conservation news and environmental science news.
Iceland raises whale killing quota to 150 fin whales, 100 minkes per year
(01/28/2009) The outgoing administration in Iceland has substantially raised the country's whaling quota, reports the BBC.
Biochar and reforestation may offer better global cooling potential than ocean fertilization
(01/28/2009) The first comprehensive assessment of the climate cooling potential of different geoengineering schemes has been conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA). The results are published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions
Photo: Indigenous leaders form giant human banner to protest Amazon destruction
(01/28/2009) Gathering at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil, indigenous people from across Latin America today called upon world leaders to protect the Amazon rainforest which is under continued threat from loggers, ranchers, and agroindustrial companies. Nearly 12,000 square kilometers (4,600 sq miles) of Amazon rainforest were destroyed last year while another 25,000 square kilometers were damaged or degraded. More than 1000 forum participants formed a human banner that spelled out the message "SALVE A AMAZONIA" ("Save the Amazon" in Portuguese) around a silhouette of an indigenous warrior taking aim with a bow and arrow.
Many global warming impacts may be irreversible in next 1000 years
(01/27/2009) Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to cease today, many of the forecast impacts of climate change are already irreversible for at least the next 1000 years, report researchers writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Mountain gorilla population in DR Congo increases 12.5%
(01/27/2009) The population of critically endangered mountain gorillas in Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park increased 12.5 percent in the past 16 months according to a census conducted by the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN). 81 gorillas now live permanently in the park, up from 72 in August 2007.
Camera trap photos reveal bushmeat hunting threat to jaguars in Ecuador
(01/27/2009) Jaguars are the largest cats of the Americas and third largest cats in the world. The primary rainforest in the Amazon region of Ecuador is among their last remaining strongholds. Jaguars are listed as “vulnerable” in Ecuador, and Santiago Espinosa, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) fellow, PhD candidate from University of Florida/Gainesville, and WWF fellow, wants to know just how many jaguars are left in his home country. He is developing strategies to protect them by determining their numbers and the factors that threaten them through a unique method of non-invasive photography.
Global warming may doom emperor penguins to extinction
(01/27/2009) Disappearing sea ice around Antarctica may put emperor penguins at risk of extinction within the next century, warn scientists writing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Saving leatherback turtles in South America’s smallest country, Suriname: An interview with Liz McHuron
(01/27/2009) After a year studying marine biology at Moss Landing Marine Labs, Liz McHuron headed off to the little-known nation of Suriname to monitor leatherback sea turtles. Her responsibilities included implementing a conservation strategy for a particular beach, moving leatherback nests in danger of flooding, and educating volunteer workers on the biology, behavior, and conservation efforts of the world's largest, and most unique, marine turtle. I visited McHuron during her time at the beach of Galibi in Suriname; she proved to be the sort of scientist who refused to be deterred: breathtaking humidity or downpours, fer-de-lances on the beach or jaguars, Liz was always on the move, always working to aid the critically-endangered leatherbacks while studying them with the thoroughness inherit in a born scientist.
ADM takes step towards more sustainable soy production in the Amazon
(01/27/2009) Agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) has partnered with Brazilian nonprofit Aliança Da Terra to promote better environmental stewardship among soybean producers operating in the Amazon, reports the Chicago Tribune.
New global temperature record expected in the next 1-2 years
(01/27/2009) 2008 was the coolest year since 2000 but still ranks in the top ten warmest years since record-keeping began in 1880, reported NASA last week.
Americans building fewer McMansions
(01/27/2009) New home size is shrinking in the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal.
How to make forest fragments more hospitable to wildlife
(01/27/2009) While deforestation garners more attention from environmentalists, fragmentation of forest habitats is of significant concern to ecologists. As forest is fragmented into islands by logging, roads, agriculture, and other disturbances, edge effects alter the structure, microclimate and species composition of the forest patches, usually reducing the overall number of species. Forest specialists are most likely to suffer, losing out to "weedier" generalists and species that can tolerate forest "edge" conditions. A new study, conducted in the Brazilian Amazon, takes a detailed look at the types of birds that are likely to persist, and even thrive, in forest fragments.
Logging may be linked to landslide deaths in Malaysia says environmental group
(01/27/2009) Three people were killed and seven injured when a landslide swept through a logging camp in the Upper Limbang region of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of Sarawak's indigenous people, links the landslide to logging.
Obama pushes for better mileage standards
(01/27/2009) President Obama has moved to allow states set automobile emission rules, opening the door for more fuel efficient vehicles. Monday Obama signed a memorandum requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider California's application to set tighter auto emissions and fuel efficiency standards than required under federal law. Should the waiver be granted, automakers would be forced to sell more fuel efficient vehicles if they want to do business in the state.
What does slowing economy mean for rainforest conservation?
(01/26/2009) Plunging commodity prices may offer a reprieve for the world's beleaguered tropical forests. The global economic downturn has caused demand for many commodities to plummet. The resulting decline in the prices of timber, energy, minerals and agricultural products may do what conservationists have largely failed to achieve in recent years: slow deforestation. Fueled by surging demand from China and other emerging economies, and boosted by the convergence of food and energy markets in response to American and European incentives for biofuels, the worldwide commodity boom over the past few years helped trigger a land rush that precipitated the conversion of natural forests for farms, plantations, and ranches. At the same time, high prices for metals, fossil fuels, and other industrial resources drove a global search for exploitable reserves, many of which lie in tropical forest countries. Now that the bonanza is unwinding, with prices for everything from palm oil to bauxite to crude oil cratering, the incentives to clear forests are retreating. Developers large and small are abandoning projects and forgoing planned expansion around the world.
Palm oil may be single most immediate threat to the greatest number of species
(01/26/2009) Efforts to slow the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations at the expense of natural forests across Southeast Asia are being hindered by industry-sponsored disinformation campaigns, argue scientists writing in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The authors, Lian Pin Koh and David S. Wilcove, say that palm oil may constitute the "single most immediate threat to the greatest number of species" by driving the conversion of biologically rich ecosystems — including lowland rainforests and peatlands.
Deadly ‘brown cloud’ over South Asia caused by wood and dung burning
(01/23/2009) Long a subject of debate, the cause of the infamous brown cloud that hovers over the Indian Ocean and South Asia every winter has finally been discovered. Researchers led by Dr Orjan Gustafsson from the University of Stockholm in Sweden announced in Science that 70 percent of the cloud is made up of soot from the burning of biomasses, largely wood and animal dung used for cooking.
Guidelines on how to establish an avoided deforestation project
(01/22/2009) Deforestation presently accounts for nearly 20 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions — a share larger than that from the global transportation sector. Given this contribution, reducing deforestation is widely seen as a key component in plans to slow climate change and a number of proposals to include forestry in a post-Kyoto climate agreement are presently on the table. Anticipating the emergence of a market for forest carbon as a result of this framework, 'avoided deforestation' projects are already sprouting up in tropical countries around the world. Supporters say these initiatives offer the potential to protect forests and biodiversity while simultaneously delivering benefits to rural communities that have so far been lost out while their natural resources have been plundered by developers. While avoided deforestation seems to offers great promise, developing a project that meets still emerging standards is a complex and costly endeavor. A new book, published in five languages, seeks to untangle the forest carbon market and thereby facilitate new avoided deforestation projects.
High coffee prices spurred deforestation in Sumatra but effective law enforcement slowed forest loss
(01/22/2009) Law enforcement efforts can significantly deter deforestation in protected areas despite high pressure from agricultural expansion, reports a new study that assessed the effectiveness of conservation in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southern Sumatra, Indonesia. However the research suggests that conservation needs extend beyond law enforcement to be effective in the long-run.
Climate change killing forests in the western U.S.
(01/22/2009) Tree death rates in old-growth forests of the western United States have more more than doubled in recent decades likely because of regional climate warming, report researchers writing in the journal Science.
Antarctica shows net warming over past 50 years
(01/22/2009) Despite a cooling trend in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, Antarctica has experienced net warming over the past 50 years, report researchers writing in the January 22 edition of Nature. Analyzing data from satellites and weather stations authors led by Eric Steig of the University of Washington (UW) found that "warming in West Antarctica exceeded one-tenth of a degree Celsius per decade for the last 50 years and more than offset the cooling in East Antarctica", according to a statement from UW.
Indonesia lifts ban on logging of natural forests for pulp and paper
(01/22/2009) Indonesia has reversed a ban on paper and pulp companies from harvesting wood from natural forests, reports the International Tropical Timber Organization in its Tropical Timber Market Report for Jan 1-15.
Gabon bans harvest of four tropical hardwood species
(01/22/2009) Gabon has banned the harvest of four valuable hardwoods according to the International Tropical Timber Organization's Tropical Timber Market Report for Jan 1-15.
97% of climatologists say global warming is occurring and caused by humans
(01/22/2009) A new poll among 3,146 earth scientists found that 90 percent believe global warming is real, while 82 percent agree that human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.
Carbon market collapse claims another casualty
(01/22/2009) A recent collapse in carbon prices has triggered CantorCO2e — a carbon broker — to scale back on new clean energy projects, reports Reuters.
How to establish a REDD project
(01/22/2009) New guide offers insight on establishing projects for the emerging avoided deforestation or REDD market.
Could engineering rainforests save the planet from global warming?
(01/21/2009) At the Smithsonian symposium entitled “Will the Rainforests Survive?”, leading tropical biologists vigorously debated current threats to the rainforest and what the future may hold. While climate change was identified as a leading threat to rainforests, many of the scientists argued that the tropics may also be the key to mitigating the impact of global warming.
One billion frogs harvested as food per year
(01/21/2009) The consumption of up to one billion frogs per year to satisfy human appetite for frog flesh is adding to the litany of pressures on global amphibian populations, write researchers in the upcoming issue of Conservation Biology.
Congo cancels logging contracts covering 13M hectares
(01/21/2009) Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) canceled nearly 60 percent of the country's timber contracts following a review of 156 logging concessions granted in recent years, reports Reuters. The anti-corruption probe found that 91 deals covering nearly 13 million of hectares of forest were granted under questionable circumstances or during a moratorium on logging contracts following the 1998-2003 civil war.
Nickle mine in Madagascar may threaten lemurs, undermine conservation efforts
(01/21/2009) One of the world's largest nickel mines will have adverse impacts on a threatened and biologically-rich forest in Madagascar, say conservationists. The $3.8 billion mining project, operated by Canada's Sherritt, will tear up 1,300 to 1,700 hectares of primary rainforest that houses nearly 1,400 species of flowering plants, 14 species of lemurs, and more than 100 types of frogs. Many of the species are endemic to the forest. While Sherritt says on its web site that is working to minimize its environmental impact, including moving endangered wildlife, replanting trees, and establishing buffer zones near protected areas, conservationists say that efforts are falling short.
Fish may help fight ocean acidification
(01/19/2009) Fish are a major source of calcium carbonate production in marine ecosystems, a finding that has implications for ocean acidification, report scientists writing in the journal Science.
Wildlife trade creating “empty forest syndrome” across the globe
(01/19/2009) For many endangered species it is not the lack of suitable habitat that has imperiled them, but hunting. In a talk at a Smithsonian Symposium on tropical forests, Elizabeth Bennett of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) outlined the perils for many species of the booming and illegal wildlife trade. She described pristine forests, which although providing perfect habitat for species, stood empty and quiet, drained by hunting for bushmeat, traditional medicine, the pet trade, and trophies.
Secondary forest should become new conservation initiative
(01/19/2009) “I want to convince you we need to go beyond primary forests to preserve biodiversity”, Robin Chazdon told an audience at the National Natural History Museum during a symposium on the tropics. Chazdon, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, has been studying secondary growth forests for over eighteen years. Secondary forests are those forests in the process of regrowth after being used for agriculture or logging. In her study area of NE Costa Rica, many of these forests were converted to pastures in the 1970s and 1980s, but have since been abandoned. In her presentation Chazdon argued that to preserve biodiversity numerous types of human-impacted landscapes, such as secondary forest, require attention by the conservation community.
Symposium tackles big question: how many species will survive our generation
(01/16/2009) Nine scientists dusted off their crystal balls Monday at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, weighing in on the future of the world’s tropical forest. Despite the most up-to-date statistics, prognosis for the future of tropical forests varied widely. In the last few years a schism has occurred among biologists regarding the future of the tropics. No tropical scientist denies that rainforests and the species which inhabit them face unprecedented threats; neither do they argue that some of these forested regions and species will likely not survive the next fifty years. What has sparked debate, sometimes heated, is how bad will is it really? When the dust settles, what percentage of species will survive and how much forest will remain?
Population of Asian elephants discovered in Malaysian park
(01/15/2009) A population of 631 Asian elephants has been documented in Malaysia's Taman Negara National Park, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The population may be the largest in Southeast Asia. Scientists from WCS and Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) counted elephant dung piles to estimate the protected area's population size. There were no previous scientific population surveys for elephants in the park.
What is the greatest threat to rainforests: habitat destruction or climate change?
(01/13/2009) A symposium from the Smithsonian Institution meant to debate the level of threat by deforestation posed to the tropics shifted topic slightly near its end as scientists began to discus which was the most significant threat for rainforests and the species that inhabit them: habitat destruction or climate change?
Selective logging occurs in 28 percent of world’s rainforests
(01/13/2009) New satellite research presented for the first time at a symposium entitled “Will the rainforests survive?” showed that selective logging is impacting over a quarter of the world’s rainforests. Gregory Asner from the Carnegie Institution presented the “first true global estimate of selective logging” which showed that 5.5 million square kilometers of the rainforest has already seen selective logging or is slated to be logged in the near future.
NY governor to cut zoo and aquarium budgets 55%
(01/13/2009) New York state's botanical gardens, aquariums, and zoos — including the renowned Bronx Zoo — are facing "devastating" budget cuts unless the public takes immediate action to voice support for the institutions, reports a coalition of the state's "living museums".
Gorilla ranger killed in Congo
(01/12/2009) A wildlife ranger has paid the ultimate price in the effort to protect endangered mountain gorillas in Democratic Republic of Congo, reports Wildlife Direct, a group that promotes wildlife protection through blogs by rangers and conservationists. Ranger Safari Kakule was killed by a rebel forces during an attack on the evening of January 8 in Congo's Virunga National Park. Safari, along with six other rangers, were attacked while on patrol. They were "far outnumbered" by armed members of the Mai Mai militia according to Wildlife Direct.
Rediscovery of the solenodon, a rare venomous mammal, in Haiti
(01/09/2009) In the journal Oryx researchers from EDGE, a program of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), have announced the rediscovery of a small population of Hispaniolan solenodons in Haiti. At the same time scientists in the Dominican Republic have taken the first ever footage of this endangered mammal.
Bizarre chirruping Purple Frog captured on film for the first time
(01/07/2009) Discovered only in 2003, the unique purple frog has been captured on film for the first time in India’s Western Ghats. A team of biologists from the University of Delhi, led by Dr. Sathyabhama Das Biju, captured several seconds of film of the frog running swiftly while calling for a mate with a distinct squeak.
Newly discovered pink iguana sheds light on Galapagos evolution
(01/06/2009) A newly identified, but already endangered species of pink land iguana may provide evidence of the lizard's evolution on the Galápagos Islands, report researchers writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Infecting mosquitoes with parasite could reduce dengue fever outbreaks
(01/05/2009) With an average of 50 million cases worldwide dengue fever is second only to malaria in terms of concern for mosquito-borne illnesses. Carried primarily by the mosquito species Aedes aegypti, the fever is usually not fatal; however a particular strain of disease can be especially dangerous to children. However, early this year new research brings hope to the tropical areas where dengue fever is prevalent. Scientists have discovered a new possibility in debilitating the mosquitoes carrying dengue fever: the Wolbachia parasite.
Indonesian coral reef recovering after devastating tsunami and years of destructive fishing
(01/05/2009) On December 26th, 2004 an earthquake recorded at a magnitude of 9.3 in the Indian Ocean created a massive tsunami that struck nations across the region. Enormous waves took the lives of nearly 250,000 people while destroying cities and towns in minutes. The tsunami also caused extensive environmental damage, including reef systems along many coastal areas. Four years after the tsunami researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have returned to site of the disaster to survey the damaged reefs and work with local communities on preserving this important resource. After exploring sixty sites of coral reef off the coasts of Aceh, Indonesia, the scientists report that reefs damaged by the 2004 tsunami are on the path to recovery.
17 new reptile and amphibian species discovered in Tanzania
(01/04/2009) 17 previously unknown species of reptiles and amphibians have been discovered in the rainforests of eastern Tanzania, report Italian and Tanzanian scientists. Conducting surveys of the 'virtually unexplored' forests of the South Nguru Mountains between 2004 and 2006, Michele Menegon of the Natural Science Museum of Trento in Italy and colleagues recorded 92 species of 'herps', of which 17 had never before been documented. The new species — which include chameleons, tree frogs, and snakes, among others — are believed to be endemic to the region.
How to save the Amazon rainforest
(01/04/2009) Environmentalists have long voiced concern over the vanishing Amazon rainforest, but they haven't been particularly effective at slowing forest loss. In fact, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in donor funds that have flowed into the region since 2000 and the establishment of more than 100 million hectares of protected areas since 2002, average annual deforestation rates have increased since the 1990s, peaking at 73,785 square kilometers (28,488 square miles) of forest loss between 2002 and 2004. With land prices fast appreciating, cattle ranching and industrial soy farms expanding, and billions of dollars' worth of new infrastructure projects in the works, development pressure on the Amazon is expected to accelerate. Given these trends, it is apparent that conservation efforts alone will not determine the fate of the Amazon or other rainforests. Some argue that market measures, which value forests for the ecosystem services they provide as well as reward developers for environmental performance, will be the key to saving the Amazon from large-scale destruction. In the end it may be the very markets currently driving deforestation that save forests.
Ocean acidification is killing the Great Barrier Reef
(01/01/2009) Since 1990 the growth of coral in Australia's Great Barrier Reef has slowed its lowest rate in at least 400 years as a result of warming waters and ocean acidification, report researchers writing in Science. The finding portends a bleak near-term future for the giant reef ecosystem as well as calcifying marine organisms around the world.
Rainforest conservation more important than developing electric cars
(01/01/2009) For all the fuss that is made about Tesla and the coming generation of electric cars, policy-makers should not overlook the importance of tropical forest conservation.
China delays massive water scheme to redirect rivers from south to north
(12/31/2008) China will delay ambitious plans to divert billions of water to its arid north amid environmental concerns, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Rancher accused of ordering murder of American nun is arrested in Brazil
(12/30/2008) The rancher suspected of ordering the killing of an American nun in the Brazilian Amazon has been arrested and detained at his home in the state of Pará, reports the Associated Press (AP).
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