Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.
Marine conservation is the study of conserving physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem functions. This is a relatively new discipline. Marine conservationists rely on a combination of scientific principles derived from marine biology, oceanography and fisheries science, as well as on human factors such as demand for marine resources and marine law, economics and policy in order to determine how to best protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems.
Coral reefs are the epicenter for immense amounts of biodiversity, and are a key player in the survival of an entire ecosystem. They provide various marine animals with food, protection and shelter which keep generations of species alive.
Unfortunately, because of human impact of coral reefs, these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The biggest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. This in conjunction with increased carbon in oceans, coral bleaching, and diseases, results in no pristine reefs left anywhere in the world. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs at either "high" or "very high" risk of disappearing which directly effects biodiversity and survival of species dependent on coral.
In island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines, many fisherman are unable to catch as many fish as they used to, so they are increasingly using cyanide and dynamite in fishing, which further degrades the coral reef ecosystem. This perpetuation of bad habits simply leads to the further decline of coral reefs and therefore perpetuates the problem. One solution to stopping this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine spaces that include coral reefs is important. Once the local communities understand the personal stakes at risk then they will actually fight to preserve the reefs. Conserving coral reefs has many economic, social, and ecological benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people throughout the world as well.
Although humans cause the greatest threat to our marine environment, humans also have the ability to create effective management plans that will be the key to successful marine conservation. One of the best marine conservation tools simply stems from smarter individualist choices we make.
Strategies and techniques for marine conservation tend to combine theoretical disciplines, such as population biology, with practical conservation strategies, such as setting up protected areas, as with marine protected areas (MPAs) or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means.
International laws and treaties related to marine conservation include the 1966 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. United States laws related to marine conservation include the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which established the National Marine Sanctuaries program.
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament enacted new legislation for the protection of marine life with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The provisions in the Act include: marine planning, marine licensing, marine conservation, seal conservation and enforcement.
Conservation is the protection of things found in nature, including species, their habitats and ecosystems. It encourages the sensible use of the planet’s natural resources so they do not go extinct, and promotes keeping the environment clean and healthy.
The rapid decline of established biological systems around the world means that conservation biology is often referred to as a "Discipline With a Deadline" - we must act before it is too late.
Conservation is classified as either on-site conservation, which is protecting an endangered species in its natural habitat, or off-site conservation, which occurs outside of their natural habitat.
● In-situ (on-site) conservation involves protecting or cleaning up the habitat or defending the species from predators.
● Ex-situ (off-site) conservation may be used when in-situ conservation is too difficult or impossible. Animals may be removed from a threatened habitat and placed in a new location, which may be a wild area or within the care of humans.
Non-interference may also be used, which is called preservation.
Preservationists advocate for giving areas of nature and species a protected existence without interference from the humans. In this regard, conservationists differ from preservationists, as conservation engages society to seek solutions for both people and ecosystems.
Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and seeks to control pollution and protect plant and animal diversity.
Animal advocates believe humans have a moral responsibility to treat animals with respect, and that the interests of humans and animals should be considered equally.
ECOLOGY: PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY
Ecology is the relationship of living things to each other and what is around them. It includes not only how those living things interact with each other, but how they interact with their physical environment, such as soil, water and climate.
Scientists who study ecology are called ecologists. They learn about living things by observing, seeing what happens, then recording what they find - all part of the scientific method.
Some ecologists study a specific habitat or species. They might study the behavior of a certain type of animal to learn how it interacts with the environment or other organisms. Or they may study many different species that depend on, or compete with, each other. What ecologists learn from their observations helps us to preserve biodiversity.
BIODIVERSITY: THE VARIETY OF LIFE
Biodiversity refers to the all the variety of life on the planet, or the total variety of life in a certain area. It includes all the different species of plants, animals, fungi, and even microorganisms and bacteria on earth or a given area.
Biodiversity takes into account the similarities and differences among individuals of the same species, and includes communities of plants and animals that interact together.
We don’t know the total number of species in our world, but there are tens of thousands of species of plants and animals discovered so far, and more being discovered everyday.
Conserving animals and plants is important for the benefit of humans and the benefit of other species. Individual species help meet our basic needs, including providing materials for food, clothing, shelter and fuel. Plants produce the oxygen we need to breathe, and are the source of many medicines. Insects pollinate crops and control pest populations. Birds, reptiles, frogs and amphibians control insect and other animal populations. Microorganisms decompose waste and recycle nutrients. Biodiversity also provides us with recreation and contributes to our physical, mental and spiritual well being. Every species contributes to our world in its own unique way. Loosing any one species affects the balance of nature.
Threats to Biodiversity
Human activities on earth in the last century have led to an enormous amount biodiversity loss, which continues to increase. The number of plants and animals becoming extinct exceed those of prehistoric mass extinctions. Loss of biodiversity also leads to genetic diversity loss and a loss of ecosystems.
The biggest threats to biodiversity include:
● Pollution: Despite efforts to reduce pollution, pesticides, acid rain, fertilizers and other pollution continue to change the chemical balance of ecosystems, negatively affecting plants and animals.
● Habitat Destruction, Alteration and Fragmentation: The biggest cause in decline of species populations is loss of habitat. Development, wetland filling and other ecologically irresponsible activities reduce and fragment forests, grasslands, deserts and wetland habitats into areas too isolated and too small to support some animals.
● Invasive Species: The spread of invasive, non-native species also changes the composition of wildlife and wild lands, reducing or replacing native plants and animals.
● Illegal Collection and Hunting: Many animals are poached and collected for the pet trade. Commercial hunting has decimated species populations, and led to the extinction of some animals. Fish are threatened by overharvesting.
● Changes in Climate: Changes in the earth’s climate can be difficult for some species to adapt to, eventually leading to extinction.
Mountain ranges are located all around the globe. They are the result of plate movements below the planet's crust. Mountains vary in height from small hills to Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Animals that inhabit mountainous regions must withstand dramatic temperature changes and lower oxygen levels.
The two main types of mountain ranges are temperate mountains and tropical mountains.
Temperate mountains are often cold all year and more seasonal than tropical mountains. They are found in North and South America, Europe and Central Asia. During spring and summer months a burst of plant life at high altitude occurs, encouraging herbivores up the mountain.
Tropical mountains feature warmer climates with plants adapted to high altitudes. They are located in South America, Africa and south-east Asia.
Mountain wildlife are adapted to high altitudes and changing temperatures. The higher up a mountain, the lower the temperature. Plants are usually seasonal in mountains. Those that do occur year round, such as conifers, are adapted to handling the cold temperatures.
Hoofed and herbivorous mammals, including deer, goats, llamas and sheep, are common in mountains. They are well suited to the terrain and graze on ledges and cliff faces. During the spring and summer, they move up the mountains when plants are plentiful. In the fall, they move back down the mountains in cooler weather when food is more scarce.
Large predators also inhabit mountain regions, including bears and mountain lions, who prey on the herbivores.
Some animal species do not live on the mountains, but inside of them. Caves provide habitat for amphibians, insects and bats.
Threats to mountain habitats include deforestation, quarrying and development. Changes in climate also affects the growth of plants at higher altitudes.
The sky is still blue. Trees are still green. Wind still blows. Clouds are still white and fluffy. Rain still pours from the sky. Snow falls and it still gets really cold sometimes in some places. Earth is still beautiful.
So what is the problem? What is the fuss about climate change and global warming?
Well, after observing and making lots of measurements, using lots of satellites and special instruments, scientists see some alarming changes. These changes are happening fast—much faster than these kinds of changes have happened in Earth's long past. All these satellites, plus a lot more, are studying Earth and all the changes happening with the air, ocean, land, and ice.
Global air temperatures near Earth's surface rose almost one and one-half degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. Eleven of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record. Earth has warmed twice as fast in the last 50 years as in the 50 years before that.
One and one-half degrees may not seem like much. But when we are talking about the average over the whole Earth, lots of things start to change.
Why is Earth getting warmer?
Here's one clue: As the temperature goes up, the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, in the air goes up. And as the carbon dioxide goes up, the temperature goes up even more.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it traps heat from Earth's surface and holds the heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have learned that, throughout Earth's history, temperature and CO2 levels in the air are closely tied.
For 450,000 years, CO2 went up and down. But CO2 levels never rose over 280 parts per million until 1950. But then something different happens and CO2 increases very fast. At the end of 2012, it is 394 parts per million. Why? Because of us.
Besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
How do we know what Earth was like long ago?
A big part of the answer is ice cores.
In Antarctica, scientists have drilled down two miles below the surface and brought up samples of the ice. These samples are called ice cores. It's like what you get if you plunge a drinking straw into a slushy drink and pull it out with your finger over the end of the straw. What you will have inside the straw is an ice core—although a very slushy one.
The layers in an Arctic ice core are frozen solid. They give clues about every year of Earth's history back to the time the deepest layer was formed. The ice contains bubbles of the air from each year. Scientists analyze the bubbles in each layer to see how much CO2 they contain. Scientists can also learn about the temperatures for each year by measuring relative amounts of different types of oxygen atoms in the water. (Remember, water is H2O: two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen.)
Other scientists study cores of sediment from the bottom of the ocean or lakes. Or they study tree rings and layers of rocks to give them clues about climate change throughout history. They compare all their findings to see if they agree. If they do, then their findings are accepted as most likely true. If they don't agree, they go back and figure out what is wrong with their methods. In the case of Earth's climate history, the facts agree from a lot of different kinds of studies.
How can so little warming cause so much melting?
Water can soak up a lot of heat. When the oceans get warmer, sea ice begins to melt in the Arctic and around Greenland. NASA's Earth satellites show us that every summer some Arctic ice melts and shrinks, getting smallest by September. Then, when winter comes, the ice grows again. But, since 1979, the September ice has been getting smaller and smaller and thinner and thinner.
Glaciers are another form of melting, shrinking ice. Glaciers are frozen rivers. They flow like rivers, only much slower. Lately, they have been speeding up. Many of them flow toward the ocean, then break off in chunks - sometimes huge chunks. In places such as Glacier National Park, the glaciers are melting and disappearing. The air is getting warmer, and less snow is falling during winter to renew the melted parts of the glaciers.
As more sea ice and glaciers melt, the global sea level rises. But melting ice is not the only cause of rising sea level. As the ocean gets warmer, the water actually expands. Sea level has risen 6.7 inches in the last 100 years. In the last 10 years, it has risen twice as fast as in the previous 90 years. If Greenland's ice sheet were to melt completely, sea level all over the world would rise by 16-23 feet (5 to 7 meters).
Life is a web, with every strand connected to every other strand. One species of plant or animal changes, and a whole chain of events can follow involving many other species. For example, herds of caribou live in cold, Arctic locations. Caribou hate mosquitoes. In the past few years, warmer temperatures in summer have allowed mosquito populations to explode. So the caribou spend a lot more energy swatting away the mosquitoes. All this swatting leaves the caribou less energy to find food and prepare for the next long winter. Female caribou are especially troubled because it takes so much energy to give birth and raise their young.
Animals that hibernate in the winter also suffer from warming temperatures. Marmots, chipmunks, and bears are waking up as much as a month early. Some are not hibernating at all. These animals can starve if they stay awake all winter, because they can't find enough food. If they wake up too early because it feels warm enough to be spring, the days may not yet be long enough to signal the plants to start their spring growth. So, again, the wakeful animals go hungry.
Many trees in the Western U.S. are already suffering from climate change. Droughts leave trees thirsty and stressed. Pine trees need cold winters, too. With warmer, drier conditions, the trees are more likely to become infected with insects. These bugs bore into the trees and lay their eggs. Eventually, they kill the tree. Some forests in the West have lost over half their trees already to pine beetles. When the forest is gone, birds and small mammals that lived there have to find new homes - if they can.
There are many more plant and animal species and communities struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing climate.
Forests are vital for the health and well-being of humans, wildlife, and the Earth. They provide habitat for about two-thirds of all land-dwelling animals and plants. Around the world, these critical ecosystems are being ripped apart as a result of a booming demand for furniture, flooring, lumber, and other building materials. Trees are used to make paper, packaging materials, pencils, fuel for cooking and heat, and other wood-based products. In addition to wood products, logging is also occurring at an alarming rate to make room for animal agriculture and subsistence farming, oil and gas extraction, mining operations, and ever-increasing development. The world's natural forests cannot sustain the increasing global demands of current forest management practices.
Years of irresponsible exploitation have destroyed and degraded much of the planet's forests. Half of the Earth's global forest land has already been lost. In the United States, 90 percent of continental indigenous forests have been removed. Around the world, 15 billion trees are being cut down each year. The destruction of important wildlands is displacing communities, endangering habitats of rare and endangered plants and animals, and negatively affecting the environment. Most of the world’s remaining indigenous forests are located in Canada, Alaska, Russia and the Northwestern Amazon basin. We must protect what is left before it is too late.
Logging generally falls into two categories: selective logging and clear-cutting logging. Selective logging involves taking only trees of high value. Clear-cutting involves the taking of all trees in an area, thus clearing the entire forest. While selective logging is promoted as being more environmentally responsible than clear-cutting, it can be very damaging to the surrounding trees which are left standing. The heavy equipment used in logging often damages the surrounding trees. Around 40 out of 100 trees die from just one tree being selectively logged.
Logging Threatening Species
The massive activity of logging, both legal and illegal, involves the felling of trees on such a large scale that it is one of the major forms of deforestation. Only thirty-one percent of our Earth's surface is still covered by forests. Of this, rich tropical forests like those found in the Amazon, Congo River Basin and Mekong River Basin account for almost three-fourths of the covered area. For the timber industry, these precious million-year old forests are prime targets for logging. It is in such tropical forests of the world that 80 percent of endangered species reside. The impact on the general ecology and habitat of all living creatures is in danger when over fifty thousand hectares of forests continue to vanish every year.
Seven countries account for approximately 60 percent of the total deforestation on Earth, including Canada, the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. About half of world’s timber and up to 70% of paper is consumed by the United States, Europe and Japan. An estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest are lost every year. One and a half acres of forest is cut down every second. Up to 28,000 species may become extinct in the next quarter of a century from deforestation.
Few consumers are aware that the timber used for their hardwood floors, kitchen tables and cabinets come from illegal felling operations carried out in African forests that house elephants, lions, rhinoceros, gorillas and many rare and endangered species. Illegal logging has resulted in loss of habitats in regions spread across wide geographies from the Amazon, Congo Basin, Borneo in Indonesia and the forests of Siberia. Particularly threatened by such activities are the dwarf gorillas of the southern Congo basin, orangutans in Borneo and the great Siberian tiger.
In a virtually dry continent like Australia, rare tropical forest cover has been reduced by half as a result of logging. Precious eucalyptus forests cover only 8 percent of Australia, but house 47 percent of its animals that use hollows in trees as their homes. The yellow-bellied glider, the brush-tailed phascogale, the greater glider, the Leadbeater’s possum and various squirrel species are some of the animals that depend on tree hollows and have been affected by logging. Australian blue gum plantations are home to thousands of the iconic koala bear and the continuous felling of these trees are a constant threat to the endangered animal.
In South-eastern Australia logging has led to increased light penetration that facilitates the growth of lantana, a toxic plant preferred by the bell miner – a species of bird that preys on insects that inhabit these plants. The bell miner drives out smaller species of birds that would have otherwise fed on such insects. Sudden increases in insect loads means they feed on eucalyptus leaves, eating into a vital food source of the koala bear.
In Pennsylvania an astonishing 99 percent of the population of the northern long-eared bat, and 75 percent of the Indiana bat, have been lost to intensive logging and related activities. These two species of bat depend largely on the older and larger trees of the forests for foraging and roosting.
Forests of Madagascar, isolated from mainlands for tens of millions of years, have developed a quality of timber unmatched anywhere in the world. Loggers in search premium wood have mercilessly felled trees over the decades for export to affluent markets of China and the Far-East. The bio-diversity evolved over the millions of years in Madagascar forests has created a stunning array of 200,000 species of plants, insects, mammals and birds found nowhere else in the world. Forests that house thousands of endemic species like baobabs, lemurs, and Uroplatus geckos, have halved in cover since the advent of man on the island just 1,000 years ago. The very survival of such wildlife is in danger.
Careful planning and the use of reduced-impact logging (RIL) practices can help avoid some of the destructive damage caused by logging. RIL practices include better planned logging roads, directional felling so that cut trees do not crush trees left standing, and cutting vines that may pull other trees down with those being harvested. However, any type of logging can result in devastating impacts on forest animals, and on mammals and amphibians in particular.
Humans must realize that even now seventy percent of our Earth's land animals live in forests. It's time for a proper substitute to timber. For the timber and paper industry, profits should take a back seat to conservation. We must save the only habitats the endangered wildlife of the world have left.
Logging Effects On Wildlife And The Environment
Logging causes a loss of bio-diversity. When forests are logged, species lose their habitat, food sources, and shelter. Primary trees also provide seeds for new trees. The seed source is lost when the trees are harvested.
Logging causes extinction. Many animal species rely on trees for their food sources and shelter.
Logging causes ecosystem fragmentation. Habitats are cut into fragments, affecting food availability, migration patterns and shelter. Forest fragmentation is threatening the survival of many species.
Logging causes erosion. Trees and leaf litter are essential nutrients for the soil in forests and prevent erosion by absorbing water – keeping nutrients in the top-soil from washing away.
Logging causes flooding. Trees stable soil by absorbing rain water. When trees are removed, flooding and mud-slides can result.
Logging obstructs streams and rivers. Erosion and flooding caused by logging causes soil and silt to flow into water systems. Clouded water can prevent fish and other species from laying eggs and constructing nests.
Logging is changing the climate. Trees store carbon. When forests are harvested, the carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. A greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide absorbs heat and creates global warming.
What You Can Do
You can help save forests by making responsible daily choices. By consuming less, eating sustainable food, choosing recycled or certified sustainable wood products, and opting for alternative products, you can reduce deforestation.
Choose more sustainable products whenever possible. Hemp is a fast-growing and sustainable crop that produces more construction-grade fiber per acre than most trees. Bamboo is also a fast-growing plant stronger than most slow-growing trees. Soy can be made into a variety of products and can make traditional wood products safer - replacing dangerous glues, formaldehyde, and other toxic solvents. Additional plant fibers and recycled materials are being used to create a vast array of items. Composite materials combine wood with other components.
When you do buy wood products, choose 100 percent post-consumer content materials when available. When purchasing products made from virgin forest fiber, look for a seal from a credible forestry certification system.
Support companies that have adopted forest-friendly policies.
Reduce, reuse and recycle to lower the need for more raw materials from trees.
Reduce or eliminate meat, eggs and dairy from your diet. A plant-based diet drastically reduces the devastating deforestation happening around the world from animal agriculture practices.
Educate others about how their everyday choices impacts forests.
The rhino is one of the largest and most powerful animals on earth, and one of the most ancient. Its origins can be traced back 50 million years when it was know as Paraceratherium, the giant rhinoceros. This monstrous creature weighed nearly 20 tons and roamed the grasslands that ranged from Europe to China. It survived the ravages of the Ice Age, migrated continents, fought against predatory adversaries like the crocodile and prehistoric hyenas, and evolved into what we know as the present day rhinoceros. Human hunting and unstable conditions of habitat have reduced this majestic animal, that once roamed half the earth, to just five broad species found only in pockets of Asia and Africa.
Rhinos are in serious danger of going extinct. Poaching of rhinos is on the rise by organized international criminal syndicates. Two rhinos are estimated to be killed by poachers every day in Africa. If rhino poaching is not stopped, African rhinos could be lost forever. Threats to Indian rhinos include expanding human populations, agriculture, and poaching.
Dagger handles made from rhino horns are symbols of status and wealth in Arab countries. In Far East countries, rhino horns are sought for alleged medicinal properties. There is no scientific evidence of their medical value, but they continue to be used in traditional Asian medicine – ground into powder to treat a variety of illnesses.
Rhino horns have fetched as much as an astonishing $50,000 on the black market. Its value tempts even subsistence farmers and poor herdsmen to be a part of the trade. Poaching gangs have reached great levels of sophistication and use night-vision equipment, veterinary drugs and even helicopters in their hunt for rhinos.
Northern White Rhinos
There are no longer any northern white rhinos in the wild. There were around 500 of them in the 1970's scattered over northwestern Uganda, northeastern Congo, parts of Central African Republic and on the eastern fringes of Lake Chad. By 1980 their numbers were down to just a paltry 15. Now only three of them are to be found in the Garamba National Park of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Southern White Rhinos
The southern white rhinoceros is the biggest of all species, standing almost 6 feet up to its shoulders. Its immense body weighs as much as 5,100 lbs (5 tons). They are pale grayish in color and have two horns, the front one curved and big at the snout of the nose, followed by a very small one behind it. They are found in the Savannah grasslands of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and in some measure in the arid expanses of the Kalahari. From a position of complete extinction in the early part of the 20th century, the southern white rhinoceros has witnessed a dramatic rise in its numbers thanks to the efforts of conservationists, wildlife agencies, game sanctuary authorities and support of local governments. Presently, the number of these rhinoceros stand at 21,000. Despite now being the only rhinos that are not endangered, a surge of poaching in recent years once again threatens the southern white rhinoceros. Legal hunting also threatens their future, as white rhinos in South Africa and Swaziland were downlisted to Appendix II to allow the export of live rhinos and hunting trophies.
The black rhinoceros is another species that is making a comeback from the brink of extinction in the early 1980's to a count of 5,000 today. They are found in East Africa and South Africa. They are smaller in size in comparison to the white rhino. They have an acute sense of smell but very poor eyesight that make them easy targets for poachers. The growing number of rhinoceros in the Southern half of the continent, along with the great demand for horns among the nouveau riche Chinese, has created an incentive for poachers. Cases of poaching in South Africa are up from 15 in 2007, to an alarming 1,200 in 2014. Black rhino horns are in great demand in Vietnam and other South-East Asian countries where they are powdered and used for medicinal purposes.
The Indian rhinoceros, or the great one-horned rhino, is the predominant of the two Asian species. They are mostly found in the north-eastern state of Assam in India in reserves like the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary, Manas National Park and half a dozen sanctuaries scattered over the state. The rhinos found in the Kaziranga, Orang and Pobitara inhabit the alluvial flood plains of the river Brahmaputra that flows through the state. There are a little over a hundred of this species in the Jaldapara National Park of the West Bengal state bordering Assam. The sanctuaries of Parsa Wildlife Reserve, Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal hold about 645 of these animals.
The male Indian rhinoceros can stand up to a height of 5 feet 8 inches at its shoulders. It weighs up to 4,800 lbs and is much bigger than the female which weighs just 3,500 lbs. It has a thick skin that is grayish brown in color and has a single black-colored horn. Despite its poor eyesight, it has a heightened sense of smell and can become a scary looking animal when it breaks into runs of almost 55 kms per hour.
Although massive conservation efforts have resulted in the count of Indian rhinos rising to almost 2,600 from an extinction phase a couple of decades ago, threats in the form of expanding human population pressure, farmlands eating into rhino grasslands, and poaching remain. Organized crime networks are at work catering to the demand for Indian rhino horns, sought for their alleged medicinal values among the affluent Chinese and the rich of the South-East Asian countries. The forest protection personnel of India are not as well equipped as their South African counterparts and are poorly staffed. At the political level, conservation of rhinos is not a priority, and efforts to that end at the grassroots level become difficult. Massive seasonal flooding of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries are turning out to be a major threat to rhinos of Assam. There seems to be no solution in sight. Many of the creatures have drowned or died of sheer hunger, having being displaced from their habitat by raging waters.
The Javan rhinoceros is among the most endangered species of animal on earth. Just a century and a half ago, it roamed the wilds of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. Only 63 of these animals are presently found in the Ujung Kulon national park in the western-most tip of Java, Indonesia.
The Java species stand up to 5.5 feet and weigh up to 2,300 lbs. They have a single horn which is the smallest of all species and measures just 25 cms. It is amphibious like the Indian rhino, and spends a considerable amount of time in the shallow swampy waters of the Javan tropical jungles. Although protected by law, and numbers now too few to act as incentive to poachers, other threats exist. The Arenga palm, or Arenga pinnata, that is a native to Indonesia, poses a grave threat to plants which the rhinos of Java survive on. The Arenga palm is an invasive plant that grows and spreads quickly.
To counter the threat of real extinction this species is facing, a population is being kept in captivity outside of Ujung Kulon by wildlife conservationists. This may give the endangered Java rhinoceros a last chance of long-term survival.
Time Is Running Out
Several rhino species will likely be extinct in just a few decades. The others will follow in less than 100 years. Hunting, animal agriculture, habitat change, and human population growth are taking their toll on these magnificent animals. Without immediate intervention, they will disappear from the Earth causing ecological, social, and economic ramifications. We must act now, before it's too late.
The threats faced by wildlife around the world continue to increase. Each year, thousands of animal species are lost to extinction. Mountain areas provide one of the last safe havens for endangered plant and animal species. But even these last safe havens are now under threat by irresponsible human activities.
A large number of mammals have taken up homes in mountainous areas. The most cited reason for this is environmental variation, which is the evolution of different species that live in the valleys and mountains. But studies have revealed that the high level of biodiversity in mountains can also be attributed to the protection mountains offer to endangered species. Animals are taking refuge in mountains because we've driven them from other ecosystems.
Mountains provide safety to animals that have come near extinction. But these last safe areas for wildlife are continually faced with a myriad of challenges which include animal agriculture, human development, insufficient water, climatic changes, desertification and declines in biodiversity.
The brown bear once flourished in Asia, North America and Europe. But now they can only be found in mountainous areas due to the threats faced in lowlands. In the past 100 years, only 1% of the entire population of brown bears has survived in the United States.
Pumas, otherwise known as mountain lions, are mostly found in the mountains – especially in the Andes and Rockies. It took its home in these areas primarily due to the threats they face from the activities of man.
Red pandas are mostly found in the Himalayan mountain chain. Even though this region is reasonably inaccessible to humans, the red panda is having a difficult time surviving as bamboo, which it feeds on, continues to be depleted. For the giant panda to survive, three things are important; high mountains with deep valleys, lush bamboo vegetation, and rippling streams – all of which are threatened by human activities.
The golden eagle has its home in the Northern Hemisphere. Like many other endangered species, the number of golden eagles has plummeted due to human actions.
Not only do mountain forests serve as protection for wildlife, but billions of people depend on them for their income. 60% of the world’s fresh water comes from the mountains even though they cover just 12% of the Earth’s surface. The quality and quantity of water supplied to industries and lowland communities is influenced heavily by mountain forests. If there are no forests in the mountains, erosion is bound to occur, leaving the quality of water in jeopardy.
Most cities source their water supply from the mountains. For instance, 95% of Vienna’s water comes from mountain forests of the Northern Alps. Honduras and Tegucigalpa get 40% of their water supply from the cloud forest of La Tigra National Park. 97% of Kenya’s electricity is generated from Mount Kenya using hydroelectric technologies. The Tibetan plateau serves as a water tower for more than 3 billion Asians.
A large amount of carbon in contained in mountain forests. When these mountain forests are lost, a massive amounts of carbon will be released into the atmosphere.
Threats to Mountain Animals
Every day mountain forests continue to face threats from human activities.
As the world’s population continues to increase, farmers are migrating to higher lands, contributing to the depletion of forest life. More than half of Africa’s mountainous areas have been turned into grazing lands. Excessive grazing leads to the destruction of fragile vegetation. 10% is used for growing crops. This practice is unsustainable due to the fact that crops do not do well on highlands. Most mountainous areas are unproductive lands. Only a meager 3% of mountain land is suitable for growing crops.
About 25% of mountain lands across the world have been used for roads, dams, pipelines and mining projects. Every year, billions of minerals are extracted from mountains. Not only does road construction lead to erosion, it also provides easy access to cut down trees.
Mountain habitats are very susceptible to climatic changes. As glaciers continue to melt, snowcaps are receding. Scientists believe this will eventually lead to a series of landslides which will eventually affect water reserves. As climatic conditions continue to change, there will be an increase in the number of pests which further endanger forest life.
Civil wars have a devastating effect on mountain areas. Insurgents base their stations in the mountains. It has been estimated by the United Nations that 67% of African mountain regions have been used for violent activities.
Action Is Needed
Governments have slowly begun to take small steps to reduce forest depletion. National parks are being erected in different parts of the world to conserve some fragile regions and to serve as refuges to endangered species. Although national parks are protected, they are still subject to environmental pressure. The high rate at which animal species are being lost is a clear indication that mountain strongholds are still being attacked by poachers.
Mountains are vital to all life on earth, including humans. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects all life in the lowlands. Lands, freshwaters and even oceans are affected by moutains. Much larger steps must be taken now to save these last wild areas from animal agriculture, development and other human impacts.
The image of seals and sea lions conjures up thousands of these creatures basking on the rocky beaches of the U.S. West coast, Australia and Tasmania and ice floes of the Arctics. While similarities between these two amphibious mammals seem apparent, there are some inherent differences.
The pinniped, the family to which these two belong, consists of the phocidae or true seals and otariidae or sea lions. True seals are believed to have descended from a terrestrial creature closely resembling the weasel, while the sea lion traces back its origins to a bear-like animal. True seals fall in the category of earless seals because they lack the external ear flap which sea lions, or "eared seals", have. The sea lions have much larger front and hind flippers than the seals, which allow far more locomotion. So while on land the seal slushes forward at snails' pace on its belly, the sea lion virtually gallops forward thanks to it bigger flippers. Like most aquatic mammals, both the seal and sea lion are expert swimmers.
All pinnipeds, like many other wildlife species, have not been spared the ravages of mankind. The hunting of millions of seals for their meat, blubbers and pelts reduced their numbers significantly. Later they were killed by fishermen who over-harvested fish, then blamed the seals for depleting fish stocks in the ocean.
Extensive commercial fishing has harmed pinnipeds in more ways than one. Reduced food, resulting from irresponsible fishing practices, is suspected to be behind a declining pinnped population. Seals and sea lions also get entangled in fishing gear, causing injury or death.
A high amount of industrial and toxic waste is a potent threat to the health of seals. Algal biotoxins and disease caused by such pollutants are proving to be fatal for seals and sea lions. Non-biodegradable marine debris, such as drifting trawling nets, plastic packaging straps and monofilament gill nets, are hazards that have killed nearly 2 percent of Tasmanian seals.
Climate change is also a deadly threat to seals and sea lions. Changes in temperatures in ocean currents has wreaked havoc in the food patterns of these mammals and affected their reproductive cycles. Species which primarily rely on ice – like the ribbon, ringed, spotted and bearded seals – have been direct victims of rapid ice loss leading to premature separation of mothers from their cubs during the milking period. The inability of the mammals to build dens during such periods of ice loss has resulted in high mortality among pups.
Other threats to seals and sea lions include introduced species and barbed wire. The introduction of animals like dogs, especially in Alaska, has made seals prone and exposed to disease. Barbed wire barriers have been erected that are known to cause severe injuries to sea lions.
Seals have long been commercially hunted for their pelts, meat and blubber. As a result, the Caribbean monk seal was hunted to extinction. In 1911 the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention made it illegal to hunt seals at sea, but hunting babies seals on land continued. All pinnipeds are now protected in U.S. waters under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but baby seals are still being killed in other countries for their fur.
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. Although the Canadian seal hunt is the largest in the world and has the highest profile internationally, sealing is also carried out in a number of other countries across the world including Greenland, Namibia, Russia, Norway and Sweden.
Seal hunting is inhumane. Groups have campaigned on the issue for years and their evidence shows all the horror of the hunt.
Seals and sea lions are also common victims of the animal entertainment industry. Aquariums and marine mammal theme parks are part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Animals are taken from the wild; their families torn apart. Marine parks have shown no more interest in conserving marine mammals' natural habitats than they have in educating audiences.
Cetaceans do not belong in captivity where they are forced to perform meaningless tricks. They are often separated from family members when they’re shuffled between parks. Most die far short of their natural life spans. The living conditions at these attractions are often dismal, with animals confined to tiny, filthy, barren enclosures. Even the best artificial environments can’t come close to matching the space, diversity, and freedom that cetaceans have in their natural habitats.
The monk seal and the Galápagos fur seal are endangered. Local populations of some seals, such as gray seals in the Baltic Sea, are also endangered. The hooded seal and northern fur seal are vulnerable.
We are all becoming increasingly familiar with the impacts of invasive species. Knotweed from Japan can destroy building foundations, zebra mussels from eastern Europe can clog-up drinking water pipes, and an Asian fungus is causing ash tree die-back in our forests. Our rapidly changing world will bring new types of invaders, often from very unexpected places.
Invasive non-native species are among the greatest drivers of biodiversity loss on the planet. An international team of scientists identified that environmental change, new biotechnology and even political instability are all likely to result in new invasions that we should all be worried about.
Globalization of the Arctic, emergence of invasive microbial pathogens, advances in genomic modification technology, and changing agricultural practices were judged to be among the 14 most significant issues potentially affecting how invasive species are studied and managed over the next two decades.
Globalization Of The Arctic
Until now, the Arctic has been among the least accessible regions on the planet, escaping extensive alien species invasions like those that have affected temperate and tropical areas of the world. However, the rapid loss of sea ice is opening the region to shipping, oil and mineral extraction, fishing, tourism, and shoreline development -- all of which facilitate introductions of alien species.
The loss of sea ice is also creating a major new corridor for international shipping between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which will affect invasion risks throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The gold rush has begun for major expansion of human activities in the Arctic, with the potential for large-scale alien species transfers.
Emergence & Spread Of Invasive Microbial Pathogens
Disease-causing bacteria, water molds, fungi and viruses are being given increasing opportunities to spread into regions where they never previously existed and where they may attack new hosts. They can also undergo rapid genetic changes that cause previously innocuous forms to become virulent.
Invasive microbes have devastated populations of animal and plants that have had no evolutionary exposure and thus no immunity to them. Recent examples include: the chytrid fungus "Bsal" that is killing salamanders in Europe; the white-nose fungus that is destroying bat colonies in North America; and sea star wasting disease along the Pacific coast of North America, considered to be among the worst wildlife die-offs ever recorded. The proliferation of microbial pathogens is a burgeoning threat to biodiversity, agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Biotechnological Advances & Applications
Advances in genomic modification tools hold both promise and challenges for managing invasive species. Very recently, genetically modified versions of an invasive mosquito were released in the Florida Keys in a controversial attempt to interfere with the mosquito's reproductive life cycle, thereby preventing it from vectoring the spread of invasive Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses to humans. The push to use genetically modified agents to control invasive species will continue to grow, and with it will come public opposition and the view that we are opening Pandora's Box.
Changing Agricultural Practices
Changing agricultural practices are also a potential source of invasion threats. Virtually unregulated new agricultural crops and practices open the door to potentially disastrous unintended consequences. An Asian cricket species reared for "cricket flour" -- all the rage in the USA -- has already established in the wild. Worse, as a disease ravages this species, farmers have imported other kinds of crickets that might well invade in nature.
But possibly the biggest threat of all is the growing use by agribusiness of soil bacteria and fungi to increase crop production. The cultivation and distribution of 'growth enhancing' microbes could cause some crop plants or plant species residing near agricultural fields to become invasive pests.
Around 4,000 years ago, someone in northern China came across an odd black rock. It was one of many. Then this person discovered something. Somehow this person discovered that the rock could burn.
Life was harder back then. Keeping warm and getting food were big worries. With no electricity or gas for heating or cooking, everyone burned wood. The strange rock that burned like a log must have been very exciting back then.
This rock was coal. Archeologists think this was the first time a human used a fossil fuel.
For many years, only a few places with easy access to coal used it. Outside China, one such place was Britain. It was hard to miss there. People could go to the beach and pick up lumps of coal. They called it “sea coal.”
During the years of Roman rule in the British isles, they used coal to heat water for the public baths. The Romans liked coal so much that they brought it back to Rome with them. Traces of British coal can be found all around the Roman ruins in Italy.
Before the late 1600s, coal was used mainly for things like smelting and blacksmithing. (Smelting is a process of heating the ore dug out of the earth to get out the metals.) There were no real factories. Things were made by hand without the help of machines. That all changed with the invention of the steam engine.
The first common steam engine was called the Newcomen engine. It was first built 1712. It changed the world forever. It was first used to drain mines, but over time it was used for many other things too. The steam engine made big factories possible. Then it was put into trains and ships, so it could help transport things. It even powered some early cars. The demand for coal skyrocketed.
This big change was called the Industrial Revolution. It began in Britain. It gradually spread over much of the rest of the world. It’s not by chance that Britain led the Industrial Revolution; it had so much coal. It was this very coal that drove Britain, and eventually the world, into the modern society we know today.
Oil: A Nice Ride through the Countryside
Early one August morning in 1888, Bertha Benz left home with her two sons on a 66-mile trip to visit her mother. She took a brand new car. She didn't tell anyone. That car just happened to be her husband’s Benz Patent-Motorwagen—the first true automobile.
This trip wasn’t really about visiting Bertha’s mother. Bertha was frustrated with her husband, Karl Benz. Karl had an incredible invention, but he hadn’t been doing a great job of letting people know about it. Before Bertha set out on this trip, Karl had only given short demonstration rides, and there was always a team of mechanics standing by.
Bertha’s trip was the first long-distance car ride ever attempted. It was a great success. Bertha acted as her own mechanic. She came up with makeshift brake pads. She cleaned all the fuel pipes. And, like anyone else on a long road trip, she had to fill up with gas. She did so by purchasing a fluid called benzene from a local pharmacy. This pharmacy became the world’s first gas station.
Petroleum is a liquid that comes from oil. We put it into our cars to make them run. Petroleum means “rock oil.” It comes from the remains of once-living organisms, just like coal.
People have used petroleum for different purposes throughout history. But petroleum wasn’t used very much until another invention came along—the internal combustion engine. In 1863, a man named Nikolaus Otto created the first successful engine of this kind. Unlike a steam engine, in Otto’s engine, the heat comes from igniting fumes from a petroleum liquid. The pressure from the heat moves pistons. This is pretty much how all gas-powered cars still work to this day.
Petroleum, Oil, Gas: What’s in a Name?
A lot of different names are tossed around for liquid fossil fuels. Do they all mean something different? Here’s a brief explanation:
Petroleum is a collection of liquids formed from once-living things. It is a mixture of chemicals that contains carbon and hydrogen. People can also refer to petroleum as crude oil and sometimes just oil.
But you can’t pour that black sludge of oil into a car. You need to get specific chemicals out of the oil. Gasoline is what we usually put into our cars. It is one set of chemicals (with a couple of other added ingredients).
Kerosene is another set of chemicals used to heat homes and to cook. It is also the main ingredient in jet fuel.
The process of removing these chemicals from the oil, called “cracking,” occurs at an oil refinery.
Gas: A Fuel of Many Uses
You can find natural gas near oil, coal, and other rocks. It comes from the same natural processes that make coal and oil. It, too, comes from once-living things.
Humans have known about natural gas for a long time. Around 500 BCE, people in China used bamboo shoots to transport natural gas. They used it to boil water. A famous historian wrote about natural gas between 100 and 124 CE. That’s 1,900 years ago. This person wrote about flames burning from the ground of present-day Iraq. But even though people knew about it, it didn’t catch on as a major fuel source for some time.
Today, natural gas is often used for cooking and heating homes. It is one of the most important sources of energy in the world.
People once considered natural gas a problem. It was explosive and dangerous. Most oil and coal operations just burned it. Now it is valuable. Natural gas is cleaner burning than either coal or oil. That means it causes less pollution. Many places have switched from burning coal to burning natural gas. That means many places want more of it.
Since more people want natural gas, people will get it however they can. One way to get natural gas is with something called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking is expensive, but people want natural gas so much, they’ll use this method. Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals into rocks to break them apart. This releases natural gas. Fracking helps people increase the amount of natural gas we can get, but there are environmental concerns over fracking. People worry that these chemicals can get into drinking water.
The King Who Banned Coal
King Edward I of England tried to ban coal in 1306. The air was dark and polluted. The smoke from coal was too much; it was poisoning the city. The king banned coal. It may have been the first environmental law ever.
Coal was more popular than wood at the time. There wasn’t enough wood to go around. Many metal smiths, brewers, and other craftsmen used coal, even though it was against the law.
Things got worse after the steam engine was invented. The Industrial Revolution was happening. There was now lots of pollution. It caused acid rain, sickness, and even death. Air quality was one of the first environmental issues addressed in the USA and Britain. They passed laws to limit pollution, but not until 1955.
Besides the dark smoke, there’s another problem with burning fossil fuels. It’s the carbon dioxide, CO2, that gets released. We have known that gases in the air can trap heat since 1824. John Tyndall showed that CO2 warmed the Earth in 1860. Many people have tested it since then. Many of them worried about all the CO2 from burning fuel since humans were burning so many fossils fuels. It could be a problem.
But many people didn’t believe there was a problem. People didn’t think the climate could ever change and that people couldn't do anything to change the world’s climate. But they changed their minds when, in 1957, scientists began to take measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere. They saw that CO2 was rising. Scientists could prove that most of that rise was from humans because fossil fuels make CO2 with slight chemical differences compared to other CO2.
Global temperatures are rising, too. Almost all climate scientists agree that a big cause of that is the burning of fossil fuels. The warming could lead to rising sea levels, droughts, flooding, and more severe weather. It is a challenge that we will have to deal with in the coming years.
Fossil fuels form all the time, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t run out someday. It takes millions of years for coal, oil, and natural gas to form, and we are removing them much faster than that.
Think about it this way: The fossil fuels we have used over the past 200 years formed over the past 500 million years. It’s like we’re emptying a bathtub with a huge drain while refilling it with a tiny, slow drip. Even with the drip, the tub will still empty completely.
Some scientists think we are getting close to being halfway through all that fuel. It’s hard to know exactly how much remains because the technology we use to get these fuels from the ground is always changing. Still, no new inventions will get around the fact that, at some point, there will be no more fossil fuels left.
The Price of Success
Fossil fuels have changed the course of human history. Cars, airplanes, and other fossil-fueled inventions changed everyone’s life. Without fossil fuels, life would be very different.
All these good things come at a cost. The cost is pollution, the destruction of landscapes and natural habitats, oil spills in the ocean, and dangerous fracking chemicals in the ground. Global warming will be the biggest problem of all. Global warming will affect everyone on Earth.
There is still time for another chapter in this story. This chapter will be a turn away from fossil fuels. We will move toward sustainable, green energy. We need a new way to power the many improvements that fossil fuels have given us.
We live on land, but our world is a water world. The ocean covers 70% of Earth's surface. The average depth of the ocean is about 2.7 miles. In some places, the ocean is deeper than the tallest mountains are high. The ocean contains about 97% of all the water on Earth.
The ocean plays a starring role in whatever happens with the environment. One big part of its role is to soak up energy (heat) and distribute it more evenly around the Earth. Another part is to soak up CO2.
In the ocean, all creatures depend on the supply of plankton (tiny plants and animals) at the bottom of the food chain.
The ocean does an excellent job of absorbing excess heat from the atmosphere. The top few meters of the ocean stores as much heat as Earth's entire atmosphere. So, as the planet warms, it's the ocean that gets most of the extra energy. But if the ocean gets too warm, then the plants and animals that live in it must adapt—or die.
Algae and plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. Plankton includes many different kinds of tiny animals, plants, or bacteria that just float and drift in the ocean. Other tiny animals such as krill (sort of like little shrimp) eat the plankton. Fish and even whales and seals feed on the krill. In some parts of the ocean, krill populations have dropped by over 80 percent. Why? Krill like to breed in really cold water near sea ice. What would happen if there were no sea ice? What would happen if there were very little plankton or krill? The whole food web could come unraveled.
Coral is another ocean creature in trouble. Coral is a very fragile animal that builds a shell around itself. It lives in harmony with a certain kind of colorful algae. The algae make food using sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. They share the food with the coral, and, in turn, the coral gives the algae a safe and sunny place to live. The two of them get along fine, living in clean, clear, shallow waters where the sun shines through brightly. Fish love coral too, because there are lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide in.
But the algae cannot carry out photosynthesis in water that is too warm. The algae either die, or the coral spits it out. Scientists are not sure exactly what happens, but it's bad for the algae, the coral, and the fish. The corals lose their colorful food sources and become weak. This sad event is called coral bleaching, and it is happening on a grand scale in many places around the world.
How does the ocean soak up CO2? The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere wherever air meets water. Wind causes waves and turbulence, giving more opportunity for the water to absorb the carbon dioxide. Fish and other animals in the ocean breathe oxygen and give off carbon dioxide (CO2), just like land animals. Ocean plants take in the carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, just like land plants. The ocean is great at sucking up CO2 from the air. It absorbs about one-quarter of the CO2 that we humans create when we burn fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas.) If not for the ocean, we'd be in even worse trouble with too much CO2. However, the ocean and everything in it are paying a price. The ocean is becoming more acidic.
What does this mean? Liquids are either acid or alkaline. Each liquid falls somewhere along a scale with acid at one end and alkaline at the other. Normally, ocean water is less acidic than fresh water. Unfortunately, as the ocean absorbs more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it becomes more acidic. Lemon juice is an example of an acidic liquid. Toothpaste is alkaline. The ocean is slightly alkaline.
However, when the ocean absorbs a lot of CO2, the water becomes more acidic. The alkalinity of the ocean is very important in maintaining a delicate balance needed for animals to make protective shells. If the water is too acidic, the animals may not be able to make strong shells. Corals could also be affected, since their skeletons are made of the same shell-like material.
But besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
How does the ocean affect the climate? One way the ocean affects the climate is by carrying heat to the north in the Atlantic Ocean. Way up north, cold water in the North Atlantic ocean sinks very deep and spreads out all around the world. The sinking water is replaced by warm water near the surface that moves to the north. Scientists call this the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt. The heat carried north helps keep the Atlantic ocean warmer in the winter time, which warms the nearby countries as well. The "great ocean conveyor belt" refers to the major ocean currents that move warm water from the equator to the poles and cold water from the poles back toward the equator.
Does the salt in the ocean do anything? Fresh water has lower salinity (saltiness) than estuary water, where the ocean water mixes with river water. The ocean itself is most salty of all. The amount of salt in the ocean water also affects currents. Saltier water is heavier than less salty water. When salty ocean water freezes, the ice can no longer hold on to the salt. Instead, the salt mixes with the water below making it saltier and heavier. Glaciers, land ice and icebergs are made of fresh water, so what happens when this ice melts? The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt carries warmer, less salty water from the equator to the poles, and colder, saltier water from the poles back toward the equator. Colder water and very salty water are heavier than warmer water and less salty water.
The water in the North Atlantic sinks because it's cold, but also because it's salty. Being both cold AND salty makes it really heavy, so it can sink very far. But if too much ice melts in the North Atlantic, the water could become less salty. If that happens, what about the Ocean Conveyor Belt? Would it stop warming the North Atlantic?
Our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes are home to a large percentage of the animal species of earth. Many mammals have adapted to life in the water. Even those that never leave it still have lungs to breath oxygen and give birth to live young. Most of us know that whales and dolphins are aquatic mammals, living exclusively in the ocean, but there are semi-aquatic mammals, like seals, sealions, manatee and walrus, that live both in the sea and on the land. Among them, with a classification of its own, is one of earth’s largest carnivores: the polar bear.
The scientific name for the polar bear is ursus maritimus, or marine bear. Polar bears are uniquely adapted for life in the sea. Their front feet are large, flat and oar-like and they have long necks and narrow skulls that give them a streamlined shape. With these advantages, the polar bear is a powerful endurance swimmer. Individuals have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from any land.
Only the Kodiak bears of Southern Alaska can rival the Polar bear for size. Polar bear males weigh 550-1700 lbs (250-771 kg) and females 200-700 lbs (91-318 kg). The polar bear will gain a height of 8 to 10 feet (2.4 - 3m). To support their enormous size, such large animals must constantly hunt. They will travel great distances in search of prey, feeding largely on ringed seals and, to a lesser extent, on bearded seals. Under some conditions, they have been known to eat walrus, birds, vegetation, kelp, and even the carcasses of beluga and bowhead whales.
Polar bears don't need to drink water. Their prey provides them with all the liquid they need. Polar bear cubs are 12 to 14 inches long at birth and weigh around one pound. They will nurse until they are about 20-30 pounds before emerging from the den with their mother in March or April.
Polar bear populations are distributed in Artic regions throughout Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. They must have pack ice to survive and can travel thousands of miles over the course of a year, following the advance and retreat of sea ice. Seal populations are abundant on pack ice, where currents and wind interact with the ice, continually melting and refreezing the edges, making it accessible to both predator and prey.
Older, stable pack ice is essential to the polar bear’s continued existence. It is where polar bears hunt, mate and den. Pregnant females make dens in the soft deep snows of the ice. They will give birth in these dens and the snow will insulate both mother and cubs over the harsh Arctic winter. Without a stable ice pack to accumulate sufficient snow, there can be no dens.
The ice is also the seal’s habitat. Polar bears are strong swimmers, but they are not adept at catching seals in open water. The ice is necessary for successful hunts, where the bears stalk the seals using their breathing holes. Changes in the conditions of the ice have forced seals to move and give birth in different areas, making it more difficult for the polar bears to find and feed on them. Without ready and plentiful food, pregnant female polar bears cannot build the fat reserves they need to survive a denning period.
With shrinking ice and inaccessibility to prey, polar bears could be extinct by 2050. Their habitat is melting away. When animals lose their natural habitat they will seek other means to secure food. Just as black bears will come into towns and communities in search of food, polar bears, attracted by garbage or animal carcasses, will enter areas of human population. When they do so, they can be killed. Although it is illegal to kill a polar bear, human caused mortality still remains a factor in the decline of this endangered animal.
To help save the polar bear, we must support strengthening of the Endangered Species Act and include the polar bears’ prey base, suspend new Arctic gas and oil development until the bear population and their sea-ice habitat are fully protected and eliminate all trophy hunting throughout the Artic. Laws against poaching must be strictly enforced and programs implemented that offer rewards for information leading to their conviction.
Vultures. Cartoon characters in parched deserts often wish them to disappear, since circling vultures are a stereotypical harbinger of death. In reality, vultures in some parts of the world are in danger of disappearing. And according to recent research, such a loss would have serious consequences for ecosystems and human populations alike.
The primary threat to vultures is the presence of toxins in the carrion they consume. On many continents, vultures are the unfortunate victims of poisoned carcasses — especially impactful because dozens — or even hundreds — of vultures can feast on a single carcass. Populations of most vulture species around the world are now either declining or on the brink of extinction.
Losses of vultures can allow other scavengers to flourish. Proliferation of such scavengers could bring bacteria and viruses from carcasses into human cities.
In 2004, Çağan Şekercioğlu from the University of Utah, published a study examining the respective extinction risks of all bird species throughout the world. He noted then that vultures represented the single most threatened group of birds. More than a decade later, Şekercioğlu and Evan Buechley examined factors affecting the extinction risk of more than 100 bird species, including 22 species of vultures, which eat carrion exclusively, and other scavenging birds that have broader diets. Their results suggest several inherent ecological traits that likely contribute to vultures’ extinction risk, including their large body masses, slow reproductive rates and highly specialized diets. The greatest external threat to vultures, however, is poisoning.
Poisoning is the greatest extinction risk facing vultures, and impacts 88 percent of threatened vulture species. The poisons come in many forms.
In North America, the California condor, a vulture, experienced sharp declines until only 22 individuals remained by 1982. The leading cause of decline? Toxic lead bullet fragments in the gut piles left behind by hunters after animals had been field-dressed. Intensive conservation efforts helped the species to rebound. The condors now number well over 400, and range over large areas of California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico.
In the mid-1990s India experienced a precipitous vulture decline, with more than 95 percent of vultures disappearing by the early 2000s. The cause was eventually traced to diclofenac, a veterinary anti-inflammatory drug that relieved pain in cattle, but proved highly toxic to vultures. Hundreds of vultures would flock to each cattle carcass. And if the cow had recently been treated with diclofenac, hundreds of vultures would die. Because of this highly gregarious feeding behavior, less than one percent of cattle carcasses contaminated with diclofenac could account for the steep vulture decline. Fortunately, international cooperation led to a total ban on veterinary diclofenac use. Buechley says the numbers of vultures have stabilized, and are now showing signs of slowly increasing.
Now, the center of the vulture crisis is in sub-Saharan Africa. Potent newly affordable poisons are used to control predatory pests, such as lions or jackals. The poisons are so toxic that they can cascade through ecosystems: birds, mammals and insects are often found littering the area around these poisoned carcasses. But, as the predominant scavenger, vultures take the brunt of the poisoning and face the largest number of casualties. For example, an elephant carcass poisoned in Namibia killed as many as 600 vultures. In other cases, vultures are the victims of poachers who poison carcasses so that vultures do not give away the location of illegally taken animals.
Rise Of The Facultative Scavengers
In vultures’ absence, other scavenger populations increase to take advantage of all of the uneaten carrion. By some estimates, in Central America, South America and Africa, vultures eat more meat than all predators combined. Without vultures, animals that eat carrion as a part of their diet (called facultative scavengers, as opposed to vultures, which eat only carrion) proliferate to take advantage of the available nutrients in a dead carcass.
Crows, rats, dogs — any of these species can suddenly become abundant and dominant, to the point of crowding out the remaining vultures. Hundreds of vultures on a carcass can easily frighten away packs of dogs. But when only a few vultures are left, the dogs can rule.
Such changes in populations of certain animal groups can upset the balance of food webs. All these facultative scavengers are also predators, and so they also go out and eat other organisms, causing a cascading effect.
The impact of vultures’ declines are not limited to the realm of ecology, however. Vultures are highly efficient consumers of carrion, sometimes locating and consuming carcasses within an hour, before other forms of decay can set in. And vultures’ stomachs are highly acidic, killing nearly all bacteria or viruses that may be present in carrion. Combined with the fact that vultures rarely come in contact with humans, vultures serve as a barrier to prevent diseases from proliferating in dead animals and spreading to humans. Other facultative scavengers are not so adapted, and could pass along those diseases into human populations, as many are already fixtures in cities.
For example, following the decline of vultures, India experienced a strong uptick in feral dogs — by an estimated seven million. The increase in dogs, potentially feeding on disease-ridden carcasses, is thought to have at least partially caused the rabies outbreak that was estimated to have killed 48,000 people from 1992-2006 in India — deaths that may have been avoided if not for the disappearance of vultures.
Members of the Parsi sect of Zoroastrianism experienced a different impact. For thousands of years, the Parsi people have placed their dead on exposed mountaintops or tall towers for vultures to consume. The practice is called “sky burial.” But with few vultures and unable to properly handle their dead, the Parsis experienced a crisis within the faith. Some constructed captive vulture aviaries. Others talked about desiccating bodies using focused solar mirrors. The Parsis’ plight exemplifies the vultures’ role in south Asian society — and the various impacts if the vultures aren’t there.
Learning From The Past
Although the vulture crisis in Africa is ongoing, scientists can predict what the outcome will be, based on previous experiences in India. Crows, gulls, rats and dogs will boom. And the rabies outbreak in India may just be a prologue, because several sub-Saharan Africa countries already have the highest per-capita rabies infection rates in the world. Rabies is only one of the many potential diseases that vultures had helped regulate.
The poisoning that is killing vultures is also affecting many other organisms throughout ecosystems. But vultures are the most sensitive canaries in ecological coal mines. The story of the California condor shows that recovery is possible, but at a high cost that countries in the developing world may not be able to pay.
“It’s good news and bad news,” Şekercioğlu says. “It shows that we can bring back these scavengers. But the bad news is that once we get to these numbers, it costs tens of millions of dollars and decades to bring them back. You don’t want to go there. And once you go there, we can afford to save only a few species.”
So, Buechley argues, “the better solution is to invest in vulture conservation here and now, in order to stem incalculable damage from trophic cascades and increased human disease burden in the developing world.”
As palm oil production expands from Southeast Asia into tropical regions of the Americas and Africa, vulnerable forests and species on four continents now face increased risk of loss.
The largest areas of vulnerable forest are in Africa and South America, where more than 30 percent of forests within land suitable for oil palm plantations remain unprotected, according to a Duke University study. Rates of recent deforestation have been highest in Southeast Asia and South America, particularly Indonesia, Ecuador and Peru, where more than half of all oil palms are grown on land cleared since 1989.
Palm oil is now the world’s most widely traded vegetable oil, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The oil, which is harvested from oil palms, and its derivatives are common ingredients in many processed foods and personal care products. As global demand grows, large swaths of tropical forest are being converted into oil palm plantations in 43 countries.
Almost all oil palm is grown in places that once were tropical forests, forests containing high concentrations of different mammal and bird species at risk of extinction or extirpation. Clearing these forests threatens biodiversity and increases greenhouse gas emissions. By identifying where the greatest extent of palm oil-driven deforestation has recently occurred, and modeling where future expansion is most likely, scientists are hoping to guide efforts to reduce these adverse impacts.
While the Amazon and Indonesia have many species of globally threatened mammals and birds, other areas such as the Congo Basin and the coastal forests of Colombia are home to species with small ranges that make them especially vulnerable to habitat loss despite not being classified as threatened or endangered. This also needs to be considered in conservation planning.
The palm oil industry has a legacy of deforestation, but consumer pressure is pushing companies toward deforestation-free sources of palm oil. Government regulations and voluntary market interventions must reshape oil palm plantation expansion in ways that protect biodiversity-rich ecosystems and prevent deforestation.
You can send a clear message to the palm oil industry by reducing or eliminating your purchases of products containing palm oil.
Once found all over South-East Asia and even the far reaches of Southern China, orangutans have found themselves squeezed to just the two islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The great red-haired apes have been around for almost 400,000 years, but have seen their numbers dwindle alarmingly from over 200,000 a century ago to only 45,000 presently. The habitats of this iconic animal have been pushed to the rain forests in the northern fringes of the Sumatra island of Indonesia and just the south-eastern part of Borneo, the only two places on earth where they inhabit naturally.
The most important intake of the orangutan is fruit, which makes up almost 60% of the ape's diet. It consumes over 300 food items that include leaves, insects, honey, bird eggs and even tree bark. The orangutans give birth during the peak fruit season when their intake reaches a high of 11,000 calories per day and 2,000 per day in the low fruit season. So imagine what the overnight decimation of million-year old forests that sustain the very life of these wonderful beasts could do. The shocking fall of the orangutan population in the last decade from around 65,000 to just 45,000 is testimony to this phenomena. Behind this is the growing world thirst for palm oil.
What makes palm oil desirable is that it is cheaper and more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and also has a longer shelf life. It is a vital ingredient in almost 40 percent of the world's fast-moving consuming products ranging from toothpastes to candy bars and bio-diesel.
Indonesia and Malaysia alone account for over 85 percent of the world's palm oil output and with the demand for the product having grown five-fold since 1990, manufacturing has gone on overdrive. The result has been the swift decimation of forests by bulldozing and burning, clearing the way for palm oil plantations.
Shockingly, in the past three decades, an incredible 8.7 million hectares of tropical forests have been wiped out in these two countries, an area that almost equals the size of Netherlands. The orangutans have witnessed an almost 80 percent decimation of their habitat since the early 1990's. The Indonesian fires of 1997, caused by massive slash and burn tactics by farmers, accounted for a catastrophic one-third of the orangutan habitat in that country.
The palm oil industry is also wreaking havoc on the environment and human health. Clearing one hectare (about two square acres) of peat forest can release 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Tropical peat lands store up to 10 times more carbon than mineral soil. Draining and planting on these land is estimated to be up to 10 times more detrimental to the environment. Experts have highlighted that palm oil, second only to soybean oil as an ingredient of cooking, is so high in saturated fat that one tablespoon contains 55 percent of the daily recommendation.
What hits the orangutan the hardest is the loss of habitat - their basic ecosystem is destroyed. The smoke from fires is another killer. The animals are forced to move to other areas to be met with hostility from villagers. Thousands have been clubbed to death, hacked by machetes or simply shot. Orangutan babies have also been known to be sold into the lucrative and illicit wildlife trade. There have been instances where palm oil companies have resorted to annihilation of the apes on a massive scale. In one year alone, around 1,500 orangutans were clubbed to death by palm workers.
Humans also suffer. The U.S. Department of Labor ranks the palm oil industry as one of the top four worst industries for forced and child labor. In Indonesia, the industry is responsible for about 5,000 land and human rights conflicts.
Animal rights activists fear that in another 25 years the orangutan could become extinct. It is estimated that 1,000 orangutans are killed a year and 300 football fields of forest are cleared every hour for palm plantations. Other animals are also at risk. Palm oil development creates easy access to habitats for poachers. The Sumatran tiger population is expected to be extinct in just a few years if actions are not taken to protect their habitats.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of animal activists and conservationists, the palm oil industry is beginning to sit up and take notice. Organizations are working with those sensible in the palm oil industry, and local villagers, to educate them on the need to conserve areas for orangutans.
Some areas of no deforestation have been demarcated, ensuring safe and peaceful existence of orangutans. Tanjung Puting National Park, Sebangau National Park, Kutai and Gunung Palung (all in Borneo), the Gunung Leuser National Park on the border of Aceh, and North Sumatra now offer safe havens for orangutans. Conservation areas in Malaysia include the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Matang Wildlife Centre and Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary.
In 2013, two of the biggest palm oil giants, Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International, joined hands to commit to a zero deforestation policy on all the palm oil they produced, sourced and traded. Unilever, the world's largest buyer of palm oil (it buys 1.5 million tons annually) was brought into the plan. Other consumer majors like Nestle, Kellogs, Colgate-Palmolive and P&G followed suit.
Despite this progress, only 35 percent of palm growers that are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil are actually certified by the RSPO. The other 65 percent are paying members, but have taken no action to adhere to the growing practices guidelines.
For the sake of survival of the magnificent creature, the orangutan, more action must be taken. In just one decade the orangutan population has decreased by 50 percent. Only 6,300 Sumatran orangutans remain.
Animal activists can take action by weaning themselves off palm oil, purchasing palm oil alternatives, encouraging companies to commit to sustainable palm oil, and supporting organizations working to help orangutans.
Whales are among the most fascinating and talked about creatures on the planet. These mammals are not just the largest creatures of the ocean, but of the Earth. Even the smallest species, the dwarf sperm whale, is 8.5 feet long and can weigh at least 135 kilograms. The biggest, the blue whale, is over a 100 feet in length and can weigh as much as 210 tons.
Whale species include the killer whale, blue whale, humpback whale, the narwhal or narwhale, beluga whale, gray whale, bowhead whale, fin whale, North Atlantic right whale and dozens more.
The whale has a thick layer of fat that makes it immune to cold ocean waters. These submarine-like creatures are found roaming all the oceans and seas. Since the whales' habitat spans such a vast area of the globe, their diets can differ dramatically. The most common diet is fish, plankton, shrimp, crabs, larvae, krill and squid. The killer whale preys on large animals like sea lions, walruses, seals, sharks, seabirds and even large whales for its food.
Whales come up to the ocean surface intermittently to take in air and spew out a long fountain of water from a duct right on top of their heads. While many whales have sharp, uniformed rows of teeth, the baleen whales have a bristle-like formation in place of teeth that helps them sift food from water. Whales communicate with each other by way of mysterious, elongated squeaks than can travel miles through the waters.
The whale, like many other endangered species, is not immune to the ravages of man. From 1900 to the 1970's, as many as 350,000 whales were hunted down and killed in the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere alone. In a bloody year of 1931, a staggering 29,000 blue whales were butchered. As a result, they are among the most endangered species and just 10,000-25,000 of them remain today. The North Atlantic right whale, especially, is under the greatest threat of extinction with just 300 of the creatures left.
Rapidly rising human activity in marine environments like harbors, landfills, shipping channels, and fish farming (aquaculture) is resulting in the loss of whale habitat. Recreation in the form of heightened boat traffic, ocean liners and resort development is driving the whales further away from shores where they find their natural food.
Warm ocean temperatures, along with melting of ice in the polar regions, pose more threats for the whales. Sea ice that produces krill is a major food source for the whales and could vanish with the water becoming warmer. Melting ice could destroy 30% of the Antarctic minke whales' habitat and could push the humpback whales' feeding zones 300-500 kilometers away into the seas.
Many whale species specially feed on herring, cod and mackerel. The huge commercial demand for these fish has led to their over-fishing, which in turn has robbed the whales of one of their main diets.
The whale is itself a delicacy and its body oils and parts find commercial use in quite a few parts of the world. In fact, whaling is a huge industry in countries like Japan and Norway. Norway is now the world’s leading whaling nation. The Norwegian government is funding a number of projects, both to promote domestic sales of whale products and to develop alternative commercial products derived from whales, including dietary supplements, medicines, and cosmetics.
Hundreds of thousands of whales were killed by the Japanese until commercial whaling was banned in 1986. But that has not stopped Japanese whaling fleets from killing 2,000 of the mammals every year since under the guise of "scientific whaling" for the bogus purpose of "scientific research". Why one has to kill whales to understand them simply confounds logic.
Exploration of offshore oil and gas is another threat to whale habitats. Studies by scientists have shown that oil finds, and subsequent drilling, have completely destroyed habitats of whales. Noise emanating from the equipment used for underwater seismic surveys have hugely impeded on the whales' delicate sense of sound and affected the communication among the creatures. There were instances in the early 1990's where eardrums of humpback whales off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada were found ruptured by sounds of undersea blasts used for exploration activities. Pollutants emanating from toxic chemicals used by the oil and gas industry is another serious hazard to whale health.
The over-fishing of fish species has led to a slowdown in the commercial fishing industry in recent times. The cause for decline in supplies was laid on whales. The culling of the mammals was promoted to revive the fortunes of the fishing industry, but conservationists exposed the fallacy of the claim that whales are to blame. Unsustainable fish harvesting and other human actions are the true culprits of reduced fish populations.
Although most whale species have been protected by stringent laws, man has found indirect ways of hunting down the creatures. While the levels of killing have dropped drastically over the years owing to endeavors of conservationists, whale-lovers and concerned authorities, the recovery of their populations will remain a huge challenge. For instance, the population of humpback whales, which was close to 1.5 million in the beginning of the 19th century, is only 20,000 now.
Stretching out from the equator on all Earth’s land surfaces is a wide belt of forests of amazing diversity and productivity. Tropical forests include dense rainforests, where rainfall is abundant year-round; seasonally moist forests, where rainfall is abundant, but seasonal; and drier, more open woodlands. Tropical forests of all varieties are disappearing rapidly as humans clear the natural landscape to make room for farms and pastures, to harvest timber for construction and fuel, and to build roads and urban areas.
Although deforestation meets some human needs, it also has profound, sometimes devastating, consequences, including social conflict, extinction of plants and animals, and climate change—challenges that aren’t just local, but global.
Impacts of Deforestation: Biodiversity Impacts
Although tropical forests cover only about 7 percent of the Earth’s dry land, they probably harbor about half of all species on Earth. Many species are so specialized to microhabitats within the forest that they can only be found in small areas. Their specialization makes them vulnerable to extinction. In addition to the species lost when an area is totally deforested, the plants and animals in the fragments of forest that remain also become increasingly vulnerable, sometimes even committed to extinction. The edges of the fragments dry out and are buffeted by hot winds; mature rainforest trees often die standing at the margins. Cascading changes in the types of trees, plants, and insects that can survive in the fragments rapidly reduces biodiversity in the forest that remains. The extinction of other species through human action is an ethical issue, and there is little doubt about the practical problems that extinction poses.
First, global markets consume rainforest products that depend on sustainable harvesting: latex, cork, fruit, nuts, timber, fibers, spices, natural oils and resins, and medicines. In addition, the genetic diversity of tropical forests is basically the deepest end of the planetary gene pool. Hidden in the genes of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria that have not even been discovered yet may be cures for cancer and other diseases or the key to improving the yield and nutritional quality of foods—which the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says will be crucial for feeding the nearly ten billion people the Earth will likely need to support in coming decades. Finally, genetic diversity in the planetary gene pool is crucial for the resilience of all life on Earth to rare but catastrophic environmental events, such as meteor impacts or massive, sustained volcanism.
With all the lushness and productivity that exist in tropical forests, it can be surprising to learn that tropical soils are actually very thin and poor in nutrients. The underlying “parent” rock weathers rapidly in the tropics’ high temperatures and heavy rains, and over time, most of the minerals have washed from the soil. Nearly all the nutrient content of a tropical forest is in the living plants and the decomposing litter on the forest floor.
When an area is completely deforested for farming, the farmer typically burns the trees and vegetation to create a fertilizing layer of ash. After this slash-and-burn deforestation, the nutrient reservoir is lost, flooding and erosion rates are high, and soils often become unable to support crops in just a few years. If the area is then turned into cattle pasture, the ground may become compacted as well, slowing down or preventing forest recovery.
Tropical forests are home to millions of native (indigenous) people who make their livings through subsistence agriculture, hunting and gathering, or through low-impact harvesting of forest products like rubber or nuts. Deforestation in indigenous territories by loggers, colonizers, and refugees has sometimes triggered violent conflict. Forest preservation can be socially divisive, as well. National and international governments and aid agencies struggle with questions about what level of human presence, if any, is compatible with conservation goals in tropical forests, how to balance the needs of indigenous peoples with expanding rural populations and national economic development, and whether establishing large, pristine, uninhabited protected areas—even if that means removing current residents—should be the highest priority of conservation efforts in tropical forests.
Climate Impacts: Rainfall and Temperature
Up to thirty percent of the rain that falls in tropical forests is water that the rainforest has recycled into the atmosphere. Water evaporates from the soil and vegetation, condenses into clouds, and falls again as rain in a perpetual self-watering cycle. In addition to maintaining tropical rainfall, the evaporation cools the Earth’s surface. In many computer models of future climate, replacing tropical forests with a landscape of pasture and crops creates a drier, hotter climate in the tropics. Some models also predict that tropical deforestation will disrupt rainfall pattern far outside the tropics, including China, northern Mexico, and the south-central United States.
Most of these climate predictions of decreased rainfall are based on a uniform and virtually complete replacement of tropical forests with pasture and cropland. However, deforestation often proceeds in a patchwork fashion—clearings that branch off roads in a fishbone pattern, for example, or deforested islands within a sea of forest. On these local scales, deforestation may actually increase rainfall by creating “heat islands” that enhance the rising and overturning of air (convection) that leads to clouds and rain. Clouds and rainfall becomes concentrated over clearings. Whether the localized enhancement of rainfall will persist as larger and larger areas of forest are cleared is not currently known. Answers may come from more sophisticated climate models that accurately represent the patchwork progression of partially deforested landscapes.
The Carbon Cycle and Global Warming
In the Amazon alone, scientists estimate that the trees contain more carbon than 10 years worth of human-produced greenhouse gases. When people clear the forests, usually with fire, carbon stored in the wood returns to the atmosphere, enhancing the greenhouse effect and global warming. Once the forest is cleared for crop or grazing land, the soils can become a large source of carbon emissions, depending on how farmers and ranchers manage the land. In places such as Indonesia, the soils of swampy lowland forests are rich in partially decayed organic matter, known as peat. During extended droughts, such as during El Niño events, the forests and the peat become flammable, especially if they have been degraded by logging or accidental fire. When they burn, they release huge volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
It is not certain whether intact tropical forests are a net source or sink of carbon. Certainly, the trunks of trees are a large, stable pool of carbon that grows as forests mature or regenerate on previously cleared land. But trees, plants, and microorganisms in the soil also respire, releasing carbon dioxide as they break down carbohydrates for energy. In the Amazon, huge volumes of carbon dioxide escape from decaying leaves and other organic matter in rivers and streams that flood large areas of forest during the rainy season. Undisturbed tropical forests may be nearly neutral with respect to carbon, but deforestation and degradation are currently a source of carbon to the atmosphere and have the potential to turn the tropics into an even greater source in coming decades.
Mangrove forests are made up of trees that live along tropical and subtropical intertidal shorelines. The trees are easily recognizable by their dense mats of thick, stick-like roots that rise out of the mud and water. These roots (called “prop roots”) slow the movement of water as the tides flow in and out, allowing sediments to settle onto the muddy bottom.
There are approximately 80 species of mangrove trees, all with varying degrees of tolerance to tidal flooding, soil salinity, and nutrient availability. This creates zones of mangroves with the most salt-and water-loving species, such as the red mangrove, growing on the shoreline and in the water. The least salt-tolerant, such as the white mangrove, lives on higher ground where they are rarely inundated by tidal waters.
Because they cannot tolerate freezing temperatures, mangroves are only found in tropical and subtropical climates.
Mangrove Forests Provide Numerous Benefits
Equivalent to salt marsh wetlands in temperate zones, mangroves perform several of the same functions and provide many of the same benefits, making them extremely important habitats for both human and ecological communities.
- Nursery for juvenile fish
- Habitat for oysters, crabs and shrimp, and birds
- Carbon sequestration and storage, decreasing the effect of global warming
- Stabilize shorelines and prevent erosion
- Buffer against hurricanes and tropical storms
- Provide nutrients to neighboring ecosystems such as coral reefs and sea grass beds
Mangrove Forests Are Suffering and So Are We
Unfortunately, mangroves are highly threatened ecosystems. It is estimated that at least half of the world’s mangroves have been lost and continue to be destroyed at a rate of about one percent per year.
Among the stressors are:
- Coastal development driven by growing populations and tourism
- Development of aquaculture, particularly shrimp farming
- Agricultural run-off carrying pesticides and herbicides
- Man-made changes in tidal or river flow that starve the system of sediment input
- Sea level rise
The loss of mangrove forests means the loss of the benefits that these systems confer. Mangrove deforestation reduces the amount of carbon sequestration possible, and releases carbon stored in the soils, exacerbating the greenhouse gas effect. Coastal communities are left unprotected from the ravages of hurricanes and tropical storms, often causing millions and sometimes billions in damage to their buildings and infrastructure, not to mention the loss of life.
Deforested shorelines are subject to greater rates of erosion and are unable to keep pace with sea level rise. Nearby coral reefs, already heavily impacted by warming sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, disease and overfishing, suffer further pressure from sedimentation when mangroves are removed and can no longer filter the water.
Loss of mangrove habitat also impacts marine life and biodiversity.
The trafficking of wildlife and their products is one of the most profitable and attractive of all the illicit trades, possibly surpassed only by the trafficking of arms and drugs.
Studies note that several of the most notorious armed insurgent groups and terrorist organizations now derive substantial profits from the illegal wildlife trade to fund their incursions, civil wars, and other acts of violence.
Criminal organizations are systematically exploiting wildlife as a source of financing. The corruption is spreading like a disease – into armies, border guards, police, judiciary, customs officers, embassy personnel, and even state diplomats in several countries, all of whom benefit from and actively facilitate the illegal wildlife trade.
The trade’s attractiveness is largely due to its relative lack of social stigma, small risk of arrest, and the woefully light penalties given to those few brought before the courts. High-value wildlife are particularly attractive to criminal entities because their large scale killing and theft can be done quickly and inexpensively compared to the extraction of other high-value resources such as oil, gas, and most precious metals.
Wildlife products are classic 'lootable resources,' a subset of high-value natural resources that are relatively easy to steal, but particularly challenging to monitor from a crime-management perspective. Other natural resources that fall into this category include alluvial diamonds and gemstones, such as rubies.
Researchers note that not only is the wildlife trade attracting huge profits, an estimated US$20-billion a year, criminologists have found that wildlife now serves a specialized role as “a form of currency” for terrorist and criminal organizations. Because wildlife commodities become the basis for the trade of drugs, ammunition, and humans, and a substitute for cash, the illegal wildlife trade has thus grown into a highly efficient form of money-laundering. Such exchanges appear particularly common among larger, more sophisticated criminal networks and terrorist organizations working across international borders.
Not only has the lucrative nature of the wildlife trade encouraged high-level corruption, and violence surrounding the mass-killing of large charismatic wildlife (such as lions, tigers, elephants, gorillas and rhinos), there is also simultaneously a more ominous dimension. Rebel groups, insurgencies, and terror organizations are now also actively seeking out, capturing, and appropriating the profits of ecotourism enterprises. For example, seizing on the profitability of high-value gorilla tourism, Congolese rebels murdered wildlife officers and captured licensed ecotourism operations only to begin their own to fulfill their economic ends. Similarly in Nepal, Maoist rebels have captured protected areas to begin unlicensed ecotourism and trophy-hunting businesses to attract high-paying tourists.
Ecotourism is central to the tourism products and national economies for nations such as Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania.
We are witnessing unprecedented attacks on wildlife and genuine ecotourism operations by emboldened criminals. Tackling wildlife crime can and must become a priority - not just for the sake of the animals and conservation, but for national security and long-term economic sustainability.
Trafficked wildlife is frequently smuggled under harrowing conditions in which many individuals die in transit. Because global demand for some species exceeds biological capacity, local or total extinctions of some species or sub-species have resulted. For example, several Rhino species or sub-species now face extinction. At risk of extinction due to poaching are also Sun Bears, Clouded Leopards, forest elephants, gorillas, tigers, orangutans, and pangolins, among several other species. To stem this threat conservationists must actively link their knowledge about threatened wildlife to the international development, security, and political concerns with which the wildlife trade has become inextricably conjoined.
Just as too little greenhouse gas makes Earth too cold, too much greenhouse gas makes Earth too warm. Over the last century, humans have burned coal, oil, and gasoline in our cars, trucks, planes, trains, power plants, and factories. Burning such fossil fuels produces CO2 as a waste product. Putting so much new CO2 into the air has made Earth warmer. If we continue on our current path, we will cause even more warming.
CO2 is a big part of the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle traces carbon's path from the atmosphere, into living organisms, then turning into dead organic matter, going into the oceans, and back into the atmosphere. Scientists describe the cycle in terms of sources (parts of the cycle that add carbon to the atmosphere) and sinks (parts of the cycle that remove carbon from the atmosphere).
The carbon cycle traces carbon's path from the atmosphere, into living organisms, to dead organic matter, to oceans, and back into the atmosphere. They key to keeping everything in balance is for the sources and sinks to have the same amount of CO2.
The most important sinks are the ocean (which includes the seawater itself, the organisms living there, and the sediments on the sea floor) as well as plants and soil on land. The ocean stores most of the world's carbon, but forests are really important too. Forests and oceans each remove around one-fourth of the carbon we humans have added to the atmosphere.
But besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.
Without any greenhouse gases, Earth would be an icy wasteland. Greenhouse gases keep our planet livable by holding onto some of Earth’s heat energy so that it doesn’t all escape into space. This heat trapping is known as the greenhouse effect.
Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.