Amazon Region and Napo River: Travel in Ecuador

Before sunset.

In the summer of 2019, I visited Ecuador with my daughter. Elina went there for 2 months of studies to improve her knowledge of Spanish. I joined her when she completed her practice, and we planned together to explore this amazing country. We have selected a visit to three of the four natural-geographical zones in Ecuador: Amazon (eastern part of Ecuador), mountains, and coast. We did not plan only to visit the Galapagos this time.

Ecuador or the Republic of Ecuador is one of the countries, having the richest fauna and flora with an estimated highest level of biodiversity in the world per square kilometer. This is also one of the countries with the highest rates of endemism in the world. In addition, Ecuador is a country of unique culture and a long history of human civilization. The ancient history covers a huge period and goes back almost 17 thousand years ago. Modern history – from the 19th century to the present day – can be characterized as a period of struggle for independence, the formation of statehood, and the process of evolutionary development of society. Taking into account the value and uniqueness of biological diversity for the development of the country, the new Constitution of Ecuador (2008) contains an article that legitimately recognizes the Rights of Nature or the Rights of Ecosystems.

Amazonia (Amazon Region) in Ecuador stretches from the eastern slopes of the Andes to the lowland tropical forests of the Amazon Basin, occupying an area of ​​about 130 thousand square kilometers. It is impossible to survey in detail this vast territory even during a long visit. We planned to stay in Amazonia only for two days, knowing that we can look only at very small pieces of jungles. Our choice focused on the town of Puerto Misahualli, still surrounded by the jungle, through which the Napo River flows. Yasuni National Park is located not far from the town; it is known for its rich biological diversity. A small Napo Wildlife Center was established in this park, to save wild animals and rehabilitate them back into the wild. The area near the river is surrounded by jungles with swamps and other wetlands, in which hoatzins, one of the most amazing birds with ancient morphological traits, still occur. In the area of ​​the park and in the tropical forests around there are settlements of local indigenous peoples – the Kichwa-Anangu tribes; they are completely dependent on forest products, gathering herbs, and hunting wild animals.

Just before my arrival, heavy rains fell, which washed out the roads and even demolished one of the bridges on the way from Quito to Amazonia. Therefore, our bus took another safer road, which was much longer. As a result, we arrived at the final point of our journey very late. But the owner of a small hostel located in the jungle met us in the central square of Puerto Misahuali in the middle of the night. Another 15 minutes took the road to the hostel, and then we went up to the lodge along a narrow path illuminated by a flashlight beam. We stayed in a lodge that was still under construction. Its owner, Scott, has kindly provided us with the only guest room with access to the common dining room. The cottage is equipped with a comfortable shower and toilet. The house is supplied with electricity, but there is no internet connection yet. A small balcony adjacent to the dining room offers beautiful views of the river and the lush green jungles around. Scott began to build the guest-houses and make landscaping in the area around his house. Two of his assistants from Puerto Misahuali completed the construction of cottages for tourists, a small restaurant, and sanitary units. Volunteers from other countries helped with the design of the buildings and the new territory. All buildings are connected by a network of branching paths with picturesque bridges over water streams and small ponds that create habitats for amphibians and aquatic invertebrates. The buildings are located in a charming landscape surrounded by tall trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Bird feeders and bananas for monkeys attract forest dwellers, who can often be seen near the cottage.

Coming out of the house in the evening, visitors find themselves surrounded by velvet darkness, over which the pearly canopy of the night sky reveals itself with unusually bright stars and other night luminaries. Darkness is occasionally cut by zigzag flying fireflies. The darkness is filled with the noises of the night – the sounds of the jungle. First of all, it is a many-voiced choir of amphibians – frogs and toads, which begin their singing at dusk. From the voices, it can be assumed that about a dozen different species inhabit the local ponds. However, it was never possible to see them during the day. All amphibians are invisible, hiding in the depth of the ponds and in plants, growing on trees. By the presence of bromeliad plants in the trees, one can expect to find here bright tree frogs. Grassy bromeliads – evergreen epiphytic plants – can often be seen on trees. Tree frogs are associated with some of them. They settle on bromeliad clumps, sometimes very high on a tree. It is not easy to see frogs on trees or in bromeliads; although during the breeding season they can descend lower on trunks and become more observable. Reproduction takes place in the wet period. Some species lay their eggs right in the wet sinuses of the leaves, where the development of tadpoles takes place, which then turns into adult frogs. However, a considerable number of species also live in terrestrial reservoirs, as can be judged by night voices. In addition to frogs and toads, cicadas, owls, nightjars, night-herons, and other nocturnal birds join the night choir. In general, it is quite difficult to distinguish individual species in the polyphony of multiple jingles, but sometimes, when a bird flies closer, its voice begins to stand out among other nocturnal sounds. Bats also appear with darkness, slipping noiselessly among the crowns of tall trees. Some individuals quickly jump out of the dark and rush over a narrow strip of light rising above the house’s balcony in the hope of grabbing a gnawing insect or spider. Surprisingly, during our stay in the cottage, we did not see or hear mosquitoes or other bloodsucking insects. It is likely that the rainy period has just begun and they did not appear yet.

A clear starry sky, a chorus of nightly voices, flashing fireflies — everything promised a clear morning the next day and we prepared to get up early to watch the dawn and the birds arriving at the feeders near the open balcony of the house. But after midnight, the first drops of rain drummed on the roof, and in the morning we were awakened by the even sound of tropical rain. It then amplified, then calmed down by the oncoming waves, but did not stop. After morning dawn, only rolling streams loomed in the window, through which blurred silhouettes of trees and a gray river appeared in an obscure fog. Some kind of revival was heard in the crowns of the trees: birds from the Icterid (Icteridae, Passeriformes) family woke up there; it was a russet-backed oropendola (Psarocolius angustifrons). These birds are somewhat similar to the bright-colored American orioles; they even build similar nests, which hang from the tree branches, but rather large, resembling oblong baskets. Nests are closed at the top and with an opening entrance at the bottom. Despite the rain, the awakened oropendolas began to actively discuss the events of the new day, flying from tree to tree in pairs and small groups. Some of them have already built their dangling nests, and sometimes they flew inside to fix the inner trim. Others still constructed these nests and brought thin and long blades of grass to weave them into the walls of the nest. When the rain slightly calmed out, the yellow-rumped cacique (Cacicus cela) appeared (it is also a bird from the Icterid family). As soon as the rain subsided a little, both species began to rally out their relations, opening wings and showing bright spots on the tail and wings. Caciques and oropendolas are widespread in the Amazon region. They occupy in the jungle tropical forests the upper layer of tall trees. Both species show themselves by their noisy, loud voices and contrasting colors. Caciques have also very bright clear-blue eyes, contrasting with the overall black color of the plumage. In addition to these numerous two species, some other interesting birds flew up to the lodge, but we could not identify them behind a dense wall of rain. Several flocks of parrots flew over, small passerines emerged from the wet foliage and immediately hid again from time to time. The hummingbirds were not seen at all, apparently, they sat huddled in the thick shrubs and waited for better weather. Meanwhile, when Elina woke up, she made tea and was preparing to pour it into cups, when she suddenly found in one of them a large shaggy spider, somewhat resembling a tarantula. It is likely that the spider got into the mug to escape the rain. The spider did not want to leave its shelter, so we pick it out from the mug with a small sprig. Once on the balcony, the spider quickly ran down, hiding from the rain under the veranda.

In the late morning, the rain ended, but the heavy drops were still falling down from the wet trees. In the debris, located near the house, we heard a noise and spotted small monkeys with white faces jumping from branch to branch. The brown-mantled tamarins (Saguinus fuscicollis) came to check out the banana feeders. The monkeys were very careful, immediately soared up the tree trunk and hid among the high branches after insignificant stirring. However, they carefully examined all the trees in the area around the cottage, moving in small groups from tree to tree.

After observations of monkeys, we went to Puerto Mishahualli to meet with local guide Carlos and visit interesting areas around. The bright sun after the rain woke up nature: sparkling hummingbirds and small sparrow birds fluttered over the flowering shrubs; scavengers and other predators began circling in the sky. We met with Carlos near the central square, where other tourists were already waiting for a trip down the river. The monkeys – White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons) – were also nearby, occasionally descending from the trees and exploring the area in search of edible food remains.

Carlos enthusiastically began to tell us about birds and other animals living in jungles around the town. From time to time he interrupted his story that to show us a bird flying nearby. After several minutes of conversation, he offered us several possible trips, and he was ready to go to the jungle immediately!  Frankly, leaving the lodge, we did not plan to go somewhere, as we intended to explore the surroundings and walk along the paths around the town, where there were really many attractive shrubs with birds and insects flying everywhere. However, the single magic word “hoatzin” affected us like real live bait on fish.  Carlos said that the hoatzins live nearby Puerto Misahuali in the marshes, where people can always see them…

In my memory immediately appeared the pages from the ornithology textbooks and the description of this amazing bird. The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) (the name “Hoatzin” came from the Aztec language) is the only species from the Opisthocomidae family and Opisthocomiformes order. It is the only bird on the Earth whose chicks have free fingers with claws on the wings. Adult birds lose these claws. This bird shows that an evolutionary connection between birds and reptiles is possible. Modern scientists suggest that the claws on the wings of the Hoatzins can be an adaptation to life in the dense tropical forest because other morphological traits do not indicate similarity with reptiles and are typical for all bird species. However, genetic studies conducted in 2015 showed that these birds appeared about 64 million years ago, in the time when the last dinosaurs became extinct. And, who knows, it is possible that Hoatzins or their ancestors, in their origin, are connected somehow with feathered dinosaurs. Hoatzins feed on vegetarian food, mostly leaves, but they can also eat flowers and fruits. This is the only species among birds, which is distinguished from others by the fact that the hoatzins digest plant food in a large crop, where bacterial fermentation of plants occurs in the same way as in the rumen of ruminant animals. This feature makes the Hoatzin “dung or stinky birds”, which have an unpleasant smell. The meat of the hoatzins also has a sharp, rotten smell, due to which birds are not eaten even by people from local tribes. Perhaps, this fact served to the preservation of these large birds — the size of a medium goose — in equatorial forests. Their habitats – riverside shrubs and swamps – also remain relatively intact, protecting this amazing endemic of the equatorial forests of the Amazonia. Therefore, to be in a place where you can see the hoatzin and not take this opportunity was completely unacceptable for me as an ornithologist and passionate birdwatcher. Elina also was interested to see the Amazon forest and its dwellers. At the same time, Carlos continued to list all new and new species to see, as well as interesting places to visit, more and more winning over us to him with his avid enthusiasm. Visiting places that Carlos called was interesting for both of us, so we almost immediately decided that we would use the offers. After short debates, we selected the boat excursion on the same day and jungle hike to a small forest reserve the next morning.

Hoatzins in the Amazon forest near Puerto Misahuali.

After a half-hour, we were on a small motorized vessel, well-equipped to serve tourists, driving along the Napo River. Carlos prepared rubber boots for both of us to hike through the jungle. Tropical landscapes with amazing trees pass by, but practically everywhere along the river, residential houses are built or are in the process of construction, occupied either by the local villagers or equipped as cottages to accommodate tourists. In some places on the river, we could see local artisan companies or families of gold diggers who washed the sand. The Napo River is known for its gold-bearing outlets, therefore many local inhabitants associate their income with gold mining. Stealthy white-winged swallows (Tachycineta albiventer) sailed by over the river very low, almost touching the water. A couple of other swallow species also flew near the water, but not so low. Not many birds were seen in this late morning time. We spotted two species of kingfishers – the Ringed (Megaceryle torquata) and the Amazon (Chloroceryle amazona), but both escaped so rapidly that we could not see their bright plumage in the details. The snowy egret fluttered from the shore; there in the shade – under the branches of the coastal plants, we could see its hidden nestling chick, which had already begun to fledge, but still kept the juvenile greyish plumage. We left Puerto Misahualli around 11 o’clock in the morning, for birds it was already the time of a day’s rest, so it was not surprising that we saw so little a number of birds along the river. We stopped on a sandy spit, from which the footpath went into the jungle. “Hoatzins …” – explained Carlos, we shook our heads knowingly and followed him under the canopy of the dark forest. Carlos slightly cleared the narrow path with his machete in places where lush vegetation locked the passage after the recent rains, but it was noticeable that the path was used and the road did not seem hard. The rainforest greeted us with relative silence, darkness and dampness. The silence of jungles was interrupted by the chanting of cicadas and the dialogues of ubiquitous caciques and oropendolas in the crowns of tall trees. Among other birds, Carlos heard only the great tinamou (Tinamus major), a secretive species, hidden in the darkness of wet rainforest. Two species of woodpeckers and a barbet, encountered on our way, flew away immediately, as soon as we approached closer.

The tropical equatorial forest is interesting not only by observation of birds. Many trees here are perfectly adapted to the conditions of life in a dark and humid environment. Probably, it should be said, first of all, about the walking palm or the cashapona (Socratea exorrhiza), – the unique tree, which has unusual stilt roots. According to local legends, these roots allow the palm to move from the place of growth to the side if something hinders the growth. But this statement was questioned by scientists, whose assumptions boil down to the fact that stilt roots make this palm more stable, as it grows to a height of 25 meters with a trunk diameter of only 12-16 centimeters. The second assumption is quite acceptable, given the swampy nature of the terrain and the absence of solid soil in the places where these palm trees grow.

Another interesting tree we saw on our way was the wild cacao or cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao). The word “cocoa” itself is also of Aztec origin. The cocoa tree is now widely distributed and cultivated outside of South America. But this species originated in the subequatorial regions of South America, most likely in the plains of the Amazonia, where this species still grows in the jungle in natural conditions. We saw later cocoa trees in mountainous areas also, but they were planted there, mainly for decorative purposes. The main cocoa plantations are located in humid plains, near Amazonia. Bromeliads were the most diverse among other plants. They grow in the tropical forest of the Amazonia as independent shrubs, as well as epiphytes on tree trunks or grassy plants inhabiting tree trunks and settling sometimes very high in treetops. Several species of orchids also were spotted, but in this season they had already finished flowering.

Among insects in the tropical forest, termites, ants, and cicadas are the most numerous. Termites and ants in the moist and swampy jungle arrange their homes in the trees. Termite houses do not look like massive hills, and resemble, most likely, wasp nests, although many of them have quite impressive dimensions. We were not focused on insect-watching but spotted several interesting species such as ants – leafcutters, giant ants, walking sticks, and bright dragonflies. Carlos warned us to be more careful with giant ants, as the bite of this species is painful and can lead to unpleasant consequences. Also in the dark wet forest, we saw several different types of mushrooms that were visible on the trunks of dead and dying trees.

Imperceptibly, the path led us to a swamp inhabited by hoatzins. A pair of birds sat close to the path. Hoatzins were in no hurry to fly away, assessing the degree of danger, which can be associated with our visit. Then, reluctantly, they flew far away that to hide on another side of the wetland. But after a while, this pair came back and settled down to rest in the middle of the swamp, so that we could observe them from a safe (for the hoatzins) distance. In total, in this swamp, according to Carlos, no less than 12-15 birds can be found. We could believe this because saw several more birds flying at a distance. Besides, we noticed on trees within this wetland several more parrots, a ringed kingfisher, a lesser kiskadee (Philohydor lictor) from Passerines as well as a greater ani (Crotophaga major) from the Cuckoo family. After watching the hoatzins, we went back to the river and continued our journey.

Further our way lay down the Napo River to the Wildlife Center of the same name. This center adjoins Yasuni National Park. We walked up the path, distorted by the night rain, to the visitor center, where we met another group, who had just returned from the excursion, and our guide descended towards us. It turned out that our guide, a student from the Netherlands, had practices in the center, studying the behavior of monkeys and, like many other students, volunteering in the nursery, helping to feed and care for animals, and also conduct excursions for visitors. The center was established for the rehabilitation and release of animals affected by contact with people back to the natural environment. Wounded and confiscated animals taken from poachers and smugglers are brought there. The staff of the center provides veterinarian help and food to the animals. When there is a chance to return animals back to the wilderness, they are placed in rehabilitation enclosures, from where they can be released into the Yasuni National Park after recovery. Those that injuries do not allow them to survive in the wild remain in the nursery for their life. Some of the released mammals and birds continue to keep close to the center, regularly visiting their feeding places. Wild animals, especially monkeys and many bird species, also regularly visit the center, as the nursery is located near the national park with a rich species diversity, and the animals living around us have the chance to get food in the center.

Visiting rules oblige all visitors to respect animal rights. Visitors to the nursery go along certain paths; if they meet on these paths the local inhabitants – monkeys, turtles, crocodiles, snakes, then the first rule prescribes to give way to animals, and only then to pass to people. Our guide warned that among the recently released inhabitants of the nursery there are monkeys who do not tolerate lenses and cameras turned at them. As a rule, these monkeys had a negative experience with people. Local tribes hunt them for food. The lens turned at the monkey may be considered as the last weapon, and there were already cases when angry monkeys snatched cameras from visitors and broke them. The second rule is to observe animals, as if they were in their natural environment, without attracting them closer or communicating with them. This rule is consistent with the practice of releasing animals back into the wilderness.

Several species of monkeys, tapirs, peccary, jaguars, ocelots, turtles, crocodiles, macaw and amazon parrots, toucans have been rehabilitated in the Wildlife Center. The parrots are permanently brought to the Center after they are confiscated from the bird traders, so the Center’s capacity is not always enough to accommodate all the incoming birds. But the saddest thing is that some birds, when after rehabilitation they are released in the wild, are caught by people again and sold on the same market. Therefore, one of the tasks of the Center’s staff and volunteers is to develop birds’ fear of people, as well as working with people – communicating with local tribes to develop sustainable ways to use natural resources and wild animals.

Humboldt’s squirrel monkey (Saimiri cassiquiarensis) groups often visit the Center looking for food given to animals in rehabilitation facilities. We spotted several groups of this monkey during our visit. We did not see many animals from the Center, as they slept (tapir, jaguar, and ocelot), but we were quite pleased with what we saw and heard. We looked and listened to interesting stories about the behavior of monkeys. Our guide showed us a golden-mantled tamarin (Saguinus tripartitus), a black-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps), and a brown-woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha). We felt that she (our guide) likes her subject of study and is passionate about the conservation of tropical animals. The local population – the Kichwa tribes – hunt on woolly monkeys; therefore, these monkeys consider people as a dangerous enemy. Wounded monkeys, who have already had the experience of negative interaction with people, most often got into the Center. In the same way, many other animals enter the nursery. Therefore, the staff of the national park and Wildlife Center works with local tribes, helping them solve the problems of poverty, survival, and development in modern times, and reduce the pressure on the wild natural environment, providing opportunities to work in the park. Local people from tribes also can sell their crafts such as hand-made dishes, baskets, and other souvenirs to tourists in the villages and the visitor center. Some money from sales goes to their producers, and some replenish the budget of the Wildlife Center. Prices in a small souvenir shop are established for foreign tourists, so the local tribes are quite satisfied with the income, which they can get from their production. However, the Wildlife Center does not have enough money and donations for all operations relevant to animal recovery and release, and the financial support to the Center is always welcomed. Part of the funds received from donors and eco-tourism goes to the education of youth from local communities. Boys and girls from local tribes get a chance not only to learn how to write and read, but also study foreign languages ​​and get training to become guides in the ecotourism industry.

The next day, early morning we were already standing on the bridge, watching the amazing lilac light above the river, shrouded in clouds of fog, and the scarlet dawn over a thousand-year tree near the road. We had to go to the small Reserva El Para, located relatively close to the lodge. Carlos promised us to show a clay ravine where parrots are going to replenish mineral reserves. We arrived at the entrance to the reserve, where a local ranger, armed with a machete for a hike, was waiting for us. Together we went along a narrow path along a small stream. The path was overgrown or collapsed due to recent rains in some places. We were moved slowly, as the path was constantly going up and the road was blocked by fallen trees, landslides that fell on the slopes, or just something else. Flocks of parrots rushed high in the sky, both in the direction we went and back. The forest, surprisingly, was silent, even cicadas did not sing. We did not spot any mammals during our way. Only flycatchers and woodpeckers came across the road, but they were all far away and it was impossible to see them well. When we reached the site two hours later, it turned out that the ravine “swam” and collapsed slightly after the rains. The parrot gathering place was empty; the flocks of parrots flew over us, settling in tall trees around, but none of them was going down. After watching the parrots in the distance, we realized that we could not expect more and quietly went back down selecting another smoother path. The dark damp rainforest perfectly kept its secrets. In one of the places we saw signs of vital activity of the sloth, but the animal itself was well hidden somewhere in the crowns of tall trees. From time to time we stopped to look at interesting plants or mushrooms, insects or spiders. The flocks of parrots continued to fly high in the sky from the place, which we just visited. Several birds of prey circled in the sky. In general, the way back took about an hour. We only saw birds near the entrance to the reserve and in open areas along the road on the way back to Puerto Misahualli. The most abundant along the road was a species of birds from the cuckoo family — the Smooth-billed ani (Crotophaga ani). These birds, like many other American cuckoos, build their own nests and raise chicks themselves. Ani is a very communicable bird; they, instead of scattering in different directions, all flew in one bush, from where they curiously watched people. Many birds (ani) gathered in bushes around pastures, where cows were grazing. This is not surprising, since ani prefers to eat insect larva, and it is likely that large hoofed animals provide them with good food. Flocks of ani uncounted from 3 to 12 birds together.

Carlos drove us back to the town, and then we decided to walk from there to our lodge that to watch the birds along the road and we were not mistaken in our expectations! During the hour’s walk, we saw and could take some pictures of many interesting species than during our few hours of wandering in a dark tropical forest. Several species of hummingbirds, doves, flycatchers, caciques and oropendola, swallows and swifts, ani, and many other tropical species inhabit open landscapes. The birds did not hide there but continued to do their usual activities, just precautionary flying away from the strangers… When we left Puerto Misahualli later that day, we understood that 2-day stay was too short to view the magnificent biodiversity of the Amazonia. Among the places that must be visited is the Yasuni National Park, which is adjacent to a Napo Wildlife Center.

Reverse the Red: the new initiative of IUCN

IUCN – International Union for Nature Conservation – recently launched a new initiative, which aim is “Reverse the Red” or stop and reverse extinction of threatened species in the world.

ReverseTheRed is a global movement that calls for joint action and the belief that our community can ensure the survival of all the species we live with on this planet, as well as ensure the protection of all the ecosystems in which they live. The IUCN Species Survival Commission, which oversees this initiative, tries to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the conservation work. The Species Survival Commission unites more than 7 thousand experts who work in the field of biodiversity conservation in different countries of our blue planet. However, it is definitely clear now that it is impossible to preserve species without the wide participation of not only specialists and narrow experts working in the field of studies and conservation of species and ecosystems, but also the whole society, including different sectors that affect the habitats of species and their populations. Participation of local communities and concerned citizens can also contribute to the protection and restoration of species.

The IUCN Red List contains information on the assessment of species at the global level with an evaluation of the threats for species. All threatened species can be categorized as Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), and Critically Endangered (CR). According to modern estimates, the Red List currently includes 37,400 species, that were categorized as threatened and the state of their populations is of concern at the global level. If you look at taxonomic groups, according to modern estimates, 41% of all amphibian species, 26% of all mammals, 14% of all bird species, 36% of all shark and ray species, as well as 34% of all gymnosperm (coniferous) tree species are threatened with extinction risk. And this is only among those taxonomic groups that have been assessed by experts. But there are still many taxonomic groups on the planet that have not yet been evaluated, for example, many species of invertebrates and angiosperms (flowering) plants, the diversity of which is very high on our planet and extinction of some tiny species may be almost invisible. By now, the conservation biology science and experts involved in nature conservation have accumulated knowledge and methods that allow the preservation of species and ecosystems, ensuring their survival and recovery. Experts from the IUCN Species Survival Commission argue that:
We KNOW how to save species
WE BELIEVE we can
TOGETHER we will

While a strategy to reverse biodiversity loss is still under development, it is now clear that it will be an umbrella initiative to work with key partners to achieve biodiversity conservation and recovery tasks for species and ecosystems. The IUCN Species Survival Commission has identified the following mechanisms to achieve its ambitious goals:
(1) Engage biodiversity conservation partners at national, regional, and global levels in the development of standardized tools and methods. The Reverse the Red initiative creates an umbrella mechanism for the conservation of species and ecosystems. (2) Work with pilot countries to refine and implement tools and collaborative strategies. Increase national capacity and commitment utilizing ReversetheRed framework for target species and ecosystem assessments, planning, and action. (3) Empower the country-based “Reverse the Red” partners to engage and activate their local communities through a diverse set of educational resources focused on biodiversity conservation, personalized experiences, advocacy campaigns, and behavior-change campaigns. (4) Establish a global reporting mechanism and forum to report on and celebrate the reversal of species extinction and ecosystem destruction.
These mechanisms will provide the structure, tools, and framework for objective setting of the Global Species Congress.

You can support this initiative by voting for it at: Webby Awards People’s Voice – Reverse the Red.
Images of threatened animal species from Nepal were used to illustrate this message.

Forests and Wildlife in Central Asia

Tien-Shan Birch in Western Tien-Shan Mountains in Uzbekistan.

The World Wildlife Day (March 3) this year highlights the role of forests for the livelihood of humanity. UN celebrates this day under the theme: “Forest and Livelihoods: Sustaining people and planet”. Forests in Central Asia occupy only a small part of the territory but play an enormous role in providing multiple ecosystem services and not only for local communities. First of all, forests regulate climate and water cycles, ensure food, fibers, and habitats for people and abundant wildlife. Forest have cultural and spiritual values. They serve as recreational places. One of the most important roles of the forests, especially in the mountains, is relevant to the allocation of space for evolutionary processes. The richest and diverse fauna and flora are presented in the forests.

Forests play a crucial role in Central Asia. Their loss impacts wildlife and human livelihoods.

In 2003, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered area in 769.5 thousand ha, including coniferous forests 280.1 thousand ha, hardwood forest 34,400 ha (ash, maple, elm), softwood (birch, poplar, willow) 14,100 ha, others 98,300 ha (walnut, apple-tree, almond, apricot); shrubs 342,6 ha (Forests of Kyrgyzstan, 2003). In 2010, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered 1,123,200 ha or 5.6% of the total area of the country (FAO, 2010). According to the assessment prepared by UNECE-FAO in 2018 (Tsevs, 2018), 160,000 ha of forest were lost in Kyrgyzstan in the last 50 years. The total forest area in 2015 was 637,000 ha or 3.2% from the country’s area, including 590,000 ha primary forest and 47,000 ha planted forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).

In the past (about 100 years ago), forests in Tajikistan covered about 25% of the country. However, many areas were cut off for the development of agriculture. In 2010, forests occupied around 410,000 ha (Kirchhoff & Fabian, 2010), but the statistic of forest dynamics were complicated due to lack of adequate data management. The total forest area (assessment of 2015) is evaluated in 412,000 ha or 2.9% of the country’s territory, including 297,000 primary forests, 103,000 ha planted forest, and 12,000 ha naturally regenerated forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).  

The percentage of forest land in Uzbekistan is 7.3% (UNECE, 2015). At present, the total area of the State Forest Fund is 11,196.2 thousand ha or 25.2% of the total land area, including 7.2% of forest land (trees and shrubs). The State Forest Fund is comprised of desert land (81%), mountain lands (16%), valleys (2%), and tugai or river gallery forests (1%).  According to law, forests in Uzbekistan are state property and national wealth. All forests are an integral part of the State Forest Fund, except for protective planting, forest belts, urban forests, trees on farmland, and gardens. According to NBSAP (2015), desert and tugai are most degraded and need urgent recovery measures. The agroforestry (walnut, pistachio, almond, and fruit) planting partly compensates for the degradation of mountain forests. However, it is not enough for the recovery of lost forested areas.

Forests provide habitats for many animal species. The diversity of species and subspecies is the most rich in mountains and river valleys. Many species are “least concern” and can be found during short visits to forested areas. However, many species (especially large birds and mammals, beautiful butterflies) are rare and threatened and included in the national red lists and red books. Examples of local communities involved in conservation gave positive results in many countries. The most striking such examples are in Tajikistan, where many charismatic large mammal species recovered last decades due to community participation in protection and benefit sharing.

Flora is very rich in the region, and especially in the mountain areas and in the mountain forests. Only around Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan, the plant diversity is evaluated in 1,500 – 1,800 species. The plant diversity in the region is more than 5,000 species. And, in particular, due to this fact, the region is evaluated as one of the biodiversity hot-spots: The Mountains of Central Asia.

The conservation and recovery of species and ecosystems are results of the cooperation between state agencies and civil society: environmental NGOs, grassroot groups and academia.

Used Literature:

FAO, 2010. Capacity building for National Forest and Tree Resource Assessment and Monitoring in Kyrgzystan, Report, 19 p.

Kirchhoff & Fabian. (2010). Forestry sector analysis of the Republic of Tajikistan. GTZ/DED/CIM Regional Program “Sustainable use of natural resources in Central Asia”. Dushanbe, 2010. 56 p.

UNECE & FAO. (2019). Forest landscape restoration in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Paper 72, 66 p.

Used images are from author’s archive.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International. №12

Magpie River. Photo by Peter Holcombe Photography 2017.

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices. Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

River’s rights

In a first for Canadians, a river in Côte-Nord, Que., has been granted legal personhood by the local municipality of Minganie and the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit.

The Magpie River, (Muteshekau-shipu in the Innu Coet) is an internationally renowned whitewater rafting site, winding nearly 300 kilometres before emptying into the St. Lawrence. The river has one hydroelectric dam managed by Hydro-Québec, and environmental groups have long sought a permanent solution to protect the river from further disruption.

It is unclear how this will affect attempts to build developments on the river, including dams, moving forward, as legal personhood for nature doesn’t exist in Canadian law and could be challenged in court. Minganie, Innu council and several environmental groups — collectively called the Alliance — hope international precedents set in New Zealand, Ecuador and several other countries will help pressure the Quebec government to formally protect the river.

“This is a way for us to take matters into our own hands and stop waiting for the Quebec government to protect this unique river,” explained Alain Branchaud, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Quebec chapter. “After a decade of our message falling on deaf ears in government, the Magpie River is now protected as a legal person.”

In accordance with Innu customs and practices, the Alliance has granted the river nine rights: 1) the right to flow; 2) the right to respect for its cycles; 3) the right for its natural evolution to be protected and preserved; 4) the right to maintain its natural biodiversity; 5) the right to fulfil its essential functions within its ecosystem; 6) the right to maintain its integrity; 7) the right to be safe from pollution; 8) the right to regenerate and be restored; and perhaps most importantly, 9) the right to sue.

The Magpie River in in Côte-Nord. Photo by Boreal River

Energy & climate

A hydrogen-powered snowmobile is now running on slopes at the Hinterstoder ski region, Austria. Unveiled last year (2020) by BRP-Rotax to decarbonize winter tourism, the vehicle emits only water vapor and runs almost silently. After one and a half years of experimental development on the test bench and in the vehicle, the fuel cell system now boasts 120 operating hours. A complimentary hydrogen refueling system, which generates green hydrogen on-site, is supporting the zero-emission vehicle. Developed in collaboration with Fronius, the station produces green hydrogen for the vehicle right next to the slope. The electricity for the electrolysis is generated from green photovoltaic power; the plant was planned and built by ECuSol GmbH.

BP and Chevron have led a US$40 million investment round for a Canadian startup that claims to have developed a unique way to extract energy from geothermal heat on demand, using an unpowered looping fluid design that’s already prototyped in Alberta. There are lower-temperature, low-enthalpy geothermal projects out there that can generate energy from hot rock in a flexible, scalable, on-demand fashion, but according to Eavor CEO John Redfern, these haven’t taken off because they lose between 50-80 percent of the power they generate in the task of pumping the water up and down.

Plans for Europe’s largest gas plant were scrapped. Climate groups scored a victory this week as plans to build Europe’s largest gas plant were axed. Energy giant Drax was due to construct the facility in Yorkshire, but abandoned the project after campaigners argued it was incompatible with the UK’s climate targets. The firm pulled the plug despite climate groups losing a legal challenge against the UK government in January over its approval of the plant.

The positive news was tempered by a report by the thinktank Carbon Tracker. It revealed how plans to build 17 gas power plants in the UK (including the now abandoned Drax one) would undermine climate targets and push up energy bills. Carbon Tracker said clean energy could offer the same level of grid services as gas, at lower cost.

Biodiversity

Three years ago, Panji Gusti Akbar was flipping through the pages of Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago when he came across a photo of a bird with brown wings and a black stripe across its brow, appropriately named the black-browed babbler (Malacocincla perspicillata). On the map beside the bird, there was a question mark, indicating that no one knew where the species lived. In fact, this bird hadn’t been sighted for the past 172 years. Then, in October 2020, Akbar received a message from a colleague on WhatsApp with a picture of a living bird with brown wings, a gray breast and a distinctive black stripe on its brow. Two men had accidentally caught it in South Kalimantan province, in Indonesian Borneo, and had taken photos of it before releasing it unharmed.

The rediscovered black-browned babbler. Photo by Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan.

Melting ice has forced polar bears in the Russian Arctic to change their diet and switch from hunting seals to catching fish, geese and even lemmings, scientists said. “In recent years, there is a trend that bears are beginning to adapt to life on the shore. Previously, we noticed emaciated individuals in greater numbers, now more often there are well-fed animals. Their behavior suggests that they find an opportunity to adapt on the shore,” said Ilya Mordvintsev, a leading researcher at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve, which is home to about 800 polar bears, said that the predators began to fish. “Two years ago, a lot of pink salmon appeared in the rivers, bears began to actively hunt for fish, although not as successfully as brown bears in Kamchatka. We haven’t seen this before. The activity of the bears was high, and they became well-fed on fish, ” the director said. According to him, the bears also began to practice uncharacteristic ground hunting. “There are attempts to hunt musk oxen, sometimes they try to chase geese. When there was a large number of lemmings, the bears dug through the entire tundra, extracting them, and so waited out the ice-free period on them, ” said the head of the reserve. Director of the National Park “Lena Pillars” (Yakutia) Arkady Semenov noted that in the region there is a similar behavior of polar bears. “With the Lemmings, this is absolutely true. Even this year, we had two bears terrorizing reindeer herders, we somehow drove them away. The bear is really adapting, ” Semenov said.

A polar bear in a field of flowering cypress on the shore of Hudson Bay. Photo by Dennis Fast.

Over the past two decades, orangutan researcher Marc Ancrenaz watched as a tidal wave of oil palm has engulfed his once-forested research sites in northern Borneo. When he would find an orangutan in a patch of forest surrounded by planted palms, he said he figured the animal would soon disappear. But as the months and years rolled on, some of those orangutans stayed where they were, Ancrenaz said. Females turned up with babies clinging to their bellies, and he would occasionally spot males swaggering on the ground between the palms. “Year after year, they were still there,” he said.

A male orangutan in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongobay.

A widespread field search for a rare Australian native bee not recorded for almost a century has found it’s been there all along — but is probably under increasing pressure to survive. Only six individual were ever found, with the last published record of this Australian endemic bee species, Pharohylaeus lactiferus (Colletidae: Hylaeinae), from 1923 in Queensland.

“This is concerning because it is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus and nothing was known of its biology,” Flinders University researcher James Dorey says in a new scientific paper in the journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

“Three populations of P. lactiferous were found by sampling bees visiting their favored plant species along much of the Australian east coast, suggesting population isolation,” says Flinders University biological sciences PhD candidate James Dorey.

Emmanuel’s NGO, Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW), is training locals as beekeepers, giving them the prospect of a decent income from honey and beeswax products – and an incentive to protect the forest from bushfires. His particular forest is known as Kilum-Ijim and it rises up the slopes of Mount Oku in Cameroon’s remote Western Highlands. It’s a fragment of rare montane rainforest which once cloaked the slopes and valleys as far as the eye could see. It’s been losing ground for decades – but not anymore. Now it’s starting to recover. Which is where the bees come in. And it’s working. Fires are now a rarity – and when they do happen, he says, “people rush to the forest to put them out”. CAMGEW’s work doesn’t begin and end with bees. It’s set up tree nurseries to restore lost acres, where local schoolchildren care for the seedlings and “learn to love the forest”. It’s trained farmers in sustainable techniques, like forest gardens and alley cropping, which can provide better yields than destructive slash-and-burn methods (which all too often start bushfires). And it’s working with local women’s groups, arranging micro-credit loans to help them establish small businesses and earn their own income. Result? Over the last decade, it’s simultaneously restored the rainforest and massively improved the lives of those who live in and around it.

Lower Border of the Oku forest above the village of Elak, Cameroon. Photo by B. Gill.

Wastes

A nairobi-based 29-year-old entrepreneur and inventor — is the founder of a startup that recycles plastic waste into bricks that are stronger than concrete. Called gjenge makers ltd, her company initiated following the development of a prototype machine that turns discarded plastic into paving stones. One day at the factory means 1,500 churned plastic pavers, prized not just for the quality, but for how affordable they are. Inspiring video

Also in https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-bricks-in-kenya-2650645441.html

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International №10

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Swamps in the Komi Autonomy of the Russian Federation.

Two courts have defended the Pechorsky Nature Reserve, the Komi Republic, which was liquidated in 2016 under the pretext of losing its value. At the request of Greenpeace, the Prosecutor’s Office of the republic sued and won the case. The decision on liquidation has been canceled. The Pechora Nature Reserve was established in 1989 to preserve a swampy area of several thousand hectares. The territory has not undergone significant changes, but the authorities recognized it as having lost its value and in 2016 abolished the reserve. The elimination of protected natural areas is not provided for in federal laws, and any change in the regime must be approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation. But in this case, these norms were not taken into account. To restore the reserve, Greenpeace appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Komi Republic. The prosecutor’s office fully supported us and challenged the decision of 2016 in court. The Supreme Court of the Republic also upheld these claims. The liquidation of the reserve was declared illegal. The Komi government appealed but lost, and the Supreme Court’s decision went into effect.

The gharials of Chambal will now be found in the Kuno River inside the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. 25 gharials were released in the Kuno river. These gharials were being taken care of at Deori Gharial Breeding Centre in Morena district for the past three years. Deputy Conservator of Forests (Wild Animals) Rajnish Kumar Singh said that so far 50 gharials have been brought from the breeding center and released into the river. Now the number of these gharials has gone up to 50 in the Kuno National Park. Out of which 10 are males and 40 are female gharials. The gharials left in the river are between 120 and 150 centimeters in length. Wildlife scientists studying gharials in the Chambal River for some years found that one of the radio-tagged gharials in the Chambal River had given eggs in the Kuno National Park. Thereafter, it was decided to secure the gharial breeding site and release a large number of gharials from Deori to the Kuno River with a view to conserve the reptile. And after that, almost 50 gharials have been released so far. Out of which five gharials have been radio-tagged for the purpose of the study. (One of the main reasons for gharial extinction is degradation – pollution of habitats and depletion of fish. The gharial survival depends on wise management of water resources and the ability of rivers to provide habitats for wildlife).

The Gharial has been recognized as Critically Endangered at the global level. Photo-credit: https://wildfauna.ru/gavial

The Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge, which connects San Antonio’s Phil Hardberger Park across a six-lane highway, opened Friday afternoon for people and animals alike. A project ten years in the making, the bridge is now the largest completed wildlife crossing of its kind in the U.S. “For many years, the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge was only a dream. Thanks to overwhelming community support of the 2017 Bond, the generosity of donors from across the city and the hard work and dedication of so many, the vision is now a reality,” former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger said in a City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation press release. “I am honored to invite San Antonians to come to experience the Land Bridge and hope it will offer them an escape from the stresses of this year — a place where they may spend time with family and friends and connect with the natural world.”

Agroforestry-grown coffee gives Amazon farmers a sustainable alternative.

Located alongside the Trans-Amazonian Highway near the border with the state of Rondônia, Apuí became a municipality in 1987 through the development projects implemented under Brazil’s military dictatorship. Settlers from all over Brazil flocked to the region to claim large swaths of open territory. The first groups of migrants came from the state of Paraná and were followed by people from other states in southern Brazil. Many settlers already knew about coffee farming and brought with them their conventional monoculture farming systems: large treeless plots flooded in sunlight, with pesticides in the mix. For some 20 years, coffee production was strong in Apuí. But the inevitable degradation of the soil caused farmers to begin abandoning their plantations around 2012. “Without spending money on supplies, without constant technical support and, especially, without tropical technology or that more compatible with the Amazonian climate, the soil became worn out,” Reia says. “Our soil is acidic, so if you don’t work at it, you don’t get any coffee here.” When the experts from Idesam arrived in the region, they saw an opportunity. Patches of forest had sprung back up in the abandoned plantations, supplying organic material to the soil and shade for the fruit trees. Coffee plants, in particular, adapt well to low light. As a result, the abandoned plantations were healthier than those being farmed by traditional methods.

Farmer Ronaldo de Moraes harvesting coffee cherries. Image courtesy of Idesam.

Last week two local anti-coal fights in Turkey scored big wins. First, the Çırpılar thermal coal plant project, which would have caused wide-scale destruction on the local ecology, was denied an application to overturn a local court decision to uphold the EIA. Meanwhile, in Northern Anatolia, the local resistance in Bartın managed to stop a second EIA process of the Amasra Thermal Coal Plant project (after the first was overruled by the State Council). 350 Turkey worked closely with the local groups in both regions that made these victories possible. Drue Slatter-Fossil Free News 350@350.org

Power engineers have installed 28 autonomous hybrid electrical installations operating with the use of solar energy technologies in the peasant farms of Buryatia, Russia. This was reported by the press service of Rosseti Siberia. The 28th autonomous hybrid electric power plant (ASUE) with a capacity of 5 kW was launched in the area of the Khory tract of the Tarbagatayskoye rural settlement. In total, 28 installations of this type have been installed in the republic for the period from 2019 to the present. The company noted that thanks to this, it was possible to save more than 290 million rubles, which could be included in the tariff for consumers. The Government of Buryatia provides subsidies from the republican budget, compensating for 95% of the costs of purchasing and installing ASUE.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International

February 09, 2021. №9

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Three court decisions – three incredible precedents.

The Court of Appeal in The Hague has ruled in favour of Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerians on most points in an oil pollution case that was first brought against Shell in 2008. Shell Nigeria in particular is liable for oil pollution at three locations in the Niger Delta, but according to the court, the parent company Royal Dutch Shell also violated its duty of care. Three of the four Nigerian plaintiffs and their fellow villagers must now be compensated for the damage caused and Shell must ensure that there is a leakage detection system in the pipelines in Nigeria. It is the first time that a court has held a Dutch transnational corporation accountable for its duty of care abroad. For decades, millions of people living in the Niger Delta have been suffering the consequences of large-scale oil pollution. Every year, 16,000 babies die as a result of pollution, and life expectancy in the Delta is ten years less than in the rest of Nigeria. Friends of the Earth Netherlands’ lawsuit revolves around pollution from leaks of Shell oil in three villages, which has rendered local people’s fields and fish ponds unusable. The leaked oil was never thoroughly cleaned up and new oil is still leaking out regularly.

The Paris Administrative Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs, including Greenpeace France, in a landmark case acknowledging the responsibility of the French State for the climate crisis. 

Executive director of Greenpeace France Jean-François Julliard said in response: 

“Let’s be frank: this is an historic win for climate justice. A French judge has ruled that climate inaction of the French State is illegal. This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts. For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts! This story is not over, we will use this decision as a crucial first step in pushing our scientifically-grounded arguments and get the court in the coming months to order the French State to act against the climate emergency. No more blablas!
Why is it historic?

  • It’s the first time the State’s responsibility in the climate crisis, because of its lack of action, is acknowledged by French justice.
  • It’s a victory of truth over the denial of the State, who has relentlessly claimed its actions are sufficient, despite evidence (GHG emissions consistently over carbon ceilings, reports from the High Council for the Climate, etc.). Today justice sides with all those who have been warning about the climate crisis for decades.
  • The recognition of the State’s fault and responsibility is a crucial step to obtain a court order forcing the State to act.

In a ruling believed to be the first of its kind in France, the appeals court in Bordeaux overturned an expulsion order against the 40-year-old man because he would face “a worsening of his respiratory pathology due to air pollution” in his country of origin. A Bangladeshi man with asthma has avoided deportation from France after his lawyer argued that he risked a severe deterioration in his condition, and possibly premature death, due to the dangerous levels of pollution in his homeland. “To my knowledge, this is the first time a French court has applied the environment as one of its criteria in such a case,” the unnamed man’s lawyer, Ludovic Rivière, said. “It decided my client’s life would be endangered by the air quality in Bangladesh.”

Other positive news.

The UK crane population has soared, a census found. Their courtship dances have inspired ballets, while some cultures worshipped them as gods. Now cranes are soaring again in the UK, some 400 years after they were wiped out by hunters. A census published this week revealed that 23 crane chicks were born in the UK last year, pushing the national population past the 200 milestone. The birds returned to Norfolk in the 1970s under their own steam and have spread to Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Somerset thanks to ongoing efforts to restore their wetland habitats.

“The return of cranes to the British landscape shows just how resilient nature can be when given the chance,” said Damon Bridge, chair of the UK Crane Working Group. “If we want to see this success continue then [the] sites that cranes use and need must get adequate protection.”

Common Crane (Grus grus). Photo by Andreas Trepte/ Creative Commons

Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and the world’s oldest known, banded wild bird, hatched a new chick this week at Midway Atoll. Biologists first observed the egg pipping on Friday, January 29. After several days, the chick hatched on Monday, February 1. Every year, millions of albatrosses return to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. Beginning in October, birds return to their same nesting site and reunite with their mate in the world’s largest colony of albatrosses. Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012 when biologists first banded Akeakamai. “At least 70 years old, we believe Wisdom has had other mates,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dr. Beth Flint. “Though albatross mate for life, they may find new partners if necessary — for example, if they outlive their first mate.”

Wisdom’s newest chick shortly after hatching, with its Dad, Akeakamai. Photo credit: John Brack/ Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Cambodian authorities on Monday released five environmental activists after they were detained for three days for protesting against illegal logging inside one of the country’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries. The five, including Ouch Leng, a 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, were detained by rangers on Friday for being inside the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary without permission, Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. The Kratie Provincial Court court had released the five who signed an agreement not to enter restricted areas without permission, Neth Pheaktra said. A case has also been filed against Ouch Leng’s Cambodian Human Rights Task Force for not being registered with the Interior Ministry, he said. The begging of history. On Friday afternoon Kratie provincial environment officers reportedly arrested prominent environmental activist Ouch Leng along with Heng Sros, Men Math, Heng Run and Choup Cheang. They are being detained at the Kratie city police station, according to Soeng Senkaruna, spokesperson for human rights group Adhoc, as reported by VOD.

Mr. Leng Ouch. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union, February 5

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let you spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

North Atlantic whales

Biodiversity: North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are in serious trouble, but there is hope. A total of 14 new calves of this Critically Endangered species has been spotted this winter between Florida and North Carolina. The 14th latest calf of the season was spotted Thursday off of Florida’s Amelia Island, News4JAX reported. “What a way to start the weekend – a new right whale!” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southeast announced on Twitter.

Calf number 14th was born by a 12-year-old female named Champagne and it is her first known calf, the agency said. The news came just two days after the 13th calf of the season was spotted off of Wassaw Island, Georgia, News4JAX reported. This baby was also born to a first-time mom who was 14 years old. All of this is good news for the species, which ended 2020 on a low note. An NOAA report highlighted that there were no more than 366 of the animals left alive. Then, the first known calf of the season washed up dead off the North Carolina coast in November.

12-year-old whale named Champagne and her first-known calf. Photo credit: @GeorgiaWild, under NOAA permit #20556.

An investment group of Swedish retail giant Ikea has acquired forestland in southeast Georgia to protect the land and its diverse ecosystems from development. The Ingka Group, which owns and operates most Ikea stores, purchased 10,840 acres of land near the Altamaha River Basin, the company announced on January 14.”We truly believe responsible forest management is possible and we see that a large part of our responsibility towards the land we own — and by extension the planet — is to restore forests and plant more than we harvest,” Ingka Investments managing director Krister Mattsson told CNN. “In all our properties nature conservation is important. In this particular US investment in Georgia, first, it is important that the land cannot be broken up into small units and it remains forever forestland. “The land, acquired from non-profit conservation organization The Conservation Fund, is home to more than 350 plant and wildlife species — including the endangered longleaf pine and gopher tortoise — which are now protected.

The grey steel girders of Platform Holly rise 235ft (72m) above the waters of the Pacific Ocean, just a couple of miles off the Santa Barbara coast. Above the water, this decommissioned oil rig is dull and lifeless, but the view below the surface is very different. Beneath the waves, colorful fish, crabs, starfish, and mussels congregate on the huge steel pylons, which stretch for more than 400ft (120m) to the ocean floor. There are more than 12,000 offshore oil and gas platforms worldwide. As they drain their reservoirs of fossil fuels below the sea, they eventually become defunct when they produce too little fuel for extraction to be profitable to their operators. The big question is what to do with these enormous structures when fossil fuels stop flowing. With curbing climate change rising up the international agenda, and with some questioning whether we have already passed peak oil, hastened by the coronavirus pandemic, the number of defunct rigs in the ocean is set to get bigger. Removing them from the water is incredibly expensive and labor-intensive. Allowing them to rust and fall into disrepair is an environmental risk that could seriously damage marine ecosystems.

For some species, offshore rigs are even better nurseries than natural reefs. The towering pylons are the perfect spawning grounds for tiny fish larvae. But there is one way in which these old rigs can be remarkably useful: the subsurface rig provides the ideal skeleton for coral reefs. Teeming with fish and other wildlife offshore rigs like Platform Holly are in fact the most bountiful human-made marine habitats in the world: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210126-the-richest-human-made-marine-habitats-in-the-world

In 188 km from Arkhangelsk, Russia not far from the Golubinsly karst massif, a cultural and landscape park has been developed on the place of a bankrupt campsite. The park is maintained by two families – Klepikov and Shestakov. “For a couple of years, we thought we were doing tourism, and then we realized that we had become big. We began to be called the point of socio-cultural development. But I always had the idea to show the nature and beauty of the Russian North,”- explained Anna Klepikovskaya. The owners followed the path of American national parks, the main idea of which is the beauty of natural places. People come here not far from amenities and luxury service, but for natural attractions. Around Pinega there are karst caves, waterfalls, and other natural beauties. “At first, most people came to us from Arkhangelsk, but since the year before last, there have been more Muscovites. Our Russian territories do not have enough ambassadors in Moscow, so my husband and I stayed in the capital. Relatives live there,” – Klepikovskaya added. Especially popular in the park is the deer festival, where thousands of people sign up: https://ecologyofrussia.ru/park-sever-tayga-proekt/.

Deer. Photo by Golubino Park.

Climate

President Joe Biden signed an order directing federal agencies to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels on Wednesday, amid a bonanza of climate-focused executive orders. “Unlike previous administrations,” he said at a press briefing, “I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil.” Climate activists have been waiting to hear those words for years. Fossil fuel subsidies, they argue, keep oil and gas companies in business and help them spew planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The problem is that not everyone agrees on what counts as a fossil fuel subsidy and what doesn’t. Subsidies aren’t blank checks from the government: They usually take the form of tax breaks, regulatory loopholes, or anything else that gives a particular industry a leg up. The estimates for the U.S. run from around $20 billion to as much as $650 billion a year, if you think fossil fuel companies should be paying the government for all the damages from their pollution. http://www.envirolink.org/2021/01/28/biden-is-canceling-fossil-fuel-subsidies-but-he-cant-end-them-all/

Climate Change Policy Simulator: C-ROADS is a free, award-winning computer simulator that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of national and regional greenhouse gas emission reductions at the global level. C-ROADS has helped the world to understand the impact of the emission reduction pledges countries proposed to the United Nations. These proposals take different forms with various reference and target years, however, using C-ROADS we can rapidly test these policies to determine whether collectively they are enough to stabilize temperature below 2°C. C-ROADS is made available for free to make insights about what it takes to address climate change more accessible. We encourage you to use C-ROADS as part of a World Climate Simulation, where a group of people plays the roles of UN climate negotiators working to create an agreement to limit global warming https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/c-roads/

ALPS: National food system modeling, to make sense of national policy priorities.

Climate Interactive developed the Agriculture and Land Policy Simulator (ALPS) allows users see to the interactions of different policy decisions on a nation’s food system. As a national-scale model, country ministries and civil society groups can think about different development pathways to see if those policies could create their desired future. ALPS frames the importance of agriculture in the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDCs) that countries pledged for the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change (UNFCCC, COP21). As part of that global climate change agreement, countries declared their goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With ALPS, countries can create an interactive tool to explore their pledges to see what it would take to achieve their goal and how different policies affect the timing of reach food production and emissions targets https://www.climateinteractive.org/tools/agriculture-and-land-policy-simulator-alps/.

Digest of Socio-Ecological Union International

January 27, 2021

Dear friends and co-fighters,

Welcome to the next issue of Positive News. Let’s us spread it among your friends and co-fighters in your countries and around the Earth. I will be glad to receive and publish your positive news from the fields and offices.

Sviatoslav Zabelin, SEU coordinator

Saiga tatarica
Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica) is a species that evaluated as Critically Endangered at the global level. Photo by Mark Pestov .

Climate & Energy

The Prince of Wales launched an ‘Earth charter’ for firms. Most people are familiar with the Magna Carta, the historic tome that laid the foundations for human rights. Now there’s the Terra Carta – or ‘Earth charter’ – which seeks to safeguard the planet by putting sustainability at the heart of the private sector. As he unveiled the initiative this week, the Prince of Wales called on firms to sign up to the Terra Carta https://www.sustainable-markets.org/terra-carta/, which offers a roadmap for businesses to become more sustainable. The charter was launched alongside a fund run by the Natural Capital Investment Alliance, which aims to direct $10bn (£7.3bn) towards safeguarding nature by 2022. “The Terra Carta offers the basis of a recovery plan that puts nature, people and planet at the heart of global value creation – one that will harness the precious, irreplaceable power of nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector,” said the Prince of Wales: https://www.positive.news/society/positive-news-stories-from-week-2-of-2021/?utm_campaign=5%20things%20from%20the%20week&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=107799024&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_-PCzfD9eqZ7aixCO4FJeCoDrq63dOsG1ZdgOL5YEMcgzZ2wpYXbg5YX6ehgYp2MuL2VbjvGfl6fP5_UIFLTxYhNwQeQ&utm_content=107680814&utm_source=hs_email

European Union foreign ministers will promote a global phase out of fossil fuels and reaffirm commitments to finance climate adaptation measures at a meeting on Monday (25 January). “EU energy diplomacy will discourage all further investments into fossil fuel based energy infrastructure projects in third countries, unless they are fully consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality,” according to draft conclusions from the meeting, seen by EURACTIV. Foreign ministers are expected to put green diplomacy at the top of their agenda, saying the EU “will seek to ensure undistorted trade and investment for EU businesses in third countries” as well as “a level playing field, and a fair access to resources and green technologies” in countries like China. Moreover, all EU trade agreements, overseas aid and foreign investment strategies will from now on also need to be aligned with the bloc’s climate ambition https://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/eu-foreign-ministers-to-push-for-global-fossil-fuel-phase-out/.

Three of New York City’s largest employee pension funds representing civil servants, teachers, and school administrators are divesting from securities tied to fossil fuel companies. With a combined value of $239 billion, representing 70% of the city’s pension assets, the move is one of the largest fossil fuel divestments in the world. Under the resolution, the pensions would phase out fossil fuel investments over five years. “Fossil fuels are not only bad for our planet and our frontline communities, they are a bad investment,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. The NYC pension funds join others, including cities in California and Australia, in the divestment movement https://www.ecowatch.com/fossil-fuels-nyc-pension-2650142167.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1.

Biodiversity
Records in early January showed an increase in the number of saigas in the Bogdinsky-Baskunchak Reserve.

The year 2021 came, frosts came and snow fell. According to the historical tradition, the saiga had to go to Kazakhstan, to the Salt Mud, where it spends the winter, feeding on salt marshes. But it remained, and records in early January showed even an increase in its number from 400 to more than a thousand heads. The population has increased due to the “alien” animals and this pleases. They came to the untouched steppes, rich in food, where there is no man with a gun, and there is a special security regime. All this allowed the saiga to graze quietly in the protected expanses, to rest in the lowlands, sheltered from the icy steppe wind, without fear of an insidious shot.

Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica) in winter. Photo from the Bogdinsky-Baskunchak Reserve.

An intergovernmental organization representing countries that produce the bulk of the world’s timber has thrown its support behind a decade-long effort to protect the last remaining primary forest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. In its November 2020 meeting, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) endorsed a proposal by the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) for what’s been called the Baram Peace Park. The proposed park would cover 2,835 square kilometers (1,095 square miles) of northeastern Sarawak on the island of Borneo, incorporating a hodgepodge of undulating forests, past and current timber and oil palm concessions, and agricultural lands for the thousands of Indigenous people who live in the area: https://news.mongabay.com/2021/01/timber-organizations-backing-one-step-toward-peace-park-in-borneo/.

The Ministry of Forestry of the Primorsky Territory, Russia has canceled tenders for the right to harvest wood on eight sites in the central Primorye, which have plantings of different categories of protection. WWF Russia warned about the negative social and environmental consequences of the transfer of these lots to the cutting in December 2020. “The cancellation of these forest competitions is the right and timely decision. The existing forest legislation, unfortunately, does not provide for the possibility of involving residents in the process of forest management, even in cases where we are talking about the forests closest to the population – green zones and other forests with high social significance. That is why the social aspect should be taken into account in advance-at the stage of planning and forming lots. The World Wildlife Fund positively assesses the decision of the new leadership of the regional Ministry of Forestry and Hunting».

The tree of Tilia mandshurica. Photo by Denis Kochetkov

Burnt Lands near Ottawa

Burnt Land alvar

If you are driving from Ottawa to the west in the direction of Almonte, Ontario, taking March Rd. (Regional Road #49), you will spot the sign of Burnt Land Road at right side along the highway and fence along the road, surrounding a large piece of land, mostly empty, which is unusual in the forested areas around Ottawa. This is the Burnt Land Provincial Park with area of 516 hectares, which supports unique alvar vegetation community. Alvars have been recognized as globally vanishing ecosystems.   

The Park’s name – “Burnt Lands” – is originated from old forest fires during the time of first European settlers. However, the large patches of area with scanty vegetation formed by limestone bedrock, black in the hot summer season, could also initiate the name of the area. The Burnt Lands consists of a mosaic diverse habitats, represented by wetland and swampy area, mixed and coniferous forests and grassland meadow. The area is surrounded by developed agricultural fields and forest concessions. In spite of development around, the small patch of the open landscape can support the diversity of prairie species, including many plants and animals. The land of Burnt Provincial Park is owned by Nature Conservancy Canada and managed by Ontario Parks under a lease agreement (Brdar, 2000). It is one of protected areas identified as a Nature Reserve provincial park since 2003.

The use of the area of the Park is limited, due to fragile nature of unique habitat. There are no special facilities in the Park; it is closed for visit by large groups. There is no special parking and rare visitors usually park on the road-sides. Although some limited activities are allowed. The park is attractive for birdwatching and plant-watching by small groups of naturalists. Hikes and excursions have been sometimes organized by Ottawa Field Naturalist Club. There are no official trails in the Park, although there are some incidental trails. The information about alvar is presented in several nature-guides (Brunton, 1996; Wake, 1997). It also can be found in internet with direction link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/canada/ontario/burnt-lands-provincial-park-trail

Alvar plant community is distinguished from surrounding landscape. It is rich with many unique species of open plains, including some rare plants. The Park provides habitat for many vascular plants, including one Globally Threatened species, three provincially rare and around 20 regionally rare species. Since spring until end of summer, the Park is attractive for plant-watchers who can find many interesting species in the area. Some of them are common in Ontario, but infrequent in Ottawa area. Others are typical only for calcareous areas or prairies. The visitors should pay attention to presence of Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). This plant actively colonizes all appropriate habitats. It can be found abundant on the alvar and on openings in the forest areas. The Eastern Poison Ivy can burn the skin even after visit of Burnt Lands. It is recommended to change clothes after visit of the area, especially in wet morning, and thoroughly wash hands with soap. It is not recommended to visit the area with open legs to avoid severe burns.

In the end of May, the site provides opportunity to see two blooming species of lady slippers: Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) and Rum’s head Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum) as well as other spring flowers. Later, in June and July plant-watchers can find blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albium), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), hairy beardtongue (Penstomen hirsutus), spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius), wood lily (Lilium phyladelphicum) and many-many others.

White-tailed deer, coyotes, skunks, American red squirrels often visit alvar grasslands and marshy forest in the Burnt Land area.  However, the area is mostly settled by diversity of bird species typical for open and forest landscapes. Birdwatchers will find in the area upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicaudata) and killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) and eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). Several “sparrow” species nest in the area including clay-colored (Spizella pallida), grasshopper (Ammodramus svannarum), savannah (Passerculus sandwichensis) and most abundant field sparrow (Spizella pusilla). The black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erhytropthalmus) usually arrives later than other birds, when hairy caterpillars attack trees. The cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is one of the common and abundant due to good harvest of creeping juniper and many other berries. More than 50 birds can be found in the area during spring morning with good conditions for bird observation.  

The best time to visit park is from the end of April until October. This time is good for naturalist hikes to observe diversity of plants and animals, which typical for alvar communities and surrounding landscapes.

“Time for Nature”- World Environmental Day in 2020

Red Marmot (Marmota caudata) in the mountains of Central Asia

The UN World Environmental Day is celebrated widely in more than 100 countries since 1974. This is an important day to encourage awareness and actions to protect our environment. The theme for World Environment Day 2020 is, “Time for Nature”, with a focus on its role in providing the essential infrastructure that supports life on Earth and human development.

We all as a part of environment and a biological species with ability to change the environment at the global scale are responsible to protect biodiversity as a base of our life and prosperity. What means biodiversity in our everyday life? For people leaving in rural or urban conditions of many “developing” and “developed” countries it is just a source of surviving, providing food, fiber and other needs of families and communities. Biodiversity is a source of inspiration and creativity, our art and literature reflect the vision of the world – the vision of environment and biodiversity.

Because our growing population and increasing consumption, our civilization takes more and more space from nature occupied for our needs. We use all possible resources destructing natural habitats and replacing them by rural and urban landscapes, managed for needs of our growing communities. We reduce space for other species, fragmenting habitats and transforming natural ecosystems. We pollute environment with many new substances changing landscapes and seascapes. We use too much resources that leads to declining of species and their extirpation in many areas. We introduce new species and diseases impacting native flora and fauna. We are changing climate that leads to biotic changes, impacting our lives and lives of all other creatures…

Only changing own behavior as individuals, communities, civil societies, countries and regions we can achieve the conservation goals and turn into the way of “sustainable development”. What we can do as individuals or community? We need to reduce own consumption. We need to aware other people. We need to help environmental organizations. We need to be more responsible and responsive and think about own role as a citizen to save the diversity of our green planet for future generations.