conservation news and environmental science news.
Uranium mine at edge of Grand Canyon National Park approved
(05/08/2013) Uranium mining on the doorstep of the Grand Canyon national park is set to go ahead in 2015 despite a ban imposed last year by Barack Obama. Energy Fuels Resources has been given federal approval to reopen its old Canyon Mine, located six miles south of the canyon's popular South Rim entrance, that attracts nearly 5 million visitors a year.
Debate heats up over California's plan to reduce emissions via rainforest protection
(05/07/2013) As the public comment period for California's cap-and-trade program draws to a close, an alliance of environmental activists have stepped up a heated campaign to keep carbon credits generated by forest conservation initiatives in tropical countries out of the scheme. These groups say that offsets generated under the so-called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) mechanism, will undermine efforts to cut emissions as home, while potentially leading to abuses abroad. However supporters of forest conservation-based credits say the program may offer the best hope for saving the world's beleaguered rainforests, which continue to fall at a rate of more than 8 million hectares per year.
17 poachers allegedly enter elephant stronghold in Congo, conservationists fear massacre
(05/07/2013) Local researchers and wildlife guards say 17 armed elephant poachers have gained access to Dzanga Bai, a large waterhole and clearing where up to 200 forest elephants visit daily in the Central African Republic (CAR)'s Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. WWF, which works in the region but has recently evacuated due to rising violence, is calling on the CAR government to rapidly mobilize its military to stop another elephant bloodbath in central Africa. Elephants are being killed across their range for their ivory, which is mostly smuggled to East Asia.
Featured video: camera trapping in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
(05/07/2013) A new video highlights the work of Badru Mugerwa as he sets and monitors 60 remote camera traps in one of the most rugged tropical forests on Earth: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Mugerwa is working with the TEAM Network, run by Conservation International, which monitors mammal and bird populations in 16 protected tropical forests around the world. Every researcher uses the same methodology allowing findings to be compared not just from year-to-year but across oceans.
A Tale of Two Elephants: celebrating the lives and mourning the deaths of Cirrocumulus and Ngampit
(05/07/2013) On March 21st, the organization Save the Elephants posted on their Facebook page that two African elephants had been poached inside a nearby reserve: "Sad news from the north of Kenya. Usually the national reserves are safe havens for elephants, and they know it. But in the last two weeks two of our study animals have been shot inside the Buffalo Springs reserve. First an 18 year-old bull called Ngampit and then, yesterday, 23 year-old female called Cirrocumulus (from the Clouds family)."
Health effects of toxic waste sites in developing countries could rival malaria, air pollution, new study shows
(05/07/2013) Exposure to dangerous chemicals from toxic waste sites may be creating a public health crisis in developing countries comparable to that caused by malaria or even air pollution, a new study suggests, highlighting the urgent need to clean up toxic waste. In a study published on Saturday in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers calculated the number of 'healthy years of life lost' due to ill-health, disability or early death in individuals at risk of exposure to chemicals at 373 toxic waste sites in India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Frankenfish or scientific marvel?: giant GM salmon await U.S. approval
(05/07/2013) It is hard to think of a more unlikely setting for genetic experimentation or for raising salmon: a rundown shed at a secretive location in the Panamanian rainforest miles inland and 1,500m above sea level. But the facility, which is owned by an American company AquaBounty Technologies, stands on the verge of delivering the first genetically modified food animal—a fast-growing salmon—to supermarkets and dinner tables.
Munching on marine plastic kills sperm whale
(05/07/2013) What do children's toys, balloons, mattresses and plastic bags have in common? They can, along with more non-biodegradable pollutants, be found in the belly of a sperm whale, the topic of a new study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. The same whale that swallowed Jonah from the Bible, Geppetto from Collodi's Pinocchio, and the crew of the Pequod from Melville's Moby-Dick is now swallowing trash from the Spanish-Mediterranean coast, and in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Bat's tongue could inspire miniature surgical robot design
(05/06/2013) Nectar-feeding bats shift the shape of their tongue to slurp up sugar from flowers upon which they feed, finds a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Hawaiian silversword: another warning on climate change
(05/06/2013) The Hawaiian silversword (Argyroxyphium sandwicense), a beautiful, spiny plant from the volcanic Hawaiian highlands may not survive the ravages of climate change, according to a new study in Global Change Biology. An unmistakable plant, the silversword has long, sword-shaped leaves covered in silver hair and beautiful flowering stalks that may tower to a height of three meters.
The world's largest 'waste dump' is found in the Pacific Ocean
(05/06/2013) If you were to travel from the United States of America to Japan, you would most likely encounter what could be described as the world's largest waste dump: a 100,000 tonne expanse of debris floating around a large region of the Pacific Ocean. The total area of this phenomenon has been said to equal the size of continental U.S., but the truth about its true size remains unknown.
Central America's largest forest under siege by colonists
(05/06/2013) In the last four years, invading land speculators and peasants have destroyed 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of rainforest in Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, according to the Mayangna and Miskito indigenous peoples who call this forest home. Although Nicaragua recognized the land rights of the indigenous people in 2007, the tribes say the government has not done near-enough to keep illegal settlers out despite recent eviction efforts.
Unconventional swine: how invasive pigs are helping preserve biodiversity in the Pantanal
(05/06/2013) Ordinarily, invasive and exotic species are a grave threat to native wildlife: outcompeting local species, introducing parasites and disease, and disturbing local ecological regimes. A unique case in the Brazilian Pantanal, however, has turned the tables; here, an introduced mammal has actually aided the conservation of native wildlife.
Featured video: If I were a panda...
(05/06/2013) A new powerful video by the conservation program, APES, highlights the threat faced by many species: not being cute enough. The creative short video was produced pro bono by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago.
'Suffering...without witnesses': over a quarter of a million people perished in Somali famine
(05/06/2013) A new report estimates that 258,000 people died in 2011 during a famine in Somalia, the worst of such events in 25 years and a number at least double the highest estimations during the crisis. Over half of the victims, around 133,000, were children five and under. The report, by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), argues that the international community reacted too late and too little to stem the mass starvation brought on by government instability, conflict, high food prices, and failed rains, the last of which has been linked to climate change by some scientists.
All the world's rarest birds in one book: photo contest enlivens new guide
(05/06/2013) The World's Rarest Birds is an extraordinary bird book. 590 different bird species are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, with many species only existing in captivity. A new book, The World's Rarest Birds, catalogs all of these species. Each species is shown with remarkable color-photography and illustrations. Threats to species habitat are described, population estimates per species are given, and each species has a quick response (QR) code that takes the reader to a species-specific BirdLife International webpage. The book also covers 60 Data Deficient species. Data Deficient means that there exists little to no information on the relative abundance and distribution of the species.
Lemur has unexpectedly wide range, diversity of color variations
(05/05/2013) An endangered lemur has a larger range than originally believed but is still at risk due to forest fragmentation and land clearing, reports a study published in the journal Primate Conservation.
Court rules for palm oil company in controversial deforestation case
(05/05/2013) Court orders Aceh governor to reverse decision to cancel palm oil concession in protected peatlands. An Indonesian court has ruled in favor of plantation company PT Kallista Alam in a lawsuit brought against the governor of Indonesia’s Aceh province for revoking the company’s license to develop palm oil plantations in a protected peat swamp forest.
Acting Madagascar president breaks pledge not to stand in election
(05/04/2013) President Andry Rajoelina broke his pledge not to run in Madagascar's upcoming presidential election, once again throwing the political stability of the island nation into question.
Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry denies losing $731m in state funds in 2012
(05/03/2013) Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry on Friday denied a claim by an NGO that it lost or misappropriated 7.1 trillion rupiah ($731 million) in 2012, reports the Jakarta Globe.
Tribesmen launch 'occupy' protest at dam site in the Amazon rainforest
(05/03/2013) On Thursday roughly 200 indigenous people launched an occupation of a key construction site for the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. The protestors, who represent communities that will be affected by the massive dam, are demanding immediate suspension of all work on hydroelectric projects on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers until they are properly consulted, according to a coalition of environmental groups opposing the projects.
Widely used insecticide contaminating water supplies, triggering wildlife die-off in Europe
(05/03/2013) The world's most widely used insecticide is devastating dragonflies, snails and other water-based species, a groundbreaking Dutch study has revealed.
Mekong region has lost a third of its forests in 30 years, may lose another third by 2030
(05/03/2013) The Greater Mekong region of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam will lose a third of its remaining forest cover by 2030 unless regional governments improve management of natural resources and transition toward a greener growth model, warns a new report issued by WWF.
Hibernating primates: scientists discover three lemur species sleep like bears
(05/02/2013) Bears do it, bats do it, and now we know lemurs do it too: hibernate, that is. Since 2005, scientists have known that the western fat-tailed dwarf lemur hibernates, but a new study in Scientific Reports finds that hibernation is more widespread among lemurs than expected. At least two additional lemur species—Crossley's dwarf lemur and Sibree's dwarf lemur—have been discovered hibernating. So far lemurs, which are only found on the island of Madagascar, are the only primates known to undergo hibernation, raising curious questions about the relationship between lemur hibernation and more well-known deep sleepers.
Endangered primates and cats may be hiding out in swamps and mangrove forests
(05/02/2013) What happens to animals when their forest is cut down? If they can, they migrate to different forests. But in an age when forests are falling far and fast, many species may have to shift to entirely different environments. A new paper in Folia Primatologica theorizes that some 60 primate species and 20 wild cat species in Asia and Africa may be relying more on less-impacted environments such as swamp forests, mangroves, and peat forests.
Is it possible to reduce the impact of oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest?
(05/02/2013) Oil extraction in the Amazon rainforest has been linked to severe environmental degradation — including deforestation and pollution — which in some areas has spurred violent social conflict. Yet a vast extent of the Colombian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Bolivian, and Brazilian Amazon is currently under concession for oil and gas exploration and production. It seems clear that much of this hydrocarbon development is going to proceed whether environmentalists and human rights groups like it or not.
Drill baby drill! The fate of African biodiversity and the monkey you've never heard of
(05/02/2013) Equatorial Guinea is not a country that stands very large in the American consciousness. In fact most Americans think you mean Papua New Guinea when you mention it or are simply baffled. When I left for Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea, I also knew almost nothing about the island, the nation, or the Bioko drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis). The subspecies of drill is unique to Bioko Island and encountering them was an equally unique experience. I initially went to Bioko as a turtle research assistant but ended up falling in love with the entire ecosystem, especially the Bioko drills as I tagged along with drill researchers.
Sugarcane production impacting local climate in Brazil
(05/01/2013) Intensification of Brazil's sugarcane industry in response to rising demand for sugar-based ethanol could have impacts on the regional climate reports a new study by researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science. Following the conversion of cerrado grasslands into sugarcane in Brazil, a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found local cooling that approached 1 degree Celsius during the growing season and maximum local warming near 1 degree Celsius post-harvest.
13 year search for Taiwan's top predator comes up empty-handed
(05/01/2013) After 13 years of searching for the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura), once hopeful scientists say they believe the cat is likely extinct. For more than a decade scientists set up over 1,500 camera traps and scent traps in the mountains of Taiwan where they believed the cat may still be hiding out, only to find nothing.
World's rarest duck on the rebound in Madagascar
(05/01/2013) After a final sighting in 1991, the Madagascar pochard was thought to have vanished for good. But this diving duck was rediscovered in 2006 when a flock of 22 individuals was found on Lake Matsaborimena in northern Madagascar by conservationists during an expedition. Soon after Madagascar pochard eggs were taken and incubated in a joint captive breeding program by Durrell, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar, and Madagascar government, which recently announced that the population—both captive and wild—has nearly quadrupled.
Ten U.S. cities pledge to kick fossil fuel investments to the curb
(05/01/2013) The cities of San Francisco and Seattle have pulled their money out of fossil fuel companies, taking a climate divestment campaign from college campuses to local government. The campaign group 350.org said on Thursday it had won commitments from a total of 10 cities and towns to divest from 200 of leading fossil fuel companies.
Citizen group finds 30 toxic chemicals in air following tar sands oil spill in Arkansas
(04/30/2013) Independent air samples by locals have yielded "a soup of toxic chemicals" in Mayflower, Arkansas where an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst on March 29th spilling some 5,000 barrels of tar sands oil, known as bitumen. Chemicals detected included several linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and neurological impacts such as benzene and ethylbenzene. Air samples were taken by community leader and University of Central Arkansas student April Lane a day after the spill. However, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)'s and Exxon Mobil's air samples have yielded chemical levels below harm except in the direct clean-up area, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH).
Indigenous tribes say effects of climate change already felt in Amazon rainforest
(04/30/2013) Tribal groups in Earth's largest rainforest are already being affected by shifts wrought by climate change, reports a paper published last week in the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The paper, which is based on a collection of interviews conducted with indigenous leaders in the Brazilian Amazon, says that native populations are reporting shifts in precipitation patterns, humidity, river levels, temperature, and fire and agricultural cycles. These shifts, measured against celestial timing used by indigenous groups, are affecting traditional ways of life that date back thousands of years.
Malaysia may loan Indonesia rhinos to save species from extinction
(04/30/2013) Conservationists and officials meeting last month at a rhino crisis summit in Singapore agreed to a radical plan to loan Sumatran rhinos between nations if it means saving the critically endangered species from extinction. The proposal, which could still be thwarted by red tape and political opposition, could lead Malaysia to send some of its Sumatran rhinos to semi-captive breeding facilities in Indonesia.
Cement producers hunting for limestone could threaten Borneo caves
(04/30/2013) Steep towers and rock formations jut out of the Borneo rainforest, sitting atop a vast network of caves and underground waterways in Indonesia’s Mangkalihat-Sangkulirang region. This dramatic karst landscape, created by the slow erosion of limestone mountains in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, also contains prehistoric fossils and cave paintings created by some of Borneo’s earliest inhabitants and serves as an important source of water for the surrounding area.
Conservation without supervision: Peruvian community group creates and patrols its own protected area
(04/30/2013) When we think of conservation areas, many of us think of iconic National Parks overseen by uniformed government employees or wilderness areas purchased and run from afar by big-donor organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, or Conservation International. But what happens to ecosystems and wildlife in areas where there's a total lack of government presence and no money coming in for its protection? This is the story of one rural Peruvian community that took conservation matters into their own hands, with a little help from a dedicated pair of primate researchers, in order to protect a high biodiversity cloud forest.
Mining companies must turn to recycling as demand for metals grows
(04/30/2013) Demand for metals is likely to increase tenfold as developing economies surge ahead, putting severe stress on the natural environment, a new report from the United Nations Environment Program (Unep) has warned. The organization has suggested a novel response: bring in the mining companies—often seen as the environmental villains—to sort out the recycling.
Scientists discover new giant mole rat in Africa (photos)
(04/30/2013) Although the term "giant mole rat" may not immediately inspire love, the mole rats of Africa are a fascinating bunch. They spend practically their entire lives underground building elaborate tunnel systems and feeding on plant stems. This underground lifestyle has led them to evolve small ears, tiny eyes, forward-pointing teeth for digging, and nostrils they can shut at will while digging. Some species are quite social, such as the most famous, the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber), while others live largely solitary lives. If that's not enough, the family of mole rats, dubbed Blesmols, may even help us find a cure for cancer.
The shady business of online wildlife trade
(04/30/2013) The internet is certainly the cornerstone of modern technology and a boon for so much innovation. However, along with all its advantages, there are some serious drawbacks and one of the latest is online smuggling of wildlife. The Indian Express recently reported that India's wildlife police have discovered illegal websites selling live endangered animals, parts and rare plants.
Rivers or grave yards? The woes of the Indian gharial and Gangetic dolphin in the Yamuna River
(04/30/2013) Rivers in India, especially the Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra all carry a potent spiritual significance. Not only are these water way responsible for sustenance, they are also believed to be living goddesses blessing the land with their bounties. Immersing one’s ashes in the Ganga is said to free you from the karmic cycle of rebirth.
APP answers questions on new forest conservation policy
(04/29/2013) In February, Asia Pulp & Paper, one the world's largest paper producers, announced a forest conservation policy that would effectively exclude fiber sourced through conversion of rainforests and peatlands. The announcement however was met by skepticism by many in the environmental movement due to APP's failures to abide by previous commitments to avoid rainforest logging.
Obama Administration to propose stripping protection from all gray wolves
(04/29/2013) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is proposing to end protection for all gray wolves (Canis lupus) in the lower 48 states, save for a small population of Mexican wolves in New Mexico, reports the Los Angeles Times. The proposal comes two years after wolves were removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in western states by a legislative rider on a budget bill, and soon after in the midwest. Since then hunting and trapping has killed over 1,500 wolves in these two regions.
Europe bans pesticides linked to bee collapse
(04/29/2013) The EU has banned three neonicotinoid pesticides (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) linked to the decline of bees for two years. The ban will apply to all flowering crops, such as corn, rape seed, and sunflowers. The move follows a flood of recent studies, some high-profile, that have linked neonicotinoid pesticides, which employ nicotine-like chemicals, to the widespread decline of bees seen both in Europe and North America.
What if companies actually had to compensate society for environmental destruction?
(04/29/2013) The environment is a public good. We all share and depend on clean water, a stable atmosphere, and abundant biodiversity for survival, not to mention health and societal well-being. But under our current global economy, industries can often destroy and pollute the environment—degrading public health and communities—without paying adequate compensation to the public good. Economists call this process "externalizing costs," i.e. the cost of environmental degradation in many cases is borne by society, instead of the companies that cause it. A new report from TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), conducted by Trucost, highlights the scale of the problem: unpriced natural capital (i.e. that which is not taken into account by the global market) was worth $7.3 trillion in 2009, equal to 13 percent of that year's global economic output.
Featured documentary: Damocracy, highlighting the battles over the Belo Monte and Ilisu dams
(04/29/2013) A new short documentary highlights the battles over monster dam projects imperiling local people and wild rivers. Examining the Belo Monte dam in Brazil and the Ilisu dam in Turkey, the documentary argues that such hydroelectric projects cannot be deemed "green" energy as they overturn lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems.
Climate Myths: how climate denialists are getting away with bad science
(04/29/2013) In Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science, Dr. John J. Berger deconstructs the climate change denialists' myths in simple, easy-to-read terms. According to the Pew Research Center: "Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) [Americans] say there is solid evidence that the earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades, up six points since November 2011 and 12 points since 2009." Yet implementing national-level climate change mitigation legislation is not occurring in the U.S.
With addition of smog, trees may generate air pollution
(04/26/2013) In 2004 scientists found that isoprene, a compound produced by trees to protect their leaves from oxidation and temperature fluctuations, plays a role in the production of particulate matter, tiny particles that can cause lung damage, asthma, and other health problems. The finding — which led some to argue that forests are worsening air pollution rather than helping mitigate it — was incomplete however. Researchers didn't fully understand how isoprene and air pollution was linked.
Probe confirms Singapore-based palm oil company engaged in land-grabbing in Borneo
(04/26/2013) An independent investigation has shown that First Resources Ltd, a palm oil plantation company and member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), failed to obtain proper consent from local communities before clearing rainforests for plantations in Indonesian Borneo, an Indonesian indigenous rights group reported last week.
Great tits unaffected by warmer springs
(04/26/2013) The population of a widely dispersed bird species is relatively unaffected by warmer springs, indicating that some species may be adapting to shifts caused by climate change, reports a study published in the journal Science.
Rhinos now extinct in Mozambique's Limpopo National Park
(04/25/2013) Poachers have likely killed off the last rhinos in Mozambique's Limpopo National Park, according to a park official.
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