our program anytime on our web site, Living on Earth dot org. That's Living on Earth dot org.


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Emerging Science Note/Doze Years

CURWOOD: Just ahead: Dog bites man – in the pocketbook. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jenn Goodman.


GOODMAN: The notorious tendency of teenagers to hit the snooze button while sleeping away most of a morning is no cause for alarm. As it turns out, adolescents’ sleep habits are just part of their biology.

New research from the University of Munich shows that children continue to sleep more hours, later into the day, until around the age of 20. But, at this age the body’s internal biological clock undergoes an abrupt change, after which most people require less sleep as they get older.

Scientists pinpointed the age at which this change occurs by plotting the sleeping habits of 25,000 people between the ages of eight and 90. Then they calculated the mid-point of each person’s sleep — the time half-way between when the participants reported that they went to bed and when they woke up.

The data showed that men continue to sleep late until the age of 21, while the turning point for women is nineteen and a half years - which might explain the reason why women develop earlier than men. Scientists suggest that because the shift in sleeping habits after age 20 is so dramatic, it can be used as an official marker for the end of adolescence. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jenn Goodman.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

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[MUSIC: Inverse Room "The Bomb in Buddha's Lap": Pieces for the Left Hand (Creot Records) 2005]

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Pampered Pets

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The holidays may have come and gone, but if your family took the occasion to welcome a dog into your household, get ready to keep reaching for your wallet. Over the typical lifetime of a pooch, owners are likely to spend upwards of $15,000, between food, trips to the vet and chew toys—not to mention the growing trend of doggie massage.

With 66 million dogs living in American households and an even greater number of cats, pets are big business, worth more than 30 billion dollars a year. Research shows that owning a pet can be good for your health. Still, the line that used to divide how we cared for pets and how we care for ourselves is becoming increasingly blurred. Living on Earth’s Susan Shepherd has our story.


SCHROFF: Why don’t we give Cody some more pain meds? I mean, when you get a chance, Hillary. I know you’ve got your own thing going on.

SHEPHERD: It’s a cold, snowy night and Vescone Animal Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts, is bustling with activity.


SCHROFF: He has one on his back, he has one right by his anus, and he has two on his right hind leg and he’s very painful.

Two animal care technicians care for a dog at Vescone Animal Hospital in Waltham, MA.

SHEPHERD: Dr. Amy Schroff runs this clinic like a firm and practical loving mother, taking care of clients, employees, and animals alike. Now she’s examining Skippy, a terrier attacked earlier this evening by an unknown animal in the back yard.

SCHROFF: Those are some pretty nasty wounds back there. Yeah, I think some nice narcotics have your name on them somewhere.

SHEPHERD: It’s hard to tell who needs the narcotics more, the pup or his owner, a middle-aged woman who is clearly distraught. But just wait till she gets the bill. Though your average Skippy can cost his owner somewhere between 200 and 800 dollars a year, many of the animals in the intensive care unit of this hospital tonight are ringing up larger costs than that.


SHEPHERD: Just down the hall, an English Setter named Missy cries and pants as she lies in a concrete enclosure on a blanket. Her neck is wrapped with pink bandages, and her shaved body is bound by a metal brace. She has a feeding tube inserted in her esophagus through a hole in her throat, and an IV catheter. Dr. Schroff and Dr. Heather Chalfant talk about her condition

CHALFANT: Yes, she was hit by a car…

SCHROFF: …flail chest …

CHALFANT: She’s had surgery, too.

SCHROFF: Oh, she did?


SHEPHERD: Out of the eight or ten dogs here tonight, at least two of them will run up medical bills of close to 8,000 dollars. The highest bill in this hospital’s history was 22,000 dollars for a very sick dog that survived for another year. It’s all part of the 11 billion dollars a year Americans spend on pet health care, up from 800 million in 1980. Part of that increase is because of animal hospitals like these.

Dr. Jack Walther is president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. In the past few years, he’s watched the veterinarian profession grow much more technologically advanced.

WALTHER: I’ve been in small animal practice right on 40 years, so I come out of an era where we had no specialists. That’s all changed.

SHEPHERD: Dr. Walther says the pet-owning public has also changed.

WALTHER: As we see the American public growing older, their pets have become a much bigger part of their later life. And, as a result, they want the best care possible.

SHEPHERD: Clearly, not everyone can afford to spend thousands or even hundreds of dollars on a pet. And now that this new and improved care is so readily available, how do people make the decision, often in the spur of the moment, to begin a treatment that could end up putting them in debt? Dr. Schroff says she tries to make pet owners more comfortable with their decision, no matter what it is.

SCHROFF: We don’t place judgement on people. The fact that someone will bring their animal in to see us obviously shows that these people really love their pet. They really want to try and do the best they can. And euthanasia is sometimes the best option.

SHEPHERD: But Dr. Schroff is equally adamant that she was not put on earth to be, as she puts it, a killing machine, and won’t euthanize animals for their owner’s convenience. But if the question was once, ‘what amount is too much to spend on a pet to save its life?’, now the question is, ‘How much is too little?’ Many vets don’t know themselves what they feel about when to euthanize, much less how to counsel their patients. The AVMA’s doctor Walther says that the vet’s role has changed.

WALTHER: I really became much more of a family advisor, if you will. Pet owners depend on my advice far more than they did when I first started practice.

SHEPHERD: If people are now looking at their pets as part of the family, as kind of quasi children, how do you ever make the decision not to spend $22,000 to save a pet’s life? A person would hardly consider cost when deciding on a child’s lifesaving medical treatment. But even Dr. Schroff is uneasy about the implications of spending so much on pets.

SCHROFF: I think it’s an astonishing contrast. My father is from India, and I’ve traveled to other parts of the world where I have relatives, cousins who are medical doctors, that don’t even have access to the medical equipment that we have.

Dr. Amy Schroff and Dr. Heather Chalfant with a patient at the hospital.

SHEPHERD: And yet, with pet health insurance available, more specialists entering the field and more households owning pets, we’re likely to make animal health care an even larger part of the economic pie. What’s causing this trend? And is it a good thing?

KATZ: People are turning to dogs more and more for emotional support.

SHEPHERD: That’s author John Katz, who’s written several books about dogs. His latest, “The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love and Family,” follows 12 people for a year and explores their relationship with their dogs. Katz thinks we should be wary of the deep emotional intensity of some of these relationships.

KATZ: They see dogs as members of their families, they see dogs as childlike, they attribute human emotions to them, they anthropomorphize them, they see them as spiritual. And the intensity, fueled by, I think, the fragmented society – there’s more divorce, more people living alone, work is insecure – they are turning more and more to dogs for companionship. And I think that’s a beautiful thing in many ways, and it’s also a troubling thing in many ways.

SHEPHERD: Although Katz is unsettled by this over-emotionalization of pets, which he says is causing us to see them as human, it’s not because he doesn’t love animals.


KATZ: Yes, I love you too, girlie. You want another cookie?

SHEPHERD: It’s a brilliantly sunny winter day at his farmhouse on a hill overlooking pasture and weathered barns in upstate New York, and Katz is in the process of feeding two donkeys, 15 sheep and two dogs.


KATZ: Come here Fanny, come on girl.

SHEPHERD: Caring for so many animals is no mean feat, considering the below zero thermometer readings on so many days this winter. He recently suffered frostbite on several fingers and toes trying to save a dying Carol.

KATZ: Donkeys are among the world’s, I think, sweetest and least appreciated creatures. You haven’t really lived until you’ve given a donkey a rectal thermometer at four o’clock in the morning at minus 30 degrees. It’s really changed my life (laughs). [CLANGING BELLS] Rose, come by.

SHEPHERD: But his real loves are his two border collies, Rose and Orson. Katz directs eight-month-old Rosie as she runs through the fresh blanket of snow to keep the sheep away from the donkey chow.


KATZ: Rose is indispensable. I would not last an hour here without her.

SHEPHERD: Rose is small for her breed, and still a pup, but she moves the heavy and lumbering sheep around as if they were nimble mice.

SHEPHERD: Will she make our lunch for us? [LAUGHS]

KATZ: She’s really so great.

SHEPHERD: Rose is so great that it’s hard to understand how Katz could resist thinking about her as having human qualities. And Katz admits he falls into that trap himself. When he first got his male border collie, Orson, he had to put a note on his computer reminding him ‘He’s not human.’

KATZ: There’s a trainer named Carolyn Wilkie who I write about in the book quite a bit, and I said to her one day, ‘If anything happened to me you’d have to shoot this dog because he could never live with anyone else.’ And she got in my face and she said, ‘Listen pal, if anything happened to you, I would buy a pound of beef liver and in 48 hours this dog would forget that you ever walked the earth. And don’t you forget it.’

SHEPHERD: It seems that as loneliness and alienation increase in our society, so does the importance of dogs in our lives. And there may be some evidence to support that notion. Katz talks about an article in the Journal of Evolution and Behavior, which concludes that:

KATZ: Dogs are the world’s most effective social parasites. That is, they have brilliantly injected themselves into the social system of another species, which very few species ever do. And they do this by tricking us, essentially, by showing a narrow range of humanlike emotions – affection, hostility, anxiety, neediness, play. And they trick us into thinking they have the entire range of human emotions, that they’re human. And so we, therefore, attach to them as if they were people.

SHEPHERD: Dogs may in fact be the animal kingdom’s master manipulators, judging by the behavior of those who love them. Take a look at Bark magazine, published out of San Francisco. Seventy five thousand people subscribe to this glossy monthly. And some recent articles include teaching your dog how to read, tips on how to include your dog in your wedding, and an article that starts with the question ‘Is your canine companion a fur-ball of stress?’ and recommends dog yoga as a way to calm your dog down. ‘Animals know how to be in the moment and how to completely relax,’ says the dog yoga instructor interviewed in the article.

SCHROFF: I don’t know that I really have a professional opinion about dog yoga [LAUGHTER]. I don’t!

SHEPHERD: Dr. Amy Schroff may not, but John Katz does. And he blames it partly on his own generation.

KATZ: You know, the boomers created the myth of the gifted and talented child, and now they’re creating the idea of the gifted and talented dog. I had one person e-mail me and said, you know, ‘Mondays we do agility, Tuesdays we do obedience, Wednesdays we go herding -- Thursdays are open, what can we do?’ There is a widening chasm between what dogs need and what we want to give them.

SHEPHERD: Is this helping dogs? It appears not, at least in terms of dog behavior. I asked Dr. Walther of the AVMA whether we can say that dogs are, well, worse than they used to be.

WALTHER: Absolutely. Yeah, we can (LAUGHS). I think every one of them is in my practice.

SHEPHERD: Katz agrees. He says fewer than three percent of dog owners train their dogs at all, which could be why over 400,000 people were bitten seriously enough to require hospitalization last year. The dog rescue culture may be feeding into this – dogs with behavior problems that before would have been put to sleep are now being saved and put up for adoption

KATZ: Thirty or 40 years ago you didn’t rescue a dog, you just adopted a dog at the shelter. Now you rescue a dog -- and rescue is a very emotionally charged term, it has all kinds of intense connotations about it. And, you know, I’m always getting chased by people who tell me that their dogs were abused. ‘I’m sorry my dog bit you on the butt, but he was abused.’ ‘I’m sorry my dog jumped on you but he was abused, and therefore I can’t train him.’

SHEPHERD: And because we are beginning to see dogs as a new kind of in-between human and pet species, that’s being played out in the legal realm, as well. In a San Diego divorce case last year, a couple spent over $150,000 on a custody fight over their dog, Gigi. The judge allowed a “day in the life of Gigi” video to be considered as evidence, before deciding to grant custody to the wife. Her ex got visitation.

But other perhaps more far-reaching issues are coming to the legal fore that involve the very essence of what it means to be an animal. Several state legislatures are rewriting animal protection laws so that pet owners have the right to pain and suffering damages over and above the worth of the pet, as well as punitive damages for acts of abuse or neglect. This could mean that veterinarians will someday be facing the same kinds of staggering lawsuits that doctors now must contend with, and it’s got veterinarians worried. It also means the rest of us could be facing larger legal bills, and larger court-mandated payments to pet owners, if we’re unlucky enough to harm someone else’s animal.

In addition, several cities have passed ordinances that say animals’ owners should be called “companions,” which could possibly change the rights of people who own pets. There are legal variations of how this would look. Cass Sunstein is a constitutional scholar at the University of Chicago Law School who has written about this topic.

SUNSTEIN: The most radical version is that there shouldn’t be pets at all and that, in the long run, animals should be wild and free. They would abolish the institution of pet ownership. A less radical idea is that once animals aren’t property any more, they have the kind of status of very old people or very young people who are not owned but who are cared for. So, instead of thinking of animals as objects, the less radical version says we should think of animals as more akin to children -- people who we have duties toward, and people who have rights of their own.

SHEPHERD: But are we sure we want to be equating animals with children in the eyes of the law? John Katz thinks not.

KATZ: I am responsible for my dogs. I am responsible for training them, for caring for them, and for showing them how to live in the world. The idea that a dog has codified legal rights? It’s a tricky issue for me. There’s a group now that’s trying to pass a legal code for the adoption of dogs that would give dogs the right to switch homes if they’re unhappy. I don’t even want to think about how that’s going to work.

SHEPHERD: Several weeks after my trip to the animal ER I went to see Missy, recovering at home from her accident.

SHEPHERD: Hello, how are you?

GERSTMEYER: I’m fine, thank you.

SHEPHERD: Pam Gerstmeyer says that plenty of people were surprised that she spent so much money on Missy. But then stories of others paying for heroic treatment for their pets began to trickle in. She says that even though Missy’s treatment didn’t put her family into debt, they still had to have the conversation.

GERSTMEYER: My husband and I talked it over. I had badly broken my leg at one time and he said, ‘Well, we didn’t put you to sleep, did we? No, we did not!’ [LAUGHS]. And she’s a member of our family and we’re going to do whatever we can. We are a very fortunate country, a very indulged bunch of people. But I’m not going to make excuses for what we did.

SHEPHERD: That said, Gerstmeyer has three grown daughters and says she would never equate her dog with her children.

GERSTMEYER: I think you have to remember that a dog is a dog. And maybe with this accident things have changed that way with our relationship with her. But still she is just a dog. Just a dog that we spent 8,000 dollars on, you know. I mean, hello!

SHEPHERD: As we’re talking, Missy is lying complacently nearby – perhaps listening to the drone of our voices, smelling all of the pungent house scents, and dreaming of chasing squirrels. It’s still hard for her to walk, or move at all, and she’s not eating much. But is she glad to be alive? Does she even understand that concept at all? Many dogs owners would say yes.

GERSTMEYER: I think she probably looks and says, ‘Oh my goodness, what did I do to deserve this?’ Now I am not going to – I think this is where people go off the deep end – take her to a dog psychologist. She’s going to have to work out her issues by herself. [LAUGHS] [FADES UNDER] She’s going to have to just deal, and cope, and realize, you know, we are having a good life here!

SHEPHERD: For Living on Earth, I’m Susan Shepherd.

[MUSIC: Ugly Dogs "I Love to Walk My Dog" Ugly Dogs Need More Love (Quicksilver) 2000]

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CURWOOD: At Living on Earth we want to hear about your experiences with our environment – and stories about furry or feathered creatures might be how you relate to it. So, we are inviting you to send them to us. Just visit Living on Earth dot org for complete directions. We’ll tell you how to capture the sound of your story, which could be as simple as picking up the telephone.

Maybe - like this woman - your experience is about watching your neighborhood transformed when a chemical plant moves in, and then deciding to do something about it.

WOMAN: No longer did I see the beauty of the buttercups, the clovers, fields full of corn, beautiful trees. I saw the operation of a plant, but at the same time my inner spirit began to say “something must be done for the generations behind us as well as for my family.”

CURWOOD: So, what’s your story? A selection of stories and excerpts will be chosen for production and posted online and may be broadcast. Now, this is not a contest. There are no winners or losers. This is simply a call for self-expression. Visit Living on Earth dot org for complete directions, sample submissions and your chance to tell your story.


CURWOOD: We take you now to the coast of Antarctica on the Weddell Sea to hear the unearthly sounds made by the huge seals that live under the frozen waters.


CURWOOD: Through six feet of ice, Douglas Quinn recorded these males as they patrolled the area around their breathing holes.


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation.
Our crew includes Chris Ballman, Jennifer Chu, Jenn Goodman and Ingrid Lobet - with help from Kelly Cronin. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find is at living on earth dot org. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

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