Overfishing and Global Warming Imperil Penguins – Happy Feet was right

emperor penguinsBy Stephen Leahy

Nov 30, 2006 (IPS) – Ice-loving penguins have never been more popular, but few people realise they are threatened with extinction from climate change and industrial fishing.

The loveable stars of the Hollywood movie “Happy Feet” and the stoic and courageous creatures featured in the popular documentary “March of the Penguins” are in trouble.

Of the world’s 19 penguin species, 12 are now so threatened they need special protection, according to the Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD), a California environmental group focused on species extinction.

Popularity doesn’t guarantee survival. But it might increase protection and prompt action on climate change, says Brendan Cummings, director of the CBD’s Oceans Programme.

Cummings’ organisation filed a formal petition this week requesting that 12 species of penguins worldwide, including the well-known Emperor Penguin, be added to the list of threatened and endangered species under the United States Endangered Species Act. Continue reading

Canada Reneges on Kyoto Climate Change agreement


Quote of the Day:
I am extremely frustrated by the double standards of industrialized nations. Canada criticizes other countries about their human rights policies or about the death penalty while they are playing with the lives of island people and the Inuit,” says Enele Sopoaga, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Tuvalu to the United Nations and vice-chair of the Alliance of Small Island States.

Tuvalu is a small island country in the South Pacific ocean that is experiencing flooding due to rising sea levels.

Full story here

Internet and Lust for Rarity Driving Species Into Extinction

The Insatiable in Pursuit of the Inedible
By Stephen Leahykaiser’s spotted newt

Nov 28 (IPS) – In an ironic twist, officially listing a species as endangered drives up its value to collectors and consumers, putting it on an even faster track to extinction, researchers in Paris reported Tuesday.

A perverse human penchant for possessing the last remaining giant parrot, tegu lizard or lady’s slipper orchid increases the value of the species so that collectors will spend thousands of dollars and go to any length, legal or illegal, to obtain them.

This triggers a positive feedback loop between exploitation and rarity that drives a species into an extinction vortex, Franck Courchamp and colleagues write in the scientific journal PloS Biology.

“It can be dangerous for a species to announce that it has become rare if it cannot be protected from exploitation,” Courchamp told IPS from his office at the University of Paris-South in Orsay, France.

“Even inconspicuous species can suddenly become valuable just because they are rare,” he said.

Hobby collectors, the exotic pet trade, trophy hunters, traditional medicine and luxury goods made from rare species are among the forces pushing rare species into extinction.

And the scientific literature is often used to identify the next hot species, Courchamp found.

Immediately after an article recognised the small Indonesian turtle (Chelodina mccordi) and Chinese gecko (Goniurosaurus luii) as rarities, their prices soared on the exotic pet market. The turtle is now nearly extinct and the gecko can no longer be found in its southeastern China niche.

Exotic pet traders covet a wide range of creatures, including orangutans, monkeys, reptiles, birds and wild cats, as well as arachnids, insects and fish.

The Internet is a major factor in driving species into extinction faster than ever, says Ernie Cooper, director of wildlife trade at the World Wildlife Fund-Canada.

Full story here

The Past a Warning For the Future

By Stephen Leahy

Drought in NE Kenya
Nov 25 (IPS) – A prolonged drought in East Africa in the 1890s not only killed tens of thousands of the native Maasai people, it also reshaped the ecological and political landscape — this according to new research published in the current issue of the ‘African Journal of Ecology’.

Droughts and also disease outbreaks took place from 1883 to 1902, a series of events which the Maasai dubbed the “Emutai” (“to wipe out”). Rinderpest killed Maasai cattle in 1883-1884, then small pox devastated the people; this was followed by a drought, including two years with no rain. Not surprisingly a severe famine persisted for much of the 1890s.

“There were skeleton-like women with the madness of starvation in their sunken eyes, children looking more like frogs than human beings, ‘warriors’ who could hardly crawl on all fours, and apathetic, languishing elders…They were refugees from the Serengeti…” wrote Austrian geographer Oscar Baumann in 1894.

A period of severe erosion resulted from the combination of drought, fire and overgrazing, reports researcher Lindsey Gillson of the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Gillson’s study was done in Tsavo National Park in south-eastern Kenya.

This is a surprising result because the region is semi-arid and plants are drought tolerant. However when the cattle died, the Maasai were forced to rely on goats and sheep which probably led to temporary overgrazing, Gillson writes.

By the time the rains finally came, erosion had changed the region’s capacity to support livestock and other grazing animals.

Kenya’s world-famous national parks — Serengeti, Tsavo, Amboseli and Mkomazi — were traditionally central to the Maasai tradition and economy, but were nearly depopulated when European colonists arrived, says Jon Lovett of the Center for Ecology, Law and Policy at the University of York in England.

Full Story here

Climate Change and Catastrophic Impacts on Societies

Quote of the day:

Predictions of future climate change only give a small part of the story. What history tells us is how ecological shocks are related and the catastrophic results this can have on social systems.Jon Lovett, of the Center for Ecology, Law and Policy at the University of York in England.

–from The Past a Warning For the Future

Trawling Moratorium Dead in the Water


By Stephen Leahy

img_0165.JPGNov 23 (IPS) – Iceland and a few other fishing nations have successfully undermined a three-year international effort to place a moratorium on destructive deep-sea trawling.

Environmentalists say that the agreement reached at a U.N. meeting early Thursday morning puts the commercial interests of a few hundred trawlers from a handful of nations ahead of the international community and ignores the advice of the scientific community.

“The final agreement has more loopholes in it than a fisherman’s sweater,” said Karen Sack, an oceans policy advisor with Greenpeace International, who has been monitoring the negotiations at the U.N.

“The oceans are in crisis. It (the agreement) does nothing to significantly change the way our oceans are managed,” Sack told IPS.

Scientists and conservationists had hoped for a moratorium on bottom trawling in the open ocean.

“Iceland refused to endorse any measures on the unregulated high seas,” said Susanna Fuller, a marine biologist with Canada’s Ecology Action Centre.

Australia, Chile and other nations were extremely angry at Iceland’s willingness to sacrifice vital fish habitat in the high seas for its short-term fishing interests, said Fuller, who attended the meetings in New York as an observer.

While New Zealand, the Pacific Island States, the United States, Brazil, India, South Africa, Germany and even previously reluctant Spain and Canada supported stronger action, the desire to achieve a consensus meant Iceland’s interests won out over common sense and the science, Fuller told IPS.

Scientific evidence of the need to halt unregulated deep-sea or bottom trawling is overwhelming.

Full Story here

Canada Trying to Scuttle Temporary Halt to Destructive, Unregulated Bottom Trawling on High Seas

Quote of the Day:


“Canada’s attitude towards the oceans are embarrassing and archaic,” says Elliott Norse, President of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, a scientific environmental NGO in Washington State.

“Canada treats the oceans as if nothing could harm them,” Norse told IPS.

Full story here

Will Forests Adapt to a Warmer World?

How is climate change affecting the world’s forests today and in the future

Copyright 2006 Renate Leahy
By Stephen Leahy

TORONTO, Nov 20 (IPS/IFEJ) – Deforestation remains the greatest current threat to the world’s forests, claiming 10 to 15 million hectares of tree-covered areas every year, but climate change may represent a bigger challenge in the long term, scientists say.

“We’re like a two-year-old playing with fire… We’re messing around with something dangerous and don’t really understand what will happen,” says William Laurance, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, in reference to climate change and the Amazon rainforest.

Forests and other forms of life are now living on an “alien” planet where the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for a million years.

These unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases are creating a new, hotter planet with weather that is much more extreme than in the past.

What does this mean for the 20 percent of the Earth’s original forests that are still standing? Some scientists believe forests will grow faster in a warmer world. Others say they are more likely to burn, or suffer from disease or die from drought.

Full story here

Part of a series on sustainable development for IPS and IFEJ (International Federation of Environmental Journalists)

Polar Bears Go Hungry as Icy Habitat Melts Away

By Stephen Leahy

BROOKLIN, Canada, Nov 17 (IPS) – The iconic animal of the frozen north, the polar bear, is starving to death because climate change is melting the Arctic Ocean sea ice.


Polar bears hunt seals almost exclusively and do so from the sea ice. But in the past five years, summer sea ice coverage has declined by 20 percent due to warming temperatures. Although excellent swimmers, the bears are not very good at catching seals in the water, so changes in the ice are making it difficult for these giant bears to survive — several have recently been found drowned and to have died of starvation.

This week scientists announced new findings that the survival rate of polar bear cubs in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea has plummeted. In the late 1980s, 65 percent of polar bear cubs in the southern Beaufort Sea survived their first year. That has fallen to an average of 43 percent in the past five years, report scientists at the Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

“This an extremely ominous finding for polar bears,” said Kassie Siegel of the Centre for Biological Diversity, an environmental non-governmental organisation, based in Joshua Tree, California.

“We’ve observed massive melting of the sea ice in the Arctic in recent years, and they can’t survive without it,” Siegel told IPS.

Full Story here

And here are my most recent articles on the state of the ArcticArctic Ice Gone in 5 Years – First Time in One Million Years

Arctic Is the Canary in the Coalmine

Burning Down Our House

Arctic Oil and Gas Rush Alarms Scientists

Arctic Meltdown Signals Long-Term Trend