conservation news and environmental science news.
Before the oil spill (photos)
(06/03/2010) With the BP oil spill continuing unabated into the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, fears are rising that a major storm could dramatically worsen the impact of the disaster, which has already been called the worst in U.S. history. Forecasters are predicting 14 to 23 named storms this year, of which 3 to 7 will turn into major hurricanes. According to forecasters Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University, there is a 43 percent chance that Louisiana will be hit by a hurricane.
French company to break moratorium on shipments of illegally logged rosewood from Madagascar
(06/03/2010) SEAL, a French transport company, is scheduled to ship 79 containers of rosewood tomorrow from the port of Toamasina on its vessel Terra Bona, reports Midi Madagascar. The shipment comes less than three months after Madagascar's ruling authority banned timber exports after international uproar over the organized logging of the country's national parks in the aftermath of last year's military coup. SEAL's shipment of timber will be in direct violation of the moratorium.
As Amazon deforestation rates fall, fires increase
(06/03/2010) While rates of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon have been on the decline since 2004, the incidence of fire is increasing in the region, undermining some of the carbon emissions savings of reduced deforestation rates, report researchers writing in the journal Science. The paper argues that REDD, a global plan to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, must include measures to eliminate the use of fire from land management in the Amazon.
Corruption could undermine REDD
(06/03/2010) With four billion US dollars pledged last week to kick-start the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), a new report by Global Witness warns that the funds could do little to stem deforestation if governance and accountability are not improved and corruption tackled. The REDD program provides funds to tropical nations to keep forests standing as a means to sequester carbon.
As Mangroves Die from Oil, U.S. Public Yawns
(06/03/2010) What if, instead of a nasty oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. public was now confronted with a natural catastrophe in the Grand Canyon or in California Redwood forests? Within the popular imagination, certain types of ecosystems elicit more sympathy than others, and very low on the totem pole are mangrove forests. Located in the tropics, mangroves are a mess of thick, tangled salt-tolerant trees and shrubs which thrive in brackish tidal waters. When I paddled through the Florida Everglades in a canoe some fifteen years ago, I found mangroves bizarre looking: trees have long roots which stick out above the water level.
A total ban on primary forest logging needed to save the world, an interview with activist Glen Barry
(06/02/2010) Radical, controversial, ahead-of-his-time, brilliant, or extremist: call Dr. Glen Barry, the head of Ecological Internet, what you will, but there is no question that his environmental advocacy group has achieved major successes in the past years, even if many of these are below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media. "We tend to be a little different than many organizations in that we do take a deep ecology, or biocentric approach," Barry says of the organization he heads. "[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization."
Timber certification is not enough to save rainforests
(06/02/2010) In the 1980s and 1990s pressure from activist groups led some of the world's largest forestry products companies and retailers to join forces with environmentalists to form the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification standard that aims to reduce the environmental impact of wood and paper production on natural forests. Despite initial skepticism on whether buyers would pay a premium for greener forest products, FSC quickly grew and by 2000 had become a standard in many markets, including Europe and the United States. Companies like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Ikea are today strong supporters of the FSC. But the FSC has not been without controversy. In recent years some activists have voiced concern about FSC standards as well as the credibility of auditors that certify timber operations. Among the initiative's supporters is the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a group best known for its aggressive protest tactics. RAN says engagement with the FSC is better than the alternative: leaving the timber industry to devise its own sustainability standards.
NASA satellite image reveals record low snow for the United States
(06/02/2010) According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, snow cover retreated to its lowest extent ever recorded in North America by the end of this April. Snow cover was 2.2 million square kilometers below average. With records of snow extent beginning in 1967, this is the lowest in 43 years and the largest negative anomaly in the past 521 months.
Children's books about rainforests linked to rainforest destruction
(06/01/2010) Purchasing a book children's book may be directly causing deforestation of biodiverse and carbon-heavy rainforests, according to a new report by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). In a discovery that highlights the irony of the issue, RAN even found children's books about protecting rainforests contained fiber from Indonesian forests.
International alliance created to help corporations avoid illegal wood
(06/01/2010) Given the complexities of the global wood trade and the difficulty of deciphering a product's source of wood, the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA-US and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have banded together to create a global initiative, the Forest Legality Alliance, to aid private corporations to reduce the trade in illegal wood. The alliance's formation comes after the US amended the Lacey Act in 2008 to ban the trade of illegal wood products in the US.
Norway's billion dollar contribution to Indonesian forests excludes national reforestation scheme
(06/01/2010) Norway's billion dollar contribution to forest and peatlands conservation in Indonesia will not fund reforestation of deforested areas, a government minister told The Jakarta Post.
New protected areas in Brazil contribute to major drop in Amazon deforestation rate
(06/01/2010) Protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon are proving highly effective in reducing forest loss in Earth's largest rainforest, reports a new study based on analysis of deforestation trends in and around indigenous territories, parks, military holdings, and sustainable use reserves. The research, published in the early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that 37 percent of the recent decline in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon can be attributed to newly established protected areas. Brazil designated some 709,000 square kilometers (274,000 sq mi) of Amazon forest — an area larger than the state of Texas — between 2002 and 2009 under its Amazon Protected Areas Program (ARPA). Meanwhile deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by nearly three-quarters between 2004 and 2009.
Indonesia to revoke palm oil concession licenses under forest deal
(05/31/2010) Indonesia will revoke existing forestry licenses to cut down natural forests under the billion dollar deal climate deal signed with Norway last week, reports Reuters.
The Gulf oil spill in context: US oil consumption
(05/31/2010) The US government has now confirmed that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the United States' largest oil spill and perhaps the nation's worst environmental disaster. While poor government oversight and negligence by oil giant BP certainly contributed to the disaster, the fact that the US is drilling over a mile below the surface in one of its most important marine ecosystems is directly related to US consumption of oil: the highest in the world.
Hawaii bans shark fin soup
(05/31/2010) Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, has signed into law a ban on shark-fin soup beginning July 1st, 2011, according to Reuters. The soup is currently served in a number of Chinese restaurants in Hawaii, but the trade has decimated certain shark species due to overfishing.
'No hope now remains' for the Alaotra grebe
(05/31/2010) World governments have missed their goal of stemming biodiversity loss by this year, instead biodiversity loss has worsened according to scientists and policy-makers, and a little rusty-colored bird, the Alaotra grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus) is perhaps a victim of this failure to prioritize biodiversity conservation. Native to a small region in Madagascar, the grebe has been declared extinct by BirdLife International and the IUCN Red List due to several factors including the introduction of invasive carnivorous fish and the use of nylon gill-nets by local fishermen, which now cover much of the bird's habitat, and are thought to have drowned diving grebes. The bird was also poached for food.
BP fails to stop oil spill
(05/30/2010) BP has failed to stop oil gushing from over a mile below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill, which has been confirmed as the worst in American history, has spread between 504,000 to 798,000 gallons of crude oil per day into one of America's most important marine ecosystems.
Mexico has big role in the illegal parrot trade
(05/30/2010) Juan Carlos Cantu, Director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Mexico office, spoke with Laurel Neme on her The WildLife radio show and podcast about the illegal parrot trade in Mexico and how his innovative research into the trade was used by the Mexican Congress to reform that country’s Wildlife Law to ban all trade in parrots. The illegal pet trade is probably the second-biggest threat facing parrots in the wild, with only habitat loss rating higher, and the impact is disturbing. Defenders of Wildlife documented this threat in a 2007 landmark study which found between 65,000 and 78,500 parrots are illegally trapped in the wild in Mexico every year.
Indonesia announces moratorium on granting new forest concessions
(05/28/2010) With one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, the world's third largest greenhouse gas emissions due mostly to forest loss, and with a rich biodiversity that is fighting to survive amid large-scale habitat loss, Indonesia today announced a deal that may be the beginning of stopping forest loss in the Southeast Asian country. Indonesia announced a two year moratorium on granting new concessions of rainforest and peat forest for clearing in Oslo, Norway, however concessions already granted to companies will not be stopped. The announcement came as Indonesia received 1 billion US dollars from Norway to help the country stop deforestation.
Researchers: Madagascar rosewoods deserve CITES protection
(05/27/2010) A new policy paper in Science warns that several species of Madagascar's rosewood could be pushed to extinction due to a current illegal logging crisis on the island. These hardwood species should be considered for protection under Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the researchers conclude.
18,225 new species discovered in 2008
(05/27/2010) In the 2010 State of Observed Species researchers have announced that 18,225 living species were discovered in 2008. In addition, 2,140 new extinct species were discovered byway of fossils.
New bird discovered in Colombia—and released alive
(05/26/2010) Researchers have discovered a new species of antpitta in the montane cloud forests of the Colibri del Sol Bird Reserve in western Colombia. A thrush-like bird, the new cinnamon and gray species was, according to a press release by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), "captured, banded, measured, photographed, sampled for DNA, and then released alive back into the wild". This is one of only a few incidences in which a new species has been described without 'collecting' an individual (i.e. killing) to provide a model of the species in a museum. The new bird has been named Fenwick's antpitta (Grallaria fenwickorum) after the President of ABC, George Fenwick, and his family.
Left Must Fine Tune Its Position on Cuba Embargo in Light of Oil Spill
(05/26/2010) With no end in sight to the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, some may wonder whether BP’s spill could become truly international in scope. That, at least, is the fear in Cuba where people are worried that strong currents could carry the slick to pristine white beaches along the island’s northern coast. In a rare moment of cooperation underscoring the grave seriousness posed by the BP spill, the U.S. and Cuban governments have been holding talks on the matter.
World's 'number one frog' faces extinction from New Zealand government
(05/26/2010) Archey's frog is a survivor: virtually unchanged evolutionarily for 150 million years, the species has survived the comet that decimated the dinosaurs, the Ice Age, and the splitting of continents. Seventy million years ago New Zealand broke away from Australia, essentially isolating Archey's frog and its relatives from all predatory mammals. Yet, if the New Zealand government has its way this species may not survive the century, let alone the next few decades. The New Zealand government has put forward a controversial proposal to begin opening three of the nation's protected areas to mining: Great Barrier Island, Paparoa National Park, and Coromandel Peninsula where the last populations of Archey's frogs live. According to critics, the government's proposal could push Archey's frog toward extinction, while negatively impacting a number of other endangered species, beloved wild lands, and a nation driven by tourism.
'Prepare for war': tensions rising over Brazil's controversial Belo Monte dam
(05/25/2010) Tensions are flaring after Brazil's approval of the Belo Monte dam project last month to divert the flow of the Xingu River. The dam, which will be the world's third larges, will flood 500 square miles of rainforest, lead to the removal of at least 12,000 people in the region, and upturn the lives of 45,000 indigenous people who depend on the Xingu. After fighting the construction of the dam for nearly thirty years, indigenous groups are beginning to talk of a last stand.
Researchers begin studying long-term effects of oil spill on marine life
(05/25/2010) As a White House official today announced that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the worst in US history—surpassing even the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 (which is still affecting the area today)—marine biologist are beginning to prepare studies to monitor how the spill will impact the gulf in the long-term.
More of the Amazon opened to oil development
(05/24/2010) Perupetro, the Peruvian government's oil and gas corporate leasing body, announced last week that it will open an additional 25 lots for oil and gas exploration in the Amazon covering an area of 10 million hectares (nearly 25 million acres). Peru's national Amazon indigenous group, AIDESEP, criticized the move calling it a 'new threat' to Peru's indigenous group. According to Amazon Watch these new lots mean that 75 percent of the Peruvian Amazon is now open to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
Long-distance seed dispersal and hunting, an interview with Kimberly Holbrook
(05/24/2010) Scientists are just beginning to uncover the complex relationship between healthy biodiverse tropical forests and seed dispersers—species that spread seeds from a parent tree to other parts of the forest including birds, rodents, primates, and even elephants. By its very nature this relationship consists of an incredibly high number of variables: how abundant are seed dispersers, which animals spread seeds the furthest, what species spread which seeds, how are human impacts like hunting and deforestation impacting successful dispersal, as well as many others. Dr. Kimberly Holbrook has begun to answer some of these questions.
Photos: the penis-like mushroom and other top 10 new species of 2009
(05/23/2010) The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University has released its annual top 10 list of new species discovered last year. This time the list includes a two inch penis-like mushroom, a minnow named after Bram Stoker's world-famous horror-character, a bomb-throwing deep sea worm, a giant carnivorous plant named after TV personality and conservationist David Attenborough, and a beautifully patterned frogfish.
BP and the Perilous Voyage of Bama the Manatee
(05/23/2010) To the degree that Americans are paying attention to the environmental plight of marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, they may focus most upon dolphins and whales. However, the U.S. public is much less familiar with another marine mammal, the manatee, which could also be placed in jeopardy as a result of the BP oil spill. One of the most outlandish creatures on the planet, the shy and retiring manatee, which gets its name from an American Indian word meaning "Lady of the Water", is one of my favorite animals.
Photos reveal paradise-like site for coal plant in Borneo
(05/21/2010) With the world's eyes on the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, many are beginning to ponder the rightness of not just America's, but the world's dependence on fossil fuels. Yet large-scale fossil-fuel energy projects continue to march ahead, including one in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo to build a 300 MW coal plant, which has come under fierce opposition from locals (already the project has been forced to move locations twice). The newest proposal will build the coal plant, as photos below reveal, on an undeveloped beach overlooking the Coral Triangle, one of the world's most biodiverse marine environments, with transmission lines likely running through nearby pristine rainforest that are home to several endangered species, including orangutans and Bornean rhinos.
Malaysia introducing tough new wildlife laws
(05/20/2010) By the end of the year, Malaysia will begin enforcing its new Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 including stiffer penalties for poaching and other wildlife-related crimes, such as first time punishments for wildlife cruelty and zoos that operate without license.
Warmest April on record
(05/20/2010) According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the past April was the warmest globally since record taking began in the late 19th Century. Combining both land and ocean temperatures, the NOAA recorded that April 2010 was 0.76 degrees Celsius (1.37 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th Century average.
NASA image reveals new oil trail hundreds of kilometers long in the Gulf
(05/19/2010) A new NASA image of the Gulf oil spill shows a trail of oil extending hundreds of kilometers south and then southeast from the spill. At points this new oil trail is at least twenty kilometers wide. Media groups are saying the new arm may be additional proof that oil has been caught up in the Loop Current, which would carry the pollution to Florida coastlines and possibly even the East coast.
Big compromise reached on Canada's Boreal by environmental groups and forestry industry
(05/19/2010) In what is being heralded as the 'world's largest conservation agreement' 20 Canadian forestry companies and nine environmental organizations have announced an agreement covering 72 million hectares of the Canadian boreal forest (an area bigger than France). Reaching a major compromise, the agreement essentially ends a long battle between several environmental groups and the companies signing on, all members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC).
Norway to provide Indonesia with $1 billion to protect rainforests
(05/19/2010) Norway will provide up to $1 billion to Indonesia to help reduce deforestation and forest degradation, reports The Jakarta Post.
Children prioritize TV, video games over saving the environment
(05/18/2010) When asked to rank what was most important to them children across the world chose watching TV and playing video games ahead of saving the environment, according to an Airbus survey of 10,000 children, ages 5-18, from ten countries. Forty percent of children ranked watching TV and playing video games as most important to them, while 4 percent put 'saving the environment' as number one. Nine percent of the children said that protecting animals was most important to them.
NASA, Google Earth catch North Korea logging protected area
(05/18/2010) Employing satellite data from NASA and Google Earth, Guofan Shao, a professor of geo-eco-informatics at Purdue University, has established that North Korea is logging Mount Paekdu Biosphere Reserve. Since North Korea is off-limits to most researchers, Shao has turned to open-access satellite data to monitor deforestation on the UN designated Man and Biosphere region.
Spill may be spreading: tar balls wash up in the Florida Keys
(05/18/2010) Florida had an unwelcome visitor today as tar balls washed on shore at Fort Zachary State Park in Key West, reports Reuters. Local officials fear the tar balls—small blobs of oil—originated from the Gulf oil spill caused after the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig run by BP exploded. If tests determine that tar balls originated from the spill it would confirm that leaking oil is being carried by an ocean current, known as the Loop Current, from the spill site to Florida's coast.
Elephants march in London, trumpeting conservation
(05/17/2010) Although urban Britain is not the native habitat of the Asian elephant, the well-loved pachyderm has invaded London for the summer. Raising awareness and funds for the threatened Asian elephant, 250 fiberglass statues by different artists are being displayed all over London. At the end of the summer the elephants will be auctioned off. All the proceeds from the art parade will go to Elephant Family, a conservation organization whose mission is to save the Asian Elephant from extinction.
One man's mission to save Cambodia's elephants
(05/17/2010) Since winning the prestigious 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize in Asia, Tuy Sereivathana has visited the US and Britain, even shaking hands with US President Barack Obama, yet in his home country of Cambodia he remains simply 'Uncle Elephant'. A lifelong advocate for elephants in the Southeast Asian country, Sereivathana's work has allowed villagers and elephants to live side-by-side. Working with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) he has successfully brought elephant-killing in Cambodia to an end. As if this were not enough, Sereivathana has helped curb the destruction of forests in his native country and built four schools for children who didn't previously have formal education opportunities.
Nestle caves to activist pressure on palm oil
(05/17/2010) After a two month campaign against Nestle for its use of palm oil linked to rainforest destruction spearheaded by Greenpeace, the food giant has given in to activists' demands. The Swiss-based company announced today in Malaysia that it will partner with the Forest Trust, an international non-profit organization, to rid its supply chain of any sources involved in the destruction of rainforests. "Nestle’s actions will focus on the systematic identification and exclusion of companies owning or managing high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation," a press release from the company reads, adding that "Nestle wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint."
Photos: more new species found in Indonesia's 'lost world'
(05/17/2010) The Foja Mountains on the Indonesian side of New Guinea have proven a biological treasure trove that just keeps spilling riches. Two-and-a-half years ago the region—dubbed Indonesia's 'lost world'—made news globally when researchers announced the discovery of a giant rat: five times the size of the familiar brown rat. New amphibians, birds, and insects have also been found during past expeditions in 2005 and 2007. A collaborative team of Indonesia and international researchers have since returned to the Foja Mountains and found more spectacular species.
Colombia’s Next President: A Renovation for the South American Left?
(05/17/2010) Mired in populist demagoguery and environmentally-unfriendly resource extraction, the South American left is in dire need of ideological renovation. But, where is the likely inspiration to come from? You could not pick a more unlikely candidate than Colombia, a key U.S. ally in the region. And yet, if recent polls are correct, the Green Party could be cruising toward electoral victory in the troubled Andean nation and is currently poised to capture the presidency.
Climate change devastating lizards worldwide: 20 percent estimated to face extinction
(05/13/2010) Lizards have evolved a variety of methods to escape predators: some will drop their tail if caught, many have coloring and patterning that blends in with their environment, a few have the ability to change their colors as their background changes, while a lot of them depend on bursts of speed to skitter away, but how does a lizard escape climate change? According to a new study in Science they don't. The study finds that lizards are suffering local extinctions worldwide due exclusively to warmer temperatures. The researchers conclude that climate change could push 20 percent of the world's lizards to extinction within 70 years.
Wildlife death toll from BP oil spill likely includes dolphins
(05/13/2010) The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is taking its toll on the region's wildlife: brown pelicans, sea turtles, several species of fish, and now dolphins have been found dead. The National Marine Fisheries Service reported today finding six dead dolphins in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama since May 2nd. Officials are saying the deaths could be related to the oil spill or may be due to natural deaths from calving. They are currently testing tissue samples to determine if oil pollution was a cause of death. Dolphins have been observed swimming in oil-stained waters off of Louisiana.
A nation of tragedies: the unseen elephant wars of Chad
(05/12/2010) Stephanie Vergniault, head of SOS Elephants in Chad, says she has seen more beheaded corpses of elephants in her life than living animals. In the central African nation, against the backdrop of a vast human tragedy—poverty, hunger, violence, and hundreds of thousands of refugees—elephants are quietly vanishing at an astounding rate. One-by-one they fall to well-organized, well-funded, and heavily-armed poaching militias. Soon Stephanie Vergniault believes there may be no elephants left. A lawyer, screenwriter, and conservationist, Vergniault is a true Renaissance-woman. She first came to Chad to work with the government on electoral assistance, but in 2009 after seeing the dire situation of the nation's elephants she created SOS Elephants, an organization determined to save these animals from local extinction.
Updated: East Africa's lions falling to poison
(05/11/2010) Eight lions have been poisoned to death in a month in Kenya, according to conservation organization WildlifeDirect. Locals, frustrated by lions killing their livestock, have taken to poisoning the great cats using a common pesticide in Kenya called carbofuran, known commercially as Furadan.
Poachers kill world's rarest rhino in Vietnam
(05/11/2010) Poachers have killed a Javan rhino in Vietnam for its horn according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). With only an estimated 60 individuals left the Javan rhino is the world's rarest and classified by the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. The rhino was found dead from a gunshot wound and its horn cut off in Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam.
Talking the Amazon rainforest with Avatar's James Cameron
(05/11/2010) Recently, I got an invitation to attend an interesting panel dealing with indigenous issues on Earth Day. The talk, held at the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, would host a number of Native Americans but also James Cameron, creator of the blockbuster movie Avatar as well as other hits such as Terminator and Titantic. What, you might ask, was a Hollywood director doing at such an event? If you've seen Cameron's movie you know that it deals with a fictional tribe of humanoid creatures called the Na'vi who inhabit the rainforest world of Pandora. In the film, the Na'vi must fight to preserve the forest from a mineral corporation backed up by the U.S. military. Avatar, a true technological feat, brought the Pandora rainforest to movie-going audiences in 3-D. Though Avatar doesn't attempt to teach anything to the audience per se, it does convey a sense of moral outrage.
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