Thursday, 30 June 2011

Coelacanth Pictures

After we published the article by the BBC's Matt Walker about how the prehistoric Coelacanth's mystery is slowly begining to reveal itself we thought that it might be a good idea to publish a few pictures of this secretive fish.

The Coelacanth slowly begins to reveal its secrets...

Coelacanth slowly beginning to reveal its secrets. By Matt Walker, BBC.

An odd-looking ancient fleshy fish continues to serve as a reminder of just how little we know about the natural world. In 1938, scientists discovered the coelacanth, a large primitive deep-dwelling fish that was supposed to have been long, long extinct.

The fish provided an immediate link to our dim evolutionary past, resembling the lobe-fin fish that were likely the first to leave the water and take to land, ultimately begetting the amphibians, reptiles and mammals we see today, including the human race.

The fish’s discovery was a worldwide sensation, and the coelacanth remains famous to this day, its name synonymous with the concept of living fossils and great natural history discoveries.

But new research just published reveals, in its own way, just how little we still know about this fish, despite it being the subject of intensive scrutiny and excitement for more than 70 years.

A team of scientists based in France and Germany has just summarised the results of a 21 year study into coelacanths living in the Comoros Islands, in the western Indian Ocean. That in itself is impressive.

After its initial discovery in South African waters, another was not sighted by western scientists until fourteen years later, when a few fish were found swimming off the Comoros. The fish was not filmed alive until the BBC serendipitously took some footage of one for the programme Life on Earth broadcast in 1979 (see video below) and the first photos of the fish in its natural habitat were not taken until 1988.

So considering how enigmatic the coelacanth has been, it is remarkable that we now have a population study of the fish lasting more than two decades.

The study was done on Latimeria chalumnae by Hans Fricke of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany and colleagues.

Latimeria chalumnae is a deep blue fish that has been sighted around Africa, off the coasts of South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar. It is one of two species of coelacanth; the other, Latimeria menadoensis, is a brown fish found much more recently in Indonesia.

The scientists used remote operated vehicles to descend into the sea and survey an 8km-long stretch of coastline around Grand Comore inhabited by coelacanths. The ROVs followed the fish into the caves in which they live, filming and photographing individuals, which are recognisable by the pattern of white spots on their blue bodies.

Coelacanths, it seems, are peaceful animals that do not act antagonistically to one another, even when groups of up to 16 fish share the same cave.

Females are markedly larger than males but there doesn’t appear to be any sexual content to their gatherings.

During the day, the fish live at a depth of 170-240m along a steep volcanic landscape of caves, and at night they drift down to depths of 500m to feed, coming back to their caves in the morning to rest.

The survey reinforces the impression that perhaps just 300-400 coelacanths live at Grand Comore and that the fish do not tolerate waters above 22 degrees Centigrade particularly well, as many fish disappeared from the study area in 1994 when the water warmed, returning later.

The study demonstrates how much our understanding of these wonderful fish has improved in the past few decades.

Other research in this time has shown that coelacanth embryos develop for three years, the longest recorded for any vertebrate.Coelacanths also appear to have the lowest metabolic rates among vertebrates.

But the study by Fricke’s team, published in this month’s issue of Marine Biology, also gives away how much more we still don’t know.

For example, during the entire survey period, the team did not record a single subadult, juvenile, or baby coelacanth. They didn’t spot one in the Comoros, and have never spotted one in separate expeditions to study the fish off Indonesia, South Africa or Tanzania.

Only a single baby coelacanth has ever been sighted, filmed by different researchers in 2009 at a depth of 160m.

So we do not know where coelacanths give birth, where the young go, or why they don’t live with the adults. Such information is vital to preserve species of such rarity.

We still have little idea about how long these ancient-looking fish live for.

The survey by Fricke’s team confirms that coelacanths can live for at least 21 years; they resighted the same fish at the start and end of the survey, while 17 fish were sighted 19 years apart. That confirms that it is unexceptional for a coelacanth to live for two decades at least – the first real evidence of a coelacanth’s minimum age.

The scientists’ survey also allowed them to calculate the mortality rate of the fish, based on how often the same fish were resighted over the following years.

Their best estimate is that coelacanths have a mortality rate of 0.044. That means that out of a cohort of 100 individuals, we would expect one to still be living 103 years later. Their data can be used to make another mathematical projection which suggests coelacanths can live for between 95 to 117 years old.

Other deep water fish have been found to live for around 100 years, so it’s plausible that coelacanths do indeed reach this epic age. But we still don't know for sure, nor what their average age might be.

One bit of positive news is that accidental catches of coelacanths around the Comoros are declining steeply.

Fishermen in the area used to fish using a long line and hook from motorless canoes called galawas, and would occasionally snare a coelacanth while fishing at night for oilfish.

Nowadays, the fishermen use motorized boats called vedettes to travel further out to sea – mostly avoiding the coelacanth’s habitat. Between 1954 and 1995 two to four coelacanths were taken each year. But after 2000, that has fallen to just 0.3 coelacanths on average.

These fishermen are the only known cause of mortality for coelacanths; Fricke’s team’s survey occasionally encountered large sand tiger sharks in the area but never witnessed any predation on coelacanths by larger fishes.

As ever, though, with extremely rare species, threats to their very existence never seem far away.

In Tanzania, another home to coelacanths, fishermen once took edible small fish from shallow waters. But once these were wiped out, they took to using deep-water gill nets. Since 2003, when these nets were first used, more than 80 coelacanths have been caught, and the number is increasing each year.

That is of huge concern for this population of Latimeria and it also reinforces how similar might happen around the Comoros, one of the fish’s remaining known strongholds.

One answer, if it can be arranged with the people of the Comoros, is to set aside a protected area along the south-west coast of Grand Comore, a policy supported by Fricke’s team and other researchers.

We still know so little about this ancient fish. And perhaps we owe it: having thought it extinct for so long, it might be considered tragic to let it go extinct now.

This is a fish that has survived almost unaltered for millions of years. Yet we risk it becoming extinct in just a handful of years due to subtle shifts in the way we choose to fish, and treat our marine life.

If it does disappear, it will go long before we've had a chance to truly understand it.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Saving sea turtles in Bali

We've recently had a member of the Ibex Earth team return from a short break to Bali and they spoke very fondly about some of the excellent conservation programmes they have out there - seems most are sponsored by Quicksilver and Coca Cola too! Here's a short video about some conservation work.

WWF's work on Mount Roraima

Mount Roraima and the work of the WWF

Mount Roraima is part of the Pakaraima Range of mountains in the west-central region of Guyana and is an eastern extension of widespread highland savannahs and rainforests which lie mostly in Venezuela and extends into Suriname and northern Brazil.

The site has some unique bio-geographical characteristics that support its designation as one of the areas identified for protection in Guyana. The area is known for its rich diversity of species and endemism. The mountain tops host some of the highest plant endemism in South America. Birds, reptiles, and amphibians are abundant on the slopes.

There are also a number of indigenous communities in the area. The livelihood activities of the communities depend mainly on hunting, fishing, slash and burn agriculture, and mining.

In October, given the bio-physical uniqueness of the Mount Roraima region and its strong influence on the socio-economic activities and cultural values of the local population of the region, WWF Guianas and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Guyana formed a partnership to undertake preparatory work for the establishment of Mount Roraima as a protected area.

In the Papers...


Swarms of venomous jelly fish and poisonous algae are migrating into British waters due to changes in the ocean temperatures, a major new study has revealed -

Global clothing companies and environmental groups are joining forces to protect the lives and crops of Pakistan's cotton famers -


VW named as Europe's least green car maker Europe's largest car maker, Volkswagen, is accused of exaggerating its green record and resisting attempts to make popular models such as the market-leading Golf more fuel efficient -

China is set to launch its once-a-decade panda census, state media reported Monday, as it tries to determine how many of the endangered animals live in the wild amid efforts to boost numbers -


Nicolas Sarkozy makes €1bn commitment to nuclear power. French president says post-Fukushima abandonment of nuclear 'makes no sense' as he announces push for new technology -

Salmon numbers leap to reverse two decades of decline in UK rivers. Conservationists say counts are up everywhere except in waters around commercial fish farms. But they don't know why and warn that last year's increase may be a one-off -


Genome plan for Tasmanian devil. Scientists sequence the genome of the Tasmanian devil to try to protect the endangered marsupial against a contagious facial cancer -

Madagascar's 'tortoise mafia' on the attack. Madagascar's poachers, known in conservation circles as "the tortoise mafia", are increasingly hunting the reptiles, threatening them with extinction, writes the BBC's Hannah McNeish -

Monday, 27 June 2011

Protecting the White Lion

They are amongst the most endangered animals on the planet - here is a fantastic conservation project that looks to protect the White Lion.

Here are ten facts about the White Lion:

1. White Lions are not albinos, but a genetic rarity unique to one endemic region on the globe: the Timbavati region.

2. The Genetic Marker that makes White Lions unique has not yet been identified by science.

3. The White Lions are currently classified under the general species classification Panthera leo, although this is likely to change after the genetic research undertaken by the Global White Lion Protection Trust reveals important reasons for sub-speciation of this rare phenotype.

4. The earliest recorded sighting of white lions in the Timbavati region was in 1938. However, the oral records of African elders indicate that these unique animals survived in this region for many centuries.

5. The unique white lion gene is carried by certain of the tawny coloured lions in the region, and white cubs occurred in numerous prides in the region.

6. Since their discovery by the West, white lions and those lions carrying the unique gene have been hunted, and forcibly removed from their natural endemic habitat.

7. The last white lion was seen in the wild in 1994, after which time they were technically extinct in the wild.

8. The idea that white lions are genetically inferior to ordinary tawny lions has not been scientifically tested.

9. The idea that White Lions cannot survive in the wild due to perceived lack of camouflage has not been scientifically tested.

10. Currently, there is no law nationally or internationally that protects the White Lions from being wiped off the face of the earth.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Terra Nova - Our second chance?

"Terra Nova," its highly anticipated new program about a family that travels from the year 2149 to prehistoric times as part of group trying to save the planet. The show, which counts Steven Spielberg and former News Corp. president Peter Chernin as executive producers, is scheduled to air in the US in September.

The interesting issue behind the new series is the idea that humans are being sent back in time in order to save the planet from its current state, which has been brought about through wars, greed, corruption and the exploitation of our planet's natural resources. There have been a lot of stories in the news recently about this, so could this new series actually go about changing the mindsets of people to avoid these issues becoming an increasing problem in our lifetimes?

From our perspective any new media that can promote conservation and the exploitation of our natural resources has to be a good thing - just look at the postive impact that James Cameron's Avatar had and how films like 'UP', 'The Lion King' etc can make a real positive contribution to raising environmental issues and awareness to school children.

Really looking forward to the arrival of Terra Nova in the UK, just be interested to see whether it can get a message across to those who watch it...

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Nuclear reviews leave open questions

Nuclear reviews leave open questions
By Richard Black, BBC

The report makes recommendations for avoiding future Fukushimas - but are they enough? More from RichardSolar predictions bring heat and light

In a burst of activity on Monday, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) despatched the two potentially exciting documents of its week-long ministerial meeting into the public domain.

This is the meeting where IAEA member governments decide what changes they want to make to international regulation of nuclear industries, among other things.

And in the wake of the biggest nuclear accident for 25 years, at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power station, this was clearly one where major shake-ups were possible.

The most likely candidate for change was the regime of international inspection, which is currently very light-touch.

In the run-up to the meeting, German and Swiss ministers alarmed by the proximity of French and Czech reactors to their borders said that governments should have the right to see safety assessments compiled by neighbouring states.

And in his opening speech to the IAEA assembly, its chief Yukiya Amano suggested that countries should have to open their doors to inspectors sent by the IAEA on spot-check missions.

To no-one's great surprise, neither option proved palatable to governments conscious of the near total sovereignty they retain over nuclear safety.

Instead, the Ministerial Declaration issued on Monday "recognises" that nuclear accidents can have international consequences, talks of increasing co-operation between governments and regulators, and "underlines the benefits of strengthened and high quality independent international safety expert assessments".

In fact, the declaration's only hostage to fortune is that it recognises "the need for a global nuclear liability regime that addresses the concerns of all states that might be affected by a nuclear accident with a view to providing appropriate compensation for nuclear damage".

Otherwise, there is nothing that cannot be interpreted in such as weak form as to indicate "business as usual".

Yukiya Amano wants random testing of nuclear facilities... but who else does? Some of this will be clarified in the coming weeks, as the declaration also charges Mr Amano with preparing a "draft action plan".

However, in a clause likely to dismay some observers, it also recognises "the responsibility of the nuclear industry and operators in the implementation of nuclear safety measures..."

Given that criticism of Japan's nuclear regulation has honed in on a "cosy" relationship between industry and government, does this look like a tough new dawn where regulators will be rigorous, demanding and completely independent as they wield their whip hands?

The IAEA meeting also took delivery of a report on the Fukushima accident, compiled by an international fact-finding mission led by the UK's chief nuclear inspector Mike Weightman.

Among the things it clarifies (as did a Japanese government report issued a few weeks ago) is that meltdown in the reactors operating at the time of the 11 March Tohoku earthquake was much quicker and more severe than had been apparent at the time.

Modelling suggests that in Reactor 1, for example, coolant levels fell so rapidly that "the top of active fuel was reached about three hours after the plant [electrical power] trip.

"The core was completely uncovered two hours later. Core damage is calculated to have begun four hours after the trip and a majority of the fuel in the central region of the core was melted at 5.3 hours after the trip.

"At 14.3 hours after the trip, the core was completely damaged with a central molten pool and at 15 hours after the trip, all fuel had slumped to the bottom of the vessel."

Protests have dogged the nuclear industry in much of Europe, and further afield A similar picture is given for the other reactors.

As we've known for a while, the Fukushima accident was the consequence of a sequence of events that serially put things like electrical power systems, cooling, personnel and instrumentation out of action.

But if you had to pick one key event, it would be the tsunami which, at 14m high, was nearly three times higher than the plant was designed to withstand.

The IAEA report's key recommendation on this: "Plant layout should be based on maintaining a 'dry site concept', where practicable..."

The final two words might arouse some surprise.

If having a power station become very wet indeed can cause such huge social and economic upheaval as we're seeing now in Japan, you might conclude that putting a "dry site concept" in place must be made practicable - non-negotiable, not merely optional.

The importance of the next couple of years for the nuclear industry and its regulation cannot be overstated.

The Russian delegate's speech to the IAEA meeting, for example, made clear that nuclear power will continue in his country.

He also made a powerful case for the development of reactors with passive safety systems - a technological approach to preventing future accidents.

Ideas do exist for reactors that do not generate weaponisable plutonium, that do not produce long-term waste, that are passively safe.

Where, though, is the support for turning these concepts into reality, rather than plumping for more of the same Pressurised Water and Boiling Water Reactors - albeit enhanced from the designs of Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island - that come with all the baggage of the past?

When nations declare an end to the nuclear age, as Germany and Switzerland have, markets for extremely expensive pieces of kit disappear.

And with every market that closes, margins in the ones remaining tighten.

If people are not reassured that the industry is effectively regulated or is using the best technological ideas available, what is to make them support retention or expansion?

Friday, 24 June 2011

What the papers say...

Parasitic wasp turns ladybird into a 'Zombie'

A parasitic wasp protects itself from predators while cocooned by turning its ladybird host into a "bodyguard". After a female wasp injects its egg into the ladybird, the larva munches on its host's internal tissues before breaking out through the abdomen.

Read more

Serengeti Road plans are scrapped after wildlife concerns

Controversial plans to build a tarmac road across the Serengeti National Park have been scrapped after warnings that it could devastate wildlife. The Tanzanian government planned a two-lane highway across the park to connect Lake Victoria with coastal ports.But studies showed it could seriously affect animals such as wildebeest and zebra, whose migration is regarded as among the wonders of the natural world.

Read more:

Plans for EIGHT new nuclear plants in the UK
Today Chris Huhne has announced that there will be eight new nuclear power plants constructed in the UK. Damian Carrington writes a great blog about the complexity surrounding the debate about nuclear power

Read more:

Damian Carrington's Blog:

Snakes and Adders...

The warm and sunny spring is expected to increase the number of adders seen in the UK. It often gets a bad press for being our only poisonous snake, but although its bites do hurt there hasnt been a human related death in the UK for some twenty years. A wonderful creature and a very good article from the Daily Telegraph.

Read more:

Brightest bird on the planet?

Research has shown that the African Grey Parrott can reason like a 'four year old'. The study showed that the Grey Parrott could find hidden food in a similar manner to how humans and apes can. Impressive stuff and a very interesting piece in the Daily Mail.

Read more:

Discovering new species - carnivorous pitcher plant

Here Stewart McPherson talks you through the discovery of a new hybrid species of carnivorous pitcher plant that Ibex Earth discovered during the expedition to Mount Roraima in April 2011. The biodiversity on top of Roraima's summit is absolutely stunning, its the wettest place on the planet and you wouldn't think that anything could live there at all.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Top Environmental News Stories...

This is the first of a regular feature on the Ibex Earth blog where we look to find some of the most interesting environmental news stories throughout the week. Today's stories include the threat to the world's oceans and how Brazilian authorities are looking to establish their very own Wikipedia for species found in the Amazon...

Wildlife warning over EU Funding

Funding from Europe worth more than £400m to promote wildlife on farmland in the UK could be about to be stopped, conservationists warn.

Read more:

Trees help stem Desertification

A UN led pilot scheme highlights how trees can help protect people in drylands and stem the spread of desertification.

Read more:

World's oceans move into 'extinction phase'

The next generation may lose the opportunity to swim over coral reefs or eat certain species of fish, scientists have warned, as the world's oceans move into a 'phase of extinction' due to human impacts such as over-fishing and climate change.

Read more: 

Brazil to create 'botanical Wikipedia' to catalogue the Amazon

Brazil is to create a ‘botanical Wikipedia' in attempt to catalogue thousands of plant species in the Amazon for future generations.

Read more:

Price of solar panels to drop to $1 by 2013, report forecasts

Ernst & Young analysis suggests that falling solar and rising fossil fuel prices could make large-scale installations cost-competitive without government support within a decade

Read more:

Nature is not just about living things – it's mountains and minerals too

An article by the Guardian’s Murray Gray about why our management of the environment should not focus entirely on species and habitats.

Read more:

Rural poor should not be excluded from REDD Projects

Global study finds forests provide one-fifth of household income in rural communities and says access for them should be prioritised in REDD-type conservation projects.


Rare footage of endangered Javan Rhino...

Deep in Indonesia, motion-activated cameras have recorded two critically endangered Javan rhinoceroses with their calves. Though the footage is "great news," only 40 individuals remain—with none in captivity, conservationists say.

Jim Carrey in Mr Popper's Penguins.

Jim Carrey is Mr Popper - should be a must see for any penguin lovers...

Monday, 20 June 2011

World's Oceans in shocking decline

World's oceans in 'shocking' decline

By Richard Black, Environment correspondent, BBC News

Coral reefs are subject to "multiple stressors" that could destroy many within a human generation
The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.

In a new report, they warn that ocean life is "at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history".

They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.

The impacts, they say, are already affecting humanity.

The panel was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), and brought together experts from different discplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists.

"The findings are shocking," said Alex Ross, IPSO's scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University.

"As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised.

"We've sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we're seeing, and we've ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we're seeing changes that are happening faster than we'd thought, or in ways that we didn't expect to see for hundreds of years."

These "accelerated" changes include melting of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, sea level rise, and release of methane trapped in the sea bed.

But more worrying than this, the team noted, are the ways in which different issues act synergistically to increase threats to marine life.

Some pollutants, for example, stick to the surfaces of tiny plastic particles that are now found in the ocean bed.

This increases the amounts of these pollutants that are consumed by bottom-feeding fish.

Plastic particles also assist the transport of algae from place to place, increasing the occurrence of toxic algal blooms - which are also caused by the influx of nutrient-rich pollution from agricultural land.

In a wider sense, ocean acidification, warming, local pollution and overfishing are acting together to increase the threat to coral reefs - so much so that three-quarters of the world's reefs are at risk of severe decline.

Life on Earth has gone through five "mass extinction events" caused by events such as asteroid impacts; and it is often said that humanity's combined impact is causing a sixth such event.

Some marine fish are already fished way beyong their limits - and may also be affected by other threats The IPSO report concludes that it is too early to say definitively.

But the trends are such that it is likely to happen, they say - and far faster than any of the previous five.

"What we're seeing at the moment is unprecedented in the fossil record - the environmental changes are much more rapid," Professor Ross told BBC News.

"We've still got most of the world's biodiversity, but the actual rate of extinction is much higher [than in past events] - and what we face is certainly a globally significant extinction event."

The report also notes that previous mass extinction events have been associated with trends being observed now - disturbances of the carbon cycle, and acidification and hypoxia (depletion of oxygen) of seawater.

Levels of CO2 being absorbed by the oceans are already far greater than during the great extinction of marine species 55 million years ago (during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), it concludes.

The report's conclusions will be presented at UN headquarters in New York this week, when government delegates begin discussions on reforming governance of the oceans.

In the long run, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut to conserve ocean life, the report concludes IPSO's immediate recommendations include:

* stopping exploitative fishing now, with special emphasis on the high seas where currently there is little effective regulation

* mapping and then reducing the input of pollutants including plastics, agricultural fertilisers and human waste

* making sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon dioxide levels are now so high, it says, that ways of pulling the gas out of the atmosphere need to be researched urgently - but not using techniques, such as iron fertilisation, that lead to more CO2 entering the oceans.

"The challenges for the future of the ocean are vast; but unlike previous generations, we know what now needs to happen," said Dan Laffoley, marine chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas and an adviser to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now."

Friday, 17 June 2011

Tribute to Adrian Warren - 20th July 1949 - 5th June 2011

Tribute to Adrian Warren - 20th July 1949 - 5th June 2011

Adrian sadly passed away on Sunday 5th June 2011 after a long battle with Malanoma. Our heart felt condolences go out to Adrian's wonderful family and the world is certainly poorer now that he has left it.

Ibex Earth was introduced to Adrian in March 2010 by the Royal Geographical Society when he found out that our filming expedition to Mount Roraima, Venezuela was in great jeopardy and was looking as though it would be cancelled. Stepping in at what was effectively the very last minute Adrian agreed to sign up and save the project. 

After speaking with him on quite a few occasions leading up to the expedition I first met Adrian at a 'Lost World Project' event at the ZSL London Zoo, where he travelled down to provide a large audience with a talk about his experiences of Mount Roraima and the Guiana Highlands, how he discovered a number of new species of frogs and explored underground cave systems. The entire audience was captivated by his stories and some of the most spectacular images he used throughout his talk. 

It was an absolute honour to have Adrian involved in the film - after all he was one of the most respected figures within the natural world, having worked with Sir David Attenborough, the BBC's famous Natural History Unit and even advised Disney Pixar on their animated blockbuster 'UP'. A true legend and he was working with us - what a privilege. 

I sadly did not get to travel to Venezuela with Adrian and the ten young participants who took part in the filming expedition, a decision that I have always regretted. The participants (mostly from UK universities) had a tremendous time learning from Adrian who all came back saying what a kind, generous and caring man he was. A man that achieved so much with his life, but was so modest about those achievements. 

It soon became apparent that everyone who knew Adrian only had positive things to say about him and it was easy to say why, he was a great man, with a genius for the natural world. His passion and enthusiasm was an inspiration and I only hope that we can do his memory justice with the completion of The Lost World Film, which we are dedicated to Adrian, a truly incredible human being who has touched so many and made the world a better, happier place.

Adrian you will be missed by all who had the pleasure of meeting you and without you The Lost World Project would not have ever been possible - all at Ibex Earth could never thank you enough. God bless.

Chris Livemore
Ibex Earth

Thursday, 16 June 2011

This week's 'Top Environmental Stories'

Top Environmental News Stories from week commencing Monday 13th June 2011. 

This feature on the Ibex Earth Blogger site looks to provide you with an overview of some of the top environmental news stories during the week commencing Monday 13th June 2011. It is looking to become a regular feature of our blog and any feedback would be greatly appreciated -

Bizarre Seal Plans under fire: Environmental campaigners ask why the Scottish government wants to protect land sites used by only half of its seals, when one species is in decline - . 

A rural worker has been shot dead in Brazil's Amazon, the sixth murder in a month in the region, amid growing conflict over land and logging -

Good news a species that was thought previously extinct has been found alive and well, the Arabian 'unicorn' is no longer extinct after the IUCN reintroduce it back into the wild. -

New little ice age in store? Scientists are predicting that we could soon be on the verge on a mini ice age after research on the Sun's radiation - 

Another positive story about the wild populations of buzzards and red kites - both species numbers are rising! Here's - 

If you have a story for next week then let us know!

Ministers back binding European Forest Agreement

Ministers back binding European forest agreement

By Mark Kinver, Environment reporter, BBC News, Oslo

Ministers have agreed to back plans to introduce a legally binding agreement to protect Europe's forests. Delegates also agreed to adopt resolutions that would help shape forest policy over the next decade.

On Tuesday, a report concluded that sustainable forestry management was essential if the EU was to reach its emission goals.

The ministerial agreement was signed at the sixth Forest Europe conference in Oslo, Norway.

The Norwegian host chairman, Rural Affairs Minister Lars Peder Brekk, said the signing of two ministerial declarations was a fitting end to Norway's four-year leadership of the Forest Europe process.

As well as signing the declaration to begin negotiations to establish a legally binding agreement (LBA), delegates also agreed to set a number of targets to be achieved by 2020.

These included all European countries implementing a national forest programme, which needed to contain climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Ministers also agreed to cut the rate of biodiversity loss within forest habitats by half, and take steps to eliminate illegal logging.

Poland's minister, Janusz Zaleski, said that the LBA declaration presented a "new chapter" in the management of Europe's forests.

However, he added that nations needed to ensure that any agreement would need the legal weight required to deliver progress on the ground.

"In order to effectively protect Europe's forests, we must not follow the example of other international processes, such as climate negotiations.

"Therefore it is important to assess the progress of improving the state of Europe's forests.

Mr Zaleski told reporters that Poland intended to use its six-month presidency of the EU, which begins in July, to help promote the process.

Binding concerns

But there was not universal support for adopting a legally binding agreement.

Sweden's Rural Affairs Minister Eskil Erlandsson told the conference that while he supported the concept of sustainable forest managment, he favoured a voluntary approach rather than an LBA.

"I do not believe in common legislation for forests across the pan-European region. Put simply, one size does not fit all," he said.

"We need to recognise the different geo-climatic and socio-economic conditions.

"Therefore, my conclusion is that the voluntary track is the best way of supporting the development and implementation of sustainable forest management."

However, he said he signed the declaration in order for negotiations to begin.

Responding to the minister's concerns, Mr Brekk said: "The most important thing is that all countries agree that we are start up this process.

"They all see that it is necesssary to have an agreement to secure a sustainable forest policy in the future.

"Of course, we then have to go through the negotiations in order to find out what each country thinks during this process."

As the conference closed and Spain took over the Forest Europe leadership, Mr Brekk was asked to comment on concerns that had been raised about Norway's high-profile $1bn climate deal with Indonesia, which included a two-year logging moratorium.

Media reports said environmental groups were unhappy that the fine detail of the deal had been influenced by logging industry lobbyists.

Mr Brekk explained that it fell outside his ministerial responsibilities, but observed:

"The partnership is still very much alive - of course it is," he told BBC News.

"For Norway - all forests are important, whether it be European forests or tropical forests."

Mongabay - the trend in deforestation

Mongabay is an excellent resource for all things forest - here' s a video from last November explaining the current trend in deforestation - really interesting stuff.

We need to halt deforestation within a decade...

WWF - we need to halt deforestation within a decade...

As the latest United Nations climate change talks reach their final stages, CARE International, Greenpeace and WWF are calling on the world’s governments to show leadership and unite on efforts to halt forest loss by 2020.

The details of a global mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+) were under negotiation at the climate talks this week.

Yet, REDD+ alone will not save the world’s tropical forests and stop runaway climate change unless further urgent action is taken to reduce emissions in all countries, said CARE, Greenpeace and WWF. The organizations are calling on governments to commit to ambitious goals that set the scale and urgency for halting forest destruction. In addition, demand for biofuels, animal feed and beef should not lead to more forests being converted to agricultural land, said the groups.

“We are spending precious time designing a complex system of rules for REDD+. These are necessary to protect the rights and livelihoods of the millions of poor men and women who depend on forests,” commented Raja Jarrah, CARE’s Senior Advisor on REDD+.

“But this is only part of the story. With no ambitious commitment to cut global emissions, it is like treating a patient’s lung disease without asking him to stop smoking.”

While considerable progress has been made on working out the details of REDD+ in these UN climate talks, negotiators must not shy away from making the big commitments that will ensure REDD+ is successful in halting forest loss and tackling climate change, the groups said. This will also put the world on the path to a future built on low carbon economies.

“In Bonn, developed countries including the United States have been calling on developing countries to monitor, report, and verify (MRV) their emissions. But what we actually need is for all countries to be transparent about how their policies, including for public and private finance, are supporting the drivers of deforestation,” said Roman Czebiniak, Senior Policy Advisor for Greenpeace.

Industrialized countries also have a critical role to play in providing adequate, predictable and sustainable financing for REDD+, said the organizations. The needed finance to support REDD+ actions should be addressed at the UN climate change talks in Durban South Africa at the end of this year.

“The world must step-up with the money needed to support forest countries’ efforts to end forest loss,” said Gerald Steindlegger, WWF’s Policy Director on Forests and Climate.

“Investing in maintaining our forests is essential to people and nature.”

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Fifth Activist killed in Brazil's Amazon over deforestation...

Peasant activist shot dead in Brazil's Amazon region

Killing of Obede Loyla Souza is fifth murder in a month in amid conflict over land and logging 

Associated Press and taken from,

Confiscated illegally logged timber floats down the Guam river delta in Para, Brazil
Confiscated illegally logged timber floats down the Guam river delta in Pará, Brazil. Photograph: Reuters/Brazil
A landless peasant activist has been killed by a gunshot to his head outside his home in Brazil, the fifth murder in a month amid a conflict over land and logging in the country's Amazon region.

The body of Obede Loyla Souza was found over the weekend in the dense forest surrounding his home in the landless settlement of Esperanca, near the town of Pacajá in the state of Pará, said Hilario Lopes Costa, co-ordinator for the watchdog Catholic Land Pastoral in Pará.

Costa travelled to the remote settlement to interview witnesses and support the victim's wife and children, who are also afraid for their lives.

Police from the nearby town of Tucuruí confirmed the death and said the investigation was ongoing. Members of a police force created by the federal government this month to control violence in the region took the body to the state capital, Belém, for an autopsy. It was returned on Tuesday for burial. They could not be immediately reached for comment.

The state law enforcement agency in charge of land conflicts, the Agrarian Conflict Delegation, was not participating in the investigation, a spokesman said, declining to give his name because of department policy.
The Catholic Land Pastoral monitors the threats made by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protest over illegal extraction of wood and the violation of land rights in the environmentally sensitive region. More than 1,150 rural activists have been killed in conflicts over land and logging in the past two decades, and the group has a list of 125 activists who know their lives are in danger.

Souza was not on that list, said Costa.

The 31-year-old peasant was part of a landless settlement that occupied unused farmland in 2008, setting up a camp whose name, Esperanca, means Hope. He had been farming a small plot there alongside his wife and three children and waiting for the government land redistribution programme to recognise their claim.
Costa said that in January, Souza got into an argument with a representative of loggers who are illegally harvesting wood in the region, targeting the region's Brazil nut trees, which are protected under law. He knew he was in danger from then on, said Costa.

"There is in this region a really dangerous group of loggers," said Costa. "He had a fight with one of them over the cutting of these trees, and he was a marked man from then on."

Witnesses who did not want to give their names told Costa they saw four men in a pickup truck asking for Souza. The witnesses are also afraid for their lives, Costa said.

Within the last month, four activists have been shot to death, along with a witness to two of the murders.
The increase in execution-style killings led to an outcry in Brazil's government, which created a working group to monitor the region, and reinforced paltry local police forces with officers from the federal police, highway patrol and national guard.

Help must come quickly, because there are others whose lives are in danger, said the president of another landless camp, Francisco Evaristo da Conceicao.

He was friends with the victim, and part of the same movement to seize unused farmland for peasants without land. He heads the Barrageira settlement – a more established community of 107 families.
Like the victim, he had had run-ins with loggers, he said, and had been threatened by men he thought were part of the same group who killed Souza.

"We have a lot of problems with the loggers – they invade land, and clear out forest," he said. "We fight them, but it's complicated. Men have stopped at my house looking for me. Now I have to be more careful."

Elephants face Extinction

Elephants face same extinction fate as woolly mammoth

Forest elephant (Image: Stephen Blake)  
Forest elephants are smaller than their savannah-dwelling cousins and have straighter tusks
The fate of the forest elephant rests in our hands. But will it go the way of the woolly mammoth, as it is hunted for ivory and its habitat is destroyed?
Have you ever wondered why hawthorn trees have such vicious thorns? Like many spiny plants, this is a defence they have evolved to avoid being eaten - by giant herbivores, including elephants.
Throughout the UK there are similar evolutionary clues nodding to the not so long-extinct plant-eating giants that once roamed here.

Up until about 15,000 years ago modern elephants' ancestors - mammoths, mastodons, gomphotheres and a host of other elephant-like mammals - were spread throughout the globe.
Mammoths were "just a species of elephant," says Professor Adrian Lister of the UK's Natural History Museum.

"And until the end of the Pleistocene, there were millions of them throughout the globe, including in northern Europe and North America."
But, as the climate shifted, their open grassland habitat was invaded, either by forests or tundra.
"That loss of habitat squeezed the species down into small fragmentary populations," says Professor Lister. "And human hunting may have helped mammoths on their way to extinction once they were in this perilous state."

Now, it seems, we could be repeating history.

The remaining three elephant species have been squeezed down into three areas - Asia, the African savannah and the forests of central Africa. And as well as the endangered Asian elephant, the relatively diminutive African forest elephant - only recently shown to be a distinct species - is now in crisis.

Forest elephant in a national park in Congo (Image: Stephen Blake)  
Forest elephants' habitat protected them, to some extent, from the "ivory holocaust" of colonial times
Forest elephants in Africa, to some extent, escaped the "ivory holocaust" during colonial times, and the widespread slaughter of their savannah-dwelling cousins for their ivory in the 1970s and 1980s. This was largely because they were hidden away in their obscure forest habitat in the vast Congo Basin.

Stephen Blake is an elephant expert from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, who worked on forest elephants for more than a decade for the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). He says that this habitat is now being chopped up.

"Forest elephants need vast uninterrupted areas of wilderness to range through.

"But as logging and resource extraction become more important in the region, the animals are squeezed into smaller pockets of forest where they become easily accessible to poachers.

"There are no good estimates of how many forest elephants remain - probably some tens of thousands, but they are being poached at an alarming rate."

A road in the Congo basin, built to provide access for loggers (Image: Stephen Blake)  
Road-building is fragmenting the forest elephants' habitat
urprisingly, the biggest problem is not the destruction of forest habitat for logging - although this is damaging. It is actually the construction of roads that is doing the most damage to the species.

Kate Evans, a US conservationist and founder of the charity Elephants for Africa says: "The roads go straight through the heart of the forest, so they also provide easy access for poachers."

And where these roads are not protected by law enforcement, forest elephants are petrified of them.
Dr Blake explains: "If you put a 20 mile ring of death around your house, the chances are you won't want to go more than 15 miles from home.

"And if that ring [closes in], you're going to feel besieged.
"You won't be able to go to the places you need to, you won't be able to see your friends, you will become imprisoned, and most likely the food will start to run out. It's just like that with forest elephants."
The illegal ivory trade - fuelled by civil unrest and organised crime in some central African countries - supports the poaching.

Kate Evans says that forest elephants' relatively straight and dense tusks are highly attractive to carvers and poachers.

"Most of the market is in Asia," she says. With a growing middle class that have access to cash, we have seen an explosion in the demand for ivory there."

According to Traffic International, the wildlife trade monitoring network, organised criminal gangs in Asia are shipping large quantities illegal ivory from Africa.

While in central Africa, ivory products are openly sold in village shops.

Shop in the main street in Bangassou advertising elephant hunting munitions.  

Just as these giants need their forest, the forest needs them. Dr Blake describes the elephants as "mega-gardeners".

The researcher and his colleagues spent several months camping in the dense forests tracking the elephants. He has found that, during their lumbering treks, forest elephants can vacuum up hundreds of pieces of fruit from under a single tree.

They then deposit the seeds they have eaten with a generous helping of fertiliser - in the guise of elephant dung - throughout the forest. Another side effect of their fruit-rich diet is that they probably defecate around 17 times per day.

"Almost every pile of elephant dung contains viable seeds from up to 16 different plant species and thousands of individual seeds," says Dr Blake.

"Tropical forests are so diverse that a seed that lands near its parent plant has a suite of seed predators and pathogens waiting to nab it," he explains.

"So if you're a seed and you land under your parent, the probability of you surviving is almost zero."
Forest elephants, however, can take seeds several kilometres from their parent plant.
African forest elephants (Image: Bruce Davidson/
"It's like the parable from the bible - some seeds will land on stony ground, some on poor soil, but some will land on good soil... 

"With lots of elephants roaming the forests, at least some seeds are likely to land in the right place to grow," says Dr Blake.

And a myriad of other species depend on the structure of the forest that the elephants create.
"Insects, mosses, lichens, invertebrates, other vertebrates; a whole gamut of animal, plant and fungal species are specific to certain trees or plants," explains Dr Blake.

"If we lose elephants, we're going to lose those trees; forest biodiversity as a whole is going to diminish."
Professor Lister says that forest elephants are suffering from the same "double whammy" that claimed the woolly mammoths - habitat loss and hunting.

"Today both of those sides of the pinch are caused by humans," he says.

Elephant dung "garden" of germinating seeds  
Old piles of elephant dung become fertile grounds for seed germination in the forests
"I think the extinction of the mammoth is a salutary lesson that applies to modern extinctions."
Dr Blake says that time has already run out for the forest elephant.

It could be too late for the lessons we could learn from the mammoth and the mastodon to make a positive difference.

As resource extraction from central Africa becomes more important, more roads and bigger roads will cut through the forests of the Congo basin.

Without effective wildlife management, the elephants will eventually have nowhere left to hide, Dr Blake says.
"We have seen some exciting initiatives like the development of national parks and landscape scale management programmes developed over the last 20 years, but the resources needed to manage these areas properly are pitiful compared to those available for resource extraction."

"I think we've basically blown it."

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Geese Surfing - the new YouTube sensation

Ever seen a gaggle of geese surf? Next week we'll get them on their skateboards!

State of the world's Forests 2011

With the launch of Rainforest Life Funding's coming in September 2011 the Ibex Earth blog will be taking a very foresty theme over the Summer - here's a great video by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) about the work they are involved in in the Philippines. Well worth a watch.

Australia's koalas under threat

Australia's beloved koalas under threat

Pressures on the marsupial include urban sprawl, farming, drought, heatwaves and disease an article by Marie-Morgane Le Moël

koala cub

There is no shortage of postcards featuring lovable koalas in Australia, but it is much more unusual to catch sight of the marsupials in the wild. The situation could deteriorate further, say scientists. The number of koalas – a symbol of Australia – is falling. A senate committee is due to report on whether they should be treated as an endangered species.

Studies suggest there are 50,000 to 100,000 koalas left. "In fact, it is hard to say with any certainty, the funds not being available to carry out extensive research," says Alistair Melzer, an ecologist at Central Queensland University. On the Gold Coast the population is thought to have fallen by 80% in 20 years.

Several factors are to blame, above all the loss of habitat due to urban development and farming. The koala needs large areas of eucalyptus forest for food and shelter. Only certain tree species suit its needs, growing on good-quality soil. "Unfortunately the best places for the koala are also best for humans, namely fertile land," Melzer explains. When their habitat shrinks and they are forced to live close to towns, koalas often get knocked over by cars or attacked by dogs.

Koalas also suffer from heatwaves and drought, which are likely to become more frequent with climate change. They do not like high temperatures and need the moisture of dense foliage.

"If the climate changes these animals don't migrate, so population groups won't move south, where it's cooler. They'll die," Melzer warns.

Koalas are also suffering from an endemic strain of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia. "This comes on top of the other pressures already affecting the population," says Mathew Crowther, a biologist at Sydney University.

Although scientists agree on the risks, koalas are still not recognised as an endangered species by the federal government. Individual states have their own classifications. In New South Wales, for instance, koalas are listed as "rare and vulnerable", whereas in Queensland their status depends on the location.
Koala campaigners say a national classification is essential, particularly if it enables the koala's habitat to be protected from property development.

This story originally appeared in Le Monde. and can also be found on the Guardian's Website.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Some Mount Roraima Pictures

Sea Life Penguin Enclosure and Funny Penguin Video

In celebration of the new Penguin enclosure at the London Sea Life Aquarium we found a rather amusing clip of a penguin in the wild...

Sea Life's new enclosure opened on 18th May and looks exceptional, but there is a very important aspect to the new zone and that is the conservation of the adorable Gentoo Penguin in the wild. Here's some more information. Let us know whether you have been to see the penguin enclosure...

Penguin Conservation

The natural environment of the penguins in Antarctica is continually threatened by climate change. Gentoo Penguins live primarily on krill (small crustaceans) in the wild, but as the polar ice caps melt, there are fewer krill in the waters as they feed on algae on the ice itself. Penguin food sources are also threatened by the overfishing of krill in the Antarctic, which is used to make commercial fish food. Fluctuations of their food sources threatens the mortality rate of penguin chicks, and therefore the later adult population of penguins for breeding.

One of the main Gentoo Penguin colonies is on the Falkland Islands, which is becoming more and more populated due to the rise in tourism and the construction of roads and buildings on their breeding sites, which therefore threatens the Gentoos natural habitat.

What can I do to help?

One of the main ways to help is to only buy fish that are sustainably sourced. Suppliers are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, so look out for their logo when you are buying fish. At the SEA LIFE London Aquarium we have signed the Sustainable Fish City Pledge, outlining our commitment to using sustainably sourced fish.

Everything you do to help reduce the impact of climate change will also help the Gentoo Penguins. In reducing the amount of waste we produce, the amount of energy we use and the amount of natural resources we consume, we can help keep the planet a safe and habitable place for Gentoo Penguins.

A swimming Pygmy Three-toed Sloth

Some footage from the BBC's Decade of Discovery, which aired in December 2010. This shows the pygmy three-toed sloth going for a swim. If you are able to watch the whole show then I hope you enjoy the section that features footage from The Lost World! The whole show was a celebration of the species that have been discovered over the last decade, which has been dubbed the 'golden age of discovery'.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Will Farrell - Land of the Lost

Keeping with our 'lost world' theme today, we just couldn't help but post this excellent scene from Will Farrell's Land of the Lost...we never said we would always keep the Ibex Earth blogspot serious...

David Attenborough on Mount Roraima

From the BBC series 'Life of Plants' - here is Sir David Attenborough speaking about the wonders of Mount Roraima - a place that "haunted his imagination". So easy to see why it is such an amazing area, we just hope our film does it justice!

Some screen shots from the 1925 silent classic...