Daily Archives: October 30, 2007

Native species extinction more likely than tsunamis: scientists

 Austrlian Broadcasting Corporation – Jane Cowan

Scientists gathering in Melbourne to discuss the risk of extreme natural events have found that tsunamis are far more likely to affect neighbouring countries than Australia.

On the downside though, scientists warn that climate change is threatening the extinction of Australian plants and animals.

The Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 brought havoc and took thousands of lives on Australia’s doorstep.

But scientists, like geophysicist Trevor Dhu from Geoscience Australia, say that kind of devastation is unlikely to happen on Australian shores.

“What appears to be more likely phenomena is actually quite large and potentially quite dangerous currents and rips, those sorts of things that are very unpredictable and potentially quite dangerous to swim as you might be unaware of them,” he said.

Australia is protected because it is further from the epicentres of the earthquakes that cause tsunamis, allowing more time to prepare and giving the energy more time to dissipate before it reaches Australia.

But the Australian coastline is far from immune and there are still a lot of unknowns.

“Before 2004 we probably hadn’t done a lot of modelling as to what tsunamis do in Australia,” Mr Dhu said.

“There’s a lot more communities in Australia that actually need to be looked at and considered just to understand what the risks actually are.

“The region that looks like it’s got a slightly greater risk is probably north-west Western Australia.”

He says while rises in sea levels could potentially change where a wave comes on to the shore, climate change is not something that is likely to affect the key causes of tsunamis.

Colossal problem

The news is not as good when it comes to plants and animals.

Professor Nigel Stork from the University of Melbourne’s School of Resource Management calls climate change a dire problem for the survival of some species.

“At this point we really don’t know just how colossal extinction rates will be and in particular we are unsure about which groups are going to be threatened more than others,” he said.

“The evidence so far is that it is the large things. It’s the mammals and the birds which are particularly threatened, and so everything that people say about massive extinction rates of these things appears to be on the cards.”

Professor Stork says we are almost certainly already seeing the effects of climate change on flora and fauna even if it has not yet been measured.

Most vulnerable are those species adapted to live in a very specific habitat.

“The cassowary is one of those in north Queensland – very high profile bird that lives only in the tropical rainforests in northern Australia. The numbers of those are declining,” he said.

“Maybe it’s a matter of moving some of these things to places which may be cooler, and that’s something which I don’t think we’ve done very much of before.”


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Malaria moves in behind the loggers

Guardian – Andrés Schipani in Mazán and John Vidal
Tuesday October 30, 2007

Deforestation and climate change are returning the mosquito-borne disease to parts of Peru after 40 years

Map: Where malaria occurs in South America (pdf)

The afternoon is hot and sticky on the banks of the Napo river, an arm of the Amazon, but Claudio, a logger, is shivering in his creaky wooden bed.

“I feel bad, very bad, pain all over my body, fever, high fever, shudders,” he says. “I have malaria; this is the 17th time so far. I don’t know what to do any more.”

The mosquito-borne illness has returned to the many villages only accessible by boat in the Peruvian Amazon, inflicting on the inhabitants days of fever, permanent anaemia and – in the worst cases – death.

His organisation distributes mosquito nets to some villagers, spreading the message through the area that the illness is dangerous and – where they can identify the cases – helping in post-infection treatment.

“Now we are not talking about eradicating malaria any more, as that is impossible and unsustainable; we are doing our best to try and control it,” he added.

Climate change and deforestation are behind the return of malaria in the Peruvian Amazon.

Off-season rain is altering the pattern of mosquito development, leaving puddles containing the lethal larvae in areas where malaria had been nonexistent.

“The actual malaria problem of the Peruvian Amazon is caused by constant climate changes,” said biologist Carlos Pacheco, head of the mosquito control unit in Iquitos, the regional capital south of Mazán.

And deforestation is having a similar effect, forcing the mosquito to move to new areas and spreading the disease to places where people are not aware of the disease, where villagers lack the means to get hold of mosquito nets and preventive medicines, and where health authorities have no presence.

“Every time we fight the mosquito, we feel we are fighting against a much more evolved and adaptable one, one that can easily migrate to areas that were clean of malaria before and that are very hard to access,” said Mr Pacheco.

Two scientific reports last year linked malaria with deforestation. Peruvian researchers found that frontier areas cleared of trees for logging, settlements, roads, farming or mining were far more likely to harbour malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

In one Peruvian study, researchers said the biting rate of mosquitoes in deforested areas was nearly 300 times greater than in virgin forests. Increases in human population density had no impact on biting rates.

The insects lay their eggs and thrive in open, sunlit pools of water. Roadbuilders dig channels and culverts which become blocked, silt washes off farmland blocking streams, and opencast mines and new settlements create ideal breeding grounds.

Anyone who catches malaria in the Amazon region has few opportunities for treatment. Even in the most densely populated areas, there are few health centres.

Loggers are the mosquitoes’ main victim.

“The districts with the higher logging activity are the critical ones, making the disease there to be almost impossible to control,” said Dr Rodríguez.

“It is very hard to access the areas where the clearing of the rainforest occurs and these people are not conscious of the risks and once infected – and sometimes because of the illegality of this activity – loggers are very reluctant to get treated by health authorities.”

Alongside the Amazon river and its many tributaries, poverty-stricken loggers like Claudio move deep into the rainforest, in areas where malaria is prevalent, without taking any precautions and for meagre wages.

Pointing at his neighbour’s one-year-old son who is recovering from the disease, Arquímedes of the village of Manacamiri near Iquitos said: “Here most people suffer from this disease, from malaria.

“There are no other diseases like this, no other problems like this here … We have now become the malaria zone.”

Behind him, the bank of the low Nanay river seems nothing more than a mud puddle with mosquitoes buzzing around.

“Children, elderly, how many deaths we already had,” said Arquímedes.

“At the beginning we had no idea what it was, and it was malaria … there is not a single day without a malaria patient.”

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 Mother Jones – Julia Whitty

So what happens to species already on the brink when fires, fueled by our changing climate, visit like never before? Nature reports that the San Diego Zoo suffered damage to one of its California condor breeding facilities—though the birds, thankfully, were safely evacuated ahead of the flames. The zoo also lost a planned habitat for endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs—a habitat designated after the frogs’ original home was burned in the huge wildfires of 2003. The frogs may now have to be moved to another zoo altogether.

At Camp Pendleton, one of only two known habitats of the endangered Pacific pocket mouse was burned. No one knows yet whether the mice survived.

Sadly, these are just the kind of stressors that healthy populations can survive but which wipe out those species already reeling from the blows of over(human)population, habitat loss, pollution, illegal wildlife trade, and border fences.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Pair of endangered wolves to be removed from wild

Associated Press.

SILVER CITY, N.M. (AP) – Two endangered Mexican gray wolves are targeted for removal from the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the trapping of the wolves because the Aspen pack has killed a horse and five cows since January.

Officials are hoping that by removing the pack’s alpha male and his yearling, the pack’s behavior will change.

Unlike past orders, this removal order calls for the animals to be taken alive.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity criticized the removal order.

He says the Aspen pair is genetically vital to the reintroduction program.

Federal biologists began releasing wolves on the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1998 to re-establish the species in part of its historic range.

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