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. Borneo Shrimp Problem Worries Oil Giant Total
illustration only
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by Sebastien Blanc
Mahakam Delta (AFP) Dec 25, 2006
French oil giant Total dominates the immense Mahakam delta on the island of Borneo, but concern over the humble shrimp has led the company to highlight an ecological catastrophe it fears it will be wrongly blamed for. Overexploitation of the crustaceans has caused the disaster in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan on Borneo, research funded by Total and local officials say.

The region concerned, one of rich biodiversity, is composed of interlacing channels cutting through luxuriant vegetation and fans out over an area of 10,000 square kilometres (3,800 square miles) on the east coast of Borneo.

Sediments transported by the Mahakam river have trapped vast amounts of organic matter and created, over the course of 10 million years, exceptional hydrocarbon reserves.

They are among the largest discoveries Total has made anywhere in the world over the past 30 years.

The oil firm extracts 550,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, mainly gas, an amount equal to three quarters of France's gas consumption.

For a long time, the local inhabitants carried on with their traditional lifestyle, putting up with the methane tankers, drilling platforms and gas pipelines.

According to Total E and P Indonesie president director Philippe Armand, the local population lived off small-scale aquaculture of fish farming and traditional fishing.

The 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis that saw the Indonesian rupiah plunge to a quarter of its value overturned all that. The production of shrimp, sold in dollars, suddenly became very profitable.

Investors without scruples flowed in, along with thousands of workers from Java and Sulawesi.

"Since the economic crisis of the years 1997-1998 people have been cutting all the mangrove, opening new shrimp ponds, without any restrictions or law enforcement," said Muhammad Najib, in charge of environmental problems for Total E and P Indonesie.

However the mangrove swamps provide valuable nutrients for the aquaculture. To replace them, the shrimp pond owners have turned to artificial fertilisers, which themselves deteriorate the ecosystem. It is a vicious circle.

In a study financed by Total, Cirad, the French institute of agronomic research, concluded that conversion of more than 800 square kilometres (300 square miles) of mangroves into shrimp ponds, "involved, in the short term, the degradation of the ecology of the delta, ... the appearance of diseases, water pollution and an alarming salinisation of the ecosystem".

"The productivity of shrimp farming has fallen because of the damage caused to the natural environment," Bahteramsyah, environmental official for Kutai Kartanegara district, told AFP. He estimates only 20 percent of the original mangrove swamp remains.

Total's activities in the delta have nothing to do with this looming disaster but the oil giant fears it will bear the brunt of the social consequences because of its high profile in the region.

Armand estimates that in five years around 15,000 people could find themselves without a livelihood if there are no more shrimps. "Those jobless people being abandoned by all those tycoons will come knocking at our door and ask 'What have you done for us?'," he said.

"We fear that we will be totally wrongly accused of being the source of the problem."

Total has decided to take the initiative and has earmarked two million dollars over five years to promote sustainable management of the Mahakam delta.

The company has replanted more than three million mangrove seedlings, organised a symposium on the risks posed by shrimp farming and is also training the villagers in more environmentally friendly methods to farm crustaceans.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Contrary to Common Wisdom, Some Mammals Can Smell Objects Under Water
Nashville TN (SPX) Dec 27, 2006
A Vanderbilt researcher has discovered that some stealthy mammals have been doing something heretofore thought impossible -- using the sense of smell under water. The results of the research by Vanderbilt's Kenneth Catania, assistant professor of biology, were reported Dec. 21 in the science journal Nature. He became curious when he observed that a mole he was studying blew a lot of bubbles while swimming.

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