In Mexico's waters, two species suffer from Chinese appetite

In a street in Canton, a Chinese merchant unveils her treasure: dried bladders of totoaba, which her compatriots love. But off the coast of Mexico where this fish lives, this appetite threatens its survival, as well as that of the Pacific porpoise, a collateral victim of the nets laid by the illegal fishermen of totoaba.

The Gulf of California has become in recent years a real battleground, between the boats of environmental activists, the ships and helicopters of the Mexican Navy patrolling the area, and the illegal fishermen acting armed.

In the background, a black market of hundreds of thousands of dollars because in China , the swimming bladder of totoaba, endemic Gulf fish now in danger of extinction, is worth a fortune for its supposed virtues in medicine and aesthetics.

The Pacific porpoise or "Gulf of California porpoise" is the other victim of this traffic: also called "vaquita marina" ("sea cow"), the smallest porpoise in the world gets stuck in the drift nets of smugglers. [19659002] There would be less than thirty left. In order to protect them, the authorities have banned almost all fishing on nearly 1,300 km2 since 2015, especially around San Felipe, a small village that depends on it 70% and gradually deserted by its inhabitants.

"They want to make San Felipe, a ghost town, "despairs Omar Solis, a 42-year-old shrimp fisherman who had to buy a catamaran to convert to tourism.

Idle, fishermen may well fall prey to illegal fishing Totoaba, sold at great prices, he warns: "This is not what we want, it is tantamount to risking his life, but when we have no money, what can we to do? "

– The shadow of the cartels –

This hunt is risky: black flag with skull on the bow, a camouflaged boat of the American environmental organization Sea Shepherd patrol day and night for three years to search for illegal boats and their nets. And since February, after threats and attacks, he is escorted by policemen and soldiers armed with rifles.

Images of the NGO show a boat with hooded fishermen, one of them pulls a pistol and fires Sea Shepherd drones

Illegal totoaba fishermen face up to nine years in prison. And the authorities searched phones and finances poachers arrested for any connection with organized crime.

A sailor deployed on the area assures: the illegal fishermen "go out at sea armed and shoot" between competing boats.

After removing the bladder from the fish, they throw the corpse back into the sea and hide their loot in their boots or in the secret compartments of the boat.

Then the bladder is shipped to border towns with the United States where it is dissected and "packaged to be sent to China, Hong Kong," says Joel Gonzalez, of the Federal Prosecution (Profepa).

From April 2015 to January 2018, 704 bladders of totoaba were seized, as well as 304 corpses in illegal nets, according to Profepa.

Joel Gonzalez, "it is highly probable" that poachers are financed by cartels drug traffickers

On condition of anonymity, a fisherman from San Felipe confirms that "the majority of totoabas fishermen are armed. It is the same mafia, the same networks of corruption and the same roads of traffic "for the totoaba and the drug.

– The worried fishermen –

To thousands of kilometers of there, in Canton (south of China), a salesgirl shows off her precious booty in front of an AFP journalist who introduced herself as a simple customer: on a traditional wooden table, she offers tea and several dehydrated totoaba bladders.

give the twist, from 20,000 yuan (3,160 dollars) for that of low quality to 130,000 yuan (20,500 dollars) for the best piece.

And they are not negotiable: "they are already competitive prices," says the shopkeeper , which offers "a holster to expose (the bladder at home, a common custom in China, ed) with a ribbon and gold silk."

The total price of eight bladders for sale at her home is $ 80,000. 19659002] The connoisseurs say that the more the bladder of totoaba is old – including ten years old – better is his taste. Prepared in soup, it would relieve arthritis and the ills of pregnancy, and reinflate the skin thanks to its high level of collagen.

– Survive –

Prevented from practicing their trade, the fishermen of San Felipe s 'worry for their survival. Their leader, Sunshine Rodriguez, went on a ten-day hunger strike to demand from the government and environmentalists the scientific evidence that all nets – not just those for totoabas – were affecting the Pacific porpoise. He did not get an answer.

According to some experts like Manuel Galindo, the porpoise can only be caught in the thickets used to catch totoaba, and the risk of extinction of this species is mainly due to the habitat deterioration.

Porpoises live just at the mouth of the Colorado River because they need low-salt, high-feed water, and low temperatures, says Manuel Galindo, a retired oceanographer who worked for 37 years at the Institute of Oceanological Research of the Autonomous University of Baja California

But these conditions "no longer exist" because the river is diverted to dams in the United States, ensures he said he was pessimistic about the future of the porpoise.

In Bolivia, jaguar canines make the Chinese salivate

This is a booming traffic in Bolivia: the lucrative trade in jaguar canines, prized in China as jewelery or for their so-called aphrodisiac virtues, threatens the survival of this feline, which is increasingly hunted.

In 2014, the local authorities began to be informed of this animal's "exchange of money", in the Beni department (north-east), told AFP Rodrigo Herrera, in charge of health issues. in the Ministry of the Environment

Many experts suspect the increased presence of Chinese in the South American country to have stimulated this traffic.

Indeed, in recent years, the government of Evo Morales has publicly awarded public works contracts to Chinese groups, for a total of seven billion dollars … sparking an influx of workers from the Asian giant.

According to Herrera, each canine, which measures between 8 and 10 centimeters, is 50 0 to 700 bolivianos (70-100 dollars) but can reach 5,000 dollars on the Chinese market

Even the skull of the feline arouses covetousness, at rates up to 10,000 dollars. Traffickers also sell their skin, or even their sex when it is a male.

As Rodrigo Herrera explains, "from each animal, a poor person (usually a farmer, editor's note) can draw $ 2,000 is a lot of money "in a country where 38.6% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2015, according to World Bank figures.

 Photo taken on October 4, 2014 and provided on March 28, 2018 by the Bolivian Department of Biodiversity and Protected Areas shows jaguar canines (Bolivian Department of Biodiversity and Protected Areas / AFP - HO)

Photo taken on October 4, 2014 and supplied on March 28, 2018 by The Bolivian Department of Biodiversity and Protected Areas shows jaguar canines (Bolivian Department of Biodiversity and Protected Areas / AFP – HO)

So far, Bolivian police have intercepted more than 400 jaguar teeth on the point to leave by c urrier to addresses in China.

But Fabiola Suarez, a specialist in the Department of Biodiversity of the Ministry of the Environment, points out that the quantity that has surely already left the country is "alarming".

– Embassy Appeal –

Justice has launched 15 legal proceedings, including 11 against Chinese citizens living in Bolivia, according to official data

On March 19, a trafficker who proposed canines and skulls of jaguar on social networks was arrested in an Amazonian region.

The seriousness of the situation forced the Chinese Embassy to interfere: in a circular, it called the "Chinese citizens living in Bolivia to respect and strictly observe the laws and regulations, Both Chinese and Bolivian, against the illegal trafficking of wild animals. "

 Photo taken on October 4, 2014 and provided on March 28, 2018 by the Bolivian Department of Biodiversity and Protected Areas shows a jewel made with a canine jaguar (Bolivia's Directorate of Biodiversity and Protected Areas / AFP - HO)

Photo taken on October 4, 2014 and provided on March 28, 2018 by the Bolivian Department of Biodiversity and Protected Areas shows a jewel realized with a canine jaguar (Bolivia's Directorate of Biodiversity and Protected Areas / AFP – HO)

According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), more and more Chinese come to live in Bolivia: in 2011, they do not were only 2,624 to have entered the country. The figure jumped to 12,861 in 2016.

For Rodrigo Herrera, this growing presence "created a market" and those already installed "have discovered this market and the offers have exploded", as well as the hunting of this feline, ranked "almost in danger" on the IUCN list of endangered species

Some Chinese people attribute aphrodisiac properties to their canines, which are also worn as jewelery as a sign of social status.

Foreign citizens "have no idea of ​​the damage they cause", Judge Patricia Molina, director of the NGO Bolivia Forum on Environment and Development, worried about the "very strong threat" on the jaguar, also killed by local breeders to protect their animals and attacked by deforestation.

Authorities estimate that there are still about 7,000 jaguars in Bolivia, out of a world population estimated at 64,000 by the university nation Autonomous Autonomous Region of Mexico

"If we do not put in place certain controls, this can lead to a serious problem" for their survival, warns Fabiola Suarez.

The animal with the speckled coat is not the only one to pay the price of such a frenzy: scientists from around the world, recently gathered in Medellin (Colombia) for a conference on biodiversity, have alerted of this danger.

From lazy claws to manta ray gills Many species are killed, by way of macaque embryos, in order to concoct ancestral remedies prescribed by traditional medicines from Asia or Africa … when it is not simply a question of miracle drugs. invented by charlatans, experts say.

Sputtered, the Chinese space station completes its race in the Pacific

More fear than harm: The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 disintegrated Monday in full flight as it returned to Earth over the Pacific, after two years of uncontrolled orbiting.

After several days of uncertainty, the space laboratory made its return to the atmosphere Monday around 00H15 GMT, announced the CMSEO, the Chinese office responsible for the design of human spaceflight. The state agency did not provide the exact coordinates of the drop-off point, referring only to "the central part of the South Pacific."

"Most of the equipment was destroyed during the re-entry phase. atmosphere, "assured the CMSEO.

The aircraft, in uncontrolled flight since 2016, returned to Earth a little earlier than planned: the CMSEO had previously announced that the re-entry into the atmosphere would be around 00H42 GMT, which would have located over the South Atlantic, off the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo

The abandoned space station weighed about eight tons but was not supposed to cause damage by falling, had sought to reassure China in recent days. Beijing had even promised a "splendid" show, like a shower of meteorites.

– 'Amusant à voir' –

But over the Pacific, it seemed unlikely that anyone could witness the scene at naked eye. Before returning to the ground, the spacecraft flew over North Korea and Japan, where it was already daylight, further reducing the likelihood of being seen from the ground, Astronomer Jonathan McDowell told AFP. from the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Center, USA

"It would have been fun to see," he said. "On the bright side, it did not cause damage by falling."

The United States has confirmed the return of the aircraft to the Pacific, however, suggesting a one-minute shift (00H16 GMT) compared to the Chinese assessment, according to the Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC), whose radar network followed the trajectory of the spacecraft in coordination with several countries (Germany, Australia, Canada, South Korea, France, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom).

The space laboratory had been placed in orbit in September 2011. It should have made a controlled return to the Earth's atmosphere, but stopped working in March 2016.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Chinese ground engineers were more able to operate the engines that would have controlled the fall of the machine. But Beijing has repeatedly refuted that Tiangong-1 has become "out of control."

"The foreign media are highlighting the re-entry (into the atmosphere) of Tiangong-1 (…) because some Western countries are trying to cover a growing Chinese aerospace industry with mud, "the often-nationalist daily Global Times reported on Monday.

– A risk of 700 million –

The risk for a human being 'To be hit by a space debris of more than 200 grams is one in 700 million,' said the CMSEO. "People have no reason to worry," he said.

Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace", was used for medical experiments. The laboratory was also seen as a preliminary step in the construction of a Chinese space station.

China has invested billions of euros in the space conquest to try to catch up with Europe and the United States. Coordinated by the army, it is seen as a symbol of the country's newfound power.

Beijing aims to send a spacecraft around Mars by 2020, before deploying a remotely operated vehicle on the red planet.

The Asian giant also wants to deploy an inhabited space station by 2022, when the International Space Station (ISS) has ceased to function. Another laboratory, Tiangong-2, was launched for this purpose in September 2016. China also dreams of sending a man to the moon.

The Chinese space station destroyed over the Pacific

The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 disintegrated on Monday as it returned to the atmosphere over the central part of the South Pacific after two years of uncontrolled flight into orbit.

After several days of uncertainty, the space laboratory made its return to the atmosphere Monday around 00H15 GMT, announced the CMSEO, the Chinese office responsible for the design of human spaceflight.

"Most of the equipment was destroyed during the re-entry phase," said the CMSEO in a statement.

The aircraft, in uncontrolled flight since 2016, returned to the atmosphere a little earlier than planned: the CMSEO had previously announced that the return to Earth would be around 00H42 GMT, which would have located above the South Atlantic, off Sao Paulo.

The station Abandoned spacecraft weighed about eight tons but was not expected to cause damage by falling, had sought to reassure China. On the contrary, Beijing promised a "splendid" show, similar to a meteor shower.

The space laboratory had been placed in orbit in September 2011. It had to make a controlled return to Earth's atmosphere, but stopped working in March 2016, raising concerns about its fall.

– A risk on 700 million –

However, the risk for a human being to be touched by a space debris of more than 200 grams is of a about 700 million, the CMSEO recalled. "People have no reason to worry," he said.

Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace", was used for medical experiments. The laboratory was also considered a preliminary step in the construction of a Chinese space station.

In 60 years of spaceflight, there have been some 6,000 uncontrolled returns of large man-made objects, and only one debris has hit a person, without injuring it, according to Stijn Lemmens, an expert from the European Space Agency (ESA).

When back in the atmosphere, the increasing heat and friction causes combustion or burning. explosion of the main structure, some 80 km from the Earth, according to the same source

Most of the fragments are scattered in the air and a small number falls relatively slowly before crashing. Contact with the planet is more likely to take place at sea: the oceans occupy more than 70% of the earth's surface.

Tiangong-1 station is the 50th largest object to make an uncontrolled return since 1957 Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Center in the United States, said in a statement

China has invested billions of euros in the space conquest to try to catch up with Europe and the United States. Coordinated by the army, it is seen as a symbol of the country's newfound power.

Beijing aims to send a spacecraft around Mars by 2020, before deploying a remotely operated vehicle on the red planet.

The Asian giant also wants to deploy an inhabited space station by 2022, when the International Space Station (ISS) has ceased to function. China also dreams of sending a man to the moon.

Chinese company revives canal project to save Lake Chad from drying up

How to save the Lake District Chad located on both Cameroon, Niger Nigeria and Chad? A conference organized by the Nigerian Government and Unesco was held in Abuja (capital of Nigeria) from 26 to 28 February 2018. The objective: to preserve this region devastated by climate change and conflicts geopolitical. And, perhaps, avoid the disappearance of the lake, which has lost 90% of its surface in 40 years because of global warming and poor management of water resources. Transaqua, a controversial megaproject conceived in the 1980s to replenish the immense oasis drained by a 2.600km long canal, has resurfaced on this occasion. It is a Chinese company which would be in charge of the construction, if it were to take place.

Financing of US $ 6.5 billion

The United Nations is committed to financing research and development programs. $ 6.5 million to provide assistance to the 40 million people who depend on this lake at the crossroads between the Sahel and Central Africa. As the lake has disappeared and the lack of food it entails, the region has become home to many security crises, including the one maintained by the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram.

FOOD INSTABILITY. Small farmers and fishermen quickly joined the ranks of fighters or militias who oppose the group, making this conflict one of the deadliest in the world in a few years. The United Nations estimates that security and food instability has forced 2 million people out of their homes and 10.7 million depend on food aid to survive. The 40 million people living around and on the lake are among the poorest in the world

A feasibility study was commissioned to a Chinese group

To avoid the disappearance of Lake Chad: the urgency is very real , and to face it, the experts gathered at his bedside exhumed Transaqua, a megaproject imagined in the 80s and controversial, which consists of filling the huge drained oasis. The idea, particularly ambitious, is to dig a 2,600 km channel from the Democratic Republic of Congo then through the Central African Republic, to the freshwater lake.

CHINA. The Transaqua project, conceived in 1982 by the Italian engineering and consulting firm Bonifica, involves immense technical and financial challenges, and for these reasons never came into being. But the arrival of a Chinese partner, the Power Construction Corporation of China (PowerChina), which signed an agreement in 2017 with the company behind the project, has recently revived hopes and criticism around the project. Little information has been leaked about the agreement that binds the Italian firm today to the giant PowerChina, except that the latter was commissioned to conduct a feasibility study.

A channel carrying Congolese waters to the lake would be "unacceptable"

For its supporters, Transaqua is the only way to cope with the current humanitarian and environmental crisis. "The transfer of water between different river basins is not an option but a necessity" said Sanusi Abdullahi, executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, who oversees the use of water and natural resources. "We are faced with the possibility that Lake Chad will disappear and it will be catastrophic for the whole African continent."

WATER WAR. But the project, which according to an estimate could cost up to 14 billion dollars (11.5 billion euros), raises strong resistance in Kinshasa. The transfer of Congolese waters to Lake Chad is "unacceptable" reacted to the telephone the senator of an opposition party, Modeste Mutinga, author of the book The war of water to the door of the DRC It would be to "disrupt the flow of the Congo River with consequences on ecosystems in the DRC" he told AFP. "We must not seek to solve a problem in a corner and create here in the DRC." ​​ Same reaction in the MP of the majority Bavon N'Sa Mputu Elima, former Minister of the Environment, for whom "it is necessary to solve the problems in the basin of Lake Chad: the misuse of water by Chadian herders, to increase the water quality of the rivers which feed this lake with water by the maintenance of the banks. "

A geopolitical challenge of a discouraging scale

The technical and security challenges that imply a project like Transaqua are also discouraging. The gigantic canal should cross several countries with changing geography and entangled in chronic political instability. In addition to the Boko Haram fighters around Lake Chad, the Central African Republic, in particular, is devastated by years of war and abuses by armed groups that control large areas. And even if time is running out at the pace when the lake's waters are disappearing, PowerChina's Ziping Huang acknowledges that launching such a project with the prevailing security situation in the region is "beyond the imagination of our company ".

COOPERATION. Finally, the last difficulty is to co-operate with the four countries bordering the lake. "These countries must cooperate if they want to face these transnational risks, there is simply no other way to do it ," says Florian Krampe, of the program on climate change and the risks of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. "The question is, are the institutions ready?"

S.S. with AFP