Monthly Archives: April 2008

West Coast dam sparks extinction fears

NEWSTALK – Auckland NZ

The Green Party believes a proposed West Coast dam could kill off endangered native species.

Meridian Energy wants to build an 85 megawatt hydrodam on the Mokihinui River. The West Coast Regional Council will today notify the public of the resource consents made.

Green Party conservation spokeswoman Metiria Turei says Meridian plans to flood the Mokihinui Gorge, which is home to endangered bats, kiwi, snails, kaka and whio. She says structures like dams in such important habitats simply speed up the process for extinction.

Ms Turei says the dam will stop the very large population of long-fin eels in the river travelling to the ocean where they breed.

She says suggestions that catch and carry systems can be used to help fish get across the dam are just “greenwash”.

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NOAA to determine if ‘ribbon seals’ should be listed endangered

THE TUNDRA DRUMS

NOAA will be conducting a study this year to determine if ice seals called “ribbon seals,” which are at home in Alaska’s Bering Sea, will be listed as an endangered species.

A San Francisco-based group petitioned NOAA’s Fisheries Service in December to list the ribbon seal as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity’s petition states that global warming threatens ribbon seals with extinction because of the rapid melt of sea ice habitat.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service decided the petition provided enough information to indicate that action may be warranted under the law. The notice is filed with the Federal Register can be viewed online.

“In addition to reviewing the ribbon seal, we are also preparing status reviews on bearded, spotted and ringed seals for possible listing,” said Doug Mecum, acting administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “While the four species of ice seals in Alaska all utilize various types of sea ice habitats, they use the ice in different ways. Therefore, a careful status review of each species is warranted.”

The agency’s finding was based, in part, on predicted changes in ribbon seals’ sea ice habitat as a result of global climate change, the high allowable seal harvest set by the Russian federation in recent years, the potential impacts of oil and gas development and production in both the United States and Russia and the potential impacts of commercial fisheries and climate change on ribbon seal prey distribution and abundance.

Ribbon seals use the marginal sea ice zone in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas for reproduction, molting and as a resting platform. In the summer and fall, they forage in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

The service has until the end of this year to prepare a status review and make a decision about whether to list the ribbon seals, so that species will be the initial focus of NOAA experts. Status reviews of the other three species of ice seals will be completed after the ribbon seal review.

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Modern world encroaches on endangered antelope in Mongolia

 ASSOCIATED PRESS

BANGKOK, Thailand: A rare antelope species already under threat from poaching in Mongolia is facing a new danger — worsening traffic.

As affluent residents acquire motorbikes and cars in parts of western Mongolia, they are clogging roads that run along a key migration route for the saiga which, if not addressed, could reduce their already low numbers, Kim Murray Berger, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said Saturday.

“As we get more and more traffic through the corridor, it would potentially discourage the saiga from using it,” she said, adding that could lead to the reproductive isolation of the species, reducing its genetic diversity.

The saiga — an odd animal which has a deer’s body, a camel’s head and a bulbous nose — has seen its numbers drop from 1 million in the 1980s to as low as 50,000 in its range, which includes Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and the Russian Republic of Kalmykia.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the saiga in Mongolia have come under threat from poachers who were encouraged to substitute rhino horns with those of the saiga for medicinal purposes, said Berger. The animals, which number around 5,000 in the country, have also faced competition from herders for good grazing areas and seen their numbers decimated by as much as 70 percent since the 1980s by droughts.

Berger set out in 2005 with her WCS colleagues and researchers from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences to better understand the movements of the saiga. Using radio collars equipped with global positioning system on adult females, the researchers were able to determine that the animals frequently traveled along a 5-kilometer- (3-mile-) wide corridor through a narrow valley. The route is also the location for a dirt road that serves as the only link villagers in the valley have with the outside world.

Berger said she hoped the study, which has been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed publication The Open Conservation Biology Journal, would spur authorities to consider incorporating the saiga into any development plans for the area.

L. Undes, the deputy chairman of the Sustainable Development and Strategic Planning department in Mongolia’s Ministry of Natural Environment, said authorities planned to expand a nature reserve for saiga, limit herders use of the corridor and step up efforts to ban hunting of the saiga.

Berger previously helped identify a key migration route for the antelope-like pronghorn in and out of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

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Associated Press writer Ganbat Namjil contributed to this report from Mongolia.

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Canadian pair pleads guilty to smuggling endangered fish into U.S.

 The Canadian Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A pair of Canadian citizens could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to charges they tried to smuggle endangered Asian fish into the United States.

Investigators say the couple from Toronto tried to enter the United States last August at the Rainbow Bridge in Buffalo.

They told inspectors they were going shopping and had nothing to declare.

Authorities say border agents found eight Asian arowana fish covered with newspaper in the back of the vehicle.

The fish, also called “Lucky Fish,” are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Investigators say they bought the fish in Canada and planned to sell them for $2,000 to a person from New York City they planned to meet on the New York State Thruway.

Jian-Cong Huang and Hsaio-Fang Yu, both of Toronto, pleaded guilty Thursday.

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One tiny hop from extinction

 James Woodford – Sydney Morning Herald

NSW was down to one male spotted tree frog. Now they’re back, writes James Woodford.

IN THE middle of a wilderness, in the middle of the night, we are searching for frogs’ eyes.

It is pitch black and we are up to our shins in the frigid waters of Bogong Creek in Kosciuszko National Park at an altitude of 1100 metres.

Amid the splashing of rapids Dr Dave Hunter, a threatened species officer with the Department of Environment and Climate Change, and Mike McFadden, a herpetologist at Taronga Zoo, are looking for sparkles the size of dewdrops. From the thick, tall forest of alpine ash beside the creek there is the call of an endangered yellow-bellied glider. Conversation is hard above the constant rush of water over boulders, following a summer of good rain.

Caught by the glow of our torches, a native fish called mountain galaxids can be seen swimming around crystal-clear pools. “An abundance of mountain galaxids indicates an absence of trout,” Hunter says.

Trout are an enemy of frogs and native fish. The fact that the exotic fish – known to many scientists as foxes of the water – are not here is what helps to make Bogong Creek such a special place.

The rocks in the waterway are slippery and wild undergrowth makes the banks impenetrable.

“I’ve got one,” says McFadden.

It is amazing that Hunter and McFadden saw these two pinpoints of light reflected in their small spotlights and even more incredible that they are there at all.

The pinpoints are the eyes of a spotted tree frog, perhaps the most endangered animal in New South Wales. Just a decade ago the species was represented in this creek by a lone male – the last survivor of an amphibian apocalypse. So dire were the prospects of the spotted tree frog in Bogong Creek that in 1998 the decision was taken to catch the last male and bring him into captivity at the Amphibian Research Centre near Melbourne, under the care of the centre’s director, Gerry Marantelli. There the frog was mated with captured females from an endangered Victorian population at Wheeler Creek.

In spite of the desperate situation of that last male he was given the nickname Dirk Diggler, after the mythical porn star. Instead of Roller Girl, Dirk’s partners are known as the Wheeler Girls.

Luckily both parties have lived up to their names.

“Dirk has got a lot to be proud of,” McFadden says.

In the last two years the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change and the Amphibian Research Centre in Melbourne have been able to release 600 of Dirk’s offspring as year-old frogs.

Tonight, Hunter and McFadden are doing a survey along 300 metres of Bogong Creek to determine how well these young frogs are faring. In the last year 150 of these young captive-reared frogs have been accounted for by the team’s surveys.

Every few weeks over summer a party walks up the exact same stretch, following the same survey methods. The work is far removed from simply emptying a bucket of tadpoles back into Bogong Creek – strict protocols have been written and everything is done according to rigorous scientific rules.

Spotted tree frogs were discovered by accident in NSW in 1973 when Dr Hal Cogger, of the Australian Museum, stopped his car by Bogong Creek and found them basking in the sun. At that time the area was thick with the amphibians and catching them was easy.

Among herpetologists the find was a sensation and studies of the population were undertaken. But almost as soon as monitoring was started, the frog population declined disastrously. Scientists started to find sick and dying frogs but no one knew the cause of the catastrophe.

Hunter says it now seems almost certain that a fungus called chytrid is killing and infecting frogs worldwide. It is also now thought that humans may play a part in the spread of the pathogen. The population collapse is of particular concern to Hunter as he was part of those early surveys when he was an undergraduate.

HUNTER points to where he and McFadden have found the spotted tree frog. The creature is on a steep, downstream face of a boulder. But I cannot see anything.

The frogs are well camouflaged and amid the chaos of the wilderness stream the only way of finding them at night is by catching their reflected eyeshine. We move closer and it is not until the frog is almost close enough to touch that its body becomes visible.

Hunter gloves up to make sure there is no risk of spreading any kind of infection. He catches it and stretches out its toes. Because these captive-reared frogs are virtually identical to each other, scientists clip their toe joints so they can follow the life history of each released animal. The absence of a digit on the frog’s feet correlates to a code which allows each specimen to be numbered.

“He is individual 1088,” Hunter says. “He was released as a year-old animal in January ’07. Now we are going to process him.”

Frog 1088 weighs in at a wispy 4.18 grams and is measured before his toes, fingers, armpits and groin are swabbed. The swab sample will be sent to the CSIRO Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong to determine if he is infected with the chytrid fungus.

Releasing such precious captive-reared frogs back into Bogong Creek is a big gamble but one the scientists feel they have to take. Hunter’s team hopes that the frogs can build up some sort of resistance to the fungus, which will mean that their chance of survival is much better in the long term.

Their fear is that sending captive-bred frogs into the wild is like ordering soldiers out of a trench in front of an enemy machine gun post.

For endangered amphibians the captive breeding is just the first challenge. Sometimes very large aquarium populations can be established quickly. And that seems to be the case with the spotted tree frogs. A captive-breeding program, however, can only buy time. Eventually a species has to go out and face the worst Mother Nature can throw at it.

The spotted tree frog project is one of the few in the world where the early results have been so promising, Hunter says. “We are excited about this project because, so far, it has worked.”

By the end of the evening Hunter and McFadden have found eight young frogs. It is nearly 11 pm by the time the scientists reach the end of the survey. As we clamber up the bank and onto the first clear, level land we have seen since dusk, McFadden says: “You have just seen a species that was extinct in NSW.”

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Lakshadweep corals on verge of extinction

Tigers are not the only critically endangered species, India’s stunning coral formations stand squarely at cross roads, threatened by a rise in sea water temperatures caused by global warming.

In Lakshadweep’s Bangaram island, the terrain has white rubble, a graveyard of dead coral.

The death of live corals in the Arabian Sea could have an impact on the survival of the Lakshadweep islands because coral reefs act as natural breakwaters which minimise the impact of waves from powerful storms such as cyclones and typhoons.

Besides, live coral reefs support an estimated twenty-five per cent of all marine life, with over 4,000 species of fish alone.

So why is the coral in the Lakshadweep chain dying out?

The answer is global warming, which affects ocean biology and ocean biology in turn influences our climate and if either don’t work then we all suffer.

In fact, there is already clear-cut evidence of how a rise in sea water temperatures can be catastrophic for India’s coral reef. In 1998, a temporary change in the climate of the Pacific Ocean linked to the El Nino effect devastated corals in the Arabian Sea.

For Mitali Kakar who has been diving in these waters for sixteen years, the death of the stunning coral treasures in the Lakshadweep chain is a wake-up call. The islanders can do very little to control global warming but its critical to protect what remains of the coral reef.

”There are very few coral atolls left in the world and they are here in India but they may not be around for much longer and we have to protect them. They act as thermometers of the ocean and are very fragile,” said Mitali Kakar, Reefwatch Marine Conservation.

So is it all over then for India’s corals? Is this a basket case?

Fortunately, no. While some of the coral reefs around the islands have been reduced to rubble, there are remarkable signs of recovery elsewhere.

A lot of young coral can be seen which has shown the resilience to survive the rise in sea water temperatures so far. Apart from this, the local fishermen hunt for Tuna in deeper waters and do not depend on fishing off the reef for their survival.

The lesser the human presence, the greater the possibility of coral recovery in these islands.

The year 2008 is the international year of the reef, an opportunity to highlight the importance of corals, which are living organisms and have evolved over 200 to 300 million years.

The Maldives-Chago-Lakshadweep chain of islands in the Arabian Sea is the largest coral atoll system in the world, a system that stands squarely at a crossroads.

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