A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests - Their Wonders and the Perils They Face. Information on rainforests, biodiversity, and environmental concerns. Tropical Freshwater Fish: Information on tropical freshwater fish including species descriptions, tips on aquarium care, and more. Madagascar: Information on a country rich with culture and biodiversity. Travel Pictures: Pictures of wildlife and landscapes from around the world.
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September 30, 2005

The likely source of SARS -- which killed 770 people in 2003 -- is the horseshoe bat, a new study in the journal Science suggests. Now that a bat has been identified as the origin for the respiratory disease, there is concern that all bats will be persecuted. This would be a shame. Not only do bats play a crucial role in the health of ecosystems but they are also helpful in controlling insects, including malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Over the past few days a series of Arctic-related studies have been released. A report in Nature says rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could make oceans too acidic for marine organisms producing protective shells. Such a development could be catastrophic for the ocean's food chain and devastating for world fisheries. Another study, published in the August 2005 issue of the NRC Research Press' Canadian Journal of Forest Research, reports that climate change causing ancient lakes and wetlands in Alaska to be replaced by forest. Finally, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that summer Arctic sea ice coverage has fallen far below average for fourth straight year.

September 29, 2005

The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature expects that more than 20,000 species will be described by zoologists in 2005. This year's discoveries include four species of lemurs from the island of Madagascar, a monkey from Tanzania, an odd-ball rodent from Vietnam, a parasitic "vampire fish" from the Amazon.

Lakes and wetlands in the Kenai Peninsula of south-central Alaska are drying at a significant rate. The shift seems to be driven by climate change, and could endanger waterfowl habitats and hasten the spread of wildfires.

September 28, 2005

China is considering reopening the domestic trade in tigers and tiger parts, banned there since 1993, a move that would spell disaster for the already endangered species according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC.

For the first time ever, scientists have observed a giant squid in the wild. Two Japanese scientists, Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori, report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences that they have made the world's first observations of a giant squid living in its natural environment.

September 27, 2005

Late last year an international team completed the first known transect of the island of Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island. The eight-month-long journey, dubbed "Hike Madagascar," took the group of intrepid hikers from the southern tip of Madagascar to the northernmost point of the island. The transect targeted rural communities along the eastern forest corridor, surveying villages and providing local farmers with techniques for improving rice yields and putting more food on the table for their families. The hike also provided a glimpse into some of the socioeconomic and environmental issues facing the island nation, which is one of the poorest in the world.

September 26, 2005

Yesterday's copy of The Guardian carried the most amusing story yet to emerge out of Hurricane Katrina. The newspaper reports that a group of armed dolphins "trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater" may have gone missing in the Gulf of Mexico when their coastal compound was breached during the storm. Leo Sheridan, an accident investigator with knowledge of the situation says, "My concern is that they have learnt to shoot at divers in wetsuits who have simulated terrorists in exercises. If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber and if equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire."

U.N. surveys have found that some farmers in tsunami-ravaged areas are experiencing bumper harvests of rice, vegetables, and fruit. Researchers say rich top soil and the composting effect of other organic matter dumped by the tsunami has boosted yields in some areas. However, in other areas agricultural land has been swept away or is still flooded.

The aquarium and other facilities at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas appear to have weathered Hurricane Rita according to press reports. Most of the animals were evacuated from the facilities well prior to the storm's arrival.

September 25, 2005

The kind of devastation seen on the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina may be a small taste of what is to come if emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are not diminished soon, warns Dr. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology in his opening remarks at the 7th International Carbon Dioxide Conference in Boulder, Colorado. If current trends continue, some 5 trillion tons of carbon is expected to be spewed into the atmosphere over the next three centuries from human fossil-fuel burning. It will have serious consequences by warming the planet on average between 7 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit and turning the oceans acidic.

In a move that sets a new standard in African conservation, the nation of Gabon, which contains some of the most pristine tropical rainforests on earth, announced today that it will set aside 10 percent of its land mass for a system of national parks. Up to this point, Gabon had no national park system. Gabon is poised to become a leading destination for ecotourists.

As many as 10 million people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been assessed as food insecure and will need humanitarian assistance until the next harvest according to a food security brief from USAID.

September 24, 2005

A distant supernova that exploded 41,000 years ago may have led to the extinction of the mammoth, according to research presented today by nuclear scientist Richard Firestone of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The controversial theory is seen as an alternative to the belief that a combination of human hunting, disease, and climate change caused the demise of ancient megafauna in North America.

Fires have burned more than 1700 square miles (4450 square km) of Amazon rainforest and pasture in Bolivia, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency in two provinces.

Reports from the Coast Guard indicate that at least 193,000 barrels of oil and other petrochemicals have been spilled in wetlands and coastal areas in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The storm ruptured pipelines, damaged oil storage facilities, and chemical production plants.

September 23, 2005

This month's issue of The Ecological Finance Review details Greenheart Conservation Company, a for-profit company that designs, builds and operates conservation based canopy walkways (canopy trails) and other nature-based attractions around the world. Operating on the premise that conservation can be economically viable, Greenheart believes that is has already become a "model of how to shift gears from an industrial to a green economy." Greenheart has developed or is developing canopy walkways in Peru, Nigeria, Madagascar, Ghana, Brazil, Guyana, the United Kingdon, and Canada.

As forest fires rage across much of the Brazilian Amazon, the Brazilian National Institute for Spatial Research (INPE) reports that fires have fallen 44% in the state of Mato Grosso when compared to last year's figures. Most of the fires are burning in Acre and Para states.

September 22, 2005

Hurricane Katrina was the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the United States. Hurricane Rita threatens to add to the 2005 hurricane season's toll. Is there anything that can be done about these deadly and destructive storms? The answer is someday there may be ways to reduce the intensity of these tropical storms but in the meantime, the best option is to avoid new construction in hurricane-prone regions.

Yesterday The Wall Street Journal published an article on proposals for improving the levees around New Orleans. The city's existing flood-control system, which was designed to handle up to a Category 3 hurricane, failed during Category 4 Katrina and New Orleans was swamped with flood water.

The Brazilian National Institute for Spatial Research (INPE) reports that fires have fallen 44% in the state of Mato Grosso this past year.

Scientists at the Technical University of Denmark have invented a technology which may be an important step towards the hydrogen economy: a hydrogen tablet that effectively stores hydrogen in an inexpensive and safe material.

September 21, 2005

The NOAA Fisheries Service and the Marine Life Aquarium of Gulfport, Mississippi, working with a number of other partners, rescued the last four of the eight trained bottlenose dolphins that were swept out of an aquarium tank torn apart by the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina on August 29. Normally held in captivity, the dolphins lack the necessary skills to survive on their own, though they have survived various injuries and predators and have stayed together since the storm.

Hurricane Rita has strengthened to a Category 5 Hurricane.

September 20, 2005

After their summit this past weekend in Washington DC, conservation scientists proposed a $404 million effort to preserve declining global amphibian populations. The strategy would call for funding from governments, private institutions and individual donors to finance long-term research, protect critical habitats, reduce the trade in amphibians for food and pets, and establish captive breeding programs.

September 19, 2005

NASA research has found that deforestation in the tropics affects rainfall patterns in North America. Deforestation in the Amazon region of South America influences rainfall from Mexico to Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico. Similarly, deforesting lands in Central Africa affects precipitation in the upper and lower U.S Midwest, while deforestation in Southeast Asia was found to alter rainfall in China and the Balkan Peninsula.

September 18, 2005

The World Bank introduced a new measure of wealth that takes into account the depletion of natural resources and damage to the environment. These factors are neglected under current indicators used to guide development decisions, notably Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Using this new metric in its "Where Is the Wealth of Nations?" report published last week, the World Bank says resource depletion and population growth are draining the net "savings" of the world's poorest countries, which continue to get poorer.

The Carbon Disclosure Project, a coalition of institutional investors with more than $21 trillion in assets, released results from its global survey of the world's 500 largest companies. The survey found that more corporations than ever before now factor climate change into the risks and opportunities faced by their businesses. U.S. firms are developing strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without mandates from the government, which has opposed binding limits on such emissions.

September 17, 2005

An email obtained by The Clarion-Ledger suggests federal officials appear to be seeking proof to blame the flood of New Orleans on environmental groups. The U.S. Department of Justice has sent an email various U.S. attorneys' offices asking for information about litigation "by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the [Army Corps of Engineers'] work on the levees protecting New Orleans." The problem with the tactic: the Mississippi River levees on which the government is seeking information were not the ones that broke causing New Orleans to flood. The breached levees were those on Lake Pontchartrain and were not part of the litigation.

A study released in this week's Science says that the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes nearly doubled over the past 35 years. The study supports one published in Eos by an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology late last month.

A study out of the University of Central Florida warns that a Category 4 hurricane could cause a storm surge of as much as 25 feet in Tampa Bay.

September 16, 2005

Wildlife experts began rescuing a group of eight bottlenose dolphins that were swept from their Gulfport aquarium home into the Gulf of Mexico by Hurricane Katrina. Two dolphins were rescued Thursday.

The number of sightseers visiting Antarctica has surged 308 percent since 1992 according to figures released in a report by the UN. For the 2004-2005 year, more than 27,000 people visited the icy continent. In coming years, tourists may be increasingly drawn to the remote landscape as it faces the looming threat of global warming which could significantly impact its glaciers, wildlife, and ice flows.

1.8 million hectares of rainforest in Colombia have been destroyed to make room for drug plantations according to the director of Amazon Institute of Scientific Investigation. Luz Marina Mantilla told the AFP that the increased presence of narcotraffickers in the Amazon region of Colombia has displaced indigenous populations in addition to endangering the lives of scientists working there.

September 15, 2005

Scientists are meeting this weekend to discuss strategies for addressing the global decline of amphibians. Earlier this year, the Global Amphibian Assessment, a survey of the planet's amphibian species, found that nearly a third (32%) of the world's amphibian species are threatened and 129 species have gone extinct since 1980.

In recognition of this meeting, here are some of the amphibian-related articles that have run on the site lately.

September 14, 2005

Ecotourism is often cited as one of the key strategies for promoting economic development while protecting tropical rainforests. So, how does one go about visiting the rainforest? Here's a first time visitor's travel guide for the rainforest

Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush challenged world leaders to abolish all trade tariffs and subsidies in an effort to promote prosperity and opportunity in struggling nations. His comments are significant due to the wide-reaching impact subsidies have on developing countries and the environment. Oxfam, a nonprofit organization working to reduce poverty in the world's poorest regions, estimates that subsidies and other forms of protectionism in rich countries cost the developing world over $100 billion a year. Further, subsidies have a significant role in tropical deforestation. Governments have long subsidized land-clearing projects in places like the Amazon that would not otherwise be economically viable.

September 13, 2005

Rainforest plants have long been recognized for their potential to provide healing compounds. Indigenous peoples of the rainforest have used medicinal plants for treating a wide variety of health conditions while western pharmacologists have derived a number of drugs from such plants. However, as forests around the world continue to fall there is a real risk that pharmaceutically-useful plants will disappear before they are examined for their chemical properties. Increasingly, it is becoming a race against time to collect and screen plants before their native habitats are destroyed. One near miss occurred recently with a compound that has shown significant anti-HIV effects, Calanolide A.

The Louisiana Department and Wildlife and Fisheries estimates that Hurricane Katrina will cost the state's fisheries $1.1 billion in lost revenue over the next year. That number would represent a 40 percent loss to the total value of the state's commercial and recreational retail harvest values based on 2003 sales levels of $2.85 billion.

September 12, 2005

Two sea otters and 19 penguins from the New Orleans Aquarium have been sent to Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium will start providing updates on the animals once they have been stabilized. There are currently no plans to place them on exhibit at Monterey Bay.

Starting today, British Airways passengers will be asked to make a donation towards green energy efforts whenever they fly. The airline is introducing the "green fee" to persuade the government that it takes the issue of pollution seriously and that policymakers need not adopt a European proposal for environmental taxes on flights. The EU is considering such a proposal as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions which are strictly limited under the Kyoto Protocol.

September 11, 2005

Last week a Bay Area icon shut its doors. Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park suddenly and unexpectedly closed after 50 years of bookselling on the Peninsula. The independent bookseller was considered one of California's literary landmarks, a place where well-read employees could make informed recommendations on virtually any genre. While high rent is reported to have played a role in the closure, Kepler's employees cited slow sales and competition from discount and online retailers as reasons for shutting the doors. While the environment has become tougher for independent bookstores, did Kepler's really need to close?

New research suggests humans were influencing the world's climate long before the Industrial Revolution. Atmospheric levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, climbed steadily during the first millennium due to massive fires set by humans clearing land for agriculture.

September 10, 2005

Friday night animal survivors from New Orleans Aquarium were moved to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and the Dallas World Aquarium in Texas. In all the aquarium lost virtually all its 10,000 fish.

New research suggests humans were influencing the world's climate long before the Industrial Revolution. Atmospheric levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, climbed steadily during the first millennium due to massive fires set by humans clearing land agriculture. The research is published in this week's Science.

Lost in this summer's hype surrounding the debt relief campaign for Africa were actual solutions to the continent's problems. One program that could have potential for real poverty alleviation in Africa is a "Gray Corps" concept which would take advantage of the experience and expertise of aging Americans (aged 65 and older), a segment of the population that is expected to grow from approximately 35 million in 2000 to an estimated 71 million in 2030. This group could be key to addressing a number of looming social issues both here in the United States and abroad.

September 9, 2005

Surviving animals from the New Orleans aquarium will find new homes according to aquarium spokeswoman Melissa Lee. Despite escaping Hurricane Katrina with little physical damage, the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans suffered significant loss of animal life when the facility's emergency generator failed and made conditions unlivable for most its animals.

Madagascar is a place like no other. Separated from mainland Africa for some 160 millions years, 80% of its native flora and fauna are unique to the island. While Madagascar is best known for its wildlife, it is a land of extraordinary cultural richness. It's a place where ancestors are as much a part of the present day as they are of the past; where in many areas taboo and tradition take precedence over the law; and western-style religion is freely mixed with beliefs in sorcery and unparalleled funerary customs. Here's a look at why one should visit the world's most unusual island.

Warming in the Arctic is stimulating the growth of vegetation and could affect the delicate energy balance there, causing an additional climate warming of several degrees over the next few decades. A new study indicates that as the number of dark-colored shrubs in the otherwise stark Arctic tundra rises, the amount of solar energy absorbed could increase winter heating by up to 70 percent

Fourteen years ago Croatia was a war zone. Serbian forces occupied about one third of the country and shelled the historic city Dubrovnik. Ethnic cleansing and atrocities were committed and thousands of people were displaced. Today, peace has returned to Croatia and the country is experiencing a tourism boom. With some of the best weather in the Mediterranean and the sparkling waters of the Adriatic there are good reasons that Croatia has regained its former glory at a top tourist destination.

New evidence suggests human evolution was caused by specific periods of climatic change in Africa according to a theory presented at the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society. These climatic influences played a crucial part in enhancing human development says Dr Mark Maslin, Senior Lecturer in Geography at University College London

September 8, 2005

San Diego has been hit by hurricanes in the past and may be affected by such storms in the future according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While a hurricane in San Diego would likely produce significantly less damage than Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, it could still exact a high cost to Southern California especially if the region was caught off guard.

The Congressional Budget Office projects 400,000 people will be unemployed due to Hurricane Katrina. Further, the hurricane is unlikely to have much impact on overall economic growth in the United States. Generally, the overall impact of natural disasters is often close to neutral since lost output from destruction and displacement is then compensated for by a big increase in reconstruction and public spending.

New Orleans Aquarium update: The sea otters, penguins, leafy and weedy seadragons, birds (macaws and raptors), and the white alligator are fine. Most of the fish are not.

Chernobyl's ecosystems seem to be recovering just 19 years after the region was badly contaminated with radiation from a nuclear meltdown according to a report backed by the United Nations. The report, "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts," says 4,000 deaths will probably be attributable to the accident ultimately - far less than the tens of thousands predicted at the time of the accident. Meanwhile, researchers say that biodiversity around the doomed plant is actually higher than before the disaster.

The tropical rainforests of Kalimantan have long been threatened and increasingly endangered by deforestation and other invasive types of human activity. However, a lesser known ecosystem in the region that is literally coming under fire, is the tropical peat lands, particularly in the central area of the province of Indonesian Borneo.

September 7, 2005

An eyewitness account of hurricane destruction along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Included is information on plans to provide pro bono services from out of state lawyers to the storm victims, many of whom will need assistance in dealing with insurance companies, relief bureaucracies, and possibly personal or small business bankruptcies in the aftermath of the storm.

Despite escaping Hurricane Katrina with little physical damage, the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans has suffered significant loss of animal life. According to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), the aquarium has lost most of its fish. A skeleton staff is preparing to move some animals out of the facility and caring for surviving animals in the collection. The sea otters, penguins, seadragons, birds (macaws and raptors), and the white alligator are fine.

Madagascar has been called the "land that time forgot" for its collection of unique and often downright bizarre plants and animals. Around 75% of the species on the island are found nowhere else on Earth, putting Madagascar atop the list among the world's most biologically diverse countries. One of Madagascar's strangest beasts is the aye-aye. This nocturnal and reclusive lemur looks like it has been assembled from a variety of animals and has equally peculiar behavior. Here's an account of my recent attempt to see the aye-aye in the wild: In Search of the Aye-aye, Madagascar's most unusual lemur

In the dry deciduous forests of south western Madagascar there lives a lemur that loudly cusses but "dances" like a ballet performer. Verreaux's sifaka is among the most popular of lemur species, a group of primates endemic to islands off the southeastern coast of Africa. While threatened, Verreaux's sifaka is easily spotted is several of Madagascar's more accessible parks. Dancing lemur attracts tourists to island of Madagascar

Global warming will cause gasses trapped beneath the ocean floor to release into the atmosphere according to research presented at the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society. The impact could trigger catastrophic climate change.

The use of fire for creating and maintaining agricultural areas is an annual practice across most of Africa. NASA's Earth Observatory recently released a news brief documenting fire patterns across the African continent for 2005.

September 6, 2005

Plants have long been used by humans for treating a wide range of ills from childhood leukemia to hangovers. Indeed, many of the pharmaceuticals currently available to Western doctors have a long history of use as herbal remedies including quinine, opium, aspirin, and coca. Many of the most promising plants are found in the world's tropical rainforests which house perhaps 50% of the biodiversity on the planet. These ecosystems are increasingly threatened by deforestation -- the Amazon alone has lost more than 200,000 miles of forest since the 1970s -- and examining these forests before they are further destroyed has become a top priority for pharmacologists. Recognizing these threats and the global health and economic importance of plants, the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park is running a special exhibit on the healing power of plants.

The Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans has lost more than 1500 fish and will be closed at least one year.

September 5, 2005

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) reports that the Jackson zoo, Birmingham zoo, Montgomery Zoo, and Baton Rouge Zoo came through Hurricane Katrina with relatively little damage. None of the facilities lost staff or animals and most of the damage was limited to fallen trees. Meanwhile, the Marinelife Oceanarium in Gulfport, Miss., suffered major storm damage to the building and injuries to some animals, while the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans has lost at least a third of its fish.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned that large forest fires in southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia, have caused serious health and environmental problems.

September 4, 2005

Despite escaping Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed, the zoo and aquarium facilities in New Orleans could use donations to help with the feeding and care of their animals: How to help the New Orleans Zoo and Aquarium

Peruvian scientists discovered the fossilized remains of a giant, 46-foot-(14-meter)-long crocodile deep in the Amazon rainforest, lending credence to a theory that the Amazon was once a huge inland sea.

September 3, 2005

The Audubon Zoo, the Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans survived Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed according to reports from operators of the facilities. Dan Maloney, general curator at the Audubon Zoo, reports that although "attendance is really down," the staff that have stayed at the zoo are doing fine.

September 2, 2005

NOAA released aerial pictures showing Hurricane Katrina from the inside and widespread destruction in New Orleans.

A researcher at the Rochester Institute of Technology published a paper modeling the collapse of Easter Island's society. Easter Island, one of the most isolated places on Earth, once supported dense a human population before ecological damage resulted in its rapid demise. The island is famous for its large giant stone statues, known as moai.

September 1, 2005

NASA released satellite photos showing destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. The images, available on NASA's Earth Observatory web site clearly show significant parts of the city inundated with flood water.

The loss of coastal marshlands that buffer New Orleans from flooding and storm surges may have worsened the impact of Hurricane Katrina. In the past, the region's wetlands have served as a natural buffer that slows hurricanes down as they come in from the Gulf of Mexico and helps protect New Orleans from storms. But all this has changed.

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