“The ancient Hawaiians were astronomers,” wrote Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, in 1897. Star watchers were among the most esteemed members of Hawaiian society. Sadly, all is not well with astronomy in Hawaii today. Protests have erupted over construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope(TMT), a giant observatory that promises to revolutionize humanity’s view of the cosmos.
At issue is the TMT’s planned location on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano worshiped by some Hawaiians as the piko , that connects the Hawaiian Islands to the heavens. But Mauna Kea is also home to some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Rested in the Pacific Ocean, Mauna Kea’s peak rises above the bulk of our planet’s dense atmosphere, where conditions allow telescopes to obtain images of unsurpassed clarity.
Opposition to telescopes on Mauna Kea is nothing new. A small but vocal group of Hawaiians and environments have long viewed their presence as disrespect for sacred land and a painful reminder of the occupation of what was once a sovereign nation.
Some blame for the current controversy belongs to astronomers. In their eagerness to build bigger telescopes, they forgot that science is the only way of understanding the world. They did not always prioritize the protection of Mauna Kea’s fragile ecosystems or its holiness to the island’s inhabitants. Hawaiian culture is not a relic of the past; it is a living culture undergoing a renaissance today.
Yet science has a cultural history, too, with roots going back to the dawn of civilization. The same curiosity to find what lies beyond the horizon that first brought early Polynesians to Hawaii’s shores inspires astronomers today to explore the heavens. Calls to disassemble all telescopes on Mauna Kea or to ban future development there ignore the reality that astronomy and Hawaiian culture both seek to answer big questions about who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Perhaps that is why we explore the starry skies, as if answering a primal calling to know ourselves and our true ancestral homes.
The astronomy community is making compromises to change its use of Mauna Kea. The TMT site was chosen to minimize the telescope’s visibility around the island and to avoid archaeological and environmental impact. To limit the number of telescopes on Mauna Kea, old ones will be removed at the end of their lifetimes and their sites returned to a natural state. There is no reason why everyone cannot be welcomed on Mauna Kea to embrace their cultural heritage and to study the stars.
Biologists estimate that as many as 2 million lesser prairie chickens—a kind of bird living on stretching grasslands—once lent red to the often gray landscape of the mid-western and southwestern United States. But just some 22,000 birds remain today, occupying about 16% of the species’ historic range.
The crash was a major reason the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service （USFWS）decided to formally list the bird as threatened. “The lesser prairie chicken is in a desperate situation,” said USFWS Director Daniel Ashe. Some environmentalists, however, were disappointed. They had pushed the agency to designate the bird as “endangered,” a status that gives federal officials greater regulatory power to crack down on threats. But Ashe and others argued that the“threatened” tag gave the federal government flexibility to try out new, potentially less confrontational conservations approaches. In particular, they called for forging closer collaborations with western state governments, which are often uneasy with federal action and with the private landowners who control an estimated 95% of the prairie chicken’s habitat.
Under the plan, for example, the agency said it would not prosecute landowner or businesses that unintentionally kill, harm, or disturb the bird, as long as they had signed a range—wide management plan to restore prairie chicken habitat. Negotiated by USFWS and the states, the plan requires individuals and businesses that damage habitat as part of their operations to pay into a fund to replace every acre destroyed with 2 new acres of suitable habitat. The fund will also be used to compensate landowners who set aside habitat, USFWS also set an interim goal of restoring prairie chicken populations to an annual average of 67,000 birds over the next 10 years. And it gives the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), a coalition of state agencies, the job of monitoring progress. Overall, the idea is to let “states” remain in the driver’s seat for managing the species，” Ashe said.
Not everyone buys the win-win rhetoric Some Congress members are trying to block the plan, and at least a dozen industry groups, four states, and three environmental groups are challenging it in federal court Not surprisingly, doesn’t go far enough “The federal government is giving responsibility for managing the bird to the same industries that are pushing it to extinction,” says biologist Jay Lininger.
When prehistoric man arrived in new parts of the world, something strange happened to the large animals. they suddenly became extinct. Smaller species survived. The large, slow-growing animals were easy game, and were quickly hunted to extinction.Now something similar could be happening in the oceans.
That the seas are being overfished has been known for years. What researchers such as Ransom Myers and Boris Worm have shown is just how fast things are changing. They have looked at half a century of data from fisheries around the world. Their methods do not attempt to estimate the actual biomass （the amount of living biological matter） of fish species in particular parts of the ocean, but rather changes in that biomass over time. According to their latest paper published in Nature, the biomass of large predators （animals that kill and eat other animals） in a new fishery is reduced on average by 80% within 15 years of the start of exploitation. In some long-fished areas, it has halved again since then.
Dr. Worm acknowledges that these figures are conservative. One reason for this is that fishing technology has improved.Today’s vessels can find their prey using satellites and sonar, which were not available 50 years ago. That means a higher proportion of what is in the sea is being caught, so the real difference between present and past is likely to be worse than the one recorded by changes in catch sizes. In the early days, too, lonelines would have been more saturated with fish. Some individuals would therefore not have been caught, since no baited hooks would have been available to trap them, leading to an underestimate of fish stocks in the past. Furthermore, in the early days of longline fishing, a lot of fish were lost to sharks after they had been hooked. That is no longer a problem, because there are fewer sharks around now.
Dr. Myers and Dr. Worm argue that their work gives a correct baseline, which future management efforts must take into account. They believe the date support an idea current among marine biologists, that of the “shifting baseline”. The notion is that people have failed to detect the massive changes which have happened in the ocean because they have been looking back only a relatively short time into the past. That matters because theory suggests that the maximum sustainable yield that can be cropped from a fishery comes when the biomass of a target species is about 50% of its original levels. Most fisheries are well below that， which is a bad way to be business.