When Life Hands You Lemons

Whilst Lemon Curd is quite possibly my favourite topping for a slice of thick toasted white bread it is also a highly versatile preserve with multiple possible applications in the kitchen (though I will not be eating duck with a lemon curd marinade again). What you might not know is that lemons belong in the Rutaceae family (along with oranges, grapefruits and limes among others) and that they probably reached Europe around the same time that the Roman Empire was flourishing. Citrus fruits have a pretty cool history being at the cutting edge of human exploration, colonisation and conflict from being brought back from Alexander the Great’s invasion of India to their arrival with conquistadors in Florida.

Production

There are around 140 countries producing citrus fruits but Brazil, The United States and China by far produce the most. Production of citrus is constantly growing but currently sits around the 110 million ton mark and covers 18.7 million acres. In terms of lemons and limes this figure is about 13.7 million tons (and no I will not be squeezing out any smiles there). In terms of the production per acre is usually around the 5.3-6.7 tons per acre mark. Most stunningly is the fact that about 90% of all the citrus fruits produced globally are actually consumed domestically (in the country of production). Whilst it’s not the biggest producer of citrus fruits the Mediterranean region is certainly the biggest exporter of citrus in its fruit (rather than juice) form. In terms of imports the UK, the Netherlands, France and Germany are the biggest importers. This shouldn’t be too surprising as these countries suffer from bitter winters in which citrus plants struggle to survive and produce good yields.

Benefits

Lemons are pretty great. They are hugely important in boosting the human resistance to a range of health problems thanks to their high vitamin and reasonable fibre content. The citric acid in lemons may help prevent the formation of kidney stones. Citric acid and vitamin C both help the body absorb iron which can help to prevent anaemia in people with low amounts of Iron in their blood. Their high vitamin C levels whilst beneficial when you have a cold also help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease which is also helped by the plant compounds hesperidin and diosmin found in lemons.

Threats to and Impacts of Production

Whilst I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture so far but here comes the doom and gloom (sorry in advance). We’re going to focus on the production of citrus fruits in Florida here as it’s a pretty good representation of the threats to citrus production globally.

The majority of the water (about 90%) being used in Florida comes not from the sky but from the permeable aquifers underground. The extraction of this water has led to problems with sinkholes forming and saltwater permeating into previously fresh water wells. Agriculture isn’t entirely to blame but it does use around 50% of the water produced in the state. The problem with citrus groves is that they have relatively short root systems and they are very water hungry. Thanks to their tropical/subtropical origins they are evergreens that constantly shed and replace their leaves as they grow (resulting in a lot of wasted water). More damming is the evidence from Australian citrus production that shows mature citrus plants requiring 7-8 mega litres (1 Million Litres or 100,000 cubic meters) of water per hectare per annum to maintain healthy production. Ok, Florida’s stands in all honesty probably require a little less thanks to a slightly more favourable climate and some advancement in irrigation techniques but that’s still a lot of water. In the case of citrus, whilst it’s produced in 140 countries in how many of those countries is the climate suitable to long term sustainable production?

 

Earth Day Thought

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For my Earth day post (that is fashionably a day late) I wanted to put forward a very short thought. The language of Environmentalism could do with a change. Nowadays the word conservation is thrown around all over the place. It is a word that is threatened with a loss of meaning, likely to become another part of the language of greenwashing. Take a moment to consider the Oxford Dictionary definition of conservation. Continue reading

Mercury Musings

I live on an island with a thriving local fishing industry so seafood makes up a large part of my diet. I am naturally concerned by any information that seems to suggest that the consumption of seafood may become a dangerous habit. The growing weight of evidence to suggest that some species of fish may contain potentially harmful levels of organic mercury is almost enough to put me off my dinner. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) believe that around 1 billion people rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein. In 2010, fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20% of their animal protein.

So, how does mercury find its way into fish?

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Throwback Thursday: The 6th Mass Extinction – 15th May 2013

I’m going to assume that at some point in your life you have seen one in a multitude of Hollywood disaster movies charting the mass extinction of species on the planet. These range from Deep Impact in 1998, War of The Worlds in 1953 to the extreme environmental changes posed in 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. These films show what I would call traditional perceptions of mass extinctions as a large scale event takes place very quickly i.e. the Asteroid in Deep Impact or the dramatic climate swing in The Day After Tomorrow, but the so called 6th Mass extinction isn’t anything so flashy. This new potential mass extinction has been going on quietly ever since humanity started spreading across the globe with extinction rates increasing through time as a direct response of human activities. Just by taking a look at the IUCN Species Red List and the number of endangered species it is enough to realise that something big is underway. When I had a look today there were 5919 species on the endangered list most of which are plants (2655) and occur most in Forest biomes (2595).

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Throwback Thursday: Rethinking Space for Food – April 6th 2013

Food is more than a necessity it’s a language that binds all the peoples of the world together at their basest level. Food gives us the opportunity to get together, to exchange ideas, to experience the pleasure of company. Yet, our current food system is under siege from environmental degradation, urban expansion and a growing population demanding ever more from ever less. This situation, however grim it sounds in the media, is not without the potential to change our habits to lessen our impacts.

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Harambe, the Internet and People

The tragic shooting of the Western Lowland Gorilla Harambe at Cincinnati Zoo has sparked a media sensation. Whilst the decision to shoot Harambe after a young boy fell into his enclosure is bound to remain controversial there is a lot we can learn about people from their reactions on the Internet. I’ve listed these into 5 handy points, but before you read on be aware that this post is based on opinion rather than objective facts.

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Priory Bay Seagrasses at significant risk

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The Isle of Wight is famous for its beautiful landscapes from pastoral fields, to chocolate box villages and rugged coastlines. In fact, about half of the island is protected as part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This AONB classification is made up of 5 parcels of land totalling 186km2 each with a distinctly different landscape included. Whilst the Island is pretty famous for its landscapes we don’t often consider the wealth of the surrounding seas as part of this. There are just as many breath taking cliffs, valleys, reefs and sediment lurking just below the surface. The recent expansion of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will include three new areas off the coast of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. One of these will be located off the Needles, another will be located at the Offshore Overfalls just to the south east of the Island.

However, that’s not what I’m going to discuss today. It’s interesting but it’s the results of a study of seagrass beds across the UK that is potentially more interesting. The report, carried out by Benjamin Jones and Richard Unsworth of Cardiff and Swansea universities, concluded that historically the UK has lost at least 50% of its seagrass beds with others at risk from pollution and boating.

Nitrogen pollution in the form of agricultural runoff is a particularly important threat with the resulting algal blooms stopping light from reaching the seagrass beds, essentially suffocating them. In the UK tissue nitrogen levels are 75% above the global average showing a significant level of nitrogen pollution. Similarly, increasing turbidity (that being suspended sediments) perform the same threat by blocking sunlight. But why are seagrasses important? It’s a fair question. For our fishing industry, which I consider a part of the Islands heritage and a determinant of our local identity as islanders, seagrass beds provide important nursery grounds for commercial fish stocks allowing juvenile fish to reach adulthood in relative safety.

So how do we protect the seagrass beds at Priory Bay? It won’t be easy to tackle the major sources of the pollution that poses a threat to Priory Bay as it is difficult to alleviate runoff and appease farmers. However, increasing public awareness and interest in the issue will increase the pressure on government to consider the issue seriously. The development of a potential revenue stream from tourism, in the form of snorkeling safaris, could go far in terms of local engagement as economic loss is always a motivator in environmental decision making. There are already, as of 2014, two bylaws in place that make bottom towed fishing gear and bait collection in Priory Bay illegal and this has certainly alleviated the threat from towed gear to the bed stability.

If you want to learn more please go to Project Seagrass a charity for seagrass conservation

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