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Going Down to the Sea

Saving deep-sea ecosystems from destructive bottom trawling is among the issues to be considered in November by the United Nations General Assembly. The marine biologist Sylvia Earle, executive director of Conservation International’s global marine division, has said that the high seas have become a marine version of the Wild West, lawless and ungoverned regions where fishery freebooters plunder at will. The General Assembly will vote on implementing an interim moratorium to prohibit deep-sea bottom trawling until protections for international waters are in place.

Deep-sea regions are presently beyond the law’s reach, because there are no regulations governing fishing practices beyond the 200-mile exclusive zone of coastal nations. As a consequence, 64 percent of the world’s oceans remain unprotected. High-tech commercial trawlers drag nets across the seabed in a manner comparable to strip mining. The procedure has been likened to bulldozing wide swaths through forests as a way to hunt deer. Once the desired catch is removed from the nets, tons of unwanted marine life, including coral, are dumped overboard. And yet much of this same unwanted bycatch represents an untapped source of natural antibiotics, anticancer agents and sources for treating heart disease and asthma.

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In October, the actress Sigourney Weaver spoke at the United Nations on behalf of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition to highlight the problem, noting that some of the oldest ecosystems on earth are being destroyed. Regulations with enforcement powers would be a first step toward sustainable management of international waters.

'You Will Be Glad'

The night Mary Kenny, the Irish author and journalist, was awarded the title Great Defender of Life, she told a touching story. It moved many at an Oct. 25 gathering sponsored by The Human Life Review, the New York-based journal that hosts an annual award dinner to honor a person notable in the pro-life movement.

Ms. Kenny told of a woman in her mid-40’s during World War II, who was already raising three children and discovered to her horror that she was pregnant again. With a husband in his 60’s and her elderly mother living with them, the last thing she wanted was another baby. So she tried the old ways of dislodging the fetus: laxatives, gin baths and even horseback rides. But the baby continued to grow within her. In desperation, she spoke of her fears to a priest. "Don’t worry," he said. "It will work out. And when you are old, you will be glad you had this child." Concluding her story, Mary Kenny said to the dinner guests, "And my mother turned to me and said, "And I am.'"

The Irish author was illustrating how society’s imagination can be engaged on abortion issues not simply through logical and theological arguments, but through other means as well. Kenny suggested that short stories, novels, films, plays and television programs are all appropriate media through which pro-life workers might direct their efforts. (The same can be said for the even more abstract topic of stem cell research.) Debate has a place in the pro-life movement. So do stories like that of Mary Kenny’s glad mother.

School of the Americas

The School of the Americas, now known by the tongue-twisting name Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, will again be the scene, from Nov. 17 to 19, of a protest uniting thousands of activists at the gates of Fort Benning, Ga. The goal: to close the institute. S.O.A. Watch, founded in 1990 by Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest, has continued its efforts into the present because of the school’s association with human rights abuses in Latin America by military and police trained there. In 1996 the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that the protesters say advocated torture. According to S.O.A. Watch, the school continues to provide training to human rights abusers. It notes, for example, that Col. Francisco Del Cid Díaz of El Salvador returned to the school in 2003 despite having been investigated by the United Nations for ordering the shooting of 16 indigenous peasants in El Salvador.

The gathering has grown from a handful of demonstrators at Fort Benning in 1990 to over 19,000 last year. This year’s events will conclude with a symbolic funeral procession to the base’s gates, followed by acts of civil disobedience. Demonstrations will also take place during November in Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay, Colombia and Chile. In August, the organization opened an office in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, to strengthen cooperation with human rights organizations in Latin America. Earlier this year, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay ceased training at the school, a step that Venezuela took in 2004. S.O.A. Watch clearly is making an impact.

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