Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 15



Walk at the Venus Loop
from The Green Beans

Pellets from Tuas: 7. Black-shouldered Kite hunting mice
from Bird Ecology Study Group

APRIL suspends contractor after environmentalists expose ongoing deforestation
from Mongabay.com news by Rhett Butler

Black Eeltail Catfish (Plotosus canius) @ Pasir Ris
from Monday Morgue


Read more!

New fire safety rule for solar panels

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Mar 15;

New regulations on fire safety and the installation of solar panels, including those on rooftops, will soon be unveiled.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) confirmed to The Sunday Times it will issue a circular to the industry next month that specifies the new rules.

They include requiring buildings to have at least two exit staircases from the rooftop before solar panels can be installed there, to aid firefighting efforts.

The new rules were first reported by website Eco-Business, and the SCDF said they will take effect six months after the circular is issued and apply only to new solar panel installations and not completed ones.

The SCDF said if there are physical challenges in making a building compliant, building managers can propose other fire safety measures, and it will review them.

Currently, rooftop access of many buildings is via cat ladders, which are usually narrow and cannot accommodate the transport of equipment.

Assistant Commissioner Christopher Tan, director of SCDF's fire safety and shelter department, said existing ladders to rooftops are for maintenance works.

"We don't believe they are robust or strong enough for firefighters carrying equipment, especially if you have a few firefighters climbing up.

"Speed of access is another consideration," he told The Sunday Times.

With solar systems becoming more widespread here and larger in scale, the new fire safety rules are needed, said the SCDF.

Solar energy companies here, however, are decrying one of the upcoming new rules, which they said could cripple the growing use of solar power in Singapore.

While they recognised that safety is paramount, they noted that solar panel fires are rare worldwide. There are also less onerous means of ensuring firefighters' access to rooftops, such as by installing or widening existing ladders, they added.

A main concern cited by the industry is whether buildings can be retrofitted to have the staircases, since building designers would have maximised the use of their designated space.

Even where such retrofitting is possible, the staircases will add 10 per cent to 50 per cent to the cost of solar panel systems, making them too expensive and unattractive compared with just tapping the national grid for electricity, the firms said.

Solar power has been more widely used in Singapore only in recent years, after prices of solar panels fell, making the cost of solar power competitive with that of drawing electricity from the grid.

Dr Thomas Reindl, deputy chief executive of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris), said: "These proposed measures would go beyond what is practised in other countries where solar power has been deployed in large quantities."

Seris, the national institute for applied solar research, said it was not involved in drafting the proposed rules. Seris and several of the largest solar energy firms here - including REC, which has a plant in Tuas - said they learnt of the new rules only recently, though some less onerous rules were proposed to some of the firms last July.

The SCDF said it had consulted the Fire Code Review Committee and the SCDF Fire Safety Standing Committee before drawing up the rules, which also include safety standards for solar panels.

The committees include representatives from the Building and Construction Authority, Housing Board, groups such as the Singapore Institute of Architects, Institution of Engineers Singapore, Institution of Fire Engineers Singapore, and universities here.

The solar energy firms called for more consultation with the industry, and a task force comprising the authorities, the firms and more neutral experts such as Seris, which has acted as a mediator between the industry and the SCDF in the past month, to look into best practices globally.

Said Dr Reindl: "The safety of solar panel systems is a crucial pillar in making solar power a reliable and trusted source of energy in Singapore.

"We believe we can summarise the lessons learnt from other countries and apply international best practices to... Singapore, to come up with effective but reasonable measures."


Read more!

Indonesian government must protect pig-nosed turtles from extinction

Otniel Tamindael Antara 28 Mar 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - As the illegal trade of wildlife continues to flourish, the government needs to work harder to crack down on pet trade to protect the endangered pig-nosed turtles (Carettochelys insculpta) from extinction.

Pig-nosed turtles are in constant danger of both human and environmental threats, as a result of which their population continues to decline. Therefore, the government needs to take measures to prevent smugglers from capturing these animals.

On Wednesday, the Bakauheni seaport police in South Lampung district, Lampung province, foiled an attempt to smuggle 41 pig-nosed turtles.

The protected pitted-shelled turtles were discovered in a truck with police plate BH 8888 GU, which was en route from Jambi province in Sumatra Island to Jakarta, according to Chief of the Bakauheni seaport police Adjunct Commissioner Feria Kurniawan.

"Even though these turtles are not categorized as protected and endangered animals, they cannot be transported without legal documents. Therefore, we seized them," he remarked.

Kurniawan noted that the seized turtles were then handed over to the Bakauheni-based agricultural quarantine office.

According to the police chief, they were able to prevent the attempt to smuggle the undocumented animals due to the routine checks carried out at the Seaport Interdiction.

He added that the sender of the turtles was identified as Aping, a resident of Jambi province, while the person receiving them was identified as Aken, a resident of Jakarta.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, reported on its website http://www.traffic.org in October 2014 that intensive illegal collection of the vulnerable pig-nosed turtles as pets, food, and for traditional medicine has reached an alarming level.

It said that the pig-nosed turtle was protected under a national legislation and listed under appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, which restricts international trade in wild-caught creatures.

A 2011 study of the pig-nosed Turtles in Papua found that the species was suffering a severe decline in population due to overharvesting.

The latest study found that pig-nosed turtle eggs are collected from river banks by villagers, who incubate them in hatcheries before selling the young turtles into the global traditional medicine and pet trades.

An estimated 1.5 to 2 million eggs are collected every year, although it is believed that current figures may be considerably higher and are continuing to rise.

Minimal law enforcement at the source allows such practices to continue unhindered, which leads to the exploitation of these turtles even along remote waterways.

Moreover, international demand for the turtles is also reportedly increasing. Survey respondents spoke of companies drying and grinding the turtles into powder to supply traditional medicine markets in China and Hong Kong and of the growing online marketplace for live pig-nosed Turtles.

More than 30 seizures, amounting to more than 80 thousand individual pig-nosed turtles, took place between 2003 and 2013.

They included a massive single seizure in 2009 of 12,247 pig-nosed turtles in Timika, Papua.

More recently, 8,368 animals were discovered in several suitcases in connected seizures in Papua and Jakarta in January 2014.

"Urgent law enforcement measures are needed in Papua province to target middlemen operating in rural communities," Regional Director of TRAFFIC, Southeast Asia, Chris Shepherd emphasized.

"We also recommend monitoring ports such as Agats, Merauke, Timika, Jayapura and Jakarta, and increasing enforcement at international points of the trade chain in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, mainland China and Hong Kong," he noted.

Furthermore, Mimika Police Chief Adjunct Senior Commissioner Mochammad Sagi confirmed that some 10,908 pig-nosed turtles were released into their habitat in the Wania river, Paumako harbor, Mimika Timur district, Papua province, in that last few years.

"We released them into the Wania river in Paumako harbor," he affirmed, adding that pig-nosed turtles are protected under Law Number 5/1990 on Natural Resources and Ecosystems Conservation.

The Mimika police had foiled an attempt to smuggle out the 10,908 pig-nosed turtles from Timika in 2010, and arrested two people identified by their initials as A and YW.

The police had raided YWs house in the Kamoro SP1 Timika area and seized the pig-nosed turtles after receiving a tip-off from local people.

The turtles had been poached in the Asmat region and were supposed to be transported to Jakarta.

In addition, PT Freeport Indonesia, which engages in tin, gold and silver mining operations in Mimika district, still plays a key role in the preservation of fauna and flora, including releasing the rare pig-nosed turtles.

Spokesman for PT Freeport, Ramdani Sirait said that the mining company continued its efforts towards preserving the rare animals by facilitating their release into their natural habitat in Papua.

He noted that the task was carried out by Freeport in cooperation with the Animal Saving Center Network (JPPS) in Cikananga, Sukabumi, West Java, and the Directorate General of Forestry Protection and Natural Conservation of the Forestry Ministry.

The pig-nosed turtle, also known as the pitted-shelled turtle or the fly river turtle, is a species of turtle native to northern Australia and southern New Guinea.

This species is the only living member of genus Carettochelys, subfamily Carettochelyinae and family Carettochelyidae, although several extinct carettochelyid species have been described from around the world.

The pig-nosed turtle is unlike any other species of freshwater turtles. Their feet are flippers, resembling those of marine turtles, and their nose resembles that of a pig, with nostrils that end in a fleshy snout, hence the common name.

The carapace is typically grey or olive, with a leathery texture, while the plastron is cream-colored.

Males can be distinguished from females by their longer and narrower tails.

Unlike the soft-shelled turtles of the Trionychidae family, pig-nosed turtles retain a domed, bony carapace beneath their leathery skin, rather than a flat plate.
(.TO001/INE/KR-BSR/A014)


Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 29 Mar 15



A Photo Guide to the ID of Large Hawk Cuckoo
from Con Foley Photography

A look of the Top 20 birds of 1986 and 2015 By Lim Kim Seng
from Singapore Bird Group


Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 28 Mar 15



Night Walk At Lower Peirce Reservoir Park (27 Mar 2015)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Asian Glossy Starlings eating Alexandra Palm fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group


Read more!

Malaysia: Marine creatures most at risk from plastic dumped at sea

RUBEN SARIO The Star 28 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Marine researchers are once again raising the alarm about the dumping of plastic material in the sea following the death of a pilot whale that was found to have ingested 4.25kg of plastic bags.

A post-mortem on the 310kg male pilot whale found that the three compartments of its stomach were filled with 14 pieces of large plastic bags, 11 small plastic bags, 11 plastic sheets and 6m of caution tape, among others.

Also discovered in the confines of its stomach was a yellow detergent bag manufactured in Guangzhou, China, said Universiti Malaysia Sabah Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) director Assoc Prof Dr Rossita Shapawi.

“After the pilot whale ingested these plastic bags, its stomach was blocked and it could not consume anything else. It starved to death due to the plastic,” she added.

She said it was likely that the pilot whale had mistaken the plastic bags for food.

Latest casualty: Marine researchers getting ready to conduct the post-mortem on the pilot whale assisted by UMS staff.
Latest casualty: Marine researchers getting ready to conduct the post-mortem on the pilot whale assisted by UMS staff.
Giving details to the press about the death of the whale that was estimated to be between two and three years old, she said the pilot whale was the latest casualty of the tonnes of plastic waste in the ocean.

“It is very possible that we will see more marine creatures washed ashore, given the amount of plastic out there,” she said.

She said the pilot whale, initially thought to be a risso dolphin, was discovered by a villager at Likas Bay on March 19 and subsequently taken to the BMRI where it was given round-the-clock care.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the condition of the pilot whale appeared to have improved after it was given antibiotics, painkillers, anti-­parasitic drugs, appetite stimulants, gastric protectants, multivitamins and fluid therapy.

“However, its condition suddenly deteriorated. The pilot whale vomited and died on March 25,” he said.

Sen said wildlife rangers discovered a pantropical spotted dolphin in waters off the northern Kudat district in September last year that died due to plastic ingestion.

He said green turtles were the most common creatures to die in Sabah waters for that same reason.

UMS lecturer for water quality for aqua­culture and marine pollution Dr Abentin Estim said a study last year of several beaches along the state’s west coast found 11,000 pieces of plastic bags per 100m stretch.

“The prevalence of plastic in our sea is a ­serious problem which needs to be tackled,” he said.


Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 27 Mar 15



The curse on the waters off Pasir Ris
from Water Quality in Singapore

grey-headed fish eagle squawk & flight @ SBWR - Feb 2015
from sgbeachbum

Plain Plushblue caterpillar and its attendant ant
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Why palm oil expanded, and what keeps it growing
from Mongabay.com news


Read more!

Clay particles could help fish farmers tackle deadly plankton blooms

Method known as clay spraying may help end plankton blooms, fish deaths
CAROLYN KHEW Straits Times 27 Mar 15;

Dumping clay into the water when there is a plankton bloom, like last month, when 600 tonnes of fish died, could be a lifeline for fish farmers in Singapore.

Clay flocculation, also known as clay spraying, involves the spraying of clay particles into the water so that they can bind to the plankton before they clump together and sink to the sea floor.

It is among the solutions the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore will be proposing to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) next month.

Mr Timothy Ng, the association's president, speaking to The Straits Times after a members' meeting on Tuesday, said the group will send a proposal that will also include an appeal for financial help to restart their businesses.

Fish farmers here are still reeling from the deadly plankton bloom last month and early this month, which wiped out almost all their fish stocks overnight.

While coastal farms in Changi were the most badly hit, those in Lim Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin were not spared either.

Mr Ng said he does not know of any farmer here who has tried clay spraying. "We hope we can go on study trips to find out more about it. Currently, what we know is from the Internet," he said. "We don't want to take the risk and restart our business unless there is some confidence that these methods can work."

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's website, clay has been effectively used during "red tides" in South Korea and Japan. Red tides refer to algae blooms that turn the water red.

Experts, however, said more research needs to be done to study the effectiveness of clay in the Singapore context, and the impact it could have on marine life.

The plankton said to be the cause of the recent fish kills here is "much smaller" than the one found in the algae blooms in South Korea, said Professor Gustaaf Hallegraeff from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.

Some plankton blooms contain deadly algae which take up oxygen in the water and suffocate marine life.

"It would be difficult to quantitatively remove these minute cells by clay flocculation," he said. It should be used only as an "emergency procedure" as settling clay could have "adverse impacts" on bottom-dwelling marine life.

Associate Professor Federico Lauro from the Asian School of the Environment at the Nanyang Technological University said: "If they are planning to use natural clays, the problem is that algae is precipitated but not killed. Some of the algae can escape and still be deadly to the fish."

Another solution proposed by the farmers is to tow floating fish farms to areas with better water conditions, such as Pulau Tekong. The use of bags to store fish, and a closed containment system are two other proposed methods.

AVA said yesterday it is working with the fish farmers to recover from recent plankton blooms, and build up resilience against similar incidents in the future.

"This includes putting in place robust contingency plans and conducting contingency exercises." AVA added that it will help the farmers learn from those who have installed resilient systems.

"Farmers can also tap on AVA's Agriculture Productivity Fund to purchase relevant equipment to enhance their resilience. Beyond these, we are also exploring further assistance for affected farms to restart their operations."

Last Friday, AVA met with about 10 fish farmers to discuss how they can move forward, said Mr Ng. It also shared with them possible improvements to contingency plans, such as having a colour-coded system to warn them of adverse water conditions.

Said Mr Ng: "We have to spend six months to a year growing new fish fry, with no income in between."

How workers clear dead fish

OVER 12 days, workers from NSL OilChem Waste Management went out in boats to clear away dead fish along farms in the Lim Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin area. The firm collected 900 bags or 18 tonnes of dead fish from Feb 25 to March 5. It was among those firms engaged by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) for the clean-up after the mass fish deaths last month and early this month.

Mr Young Ying, 47, a senior manager at the company, who led the clean-up, said his 19-men team, including him, worked an average of six to seven hours each day bagging up dead fish. "When the fish started rotting, it was quite difficult to retrieve them," he said. "The tidal current contributed to the difficulty."

An AVA spokesman said its officers were present to supervise and provide assistance in the clean-up.

"Those who disposed of the dead fish on their own were told to place them in trash bags and place the bags in skid tanks at Lorong Halus jetty," she added.

A National Environment Agency spokesman said it is responsible for cleaning up public areas such as beaches and canals. It collected more than 22,000kg of dead fish from beaches at Pasir Ris, Punggol, Changi and Ubin. The fish were incinerated.

CAROLYN KHEW

Clay solution to fish farmers' plankton woes?
Carolyn Khew My Paper AsiaOne 27 Mar 15;

Dumping clay into the water could be a lifeline for fish farmers here in the event of a plankton bloom, such as the last episode that killed 600 tonnes of fish.

Clay flocculation, also referred to as clay spraying, involves the spraying of clay particles into the water so that they can bind to the plankton before they aggregate and sink to the seabed.

It is one solution the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore will be proposing to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Timothy Ng, the association's president, told The Straits Times that it will submit the proposal in one to two weeks' time, following a members' meeting on Tuesday. The proposal will also include an appeal for financial help to restart their businesses.

Fish farmers here are still reeling from the deadly plankton blooms late last month and early this month, which wiped out almost all their fish stock overnight.

While coastal farms in Changi were most badly hit, those in Lim Chu Kang and off Pulau Ubin were not spared either.

On clay spraying, Mr Ng said he does not know of any farmer here who has tested it.

"We hope we can go on study trips to find out more about it. Currently, what we know is from the Internet," he said.

"We don't want to take the risk and restart our business unless there is some confidence that these methods can work."

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's website, clay has been effectively used during red tides in South Korea and Japan. Red tides refer to algal blooms that turn the water red.

Experts, however, warn that more research needs to be done to study its effectiveness in the local context and the impact it could have on marine life.

The plankton said to be the cause of the recent fish deaths here is "much smaller" than the ones found in the algae blooms in South Korea, said Gustaaf Hallegraeff from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.

"It would be difficult to quantitatively remove these minute cells by clay flocculation," he said.

It should be used only as an "emergency procedure", as settling clay could have "adverse impacts" on bottom-dwelling marine life.

Federico Lauro from the Asian School of the Environment at the Nanyang Technological University added: "If they are planning to use natural clays, the problem is that algae are precipitated, but not killed. Some of the algae can escape and still be deadly to the fish."

Another solution proposed by the farmers is to tow floating fish farms to areas with better water conditions, such as off Pulau Tekong. The use of bags to store fish and a closed containment system are two other methods proposed.

AVA said yesterday it is working with the fish farmers to recover and build up resilience against similar incidents in future.
"This includes putting in place robust contingency plans and conducting contingency exercises," said AVA.

It added that it will help the farmers learn from those who have installed resilient systems.

"Farmers can also tap on AVA's Agriculture Productivity Fund to purchase relevant equipment to enhance their resilience. Beyond these, we are also exploring further assistance for affected farms to restart their operations."

Last Friday, AVA met about 10 fish farmers to discuss how they can move forward, said Mr Ng.

The authority shared with them possible improvements to contingency plans, such as having a colour-coded system to warn them of adverse water conditions.

Stressing the importance of financial help, Mr Ng said: "We have to spend six months to a year growing new fish fry with no income in between."

He added that fish feed usually makes up about 60 per cent of operating costs.

Last year, the Government co-funded a portion of the cost needed to help farmers buy fish fry and new equipment to strengthen their resilience.


Read more!

Domestic recycling rate dips to 19 per cent despite 'go green' push

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Mar 15;

Singapore residents are recycling less despite the push to encourage people to go green, including equipping each public housing block with a recycling bin.

The domestic recycling rate fell to 19 per cent last year from 22 per cent in 2010, the National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times. The drop was largely due to a 30 per cent increase in food waste output over the period, NEA said.

Food waste in the domestic sector is not segregated for recycling. But if placed with other recyclables, it would contaminate the lot, which the public waste collector then has to toss out.

Singapore Environment Council (SEC) lead environmental engineer Kavickumar Muruganathan said: "Contamination of recyclables reduces the recyclability and quality of the materials, and this will lead to the reduction in the value of the recyclables."

The overall dip in the domestic recycling rate has caused concern among environmentalists, who say more needs to be done to engage and educate residents.

Since last September, every Housing Board block has a blue recycling bin, in which people put paper, plastics and other recyclables, placed close by. Before the initiative began in 2011, one bin was shared by five blocks. In January last year, the HDB said it will install recycling chutes in all new HDB blocks with throw points on each floor. This came on the heels of an encouraging pilot in Punggol.

Mr Eugene Heng, founder and chairman of green group Waterways Watch Society, said infrastructure will not solve the problem.
"Education is a slow process - if people are not aware of the benefits of recycling, there is no incentive for them to do so," he said.

The recycling framework must also be robust enough to assure people that their efforts to recycle are not wasted.

Last month's incident, in which waste collection firm Veolia was found to have mixed items meant for recycling with rubbish for incineration, would not help, said Mr Eugene Tay, founder and director of consultancy Green Future Solutions.

All five experts The Straits Times spoke to agreed that to hit a domestic recycling rate of 30 per cent by 2030 - a target set out in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 - more targeted public outreach needs to done.

Ms Olivia Choong, co-founder of environment group Green Drinks Singapore, said the recycling message could be better put across to the elderly through face-to-face interaction instead of just handing out brochures. For younger people, social media could be a better option.

One successful recycling programme started by the North West Community Development Council has volunteers sharing with residents the importance of reducing and reusing, and how to make use of 11 recycling points across the district.

Green groups, including SEC and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, said that beyond recycling, it is also important to remind people to consume and waste less.

WWF Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan said: "The old adage of reduce, reuse and as a last step, recycle, is key to reducing our impact on the environment."

Mr Heng said Singapore's only landfill will run out of space at an even quicker pace if people do not recycle. The Semakau Landfill is expected to be filled up by 2035 - a decade sooner than the original 2045 projection.


Read more!

Malaysia: Plastic bags found in dolphin

RUBEN SARIO The Star 27 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Plastic bags appear to have killed the Risso’s dolphin that was found in a weakened state in shallow waters at Likas Bay here nearly two weeks ago.

The dolphin died on Wednesday while being cared for at the Borneo Marine Research Unit Institute at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

A post-mortem on the marine mammal revealed that its intestinal tract was filled with plastic bags, a researcher said.

UMS officials are scheduled to announce the death of the dolphin and its causes today.

The researcher said it showed that the dolphin might have mistaken plastic bags floating in the sea for jellyfish, which is part of its diet.

This, he added, was the result of the widespread problem of plastic bags being thrown into the sea.

Other marine creatures such as turtles have also been reportedly found dead with plastic bags in their digestive system.

According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, there is an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean with the debris covering an area as large as the United States and India combined.

Marine researchers had initially assumed that the dolphin was suffering from a chronic bacterial, virus or parasitic infection.

The dolphin died despite being treated with a cocktail of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, appetite stimulants and multi-vitamins.

The Risso’s dolphin, which mainly lives in warm, tropical waters, is not considered endangered.


Read more!

Thailand issues world’s first elephant ID cards

New Straits Times 26 Mar 15;

PRACHUAP (Khiri Khan): Thailand has issued the world’s first elephant identity cards, Thai News Agency (TNA) reported.

The cards were presented to four elephant operators in Muang Hua Hin Municipality in Prachuap Khiri Khan province in the upper south at a ceremony presided by governor Weera Sriwatanatrakul late last month.

The operators are Elephant Village, Hutsadin Elephant Foundation, Hua Hin Safari and Hua Hin Hills Vineyard.

Listed in the ID cards are details such as an elephant’s name and age, photos, bodily marks, place of living, owner’s name, ID and microchip numbers.

The cards were issued in compliance with a new regulation implemented by the Interior Ministry and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to curb illegal ivory trade.

Prachuap Khiri Khan assistant governor Pongpan Wichiansamut said the move is hoped to prevent wild elephants from being kept and raised illegally. - –BERNAMA


Read more!

Earth’s Forests Are Broken

John R. Platt Takepart.com Yahoo News 25 Mar 15;

Imagine, if you will, a forest on the edge of a parking lot.

That first line of trees next to the concrete isn’t very healthy, is it? The plants are scraggly, oddly spaced, and choked off by pollution from the cars that come and go all day long. The ground beneath them is dry, partially barren, and strewn with litter and detritus. No birds or other wildlife can be seen.

Now, imagine those unhealthy conditions extrapolated to every other forest on the planet.

Finally, imagine that this is reality. You won’t be that far off from the actual condition of Earth’s forests, which, according to a powerful new study, have become increasingly fragmented from one another in a way that threatens not only what lives in the forests but everything that lives around them.

The study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, brought together two dozen scientists who have been studying habitat fragmentation around the globe. It not only condenses the researchers’ individual observations from experiments conducted over the past 30 years; it also uses advanced satellite data to look at the state of the world’s forest habitats.

The results aren’t good.

“Whenever you’re in a forest anywhere on the face of the Earth, there’s a one in five chance that you’re within a football field’s length of the edge of the forest,” said the study’s lead author, Nick Haddad, a biology professor at North Carolina State University. “And there’s a three out of four chance that you’re within a kilometer of the edge. That’s just a few city blocks. I’m looking out my office window right now, and I can see a kilometer. That’s not that far.”

This fragmentation has a wide range of effects, not just on the forests but also on the entire ecosystem. Animal and plant species first become locked into smaller habitats, and then many of them disappear. Pollination in the area diminishes, affecting flowers and other plants directly outside the forests. The ground near the edges of the forests becomes less able to absorb nutrients, causing further plant loss.

These diminished forests also lose much of their ability to sequester carbon, which slows climate change, Haddad said. Losing even small regional habitats could collectively have a lasting global impact.

Not least, the destruction of forests makes it harder to escape into nature and get away from it all. Haddad said the forests that exist are so fragmented and so close to the noise of civilization that few can truly be called wilderness.

Some of these effects are almost immediate; others take five or 10 years—or much longer—to materialize.

“Fragmented habitats degrade over time,” Haddad said. “It’s a downward trajectory that we can measure over a period of decades.”

The paper calls this “extinction debt”—the delayed loss of species in a habitat following its fragmentation. In their experiments, the researchers found that the number of species within a fragmented habitat drops by 20 percent or more after the first year. After a decade, that increases to more than 50 percent.

It’s not just the big, noticeable, “charismatic” species that suffer. “It’s the entire breadth of plants and animals—the diversity of life—that is affected by habitat fragmentation,” Haddad said.

Although he warned that “we do not know the end to what fragmentation will be,” Haddad said there are possible solutions. Those include establishing connecting corridors to link isolated habitats, conserving more land, and establishing new ways to improve agricultural efficiency so we don’t need to keep cutting down forests to feed Earth’s ever-growing human population.

But as the paper warns, much of the planet’s remaining forest fragments are already smaller than 25 acres. With agricultural land expected to grow another 18 percent by 2050 and the size of the urban population expected to triple by 2030 (according to sources cited by the paper), that doesn’t leave much room for the forests Earth will need for centuries to come.


Read more!