Eco-Watch to grow ‘Biodiversity Park' on city outskirts Top

Monday June 6 2005 09:54 IST

BANGALORE: As part of World Environment Day celebrations, Eco-Watch, an environment activists' organisation has launched a Biodiversity Park, in 30 acres on the Karnataka State Police Housing Corporation campus in Kudlu, near Electronic City.

Suresh Heblikar, Founder Eco-watch, said that the projected Bio-park will function as a ‘Carbon Sink' and help to maintain clean atmosphere. The Bio Park will host a wide range of indigenous species collected by Eco-Watch from different geological regions.

“Theme of the 2005, World Environment Day is ‘Green Cities, Plan of our Planet', and the conservation should be the first priority for the entire year,” said Heblikar. Bio Park would is the second project after the Urban Forest being created by Eco-Watch on Army land.

Tree plantation was inaugurated by Sirikumar, Additional DGP, Police Housing Corporation. AR Infant, Additional DGP, KSRP and members of Eco-Watch were present. The programme was supported by Intel Technologies, SOS Children's Villages and ETA Karnataka Estates Ltd.

French cloning to aid preservation of Vietnam's biodiversity Top

French researchers have begun an inventory of animal species in Vietnam and a program to clone those which are endangered to ensure their survival, the Agence France-Presse reported.

One of these endangered species is the forest-dwelling ox or sao la (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), Vietnam's emblematic mammal which weighs about 100 kilograms (220 pounds), the news agency said.

"There is a sense of urgency in saving it [the sao la ], and reproductive cloning is the solution which was decided on," said the French Center for International Cooperation and Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD) which participated in three-day European research exhibition in Paris at the weekend.

"At the moment, six-day-old embryos have been developed thanks to a cloning technique involving the transfer of cell nuclei. A number of them have been frozen, ready for implantations into carrier mothers," the center said, as quoted by the AFP.

The program is part of the French Biodiva project signed in 2003 for three years and funded by the foreign ministry.

The project aims to take an inventory of and conserve the many different species which inhabit the isolated mountainous regions of Vietnam such as the forest-dwelling bison or gaura, the Javan rhinoceros and the giant muntjac, a type of deer.

Live Loon Cam Shows Nesting Loons Top

National Wildlife Federation Site Brings Birds to Life

May 31, 2005 -- A new National Wildlife Federation live web cam shows a pair of loons nesting in Maine. Referred to as the "spirit of northern waters," the common loon is a symbol of unspoiled wilderness. A “synchronized” swimmer, it is graceful on the water but not on land. The robotic web cam, featured in cooperation with the BioDiversity Research Institute of Maine (BRI), can be viewed at day and night. According to BRI, the loons have had an exciting long weekend. They laid two eggs and successfully fought off a mink which tried to steal the eggs twice on Sunday night. The birds are now incubating 24-hours-a-day and if all goes well the eggs should hatch around June 24th.

Common loons return to the same breeding grounds year after year. Upon their return, the pair renews their bond with short displays, including synchronized swimming, head posturing and diving. The nest is built within a few feet of the water's edge by both the male and female. A clutch of two eggs is laid sometime between mid-May and June. The young hatch after an incubation period of 26 to 31 days and begin to swim almost at once. Within 24 hours, they are moved by the parents to a “nursery” area away from the nest. In two to three weeks, the young are able to make short dives and catch small fish. Fledging occurs in 11-13 weeks. Juveniles may spend several years in oceanic wintering areas before returning inland to breed. A superb swimmer and diver, the loon shuffles clumsily on land because its legs are set far back on its body. The birds can't stand up at all!

Loon numbers are declining due to water pollution, noisy boats and lakeshore development. Loons eat crayfish and fish that have high mercury levels. BioDiversity Research Institute studies indicate overall, loons in the state of Maine appear to be raising less young than they need to keep the population stable. Mercury comes from power plants and incinerators around the country and is deposited in rain. New England has a number of mercury “hotspots” where high levels threaten fish and wildlife. Other fish-eating birds like eagles, osprey, and kingfishers can also have high mercury levels. Birds that do not eat fish, such as forest songbirds and coastal sparrows, have also been found to have high levels of mercury in their bodies.

“It is very special to be able to see this pair of loons on their nest site,” says Catherine Bowes, National Wildlife Federation's Northeast Mercury Program Manager. “Loons are especially vulnerable to mercury pollution, particularly here in the northeast. Mercury can affect their nervous system, causing behavioral abnormalities that make loons less successful at raising young.”

Dr. David Evers, Executive Director of BioDiversity Research Institute, says “With this camera we can both show people the intimate lives of the loons and document the loon nesting ecology in great detail. We have already learned that the female incubates almost exclusively at night, that the birds lay an egg six days after copulating, and that small predators such as mink can steal eggs. Since installing the camera in 2003, we have also received emails from people all over the world—the Internet camera has personally connected people to the loons, which puts a face on mercury pollution. These loons that people are watching have elevated mercury levels.”

“Mercury is finding its way into the food web and accumulating at high levels in many species. Wildlife, especially loons, are truly on the front lines of the mercury contamination problem,” says Bowes. “Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a program to reduce mercury pollution that is insufficient to protect loons and people from the harmful effects of exposure. The EPA's priorities are on the wrong track. Now, it's up to our state governments to require more stringent mercury emission reductions from power plants – the nation's largest source of mercury pollution – to protect future generations of people and wildlife.”

MARINE, ENVIRONMENT - EU researchers plumb the depths for biodiversity clues Top

Around a third of the EU's total area is covered by seas. But scientists lament that the Moon has been more comprehensively mapped than this expansive and potentially information-rich underwater world. European projects, such as the HERMES and ESONET, are keen to remedy this, writes the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, a major partner in both research teams.

“The ocean fully satisfies my needs," quipped Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's classic novel, 20 000 leagues under the sea . But a lot of research work is needed before humankind can claim the same. Nevertheless, EU-funded projects, such as HERMES (Hotspot Ecosystem Research on the Margins of European Seas) and ESONET (European Sea Floor Observatory Network) are doing their bit.

Launched in April, HERMES brings together biologists and biochemists, geoscientists and oceanographers from 45 research institutes and 15 European countries to study European undersea ecosystems – mapping their form and function – of Europe's continental margins, from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

HERMES researchers have defined six areas of particular scientific interest, or so-called ‘hotspots': one located off the Ukrainian peninsula (Crimea), two in the Mediterranean, two in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Arctic. These waters house a number of little-known ecosystems, including sulphur-eating bacteria and other microbes that live in oxygen-starved habitats beside mud volcanoes and black smokers spewing out minerals and gasses. Meanwhile, deep submarine canyons are thought to be the nurseries of yet-to-be discovered animal life.

Leagues ahead of the rest

Consortium scientists from Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven (DE), for example, will focus on the ecosystems of the deep-sea continental slopes and on a mud volcano located at a depth of 1 250 metres north-west of Norway. Their work will be aided by equipment and previous studies carried out on Polarstern, the European research icebreaker (ship).

At the recent HERMES kick-off meeting, participating researchers complained that – with only around 10% of the ocean floor properly surveyed – more was known about the Moon. One of the goals for HERMES is to do an audit of what maps and data are already available among the partners as a starting point for what still needs to be done.

Also serving the marine research field is ESONET, a research network whose purpose is to observe geological, physical and biological developments within Europe's continental margins – the outer margins of the European continent go out more than 8 000 nautical miles, or 15 000 kilometres. On top of its marine tasks, the network plans to contribute to the EU and European Space Agency's Earth Observation activities – the Global Monitoring of Environment and Security (GMES) – which are scheduled to start in 2008.

European researchers, through such projects and networks as HERMES and ESONET, will contribute important knowledge and findings on biodiversity, notes AWI. But like Captain Nemo, they may also discover new and amazing animal life, and even resources and raw materials –  for new medicines, energy sources, etc. – that can be put to use in a sustainable and environmentally compatible way.

Scientists work to catalog beetles in Smokies

May 31, 2005

GATLINBURG (AP) -- Scientists will again be on the hunt for wild critters in the Smokies. This time, it's small beetles.

The third Beetle Blitz is part of the ongoing All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, a fancy way of saying the scientists are out to catalog every species that grows, blooms, walks, slithers, swims or flies in the national park.

The two previous Beetle Blitzes have found 1,600 species. The one in June is going to more remote locations and looking for smaller bugs.

Researchers will be scouring high-elevation balds, dry slopes and cove hardwood forests during all times of the day.

The survey began in 1998. So far, it has found 534 species new to science and 3,358 species never before documented in the Smokies.

Protect biodiversity, benefit mankind

May 22nd marks the 11th World Biodiversity Day, and this year's theme is "Biodiversity -- guarantee life in a changing world." The State Council recently ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity . This is an important progress in the field of biosafety after China signed the Protocol on August 8, 2000, and is an indication that China recognizes its responsibility to fulfill international conventions in an earnest way.

To protect biodiversity is an important task that benefits the people and the country. The biological environment is a base upon which man lives. There exist biological chains in nature, and the disappearance of even one species may lead to that of many, thus bringing inestimable loss to mankind. "A single gene can revive a country; a single gene can revive a people". It was by depending on its sheep gene which produces high-grade fine wool that Australia became the world's largest fine wool exporter. China, on the other hand, generated huge economic and social returns by developing a hybrid rice strain by protecting and utilizing a gene from wild rice. The West called our hybrid rice "Oriental magic rice". The achievement of Yuan Longping, the father of hybrid rice, not only solved China's grain supply problem, but it also supplied a magic weapon for addressing global hunger in the next century. The international community even lauded our hybrid rice as the fifth great invention following the four in ancient China, as well as "the second green revolution". As a matter of fact, the cultivation of the hybrid rice strain contributed to a total grain production growth of 350 million tons from 1976 to 1998, or an additional income of up to 350 billion yuan (calculated on a base of 1,000 yuan per ton.)

During the Second World War, biologists in Leningrad (St.Peterburg), besieged by Nazi German troops for more than 900 days, chose to starve to death rather than eat the special seeds from their gene bank. This heroic act was intended to protect biodiversity, since to make use of high-grade biological genes we must first protect them.

China is one of the countries boasting the richest biodiversity, which serves as a potential for its sustainable development. For over a decade the Chinese government, in an effort to protect biodiversity and fulfill international conventions, has established and improved a coordination mechanism and issued more than 20 laws and regulations including "Rules of Natural Reserves".

By the end of 2004, China had set up 2,194 natural reserves of various levels and types, which cover 14.8 percent of all Chinese land. This is higher than the world average of 12 percent, but China still needs to catch up with world standards in terms of managerial and technological levels in this regard. Through cooperating with international organizations including the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and Global Environment Facility, as well as government departments of other countries, the state has acquired protection technologies and a fund totaling 200 million US dollars. This has significantly boosted the country's strength to protect and utilize biodiversity in a sustainable way. Even so, the current situation of environmental protection allows for little optimism. We still need governmental, non-governmental and even international cooperation to better protect the country's biodiversity and, consequently, to benefit mankind.

This article by Qin Jingwu is carried on the first page of the overseas edition of the People's Daily, May 23 and was translated by People's Daily Online

Humans Undermining the Very Biodiversity Needed for Survival

WASHINGTON, DC, May 24, 2005 (ENS) - In the last 50 years, humans have changed the diversity of life on the planet more than at any other time in history. Human activities have lifted many people out of poverty, but at a price - the loss of biodiversity. A new assessment of biodiversity and human well being by top scientists from throughout the world shows that if humanity continues down this road, biological diversity will be depleted with life-threatening consequences for all, including human beings.

"Biodiversity is where the human hunger for resources is taking its heaviest toll, and the inclusion of 15,589 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the clearest sign that we need to change the way we produce and consume,” said Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of the IUCN-World Conservation Union and contributor to the report.

The assessment, launched as part of the celebrations for the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22, was conducted by a panel of the Millenium Assessment, a partnership involving some 1,360 scientists who are experts in their fields. It is supported by 22 of the world’s scientific bodies, including The Royal Society of the United Kingdom and the Third World Academy of Sciences.

The panel defined biodiversity as "the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part."

"Loss of biodiversity is a major barrier to achieving development goals, and poses increasing risks for future generations," said Dr. Walter Reid, director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

The second Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report, "Biodiversity and Human Well-being: A Synthesis Report for the Convention on Biological Diversity," finds that although biodiversity is the foundation for human well-being, all of the likely future scenarios in the report lead to a further decline in biodiversity, contrary to the agreed global target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

The diversity of life provides the materials humans need for food, clothing and shelter, and also bestows security, health and freedom of choice. But, the assessment found, "the current pace and rhythm of human activities are harming ecosystems, consuming biological resources and putting at risk the well-being of future generations."

"If the wetlands, forests, rivers and coral reefs were factories and other ecosystems providing these services were art galleries, universities and the like, it would be considered gross vandalism or arson to damage them in the way we do," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

"Our recklessness goes further than this. It is also economic madness," said Toepfer. "The assessment points out that, for example, an intact hectare of mangroves in a country like Thailand is worth more than $1,000. Converted into intensive farming, the value drops to an estimated $200 a hectare."

These sobering conclusions are "not hopeless," the biodiversity panel says. "Humankind can choose to act now for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity if it changes the way it is causing change, carefully chooses the ways it responds to change and makes the right tradeoffs." "The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report shows that management tools, policies and technologies do exist to dramatically slow this loss," Reid said.

"What we do to save biodiversity today will increase our options to adapt to change in future," said IUCN Director General Achim Steiner. "It is up to each government, organization and individual to sustainably manage our natural wealth. The more biodiversity we manage intelligently, the more services we secure."

UNEP is developing Environment Watch, a system for improved monitoring of the planet’s environment which is also expected to strengthen links between researchers and policy-makers.

"But we may need to go further," Toepfer said, "and urgently consider a bridge between scientists and politicians echoing and comparable to the one we have for climate change."

"The scale of the problem is so huge, the rate of loss so fast, and the risks to human well being so manifest that we should consider nothing less," he said.

The Millenium Assessment brings together international organizations such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Migratory Species, the World Bank, and the IUCN-World Conservation Union. Five UN agencies are also involved in the assessment - the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Program, and the World Health Organization.

The Millenium Assessment’s work is overseen by a 45 member board of directors, co-chaired by Dr. Robert Watson, chief scientist of The World Bank, and Dr. A. H. Zakri, director of the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

The multi-stakeholder board is composed of the international organizations plus government officials, the private sector, NGOs and indigenous peoples.

The Assessment Panel, which oversees the technical work of the Millenium Assessment, includes 13 of the world’s leading social and natural scientists. It is co-chaired by Angela Cropper of the Cropper Foundation, and Professor Harold Mooney of Stanford University.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has some sobering statistics for the International Day for Biological Diversity. One-quarter of all commercially exploited marine fish stocks are over-harvested, leading to the closure of many fisheries with significant socio-economic consequences, he said.

Changes in land cover, in particular tropical deforestation and desertification, tend to reduce local rainfall and contribute to desertification and water shortages, Annan pointed out.

And, said Annan, the capacity of ecosystems to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events such as the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean has been reduced as a result of the conversion of wetlands, forests and mangroves.

Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that the report is of great value to all those concerned with the Convention and its objectives - the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the equitable sharing of its benefits.

"The report’s findings remind us that biodiversity is a requirement for all life on the planet," said Zedan, "it is life insurance for our changing world. The report reminds us of the need for action now.”