The latest UN report on climate says reducing deforestation is crucial to slowing global warming. But researchers must first reconcile two contradictory sets of statistics on tree loss in order to determine whether promises made by nations to protect and restore forests are on target.
The world is losing trees faster than ever. An area the size of Italy disappeared last year. Or did it? New research suggests three-quarters of those lost forests may already be regrowing. That hardly means we are out of the woods. Fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity still needs a global campaign to reforest the planet. But it does suggest that, given the chance, nature will do much of the work. Continue reading
About a week ago we celebrated World Lion Day. Today we celebrate a different, long-limbed animal that likes to climb trees, the Orangutan. There are two species of this magnificent arboreal ape, both of which are facing potential extinction due to deforestation, poaching, the illegal pet trade and forest fires. As of last month, the status of the Bornean orangutan was classified as “critically endangered,” but conservationists are not giving up and are taking significant measures to improve forest management by working together with local communities and developing public-private partnerships.
The harmony between humans and apes began to unravel with the arrival of European explorers, who hunted them extensively during the 19thcentury. But it was not until the mid-20th century that human activities began to imperil orangutans’ existence. Extensive deforestation not only directly threatened orangutan habitat, it made the forest more easily accessible to humans. This led to both conflicts with orangutans, as the apes will eat crops, and made it easier for poachers to hunt the animals.
Isn’t there a line about finding heroes in the most unlikely places? This is the setting of Daeng Abu’s and his wife Daeng Maida’s inspirational story: a desert island off the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia, disabilities in Abu being blind and facing leprosy, their days spent raising sea turtles and speaking against the cyanide and dynamite fishing that is devastating Indonesia’s reef.
Neither knows how old they were when they entered their arranged marriage on nearby Pulau Pala (Nutmeg Island) – they currently believe they’re in their 80s – but Abu thinks he was older than 20 and Maida remembers it was the dry season. Her uncle fired three shots in the air; she walked over to his family’s home; Abu built a shack from bamboo and palm leaf; and married life began. Little did they know at the time – the couple was bound to become a rather unlikely pair of environmental activists.
In a post last year I pointed to the action by the Indonesian government to make its entire 6 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone a sanctuary for manta rays as an example of growing recognition by governments of the ecosystem service value of natural capital.
The threat to mantas through hunting was highlighted in a haunting new documentary, Racing Extinction, which debuted worldwide on Discovery Channel earlier this month. The film followed the efforts of photojournalist/ marine conservationist Shawn Heinrichs to document the manta hunts in Lamakera, in a remote region of Indonesia. Heinrich learned that the hunts have a long tradition in this area, but until recently the number of mantas taken each year was relatively small. It was only in the last decade that the traditional hunting was transformed into a large-scale commercial fishery, fueled by the demand for manta gill rakers as an ingredient in Chinese medicine.
When the first images of a giant manta lit up the screen, a hush fell over the stunned crowd…Even the most hardened of the manta hunters were transfixed by beauty of a world they had only witnessed from the other end of a harpoon shaft. I noticed a row of small children, their wide eyes soaking up the images on the screen. For these children, a seed was planted and a brilliant transformation was already taking place. Continue reading