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In Photos: Blue Carbon Around the World

From Senegal to Indonesia, conservation groups are linking coastal restoration to the climate change movement

Back in 2009, a new term entered the conservation lexicon: “blue carbon.” The phrase was coined by a handful of United Nations agencies to describe the carbon stored in coastal ecosystems. Mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes, they were discovering, are incredible sponges for the greenhouse gas, storing up to five times more per acre than rainforests do. They are also disappearing much faster than rainforests, mainly due to coastal development, conversion into shrimp ponds, and timber harvesting. Those changes not only release what one blue carbon enthusiast dubs “nuclear bombs of carbon,” they also strip coastal communities of their buffer against sea and storms, destroy vital fish nurseries, and harm essential habitat for species ranging from marsh mongooses to monkeys. Since the 1960s, scientists say the world has lost around half of its mangroves and tidal marshes.  

photo of a mangrove stand, viewed from above and below water© Burt Jones and Maurine ShimlockA mangrove forest on Indonesia’s Bird’s Head peninsula nurtures a stunning array of marine species. Environmental groups around the world are using payments they receive for the “blue carbon” that these coastal ecosystems capture to fund conservation projects. Conservation International, which has worked to protect Bird’s Head, is a leader in this push.

Conservation groups quickly realized that by linking coastal restoration to the climate change movement, and especially to carbon credit funding schemes, they could turbo-charge efforts to protect these ecosystems. A handful of local and international organizations have already put the idea into action. In at least five countries, corporate investors like Danone and Michelin are funding mangrove restoration to offset their carbon emissions.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about these projects. Critics like the 10-million-strong World Forum of Fisher Peoples worry that communities will lose access to food and fuel if coastal areas are cordoned off for the climate’s sake – as has happened with some terrestrial carbon forestry projects in the past, sparking a heated debate over the legitimacy of the carbon credit concept. But Emily Pidgeon, a senior scientist at Conservation International and a strong proponent of blue carbon, is confident these problems can be overcome. “The lessons are out there in the carbon community,” she says. “We in the marine community need to be actively working out how to apply them when they’re wet.”

For more on blue carbon pilot projects around the world, scroll through the images below.

© Blue Ventures | Garth CrippsOn …more

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Protests Increase in Italy Against “Europe’s DAPL”

Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline will stretch from the oilfileds of Azerbaijan through six countries to Italy

There is increasing outrage in Italy against what campaigners are calling “Europe’s DAPL,” with thousands of people taking to the streets to campaign against the 3,500 kilometer, $45 billion, Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline (ECMP).

photo of Trans Adriatic Pipeline projectphoto by Giovani Comunisti/e, FacebookThe Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline stretches from Azerbaijan to Italy. Local communities in Italy are outraged by the environmental damage caused by the pipeline.

The vast ECMP will stretch all the way from the polluted oilfields of Azerbaijan through six countries to Italy. In so doing it will transport gas to Europe, locking the continent into decades of fossil fuel use.

But local communities in Italy are outraged at the damage being done to their local environment and are now fighting back. Footage on Facebook shows the blue helmeted Italian Police lining the pipeline route as ancient olive trees are transported off site. There is visible anger in the air as the trees, wrapped in white body bags, are driven away.

The issue is now making front page news in the country.

One of the groups campaigning against the pipeline is the London-based oil watchdog Platform. The oil watchdog has long highlighted the endemic corruption in Azerbaijan as well as the appalling human rights abuses in the country and how the two are linked to oil.

There are dozens of political prisoners — comprising journalists, bloggers, peace activists, and human rights lawyers — who have all been incarcerated for challenging the corrupt regime run by President Aliyev. The dictator has been propped up by British oil giant BP for two decades, ever since BP and the government signed what was deemed “the Contract of the Century” back in September 1994.

As well as BP’s involvement, this is also a pipeline being propped up by public money. The western part of the pipeline route, known as the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, is due to receive €2 billion from the European Investment Bank (EIB), which according to Platform is the “largest loan by the EU bank in its 57-year history.”

Indeed, the pipeline is a key element of the Energy Union, a flagship initiative of the European Commission in Brussels. And despite concerns about climate change and the corruption of the Aliyev regime, in February this year, at a meeting in Baku in Azerbaijan the Commission’s vice president for the Energy Union, Maroš Šefcovic, encouraged international financial institutions to “bankroll” the pipeline.

The World Bank is also helping …more

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Secret Images Obtained of Wild Elephants Sold into Captivity in Chinese Zoos

Animal welfare advocates have filmed some of the wild elephants captured in Zimbabwe last year to feed the live wildlife trade

Last year more than 30 young elephants were captured from the wild in Zimbabwe and flown by plane to China. The elephants — some reported to be as young as three — were dispersed to a number of zoos throughout the country, including the Shanghai Wild Animal Park, the Beijing Wildlife Park and the Hangzhou Safari Park, according to conservationists.

But what are their lives like now?

photo of captive elephantsphoto courtesy of WieboA photo from the social media site Weibo of the elepahnt calves imported from Zimbabwe into China in December 2016. Conservationists say some are currently at the Hangzhous Safari Park. 

This week, 12 of the calves went on show at the Shanghai park. The Weibo page for the zoo says their average age is four. The photos there were reviewed by Yolanda Pretorius, vice-chair of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group of South Africa, who commented: “Overall their body condition seems to be slightly below average but it does not look as if they are starving. One of the elephants has temporal gland secretions and I am not sure whether this is a good or bad sign. In the wild, elephants mostly secrete from their temporal glands when they get excited.”

Meanwhile, recent photos and video said to show some of the elephants currently in Hangzhou reveal the animals behind bars and walking on concrete floors. The images were obtained by the animal welfare advocate Chunmei Hu, former secretary general of the Chinese Green Development and Endangered Species Fund.

The video has been reviewed by elephant experts, including Joyce Poole, co-founder of the Kenya-based Elephant Voices and renowned specialist on elephant behavior. “They appear rather listless,” she says. “Perhaps waiting for something, but without much attention…. Their housing is totally unstimulating. They look like sad, locked-up little kids.”

Aside from these snippets of evidence, there is little information on the conditions faced by these once-wild elephants. There is no official figures for how many elephants were sent to each zoo, although conservationists believe seventeen of the calves ended up in Shanghai, fifteen in Beijing and six in Hangzhou.

“It is heart wrenching not knowing the current fate of these animals,” says Iris Ho, wildlife campaign manager at Humane Society International. “It’s like knowing that someone — or children in this case, since they are baby …more

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Pruitt’s Rejection of Chlorpyrifos Ban Seems Based on Alternative Facts

EPA chief fails to explain what data prompted his decision to allow continued use of the toxic pesticide, environmental groups file suit

The US Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump may have stepped into the brave new world of alternative facts.

Last November, after several years of study, the EPA had announced that the insecticide chlorpyrifos poses an unacceptable risk to humans, especially children, when its residue is found in fruits, vegetables, and drinking water.

photo of California farmPhoto by Malcolm Carlaw The EPA has reversed its decision to ban chlorpyrifos, the most heavily used insecticide in the US, despite evidence that it is dangerous to human health.

The finding cited a 2014 Columbia University study and other research showing that young people have suffered diminished cognitive abilities and reduced IQ after chronic exposures. This led the EPA to recommend a ban on all agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos — by far the most heavily used insecticide in the US with 4 to 8 million pounds applied annually.

On a pounds per acre basis, the heaviest applications of chlorpyrifos in the US have been on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where several large agribusiness have been conducting open-air experiments on genetically modified seeds. (Read my in-depth report, “The Ghost in the GMO Machine.”)

But on March 31 — the day the ban was scheduled to take effect — new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt determined that chlorpyrifos isn’t dangerous after all and rejected the ban.

Chlorpyrifos is part of a class of chemicals, known as organophosphates, that was developed before World War II as a nerve gas that could halt neurotransmissions in a soldier’s brain. Chlorpyrifos kills bugs by disrupting their brain functions in a similar way.

The Columbia study of pregnant women reported an association between the level of chlorpyrifos residue found in fetal cord blood and neurodevelopmental problems in fetuses and children. An EPA scientific advisory panel that reviewed the study in April 2016 concluded that “there is evidence for adverse health outcomes” at even very low exposure levels. EPA scientists said that the risks that young children face from exposure to food residues of chlorpyrifos alone are 14,000 percent higher than the level they believe — or believed until a few days ago — is safe.

The only significant change at EPA since it issued the preliminary finding last year has been the appointment of Pruitt, a noted climate science skeptic, to its top job. Since the inauguration, Pruitt has been denouncing EPA regulations, especially its Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era measure designed to fight climate …more

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Walmart Exposed for Selling Dolphin-Deadly Tuna in Costa Rica

Retail giant is sourcing its Suli brand tuna from Mexican fishing fleets that harass and kill marine mammals, says nonprofit

Investigations by the nonprofit International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) have revealed that, in its Costa Rican locations, Walmart has been selling its own brand of canned tuna that has been caught using fishing methods that harass and kill dolphins. These practices make Walmart’s tuna brand — called Suli — dolphin-deadly, though Suli tuna cans carry a misleading seal claiming that the tuna is dolphin safe.

photo of dolphinsPhoto courtesy of NOAA Photo Library A dolphin in the Tropical Pacific Ocean. A new investigation reveals that Walmart is selling dolphin-deadly tuna in it's Costa Rica stores.

For reasons that remain unclear, in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, tuna and dolphins often swim and congregate together. (This is unique to the region: Tuna and dolphins don’t frequently congregate elsewhere.) Because dolphins are easier to spot from the surface of the water than tuna, tuna fishermen in the region often target dolphins, chasing entire pods into their enormous purse seine nets so that both tuna and dolphin are caught together. This practice is dolphin-deadly: Many dolphins drown or die of stress during the capture process, including young calves who become separated from their mothers during high-speed chases. In some cases, fishermen get into the water and wrangle the dolphins out of the nets, but these individuals are still traumatized, may be injured and bleeding, and are vulnerable to any predators that may be lingering about.

Mexican tuna fleets, owned by millionaire businessmen — with the strong support of their government, which has objected to the US Dolphin Safe tuna label since it was implemented — employ these dolphin-deadly methods of fishing in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Walmart’s Suli brand of tuna, sold throughout Costa Rica, is sourced from the Mexican tuna industry.

“In 2014 alone, according to observers reporting to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, a minimum estimate of 975 dolphins were observed being killed by tuna fishermen by chasing and netting dolphins,” says David Phillips, director of IMMP, referring to number of dolphins counted on fishing boats in the Eastern Tropical Pacific on fleets owned by Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela.  “This figure is likely a drastic underestimation of the actual number of dolphins killed.”

In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to mislead consumers, on its Suli label, Walmart includes a blue dolphin seal with the words: “Tuna caught under dolphin protection standards” in Spanish. The cans also note that the …more

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‘Building Artificial Glaciers Is an Enterprise of the Future’

A conversation with “ice stupa” creator Sonam Wangchuk

The spectacular arid Himalayan region of Ladakh, which lies northwest of India’s capital New Delhi, has seen a pronounced decline in snowfall and warmer and earlier springs in recent decades. This means the snow melts before the short growing season, reducing the amount of water farmers can access over the summer. To help farmers overcome this water shortage, Sonam Wangchuk, a local environmental engineer, is creating small artificial glaciers, or “ice stupas,” by freezing stream water vertically in the form of huge ice towers, or cones, of heights ranging from 15 to 50 meters. These ice towers look very similar to the local Buddhist shrines and can be built right next to the villages where the water is needed.

photo of ice stupa photo by Lobzang DadulAn ice stupa near Phyang village in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. These small artificial glaciers can provide water to farmers in early summer.

Wangchuk was among five people from across the globe who bagged an award for enterprise in November 2016 following this innovation. He says the ice stupas or “small glaciers” need very little effort and investment and can be created for all the villages that need water for agriculture and other uses in early summer. He says that, fortunately or unfortunately creating artificial glaciers will be an occupation and enterprise of the future given the impacts of climate change.

Athar Parvaiz: Could you describe how did the idea of storing water in ice stupas strike you?  

Sonam Wangchuk:  Ladakh is a cold high-altitude desert in the Great Himalayan mountain ranges where people especially the farmers face acute water shortages during the early crop-growing period between April and May. Global warming and shrinking glaciers has made things worse and has left little water available to farmers.

I truly believe that access to water in the desert landscapes around many high-altitude towns and villages of Ladakh could be improved if the huge seasonal outflows of glacial water could be frozen in a way that it melts gradually in spring to be available to the villagers when they need the water, the most.

I was inspired by the experimental work of a fellow Ladakhi engineer, 80 year old Aba Chewang Norphel.  Aba Norphel had created flat ice fields at heights of 4,000 meters and above. But villagers were reluctant to climb that high to maintain them. It was a tantalizing situation: a logical water supply solution was available, but faced challenges.

So, I …more

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March Madness in the Beltway

This past month, the Trump administration made speedy work of environmental deregulation

The United States is only 72 days into Donald Trump's presidency, and is already witnessing drastic changes to environmental policy and regulation. With so much information out there, it is too easy for important changes to get lost in the shuffle. Here are some of the biggest environmental changes from just the past month.

photo of power plant emissionsPhoto by Rich, Flickr From proposing deep funding cuts to environmental agencies to beginning the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Trump spent much of March rolling back environmental regulations.

Budget cuts to environment-focused government agencies — In the 2018 budget blueprint released in mid-March, the Trump Administration outlined large cuts to agencies that regulate environmental policy and protection in the US. Major cuts included funding for the Interior Department, which would see its lowest budget in 21 years, and for the Environmental Protection Agency, which would have its funding cut to the lowest level ever, according to a New York Times report. The budget is now in Congress’s hands, where it will be voted on by the committees that oversee spending for different agencies. Congressional Democrats, along with many Republicans, have made clear their opposition to the blueprint.

Dismantling the Clean Power Plan — Earlier this week, Trump signed an executive order that begins the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan. The CPP is the signature climate policy of the Obama administration, aimed at helping the US meet its emissions reduction targets outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement by closing coal-fired power plants and scaling up clean energy production. The executive order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review and rewrite the plan. The agency will almost certainly face legal challenges.

Coal leasing on federal land — The same order that targets the Clean Power Plan also addresses a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, instituted last year. Trump’s executive order, issued on March 28, made it possible for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to lift the moratorium. Zinke promptly did so on March 29. He also issued a directive for the Department of the Interior to abandon a review of the federal coal leasing program, which began in 2015.

Fracking deregulation — President Trump’s far-reaching March 28 order also addresses fracking regulations issued in 2015. The order directs the Interior Department to reanalyze the rule, which regulates many aspects of fracking, including the design of wells …more

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