Onwards and upwards.
Bergen has an old town at its centre called Brynngen which was the medieval trading centre of this part of the world. It is characterised by a series of ancient wooden buildings that have somehow survived (at least in some parts) the years, the fires and a mighty explosion when a visiting munitions vessel blew up in 1944. Once they were warehouses full of goods, especially fish from northern Norway. They now list in a rather tipsy manner and host a variety of shops and cafes. Here you can find Christmas decorations, Norwegian knitwear, jewellery, furs and whale meat on your plate.
There is a funicular railway that climbs from Brynngen into the countryside. The track is at a sharp angle (about forty five degrees) and the trains are full this Sunday morning of delegates getting their last gasp of sharp fresh Norwegian air before the opening ceremony of COP 10 this afternoon. In fact, the train’s coaches and the top of the mountain have become something of an extension of the meeting as delegates meet and greet each other as they do their sightseeing. Even the hard-pressed translators have escaped for a few hours to admire the view, and what a view it is!
The fiords and mountains and the sprawl of Bergen are sharply in view today. Only the clouds and heavy rain are missing, their memory held in the wet vegetation and torrents of water pouring down the slopes.
All of which is mainly an excuse to show you some more pictures of the town and the view whilst we await the opening event.
Onwards and upwards.
Leaky shoes and face to face with a friendly giant.
(A few words from the WDCS Director of Science)
I have been sitting in the Scientific Council staring at a gorilla that I know.
Or, to be more accurate (and somewhat less excitingly), at a large photograph decorating the main stage at the CMS Scientific Council of a wild mountain gorilla that I happen to have met. His name is Rhingo. I don’t know if he knows this is his name but he is the one of two silverback males living in a particular group in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. I was once fortunate enough to visit then one rainy afternoon.
A male silver-back is impressive; a primate roughly the size of a cow and Rhingo had tremendous presence. His handsome placid face is deeply imprinted on my brain. He was the second and non-dominant mature male in his group – a phenomenon that I did not even know occurred. I had always assumed that each family group only contained one silver back. Rhingo’s friend Ghanda, the other silver-back apparently did all the mating and presumably fathered the young in this little group. Rhingo was a seemingly very peaceful soul. Despite his vast size and rippling musculature he fed quietly on tender bamboo shoots whilst his human visitors stood awed nearby. If he even glanced at us it was no more than a swift and casual look. He seemed happy just to hang out with his friend, his friends ‘wives’ and their kids.
Seeing him pictured here serves to remind us that the mountain gorillas are endangered and stranded now in an island of giant nettle and bamboo-dominated cold mountain forest that spans a zone where three countries meet. An island surrounded by hundreds of miles of fertile, intensively cultivated and highly populated farm lands. These gorillas are part of the family of animals that CMS seeks to help.
But are gorillas migratory species? Clearly they are affected by transboundary issues and, like other gorilla species and populations, their future rests in the liaison of the nations that still host them. This is where CMS can help. It has facilitated the development of a regional agreement to aid their conservation.
Indeed, arguably the primary and most important mechanism that CMS uses to help all species is the generation of independent regional agreements that relevant countries can join and which help to focus their efforts on particular species. For the whales and dolphins CMS has established one regional agreement for the North Atlantic and another (with which it rather interestingly slightly overlaps) for the Mediterranean and Black seas and contiguous Atlantic area. There is also a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for cetaceans in the West African Area and another for these animals in the vast Pacific Ocean. These MoUs are a form of agreement in their own right and often lead to the conclusion of more formal and legally-binding agreements. Other regions could also benefit from such regional treaties for the conservation of cetaceans, and one of the challenges for the COP next week, is will the Country Parties put their economic concerns aside enough to help develop such initiatives and we are now looking in particular towards the Asian area.
It is very wet in Bergen at the moment. The rain is heavy, persistent with a high wetability coefficient. It forms small waterfalls cascading off roofs high above. Many buildings have awnings over their doors and locals and delegates run between them in a vain attempt not to be washed away. The roads have become rivers and ponds and the colours are being washed out of the surrounding landscape. Even the jaunty yellow sou’westers in our welcome pack cannot raise the spirits and my relatively new shoes are clearly not up to the task.
Will the creeping damp (including the state of my socks) affect the spirits of the delegates? Will there be contagion from the Euro-zone? Stay tuned.
It is cold. The views are nice … in the few hours of daylight that there are!!
We are apparently currently attending the ‘Scienitific Council’ meeting of the Convention on Migratory species and all the official badges – probably with correct spelling - (and allegedly many of the official papers) have become embroiled in some kind of customs dispute and been sent back to Oslo. Hopefully, they will be located soon.
All delegates have been provided with a conference shoulder-bag (faux animal skin) of goodies. Herein we find a jaunty bright yellow rain-hat, waterproof poncho and a reflective arm band. The host country obviously does not mean us to get wet or run over during our stay here. There is also a Jamie Oliver note pad and some memory sticks from CMS and EU loaded with documents. We shall definitely not go short of reading material.
The conference hotel, the Bergen Scandic, is currently bravely hosting two conferences simultaneously. The other concerns ‘Psycopathy’ in the local community. This may cause some confusion and we are pondering what will happen to delegates from either conference who accidently attend the wrong one and, in particular, how long it may take people to realise that they are in the wrong place.
Outside it is hovering around a non-balmy 2 degrees but it is occasionally sunny – at least we think it is, as daylight is something we’ve not seen a lot of since we arrived. Northern crows scream overhead and a few magpies also haunt the occasionally cobbled streets. Bergen is famously both cosmopolitan and picturesque but that is probably enough about the location (for the moment).
So, what do we expect from this meeting, especially noting the backdrop of global economic gloom and doom? There are a host of issues in front of the meeting, including many that directly or indirectly affect marine mammals.
Unfortunately, the outlook for many migratory species is bleak; climate change is now affecting them directly and indirectly and this offers a new and urgent challenge. Will this meeting of the convention take adequate action to address this matter? Only time will tell …!
Also on the agenda is a significant draft global work plan for cetaceans, a considerable piece of work that will hopefully ensure enhanced (and concerted) action on all species of cetacean that are currently listed on Appendix I and II of the Convention (approximately 40 of the 86 species that are currently recognised). Other important draft resolutions up for consideration concern marine debris, fisheries bycatch, marine noise and other matters. Some of these issues are of great importance to cetacean conservation and welfare (and so of considerable interest to us) and we shall be doing our best to ensure that the meeting is successful and has only positive outcomes for all and any migratory species of whale and/or dolphin.
One growing issue here and in other international agreements is the role and behaviour of the countries from the European Union. Readers who follow our blogs from the International Whaling Commission will know that in recent years these nations, including the UK, have started to act exclusively in consort in that forum; seeking unanimous positions on all issues via a process that requires them to confer extensively with each other. This has generated concerns about access to national delegations (essentially they often claim that they cannot speak to us because they are too busy speaking to each other) and what exactly each nation is doing has become obscured in this process. In the IWC context this has caused huge problems. Will it do so here? We shall see.
We will not report from the Scientific Council but begin blogging in earnest next week when the main CoP (Conference of the Parties) opens. Stay tuned for more from the Norwegian fiords!