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Clyde Farnsworths Journalism and Writings

Australian Fishermen, Warned of Peril,
Remain on the Rocks


New York Times Published: February 16, 1997

SYDNEY, Australia, Feb. 9— They have their buckets, lunch packs and bait bags of worms, prawns or bits of mackerel, eel and squid. From Sydney's rocky coastline they ply their long, silvery lines for that magic moment when the bream, whiting, kingfish or anything else from hammerhead to dugong might strike from the pools below.

It is summer in Australia, time for fishing, and if you don't have a boat, the best places are the rocks and cliffs just above a thundering surf that rolls in across thousands of miles of open Pacific.

The fishermen come out in wide, flat-brimmed koala hats or sports caps, sunglasses, shorts and loose, comfortable shirts to relax and think in the long hours between bites.

But police and surf rescue teams see a flip side -- that fishing from the rocks around Sydney is perhaps the most deadly sport in the world.

Most of the casualties have misjudged the tides and the power of the waves. A rogue wave hits and dumps them into the churning sea. They are either dashed against rocks or swept out by currents too strong to fight.

''It's amazing how you can get carried away by fishing and just forget about the basic elements of common sense,'' said Scott Abbott, a senior constable in the Sydney Water Police. ''You've got to check out the tides, the weather conditions, wear the right shoes -- essential ingredients like that.''

He said there had been 14 deaths along the New South Wales coast last year, compared with 9 the year before. Most were near Sydney.

Jeff Williams is a senior lifeguard at Cronulla, one of the south Sydney beaches. ''The worst thing in the world is to stand above with relatives and have a body in the ocean that you can't find,'' he said.

Compounding rescue difficulties is the urge of fishermen to fish from the most isolated and inaccessible spots. Several days ago, Mr. Williams recalled, a man let himself down on a ledge along a cliff and was unable to get back up.

From the land he could not be seen, and his cries for help could not be heard. Mr. Williams happened to be passing by in his launch and spotted him. He navigated the launch toward the rocks and had the man jump into the water and swim hard away from the rocks and toward the boat for a successful rescue.

Police officers and water safety instructors now urge those who fish from the rocks to wear life jackets and shoes with rock-gripping cleats.

Tom Foulati, 59, a forklift truck driver, was wearing sandals and shorts as he scrambled with his pole and bag of bait over rocks above Cougee beach in south Sydney.

''I've been fishing for years and know exactly what I'm doing,'' he said. ''I go any place and wear what I want.''

The police fence off dangerous places and post warning signs. But as Mr. Abbott, the senior constable, put it, ''There's no way you can put a railing along the whole New South Wales coast, and people would jump over it anyway.''

Some local councils are installing emergency telephones so rescue services can be called immediately in case of accidents.

One of last year's casualties, Soo Hwan Hwang, 33, was the victim of a rogue wave. Another fisherman saw him casting from the rocks at the Royal National Park near Sydney. Ten days later his body was found.

His widow, Sun Hee Hwang, said in an interview that her husband, a journalist who had reported on Australia for a South Korean weekly, had not known how to swim. She had warned him many times against fishing from the rocks.

''If I'd known where he was headed,'' she said, ''I would never have let him go.''


Churchill Journal; Social Season for Bears:
Not in the Kitchen, Please


Published: New York Times November 23, 1992

CHURCHILL, Manitoba— November is polar bear season in Churchill, a town of 800 on the gray and rocky western shores of Hudson Bay. One of the town's busiest men is Laury Brouzes, keeper of the bear jail.

"My job is to protect people from bears and bears from people," he said early one recent morning while inspecting traps around the dump where the now ravenous bears, the largest nonaquatic carnivores on earth, prowl.

The traps are not designed to injure but to intercept bears headed for town and trouble, like the 700-pound male that broke into the home of Lorraine Allen at Spruce Ridge the other day as she was baking cupcakes.

The bear forced entry by ripping screens from the bathroom window, then lumbered into the kitchen as Mrs. Allen retreated, calling for help. Her husband, Dan, rushed over with his rifle and killed the bear with one shot as it hovered over the kitchen table, eating cupcakes.

A Trip by Helicopter
A happier fate awaits those in the traps of Mr. Brouzes. After a month or two in the jail, depending on the space available in the 20-pen Quonset hut, they are released on a first-in-first-out basis.

Sedated, they are transported four at a time in nets dangling from a helicopter 50 miles back into the pristine wilderness along the North Knife and Seal Rivers.
Although they are not technically an endangered species, polar bears are protected by law. Indian and Eskimo groups are permitted to kill a certain number of bears a year; others may kill bears only in self-defense.

Situated near denning areas where bears give birth, Churchill calls itself the polar bear capital of the world. It is one of the rare places where the normally aloof, seal-eating polar bears have significant contact with people. Tourists by the Thousands
That contact has increased lately as thousands of tourists pour into Churchill to see the bears in their natural habitat.

"I saw about 15 today, including a mother and cub play-fighting and running around, and it was wonderful," said a New Yorker named Irene Greenberg, who manages a veterinary hospital in the Bayside section of Queens.

While conflicts are inevitable as people inhabit and visit places that polar bears call home, Churchill is doing all it can to keep such conflicts to a minimum, both for safety and economic reasons.

To Doug Webber, the town's two-term Mayor, there is no question Churchill needs the bears.

"To the run of the mill resident, bears are a pest," said the Mayor, who owns hunting and fishing lodges and offers flying tours with money-back guarantees if his guests fail to see polar bears. "But because of tourism, people also realize bears are a cash crop and don't want to do anything to harm them."

Since the mid-1980's, three local entrepreneurs have had licenses to carry tourists in "tundra buggies," big-wheeled buses, to observe the bears in their natural state.
Such tourism, with the spinoff in T-shirts and other souvenir purchases, motel bookings, restaurant meals and employment as guides and drivers, now represents about 30 percent of the town's economic activity, which was severely affected in the early postwar years by the shutdown of a big military base and later a rocket testing installation.

The threatened closing of the port of Churchill, which in the short three-month shipping season sends Manitoba and Saskatchewan grain to Europe, would be another heavy blow.

Cape Churchill, about 30 miles east of town, is the staging point for the bears' winter feed. Forced off the Hudson Bay ice by the spring melt and thus denied their staple food, the bears now have eaten little for months. Their body weight is down by a third.

"By instinct, they know that cold weather means freeze-up time, and they'll soon be able to get out on the ice again and gorge on seals," said Dr. Charles Jonkel, a bear biologist at the University of Montana, who since the mid-1960's has been coming here to study Ursus maritimus, as the polar bear is classified.

Bears choose Cape Churchill, he said, because fresh water flowing from the mouth of the Churchill River, site of the town, freezes first. The prevailing winds push that ice toward the cape.

Bears Give No Warning
"Polar Bear Alert," signs warn. "Don't Walk In This Area." If you must, you are urged to peer cautiously around corners and always look behind. "Polar bears that hunt and kill do not give warning," writes Lance Olsen, a reporter for Bear News.
Anyone sighting suspicious-looking shapes is urged to dial 675-BEAR, the hot line that sends Mr. Brouzes or one of his five Manitoba Department of Natural Resources deputies out with a rifle that shoots tranquilizing pellets. The comatose animal is then hauled off to jail.

In 1984 on Kelsey Street, Churchill's street, a polar bear killed and partly ate a man. Since then there have been at least three maulings, though none of the victims have been tourists. Several days ago, a bear ate a dog.

Eugenia Talbott, an artist who works here and in Mayhew, Miss., looked up from a polar bear she had sketched to comment: "I'm not walking so much now. The bears are hungry."

Photo: In Churchill, Manitoba, a meandering ursus maritimus, or polar bear, is not uncommon. "My job is to protect people from bears and bears from people," said Laury Brouzes, left, of the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, who prepared to airlift a tranquilized bear to the North Knife River. (Clyde H. Farnsworth/The New York Times) Map of Manitoba showing the location of Churchill.


Vigil in Prague Square


Czechoslovak youths at base of the statue of St. Wenceslas in Prague yesterday. They sought signatures for petition supporting Alexander Dubcek, party chief, and maintained vigil in defiance of cufew. (Click this link to open pdf of the original article)


Vigil in Prague Square


Floating Polar Station Turns and Breaks Up


Published: New York Times March 24, 1992

RESOLUTE, Northwest Territories— A PERIPATETIC island of 3,000-year-old freshwater ice about the size of Larchmont, N.Y., has taken an unexpected turn in the Arctic Ocean and started breaking up.

This is bad news here at the base of the Polar Continental Shelf Project, Canada's 33-year-old logistics support operation for scientific research in the far north.
The ice island, five miles long, one and a half miles wide and 150 feet thick, had served since 1984 as a polar research center, housing scientists studying everything from sea-floor temperatures and deep earth structures to the Arctic food chain.

Costly Research Equipment
In addition to laboratories and expensive scientific equipment, the ice station also packed underwater listening devices for the military to keep track of the nuclear submarines that routinely ply the Arctic waters.

At what scientists like to call the "calving" point -- the Ward Hunt ice shelf at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, 500 miles from the North Pole -- a billion-ton "calf" snapped off the glacier in 1982. Geologists say such phenomena occur at Ellesmere only once in a generation.

Polar Shelf installed about 20 permanent structures, including dormitories, laboratories, a mess hall, administration building, weather station and power plant.
Expectations were that the huge mass of fresh water ice would be borne off by the currents that slowly move the ice pack at the top of the world. So the ice island, caught up in the flow, could then circle along the fringes of the Arctic Ocean for decades, yielding copious data about earthquakes, climatic changes and other natural phenomena best studied in the polar regions.

Such had actually been the case with an earlier Ellesmere "calf," so-called Fletcher's Island or T-3, born in the 1940's. Manned by the United States in the 1950's and 1960's, it made three swings around the North Pole, serving as not only an invaluable scientific platform but a Cold War listening post. A Wrong Left Turn
From the other side of the pole similar islands "calved" by ice shelves in Siberia have drifted into Canadian waters, including one currently northwest of Prince Patrick Island, about 400 miles northwest of Resolute.

In its initial years, Canada's ice island, on which as many as 40 researchers worked at one time on a variety of oceanographic studies, coasted along the predicted course, drifting southwest about 300 miles toward the Beaufort Sea.

But somewhere between Meighen Island and Ellef Ringnes Island, the behemoth of packed glacial ice, which workers here say sliced through sea ice like a knife through butter, turned left and swung due south into the Peary channel, instead of staying on the southwesterly course.

The surprise turn occurred last November, and then suddenly the island, caught up in a new and faster current, went to the races.

im Godden, the Polar Shelf base manager at Resolute, said it covered another 300 miles in only 16 weeks -- sometimes moving as fast as two miles an hour -- to reach its current position in February, locked between the frozen land and winter sea ice in Queen's Channel just northeast of Baring Island, 80 miles north of Resolute.
Mr. Godden and the ice island manager, Claude Brunet, are hurrying to remove millions of dollars of structures and equipment before new destabilization occurs, or before pieces of the island are carried so far away during the summer melt that recovery would be too costly.

Mr. Godden, a 38-year-old electronics technician from Nova Scotia who has been with the Polar Shelf program since 1975, said that while the left turn was a disappointment, the station had already provided useful data on the dynamics of the ocean's ice cover, climatic conditions, sea floor temperatures, seismic refraction and other areas of oceanography.

"You can't complain about its cost effectiveness," he said.

Sometime during the long night of the past winter, luckily with no one aboard, the island broke into three chunks. The weather hut, which had been near the main structures, now stands isolated across a hellish broken field of pressure ridges and windblown snow.

A third shard holds equipment of the National Research Council, an Ottawa agency that organized some of the island's scientific activities.

Eight men led by Mr. Brunet, a 42-year-old mechanic from Quebec, now work on the island, salvaging equipment that is carted back to the Resolute Polar Shelf base by Twin Otters, the workhorse twin-prop of the far north.

Later a Sikorski S-61 helicopter will help with some of the heavier lifting, like tons of coring equipment, which had been dropped through a hole gouged out of the ice to bring up samples of ocean floor to test for hydrocarbons.

The flight north is over the length of Cornwallis Island, a forbidding desertscape of bald, undulating, white hills streaked with arresting grays, greens and blues as light plays over the scene from a remote, pale and unfriendly sun.

A few minutes across the frozen sea above the north coast of Cornwallis and the Twin Otter begins its descent toward an anomalous cluster of bright red and blue huts and a Canada's maple leaf flag, stiff in the high frigid wind. The plane hits the icy runway hard and taxis to a forklift truck.

Men whose faces can barely be seen in their heavy hooded jackets are standing by in temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit to load the plane. Despite the hazards, there are few complaints.

Asked how he liked it here, Guy Densmore, 44 years old, of Halifax, one of the loaders, replied: "Fantastic. I love it." Pay of close to $20 an hour and free room and board are part of the encouragement.

Mr. Brunet said the biggest concern was neither the temperature nor the isolation, but polar bears. Men inside the huts sleep with shotguns by their side to ward off any hungry prowlers.

The island has not only been important for research; it has also helped Canada exercise sovereignty over a region that in recent years has been subjected to a number of intrusions, ranging from United States and Russian submarines to the wanderings of nomadic Greenlanders.

Polar Shelf officials have long been aware of these concerns. Mr. Brunet predicted the dismantling would be completed by May. Asked what would be last off, he replied swiftly and with a grin: "The flag."

Photo: Claude Brunet, manager of ice island, which broke into three chunks during the long winter night, separating the camp's facilities. (Clyde H. Farnsworth/The New York Times) Maps of Canada showing locations of the path of Ice Island, and the present location of Ice Island.






Clyde Farnsworth
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