Cambodian catches world’s largest recorded freshwater fish

A team of Cambodian and American scientists and researchers, along with Fisheries Administration officials prepare to release a giant freshwater stingray back into the Mekong River in the northeastern province of Stung Treng, Cambodia. (AP)
A team of Cambodian and American scientists and researchers, along with Fisheries Administration officials prepare to release a giant freshwater stingray back into the Mekong River in the northeastern province of Stung Treng, Cambodia. (AP)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Cambodian catches world’s largest recorded freshwater fish

Cambodian catches world’s largest recorded freshwater fish. (AP)
  • Researchers say it’s the fourth giant stingray reported in the same area in the past two months, all of them females

BANGKOK: The world’s largest recorded freshwater fish, a giant stingray, has been caught in the Mekong River in Cambodia, according to scientists from the Southeast Asian nation and the United States.
The stingray, captured on June 13, measured almost 4 meters (13 feet) from snout to tail and weighed slightly under 300 kilograms (660 pounds), according to a statement Monday by Wonders of the Mekong, a joint Cambodian-US research project.
The previous record for a freshwater fish was a 293-kilogram (646-pound) Mekong giant catfish, discovered in Thailand in 2005, the group said.
The stingray was snagged by a local fisherman south of Stung Treng in northeastern Cambodia. The fisherman alerted a nearby team of scientists from the Wonders of the Mekong project, which has publicized its conservation work in communities along the river.




This handout photo taken on June 14, 2022 and released on June 20 by the US-funded Wonders of the Mekong project shows a 661 pound (300kg) giant freshwater stingray that was caught and released in the Mekong river in Cambodia's Stung Treng province. (AFP)

The scientists arrived within hours of getting a post-midnight call with the news, and were amazed at what they saw.
“Yeah, when you see a fish this size, especially in freshwater, it is hard to comprehend, so I think all of our team was stunned,” Wonders of the Mekong leader Zeb Hogan said in an online interview from the University of Nevada in Reno. The university is partnering with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and USAID, the US government’s international development agency.
Freshwater fish are defined as those that spend their entire lives in freshwater, as opposed to giant marine species such as bluefin tuna and marlin, or fish that migrate between fresh and saltwater like the huge beluga sturgeon.
The stingray’s catch was not just about setting a new record, he said.
“The fact that the fish can still get this big is a hopeful sign for the Mekong River, ” Hogan said, noting that the waterway faces many environmental challenges.
The Mekong River runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is home to several species of giant freshwater fish but environmental pressures are rising. In particular, scientists fear a major program of dam building in recent years may be seriously disrupting spawning grounds.
“Big fish globally are endangered. They’re high-value species. They take a long time to mature. So if they’re fished before they mature, they don’t have a chance to reproduce,” Hogan said. “A lot of these big fish are migratory, so they need large areas to survive. They’re impacted by things like habitat fragmentation from dams, obviously impacted by overfishing. So about 70 percent of giant freshwater fish globally are threatened with extinction, and all of the Mekong species.”
The team that rushed to the site inserted a tagging device near the tail of the mighty fish before releasing it. The device will send tracking information for the next year, providing unprecedented data on giant stingray behavior in Cambodia.
“The giant stingray is a very poorly understood fish. Its name, even its scientific name, has changed several times in the last 20 years,” Hogan said. “It’s found throughout Southeast Asia, but we have almost no information about it. We don’t know about its life history. We don’t know about its ecology, about its migration patters.”
Researchers say it’s the fourth giant stingray reported in the same area in the past two months, all of them females. They think this may be a spawning hotspot for the species.
Local residents nicknamed the stingray “Boramy,” or “full moon,” because of its round shape and because the moon was on the horizon when it was freed on June 14. In addition to the honor of having caught the record-breaker, the lucky fisherman was compensated at market rate, meaning he received a payment of around $600.


Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion

Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion
Updated 30 June 2022

Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion

Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion
  • Quickly realizing his stumble, Biden said: ‘Switzerland, my goodness. I’m getting really anxious here about expanding NATO,’ he joked, before adding for the record: ‘Sweden’
  • Biden, 79, has long been known for his verbal gaffes during a political career spanning half a century

MADRID: NATO’s latest expansion momentarily got really interesting with even Switzerland about to join — at least for a second in a Joe Biden verbal slip Thursday.
At a press conference marking the end of the NATO summit in Madrid, the US president recounted the behind-the-scenes talks putting militarily non-aligned Finland and Sweden on track to join the Western alliance in a major rebuff to Russia.
Except he misspoke, saying there was a plan to call the leader of famously neutral Switzerland about joining.
Quickly realizing his stumble, Biden said: “Switzerland, my goodness.”
“I’m getting really anxious here about expanding NATO,” he joked, before adding for the record: “Sweden.”
Biden, 79, has long been known for his verbal gaffes during a political career spanning half a century.


Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral

Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral
Updated 30 June 2022

Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral

Lebanese graduate’s inspirational commencement speech goes viral
  • American University of Beirut student Elie El-Khawand spoke proudly of his ‘poor and hardworking’ parents and the sacrifices they made for his education
  • He told Arab News that he was motivated to apply to give the moving speech by a belief ‘that a word from the heart would reach a wider audience’

DUBAI: A moving and inspirational speech given by a Lebanese student at an American University of Beirut graduation ceremony, in which he paid tribute to his “poor and hardworking” parents and the sacrifices they made to ensure he received an education, is going viral on social media.
Elie El-Khawand, a 21-year-old student of electrical and computer engineering, was among those who graduated from the university on June 11. He was chosen to give the commencement speech after responding to an email from AUB authorities that invited students to apply for the honor.
“My belief was that a word from the heart would reach a wider audience,” El-Khawand told Arab News on Thursday when asked what motivated him to give the speech.
His heartwarming words and genuine sentiments impressed and moved the thousands of people in the audience at the graduation ceremony and in the past few days video of the speech, initially shared by fellow graduates and their friends and families, has started to go viral on social media platforms.
In his speech, El-Khawand spoke about the harsh and tough journey of his parents and their struggles to raise him and ensure he received a quality education.
He began by saying that he would not give in to the financial crisis currently affecting Lebanon and was “following my heart and shooting for the stars.”
He told the crowd: “I want to share with you who I really am. Eleven years into their marriage, a janitor and his housekeeper wife, who had lost hope of having children, welcomed their first, newborn son.
“This baby, me, brought them joy…,” he said, and was forced to pause for several seconds as the audience burst into applause and cheering, before continuing: ‘… and ignited their sense of purpose — at least, that’s what they told me.”
Speaking with obvious pride, El-Khawand said: “From dawn to dusk my mother carried me along with her broom and mop as she cleaned houses in the neighborhood. My father worked as a janitor at an esteemed nearby school, which I got into and pursued my education for free.”
He spoke about how as he grew up he became aware of his family’s situation in life but that despite the fact his parents were poor, they “could provide him with an abundance of love and comfort.”
Addressing fellow students from a similar social background, El-Khawand added: “You never know how the dots will eventually connect down the road. Have the confidence to follow your heart and never be afraid to take a first step.”
To illustrate his point, he revealed the challenge he faced when he realized that he might not be able to afford to attend university as his family often struggled to pay for daily necessities.
“I enrolled at AUB with an absolutely unclear payment plan,” he said but added that he eventually “received decent financial aid and scholarships from AUB. I won the 30,000 A List competition and worked as a part-time student tutor.”
Asked by Arab News how proud he felt of his parents as he looked out at them from the podium as he delivered his speech, El-Khawand said: “I’m not going to lie, I couldn’t find them in the crowd.”
As for the incredible reception to his heartfelt words on the day and as they spread online, he admitted he had not expected such an emotional and positive response from the public.
“To be honest, not to that extent,” he said. “I was astonished by the thousands of messages and comments, especially those conveying to me that they had needed to hear the words of my speech.”
One of those who shared video footage of El-Khawand’s speech was Lebanese media personality Ricardo Karam, whose post on Twitter received more than 7,000 likes and was retweeted more than 1,100 times. Al Jazeera TV and other regional and local TV channels and news outlets have also reported on the speech and broadcast parts of it.


Airbnb makes ban on parties permanent

Airbnb makes ban on parties permanent
Updated 30 June 2022

Airbnb makes ban on parties permanent

Airbnb makes ban on parties permanent
  • In 2019, Airbnb began imposing much stricter limits, starting with a global ban on so-called “party houses”

LONDON: Airbnb Inc. said on Tuesday it will make permanent its ban on parties in homes listed on its platform after seeing a sharp drop in reports of unauthorized gatherings since the prohibition was put in place in August 2020.
The company announced seeing a 44 percent year-after-year drop in the rate of party reports since implementing the policy.
This comes after the San Francisco-based company introduced and extended the party ban to halt the spread of COVID-19 infections. Now the company wants to make the ban permanent as the summer travel season begins.
“This is an issue where I don’t know if I’d say there’s a finish line,” said Ben Breit, a spokesperson for the company, adding that Airbnb will keep working to address the issue.
The company said it will also remove its 16-person limit, allowing larger homes listed on the platform to be booked to full occupancy.
In 2019, Airbnb began imposing much stricter limits, starting with a global ban on so-called “party houses” or listings that create persistent neighborhood nuisance.
Airbnb has also updated its policies considering the pandemic, removing both the “event friendly” search filter and “parties and events allowed” house rules.
More than 6,600 guests and some hosts were suspended in 2021 for attempting to violate the party ban, the company said.
In May 2022, the company reported revenue was up 70 percent from the previous year bringing in $1.5 billion in the first quarter of 2022. The company also projected revenue to be above market estimates for the second quarter of the year, expecting to bring in between $2.03 billion and $2.13 billion.


Owners distraught as historic Nile houseboats are removed

Owners distraught as historic Nile houseboats are removed
Updated 29 June 2022

Owners distraught as historic Nile houseboats are removed

Owners distraught as historic Nile houseboats are removed
  • Many of the elegant two-story houseboats have been moored for decades

CAIRO: Owners of the Nile’s famous houseboats in the heart of Egypt’s capital are having their homes demolished and towed away as authorities impound what they say are unlicensed dwellings.
The boats, many of them elegant two-story structures with verandas, have been moored for decades along the tree-lined banks of the Nile between the island of Zamalek and Giza, just west of central Cairo.
They have featured in films and literature, such as Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Adrift on the Nile.
Last week, owners of about 30 houseboats were served with notices saying that their boats would be impounded. Egypt’s water and irrigation ministry said on Tuesday that 15 had been removed, with the rest to be dealt with over the next few days.
The ministry posted pictures of the boats being smashed by diggers on barges and being towed away by tugs.
The water and irrigation ministry could not be reached for comment.
Ikhlas Helmy, 87, whose houseboat was still standing on Wednesday, said she had invested her savings in it and could not bear to leave.
“I was born in a houseboat, this is my entire life,” she said. “My husband loved the Nile like me. He died before he could refurbish the houseboat, so I did it.”
Authorities say the removals follow warnings to owners, presenting them as part of efforts to maintain the river and prioritize commerce and tourism.
In comments to local media Ayman Anwar, an official responsible for the protection of the Nile, compared the houseboats to polluting old cars.
Owners say they had been challenging sharp increases in mooring fees, but had continued to pay other fees for use of the river bank and navigation rights.
They and their supporters on social media say the removal of the boats is the latest in a series of assaults on places of beauty or historic interest in the capital.
Officials have not said what development might be planned after the boats are gone.
On the eastern bank of the same stretch of the river, Egypt’s military has led the construction of a concrete walkway dotted with shops and cafes.
Elsewhere in Cairo, residential blocks, trees and parts of old cemeteries have been uprooted to make way for a network of new roads and bridges.
Ahmed el-Hosseiny, whose houseboat was towed away on Tuesday, described emptying it after being served with an eviction notice.
“We started to collect our possessions, our stories, our history, our hearts, our memories, and our feelings and place them into boxes,” he said.


Faisal Al-Mosawi defies the odds by becoming the world's fastest diver

Faisal Al-Mosawi defies the odds by becoming the world's fastest diver
Updated 29 June 2022

Faisal Al-Mosawi defies the odds by becoming the world's fastest diver

Faisal Al-Mosawi defies the odds by becoming the world's fastest diver
  • The most important message Mosawi wishes to convey to the world is the social inclusion of disabled people

KUWAIT: Faisal Al-Mosawi, an Iraqi resident of Kuwait, was a promising football player at the Salmiya Sporting Club until a serious car accident left him paralyzed in the lower half of his body.

After a series of operations, Mosawi has accepted his disability and has defied the odds by becoming the world's fastest diver.

“Today, I am proud to say that I challenged myself and set a world record as the fastest 10-kilometer scuba diver. I am also a motivational speaker with more than 500 trainees per month,” Mosawi told the Kuwaiti Times.

“I decided two years after my accident to join university and earned a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) diploma in 2007. I continued my studies and began my bachelor’s degree in finance, which helped me get involved in social life again, but I was still feeling frustrated after I lost my dream of becoming a professional football player.“After several operations in the hope to walk again, I realized it was a big mistake to link my happiness to things that may not come back, especially since it cost me time in which I could do something more useful,” Mosawi added.

Mosawi also told Kuwaiti Times about the turning point in his life that led him to pursue an alternative career path.“Every year on my birthday, I was hoping I would be able to walk again. But every year nothing happened, which made me very disappointed,” he said.

“During one of my birthdays, I realized I wanted to change people’s lives and become an inspiration for them, especially after I heard about many disabled people who tried to commit suicide due to their frustrations in life.

“After two years, I decided to either be a new person looking for a new dream that could change my life, or forever remain a useless person, and this was my turning point in becoming a new person with new hopes and dreams.

"This changed my life in all aspects. In 2009, I decided to start learning to dive, I contacted the Swimming and Diving Center at Kuwait Science Club and obtained my first diving license from PADI (scuba diving certificate), while overcoming my fears, one of which was my phobia of the sea.

“After that I got several more diving licenses, such as an open-water license, adventure license, advanced license and night rock diver license,” he added.

After he realized his dream of diving, he decided to become the fastest diver in the world.

“In 2018, I became a Guinness World Record holder as the fastest 10km scuba diver in the world with a time of 5 hours and 24 minutes, breaking a record that was set in 2011 by a scuba diver with no disability,” he said.

Regarding diving techniques, Mosawi explained to the Kuwaiti times that wears diving gloves which he adjusts to the strength of his upper body. He said his biggest challenge was training for over five hours underwater every day.

Mosawi emphasized that the most important message he wishes to convey to the world is the social inclusion of disabled people. He hoped that his accomplishments would demonstrate to the world that people with disabilities are just as capable of success as anyone else.

“The hope that I gave to parents of disabled children makes me more persistent and determined to spread the message to the world. After the accident, doctors told my parents that it will be impossible for me to get married and have kids, but with hope and prayers, I married a special girl. I now have a beautiful daughter, and she is the most precious gift I ever got,” Mosawi said.