Places to Watch: 3 Forest Regions at Risk Right Now
By Mikaela Weisse and Katie Fletcher
This edition of Places to Watch examines forest clearing detected between Nov. 9, 2017, and Jan. 31, 2018 in Indonesian Papua, Cameroon and Brazil. Due to occasional cloud cover that can obscure satellite recognition, some loss may have occurred earlier.
Oil Palm Plantation Encroaching on Primary Forest in Indonesian Papua
Fears that the forests of Indonesian Papua would be the next frontier for oil palm expansion are coming true, according to new satellite imagery analysis. Papua is home to more than a third of Indonesia's remaining intact forest and experienced unprecedented tree cover loss in 2015 and 2016. GLAD alerts since November show further forest clearing, most likely for oil palm.
According to a report by the NGO awasMIFEE!, various Indonesian government agencies have actively promoted large scale-agricultural investment in southern Papua. This has resulted in several new oil palm projects, including investment in the PT Bio Inti Agrindo (PT BIA) concession highlighted in the previous edition of Places to Watch. PT BIA Block II has resulted in more than 20,000 hectares (49,500 acres) of tree cover loss since 2013, most of it in primary forest, with around 2,300 hectares (5,580 acres) affected since November, according to GLAD alerts.
However, this loss of primary forest has sparked opposition. Norway's central bank divested from PT BIA owner POSCO Daewoo in 2015 over deforestation concerns in the concession and in June 2017, Mighty Earth sent out a letter warning palm oil buyers that purchases from POSCO Daewoo would violate their No Deforestation and RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) commitments. More than 20 companies including Clorox, Colgate Palmolive, IKEA, L'Oreal, Mars and Unilever have said they will exclude POSCO Daewoo from their supply chains. In December, Boots, the UK's largest drugstore retailer, dropped its retail partnership with POSCO Daewoo. In response to this pressure, POSCO Daewoo reportedly instated a temporary moratorium on new clearing, and since the start of 2018, there have been less than 10 hectares (25 acres) of GLAD alerts detected within the concession.
Cameroon Rubber Plantation Nears Protected Habitat of Elephants, Gorillas and Leopards
A rubber plantation company in Cameroon is expanding its activities toward the edge of the Dja Wildlife Reserve UNESCO World Heritage Site. GLAD tree cover loss alerts show nearly 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of tree cover were affected from November 2017 through January 2018, including previously unfragmented intact forest areas. In total, more than 3,000 hectares (7,500 acres), an area about one-fourth the size of Florence, Italy, has been cleared since 2014. The UNESCO forest area is home to endangered species such as chimpanzees, forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, and a nearly extinct leopard species, with neighboring villages home to around 9,500 people.
The rubber plantation is owned by Sudcam, a subsidiary of the world's largest natural rubber company Halcyon Agri Corporation, with a China-based parent company Sinochem International. According to a CIFOR report, Sudcam has come under scrutiny because the plantation expansion involves clearing of "some 40,000 hectares of natural forests" buffering a park with rich biodiversity and protected species. The report notes that while the project has the potential to create needed employment in the areas, many of the communities are not eligible for compensation for loss of customary land to the plantation, as Cameroonian expropriation laws do not recognize customary rights. UNESCO authorities and Greenpeace have raised concerns over the project's impacts on community rights and the Dja Wildlife reserve.
Brazil's Brutal 2017 Fires Cause Massive Forest Degradation
Brazil's fire season in 2017 was among the most severe since fire detection began in 1999. Analysis suggests that more and more of these fires are happening in natural forest, in areas that normally would only burn very rarely. In the Amazon, where nearly all of these fires are manmade, officials attribute the increase in fires last year to a lack of law enforcement for fire use. Fires are also linked to forest degradation, which makes forests more vulnerable to future fire, and deforestation, which causes local drought that makes fires more likely.
GLAD alerts were detected in several forest areas affected by fire in recent months, including in the Xingu, Kayapó, Xikrin do Rio Catete and Arariboia Indigenous Reserves. The fires occurred primarily in August through October of 2017, but were only recently detected by GLAD alerts due to cloud cover and smoke that blocked previous satellite detection.
Brazilian Parks Left Vulnerable as Unprecedented Fires Eat Away at Forest Edges
In Brazil's Araguaia National Park and neighboring Cantão State Park, GLAD alerts since November detected around 17,500 hectares (43,000 acres) of forest affected by fires. Though disputes remain over the boundaries of Araguaia, park staff estimate that 400,000 hectares, or around 70 percent of the park's total area (forest and non-forest), burned in the 2017 fire season. According to George Georgiadis, executive director of local NGO Instituto Araguaia, the fires in the area occurred due to a "perfect storm" of conditions—lack of rain, low humidity and strong winds—making fires that would normally be easily suppressed uncontrollable.
Araguaia and Cantão sit at the transition between Brazil's forested Amazon and savannah-like Cerrado biomes, creating a unique ecosystem with biodiversity from both biomes. The 2017 fires mostly burned in the understory and damaged leaves and undergrowth, which will recover quickly. However, the drier forest edges experienced more intense burning, leaving them more vulnerable to repeated burning from which they may not recover. Georgiadis noted that as these fires "eat away at it [the forest edge], the landscape becomes more flammable."
A Time to Take Action
Government agencies, private companies and local people have the power to stop deforestation before it is too late, and readers like you can help this process by drawing public attention to these areas. We encourage you to share these places, including on social media using #PlacesToWatch.
Climate Change and Deforestation Threaten World’s Largest Tropical Peatland https://t.co/IXc0oRAeai @WildForests @NPCA @SkyRainforest— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517100605.0
Places to Watch is an initiative that uses weekly GLAD alerts on Global Forest Watch to spot changes in forests around the globe and identify the most consequential cases of recent deforestation.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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