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Two Years After the Colorado Pulse Flow — An Abundance of Life

Birds, plants, and groundwater continue to benefit from pilot effort to revive the Colorado River delta, says report

Back 2014, an unprecedented transnational experiment attempted to restore, temporarily, the flow of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California. As part of a landmark agreement between the United States and Mexico, the International Boundary Water Commission unleashed an eight-week “pulse flow” of some 105,000 acre feet of water from a small dam on the US-Mexico border to help restore the Colorado River delta.

a women stading amid willowsPhoto by Karl W. Flessa/University of ArizonaMartha Gómez Sapiens, a monitoring team member, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as result of the pulse flow.

Conservationists hoped the water would revitalize the delta — which has been bone dry for nearly 60 years as a result of upstream dams and diversions on the Colorado — and bring back trees, animals, and aquatic life that were once abundant in the region when it was flush with water. (The transnational agreement authorized environmental flows of water into the Colorado River Delta from 2013 to 2017.)

Two growing seasons after that engineered release, it appears that birds, plants and groundwater in the delta, which lies south of the US-Mexico border, have indeed been benefitting from it.

Native willows and cottonwoods have sprung up wherever the pulse flow inundated bare soil and in response to this post-flood vegetation, birds have begun flocking to the area, according to the latest monitoring report prepared for the International Boundary and Water Commission by a bi-national University of Arizona-led team.

The interim report, released on Wednesday, documents the effects of the environmental flows in the delta from the initial pulse in March 2014 plus subsequent supplemental deliveries of water through December 2015.

"Some of the cottonwoods that germinated during the initial pulse flow are now more than 10 feet tall," Karl W. Flessa, UA professor of geosciences and co-chief scientist of the team that’s monitoring the impact of the pulse, said in a statement.

Migratory waterbirds, nesting waterbirds, and nesting riparian birds have all increased in abundance, the report says. The monitoring team found that the abundance of 19 bird species of conservation concern, including vermillion flycatchers, hooded orioles, and yellow-breasted chats, was 43 percent higher at the restoration sites than at other sites in the floodplain.

a vermillion flycatcherPhoto by Sarah MurrayThe abundance of 19 bird species of conservation concern, including vermillion flycatchers (pictured here), hooded orioles, and yellow-breasted chats, was 43 percent higher at …more

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Riding on the Back of a Whale

A Maori tribe has turned to whales to lead their struggling New Zealand town to a new life of employment and prosperity

In the late 1980s, the New Zealand seaside settlement of Kaikōura was in trouble. The economy was in decline, and many jobs had been lost in industries such as fishing, communications, and the railways. In desperation, Māori leaders decided to stake their future on their ancient protectors of the past — whales.

photo of Whale Watch KaikouraPhoto by Gabe LernerMāori leaders in Kaikōura, New Zealand took a risk when they started a whale watching business almost 30 years ago. Today, their town is a thriving sustainable tourism destination.

The local Ngāti Kurī sub-tribe claims descent from an ancestor called Paikea, who is said to have been saved from the sea and brought to safety on the back of a great whale. Whales had continued to be an important part of the lives of people in Kaikōura, which is one of the few places in the world where sperm whales can be seen close to shore year-round.

Could whales again be Ngāti Kurī’s salvation? “In the wee small hours of the morning, the idea of setting up a whale-watching business started going around the meeting rooms,” says Lisa Bond, of Whale Watch Kaikōura, the business that emerged from the community effort.

Bill Solomon and other Ngāti Kurī elders knew whale-watching was popular overseas and decided to take a gamble on the venture succeeding in New Zealand.

Four Māori families mortgaged their homes to buy an inflatable boat capable of taking up to eight passengers at a time out into the Pacific Ocean to spot whales.

A future for generations to come

“It was a risk, but a risk that our leaders took out of sheer determination to create a future for their families for the generations to come,” says Bond.

That first year, Ngāti Kurī’s small boat took a total of 3000 people whale-watching. Now, almost 30 years later, Whale Watch Kaikōura is a multi-million dollar business carrying just under 100,000 passengers annually on its fleet of specially-designed catamarans.

The business is 100 percent Māori-owned, is the largest employer in town, and has led the transformation of Kaikōura into a thriving visitor destination with an international reputation for sustainable tourism.

A haven for marine life

“Spotting a whale is always a magical and beautiful thing. I never take them for granted, no matter how often I see them,” says Bond, who joined Whale Watch Kaikōura in 1995, at the age of 19. She hadn’t spent much time on the …more

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Why Oil Change International’s Report On Fossil Fuels is Even Better Than You Thought

It sets aside worries about “stranded assets” and recommends “managed decline” of fossil fuel use

The new report from Oil Change International, called The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production, has garnered quite a bit of praise from the greenie press. (See for example, hereherehere and here.) It deserves the praise, and it also deserves a closer reading.

woman protestor standing on the edge of a coal minePhoto by Kristian BuusIn May this young people from Reclaim Power in Wales stopped a open cast coal mine from operating for the day. Oil Change International's report is able to harness the vast power of what some wag somewhere, once called “the first law of holes” — when you’re in one, stop digging.

There are two especially notable comments on the report, Bill McKibben’s Recalculating the Climate Math and George Monbiot’s What Lies Beneath. The first because it very clearly explains why we must immediately stop investing in fossil fuel infrastructure (and it was McKibben who in 2012, with his blockbuster Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, first drew the political implications of “the carbon budget approach” out into the public discussion). The second because it displays all the virtues of Monbiot’s usual bitter realism, and because it’s marred by a small but instructive overstatement, one to which I will return.

The core argument

In the report’s core, Oil Change International draws out a new and critical implication of the carbon budget approach. It does so by going beyond the now classic Carbon Tracker analysis — the foundation of McKibben’s 2012 article — updating it by focusing not on the entire body of fossil fuel reserves, but on the smaller set, roughly 30 percent of “proven” reserves that have already been “developed.” These include the “oil fields, gas fields, and coal mines that are already in operation or under construction.” By so doing, Oil Change International is able to harness the vast power of what some wag somewhere, once called “the first law of holes” — when you’re in one, stop digging.

Here are the report’s headline conclusions:

* The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.

* The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.

* With the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a …more

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UN Issues New Protections for Rosewood Trees

Rosewood accounted for 35% of all illegal wildlife and wood trafficking seizures from 2005 to 2014

The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) surprised many on October 4th by extending long-overdue protections for more than 250 species of rosewood, a timber rapidly being harvested to commercial extinction. The move will regulate most internationally traded species of rosewood, helping maintain healthy tropical forest ecosystems, and providing important resources for forest-dependent indigenous and local communities.

photo of stacked woodphoto Wikimedia CommonsIllegally harvested rosewood in Antalaha, Madagascar.

A Much-Needed Protection

The CITES convention, established in 1973, governs the international trade of endangered flora and fauna. It functions principally through two “Appendices.” Appendix I lists species so threatened that no trade is permitted, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos. Appendix II covers species that may be traded under a system of quotas and permits at levels determined not to threaten their survival. Typically, timber species are listed in Appendix II, allowing sustainable, regulated harvest and trade. This was the case with the global rosewood listing at the CITES Convention of the Parties (COP17), a meeting held in Johannesburg earlier this month.

While some countries already have national limits or bans on rosewood, and CITES already lists some rosewood species from particular countries, the global scale and scope of the new ruling is unprecedented.

The move comes not a moment too soon. Richly hued rosewood species have long been prized for luxury furniture and musical instruments, but the explosive growth in Chinese demand for classic-style hongmu furniture over the past decade has brought many rosewood species to the brink of extinction. Traffickers are going deep into the world’s remaining tropical forests in a frenzied search for new species to feed the trade and evade national prohibitions.

Rosewood trafficking is big money: The UN Organization on Drugs and Crime’s recent World Wildlife Crime Report concluded that seizures of illegally harvested rosewood between 2005 and 2014 comprised 35 percent of the value of all wildlife seizures during that period – an amount equal to the value of all seizures of elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, big cats, corals and marine turtles combined. A report on the global status of key rosewood species carried out by Global Eye and submitted to CITES by the Government of Senegal confirmed the dire situation of these vanishing woods.

A Global Approach

The luxury trade’s negative impacts on both forests and the rule of law across the tropics have long been documented by independent researchers, including the Environmental Investigation Agency and Global …more

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Global Deal Reached to Limit Hydrofluorocarbons, Potent Greenhouse Gases

Agreement on HFCs could bring ‘largest temperature reduction ever achieved by single agreement’

A global deal to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the battle to combat climate change is a “monumental step forward”, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has said.

photo of air conditioning units in Hong KongPhoto by Niall Kennedy/a>Air conditioning units mounted on a Hong Kong building. HFC use has soared in the past decade as  rapidly growing countries have widely adopted air conditioning in their homes, offices, and cars.

The agreement, announced on Saturday morning after all-night negotiations in Kigali, Rwanda, caps and reduces the use of HFCs — a key contributor to greenhouse gases — in a gradual process beginning in 2019, with action by developed countries including the US, the world’s second worst polluter.

More than 100 developing countries, including China, the world’s top carbon dioxide emitter, will start taking action in 2024, sparking concern from some groups that the action would be implemented too slowly to make a difference. A small group of countries, including India, Pakistan and some Gulf states, also pushed for and secured a later start in 2028, saying their economies need more time to grow. That is three years earlier than India, the world’s third worst polluter, had first proposed.

Worldwide use of HFCs has soared in the past decade as rapidly growing countries like China and India have widely adopted air conditioning in homes, offices and cars. But HFC gases are thousands of times more destructive to the climate than carbon dioxide, and scientists say their growing use threatens to undermine the Paris accord by 195 countries, an agreement last year to reduce climate emissions.

President Barack Obama praised the deal on Saturday morning, calling the agreement “an ambitious and far reaching solution” to a “rapidly growing threat to the health of our planet.”

“In addition to today’s amendment, countries last week crossed the threshold for the Paris Agreement to enter into force and reached a deal to constrain international aviation emissions,” he said in a statement. “Together, these steps show that, while diplomacy is never easy, we can work together to leave our children a planet that is safer, more prosperous, more secure, and more free than the one that was left for us.”

Kerry said on Saturday: “It’s a monumental step forward that addresses the needs of individual nations but it will give us the opportunity to reduce the warming of the planet by an entire half a degree centigrade. Agreeing a …more

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No Justice for the Marshall Islands In Nuclear Weapons Contamination Case

World court rejects landmark case charging nuclear states of failing to work towards disarmament

The residents of the Marshall Islands are the ultimate modern age victims. If they don't die from cancer inflicted by nuclear testing they will drown from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Like most victims, they sought justice. But the International Court of Justice at The Hague refused it on what was effectively a diplomatic-cum-legal technicality.

a spread out mushroom cloud in the ocean by a beach with some housesPhoto courtesy of Library of CongressA nuclear weapon is detonated at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands on July 25, 1946. Between 1946 and 1958 the US tested 66 nuclear weapons on or near Bikini and Enewetak atolls, in the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands — population 54,000 — are two parallel strings of islands covering 750,000 square miles of the South Pacific. Their best known piece of real estate is Bikini Atoll. In the aftermath of World War Two, the United States was given responsibility for administering and looking after the welfare of the islanders. It did this by exploding 67 nuclear devices on Bikini Atoll and other parts of the Marshall Islands. Over a 12-year period the US exploded the equivalent of 200 kilotons a day. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kilotons.

Not surprisingly, Bikini Atoll is now uninhabitable. Also not surprisingly, the Marshall Islanders suffer one of the highest rates of cancer and radiation-related birth defects in the world. The US government provides the islands military protection but not a single oncologist.

The islanders contend that all nuclear weapons states are responsible for their bitter legacy. Why? Because Article IV of the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty commits signatories to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Last year, the Marshall Islands brought cases against all nine nations that have declared or are believed to have  nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, China, France, Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom — for failing to uphold their “obligations” to negotiate for nuclear disarmament as required under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But only the cases against India, Pakistan and the UK proceeded because the rest of the nations do not recognize the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction.

It was on these three cases that the ICJ, the principal  judicial organ of the United …more

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Chinese Company Seeks to Capture Orcas and Hundreds of Marine Mammals in Namibia

Proposal points to troubling explosion in captive animal entertainment in the country

When it comes to wildlife trade and trafficking, sadly, way too many roads lead to China. Usually, it’s the demand for animal parts to be used in traditional Chinese medicine that spurs this trade, but now there’s growing demand for live animals, especially marine mammals, for the country’s exploding theme park industry.

photo of orca in the oceanPhoto by Miles Ritter China currently has 39 marine parks of various sizes. Another 14 such facilities are under construction.

Late last month, it was revealed that the Namibian Fisheries Ministry was considering a proposal by a Chinese-owned company, Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research, requesting the capture and export of endangered dolphins, orcas, and other marine mammals animals to China for “breeding purposes.” (The company appears to be registered in Namibia but is owned by a Chinese businessman.)

According to a report in the daily The Namibian, the list of the company’s demands includes 10 orcas (killer whales); 500 to 1,000 Cape fur seals; 300-500 African penguins; 50 to 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins; 50 to 100 common bottlenose dolphins; and various sharks.

The company has offered 300 million Nigerian dollars (about US $95,000) for the deal, claiming the export is important for the protection and management of these marine resources, while admitting at the same time that the market in China for these marine mammals is “enormous.” It also says it will strictly abide by international and Namibian laws and regulations in managing the marine species.

However, several of these species, such as orcas, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making it illegal for any entity to capture and export them.

The request points to the deeply troubling explosion in the demand for captive animal entertainment in China, despite a growing understanding of the physical and psychological harm that captivity causes for all species. The country currently has 39 marine parks of various sizes, from massive 326-acre facilities like Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Guangdong province to tiny tanks in shopping malls that barely leave any space for the animals to move around. Another 14 such facilities are under construction.

China now represents the fastest-growing market for live cetaceans on the planet.

According to a report by the China Cetacean Alliance, a coalition of international animal protection and conservation organizations, these parks hold captive at least 491 cetaceans, representing 11 species, including seven species of dolphins, beluga whales, short- finned pilot whales, and narrow-ridged finless porpoises. …more

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