Art and commentary by Kimberly Harris

Posts tagged ‘environment’

Kim Qui, The Golden Turtle God and Guardian of the Sword

Kim Qui, the sacred turtle sits on a rock with a sword

The Golden Turtle God and Guardian of the Sword

In the news today is a troubling story concerning the sacred turtle of Vietnam’s Hoan Kien Lake. This rare and endangered turtle is sick and slowly dying from pollution.

The following story from our Squidoo Lens, The Mysterious Creatures of Cryptozoology is about the legend of Kim Qui and some information on the turtle itself.

Kim Qui is a legendary turtle that has repeatedly come to the assistance of Vietnamese rulers over the millennia to help them defeat their enemies and defend their kingdoms from invaders. In a story parallel to that of King Arthur and Excalibur, there is a traditional account about how Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God, gave Emperor Le Loi a magical sword bearing the inscription “The Will of Heaven.” This sword gave the emperor great strength and was instrumental in his leading his forces to defeat the invading Ming Chinese armies in 1427. Following his victory, Le Loi was boating on Luc Thuy (“Green Water”) Lake when the turtle deity Kim Qui suddenly rose to the surface and seized the sword in his mouth and promptly vanished back into the murky depths. The emperor bemoaned the loss of this precious sword, but was eventually persuaded that now that his kingdom was again free, the sword’s rightful owners had reclaimed it. The emperor then proclaimed that Luc Thuy Lake be renamed Ho Hoan Kiem Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword.”

Hoan Kiem Lake is located just west of the Song Hong River (“Red River”) in an urban setting near Hanoi’s Old Quarter and about a mile southeast of Truc Bach Lake, where John McCain landed after being shot down by a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft missile in 1967. In the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a small island with a structure known as The Tortoise Tower that commemorates the Kim Qui legend.

In scientific terms, Kim Qui is a Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle, which is formally known as Rafetus swinhoei. Weighing in at around 400 pounds, it may be the largest fresh water turtle in the world. It is easily identified by its pig-like snout and nostrils.

Aside from the single specimen known to live in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi and presumed by many to be the legendary Kim Qui, there only four other known surviving members of the species. These are located at zoos in China, and several are estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old. Other individuals have recently been observed in the wild, but the species has been seriously depleted by pollution, human encroachment into its habitat, especially the damming of rivers and the mining of sand, and also from hunting for food or the supposed medical properties of its shell and bones. This has prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in Switzerland to list Rafetus swinhoei as “critically endangered.”

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Yes, Virginia, There is a Frankenfish  

A little girl accepts a lollipop from a strange fishlike man

Ginny accepts a lollipop from a Frankenfish

Oblivious to his unusual appearance and his disagreeable body odor, little Ginny eagerly accepted a big lollipop from the eccentric stranger who lives across the street next door to the AquaWhopper genetic engineering labs.

In recent months there, has been much controversy surrounding the FDA’s proposed approval of the sale of genetically engineered fish for general public consumption. The technology is being promoted on the grounds that the modified fish are nutritionally indistinguishable from wild species or conventionally farmed fish. Industry officials further assert that the fish are completely safe to eat and do not pose any threat to the environment, as almost all engineered fish are female and reproductively sterile. Even in the event that a few might escape from the farms, these captive populations are said to be incapable of interbreeding with other fish in the wild and therefore do not pose a threat to the natural biodiversity of indigenous populations. The industry also suggests that an ample supply of high quality farmed fish will reduce pressure on native species caused by overfishing.

Critics disagree with these positions.  For one, escaped fast-growing transgenic fish with voracious appetites might compete for food and habitat with native populations, to the detriment of the latter. Furthermore, environmental concerns aside, detractors are concerned that the FDA’s proposed approval does not presently contain any provision for labeling genetically modified fish as such. Therefore, a consumer would have no way to distinguish genetically modified fish from wild caught fish in the supermarket. The growth hormones used to produce hybridized fish, although ostensibly natural, could have unforeseen consequences with human immune systems that could be triggered by alteration of intestinal flora caused by ingesting bacteria associated with the modified fish. A study conducted in the UK in 2004 explored the possibility of the horizontal transfer of transgenes from modified foods to human intestinal microflora. While the study found evidence of the survival of some genetically modified DNA through the upper GI tract, it failed to demonstrate that the complete transgene had been transferred to host bacteria. Nevertheless, the study recommended that this phenomenon be considered at the time when the safety of genetically modified foods is evaluated for wholesale human consumption.

In a move that would appear to stifle transparency, the FDA is proposing to regulate genetically modified fish as “animal drugs” in order to protect the producers’ proprietary processes and trade secrets. The approval process relies extensively on the producer’s own testing and data, which suggests a conflict of interest whereby data could have been skewed and negative findings suppressed.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) recently announced that he was making it a legislative priority for 2011 to defeat the FDA’s proposed approval of genetically modified salmon, or at least to force disclosure on the packaging. This is considered by many to be a fundamental requirement that would protect persons who may allergic to the modified fish. Furthermore, it has been disclosed that modified fish are relatively low in omega-3 content when compared to wild salmon and have also been found to contain considerably larger concentrations of IGF1, which is a hormone associated with various human cancers. Information regarding these risks needs to be made available to the public so that they can make informed purchasing decisions.

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