The war for the woods

November 24, 2005 | The Martlet and Canadian University Press

Ten years of negotiations and a landmark consensus threatened by government delays

Photo by Al Harvey/Slidefarm

There is peace in the Great Bear Rainforest, but it is a tentative peace.

Over the past four years, stakeholders—local communities, logging companies, labour, tourism and conservationists, among others—have sat down and banged out a land-use plan for the Central Coast, also known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

Located along B.C.’s coast between Bute Inlet and the Alaskan border, the Great Bear Rainforest is the last, largest stand of intact temperate old growth rainforest in the world, as well as the largest contiguous area of unprotected rainforest.

It has been nearly two years since those groups completed the first of two consensus agreements on land-use in the Great Bear Rainforest. Those agreements were followed by direct negotiations between provincial and First Nations governments in order to finalize the plan.

Although far from perfect, the plan is significant: it marks the first time the different sides have agreed on pretty much anything.

They’ve come up with a plan, but now it is all at risk, thanks to the provincial government, who missed a self-imposed December 2004 deadline for approving the agreement. Two additional deadlines—Spring 2005 and “end of summer”—have since passed, and stakeholders are worried there is more than the agreement at risk: much of the funding was promised based on approval. If it takes any longer, that funding might just disappear.

Roughly 8.5 million hectares of ancient cedar, salmon, wolf and bear habitat in the temperate rainforest are at stake, along with a billion dollars in wood and wood products sales and $200 million in financing for conservation-based economic initiatives.

Even more than that, 10 years of work at changing how environmentalists, industry and First Nations interact could be undone.

For years, all parties set aside confrontation in favour of negotiation,” said Amanda Carr, a Greenpeace campaigner. “But the value of the negotiation route is in question given the [provincial government]’s continued failure to meet commitments and timelines.”

Continue reading →

Swim With the Sharks

Fall 2009 | Verge Magazine | Accompanied Gentle Giants

Isla Holbox, on the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, hosts the largest seasonal meeting of whale sharks in the world. Go snorkeling and help the Shark Research Institute collect photos and information about the benefit of whale shark tourism to the local economy. (—click on “expeditions”)

A number of companies, including The Kairos Company (, African Impact ( and Frontier ( offer excursions that combine scuba diving and snorkeling with collecting information about local whale shark populations.

Photographers can contribute to the Ecocean Whale Shark Photo-identification Library (, a visual database of whale sharks used by marine biologists to learn more about the giant fish.

Whale sharks can be agitated by aggressive behaviour like chasing or touching. The whale shark code of conduct (developed by The Shark Trust, the Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management, and PADI and the Project AWARE Foundation) recommends staying at least three metres away from whale sharks. Boats should keep speeds under six knots, and turn motors off within 100 metres of any whale sharks.

Gentle Giants

Fall 2009 | Verge Magazine | Ran with Swim With the Sharks

If you can’t beat them, enjoy them: tourism may mean a new lease on life for whale sharks off Mafia Island.

Whale shark

Photo by Jon Hanson

There are seven people in the small boat lurching over the waves around Tanzania’s Mafia Island. It’s a sunny day but the wind is up, and it’s hard to see anything in the rough waters of the Indian Ocean—even a 13 metre, 13 tonne, grey and white shark.

Whale sharks, the world’s largest living fish, live on plankton and are harmless to humans. Every year, between October and March, hundreds of the spotted giants pass near the island, giving residents an opportunity to attract tourists with whale shark tours. Continue reading →

‘My mother gave me to them’

Marion Kargbo stands at a balcony in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Marion Kargbo was 18 when she was forced to marry a rebel soldier in Sierra Leone. Photo by Bryna Hallam/IRIN

FREETOWN, 26 February 2009 (IRIN) – Marion Kargbo was 18 when she was forced to marry a soldier of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in January 1999, in the middle of Sierra Leone’s civil war. Ten years later, RUF leaders have been found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including forced marriage – the first time a court has treated the offence as a crime separate from sexual slavery.

According to local NGOs many women and girls associated with the rebel forces, especially those not in fighting roles, were excluded from the official disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process whereby ex-combatants received money and training to help them re-enter civilian life.

This is her story, as told to IRIN:

On January 6, 1999, the rebels came to [the capital] Freetown. …The rebels came to burn the [family] house and capture us. Before they set the house on fire, they demanded my mother hand over one of her children. If she didn’t, they would kill us all.

My mother gave me to them. Continue reading →

‘Forced marriage’ conviction a first

RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay was charged for war crimes by the Special Court on 25 February 2009.

RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay was charged for war crimes by the Special Court on 25 February 2009. Photo courtesy Special Court for Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, 26 February 2009 (IRIN) – The Special Court for Sierra Leone on 25 February convicted three former leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), marking the first time a court has convicted on the charge of “forced marriage”.

After a four-year trial, the tribunal found former RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay and RUF commander Morris Kallon guilty on 16 of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and former RUF chief of security Augustine Gbao on 14 counts. Continue reading →

Lack of aid funds for amputees, rape survivors, war widows

February 23, 2009 | IRIN | Online here

Lamin Jusu Jaka, chair of Sierra Leone's Amputees and War Wounded Association, stands in front of his house in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Lamin Jusu Jaka, chair of Sierra Leone's Amputees and War Wounded Association, would prefer cash to social services for reparations. Photo by Bryna Hallam/IRIN

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – With just a quarter of the funding required to compensate victims of human rights violations in Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war, the government now faces tough decisions as to who will receive what kind of assistance.

Assistance to victims, among the recommendations of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), is expected to begin at the end of February 2009. Up to 100,000 people – among them amputees and other war-wounded, victims of sexual violence, war widows and children – are eligible.

But the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA), which is running the reparations programme, has less US $3.5 million to run the programme in 2009-10 – far less than the $14 million it requires, according to Amadu Bangura, reparations programme manager for NACSA. Continue reading →