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Saving the Dying Kingdom of Redonda

Restoration program is removing invasive goats and rats from remote Caribbean island, reviving native biodiversity

“Overwhelming.”

That was the first word Sophia Punnett-Steele, the Eastern Caribbean projects coordinator for Flora and Fauna International (FFI), used to describe her experience upon initially encountering Redonda, a tiny, 200-hectare island just off the coast of the small twin island Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda. “I couldn’t believe how degraded it was,” she continued, before trailing off. “I had seen photographs and video footage, but...”

photo of Island of RedondaPhoto courtesy of Jenny Daltry/Fauna & Flora International Redonda, a once-forested island, has been transformed into a "moonscape" by invasive goats.

If one were to view Redonda from a distance, her description appears to be apt. Located 35 miles from Antigua, and 15 miles from the closest inhabited island of Montserrat, Redonda is often described as a “moonscape.” Sharp inclines, with cliffs jutting almost straight down to the sea, give way to its nearly barren landscape.

But despite the sterile surroundings, Redonda is a biodiversity hotspot, hiding secrets in almost every nook and cranny, including at least three species of reptiles found nowhere else in the world, one of which is a yet to be named species of dwarf gecko. And because of these hidden secrets, international efforts are now under way to save the dying biosphere of Redonda.

***

Redonda wasn’t always a wasteland. It was once a lush and fertile island used as a waypoint for the traveling Indigenous people called the Kalinago (also known as Caribs), who made their way through the islands in dugout canoes, and who had named the island Ocananmanrou before the European settlers arrived to the Caribbean. In 1493, Christopher Columbus spotted the tiny island on his second voyage to the Caribbean. Although he never set foot on it, he named it Santa Maria la Redonda for its round shape, and noted the large number of birds on the island.

At that time, Redonda was an untouched paradise — visited only by the occasional seafarer — home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, including iguanas, borrowing owls, and thousands of birds. By the 1860s, however, the modern history of Redonda began to blossom, ushering in a period of corresponding negative impacts on the biodiversity of the island.

Ironically, it was the large population of seabirds nesting on Redonda that brought about the first permanent settlement there. Every year the birds produced several tons of waste, or guano, which contained the calcium phosphate that was then widely used in gunpowder and …more

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Europe’s Last Major Primeval Forest on ‘Brink of Collapse’

State-sanctioned logging in UNESCO world heritage site may be pushing Poland's Białowieża forest ecosystem to point of no return

Scientists and environmental campaigners have accused the Polish government of bringing the ecosystem of the Białowieża forest in north-eastern Poland to the “brink of collapse” one year after a revised forest management plan permitted the trebling of state logging activity and removed a ban on logging in old growth areas.

photo of Bialowieza National Park Photo by Jacek Karczmarz Logging activity in Poland's Białowieża forest threatens the primeval woodlands that provide habitat to rare species.

Large parts of the forest, which spans Poland’s eastern border with Belarus and contains some of Europe’s last remaining primeval woodland, are subject to natural processes not disturbed by direct human intervention.

A UNESCO natural world heritage site — the only one in Poland — the forest is home to about 1,070 species of vascular plants, 4,000 species of fungi, more than 10,000 species of insect, 180 breeding bird species and 58 species of mammal, including many species dependent on natural processes and threatened with extinction.

“At some point there will be a collapse, and if and when it happens, it’s gone forever — no amount of money in the universe can bring it back,” said Proffesor Tomasz Wesołowski, a forest biologist at the University of Wrocław who has been conducting fieldwork in Białowieża for each of the last 43 years. “With every tree cut, we are closer to this point of no return.”

Logging is prohibited in the Białowieża national park nature reserve, which contains woodland untouched by humans for thousands of years, but the reserve only accounts for 17 percent of the forest on the Polish side, leaving approximately 40,000 hectares vulnerable to state-sanctioned logging.

On recent visits to the forest, The Guardian encountered evidence of widespread logging of trees in apparent contravention of Polish and European law, including many trees that appeared to be more than 100 years old in UNESCO-protected areas, with logs marked for commercial distribution.

“They are logging natural, diverse forest stands which were not planted by humans and replacing them with plantations of trees of a single age and species,” said Adam Bohdan of the Wild Poland Foundation, which monitors logging activity and provides data for scientists working at the Białowieża botanical research station.

photo of Bialowieza National Park Photo by GreenPeace Poland Saplings are planted where old spruce and oak trees were recently logged.

“They are logging in UNESCO …more

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On the Hunt for Burmese Pythons in the Everglades

As nonnative snakes decimate native species, hunters find a role in conservation efforts

“The word ‘Everglade’ means river of grass,” explains our airboat driver, who goes by Alligator Rob. We are out under the hot sun in the middle of the Florida Everglades, or “glades,” and Rob is addressing some engine trouble that has us stalled. He chats while he tinkers. “Not only is it a river, but it is the slowest moving river in the world. It only travels one mile a day. [It’s] 120 miles long, 50 miles wide. This is everybody’s fresh water supply from Pompano Beach all the way to the Keys.” Airboat rides in the Florida Everglades are a classic draw for tourists, skimming over the water and grass, with cameras pointed at the apex predator — the alligator. But there’s another predator now taking over the spotlight — the unwelcome, nonnative Burmese python.

photo of Burmese PythonPhoto by South Florida Water Management District Southern Florida is struggling to reduce python populations. The nonnative snakes are competing with native predators for food.

Since the python population exploded in the late 1990s — by some estimates, there are now as many as 150,000 snakes in the Everglades — these huge reptiles have decimated native wildlife, including, raccoons, marsh rabbits, and birds. According to one study, mammal counts during nighttime road surveys in Everglades National Park decreased substantially for several species between 2003 and 2011, including by 99 percent for raccoons, 99 percent for opossum and 88 percent for bobcat. As populations of these smaller mammals dwindle, the effects can be felt up the food chain, as native predators like panthers and alligators lose their primary food sources. The python issue is yet one more challenge facing the Everglades ecosystem, which once sprawled across more than 6,250 square miles, but has now shrunk by half, and which has been dissected by dikes, roads and canals that have diverted the natural flow fo fresh water.

Desperate measures are required to protect native wildlife, so the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has picked a select group of 25 hunters out of some 1,000 applicants to participate in a pilot python-hunting program this year on SFWMD lands. Other hunts are also taking place throughout the year in parts of Everglades National Park, sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The troublesome snakes seem to have originated from two sources: jaded pet owners dumping their charges, and the destruction of an Everglades breeding facility during Hurricane …more

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Message from Bonn: The World is Committed to Climate Action and Paris Agreement

Countries show that progress will not be deterred by shifting political winds in any one nation

Climate negotiations just concluded in Bonn demonstrated that countries are fully committed to continue global climate action and implement the Paris Agreement. During the two-week meeting, delegates made important progress on an outline for a detailed rulebook (also known as implementation guidelines) for the Paris Agreement and started building a process for countries to take stock of progress, highlight opportunities for action, and create a springboard for enhanced action. Delegates are now well-positioned to deliver a first draft of the negotiating text by the end of the UN climate summit in November, with the aim of adopting the guidelines in 2018.

photo of Bonn Climate TalksPhoto by UNClimateChange Delegates are on track to finalize guidelines for the Paris Agreement by 2018.

Uncertainty about continued US participation in the Paris Agreement did not slow progress in Bonn. If anything, countries were emboldened to move forward and show that international climate action will not be deterred by the shifting political winds in any one country.

The steady progress made in Bonn showed these two weeks was evidence of countries’ commitment to deliver on the progress made at the climate summit in Marrakech last year and finalize the guidelines for the Paris Agreement by the 2018 meeting in Poland, known as COP24.

Designing the Guidelines

At Bonn, countries set out key issues in accounting for finance that countries have provided and mobilized. They also discussed various ways the Adaptation Fund could serve the Paris Agreement and the necessary steps to make this happen. There was progress on developing guidance for regularly communicating adaptation efforts and fruitful discussions on reporting emissions and financial support. Negotiations advanced on how to establish a committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance with the Paris Agreement. Delegates also continued to work through the complicated issues involved in designing a global stocktake (when countries gather every five years to assess progress thus far) that includes all core elements including mitigation, adaptation and finance. There was also clear recognition that all of the elements of the Paris Agreement are linked, and that understanding and mapping these linkages to develop a framework that is coherent and mutually reinforcing is essential to ensure the Paris Agreement reaches its full potential.

The Paris Committee on Capacity Building met for the first time in Bonn. They consulted with stakeholders on how to address the lack of tools, technical expertise and organizational and institutional capacity in developing countries to both contribute to the design of the implementation …more

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How Exxon Lobbyists Led Push to Deepen US Ports and Increase Natural Gas Exports

Gulf of Mexico campaign was part of two-part industry effort to make way for megaships

The US has signed a major deal with China to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia, adding further momentum to America's hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

The deal, which includes the export of other commodities from the US to China, was signed about a month after President Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Much of the LNG in this deal will move across a recently expanded Panama Canal, offering a fast-track route to Asia for larger vessels, an expansion for which the oil and gas industry lobbied.

photo of panama canal expansionPhoto by World Bank Photo Collection, Flickr After nearly a decade of construction work, the expanded Panama Canal opened in 2016. The expansion project was part of a two-part industry effort to accomodate large tankers.

A DeSmog investigation has revealed that expanding the Panama Canal was part of a two-part process, which included an oil and gas industry push to deepen ports in the Gulf of Mexico as well. Emails obtained under the Texas Public Records Act show that lobbyists for ExxonMobil were leading this effort.

In an interview with Fox Business Network, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross touted the deal with China and its implications for the global LNG market.

We have worked out a new regime for LNG exports. As you probably know, China is the world's number one importer of LNG [and] we're just in the early days of exporting,” Ross told Neil Cavuto. “LNG prices have been languishing for quite a little while because, frankly, we have a good deal of oversupply. So it seemed weird, we have too much of it, it’s much cleaner than coal would be, and yet we weren’t really doing a big job of exporting it to China.”

Not long after the deal was signed, Cheniere, a top US exporter of LNG, also declared that it may soon be shipping more of its product to China. However, without Congress taking legislative action back in 2014, pushed by Exxon's lobbyists, the US-China LNG export deal may have never existed at all.

Art of LNG Deal

In 2014, Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (H.R. 3080/S. 601), which gave US ports like the Sabine-Neches Navigation District in Texas the legal authority to deepen their waters.

Deepening ports allows them to receive bigger and heavier tankers that sit lower in the water column, such as those carrying LNG or larger shipments of …more

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World’s Largest Protected Marine Zone Threatened By Trump Order

Papahānaumokuākea Marine Monument is the largest fully protected marine zone in the world

When Donald Trump called for a review of some of America’s most spectacular land and seascapes last month, he clearly intended to toss out their protected status and tap them for their oil, gas, and minerals.

The president ordered the Department of Interior to review as many as 27 large national monuments created over the past two decades under the Antiquities Act by presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Trump’s action could open up almost 1.2 million square miles of land and sea for development.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National MonumentPhoto by kris krüg The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest conservation area in the world. It encompasses more than 582,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean — an area larger than all the country's national parks combined. Many of the islands and shallow water environments are important habitats for rare species such as the threatened green sea turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

“Catering to the extractive industries and their allies in Congress, this order is part of a much broader, well-funded agenda to seize America’s best assets and turn them into cash cows for oil, gas and mining companies,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “We will fight every last rollback on behalf of the American people.”

Williams could have added fish to the list of assets to be sold off — in particular, the swordfish, tuna, sharks, and groupers that live within the expansive boundaries of the largest monument on the list: the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the state of Hawaii.

Papahānaumokuākea is much more than a sanctuary for fish. The remote archipelago northwest of Kauai, known for its coral reefs and dense bird populations, is fully protected against all extractive activities, which means that with few exceptions, no one can remove any living thing, cultural artifact, or even a piece of coral from there. The Trump order could wipe all those protections away.

Scientists have documented 7,000 endemic and endangered species living among the chain of 120 atolls, reefs, shoals, pinnacles, islands, and seamounts. Also known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, it is larger than any fully protected wilderness, park, or marine reserve ever created on Earth.

Papahānaumokuākea provides more protection to the northwestern Hawaiian Islands than Yellowstone National Park provides to northwestern Wyoming. The key difference is human access. Access to the marine reserve is allowed only for conducting cultural practices and research, habitat restoration …more

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Trump Administration Has Taken a Hatchet to Climate Language Across Government Websites

Here are several of the more egregious examples

During inauguration day on 20 January, as Donald Trump was adding “American carnage” to the presidential lexicon, the new administration also took a hammer to official recognition that climate change exists and poses a threat to the US.

photo of science marchPhoto by Joe Flood President Trump has question whether climate really exists, alarming environmental advocates and scientists.

One of the starkest alterations to the White House’s website following Trump’s assumption of office was the scrapping of an entire section on climate change, stuffed with graphs on renewable energy growth and pictures of Barack Obama gazing at shriveling glaciers, to be replaced by a perfunctory page entitled “An America first energy plan.”

Under Obama

President Obama believes that no challenge poses a greater threat to our children, our planet, and future generations than climate change.

Under Trump

President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the US rule.

In the more than 100 days since, the administration has largely opted for a chisel and scalpel approach to refashioning its online content, but the end result is much the same – mentions of climate change have been excised, buried or stripped of any importance.

Federal government websites are being combed through to apply new verbiage. The state department’s office of global change, for example, has removed links to the Obama administration’s 2013 climate action report and mention of the latest UN meeting on climate change. Text relating to climate change and greenhouse gases has also been purged.

Under Obama

The climate action plan, announced in 2014, highlights unprecedented efforts by the United States to reduce carbon pollution, promote clean sources of energy that create jobs, protect communities from the impacts of climate change, and work with partners to lead international climate change efforts. The working partnerships the United States has created or strengthened with other major economies has reinforced the importance of results-drive action both internationally and domestically and are achieving measurable impacts now to help countries reduce their long-term greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump’s desire to champion the coal industry is reflected in the Department of Energy’s online pages aimed at educating children. Sentences that point out the harmful health consequences of burning coal and other impacts of fossil fuels have gone.

Under Obama

In the United States, most of the coal consumed is used as …more

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