Category Archives: Biodiversity

Will REDD help save our Forests?

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a very controversial measure. Environmentalists don’t seem to agree if it’s a good idea due to its lack of clarity.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the entire global transportation sector combined.

Deforestation in Amazon, Brazil

Rainforests provide essential ecosystem services; they absorb CO2, release oxygen, regulate global rain and humidity patterns and are home to most plants and animal species in the planet.

Therefore what REDD stands for is in theory wonderful. Reducing deforestation is key in order to fight global warming.

REDD’s basic premise is that if  industries in developed nations want to continue releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere they would have to pay for parts of tropical rainforest or rainforest “regeneration projects” in other parts of the world such as Brazil or Indonesia.

REDD is presented as an “offset” scheme of the carbon market and will produce carbon credits. Carbon offsets are “emissions-saving projects” that in theory compensate for the polluters’ emissions.

REDD detractors state that offsets allow polluting governments and corporations -which have the historical responsibility to clean up the atmosphere- to buy their way out of the problem with cheap projects that exacerbate social and environmental conflicts in the South.

Other major concerns in the REED program are the lack of agreement on the definition of forest degradation, the specific factors causing deforestation, or the funding sources and administrators.

Most local NGO’s agree that indigenous people or local organizations  should be the ones involved in forest regeneration projects  instead of foreign organizations or centralized governments who are often out of touch or easily corrupted.

According to Greenpeace Forest campaigner ” The market oriented draft, which focuses more on investment rather that reducing deforestation, only benefits big companies which huge emissions”.

Greenpeace also explains that from an environmental perspective, REDD will not save the climate nor protect forests, nor will it stop dangerous emissions levels. In fact, they state that REDD will offer polluting industries a way to avoid emissions reduction through cheap offsets and allow them to actually increase pollution.

Orangutans face extinction due to deforestation. REDD could help save them if implemented correctly by preserving the last Indonesian rainforests and tackling the root of their habitat loss: expansion of palm oil plantations.

Jane Goodall is among one of the REDD supporters, and she believes REDD is a great idea because saving parts of rainforests will be able to promote conservation and biodiversity.

Many argue that she is just “desperate” and “naive” to think that REDD will work to save large areas of rainforests or promote forest regeneration in a sustainable and effective manner.

REDD could in fact be a wonderful measure. But all players need to agree on basic principles. Also funding sources and administration must be open.

REDD should never be used as a cheap way to pay off extra CO2 emissions. Fines should be much higher for corporations who pollute more than established. The fine money could in turn be used to buy land to be kept untouched by developers, or to promote sustainable forest regeneration projects where indigenous people should be heavily involved.

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Less than 50 years to say goodbye to Sushi

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 % of the world’s fisheries are now either over-exploited, fully exploited or significantly depleted. A study published in Nature concluded that 90 % of the “big” fish (tuna, swordfish, and marlin) are already gone.

Scientists agree that if we continue to fish at our current rates, all commercial fish species will disappear in the next 50 years.

Government subsidies to the fishing sector, totaling approximately $20 billion annually, represent one of the principal forces behind the overfishing crisis. But the biggest force behind this crisis are the world’s industrial fishing fleets which are destroying the ocean at an alarming rate.

If all the fish we ate was caught old school using a simple fishing rod the oceans would be in much better shape. Small fishermen are trying to shift to sustainable practices, because they are realizing that overfishing is not only destroying the ocean, but also destroying their livelihood, leaving them with no fish left  to catch.

But unfortunately most of the fish that we consume doesn’t come from sustainable sources, it comes from large industrial boats that use highly destructive fishing methods and harvest massive amounts of fish at an unsustainable rate.

Following are some of the most destructive and also most common fishing practices. This is how the fish we consume gets harvested from our oceans and ends in our kitchen and restaurant tables:

Bottom Trawling:

Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, coral, sponges, plants, and all kids of sea life. It literally scraps the ocean floor clean of life.

It is used to fish cod, haddock, squid, shrimp and crustaceans among other commercial fish.

If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers will destroy deep sea species before we have even discovered much of what is out there. What we are doing to our deep oceans by allowing trawling is like driving a huge bulldozer through an unexplored, lush and richly populated forest leaving a flat and lifeless desert.

This practice is so widespread and damaging that it can even be seen from space:

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Bottom Trawling from Space

Botom Trawling

Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawler

Bottom Trawler (Greenpeace)

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Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Long lines:

Long-lining is one of the most widespread methods of fishing. The lines are up to 130 km long (80 miles) and have hundreds of thousands of baited hooks at a time. The hooks are dragged behind the boat at varying depths or are kept afloat by buoys and left overnight.

This method is used to catch mainly tuna and swordfish, but it also kills millions of sea birds, dolphins turtles, and other marine life every year.

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Oceana

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Turtle killed by a long line

Gillnets:

Gill nets hang like massive curtains in the oceans, drifting with the currents. Ranging from 3.5 to 10 km in length, gill nets are weighted at the bottom and held upright by floats at the top, creating what some have deemed “walls of death.”

Fish are unable to see the netting, and unless the mesh size is larger than the fish, they get stuck. When they try to back out, the netting catches them by their gills or fins and they get stuck.

In many occasions they are left to drift for days an many of them get lost (become ghost nets) killing thousands of untargeted marine life- specially dolphins, turtles and seals.

Gilnet (By Oceana)

Gilnet (By Oceana)

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Sea Lion killed by Gillnet

Purse Seines:

This is the primary fishing method for tuna fish. Tuna swim at the same level as dolphins, and fishermen usually track dolphin pods in order to locate tuna.

The dolphin schools are then chased by small high-speed boats or even helicopters that accompany the fishing boats. When the dolphins begin to tire, the fishermen encircle the school with huge nylon nets that are up to 5 km long and 100 m deep. When both the dolphins and the tuna have been completely surrounded, the bottom of the net is pulled closed, much like a drawstring purse, hence the name purse-seining. Purse-seining has proven to be an extremely effective method of catching fish. Entire schools of tuna are able to be scooped up without a single fish escaping. Unfortunately, many dolphins are also killed in the process, as they become entangled in the nets and drown, or are crushed as the nets are pursed and hauled in.

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Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Solutions:

  • Only 0.8% of the ocean is protected, we need to make more ocean sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited.
  • We need to ban these destructive fishing practices which are not only damaging the oceans, but also endangering the only protein source of millions of people and endangering the livelihood of many small fishermen.
  • Shifting to sustainable  fishing practices,  having stricter quotas and regulations could aid the recovery of most commercial fisheries.
  • Demand and support safer fishing alternatives, it is possible and it must be done soon!
  • Aquaculture can be an alternative, but it also has many negative consequences if not properly managed. There are sustainable aquaculture farms, but it depends on the fish you want to grow (some species are more suitable than others) and the methods used.

Guide to sustainable Sea Food :

Most Sustainable Fish : Anchovies, Sardines, Salmon (Wild), Mussels, Mackerel (Atlantic), Oysters (Farmed), Trout, Clams (Farmed), Lobster, Halibut, Crab.

Least Sustainable: Chilean Sea Bass, Tuna, Grouper, Cod, Swordfish, Shrimp, Salmon (Farmed), Octopus, Monk fish, Mahimahi (Imported), Snapper (Imported).

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(Spanish)

Guia para comer pescado/marisco:

Mejores opciones: Anchoas/Boquerones, Sardinas, Salmon (Salvaje), Mejillones, Cavalla, Ostras (Cultivadas), Trucha, Almejas (Cultivadas), Langosta, Cangrejo.

Marisco menos sostenible:  Atun, Bacalao, Pez Espada/Emperador, Gambas (importadas), Salmon (piscifactoria), Lubina (Importada de Chile/Asia), Pulpo, Rape, Dorada (Asia o Sur America)

SOURCES:

Oceana

Greenpeace

WWF

Environmental Defense Fund

The Amazon at “Steak”

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The cattle industry is responsible for 80% of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon according to a recent report by Greenpeace : “Amazon Cattle Footprint”.

Brazil has rapidly become the world’s largest beef exporter:


USDA

USDA

Over the last ten years more that 10 million hectares of forest (an area about the size of Iceland) has been cleared for cattle ranching. And the figures are rapidly increasing; the Brazilian government wants to double the beef production by 60% , and most of this expansion will take place in the Amazon, where land is cheap and available.

Greenpeace

Greenpeace

Industrial agriculture is also a large contributor to the Amazon deforestation, soy plantations are on the rise, mainly for bio-diesel and cattle feed production. Both cattle farmers and agribusiness are very powerful in Brazil, many of the country’s most influential politicians are linked to the industry.

A lot of money is being made at the expense of the Amazon, but the value of this ecosystem is far greater than what we are destroying it for.  It’s terrifying to know that we’ll probably find out it’s real value when it’s too late.

The Amazon rain forest is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, being the home of at least 40,000 different plant, 430 mammal, 1399 bird, 500 amphibians and 3,000 fish species, and many others that we haven’t discovered yet (and could be potential cures for human diseases).

Deforestation causes over 20% of global carbon emission, more than the world’s entire transport sector. The Amazon is estimated to store over 120 billion tonnes of carbon, which would be equal to over 50 years of current US carbon emissions if destroyed.

Cattle ranching in the Amazon also has social impacts on the region, including the highest rates of slave labor in Brazil. In 2008, 3005 rural workers who were kept in slavery were freed from cattle ranches in the Amazon.

The Amazon is also home to over 300,000 indigenous people who depend on the forest for their food, shelter, tools and medicines.


deforestation1

Greenpeace believes that Brazil can reach zero deforestation by 2015 through stronger enforcement of its existing environmental laws such as asking landowners to keep 80 % of their land forested,  promote sustainable development programs, increasing funding for monitoring and law enforcement, etc.

We as consumers can also do our part by reducing our carbon footprint. Some ways of doing so include reducing the quantity of meat that we consume, and checking its origin and how it was produced.

The greenhouse gas emissions from beef are 13 kilograms of CO2  per kg. This means that eating a kilogram of beef represents roughly the same greenhouse emissions as flying 100 kilometers of a flight, per passenger.

To know more about your carbon footprint go to this site.

How Biofuels are killing the last Orangutans

2810orangutan_narrowweb__300x4280The Orangutan is one of our closest and most enigmatic relatives, sharing 97% of our DNA.

Their name is derived from the Malaysian words orang hutan, which means the person of the forest.

According to recent research, orangutans are the world’s most intelligent animal other than humans, with higher learning and problem solving ability than chimpanzees, which were previously considered to have greater abilities.

They have been documented to use tools like chimpanzees, but also have been found capable of other tasks beyond chimpanzees’ abilities such as using leaves to make rain hats and leak proof roofs over their sleeping nests.

But there are still many questions about their intelligence and social behaviour that will probably remain unanswered.

It is now clear that if their habitat continues to be destroyed at the current rate, they will be extinct in 5 to 8 years.

There are only an estimated 50,000 orangutans left in the wild, 90 % of them are in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia. Most live in small, scattered populations that cannot take the destruction on the forests much longer. Trees are being cut at a rate of 300 football fields every day. The majority of the cleared forest  is being converted into huge oil palm plantations.


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Forest fires from the air

Forest fire-Palm oil plantation

Forest fire-Palm oil plantation

Palm oil is currently considered the most productive source of biodiesel fuel, and Indonesia and Malaysia account for 83 % of its global production.

A United Nations report has found that “illegal logging and fires have been overtaken as the primary cause of deforestation by a huge expansion of oil palm plantations, which are racing to meet the increasing demand from western food manufacturers and the European Union’s increased demand for biofuels.”

But several new studies show that the biodiesel boom is doing exactly the opposite of what its supporters intended: it’s dramatically accelerating global warming instead of saving us from it.

The basic problem with most biofuels is very simple: using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests that store enormous amounts of carbon. Indonesia has burned so much forest to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that its ranking among the world’s top carbon emitters.

The studies which favored biofuels did not take into consideration whether the crops would ultimately replace vegetation and soils that sucked up even more carbon. It was as if they assumed biofuels would be grown in parking lots.

One groundbreaking new study in Science concluded that when this deforestation effect is taken into account, corn ethanol and soy and palm biodiesel produce about twice the emissions of gasoline.

Palm plantation

Oil palm plantation

But while the western world drives their cars fueled by biodiesel from palm oil, more than 5.000 orangutans die every year.

Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas and baby Orangutan

Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas and baby Orangutan

Dr. Galdikas, a pioneer in Orangutan conservation (the Jane Goodall of Orangutans but not as famous) runs a rehabilitation center with more than 300 animals orphaned when their mothers were killed by palm oil plantation workers.

In a recent article she explains that “Many come in very badly wounded, suffering from malnutrition, psychological and emotional and even physical trauma”. After years of being cared for in the center, they introduce them back to the wild, but she explains that “it is getting harder and harder to find good, safe forest in which to free them”.

Friends of the Earth state in their report “Oil for Ape” that “Destructive oil-palm plantations will continue to spread, and the forests of Borneo and Sumatra will continue to be destroyed, unless the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia recognize the customary land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities”.

The Indonesian government took the indigenous land and is now selling it to the Palm Oil corporations. They are both making more money than they could ever imagine.

Don’t be fooled by this fuel; biofuels are not clean energy. Not only do they contribute to carbon emissions by replacing forests, but also kill thousands of animals by destroying their habitat, and the Orangutans have very little time left.


babyorang

Check out these videos and organizations to learn more about them and about what you can do:

UN : “The last stand of the Orangutan” (PDF)

Lessons from the Golden Toad

golden toads

We will no longer be able to see the beautiful and unique golden toad (Bufo periglenes).

It was once abundant in the Monteverde cloud forest, a Costa Rica region where it was endemic (it only existed there), but no one has seen one since 1989, being therefore listed as an extinct species.

Scientists believe that the golden toad was driven to extinction by global warming.

Monteverde is a cloud forest, and the whole ecosystem depends on frequent formation of clouds and mist. The mist frequency has declined dramatically because of the warming of the oceans and the atmosphere.

The rise in temperatures and higher mist formation in the forest have also triggered disease outbreaks (such as the chytrid fungi) that infects the moist skins of frogs, toads and salamanders.


goldentoads-costarica

The golden toad is just one species among thousands that go extinct every year.

Biodiversity is being irreversibly destroyed by human activities at an unprecedented rate. Scientists estimate there are 10 to 30 million plant and animal species on the planet, most of them unidentified. Each year at least 50,000 species disappear.

Many scientists have argued that the current rate of extinction is approaching to when a gigantic meteorite struck the earth 65 million years ago, causing a dramatic climate change that led to mass extinction.

Frogs, toads and in gerenal all amphibians are extremely sensitive indicators of environmental changes, as the uptake of oxygen and water through their skin can increase concentrations of pollutants.

They are so sensitive to changes in the environment that scientists have compared them to a canary in a coal mine.

In coal mines a poisonous coal gas is released from the earth during mining operations, which is a risk to the workers.

Coal miners used canaries to warn the miners of imminent danger since canaries are more sensitive to toxic fumes and will die of exposure before a human. If the canary that they carried in the cage died, it meant that it was time to get out!

And this is exactly what many species like the golden toad are trying to tell us, it’s time to stop!!

Time to stop polluting our environment and change our unsustainable life style.

Not only the survival of millions of animal and plant species are at stake, but also life for humans on earth.

Let’s listen to the golden toad and change before its too late.


golden_toad1