By Muntasir Akash
The smallest of the planet's 13 otter species finds its habitat shrinking every day. We know little about these mustelids — especially in Bangladesh, where I conduct my research — but they face a horde of threats.
Species Name and Description:
The Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) has a typical otter build with webbed digits, dark brown to blackish upper parts, and a pale vent. It can be distinguished from other otter species by its blunter muzzle, acutely arched back and a white neck devoid of any spots or streaks. Its claws are noticeably short and even often absent — a feature of its genus, Aonyx.
Where It's Found:
These otters live in the Himalayan foothills, Ganges Delta, Northeast India, Indochina, South China and Philippines, with isolated population in southern India. Their habitats range from forests and wetlands to coasts and mangroves. In Bangladesh they're thought to be confined to the Sundarbans mangrove.
A small-clawed otter in Bangladesh. Via iNaturalist and © Guenther Eichhorn, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
IUCN Red List Status:
Vulnerable, with a globally decreasing population trend; endangered in Bangladesh
Poaching for fur and extraction to supply a recently spiked demand in pet trade is the number one threat to Asia's most trafficked otter species. Habitat destruction, conflict with fishers, drying up streams, decreasing food supply and attacks by feral dogs are also affecting its already sharply plummeting population.
Otter pelts in India. © Ashwin Viswanathan, some rights reserved (CC-BY). Via iNaturalist
In Bangladesh there exists no study on the species outside the Sundarbans, its known habitat in the country. Even there, only a handful of research has been undertaken to date.
Notable Conservation Programs or Legal Protections:
In 2019 the species shifted to CITES Appendix I from Appendix II to plug the illegal trade and trafficking.
The IUCN Otter Specialist Group and International Otter Survival Fund are the strongest voices for the species. Although the animals are protected by law, there is no conservation scheme so far in Bangladesh.
My Favorite Experience:
Watching camera-trap footage of not one, not two, but multiple otter families is unforgettable. Hearing the cooing of otter pups on screen was heart-melting and one of those now-I-can-die-in-peace moments. And all these images were from a region that has long been deprioritized in conservation, without any prior systematic study.
The small-clawed otter, a globally vulnerable small carnivore, can still be found in certain protected areas of northeastern Bangladesh. This is the first camera-trap image from the region. Muntasir Akash / Northeast Bangladesh Carnivore Conservation Initiative
However, the joy comes with a caveat. In all existing anecdotes, northeastern forests are described as the home of the larger Eurasian and smooth-coated otters. Otters showed up, true. But to my extreme surprise, it was a species that has always been attributed to the Sundarbans — a forest hundreds of miles away from the study site. Although finding the Asian small-clawed otter here has sparked hope for the region, the apparent absence of the other two expected species has left me with an uneasy feeling: Do the larger otters really roam these forests? Or is the Eurasian otter, the rarest of the three, to become the next extinct carnivore in Bangladesh?
What Else Do We Need to Understand or Do to Protect This Species?
We need extensive studies on ecology and threats to the species in both known and newly discovered habitats in Bangladesh. Connecting otters with the exceptionally rich ichthyodiversity of riparian streams and mangrove creeks can strengthen conservation practices in the country.
Muntasir Akash is a lecturer at the Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is focusing his career on the conservation of lesser-known carnivorous mammals, leading camera-trapping work in northeastern Bangladesh funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme, a partnership between BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and WCS.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
In flood-prone regions of Bangladesh, farmers and their families utilize a centuries-old tradition to reduce their vulnerability to climate change.
Floating gardens — known as dhap, or locally as baira — have been used in south-central Bangladesh for 300-400 years, BBC reported. Farmers build their own floating gardens out of plants, and like rafts, the gardens fall in and out with the moving water, according to Ohio State News.
In a study published recently in the Journal of Agriculture, Food and Environment, researchers interviewed families who use this farming method to determine how the gardens could provide food and income security, despite the impacts of a changing climate, like heavier rainfall and stronger cyclones, Ohio State News reported.
"We are focused here on adaptive change for people who are victims of climate change, but who did not cause climate change," Craig Jenkins, a co-author of the study and academy professor emeritus of sociology at The Ohio State University, told Ohio State News. "There's no ambiguity about it: Bangladesh didn't cause the carbon problem, and yet it is already experiencing the effects of climate change."
Two-thirds of Bangladesh is wetland and large parts of the land can be underwater for up to eight months a year, BBC reported. The country also suffers from poverty, where 48 percent of its population is landless. As climate change grows more severe, bringing stronger tropical storms to the region, it is estimated that one in seven people will be displaced by 2050, the Environmental Justice Foundation found, BBC reported.
But despite these challenges, farmers have implemented this sustainable, low-cost option as a means to survive. In their study, researchers suggest these floating gardens can provide both food security and income for rural households, Ohio State News reported.
"It is very environmentally friendly – all the necessary inputs and resources are natural, and it does not create any waste or byproduct which can impact the environment negatively," Fahmida Akter, a senior research fellow at the James P Grant School of Public Health at Brac University in Dhaka, told BBC about the floating gardens, which rely on water hyacinth, an aquatic plant, for support. Once farmers layer these aquatic plants about three feet deep to mimic a raised-garden bed, they then plant vegetables, such as okra, some gourds, spinach and eggplant, according to Ohio State News.
The practice also contributes to local economies, giving middlemen a chance to buy and sell seedlings, villagers a chance to earn wages from building the beds and creates an income strategy for households, the researchers wrote.
"In Bangladesh, a lot of small farmers that had typically relied on rice crops are moving away from those because of the effects of climate change and better returns from alternative crops," Jenkins added. One floating garden farmer told the researchers that he now earns four times the amount he did at the rice paddies, Ohio State News reported.
Floating gardens are not exclusive to Bangladesh. In southern Mexico, for example, farmers in the city of Xochimilco are reviving a similar practice that was first built by the Aztecs to meet food demand — a struggle ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Now the virus is revealing the strength of this model in the midst of a crisis," Atlas Obscura reported.
While the gardens provide a reliable source of food for farmers impacted by both the climate and covid crises, the floating gardens are still in need of improvement. According to Pravash Mandal, a farmer in the Barisal district of Bangladesh, the gardens cannot withstand waves or heavy currents, BBC reported.
Researchers call on NGOs and the government to provide support to help farmers develop floating gardens efficiently, noting their ability to create a "sustainable and lucrative income strategy for rural households," in increasingly vulnerable, flood-prone communities in Bangladesh.
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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.
At least 84 people were killed when Cyclone Amphan walloped India and Bangladesh Wednesday, bringing "war-like" destruction to the city of Kolkata in the Indian state of West Bengal, The Guardian reported.
The response to the storm, which made landfall as the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane, was complicated by the spread of the new coronavirus. While around three million people in India and Bangladesh evacuated to safety ahead of the storm, some villagers remained in place out of fear of contracting the virus in a crowded shelter, The New York Times reported.
"At one end there is this small Covid virus that is terrifying people," West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said in a video conference reported by The New York Times. "This was another virus from the sky."
This is from my terrace this morning. Trees on both sides of the road all over. People now taking photos in horror.… https://t.co/GiusoiNvLJ— Boria Majumdar (@Boria Majumdar)1590022072.0
Causes of death included felled trees, downed electrical wires and collapsed buildings. In Bangladesh, Khanat Begum and her 13-year-old daughter were killed when a gust of wind uprooted their neighbor's tree and dropped it on top of their house.
For the survivors, the storm also brought devastation. Hundreds of thousands of people saw their homes destroyed, according to The Guardian. This could enable the spread of the new coronavirus as people are forced to remain in shelters.
"We have to rebuild those districts from scratch," she said, as The Guardian reported: "Area after area has been ruined. I have experienced a war-like situation today."
Staircase outside my flat now known as Kolkata Waterfall #CycloneAmphanUpdate https://t.co/iy53rTjbKg— Anushree Hamirwasia (@Anushree Hamirwasia)1589990442.0
At least 15 people in the city were killed, The New York Times reported. All told, at least 72 people died in West Bengal and 12 in Bangladesh, according to BBC News.
Bangladesh evacuated more people ahead of the storm than India, at 2.4 million compared with around 660,000, The New York Times reported. But the country was still hit hard.
"Even by Bangladeshi standards, this was a powerful storm," Save the Children in Bangladesh Humanitarian Director Mostak Hussain said in a statement. "We've received reports that more than 5 million people were disconnected from the electricity grid for their own safety as winds of 150kph smashed into power lines, destroying homes and uprooting trees. In some of the worst-affected areas there was a tidal surge of nearly three metres, causing dams to overflow and submerging low-lying villages and crops."
UPDATE: Our teams are assessing the damage in #India & #Bangladesh in the wake of #CycloneAmphan - the most powerfu… https://t.co/5W9QHt05eJ— sciasianews (@sciasianews)1590067696.0
For a period Monday night, Cyclone Amphan became the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal, with winds of up to 165 miles per hour, CNN reported. It weakened before making landfall, bringing sustained winds of 105 mile-per-hour winds and a five meter (approximately 16 foot) storm surge, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. But it was still the worst storm to strike Kolkata in 100 years, The Guardian reported.
Just in: The JTWC has upgraded Super Cyclone #Amphan to 145kt (270kph). Amphan is now the strongest cyclone ever r… https://t.co/xAF5sD3GCA— Eric Holthaus (@Eric Holthaus)1589826038.0
It struck the same week as a study confirmed that the climate crisis is making tropical storms more intense, increasing the chance that a cyclone develops into a Category 3 storm or higher by eight percent per decade since the late 1970s. Cyclone Amphan originally intensified after passing over water temperatures as warm as 88 degrees Fahrenheit, The New York Times reported.
"Sea surface temperatures are much warmer than normal in the Bay of Bengal right now," Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach told CNN.
An oil spill in the endangered Ganges river dolphin breeding grounds located in southeast Bangladesh has been called a "major disaster" by environmentalists, reports Agence-France Presse (AFP).
Ganges River dolphins are in crisis after a tanker carrying 1,200 tonnes of diesel collided with another ship on th… https://t.co/Z0hALyLWs4— RiverDolphins (@RiverDolphins)1572247855.0
A tanker carrying 1,200 tonnes of diesel collided with another ship in the Karnaphuli river near Chittagong port last week, spreading 10 tonnes of diesel across 16 kilometers, port authority spokesman Omar Faruk told the publication. The Department of Energy issued a fine for polluting the environment, reported local media agency Dhaka Tribune. The Marine Bulletin reports that as of Oct. 26 about eight tonnes have been collected.
Around 60 Ganges river dolphins (Platanista gangetica gangetica) use the area as a breeding ground and could inhale toxic petroleum vapors when surfacing to breathe. At least 20 dolphins in the last four years have died of unnatural causes including pollution in the river and in the adjacent Halda river, reports AFP.
The Ganges river dolphin is one of just three freshwater dolphins in the world and is unique to two river systems in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. A 2014 study found that their population has dwindled dramatically since their 4,000 to 5,000 population in the 1980s. Today, the total population is around 2,000 individuals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Declared by the government of India as a National Aquatic Animal in 2009, the World Wildlife Fund notes that the species is a key indication of ecosystem health but are largely endangered due to human activities.
Ganges river dolphin habitat is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and is used for fishing. Individuals are often caught as bycatch after becoming tangled in fishing nets used for shrimp and fish. They are also hunted for meat and oil, which is both used medicinally and to attract catfish for fisheries.
One of the biggest threats to the Ganges river dolphin is pollution. The WWF reports that the essentially blind cetaceans have likely lost a majority of their eyesight due to pollution in their home waters.
"Pollution levels are a problem, and are expected to increase with the development of intensive modern industrial practices in the region," wrote the organization. "Compounds such as organochlorine and butyltin found in the tissues of Ganges River dolphins are a cause for concern about their potential effects on the subspecies."
In addition to oil spills, industrial and agricultural runoff seeps into their marine ecosystem with an annual input of more than 8,000 tonnes of pesticides and nearly 5.4 million tonnes of fertilizers that are used in their region, according to WWF. A 2016 report outlined the threat from "unabated dumping of toxic industrial and household waste," reported the Dhaka Tribune at the time.
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In recent decades, the education of girls around the world has increased dramatically. But climate change threatens to reverse some of that progress.
Extreme weather can increase poverty and force families to leave their homes.
In Bangladesh, for example, coastal flooding has forced many poor, rural people to migrate to Dhaka, a crowded megacity.
Saniye Gülser Corat is director of the division for gender equality at UNESCO, a UN agency. She says when families are forced to migrate, girls often take on additional responsibilities.
"They take care of their siblings. They take care of the disabled and the elderly. They are hired out as a help to others," she says. "So in most cases, even when education possibilities exist, girls are not usually the ones who can take advantage."
She says families struggling to survive may also encourage their teenage daughters to get married because "it is one less mouth to feed."
That tends to cut short their education, so she says climate change could be life-altering for women and girls around the globe.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Yale Climate Connections.
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By Genevieve Belmaker and Joseph Charpentier
Throughout 2018, forests continued to be threatened and destroyed. From the Amazon, to the Congo Basin, to the Mekong Delta and scores of places in between—journalists reporting for Mongabay filed hundreds of stories about the world's forests.
Although the significance of any one story is difficult to gauge in the short-term, several Mongabay reports from 2018 stood out. These pieces dealt with illegal timber trafficking, advances in technology-based environmental protections and human rights protections for the people doing environment-defense work—formal and informal.
Logged trucks in the Amazon Photo by Mongabay
A team of journalists from five Latin American countries investigated how groups of timber traffickers manage to steal and process timber from the Amazon. Illegally-sourced timber from Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia are incorporated into the international market with falsified official documents that are almost never verified. Timber traffickers are now pursuing new species of trees, but the countries' governments do very little to protect the species. Reported by Nelly Luna Amancio of Ojopublico and translated by Sarah Engel for Mongabay Latam.
The main chamber of Hang En, the third-largest cave in the world, located in Phong Nha-Ka Bang National Park Photo by Michael Tatarski / Mongabay
Vietnam's global press freedom ranking is one of the lowest in the world. Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 175 of 180 in its 2017 annual press freedom index. Environmental journalists in Vietnam, including citizen journalists and bloggers covering forests or pollution issues, routinely face roadblocks and sometimes jail time. Reported by Michael Tatarski in Vietnam.
Students of the church live in small huts around the church's land.Photo by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese for Mongabay
In Meket—a district in Ethiopia's Amhara National Regional State (ANRS)—efforts are underway to restore what experts say is one of the more severely deforested and degraded regions in the country. Of the land in ANRS, less than 2 percent forested land remains, and efforts are underway to restore degraded and deforested areas. In 2016, Ethiopia turned to forestry sector development projects in the form of short rotation planting and rehabilitation of degraded lands in ANRS and other districts. Reported and photographed by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese in Ethiopia.
Many areas have been used to grow large crops. Photo courtesy of the Solidarity Development Corporation (CDS)
Mongabay learned that the superintendent of notary and registry has a record of empty lands being used illegally in seven Colombian departments. The illegally-used land is in the departments of Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Meta, Caquetá, Casanare, Cesar and Vichada. The land makes up a total of 762,807 hectares (almost 1,885,000 acres). Reported by Maria Fernanda Lizcano and translated by Sarah Engel.
A Rohingya boy chopping wood from tree stump he freed from soil near Kutupalong-Balukhali refugee camp on Bangladesh Photo by Khaamil Ahmed / Mongabay
Their panicked dash from burning villages involved stumbling through forests or battling monsoon-charged waters in search of safety. Along the way and in makeshift shelters and eventually camps, refugees needed a massive supply of firewood and shelter for survival. The rapid decimation of the forest is also possibly contaminating groundwater supplies. Reported and photographed by Kaamil Ahmed on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
A rufous-collared sparrow in Anchieta Photo by Ignacio Amigo / Mongabay
Anchieta Island, just off the coast of Brazil near São Paulo, has seen the worst side of humans. Now, scientists and local authorities are laboring to restore its biodiversity. The island is located 800 meters (about 874 yards) from the municipality of Ubatuba, in one of the few regions of Brazil where the Atlantic Forest still thrives. Most of the island's original forest was devastated over a long period of human habitation, and more recent attempts to introduce foreign mammal species have also had a significant ecological impact. Scientists are now studying the complex interactions at play during environmental restoration, including removing some invasive species, as they embark on an intensive reforestation program. Reported and photographed by Ignacio Amigo in Brazil.
Cerrado soy feeds a booming global soy protein market. The Trase 2018 Yearbook tracks the Brazilian soy supply chain in detail, from producers to export. Image by Flávia Milhorance
Launched in 2016, Trase is an innovative Internet tool, available to anyone, which tracks commodities supply chains in detail from source to market, and can also connect those chains to environmental harm, including deforestation. Until the advent of Trase, knowledge of supply chains was sketchy and difficult to obtain. The Trase Yearbook 2018 is the first in an annual series of reports on countries and companies trading in such commodities as soy, sugarcane and maize, which also assesses the deforestation risk associated with those crops, making it a vital tool for environmentalists, governments, investors and other interested parties. The Yearbook shows that in 2016 the Brazilian soy supply chain was dominated by just six key players—Bunge, Cargill, ADM, COFCO, Louis Dreyfus and Amaggi—accounting for 57 percent of soy exported. In the past ten years, these six firms were also associated with more than 65 percent of the total deforestation in Brazil. Trase shows that zero-deforestation commitments (ZDCs) have so far not resulted in greatly reduced deforestation risk for the commodities companies and countries making them. Between 2006 and 2016, soy traders with ZDCs, as compared to non-committed firms, were associated with similar levels of deforestation risk. Written by Claire Asher.
The Amazon arc of deforestation stretches across the southern and eastern edges of the forest and is rapidly expanding into the forest's core. Data in Global Forest Watch from Hansen et al (2013) and Brazil's National Institute of Space Research (INPE) PRODES project
Forest degradation has historically been overlooked in accounting and monitoring carbon stocks. A recent study combined ground-based inventory, satellite and LiDAR data to record the loss of carbon due to forest degradation in areas exposed to logging, fire damage or both, in the arc of deforestation of the southeastern Amazon. The study revealed that fire damage causes greater losses than logging, and fire-damaged forests recovered more slowly than logged forests. Accurate depictions of both deforestation and degradation are necessary to establish emissions baselines used to inform programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Written by David Klinges.
A woman in Senegal farms short-cycle cowpeas instead of millet due to poor seasonal rains, which are expected to become more frequent as climate changes. REDD+ aims to reduce emissions from forest loss. Image by Thierry Brévault, copyright CIRAD
A searchable database of 467 forest carbon emissions reduction (REDD+) initiatives in 57 countries is now available through the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The ID-RECCO database gathers in one free online tool over 100 different categories of information – including project partners, activities and funding sources – on these subnational projects aimed at conserving forests, promoting local economies, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation. The tool makes these data and their sources accessible to anyone, with minimal interpretation: while it does not summarize project results, it provides goals, activities, and links to project websites for the reader to learn more. Written by Sue Palminteri.
The new draft forest policy may not be beneficial for members of forest-dependent communities, such as this Malayali tribesman from Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier / Mongabay
India's Draft National Forest Policy 2018 is now open for public comment, and will replace the older 1988 policy once it comes into force. Critics are apprehensive about how the draft policy deals with community participation and industrial forestry. The current draft is bereft of knowledge-driven solutions, some experts say. Written by S. Gopikrishna Warrier.
Volunteers Plant 67,500 Trees in Portuguese Forest Devastated by Wildfires https://t.co/lujiyDKqK1 #wildfires… https://t.co/dqGYFgBvcW— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1522069954.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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By Joyce J. Chen and Valerie Mueller
Salt is essential for cooking, but too much salt in soil can ruin crops and render fields useless. According to legend, Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus sowed the soils of Carthage with salt after conquering the city during the Punic Wars. And after defeating the Italian town of Palestrina in 1298, Pope Boniface VIII is said to have plowed its lands with salt "so that nothing, neither man nor beast be called by that name."
Today it would be very expensive and logistically challenging to gather enough salt to render large swaths of land infertile. But that is precisely what climate change is doing in many parts of the world.
As sea levels rise, low-lying coastal areas are increasingly being inundated with saltwater, gradually contaminating the soil. These salts can be dissipated by rainfall, but climate change is also increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including droughts and heat waves. This leads to more intensive use of groundwater for drinking and irrigation, which further depletes the water table and allows even more salt to leach into soil.
We have documented this process in Bangladesh, but its impacts are much broader. Our findings show that rising soil salinity is already influencing agricultural production and internal migration in some locations, and could affect many other coastal areas where farming takes place, from Asia to the U.S. Pacific and Gulf coasts.
Sea level rise plus increased groundwater pumping can promote saltwater intrusion into groundwater aquifers, increasing treatment costs or rendering wells unusable.EPA
Growing Crops in Saline Soils
Farming has always been a challenging industry with razor-thin profit margins, even for large-scale farmers. Salt contamination, which leads to stunted and uneven plant growth, is already estimated to affect 20 percent of cultivated land worldwide.
Climate change drives soil salinization in several ways. First, ocean temperatures are rising, and warmer water takes up more space. Ice sheets and glaciers are melting and flowing into the oceans. Scientists currently project that global mean sea levels will rise by at least one-quarter to one-half meter by 2100, even with deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This process pushes salty water onshore along coastlines, from Bangladesh to the Mississippi Delta.
Climate change also causes heat stress, which will deplete groundwater resources and increase saline contamination of soils inland. This process is already affecting parts of Australia, sub-Saharan Africa and California.
Globally, soil salinization will translate into higher food prices and more food shortages. Locally, many farmers are seeing lower yields, which means less income.
Depending on the season and the degree of saline contamination, rice farmers in India can expect to lose anywhere from 7 to 89 percent of their crop. In coastal Bangladesh, we found that households facing moderate saline contamination earn roughly 20 percent less in crop revenue each year than those facing only mild soil salinity.
Taro crops destroyed by encroaching saltwater at Lukunoch Atoll, Chuuk State, MicronesiaUSDA Forest Service / John Quidachay
When Life Gives You Lemons
Large-scale farmers and those in more developed countries have stronger safety nets and more options for coping with salty soils. Millions of subsistence farmers are left searching for ways to make ends meet.
In coastal Bangladesh, farmers are increasingly turning to fish farming as their lands become inundated. We estimate that the share of revenue these farmers derived from aquaculture rose by nearly 60 percent over a period of eight years as their soils became saltier. By diversifying in this way, they could almost entirely offset lost crop revenues.
We also found that converting to aquaculture made farmers less likely to migrate abroad to find work. This may not be a good thing: Competition in the shrimp farming industry is steep and wages are low, so farmers could spend their household savings to convert to aquaculture and then become trapped at the coast. On the other hand, these enterprises offer new job opportunities that may reduce the need to seek opportunities abroad.
But this benefit is probably temporary. Converting farm lands to brackish ponds increases saline contamination of soils. In Bangladesh, it has led to conflict among coastal residents. Some enterprising shrimp farmers even go so far as to dig channels through embankments designed and built—typically by aid agencies and non-government organizations—to prevent saline intrusion.
Seeking New Livelihoods
As the shift towards brackish aquaculture continues, crop cultivation will become even more challenging. Moreover, many households cannot afford to convert to shrimp farming. Instead, some are migrating within Bangladesh in search of new opportunities.
As soil salinity increases, we estimate that internal migration in Bangladesh would increase by 25 percent if all coastal locations had to contend with the highest soil salinity content currently observed. Moves to neighboring countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan would similarly increase. In total, some 200,000 Bangladeshi coastal farmers per year could migrate inland to seek new livelihoods. Two of the most popular destinations—the cities of Chittagong and Khulna—are located near the coast, so people who move there will still be vulnerable to sea level rise.
Many observers have spotlighted the potential for climate change to devastate Bangladesh by increasing river flooding. But as we have shown, river flooding triggers little to no out-migration in Bangladesh and elsewhere, particularly in delta regions where rivers meet the ocean. In fact, riverine flooding supplements soil nutrients, and longtime residents are experienced in weathering "usual" flood events.
Our findings confirm that it is not flooding that threatens livelihoods, but specific types of flooding. Sea level rise will pose unique challenges because of the resultant saline contamination and, eventually, permanent loss of habitable lands.
It is also important to consider broader social impacts of migration, both good and bad. Migrants' mental health and life satisfaction may decline, but the remittances they send home can enable their families to invest in climate-resilient livelihoods. Dispersing household and village members over greater distances may weaken traditional social networks, but women may find greater empowerment as economic opportunities evolve.
Helping Coastal Farmers Cope
Forward-looking adaptation efforts will ease these transitions and reduce the social and economic costs of climate change. Developing salt-tolerant crop varieties and farming methods, and funding infrastructure projects to prevent saltwater flooding, can help coastal farms remain viable as sea levels rise. It will also be important to regulate brackish aquaculture to avoid conflicts between rice farmers and shrimp farmers.
Developing manufacturing and service sectors in secondary towns and cities, particularly those outside the saline belt, can also encourage preemptive migration out of vulnerable areas and provide better job opportunities for subsistence farmers. In highly vulnerable areas worldwide, such as southern Louisiana, governments may also need to consider plans for managed retreat as marginal lands become increasingly hard to protect from the inevitable encroachment of the sea.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
"To achieve this, we encourage animal welfare organisations, community groups, youth and children's clubs, businesses and individuals to organize events in celebration of World Animal Day. Involvement is growing at an astonishing rate and it's now widely accepted and celebrated in a variety of different ways in many countries, with no regard to nationality, religion, faith or political ideology," the event's website says.
Here are some of the creative, informative and sometimes adorable happenings around the world in honor of both wild and domestic animals.
Activists in Jakarta, Indonesia have organized a moving protest to oppose the killing of mother macaques, whose children are then captured and sold as pets. On World Animal Day, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network is asking concerned citizens to mail or bring flowers to decision makers' offices in order to commemorate the thousands of monkeys killed in Indonesia every year as part of this cruel practice and to encourage them to put a stop to the deaths.
The People for Animal Welfare (PAW) Foundation is offering free checkups to pets at its clinic, the Dhaka Tribune reported. They also offered discounts on vaccines and vaccinated 20 stray dogs for free.
Cape Town, South Africa
The Cape Animal Welfare Forum, a conglomeration of 31 animal welfare organizations in Cape Town, is organizing a Moonlight Dog Walk on Friday to raise funds. They aim to get 1,000 dogs walking around the Killarney International Raceway in Cape Town for a first in Africa.
Serbia and the Philippines
Organizations across the globe are teaming up for an international art contest to promote "care and responsibility to animals." The "Pets are Family Too" art competition, hosted by Animal Kingdom Foundation in the Philippines and the Society for the Protection of Animals LJUBIMCI in Serbia will invite school children from both countries to send in artwork celebrating their pets. Selected entries will be displayed at exhibits in both countries.
New York, USA
Cruelty Free International and the Body Shop are celebrating their success in partnering to collect more than 8 million signatures in favor of prohibiting the use of animal testing for beauty products. The event will take the form of a roundtable hosted by the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations, and speakers will include representatives of the three host organizations plus members of British and European parliaments and actors Declan McDermott and Maggie Q.
By Kieran Cooke
As another monsoon season begins, huge numbers of homeless Bangladeshis are once again bracing themselves against the onslaught of floods and the sight of large chunks of land being devoured by rising water levels.
Bangladesh, on the Bay of Bengal, is low-lying and crisscrossed by a web of rivers: two thirds of the country's land area is less than five meters (approximately 16 feet) above sea level. With 166 million people, it's one of the poorest and most densely populated countries on Earth—and one of the most threatened by climate change.
A recently released report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) says rises in sea levels caused by climate change could result in Bangladesh losing more than 10 percent of its land area by mid-century, resulting in the displacement of 15 million people.
The country is already experiencing some of the fastest-recorded sea level rises in the world, says the EJF, a UK-based organization that lobbies for environmental security to be viewed as a basic human right.
Increasingly erratic rainfall patterns—linked to changes in climate—are adding to the nation's problems. Sudden, violent downpours have resulted in rivers breaking their banks and land being washed away.
Rising sea levels mean land and drinking water is contaminated by salt. Farmers are forced to abandon their land and move—many to Dhaka, the capital, one of the world's so-called megacities, with a population of more than 15 million.
"Bangladesh has a long history of floods, but what used to be a one-in-20-year event is now happening one year in five," said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka. "It is what we would expect with climate change models."
Farmers further inland are also forced to move to the capital in search of work due to surging rivers eating away their lands. The city's slums are expanding, and Dhaka's population is increasing by more than 4 percent each year.
"We had a small farm—we used to produce peanuts and gourd, corn and sugar all year round," said one farmer quoted in the EJF report. "Now I collect scraps of work as a labourer."
EJF says climate change should not be seen only as an environmental issue; climate change is also contributing to a rapidly developing humanitarian crisis, not just in Bangladesh but in many other regions around the world.
"It is countries like Bangladesh, and people like those we met, whose contributions to climate change have been among the smallest, that are now facing the worst impacts," said Steve Trent, EJF's executive director.
"We must act now to prevent this becoming a full-scale humanitarian crisis."
In recent months more than 600,000 people—Rohingya refugees from violence in neighboring Myanmar—have set up shelters in southern Bangladesh. There are fears that this community could also be under threat during the monsoon period.
The EJF report highlights how women in Bangladesh are especially vulnerable to climate-related disasters. In 1991 a cyclone which swept across the Bay of Bengal caused the deaths of 140,000 people and forced 10 million to leave their homes.
EJF says 90 percent of the dead were women; their lower status means they are often not taught survival skills. Women also tend to stay with children and other family members when disaster strikes.
Those women who do migrate find it more difficult to adapt to life in a Dhaka slum or elsewhere. Some become victims of trafficking, ending up in brothels in India.
Foreign Migration Grows
EJF says that while most climate migration is internal, there are indications that growing numbers of Bangladeshis are seeking to move outside the country. It says that in early 2017 there was a particularly big surge in the number of Bangladeshi migrants arriving in Italy after completing the perilous journey by land and sea from their homeland.
EJF is calling for the creation of an international legally binding agreement for the protection of climate refugees. The EU should take the lead in this process, it says.
"There should be clarifications on the obligations of states to persons displaced by climate change, with new legal definitions," says EJF.
"Definitions of climate-induced migration are urgently needed to ensure a rights-based approach and give clarity to the legal status of 'climate refugees'; these must be developed without delay."
1,200 Dead, 41 Million Affected by Flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal https://t.co/WhmnRqL6AU @climatecouncil @climateinstitut— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1504299671.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Bangladesh was No. 6 on the Long Term Climate Risk Index of countries most affected by climate change from 1997 to 2016. The United Nations contents that climate change disproportionately impacts women, since they are more likely to be poor and dependent on local resources.
It is hopeful, then, that the UN's Green Climate Fund and Bangladesh's Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs will put $33 million towards helping Bangladeshi women and girls develop livelihoods that can withstand the changing climate, Reuters reported on Monday.
According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) release, the funds will go towards empowering 25,000 women living in Satkhira and Khulna, coastal districts especially vulnerable to sea level rise, more frequent storms, and the salinization of farmland and drinking water.
The project will increase the women's access to business development training and financial credit. In addition, it will help them develop climate-resilient skills such as hydroponic vegetable farming, UNDP climate change specialist Mamunur Rashid told Reuters.
The initiative, which is set to begin in July and has a six-year timeline, also aims to provide clean drinking water to 130,000 people through rainwater harvesting and involve women in cyclone-warning systems.
The focus on women's roles in adapting to climate change "marks a paradigm-shift in the way women are empowered as 'change-agents'" the UNDP release said.
"Under this project, women will [be] more in command of their, and their communities', own future," Mia Seppo, UNDP resident representative in Bangladesh, added.
The announcement comes little over six months after flooding in India, Nepal and Bangladesh killed 1,200 people and left one-third of Bangladesh underwater. According to The World Bank, 60 percent of worldwide cyclone deaths from 1988 to 2000 occurred in Bangladesh.
1,200 Dead, 41 Million Affected by Flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal https://t.co/zaOeQAKQw0 @wbclimatechange @globalgreen— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1505252107.0
The salinization of farmland and drinking water is a less dramatic but more insidious problem for the low-lying country. According to studies of coastal river salinization in Bangladesh by The World Bank, The Institute of Water Modelling and World Fish–Bangladesh, the best-case scenarios would still impact 2.9 million poor and 1.7 million extremely poor Bangladeshis.
While initiatives like this one show that Bangladesh is working hard to adapt to the climate challenge, the country is still set to lose 20 percent of its landmass if sea levels rise by 3 feet, even though it only contributes 0.3 percent to global emissions, according to Scientific American. This would turn more than 30 million people into climate refugees.
- We Can't Close Our Eyes to Climate Change ›
- Climate Change, Conflict Leave 224 Million Undernourished in Africa ›
By Jeremy Lent
Imagine you're driving your shiny new car too fast along a wet, curvy road. You turn a corner and realize you're heading straight for a crowd of pedestrians. If you slam on your brakes, you'd probably skid and damage your car. So you keep your foot on the accelerator, heading straight for the crowd, knowing they'll be killed and maimed, but if you keep driving fast enough no-one will be able to catch you and you might just get away scot-free.
Of course, that's monstrous behavior and I expect you'd never make that decision. But it's a decision the developed world is collectively taking in the face of the global catastrophe that will arise from climate change.
With daily headlines pivoting from the unparalleled flooding from Harvey in Houston to the devastation caused by Irma in Florida, it might seem like the U.S. has its hands full just dealing with our own climate emergencies. In the short term, that's true. Harvey is estimated to have caused $180 billion of destruction, damaging some 200,000 homes, while Irma's havoc is still being assessed.
But meanwhile, multiply the damage from Harvey and Irma a hundredfold and you'll get a feeling for the climate-related suffering taking place right now in the rest of the world. In India, Bangladesh and Nepal, an estimated 40 million people have been affected by massive flooding, with more than 1,200 deaths. More than one third of Bangladesh's land mass has been submerged. As if that's not enough, Africa has been suffering its own under-reported climate disasters, with hundreds of thousands affected by flooding in Nigeria, Niger, Congo, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Although the regime in the White House is doing its best to ignore it, these global weather extremes are clearly exacerbated by climate change, and have been predicted by climate scientists for decades. What is so disturbing is that we're experiencing this wave of disasters at a global temperature roughly 1°C above historic norms. It's a virtual certainty that we're going to hit 1.5° before long—perhaps in the next ten years—and unless we do something drastic to transform our fossil fuel-based society, we could be hitting 2°C as early as 2036. By the end of the century—when half the babies born this year should still be alive—conservative estimates have global temperatures hitting 3.3°C above baseline, based on the commitments that formed the 2015 Paris agreement at COP21. And that's not including potentially devastating feedback effects such as methane leaking from permafrost, which could lead to temperatures way higher, causing an earth that would literally be uninhabitable for humans in many regions.
The likely effects on our civilization are dreadful to contemplate. Because most cities have grown up around oceans, half the world's population currently lives within fifteen miles of the coast. The devastation we've been seeing from flooding and storm surges offers only a hint of the impending catastrophe. In the Global South, beleaguered by massive poverty and inadequate infrastructure, cities will be overwhelmed. Reduction in river flows and falling groundwater tables will lead to widespread shortages of potable water. Flooding and landslides will disrupt electricity, sanitation and transportation systems, all of which will lead to rampant infectious disease. Meanwhile, even as these cities strain beyond breaking point, devastating droughts will cause agricultural systems to collapse, forcing millions of starving refugees into the cities from rural areas.
Eventually, even the most strident climate denialists will have to adjust to the facts raining down from the sky. Even Rush Limbaugh was forced to evacuate his Palm Beach home after claiming Irma was a conspiracy. But when they do, you can guarantee their response will be parochial. Wealthier cities will begin massive investments in building barricades, improving infrastructure, even moving to higher land, to defend themselves against the climate cataclysm. That's known in climate change circles as "adaptation." In more rational parts of the rich world, cities such as London and Rotterdam are already doing it.
However, effective adaptation isn't an option for the megacities of the Global South, which are already floundering from inadequate resources, and where hundreds of millions are forced to subsist, undernourished and vulnerable, in shanty towns. A central part of the Paris agreement, which Trump recently rejected, was a Green Climate Fund that is supposed to receive $100 billion annually by 2020 from developed countries to aid the rest of the world in mitigating and adapting to climate change. So far, only $10 billion has been pledged, $3 billion of which is the U.S. portion that Trump has vowed not to increase. It's hard to see even a small fraction of that $100 billion annual payment actually coming through.
Yet it's the developed world that created this climate mess in the first place. With just 15 percent of the world's population, developed countries have been responsible for 58 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases. All that fossil fuel energy is what permitted them to industrialize and thus become "developed," to the point that they're now consuming 80 percent of the world's resources, leaving the poorest three billion in the Global South to survive on less than $2 per day. That doesn't leave much change for climate adaptation.
That's why the inadequate response of the rich world to climate disruption is like that driver choosing to plunge straight into the crowd rather than swerving and risk damaging their shiny new car. What would it take to put the brakes on in time to avoid climate catastrophe?
There is hopeful news about the spectacular rise of renewables, surprising experts with the speed with which they are replacing fossil fuels around the world. But while that's an essential part of a solution, modern renewables still account for just 10 percent of global energy production, which in turn contributes no more than 25 percent of total greenhouse emissions. Halting the slide to disaster requires something far more extensive: a complete transformation of our current economic system.
After Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. faced an existential threat, President Roosevelt announced a military production plan to Congress and the American people that seemed unachievable. Yet, not only did the country meet those plans, it overshot them as a result of the wholesale transformation of society towards a single goal. This kind of mobilization is what would be required today to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change: a Climate Mobilization.
In this case, though, it's a different kind of mobilization that's required. The threat we're facing comes, not from enemies at war with us, but from the results of an economic system designed to exploit the earth and the most vulnerable humans living on it at an ever-increasing pace. As long as we measure ourselves and others by how much we consume, we're complicit in fueling the global system that's rapaciously devouring the earth.
The good news is that there's a short window of time when a fundamental shift in our economic, social and political priorities could still prevent global catastrophe. Alternative economic models exist that offer ways to conduct commerce sustainably. Ultimately, a flourishing future requires moving away from the growth-based, consumption-obsessed values of global capitalism, and toward a quality-oriented approach that could allow all of us to live on the earth in dignity. It's even possible to draw down much of the carbon that's already been emitted—the potential is there but it requires a choice to be made: a shift in our society's values toward caring for others alive right now, and for future generations.
Will there be enough collective willpower to act and transform our society before it's too late? That depends on the lessons learned from Harvey, Irma and the climate disasters still to come. Suppose, as you're racing toward that crowd in the road, that you managed to brake in time, get out of the car and join them. And then imagine your surprise when you discover the road you were speeding on came to an abrupt end around the next curve and was leading you directly off the precipice. Ultimately, the climate catastrophe we're ignoring will become all humanity's catastrophe unless we start acting on it now.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
By Andy Rowell
As much of the North American media focuses on the ongoing unprecedented flooding and relief efforts in Texas and now potentially Louisiana, another tragedy is unfolding, which is going largely unreported, in Asia.
Whereas the death toll in Texas stands at 20, the death toll in South Asia is estimated at 1,200 after weeks of unusually strong monsoon rains affecting India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The Red Cross estimates that 14 million people have been affected by flooding in India; more than seven million in Bangladesh and 1.5 million in Nepal. The United Nations puts the total number of people affected by floods and landslides at a total nearly double that, at 41 million.
Elephants Rescue Hundreds of People From #Nepal Floods https://t.co/nGPqfCA2tC @WWF @Greenpeace @AnimalPlanet @weatherchannel @NatGeo— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502724537.0
According to the Red Cross, "Vast swaths of land across all three countries are under water ... Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Many medical facilities, schools, markets and other essential services are submerged."
And as the rains continue, many people are worried that the death toll—and the number affected—will rise.
Although the monsoon is an annual event, this year's rains have been considered far worse than usual, and people are blaming climate change for making things much worse.
In India, for example, half the huge state of Uttar Pradesh, which is home to 220 million people, is under water. But they are not alone. One rescue and relief officer recently told Reuters that at least 850 people had been killed in six flood-affected states in the past month.
In the eastern state of Bihar, "People didn't have much time to get out," Hanna Butler at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRCRC), who has been studying the damage in region, told the Financial Times. "More traditional homes have been wiped out and concrete homes have also been ripped from their foundations."
In India's largest city, Mumbai, which is home to some 20 million people, and which is largely built on reclaimed land, schools and colleges are shut, with the city's transport system said to be "in chaos." One news report said that city has been "paralyzed by incessant rains." In some parts of the city, water is said to be five feet high. Five people are believed to have died in the city in the last 24 hours.
In Bangladesh, at least 134 people have died and 700,000 homes have been impacted, with more than eight million affected. A third of the country is now subject to flooding.
"This is the severest flooding in a number of years," said Matthew Marek, head of disaster response in Bangladesh for the IFRCRC, who recently flew over the country. "I could not find a single dry patch of land. Farmers are left with nothing, not even with clean drinking water."
His colleague, Corinne Ambler, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Bangladesh, who also flew over the affected area, said, "All I could see was water, the whole way. You have tiny little clumps of houses stuck in the middle of water."
Indeed Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh's Department of Disaster Management, told CNN, "This is not normal … Floods this year were bigger and more intense than the previous years."
Meanwhile, in Nepal, 150 people have been killed and some 90,000 homes destroyed. Francis Markus, a spokesman for the IFRCRC told the New York Times from Kathmandu, "We hope people won't overlook the desperate needs of the people here because of the disasters closer home."
That disaster is Superstorm Harvey. Many people have commented at how little press coverage the South Asia floods have received compared to Harvey. Indeed, as with Harvey, climate change is exacerbating the problem in Asia, with one commentator in the Pacific Standard noting, "Climate change appears to be intensifying the region's monsoon rains."
"Thankfully, we are now starting to see media coverage of the devastation in South Asia facilitated by the coverage of Houston," added Jagat Patnaik, the Asia Regional Head at ActionAid International. "If there is one thing that unites us, it's climate change: so perhaps our attention and efforts should be equal."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.