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It was now Mr. Vinegar's turn to look confused.
"I thought we were discussing the problem of warm ocean currents keeping the fish away," added Mr. Tinfish who was also a little surprised by Mr. Choli's interruption to their conversation.
"The real problem is that there are no large fish left in the river!" piped up Mr. Ginger who had just arrived behind Mr. Choli, and had missed all the stuff at the beginning about roof tiles and storms. "There are not many small ones either!" he added. "It's becoming almost impossible to create a reasonable mackerel and peach cobbler.”
"If I may suggest something," offered Mr. Denzel. "I think that all of you are complaining about different pieces of the same problem."
Mr. Denzel stepped forward and motioned to the two cats to take a seat and join them in their discussion.
"The changing currents, as Mr. Tinfish points out, are the cause of the overall problem, but I'm sure that there is nothing we can do to change them back," continued Mr. Denzel.
"The new ocean current has meant that the fish have moved elsewhere, and the warmer water is fuelling some of the storms that we have experienced. The result has been a large migration of hungry birds to Daphne Wood in search of food. This has led to over-crowding in Daphne Wood, and over-fishing of the river. However, these birds need to find a way to live their lives and feed themselves, the same as we all do."
The others nodded in agreement.
"The problem that we face as a consequence of all this, is that we have too many mouths to feed in Daphne Wood, and not enough food," explained Mr. Denzel. "If we can solve the problem of 'insufficient resources' then the other problems will be solved as well. The seabirds will no longer need to gather near to the river in Daphne Wood, and the fish numbers in the river can start to increase again."
"Well, the problem is clear enough," agreed Mr. Vinegar as he stroked his chin with a flipper in a knowing manner. Mr. Denzel usually found a way to look at things in a clear way. "It all comes down to not having enough resources - in this case, not having enough fish. The solution, on the other hand, is far from obvious. I think we will need to call on everyone in the colony, and hold a meeting!"
"I couldn't agree more," added Mr. Choli. The issue of noise coming from over-excited seagulls during periods scheduled for catnapping had been completely over-looked by Mr. Denzel. The meeting would be the perfect opportunity to bring it up again and get it sorted out properly.
Mr. Choli reached up with his paws and adjusted his ear-muffs. He squashed them tightly over his head in an attempt to keep out the noise of the seagulls as they squawked and 'caawed' repeatedly in the nearby trees. Mr. Ginger had already taken a similar action, and had his ear-muff adorned head jammed between the side of the seat and the door of the old car in which they lived. Scrunching his ears under the ear-muffs had made little difference. Mr. Choli sat up, with a disgruntled look, and threw them behind him on to the back seat. They were not comfortable in the slightest, and were certainly not helping to reduce the din of hungry seabirds.
"Something has to be done about all these seagulls!" declared Mr. Choli to Mr. Ginger, not for the first time. Mr. Ginger slowly un-wedged his head from between the door and the side of the passenger seat. He was of a very similar opinion himself, and had a cricked neck into the bargain.
"Why do they have to make all that noise?" moaned Mr. Choli, "And so early in the morning as well," he added, glancing at the clock in the car's dashboard. "It's not even ten o'clock yet! And besides, the ‘morning chorus’ seems to go on for most of the day."
Mr. Ginger removed his own ear muffs and politely listened to Mr. Choli's daily rant about the inconvenience of neighbouring seabirds.
"You would think, that as they are guests in this wood," continued Mr. Choli pompously, forgetting that he was once a guest in the wood himself, "that they would respect the established catnapping schedules, and make that awful racket somewhere else."
Mr. Ginger nodded in agreement at his friend's observation. However, he wasn't so sure that catnapping had an actual 'schedule', so much as being the thing that took up most of their non-eating time.
Despite sharing Mr. Choli's annoyance, the noise wasn't Mr. Ginger's main concern. Of course, it was bad enough that they had resorted to wearing large fluffy ear-muffs during their catnaps, which were both hot and uncomfortable. However, since the seagulls and other marine birds had descended on Daphne Wood in large numbers, the newcomers had fished the river to such an extent that there was almost no fish left floating around in there at all. For a cat, whose rumbling tummy was one of the few things in Daphne Wood that did keep to a very regular schedule, this was a considerably big concern indeed.
"Well something is going to have to be done!" stated Mr. Choli grandly. "Mr. Vinegar is going to have to call a meeting and sort this out, so that there can be a proper schedule drawn up to show who can make a noise, what noise they are allowed to make, and at what time they are allowed to do it!"
With that Mr. Choli pushed open the driver's door of the car and hopped onto the ground. He looked despairingly towards the top of the roof of Mr. Vinegar's cottage and observed that there seemed to be even more seagulls packed on there than normal. Carrying his pipe and magnifying glass so that he would appear more important, Mr. Choli marched off determinedly towards the front door of the cottage. Mr. Ginger, having abandoned all hope of getting in a good nap, un-cricked his neck and followed behind him.
* * *
The real problem that the colony faced had started a few months before. Winter had arrived but the sea had not frozen over like it had done in the previous winter. This was the first real indication that something was different. As the cold months passed, and the snow gathered ever deeper along the coast, the sea remained unaffected. This was much to everyone's relief. It had required a lot of effort to get the fish across the ice shelf when the sea was frozen, and they were very glad that this was not the case this year. None of them imagined that it was a sign of problems to come. However, Mr. Tinfish the penguin had observed that the currents in the water seemed to be different. Instead of having to swim against currents that would pull him to the east whilst he was fishing with his family, there seemed to be a change and the current was now pulling in the other direction. He reported this to Mr. Vinegar and the others one evening whilst they sheltered from the cold around the fire place in the old miner's cottage. At the time everyone had agreed that this change in the ocean currents was a very good thing. After all, the climate had caused a lot of difficulties for the colony in the past. Finally, the changes had brought something positive to help them with their lives. The sea hadn't frozen over and the Tinfish family and Daphne the pigmy polar bear could carry out their fishing close to the shore, as they did during the warmer months.
Spring had arrived and the snow and ice melted. The hot dry winds continued to blow but they also brought the occasional storm that had not been the case in the past. It became much more apparent to the Tinfish family and Daphne that the new ocean currents were much warmer than they had been before. Daphne was not impressed at all. She enjoyed escaping the hot dry winds by taking a dip in the cold ocean waters. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that she was not alone in this opinion.
Very soon, Mr. Tinfish was to report a far more alarming problem. It seemed that the fish they usually caught in the sea each day didn't like the warmer waters either. The cooler currents had been more to their liking and were a richer source of food for the fish. Just like the currents, the fish rapidly moved away to a new location as well.
There were now very few fish in the sea. Certainly there were not enough that could be caught to meet the needs of the colony. Mr. Ginger was getting very concerned about his gourmet cooking, as the small fish they were now getting from the river were not tasty enough to do justice to the recipes that he improvised. However, they did at least have the river as an alternative source of food.
The first flock of seabirds had arrived shortly after the Tinfish family had begun to complain about the lack of fish in the sea. Normally the seagulls, the arctic terns, and the other seabirds would rely on the coastal waters for their feeding grounds. However, the absence of fish caused by the warm currents had sent them further and further down the coast, and in desperation they began using the river that flowed through Daphne Wood for their fishing. At first, the residents of Daphne Wood had been very sympathetic to the problems that the seabirds were facing. After all, they were also finding that the disappearance of the fish from the sea was a big problem. However, everyday, more and more seabirds had arrived in Daphne Wood to use the river to catch food.
Thousands of birds now congregated on the cliff that had resulted from the land rising upward the previous year during the earthquake. Even more birds now lived in the trees of Daphne Wood, stretching from the edge of the meadow by the river, all the way back up to the clearing where the old mine was. Even the roof of the minor's cottage was packed with nesting birds. With each passing day, the number of birds got greater, the over-fishing of the river increased, and the food became ever more scarce.
* * *
"What are we going to do about it?" declared an exasperated Mr. Choli as he swung open the door to the miner’s cottage and addressed Mr. Vinegar the walrus.
Mr. Vinegar was sitting in the corner, deep in conversation with Mr. Denzel the mole, and Mr. Tinfish. He looked up from his cup of tea and examined the expression on Mr. Choli's face.
"It is a concern," replied Mr. Vinegar slowly. "We were just talking about it. With all the weight up there, I'm surprised half the roof tiles haven't come off by now. If that happens then the next time one of these new storms comes through there will be a right mess in here."
Mr. Choli's expression turned from one of exasperation to one of confusion.
“I don't see what the roof tiles have to do with it," he replied, holding his magnifying glass up and examining the ceiling, "unless the tiles are making the noise in here more echoey."