23 Apr 2013:
Conservation of Forests
Can Prevent Malaria Spread, Study Says
The conservation of woodlands and biodiversity can actually help prevent the spread of malaria
in tropical forests, a new study says. Using a mathematical model of different conditions in a forest region of southeastern Brazil, scientists found that the circulation of the parasite Plasmodium vivax
— which is associated with 80 million to 300 million malaria cases worldwide — is likely to decrease in less developed forests where populations of non-malarial mosquitoes and warm-blooded animals are abundant. While no malaria cases have been reported in 30 years within the biodiverse study area, located in the Atlantic Forest, researchers say a primary malaria mosquito is found nearby. According to their study, published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
, the findings suggest that malarial and non-malarial mosquito populations are likely to compete for blood feeding, and that the animals act as “dead-end reservoirs” of the malaria parasite. “These aspects of biodiversity that can hinder malaria transmission are services provided by the forest ecosystem,” Gabriel Zorello, an epidemiologist at the University of Sao Paulo and lead researcher of the study, told ScieDev.Net.
10 Apr 2013:
New Satellite-Based System Will
Track Illegal Deforestation in Real Time
A coalition of organizations has unveiled a digital tool its developers say will help governments, environmental groups, and local communities monitor illegal logging in the world’s forest regions in close to real time. Using satellite technology, data sharing, and a global network of local contributors, the so-called Global Forest Watch 2.0 system will enable users to track forest loss that has occurred within the last 30 days
and allow local forest managers to upload geo-referenced photographs to support data on deforestation. Developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and other contributors — including Google, the University of Maryland, and the United Nations Environment Program — the technology was unveiled this week at a UN forum on forests and will be available next month
. WRI hopes the system will allow government leaders and companies to make more timely forest management decisions
20 Feb 2013:
Camera Trap in Amazon
Gives Stunning Glimpse of Species Diversity
Using footage from a camera trap trained on a single “colpa” salt lick in the remote jungle of the western Amazon, a Peru-based conservationist has captured a rare glimpse into the region’s robust biodiversity,
documenting an array of species, some of which are threatened, in an area now targeted by loggers, miners, and other developers. During a four-week period, Paul Rosolie’s camera collected footage of dozens of species
, including a troop of howler monkeys, a giant anteater, and a host of big cats — including jaguars, pumas, and ocelots — constantly on the hunt for prey. In a short film, Rosolie, a field director at a research station for Tamandua Expeditions, documents a wide array of wildlife in a region of the lower Las Piedras River in Peru.
26 Nov 2012:
Giant Galapagos Tortoise
May Not Be Extinct After All, Tests Reveal
The death of an iconic, century-old giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands earlier this year may not have meant the end of his species, an upcoming study suggests. In
Galapagos National Park
an analysis of more than 1,600 DNA samples, scientists from Galapagos National Park (GNP) and Yale University determined that at least 17 tortoises found on a volcano on Isabella Island have similar genetic traits
to a tortoise known as “Lonesome George,” a Pinta Island giant tortoise discovered in 1972 and thought to be the last surviving member of his species, Chelonoidis abingdonii
, until his death in June. According to the GNP website, the discovery suggests the possible existence of additional hybrid tortoises, or even “possibly-pure Pinta” giant tortoises, in the Galapagos. The results of the study will be published in the journal Biological Conservation
14 Nov 2012:
Brazilian Scientists Investigate
Cloning of Eight Endangered Species
Scientists in Brazil are taking steps toward cloning the jaguar and seven other endangered species
, a program they hope will ease pressure on wild populations of the animals. Embrapa, the country’s agricultural research
The maned wolf
agency, working with the Brasilia Zoological Garden, has already collected 420 tissue samples from animals — including maned wolves, black lion tamarins, bush dogs, coatis, collared anteaters, gray broket deer, and bison — that live in the Cerrado, Brazil’s tropical savanna. They are now seeking government permission to conduct cloning experiments. According to Embrapa’s Carlos Frederico Martins, the group is not looking at the cloning as a conservation strategy and does not intend to release the animals into the wild.
10 Oct 2012:
U.S. Supreme Court Refuses
Chevron Challenge of Ecuador Damages
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Chevron Corp.’s challenge
of an $18.2 billion judgment issued by an Ecuadorian court over large-scale damages caused by oil drilling in the Amazon. The Supreme Court decision is the latest development in a long legal battle that led to a ruling last year by an Ecuadorean court that Chevron had to pay the damages for massive oil dumping by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001. Chevron was challenging a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that would have effectively opened the way for worldwide enforcement of the judgment against Chevron. An Ecuadorean court found that an oil consortium run by Texaco dumped billions of gallons of oil and toxic sludge in the Amazon rainforest
from 1964 through 1992, badly polluting water supplies and causing health problems among some of the 30,000 plaintiffs in the Lago Ario region. Chevron vowed to continue to fight the Ecuadorean court’s decision, which it called “fraudulent” and tainted by judicial misconduct. Chevron contends that the decision is not enforceable under New York law.
01 Oct 2012:
Organized Crime Groups Drive
Increase in Illegal Logging, Report Says
Illegal logging accounts for 15 to 30 percent of the global logging trade
, with an increasing number of illegal operations in the world’s tropical regions being driven by organized crime, a new report says. According to the report
, released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL, the illegal logging trade is now worth between $30 billion and $100 billion each year and is undermining global efforts to protect forests in the world’s most important tropical regions, including the Amazon, central Africa, and Southeast Asia. “Illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organized, including shifting their illegal activities in order to avoid national and local police efforts,” wrote Achim Steiner and Ronald Noble, the heads of UNEP and INTERPOL, respectively. In the Brazilian state of Pará, for example, illegally obtained permits allowed logging cartels to steal an estimated 1.7 million cubic meters of forest in 2008. A year later, Brazilian investigators uncovered a scam involving 3,000 companies illegally exporting logged timber as allegedly “eco-certified” wood.
06 Sep 2012:
Destruction of Tropical Forests
Reduces Regional Rainfall, Study Says
A new study has found that destruction of the world’s tropical forests may significantly reduce regional rainfall across large regions
, a phenomenon researchers say could have devastating effects for people living in and around the Amazon and Congo basins. Using satellite observations of rainfall and vegetation, as well as atmospheric wind flow patterns, researchers from the University of Leeds and the NERC Center for Ecology & Hydrology found that across 60 percent of the Amazon and Congo rainforests, air passing over extensive forest areas produces twice as much rain as air passing over areas with little vegetation. According to their findings, published in the journal Nature
, this effect in some cases can increase rainfall thousands of miles away. After combining these findings with projected deforestation rates and current trends, the researchers calculated that tropical forest loss could reduce rainfall across the Amazon basin during the wet season by 12 percent by 2050, and 21 percent during the dry season.
30 Aug 2012:
Falls Sharply in Past Eight Years
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 77 percent from 2004 to 2011, but carbon emissions did not drop as steeply
because of complex processes revealed during on-the-ground studies, scientists say. While analysis of satellite images showed the three-quarters drop in deforestation, researchers said that several factors — including the slow decay of roots and the later burning of wood biomass — meant that carbon emissions from deforestation fell by 57 percent during the same period, according to a study published in the journal Global Change Biology
. Another reason for the 20-percent lag in carbon emissions reductions is that logging in recent years has been moving into denser Amazon forests, so even the reduced amount of deforestation is leading to higher carbon emissions, researchers said. U.S. scientists praised their Brazilian colleagues for the sophisticated new techniques used to tease out the differences between reduced deforestation and lagging emissions reductions. “That’s where you’d like the rest of the world to be, where Brazil is,” said Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center.
15 Aug 2012:
Belo Monte Dam Halted By
Brazilian Judge Over Lack of Consultation
A Brazilian judge has ordered a suspension of the controversial Belo Monte dam project, saying that local indigenous people who will be affected by the massive hydroelectric project were not sufficiently consulted
Illustration of the Belo Monte proposal
during the environmental assessment process. In a ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Souza Prudente of the Federal Tribunal of Brazil’s Amazon region found that no consultations were held with local communities
before Congress approved what would be the world’s third-largest dam project. The $16 billion project, which is expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of energy, would flood 260 square miles of rainforest in Brazil’s Para state and displace more than 20,000 people
who depend on free-flowing rivers for their livelihoods. “Legislators can only give the go-ahead if the indigenous communities agree with the project,” Prudente wrote. The developer of the project, Norte Energia, will be fined $250,000 per day
if construction on the project continues. The company says it will appeal the decision.
Watch an e360 video report
15 Aug 2012:
Wildlife Vanishing in Brazil’s
Fragmented Atlantic Forest, Study Says
The fragmentation of tropical forests in eastern Brazil as a result of agricultural expansion and other human activities has decimated biodiversity even within the pockets of forest that still remain, a new study has found
. Using wildlife surveys and interviews conducted at 196 forest fragments across a 253,000-square-kilometer region inside Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a team of researchers estimated that only about 22 percent of the animals that once inhabited the region are still there — far lower than earlier estimates
. According to their findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE
, white-lipped peccaries have been “completely wiped out,” while jaguars, lowland tapirs, woolly spider-monkeys and giant anteaters are essentially extinct. The loss of wildlife has even extended to areas where forest canopies are still relatively intact, said Carlos Peres, an ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the study. While the Atlantic Forest once covered more than 1.5 million square kilometers, about 90 percent has been cleared for agriculture, pasture, or urban expansion. Most remaining patches of forest, researchers say, are about the size of a football field.
Interview: The Need to Think Big
In Global Conservation Efforts
Steven E. Sanderson, who stepped down as president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) this summer, has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in his 12 years as head of one of the world’s largest
conservation groups. Although global emissions have soared and deforestation has intensified, the WCS has savored some victories, including helping set aside 10 percent of Gabon in a system of national parks, acquiring key habitat in Chile, and carrying out successful conservation projects in strife-torn nations such as South Sudan, Afghanistan, and the Republic of Congo. In an interview with Yale Environment
360, Sanderson discusses the importance of not just creating protected areas but actively managing them; the need for conservation groups to coordinate their efforts across regions facing intense development pressure, such as the western Amazon; and the importance of enlisting zoos, such as WCS’s Bronx Zoo, to help protect endangered species and reintroduce them into the wild. Read the interview
07 Aug 2012:
New Bird Species Discovered
In Cloud Forest of Eastern Andes
A team of researchers says it has identified a new bird species
, a barbet marked by its colorful scarlet breast and black mask, in the eastern Andes of Peru. The bird, which scientists named the Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki
), was discovered during a 2008 expedition,
led by recent Cornell University graduates, to a remote ridge in the Cerros del Sira range. Although scientists recognized that the bird was closely related to the scarlet-banded barbet, subsequent genetic tests confirmed that it is a distinct species within the barbet family, distinguishable by the differences in color on its flanks, lower back and thighs, and its dark scarlet breast band. The researchers believe the bird may only be found in a 30-kilometer region of montane cloud forest within the range, located on an outlying ridge of the Andes. The scientific name, Capito fitzpatricki
, was selected to honor John W. Fitzpatrick, a former executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who named seven bird species in Peru during the 1970s and 1980s. The bird is described in the July 2012 issue of The Auk
, a publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union.
10 Jul 2012:
Corals Facing Open Ocean
More Vulnerable to Warming, Study Finds
U.S. scientists say coral reef systems exposed to the open ocean are most vulnerable to warming ocean temperatures
. In a new study, researchers at the University of North Carolina write that three distinct coral zones located within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System in Central America — including the foreef (closest to the ocean), the nearshore (closest to the shore), and the backreef (directly behind the reef crest) — saw an increase in average summer sea surface temperatures from 1982 to 2008. But while they observed a decline in skeletal growth in corals facing the ocean during that period, coral growth rates in the other two zones remained relatively stable. According to their findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the ocean-facing corals were more vulnerable to warming conditions because historically they had experienced cooler and more stable seawater. “However, because backreef and nearshore coral colonies have historically been exposed to warmer and more variable seawater temperatures, they seem to be less affected,” said Karl Castillo, a postdoctoral researcher at UNC and lead author of the study.
29 Jun 2012:
Recent Policies May Undermine
Brazil’s Green Progress, Scientists Say
Recent policies enacted by the Brazilian government — including changes to its Forest Code and a push to build 30 new dams in the Amazon region — threaten to undermine critical environmental progress made by the nation over the last two decades, scientists say. In a declaration
published after its annual meeting in Bonito, Brazil, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
(ATBC) stated that government policies to reduce deforestation and protect indigenous lands had made Brazil a global conservation model over the last two decades. “But recent developments raise concerns,” said John Kress, a botanist at the Smithsonian Institution who is executive director of the ATBC. The group cited recent changes to Brazil’s forest protection laws that they say favor agribusiness and will likely increase deforestation in the Amazon, as well as numerous large-scale dam projects
that will interfere with critical fish migration routes and flood vast areas of rainforest and indigenous communities.
Video: Belo Monte Dam Controversy
The Belo Monte dam, now under construction in the Amazon, is heralded as a much-needed power source for Brazil’s burgeoning economy. But critics contend the project’s benefits are outweighed by the environmental and social costs — the flooding of 260 square miles of rainforest and the displacement of more than 20,000 people. In a Yale Environment 360
video report, multimedia journalist Charles Lyons explores both sides of this controversial project.
Watch the video
22 Jun 2012:
Rio+20 Summit Ends, With
Little Faith Seen in Government Solutions
Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro promised an era of aggressive action on biodiversity loss and global warming, the United Nations Rio+20 sustainability summit ended Friday with recriminations and a growing sense that international institutions will play an increasingly diminished role in solving environmental problems.
World leaders — with the notable absence of the heads of the U.S., U.K, Germany, and Russia — approved an agreement that lacked specifics, commitments, and measurable targets on how to promote sustainable economic development. Numerous conservationists and officials said that cities, local governments, the private sector, and environmental groups will now have to play the key role in fostering sustainable economic growth, slowing climate change, and preserving biodiversity. “The greening of our economies will have to happen without the blessing of world leaders,” said Lasse Gustavson, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund.
19 Jun 2012:
Being Killed at Alarming Rate, Report Says
At least one person is killed per week in disputes over environmental protection or land rights as the competition for natural resources globally becomes increasingly violent, according to a new report
. In a survey of incidents worldwide, the group Global Witness estimated that 711 environmental activists, journalists or community members have been killed during the last decade over disputes involving land and forest rights. In 2011 alone, the number was 106, which was twice the number of killings in 2009. The report's authors say it provides a stark reminder of a “hidden crisis” and highlights a culture of impunity and a lack of oversight in many countries. The greatest number of killings reportedly occurred in Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines and Peru. “It is a well-known paradox that many of the world's poorest countries are home to the resources that drive the global economy,” the report said
. “Now, as the race to secure access to these resources intensifies, it is poor people and activists who increasingly find themselves in the firing line.”
Interview: Looking for Solutions
In the Fight to Preserve Biodiversity
For decades, conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy has repeatedly warned — sometimes in dire terms — about the loss of biodiversity. But Lovejoy, who last month was awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize
, remains an
optimist. “There is no point in being unduly pessimistic, because that just guarantees all the bad things will happen,” says Lovejoy, who received the environmental prize at the Rio+20 summit. Credited with introducing the term “biological diversity” to the scientific community, Lovejoy has spent his career promoting it, with stints at the Smithsonian Institution and the World Wildlife Fund. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lovejoy, who now teaches at George Mason University, talked about the multi-pronged threats to biodiversity, from habitat loss to climate change; the potential impact of major dam projects and other development on the Amazon; and why he supports market-based conservation schemes that benefit local residents. Read the interview
15 Jun 2012:
Sharp Divisions Emerge
As Rio+20 Negotiators Seek Consensus
With the United Nations Rio+20 summit on sustainable development set to open next Wednesday, negotiators from developing nations walked out of a key working group
over disagreements with wealthier nations about funding environmentally responsible development and the transfer of green technology. As negotiators attempted to forge an agreement, the G77 bloc of developing nations, led by China, proposed that wealthy countries finance a global fund for sustainable development with an initial annual budget of $30 billion. But European Union nations said they were unable to afford that because most EU states faced an economic crisis. Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, rejected that argument, saying, “We cannot be held hostage to the retraction resulting from financial crises in rich countries.” As 130 world leaders (with the notable absence of the leaders of the U.S., Britain, and Germany) prepared to arrive, a top Brazilian diplomat lamented the summit’s disparate blocs
, saying the traditional north-south divide was only one of many divisions.