Living on Earth: Beyond the Headlines


Broadcast date: week of June 4, 2021

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A humpback whale off the Gold Coast in Australia. (Photo: Steve Austin, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

On this week’s Beyond the Headlines trip, Environmental Health News Editor-in-Chief Peter Dykstra joins host Bobby Bascomb to talk about the resurgence of humpback whales in Australian waters. Next, take a peek at a Sri Lankan beach covered with 2 feet of plastic granules called nurdles. Finally, the couple consult the history books for a story where a nuclear power plant has been converted into a huge park and a solar power plant.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

BASCOMB: And I’m Bobby Bascomb.

BASCOMB: It’s living on Earth. I am Bobby Bascomb. Now is the time to travel beyond the headlines with Peter Dykstra. Peter’s and editor of Environmental Health News is and Hi Peter, what do you have for us this week?

DYKSTRA: Hi Bobby. A little good news, some bad news from Australia. And we will quickly eliminate the bad news. And first of all, the mild Australian winters that have rolled over the past few years have helped cause the crop-eating mouse population to explode across the south-eastern state of New Wales. from South. Farmers desperately want to control them. They turned to a banned pesticide to try and control these mice. And that climate change and all those mild winters are a part of it.

BASCOMB: Oh man, that sounds like a problem. Well what is the good news from Australia?

DYKSTRA: The good news is really cool. And it is that humpback whales, once critically endangered in the southern hemisphere, have made an absolutely spectacular comeback. Experts estimate that around 40,000 humpback whales migrate each year between the southern oceans around Antarctica and the oceans around Australia. And there are 40,000 there were 1,500 half a century ago, most of them overwhelmed by lamentations.

BASCOMB: Wow, that’s an incredible payback of 1,500 to 40,000 in just 50 years. How do they do?

DYKSTRA: No whaling is a big help. Whaling was banned in Australia in 1978. The fleet of the former Soviet Union and Japan which descended in Antarctica no longer touches humpback whales. Japan is the only country to go there. And the humpback whales have been completely protected from the hunt. Their food source is mainly krill, these tiny little crustaceans, and although krill is threatened by fishing, in the southern oceans around Antarctica humpback whales have always been able to stock up on krill. And so they are fine.

BASCOMB: Wow, that’s amazing. Hopefully the trajectory continues. What else do you have for us this week?

DYKSTRA: We go to the beaches of Sri Lanka. They are facing what some have called the worst beach pollution problem in history. All from a wrecked cargo ship, the MV Express Pearl registered in Singapore. It sinks and burns off the coast of Sri Lanka and releases much of its cargo. These little plastic granules called nurdles. The nurdles wash up on the beach and in some areas of the beach they are said to be two feet thick. Now that you live in New England, two feet of snow isn’t a big deal and the snow goes away on its own. But how about almost two feet of plastic nurdles that only disappear if humans shovel them away.

BASCOMB: Oh my God, what a disaster. I mean, it’s both an ecological disaster because we know that fish and all kinds of marine life eat these little plastic nurdles, mistaking them for food and then I think fishermen I mean, how are you going to make a living if the fish are the beaches are full of plastic.

DYKSTRA: And it’s a global problem. You know, I first saw tons of nurdles on a beach, a once pristine beach in Costa Rica in 1986. And I had no idea it would become as big a threat as microplastics in all kinds of places. ‘animals in our own diet. , it could be a double threat with climate change.

BASCOMB: Yeah, it’s definitely up there. Well, what do you have for us in the history books this week?

DYKSTRA: Voters on June 7, 1989 in this referendum in the city of Sacramento, California, voted to shut down the municipality-owned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. And today that site is a 400-acre park with a major solar power plant.

BASCOMB: Wow, that’s amazing. The taxpayers themselves have therefore decided to get rid of nuclear power in favor of solar.

An aerial photograph in 2007 of the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant, which is no longer in service. (Photo: Hajhouse, Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

DYKSTRA: Because at this particular factory they were paying too much. The factory was very inefficient. It represented on average about 40% of the capacity. voters had had enough and anti-nuclear forces beat pro-nuclear forces in the countryside. And won by six points.

BASCOMB: Well that was a pretty close vote and now they have a park to show for it.

DYKSTRA: Yes and a solar station.

BASCOMB: Yeah. Hey, that’s great too. Peter Dykstra is editor-in-chief for Environmental Health News. It’s and We will get back to you very soon.

DYKSTRA: Okay, Bobby, thank you very much. See you soon.

BASCOMB: You can find more information about these stories on the Living on Earth website. This is


AP News | “Plague of ravenous and destructive mice that torment Australians”

Voice of America | “Australian Humpback Whale Numbers Rising But Scientists Warn Of Threat Of Climate Change”

Australian Broadcasting Corporation | “Sri Lanka faces ‘worst beach pollution’ in history from burning ship”

Learn more about the Rancho Seco Recreation Area

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