Figure 1: A spatial water quality schematic of Hobson’s Brook displaying individual water quality parameter results. Derivative data was collected over a total of 50 days during Summer 2016.
Source: Author’s own schematic.
I created the above schematic (Figure 1) to display how the water quality of Hobson’s Brook, a nationally-rare type of chalk stream in Cambridge, changed as it flowed through the Clay Farm Development during my monitoring period.
The stream flows from site H1 (upstream of the Clay Farm Development) to H4 (downstream of the Clay Farm Development). The location of the largest on-site retention pond (an important water treatment component) is shown between sites H2 and H3.
The coloured arrows display whether the change in water quality between two particular sites was significant or not based upon individual water quality parameters. If the change was significant, the arrows also show whether it represented an increase or decrease in water quality based upon the EU Water Framework Directive (1) guidelines (Temp, pH, DO%) or the World Health Organisation (2) guidelines (TDS).
The grey arrows represent no significant change in the water quality parameter results between respective sites
The green arrows represent a significant change in the water quality parameter results between respective sites, whilst indicating an improvement in water quality
The red arrows also represent a significant change in the water quality parameter results between respective sites, however indicate a reduction in water quality
Changes are shown between the following sites:
H1 and H2
H2 and H3
H3 and H4
H1 and H4
The black arrows pointing towards specific site changes correspond with the hypotheses I posed to test within my dissertation.
(1) APEM (2016) Hobson’s Brook Clay Farm Development and Cambridge Biomedic Campus Surface Water Monitoring – October 2016 Report, Countryside Properties, Essex.
(2) WHO (2003) Total dissolved solids in Drinking-water: Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, WHO, Geneva.
The root cause of bleaching events lies with a so-called ‘inconvenient truth’ – rising ocean temperatures. Above a threshold temperature corals reject the algae living in their tissues; although they remain alive, they become far more susceptible to disease and mortality (Figure 3). Presently, a particularly strong cycle of natural warm ocean currents known as El Niño is argued to be the key driver of the extensive bleaching. However, we must also consider the simultaneous influence of human activities which further promote marine ecosystem fragility. These include:
So why should we as a global nation be concerned about rising ocean temperatures? Whether you live at the coast or thousands of miles inland, coral degradation will impact you! Globally, coral reef ecosystems are vital reserves of biodiversity which could benefit world-wide communities in the future. Scientists have estimated that there could be up to 8 million undiscovered organisms living in reef environments  which could be utilised for the development of new medicines including possible cures for cancer. At the other end of the spectrum, on a smaller national scale, Australia could be in big trouble if coral bleaching persists. The Great Barrier Reef, which narrowly avoided being added to the 2015 UN World Heritage in danger list, is a substantial financial asset to the country – the WWF reports that reef industries including fishing and tourism annually contribute approximately $5.4 billion to the economy and support 69,000 jobs. Clearly the potential loss of coral reefs as a source of revolutionary medicines or as a vital source of income would be disastrous!
Although we cannot control natural warm ocean currents such as El Niño, I believe we can target the issue of human-induced climate change and prevent harmful human interferences with coral reef ecosystems. Locally caused threats including unsustainable fishing practices decrease the probability that corals will recover from bleaching events. Therefore I believe that more environmental protection schemes need to be introduced on an international scale and closely monitored and regulated (Figure 4). We must think globally and act locally!
Additionally, I strongly believe that the topic of coral reef health needs to be considered in detail during the COP21 in Paris this December. Although the aim of the COP21 is to limit global temperature increase to below 2°C, scientists report that this figure would still permit the degradation of coral reefs. Maybe we should therefore be proposing a total warming of around 1°C or less in order to give coral reefs a better chance of survival….
Evidently the current and future health of global coral reefs remains for the short-term questionable and I am deeply saddened by this. I have vivid childhood memories of snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and of admiring its beautiful corals and vast array of exciting species. I feel a nostalgic connection to the reef and therefore have a strong passion to spread awareness and promote the protection of such captivating environments.
At the end of the day, December will be the deciding month. I really hope that the COP21 comes to a sensible decision regarding the temperature limit of global warming and that, if a figure is agreed, it is lower than the planned 2°C increase. If not, I fear that the conference will secure a deadly fate for our global coral reefs!
 Reaka-Kudla, L. (1997) The Global Biodiversity of Coral Reefs: A Comparison with Rain Forests, in Biodiversity II, Joseph Henry Press, Washington: 83-108.
Despite recent attempts to make palm oil production more environmentally sustainable by introducing methane-capturing processes at mills in Indonesia, it is unclear whether local people will in any way benefit from this!
Leading the way in the implementation of methane-capturing facilities is the UK-based company REA Holdings. REA have recently installed facilities at two of their three palm oil mills in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province (Figure 2).
Since the facilities were commissioned in 2012, REA claim they have decreased the carbon footprint of the two mills by an impressive 50%. Yet REA vow that this is not the only positive environmental impact; they highlight that sufficient electricity is generated from the methane combustion to power all of the company’s mills, reducing their need to burn diesel (Figure 3).
At first glance it may seem that the palm oil industry could become more environmentally sustainable in the future if other companies also adopt methane-capturing methods. However, although methane emissions per plant would be reduced, deforestation would still continue in order to meet the rising demand for palm oil, with plantations encroaching further into inhabited forest areas.
Figure 4: A ‘spoof’ advertisement for Doritos highlighting the environmental impacts of the palm oil industry. Source: Sum Of Us
In addition to this, a social issue which I find equally disturbing to contemplate concerns the apparent corruption of economically-minded state officials. These figures often overlook the impacts on indigenous communities when finalising agreements with corporations, allocating large areas of territorial land for plantation development without consulting locals in a process known as ‘land grab’. Communities are either displaced or forced to work in poor conditions on plantations in order to earn an income. I am therefore unsurprised to learn that the number of conflicts between local communities and palm oil companies is on the increase .
I remain skeptical about this idea of ‘green growth in Indonesia’. From an economic perspective, I believe that the palm oil industry has the prospect to grow at such an alarming rate that it may take several years before methane-capturing processes are universally adopted at all mills. I am also doubtful that local communities will gain long-term access to the power produced; with the reported price collapse of the UN Clean Development Mechanism, an emissions reduction credit system, current funding for methane-capturing projects is uncertain!
Although the public can make donations through Greenpeace in an attempt to prevent further deforestation, personally I think it would cause a greater impact if consumers opted to abstain from purchasing products containing palm oil. However I understand that this would need to be a mass consumer movement to substantially affect the market, and would also mean a reduction in the use of biofuels which brings back into debate our utilisation of fossil fuels.
It is clear to see that palm oil consumption is an extremely contentious topic: on one hand organisations such as RSPO argue that sustainable palm oil can be made a norm within global markets. However, I cannot see this happening due to the growing demand for plantation land, the impacts of deforestation and the potential fragmentation of indigenous communities.
I think governments world-wide need to also recognise the role of deforestation in climate change and ideally provide financial help to countries with tropical forests to protect their resources. Additionally it might be more environmentally-sensible to halt our use of palm oil as a biofuel altogether and instead invest in other renewable energy options such as solar and wind power.
Sadly I am pessimistic as to whether global societies will be prepared to stop purchasing products containing palm oil; it is so widely used in thousands of commodities on an international scale that avoiding it completely may prove an almost impossible challenge!
 Gray, J., Karageorgou, V. and Westra, L. (2015) Ecological Systems Integrity: Governance, law and human rights, Routledge, Oxon: 100
 Li, T.M. (2015) Social impacts of oil palm in Indonesia: A gendered perspective from West Kalimantan, Centre for International Forestry Research, Indonesia.
Not a month passes by without a climate change issue exploding onto our news feeds. July 2015 was certainly no exception…
The month commenced with the announcement that multinational oil and gas company Shell had been granted the final permit required to begin drilling beneath the ocean floor for oil in the Arctic. But what could the implications of exploratory drilling be and why is this controversial headline such a timely issue to consider?
After committing £4.5 billion to the contentious project, Shell has now begun to drill two wells into oil bearing rock off the coast of Alaska (Figure 1). Experts have reported that in excess of 18% of the world’s undiscovered oil supplies can be found in the Arctic – therefore it is understandable that the area could be seen as an attractive solution to supplying the world’s growing energy demands over the coming decades. Additionally, with high-profile public figures such as Conservative politician David Howell and the founder of Crystol Energy Carol Nakhle claiming that ‘easy-to-extract oil lie waiting under melting Arctic ice’ , the technical feasibility of extraction is brought into the limelight.
Supporting Howell and Nakhle’s claim, it has been reported that temperatures in the Arctic region have risen more rapidly than anywhere else in the world over the past 50 years, increasing by a staggering 7°C . Linked to this, satellite data has provided evidence that Arctic sea ice coverage is shrinking by nearly 3% each decade . Considering these facts, it is clear that climate change is permitting the exploitation of reserves with increasing ease. Positive feedback mechanisms due to melting sea ice and declining levels of albedo mean that not only the accessibility of offshore oil is increasing, but also the logistical ease of navigation across the Arctic . With this in mind, it is clear to see why Shell is so keen to explore the oil reserves in this area!
Like many others I acknowledge news headlines which describe ‘societies on the verge of encountering a global energy crisis‘, resulting from our rising demand for energy yet our apparent inability to increase production . However, I maintain some skepticism regarding the rate of our approach to this so-called ‘crisis’ in the immediate short-term. This is because:
The International Energy Agency has predicted that globally we will not reach peak oil until after 2020 
If we already have enough fossil fuel supplies to utilise for the next few years, is it just financial greed rather than present day demand fuelling Shell’s actions?
Sadly there is a lack of legal framework and few prescriptions of international law which apply to the Arctic  meaning that the EU and individual Arctic States have little power in preventing Shell’s actions. Additionally with Shell arguing that they will ensure their drilling operations are ‘environmentally sensible’ and that they will mitigate any possible risks to the landscape, it is proving difficult for anyone to stand in the way of one of the World’s most valuable companies.
However, Shell’s operations are being questioned, with the NGO Greenpeace leading the opposition. Environmental campaigners argue that the risks of drilling in such a pristine and biologically rich environment are far too great, claiming there is a 75% chance of an oil spill occurring. Undoubtedly, Shell’s actions in the Arctic are likely to come under increased scrutiny, with the concerns of environmental campaigners further fuelled by reports that the multinational company recently paid a £55 million bill to clean up pollution after a major oil spill in Nigeria.
I strongly believe that we must do something to prevent Shell’s operations continuing in the Arctic; at this present time they are non-essential and pose great risks to an increasingly fragile part of the world. I am therefore joining 7.5 million people across the world in supporting Greenpeace’s campaign ‘Save the Arctic’. The campaign draws attention to the timely state of melting sea ice which further threatens:
I ask you to to also support Greenpeace’s campaign by sending an email to Shell’s CEO in objection to their actions. I find it horrifying that Shell could financially benefit from the impacts of climate change and, in turn, finance further environmental degradation and pollution!
Please help to break this destructive cycle, raise your voice and save the Arctic before it’s too late!
 Howell, D. and Nakhle, C. (2007) Out of the Energy Labyrinth, Tauris, London: 88-92
 Giddens, A. (2009) The Politics of Adaptation, in The Politics of Climate Change, Polity Press, Cambridge: 129-161
 Giddens, A. (2009) Climate Change, Risk and Danger, in The Politics of Climate Change, Polity Press, Cambridge: 17-34
 Halden, P. (2007) The Geopolitics of Climate Change, Swedish Defence Research Agency, Stockholm.
 Leeb, S. (2007) The Coming Economic Collapse, Warner, New York: 1-2
 International Energy Agency (2007) World Energy Outlook 2007, OECD/IEA, Paris.
 Airoldi, A. (2008) The European Union and the Arctic, Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen.