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SCIENCE FILE / An exploration of issues and trends
affecting science, medicine and the environment | Earthwatch:
A Diary of the Planet

Waterborne Biohazards

May 18, 2000

Huge amounts of complex medications recently discovered in Europe's waterways are polluting rivers, finding their way into drinking water and posing a threat to marine life. Scientists have identified dozens of drugs such as antidepressants, hormones, seizure medication, cancer treatments, aspirin, ibuprofen, vitamins, and cholesterol-lowering compounds that have passed intact from the human digestive tract, through sewage treatment plants and eventually into rivers and the sea. Many scientists are blaming the contamination for some mysterious mass killings of tiny aquatic organisms. Sperm levels and spawning patterns in marine life have been altered by the chemicals, notably by antidepressants. The musks and chemicals used in perfume and suntan lotion have also been discovered to have accumulated in fish.

Antarctic Ice

Three huge new icebergs have broken away from Antarctica's Ronne Ice Shelf and are adrift in the ocean. The National Ice Center in Suitland, Md., reported that the new icebergs were detected by satellites after breaking loose on three consecutive days during the first week of May. The giant icebergs, which were assigned letter names designating their points of origin, are due south of South America.


The death toll from a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Indonesia's remote island of Banggai on May 4 has now reached 46. Another 30,000 people have been left homeless by the quake, which destroyed more than 13,000 homes and 237 government buildings.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 1, 2000 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Metro Desk 4 inches; 124 words Type of Material: Correction
Earthwatch--In the May 18 Earthwatch column, a syndicated feature from Earth Environment Services, the "Turtle Hostages" item contained several inaccuracies. The item should have said:
* 10 giant tortoises were taken from the Tortoise Breeding Center at Galapagos National Park.
* The tortoises were taken by fishermen protesting the recent fishing quotas for sea cucumbers.
* The quota was set by the Inter-Institutional Management Authority.
* No giant tortoises or sea turtles have been harmed.
* The Charles Darwin Foundation fully supports the government's position of prosecuting those responsible for illegal actions taken during the protest.
Source: Charles Darwin Foundation
Also, it was mentioned in another section of Earthwatch that the U.S. Forest Service intentionally set the recent fire near Los Alamos, N.M. It should have said the National Park Service.

Earth movements were also felt in the central Philippines, Taiwan, southern Japan, eastern Romania, southern Turkey, northern Italy, northwestern California and Alaska's Kodiak Island.

Wildfire Evacuations

At least 11,000 residents of Los Alamos, N.M., were evacuated as a weeklong wildfire spread to a nearby canyon and city homes. The blaze raged near the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, but officials said that all nuclear materials at the facility are stored in fireproof bunkers. The fire was intentionally set by the U.S. Forest Service despite warnings that high winds were likely to develop in the burn area.

Turtle Hostages

At least 300 baby Holoturia sea turtles were seized by fishermen in the Galapagos Islands in an attempt to coerce officials to allow them to hunt the adult reptiles for two months every year. Holoturias were once threatened with extinction, and authorities in Ecuador reported that although the ban on hunting the turtles was previously lifted for one month each year, hunting will not be allowed at all this year. Ecuador's tourism board established the earlier one-month season because turtle meat is an increasingly popular delicacy. At least 4.2 million turtles in the Galapagos were legally killed, netting sales of $3.5 million. The Charles Darwin Foundation criticized the fishermen's action, warning that the turtles are still in danger of extinction and that holding the babies hostage threatens their survival.

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