Best of our wild blogs: 25 Jan 12

Lush reefs of Sisters Island with surprise crab
from wild shores of singapore

Black-naped Oriole’s courtship
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Pangolins imperiled by internet trade--are companies responding quickly enough? from news by Jeremy Hance

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Shark's fin and the threat to ecosystem

Straits Times 25 Jan 12;

THE letter by Mr Tan Keng Tat ('Supermarts should beware banning shark's fin for the wrong reason'; Jan 14) stated that 'the claim that one-third of the 400 shark species are endangered has no merit'.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is considered the global authority on wildlife population status, consisting of 1,000 government and non-governmental organisation members, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

The IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) consists of the world's top shark scientists. They are objective and their goal is to provide the most accurate data possible. They report that 32 per cent of open ocean shark species are threatened with extinction.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), an international treaty, has 175 member countries, and addresses international trade, not fishing bans or restrictions.

Moreover, with countries that are party to Cites, the goal is very often to protect the country's own interests.

Not coincidentally, the countries that lead these arguments do not have finning bans and do have high levels of trade in shark's fin.

Sharks are the apex predators of the ocean ecosystem, thus considered by scientists to be 'keystone' species, meaning that removing them causes the whole structure to collapse.

For this reason, the prospect of a food chain minus its apex predators may mean the end of the line for many more species, and the collapse of important fish and shellfish fisheries.

It is very difficult to tell whether detached fins are from sharks that are legally fished or illegally finned. Without the whole shark, the only way to find out is through expensive DNA testing.

Shark's fins are culled from sharks caught in fishing activity all over the world. Since shark-finning is conducted without regard to species, age or gender, it is no surprise that even endangered species are being slaughtered.

For example, DNA sequencing last year of a sampling of fins for sale in San Francisco revealed that endangered species, such as the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), are sold.

The random sampling of fins by the California Academy of Sciences found that one-half of the sampled fins were from threatened species.

Chu Yuet Ming (Ms)

Supermarts should beware banning shark's fin for the wrong reason
Straits Times Forum 14 Jan 12;

I HOPE that the decision by supermarkets to stop selling shark's fin is based on facts and not misconceptions or pressure from Western wildlife activists, which may ironically backfire and hurt sharks even more ('Carrefour to stop selling shark's fin too'; last Saturday).

Any move to choke off the supply of a commodity will cause prices to rise exponentially, inviting a horde of bounty hunters to target sharks, which are now caught accidentally by the industrial-scale, longline fisheries in the West.

The claim that one-third of the 400 shark species are endangered has no merit.

Under the laws of Singapore, the United States, Britain, France, Spain, Russia, China and Japan, no shark is listed as endangered, and likewise under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (Cites), whose members represent 175 governments.

It is reprehensible for activists to imply that only Asians consume sharks.

The American fishery industry increased the quota of a species of shark, the spiny dogfish, to 20 million pounds (9.1 million kg) last year, a 33 per cent spike over that in 2010, and about 44.8 million pounds of spiny dogfish are eaten in the European Union annually.

Most of this shark meat in Britain ends up in fish and chips, yet no one protests.

Why the double standards?

Activists also cite 'sustainability' as the raison d'etre to save sharks and the environment but the total tuna catch in 2008 exceeded that of sharks by 800 per cent.

So will our socially responsible supermarket chains stop selling canned tuna too?

Tan Keng Tat

Way to go
Straits Times Forum 14 Jan 12;

'While I have great respect for Asian traditions, ending shark's fin sales in FairPrice supermarkets is a step in the right direction.'

MR COLIN YOUNG, New South Wales, Australia: 'My heartfelt thanks to FairPrice for ending the sale of shark's fin in its supermarkets ('Outrage over posting on supplier's webpage'; Jan 6). This barbaric practice needs to end worldwide. While I have great respect for Asian eating habits and traditions, ending shark's fin sales in FairPrice supermarkets is a step in the right direction and FairPrice should be congratulated.'

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Chinese medicine threatens Ningaloo manta rays

Rachel Sullivan ABC Science 25 Jan 12;

Manta rays in Western Australia's Ningaloo marine park are threatened by the growing worldwide demand for their gill rakers, according to a new report.

The Manta Ray of Hope: The Global Threat to Manta and Mobula Rays report also highlights the need to give the rays protection in Australian waters.

"The report shows that worldwide, manta and mobula rays are declining, particularly in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia," said Frazer McGregor from Murdoch University's field station in the Ningaloo park.

"Their gill rakers are dried and boiled as a health tonic, primarily for traditional Chinese medicine."

Each year large numbers of Manta birostris and M. alfredi, the world's biggest ray species with wingspans of up to eight metres, visit the Ningaloo marine reserve as part of seasonal migrations.

The migrations cover hundreds of kilometres, and may follow a similar path to Ningaloo's whale sharks, into Indonesian waters and beyond.

Mr McGregor investigated the population dynamics of Ningaloo's rays as part of his PhD research that also examined threats to their survival.

He contributed his findings to the report.

"Manta rays are filter feeders, and during daylight hours they tend to accumulate in large numbers around 'cleaning stations' where small fish species clean them of any parasites and algal growth," he said.

"This habit, combined with their large size, makes them highly vulnerable to being harpooned from above, or caught in fishing nets.

"While they are protected from fishing in the waters of Ningaloo, once they leave the marine park, they are at risk of being targeted by fishermen, even in Australian waters, where they have no protection."
Population struggling

Professor Mike Bennett, a ray researcher from the University of Queensland, says the report raises important issues about manta rays worldwide.

"It shows that as shark numbers have declined through overfishing, pressure on rays has increased as fishermen look around for other things to catch," he said.

"Manta ray fisheries are unlikely to be sustainable; they have very conservative life histories, reaching maturity at about 10 years of age and producing a single pup every two to three years."

By comparison, a great white shark, which is widely considered to be one of the world's most vulnerable marine species, may produce as many pups in one litter as a manta ray does over its entire lifetime.

"Where females are being slaughtered, it will take a long time for their populations to recover, if ever, should fishing stop," Professor Bennett said, adding that hunting manta rays provides short-term benefits to coastal communities.

"While the value of a catch may be relatively high to a subsistence fisherman, it can only be killed once," he said.

"If it is left alone, its value may be recouped over and over through the growing international interest in manta ray tourism."
Recognising their decline

Manta rays' gentle nature and predictable habits are one of the main attractions that draw more than 12,000 visitors to Ningaloo each year.

However, Mr McGregor believes more needs to be done to regulate the burgeoning industry.

"Even within their safe zones manta rays are facing increasing pressure from unregulated tourism," he said.

"We've been trying to get a code of conduct introduced for the tourism industry so there are strict guidelines about how to behave when interacting with them."

According to Mr McGregor, the International Union for Conservation of Nature recently updated the status of manta rays from threatened to vulnerable due to overfishing.

"This fact needs to be acknowledged by state and federal governments, and see them given appropriate Australian protection before the next listing updates their status as endangered," he said.

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Video prompts call to end Indonesian macaque trade

AFP Yahoo News 25 Jan 12;

A British animal rights group demanded Tuesday that Indonesia end trade in endangered long-tailed macaques, releasing video footage and images of men removing the monkeys from the wild.

The video released by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) shows several men capturing the monkeys in the jungle in central Java's Yogyakarta region, bagging and then cramming them into small crates and cages.

"This footage is a shocking confirmation of the cruelty and suffering that Indonesia allows to be inflicted on its wild populations of macaques," BUAV co-director Sarah Kite told AFP.

"We urge the international community to voice its objections not only to this cruelty but to also raise concerns about the conservation status of this species."

The British-based group campaigns for an end to lab experiments using animals.

The long-tailed macaque is listed as threatened under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and tops the list of the most-heavily traded animals in the world.

Kite said the monkeys in the footage were trapped for CV Universal Fauna, a Jakarta-based primate supplier that exports monkeys overseas.

The company was not immediately available to comment.

Indonesian primates are mostly exported to the United States and Japan for research, while locally, they are sold at local markets as pets and are forced to perform dances on the street for entertainment.

Photographs taken by the British group on visits to markets in Jakarta as well as central and eastern Java between last August and October showed young monkeys with bleached fur stuffed into cramped wire cages for sale.

Global exports in long-tailed macaques has expanded significantly in the past decade, with the number sharply rising to 261,823 between 2004 and 2008, from 119,373 between 1999 and 2003, the group said.

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Malaysia nabs log smuggler over bribe bid

New Straits Times 25 Jan 12;

PORT KLANG: A local timber contractor, believed to be involved in smuggling of mangrove logs, was detained by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) after he tried to bribe state Forestry Department officers.

The 40-year-old suspect was nabbed on Jan 19 after he offered a bribe of RM3,000 to a forest ranger, hoping the Forestry Department would return items seized during a raid. The timber contractor is being held at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya, after his statement was recorded last Friday.

The suspect is currently being investigated under section 17(b) of the MACC Act 2009 and the National Forestry Act 1984.

Selangor Forestry Department assistant director (operations and enforcement) Mohd Yussainy Md Yusop said a joint operation involving two MACC officers and 13 Forestry Department officers raided the Pulau Klang and Telok Gong forest reserves, here last Thursday.

He said the raid was conducted after his department's officers monitored logging activities for the past month in the two areas.

Yussainy said in the 19-hour joint operation, they seized an assortment of machinery, including a wooden boat filled with 110 mangrove logs, a Yamaha motorboat engine and an oil drum.

He added the seized items were valued at RM50,000 and were taken to the forest ranger's office, here.

It was after this that the suspect appeared offering a bribe of RM3,000 to reclaim the seized items, he said.

He added that the suspect was subsequently detained by MACC officers.

He said during their raid, they also discovered several temporary logging storage facilities.

"The logs were ready to be shipped out to Indonesia."

Yussainy claimed that mangrove log smugglers, a majority of whom were Indonesians, were getting "inside help" to obtain timber from the country

Joint effort by government agencies lead to arrest of mangrove crook
Stuart Michael The Star 26 Jan 12;

AN individual believed to be the mastermind behind cases of mangrove thefts in Pulau Klang and Telok Gong, Klang has been caught, thanks to the joint effort of the Selangor Forestry Department, Malaysian Anti Corruption Agency (MACC) and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

The man was nabbed after he tried to bribe Selangor Forestry Department assistant director (Enforcement) Mohd Yussainy Md Yusop to release the items seized suring a raid last week.

He is being charged under Section 17 (B) under the 2007 Anti Corruption Act. The case is also being investigated under the 1984 National Forestry Act.

According to Yussainy, the man approached him and asked if he would accept RM3,000 to release some 110 cut mangrove logs (3.5m to 4m long), a wooden boat, a boat engine and a barrel of fuel that were seized during a raid off Pulau Klang Forest Reserve and Telok Gong Forest Reserve last week. The enforcement team comprised two MACC officials, three MMEA officials and 13 Selangor Forestry Department officials.

“The items seized were first placed at Kg Perajurit, Telok Gong before they were moved to the ranger’s office in Port Klang.

“The man came to the ranger’s office and wanted to take possession of his items. He was willing to give RM3,000 to get them back.

“The MACC officers who were there immediately caught the individual and he was sent to Putrajaya where his statement was recorded,’’ said Yussainy.

In Selangor, the stealing of mangrove logs in Port Klang has been the talk of the town as the state has 18,088ha of mangrove forest.

“Finding it difficult, the thieves try different methods and ways to evade the authorities by declaring that the logs are from the neigbouring countries. However, because of the high demand for mangrove logs, thieves are willing to take the risk of being jailed or fined to rake in the profits.

“The pathway to the area where mangrove logs are being cut is very narrow and it also depends on the tide that changes every four hours. By catching the mastermind, we hope others in the area would think twice before stealing mangrove logs,’’ said Yussainy.

34 mangrove smugglers held
New Straits Times 1 Feb 12;

KLANG: Some 34 foreigners were arrested and eight boats seized during a crackdown on mangrove tree smuggling here on Monday night.

In the joint operation by the Selangor Forestry Department, Maritime officials and men from Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission at Sungai Chondong here, mangrove trees worth RM110,000 were seized.

Forestry Department assistant deputy director of enforcement (forest) division Mohd Yussainy Md Yusop said the men claimed they had permits to import the mangrove trees.

"However, checks revealed none of the eight boats had permits to import the trees and had been involved in mangrove thefts in the country and in Indonesia. The trees are believed to have been cut from a forest reserve in Selangor," Yussainy said yesterday.

The eight suspects, all Indonesians, were remanded to facilitate investigations.

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Hydropower driving social change in Laos

Challenges in balancing lucrative dam projects, aid for affected villagers
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 25 Jan 12;

VIENTIANE (Laos): At the edge of a vast reservoir on the windy Nakai plateau, Ms Hom, a 54-year-old villager, sits in her wood and rattan home recalling how life has changed ever since a dam was built on the Nam Theun River, a tributary of the Mekong in central Laos.

Along with about 1,600 other villagers, she was forced to relocate when the reservoir half the size of Singapore was created, submerging her home near the bank of the original river.

The Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) gave her a new home as part of a resettlement package. It also cut new roads across the previously remote and isolated plateau, built schools and gave the villagers, who used to be landless, titles to their land.

For Ms Hom, who goes by one name, some of the changes that the project brought about were good and some were not so good.

'In our old village there was flooding every year, and no electricity. But we were living with nature. We would go into the forest for our daily food,' she said. 'Now, it's more convenient in a way; our old village was not as tidy. But now we need money to buy food.'

Hydroelectric projects are lucrative: Electricity exports from the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) hydropower project are expected to earn Laos US$80 million (S$102 million) a year for the next 24 years.

Another hydroelectric project being planned, the 440MW Nam Ngum 3 project south-east of Luang Prabang, promises earnings of another US$770 million over 27 years.

But as large populations are relocated due to these projects, they will need help to adjust to different livelihoods, cope with a changed environment and adapt from a cashless, subsistence lifestyle to the cash economy, observers say.

Whether Laos can push ahead in its bold plans to build more dams across the country hinges largely on whether the NT2 project is seen as a success.

The NT2, which began as a hydropower proposal, morphed into a 'multi-purpose' project under pressure to produce more than just cash for electricity. It was seen as an engine of growth and poverty alleviation in Laos.

The project, which started operating in 2010 and generates 1,070MW of electricity, is part of the landlocked nation's ambitious plans to turn itself into the 'battery of South-east Asia', which the government hopes will lift many of its six million people out of poverty.

In the 440MW Nam Ngum 3 project, US$200 million has been earmarked for social services and environmental protection programmes.

Laos' push for hydroelectric power is driven to a large extent by Thailand's quest for energy: Over 90 per cent of the electricity generated by the NT2 is bought by Thailand, which will also be a primary buyer of Nam Ngum 3's output.

While Laos' communist government banks its reputation on the NT2, touting it as a 'showcase' for the impoverished but resource-rich nation, the reputations of an array of banks and credit and aid agencies - including the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank, which have lent to the US$1.2 billion project - are also at stake.

Institutions including the ADB are also lending up to US$465 million to the Nam Ngum 3 project.

If Laos wants the NT2 to succeed, it will need to manage the changes wrought by the project, experts say.

Hydropower is a good source of renewable energy, but it alters topography, hydrology and ecosystems, and displaces communities from homelands.

The NT2, for example, is a trans-basin project. By diverting the bulk of the water from the Nam Theun to another river, the Xe Bang Fai, it has caused the Nam Theun to shrink and Xe Bang Fai to swell, sometimes dangerously.

This has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of thousands of farmers and fishermen who rely on the two Mekong tributaries for water and fish.

Last month, Laos had to suspend plans for the 1,260MW Xayaburi dam project, the first of 11 dams planned on the lower Mekong, after neighbours Vietnam and Cambodia objected to it on fears that it would disrupt fisheries and rice production downstream.

The changes are not easy to cope with. Mr Soun Nilsvang, a rural agronomist and the NTPC's deputy manager for resettlement, admitted that it could take a generation to make the shift.

Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has acknowledged the challenges. 'Assuring a balance between economic growth and social and environmental development are major priorities,' he said at a conference late last year.

There remain problems like illegal logging of the water catchment forests. And critics like the United States-based International Rivers say the NT2 cannot be called a success unless all the livelihood and relocation issues and environmental problems are ironed out. But they also give it some grudging praise.

'It's not a disaster,' said campaigner Aviva Imhof. 'You could say it's the best project in Laos - though Laos has a poor track record.'

But, she added, the jury is still out. 'Very often it takes years for impacts to be felt,' she said. 'The big question is the sustainability of livelihoods both on the Nakai plateau and the Xe Bang Fai.'

The NTPC points to its efforts in providing schools and health clinics for resettled villagers and creating alternative livelihood options - mostly agricultural.

Higher school attendance, rising health indices and a growth in incomes, the company says, show that resettlement is going well. The director of its environmental and social division, Mr Ruedi Luthi, said he would give the company a score of 8.5 out of 10.

'It was a benchmark for the World Bank and the ADB,' he added. 'There was a lot of pressure from the financing side that the project would truly set new standards and act as a reference and a model for hydropower in the region.'

ADB country director Chong Chi Nai said there were 'strong monitoring and evaluation systems in place'.

'This shows how hydro can be developed in a socially responsible way,' he said. 'It's a showcase.'

The arguments likely make little difference to Ms Hom, who appeared resigned to the change, recognising that she had little choice in the matter.

One obvious sign of how life has changed: Almost every house in the resettled villages now has a TV set. But Ms Hom's is one of the few that does not, so her 13-year-old grandson, Mai, goes to a friend's house every evening to watch Thai soap operas on TV. 'Sometimes he doesn't come back, and I have to go and fetch him,' she said.

Mai grinned when asked what he wanted to be when he grows up.

'A policeman' he said.

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Suriname team find 46 new species in tropical forests

Victoria Gill BBC Nature 25 Jan 12;

An expedition to a tiny South American country has revealed more than 40 species that scientists believe to be new to science.

The expedition to the pristine tropical forests of Suriname was led by the charity Conservation International.

The collaboration between scientists, indigenous people and students recorded 1,300 species in total.

The team is now working to confirm which of these weird and wonderful creatures are newly discovered species.

Among those they believe to be new to science are the "cowboy frog", an amphibian with white fringes along its legs, and a spur-like structure on its "heel".

Another colourful addition to the scientific record is a a cricket, or katydid, that has been named the "crayola katydid" because of its bright colouration.

One of the new finds - an armoured catfish that has bony plates covered with spines all over its body to defend itself from the giant piranhas the inhabit the same waters - was almost eaten by one of the expedition guides.

Fortunately, before the guide had a chance to tuck in, the scientists noticed the fish's unique characteristics and preserved it as a specimen.

The three-week project was part of Conservation International's ongoing Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), which has been in progress for more than 20 years.

RAP director Dr Trond Larsen explained why this area of Suriname was so special.

"As you fly into the area, you travel for 100s of mile and often [don't] see a single road - just continuous forest," he told BBC Nature.

"It's one of the last places in the world where you can find that wilderness."

Dr Larsen pointed out that conservationists often focused on places that were "already on the brink".

"We take these wildernesses for granted," he told BBC Nature. "But unless we focus on them now, they won't be like that for long."

The team have already helped the local people to designate an area of the forest as a "no take zone".

The eventual plan is for this area to become a small nature reserve.

This could safeguard native wildlife, ensuring that indigenous people are able to hunt sustainably, as well as encouraging ecotourism.

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Marine Mammals On the Menu in Many Parts of World

ScienceDaily 24 Jan 12;

The fate of the world's great whale species commands global attention as a result of heated debate between pro and anti-whaling advocates, but the fate of smaller marine mammals is less understood, specifically because the deliberate and accidental harvesting of dolphins, porpoises, manatees and other warm-blooded aquatic denizens is rarely studied or monitored. To shed more light on the issue, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Okapi Wildlife Associates have conducted an exhaustive global study of human consumption of marine mammals using approximately 900 sources of information.

The main finding: since 1990, people in at least 114 countries have consumed one or more of at least 87 marine mammal species. In addition to this global review, Wildlife Conservation Society scientists work in remote countries around the world to assess and actively address the threat to dolphin populations with localized, applied conservation efforts.

The new global study appears in the most recent edition of Biological Conservation. The authors include: Dr. Martin D. Robards of the Wildlife Conservation Society; and Dr. Randall R. Reeves of Okapi Wildlife Associates.

"International bodies such as the International Whaling Commission were formed specifically to gauge the status of whale populations and regulate the hunting of these giants," said Robards, lead author of the new study. "These species, however, represent only a fraction of the world's diversity of marine mammals, many of which are being accidentally netted, trapped, and -- in some instances -- directly hunted without any means of tracking as to whether these harvests are sustainable."

In order to build a statistically robust picture of human consumption rates of marine mammals around the world, Robards and Reeves started with records on small fisheries focused on small whales (i.e. pilot whales), dolphins, and porpoises from 1975 and records of global marine mammal catches between 1966 and 1975. From there, the authors consulted some 900 other sources and consulted with numerous researchers and environmental managers, an exhaustive investigation that took three years to complete. The team only counted information with actual evidence of human consumption of marine mammals, omitting instances where marine mammals were caught (either intentionally or not) for fishing bait, feed for other animals, medicines, and other uses.

The list of marine mammals killed for human consumption includes obscure species such as the pygmy beaked whale, the South Asian river dolphin, the narwhal, the Chilean dolphin, the long-finned pilot whale, and Burmeister's porpoise. Seals and sea lions are on the list as well, including species such as the California sea lion and lesser known species such as the Baikal seal. The polar bear (a bear that is considered a marine mammal) also makes the list. Three species of manatee and its close relative the dugong, considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, are also widespread targets of human consumption.

Overall, the historical review reveals an escalation in the utilization of smaller cetaceans, particularly coastal and estuarine species since 1970, often caught as accidental "bycatch" in nets meant for fish and other species. Once caught, however, small cetaceans are being increasingly utilized as food in areas of food insecurity and/or poverty, what the authors call "fishing up the food chain."

"Obviously, there is a need for improved monitoring of species such as the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and other species," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS's Ocean Giants Program. "In more remote areas and a number of countries, a greater immediate need is to understand the motivations behind the consumption of marine mammals and use these insights to develop solutions to protect these iconic species that lead to more effective management and conservation."

WCS's Ocean Giants Program works in a number of seascapes of critical importance to small cetaceans in particular. These efforts are focused on the local level to address local impacts on coastal dolphin populations, providing on-the-ground practical conservation actions to compliment the global investigative work highlighted above.

In Congo, Gabon, and Madagascar, WCS conservation scientists Dr. Salvatore Cerchio and Tim Collins are conducting scientific studies to assess the status of impacted dolphin populations, and work with local communities of traditional fishermen to reduce accidental bycatch and deliberate hunting of dolphins. In these regions, the scientists are documenting a worrying trend in increased captures and use of dolphins for food, and they are sometimes also being sold in markets better known for their association with terrestrial bushmeat.

In response, Cerchio and the WCS Madagascar team have worked with local communities to establish a local conservation association composed of fishermen, local traditional laws protecting dolphins, and development of community-based whale and dolphin watching as an alternative livelihood. On the other side of the African continent, the coasts of Gabon and Congo represent one of the last strongholds for the rare Atlantic humpback dolphin. Catches by fishermen in Gabon are extremely rare, but groups of dolphins that cross the border (a finding of recent WCS work) risk capture in coastal gillnets set by artisanal fisherman. "The Atlantic humpback dolphin may well be the rarest mammal in the Congo basin region," said Tim Collins. "Unfortunately, few have ever heard of it, least of all the fisherman eating them out of existence."

Journal References:

Martin D. Robards, Randall R. Reeves. The global extent and character of marine mammal consumption by humans: 1970–2009. Biological Conservation, 2011; 144 (12): 2770 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.07.034
Mark J. Costello, C. Scott Baker. Who eats sea meat? Expanding human consumption of marine mammals. Biological Conservation, 2011; 144 (12): 2745 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.10.015

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'Peak timber' concerns in tropics

Mark Kinver BBC News 24 Jan 12;

Current tropical timber practices are not sustainable and nations should consider the "implications of 'peak timber'", a study has suggested.

A team of researchers says the standard cutting cycle of 30-40 years is too short to allow trees to grow to a volume required by commercial loggers.

As a result, they add, the pressure to harvest primary forests will continue, leading to ongoing deforestation.

The findings have been published in the journal Biological Conservation.

The scientists used logging on the Solomon Islands as an example because it was, in some respects, "a microcosm of the challenges facing sustainable forest management in the tropics".

They said the industry had been a major source of government revenue for a number of years.

Yet, they added: "For nearly a decade, the nation had been warned that the volume of timber annually harvested from native forests was too high and, if unchecked, that timber stocks would be seriously depleted by 2012.

"In 2009, the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands asserted that (the) exhaustion of timber stocks had arrived even earlier that predicted and its economic consequences were likely to be severe."
Pushing the limit

The team - made up by Dr Phil Shearman and Jane Bryan from the Australian National University, and Prof William Laurance from James Cook University, Australia - said the trajectory of the country's timber production (a rapid increase in production, followed by a peak and then a decline) was akin to the 'Hubbert curve', which has been observed in the exploitation of non-renewable resources, such as oil.

"It is occurring in the Solomons because timber extraction has occurred at a rate far in excess of the capacity of the forests to regenerate commercial timber stocks," they wrote.

The researchers suggested that there were three main factors that made it difficult to find examples of sustainable forestry in the tropics:

=Low level of marketable timber production - many tree species having unsuitable wood properties, and the slow growth rate of commercially viable specimens is another factor
=Collateral damage - while logging in the tropics tends to focus on a small fraction of the trees, many others are damaged or killed as a result of the network of access roads to the area being logged
=Second-wave clearance - the "labyrinths of logging roads have opened up vast swaths... for colonisation, hunting, illegal mining and other destructive activities"

As well as these factors, the problem of illegal logging was also threatening primary forest cover in many nations.

A joint World Bank and Interpol project called Chainsaw produced a report in 2010 that highlighted the widespread nature of the problem.

"Illegal logging is one, very significant, component of a complex array of problems that are leading to a worldwide crisis of forest loss and degradation," it reported.

It went on to say that Interpol estimated that an area of forests "equivalent in size to the territory of Austria" disappeared worldwide every year as the result of illegal logging.

The report added: "They also estimate that the percentage of timber marketed worldwide of illegal origin stands at between 20% and 50% of all marketed timber products."

Prof Laurance and the team said that the Redd (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) concept could be an avenue that offered some hope in the future.

Redd is essentially a way of paying developing countries or communities within them to preserve their forests.

"We believe that some Redd+ funds should be directed at initiatives designed to keep loggers and their associated road networks out of forests, rather than merely modifying logging operations," they wrote.

The team concluded with a stark warning: "Unless something fundamental changes... we believe that logged tropical forests will continue to be over-harvested and, far too frequently, cleared afterwards, leading to an inevitable global decline in native timber supplies.

"It has become common these days to speak of 'peak oil'. In the tropics, we assert, we should also begin to seriously consider the implications of 'peak timber'."

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Farming is key to meeting environmental challenge: FAO chief

Yana Marull AFP Yahoo News 25 Jan 12;

Agriculture is part of the solution to the world's environmental challenge and must play a key role at next June's Rio summit on sustainable development, the Brazilian head of the UN food agency said here Tuesday.

"Agriculture ministers from the entire world must be present at the Rio+20 meeting (in June) so that agriculture commits itself to helping clean up the planet," Jose Graziano da Silva, the new boss of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said.

"Agriculture contributes 30 percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming and we must raise the awareness of our farmers," he added during an event organized by local authorities ahead of the opening of the World Social Forum (WSF) here later Tuesday.

The Rio+20 summit next June, the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972, will call on world leaders to commit themselves to creating a social and "green economy," with priority being given to eradicating hunger.

The WSF, which runs through Sunday, brings together tens of thousands of anti-capitalist activists opposed to the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of the world's economic and political elites being held at the same time in the Swiss resort of Davos.

Forum participants are to mull alternative solutions to the global economic crisis and prepare the ground for a peoples' summit of social movements to be held in parallel to next June's Rio+20 summit on sustainable development.

"Agriculture is not just part of the problem, it is also part of the solution to the environment issue. It can contribute a lot to the planet's sustainable development, by finding techniques less harmful to the environment, by helping with clean energy and with a better redistribution of production," Graziano said.

Graziano is a former Brazilian food security minister and the first Latin American to head FAO, a UN agency which battles hunger affecting over a billion people globally.

He is internationally acclaimed for his role in designing and implementing Brazil's "Zero Hunger" ("Fome Zero") program, which helped lift 24 million people out of extreme poverty.

In his address, the 61-year-old professor, who was elected last June and took up his post early this month, pledged to open FAO doors to civil society.

"FAO must open its doors to society. We are trying to create space for dialogue with society to break the monopoly of dialogue with governments, with some specific governments, as occurred over the past few years," Graziano noted.

Stressing that social movements were seeking reality, not utopia, he added: "Utopia is to think that solution exists on the margins of society, that there can be sustainable development without food security, that we can live in peace with nearly one billion of starving people in the world."

He criticized what he called the "roulette" of world commodities prices.

He said farm production would need to grow five times bigger and pointed out that 90 percent of this increase could be achieved with better productivity and not at the expense of the environment.

And Graziano urged Brazil, now the world's sixth largest economy, to "assume its international responsibility" in the fight against world hunger "with a new form of international cooperation" that respects developing countries.

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U.N. Sustainable Development Summit Shifts From Climate Change

Deborah Zabarenko and Nina Chestney PlanetArk 25 Jan 12;

Representatives from around the world gather in Rio in June to try to hammer out goals for sustainable development at a U.N. conference designed to avoid being tripped up by the intractable issue of climate change.

But there is concern in the lead-up to the conference, known as Rio+20 or the Earth Summit, that it risks ending up as all talk and little action.

In an attempt to avoid too much confrontation, the conference will focus not on climate change but on sustainable development - making sure economies can grow now without endangering resources and the environment for future generations.

U.N. conferences over the past decade have begun with high hopes for agreements to compel nations to cut climate-warming emissions and help adapt to a hotter world, but they often ended with disappointingly modest results. That was the case last year in the global climate change summit in Durban, South Africa. Participants at that meeting agreed to forge a new deal by 2015 that would go into force by 2020.

The "sustainable" branding for this year's summit, rather than climate, is by design, said Ambassador Andre Correa do Lago, who headed Brazil's delegation to the U.N. climate talks in Durban and will be a chief negotiator for Brazil in Rio.

Sustainable development is an easier sell globally than climate change, even though sustainable development is a way of tackling global warming and other environmental issues, he said.

"Climate change is an (issue) that has very strong resistance from sectors that are going to be substantially altered, like the oil industry," do Lago said. "Sustainable development is something that is as simple as looking at how we would like to be in 10 or 20 years."

The time seems ripe. Natural resources are at a premium. The global human population tops 7 billion. Traditional economies are failing. And the planet is warming. Leaders may accept the premise that it makes sense to ensure rich and emerging nations can grow without further damaging the environment.

The focus of global meetings has been on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, but the world's biggest emitters, including China and the United States, have balked, arguing it would cripple economic development.

Climate change first claimed the world stage at the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago. That first Earth Summit in 1992 ultimately led to the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol and a treaty on biodiversity.

This summit offers a chance to renew political will to make the world's economies greener.

Since the 1992 summit, successive attempts to secure a new binding pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions have failed to produce concrete results, public interest in climate change has waned, and many world leaders are concentrating on upcoming elections and financial worries.


There is concern that this new summit could fall short.

"The most it will manage is to set some voluntary goals with a vague timeline, but it will not be clear what the process is to achieve these goals," said Andrew Light of the Center for American Progress think tank in Washington. Without real goals and a way to reach them, Light said, Rio "will be a missed opportunity."

A U.N. draft document was released this month as a starting point for the June conference, outlining seven issues including jobs, energy, food, water and disasters.

"Without clearly defined goals, the summit will not provide the clarity and certainty that are needed to get the private sector to actively participate and potentially make the investments needed to achieve the goals," said Stephen Starbuck, expert on climate change and sustainability at Ernst & Young.

A narrower climate focus could also put off some countries, such as the United States, where opposition to carbon-capping legislation was so strong from Republicans and the oil industry that it overturned plans for a national emissions cap-and-trade arrangement.

In the past 20 years, the debate has changed as the world has changed, according to Tim Wirth, a former U.S. senator who attended the 1992 Rio meeting and will be at this year's conference as president of the non-profit U.N. Foundation.

"The debate's changed because of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, the very rapid and surprisingly powerful growth of the newly industrialized countries," he said.

In 1992 and in the Kyoto Protocol that grew from events at Rio, these developing countries and others were exempt from curbing carbon dioxide emissions, while rich countries like the United States would have had to cut back. In the end, the U.S. Senate never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005.

"Rio was really exploratory," Wirth said. "Nobody knew what this was going to be all about. ... I think Rio+20 becomes an opportunity to be very specific, especially about energy and development."

Although fast-developing economies are eager for this shift, Wirth said there may be resistance from big energy powers like the United States and some oil producers in the Middle East.

"These are the countries that say, 'Hey, this is our sandbox, you can't get into it,'" he said. "But I think that's passing by very quickly."

Rio+20 will have to give the private sector the clarity and incentives they need over the medium term, Starbuck said.

Any goals set in Rio would likely be for the next 20 years, which could be too far in the future for most chief executives whose time in office is more likely to last years, not decades.

Instead, interim goals set along the way to 2030 would make the private sector more likely to engage, Starbuck added.

(Editing by Russell Blinch and Will Dunham)

UN conference returns to Rio with new emphasis
Michael Aster Associated Press Google News 26 Jan 12

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Representatives from around the world will be returning to Rio de Janeiro this June — 20 years after the U.N. Earth Summit — but this time the focus will be on sustainable development, not climate change, a Brazilian diplomat said Tuesday.

Andre Correa do Lago, who heads the Brazilian delegation negotiating a draft of the outcome document for "Rio plus 20," said that climate change was too sensitive an issue for many countries, while sustainable development was something everybody could get behind.

"Climate change has very strong resistance from sectors that are going to be substantially altered, like the oil industry," Correa do Lago said. "The feeling we have, when we are discussing with such different countries, is that sustainable development is the right answer."

He said the refusal of many U.S. Republican candidates vying to challenge President Barack Obama in this year's elections to even acknowledge global warming was a problem highlighted the difficulty of addressing the issue in an international forum.

While the 1992 Earth Summit focussed the world's attention on the dangers of global warming, this year's conference takes place in a world where economic concerns overshadow almost every other issue.

And while some fear that may doom the conference's chances of having much impact, Correa do Lago says it could also present an opportunity.

"We know we have an environmental crisis, we have a financial crisis, we have a job crisis, we have many crises at the same time now, in some countries many of these crises together and the fact is that sustainable development is the answer to that," Correa do Lago said.

The Earth Summit ended with a great spirit of optimism with representatives from 172 countries, including 108 heads of state or government, signing on to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.

But since then, with United States failing to ratify the Kyoto Protocols on global warming, and no real progress in reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming, public interest has waned.

So June's conference will seek figure out how to implement policies that allow the world to grow and develop in a manner that is sustainable, not just environmentally but economically and socially as well, Correa do Lago said.

"To really make a change it has to have an economic logic, that's why we come back to the issue of having sustainable development as a paradigm for the economic sector," he said.

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