conservation news and environmental science news.
The need to jump-start REDD to save forests
(03/08/2013) At least US$7.3 billion has been pledged for REDD+ over the period from 2008 to 2015, with $4.3 billion pledged for REDD+ readiness during the fast-start period alone (2010-2012). In addition to these funds, private investors, private foundations, and others have been channeling financial support to developing countries for REDD+ and related programs for several years now.
Despite deforestation worries, U.K. approves palm oil for power production
(03/07/2013) British Parliament has approved new government subsidies for biofuel use in U.K. power stations. Controversially the new measure would potentially subsidize fuels produced from palm oil, a move environmentalists warn could exacerbate deforestation in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Gucci launches 'zero-deforestation' handbag
(03/07/2013) Gucci has rolled out a collection of 'zero-deforestation' leather handbags. Each handbag comes with a 'passport' that provides the history of the product's supply chain going back to the ranch that produced the leather. The line emerged out of concerns that leather in the fashion industry is contributing to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, where roughly two-thirds of forest destruction is for cattle production.
Captive frogs may be spreading diseases to wild cousins across Southeast Asia
(03/07/2013) Scientists have documented a series of links between exotic frogs for trade and diseases in wild frogs in Southeast Asia, including the first documented case of the chytrid fungus—a virulent and lethal disease—in Singapore. According to researchers writing in a new study in EcoHealth, frogs imported into Southeast Asia as pets, food, or traditional medicine are very likely spreading diseases to wild populations.
China delays carbon tax
(03/07/2013) China will not introduce a carbon tax in 2013, reports Bloomberg.
Dunkin' Donuts to adopt palm oil policy
(03/07/2013) Doughnut and coffeehouse giant Dunkin' Donuts has agreed to source 100 percent of its palm oil under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), though the company has yet to set a date for the move, reports the New York State Comptroller's office.
What happened to the elephants of Bouba Ndjida? [warning: graphic photos]
(03/07/2013) A new report released by the Wildlife Conservation Society says that poachers have killed a staggering 62 percent of Africa's forest elephants in the last decade. The insatiable demand for elephant ivory hails mainly from China and Thailand, which is ironically hosting this year's CITES (CoP16) meeting. The meeting will continue until March 13 2013. The study is based on a survey of five elephant range states including Cameroon. Cameroon is the home of Bouba Ndjida National Park, where the dizzying massacre of 650 elephants occurred last year.
Dozens arrested after community fights deforestation by paper company in Indonesia
(03/07/2013) Dozens of villagers from Indonesia’s North Sumatra province traveled to Jakarta this week to demand the release of 16 farmers who remain in detention after conflicts erupted between indigenous communities in Humbang Hasundutan district and PT Toba Pulp Lestari, a unit of the pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL).
Starry frog rediscovered after thought extinct for 160 years (photos)
(03/07/2013) In 1853 Edward Frederick Kelaart, a physician and naturalist, collected a strange frog on the island of Sri Lanka then a British colony known as Ceylon. The specimen was a large shrub frog (about 2 inches or 5.5 centimeters long) with black-outlined white specks on lime-green skin. He dubbed it "starry" after its pale specks, but that was last anyone heard of it. Even the holotype—the body of the amphibian collected by Kelaart—went missing. Fast forward nearly 160 years—two world wars, Sri Lanka's independence, and a man on the moon—when a recent expedition into Sri Lanka's Peak Wilderness rediscovered a beguiling frog with pinkish specks.
Wildfire forces anti-logging activist from tree after 449-day vigil
(03/07/2013) A bushfire has forced an environmental campaigner from the top of a tree following a 449-day vigil to block logging of a stand of old-growth forest in Australia.
The end of wild Africa?: lions may need fences to survive
(03/06/2013) In order for dwindling lion populations to survive in Africa, large-scale fencing projects may be required according to new research in Ecology Letters. Recent estimates have put lion populations down to 15,000-35,000, a massive drop from a population that was thought to be around 100,000 in 1960. The worsening plight of lions have pushed the researchers to suggest what is likely to be a controversial proposal: fence the top predators in.
Near-record jump in carbon concentrations in global atmosphere last year
(03/06/2013) Carbon dioxide now makes up around 395 parts per million in the atmosphere, according to new data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Measuring atmospheric carbon in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, the NOAA notes that last year saw a jump of 2.67 parts per million, second only to a record jump in carbon concentrations in 1998—2.93 parts per million. The news further dampens hopes that nations will stick to their goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Warnings of global ecological tipping points may be overstated
(03/05/2013) There's little evidence that the Earth is nearing a global ecological tipping point, according to a new Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper that is bound to be controversial. The authors argue that despite numerous warnings that the Earth is headed toward an ecological tipping point due to environmental stressors, such as habitat loss or climate change, it's unlikely this will occur anytime soon—at least not on land. The paper comes with a number of caveats, including that a global tipping point could occur in marine ecosystems due to ocean acidification from burning fossil fuels. In addition, regional tipping points, such as the Arctic ice melt or the Amazon rainforest drying out, are still of great concern.
Forests under fire: Australia's imperiled south west
(03/05/2013) In the far southwestern corner of Western Australia, beyond the famed wineries in the shadow of the Margaret River, lies an ecosystem like no other, the South West ecoregion. This part of Australia has been identified as one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, home to rare endemic flora and fauna like the Carnaby's black cockatoo, numbat (banded anteaters), woylie (brush-tailed bettong), mainland quokka and over 1500 plant species, most found nowhere else. Unfortunately, this unique habitat is being increasingly fragmented and its inhabitants threatened by a number of forces, including climate change, dieback, fires and logging. And, on the eve of the Western Australia's state elections, the future of the South West hangs in the balance.
New York Times slashes environmental coverage
(03/05/2013) On Friday at 5 PM the New York Times announced it was shutting down it Green blog, which highlighted diverse stories online, from energy to endangered species to climate change. The loss of the New York Times environment blog follows shortly after the paper announced it was dismantling its environment desk and moving all of the reporters to other beats.
A promising initiative to address deforestation in Brazil at the local level
(03/05/2013) The history of the Brazilian Amazon has long been marked by deforestation and degradation. Until recently the situation has been considered out of control. Then, in 2004, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to combat deforestation. Public pressure—both national and international—was one of the reasons that motivated the government to act. Another reason was that in 2004, deforestation contributed to more than 55 percent of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Featured video: rare, strange mammal caught on camera in Sumatra
(03/05/2013) A video camera trap expedition into Sumatra's Leuser ecosystem has captured a rarely-seen, bizarre mammal on tape. The Sumatran serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) is a goat-antelope found both on Sumatra and mainland Southeast Asia. Rarely seen and little-studied, the animals inhabit highland areas.
Global warming to open new Arctic sea lanes
(03/05/2013) Rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic due to global warming will open new shipping lanes that will speed transit between northern Asia, Europe, Canada and Alaska but unleash new safety, environmental and legal issues, according to scientists writing in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Has shark fin consumption peaked at 100M dead sharks per year?
(03/05/2013) While a new study warns that up to 100M sharks are killed annually, there are signs out of China that demand for shark fin may be on the decline. A study published last week in the journal Marine Policy estimated shark deaths at 100 million in 2000 and 97 million in 2010, suggesting a slight drop in shark killing. Meanwhile reports out of China in recent months suggest an accelerating decline in shark fin consumption. China is the top market for shark fin, which is consumed as a status symbol, typically at wedding ceremonies and business dinners.
62% of all Africa's forest elephants killed in 10 years (warning: graphic images)
(03/04/2013) More than 60 percent of Africa's forest elephants have been killed in the past decade due to the ivory trade, reports a new study published in the online journal PLOS ONE. The study warns that the diminutive elephant species — genetically distinct from the better-known savanna elephant — is rapidly heading toward extinction.
Palm oil company destroys 7,000 ha of Amazon rainforest in Peru
(03/04/2013) A palm oil producer has leveled some 7,000 hectares of rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon, highlighting the risks of oil palm expansion in the world's largest tropical forest, reports El Comercio.
New illegal logging ban in EU could sever all ties with companies working in DRC
(03/04/2013) Yesterday, the EU joined the U.S. and Australia in banning all timber that was illegally harvested abroad. The new regulation could have a major impact on where the EU sources its timber, and no where more so than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to a new report by Greenpeace, the DRC's current moratorium on industrial logging is being systematically circumvented making all timber from the country suspect.
CITES 40th Anniversary: Reflections of CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon
(03/04/2013) The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is often hailed by scholars and conservationists as the most effective international environmental agreement. On March 3, CITES celebrates its 40th anniversary. What accounts for its success? In the following interview, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon reflects on the convention’s strengths and weaknesses.
Thailand's Prime Minister commits to ending ivory trade
(03/04/2013) Yesterday, Thailand's Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, committed to ending the ivory trade in her country. Her announcement came during the opening of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok, which seeks to regulate trade in biodiversity across borders. Wildlife groups say that Thailand's legal trade in domestic ivory—international ivory is illegal of course—has created an easy opening for smugglers from abroad. Currently the ivory trade in Thailand is estimated to be second only to that of China.
Extinction warning: racing to save the little dodo from its cousin's fate
(03/04/2013) Sometime in the late 1600s the world's last dodo perished on the island of Mauritius. No one knows how it spent its final moments—rather in the grip of some invasive predator or simply fading away from loneliness—but with its passing came an icon of extinction, that final breath passed by the last of its kind. The dodo, a giant flightless pigeon, was a marvel of the animal world: now another island ground pigeon, known as the little dodo, is facing its namesake's fate. Found only in Samoa, composed of ten islands, the bird has many names: the tooth-billed pigeon, the Manumea (local name), and Didunculus ("little dodo") strigirostris, which lead one scientist to Christen it the Dodlet. But according to recent surveys without rapid action the Dodlet may soon be as extinct as the dodo.
Bolivia leads the way in wetland protection
(03/04/2013) Bolivia continues to be a champion for Amazonian conservation. On February 2, 2013, Bolivia celebrated World Wetlands Day with the designation of more than 6.9 million hectares of the Llanos de Moxos to the Ramsar Convention's Wetlands of International Importance. In addition to being the largest Ramsar designation to date, Bolivia now claims 14.8 million hectares of protected wetland, making it the leading Contracting Party out of 164 participating countries in terms of Ramsar site surface area.
A New Blueprint for a Green Economy - book review
(03/04/2013) Edward B. Barbier and Anil Markandya, contributing authors to 1989 classic Blueprint for a Green Economy, have revisited the theme to implement a green economy and published A New Blueprint for a Green Economy. The central theme of A New Blueprint for a Green Economy is how we can make economies green today given what we have learned from our efforts since 1989.
Elephant and Rhino issues to be debated at CITES 16th Conference of Parties
(03/04/2013) When the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets from March 3-14 in Bangkok for its 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), elephants and rhinos will be at the top of the agenda. While there are no proposals to open up trade in either elephant ivory or rhino horn, there are several other items on the agenda that will likely generate debate, including proposals for extension of the moratorium on ivory trade, a decision-making mechanism for ivory trade, and suspension of any rhino trophy hunting. Also to be discussed are enforcement mechanisms, including how to prevent illegal ivory from entering existing legal domestic markets.
Saving forests by putting a price on them
(03/04/2013) During the 2013 SuperBowl, the championship game of the US National Football League, a truck company aired an advertisement that likened farmers to God’s favorite assistant. It suggested that when God needs something tough, or gentle, done, he calls a farmer. The narration, taken from a speech given to the Future Farmers of America in 1978 by Paul Harvey, a radio host, plays directly to the near mythical stature of farmers and ranchers in American culture and their deep connection to nature.
Tokelau, 1st county with 100% renewable energy, leads call for climate action
(03/02/2013) The tiny territory of Tokelau is today leading a call by 14 Pacific island nations for the world to take action to stop climate change.
Violence in Kenya's Tana River Delta stems from natural resource conflict
(03/02/2013) Since August 2012, Kenya's Tana River Delta has been besieged by civil conflict continuing into the New Year. The New York Times reported in January at least 200 people are dead and 36,000 displaced in increasingly violent skirmishes between the herders and farmers who share the delta of Kenya's largest river. Although the conflict began as an isolated dispute over water, both groups engaged in retaliatory attacks that have earned comparisons by major global media to the violence preceding Kenya's notoriously violent presidential election.
Overview of the CITES 16th Conference of Parties in Bangkok
(03/01/2013) When countries meet in Bangkok, Thailand for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), to be held from March 3-14, they’ll consider 70 proposals submitted by 55 States regarding a range of species, from polar bears to turtles and tropical timbers. To help sort through the many agenda items, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon provided the following overview of the most significant issues.
Saving forests by stemming agricultural sprawl
(03/01/2013) I’m fortunate to travel the world helping conserve habitats for some of the world’s most iconic species. When I visit places like the Amazon and Sumatra, I’m still awestruck by their diversity and pristine beauty. I’m also reminded how threatened they are. Our growing demand for food and fiber is fueling deforestation in resource-rich regions of the world. As environmentalists, if we don’t change where and how we produce food and fiber, we can turn off the lights and go home. There won’t be any biodiversity left to protect.
Frogs radio-tracked for first time in Madagascar
(03/01/2013) Researchers have radio-tracked frogs for the first time in Madagascar. Attaching tiny radio transmitters weighing 0.3-0.35 grams (1/100 of an ounce) to 36 rainbow frogs (Scaphiophryne gottlebei), the research team tracked the movement of the colorful frogs through rugged canyons in Madagascar's Isalo Massif. They found that the frogs have a short breeding period that occurs after the first intense rainfall at the start of the rainy season.
Malaysian NGOs boldly demand forest conservation action in Borneo
(02/28/2013) In an unusually bold statement catalyzed by the deaths of 14 rare elephants, six Malaysian NGOs today called on the Sabah state government to pursue 'a more conservation focused agenda' in managing the state's forests. The demand comes shortly after the death of 14 endangered pygmy elephants — thought poisoned by an oil palm plantation developer — thrust Sabah's environmental problems into the international spotlight.
Elephant massacre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(02/28/2013) A key Congo wildlife reserve has lost 75 percent of its elephants in just 15 years due to poaching to meet Asian demand for ivory, reports a new survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Democratic Republic of Congo authorities.
Two new species of mini-salamander discovered in Colombia
(02/28/2013) Biologists have discovered two new species of salamander in Tamá National Natural Park in Colombia. While the discovery should be cause for celebration, the news was dampened by the fact that both species are already infected with the deadly fungal disease, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has wiped out amphibian populations worldwide. Both of the new salamanders belong to the genus Bolitoglossa, which are web-footed salamanders found in the tropical Americas.
Guide for filing complaints on rule-breaking by palm oil companies published
(02/28/2013) Over the past 25 years palm oil production has emerged as one of the biggest drivers of deforestation and peatlands degradation in Southeast Asia. And there are fears that expansion in West and Central Africa could soon make palm oil a major cause of forest conversion on that continent.
Selective logging changes character of tropical forest
(02/28/2013) Selective logging is usually considered less harmful than other forestry practices, such as clear cutting, but a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has found that even selective logging has a major impact on tropical forests lasting decades. Comparing trees in two previously logged sites and two unlogged sites in northeast India, researchers found less tree diversity in selectively logged forests with trees dispersed by birds proved especially hard-hit.
Can saving forests help feed the world?
(02/28/2013) As world population climbs from 7 to a projected 9 billion people and emerging and developing economies demand ever more of the food and fiber that drive deforestation, many environmentalists ask with increasing urgency whether and how tropical forests can survive. But the question may actually be whether and how the world’s increasing, and increasingly rich, population can be fed unless tropical forests survive.
New video game turns kids into conservationists
(02/28/2013) Count coral in the Chagos Archipelago, save amphibians from the deadly chytrid fungus, replant trees in the Atlantic Forest, and count predators and prey in the African Savannah—a new free online game by Wildscreen, dubbed Team WILD, allows young players to learn about science and conservation while moving fast-paced through different ecosystems. Wildscreen is a conservation charity devoted to using imagery to raise awareness and protect wildlife.
Indonesian palm oil company denies child labor claims, new allegations arise
(02/28/2013) PT Sinar Sawit Andalan (PT SSA), a palm oil plantation company in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, has denied allegations that the company employs children. PT SSA was responding to a video released earlier this month that showed school-age children carrying polybags at the company’s work site in West Kalimantan’s Sintang district.
The challenge of putting Brazil’s forests in good hands
(02/28/2013) People often associate Brazil with its forests. It’s no wonder given that nearly 60% of the country’s territory is covered by forest and it holds about one-third of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests. You might assume that a country like this would care about educating people to sustainably manage this precious heritage. Well, you’d be wrong!
Does the presence of scientists help deter poaching and deforestation in protected areas?
(02/27/2013) While vast areas of wildlife habitat have been set aside in protected areas in recent decades, many reserves continue to suffer from illegal encroachment, logging, mining, and poaching. The recent spasm in elephant and rhino poaching within African parks merely underlines the problem. Intuitively, it would seem that scientists' presence in a protected area would help safeguard it from illegal activities. But according to a new paper published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, no one has definitively shown that to be the case.
Shell suspends Arctic oil drilling for the year
(02/27/2013) Royal Dutch Shell announced today that it was setting "pause" on its exploratory drilling activities in the Arctic for 2013. Shell's operations are currently under review by the federal government after the oil company suffered numerous setbacks during last year's opening attempt to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, including running its drilling rig aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska in late December.
Leatherback sea turtles suffer 78 percent decline at critical nesting sites in Pacific
(02/27/2013) The world's largest sea turtle, the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), is vanishing from its most important nesting sites in the western Pacific, according to a new study in Ecosphere. Scientists found that leatherback turtle nests have dropped by 78 percent in less than 30 years in the Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea. Worryingly, these beaches account for three-fourths of the western Pacific's distinct leatherback population; globally the leatherback is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the highest rating before extinction.
Scientists: stop treating population growth as a 'given' and empower women
(02/27/2013) Climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, water scarcity, and land issues: almost all of the world's environmental problems are underpinned by too many people inhabiting a finite planet. A new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B warns that overpopulation—combined with over-consumption—is threatening to push the entire globe into "a collapse of global civilization." But cultural changes, especially more empowerment of women and access to contraceptives, may hold the key to reducing population growth and eventual sustainability.
The corporate conservation revolution
(02/27/2013) There’s a new kind of environmental hero emerging. They don’t live in Washington, D.C., and they’re known more for their interest in increasing earnings than in reducing greenhouse gases. They are found in an unlikely place: The Corporate Boardroom, and they’re making a big difference in saving the worlds forests and our climate. In recent years, a group of visionary corporate leaders have been quietly teaming up with a growing number of environmental groups to take a hard look at what’s left of our planet’s natural resources. Together, they agree: we are past the point where our land and oceans can meet the food, energy and commodity demands of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.
Travel in Madagascar: strange wildlife and stunning landscapes
(02/27/2013) The promise of lemurs, lizards, and a bouquet of biodiversity brought mongabay.com founder Rhett Butler to Madagascar sixteen years ago. He was not disappointed by what he found and was inspired to return, many times to experience the wildlife, landscapes, and people of the dynamic island. In 2004, Rhett founded wildmadagascar.org, a site that highlights the spectacular cultural and biological richness of Madagascar and reports on environmental news for the Indian Ocean island nation.
Chinese government creating secret demand for tiger trade alleges NGO (warning: graphic images)
(02/26/2013) The number of tigers being captive bred in China for consumption exceed those surviving in the wild—across 13 countries—by over a third, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The report, Hidden in Plain Sight, alleges that while the Chinese government has been taking a tough stance on tiger conservation abroad, at home it has been secretly creating demand for the internationally-banned trade. Few animals in the world have garnered as much conservation attention at the tiger (Panthera tigirs), including an international summit in 2010 that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the vanishing wild cats.
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