Tag Archives: Species Survival

S.O.S on Biodiversity from The UN

Today is Monday, the 18th of October 2010. Delegates from world over are in Nagoya, Japan for the 10th meeting (COP10) of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Their intention is to agree on a 20-point plan for the next decade following the comprehensive failure of any government to meet previous targets set out in 2002.

The intention is to come together to shape and agree on a global strategy and instruments to protect biodiversity that would make the value of biodiversity central all human initiatives and development. The meeting lasts from today the 18th of October to the 29th of October 2010. Over 15,000 participants representing the 193 countries and their partners, the highest number ever recorded for such a meeting, will meet to finalize the negotiation on a new Strategic Plan on biodiversity for the period 2011-2020 with a biodiversity vision for 2050. The adoption of a new protocol on access and benefit sharing will be a key instrument at the service of this new biodiversity vision. The agreement will be submitted to the high-level segment of the Conference, to be held with the participation of five Heads of State and 130 ministers of the environment.

In launching the International Year of Biodiversity the United Nations Secretary General stated earlier this year, that business as usual is no longer an option,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. “The time to act is now and the place to act is here at the Aichi-Nagoya Biodiversity Summit.”

You can find the list of participants Here

What is the Convention on Biological Diversity?

The U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a legally-binding treaty consisting of 193 members or “Parties” (192 governments plus the European Union) (168 signatures).

It was set up at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and came into force in December 1993.

The Convention seeks to address all threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including threats from climate change, through scientific assessments, the development of tools, incentives and processes, the transfer of technologies and good practices and the full and active involvement of relevant stakeholders including indigenous and local communities, youth, NGOs, women and the business community.

Message from Misia Honorary Ambassador for the COP10

Good luck Earth! I do hope the world’s leaders are paying heed to your S.O.S and there will be concrete decisions & actions as a result of this meeting. After all one reality that we all can agree on is, there is but one Earth…

Sources:

BBC

CNN

The CBD Website

Why Biodiversity Matters?

I read this interesting article in the Financial Times by Fiona Harvey titled “Bad for Biodiversity is Bad for Business”. It gave an interesting perspective to the argument in favor of development at any cost. United Nations has set aside this year as the International year for Biodiversity. The article says biodiversity is not an animal or plant issue, it is a human survival issue. Businesses in general tend to overlook the value of nature apart from Agriculture, Pharmaceuticals and food.

The article talk about 3 species which would not even capture our eye in any positive way.

The first one is the Gribble – teeny water dwelling wood boring insect, which was the scourge of many a sailor in his wooden ships of yore. No w scientists are hoping this insect could save the world! Wondering how? Enzymes from the gribble which help to digest wood are being investigated as a source for producing biofuels. If replicated scientists believe they can convert waste into biofuel!

The second one in the list is the Rosy periwinkle found only on the island of Madagascar. Locals believe it can cure diabetes, but scientists have found that it has substances which can help in fighting cancers, including childhood leukemia! Sad reality is that the plant is endangered in the wild though wildly cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

The third one is Pyrethrum, from the family of the common daisies. Pyrethrum native to the Balkans and surrounding areas have been found to possess the extraordinary quality of being toxic to mosquitoes and other insects! Now it is being grown commercially to make insect repellants.

The writer says these insects and plants are just a very small bit of what nature holds as answers to many of humankinds pressing problems. “They are living examples of the worth of biodiversity” says Peter Seligmann, Chief executive of Conservation International. He says “If nature gets cooked, we get cooked”.

The TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity) study conducted in India by led by the Deutsche Bank’s global market business to estimate the cost of degradation and neglect of natural environments found that preserving biodiversity in some areas most at risk of species loss would yield about $4000 Billion to $5000 Billion a year in benefits!

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study is a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.

Nature’s benefits often provide the most sustainable, cost-effective solutions to meet human needs. Considering ecosystem services in policy making can save on future municipal costs, boost local economies, enhance quality of life and secure livelihoods. This approach also helps tackle poverty by revealing the distribution of scarce and essential resources and services.

In 2006 the 61st UN General assembly had taken a pledge to do everything possible to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and they have fallen behind. In this year’s meeting they will have to reset the goal and amp up the actions to make sure biodiversity loss is curtailed.

Some facts and thoughts on biodiversity and its importance:

  • For the first time since the Dinosaurs disappeared Humans are driving species to extinction faster than they can evolve say experts.
  • Just last year in the forests of Papau New Guinea the researchers from Conservation International identified 100 new species!
  • We took 10,000 years to turn from hunter gathers to farmers on land, now we wont need 10 years to do the same in the sea.
  • We cannot manage what we do not measure.
  • Humankind has still a lot to learn about the nature of value, and the Value of Nature.
  • Biodiversity is not just a luxury of the rich: but a necessity for the poor.
  • Investment in a functioning environment is often considered a luxury rather than life insurance. Why is it so?
  • The insights provided by a careful examination of the benefits of ecosystem services can significantly contribute to improved management in the realms of forestry, fisheries, agriculture, nature tourism and protection against natural hazards.

I am reminded of the John Muir quote “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” To me that is how the world is, all interconnected by invisible threads- we never understand the depth of impact when one thread is broken until it is too late.

Species on the brink of being declared extinct

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 208 species as “possibly extinct”, more than half of which are amphibians. They are defined as species which are “on the balance of evidence likely to be extinct, but for which there is a small chance that they may still be extant”.

Kouprey (or Grey ox; Bos sauveli)

What: Wild cattle with horns that live in small herds

Domain: Mostly Cambodia; also Laos, Vietnam, Thailand

Population: No first-hand sightings since 1969

Main threats: hunting for meat and trade, livestock diseases and habitat destruction

Webbed-footed coqui (or stream coqui; Eleutherodactylus karlschmidti)

What: Large black frog living in mountain streams

Domain: East and west Puerto Rico

Population: Not seen since 1976

Main threats: Disease (chytridiomycosis), climate change and invasive predators

Golden coqui frog (Eleutherodactylus jasperi)

What: Small orange frog living in forest or open rocky areas

Domain: Sierra de Cayey, Puerto Rico

Population: No sightings since 1981

Main threats: Unknown but suspected habitat destruction, climate change, disease (chytridiomycosis) and invasive predators

Spix’s macaw (or little blue macaw; Cyanopsitta spixii)

What: Bright blue birds with long tails and grey/white heads

Domain: Brazil

Population: The last known wild bird disappeared in 2000; there are 78 in captivity

Main threats: Destruction of the birds’ favoured Tabebuia caraiba trees for nesting, and trapping

Café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii)

What: White flowering shrub related to the coffee plant family

Domain: Island of Rodrigues, Republic of Mauritius

Population: A single wild plant is known

Main threats: Habitat loss, introduced grazing animals and alien plants

Source: IUCN and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. To mark the International Year of Biodiversity, the IUCN is running a daily profile of a threatened species throughout 2010. See iucn.org.

Will do a detailed write up on TEEB tomorrow.

Sources –

Financial Times

TEEB

UN Convention on Biological Diversity

UN International Year of Biodiversity

Are We Triggering A New Epoch?

Mass Extinctions have been part and parcel of millions of years of history of our earth. From the Dinosaurs to the Woolly mammoth have all disappeared as part of mass extinctions in the past. Today morning I read an article by Jeremy Hsu titled “Mass Extinction Threat: Earth on Verge of Huge Reset Button?

Some scientists have speculated that effects of humans — from hunting to climate change — are fueling another great mass extinction. A few go so far as to say we are entering a new geologic epoch, leaving the 10,000-year-old Holocene Epoch behind and entering the Anthropocene Epoch, marked by major changes to global temperatures and ocean chemistry, increased sediment erosion, and changes in biology that range from altered flowering times to shifts in migration patterns of birds and mammals and potential die-offs of tiny organisms that support the entire marine food chain.

Imagining that we might be the beginning of a new epoch because of our actions is beyond belief to me. But I can see how it could be, as we are seeing several species disappearing before our very eyes.

The write up is based on an analysis by John Alroy a Paleobiologist from Macquarie University Sydney, Australia. His analysis is detailed in the Sept. 3 issue of the journal Science, is based on almost 100,000 fossil collections in the Paleobiology Database (PaleoDB)

In the past, researchers have typically counted species in the fossil record by randomly drawing a set number of samples from each time period – a method that can leave out less common species. In fact two studies using the PaleoDB used this approach.

Instead, Alroy used a new approach called shareholder sampling, in which he tracked how frequently certain groups appeared in the fossil record, and then counted enough samples until he hit a target number representative of the proportion for each group.

“In some sense the older methods are a little like the American voting system – the first-past-the-post-winner method basically makes minority views invisible,” said Charles Marshall, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who did not take part in the study. “However, with proportional systems, minority views still get seats in parliament.”

One of the few consistent patterns is that growth spurts in diversity can apparently happen at any time, according to Alroy. He added that the background extinction of individual species has also remained consistent – the average species lasts just a few million years.

This means today’s species matter for environments around the world, and so humans can’t simply expect replacements from the diverse species of the future.

“If we lose all the reef builders, we may not get back the physical reefs for millions of years no matter how fast we get back all the species diversity in a simple sense,” Alroy said.

Read the entire article here

And check out the lists of Mammals and Birds which have gone extinct.

Highly endangered list of 10 which are going Extinct

Check out the video of animals which went extinct in the 20th century:

A Highway Through The Serengeti: Will The Gnu Survive?

Africa the continent in the 21st century is associated with chaos, War, Atrocities against women and Children, hunger, poverty etc… Africa is also where the early human made their first appearance, where people lived in harmony with nature, where nature still remains natural in many pockets, where wildlife once thrived and many a hunter changed his view on hunting to become conservationists, where many a writer found his mojo, where the largest annual migration on earth still happens – The migrations of the Gnu (not the open source software but that which is its namesake – Commonly called the Wildebeest) antelopes etc… it is the land where every nature lover feels a connection to whether one has been there or not and feels drawn to. It is the one place on earth if given a chance I would love to visit – The Serengeti national park if only just to see the amazing Gnu migration, to hear the millions of hooves as they make the ground tremble, to see the stretch of antelopes as far as eye can see under the blue endless African skies.

Growing up one kind of romanticizes Africa and the endless skies with the abundant wildlife. I had only read about and imagined Africa until I saw it on the Large screen as a kid in The King Elephant which was later known as “the African Elephant” then “God’s Must be Crazy” etc.. to the Blood Diamond and others… My earlier films and the books I read made me fall in love with Africa, which has never wavered in spite of the state much of the continent is. As I grew older that one place where I really wanted to go visit has always been and probably will always be the Serengeti – Where the plains and the skies extend far beyond the eyes can see, where the Wildebeest, zebra, antelopes, elephants and giraffes co-existed with their predators lions, hyenas, cheetahs and leopards.

THE SERENGETI

Serengeti comes from the word Serenget which means “land that goes on forever or Endless plains”.

The Serengeti ecosystem is one of the oldest on earth. The essential features of climate, vegetation and fauna have barely changed in the past million years. Early man himself made an appearance in Olduvai Gorge about two million years ago. Some patterns of life, death, adaptation and migration are as old as the hills themselves.

More than a million Wildebeest traverse the plains of the Serengeti and the Masai mara(Kenya) along with 200,000 Zebras and gazelles following the rains. They are known to travel distances of 1300 miles a year! They move from the northern hills to the southern plains for the short rains every October and November, and then swirl west and north after the long rains in April, May and June. So strong is the ancient instinct to move that no drought, gorge or crocodile infested river can hold them back.

Development?

In the 1960’s the Tanzanian government tried to stop the Gnu from migrating into the Ngorongoro with barbed wire fence, the migrating herds trampled it to the ground as they made their way along routes engraved in their memories for who knows how many generations…

The Serengeti is a UNESCO world heritage site in Tanzania and now the Government of Tanzania plans to build a highway right in the middle of it! The Tanzanian government is moving forward with plans to build a public road through Serengeti National Park, despite conservationists’ concerns that commercial traffic will disrupt the annual wildebeest migration and allow poachers better access into the park.

If you have watched a video of the Wildebeest migration (scroll down if you have not) you will see how breathtaking and awe inspiring it is and just how easily startled they are by any intrusion (normally what we see are the predators creating the stress when they attack one of them en-route). Just imagine what many automobiles could do?

If you live in North America you can kind of understand the number of road kills we see every year as a result of deer being hit by cars on the road… it can be fatal for animal and human. This is when there are a few animals crossing our highways which have been around for decades now. Just imagine it being in the middle of the world’s largest migration every year! The standard procedure to protect wildlife is building of fences along the road sides… imagine having to leap over hurdles to continue their annual migration which is a part of their very being. However one weaves it we know roads are catastrophic for wildlife; we see that in our own backyards…  And to think the Tanzanian Government swears it will not be affected at all!!

The Politics of Promises with Power being the Ultimate Goal

The President of Tanzania came to power with the promise that he would build this road a 33 mile stretch which would connect Lake Victoria to the city of Arusha which is the tourist hot spot (base camp to Mount Kilimanjaro). What is interesting is the fact that a road through the park would “contravene the purpose of Tanzania’s accession to the World Heritage Convention,” according to the World Bank. The road would also “cause massive mortality of migratory species” and diminish the Serengeti’s value as a tourist attraction. The World Bank had in 1980’s rejected a similar proposal because of the negative ecological impact; I would think that should only have become more evident now than it was 3 decades ago.

There have been viability studies for the said road conducted by environmental groups which are independent (e.g. from Norway in 1997) which found it to be detrimental to the environment, and then the Government which stands by the road and the notion that it is “safe” did their own study in 2007 and came up with the response that “the effect on wildlife could be mitigated!” wonder how that will be accomplished when one really does not know how ecologically detrimental the road could be.

What is happening?

“Creating a commercial road through such a natural environment—where millions of wildebeest migrate annually—will be an intrusion in the natural habitat, so much so that the level of stress [among the animals] will be tremendous,” said Steven Kiruswa, the Maasai Steppe Heartland Director at the African Wildlife Foundation.

Poachers in Africa or any place where wild animals still survive and are protected in not news any more, But when Governments which are supposed to be protecting their own heritage turn a blind eye and cop up to vested interests dooming whatever is left protected, it makes me despondent. Why is it that there is still a market out there for animals and animal products? Why it is that man seems so unable to see what he is doing to what is left of the planet?

One thing is for sure like the Serengeti Park Management says “What we must face, all of us – poachers, tourists, farmers, conservationists and pastoralists – is the difficult truth that the land does not go on forever.”

Roads bring people and vehicles, development will encroach into the ecosystem of the Serengeti savannah. It will disrupt nature in ways we can’t imagine.

If you care PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO STOP THE ROAD SPLITTING THE SERENGETI

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Hoping that man’s greed and will-full ignorance does not make him blind enough to think that nature and its survival does not matter. Signing off with a quote from the from President of Tanzania Julius Nyerere who said “In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grand-children will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.”

One reality that can’t be ignored is the fact that like every where else, unless the underlying issues are not taken care of these kind of band aids will appear more often than not. The only solution for environmental survival is not just education it is wiping out of poverty and the issues that come with it.

May be Tanzanians will remember Nyerere’s words, their tradition of conservation and act responsibly.

Possible Solution – A southern Route which won’t hamper the migratory path of the wildlife of the Plains that go on forever… May be the tour operators who bring in the tourists can make the Government listen and take action.

There are suggestions to build underground tunnels for the animals to migrate! This was done in places in India where elephants crossed over to their water sources when the government build rail tracks- problem they forgot to tell the elephants and there are still accidental deaths when an elephant is caught unaware on the track and meets its untimely death… Hopefully that is not where the Gnu and its ilk are headed.

Watch the Largest Migration in the World courtesy of National geographic :

Sources and Information:

National geographic

Stuart Pimm’s Blog Post

The Serengeti Website

Kristine Metzger’s Blog

Article in NYTimes by Olivia Judson

Relevant Videos and Books from Amazon:

Survival on the Serengeti

Africa: The Serengeti (IMAX) [Blu-ray]

Serengeti: Natural Order on the African Plain