By Jun N. Aguirre
An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.
This latest spill stems from an explosion onboard a floating power barge in the 13-kilometer (8-mile) waterway between the city of Iloilo and Guimaras Island. Operator AC Energy Inc. said the incident spilled 48,000 liters (12,700 gallons) of fuel oil into the Iloilo River and its tributaries before being contained eight hours later. But the Philippine Coast Guard said around 251,000 liters (66,300 gallons) of oil had spread around the waterway. The day after, July 4, the Coast Guard estimated it had collected 130,000 liters (34,300 gallons) of oil.
Some of the oil was swept out of the containment area by strong waves and carried across to communities in Guimaras.
"The root cause has yet to be determined," AC Energy said in a statement. "But initial findings reveal that the discharge is due to the ignition of fuel oil in storage which ruptured the barge's fuel tank."
AC Energy said it took responsibility for the explosion and that the cleanup could take around two weeks.
Reports from the Iloilo City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (ICDRRMO) state that the oil spill has affected 321 families along the coast. The provincial office has ordered an immediate evacuation.
The spill comes as a blow to residents of Guimaras, who, nearly 14 years ago, suffered a similar disaster on a bigger scale. On Aug. 11, 2006, the oil tanker M/T Solar, owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. and chartered by Petron, the Philippines' largest oil company, sank off the southern coast of the island, leaking 500,000 liters (132,000 gallons) of bunker fuel.
The incident was the largest oil spill incident in Philippine history and also considered the worst environmental disaster to hit the country this century. It damaged 648 hectares (1,600 acres) of mangrove forests and seagrass areas, according to the country's environment department. The mangroves only began to show signs of recovery last year, but are now threatened by this latest incident.
To keep the oil from spreading to the mangroves and to protect its 23 coastal villages, Guimaras Governor Samuel T. Gumarin called an emergency meeting. He later ordered spill booms deployed and clearing operations carried out. "We are also still studying the health and environmental impact of the incident," he told Mongabay.
The spill has disrupted the area's fishing sector, with fishers no longer going out to sea and aquaculture culture farms contaminated. Residents have reported milkfish and lobsters swimming in the oil slick and have reached out to their municipal offices for support.
Greenpeace Philippines says the oil spill piles environmental and economic pressure on communities already hard hit by the pandemic lockdown. "This oil spill is a big threat to marine life and to the health and livelihoods of communities in Iloilo and Guimaras," campaigner Khevin Yu said in a statement. "Fisherfolk and coastal communities are already struggling to adjust to the logistic and economic impacts of the pandemic that have caused big losses in their sources of income and food security."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.
Floodwaters from the Kuma River inundated many houses, buildings and vehicles, causing people to climb onto roofs and wait for rescue.
More than 40,000 soldiers, coast guard personnel and fire brigades are taking part in search and rescue operations.
Care Home Inundated
Altogether 16 residents at an elderly care home in Kuma Village are presumed dead after the facility was flooded by water and mud.
Fifty-one other residents have been rescued by boats and taken to hospitals for treatment, officials said.
Eighteen other people elsewhere have been confirmed dead, while more than a dozen others were still missing as of Sunday afternoon.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said many others were still waiting to be rescued from other inundated areas.
Hitoyoshi City was also badly affected by flooding, as rains in the prefecture exceeded 100 millimeters (4 inches) per hour at their height.
More Rain Forecast
The disaster in the Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu island is the worst natural catastrophe since Typhoon Hagibis in October last year, which cost the lives of 90 people.
Although residents in Kumamoto prefecture were advised to evacuate their homes following the downpours on Friday evening into Saturday, many people chose not to leave for fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Officials say, however, that measures are in place at shelters to prevent the transmission of the disease.
More rain is predicted in the region, and the Japan Meteorological Agency has warned of the danger of further mudslides.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle
- 900,000 Forced to Evacuate Due to Flooding in Japan - EcoWatch ›
- Typhoon Slams Into Flood-Ravaged Japan - EcoWatch ›
- Historic Floods in Japan Kill More Than 100, Force Millions to Flee ... ›
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Sonya Diehn
More than 2 billion hectares of previously productive land is degraded. For Desertification and Drought Day on June 17, DW spoke with Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
DW: What do you want people to know about this year's desertification day?
Ibrahim Thiaw: Despite COVID-19, we still need to eat. We still need to have clothes. We still need to feed our animals. And we still need the planet. The planet does not need us.
More than a third of the world's land is vulnerable to exploitation that can lead to desertification. Where are some of the worst-affected areas?
If you consider the size of the land that is affected by desertification, Africa. But if you consider the number of people that are affected by land degradation, it is Asia. If you include the Americas, both north and south, 40% of land is affected by desertification or susceptible to be affected by land degradation. Europe is not spared either — we still lose a lot of soil here. And Europe has been more vulnerable to drought in recent years because of climate change.
We have one planet, so therefore there is no region in the world that is immune to land degradation or drought.
What do those areas have in common, are there some patterns there?
When you cause land degradation, you are affecting people's lives: their health, the economy, their security. Land degradation is also having an impact on migration — we will see more migration because people cannot produce anymore in their land. So therefore, it is not biophysical only. It is social. It is economic. It is health. It is our well-being.
What are some steps people can take?
Let us take the issue of fashion. Having our houses full of clothing that we don't need or we don't wear, or wear only once and throw away, that is what we call the wasteful economy. It is possible that you and I as shoppers are conscious about how we shop. How many liters are being used by the T-shirt I'm going to buy? How much land is being affected? How many people are being affected by that land degradation? It is important that the consciousness of the people, of the buyers, of the consumers, of the school, children, of the adults, are all at the same level.
People often think their changes are not going to make a difference. What do you say to that?
How can you make the change if you don't vote? How can you make the change in the planet if you don't buy the right jeans or the right T-shirt? Or if you decide to waste your food. We waste one-third of the food we produce, we just produce it to send to the dustbin. And yet we have 800 million people who are going to bed hungry. Do we live on one planet? Are we one humanity, or is there something wrong?
Is there something that needs to be changed in the way the land is managed?
Yes. The one-third of food we produce each year is equivalent to 1.4 billion hectares. So basically, each year we are wasting the equivalent of 1.4 billion hectares, meaning that we can feed the entire community, the entire world without further degrading on our land, without further clearing our forests, without further affecting our wetlands and our water ponds. We need to be more rational in the way we use these resources. We will have to manage. We should not be considering that these resources are limitless.
Can you give us a few examples of places that have successfully reversed desertification?
There are many good examples in different parts of the world, including in Germany. The old mine sites that have been rehabilitated, have been regenerated, and are now being used as tourist attractions.
You have examples in many parts of Africa where land that was degraded is now being reconstituted and managed for wildlife conservation. You have put tourists back in countries like Niger, one of the poorest nations on earth, they have decided to manage the land, and now you have giraffes. And when you have giraffes, you have tourists. When you have tourists, you have economic activity. So regeneration is something that can be positive to the economy, can be positive for communities.
More than 80 countries have pledged to regenerate 400 million hectares by 2030. It is not something that can be done only by experts, scientists or naturalists or biologists. It should be done by everybody.
You come from a region that has been dealing with desertification for decades. Is this somehow a personal issue for you?
It is, and I hope it is for you as well. It is a personal issue for me because my family has suffered, because my village has suffered, because my community, because my region, because my continent, because my world, my planet … when you see all the consequences that land degradation is having in the world, you should be concerned. And as a citizen of the world, you should be really conscious of the fact that there is something I can do about it. You are an actor, you are not a spectator.
Do you foresee that the pandemic will have an impact on desertification?
Why do we have that virus? Because we changed the land use. Because we, as human beings, have been in places where we should not have been, because we have taken species out of their ecosystems and because we are using them, we are over-consuming. So COVID-19 is one of the consequences of our new lifestyle. We hope that people will take some steps back and we learn lessons from it, and we hope that the post-COVID-19 world will be a world that is more sustainable. We hope that we will not have a repeat of the pandemic.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Akito Y Kawahara
Editor's note: According to recent press reports, two Asian giant hornets – a species not known to occur in North America – were found in northwest Washington state in late 2019, and a hornet colony was found and eliminated in British Columbia. Now scientists are trying to determine whether more of these large predatory insects are present in the region. Entomologist Akito Kawahara explains why headlines referring to "murder hornets" are misleading.
1. How Common Are These hornets in Asia, and How Much Alarm Do They Cause?
The Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is fairly common in many parts of Asia, where it is called the "Giant hornet." Growing up in Japan, I saw them relatively frequently in the mountains outside of Tokyo.
These insects are large and distinctive, with a characteristic orange head and black-banded orange body. Like any other social wasp, they will defend their nest if the colony is disrupted. But in most cases they will not do anything if people aren't aggressive toward them.
Giant hornets have longer stingers than a honeybee's, and hornets do not break off their stingers when they sting. Because hornet stingers can puncture thick clothing, people should avoid hornets and their nests whenever possible.
Giant hornets frequently are attracted to tree sap: I was stung by one when I was looking for butterflies on trees. The sting is painful, but the swelling and pain in most cases subside in a few days.
Just as with honey bee stings, an allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, can occasionally put people in the hospital. In rare cases, severe reactions can become fatal. But wasp and hornet stings killed less than 13 people a year in 2017 and 2018 in Japan – less than 0.00001% of the national population – in a country where many people spend time in the woods.
If you are allergic to bee and wasp stings, it is best to avoid getting close to these insects and their nests, wear white clothing outdoors (they are attracted to dark colors), and avoid carrying open-top sweet drinks such as sodas in the woods.
2. Are You Surprised That the Hornets Have Appeared in North America?
To some degree, yes. Most likely, a single, fertile queen hornet entered Canada via shipping packaging and created the colony that was discovered in 2019.
It's easy for invasive species to travel this way. More than 19,000 cargo containers arrive daily at U.S. ports, and inspectors can only do random searches of shipping containers. One estimate suggests that just 2% of shipments are searched for evidence of harmful organisms such as plant pests. Many invasive species are intercepted, but some do get through.
It's very unlikely that an entire colony of hornets was transferred to North America. Colonies of this hornet are often large, and the hornets would be visible and potentially aggressive if their nest were disturbed.
A genetic test indicated that one of the hornets found in Washington was not related to the Canadian colony, but those results have not been published or peer reviewed. The Giant hornet has not been found in 2020 in either the U.S. or Canada.
Four wasp and hornet species often confused with the Giant hornet. Upper left: European hornet (Vespa crabro). Upper right: Common aerial yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria). Lower left: European paper wasp (Polistes dominula). Lower right: Baldfaced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). gailhampshire (upper left), Gilles Gonthier (upper right), Judy Gallagher (bottom images), all via Flickr, CC BY
3. What Kind of Conditions Do These Insects Need to Live?
Giant hornets are fairly common in mountainous regions of Asia, but they're not often seen in large cities or highly urbanized areas. They usually nest at the base of large trees and inside dead logs. The fact that they can't tolerate extremely hot or cold temperatures makes it unlikely that they would spread to very hot or cold areas of North America.
If active colonies are discovered in 2020 in the Pacific Northwest, which has a more temperate climate, it's possible that they could spread there. However, it is unlikely that this would happen quickly, as foraging ranges of Vespa are only about 2,300 feet (700 meters) from their nest.
The key to prevent spread is surveillance. Anyone in the Pacific Northwest should be alert for Giant hornets while they are outdoors this summer and fall.
4. If More Hornets Are Found, Could They Threaten Honeybees and Other Pollinators?
Possibly. Some media posts have described destruction of honeybee nests by what could have been Giant hornets, but honeybees are not these insects' only prey. The hornets feed on different kinds of insects, and bring captured dead prey back to their hive to feed to their young.
In Japan, beekeepers surround their hives with wire screen nets to protect them from hornets. North American beekeepers can replicate these with wire netting from local hardware stores.
Many honeybees in Asia have the ability to protect their hive from intruding Giant hornets by scorching them. They wait for a hornet to enter their nest, then mob it by surrounding it completely with their bodies. Each honeybee vibrates its wings, and the combined warming of honey bee bodies raises the temperature in the center of the cluster to 122 degrees F (50 degrees C), killing the hornet. Carbon dioxide levels in the nest also increase during this process, which contributes to the hornet's death.
5. Are News Stories About “Murder Hornets” Overreacting?
Yes, very much so. In parts of Japan, people consider these hornets beneficial because they remove pests, such as harmful caterpillars, from crops. They are also thought to contain nutrients, and have been used as ingredients in Japanese food and some strong liquors. Some people believe the hornets' essence has medicinal benefits.
People who live in Vancouver, Seattle or nearby should certainly take note of what these insects look like. They are 2 inches long or more, with a 3-inch wingspan, and have distinctly orange heads and broad striped orange and black-banded abdomens. That's different from typical North American hornets, which have yellow or white bodies with black marks.
In the unlikely case that you see a Giant hornet in Washington state, do not try to remove nests yourself or spray hornets with pesticides. Cutting down trees to prevent nesting sites is also unnecessary, and can affect many other kinds of native wildlife, including beneficial insects that are needed for pollination and decomposition. Many native insects are declining globally, and it's important to make sure these insects are not affected.
Instead, take a photo from a distance and report it to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Photos are essential to verify that identifications are accurate.
Consider also uploading your images to iNaturalist, which is one of the primary sources for information on tracking wildlife. The images are archived and carry data, such as location, time of observance and the insect's morphological features, that scientists can use for research.
Akito Y Kawahara is an Associate Professor and Curator of Insects at Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida.
Disclosure statement: Akito Y Kawahara does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- 'Murder Hornets' Spotted in U.S. for the First Time - EcoWatch ›
- First-Ever 'Murder Hornet' Nest Found in U.S. and Destroyed - EcoWatch ›
By Neil Carter
Tigers are one of the world's most iconic wild species, but today they are endangered throughout Asia. They once roamed across much of this region, but widespread habitat loss, prey depletion and poaching have reduced their numbers to only about 4,000 individuals. They live in small pockets of habitat across South and Southeast Asia, as well as the Russian Far East — an area spanning 13 countries and 450,000 square miles (1,160,000 square kilometers).
Today Asia is experiencing a road-building boom. To maintain economic growth, development experts estimate that the region will need to invest about US$8.4 trillion in transportation infrastructure between 2016 and 2030.
Major investment projects, such as China's Belt and Road Initiative — one of the largest infrastructure projects of all time — are fueling this growth. While roads can reduce poverty, especially in rural areas, many of Asia's new roads also are likely to traverse regions that are home to diverse plants and animals.
To protect tigers from this surge of road building, conservation scientists like me need to know where the greatest risks are. That information, in turn, can improve road planning in the future.
In a newly published study, I worked with researchers at the University of Michigan, Boise State University and the University of British Columbia to examine how existing and planned Asian roads encroach on tiger habitats. We forecast that nearly 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) of new roads will be built in tiger habitats by 2050, and call for bold new planning strategies that prioritize biodiversity conservation and sustainable road development across large landscapes.
Letting Humans In
Road construction worsens existing threats to tigers, such as poaching and development, by paving the way for human intrusion into the heart of the tiger's range. For example, in the Russian Far East, roads have led to higher tiger mortality due to increased collisions with vehicles and more encounters with poachers.
To assess this threat across Asia, we focused on areas called Tiger Conservation Landscapes — 76 zones, scattered across the tiger's range, which conservationists see as crucial for the species' recovery. For each zone we calculated road density, distance to the nearest road and relative mean species abundance, which estimates the numbers of mammals in areas near roads compared to areas far from roads. Mean species abundance is our best proxy for estimating how roads affect numbers of mammals, like tigers and their prey, across broad scales.
We also used future projections of road building in each country to forecast the length of new roads that might be built in tiger habitats by 2050.
More Roads, Fewer Animals
We estimated that more than 83,300 miles (134,000 kilometers) of roads already exist within tiger habitats. This is likely an underestimate, since many logging or local roads are missing from the global data set that we used.
Road densities in tiger habitat are one-third greater outside of protected areas, such as national parks and tiger reserves, than inside of protected areas. Non-protected areas averaged 1,300 feet of road per square mile (154 meters per square kilometer), while protected areas averaged 980 feet per square mile (115 meters per square kilometer). For tiger populations to grow, they will need to use the forests outside protected areas. However, the high density of roads in those forests will jeopardize tiger recovery.
Protected areas and priority conservation sites — areas with large populations of tigers — are not immune either. For example, in India — home to more than 70% of the world's tigers — we estimate that a protected area of 500 square miles, or 1,300 square kilometers, contains about 200 miles (320 kilometers) of road.
Road networks are expansive. More than 40% of areas where tiger breeding has recently been detected — crucial to tiger population growth — is within just 3 miles (5 kilometers) of a nearby road. This is problematic because mammals often are less abundant this close to roads.
In fact, we estimate that current road networks within tiger habitats may be reducing local populations of tigers and their prey by about 20%. That's a major decrease for a species on the brink of extinction. And the threats from roads are likely to become more severe.
Estimated road densities for 76 tiger conservation landscapes (colored zones), with darker red indicating more roads per unit area. Neil Carter / CC BY-ND
Making Infrastructure Tiger-Friendly
Our findings underscore the need for planning development in ways that interfere as minimally as possible with tiger habitat. Multilateral development banks and massive ventures like the Belt and Road Initiative can be important partners in this endeavor. For example, they could help establish an international network of protected areas and habitat corridors to safeguard tigers and many other wild species from road impacts.
National laws can also do more to promote tiger-friendly infrastructure planning. This includes keeping road development away from priority tiger populations and other "no go" zones, such as tiger reserves or habitat corridors.
Zoning can be used around infrastructure to prevent settlement growth and forest loss. Environmental impact assessments for road projects can do a better job of assessing how new roads might exacerbate hunting and poaching pressure on tigers and their prey.
Funding agencies need to screen proposed road developments using these tiger-friendly criteria before planners finalize decisions on road design, siting and construction. Otherwise, it might be too late to influence road planning.
There are also opportunities to reduce the negative effects of existing roads on tigers. They include closing roads to vehicular traffic at night, decommissioning existing roads in areas with important tiger populations, adding road signs announcing the presence of tigers and constructing wildlife crossings to allow tigers and other wildlife to move freely through the landscape.
Roads will become more pervasive features in Asian ecosystems as these nations develop. In my view, now is the time to tackle this mounting challenge to Asian biodiversity, including tigers, through research, national and international collaborations and strong political leadership.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Are tigers extinct in Laos?
That's the conclusion of a detailed new study that found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country.
What researchers did find during a five-year camera survey of the biodiversity-rich Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area was evidence of snares — lots and lots of deadly snares, which are designed to trap and kill any animals that stumble across them.
It appears that tigers have now paid the ultimate price for the snaring crisis that plagues Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia.
"Snares are simple to make," said Akchousanh Rasphone, a zoologist with the Wildlife Research Conservation Unit and lead author of the study. "One person can set hundreds or even thousands of snares, which kill indiscriminately and are inhumane for anything that is captured." Most animals killed in snares are destined for Asia's bushmeat markets, although tigers themselves are sought by wildlife traffickers for their valuable furs and body parts.
Illegal wildlife snares in Laos. Bill Robichaud / Global Wildlife Conservation / CC BY 2.0
The loss of tigers in Laos was an avoidable, if not unexpected, tragedy. The most recent worldwide tiger population estimates, released in April 2016, put the number of tigers remaining in the country at all of two. The observation of those last two Laotian tigers came from the first year of the camera survey; they were never seen again — except, in all likelihood, by the trappers who killed them.
"Our team did what we could with our limited resources to conserve the species," said Rasphone. "We did our best despite being defeated by the high international demand in the illegal wildlife trade for this species."
Their deaths continue the slow decline of the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). Today their only healthy populations remain in Thailand, which at last count had about 189 wild tigers. The Indochinese tiger (previously considered its own subspecies) also persists at unsustainable levels in China (about 7 tigers), Vietnam (fewer than 5) and Myanmar (no reliable population count).
Unfortunately, the news of tigers' extirpation in Laos hasn't generated much attention in the country.
"It seemed to spark very little discussion in Laos in terms of how to move things forward with regards to preventing extirpation of more species," said Rasphone. "It occurs to me that the only thing that our government was concerned about was that the study made the country lose face, instead of taking it as a lessons learned and thinking about how not to repeat the same mistakes again for the species of conservation importance that are left."
And that's a big concern, as snaring affects a lot more than just tigers. The researchers also concluded that leopards (Panthera pardus) no longer exist in Laos. The species was last officially observed in the country in 2004, but conservationists had hoped that pocket populations remained in Nam Et-Phou Louey.
In addition, the researchers identified a wide range of large and small animals in snaring hotspots in Nam Et-Phou Louey, including other predators such as dhole (Cuon alpinus) and clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosi), and all appeared to have declining populations. "Based on our recent survey, the largest prey species, guar (Bos gaurus), has already become quite rare," said Rasphone.
So is that it for tigers in Laos? Not necessarily. In theory, if the snaring crisis is ever resolved, the big cats could repopulate Laos from neighboring countries.
And Rasphone said her team still conducts surveys to find evidence "of what is and isn't there." She adds that the government wants additional surveys for both tigers and leopards, "although there isn't funding for that at the moment."
It should also be noted that captive tigers do still exist in Laos. Hundreds of genetically inbred big cats live in the country's illegal and notoriously inhumane tiger farms, where they're raised to be slaughtered and sold for their body parts. Laos has officially promised to shut down these facilities, which have been widely linked to illegal tiger trade, but appears to have made little progress toward that purported goal. In fact, evidence suggests that the Laotian government has actually allowed existing farms to expand and the number of farms to increase.
The state of the country's wild animals remains dire, and Rasphone said her team's study should serve to guide policy in Laos and other nations that still have tiger populations. "In my opinion," she said, "the message of the paper needs to be carried as a lesson to other range countries and also be interpreted locally for the conservation of the remaining populations of species of conservation importance in Laos."
With many experts calling the snaring epidemic an "extinction crisis" for Southeast Asia, the time to heed those lessons grows short.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
- 'Death Warrant' for Endangered Rhinos and Tigers ›
- Wild Tiger Population Nearly Doubles in Nepal - EcoWatch ›
- Could Wild Tiger Populations Double by 2022? - EcoWatch ›
By Kaamil Ahmed
A pair of "French spies" had infiltrated India by sea to commit a "treasonous conspiracy," an Indian minister claimed in late November. In reality, they were two visiting journalists, and their mission was an investigation into allegations of illegal sand mining in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. They had merely tried and failed to visit the site of a major mining company through legal means.
Their presence set off alarm bells among some connected to the industry, and the fallout has been significant. It's included a police investigation, a politically fueled propaganda campaign and the arrests of two local translators who had been working for them.
This heavy-handed response is familiar to Indian journalist Sandhya Ravishankar, who has reported on sand mining since 2013 and found that her probing into allegations of major business interests damaging the local environment has resulted in stalking and various types of harassment—some of it reportedly directed by the head of one of the mining companies.
"I got rape threats, my bike was vandalized, the miner has openly admitted that there are five detective agencies trailing me wherever I go, CCTV visuals of me having coffee with a source at a cafe have been made public," Ravishankar said, adding that she also discovered government documents showing "officials have colluded to slander me."
Ravishankar's case is just one example of the growing dangers for journalists reporting environmental stories. Even as environmental journalism becomes increasingly important in the face of destructive business and political interests and practices, the inherent safety risks remain. There are also the more routine challenges of accessing crucial information and convincing editors and readers of their importance.
"Journalists I've interviewed have been arrested, sued, fired, threatened, harassed, interrogated by police, interrogated by the military, physically assaulted and a number of them have been killed while covering logging, mining, development," said journalism professor Eric Freedman in an interview. Freedman is the Knight Chair in Environmental Journalism and director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.
Freedman said environmental journalism came with its own set of challenges, many of which evolve with the story.
"Covering these kinds of beats, particularly in areas where journalists are not respected and protected takes a great deal of courage and bravery."
The number of journalists killed each year between 1992-2018Chart and data courtesy of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
The number of journalists killed in 2018Chart and data courtesy of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Stalked for Exposing Sand Mining in India
The sand of India's southern coasts was being stolen, the minerals extracted by major corporations for export. Ravishankar explored the issue in a series of stories in early 2017.
The practice was banned by the Tamil Nadu state government in 2013, but according to Ravishankar's reporting, $5.6 billion worth of minerals were extracted from beach sand and exported between 2013 and 2016.
Her previous reporting on the topic had left her fighting legal cases. But revealing the ongoing activity and naming the companies responsible prompted a harsh reaction for the journalist: she has been harassed online and had her phone number disseminated, leading to calls with violent threats.
"It has been very difficult," she said. "Colleagues have stayed away simply because anyone close to me is in danger of being slandered, my family has been under constant threat and anxiety, my husband has been slandered in a targeted manner."
Ravishankar was working as a freelancer, a common thread in a lot of the cases of journalists facing intimidation, according to a research paper presented by Freedman to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in August 2018. Another issue is that many of them are local journalists rather than foreign reporters.
That is a reality that French journalists Arthur Bouvart and Jules Giraudat's organization, Forbidden Stories, recognizes, by helping local journalists cover sensitive stories they have been attacked for.
Bouvart and Giraudat contacted Ravishankar in August for help investigating sand mining in southern India, but she felt the work was too risky. Instead, she set them up with D. Anandhakumar, a local journalist who translated for the French duo.
Anandhakumar was not with them on Nov. 26 this year when they visited the site of Indian Rare Earth Limited (IREL) to ask for filming permission. But he and his friend, M. Sriram, another local journalist who also translated for the French journalists, were bombarded by calls from the local police. They were asked to come in for questioning the next day, and ended up being detained for two days.
Meanwhile, Bouvart and Giraudat left the country, fearing further repercussions after the sudden interest from the authorities. A police investigation has been opened into accusations they trespassed at the IREL site.
They have also become the focus of the local wing of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has put up posters with their photos, reading: "There are French spies in Kanyakumari district. People beware."
Photo by Rhett A. Butler
At least 10 journalists covering the environment were killed between 2010 and 2016, according to Reporters without Borders—all but two of them in Asia. India and Cambodia were highlighted by the group as countries where journalists have been killed and threatened with impunity.
In his study, Knight's Freedman spoke with journalists around the world about how the dangers they had faced while reporting on the environment had long-term, often traumatic, effects on their lives and careers.
Some described physical assaults they had been subjected to, others the conditions of their detention, or the experiences of repeated arrests.
"These journalists, sometimes as a result of these experiences, suffer PTSD, depression, some leave their country, some give up on journalism and at the same time others become even more committed, more passionate about the mission of journalism," Freedman said. He added that he found examples of journalists suffering in a range of countries, including India, Liberia, the U.S. and Canada.
He also asked them whether they sought therapy for their trauma and found that only a few did. Some said suitable counseling services were not available in their countries, but the majority were simply reluctant to seek help, fitting wider trends observed in places like Kenya and Sri Lanka.
Ravishankar said dealing with the aftermath of the harassment she faced was a "daily task."
"I wake up and tell myself everything will be alright some day and that all of this is for a good cause," she said. "And I tell myself that if I do not continue my work, no one else will. So onward with courage."
The front page of Daily Eleven in Yangon, Myanmar the day after the murder of one of its reportersPhoto by Ann Wang for Mongabay
While Brazil has previously been praised for taking steps toward combatting environmental damage by reducing both deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, it is also a country where the debate around the environment is typically very loaded.
Fears that the discussion will become even more polarizing have grown since the election this year of the right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro as president. One of his first moves ahead of taking power in the new year was to appoint as his foreign minister an official who has described climate change as a "Marxist plot" and climate science as "dogma."
Even before Bolsonaro's election, Brazil was already one of the most dangerous places for environmental activists, according to a 2017 report by free-speech watchdog Article 19. It recorded 57 environmental activists killed in 2017, most of whom worked to defend the Amazon rainforest.
Gustavo Faleiros, the editor of InfoAmazonia, which covers issues in the rainforest across the nine countries it spans, said deeper polarization in Brazilian politics would affect journalists trying to report on the environment. They might face accusations of being activists or part of the political opposition, he said.
"I think tough questions will be seen as confrontation and that's not good," he said in an interview. "Even worse now there's this discourse treating those who are asking tough questions as saying those people are leftists who are supporting left ideologies. So it's a very strange time where just by being critical you become a Communist."
Faleiros said a lot of the trends environmental journalists in Brazil had to contend with echoed globally, including an "aversion to facts" when reported by the media.
"But here it's very visible that no matter what kind [of] scientific facts you bring to your story, there will always be an argument to show that this is not enough to be concerned [about] or that you are just showing one side of the story," Faleiros said.
Accessing those kinds of facts is something Faleiros said he feared could become more difficult. While information on deforestation is quite transparent, it's tougher to access details on natural resource exploration, he said.
That difficulty could be exacerbated under a government that sees environmental activism as a barrier to development.
"I'm seeing a drop [in] the agenda of the level of the environmental issues in Brazil," Faleiros said. "It's tough for us but it's a very important time to be an environmental journalist in Brazil."
Convincing both the public and editors of the value of environmental journalism has become a key issue, Knight's Freedman said.
Much of the burden has fallen on the shoulders of freelance reporters, since the 2008 financial crisis forced publications around the world to downsize. Many have cut reporters on the environmental beat, though Freedman said he felt the field had recently been able to claw back some of those losses.
One reporter who says she's had the freedom to work the beat by following her leads and traveling across India to see how environmental change is playing out is Delhi-based Sowmiya Ashok of The Indian Express.
She said she tried to focus on the "micro-picture," connecting wider debates with on-the-ground realities, but also monitored policy changes, even if it was a struggle to make the wider public care.
"We're still at a stage when climate change is not the story yet. I think we're way behind the curve," Ashok said in an interview. "I think climate change is a huge story in India, it's just not being told in the mainstream media as much."
Ashok added that the consequences of ignoring environmental perils weighed on her mind.
"I often wonder when will be the tipping point where people start taking this seriously," she said. "Perhaps one day when you go to brush your teeth and there is no water in the tap and you realize: this has caught up with me."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
The events come nearly two months into the continent's annual rainy season that extends from June to November, according to The Straits Times.
A 2016 study showed that typhoons in Asia had gotten 50 percent more intense in the last 40 years due to increased ocean temperatures and were likely to get even more intense due to climate change, The Guardian reported.
In Vietnam, Typhoon Son Tinh made landfall as a tropical depression on Wednesday, The Straits Times reported.
It led to flash floods and landslides that claimed at least 21 lives and inundated villages in the country's north, CNN reported.
The flooding has damaged 15,000 homes and submerged 110,000 hectares (approximately 271815.92 acres) of farmland, The Straits Times reported.
In Shanghai, another tropical storm forced more than 190,000 people to evacuate as it made landfall Sunday afternoon.
"Ampil, the 10th typhoon this year, has made landfall on the island of Chongming in Shanghai at 12:30 p.m. local time Sunday (12:30 a.m. ET), packing winds of up to 28 meters (approximately 75.5 feet) per second near its eye," the municipal meteorological observatory told state-run media outlet Xinhua, according to CNN.
Both of these storms also battered the Philippines, which is now seeing the end of Tropical Depression 13W or Josie.
Philippines authorities said Saturday that at least five people have died and more than 700,000 have been impacted by floods and landslides caused by heavy rain, The Straits Times reported.
Finally, a deadly heat wave has struck Japan as it recovers from catastrophic flooding.
The heat wave has lasted two weeks and killed at least 30 people, BBC News reported Saturday.
The government issued new warnings Monday as the nation's highest ever temperature of 41.1 degrees Celsius (approximately 106 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in Kumagaya in Saitama outside Tokyo, The Times of India reported.
Temperatures in Kyoto have stayed above 38 degrees Celsius (approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit) for seven days, the longest in recorded history.
CNN's Van Dam reported that the heat wave had impacted around 90 percent of the country and that the heat index, which factors in humidity, had risen into the 40s.
"Sweating is only as good as your body's ability to evaporate that sweat off of the skin. Heat indices in the mid 40s are making it nearly impossible for the body's response to properly take effect," he told CNN.
The heat wave is also making it harder for volunteers working in areas of the country hit by devastating floods earlier in the month, BBC News reported.
'Climate Change' Removed From FEMA's Strategic Plan https://t.co/9kst5Lvkld @TheCCoalition @ClimateCentral @carbonfinance— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521279017.0
Today is International Snow Leopard Day, a global observance commemorating the signing of the Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of snow leopards in 2013.
The snow leopard has been listed on the IUCN Red List as "Endangered" since 1986, although it recently had its threat status downgraded to "Vulnerable."
Its skins are used for luxury home décor, as rugs, seat covers and taxidermy specimens. Bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine products, including well-known Chinese brands that have been seized and tested in Australia, while teeth are sold as increasingly expensive jewelry items.
Snow leopard skin found for sale in China.Environmental Investigation Agency investigators
Records are incomplete but the body parts of at least 270 snow leopards have been seized since 2000 and hundreds more were observed for sale. Snow leopard skins have been among the assets seized in anti-corruption cases in China.
Organized criminal networks are still involved in the trafficking of snow leopard parts and only last October, the skins of 20 snow leopards and snow leopard meat were seized in a single consignment along with two tiger skins, two leopard skins and other illegal wildlife parts in Lhasa.
While tiger skins, bones and teeth are bought by China's business, political and military elite, snow leopard parts are much more affordable to middle income buyers.
There is an urgent need for China's leadership to issue a strong message of zero tolerance against any trade, in any Asian big cat parts and products, including from captive-bred specimens.
Snow leopard skin for sale in China, prepared for taxidermy.Environmental Investigation Agency
Glaciers in Asia could shrink to one-third of their current size by the end of the century even if warming stays below 1.5 degrees C, according to new research. A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature finds that glaciers in the Tibetan plateau experience higher levels of warming than the global average.
The study's models predict the glaciers could shrink by half should temperatures rise 3.5 degrees C and by 65 percent if temperatures rise by 6 degrees C by 2100. The glaciers, which hold the largest concentration of water outside the poles, feed major rivers and supply drinking and irrigation water to millions in the region.
For a deeper dive:
By Paul Brown
A solar revolution is transforming the lives of women in the remotest parts of Asia. They no longer have to wait decades to be connected to a power grid but are able today to exploit the huge potential of the abundant sunshine.
In societies where women normally play a subservient role and spend much of their time on menial chores, solar businesses are creating a new breed of female entrepreneur who are bringing electricity to their villages.
In the opening scene of the new documentary RiverBlue, deep magenta wastewater spills into a river in China as the voice of fashion designer and activist Orsola de Castro can be heard saying "there is a joke in China that you can tell the 'it' color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers."
In China, the factory of the world, it is estimated that 70 percent of the rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry. This sobering film is being screened worldwide this year, which premiered March 21 to a sold out crowd at the U.S. at the 25th Annual Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC. The film will be featured at the Cleveland International Film Fest April 3-5 and at many other festivals throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The film examines the destruction of rivers in Asia caused by the largely unregulated textile industry. It also connects today's consumer appetite for fast fashion as a cause of this environmental degradation and explores how manufacturing innovation could help solve this global problem.
Co-directed by award-winning documentarians David McIlvride and Roger Williams and produced by Lisa Mazzotta, RiverBlue: Can Fashion Save the Planet was almost three years in the making and follows internationally celebrated river conservationist, Mark Angelo, as he paddles the rivers devastated by a toxic brew of chemical waste from the denim and leather industries. Angelo explained that these waterways in China, India and Bangladesh are devoid of life even as local communities rely on these rivers for drinking and bathing. The water in these rivers has become a public health crisis with a high incidence of cancer and gastric and skin issues afflicting those who work in the industry or live nearby.
Mark Angelo paddles a river devastated by a toxic brew of chemical waste from the denim and leather industries.RiverBlue
One river the film looks at is the Buriganga in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city of 50 million, home to a proliferation of textile mills and leather tanneries. This river has become one of the most polluted in the world. The tanneries which supply hides to fashion accessory industries use chemicals that can disrupt the hormonal and nervous systems to those who handle them. In the film, young children are seen working with skins and experts have said this has resulted in long term health problems.
One day while filming there, McIlvride knew what the work they doing was most urgent when they met a local journalist who said to him, "don't you see you are killing us over here."
In Kanpur, India alone there are more than 400 tanneries dumping toxic chromium into the water supply which subsequently turns up in cow's milk and agriculture products.
"We are committing hydrocide," said Sunita Narain, director general of Center for Science and the Environment in India. "We are deliberately murdering our rivers."
The question the film poses to viewers: Are brand-name clothing corporations disregarding the environment in their zeal to make their clothes cheaper and cheaper and what role does the consumer play?
"Low cost clothing has a high cost attached to it, one to the environment and public health," explained Angelo.
The impetus for the film came from a photo McIlvride found online. He and Williams, producer and director of photography, wanted to do a film on rivers. McIlvride found, on Google Images, a photo taken by NASA of China's Pearl River with a dark blue streak of pollution running through it.
"It was the area of China where most of the blue jeans are manufactured," he explained. "I thought everyone wears jeans. We could bring this problem to the world stage."
The team thought if these rivers are being destroyed, what is the human impact? The film drills down to look at how jeans are made, specifically distressed jeans that are so popular now and how the chemicals used in the distressing process have been especially detrimental to workers, rivers and surrounding communities.
This decline has not happened overnight but rather over decades. For the denim industry, it started after the signing of the much talked about North American Free Trade Agreement. From the 1960s to the 1990s, El Paso Texas was the blue jeans capital of the world producing 2 million pair of jeans a week. The North American Free Trade Agreement allowed brands to find cheaper labor outside of the U.S., initially denim manufacturers left for Mexico and subsequently to China, Indonesia and Bangladesh where wages were low and environmental regulations weak.
As prices for denim jeans plummeted and consumers bought more of them, it was the waterways that paid the price. Today, the average American buys four pairs of jeans a year. In Europe they buy 1.5 jeans a year. Now in China's Xintang province (where the movie's polluted river photo came from) 300 million pair of jeans are made a year. Consider that one pair of jeans uses 920 gallons of water and many mills produce without water treatment plants.
The solution the film's producers unveil is two-fold: through brand and mill innovation and consumer education and change.
McIlvride was determined to find brands making jeans without environmental damage. He located the father of distressed jeans: Francoise Girbaud who introduced the eponymous stone washed jean decades ago.
"It took 40 years before we realized what we made and what we did was wrong," said Girbaud in the film.
In LA now, the designer was trying to re-establish himself as manufacturer of good jeans when McIlvride found him.
"He led us to the Spanish company Jeanologia," Mcllvride said, "where they distress jeans by engraving images on the fabrics with lasers (light and air) eliminating water without increasing the cost."
While filming the movie, denim manufacturers barred the filmmakers from shooting inside their facilities. It was not until they edited the film, that an innovative, Milan-based brand allowed them access. Italdenim has put money into water treatment at their mill and created a dye fixant made with chitosan (derived from the exoskeleton of crabs), a substance that is not dangerous for laborers to touch and saves money by allowing reuse of the wastewater.
"Going forward, the leaders of the fashion industry and other industries will have to be much more aggressive in cleaning up and make sure they are not making money off environmental destruction," said former Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo, one of the experts interviewed in the film.
Angelo agreed: "I think all corporations have to be accountable for their environmental practices. No one has the right to damage or destroy a river. More within the textile sector have to commit to a fashion industry without pollution. And, the consumer has the power but has to seek out clothing made in an environmentally friendly manner. That would go a long way to improve things."
McIlvride hopes the movie will be an agent of change and thinks teens and college students, who buy the most fast fashion, are the ones who can make the most change.
"They are the ones who should know about this and try to cut back on their consumption. If they see the impact of these retailers, I think they would be receptive to change because they are socially conscious," he said. "We want this to have an impact on the consumer level. We want consumers to ask themselves, 'do you really need to buy more clothes.' Consumerism is the problem."
We are hoping we are taking the same route that the organic food movement took. When consumers learn more they will make different choices.
Kathleen Webber is a journalist who has covered fashion for more than 20 years.