Australia scrambles to reach thousands trapped by bushfires

Australia has launched a major operation to reach thousands of people stranded in seaside towns after deadly bushfires ripped through popular tourist areas on New Year’s Eve.

Navy ships and military aircraft were deployed alongside emergency crews to provide humanitarian relief and assess the damage from one of the worst days yet in Australia’s months-long bushfire crisis.

Thousands of holidaymakers and locals are bedding down at beaches after fleeing the deadly blazes.

In seaside communities along a 200km strip of coast, terrified crowds – wrapped in blankets and wearing make-shift facemasks – sought refuge from the inferno near the water.

Some with boats took to the sea in near-darkness, hoping to find safety, as one of the worst days yet in Australia’s months-long bushfire crisis prompted a military deployment to help relief efforts.

Three people have died, five more are unaccounted for, and scores of properties were feared destroyed after flames reached well-populated towns like Batemans Bay, normally busy with visitors during Australia’s summer holidays.

Information was trickling out of coastal communities where thousands of holidaymakers and locals were thought to have seen in the New Year taking refuge from flames at surf clubs, as power outages and damage to telecommunications towers brought down phone lines and the internet.

New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said emergency services faced a “real challenge” trying to help injured people – some reportedly suffering burns – in isolated areas.

“We haven’t been able to get access via roads or via aircraft. It’s been… too dangerous and we simply can’t access, nor can the people in these areas get out,” he said.


10:30am update from Dad at the wharf in Mallacoota – “fire front not far away”

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But there was cheers and relief in the town of Mallacoota – where towering columns of smoke turned the sky pitch black and nearby fires caused waves of “ember attacks” – after around 4,000 people who had huddled on the foreshore ringed by fire trucks survived unharmed.

“I understand there was a standing ovation at the end of that for the firefighters,” Victoria Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp told public broadcaster ABC.

Cooler temperatures and lighter winds also provided a window of opportunity for relief efforts, but there were concerns over new fires in alpine regions.

“There’s a lot of people holidaying, again, up in those areas,” Crisp said. “We’ll be prioritising those and hitting them as hard as we can. We don’t need any new fires.”

Firefighters were racing to take advantage of the mild weather to contain dozens of blazes, as authorities warned the fire danger would spike again on Saturday.

“At the very least, weather conditions will be at least as bad as what they were yesterday,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Bradley Deacon 🇦🇺@BradleyWDeacon

This picture just in from family boarding boat in approx time of photo 9:45am

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In some places the blazes were so intense, the smoke so thick and the dry lightning storms precipitated by the fires so severe that aerial reconnaissance and waterbombing had to be halted.

The situation was scarcely better in inland rural communities, where countless more people were displaced and forced into makeshift camps.

Hundreds of “anxious and stressed and traumatised” people were gathered at Bega’s showgrounds, said 44-year-old Beck Walker, who had been holidaying with her husband and two young sons when they heard sirens warning them to evacuate before dawn.

“We had to pack up and leave straight away,” she told AFP. “It was pretty scary because the sky was red… By 7.30 am we thought it was still night because the sky had turned black.”

Australia’s defence minister Linda Reynolds said helicopters, aircraft and naval ships would be sent to the region.

The military is expected to conduct damage assessments and potentially provide those displaced with food, shelter and electricity and even evacuation.

More back-up has been requested from firefighters in Canada and the United States.

News Breakfast


Francesca Winterson is in a building on the main street of and describes the wind, darkness and falling embers as fires burn about 500 metres away.

She says it’s too late to leave and fire crews are on hand to offer as much protection as they can.

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Australia’s unprecedented bushfires have been burning for months, but the latest in a series of heatwaves and high winds have wrought new devastation.

The crisis has also hit cities like Sydney and Melbourne, home to several million people.

Yesterday, around 100,000 people were urged to flee five Melbourne suburbs as the blaze bore down on homes just 16km from the centre of Australia’s second-biggest city.

Sydney was again shrouded in toxic bushfire haze.

Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks went ahead, but a similar event has been cancelled in Canberra and several regional towns.

A Rural Fire Service spokesman said a 28-year-old volunteer firefighter died yesterday in New South Wales when a “fire tornado” picked up an eight-tonne truck “and flipped it over”.

A 63-year-old man and his 29-year-old son died in the devastated town of Cobargo.

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Thousands of tourists and residents in the Australian seaside town of Mallacoota sought refuge in boats, hunkered down in public buildings or waded into water at the seafront, as wildfires circled the town | 

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Ten others, including two other volunteer firefighters, have been killed so far this fire season.

The blazes have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and scorched about 13.5 million acres – an area bigger than Denmark or the Netherlands.

The crisis has focused attention on climate change – which scientists say is creating a longer and more intense bushfire season – and sparked street protests.

While conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison belatedly acknowledged a link between the fires and climate change, he has continued his staunch support of Australia’s lucrative coal mining industry and ruled out further action to cut carbon emissions.

California Legislation Would Bolster Hunting and Fishing Opportunities


Popular opinion of California may be dominated by the cultures permeating from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, but hundreds of thousands of acres of public land border all of our major cities. Three bills essential to protecting and expanding California’s public lands are expected to pass through the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands this week.

Though Rep. Judy Chu’s (D-CA) San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act (H.R. 2215), Rep. Salud Carbajal’s (D-CA) Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 2199), and Rep. Jared Huffman’s (D-CA) Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act (H.R. 2250) affect lands within the State of California, the California Chapter hopes members throughout the country will reach out to their representatives in support of these bills.

Each bill will protect lands that represent undisturbed landscapes and habitats vital to unique fish, wildlife and plant species. Importantly, these bills maintain existing uses or expand access to recreational opportunities, including fishing and hunting, for millions of public land owners.

As a resident of Southern California who lives in close proximity to the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, I am particularly invested in Rep. Chu’s H.R. 2215. I’ve caught, reveled in, and safely released descendants of the Southern California steelhead on waters within the monument. In turn, I’ve had the chance to take a number of members on their first fly fishing trip, where they’ve caught their first trout on the fly. The streams of the San Gabriels are a few of the last remaining waters where the genetics of California’s steelhead ancestors remain strong, and these fish could serve as stock to help repopulate watersheds with navigable access to the ocean.

In addition to our steelhead, the monument contains areas critical to threatened and endangered species such as the California condor, Arroyo chub and Nelson’s bighorn sheep. The Mediterranean climate provides ideal conditions for 300 plant species native only to the San Gabriel Range. With over five million visitors each year seeking out the unique flora, fauna and landscapes, the monument is a refuge from the persistent traffic and horns of the city and a crowning jewel to some of the vast public lands just outside the front door of all Southern Californian families.

H.R. 2215 would expand the existing monument, add over 30,000 acres of wilderness, designate over 45 miles of river as Wild and Scenic and establish a National Recreation Area along the perimeter of the monument. These additional protections seek to maintain the untamed nature of the West in this area by limiting commercial activities and motorized vehicles while retaining critical hunting, fishing and existing outdoor recreational access within close proximity to a major metropolis.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has organized a backpacking course and Hike to Hunt events and hopes to continue its recruitment, retention and reactivations efforts (R3), within the monument. These public lands remain the closest access to solitude and an undisturbed outdoor recreation experience for the greater part of the Los Angeles area outside of city parks. The proposed National Recreation Area under H.R. 2215 would only serve to increase opportunities and exposure to the outdoors for underserved communities.

The California Chapter encourages BHA members nationwide to contact their representatives and express support for these bills. The bills may be specific to California in nature, but the overarching message of support for wild, untouched and accessible public lands is one we can all stand behind.

Justin Bubenik
California Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Chair

Want to know what climate change feels like? Ask an Alaskan.

Want to know what climate change feels like? Ask an Alaskan.

Adrienne Titus was heading back to her parents’ village on a sweltering afternoon in early July when she saw the dead salmon. She had been fishing upstream with her mother on the banks of the gorgeous Unalakleet River, which Chinook, pink, coho, and chum salmon travel up every year in order to spawn. Down closer to the village of Unalakleet, though, there were no signs of life on the water that day — just hundreds of soft bodies floating belly up.

Titus, a 39-year-old Iñupiat woman who lives in Fairbanks but grew up in Unalakleet, had never seen anything like it before. Neither had her mother, or any of the village elders that they asked in this small fishing community on the shores of the Norton Sound in the central Bering Sea.

“It was scary,” Titus said. “It put fear into us.”

Similar reports of dead pink salmon came in all across the Norton Sound that week as temperatures soared into the high 80s and low 90s during a statewide heatwave that “re-wrote the record books,” according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Fisheries biologists say that’s no coincidence: Warm water stresses the animals out, and temperatures above a certain threshold can kill them. In a statement issued on July 11, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation warned that the salmon die-offs appeared to be part of a “larger ecosystem-level shift” taking place due to rising temperatures.


It’s just one of countless alarming signs of change Alaskans have experienced lately. July was Alaska’s hottest month in recorded history, thanks in part to that torrid heat wave. March through August? The state’s warmest six-month period, with temperatures hovering 6.4 degrees F above long-term averages. From vanished sea ice to skies choked with wildfire smoke to animals appearing where they shouldn’t or not appearing where they should, the impacts of a fast-warming climate were visible everywhere residents looked.

“I have just felt overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything this year,” said Rick Thoman, a climate scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy who co-authored a report in August summarizing the environmental changes unfolding across the state. “It’s been running from one fire to another, almost literally.”

Retreating sea ice

Anne Jensen, an archaeologist who lives in Utqiaġvik, a city of 4,400 on the northern tip of Alaska’s North Slope, said that the loss of sea ice is being felt especially hard by her community. There, Iñupiat hunters hold a subsistence whaling season in the spring and the fall, catching a small number of whales each year that represent both a key source of food and an important cultural tradition.

In the spring, hunters set up camps on the ice where they butcher the animals they catch. But with temperatures in Utqiaġvik rising at some of the fastest recorded rates on Earth, the so-called landfast ice is breaking up earlier in the spring, reducing the amount of time it can be used for hunting. The ice that’s present is becoming weaker and more dangerous.


Zachary Labe (w / data from National Snow & Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO)

Fall hunting season occurs over open water before the ice freezes to the shore. But while in the past, the edge of the sea ice might linger 100 miles from the coastaround its yearly September minimum, last month the ice bottomed out at its second-lowest ice minimum on record. As of last week, you’d have to travel about 400 miles north of Utqiagvik to find any, said Mark Serreze, a scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “This is part of the pattern we’re seeing now,” Serreze said.

The longer open water season is allowing the winds to stir up bigger waves, which can create additional hazards for hunters. Some hunters are also reporting that they have to travel farther from shore to find whales in the fall due to increased shipping activity as the ice disappears.

The food supply isn’t all that’s being affected by the loss of ice: So is the very land people’s houses sit on. Across the North Slope, shorelines are eroding as warm ocean waters gnaw away at thawing permafrost bluffs. In addition to impacting modern-day infrastructure, this is causing many of the coastal archaeological sites Jensen studies to deteriorate rapidly.

“It’s pretty scary,” Jensen said. “The changes are major and happening quickly.”

Vanishing fish

Further south in the Bering Sea, the ice broke up early this spring after struggling to grow throughout the winter. By mid-May, it was nearly gone. The dearth of sea ice, which would have been unprecedented if something very similar hadn’t occurred in 2018, is affecting the so-called “cold pool,” a vast region of near-freezing water that develops at the bottom of the Bering as sea ice forms above, providing a habitat for species like Arctic cod and snow crabs.

Bering Sea ice


Last year, for the first time on record, the cold pool didn’t form, and scientists saw large numbers of southern species, like pollock and Pacific cod, move into areas of the northern Bering Sea “where we really never expected to see them,” according to Lyle Britt, who heads up the Bering Sea Bottom Trawl Survey Group at NOAA Fisheries. This year, a cold pool did form but it was “effectively so small that it was really not a barrier to fish movement,” Britt said. Once again, large numbers of fish from more southern latitudes appear to be invading the region.

What this will ultimately mean for the fisheries of the Bering is unclear. But this year was a dismal one for crabbers in the Norton Sound, who caught only a little more than half of their annual quota, which was already the lowest the state had set in 20 years. Poor ice conditions were at least partly responsible for the bad haul, according to Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game.

“It’s definitely been alarming to the crab harvesters noticing the changing conditions in the Bering,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade organization that represents crabbers further south. Their members have been catching their quotas, Goen said, but as is the case up north, the quotas are at historic lows.

Historic wildfires

Inland, Alaskans have been contending with wildfires. Fires torched some 2.6 million acres across the state this year, and although that’s far from Alaska’s worst wildfire season — in 2004, a staggering 6.5 million acres burned statewide — 2019 will go down as one of the ten largest wildfire years since 1940. Big years like it are occurring far more often than they used to.

With this summer’s fires came loads of smoke. In early July, residents of Anchorage experienced their first-ever dense smoke advisory as particulate matter from the Swan Lake Fire, a lightning-sparked blaze on the Kenai Peninsula, wafted over the city. Around the same time, lighting-sparked fires in central Alaska sent smoke billowing over Fairbanks, reducing visibility to a few feet and creating some of the worst air quality in the world.

Alaskans also experienced some dangerous late season flare-ups this year, fueled by hot, dry conditions that prompted the state to extend fire season from the end of August to late September. These included the McKinley Fire, which exploded in size north of Anchorage on August 17 and destroyed more than 100 buildings before it was contained. That very same day, the Swan Lake Fire got a second life when gusty conditions reignited the flames. It would grow to engulf an additional 50,000 acres over the next week, triggering a new wave of smoke advisories.

Fires like these are “unusual” in mid August, said John Morris, a retired park ranger with the National Park Service who’s lived in Alaska since the 1960s. Their appearance this year illustrates what Morris sees as the most striking consequence of climate change in Alaska: just how unpredictable the weather has become.

“In some ways, it’s comforting, because things are warmer than they used to be,” Morris said. “But not having the environment be as predictable makes things a lot more uncertain.”

‘The frog in the pot of water’

To Rosa Standifer, a 46-year-old Athabascan woman born and raised in the village of Tyonek southwest of Anchorage, the clearest sign that things have changed is in the salmon. Since Standifer moved back to Alaska from California in the mid-2000s, Chinook salmon have declined precipitously in the Cook Inlet, where Tyonek is located.

“Back in the day, our boats would be sunk down with salmon,” Standifer said, recalling her childhood summers spent fishing on the water with her father. “Now you’re just praying and hoping you get some.”

Sue Mauger, science director for the community-based non-profit Cook Inletkeeper, thinks climate change is at least partly to blame. Chinook, she said, become stressed out when temperatures rise above 55 degrees F, leaving them more susceptible to pollution, predation, and disease. Her research shows that summer temperatures in the non-glacial streams feeding Cook Inlet have risen steadily for decades. During the July heat wave this summer, one of the major salmon streams Mauger monitors hit 81.7 degrees F — a frightening new record. “I like to think of this as the frog in the pot of water has been simmering for a few decades, and we just had a big twitch,” Mauger said.

Asked whether she ever experienced a summer like 2019 growing up, Standifer laughed. “Oh, no,” she said. “And I hope it don’t keep getting that hot. I moved back to be cold.”

Protect the Arctic Refuge




The fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is nothing new. Talks of opening the Refuge to oil and gas development have been ongoing since 1977. But a major shift in the discussion occurred in 2017 when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act legally opened the Arctic Refuge to drilling. POW has been sending thousands of comments to our lawmakers––working to block forward momentum on oil and gas development in the Refuge––ever since.

And now we have a chance to turn this bill around. A bipartisan group of 100 House lawmakers recently introduced and passed a bill that repeals the section of the 2017 tax-cut law that opened the Refuge for drilling. Now a new bill is off to the Senate and we need help getting it across the finish line. This is a chance for the entire outdoor community to defend the Arctic Refuge and set an example for the rest of our public lands. The oil and gas industry doesn’t own our public lands.


How Did We Get Here:

In 2017, GOP lawmakers introduced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, sneaking in a small provision that mandated opening Area 1002 (a 1.5 million acre section of the Coastal Plain within the Arctic Refuge) to oil and gas development. It passed along party lines by an ultra-thin margin: 51-48.

Had it been presented as its own bill, it would have required at least 60 votes to move forward, making it unlikely to pass.



Why Are We Talking About This Now:

A little while ago, representatives Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) recently co-signed a bipartisan bill, along with support from 97 other representatives, that would repeal that section of the 2017 GOP tax-cut law that opened the refuge for drilling in the first place.

That bill, called the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, states that “oil and gas activities are not compatible with the protection of this national treasure.” And in September 2019, it PASSED. Now a new bill has been introduced to the Senate that we’re working to pass.

Will you write to your lawmakers?


Why is POW Getting Involved:

Opening the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas development would not only irreversibly destroy the largest national wildlife refuge in the country––and deeply impact the outdoor enthusiasts who seek adventure and solitude there––but would also add significantly to the climate crisis at a time in which it is imperative to curb our emissions and adopt clean energy.

“Drilling in the Arctic is a pristine example that we’re going down the wrong path…It’s not only about the fact that we’re potentially irreversibly decimating a fragile and unique public land but that we’re continuing to extract oil to support our lifestyle when we have other options to put our energy toward.” -Kit DesLauriers, Professional ski mountaineer and POW Alliance member

The IPCC says we have 12 years to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Opening the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas development would not only further us from this incredibly time-sensitive benchmark but set a precedent that removes public lands from the people and places them in the hands of private industry.

The Arctic Refuge is a place of adventure, solitude and consists of a wilderness that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. As outdoor enthusiasts, it’s important that we protect where we play.

“The oil industry argues technology is great so their impact is small. But in Prudhoe bay, just 100 miles away from the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, the environment has been devastated. The north slope experiences an average of 504 oil spills a year, totaling more than 1.9 million gallons of toxic substances between 1996 and 2004 (according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation). The air pollution is worse than in Washington D.C. They are constantly fined for ignoring environmental regulations. The list goes on. Even if you trusted the oil companies when they say it will be different in the Refuge it doesn’t solve the effects of extraction on climate change in a place where average temperatures have already exceeded three degrees. Ninety-five percent of the Arctic is already open to oil and gas. Can we keep just five percent off-limits? ” – Tommy Caldwell, POW Alliance member & professional climber


In May 2019, we headed to Washington D.C. for our Arctic Fly-In alongside partner organization The Alaska Wilderness League. We brought leaders from the outdoor community to talk with our lawmakers about the importance of voting yes on the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act.

In September 2019 our sister organization, the POW Action Fund headed back to D.C. to continue to urge lawmakers to protect our public lands, and the bill PASSED the House while the POW Action Fund team was on Capitol Hill.

Now the Senate has a chance to take the next step and pass Arctic Refuge Protection Act (Senate Bill 2462) to not only halt drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but also designate wilderness to keep drilling out for decades to come.


Meet a scientist: The sustainable-seafood guru

Jack Kittinger is senior director of the global fisheries and aquaculture program for Conservation International’s Center for Oceans, focusing on sustainability in the seafood sector.

Human Nature spoke with Kittinger about his aquatic upbringing, and the uncertain future of the seafood we eat.

Question: What made you want to work in the seafood industry?

Answer: I grew up in the coastal Carolinas on the East coast of the U.S. and I was very lucky that I had a highly “aquatic” upbringing. I actually learned how to drive a boat before a car, and grew up surfing, swimming, diving and fishing on the coast. So you could say the ocean has always been in my blood. I went to school for marine biology and found that a lot of colleagues also connected to the ocean because of their proximity to it growing up. People work to protect the places they care about.

My mission is to protect special places like the one where I grew up, so I joined Conservation International eight years ago to do just that. It’s incredible to work at an organization where everyone treats their work as a vocation rather than merely a profession. I firmly believe we need healthy oceans to survive, and every day I’m becoming more excited about the progress we are making in this sector.

Q: What does that progress look like?

A: The vast majority of major buyers in the American and European markets have made commitments to sustainability in their purchasing of seafood. The sector is getting serious about social responsibility and human rights. And where we have invested in better governance, fisheries are recovering.

Q: What are the top 3 issues in the seafood world at the moment?

K: Seafood is the last thing on Earth that we still hunt on a global level — everything else we cultivate or grow — so we must manage wild populations sustainably, or we simply won’t have enough food. Three billion people rely on fish for their primary animal protein source, so that puts the responsibility on everyone in the conservation sector to ensure we sustainably manage it. But we are overfishing about half of all fisheries in the world.

Another environmental concern is unsustainable aquaculture, which you might know as fish farming. In a lot of developing countries, people are destroying mangroves — which absorb massive amounts of carbon and are vital to fighting climate change — to grow shrimp or other seafood species. We have to ensure both wild-caught and farmed seafood is sustainably produced.

While the environmental concern is major, what’s increasingly come to light over the past five years is how people are treated in the seafood sector. Because of the pioneering work of journalists and researchers, we now know that the seafood sector has a poor track record when it comes to human rights — it’s even worse than mining. We have to ensure that there are social safeguards put in place that keep fishers free from abuse and ensure they can support themselves and their families.

Q: How do you make sure you’re eating seafood that is sustainably and responsibly sourced?

K: The easiest way is to ask the restaurant or grocery store where it sources its fish from and whether it is certified sustainable. All consumers are part of the solution and doing this gives us the opportunity to vote with our money. If we choose to only buy things that are produced with people and the planet in mind — meaning sustainably and responsibly sourced — we can shift market demand. You can also research different retailers’ commitments to sustainability on the internet — there are quite a few that have made commitments and are working to sell seafood that is produced in the right ways. Lastly, purchase as close as you can to the source — meaning local fish and seafood from local fishers.

Q: How is climate change impacting seafood?

K: As the oceans heat up and become more acidic and the currents change, the fish are moving. Seafood is much different than our other food sources such as livestock, because it’s mobile and always shifting. Climate change is causing this shift to happen more often and permanently. This has a major impact not just on the local fishing communities who can’t catch enough fish to eat or support their families, but on the economies of countries as well, particularly small island nations. For example, the Pacific Islands produce most of the world’s tuna, and their economies rely on the revenue that the tuna fisheries bring in. But, because of climate change, the tuna populations are shifting to the east — and outside the waters of the Pacific Islands — so the Pacific Islands are going to start losing the backbone of their economies. Climate change is a social justice issue for these countries, who depend on it fully but have contributed almost nothing to the problem of global warming.

Because of the climate crisis, we are going to deal with new realities in terms of who owns fish, how they reproduce and where they live. We’ve already seen adaptations to climate change among the aquaculture community — for example, in the Pacific Northwest, oyster farmers have had to change how they are growing and harvesting oysters in response to more acidic waters.

This isn’t a future threat. Climate change is happening now, and countries are witnessing these changes in real time — and it’s going to have a huge impact on how we feed ourselves.

Jack Kittinger is senior director of the blue production program for Conservation International’s Center for Oceans. Olivia DeSmit is a former staff writer for Conservation International.

Human rights abuses in the seafood industry occur every day. To learn about some of the heroes fighting to bring justice and freedom to enslaved fishers, check out the new film “Ghost Fleet” here.

Jul 10, 2019
By Olivia DeSmit

Amazon fires: Record number burning in Brazil rainforest

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has seen a record number of fires this year, new space agency data suggests.

The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) said its satellite data showed an 84% increase on the same period in 2018.

It comes weeks after President Jair Bolsonaro sacked the head of the agency amid rows over its deforestation data.

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

It is also home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

Conservationists have blamed Mr. Bolsonaro for the Amazon’s plight, saying he has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land, and scientists say the rainforest has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since he took office in January.

Brazil Amazon fires graph

Meanwhile, US space agency Nasa said that overall fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average this year.

The agency said that while activity had increased in Amazonas and Rondonia, it had decreased in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará.

It was earlier reported that a blackout on Monday in the city of São Paulo – more than 2,700km (1,700 miles) away – had been caused by smoke from the Amazon fires.

But some meteorologists say the smoke came from major fires burning in Paraguay, which is much closer to the city and not in the Amazon region.

Why are there fires in the Amazon?

Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil but they are also deliberately started in efforts to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.

Inpe said it had detected more than 74,000 fires between January and August – the highest number since records began in 2013. It said it had observed more than 9,500 forest fires since Thursday, mostly in the Amazon region.

Brazil Amazon map

In comparison, there are slightly more than 40,000 in the same period of 2018, it said. However, the worst recent year was 2016, with more than 68,000 fires in that period.

The satellite images showed Brazil’s most northern state, Roraima, covered in dark smoke, while neighbouring Amazonas declared an emergency over the fires.

Mr Bolsonaro brushed off the latest data, saying it was the “season of the queimada”, when farmers use fire to clear land. “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame,” he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Later he appeared to suggest that non-governmental organisations had set fires, as revenge for his government slashing their funding. He presented no evidence and gave no names to support this theory, saying there were “no written records about the suspicions”.

“So, there could be…, I’m not affirming it, criminal action by these ‘NGOers’ to call attention against my person, against the government of Brazil. This is the war that we are facing,” he said in a Facebook Live on Wednesday.

An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near the city of Novo Progresso, Para state.Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionInpe said it had detected more than 72,000 fires so far this year

Inpe noted that the number of fires was not in line with those normally reported during the dry season.

“There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” Inpe researcher Alberto Setzer told Reuters.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during a National Soccer Day Ceremony in BrasiliaImage copyrightREUTERSImage captionMr Bolsonaro has been criticised over his environmental policies
“The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”

Ricardo Mello, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Amazon Programme, said the fires were “a consequence of the increase in deforestation seen in recent figures”.

Why is Bolsonaro being criticised?

The reports of a rise in forest fires come amid criticism over Mr Bolsonaro’s environmental policies. Scientists say the Amazon has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since the president took office in January, with policies favouring development over conservation.

Over the past decade, previous governments had managed to reduce deforestation with action by federal agencies and a system of fines. But Mr Bolsonaro and his ministers have criticised the penalties and overseen a fall in confiscations of timber and convictions for environmental crimes.

Last month, the far-right president accused Inpe’s director of lying about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon and trying to undermine the government. It came after Inpe published data showing an 88% increase in deforestation there in June compared to the same month a year ago.

The director of the agency later announced that he was being sacked amid the row.

Inpe has previously insisted that its data is 95% accurate. The agency’s reliability has also been defended by several scientific institutions, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Do you have video or pictures of fires in the affected regions? If it is safe to do so email

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:


2018 versus 2019: Florida’s water crisis idle, but not over

Image source: Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Memorandum, Caloosahatchee & Estuary Condition Report released June 11, 2019

Here we are, living out a beautiful Florida summer—one that’s defined by our iconic vibrant water, reports of incredible fishing, and the return of visitors to our beaches.

Thoughts of last year’s “lost summer” are but a distant memory. We breathe a sigh of relief, but clean water now doesn’t mean the problems have been resolved and the same threats that destroyed our water still remain.

Why is our water quality vastly different this year? What’s being done to prevent future disasters? In this post, we’ll look back at a few of the factors that contributed to the 2018 water crisis, how things were different in 2019, and future prevention efforts.

Disclaimer: This information is intended to illustrate that 1) Florida’s water quality issues are multi-faceted, 2) the sequence of variables that affect water quality is ever-changing, and 3) there is a solution.

There is not a singular cause of our water quality issues. In 2018, Florida experienced a chain of worst-case events, circumstances, and actions, that led to a disasterous situation for estuaries around the state. Some factors are within control, some are uncontrollable, and some are consequential, but combined, they all impact our water quality. The better you understand this relational concept, the better-suited you are to form your own opinions and perspectives on future issues.

A Look Back

In July 2018, we were neck-deep in the worst water crisis Florida has arguably ever experienced. Record rainfall, massive discharges of polluted fresh water, and a questionably-motivated water management district, all combined to help fuel this widespread water quality disaster.

Toxic blue-green sludge suffocated our waterways and red tide lingered for months, leaving dead marine life scattered along 300 miles of Florida coastline. Businesses suffered, vacations were cut short and cancelled, residents feared for their health, and Florida made national headlines—and not in a good way.

Just to name a few. While there are still many issues impacting water quality around the state, the magnitude to which our waters improved in a year is astounding. To better understand the 2018 water crisis versus a year of relatively good water, here is a chart highlighting a few key factors that collectively impacted our water quality.

2018 and 2019 Key Factors Impacting Water Quality

South Florida Water Management District

  • The powerful, tax-levying agency responsible for protecting and managing our water resources.


Governing board serving special interests.

The previous governing board made decisions that favored special interests over the public, such as renewing a lease with Florida Crystals for land slated for the EAA Reservoir.

Public outrage prompted a spotlight on their actions and the demand for their resignations.


Governing board serving the public.

A new board was appointed as a result of public demand and is now made up of individuals who share our concerns, making significant strides to protect our water quality.

Rainfall Levels
Fort Myers levels shown as sample

  • Rainfall directly affects the water level in Lake Okeechobee.
  • Florida rainy season is May through October.


Above average rainfall.

12.77 ” in May (normal 2.64″)

Lake levels jumped 6 feet in 2017, largely due to Hurricane Irma, followed by heavy rainfall in May 2018.



Average rainfall.

5.57” in May

Brought no significant or unexpected water level changes.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Water management strategy

  • Attempts to keep Lake Okeechobee level between 12.5 to 15.5 feet.
  • Currently manages lake level by discharging “excess” water to the coast via Caloosahatchee & St. Lucie Rivers.
  • Water is discharged at a rate measured in cubic feet per second (cfs).
  • 500 to 1,000 cfs = desired flow for Caloosahatchee River, needed to balance salinity.
  • 0 cfs = desired flow for St. Lucie River.


Began high-volume discharges June 1, continued through summer.

3,000 to 7,800 cfs to Caloosahatchee
Up to 1,800 cfs to St. Lucie

Heavy rainfall and high lake levels, combined with a fear of more rain, led to massive discharges throughout the summer.

2,800 cfs is the high-flow “ecological harm threshold” established by water managers for the Caloosahatchee.

USACOE later admits to knowingly releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers containing toxic cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms.


Began low-volume discharges in February, minimized need for high-volume discharges during rainy season.

1,500 to 1,800 cfs to Caloosahatchee
250 to 500 cfs to St. Lucie

Low rainfall and low lake levels maintained by low-volume releases, mitigated need for high-volume summer discharges.

Blue-green algal blooms visible on Lake Okeechobee, but no visible cyanobacteria at sample testing sites. The lower rate of discharges has helped prevent toxic algae from reaching the coastal estuaries.

Red Tide
Known as Karenia brevis (K. brevis)

  • A naturally-occuring algal bloom that originates offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Depletes oxygen in the water and releases toxins that kill marine life and may cause illness to humans.
  • Sustained by nutrients from pollution sources.


Significant presence of red tide.

Originated in October 2017 and persisted for 17 months.

Devastated marine life, killing thousands of tons of baitfish, game fish, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, even a whale shark.

Red tide bloom was possibly intensified and sustained by nutrients from toxic blue-green algal blooms.


No presence of red tide.

As of February 2019, the presence of red tide has been non-existent at sample testing sites.

Lake Okeechobee Water Levels

Below is a graphic representation of the Lake Okeechobee water levels from July 2017 to July 2019. This illustrates the significant water level spike after Hurricane Irma in October 2017, followed by the heavy rainfall event in May 2018 that led to the high-volume, devastating discharges.

Captains For Clean Water - Lake O Levels

The Water Crisis Brings Progress in 2019

  • Florida received the largest amount of funding for Everglades restoration in state history. This means there’s a significant spotlight on water quality issues and efforts; from media to conservation groups to the informed public eye, this creates an arena where elected officials and government agencies are held accountable.
  • New Lake Okeechobee management manual coming soon. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has shown willingness to change their operations procedures in order to avoid harmful, large-scale discharges and is in the process of developing the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). “The purpose of this effort is to reevaluate and define operations for the Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule that take into account additional infrastructure that will soon be operational.” Expected completion of the manual is September 2022.
  • Key priority projects. There are more than two dozen projects that must be accelerated and completed in order to provide improvements to water quality, water quantity, and water supply for Florida. Collectively, these will help achieve the greatest benefit for Everglades restoration. The projects are detailed on SFWMD’s website.

The Big Picture: We Must Send Clean Water South

Infrastructure projects, operating manuals, record budget, various agencies and stakeholders, policy and procedures, bureaucratic complexity, outward opposition, emails, paperwork, approvals, denials, meetings upon meetings; the path to progress is littered with red tape. For every step forward, it took countless people and calculated actions to get there.

It’s not realistic to think that the southward flow of water can be restored overnight, but every project completed gets us incrementally closer. Progress is a process. It requires a vigilant public who speaks up and takes action which drives political will that turns to policy, which becomes new law which eventually leads to the benefits that we all want to see: clean water and healthy estuaries at all times.

Changing operations alone won’t fix the problems. We need critical infrastructure projects completed in order to store, treat, and convey more water south. The EAA Reservoir is predicted to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges by over 50%. The Tamiami Trail project will remove significant barriers to flow, allowing more water to reach the Everglades and Florida Bay where it’s desperately needed. We can’t simply cross our fingers and hope the rain won’t come.

Closing Thoughts

It begins to sound redundant, almost, to keep repeating this message. The truth is—for decades, scientists have said the solution is to send water south. So why weren’t we seeing progress at the highest level? The difference between now and then is awareness.

A lack of public awareness has historically allowed special interests and corrupt politics to dictate where our water goes—or doesn’t go. The 2016 and 2018 water crises may have sparked national attention, but it’s because we’ve refused to “shut up” that we’ve been able to keep the focus on water quality and move the needle.

This progress is only possible because of you. Without your efforts to get involved, get educated, and spread the word, the smoke and mirrors would continue, and the greater public would remain oblivious to the injustice happening in our backyards.

Thank you for seeing the bigger picture. For understanding the process. And for spreading the word about Everglades restoration—even when the water is beautiful and the fishing is good.

Meet the Veteran Finalists: The 2019 National Fly Casting Competition

We are pleased to announce the finalists in our Second Annual Fly Casting Competition hosted in-conjunction with Fly Fishers International (FFI).  Through the fly casting competition and the strategic partnership between PHWFF and FFI, we aim to bring fly fishing and it’s proven therapeutic elements to more disabled veterans who can benefit from it.

The competition was open to disabled veterans and disabled military service personnel actively participating with PHWFF Programs and was facilitated by our volunteer-run programs around the country.  PHWFF programs are divided up into geographic regions comprising over 200 programs nationwide that serve disabled veterans in their local communities.  The Fly Casting Competition began at the local program level where disabled veteran participants learn the skills and nuances of the fly cast from experienced volunteer anglers during regular program meetings.  For the competition, each PHWFF program selected a casting champion who proceeded to compete in their respective Regional Finals against fellow program champions. The winners and runner-ups of the Regional Competitions advance to compete in the PHWFF Casting Competition Finals during the Fly Fishers International Expo in Bozeman, Montana July 24 – 27, 2019.

A total of 27 PHWFF veteran participants will compete in the National Fly Casting Competition finals on July 24 – 27, 2019 and we are thrilled to introduce them to you below by Region:

ALASKA Rick Knight – Wasilla, AK Program | David Widby – Anchorage, AK Program

THE HEARTLAND Michael Davis – Kansas City, MO Program | David Landon – Omaha, NE Program

FLORIDA Lonnie Devore – Viera, FL Program

NEW ENGLAND Mark Michaud – Saugus, MA Program | Walter Morse – Togus, ME Program

NORTH CAROLINA Vincent Taylor – Winston-Salem, NC Program | Gregorio Robles-Velez – Fayetteville, NC Program

PENNSYLVANIA Darryl Mosher – Erie, PA Program | Ed Transue – Kunkletown, PA Program

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NORTHEAST Kenneth Hickok – Casper, WY Program

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NORTHWEST Harley Harrison – Bozeman, MT Program | Travis Wilson – Boise, ID Program

ROCKY MOUNTAIN SOUTH Bradley Kalblinger – Grand Junction, CO Program | Valentine Roberts – Denver, CO Program

SOUTH CENTRAL Christian Fritz – San Marcos, TX Program | Jason Farrar – Conroe, TX Program

SOUTHEAST Allan Sweat – Atlanta, GA Program | Heyward Wall – Charleston, SC Program

SOUTHWEST Lawrence Diggins – Long Beach, CA Program | Joe Hiney – San Francisco, CA Program

TENNESSEE VALLEY Henry Stockman – Chattanooga, TN Program | Joshua Berry – Johnson City, TN Program

VIRGINIA Aric Moss – Charlottesville, VA Program

WEST VIRGINIA Stu Mynes – Wheeling, WV Program | Michael Elliott – Clarksburg, WV Program

The National Fly Casting Competition Finals will be judged by an esteemed panel of fly casting experts;

  • Larry Allen – PHWFF volunteer, Master Casting Instructor, recipient of Mel Krieger Fly Casting Instructor Award, and winner of two golds, a silver and a bronze at the World Fly Casting Championships in the Veteran Men’s Division.
  • Ted Bounds – PHWFF volunteer, Casting Instructor and tournament caster.
  • Bruce Richards – Master Casting Instructor, line designer for Scientific Anglers, author of Modern Flylines, and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement in Fly Casting Instructor Award.
  • Molly Semenik – Master Casting Instructor and author of 25 Best Off-the-Beaten Path Montana Fly Fishing Streams.
  • Mark Tsunawaki – Head Judge, PHWFF volunteer, and ACA National Tournament Senior Division Champion.

Following the competition, the disabled veteran participants will enjoy a special fly-casting demonstration from World Champion fly caster Maxine McCormick and her father, World Championship Bronze Medalist, Glenn McCormick.  At the age of 12, Maxine became the youngest adult division World Champion in sports history, outscoring every woman and man in Trout Accuracy.   In 2018, at the World Championships in England, she earned two gold medals and one silver.

The Fly Fishers International Expo will also offer a bevy of activities for all the competitors during their time in Bozeman, MT.  From seminars, activities, demonstrations, authors and entertainment the Fair will serve as fun and educational opportunity for our participants to further their growth in the sport of fly fishing.

Join us in wishing all the veteran competitors the best of luck at the Finals!

By Daniel Morgan per Project Healing Waters

Garden and Gun: How Fishing Captains are Saving the Everglades

Meet Captains for Clean Water, the non-profit that’s charting a new course for South Florida’s ecosystem—and the fisheries it supports

by T. Edward Nickens October/November 2018

Garden & Gun: How Fishing Captains are Saving the Everglades | Captains for Clean Water National Coverage

Chris Wittman, a cofounder of Captains for Clean Water, navigates Florida’s mangrove backcountry. | Phot Credit: Pete Barrett

“This is what’s at risk,” Captain Chris Wittman tells me. “This is what we are fighting for.” He doesn’t need to point to what he’s referring to. Open waters and islands dense with mangroves unfurl in every direction. We’ve run a Hell’s Bay poling skiff through skinny water outside Everglades City, Florida, for a morning of hunting tarpon. This is primal country, without the blemish of a single human-built structure. Untouched, or so it seems.

Two years ago, Wittman, who lives in Fort Myers, would spend three days on the water for every one on land, guiding anglers to tarpon, permit, and redfish along the Gulf of Mexico. He still watches plenty of sunrises from a poling platform, but these days he finds himself under fluorescent lighting more than he’d like: on the phone, in meetings, in legislative offices in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.

As a founding director of Captains for Clean Water, a nonprofit that advocates for the restoration of Florida’s estuaries and the Everglades, Wittman is helping channel into action a rising tide of anger over the state’s catastrophic water pollution. He and another Fort Myers charter captain, Daniel Andrews, formed the group in February 2016, after contaminated water from Lake Okeechobee flowed into the Caloosahatchee River and then into the fish-rich estuary where they have guided for decades. The toxic sludge wiped out grass beds and oyster reefs. Fish and horse conchs fled the contamination to die on white-sand beaches. The stench drove tourists out of their hotels. Fishing bookings, Wittman said, fell by 80 percent.

Wittman on his eighteen-foot Hell’s Bay fishing skiff. | Phot Credit: Pete Barrett

Captains in the area had seen this before. Florida’s waterways have been re-plumbed over the last century, and water no longer flows where nature intended. Instead of filtering slowly from Okeechobee through the Everglades, water polluted by municipal and agricultural sources shunts from the lake through a system of locks and canals into the St. Lucie River on the east coast and the Caloosahatchee to the west.

Wet years had brought high flows of tainted freshwater, but
the winter deluge in 2016 was the worst ever. “The straw that broke the camel’s
back,” Andrews says. The two captains coined a name for their grassroots effort, put up a Facebook page calling for a meeting at the Fort Myers Bass Pro Shops, and wondered if they could get a few dozen irate captains to show.

They did—along with about three hundred others. “The crowd was out the door,” Wittman recalls, and included saltwater and freshwater fishing guides and anglers, commercial fishermen, tackle-shop owners, and journalists. “We realized we had a chance to do something to fix this. To influence our policy makers.”

Garden & Gun: How Fishing Captains are Saving the Everglades | Captains for Clean Water National Coverage

Phot Credit: Pete Barrett

Fixing the Everglades has been a rallying cry since the invention of orange juice, but there is hope that a window of opportunity has opened. After years of study, plans are now under way to build a 17,000-acre, $1.6 billion reservoir ringed with massive constructed wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee. The lake will capture and hold polluted runoff, filter it through the marshes, and release it slowly south into the Everglades, which have been cut off from adequate water flows for decades.

The Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir, as it is known, was originally proposed as a 60,000-acre project, and some worry that the current design won’t be large enough to result in the “optimal” benefit that the authorizing legislation requires. “But it’s a big step forward,” says Thomas Van Lent, director of science and policy for the Everglades Foundation. “If it doesn’t provide the promised water quality, the state is on the hook to fix it.” After Congress green-lights Florida’s plan, it also has to come up with $800 million in matching funding. Van Lent is optimistic the needed legislation will pass this session, and that construction will begin soon after.

For now, the captains—and the more than 2,500 other members of Captains for Clean Water—are applying pressure to state legislators, federal officials, and anyone who will listen about the chance to do something meaningful for South Florida’s ecosystem, and the famed fisheries it supports.

The Everglades are dying. I’ve heard that since I was a kid,” Wittman says. “And there are quite a few places where this effort can still fall off the tracks. But this is the best chance we’ve had for significant conservation of the ’Glades in my lifetime. We can’t squander this opportunity.” 



Garden & Gun

Vermont adopts the most comprehensive plastics ban in U.S.

Vermont adopts the most comprehensive plastics ban in U.S.

Single-use plastics—from straws to retail bags—will be illegal in Vermont by summer 2020.

Vermont has joined the growing list of states swearing off single-use plasticsby adopting the nation’s broadest restrictions yet on shopping bags, straws, drink stirrers, and foam food packaging.

The new law, which takes effect in July 2020, prohibits retailers and restaurants from providing customers with single-use carryout bags, plastic stirrers, or cups, takeout, or other food containers made from expanded polystyrene. Straws may be provided to customers on request. People requiring straws for medical conditions are exempted from the law.

The bag ban applies only to bags at point-of-sale and not to bags sold as household trash bags or bags used in grocery stores to contain loose produce.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed the bill into law without comment Monday. Earlier he had expressed doubts about the new ten-cent-per-bag charge retailers and restaurants are required to collect for paper bags. Small paper bags are exempted from the ten-cent charge.

“Throughout the session, he did say that given the overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature and having not heard opposition from the retailers who will be impacted, he expected to sign it,” says Rebecca Kelley, Scott’s communications director.

Multiple states have banned one or more of these plastics. But Vermont is the first to ban all four products in a single bill.


“Vermont has now established a national precedent of tackling three of the worst examples of plastic packaging in one sweeping state law,” says Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator who heads a plastics pollution initiative at Bennington College, in a statement.

Not all bags created equal

Hawaii, California, Maine, and New York have banned disposable plastic bags. Supporters of Vermont’s bill say lawmakers took extra steps to promote bag reuse and discourage bag makers from skirting bag bans by making them thicker. As a result, the Vermont ban outlaws plastic carryout bags that do not have stitched handles.

Jen Duggan, director of the Vermont Conservation Law Foundation, says cities and counties that have passed bag bans often defined prohibited bags by their thickness or applied measurements requiring that it carry a certain weight a certain distance.

“What happened was the bag makers flooded the markets with thicker bags,” she says.

The requirement for stitched handles, she says, was simply an easier solution. Because of the cost of stitching handles, it effectively ensures that carryout bags will be made from cloth or reusable polypropylene, encouraging reuse‒one of the goals of the law.

Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry lobbying group, in an interview in April cautioned that bag bans result in the importation of thicker bags manufactured in China. He added that plastic retail bags in the United States are regulated by more ordinances than any other plastic product, and suggested a better solution for sustainability is for bags to be returned by customers to retailers, where they can be sent back to the factory and remade into new bags.

Vermont’s action builds on a growing movement across the world to ban single-use plastics. Plastic bags have been taxed or banned in 127 nations, according to a United Nations count. The European Union banned the top plastic items found on European beaches earlier this spring.

Earlier this year, Vermont’s most famous business, Ben and Jerry’s, announced plans to eliminate the use of plastic straws and other single-use plastics in its 600 ice cream shops worldwide.

This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge.


By: Laura Parker