Venice Plans Theme Park on Toxic Waste Dump Site

Flickr/Dr. Savage

An amusement park built on the site of a toxic dump might not sound all that appealing right now, but an Italian company is hoping it will eventually become a draw card for tourists visiting Venice. The theme park is planned for an abandoned island in the city which was once home to an incinerator but may soon house roller coasters and a giant Ferris wheel, among other attractions.

The project has angered the city’s residents who are frustrated that the amusement park-like many things in Venice-caters to visitors but doesn’t do anything to enhance life for the locals. One conservationist said that the city is “always hostage to tourism.”The company behind the project, however, insists the amusement park will benefit the city. Not only will the toxic island be cleaned up ahead of construction, but the venture also will lead to the creation of at least 500 jobs. They say the project will create a better cultural experience for tourists, as a large portion of the amusement park will be dedicated to installations that depict the city’s history and the ecology of the Venetian lagoon system. The rides and attractions, they say, are necessary to pay for the cultural displays.

One in five vertebrates face extinction


The bad news: One in five vertebrates could go extinct within our lifetime, and the number may rise even higher than that.

The good news: It would be a lot worse if it weren’t for conservation efforts.

That’s the verdict of a global study of 25,000 threatened vertebrate species presented to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Nagoya, Japan. It found mammals, amphibians, and birds are especially hard hit, with fifty species a day sliding closer to extinction. The main culprits are logging, agriculture, hunting, and alien species.

Yet conservation efforts are saving some animals. The white rhino, like the ones pictured above, was almost extinct a hundred years ago but is now the most common rhino in Africa and its status has been upped to Near Threatened, meaning that while it still needs to be watched, it’s not in any immediate danger. Here’s where ecotourism comes in handy. For example, Niger is hoping to cash in on safari tours by helping a unique subspecies of giraffe, bringing the population from fifty to two hundred in just a decade. Countries where the white rhinos roam are also pushing ecotourism and safaris.

Another success story is the giant marine reserve created in the South Pacific a few years back. This 73,800 square-mile reserve is one of the world’s largest and was created by Kiribati, one of the world’s smallest countries. If tiny island nations and poverty-ridden countries can help out their animals, one has to wonder why any species in the First World are threatened at all. Major food sources like tuna face extinction and even mythical beasts like the Loch Ness Monster may be extinct. When even our legends are dying out, you know we’re in trouble.

[Photo courtesy Joachim Huber]

Controversy over development near Victoria Falls


Environmentalists are complaining that the tour company Shearwater Adventures has violated national and international law by expanding their luxury resort into the rainforest near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Shearwater has constructed a new restaurant, bar, kitchen, and information center next to the public entrance to the World Heritage Site. A lawyer for Shearwater insists the development is a legal replacement of earlier structures that had fallen into disrepair and that none of the new buildings go outside the area already reserved for facilities. Opponents to the construction contend that the buildings are on a much larger scale than the previous ones and are forbidden by a 2007 moratorium. This was put in place after UNESCO threaten to rescind Victoria Falls’ World Heritage status after a local businessman tried to build a hotel and golf course in the World Heritage zone.

Without being on the ground it’s hard to say if who’s telling the truth here. Last week The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe ordered that no new construction take place. It is now running the site along with the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which used to have sole authority. The government is currently trying to decide which body will run the Falls.

As this shakeup is going on, conservationists say Shearwater is planning a giant $6 million development next to the VIP entrance to the Falls. This will include a complex of buildings close enough to the Falls to threaten its World Heritage status. There’s also worry about the development’s location only a few yards from the Zambezi River.

[Photo courtesy user colmdc via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Afghan wildlife refuge: no hand grenade fishing

Afghanistan is going green. The war-torn country has declared Band-e-Amir its first conservation area. While it may be premature to book your trip to this spectacle, at least there’s hope that you’ll get to enjoy it someday.

Band-e-Amir, like the rest of Afghanistan, has had a rough run over the past 30 years. Let’s face it: that’s how long the country’s been engaged in one war or another. The region’s snow leopards fell victim to the conflict between Soviet troops and mujahideen in the 1980s. Of course, the great Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

The fighting is reportedly in other parts of the country, these days, which the locals will attract foreign visitors. The lakes are the major draw, assuming you’re willing to subject yourself to a brutal daylong drive from Kabul. The destination may be billed as safe, but the journey certainly isn’t. Head into Afghanistan at your own risk.

For now, local merchants have their fingers crossed for Afghan tourists. Westerners, one would assume, would come much later.

If you do throw caution to the wind, be sure to follow the rules. Fishing with hand grenades is no longer allowed.
Among the local practices that are now banned: no more fishing with hand grenades. If you role the dice, don’t worry. The rangers tasked with enforcement are paid less than $60 a month and can be on duty for up to 24 hours at a time.