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CNN10 2021-11-18

CNN 10

Air Pollution Problem In India; Sunflower Stars Have Dramatically Decreased Along The Pacific Coast Of North America. Aired 4-4:10a ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 04:00 ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: Hi. My name is Carl Azuz. Welcome to the show.

Behind China, India is the most populated nation on the planet. It has more than 1.3 billion people and all of them are exposed to excessive air pollution every year.

This is according to guidelines set by the United Nations and a report from the University of Chicago. Its study says residents of New Delhi, the Indian capital, could expect to live as many as 10 years longer if the pollution were reduced to U.N. guideline levels.

But doing that, of course, is easier said than done. Smog is not a new problem for this part of the world. It hangs thickly over many urban areas worsened by industrial pollution car and truck emissions and crop burning which farmers typically do this time of year to get their fields ready for their next crops.

It's not just a problem in India. Pakistan, southern Asia, Nepal, Bangladesh these places are all near India and they're all among the most polluted areas in the world. But in a global ranking that came out a couple years ago, India was home to 21 of the 30 most polluted cities on Earth, and as the nation becomes more industrialized and its demand for energy increases, there's no single clear solution in sight.

Many people as you're about to see are calling on the Indian government to take more action to reduce air pollution. It currently has a clean air campaign in effect that aims to reduce dirty particles in the air by 30 percent between 2019 and 2024. But despite that, the University of Chicago report says the air has actually gotten worse. So shutdowns which might help the air but might hurt businesses are the order of the day.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a bid to bring down toxic air levels in the national capital region, an emergency order from India's environment ministry panel on air pollution has directed the closing of schools and colleges in and around Delhi for further notice. Six of 11 coal-fired power plants within a 300-kilometer radius of Delhi have been temporarily shut down.

The committee has also banned known essential construction and operation of trucks carrying non-essential goods in Delhi and adjoining cities. But the toxic air in Delhi and neighboring states has residents gasping for breath. Medical experts say there's been a spike in respiratory problems.

According to the World Health Organization, air quality index between zero and 50 is considered good. In the last two weeks, parts of the national capital region have reported levels higher than 500.

Environmental experts say quick fix solutions cannot be the answer to North India's toxic air levels.

ANUMITA ROYCHOWDHURY, CSE INDIA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RESEARCH AND ADVOACY: The challenge of Delhi is just not challenge of Delhi. It is the challenge of this region. If you look at India right now through satellite, you will find that the entire Indo-Gangetic Plain in northern India is wrapped in a blanket of smog.

And this is because this time of the year when you don't have integrated plan for the entire region and aggressive action to address each and every source of pollution in the entire region, that's where we have to step up the action.

SUD: According to a report by the University of Chicago, air pollution levels in northern India is times worse than anywhere else in the world.

Vedika Sud, CNN, New Delhi.



AZUZ (voice-over): Ten-second trivia:

What is the world's largest known type of sea star?

Necklace starfish, giant spined star, sunflower star, or royal starfish?

The sunflower sea star can measure more than feet in diameter and weigh more than 13 pounds.


AZUZ: It can have anywhere from 15 to 25 arms and thousands of tube feet. It's a predator that plays an important role in the ecosystem but it's among more than different sea star species that have been mysteriously dying off in part of the world and scientists don't know exactly why.

One explanation is that a virus possibly worsened by ocean warming events like El Nino has been ravaging sunflower stars along North America's Pacific coast. They're now listed as a critically endangered species.

Starfish die-offs have been observed in the past, according to "The Atlantic" magazine, and researchers say at least one other species that was affected by this one has started to recover. So there's hope the sunflower star will too. And some scientists are also attempting to regenerate its population.


JASON HODIN, RESEARCH SCIENTIST, FRIDAY HARBOR LABORATORIES, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: A lot of people when they think of top predators in the ocean, they might think of something like a shark, and that's exactly what you should be thinking about when you think about the sunflower star. It's the largest sea star in the world.

So, it eats all kinds of organisms on the sea floor from shellfish to sea urchins moving their little tiny feet underneath to glide across the sea floor, and then strike fear into organisms that they encounter.

So, when they eat, they actually swallow the entire prey whole and it sort of seems a little counterintuitive to say that a predator helps to keep more species around but that's actually what happens. And so, when the top predators are present you have a much more diverse and high functioning ecosystem.

My name is Jason Hodin and I'm a research scientist at Friday Harbor laboratories at the University of Washington.

The sunflower star existed along a very, very wide stretch of the coastline all the way from Alaska down to northern Mexico. Starting in about 2013, there was a syndrome that started to appear all up and down the west coast of north America where sea stars of all varieties started to show this wasting syndrome which is this horrible effect that causes the sea stars to essentially melt.

Sunflower stars were really, really hard hit and they were down in this region to probably five percent of their historical numbers and in some areas in the south, like off of California, we haven't seen sunflower stars for years.

When a predator that's a key member of the ecosystem like sunflower stars are disappears, you know, there are really, really broad cascading effects, and that's what we're actually seeing in places like California where kelp forests are declining and that's that happened right around the same time as the sea stars started to disappear.

Kelp is just so fundamental to the health and well-being of the ocean. It's a habitat for an incredible number of organisms. It removes carbon from the atmosphere and what we've seen is essentially a shift in the habitat from this diverse, highly functioning ecosystem with many different kinds of species.

And now, we see mostly barren habitat with a lot of sea urchins and sea urchins eat kelp and so right now, populations are sort of out of balance.

And we think that one of the contributing factors for that is the loss of one of their major predators the sunflower star.

We feed them exactly once every two days.

So, in 2019, I was first contacted by the Nature Conservancy in California because they were interested in whether it would be possible to breed sunflower stars through their life cycle. We have a new generation of sunflower star juveniles growing in the lab right now then the next goal after that is to see whether or not sea star is at a year old whether they can survive out in the wild.

What we really want to do is in addition to trying to restore the populations that are there actively, we also want to maintain the health of the ecosystems where they exist now and you know that extends to all manner of things that all of us can do to protect our local waters and our ecosystems.

They're all connected and they're connected to the health of the sunflower star and they're connected to the health of our ocean ecosystems, and to our own health. You know, we're learning something about an endangered species here and information that we hope will inform upon our ability to be able to preserve this species and others like it in the wild.


AZUZ: Back in 2016, a woman named Wanda Dench texted a 17-year-old named Jamal Hinton letting him know when Thanksgiving dinner was. The problem is they didn't know each other.

Wanda sent the text to the wrong number trying to reach her grandson. Jamal not recognizing the number asked Wanda to send a selfie, and then he sent one back saying you're not my grandma.

But he asked if a spot at the Thanksgiving table was still open to which she replied of course. That was the beginning of a friendship that's still going strong with their sixth Thanksgiving together coming up.


JAMAL HINTON: She welcomed me into her house so that shows me how great of a person she is. Thankful for people like that.

WANDA DENCH: It's come from God above that he's just using us as tools and vessels to bring a message, you know, to others.


AZUZ: A story that's fun to feast your eyes on. The table was set with a not-so-secret sauce of friendship. It seemed easy as pie. It's stuffed with hospitality has a gravy kind of love makes for a very happy Thanksgiving and comes with a heaping helping of tweet potatoes.

I'm Carl Azuz and today's show goes out to Taunton High School it is located in Taunton, Massachusetts. Thank you for your request on our YouTube channel. Hope all y'all turkeys come on back tomorrow.