Rabu, 23 Oktober 2013

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Nations debate giant Antarctic ocean sanctuaries


Sydney (AFP) - Multi-nation talks began in Australia Wednesday over plans to protect Antarctica's pristine waters by creating two vast ocean sanctuaries, with hopes Russia's previous objections to the proposed no-fishing zones can be overcome.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting in Hobart brings together 24 nations and the EU to try to agree plans for conserving marine ecosystems in the Southern Ocean.

At stake, say environmentalists, is an ocean wilderness that is home to 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses, penguins and unique species of fish.

This is the latest attempt to agree on marine reserves after Russia stymied the plans at a special meeting in Germany in July, saying the no-fishing areas were too extensive and questioning the legal right of CCAMLR to set up such sanctuaries.

Since then there have been mixed signals from the Russians on how they will vote but they are believed to have dropped their argument about CCAMLR's legality, boosting optimism the sanctuaries will receive support in Hobart.

CCAMLR executive secretary Andrew Wright said Wednesday he was hopeful "that we will get an outcome at this meeting" on the two proposals.

"I'm not sure that they will all get up (succeed) in the current form but I am ... quietly confident that some revisions will take place to both proposals and one, or hopefully both, will get up," he told AFP.

Australia, along with France and the European Union, has called for a 1.6 million square kilometre (640,000 sq mile) protected zone off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent's Indian Ocean side. Fishing would only be approved by consensus.

The United States and New Zealand are pushing for a 1.25 million square kilometre zone of the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica's Pacific side, which would be a no-fishing zone.

Because all 25 members of the commission have to agree for a decision to be made, regardless of extent of the interest they have as a nation in Antarctica, no agreement yet been reached on either proposal.

Wright said it was not only the size of the zones which could be negotiated, but also the duration for which they would be kept as sanctuaries, along with elements such as research and monitoring programmes.

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully has refused to rule out scaling back the New Zealand/US proposal which has already been substantially reduced from the 1.6 million square kilometres initially proposed.

"Some modifications were made to the proposal, and there may be more yet," he said on Tuesday.

McCully said he was optimistic, but not confident, of reaching agreement in Hobart, particularly given the concerns of Russia.

"We've got signs of good engagement leading up to the meeting but getting 25 countries to agree on something complex is going to be difficult," he admitted.

"All of the negotiations are quite challenging but we're satisfied that there's engagement and good faith at the moment."

If accepted, the combined area of the two sanctuaries is 2.85 million square kilometres, a fraction smaller than India, more than five times larger than France and 12 times the size of Britain.

Each prposal has the potential to create the world's largest marine protection zone.- AFP

New fires break out as Australia crews battle torrid conditions


Mount Victoria (Australia) (AFP) - Firefighters in Australia battled hot, dry winds and soaring temperatures Wednesday as new blazes began breaking out in a week-long bushfire disaster that shows no signs of easing.

As the crisis entered its seventh day, at least 65 fires were raging across the state of New South Wales with 18 of them uncontained and warnings again issued for people to leave their homes or be extra vigilant.

"On days like today, minutes really matter," NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, with the focus again on the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney, a popular tourist area home to 75,000 people where three huge infernos have been burning for days.

One of them, in Springwood where more than 100 homes were lost last week, was upgraded to the highest "emergency" level.

But fires were also breaking out elsewhere around the vast state with a blaze at Minmi near Newcastle, north of Sydney, which was deemed an "emergency" as it closed the main freeway that links the two cities and sparked traffic chaos.

"If you are Minmi, follow your survival plan. If your plan is to leave, leave now," the RFS said.

Another blaze at Colo, to the northwest of Sydney, was burning aggressively with water-bombing aircraft attempting to bring it under control, although the high winds were hampering the effort.

"It's a very fluid situation. It's a very dynamic situation," said the fire chief.

So far more than 120,000 hectares (296,500 acres) of land has been burnt across the state and more than 200 homes destroyed. But only one person has died as residents heed advice to either flee or head to evacuation centres.

Temperatures were at the mid-30 degrees Celsius range Wednesday and coupled with low humidity and forecast wind gusts of up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) per hour, the fire chief called the conditions "as bad as it gets".

Drizzle overnight "settled down firegrounds" but it also hampered the mostly volunteer crews fighting the blazes.  

"Whilst that is some welcome relief in terms of moderating the current fire behaviour, it has compromised considerably the ability to continue with the backburning operations that were planned throughout the evening," Fitzsimmons said.

Backburning is a tactic aimed at creating firebreaks to control the path of blazes.

This has been a key focus of operations ahead of Wednesday, but the light rain meant many firefighters had to be withdrawn from forest trails due to fears that their trucks could get bogged down.

Much of the dampness has dried out and Fitzsimmons said: "We're seeing the winds strengthen and that's resulting in fire activity starting to be generated. As we speak we're identifying a number of new fires."

He added: "What can't be denied is there is something like 1,600 kilometres (992 miles) of fire perimeter that we're dealing with. Now, that's all active to one degree or another.

"No one knows where that fire activity will stir up under today's weather."

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell drove home the message, saying regardless of what happens on Wednesday "we're not out of the woods yet".

He also said reports were filtering in of people trying to cash in other people's misery, with one landlord hiking up the rent for his property in the Blue Mountains because of demand with so many homes already lost.

"It is just as gut-wrenching to hear this story as it is to hear of reports that 11-year-old children have lit fires or that there has been alleged reports of looting," he told Fairfax Media.

"The last week has been characterised by communities and volunteers coming together to fight fires and support people and then you are pulled up by these acts of what I describe as bastardry."

Aussies battling wildfires with mega-fire


LITHGOW: Firefighters deliberately merged two major blazes in southeastern Australia in a desperate attempt to manage the advancing infernos ahead of weather conditions that authorities warn will be "as bad as it gets".

Crews made up largely of volunteers worked tirelessly along trails in heavily forested areas west of Sydney to try to prevent the blazes becoming one out-of-control mega-fire that could race towards a third blaze nearby.

Thousands of firefighters have been battling infernos across 1,600km of New South Wales state since they flared in high winds and searing heat last week, with more than 200 homes destroyed so far and many others damaged.

Only one person has died, but with today's weather forecast worse than previously predicted, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned: "There is a very real potential for more loss of homes and loss of life."

He urged anyone who does not need to be in the Blue Mountains region, home to 75,000 residents, to leave, although no mass evacuations were planned.

"The forecast and scenario for tomorrow (today) is about as bad as it gets," said the fire chief.

Temperatures in the mid-30s Celsius range, lower humidity and wind gusts of up to 100kph are predicted before more favourable conditions from tomorrow.

In the state's worst fire emergency in almost 50 years, dozens of blazes have been extinguished or contained but 57 are still alight and 17 of them deemed out of control.

The Blue Mountains, a popular tourist area, is the main focus of concern because of a huge fire in the Lithgow area.

Fitzsimmons said two fires were "deliberately and tactically joined" through backburning – a tactic aimed at creating firebreaks to control the path of blazes.

The decision to merge the edges of the infernos near Lithgow and Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains is aimed at starving them of the fuel that would otherwise have allowed them to become the "mega-fire" authorities were fearing on Monday. — AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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