December 2004

Madagascar is one of the world's most important countries in terms of biodiversity and cultural richness. In January I will be launching, an educational site on Madagascar. In the meantime, here is a preview of some pictures from my recent trip to the country: Madagascar pictures.

December 26, 2004

I extend my condolences to the families and friends of all the victims of the earthquakes and tsunamis in southeast Asia. The next few days are going to be extraordinarily difficult for millions of people in the region and I encourage those capable of dong so to contribute to the Red Cross and other emergency service organizations.

December 25, 2004

Lemurs are primates found only in Madagascar. There are around 60 kinds of lemurs ranging from the 25-gram pygmy mouse lemur to the indri, a lemur whose haunting call is reminiscent of a humpback whale. Like much of Madagascar's wildlife, lemurs are today endangered by habitat loss and, in some areas, poaching as a food source.

December 24, 2004

The EU is debating whether to place restrictions on the illegal timber trade. Currently around $1.6 billion worth of illegally logged wood is imported into the EU annually.

December 22, 2004

The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent article on ethical tourism including tips on being an ethical traveler. These days there are countless tour operators promoting ecotourism but few actually live up to the intended label. The article cites David Weaver, a professor of tourism management at George Mason University, as saying the hard-core ecotourism crowd is maybe 1 percent. Just 38% percent of US travelers say they would pay more to use a travel company that seeks to protect and preserve the environment.

December 21, 2004

IMAZON, the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment, released a study showing that around half of the Amazon rainforest is degraded or otherwise occupied by man.

December 20, 2004

On January 2 the state-run oil company of Brazil will begin laying a 240-mile pipeline through the Amazon rainforest. Despite years of opposition from Indian tribes and environmentalists, Petrobras will begin construction on the pipeline that the government hopes will bring more development to the Amazon region. The natural gas will be used to generate cleaner electricity than existing oil-powered generators.

December 19, 2004

The World Bank published a report entitled "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Langur" warning that southeast Asia's rapid economic development has come at the expense of its environment. Ironically, the World Bank has sponsored activities that have resulted in significant ecological damage in the region and is currently under fire for proposed cattle ranching project in the Amazon (see below -- December 15).

December 17, 2004

I updated the city population estimates part of the site. The section now includes such tables as "Cities with more than 1 million people" and "2005 population estimates for cities in Malaysia."

December 15, 2004

Environmentalists have accused the world bank of funding a cattle-ranching in the Brazilian Amazon will result in further deforestation. According to the London Telegraph, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, has agreed to lend $110 million for the project which has been criticized by Robert Goodland, a former World Bank official, who says "The Bertin project violates the bank's environmental safeguards."

December 14, 2004

A recent article in The Economist reports that derivatives markets could be used to hedge against famine in places like the Sudan. According to the article, the World Food Programme -- the UN body that combats starvation -- is looking into the application of financial instruments generally used for catastrophes as a way to fund humanitarian efforts in hunger-stricken regions.

December 13, 2004

Brazil and Peru have announced a $700 million plan for a "Transoceanic Highway" that would link Brazil's Amazon river port of Assis to Peru's Pacific ports of Matarini, Ilo and San Juan, raising concerns over further deforestation in the region. Typically, roads in the Amazon encourage settlement by rural poor who look to the rainforest as free land for subsistence agriculture.

December 10, 2004

Deforestation in Brazil is responsible for about 75% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions according to a presentation at the United Nations climate change conference in Buenos Aires. Brazil accounts for around 3% of global emissions of greenhouse gases, where as the United States releases about a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas pollution.

December 9, 2004

In late September I spent some time in Palermo, Italy. Here are some pictures from the trip: Palermo pictures.

December 8, 2004

According to a new study by Duke University ecologists, rainforest fragments do not provide a refuge for threatened bird species typically found in primary forest. The study looked at forest fragments of Brazil's Atlantic Forest, which once blanketed the coast of the country. Today, though less than 10% of the original cover remains, more than 200 species of birds are endemic to these forests.

December 7, 2004

The Manila Times reports that lawmakers in the Philippines are debating whether to enact a total nationwide ban on all logging following floods and landslides that killed more than 600 people in Northeastern Luzon last week. Deforestation from illegal has been cited as the leading cause for the devastation. Some government officials are reluctant to support a total ban, believing it will adversely affect the country's timber industry.

December 5, 2004

According to a report released last month by the Audubon Society, nearly a third of North American bird species are seeing a significant decline in population. Populations of three species -- the Rusty blackbird, Henslow's sparrow, and the Common tern -- have declined more than 90% since 1966, while four other species have lost more than 80% of their individuals during that period. Scientists believe the leading cause for species loss is conversion of natural habitat to farmland and residential land development. Populations of urban species have been less affected.

December 4, 2004

The Yucatan peninsula has virtually no surface streams due ot its limestone foundation -- a relic of its past life as coral reef on the bottom of the ocean. Ground water sinks through the porous limestone and travels to the sea in underground rivers and caves (formed from millennia of acidified water dissolving conduits in the limestone). To date, almost sixty cave systems with more than 300 miles of passageways have been discovered. These underwater streams can be accessed through cenotes, sinkholes in the surface limestone. In areas where sun penetrates the surface, cenotes support luxuriant plant growth and are home to several freshwater fish species popular in the aquarium trade.

December 3, 2004

The 80-mile stretch of coastline south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico -- now called the Riviera Maya -- has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past decade, becoming Mexico's fastest-growing resort area. Places like Playa de Carmen and Tulum have gone from small villages to booming resort towns as developers bypass bureaucratic approvals to buy and build up beachfront lands as fast as possible. Mangrove swamps, which are largely responsible for the region's sparkling waters and stunning coral reefs, are the primary victim of land clearing for hotels and condominiums. The loss of these habitats threaten the very things (biodiversity, clean waters, and reefs) that attract visitors to this region.

December 2, 2004

According to preliminary data released today by the Brazilian government, this year's loss of Amazon rainforest could exceed 2003 levels. Satellite images suggest that 8,920 square miles to 9,420 square miles -- an area larger than New Jersey -- was razed this year.

November 21, 2004

I'm leaving for the Yucatan and will be back in early December.

November 20, 2004

Traffic to mongabay sites surged in October to more than 50,000 visitors per day. Thank you for your continued interest.

November 19, 2004

Some reports out of Brazil suggest the government is taking steps to reduce deforestation.

November 17, 2004

Since my return Madagascar has been getting a lot of press. Today The Wall Street Journal ran a front page article on a mining project in southern Madagascar while a number of news outfits have reported on the country's recent expansion of protected areas. Even Surfer Magazine has an article on Madagascar.

November 14, 2004

I am back from my travels in Europe and Madagascar. A lot has happened while I have been away and I will do my best to update things accordingly. Pictures from Madagascar will be released sometime next month after I return from the Yucatan.

September 20, 2004

I will be in Europe (Paris and southern Italy) and Madagascar through mid November 2004. I probably will not have internet access in Madagascar so the site is going to be quiet for a while. I appreciate your interest and will add lots of pictures upon my return.

September 19, 2004

An update on mining, deforestation, and conservation in Laos.

September 18, 2004

Organizers at The Fourth Green Meeting of the Americas, a conference sponsored by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras and other Brazilian energy companies, proposed creating an international court to assess and punish environmental crimes. The International Environmental Court would be modeled after the World Court in the Hague, Netherlands.

September 17, 2004

Foreign ministers of eight Amazon Basin countries signed the Manaus Declaration claiming "the sovereign responsibility" to promote the sustainable development of the region. The document formally establishes their collective goal of

  • fighting biopiracy and asserting full control over the region's biological resources;
  • protecting the rights of native Amazonians;
  • curbing illegal deforestation;
  • establishing a system for sharing information gathered through remote monitoring systems;
  • promoting investment and trade; and
  • moving toward the formation of a South American Community of Nations.
The BBC featured an article on the Mamiraua Project for Sustainable Development, an integrated conservation and development project in the Brazilian Amazon.

September 16, 2004

The evolution of a complex forest ecosystem on the mid-Atlantic island of Ascension only 150 years after plants were first introduced has surprised scientists and has sparked a debate over conventional ecological theory according to a report in New Scientist magazine.

September 15, 2004

Die Welt, a German news daily reported that Syria -- in coordination with the government in Sudan -- has used chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur. China, which has oil interests in Sudan and veto power at the U.N., will not allow a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against the Sudanese government which is currently supporting groups that are committing atrocities in the remote region. The United Nations has estimated some 1.2 million people have fled their homes and up to 50,000 people have died from direct violence, starvation or illness in what it describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

September 12, 2004

Yesterday scientists announced that they had captured a female po'ouli bird in the rainforest of Maui, the first step toward developing a captive breeding program that may save the species from extinction. It is believed that the po'ouli is down to its last three members -- one male and two females -- due to habitat destruction and predation from introduced species.

September 11, 2004

Julie Larsen Maher of the Wildlife Conservation Society recently traveled to Madagascar and visited a few of the places I plan to see. Here's her photo journal from the trip.

September 8, 2004

Another sign corporations are shifting their stance on global warming: the Conference Board, a nonprofit organization whose members include 2,000 major corporations from around the world, issued a report citing increasing scientific consensus that humans are contributing to the warming of the planet and warning "businesses that ignore the debate over climate change do so at their peril." The Wall Street Journal points out that the Conference Board's report comes less than two weeks after the Bush administration issued its own report that said warmer temperatures in North America over the past half century "were unlikely to be due only to natural climate variations."

September 7, 2004

In anticipation of my forthcoming trip to Madagascar, I have launched a new site: The site is still very much in beta but will give you a brief overview of the country. The official launch will come in late November once I've returned from my travels.

September 6, 2004

Yesterday The Washington Post featured an article on slavery in the Brazilian Amazon. While Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, the government has acknowledged to the United Nations that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under "conditions analogous to slavery" as workers in the Amazon Basin. The article argues that slavery persists in Brazil for two reasons:

  1. Brazil's "slaves are out of sight and out of mind: Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, who dominate the national political culture, are no more likely to worry about rural slaves in the Amazon than New Yorkers are to worry about illegal immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley" and
  2. "Brazil's modern slaves are cogs in the global economy. Their labor makes Brazil's exports of beef, soybeans, timber and pig iron cheaper, often much cheaper than competing U.S. products."

September 5, 2004

The San Francisco Chronicle featured an update on the Huaorani Indians of Ecuador who have been battling development in their Amazonian homeland for more than two decades. In May 2003, a group of 9 Huaorani men from the village of Tiguino were responsible for a massacre of 26 Tagaeri men, women and children. Now an investigation has concluded that the murder may have been spurred on by Colombian loggers seeking access to valuable timber (Spanish cedar and mahogany) located on Tagaeri land.

September 4, 2004

Added some resource links on indigenous people: African, Asian, North American, Pacific, and South American.

September 1, 2004

I'm back from Oahu and preparing for Madagascar. September marks the 3-year anniversary of In that time, traffic to the site has increased from just over 100 visitors per day to more than 32,000 daily visits.

August 25, 2004

The World Bank will lend Brazil $1.2 billion over the next four years to help protect the environment by financing 10 projects that range from protecting the Amazon rainforest to employing environmental analysts. It is the bank's biggest single loan dedicated to protecting the environment of a single country.

August 16, 2004

Environmental groups are concerned over the Democratic Republic of Congo's plans to increase commercial logging of its rainforest. The Congo Basin is home to the Earth's second largest rainforest (18% of the planet's remaining tropical rainforest) and makes up 70% of the African continent's plant cover. I've added a special section on the Congo Rainforest: Congo Stats, Congo People, Congo River, Congo Deforestation, Congo Forestry, and Congo Conservation.

August 15, 2004

Britain may be sued by tribes in Papua New Guinea for its involvement in a 10,000-hectare oil palm plantation. The tribes claim Higaturu Oil Palms -- a company partially owned by the UK Department for International Development -- used toxic chemicals that poisoned their water, damaged ancestral graveyards and destroyed the "sole habitat of the world's largest butterfly, Queen Alexandra's birdwing." A successful outcome for the tribes could trigger similar compensation claims in other areas affected by foreign government sponsored development projects.

August 10, 2004

Next week a group of policy makers, scientists, and commercial fisherman are meeting in Malaysia for a conference on the conservation and sustainable management of sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean. Sea turtles are among the most threatened reptiles on the planet due to habitat destruction, unsustainable egg harvesting, mortality as bycatch, and pollution.

August 9, 2004

A University of Utah experiment conducted in the Peruvian Amazon suggests insects increase the diversity of the rainforest by feeding on trees. Such seemingly destructive behavior keeps dominant tree species under control but allows other trees to thrive. ''The battle between plants and insects increases the number of habitats in the rainforest,'' says Paul Fine, lead author of the study published July 30 in Science.

August 7, 2004

Exemplifying the remarkable shift in the corporate stance on climate change, the headline in this week's BusinessWeek reads: "Global Warming: Why Business is Taking It So Seriously." Only a couple of years ago, companies took out advertisements in leading publications proclaiming that global warming was a myth created by alarmist environmentalists and rogue scientists. Today companies are realizing the implications of changing climate and working to prepare for the new risks and opportunities presented by an altered climate. Increasingly the consensus is something must be done before it is too late.

The article notes that politicians are getting involved too. John McCain (R-Arizona) says, "The facts are there. We have to educate out fellow citizens about climate change and the danger it poses to the world," while New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer -- who recently sued the nation's largest utility companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- warns "Global warming threatens our health, our economy, our natural resources, and our children's future. It is clear we must act."

August 6, 2004

Home Depot is taking a green role in the international timber trade according to an article in today's Wall Street Journal. Pressure from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and other environmental groups in the late 1990s helped encourage the company to reevaluate its environmental practices and eventually stop using products from endangered forests.

Home Depot's move reflects a change in corporate tactics for addressing criticism from environmental groups. As the article puts it, "For retailers, working with green groups can be a fairly inexpensive way to ingratiate themselves with customers and rid themselves of negative publicity." But the trend also extends beyond retailers: Citigroup, one of the world's largest financial services companies, has recently worked with RAN to develop and adopt a comprehensive environmental policy that promotes higher environmental standards through its business practices.

For their part, activist groups are getting smarter about their methods of pressing companies for change: "Instead of seeking environmental change through government legislation or the courts, these activists target specific corporations through boycotts and protests. They then persuade those companies to pressure their suppliers and business partners to change their practices, creating a 'green' domino effect through an industry."

August 4, 2004

The past few days I have been in the Sierra Nevadas. Here are some pictures: wildlife and sunsets. Also, traffic to the site hit a new record in July.

July 28, 2004

Malaysia announced it would go ahead with its controversial, US$2.4 billion Bakun hydroelectric dam in the rainforest of Borneo, despite widespread criticism from environmental groups.

July 27, 2004

With the Large Scale Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia conference meeting today in Brasilia, I added a new section to mongabay: the Amazon Rainforest. Currently included are pages on Rainforest ecology, Amazon wildlife (amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals, reptiles), Amazon people, Amazon destruction, Amazon deforestation figures, Amazon deforestation map, Amazon Basin map, and Amazon conservation.

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