One of the World's Most Endangered Turtles Nearly Extinct With Fewer Than 10 Left in the Wild
By Wildlife Conservation Society
Cambodia's Royal Turtle (Batagur affinis), also known as the Southern River Terrapin, is one of the world's most endangered turtles and is now facing threats to its very survival due to habitat loss caused by increased sand dredging and illegal clearance of flooded forest.
For several years the small remaining population of Royal Turtles—perhaps numbering fewer than 10—have been successfully protected from extinct by the Fisheries Administration (FiA) in partnership with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS ) and local communities. A recent increase in disturbance along the Sre Ambel River System in Koh Kong Province, the only place the species is still found in Cambodia, is putting this species at great risk.
Listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered—the highest threat level—the Royal Turtle is one of the world's 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. The Royal Turtle is so named because in historical times only the Royal Family could consume its eggs. Until now, the species has been designated as Cambodia's National Reptile by Royal Decree issue on March 21, 2005.
“This year our team has observed a decline in nesting of the Royal Turtle," In Hul, FiA official and project coordinator, said. "We believe this is caused by increased sand dredging, wood transportation along the nesting habitat and illegal clearance of flooded forest disturbing the females during the breeding season."
“Only one nest has been located this year, compared to four nests last year. This is very worrying and if it continues it will be potentially putting the species at high risk of extinction," Hul added.
“Many people thought the Royal Turtle was extinct from Cambodia until our team re-discovered it again in 2000," Heng Sovannara, a senior official from FiA, said.
"We are very proud of knowing that the Royal Turtle is still present in Cambodia and committing to protect it for young generations. This is a good news for Cambodia and its people and it is not too late to save our national reptile of Cambodia."
Urgent action is needed or the Royal Turtle will disappear forever. FiA in partnership with WCS and local communities are working closely together to save the remaining population.
“A series of activities have been implemented at the site. A nest protection program pays local villagers to protect nests, generating extra income for them and allowing nests to successfully hatch," Som Sitha, technical advisor to the project, said.
“Sand dredging and logging are big issues that could degrade all their habitat and especially their nesting beaches. We really need support from all relevant institutes to ensure disturbance along the Sre Ambel River does not drive this species to extinction."
In 2001, WCS in partnership with the FiA began a community-based protection program in Sre Ambel, hiring former nest collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs.
“We used to collect turtles and their eggs for food," Long Sman, former egg collector, said. "After joining awareness trainings, we now understand how important these turtles are and that there are only a few left, so we got involved in protection. We recently observed a decline of Royal Turtle's population. Cutting the trees along the river and sand dredging mean there are fewer places for them to nest. We are afraid the turtle will be lost forever if we did not do something."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
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