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Will New Diamond fire be an environmental disaster

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by J.A.A.S.Ranasinghe

Former Director and Acting Chairman of Marine Environment Protection Authority

MT New Diamond VLCC, Very Large Crude Carrier, flagged in Panama was reportedly carrying over 300,000 Mt of Crude Oil on its voyage to Pradip Port, India from Al Ahmadi in Kuwait when it caught fire off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka resulting in the death of a crew member and the evacuation of 23, five Greek and 18 Philippine nationals. The fire that broke out as a result of the explosion of a boiler resulted in a massive fire in the engine room and the bridge, which controls the ship. Fortunately, the fire had not spread to the oil tanks which would h ave resulted in a major oil spill. If the three million barrels of oil leaked, it could have spealt devastation to many of the marine mammals that live in vibrant habitats along the eastern coast of Sri Lanka and the vibrant eastern economy where a hive of activities is taking place such as fisheries, tourisms, agriculture and consequently to the livelihood income of the people.

 

Effects of Petroleum Contamination

Petroleum contamination is a growing environmental concern that harms both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems equally. However, in view of the major disasters caused to the marine environment, the public and regulatory and scientific communities have given more attention to the contamination of marine habitats. This is because marine oil spills can have a serious economic consequence on coastal activities as well as on those who exploit the resources of the sea. Thus, communities that are at risk of oil disasters must anticipate the consequences and prepare for them. The above mentioned disaster is an eye opener for all the stakeholders to take a serious view.

Marine environmental pollution caused by petroleum is of great concern because of the fact that petroleum hydrocarbons are toxic to all forms of life and harm both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. In recent years the pollution of marine habitats has caught the attention of researchers and environmentalists owing to the serious impact of oil spills on marine life, as well as on people whose career relies on the exploitation of the ocean’s resources. Additionally, marine life may be affected by clean-up operations, whatever the precautions taken. It may also be indirectly affected by the physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live in.

The writer has had firsthand information while being a former Director of the Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) and has attended series of scientific and technical sessions delivered by the International Maritime Organization (IOM) and effectively contributed to the deliberations with regard to OPRC (Oil Spill Preparedness and Response) a decade ago and it is with such an authoritativeness, the writer compiled this short essay on the effects of petroleum oil spills on marine life. This exercise would not be a worthwhile attempt, if the economic impact of oil spills on coastal activities with special reference to eastern theatre in which the above major fire brokeout and on the people who exploit the resources of the sea.

 

GLOBAL OIL SPILL TREND

Over the last 50 years, there has been a marked downward trend in oil spills from tankers. The average number of spills per year in the 1970s was about 79 and has now decreased by over 90 percent to a low of six according to the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF). The lowest annual number of spills was recorded in 2019 and the highest in 1974. If one were to analyze the quantities of oil spilt, one would note that approximately 5.86 million tons of oil have been lost as a result of tanker incidents globally since 1970. However, there has been a significant reduction in volume of oil spilt through the decades. The total amount spilt per decade has reduced by about 95% since the 1970s.

An interesting pattern of alternating sharp decline and stability can be observed for average volume of oil spilt per decade. Nonetheless, quantity of oil spilt in a particular year or a decade is unpredictable, and the trend can be hugely distorted by a single large spill. In case, the fire caused to MT New Diamond resulted in an oil spill over 270,000 Mts, it would have been the one of the major oil spills recorded in recent times in Sri Lanka. The most frequent causes of oil spills are allisions/collisions, groundings and Fires. However, the proportion of groundings has decreased over the decades, making allisions, collisions and Fires, the current most frequent cause of spills. Today, about 99.99% of oil transported by sea arrives safely at its destination. The positive reports on trends in oil tanker spills endorse the hard work by governments, industry and ITOPF in improving safety and standards of operations.

With a spate of major disasters linked to major shipping routes in the past few years, the time is opportune for the world leaders and the international authorities such as IOM to have the wisdom and courage with a view to taking stock on global shipping reforms. It must be pointed out here that Sri Lanka witness more than 800 vessels passing through Sri Lanka per day posing an imminent threat to the Sri Lankan economy. Hence, it cannot be completely ruledout another disaster of this magnitude, if preventive measures are not taken.

 

Crude oil and its properties

The ill fate MT New Diamond carried crude oil which is a complex mixture of organic compounds. These mainly consist of hydrocarbons, in addition to heterocyclic compounds and some heavy metals. The different hydrocarbons that make up crude oil come in a wide range of molecular weights and structure compounds. These compounds include methane gas, high molecular weight tars, asphaltenes, resins, waxes and bitumen. They also include straight and branched chains, single or condensed rings and aromatic rings such as the monocyclic (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene). They additionally include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) such as naphthalene, anthracene and phenanthrene. Obviously, the chemical composition of crude oil is injurious not only to the mankind but also to marine ecosystems.

Physical contact is the major route of exposure and usually affects birds and furred mammals. These animals rely on their outer coats for buoyancy and warmth. Consequently, they often succumb to hypothermia, drowning and smothering when oil flattens and adheres to the outer layer. A second general exposure route is through the ingestion or inhalation of the hydrocarbon by organisms that reside on the surface. Exposure by these routes leads to absorption into the bloodstream via the gastrointestinal or respiratory tracts.

 

Toxicity of oil dispersants

Oil dispersants (57 chemical ingredients approved for use by the US EPA) are a common tool used after oil spills in marine environments. They break up oil slicks on the water surface and increase the oil’s rate of biodegradation. Oil dispersants are quickly used when other means, such as oil containment and removal, are insufficient. However, consequences of the toxicity of oil spill dispersants alone or in the presence of oil must be evaluated. Generally, undispersed oil poses the greatest threat to shorelines and surface-dwelling organisms. However, most dispersed oil remains in the water column where it mainly threatens pelagic and benthic organisms.

Fate of oil spills in the marine habitats

After oil is spilled at sea and with the effect of wind and water current, the oil spreads out and moves on the water surface as a slick a few millimetres thick. At the same time, it undergoes a series of chemical and physical changes. These processes are collectively termed ‘weathering’. Weathering causes the spilled oil to break down and become heavier than water. Some of these processes, like the natural dispersion of oil into water, lead to the removal of the oil from the sea surface and facilitate its natural breakdown in the marine environment. Others, particularly the formation of water-in-oil emulsions, cause the oil to become more persistent and remain at sea or on the shoreline for prolonged periods of time. The speed and relative importance of these processes depend on a number of factors. These include the quantity spilled, the oil’s initial physical and chemical characteristics, weather and sea conditions and whether the oil remains at sea or is washed ashore. Ultimately, the marine environment usually eliminates spilled oil through the long-term process of biodegradation.

 

Oil spills on marine organisms

Ultimately, the impact of oil on marine organisms depends on the fate of the oil. As previously described, when oil is present in the environment, it is either dispersed in the top layer of the water (littoral zone) or remains on the surface and, consequently, on the coastal areas. If the oil is not dispersed, it remains on the surface. In this case, currents bring the oil towards coastal areas which harms coastal organisms like invertebrates, mammals and birds. However, if the oil is dispersed, organisms, such as fish, plankton and larvae, are immediately subjected to oil toxicity.

 

Oil spills on planktonic organisms

Zooplankton is a particularly important food resource, especially for baleen whales. It can influence or control the primary productivity by top-down effects in return. Its population dynamic change can influence the biomass of other marine animals like fish by bottom-up effects. Some zooplankton, such as copepods, euphausiids and mysids, assimilate hydrocarbons directly from seawater and by ingesting oil droplets and oil contaminated food. The ingestion of oil by these organisms often causes mortality, while surviving organisms often show developmental and reproductive abnormalities.

 

Oil spills on coral reefs

In addition, recreational attractions for divers, coral reefs are considered to be important constituents of marine ecosystems. This is because they are important nurseries for shrimp, fish and other animals. The aquatic organisms that live within and around the coral reefs are at risk of exposure to the toxic substances within oil, as well as smothering. They are rapidly deteriorating because of a variety of environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Thus, they are suffering significant changes in diversity, species abundance and habitat structure worldwide. Oil dispersants are potentially harmful to marine life including coral reefs. In a study using coral nubbins in coral reef ecotoxicology testing, found that dispersed oil and oil dispersants are harmful to soft and hard coral species at early life stages.

 

Oil spills on fish

Due to the well-developed hepatic mixed function oxygenase (MFO) system, in addition to the reactivity of the metabolites that would not be released in a toxic form during digestion and absorption, most fish, even in heavily oil-contaminated environments, do not accumulate and retain high concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons. Thus, they are not likely to transfer them to predators. Thus, no serious threat is predicted.

 

Oil spills on seabirds

As one of the major routes of exposure, physical contact usually affects birds. For example, thousands of African penguins (Spheniscus demerus) were oiled following the 2000 Treasure oil spill in South Africa.An evaluation of the impact of oil spills on seabirds has not been fully appreciated during incidents, despite pressure from the public concern, media and other interested parties for precise and up-to-date information on the damage. Consequently, the approximate numbers of seabird casualties involved in many major spills have only been estimated, while impacts at the population level have been difficult to determine. Natural variation and the huge range of factors that influence bird population statistics make it difficult to assess the impact of oil spill on sea birds.

 

Oil spills on marine mammals

Marine mammals include bottlenose dolphins, fins, humpbacks, rights, sei whales, sperm whales, manatees, cetaceans, seals, sea otters and pinnipeds. As previously indicated, the physical contact of oil with furred mammals usually affects these animals because they rely on their outer coats for buoyancy and warmth. Consequently, these animals often succumb to hypothermia, drowning and smothering when oil flattens and adheres to the outer layer.

As part of their activities, all marine mammals spend a considerable amount of time at the surface. Here, they swim, breathe, feed or rest. Thus, the possibility of their contact with a surface slick, water-in-oil emulsion, or tar balls, is high. In heavy pelage marine mammals, such as fur seals, sea otters and polar bears, this contact may lead to fouling. Polar bears and otters groom themselves regularly as a means of maintaining the insulating properties of the fur and may, thereby, ingest oil. Animals with smooth surfaces or relatively little to no pelage, such as whales, dolphins, manatees and most seals, have an advantage as oil would have fewer tendencies to adhere to their surface.

Oil that contaminates a shore is likely to severely affect pinnipeds. Pinnipeds require such areas for nursery and, to a lesser extent, otters and bears. Some of the oil is eventually returned in subtidal sediments, where it may transfer to gray whales, walrus and some seals. Such species feed heavily on benthic animals.

When marine mammals encounter fresh oil, they are likely to inhale volatile hydrocarbons evaporating from the surface slick. These volatile fractions contain toxic monoaromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene and xylenes) and low molecular weight aliphatics with anaesthetic properties. The inhalation of these volatile hydrocarbon compounds is potentially harmful. The inhalation of concentrated petroleum vapours can cause the inflammation of and damage to the mucus membranes of airways, lung congestion or even pneumonia. Volatile benzene and toluene, which can be inhaled, can be transferred rapidly from the bloodstream into the lungs. Furthermore, they can accumulate from the blood into the brain and liver, causing neurological disorders and liver damage.

 

Oil spills on marine plants

In several aspects, aquatic plants are important to the functioning of ecosystems. These include the fact that they are oxygen producers, their ability to sequester carbon and for their base position in aquatic food chains. In addition, they serve as nursery, feeding and breeding habitats for a variety of animal and plant species, including recreationally and commercially important fish. Plants and animals are affected by the oil in which they come into contact with as a result of an oil spill. In their review of toxicities of oils, dispersants and dispersed oils to algae and aquatic plants.

 

Communities at risk of marine oil spills/anticipation and preparation

The threatening of marine environments with the petroleum oil spills has caught the attention of many communities, encouraging them to develop their own plans and policy issues. These have ranged from permitting or prohibiting increased oil transport volumes, to developing the capacity to respond to and recover from potential spill disasters.

Local communities that depend on the fishing industry, aquaculture and tourism should realize that the impact of an oil spill is governed by complex factors. These include the oil spill’s volume and location relative to fishing/cultivation areas, currents, tides and wave action. Other factors include whether species harvested in the region are sedentary or mobile, as well as government decisions relating to fishing bans and compensation schemes.

Economic impact of oil spills in the Eastern Region

Though Eastern Province (EP) has primarily an agriculture-based economy, it has an appreciable contribution to the national economy by way of Fish production and tourisms. Approximately, 25% of the nations fish production is generated by the EP and livelihood income of the fishing community employed in the coastal belt has a tremendous impact of the socio-economic status of the people. The EP has also received an unprecedented development in the tourism sector in the last few decades in that Pottuvil Arugam Bay, Lahugala Panama Beach, Pigeon Island, Nilaveli Beach have become attractive tourist destinations. Hence, any possible oil spill of a huge magnitude could have a devastating impact on all these vibrant economic sectors. Marine oil spills can have a serious impact not only on marine life, but on the gamut of all economic coastal activities and the communities that exploit the resources of the sea as seen above.

Involvement of multiplicity of Players

All in all, the joint efforts put in by Sri Lanka Navy, Air Force, Ports Authority and our Indian counterparts in dousing this fire have to be commended. His Excellency’s timely appreciation to all the players in averting this major calamity is most praiseworthy. It would be grossly unfair, if the names of the Chairperson and the General Manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority namely Mrs. Dharshani Lahandapura and Dr. Terny Pradeep Kumara gone unnoticed for the magnificent roles they played behind the scene in educating the public and the media as to the possible marine consequences that could have arisen of this catastrophe as well as the mitigatory measures silently adopted to meet the possible oil spill.

Ironically, the above incident has raised many unanswered questions as a whole. As organizations, how much of advanced preparedness the authorities have set in motion to avert maritime catastrophes of this magnitude. Sri Lanka is woefully lacking the sources and resources to meet any eventuality of this magnitude, though it is claimed as a major maritime hub. As committed institutions, what proactive measures have we taken as a nation to deal with the sensitive marine ecosystems referred to above. It is intended to deal with these aspects in a separate column in due course.



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Features

Ranjan loses the People’s Crown

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Last week it was Avurudu Thel Keliya. Now we have come to Ranjan Keliya. 

SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake has been removed from Parliament, in what is said to be in keeping with the decision of the Court of Appeal, to reject his application against the Supreme Court order sentencing him to four years of imprisonment for Contempt of court.

A parliament, of which Ranjan was a most active and spoken member, has shown its overall failure to deal with an issue that affects the rights of all citizens. The mockery of it all is to have a parliament where a person found guilty of murder and imprisoned by a court order is allowed to be a member of the House, but a person guilty of contempt of Court, who has not injured or killed anyone, is removed from it.

With all due respect and honour to the judiciary, one must begin to look at the entire thinking and process of charging people for and punishing them for contempt of Court. 

In the present parliamentary situation, with all the power that the President and the government have with a two-thirds plus majority, the future Independence of the Judiciary is certainly in question.

If Ramanayake has committed contempt of Court, he is now the player in calling for a change of our legislation on Contempt of Court. Is it truly wrong to criticise a member/or members of the judiciary; are they above the law; what is the practice and trend on this in other democracies?

It is time our Members of Parliament, the Bar Association and organizations of Civil Society made deep study of this entire issue, and moved to prevent the right of free speech being incorrectly restricted. We must look at how Contempt of Court is considered legally in the UK, from where we got this.

How is Contempt of court handled by the Courts of India, our closest neighbour and next to us in years of democracy? How is this issue handled in other democracies too such as France and Germany, and even the US? 

The Ranjan  Keliya  has certainly brought us to realising the Contempt for Democracy that prevails, and is being expanded in Sri Lanka. This contempt is the reality of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, and the prevailing show of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Saubhagye Dekma”.    Changing our laws on Contempt of Court to make them modern and democratic will be the real crowning of Ramanayake.

 

Beauty Queen crowns

We have now come to the Ru Rajina Otunu Keliya too. The story of the crown being grabbed from the new Mrs Sri Lanka has spread in the international media. 

There was a lovely piece of social media, where Queen Elizabeth II of the UK is showing her joy at getting rid of Sri Lanka from the royalty domain as far back as 1948, as otherwise there would have been moves to grab her crown, too.

Mrs Sri Lanka or Mr. World is certainly not of much interest to us who are facing much bigger problems than the ownership of beauty crowns. Yet, the issue of a Mrs Sri Lanka or Mrs World having to be married does raise many issues today. Are the organizers of the global event thinking of temporary or shaky marriages, or those that last through decades and more, with a commitment to each other?

Can a person, who is undergoing the process of a divorce in a court of law, one who wants to leave a marriage through the law, be one who is really married? The very concept of marriage has undergone many changes in recent decades. Should these realities not be accepted by the organisers of these events? 

Why not have a rule that a contestant for Mrs (Country) or Mrs World, should be married several times – as is fast becoming a reality in the west, and countries that are following such traditions.

We will certainly have candidates seeking the crown if a few or many marriages are a condition. It will also show a genuine interest in the promotion of marriages, without confining it to just a single marriage, even with a pending divorce.   

We can then have a Mrs World, with a show of strength to those with achievements of more than one, or several marriages. 

The “Vivahaka Ru Rajina” will then be a “Boho Vivahaka Ru Rajina”.

The current Mrs World, Caroline Jurie, who was the key crown remover in this show of crooked farce, and a model who helped her, are now facing action in the courts.

Marriage or not is certainly an issue for Miss or Mrs Sri Lanka. A winner of the very early Mrs Sri Lanka events had earlier contested a Miss Sri Lanka, while being married. If she had not lost the contest, we would have seen loud calls for her crown to be removed. The senior ladies who played a big role in this Mrs. Sri Lanka event, certainly reminded us of such past records.

Let the crown be with the people, whether married or not. The rising call is for the Janatha Kirula, against a Pol Thel or Seeni Vancha Kirula of the Abhagye  Dekma.

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Bio-Piracy:

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A Pervasive Threat to Biodiversity and Human Security

By Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa
Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
Continued from yesterday

According to Prof. Wijesundara, in 1994, a multinational company, W.R. Grace and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were granted a patent by the European Patent Office (EPO) “Covering a (special) method for controlling fungi on plants by the aid of a hydrophobic extracted neem oil” that is diluted with a certain percentage of water was withdrawn in 2000. Lot of concern after 10-year battle, some patents on neem were squashed some still prevail. There are 65 patents so far only for neem. According to Prof. Kotagama, a US company wanted to produce insecticide from neem. They came with Azadariktin as a product. They obtain the patenting required to use and own neem. There is a law that if you are contesting patenting right it has to be in the country it is registered at. So the neem battle has to be fought in the US. With lot of money and help from the NGOs and help along with the Indian government they fought against this patenting. The company contested that they did not bring neem from Asia or India, they brought it from Africa because it grows in Africa. But it was identified that the seeds that had gone to Kenya had been coming from Sri Lanka according to the Registers of the forest department records from Sri Lank. Based on that evidence the patent was revoked. The neem campaign was consisting of a group of NGOs and individuals was initiated in 1993 in India. This was done to mobilize worldwide support to protect indigenous knowledge systems and resources of the Third World from piracy by the west particularly in light of emerging threats from intellectual property rights regimes under WTO and TRIPS. Neem patent became the first case to challenge European and US patents on the grounds of biopiracy.

Basmati Rice patent case is another instance bio-piracy was reversed. Prof. Kotagama remarked that it is known as the India – US Basmati Rice Dispute (Case number 493, Case Menemonic – Basmati; Patent number – US 5663484A, publication). A US company registered a new hybrid variety of Basmati. India and Pakistan got together and they fought using media, using negative advertisement and they squashed American variety of Basmati) proving ‘Texmati’ was not Basmati.

According to Prof. Sarath Kotagama, an Indian Ecologist, Vandana Shiva has said ‘bio-piracy deprives us in three ways: It creates a false claim to novelty and invention, even though the knowledge has evolved since ancient times as part of the collective and intellectual heritage of India”. Secondly “it divests scarce biological resources to monopoly control of corporations thus depriving local communities the benefits of its use” and thirdly “it creates market monopolies and excludes the original innovators (farmers) from their rightful share to local, national and global markets”. She fought a lot for the biodiversity conservation in India and a well-respected ecologist in India who also had to do much with the fight against Neem, Basmati and Turmeric.

There are similar cases where patents were revoked: Kava Kava from Fiji and Vanuatu; Quinoa from Andes; Banaba and other medical plantys from Philippines; Bitter gourd from Sri Lanka and Thailan; Ilang-Ilang from Philippines and Periwinkle from Madagascar, highlighted Prof. Wijesundara.

In 1989 bioprospecting started with the Institute of Biology established in Costa Rica purely for this purpose. It was the idea to do research on rainforests, animals and plants in Costa Rica and give the ownership to the country if something was discovered. However, this institute was dissolved in 2015 in Costa Rica. According to Prof. Kotagama, the institute still exists with the idea surveys on the resources of rainforests and commercialization of the products will be done for the benefit of Costs Rica. Prof. Kotagama highlighted why bio-piracy needs to be also understood in legal jargon. In the research paper “Bio piracy and its impact on Biodiversity: A Special review on Sri Lankan context” (Kusal Kavinda Amarasinghe), it has mentioned that 34 plants and animals have been taken out of Sri Lanka and Indian subcontinent and patent obtained for biological constituents already. According to Prof. Kotagama, Naja naja naja (Cobra) is an endemic spices in Sri Lanka and still it has lost the control from the country and others are using the species to derive benefits. Prof. Kotagama also highlighted that while there is so much indifference, there is so much consorted efforts to prevent bio-piracy and bio-theft in the countries like the Philippine, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nepal who have strengthen the situation and have increased regulations and continue strict border control measures.

Illegal Trafficking and Bio-Piracy

According to Prof. Siril Wijesundara, illegal trafficking is also directly linked to bio-piracy and theft. One of the ways that can prevent bio-piracy is through detecting illegal trafficking of various types of endemic and endangered plants and animals. Most common plant species affected by illegal trafficking in Sri Lanka at present are Gyrinops Walla Walla patta, Salacia reticulate Kothala Himbutiand Santalum album naturalized sandhun. Sri Lanka Customs have detected many instances of illegal trafficking. Target destination varies from India, Dubai, Pakistan, Australia, and China. The most popular destination for Kothala Himbotu today is China.

Another classic example of trafficking of plants is by misleading the authorities. Prof. Wijesundara highlighted that a plant called Kekatiya (Aponogeton crispus) were exported in large quantities under the name Aponogeton ulvaceus, a plant native to Madagascar. However, Prof. Siril Wijesuriya mentioned that during his tenure at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, he managed to test this plant and discovered it is a different plant from the one in Madagascar. After this discovery, this Sri Lankan variety of the plant (Kekatiya) was prohibited from being exported and necessary action were taken to a point where the company went out of business.

 

Importance of Utilizing the Chemical Compounds in the Medicinal Plants

Prof. Veranja Karunarathne highlighted the popularity among the people now for medicinal plants. That is because the Medicinal properties and compounds that are useful found in the medicinal plants. Natural products are made out of these compounds. According to him, the use of medicinal plants go over for 5000 years ago. Probably we have used medicinal plants since existence.

According to Prof. Veranja Karunarathne, the medicinal plants are being used in traditional medicinal systems popular in Sri Lanka such as Ayurveda, Deishiya Chikithsa, Siddha and Unani. Siddha and Unani don’t use much of the plants necessarily and have much to do with involving plants. In different medicinal systems, over 2500 plants are being used in Sri Lanka. These are being used for disease curing and ailments in traditional medicine practices. In the Western medicine sense, it is one compound for one disease. In Ayurveda and indigenous system, it is many compounds for one disease many compounds curing one disease. Pollypahrmachology is accepted in the indigenous system. These aspects of pollypahrmachology in traditional medicine are becoming valuable. If we take asprin that cures heart disease, it is isolated from Villon plant. Quinine that is used in Malaria prevention is isolated from cinchona plant. That is the practice of the Western medicine. Prof. Veranja Karunarathne says that if we look at plant evolution, it is evident that the plants didn’t intend to cure diseases. This evolution of the plants happened by co-evolving with the insects. It never intended to cure diseases for humans. In 1915, the Western medicine avoided using plants due to various issues including intellectual property matters and since plants are very difficult thing to manage. However, they have come back discovering medicine from plants. That is why co-evolution is important. Diversity of functional group of plants is important. Diversity of use of plants cannot be matched with the evolution of the plants.

From Kothala Himbotu, an endemic plant in Sri Lanka, water soluble anti diabetic compounds were found by Japanese scientist. There are over 50 patents for Kothala Himbotu plant. Sri Lanka has only one patent which was a discovery of a Sri Lankan team. As a Chemist who worked on the kothala himbotu plant and tried to find the chemical compounds, Prof. Karunarathne felt humiliated when Japanese scientists found that water based compound in the kothala himbotu plant. He used a Sri Lankan source and worked on a zeroing from Sri Lankan lichen, patented at the US patent office the, lichen called ziorine that can be used on cancer patients. Sri Lankan government dealing legally with bio-piracy is when they intervened to stop exporting Kothala Himbotu plant in bulk that is being used for anti-diabetic drug. For anti-diabetic drug creation some sections of the plant are still being exported, but in small quantities.

In the meantime, there is also bogus bio-piracy. An undergraduate student of University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka found out that Clarins skin care product in France is using Hortinia floribanda that is endemic to Sri Lanka.

In their website it was mentioned that this plant is being used to improve the skin tone. When studied their website, closely, they found that they are using plants found in amazon and plant found in Europe during winter. After finding the endemic Sri Lankan plant do not contribute to any skin tone improvement and when the research was published in National Science Foundation journal, the skin care production company removed the name of the plant from their website. This is an instance where bogus bio-piracy is being taken place and that it too needs to fight and that even an average Chemist can make a difference, said Prof. Varanja Karunarathne.

According to Prof. Varanja Karunarathne, there are about 3000 odd plants endemic to Sri Lanka, out of the total flowering plants, 2000 are endemic. Because of this density and diversity, UNESCO named Sri Lanka as a biodiversity hotspot. 1300 of these plants are in the Red book of endangered plants of Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the value of the plant is only the timber value. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka value plants in Sri Lanka only for its timber value which is a drawback. The government needs to fund for projects that study the chemistry of these plants, government never have done such in that greater scale. The chemists would want be able to study the chemistry inside the plant, the knowledge inside the plant. It is important to lobby to find the chemicals of these plants that are endangered to Sri Lanka. This means conserving the knowledge inside the plant is much more than just evaluating its value for timber. There is a far greater use of the plant than just the timber value.

During the discussion, Mr. Lakshman Gunasekara highlighted the importance of getting media involved along with the Scientists to intervene in promoting knowledge, education and awareness about bio-piracy and possible ways of counter-fighting it. He said that unlike in the past, mass communication can bring this issue to a different level. In this regard the scientific community needs to intervene in order for the media community to get activated. However, Prof. Siril Wijesundara made a remark that media is always working with political agendas, but Scientists are not and they cannot do so. Therefore, it is important, media step aside from political agendas and look at this issue apolitically.

Dr. Nirmal Dewasiri highlighted the colonial dimension of bio-piracy. With the involvement of government in bio-piracy and the inclusion of concept of government and empire –building bio-politics came into being. In empire building, establishing the political centre outside the location of the centre was important. Same is true to colonialism which was more than traditional Empire building exercise. It was new kind of administration, where there was capturing a grip on the land and space, fauna and flora. It was rather “governmentalization” which has multiple dimension. According to him, in that sense, colonialism is a multidimensional phenomenon. It is not more colonialism now; it is a new process. This is very much part of the enlightenment project at the time. It was governed by knowledge. Accumulation of information of social and natural environment became a new kind of project. The new political challenge is also this.

Prof. Nalani Hennayake highlighted the fact that how in terms of conservation and information sharing India came out with digital library registered with patent offices in the inventories library in the United States, while Sri Lanka has our own Red Book of inventory. She further highlighted the fact that countries like Sri Lanka having enough laws that needs immediate activation. Monopolizing the ownership needs to end and commercializing our plants needs to happen according to the Fauna and Flora Act in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka said no to digital register of plants in 1994 and we need to rethink such decisions mentioned the discussants.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Veranja Karunarathne said that at present, other people are working on synthetic biology, combination of chemistry, biology and genomics, creating biosynthetic pathway of genes. Genes are mass produced in genomic mass factories which is controlled exploitation of bio wealth. That is where the world is heading and he says Sri Lanka needs to value the conserved knowledge inside the plant and explore the immense possibilities that the plants are presenting. Concluded

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Acknowledged (only?) Statesman speaks out; so do a few others

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The editor of The Sunday Island (April 4), mentions in his succinctly titled editorial – Down the pallang with no end in sight – this statesman. He speaks of Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha’s successful manouevre to curtail the power of the Rajapaksas and President Mahinda R’s attempt to go in for a third term of his presidency in 2014. Thus, the editor writes: “It is in this context that the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) that Ven Sobitha founded now led by respected elder statesman Karu Jayasuariya ….” The organisation is seeking to push the rulers on to a correction course. It seeks to project an apolitical stance and denies subversive interest. “The 20th Amendment that abolished the 19th has thrown the baby with the bathwater….” Cassandra adds – and we are drowning in the waters; floundering in fear and surrounded by sharks of the sugar and oil scams; also those who are still destroying our natural resources.

 

Karu wise plus experienced and apolitical

The same paper published on page 3 excerpts of what the Chairman NMSJ – Karu Jayasurirya – said at a press conference at Janaki Hotel Colombo, on April 2. His considered warning was ‘Don’t fiddle like Nero as the country plunges into a precipice.’ A due warning of rather mixed metaphors. Cass would have preferred … ‘as the country burns’, but plunging into a precipice is really more catastrophic and that, says many, is what is happening to this wonderful land of ours. We should all read and reread what Karu J had to say; we should analyse and see whether he was correct and then in our own small way try to obtain a change of course. The principle consideration is that Karu Jayasuriya speaks apolitically here as an elder statesman who has been both in politics and the private sector and knows full well what he is speaking about. If you want definite credentials on his ability and sincerity, recollect how he acted as Speaker of Parliament when the then Prez, Maitripala Sirisena stole the government from its elected members of Parliament and handed it over to his dire enemy of yesteryear, now befriended buddy – Mahinda Rajapaksa and his coyotes to govern the land. PM Ranil W with loyalists holed themselves at Temple Trees and bided their time. Karu J faced a battery of assaults: vulgarly vocal, totally injurious thrown bound volumes and deadly chilli powder mixed with water. He braved it all; took his rightful seat and gave judgment that restored order from utter chaos.

He is one politician whom Cass and so many others rooted for. Now he is out of party politics but fighting for the very survival of the nation of free Sri Lanka.

 

Voices should be listened to

At the recent meeting of people to solve their problems and bring succour to them, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa somewhat belittled protestors attempting to save our forest cover. Cass heard him on TV news on Saturday April 3 speaking about people accusing a previous government of running white vans, threatening journalists etc and now it is environmental groups that are out against the new government and him. No, they and we are against those who cut trees, deforest the land, sand mine ruthlessly and of course make money on horrible scams and seem to get away scot free, not even paying to government coffers billions garnered illegally.

He, government Ministers and MPs, and relevant administrators should all listen to the call of even a single concerned person, and know they are calling out completely altruistically with no political biases. One such is Padmini Nanayakkara of Colombo 3 who cries out (we imagine in horror) Reservoirs in Sinharaja? in the Sunday Island of April 4. She starts her letter to the editor with this: “Have we an enemy within or has a foreign force taken over Sri Lanka? I can’t imagine any Lankan contributing to an idea as bizarre as building reservoirs in Sinharaja.”

The editor referring to the pronouncement made loud and clear by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa about building two reservoirs in Sinharaja as if it were a foregone construction plan; writes thus: “A minister from the ruling family outrageously declares that two reservoirs will be built in the Sinharaja reserve to provide water for their pocket borough, He promises to plant 150 acres elsewhere to compensate saying that rubber will be planted to give people an income”. The editor dubs it a “madcap project” (cheers!!). Plenty water could be tapped downstream of rivers flowing near Hambantota; and this for people and not to keep watered vanity projects like cricket stadiums.

 

Semicentennial of a terrible uprising

I speak here of the JVP uprising of 1971 which has been written about with Jayantha Somasunderam from Canberra detailing it meticulously with copious references. Cass has been typically Sri Lankan in that she had forgotten about those days of fifty years ago which she refuses to term either jubilee or never golden anniversary. The Editor/The Island introduced a new word – quinquagenary – a tongue twister but pins down the number five. Whatever its now earned name, it was a brutal and absolutely purposeless shedding of young blood: blood of youth by the government and killing of police and causing utter chaos by the newly marshaled JVP under Rohana Wijeweera. They were disciplined and dedicated to a cause then. Incidentally, his grown son was shown on TV news a few days ago. A misunderstood message to attack police stations, conveyed via radio annonced obituary notices, saved the country because the attack was so deadly, power over the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike could have been gained. The second JVP uprising was deadlier as it was minus principles and all restraint. Again the rivers flowed with young Sinhala blood. The 1971 insurrection was short lived and we who cowered, emerged to usual routines fairly soon. Not the 1ate 1980s uprising. It created widespread fear psychoses; complete mayhem from hospitals, schools and offices to thé kadés. Universities were closed for two years and thus a considerable exodus of young students to universities overseas. We lost many of our teenaged children and the country – brains and ability.

May such never happen again is our earnest prayer. The young seem to have imbibed or decided to work through principles. Consider the recent protests against environmental degradation, particularly denudation of forests. They were all peaceful and intelligently carried out, and acknowledged as such, and the message they carried should certainly have been given an ear to by the President, PM and Ministers in charge of relevant subject areas. Perhaps it was peaceful marches and speeches and placards because the aim was altruistic – benefit for the entire country and not for self.

 

Beauty gone batty?

The public fracas of excessively groomed and dressed up beauties at the recent Mrs Sri Lanka finals was shockingly disgraceful. It confirmed to Cass that even the slightest mix-up or argument in this land of ours very soon escalates to a debacle, often accompanied by violence. But in this incident, there wasn’t even a whimper of argument. We witnessed how last year’s Mrs S L – Her Mightiness Caroline Jurie – crowned, de-crowned and re-crowned Pushpika de Silva. The latter’s hair was pulled, since the crown was rudely pulled off her by Her Mightiness and another, but unless it had long sharp spikes it could not have injured the stunned winner’s head. And all because of a heard rumour at the moment of crowning. Cass spits out: How dare Caroline Jurie take judgment to her tearing hands when a panel had discussed, gone into details and decided on the winner; the panel including herself! Cass comments the glass slipper gifted to Cinderella Caroline a year ago seems to be a misfit now; her feet swollen to match her head.

Back to the ordinary: Cassandra wishes all her readers a family oriented Aluth Avuruddha, with safety precautions vigilantly observed against infection given first priority. Much should be sacrificed to prevent the deadly third wave of Covid 19.

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