We READ that representatives of Scotland’s leading wildlife tourism businesses are petitioning the Scottish Government to do more to protect and restore Scotland’s seas (your report, 31 July).
The problem of marine environmental degradation is urgent. Good luck to them.
They may care to know, however, that this is the government that has allowed fish farming to turn the bays and estuaries of Scotland’s west coast into open salmon sewers, covering the seabed with thick silts of guano, which is lethal to other forms of life, and destroying inshore shellfish, lobster, crab, prawn and shrimp fisheries.
The government that for years has turned a blind eye to the evidence that each time the caged salmon receive their regular treatments with pesticide chemicals, clouds of parasites (sea lice) transfer to and kill migrating juvenile wild sea trout and salmon, thereby decimating the wild fish populations.
This is the government that has failed to monitor the damage caused by aquaculture or to publish the results of inspections of fish farms.
This is the government that has caved in to threats of legal action by fish farmers when it was proposed to publish the results of inspections.
It has recently granted increased netting rights for marine salmon fisheries on the east and north coasts while the netsmen in Greenland, the Faroes, Iceland and Ireland have voluntarily desisted from netting the threatened salmon populations heading for their native European rivers to spawn and while Scottish anglers have voluntarily desisted from killing salmon in Scottish rivers.
The government did nothing about the appalling waste of bycatch (fish discarded dead by fishing boats) until television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign stirred public opinion. The list goes on.
The Scottish Government has already established a legacy of allowing, even promoting, untold damage to the ecology of Scotland’s marine and inland waters. By what miracle will the leopard change its spots?
The full page about the potential for algae to produce copious quantities of oil-equivalent (31 July) is timely but it would be premature to hope for this to meet completely the world’s entire energy needs any time soon.
We might wish for this to be the case, as we could scrap all wind turbine projects straight away, and conventional coal, gas and nuclear power plants could be phased out, although we might keep solar and hydro –much less controversial.
The problem is the sheer scale of the installations needed. Even after GM, with current technology algae are not going to make much oil per capita as it were, so massive arrays of fermentation tanks or their equivalent are essential, as are unique infrastructure support and downstream processing. Not cheap.
However, coming shortly are techniques for synthesising genes to code for specific products, so a synthetic DNA for oil might be inserted into suitable algae to enhance its manufacture biologically, which should improve the bang per buck.
Even better is the possibility of totally synthesising a “minimal living cell” as proposed by none other than Dr Carl Venter, the sharer with the UK’s Wellcome Trust, of the decoding of the human genome.
Such artificial life could well be designed to produce just a single product we desire on top of its own minimal needs for products for survival and reproduction.
This could be seen in just a few years, bearing in mind that Dr Venter in 2010 already artificially made Mycoplasma mycoides from DNA built up “in the test tube” from the basic inanimate chemicals. Whoever triumphs first will be a very rich person!
(Dr) Joe Darby
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South