Indian police arrest man over Facebook post

NEW DELHI (AFP): Police in southern India said Tuesday they have arrested a man for posting a doctored image on Facebook showing Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowing before a Muslim leader.  Mohammed Mehboob, 25, was arrested on Sunday on charges of “promoting enmity between religious groups” after workers for Modi’s party in southern Karnataka state’s Koppal district complained about the post. “We acted on a complaint filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers and arrested him,” the investigating officer Kali Krishna told AFP, referring to Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.  The image showed Modi touching the feet of Akbaruddin Owaisi, a controversial Muslim legislator from neighbouring Telangana state who has been prosecuted for making derogatory remarks about Modi in the past. In March, police in central India arrested two Muslim men on charges of obscenity over a doctored image of Mohan Bhagwat, a leader of the controversial Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The image showed Bhagwat dressed in a tight pair of women’s trousers and black high heels, an apparent reference to the group’s decision to change their trademark khaki shorts for brown trousers.

Coal spill risk to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

SYDNEY (AFP): Any major coal spill on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could kill some colourful corals within two weeks and stunt the growth of fish and seagrass, a new study revealed Tuesday.  While coal spills are rare, environmentalists have been increasingly concerned about the risks to the reef from ships carrying the commodity mined in Queensland state through its waters. The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, is the first to examine the effect of fine coal particles on tropical marine organisms. “Results demonstrate that chronic coal exposure can cause considerable lethal effects on corals, and reductions in seagrass and fish growth rates,” it said. In experiments in which marine species were exposed to varying levels of fine coal particles, the researchers found that it had a “smothering” impact on corals, co-author Mia Hoogenboom told AFP. Hoogenboom, from Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said there was a stickiness to coal dust which formed a film on coral which light struggled to penetrate. “From our study it was the coral that was the most vulnerable, where we saw extensive mortality of the coral tissue,” she said. “For the sea grass and the fish we saw lower levels of mortality but we did see significant impacts on their growth rates.”

Kathryn Berry, who led the experimental research, said corals exposed to the highest concentrations of coal dust died within two weeks.

“Corals exposed to lower concentrations of coal lasted longer, but most of them also died after four weeks of exposure,” she said in a statement.

Berry said while some fish and seagrass died from coal dust exposure, it was more likely to stunt their growth by half compared to how they would have grown in clean water.

The reef is suffering its worst bleaching in recorded history with 93 percent of corals affected due to warming sea temperatures. Any coal spill would add to problems caused by farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

A catastrophe was averted when the Chinese-registered coal carrier Shen Neng 1 foundered in the marine park in 2010. But the huge ship gouged a three kilometre-long (1.8 mile) scar in the reef and was stranded for nine days before salvagers could refloat it.

Queensland state Environment Minister Steven Miles moved to reassure people, saying the reef was “the most strictly regulated shipping area in the world”.

The transit of coal through the World Heritage-listed marine park was not, he stressed, the biggest threat to the reef.

“The main localised threats are sediment and nutrient run-off from the land and the big long-term threat is climate change,” he said in comments cited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Shipping is something we need to very closely regulate but we shouldn’t let us distract us from what the main threats are.”

Fishing ban urged to save world’s smallest porpoise

MEXICO CITY (AFP): Mexican authorities faced calls Monday to ban all fishing in the upper Gulf of California or permanently prohibit gillnets to save the vaquita marina, the world’s smallest porpoise, from extinction.

Concerns about the vaquita’s fate rose on Friday when scientists warned that only 60 of the sea creatures were left and could vanish by 2022 even though the navy has been patrolling their habitat. In reaction, the World Wildlife Fund called for a full fishing ban in the vaquita’s northwestern Mexico refuge. The porpoise’s population had already fallen to fewer than 100 in 2014, down from 200 in 2012, according to scientists at the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA).

The vaquita’s fate has been linked to another critically endangered sea creature, the totoaba, a fish that has been illegally caught for its swim bladder, which is dried and sold on the black market in China. Poachers use illegal gillnets to catch the totoaba. The vaquita, a shy 1.5-meter-long (five-foot) cetacean with dark rings around the eyes, is said to be the victim of bycatch. President Enrique Pena Nieto imposed a two-year ban on gillnets in April 2015 and increased the vaquita protection area tenfold to 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles). Pena Nieto also deployed navy reinforcements to enforce the ban. The government is compensating fishermen to the tune of $70 million over two years for giving up gillnets while new methods are sought. But Omar Vidal, Mexico director of the World Wildlife Fun, said the measures have been “insufficient” and that fishermen have “camouflaged” gillnets with other legal nets. An immediate fishing ban, he said, “can save the vaquita.” “It’s a drastic measure but maybe the most efficient way is to prohibit fishing and obviously compensate fishermen,” he told a news conference.

Mexico’s environment ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the proposal.

Sunshine Antonio Rodriguez Pena, president of the fishing cooperative of the port of San Felipe, said his group would lodge a complaint before the United Nations if a fishing ban were to be imposed.

“They are completely crazy,” he told AFP, noting that legal fishing includes corvina and clams and local fishermen are already in a “crisis.”

“They should just declare (the vaquita) extinct because fishermen are not killing it,” Rodriguez told AFP, saying other factors are to blame, such as predators, red algae or toxins.

For its part, CIRVA is calling for the two-year gillnet ban to become permanent.

Barbara Taylor, co-chief scientist of CIRVA’s latest study, told AFP that it would take until 2075 to see the vaquita return to 1997 levels, when there were more than 500.

While three were found dead in March, she said it is likely that more died this year because most carcasses are not recovered.

Taylor, a scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said CIRVA members were “thrilled and relieved” when they spotted vaquitas last fall as “we knew there had been a catastrophic decline and feared we may see none.”

“However, it was clear that we had few sightings and that the new numbers would confirm the results from acoustic monitoring that illegal fishing had brought vaquitas to the brink of extinction,” she said.

CIRVA chairman Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, of Mexico’s Natonal Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, said there’s still hope for the vaquita as other national treasures have recovered in the past, such as elephant seals, which once numbered 20 and now number more than 150,000.

Baby bison put down after tourists put it in their car

LOS ANGELES (AFP): A bison put in a car by tourists because it looked like it was cold had to be put down, officials at Yellowstone National Park said on Monday. The tourists loaded the animal into their trunk last week and drove it to a ranger station after taking a photograph that prompted a backlash on social media. The newborn had to be euthanized because its mother had rejected it as a result of “interference by people,” officials said. “In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed,” the park said in a statement on its website. “The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.”

The park berated visitors for taking selfies and recording video near the bison, flouting regulations demanding people stay at least 25 yards (23 meters) away.

“In a recent viral video, a visitor approached within an arm’s length of an adult bison in the Old Faithful area,” it said of the park’s famous geyser. “Another video featured visitors posing for pictures with bison at extremely unsafe and illegal distances.”

Five visitors were seriously injured last year after approaching bison too closely, the park said.

In the latest incident, a father and son transported the bison calf in their Toyota Sequoia to a ranger station in the park’s northeast corner, a witness told the online East Idaho News.

“They were demanding to speak with a ranger. They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying,” said Karen Richardson, one of several parents chaperoning a group of fifth-graders on a field trip.

The website quoted another parent who told the tourists to remove the bison from their car, warning they could be in trouble. “They didn’t care,” he said. “They sincerely thought they were doing a service and helping that calf by trying to save it from the cold.”

Critics shared the picture of the calf in the car on Twitter, scolding the “dumbass,” “stupid” and “idiotic” tourists. Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. The park is home to 4,900 of the animals, which it says injure more people than any of its other animals.

Nasa launches near-space monitoring balloon from New Zealand

WELLINGTON (Reuters): NASA successfully launched a super pressure balloon from New Zealand’s South Island Wanaka Airport Tuesday to conduct near-space scientific investigations. The launch marks the fifth attempt to get the massive balloon airborne, with previous bids thwarted by bad weather, NASA said in a release. Long-duration balloon flights at constant altitudes play an important role in providing inexpensive access to the near-space environment for science and technology.  The 532,000 cubic metres (18.8 million cubic feet) balloon is expected to circumnavigate the globe about the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes once every one to three weeks, depending on wind speeds in the stratosphere, NASA said. The aim is for it remain airborne for more than 100 days.  According to NASA the balloon’s operational float altitude is 33.5 kms (20.8 miles) and it will be visible from the ground, particularly at sunrise and sunset, in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa.

NASA’s balloon experts at its Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, will control balloon flight operations throughout the mission.

The current record for a NASA super pressure balloon flight is 54 days. Tuesday’s launch was the second super pressure balloon mission from Wanaka. The first launch occurred March 27, 2015, flying 32 days, 5 hours, and 51 minutes.