Not Safe, Not Safer, Not Safe

Reprinted from my article on NoMorePencils

Remember the Exxon Valdez that ruptured when it hit a reef off the coast of Alaska?

The oil tanker owned by the Exxon Shipping Company, spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989.

It caused the world’s biggest maritime environmental disaster.

In terms of volume of oil released it is second to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but in terms of damage it is the worst by far. Despite a clean-up that went on for years, less than 10% of the oil was recovered.

Now fast forward to today, and just so we are sure we are comparing apples with apples, that was 11 million gallons of crude oil that leaked out of the Exxon Valdez.

In the oil industry, a barrel is defined as 42 US gallons, or 35 imperial gallons.

Well, the Floating Storage And Offloading Vessel Safer (yes, that’s its name) has 1.2 million barrels of crude oil in its tanks. That’s 50.4 million US gallons of oil, or more than four times the amount on the Exxon Valdez.

The FSO Safer lies 15° 07.0′ N, 042° 36.0′ E at the Ras Isa Marine Terminal (YERAI) and it has been there since 1988, rusting and abandoned.

It’s owned by a company that is owned by the Yemeni Government but since 2015 it has been a pawn in a game of chicken between Iranian-back Houthi rebels and just about everyone else.

The Houthis control the area and they want payment for the oil. The UN wants to avoid an ecological disaster.

Here is a general map of the region, with the FSO Safer marked with a red dot.

Apart from the ecological damage at stake, to the south is the narrow Bab-El-Mandeb Strait (‘The Gate of Lamentations’ in Arabic) that gives out into the Gulf of Aden. Via the Suez Canal it is the shortest trade route between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the rest of East Asia. So not surprisingly it is one of the world’s major trade routes. 

So how is this going to play out? The Houthis agreed to let UN inspectors in, and then changed their minds. And meanwhile the hulk rusts.

Please share this article. It must not be that inaction by those in authority allow a disaster to happen.

Colony Collapse Disorder: USDA Report Devastating Losses

“Colonies Lost with Colony Collapse Disorder Symptoms with Five or More Colonies – United States: 2019 and 2020
[Loss reported that met all of the following criteria: 1) Little to no build-up of dead bees in the hive or at the hive entrance 2) Rapid loss of adult honey bee population despite the presence of queen, capped brood, and food reserves 3) Absence or delayed robbing of the food reserves 4) Loss not attributable to varroa or nosema loads. Blank cells indicate estimation period has not yet begun]”

Here is the link to the USDA report.

As you can see, the losses for the first quarter of this year are 105,240, compared to 59,940 for the first quarter of 2019.

Varroa mites and nosema virus are excluded from the figures, so what does that leave?

The culprits often cited are Neonicotinoids. They are banned in the European Union.

Here’s a reprint of what I wrote on No More Pencils about Neonicotinoids.

Allegiance And Colony Collapse Disorder

I get a Google alert for ‘colony collapse disorder’ and today I got these two alerts:

18-Year Study Links Neonicotinoids to Bee Colony Decline
Discover Magazine (blog)
… Harvard environmental scientist, was also hit with a wave of criticism after he published a study in 2014 “definitively” linking colony collapse disorder …


Honey Bees Healthy, Taxpayers Stung
The New American
The problem is a syndrome first identified in 2006 and dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It’s characterized not by a hive full of dead bees, but …

The ’18-Year Study’ Article

The article in Discover Magazine cited in the first item links to the main article in Nature Communications and it’s a study of wild bee populations in the UK over an eighteen-year period.

I believe the results of the study were on the BBC news a couple of nights ago.

The crux of the study is that neonicotinoid pesticides affect bee health. I have been writing about this for several years.

Know Your Sources

Do you know what I do first when I see an article arguing one way or another over CCD and the role that this or that agent plays in the decline?

I look at who did the study. 

The authors are Ben Woodcock, Nicholas Isaac, James Bullock, David Roy, David Garthwaite, Andrew Crowe, and Richard Pywell

Under one of the sub-pages of affiliations and competing financial interests it mentions that
Richard Pywell, James Bullock, and Ben Woodcock are

…currently funded by Syngenta and Bayer CropScience to perform a large-scale field study investigating the impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on honeybees. This research presented in this paper was not funded by either company, nor were they consulted about this analysis and interpretation.

This may be a terrific scientific paper, but knowing that the authors are funded by the very firms that make and market the insecticides, how far do I trust this scientific paper?

Knowing that Syngenta is involved in funding, how can I trust this paper?

It was Syngenta that got the UK Government to allow continued use of neonicotinoid pesticides against the European Union Food Standards Agency’s European-wide ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

I have to wonder whether the paper has been set up as a stalking horse to conceal the authors’ real intentions.

I have to wonder whether at some point in the future the results will be exposed as falsified or erroneous and cast doubt on all the good work done on CCD and crop sprays.

I am not saying that’s what the authors have done. I am saying that when the money and the allegiances are tugging in two directions, then I have to wonder how far I can trust the results.

OK, it’s a long shot: Who would set up an argument to prove neonicotinoid pesticides are bad with the intention of later proving the argument wrong? Probably no one.

But I still wonder, and it’s a crying shame because this paper supports the argument that pesticides damage bees.

The ‘Taxpayers Stung’ Article

OK, on to the second item in the Google alert and an article in New American. Skimming a few articles tells me where the site is coming from. And the article follows form in that in basically says that the Obama Administration has taken money out of the pockets of the general population to no effect.

It has done so to fund a useless program to combat CCD. It’s a useless program, says the article, because bees are healthy and anyway, keepers simply buy in new bees when they need them.

It’s a flat out lie about bee health, but someone will read the article and form an opinion and never read anything else.

It’s A Crying Shame

Now that we are capable of turning this planet into a dustbowl, it is a crying shame that even precious things can be politicised and twisted for profit.

As I have commented before, when a bee forages and finds plants with a good amount of nectar, it goes back to the hive and does a dance. Several foraging bees come back and dance. The dance describes the direction of the plants, the distance, and the amount of nectar. The other bees look at the dancing bees and see who is dancing the most enthusiastically. That’s the bee they follow.

Look at the bees – they act for the benefit of the community. They do not lie. They do not send everyone off in the wrong direction for some ulterior motive. What a lovely example. And how do they get repaid – we zap them with spray.

Sometimes I think the real motive of some people is not profit but jealousy. Maybe they couldn’t get over how they weren’t the favourite in the playground at school. Maybe they are just rubbish people. And now they want to spoil the party for everyone.

Can You Identify This Flower (Solved)

My first thought (how do these things pop into one’s head?) was bistort, but then it plainly wasn’t. I looked in a wildflower book and the nearest were some mint varieties – but it wasn’t any of them.

Then I asked on Twitter and Facebook, and on Twitter the answer came from Martin (@botanicalmartin) who said:

I think it’s Phytolacca polyandra or Chinese Pokeweed which I guess is a garden plant and not very common escaped in the wild – map here

I looked up the flower in Google and found some good photos – and it’s definitely Chinese Pokeweed. And the map that Martin mentioned also tallies because it show some specimens in Cambridge, which is where I photographed them.

They are on the fringes of an area of wild flowers in a park just a few yards from the High Street.

Were they sown, along with the wild flowers? Were they there from an earlier planting?

Martin has a WP blog The Intermingled Pot, if you would like to take a look at his take on nature and the state of nature in the UK.