Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Joy on the River

It was a walking dogs' day. People stopped to chat. What birds have you seen today? What do you know about the history of the river? Do you think there are still sharks in the river? Is it safe to swim in? Meeting people along the trail and sharing stories about the river adds to the joy of river connecting.

'My dad told me that the river used to be so clear,' says the women in red with the small fox terrier. While the dog mooched around wanting to run in the undergrowth, the women told me how her father had loved the river. 'He used to go swimming not far from here and there was a real sandy beach. And people would flock there. But all that's gone now. The river is all silted up.'

Then one of the other river-lovers told me about what Sandy Creek used to be like. I've written about Sandy Creek before, as a beautiful deep chocolate brown creek bordered by mud and mangroves. But I learnt that it was not always like this. In fact, Sandy Creek used to be just that, a creek with a sandy bottom and sandy bank - and few or no mangroves. It was once a great place for fishing.

But the creek has changed. The sand has been replaced by oozy mud and the banks are now lined with mangroves. This marks a change from fresh to more salty tidal water. Why?

It's a question of less water coming down the river, the daming of the river upstream, less rain flushing out the creek bed, and also, as far as Sandy Creek is concerned, while it is an open flowing creek near the river, not far away the creek is squeezed into a drain, the wildness contained, controlled, channelled, covered over. The creek does not flow free. The sand has all but disappeared.

There is a marvellous photo held by Picture Australia in the archives of a family, in 1930s, sitting on the beach, enjoying a picnic. But this was then. The days of river beaches and family frolicks have passed but the river is still a playspace, a place to shake off the constraints of the concreted-ashphalted urban-ness and feel the freedom, the sight of the sparkling bush and the flourishing tidal flow. This is sacred.

Monday, August 13, 2007

River Dolphins: Extinction is Forever

Last week came the announce-ment. The Yangtze River Dolphin has gone. Extinct. The first big mammal to disappear in my lifetime. Caused by a range of reasons, all of them human.

In the past 30+ years environment organisations globally and locally have been fighting to preserve the ecological integrity of the planet. While at the same time, environmental devastation has continued unabated - and is still continuing, noticeable each day along the Brisbane River and its environs.

The World Conservation Union has drawn up the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. But despite the knowledge that the Yangtze River Dolphins were under severe threat, there was no real way to save them. A list assessing the status of species needs a concerted back up program of urgent action. The list is shocking. Read it.

Environmentalists, activists, scientists and spiritual practitioners are in agreement. The planet is experiencing the 6th period of global mass extinction. The last time this happened on earth was 65 million years ago. What's different this time is that the cause of the mass extinction is known. Humans. Us. Me and you.

Scientists say that the Yangtze River Dolphin known as Baiji disappeared due mainly to unregulated overfishing, but also they blame the construction of dams as well as boat strikes. From a scientific perspective the death of this dolphin species is significant as it 'represents the disappearance of a complete branch of the evolutionary tree of life and emphasises that we have yet to take full responsibility in our role as guardians of the planet.' (Zoologist Dr Sam Turvey speaking on the BBC, August 8, 2007).

The Baiji was important not only because it marks the death of a species that is 20 million years old, it is also important for its spiritual significance: it was regarded as the 'goddess of the Yangtze'. At the heart of the destruction of the environment is an ethical, moral and spiritual issue. The loss of the River Goddess, to use the words of the scientists who made the announcement last week, is a 'shocking tragedy'.

Extinction is Forever.