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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prince Charles making progress in effort to save rainforests

Prince Charles of Great Britain has emerged as one of the world’s highest-profile promoters of a scheme that could finally put an end to destruction of tropical rainforests.

The Prince’s Rainforest Project, launched in 2007, is promoting awareness of the role deforestation plays in climate change—it accounts for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. The project also publicizes the multitude of benefits tropical forests provide, including maintenance of rainfall, biodiversity, and sustainable livelihoods for millions of people. But the initiative goes beyond merely raising awareness. Prince Charles is using his considerable influence to bring political and business leaders together to devise and support a plan to provide emergency funding to save rainforests. The money would provide a financing bridge for tropical countries to begin taking steps necessary to reduce deforestation— a prelude to a broader U.N.-backed mechanism (known as REDD for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which would compensate developing countries for their progress in protecting their forests.

“If deforestation can be stopped in its tracks, then we will be able to buy ourselves some much-needed time to build the low carbon economies on which our futures depend,” Prince Charles states on his web site. “I have endeavored to create a global public, private and NGO partnership to discover an innovative means of halting tropical deforestation. Success would literally transform the situation for our children and grandchildren and for every species on the planet.”

The “emergency package” would provide potentially billions of dollars a year and provide what it is hoped will be a bridge to a fully functioning REDD scheme. Such interim funding would likely come through commitments from developed nations, with money potentially raised through auctioning of carbon emission permits in national cap-and-trade systems, a levy on the catastrophe risk component of insurance premiums, or surcharges on emissions-generating products including commodities and aviation fuel. Additional financing might come in the form of a “rainforest bond,” a fixed income security that would provide upfront cash for rainforest conservation initiatives and low-carbon development; in return such bonds would offer investors a fixed rate of return together with the repayment of the principal on maturity some 15-years after issue. Governments of developed country would guarantee the bonds, which would be repaid from a portion of the revenue generated in future carbon markets as well as returns from clean development investments.

The Prince’s Rainforest Project, which has pitched the concept to insurers, pension funds, and private equity firms, has found strong institutional interest in the proposal. Political support also appears to be growing—heads of state and other government leaders formed a working group to study the concept after meeting with Prince Charles on the eve of the G20 summit in April. But broader support for the idea of saving rainforests is also critical. Thus the Project has launched a mass market advertising campaign—centered around an animated frog and celebrities—to engage the general public.

Juniper is one of Britain’ best-knowenvironmentalists and Special Adviser Trained as an ornithologist, Juniper served as the executive director of Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) from 2003-2008 before becoming an independent adviser on sustainability and the environment. In that capacity he works with the Cambridge University Program for Sustainability Leadership to help companies improve their environmental performance. Juniper also writes extensively, publishing several books and numerous articles. He writes a weekly column for the Sunday Times and is editor-in-chief of National Geographic’s new Green Magazine.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

World's rarest duck flies closer to extinction's edge

The Madagascar pochard, the world's rarest duck, was already thought to be extinct once. After a last sighting in 1991 the species was thought to have vanished until nine adults and four hatchlings were discovered in 2006. However, conservationists have begun to fear that the species will never recover after a survey this year found only six females.

In addition, the survey conducted by the Durrell Wildlife Trust, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), and The Peregrine Fund (TPF) found that no young of the Critically Endangered species had survived from the previous year.

"The window of opportunity to save the species from extinction is incredibly small, and we must all muster the energy and resources necessary to stop another species from becoming extinct," said Durrell’s Project Leader, Dr. Glyn Young.

A new recovery plan has been established to hold remaining ducks in secure conditions in a facility set to be finished in 2010. In addition, scientists are looking at potential lakes for reintroduction of the species.

"The original plan was to take the first batch of eggs in 2010 but, following the expedition, discussions are underway to see if the timetable can be brought forward to this year’s breeding season, which would see the team return to the lake in October," WWT’s Aviculture Manager, Nigel Jarrett, said. "Once we have secured eggs from the wild, WWT’s and Durrell’s extensive experience of rearing endangered wildfowl, at Slimbridge and Jersey, will be used to breed the birds at a purpose-built facility in Madagascar. This will act as a 'safety net', greatly reducing the immediate risk of extinction. Within three years, the hope is to at least double the total numbers of pochards. In time, these will be released into the wild on suitable sites."

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gorillas orphaned by bushmeat trade set free on island

The Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project has set free six young gorillas on an island outside of Loango National Park in Gabon. The release marks a new stage in the rehabilitation of the gorillas.

The six western lowland gorillas, ranging from two to seven years of age, were orphaned when their respective parents were killed for bushmeat.

Before the release the gorillas underwent a three year 'rehab program' on another island with their keepers. For younger gorillas, still capable of being released into the wild, the program is meant to provide them with the essential skills needed to survive. Such skills are usually taught to baby gorillas by their parents in the first six to eight years of their life. The island provides a refuge from poachers and other predators where the gorillas are able to acclimate to the wild in safety.

The Fernan-Vz Gorilla Project and its parent program Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) point out that reintroduction of the gorillas into the wild is one part of the global strategy for saving the world’s great apes, as outlined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

"We have to find ways to restore value to Africa’s forests, and reintroduction places focus on the African wildlife in the African forests," said Doug Cress, executive director of the Pan African Sancuary Alliance, which has worked closely with the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project. "It’s no good for any of us to aspire to having the world’s largest captive population of chimpanzees or gorillas – even if we are saving lives. That is not conservation and it is not sending messages that can be translated into environmental action."

A subspecies of the western gorilla, western lowland gorillas are classified as Critically-Endangered by the IUCN. The current global population is estimated between 150,000 and 200,000 individuals.

Hopes for the species were boosted in 2006 and 2007 when the Wildlife Conservation Society discovered around 125,000 gorillas living in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moths defend against bats by 'jamming' sonar

Researchers have discovered that a species of tiger moth eludes bats by jamming their echolocation with ultrasonic clicks. The discovery, published in the journal Science, adds to the list of defensive mechanisms that insects use to defend themselves against bats.

Aaron Corcoran and colleagues used ultrasonic recording and high-speed infrared video to determine that the tiger moth (Bertholdia trigona) effectively thwart attacks from big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) using ultrasound that jams bat sonar. They found that the defense was "effective immediately and persistently" on the bats that "that frequently tried to capture the clicking moths but had much difficulty doing so." The bats continued their attacks despite their poor success in capturing prey.

The study is the first to demonstrate the use of sonar jamming as an predator avoidance mechanism by moths. Many moths rely on toxins to make them distasteful to bats or "startle" strategies to give them an opportunity to escape.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

869 species extinct, 17,000 threatened with extinction

Nearly 17,000 plant and animal species are known to be threatened with extinction, while more than 800 have disappeared over the past 500 years, reports the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The group warns that governments will miss their 2010 target for reducing biodiversity loss.

"When governments take action to reduce biodiversity loss there are some conservation successes, but we are still a long way from reversing the trend," says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head of IUCN's Species Program and senior editor of Wildlife in a Changing World, a report based on analysis of the 44,838 species on the IUCN Red List.
"It's time to recognize that nature is the largest company on Earth working for the benefit of 100 percent of humankind – and it's doing it for free. Governments should put as much effort, if not more, into saving nature as they do into saving economic and financial sectors."

The report shows that 869 species are "Extinct" or "Extinct the Wild" (rising to 1,159 if the 290 "Critically Endangered" species listed as "Possibly Extinct" are included) and at least 16,928 species are threatened with extinction. While these numbers are substantial, they are likely "gross" underestimates since only 2.7 percent of 1.8 million described species have been assessed. Scientists estimate there are 10-100 million species on Earth.

The report found some plant and animal groups to be particularly vulnerable. One third of amphibians, nearly a quarter of mammals, 27 percent of reef-building corals, 17 percent of sharks and rays, 29 percent of conifers, and 52 percent of cycads are threatened with extinction.

"The report makes for depressing reading," says Craig Hilton Taylor, Manager of the IUCN Red List Unit and co-editor. "It tells us that the extinction crisis is as bad, or even worse, than we believed. But it also shows the trends these species are following and is therefore an essential part of decision-making processes. In the run-up to 2010, the global community should use this report wisely to address the situation."

The report notes that the proportion of species at risk is expected to rise with as the planet warms. Land use change due to human development will interfere with migration to safer elevations and latitudes.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

14,000-barrel oil spill in the Ecuadorean Amazon

A ruptured oil pipeline caused 14,000 barrels of crude to spill into a river in the Napo region in northeast Ecuador, an area known for its high biological diversity, reports Reuters.

The pipeline operator, Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados Ecuador SA, attributed the rupture to "natural causes."

The environmental impacts of the spill were not immediately apparent but scientist Douglas Beltman told Reuters that "the river was completely covered with oil from bank to bank.... it looked like a bad spill."

At least 35 multinational oil and gas companies operate the 180 blocks that cover 266,000 square miles of the Western Amazon in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and western Brazil.

Beltman is evaluating oil pollution in the region on behalf of plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Chevron over damages wrought by Texaco — now owned by Chevron — from 1972-1992. The stakes for Chevron are high — the suit could result in a multi-billion dollar payout to 30,000 indigenous tribe members and poor farmers.

Oil exploration in widespread in the western Amazon. A study published last year showed that 688,000 square kilometers (170 million acres) of the region is under concession for oil and gas development, including 72 percent — of the Peruvian Amazon, an area significantly larger than California. Some of the concessions overlap with protected areas and indigenous reserves.

Environmentalists have voiced grave concern over these developments. Oil and gas extraction can result in direct deforestation as well as contamination of waterways and lands with oil and drilling byproducts. In Ecuador, the law suit against Chevron estimates that Texaco spilled more than 17 million gallons (64 million liters) of crude oil and dumped some 20 million gallons (68 million liters) of other toxic chemicals into rivers during its years of operation.

Oil and gas development is often accompanied by road-building which provides access to previously remote areas and facilitates deforestation, colonization, and illegal logging, mining, and hunting.

February 27, 2009

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Costa Rican gold mine suspended over pollution risks

A multinational coalition of environmental and human rights organisations is calling on Canadian mining company Glencairn Gold Corporation to disclose information about suspected cyanide and metals pollution from its Bellavista gold mine in Costa Rica. Glencairn shut down the mine in late July, following heavy rains that caused substantial earth movements, and has reported in financial statements that the mine “may remain closed indefinitely”, but has not made available any information about the extent of current or potential damage. The groups also demand proper clean-up and remediation of any current or future contamination.

Bellavista is an openpit gold mine, and uses cyanide heap-leaching – in which huge piles of crushed ore are soaked with a cyanide solution – to extract gold. According to Glencairn, heavy rainfall in May led to significant earth movements that disturbed these massive heaps of cyanide-tainted wastes as well as other waste rock piles at the mine. Experts familiar with the mine fear that such conditions could lead to pollution of water and soil with cyanide and other contaminants owing to a rupture in the leach-pad lining. Glencairn has said that it first noticed cracks in two corners of the leach pad in May, but the company continued to operate the mine and apply cyanide until July 25.

“Putting an openpit gold mine in a mountainous, tropical region, prone to landslides and torrential rainfall, is a disaster waiting to happen,” says Interamerican Association for Environmental Defence chemist Dr Anna Cederstav. In 2005, Cederstav had testified before Costa Rica’s Supreme Court about the likely impacts of the Bellavista mine. Even before the mine was approved, Cederstav and other independent technical experts had warned that the region’s topo-graphy and rainfall make it an inappropriate location for a large-scale mine.

Cleaning up and con-trolling mining pollution can be extremely expensive, costing hundreds of millions of dollars for long-term treatment to protect water supplies. Glencairn has provided just $250 000 in financial guarantees for Bellavista – funds which are intended for mine clean-up, and do not provide insurance against mishaps like the unstable leach pad.

The coalition calls on the Costa Rican government to commission a team of independent technical experts to conduct a review of the Bellavista mine, and to ensure that Glencairn will undertake and fully cover the costs of all necessary mitigation and remediation.

“Glencairn must make sure that communities around the mine are protected from pollution, and that includes paying for clean-up,” says Earthworks and the “No Dirty Gold” campaign representative, Payal Sampat. “Otherwise, taxpayers and communities are stuck with the bill – and the pollution.”

Costa Rica outlawed all new openpit mining in 2002, but the Bellavista mine was given a permit prior to the ban. It is the only large operating openpit mine in this ecotourism-dependent country.

“Costa Rica has had the foresight to ban openpit mining, which can be incredibly destructive to people and the environment,” said Costa Rican Friends of the Earth spokesperson Gabriel Rivas-Ducca. “We hope this incident will serve as a warning to other regions that are opening their doors to gold-mining.”

Cyanide and the metal contamination produced at mines such as this are toxic to humans and extremely dangerous for wildlife, especially aquatic species. If mixed with acidic water, typically present at gold mines, cyanide generates hydrogen cyanide gas, an even more potent poison. Gold-mining can also cause significant pollution of soil and water with sulphuric acid drainage and metals such as arsenic and mercury.


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