WorldScan: October 29, 2002

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New Wave of Bleaching Hits Coral Reefs Worldwide

WASHINGTON, DC, October 29, 2002 - Scientists are linking to climate change over 430 cases of coral bleaching documented by a researchers so far this year. The majority of bleaching records have come from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with others from reefs in countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Palau, Maldives, Tanzania, Seychelles, Belize, Ecuador and off the Florida coast of the United States.

Coral bleaching occurs when stressful conditions such as high temperatures cause corals to expel the microscopic algae that live in their tissues. The algae provide essential food energy for corals.

The findings, released Monday by the WorldFish Center, the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), have come from a new global coral reef information system called ReefBase which contains data on bleaching events dating back to 1963.

ReefBase has been set up by the WorldFish Center as part of ICRAN, a global network of more than 10 international agencies aimed at boosting the fortunes of coral reefs by developing sustainable ways of managing them. ICRAN is funded through UNEP by the United Nations Foundation.

Dr. Jamie Oliver, project leader of ReefBase and chair of the ICRAN Steering Committee whose Board of Directors is meeting in Washington DC today, said, "Reliable and publicly available information on the frequency, intensity and location of coral bleaching is vital for informed debate about the causes and consequences of these events. Such information is also crucial for making the sound decisions needed to protect and conserve reef systems."

Dr. Meryl Williams, director general of the WorldFish Center in Penang, Malaysia, said, "Twenty countries in all the major oceans have so far this year documented over 430 cases of bleaching. This makes 2002 the second worst year for the phenomenon after the major bleaching events of 1998 which were linked with the very strong El Nino, climatic event, of that year.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director who is attending the UN climate change talks taking place in New Delhi, this week, said, "Coral reefs are under threat worldwide from a variety of pressures including unsustainable fishing methods, such as dynamite and cyanide fishing, insensitive tourism, pollution and climate change. Every effort is needed to conserve these vital habitats for fish and other marine life for the benefit of local people who rely upon them for protein and livelihoods."

ReefBase, which can be viewed at www.reefbase.org, currently holds over 3,800 records going back to 1963 which include information on the severity of bleaching.

Scientists say this is important in order to distinguish between low level bleaching, which has probably always occurred on coral reefs, and recurrent, massive bleaching of entire reefs, which may be a new phenomenon related to climate change.

Dr. Oliver said, "The database shows an increase in the frequency and intensity of bleaching, as well as a rise in the number of countries affected. While some of this may be due to increased awareness of the problem, the phenomenon has been well known among divers and scientists for many years, so the trend is almost certainly real."

"It is too early to determine what level of mortality will occur as a result of the current bleaching, but based on previous events we can expect a significant number of reefs to suffer loss of corals which could take many years to replace," he said.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the world, was severely affected, with 2002 being the worst bleaching event on record.

Virginia Chadwick, chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said, "The current trends are cause for concern both for Australia and the rest of the world. We need to continue to monitor the situation by collecting accurate information using survey techniques, such as those developed in Australia, and to make these results publicly available through the GBRMPA websites as well as global sites such as ReefBase."

ReefBase is also working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States to match bleaching events with global sea surface temperatures. It is planned to create automatically updated maps displaying bleaching events with NOAA's Index of Temperature Anomalies.

Dr. Alan Strong, team leader in NOAA's Oceanic Research and Applications Division and coordinator of NOAA's C Reef Watch Program, said, "We have found a strong correlation between our Degree Heating Week index and coral bleaching events and can often provide real-time predictions of bleaching for some areas such as observed late this summer in the most northwestern Hawaiian Islands, at Midway and most certainly at Howland and Baker Islands near the Equator."

Scientists, marine park managers and other experts are urged to provide data on bleaching, coral mortality and recovery to ReefBase.

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Climate Credits from Hydropower Dams Challenged

NEW DELHI, India, October 29, 2002 (ENS) - Seven hydropower dam projects in Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uganda that have been proposed for climate emissions credits under the Kyoto Protocol are just business as usual and will not reduce emissions, charge two rivers protection organizations.

In a report issued at the international climate negotiations taking place this week in New Delhi, the International Rivers Network of Berkeley, California and CDM Watch of Bali, Indonesia claim that these big hydro projects could undermine the entire Kyoto Protocol by providing carbon reduction credits for projects that do not reduce the totality of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is a part of the Kyoto Protocol which promotes carbon reducing projects in developing countries. When the protocol enters into force, the carbon credits generated by these projects could be used to help meet greenhouse gas reduction targets by the 37 industrialized countries governed by the treaty.

In their report "Damming the CDM," authors Barbara Haya, Patrick McCully and Ben Pearson say that seven hydro projects claimed for emissions credit under the CDM are already under development, and in some cases are nearly complete. They are "business as usual projects that would go ahead without the CDM," the report says.

The Marrakesh Accords, which defined the rules by which the CDM will function, state that to receive CDM credits a project must be "additional," meaning that "anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases by sources are reduced below those that would have occurred in the absence of the registered CDM project activity."

Five out of the seven dam projects at issue are in Latin America - the 25 megawatt Chacabuquito Dam in Chile; two dams in Costa Rica, the 7.5 megawatt El Encanto and the 35.4 megawatt Penas Blancas dams; three dams in Panama totalling 242 megawatts; and the 90 megawatt Huanza dam in Peru.

The other two dams are in Uganda. In particular, the possibility that the Dutch Government may source credits from the controversial 200 megawatt Bujagali Dam on Uganda's White Nile River "would totally undermine the credibility of the CDM as a driver for sustainable development," the groups say.

The Bujagali Dam could destroy the Bujagali Falls, and would be built eight miles below two other large dams. The project is expected to catalyze further hydro development along the Nile. Uganda has plans to build up to six more dams on the Nile.

Few Ugandans have access to electricity but Bujagali critic Martin Musumba says, "The real issue in Uganda is not electricity but poverty. Currently the majority of Ugandans have no money for electricity. Production of more electricity will not reduce the use of fuelwood and charcoal until deliberate programs are evolved to reduce poverty and the cost of power."

Of the 30 projects moving through the CDM approval process, these seven dam projects account for nearly 40 percent of the credits being claimed.

IRN's McCully said, "Giving these projects approval to generate carbon credits would turn the CDM into a subsidy mechanism for hydro developers and a carbon accounting loophole for industrialized countries, instead of a tool for climate protection."

"The social and environmental damage that will be caused by some of these projects also means that they are in breach of the CDM's mandate to promote sustainable development," the groups say.

IRN and CDM Watch are at the Eighth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change where the Clean Development Mechanism is a major issue on the agenda. The conference, which opened October 23, will conclude November 1.

The Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism will consider whether these non-additional hydropower projects will be accepted under CDM rules. "If non-additional hydro projects are allowed into the CDM, it will undermine the entire mechanism," said Ben Pearson of CDM Watch. "We urge the Board to make it clear that these projects will be rejected."

IRN and CDM Watch are lobbying for the exclusion of large hydropower projects from the Clean Development Mechanism, and for small hydro projects to be restricted to those which comply with the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams.

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NZ Children Sprayed in Painted Apple Moth Eradication

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, October 29, 2002 (ENS) - West Aucklanders are "appalled" at the manner in which aerial spraying against the painted apple moth is being conducted by the government. An Auckland community group says the aerial spraying should be halted now if schools and children cannot be protected.

The Painted Apple Moth Community Coalition (CC-PAM) says the community is still "reeling in shock from the 11 hour aerial assault on October 23rd that saw children not only sprayed with pesticide both going to and from school, but trapped in closed classrooms for the whole day."

In September, the New Zealand government decided to invest in a multi-million dollar program to wipe out the painted apple moth because it is a biosecurity risk. "The painted apple moth is a major threat to our forests, native bush and reserves, our gardens, city trees and horticultural crops," says the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

A comprehensive three year moth eradication program is underway. This includes aerial spraying at about three week intervals with up to 10 aerial operations scheduled for the first year. This is supported by ground spraying and the removal of some vegetation on which the moths' caterpillar feeds.

Foray 48B, used both in aerial and ground spraying contains a naturally occurring bacterium found in soil, Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki). Foray 48B has to be eaten by the caterpillar to kill it, so when the pest is found on walls or buildings Decis Forte is used instead. Decis Forte is a synthetic pyrethroid registered for use in New Zealand and other countries including the USA, the UK, Europe and Australia.

But community representatives are concerned about the health risk to residents, especially children from the spray, which may contain genetically engineered material. In an admission to Waitakere City Council October 6, Ian Gear, project director, said he could not assure councillors that the spray, Foray 48B, was free of genetically engineered ingredients. During an early October public meeting government officials refused to even answer the question about possible genetic contamination.

Local campaigner Dr. Meriel Watts, of the Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa NZ, and member of CC-PAM, said the chance that the spray is contaminated with genetically engineered material is "very, very high."

The bacterial ingredient of the spray Btk, is grown on a nutrient broth, consisting largely of soy and corn, in the United States where virtually all supplies of these materials are genetically engineered, says Watts.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials say that Btk, when applied at recommended rates, "does not harm people, plants, animals or any insects - except for caterpillars. This is because the bacteria only become active in the caterpillar's uniquely alkaline gut."

CC-PAM has issued an open letter and an updated spray risk report to schools detailing the specific exposure risks to young children, and challenging schools to ensure the young people in their care are protected.

Dr. Watts warns that there is a lack of toxicological studies for the inhalation of some of the chemicals in the spray of Foray 48B, and no information about the effect on children of ongoing low dose exposure that is being experienced in this aerial spray program, warnings that Watts says government officials have ignored.

But the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry says an independent health risk assessment carried out by the Auckland District Health Board has concluded that "after 35 years of use, Foray 48B has never been implicated in human infection or any other significant health conditions."

The CC-PAM Exposure Risk Report available online at: www.moth.co.nz

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Painted Apple Moth site is at: http://www.maf.govt.nz/biosecurity/pests-diseases/forests/painted-apple-moth/

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China Ventures into Organics, Renewables, Clean Technology

SHANGHAI, China, October 29, 2002 (ENS) - The Washington, DC based environmental think tank World Resources Institute is promoting investments in China's sustainable business enterprises - organic agriculture, renewable energy, and clean technology.

"Growth in production that is both profitable and clean is a necessity for China," said Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute (WRI). "Through WRI's New Ventures project, we hope to connect capital to outstanding investment opportunities that will generate social and environmental benefits."

The project in China is the first time that the New Ventures investment model is being implemented in Asia. WRI started the New Ventures project in Latin America three years ago. It facilitated the transfer of $4.4 million for seven projects, with an additional $3.25 million currently under negotiation.

From 1976 to 2000, China's economy sustained an average annual growth rate of over 10 percent, creating a much wealthier country of 1.3 billion people. But its growth has relied on material and energy intensive production processes which have depleted the country's natural resources and increased environmental pollution.

"As one of the world's most attractive investment destinations, we want to help China's sustainable business entrepreneurs to find the investments they need," said Luiz Ros, project director of WRI's New Ventures. "Economic prosperity should not necessarily mean environmental degradation - in fact, investing in sustainable enterprises makes good business sense."

New Ventures China, sponsored by Citigroup, was launched October 9, in partnership with LEAD International. Supporting the effort are the Asian Development Bank, China's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, and entrepreneurs from Beijing, Guangdong, Shandong, Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Heilongjiang.

New Ventures is accepting business plans in the three enterprise sectors - organic agriculture, renewable energy, and clean technology. Those selected will be receive professional consulting services and the chance to present their enterprises to investors at the New Ventures Forum in China next year.

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Chinese Wild Animal Smugglers Get Life Behind Bars

HAIKOU, Hainan, China, October 29, 2002 (ENS) - Three men charged with the illegal trafficking of wild animals have been sentenced to life in prison, according to the official news publication "China Daily."

Liang Huijiang and Zhang Songchang, both residents of Guangdong province in southern China, were caught attempting to smuggle rare snakes, lizards and pangolins into China.

On July 25, 2001, authorities in the port city of Sanya on the southern Chinese island of Hainan discovered the illegal shipment from Thailand. They seized 566 monitor lizards, 259 pythons and 7,563 rare snakes, and five pangolins, a type of anteater.

Liang, Zhang, and a third man were sentenced Monday by the court in Haikou, the capital of Hainan.

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Slovenian Hunt Puts Regional Bear Survival in Jeopardy

ROME, Italy, October 29, 2002 (ENS) - A Rome based carnivore protection organization is warning that a Slovenian government decision to double the number of bears available to hunters has "major implications for bear conservation" throughout Central Europe. The Slovenian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food has issued permits for the culling of 104 bears, more than a quarter of the country's entire population estimated to be less than 400 animals.

The Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (LCIE) has called for the hunting management plans to be revised and for the Slovenian government to justify the increased hunting quota.

In a letter to Minister Franc But, LCIE chairman Professor Luigi Boitani warns the present culling plan would have "dire consequences" for the future of the brown bear across the entire Dinaric-Alps ecoregion. "The elimination of 25 percent of the present Slovenian bear population will strongly influence the survival of the species in central Europe," he wrote.

The LCIE has shared its concerns with the Slovenian Prime Minister Dr. Janez Drnovsek, and Environment Minister Janez Kopac.

Boitani said European brown bears now survive in a few small, fragmented populations. "The future of the species depends upon both national decisions and cross-border cooperation," he said.

According to Professor Boris Krystufek of the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, the Ministry authorised the culling of 34 bears earlier this month, in addition to the 70 bears already approved, creating a total of 104. The number is double that approved in recent hunting seasons.

Krystufek said the Ministry had justified the decision by an increase in damages caused by the bears. But he said that "no appropriate damage mitigation measures" have been adopted to reduce the human-bear conflicts.

"The conservation and management of the brown bear population in Slovenia is not only a Slovenian national matter," said Boitani. "The population is an integral part of the Alps-Dinaric-Pindos population shared between Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, the Yugoslav Federation, Albania and Greece.

"The Slovenia bear population has a fundamental role in the re-introduction programs for the reconstitution of the species in the Austrian and Italian Alps and has a particular importance for the maintenance of genetic and population flow in the alpine regions," he said.

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New Australian Park Protects Arid Lands of New South Wales

CANBERRA, Australia, October 29, 2002 (ENS) - Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp, and New South Wales Premier Bob Carr Sunday announced the establishment of the state's newest national park - the Paroo Darling National Park in far western New South Wales. It will protect arid landscapes and wetlands important to endangered birds. This area is important to indigenous people and contains many Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.

The new 230,000 hectare (888 square mile) park, to the north of Wilcannia and White Cliffs, is made up of seven properties which have been jointly purchased by the federal and state governments especially for addition to the National Reserve System. Two-thirds of the funding comes from the federal Natural Heritage Trust and the remainder from the state of New South Wales.

"The establishment of these parks will protect habitats that are currently under epresented in the existing parks and reserves in the region including extensive areas of river red gum, black box, bluebush and important grasslands," Dr. Kemp said.

This region includes seasonal wetlands which provide a haven for tens of thousands of water birds including many migratory species listed for protection under international agreements.

"The Park covers more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) frontage to the Paroo Overflow - the last wild river in the Murray-Darling River system," Carr said.

Carr also announced the protection of a string of new western parks and reserves and additions to existing parks. "Western NSW is home to an extraordinary array of waterbirds and threatened and rare plant and animal species. Only 2.3 percent of the region is currently protected in the reserve system. This announcement increases by almost 25 percent the amount of land protected in western NSW."

"A total of more than 350,000 hectares (1,351 square miles) of world class arid and semi-arid landscapes and wetlands of high conservation value have been protected forever," Carr said.

Gundabooka National Park, located southwest of Bourke, will be increased by 50 percent to around 65,000 hectares (251 square miles). This park is home to some hundreds of species of birds, reptiles and mammals.

"Mungo National Park in the state's southwest - internationally recognized as the home of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area - has been more than tripled in size to 89,000 hectares (344 square miles). The park has global significance in the study of ancient climatic processes, and holds the longest record for continuous Aboriginal occupation on the Australian continent at 60,000 years.

A new 22,000 hectare (85 square mile) national park has been created at Oolembeyan on the Hay Plain, protecting several rare and endangered bird species.

The new 16,000 hectare (62 square mile) Ledknapper Nature Reserve northeast of Bourke, has also been created through joint federal and state government funding under the National Reserve System.