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Carbon Footprint Calculators Don’t Make Sense

We are baffled.

The carbon footprint calculators make no sense to us when it comes to the calculations for Jet travel.

Lets run some numbers.

A Boeing 737 burns 800 gallons of fuel per hour

A gallon of jet fuel weighs just less than 7 pounds

In a five-hour flight that is 4000 gallons of fuel weighing 28,000 pounds

Or 14 tons of jet fuel

The 737 will carry up to 162 passengers. Lets assume 80% capacity or 130 in a typical flight

Here is what does not make sense to us:

That works out to 0.107 tons of fuel per person (about 200 pounds of fuel per person)

Yet according to their Carbon Calculators that same 5-hour flight produces the following TONS of carbon per person:

ZeroFootPrint.com 2.71 Tons p/ person (24 times the weight of the fuel)

CarbonFootPrint.com .496 Tons p/person (2.5 times the weight of the fuel)

Green.yahoo.com 2.0 Tons p/person (20 times the weight of the fuel)

How can this possibly be? Certainly the vast majority of the fuel is converted to energy. How is it possible that the jet fuel produces many more times as much carbon as the weight of the fuel itself? Never mind the question as to why all of these calculators give us such wildly different calculations. Something is wrong here or are we missing something?

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Family Eco Travel, , , , , , , ,

Declining Shark Populations of Concern in Costa Rica

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Special to A.M. Costa Rica
http://www.amcostarica.com

Sharks are disappearing from the world’s oceans. The numbers of many large shark species have declined by more than half due to increased demand for shark fins and meat, recreational shark fisheries, as well as tuna and swordfish fisheries, where millions of sharks are taken by accident each year.

Now, the global status of large sharks has been assessed by the World Conservation Union, which is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, scientific-based information source on the threat status of plants and animals.

“As a result of high and mostly unrestricted fishing pressure, many sharks are now considered to be at risk of extinction,” explained Julia Baum, a member of the union’s Shark Specialist Group

“Of particular concern is the scalloped hammerhead shark, an iconic coastal species, which will be listed on the 2008 IUCN Red List as globally endangered due to overfishing and high demand for its valuable fins in the shark fin trade,” added Ms. Baum, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Ms. Baum pointed out that fishing for sharks in international waters is unrestricted, and she supports a recently adopted United Nations resolution calling for immediate shark catch limits as well as a meaningful ban on shark finning, the practice of removing only a shark’s fins and dumping the still live but now helpless shark into the ocean to die.

Costa Rica is a major supplier to the international shark fin trade.

Research at Canada’s Dalhousie University over the past five years, conducted by Ms. Baum and the late Ransom Myers, demonstrated the magnitude of shark declines in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. All species the team looked at had declined by over 50 per cent since the early 1970s. For many large coastal shark species, the declines were much greater: tiger, scalloped hammerhead, bull and dusky shark populations have all plummeted by more than 95 per cent.

A commercial fish factory vessel was boarded this month by Costa Rican officials because they said it was involved in illegal fishing in the protected area of Isla del Coco. However, investigators had to let the 25-person crew go because there was uncertainty in the law regarding this kind of activity. The crew was seeking tuna but sharks, including hammerheads for which the waters around the island are famous are likely victims, too.

The issue still is being discussed in prosecutorial circles.

Shark Finning in Costa Rica (Warning: This video is disturbing)

Filed under: Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

South Korea Joins Bio Prospecting Efforts in Costa Rica

 
By Nick Wilkinson
Tico Times Staff | nwilkinson@ticotimes.net

The government of South Korea has joined the rush to “bioprospect” the country’s wealth of biodiversity.

According to online encyclopedias, bioprospecting is the collection of samples from animals, plants and microorganisms to be used to create new drugs, crops or industrial products.

Representatives from the South Korean government announced a partnership with the National Biodiversity Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cataloguing and facilitating the exploitation of the country’s dizzying variety of wildlife and plant species.

Bioprospecting manager Lorena Guevara said the South Koreans are investing $643,000 to expand the Institute’s current facilities in Santo Domingo de Heredia and another $1 million in projects, specifically tied to plant research. At least one Korean scientist will also be added to the staff.

With multinational corporations, such as Eli Lilly, Merck, Bristol-Mayer, and universities such as Harvard already partnering with the institute, Guevara said South Korea decided it was time to get on board.

Guevara said the best-known commercial results from bioprospecting so far in Costa Rica include two products – Quassia, a tree extract that helps with hangovers, and Estilo, an herb that serves as a sedative.

“Our mission is the systematic search for genes, molecules, chemical compounds that can be of pharmaceutical, agricultural or biotechnology use,” she said. “We have found some very interesting compounds, especially from microorganisms.”

The manager said the Institute is working on identifying compounds that could be used as cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, malaria and asthma.

Filed under: Bio Prospecting, Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Part 6 – Getting Our Priorities Straight – Common Sense Solutions to Climate Change

( We would to thank everyone at Treehugger.com that contributed to this series. We are grateful for your insights and ideas.)

At Eco Preservation Society we advocate two common sense long-term goals:

Common Sense Goal #1: Within thirty years we must replace fossil fuels as an energy source.

Common Sense Goal #2: Over the next one hundred years we must sequestered the excess carbon that has been added to the atmosphere over the last one hundred years.

As important as it is to reduce our CO2 emissions, it is also important to remove the excess CO2 that we have already put into the atmosphere. Certainly over the next 30 years we will be producing much more CO2 before we begin to produce less. To suggest that we should choose emissions over sequestation is a false choice. We must focus on both.

Further, when talking about Carbon Neutral or Carbon Offsets, reforestation is not only a “viable option”; it is our “only option”. Investing in future technologies to reduce emissions does NOTHING to remove the CO2 that we have already dumped into the atmosphere. There is only ONE viable and proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and that is through the growth of trees and vegetation.

Common sense must prevail. The notion that planting trees is detrimental to the cause of protecting our environment does not pass the common sense test. Critics correctly note that as carbon sinks a forests ability to sequester carbon may follow a saw tooth pattern. However it is a fallacy to suggest that because carbon retention in our forests does not follow a linear pattern that it is somehow diminished in importance. This is non-sense! Simply because our understanding of these processes may be more complex than once thought, that does not mean that these processes are any less important to our future.

Those that argue that reforestation efforts are only “feel good” solutions because an individual tree may not permanently sequestered the carbon in its biomass are presenting an overly simplistic argument. An analogous argument could be made that one should not open a bank account because not ALL of the money that you deposit into that account remains there permanently. The concept of effectively managing a bank account does not require that every dollar you put into the account remain there forever. The concept is that money flows in and out and over time successful money manager will grow that account. This is how we need to look at our forests, as a renewable resource that plays an unparalleled and unique role in sequestering carbon from our atmosphere.

There is a danger that when we grasp at headlines like “Reforestation Contributes to Global Warming” that we promote an overly simplistic view of the problem. The headlines garnered by the Livermore Study were so seductive for so many, particularly those that have an interest in the emission reduction side of the Carbon Offset debate. However carbon cycle is only one factor in the equation of protecting our environment. Along with reducing CO2 emissions and removing the excess CO2 that has already been emitted, we should not loose sight of the role that trees play in the water cycle and in the production of the oxygen that we breath. The notion that environmentalist can make blanket statements like: “planting trees north of the Canadian bordered contributes to Global Warming” and to have so many accept these findings without serious scrutiny should be cause for great concern within the environmental community. It is no wonder that those in the business community look at us environmentalist as a bunch of flakes.

We must do better

At Eco Preservation Society we believe that we need to re-examine all of our options in sequestering carbon. Today there are many web sites that feature Carbon Calculators that tell us about our individual Carbon Footprint. Yet in all of the Carbon Footprint Calculators, none take into account the amount of carbon that an affluent family has sequestered in their 4000 square foot wood structured home. We must do better!

Looking at the wood products industry as a possible solution to Global Warming problem is a politically incorrect discussion within the environmental movement. We must to take a fresh look at reforestation and forestry as a sustainable resource.

In the past the forestry industry has given us mono-habitats and clear cutting. These are obvious negative impacts and we must do better. How much more engineering and planning would it really require to manage these resources in a more diverse manner?

In the future we can do better and we need to take a fresh look at how we approach these issues.

Clearly the Lawrence Livermore study is not the final word. It only serves to awaken us to the fact that the complexities of the problems that we face are much greater than we once imagined. It is fair to conclude from the Livermore Study that overly simplistic monolithic solutions such as “Universal Tree Planting” are not viable. At the same time, overly simplistic conclusions drawn from the Livermore Study are equally inappropriate.

As leaders in the environmental movement it is important that we are responsible with the information that we feed to the public. We loose credibility with the public when we grasp at sensational headlines and do not deliver on thoughtful and meaningful examination of these critical issues.

Solutions Moving Forward:

Perhaps it is time for us to reexamine the concept of deforestation, both in terms of methods and importance. Deforestation occurs in nature, it serves a purpose in nature’s cycles. Without question our last remaining old growth forest and primary rain forests must absolutely be protected. However when it comes to the management of lands that have already been deforested there are other options that have not been considered. For those interested in this topic see our article on the Resource Revolution.

Over the last century there have been vast amounts of lands that have been deforested and converted to pasturelands and croplands that should be converted back to forestlands and wildlife habitat. The key to realizing this goal is to provide economic incentives for landowners to covert these lands back to forests.

We see 3 sources of revenue incentives for conservation minded landowners.

First, financial incentives can come in the form of selective harvesting of trees in a diverse forest environment. Instead of planting a “mono crop” of trees that would be harvested all at once, a diverse environment could be created with a variety of trees that grow at different rates. Trees could be harvested in a selective manner at different times based on a variety of factors. Instead of wiping an entire habitat, trees can be harvested in a manner that preserves the habitat.

Second, this staggered harvest approach means that the forests will retain their value not only as a habitat, but as recreational areas as well. Recreational activities would be an additional source of revenue for the land owner: hiking trails, cross-country skiing, canopy tours, horseback riding, GPS tracking games, trail biking, ATV tours, ect, ect.

Finally, with the ability to sell carbon credits, there is a third possible source of revenue for the landowner.

Conclusions

It took us a century to create our problems with the environment; we need to take a long-term view at solving them. Realistically it is going to take us 30 years to phase out fossil fuels; there will be more damage to correct during that time. We need to start now and reforestation is the answer. We are conditioned to seek immediate gratification and we are not satisfied unless we achieve instant results. Instant results are not a realistic expectation for solving our environmental problems. From our view a longer-term approach is required. The key is for our generation to initiate the process and to raise our children with understanding that this will be the biggest challenge facing their generation. We need to provide our children with the values and the education so that they will have the tools and the imagination to solve these problems within their lifetime. The future belongs to our children and it is up to us to provide them the means to make their future a bright one. This is a living legacy that is our responsibility to deliver upon for future generations. This is the goal of the Eco Preservation Society.

Kevin Peterson, CEO
Eco Preservation Society
EcoPreservationSociety.org

Part 1 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming?
Part 2 – Reforestation, Aldedo and Lawrence Livermore Study
Part 3 – Rain Forests: The World’s Air Conditioner
Part 4 – Planting Trees in Cities
Part 5 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming? – A second look at the Livermore Study
Part 6 – Getting Our Priorities Straight – Common Sense Solutions to Climate Change

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Reforestation, Sustainable Development, Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Costa Rican Company Leads The Resource Revolution

by Fred Morgan, January 2008 Eco World

A new revolution has begun. As with all changes of great magnitude, the status quo is resisting for as long as it can, but inevitably, the Resource Revolution will push aside the old way of life and bring in the new.

When the world stopped having to rely on manual power and animal power, the result was the Industrial Revolution. Until that time, if you wanted a horseshoe, you would ask a blacksmith to make one for you and he would custom make it to fit your horse. When industry could make thousands of horseshoes per day, the price dropped and often the quality increased, helping create a market for the thousands of horseshoes. Much of the affluence of the modern world is due to the efficiency of industry. Each revolution sows the seeds for the next. For example, without the Industrial Revolution, the Microchip Revolution would have been impossible, because manufacturing at the micro level cannot be done by hand. And without cheap computers and the microchip, the Information Revolution or Information Superhighway would never have happened, with its profound impact on the world. Now a smaller company can compete effectively against large companies because of the efficiencies brought about by computers and the Internet.

There are people left behind in the Information Revolution, as in any revolution. There are jobs that have gone away, just as blacksmithing became nearly an extinct occupation as a result of the industrial revolution. No longer does someone dictate to a secretary who takes shorthand. Draftsmen who did not learn to use CAD systems lost their jobs. In the publishing industry, in the early days, computers helped tremendously by replacing old typesetting processes. But now, because of the Internet, most old-style publishing companies are feeling the pressure. No longer do you need a publisher to get your ideas out, just a website. I can be sitting in Costa Rica typing this while those who will read it can be anywhere. The amount of time invested for me to write and disseminate this is very little compared to the time and cost of publishing it. The Information Revolution has permitted us to have a global perspective like we’ve never experienced before, helping bring us into the Resource Revolution, wherein for the first time we are starting to view the earth as a closed system. Now that we can see the world as a closed system, we have to learn how to treat it like one. With few exceptions, man has removed the easily available resources, and when those were depleted, we moved on to the next place. Land was left fallow to recover from the wastes.

Our species always migrates toward resources. In the USA there is a grave problem with illegal immigration. In truth, there may not be a political solution. This is because we are dealing with the fact that it is always easier to migrate toward resources than to create them. It is the perception in many countries that the USA has an abundance of resources still remaining and all that is necessary to have a better life is to get there. You might as well try to hold back the waves with your hands as to try to stop a migration to easily available resources. Much of the tropics have been deforested in recent years due to slash-and-burn farming (). A farmer stakes out land and removes the forest. After a few years, the soils and fertility have been used up and so he moves to the next section of land. It angers the average farmer when I try to explain why this is a problem, because I’m attacking what they perceive as their only means of earning a living. Besides, if it was good enough for dear old dad, it’s good enough for them. I can remember a time when it was considered okay to dump your trash in the nearest stream. The ability for the streams and rivers to accept it seemed inexhaustible until rivers started to catch fire and fish started dying. In many ways, we as a species have functioned like children. Leave children with no training alone in a home, and they will eat whatever is in the refrigerator and the pantry and, if you are lucky, fill up the trash baskets. We have been doing the same; we have been consuming all the resources of the planet without being worried that someday we would run out. The magic refrigerator and pantry were filled with all manner of good things and we have eaten like there was no tomorrow. We didn’t think about the need to deal with the trash pile growing up around our ears. Mother Earth has been like the adult who comes home to replenish the larder and tell the kids to take out the trash, but we are rapidly running out of easily available resources, untapped frontiers, and places to dump the garbage. Those who do not learn how to treat the world as a closed system will be left behind in the Resource Revolution.

Much of the profitability of old-style companies is based on resources whose only cost is that of extraction. This has left other costs not calculated. For example, to be healthy, a company needs to calculate the cost of resource replacement and the cost of cleanup of any unwanted byproducts of using the resource or creating products with the resource. As resources become more and more dear, the nature of business is changing. Since I am in the business of wood and reforestation and it is a subject I know well, I’ll use it as my example. Before the Industrial Revolution, if you wanted to use wood, you went out and cut the tree down yourself. Since you literally created your home from the sweat of your brow with the power of your body, you built small unless you were very rich. Log cabins required very little wood processing. The only planks that were necessary were for the floor, if you didn’t just have a dirt floor. The roof was made by splitting wood for shakes. It was a challenge to make much of a dent in the forest. The population was relatively small, and the time involved to take a tree and make wood from it was long. In truth, most of the time the forest recuperated faster than trees could be removed. Most of the clearing for farms was done with fire, not with ax. When the Industrial Revolution came about, not only did saws and axes become of better quality and cheaper, but motorized means of cutting trees came into play. Sawmills were invented that could process thousands of board feet of wood a day. If you wished to build a home, you could merely go and buy the processed wood. About this time the USA moved away from post and beam construction that produced homes and barns that lasted for hundreds of years to homes built using framing construction that do not last nearly as long. But it was faster to build with precut framing wood than to build post and beam, and if the homes didn’t last as long, at least they were easier to repair or replace, since there was always more wood available down at the sawmill or lumber store. Now we have machinery such that a single crew can clearcut a square mile of forest per day. In the past, for a person to drop ten large trees in a day would be a good day’s work; now tens of thousands is more normal. This is considered progress. But now we are seeing something: All of this great productivity has destroyed streams, rivers, and the land itself in runoff, degradation of soil, and erosion. Where before was an ecosystem that could easily regenerate itself, now it gets harder and harder to regrow the forest. We’ve tried replacing trees in monocrop plantations, but this has created very serious disease and pest problems in many areas. Not only that, as the supply dwindles, there is not enough wood to keep the very expensive sawmills and harvest equipment busy. The nature of a large capital investment in equipment is that it only makes sense if it is used at nearly full capacity. It is hard to pay the bills on a million dollar piece of equipment if it is sitting idle because there are no trees to cut. Yet as sawmills are closing, for example, in many parts of the USA, there are people elsewhere who are doing very well in wood today. They are revolutionary thinkers who have taken the long view, treating the world as a closed system and buying land with trees on it that had very little value because others had already taken all the good trees. These people have gone out and selectively harvested just the bad trees. Instead of only taking the best, they took the worst. Even though it is not as profitable to process poor quality wood, when you do it with smaller equipment and use it to make flooring, moldings, and such, you can make more than enough to survive while you allow the forest to recover. Instead of year by year the forest being worse off, it actually improves. This means the owner, instead of being poorer every year, actually is getting wealthier. It is like having a magic pantry that every time you open it, the amount of food as well as the quality increases. The secret to this business model is to always have a view to the future, because if you destroy the resource, you will destroy your business and your livelihood. You also have to be careful of your waste, because no more can we assume that there is yet another frontier to exploit just over the hill. If you poison your environment, it will be you that you poison, not your neighbors. The good part is that if you have your own source of resources, your business is not held hostage by availability of the resource nor by price fluctuations of that resource. There is a book worth reading called Collapse by Jared Diamond. Diamond shows how civilizations have collapsed due to various factors, often including abuse of their environment. The author might agree with me that in the coming years, no longer can we view a society as civilized that plunders resources. After all, do we think of societies that are based on robbing and plundering as being civilizations? No, we think of them as barbaric forces against civilization. Now has come a time that if we are not to suffer a collapse of the civilization we have, we must understand that exploitation of anything is not civilization because such action is not sustainable. In the future, we may view companies who exploit resources as no different from a thief who supports himself by stealing. It is not producing to merely take from a common pool of resources. The resources of the world belong to all of us, and those who take and do not replenish are enriching themselves by making all of us poorer. This is not being civilized. You will notice that those who are against the Kyoto agreement often state that adopting it would wreck our economy. Think about what they are saying: If we have to pay for the damage we cause, our businesses will not be profitable. In reality, since we know that there is no “magic pantry” and no “magic trash can,” businesses like that are showing themselves profitable only because they are not calculating the full costs and are leaving the rest of them for all of us to pay. It’s like transferring your expenses to another department to appear profitable. This is considered fraud in business, and we should consider it fraud in civilization as well. When we think of the businesses that have taken resources without putting back and have left the trash for the public to deal with, we need to understand that we are really the culprits. Any time we buy their products, we are benefiting from their short-term gains, and when we place our money in their companies via investments, we are granting them our agreement with their practices. Unfortunately, it will not be them who pay the piper at the end, but all of us. We are starting to see new companies that not only do not rape the planet for resources, but manage to actually turn a profit while turning back the clock on resource consumption. We at Finca Leola believe we have managed to create such a company. The reason, I think, is simple: We were never driven by a need for short-term profit and so were able to take the long view, the revolutionary view. In much of Latin America, the way people outside of the cities earn a living is often by raising cattle. They have chopped down or burned the rainforest, planted grass, and put cattle on the land. Much of the meat is purchased in order to supply cheap beef for the northern markets. There is a problem with this model. First of all, if you have to buy the land, you cannot survive this way – it is better to put the money in the bank and receive the interest. So, raising cattle in Latin America is based on having a free resource: land. Secondly, the longer you have cattle on the land, the poorer becomes the land. I constantly hear stories of how rich the land here in Costa Rica was in the past. When the forest was first removed, all that was needed to raise corn or beans was to cast the seeds on the ground and you would have a great harvest! But after a few years of doing this, you have to start adding fertilizer or you will not have a harvest at all. Finca Leola buys cattle farms and plants trees on them. You can own trees on Finca Leola plantations, and your money will bring back rainforest, improving the world and your bottom line. We raise trees that are pioneer species in order to quickly protect the land and produce a return for the tree owners. After a while, we plant the permanent rainforest trees among the pioneer trees, using them like a nursery. As the forest returns, its products will sustain its protection as well as provide work for the locals so that they value the forest. The forest will be considered a partner, not a free resource to be robbed. This creates many very good and permanent jobs, because the permanent forest is productive, whereas raising cattle in the tropics is a cycle of poverty for all except a few large landowners. Every year our lands are more productive and the future looks brighter. The streams and rivers on our land are cleaner and flow with more water. The wildlife is much more abundant, and amazingly, much more comfortable around people. All our workers have health insurance and retirement, uncommon among rural Costa Rican laborers. They have better jobs that pay better than average in the area. We now have a woodshop that is producing products from the plantations. Since we own the woodshop and sawmill, we use nearly all the tree, not just the easiest part to process. This is because we take the closed-system view that no resource is to be wasted. It takes a lot of effort to grow a tree, and we don’t want to throw away any of it. True, it would be more profitable in the short term if we took the best of the tree and left the rest as waste, but in the long run, it is better to use as much as we can. And since we don’t have many layers (loggers, sawmills, wood brokers, lumber yards, etc.) we can use wood that normally would not be considered profitable. We also use sheep, small cattle, and horses to keep down the grass between the trees. This produces revenue while reducing our cost to care for the trees. When we have to create a bridge for access, at times we create a pond for fish as well. This produces food for our workers and for ourselves and perhaps some for market. We don’t run like an assembly line but as a complete system. We try to use all resources efficiently while producing more if at all possible. No more can industry use up the resources in one location and move on to where there are more. We have finally realized that resources are not inexhaustible. People who have decided to invest in diminishing resources such as trees instead of investing in old-fashioned businesses not only understand that many of the old-style businesses are facing very serious challenges in the future, but that companies such as ours are allowing investors to benefit in the new way of business. They are finding that the returns from the efficient way we grow trees exceed what they would have received from an old-style plantation. We are entering into a new kind of world where holistic companies are the profitable ones. Green investing is a movement that recognizes this as a market force. Instead of investing in businesses that rape and pillage and are therefore doomed to only short-term success, the smart investor places his money in businesses that work in harmony with the earth and help replenish life. Success in business and in investing is usually due to recognizing emerging trends. Buy low; sell high, because no one thinks what you are investing in is worth much, but when the trend catches on, your initial investment is worth many times more. Sometimes the trend is so large, it becomes a revolution. These are times when the fundamentals of business changes radically, and during such times there are always winners and losers, the losers being those who either do not or will not accept the change. Don’t be left behind in this revolution – invest in companies that treat the earth as a closed system. If we are going to advance civilization, our money needs to do more than just earn more money; it needs to buy back the health of our planet.

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Reforestation, Sustainable Development, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Costa Rica’s Mysterious Mangroves – A Treasured and Exotic Habitat

by Richard Garrigues

In the nebulous zone between high and low tide, where freshwater meets saltwater and the ground is neither liquid nor solid, grow the mangroves.

Inhabitants of inter-tidal zones throughout the tropics and subtropics, mangroves are a most curious collection of plants. It is easy to make the erroneous assumption that the different kinds of mangrove trees are closely related species adapted to the unique conditions in which they grow. Even their English common names (red mangrove, black mangrove, white mangrove, buttonwood mangrove, etc.) lend to the idea that these are merely different species of the same plant family, as if they were maples or oaks.

In reality, the mangroves are a wonderful example of convergent evolution—a situation in which totally unrelated organisms have evolved certain similarities simply because those are the characteristics best suited for making use of a particular resource. And in this case the resource is a place where a plant might grow if it can overcome the two major difficulties faced by mangroves: the salinity of the sea water which saturates the ground they grow in and the absence of oxygen in that same saturated mud.

In Costa Rica there are seven species of mangrove trees from four very different plant families: the red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle and R. harrisonii, Rhizophoraceae), the black mangroves (Avicennia germinans and A. bicolor, Verbenaceae), the tea mangrove (Pelliciera rhizophorae, Theaceae), the white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa, Combretaceae), and the buttonwood mangrove (Conocarpus erectus, Combretaceae). In Costa Rica, any and all of these plants are called mangle (man-gley) and the association in which they grow a manglar.

Of the mangroves found in Costa Rica, the red mangrove is the most easily recognized with its striking aerial prop roots, which often branch one or more times before reaching the ground. The primary function of these roots is not to support the tree but to aid in the aeration of the plant’s sap system.

The black mangrove, and to some extent the white mangrove, cope with the lack of air in the mucky substrate by developing vertical extensions from their roots which stick above the soil level and (at low tide) accomplish oxygen exchange. The tea mangrove has pronounced buttresses which act as aerators. The buttonwood mangrove effectively avoids this problem by growing on the back edges or higher ground within a mangrove swamp, thus reducing the likelihood of having the soil around its roots supersaturated except at extreme high tides.

Mangroves have developed various ways to deal with the problem of high salt concentrations in the water around them. Some species secrete salt from their roots and/or leaves. Pacific coast black mangroves can be observed in the dry season with salt crystals along the outer edges of their leaves (secretion of salt through the leaves happens throughout the year, but is not usually observed in the rainy season because the rain washes off the salt).

In some mangroves, such as the red mangrove, salt is stored in the older leaves which soon fall off the tree. And in other species, it appears that salt is simply tolerated in much higher levels than is common in most plants.

As a result of the rather severe conditions where mangroves grow, there is not much plant diversity. Correspondingly, the animal life associated with mangroves is not nearly as diverse as it is in other lowland habitats in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, what mangrove swamps may lack in numbers of species they make up for with numbers of individuals.

At certain times of the year the tops of mangrove trees are filled with nesting birds. In the Tempisque River, the Isla de Pájaros, or Bird Island, is an impressive example of this phenomenon. Each year hundreds of Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Anhingas, and Neotropical Cormorants reproduce on this protected patch of mid-river mangroves.

In the mangrove of Damas Island you will find White Faced Monkey which many a visitor will have a close encounter. But please, do not feed the monkeys.

Part of the reason for the concentration of nesting and roosting birds in the mangroves could be that it serves as a sanctuary from terrestrial and climbing predators. The bases of the trees are under water almost nearly of the time and even when they are exposed by receding tides, the soft mud that surrounds them is a deterrent to many creatures.

Below the water’s surface in areas where mangroves grow one can find a high diversity of life forms. Among the mangrove’s root systems many marine organisms live or spend a portion of their lives. Such creatures include algae, corals, barnacles, sponges, oysters, crabs, lobsters, shrimps, octopi, and fishes. The importance of mangroves to the health of the marine ecosystem is immeasurable.

Unfortunately, in Costa Rica and the rest of the world, mangrove forests are being destroyed and their sites converted to fish pens, rice paddies, salt-drying ponds, cattle pasture, tourist developments and human settlements. Mangrove wood makes good fuel and excellent charcoal, but over-harvesting has contributed to their demise. Additionally, the red mangrove is an important source of tannin (used in processing leather), but the stripping of the bark to get the tannin kills the individual trees.

All mangroves in Costa Rica are protected by law, but there is not always someone around to enforce the law. Nevertheless, there are still large areas of mangroves lining estuaries and mouths of rivers and streams along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Mangrove development is not as common on the Caribbean coast, because there is little variation in the height of the tides, but one area where some very tall red mangroves can be seen is along the extensive canal system between Limón and Tortuguero.

Filed under: Family Eco Travel, Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why are Amphibians in Decline?

Wednesday September 5, 2007

In recent years, scientists and conservationists have been working to raise public awareness of a global decline in amphibian populations. Herpetologists first started noting that amphibian populations were falling at many of their study sites in the 1980s. Those early reports were anecdotal and many experts doubted that the observed declines were cause for concern (the argument was that populations of amphibians fluctuate over time and the decline could have been merely natural variation).

But by 1990, a significant global trend had emerged—one that overstepped normal population fluctuations. Herpetologists and conservationists started voicing their concern for the worldwide fate of amphibians. Their message was alarming: of the estimated 5,918 known species of amphibians that inhabit our planet, a staggering 1,856 species were listed as endangered, threatened or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (Global Amphibian Assessment 2007).

Amphibians are considered to be indicator species for environmental health: they have delicate skin that readily absorbs toxins from their environment; they have few defenses and can fall prey to non-native predators; they rely on both aquatic and terrestrial habitats at various times during their life cycle. If amphibians populations are in decline, it is likely that the quality of the habitat in which they live is suffering.

There are numerous known factors that contribute to amphibian declines—habitat destruction, pollution, the effects of introduced species. Yet research has revealed that even in pristine habitats—those that lie beyond the reach of the bulldozer and crop-duster—amphibians are disappearing at a shocking rate and without explanation. Scientists are now looking to global phenomena for explanations. Climate change, emerging diseases, and increased exposure to UV-B radiation (due to ozone depletion) are all additional factors that could be contributing to falling amphibian populations.

So it seems the question ‘Why are amphibians in decline?’ has no simple answer. Instead, amphibians are disappearing due to a complex mixture of factors which include:

  1. Alien Species—Native amphibian populations can suffer decline when alien species are introduced into their habitats. There are a number of ways an introduced species can impact populations of native amphibians. For instance, an amphibian species may become the prey of the introduced species. Alternatively, the introduced species may compete for the same resources required by the native amphibian. It is also possible that the introduced species may form hybrids with the native species and in doing so reduce the prevalence of the native amphibian within the resulting gene pool.
  2. Over-Exploitation—Amphibian populations in some parts of the world suffer decline because they are captured for the pet trade or are harvested for human consumption.
  3. Habitat Alteration and Destruction—Alteration and destruction of habitat has devastating effects on many organisms and amphibians are no exception. Changes to water drainage, vegetation structure, and habitat composition all impact the ability of amphibians to survive and reproduce. For example, the drainage of wetland areas for agricultural use of the land directly reduces the habitat available for amphibians which require aquatic habitat for breeding and foraging.
  4. Global Changes (Climate, UV-B, and Atmospheric Changes)—Global climate change presents a serious threat to amphibians because altered precipitation patterns will likely result in changes to wetland habitat on which amphibians rely. Additionally, increases in UV-B radiation due to ozone depletion have been found to severely impact some species of amphibians.
  5. Infectious Diseases—Significant amphibian declines have been associated with infectious diseases such as chytrid fungus and iridoviruses. Chytrid fungal infections in amphibians was first discovered in populations of amphibians in Austrailia but also has been found in Central America and North America.
  6. Pesticides and Toxins—The widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, and other synthetic chemicals and pollutants has severely impacted many amphibian populations. In 2006, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley found that mixtures of pesticides were causing amphibian deformities, reducing reproductive success, harming development, and increasing susceptability to diseases such as bacterial meningitis.

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Filed under: Climate Change, Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Costa Rica expropriates land to protect turtles

/wildlife/article/23813

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) – Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has ordered the expropriation of lucrative beach-front land to protect the endangered leatherback sea turtle, the government said on Thursday.Arias began expropriation procedures for some 30 hectares (74 acres) of land in northwestern Costa Rica, the most important leatherback sea turtle nesting site on the Pacific Rim, Energy and Environment Minister Roberto Dobles said.”We are only complying with the law that established Las Baulas (national marine park) in 1995,” Dobles told Reuters.

Some of the expropriated land owners, mostly Europeans and U.S. citizens, had resisted the expropriation even though the land was made a national park by law in 1995.

Environmentalists hailed the move to protect the turtles, which have been declining in alarming numbers in recent years.

“It will help us to restore the population of leatherback turtles in the Pacific,” said Todd Steiner of the San Francisco-based Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Environmentalists say 95 percent of leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean have vanished in the last 20 years due to human activity like fishing, poaching of their eggs and building near their nests.

Thousands of leatherbacks built nests at the Las Baulas beaches 10 years ago but the number has dropped to below 100 in the last five years.

Leatherbacks, which can reach a shell length of 5.6 feet and a weight of 1,543 pounds (700 kg), often die after being entangled in fishing lines and nets.

Filed under: Wildlife Conservation, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Part 5 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming? – A second look at the Livermore Study

By: Kevin Peterson, CEO
Eco Preservation Society

( We would like to invite all of those interested in this subject to join our ongoing discussion at Treehugger.com . )

In 2005 Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and Carnegie Institution produced a study that sent ripples through the reforestation community and has influenced many of those interested in carbon offsets and carbon neutral programs. Many have embraced the findings from this study and many have concluded that reforestation has limited value in efforts to decelerate the warming of the planet. Dr. Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution referred to tree planting as a “feel good solution”. We feel strongly to the contrary, we feel that a long-term effort at sequestering carbon is vital and that reforestation is the only means presently at our disposal.

This study has been frequently referenced under splashy headlines by bloggers all over the Internet. Many, if not most of these bloggers are within the environmental movement. We feel that they have been led astray with faulty conclutions.

To date there has been little, if any, serious scrutiny of the findings of this study. Indeed many have extrapolated conclusions that are well beyond the scope of what was actually measured. The purpose of this article is to take a closer look at the Lawrence Livermore Study and put its findings into a more meaningful context.

First, by the study’s author’s own admission, the Lawrence Livermore study was predicated on an unrealistic scenario. The modeling was based on the single metric of replacing 100% of ALL grasslands and 100% of ALL croplands with evergreen trees! The modeling techniques did not take into account geological variations, topographical variations, altitude, regional weather patterns or microclimates. What the Lawrence Livermore study accomplishes is nothing more than a broad approximation based on a single variable, with that single variable being latitude.

Second, there is a significant time variable when measuring the “possible Albedo Effect” identified in the report. According to the study, the “possible Albedo Effect” does not come into play until 80 years following reforestation. What the Lawrence Livermore study assumes is that the there is no harvesting of the trees in its conclusions. If reforestation efforts north of 50 degrees are followed with a harvest of the trees prior to year 80 in the project there is no Albedo effect. Within this context a strong argument might be made that harvesting trees for wood products may be a effective way of sequestering carbon.

Third, there is no Albedo Effect with non-coniferous trees that loose their leaves during snowy periods.

Finally, it seems to me that the study assumes that there is no snow covering the trees. I have flown over snow-covered forests many times. While I might not be a scientist Lawrence Livermore, I can attest that at high altitude there is just not that much variation in the reflectivity on a snow covered typography. How much Albedo Effect can there really be if the trees are covered with snow? My understanding of the study is that it is comparing the reflectivity of green trees vs. white snow. Is this realistic of real world condition? I tend to think not.

Conclusion: The Possible Albedo Effect discussed the Livermore Study is limited to 80-year-old stands of evergreen trees north of 50 degrees latitude. Even within this limited conclusion, the results are not proven. It should be noted that this limited finding has not been confirmed by independent research. Nor does the study account for variations in Possible Albedo Effect based on regional weather patterns, geological variations or for conditions when trees are covered with snow. Vast regions of the Canadian plains have never been forested and do not have a climate to support a forest. Why should those areas be included in the measurements of this study? This study took into account only one factor, latitude.

Many of those that have embraced this study would suggest that all of our efforts should be focused solely on reducing our carbon emissions. Certainly technologies that allow us to achieve these reductions are of critical important to our future. However, from our view this is not an either/or proposition when comparing Emission Reductions to Carbon Sequestration, both are vitally important. It is of critical importance that we both reduce our emissions and reduce the amount of additioal CO2 that we have added (and will continue to add for the next 20 or 30 years) to the atmosphere.

By: Kevin Peterson, CEO
Eco Preservation Society

Part 1 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming?
Part 2 – Reforestation, Aldedo and Lawrence Livermore Study
Part 3 – Rain Forests: The World’s Air Conditioner
Part 4 – Planting Trees in Cities
Part 5 – Does Reforestation Contribute to Global Warming? – A second look at the Livermore Study
Part 6 – Getting Our Priorities Straight – Common Sense Solutions to Climate Change

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Climate Change, Reforestation, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Costa Rica Plants Five Million Trees

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) – Costa Rica, a leader in eco-tourism and home to some of the world’s rarest species, planted its 5 millionth tree of 2007 on Wednesday, December 19 as it tries to put a brake on global warming.

President Oscar Arias shoveled dirt onto the roots of an oak tree planted in the grounds of his offices, reaching the milestone in the Central American nation’s efforts to ward off what some experts say are the first signs of climate change.

By the end of the year, Costa Rica will have planted nearly 6.5 million trees, which should absorb 111,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, Environment Minister Roberto Dobles said.

The country aims to plant 7 million trees in 2008 as part of the newly launched program.

Along with other green-minded nations like Norway and New Zealand, Costa Rica is aiming to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero, and has set a target date of 2021.

“I don’t know if we will end up being carbon neutral in 2021 as we have proposed, but the important thing is the audacity of the goal and the work we have to do,” Arias said.

Costa Rica is a magnet for ecology-minded tourists who come to visit the lush national parks and reserves that cover more than a quarter of the country and are home to almost 5 percent of the world’s plant and animal species including exotic birds and frogs.

Over the last 20 years forest cover in Costa Rica has grown from 26 percent of the national territory to 51 percent, though environmentalists complain that loggers continue to cut down old trees and that the national park system is under funded.

Costa Rican authorities have blamed the loss of more than a dozen amphibian species, including the shiny yellow “golden toad,” on higher temperatures caused by global warming.

Experts also say climate change is behind a spike in mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever at high elevations where they were once rare.

The number of dengue fever cases so far this year in Costa Rica’s high-altitude central valley stands at 3,487 — 86 percent higher than in the whole of 2006.

(Reporting by John McPhaul, editing by Eric Walsh)

 

Filed under: Carbon Offsets, Reforestation, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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