Addressing biodiversity decline at home

30 11 2008

© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

I was recently invited to sit on a panel organised by the Conservation Council of South Australia (CCSA) to discuss issues of marine and coastal conservation under a rapidly changing climate. The results of that will be released soon (I’ll blog about that later), but in the interim, I want to highlight to readers of ConservationBytes.com how the CCSA is setting up the challenge to local governments to implement positive steps forward for the conservation of biodiversity in South Australia. I’m reproducing the executive summary of their Summit Report on Biodiversity in a Changing Climate (download full report here). It’s a good example of how we can all (industry, government, academia) work together to promote our own well-being.

…South Australia’s biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate. It has been suggested by scientists that it will take many millions of years for biodiversity to recover from the impacts of humans over the last 200 years. In South Australia the key threat to biodiversity is land clearance; clearance of remnant native vegetation and subsequent fragmentation of habitat for native fauna species. Other key threats to biodiversity in South Australia include:

  • Habitat fragmentation from development
  • Competition from introduced flora
  • Predation by introduced animals
  • Direct competition for food, shelter and resources from introduced fauna
  • Introduced diseases
  • Collection of firewood from remnant vegetation
  • Altered fire regimes
  • Inappropriate grazing/overgrazing
  • Inappropriate management activities
  • Water extraction/pollution
  • Climate change – including increasing oceanic temperatures and acidification

Much of South Australia’s economy is based on the use of biological resources and the need to maintain ecosystem services. This includes activities such as tourism and recreation, nature conservation, pastoralism, agriculture, horticulture, and forestry which all benefit from healthy ecosystems.

Our primary production systems require biodiversity for pest control/management, soil conservation, enhanced productivity and stabilisation, pollination, salinity amelioration, and water purification.

To address and reverse current biodiversity trends our society must recognise, understand and value biodiversity. Land managers, indigenous communities, local industries, government and the broader community may value biodiversity in different ways, however conservation and effective management of biodiversity is essential to ensure the continuation of these values for future generations. Biodiversity values may include:

  • Production value for the provision of food, medicines, clothing and building materials consumed by society
  • Ecosystem services for the maintenance of ecosystem services (natural storing and cycling of nutrients, stabilising soil formation, protection of water resources and breakdown of pollution), and maintenance of biodiversity
  • Socio-economic value for recreation, research, education and monitoring, and cultural values
  • Future value to maintain the capacity to identify future direct or indirect utilitarian value

The South Australian government has recognised the significance of biodiversity through integrated approaches such as the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity, a joint initiative of the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments. This strategy supports other intergovernmental agreements, such as the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, the National Greenhouse Strategy, the National Forest Policy Statement, the Decade of Landcare Plan, the Wetlands Policy of the Commonwealth Government of Australia, the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment, the Natural Heritage Trust Partnership Agreements and the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s Native Vegetation.

The South Australian government has also implemented its own biodiversity focused strategies including No Species Loss, NatureLinks, Tackling Climate Change, and the State Strategic Plan. Regional biodiversity plans are being facilitated to assist in the management and rehabilitation of natural habitats throughout regions of the state.

However, despite the government’s recognition of biodiversity as a serious issue, South Australia’s biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming rate. Actions for conservation, management and awareness raising must be backed by political will and be targeted and supported financially.

Investing in biodiversity is essential to maintaining ecosystems services and in turn to provide dividends to human health and wellbeing. Policies and regulations must ensure all stakeholders are accountable for their environmental footprint and role in implementing change for the future protection of our state’s biodiversity. The aim of this report is to provide policy recommendations to increase the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation in South Australia’s changing climate…

to view the Report’s recommendations, read on… Read the rest of this entry »





Failing on ocean protection

24 11 2008

A new paper from Conservation Letters by Mark Spalding and colleagues entitled Toward representative protection of the world’s coasts and oceans-progress, gaps, and opportunities reminds us just how crap we are at protecting ocean habitats. I sincerely hope this one is a Potential given that the only direction one can move from absolute bottom is up. Richard Black at the BBC reports on the paper’s main findings:

toilet-ocean_squareLess than 1% of the world’s oceans have been given protected status, according to a major survey.

Governments have committed to a target of protecting 10% by 2012, which the authors of the new report say there is no chance of meeting.

Protecting ecologically important areas can help fish stocks to regenerate, and benefit the tourism industry.

The survey was led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and is published in the journal Conservation Letters.

“For those of us working in the issue full-time it’s not a surprise, we’ve known all along that marine protection is lagging behind what’s happening on land, but it’s nice to have it pinned down,” said TNC’s Mark Spalding.

“It’s depressing that we’ve still got so far to go, but there are points of hope,” he told BBC News.

Coastal concentration

Four years ago, signatories to the UN’s biodiversity convention – which includes almost every country – pledged to protect at least 10% of the oceans in a way that makes sense ecologically.

Protecting them does not mean banning activities such as fishing or shipping completely, but making sure they are carried out sustainably.

All of the areas currently protected fall into countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones, and the majority are along coasts, the study finds.

Even so, only about 4% of coastal waters are protected.

Countries diverge widely in how much protection they have mandated.

Whereas New Zealand has almost 70% of its coastline under some form of protection, countries around the Mediterranean have set aside less than 2%.

In the developing world, Dr Spalding cites Guinea-Bissau as a country that has had invested in protection, particularly in the Bijagos Archipelago, which is home to a community of hippos dwelling along its mangrove coast, as well as more conventional marine species.

Palau, Indonesia, Micronesia and several Caribbean states are also making significant progress, he said.

About 12% of the Earth’s land surface has been put under protection.

Download the Spalding paper free of charge here.





Throw another roo on the barbie

21 11 2008

Following a previous post on ConservationBytes.com extolling the environmental virtues of eating more kangaroo and less beef (Beef is Bad; Skippy is Better), here’s an article from the Melbourne Age by David Sutherland (reproduced below):

LAST week only one of my five local butchers could sell me kangaroo. And that was frozen, not fresh. One said he occasionally got it in if people requested it. Another directed me to a butcher several suburbs away. Another said he didn’t sell roo because they moved too fast and he couldn’t catch them.

The only roo meat I could buy fresh within five kilometres of home was at a Coles supermarket. Supplied by South Australian game meat wholesaler Macro Meats, it was packed like any other supermarket meat. The difference was the spiel written on the back of the container.

It detailed the health and environmental advantages of eating kangaroo meat, including the fact that kangaroos produce lower levels of greenhouse gases than cattle and sheep.

In Professor Ross Garnaut’s final report on tackling climate change, he said that the carbon benefits of eating kangaroo meat could be one of Australia’s great contributions to the global problem.

But it would seem that producers believe consumers are reluctant to eat kangaroo and need to be convinced otherwise. Could it be the “skippy syndrome” – a dread of munching on a national emblem? Or a lasting stigma from the days when roo was considered dirty and only fit for pet food? Regardless, there’s no doubt kangaroo as a food continues to battle an image problem in some quarters.

Interesting then that, according to recent government figures, roo meat is experiencing steady growth. A national report, Consumer Attitudes to Kangaroo Meat Products by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, released in February, found that 58.5% of respondents had tried kangaroo meat and that men were more likely to consume it than women. Sales of roo meat through Coles have increased by 9% over the past financial year.

It’s largely home cooks who are driving the boom.

Paula Mauriks runs Auscroc, a game meat wholesaler based in Melbourne. When she started the business 10 years ago, kangaroo made up a tiny proportion of her business. But five years later it started to take off, and in the past 18 months Mauriks says sales have tripled, mainly due to roo’s popularity in home kitchens.

“We used to sell more to restaurants, but now wholesale has taken over as the biggest market,” she says. “New butchers, chicken shops and other specialist meat retailers are coming to us all the time looking to source kangaroo meat.”

Mauriks believes people’s increased willingness to try new foods has contributed to improved sales for kangaroo meat products.

“Most people know by now that kangaroo is low in fat and high in iron, and quite a few of those are willing to see if they like the taste,” she says. “Then it becomes a matter of educating people how best to cook it so they enjoy it and come back for more.”

Kangaroo Cookin’ (Wakefield Press), a cookbook comprised solely of recipes using kangaroo meat, was the first kangaroo cookbook. From soups and pastas to char grills, stir-fries and one-pot dishes, the 88 recipes in this deliberately down-to-earth book illustrate the versatility of this often-underrated meat.

Gary Hunt and his wife Janine have been selling kangaroo meat from the Chicken Pantry at Queen Victoria Market for almost 12 years. Their pepper-marinated kangaroo has always been the strongest seller in their roo range, but in the past couple of years other products and cuts have started to take off.

“We’ve noticed lots of people buying kangaroo who are advised by their doctors to lower their fat intake or increase their levels of iron,” says Hunt. “Many more women are buying it these days.”

Mornington Peninsula butcher Greg Goss, from Greg’s Family Gourmet Butchers, has been selling meat for more than 40 years and has noticed the recent interest in kangaroo meat.

“Two years ago we did well to sell 5 kilos in a month,” he says. “Now we’re probably selling 100 kilos in that same time.”

Goss sees sales of roo meat increase in spring, summer and autumn, and spike as fine weekends loom, which he puts down to the lure of outdoor cooking.

“Kangaroo comes up beautifully on the barbie,” he says, “seared on the outside and pink on the inside.”

Here’s hoping some of my local butchers read the market too, and order in some fresh for this weekend.





More greenwashing from the Malaysian oil palm industry

17 11 2008

© ?

© ?

A recent article from Mongabay.com. What the good doctor Basiron appears to gloss over rather well is that his own country’s very economic future, well-being of its citizenry and long-term sustainability absolutely depends on maintaining large tracts of intact primary forest. The value of its forests far outweighs the short-term ‘development’ gains from palm oil. The backflips, greenwashing and overt profiteering will only be a blip in Malaysia’s economic development, so keep on with the propaganda while you can, Basiron. Why don’t you call a spade a spade – it’s greed, not so-called ‘development’ that’s raping your own country.

Dr. Yusof Basiron, the controversial CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), blogs about the sustainability of palm oil.

Scientists should compare the biodiversity oil palm plantations to other industrial monocultures, not the rainforests they replace, said Dr. Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), in a post on his blog.

“I would also like to encourage environmental scientists not to compare the biodiversity of an agricultural crop such as the oil palm with that of rain forests,” he wrote. “The findings would not win you a Nobel price [sic].”

“If a comparison is to be made, the biodiversity of the oil palm, an agricultural crop, should be compared with that for soyabean or rapeseed, corn or sugarcane or other agricultural crops,” he continued. “Biodiversity that exists in the oil palm plantations is a bonus for all to benefit, while we enjoy the supply of oil for our food need, in addition to palm oil – an agricultural commodity – helping to promote economic growth not only in the developing countries but also in all other countries involved in using the product.”

Oil palm plantations and logged over forest in Malaysian Borneo. While much of the forest land converted for oil palm plantations in Malaysia has been logged or otherwise been zoned for logging, expansion at the expense of natural and protected forest does occur in the country. Reserve borders are sometimes redrawn to facilitate logging and conversion to plantations.
Basiron’s comments are noteworthy because until now he has maintained that oil palm plantations are “planted forests” rather than an industrial crop. Oil palm plantations are indeed biologically impoverished relative to even heavily logged forests – a study published earlier this year showed that oil palm plantations retain less than one-sixth the biodiversity of old growth forests and less than a quarter of that in secondary forests. However when compared with soy or rapeseed farms, which support almost no wildlife, oil palm plantations look a little less like biological deserts. Small measures – like maintaining and restoring forest cover along waterways, conserving peatlands and high value conservation areas, and reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides – can help augment the biodiversity of existing plantations.

Basiron also noted that oil palm is the highest yielding conventional oilseed on the market – far outstripping the production per unit of area for rapeseed and soy. While its high yield makes oil palm exceedingly profitable – especially during the recent boom in palm oil prices, which recently ended, coinciding with falling oil prices – it also theoretically means that less land needs to be converted to produce the same amount of oil had the land been cultivated with other crops. The problem, say environmentalists, stems from the practice of clearing natural forest for oil palm plantations, which reduces biodiversity, hurts ecosystem functioning, and results in greenhouse gas emissions. While Basiron and the MPOC have flatly denied that natural forest has been cleared for the establishment of oil palm plantations, ground and satellite evidence proves the claims quite false. Nevertheless there are opportunities to covert degraded and abandoned agricultural lands for oil palm, mostly in Indonesia, rather than Malaysia where most land is already under cultivation or forested. While returns would be lower without the “logging subsidy” generated by selling the timber harvested from forest land prior to planting with oil palm, such plantations would face less criticism from the environmental community.

A third point made by Basiron is that Malaysia is a sovereign nation that has same rights to develop its economy as industrialized nations have had. The same concept has been put forth by Brazil over deforestation of the Amazon and China with regards to its rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Basiron writes,

“It is also unethical, immoral and somewhat patronizing for NGOs of the developed countries in Europe to ask developing countries such as Malaysia to stop developing its land. Asking Malaysia to stop developing its land will lead to conflicts and misunderstanding because some states in Malaysia have not yet had the opportunity to develop their agricultural land as they were until a few decades ago under oppressive colonial rule.”

“Sarawak [a state on the island of Borneo] which achieved independence from the British later than Peninsular Malaysia had only developed 8% of its land for agriculture compared to the UK which has over 70% of its land under agriculture. But there are still opportunities in Sarawak and other parts of Malaysia to develop degraded logged over land for planting rubber and oil palm to increase the country’s sources of foreign exchange while not involving the deforestation of the pristine permanent forests.”

While Basiron’s comments will likely be dismissed or ignored by many environmental groups, his points are not the sort that typically provoke outcry from the green lobby. MPOC lands in the most trouble with the environmental community when it attempts to deliberately mislead the marketplace on the environmental performance of palm oil, an approach the group has used repeatedly in recent years with advertising campaigns, “greenwashing” and “astroturfing” techniques, and other propaganda. Of course MPOC is not alone in using these tactics – it follows the model employed widely by industries ranging from U.S. ethanol producers to big oil. The problem for MPOC – and other industries – is that misleading campaigns are only providing more fodder for its enemies. But MPOC is hedging itself. The palm oil marketing group is also employing a second strategy that may pay better dividends in the long run – an effort to improve the environmental performance of palm oil. While the initiative – known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – has stumbled a bit coming out of the blocks, it appears there may be a market for certified palm oil, which would offer producers a premium for mitigating the environmental and social impacts of producing the vegetable oil. The first RSPO-certified palm oil is expected the reach Europe today. Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumers of palm oil, has already pledged to buy only certified palm oil by 2015.

See also previous posts on oil palm at ConservationBytes.com:

Unexpected benefits of falling palm oil prices

Oil palm plantatations destroying tropical biodiversity

Another nail in Borneo’s biodiversity coffin





Who gives a rodent’s bum about conservation?

14 11 2008

I thought this might be an interesting thing to ponder for a Friday – where in the world do people appear most interested in issues to do with biodiversity conservation science?

Impossible Difficult question to answer, but the map of ConservationBytes.com viewers since August might reveal some interesting trends:

© ClustrMaps
© ClustrMaps

The above map shows our viewers’ locations since 19 August 2008 (to 19 November). The salient features are:

  1. Most viewers are from Europe (especially UK) and the USA. Not really a surprise here given the availability of internet, the number of people and average education level.
  2. Australia comes out next as a centre of activity – again, no surprise here given I’m from Australia and I feature many Australian issues.
  3. Almost nothing from China – the most populous country. I originally thought that the Chinese weren’t interested, but I have since discovered that the Great Firewall of China blocks all WordPress blogs (see blogs and posts on this issue). While there are ways around this, it isn’t easy for this vast body of internet surfers to see what I write. My recent trip there highlighted to me how much this country needs to pay attention to the issues raised in ConservationBytes.com (extensive pollution, huge human population and associated demand, GHG emissions, massive livestock industry, demand for oil palm, etc., etc., etc.).
  4. India was a bit of a surprise. Sure, second-highest human population, so a lot of potentially interested people. It also suggests that increasing internet access and a growing middle class are driving greater awareness and concern in conservation issues.
  5. Very little from Africa and South America. Internet access issues, education, awareness?
  6. Canadians – don’t care? They should.
  7. Russia & the Middle East – not sure why nothing much from these areas.

Of course, my little survey based on web hits from one tiny blog isn’t necessarily the most representative tool to gauge these issues, but it does allow me to pose some interesting hypotheses.

CJA Bradshaw

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Save the biggest (and closest) ones

12 11 2008

© somapsychedelica

© somapsychedelica

A paper we recently wrote and published in Biological Conservation entitled Using biogeographical patterns of endemic land snails to improve conservation planning for limestone karsts lead by my colleague Reuben Clements of WWF has recently been highlighted at Mongabay.com. Our main result was that following the basic tenets of the theory of island biogeography, the largest, least-isolated limestone karsts in South East Asia (biologically rich limestone outcrops formed millions of years ago by the deposition of calcareous marine organisms) have the greatest proportion of endemic land snails (a surrogate taxon for uniqueness among other species). I’ll let Rhett at Mongabay.com do the rest (see original post):

Researchers have devised a scientific methodology for prioritizing conservation of limestone karsts, biologically-rich outcroppings found in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. The findings are significant because karsts – formed millions of years ago by sea life – are increasingly threatened by mining and other development.

Using data from 43 karsts across Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, authors led by Reuben Clements of WWF-Malaysia reported that larger karsts support greater numbers of endemic snails – a proxy for biological uniqueness among other species – making them a priority for protection.

“Larger areas tend to have greater habitat diversity, which enables them so support a higher number of unique species.” said Clements, species conservation manager for WWF-Malaysia.

With a variety of habitats including sinkholes, caves, cliffs, and underground rivers, and separated from other outcroppings by lowland areas, karsts support high levels of endemism among insects, snails, fish, plants, bats and other small mammals. Animals that inhabit karsts provide humans with important services including pest control, pollination, and a sustainable source of income (swiftlet nests used for bird nest soup, a Chinese delicacy, are found in karst caves). But karsts are increasingly under threat, especially from mining for cement and marble. An earlier study by Clements showed that limestone quarrying is increasing in Southeast Asia by 5.7 percent a year – the highest rate in the world – to fuel the region’s construction boom. The biodiversity of karsts – especially among animals that move to surrounding areas to feed – is also at risk from destruction of adjacent ecosystems, often by loggers or for agriculture.

Clements says the new study, which is published in the November issue of the journal Biological Conservation, will help set conservation priorities for karsts.

“The protection of karsts has been mainly ad hoc and they are usually spared from quarrying by virtue of being situated within state and national parks, or if they possess some form of aesthetic or cultural value,” he said. “Taking Peninsular Malaysia for example, our results suggest that we should set aside larger karsts on both sides of the Titiwangsa mountain range for protection if we want to maximize the conservation of endemic species. Protecting karsts on one side of the mountain chain is not enough.”

“With our findings, we hope that governments would reconsider issuing mining concessions for larger karsts as they tend to be more biologically important,” Clements said.





Unexpected benefits of falling palm oil prices

10 11 2008

© Google Earth

© Google Earth

This one from Mongabay.com and the Jakarta Post. It would almost be humorous, if it weren’t so pathetic. After years of so-called ‘greenwashing’ tactics to downplay the environmental degradation caused by expanding oil palm plantations (see also related post here), falling world palm oil prices may just be the thing needed to curb the greed. As a side note, I recently visited China and now realise where a good proportion of the oil palm is going – while the food was fantastic, the amount of oil used in almost everything is a bit over the top. For a ‘developing’ nation, there sure were quite a few fatties on the street. Convincing China to eat less oil will also reduce demand for oil palm and save SE Asia’s dwindling biodiversity.

The agricultural ministers for both countries [Indonesia and Malaysia] agreed to initiate a 300,000-hectare replanting program that will replace aging trees with seedlings of higher-yielding varieties. The seedlings will begin to bear oil palm fruit “fresh fruit bunches” for harvest in three to four years’ time.

“Demand is projected to slow down in every sector next year as a result of global recession. We’re preventing a possible oversupply of palm oil that may occur next year by replanting trees,” Achmad Mangga Barani, the director general for plantations for Indonesia’s Agriculture Ministry, was quoted as saying. “This hopefully will help boost the palm oil price to a normal level — at around US$700 to $800 per metric ton.”

Palm oil prices in Malaysia have fallen from more than $1200 per ton earlier this year to a three-year low of around $376 per ton on Oct. 28. Palm oil prices have lately moved in step with the price crude oil, which has also rapidly retreated from recent record high nominal prices.

The decline in palm oil prices is expected to slow expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, a development that will please environmentalists who blame the palm oil industry for large-scale destruction of rainforests across Southeast Asia.

The new plan calls for replanting of 50,000 hectares in Indonesia and 250,000 in Malaysia. Indonesia, which has significantly lower palm oil yields than Malaysia due to marginal oil palm varieties and fewer industrial producers, will aim to replant 125,000 ha by 2011.