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Thread: Environment, Climate and Wildlife

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  1. #11
    Carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012, IEA report says

    By Steven Mufson

    Published: June 10 E-mail the writer

    Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday.

    The agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned “would be a disaster for all countries.”

    “This puts us on a difficult and dangerous trajectory,” Birol said. “If we don’t do anything between now and 2020, it will be very difficult because there will be a lot of carbon already in the atmosphere and the energy infrastructure will be locked in.”

    The energy sector accounts for more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, so “energy has a crucial role to play in tackling climate change,” the IEA said. Its report urged nations to take four steps, including aggressive energy-efficiency measures, by 2015 to keep alive any hope of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius.

    The United States was one of the few relatively bright spots in the report. Switches from coal to shale gas accounted for about half the nation’s 3.8 percent drop in energy-related emissions, which fell for the fourth time in the past five years, dipping to a level last seen in the 1990s. The other factors were a mild winter, declining demand for gasoline and diesel, and the increasing use of renewable energy.

    Emissions also fell in Europe.

    But they rose 3.8 percent in China. That was one of the slowest increases in the past decade, and half of 2011’s rate of increase. The level of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity generation has fallen about 17 percent. But China remains the largest contributor of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with about a quarter of global emissions.

    Japan’s emissions jumped 5.8 percent as the country imported and burned large amounts of liquefied natural gas and coal to compensate for the loss of electricity production from nuclear plants that have been idle since a tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.

    Emissions also climbed in developing countries outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, especially in the oil-rich Middle East, where fuel prices are heavily subsidized.

    “What I believe is that climate change is slipping down in the political agenda in many countries even though the scientific evidence about climate change continues to mount,” Birol said.

    The IEA mapped a way for countries and companies to contain increases in global temperatures. It urged them to implement aggressive energy-efficiency measures; limit the output of inefficient coal plants and mandate that all future coal plants be highly efficient supercritical ones; reduce the release of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) in oil and gas operations; and phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.

    The agency estimated that the release of natural gas, or methane, during upstream oil and gas operations accounted for about half of all methane emissions by the oil and gas industry. Large, aging pipeline networks in Europe, Russia and the United States also account for a large amount, the IEA said.

    The IEA also warned that the reductions in carbon dioxide released in the United States would be hard to duplicate because natural gas prices were unusually low in 2012 and coal might regain some market share as gas prices rise.

    Notwithstanding the Fukushima accident, Birol said nuclear energy remains “a very important option to fight against climate change.” The report also urged the pursuit of carbon capture and storage methods.

  2. #12
    No, it’s not summer again; it’s monsoon break

    By DJ Yap

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    1:16 am | Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

    Feels like summer again? It’s called a “monsoon break,” said weather forecasters on Tuesday’s hot and sunny weather despite the onset of the rainy season.

    Except in Mindanao, where a new low-pressure area (LPA) appears to be forming again, the country is expected to have clear skies in the next few days due to the weak southwest monsoon with only isolated rain showers, forecasters of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said.

    “Right now, we’re on a monsoon break, so the skies are probably going to be clear in the next few days, except for isolated rains in Luzon and Visayas,” he said.

    A monsoon break is not unusual and can last for weeks, he said.

    But Pagasa forecaster Jori Loiz said the agency is keeping an eye on gathering winds over southern Mindanao. If it turns into an LPA, there’s a chance it would move up and pull the southwest monsoon back, Loiz said.

    “It’s only Mindanao that’s now experiencing a lot of rains,” Loiz said.

    Even so, Pagasa issued a thunderstorm advisory over Metro Manila Tuesday afternoon after it detected thick clouds approaching the metropolis.

    Based on the weather bureau’s outlook for Wednesday, Mindanao will experience cloudy skies with light to moderate rain showers and thunderstorms.

    Metro Manila and the rest of the country will be partly cloudy to at times cloudy with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms mostly in the afternoon or evening.

    Light to moderate winds blowing from the east to southeast will prevail over Luzon and Visayas and the winds coming from the east to northeast will prevail over Mindanao, Pagasa said.

    Coastal waters throughout the archipelago will be slight to moderate, it added.

  3. #13
    Manila Golf tarsier doing well, says exec

    By DJ Yap

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    1:15 am | Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

    Apparently active and in good health, the tarsier found at the Manila Golf Club in Makati City will to be flown to Bohol this week, where it will be placed in a semicaptive environment, according to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB).

    PAWB director Theresa Mundita Lim said the tiny primate, which was found perched on the branch of a tamarind tree at the golf course located inside the posh Forbes Park, was showing no sign of stress and was eating well.

    “It’s active at night and it’s eating. At first they just fed it insects that they caught outside, like crickets. But they now feed it mealworm to ensure it’s hygienic,” Lim told the Inquirer.

    She said the tarsier was shy and did not appear to be used to human handlers. “This is a good sign because it means it probably was not in the company of humans for long,” she said.

    This increases the viability of reintroducing the tarsier into the wild. Lim said they would take a DNA sample to check first if it was really a Philippine tarsier, although its characteristics were similar to the Bohol species.

    Lim said the tarsier would be temporarily placed in a “semicaptive” environment while they study its chances of surviving if reintroduced to its natural habitat.

    She said Metro Manila police were still investigating how the creature found its way to the Makati golf course. She earlier said the owner, once found, would be charged with illegal possession of an endangered species under the Wildlife Act.

    There are no registered owners of tarsier in Metro Manila, but there are some from Bohol.

  4. #14
    Golf course tarsier dies

    By Rhodina Villanueva

    (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 27, 2013 - 12:00am

    MANILA, Philippines - The tarsier found resting in a tree at the Manila Golf Club in Makati City last week died yesterday afternoon.

    The nocturnal creature was discovered dead in its cage at the Ninoy Aquino Wildlife Rescue Center in Quezon City.

    Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim said they would subject the tarsier to necropsy to find out the cause of death.

    She said the tarsier had appeared healthy when it was turned over to the PAWB.

    It had shown no signs of stress and was eating well in its cage, Lim added.

    “If this did not happen, we planned to bring it to Bohol for its possible reintroduction to the wild. But because of this development, we’ll have to check first what happened to the animal,” she said.

    The PAWB official said an investigation is ongoing to determine who brought the tarsier to the city.

    Lim said the one responsible for transporting the tarsier faces charges for violating the Wildlife Act.

    The Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued an Administrative Order to protect and conserve the Philippine tarsier, classified as an endangered species.

  5. #15
    Water is a free gift of Mother Nature

    POSTSCRIPT

    By Federico D. Pascual Jr.

    (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 27, 2013 - 12:00am

    FREE GIFT: In this highly commercialized world, most people seem to have forgotten that water, like air, is a free gift of Nature.

    We inhabitants of this Earth should not be made to pay for the water we drink – as we must not pay for the air we breathe. Both items are free gifts of God (or of Mother Nature, to those who do not believe in Him).

    So why do we consumers pay for the water coming out of our faucets? The answer, I think, is that we are actually not paying for the water but for the service, and the consequent value-added of having the water processed and home-delivered to us.

    Having natural water, as the main raw material, priced at zero should then make a big difference in computing costs.

    * * *

    PAY FOR SERVICE: For billing purposes, it seems that the most practical way of measuring the processing and handling costs is to base them on the volume of the water delivered.

    Pursuing the same reasoning, we do not – or should not – pay for the spring water sold in bottles and similar containers.

    We pay instead for the work done in processing and delivering the water whose retail price is based on the size or capacity of the containers.

    We do not really pay for the natural water itself but for the “water service” and the value added. For simplicity, the price is based on the volume delivered.

    * * *

    OXYGEN, NOT AIR: We have mentioned the parallel case of air, another free gift of God. We should not be charged for breathing it via our respiratory system that was designed to do precisely that.

    However, when a patient is supplied with oxygen at a hospital or a clinic, or with the use of a portable device, we see a slight variation in the story.

    The patient pays this time for the oxygen – not for normal free air composed of oxygen and various other elements – that had been extracted or generated from whatever source.

    As with bottled water, the price of the oxygen (dispensed from tanks or a centralized piped-in system) is padded by the cost of processing, handling and making it available to the patient.

    * * *

    ZERO COST: We mention the fact of water being a free gift of Nature to put in proper perspective the discussion of the plan of water concessionaires servicing Metro Manila to raise the price of their water.

    It is the duty of government to take up the cudgels for us citizens instead of siding with the big businessmen making water distribution a multibillion-peso monopoly.

    To get its proper bearing in protecting consumers, the government must be reminded that water has been given to us for free.

    Regulators should take the raw water out of the price computation. They should base charges only on the other factors of processing and distribution.

    The cost of spring and rain water, the raw material from the wild, should be pegged at zero to bring down the retail price.


    * * *

    GRIM SIGNS: The basic point being raised here also highlights the important fact that Man has an obligation to protect water sources, to safeguard their quantity and quality, as well as the rest of the ecosystem.

    We have long taken for granted water, air and other gifts of a benevolent God. Not only do we waste water and air on the mistaken notion that they will never run out nor their pristine condition spoiled.

    We abuse the environment without regard for generations that follow after us.

    That the Philippines has been blessed with abundant natural resources has blinded us to our responsibility as stewards of the Earth entrusted to our care.

    Many of us assume that potable water and clean air will be in ample supply forever. But the grim signs are all around us: We are mistaken.

    * * *

    BACK TO TRAFFIC: Let us now pick up our interrupted brainstorm on managing traffic in the national capital, our show window to the world.

    We cannot build more roads in Metro Manila on the short-term (or until 2016 when President Noynoy Aquino steps down), but we can open up more road space and improve traffic flow this way:

    • During weekday rush hours (6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.), high-volume thoroughfares will be declared No Parking/No Standing/Tow-Away areas. All vehicles parked along these busy roads at will be towed away quickly and without exception.

    • With lanes properly marked, No Swerving rules will be enforced by motorcycle cops who will hand violation cards (pre-printed to save time and minimize disturbing traffic flow) after getting the erring driver’s license.

    • No vulcanizing and auto repair shops will be allowed along thoroughfares, which will also be off-limits to tricycles.

    • Junks or permanently disabled vehicles left on any street longer than 72 hours (three days) will be towed away at owner’s expense.

    • Turning left or making U-turns will be allowed only from lanes specifically marked for the purpose. Vehicles outside these turning lanes will be forced to move straight on.

    • Delivery trucks, trailers and vehicles exceeding a specified weight will be banned from EDSA and other circumferential roads from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays.

    • Traffic lights at successive intersections on long stretches will be synchronized. Drivers of vehicles caught in yellow boxes on a red light will be handed violation cards.

    • All traffic officers must be licensed drivers for a better understanding of their job and the psychology of drivers. They must not leave their vehicles or motorcycles where they can obstruct traffic.

    * * *

  6. #16
    Adapting to climate change

    BREAKTHROUGH

    By Elfren Sicangco Cruz

    (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 27, 2013 - 12:00am

    The World Bank recently released a study it funded on climate change, and according to its president, Jim Yong Kim, “The scientists tells us that if the world warms by 2° Centigrade, [global] warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years, that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves and more intense cyclones. The near term climate change, which is already unfolding, could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth’s temperature.”

    The most tragic part of this report is the conclusion that the poor who have had very little to do with causing global warming will suffer the most. The biggest cause of global warming is the use of fossil fuels. It is the business sector and the rich who are the biggest users of fossil fuels.

    The study also showed that eight out of ten Filipinos personally experienced the impacts of climate change in the last three years, which has been much quoted the past week The SWS conducted survey revealed that 85% of respondents claimed to have suffered from climate change. Around 54% said their experience was severe to moderate.

    However, the same survey shows that 52% of the respondents have admitted that they have “little” or “almost no understanding” of what climate change is all about. Another 35% said they had “partial but sufficient understanding” of the subject. Only 12% said they have “extensive” knowledge on climate change.

    The biggest challenge to writing about climate change is trying to understand the scientific terms that are commonly used in describing this phenomenon. According to the United Nations, climate change is defined as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”

    A recent briefing paper by the Climate Change Commission of the Office of the President says that the Philippines, being an archipelago and because of its location, is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impact of climate change. Our country also ranked highest in the world in terms of vulnerability to typhoon cyclone occurrence, and it ranked third in terms of people exposed to these seasonal typhoons.

    Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 This vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and typhoons. It will also alter agricultural and coastal and marine ecosystems. The WB study said that the rise in sea level, loss of coral reefs and devastation to coastal areas are likely to occur in Southeast Asia.

    The study also describes “rising ocean acidity leading to the loss of coral reefs and the benefits they provide as fish habitats, protection against storms, and revenue generators in the form of tourism. Warmer water temperatures and habitat destruction could also lead to a 50% decrease in the ocean fish catch in the southern Philippines.”

    While climate change reports can sound depressing, studies show that the government has drastically improved its capability to cope with its effects. According to Christophe Crepin, the World Bank expert on environmental change, the Philippines is actually only one of fifteen countries that have elevated its climate change regulatory framework to the level of laws.

    But it should be clear that environmental disasters are not just the problems of the academe and the government. It is true that we are on the verge of an economic boom. But it also true that major natural disasters can wipe out economic gains in specific regions hit by these disasters. While the government needs a long term, strategic perspective and plan, it is important that there be short term solutions to these phenomena.

    Secretary Mary Ann Sering, executive director of the Climate Change Commission, explained that 80% of natural disasters in the Philippines are water related, which basically means typhoons and floods. The immediate approach to this problem therefore is “adaptation” instead of mitigation.

    Adapting basically means accepting that the number of typhoons will increase and the intensity of rainfall will also increase. The country must therefore focus on “managing the unavoidable.”

    On a national level, the two priority programs of the government will be flood control and national greening. The major cause for the recent flooding in Metro Manila was the volume of water coming down from the Sierra Madre mountains and flooding the lowland areas including Metro Manila.

    The obvious cause is that the forests in this mountain range and the watershed areas have virtually disappeared often because of illegal logging in the past. While the long term solution will be reforestation, the short term solution of DPWH Secretary Singson is to build water catchments and underground tunnels in the metropolis.

    The most immediate solution to alleviate the flooding will be the removal of informal settlers living along the esteros. In fact there is a need for a national effort to remove all persons who live in hazard prone areas, like river banks and esteros, and relocate them to safer areas.

    An action plan for adapting to climate change is now an essential part of the government’s development plan. Environmental degradation and the disastrous consequences of climate change will have a negative impact on the government’s goals of poverty reduction and sustained economic expansion.

    Climate change may sound very complex, but local governments and every Filipino must accept that this is already happening and that we can learn to adapt. And there are many ways every Filipino can help. Plant trees, stop using plastic, practice waste recycling and other “green” activities. Remember that we are only stewards of this earth and we have the responsibility to make sure that the next generation will inherit a living planet from our generation.

    * * *

  7. #17
    The enemy deep within

    By Narciso M. Reyes Jr.

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    10:31 pm | Thursday, June 27th, 2013

    Rampaging floods in Mindanao, along Europe’s famed Danube, in large tracts of Canada, and in America’s Midwest. Toxic smog in Singapore, Malaysia, and China’s industrial heartland. Disappearing glaciers in the Alps, Himalayas, Greenland, the Andes, and the Arctic. These are not isolated but inseparable, interconnected events, and the distress signals of our ailing planet, the Earth. Our only home.

    Global warming is way past the debate stage. Its effects are dramatically and dangerously upon us. We know what has to be done to arrest the Earth’s rising temperature and rising seas, before the process becomes overwhelming, irreversible and beyond solution. Yet humankind seems petrified in inaction. Like the treatment of human ailments, the solutions of most governments are focused primarily on how to cope with the symptoms of global warming, not its real cause, namely the depletion and accelerating weakening of the Earth’s protective umbrella of ozone, due to massive and relentless carbon emissions from industries, vehicles, slash-burning of entire forests, and other pernicious manmade activities. All done in the name of livelihood and progress.

    So Manila’s answer is more of the same: Clean up the Pasig River and clogged esteros. Improve the drainage system. Relocate squatter colonies that use the waterways as their garbage dump. New York’s own response is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $20-billion master plan of state-of-the-art megadikes, drainage tunnels, and levees—a variation on a theme from those of London and the Netherlands. Under this plan, if the seas keep rising, then simply make the dikes and levees wider and higher!

    Meanwhile, it’s business as usual in the 21st-century world. Spoiled and conditioned by decades of a lifestyle based on abundant and cheap carbon-based products—from fuel to household items—the conventional, deeply entrenched fossil-based energy and manufacturing drivers of commercial industries keep spewing the ozone destroyers while the sunrise eco-friendly, alternative energy systems struggle to find a viable market of users. Cutthroat capitalism still reigns supreme.

    While governments around the world vacillate, consider the following: Every week, as much as a thousand species of life are exterminated by man’s activities, such as hunting, animal trade, food industry, industrial pollution, and explosive urbanization. All told, tens of millions of species are now extinct, due to man’s insatiable appetite for food and material gain.

    Rainforests, home to the ecological biodiversity that is crucial to the balance of nature, and which provide healing, medicinal compounds to injured or ailing lives, are disappearing at an alarming pace and their replenishments are insufficient to reverse the depletion rate.

    A 2011 United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization report warns that despite aggressive reforestation campaigns by governments, nongovernment organizations and private groups, an estimated 13 million hectares of tropical trees—about the combined size of Luzon, Samar, and Leyte—are still lost annually worldwide.

    It is a shocking, sobering thought that a single-run Sunday edition of The New York Times purportedly requires newsprint from an equivalent of 75,000 felled trees (that may never be replaced). To date, the Times has been silent on this astonishing (2009) information provided by environmental groups in the United States and Canada.

    Another authoritative UN report said that during the last four decades, the Earth’s coral reefs, the nursery of the ocean’s marine life, have been reduced by as much as 55 percent, thanks to global warming, industrial pollution, illegal fishing, and illegal sale of corals. Add to these grim statistics an expanding world population approaching the 7.4-billion mark, and you have all the ingredients for an apocalyptic, Darwinian “water world” scenario. Just like in the Hollywood movie. Man, the terminator species, has indeed become the Earth’s worst nightmare.

    The list of our uncontrolled excesses and bad habits speaks volumes about the human condition and human destiny. It is very clear that at this critical stage, in our disjointed, mostly piecemeal efforts to save our disparate civilizations, our most formidable antagonist is no less than ourselves. Lying deep within our very souls, our combative, ambitious, and avaricious spirit, which sets us apart from one another, pits us violently against each other—and against Mother Nature.

    I believe we still have time left to change our course to avert a global catastrophe. We have the knowledge and wisdom—and the tools of technology and science—to help us. But it will require an extraordinary kind of leadership, courage, will, social discipline, sacrifice, and cooperation—on a planetary scale. At stake is no less than human survival. We cannot afford to fail.

  8. #18
    U.S. takes key climate change steps, but the world must do more

    By Jim Yong Kim, Friday, June 28, 8:09 AM

    Jim Yong Kim is president of the World Bank Group.

    The world is starting to get serious about climate change. This is happening for one major reason: leadership.

    President Obama’s announcement this week of a broad set of actions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing our climate was very welcome. His plan, largely based on executive orders, will cut carbon pollution in the United States, prepare the country for the rising number of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and droughts, invest more in clean-energy sources and help lead international efforts to combat climate change and manage its effects.

    These steps must be seen in the context of growing mobilization on climate change worldwide because the United States is one part of a larger puzzle. Obama is joining the leaders of some of the largest carbon emitters — China, India and the European Union — in committing to reduce harmful emissions. The world can now see the potential for a global alignment of political leaders with substantial power to stop the dangerous warming of our planet.

    Yet leaders around the world must propose even more far-reaching solutions and deliver results.

    Can they?

    I think they can. But they don’t have much time.

    They know there’s no substitute for aggressive national targets to reduce emissions.

    Today, the burden of emissions reductions lies with a few large economies, including the United States, China, India and the European Union. In particular, the moves by the United States and other big emitters to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants are an important step forward.

    And yet even if the global community’s pledges on greenhouse gases are fully met, the world remains on a trajectory to warm more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

    That’s barreling down a reckless path. Last week, the World Bank Group published a scientific report on the effects of climate change. One part of the assessment looked at a rise in temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which we could experience in the next 20 to 30 years. (The world is already at 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Era levels.) Soon, our forecasts showed, a world 2 degrees Celsius warmer would have dire consequences: Forty percent of the land used to grow maize in Africa could no longer support the crop; parts of major cities in South Asia, including Bangkok, could be underwater; and the fish stocks in parts of Southeast Asia could decline by 50 percent.

    The world’s leaders should be doing all they can now to avoid a 2-degree-*Celsius warmer world. That calls for far more ambitious action.

    As President Obama pointed out, one of the quickest steps is to cut short-lived climate pollutants such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), methane and black carbon from sources that include air-conditioning systems, urban landfills, livestock farming, wood burning and diesel engines.

    Just a few weeks ago, China and the United States agreed to phase down production and consumption of HFCs. This could cut two years’ worth of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, slowing the arrival of a warmer world.

    But leadership on climate has to happen at every level. In the United States, states and cities have been taking the lead. California, for instance, has started by aggressively reducing diesel emissions. These emissions have a warming impact 460 to 1,500 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

    More broadly, the leaders of the nations that emit the most pollutants need to move ahead in five critical areas. The first two will require concerted global agreement: setting a price on carbon, which can redirect finances to low-carbon growth, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. Currently, governments hand out more than a trillion dollars annually in fossil fuel subsidies that could instead be invested in transitioning to sustainable energies.

    World leaders need to push for breakthroughs on these difficult issues, but that’s no excuse to sit still in the meantime. The World Bank Group is working with partners right now on three other areas: building cleaner cities; developing climate-smart agriculture; and investing in energy efficiency and sustainable energy sources. Moving ahead, we at the bank will be looking at everything we do through a climate lens.

    Enormous political and technical challenges remain. But the direction is clear. President Obama injected a new sense of hope in the fight against climate change globally. The global leaders’ plans in front of us reflect a growing commitment to collaborate. Our well-being and that of future generations, as well as the world’s economic security, are at stake. The opportunity for action on climate change is still — for a short time — within our grasp.

  9. #19
    Scientists look to revive the long-extinct passenger pigeon

    By Jackson Landers, Tuesday, July 9, 1:24 AM E-mail the writer

    It is often said that the passenger pigeon, once among the most abundant birds in North America, traveled in flocks so enormous that they darkened the skies for hours as they passed. The idea that the bird, which numbered in the billions, might disappear seemed as absurd as losing the cockroach. And yet hunting and habitat destruction pushed the animal to extinction. Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

    Plans are afoot to bring back the bird by using a weird-science process called de-extinction. The work is being spearheaded by Ben J. Novak, a young biologist who is backed by some big names, including the Harvard geneticist George Church. The idea was recently promoted at a TEDx meeting in Washington and is being funded by Revive and Restore, a group dedicated to the de-extinction of recently lost species. (Other candidates include the woolly mammoth and the dodo.)

    Novak’s idea takes a page from “Jurassic Park,” in which dinosaur DNA was filled in with corresponding fragments from living amphibians, birds and reptiles. Working with Church’s lab and Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Novak plans to use passenger pigeon DNA taken from museum specimens and fill in the blanks with fragments from the band-tailed pigeon. This reconstituted genome would be inserted into a band-tailed pigeon stem cell, which would transform into a germ cell, the precursor of egg and sperm. The scientists would inject these germ cells into developing band-tailed pigeons. As those birds mate, their eventual offspring would express the passenger pigeon genes, coming as close to being passenger pigeons as the available genetic material allows.

    The process is not the same as cloning. Novak’s approach would use a mishmash of genes recovered from different passenger pigeons, resulting in birds as unique as any from the original flocks. Most pigeons mature and reproduce quickly enough that the de-extinction process could be completed in less than a year. Producing a flock large enough to release into the wild would take at least another decade.

    Novak says he is confident the procedure will work. “Essentially, the genomes of the band-tailed pigeon and the passenger pigeon, I think, will prove to be similar enough to easily convert one to the other,” he said. In fact, he says, “making the passenger pigeon genome right now will be easier than making the first living passenger pigeon hatch from an egg.”

    Experts say there is little question that re-creating the pigeon is technically possible. Indeed, the genome of the woolly mammoth has largely been sequenced using elephant DNA as a scaffolding. Complete, working genomes of dogs, sheep, horses, cows and other species have been artificially inserted into egg cells to produce living organisms.

    But the project still faces many challenges, among them the contamination of much of the DNA specimen.

    The hundreds of passenger pigeons in museum collections have been exposed to heat and oxygen. Specialized equipment would be used to identify the surviving fragments of DNA and reassemble them into working genes. It’s a painstaking process that could take years.

    But the larger problem, say some scientists, is that even if the passenger pigeon is re-created, it’s unlikely to be viable as a species in today’s ecosystem. Novak’s plan is to breed the first new generations of the bird in captivity. But eventually he hopes to release the animal into the wild.

    Such a proposition, some experts say, poses a number of fundamental problems: There is some question as to whether today’s forests can support a restored passenger pigeon population, and its nesting behaviors make the bird particularly susceptible to dying out again.

    “Much of their breeding and wintering habitat is gone,” says Scott C. Yaich of the conservation group Ducks Unlimited, and the animal’s primary breeding-season food — beech mast, the nuts of a beech tree — is limited.

    Altered landscape

    The birds “simply couldn’t be restored to a landscape that is so radically altered from the one to which they were uniquely adapted,” says Yaich, director of conservation for Ducks Unlimited.

    But Mark Twery, a research forester at the U.S. Forest Service, says that though beech bark disease has reduced beechnut production, “the overall quantity of forested habitat is likely to be ample to support a large enough number of pigeons for a viable population, even should people be able to restore the species.”

    Other experts say that given the nesting behavior of the passenger pigeon, releasing a handful of birds into the wild would be a losing proposition.

    The mainstream view of passenger pigeon ecology is that they used a reproductive strategy called predator satiation. The recent cicada invasion is one example of this strategy. Each cicada is individually easy to catch in its slow, bumbling flight. But there are so many millions of cicadas in a spot at one time that they are able to finish mating and laying eggs before predators have had time to eat all of them. If only a few thousand cicadas emerged at once, then most of them would probably be eaten before they were able to reproduce. In this way, the cicada’s survival depends on showing up in hordes.

    Flimsy nests

    Passenger pigeons succeeded through a similar sort of mob rule. Individually, their behavior was borderline reckless. They built flimsy nests, often dangerously low to the ground. The nests were built so hastily that when bad weather would slow down construction, a female would sometimes be forced to lay her eggs on the ground. When the young were ready to leave the nest — after only 14 days of development — they would spend their first few days on the ground, vulnerable to any hungry predator.

    Passenger pigeons could get away with such behavior because of their incredible numbers. When a flock arrived at a nesting area, predators could gorge themselves for weeks. Each pair of nesting pigeons would produce two eggs, at least one of which usually ended up on the ground. But even with the constant work of foxes, bears, possums, raccoons, hawks, eagles, snakes and other meat-eaters, enough of the young pigeons survived to fly away.

    This system works great with a flock of 5 million birds. But according to Kirk Mantay, a biologist specializing in habitat restoration, if only a few thousand pigeons show up, the whole system falls apart.

    “If you put 5,000 out there, even with good habitat, they could all still be gone in a few decades unless you could exclude the predators somehow and make sure that they nested right where you wanted them to go. You just couldn’t make enough birds for it to work.”

    A handful of nests and fledglings might escape the notice of predators, but as soon as the colony grew to a few dozen nests, the noise and scent would bring those predators in to feast on easy meals. You would need to skip ahead to millions of birds for the predator satiation strategy to properly work.

    Still, “I believe the passenger pigeon will survive because we have people committed to its survival,” Novak says, citing the reintroducton of the condor into the wild in California. In that case, the birds, on the verge of extinction, were bred in captivity, then gradually released beginning in the 1990s; there are now about 200 living in the wild.

    Would a commitment to its survival be enough to sustain the passenger pigeon? A few specimens living in an aviary would be a historic accomplishment. But an effort to put the passenger pigeon back into the wild would be challenging at best.

    “Habitat restoration is hard to get right for species like turkey and quail that we know about,” says Mantay. “How long is that going to take with something we can’t study in the wild first?”

    There may be other species that could be resurrected, animals that can survive in smaller numbers with less habitat. The Carolina parakeet might have a chance, with federal protection. The woolly mammoth could do very well in a herd of a few dozen within a large park, living at least as wild as bison in Yellowstone. As for the passenger pigeon, science may permit us to mourn it all over again.

  10. #20
    1st in Phl: Dolphin gives birth in park

    By Ric Sapnu

    (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 16, 2013 - 12:00am

    SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines – A bottlenose dolphin at the Ocean Adventure here gave birth last July 6, the first dolphin born in captivity in the country.

    The mother of the calf, which is less than one meter long and weighs about 12 kilos, is 11 years old.

    Carlo Magno, director for marine mammal operation of Ocean Adventure, said a routine ultrasound revealed the pregnancy last February.

    A special birthing pen and nursing lagoon were built, and cameras and an observation deck were installed to monitor the mother dolphin, named Vi.

    World-renowned marine mammal veterinarian Robert Braun arrived in the country 10 days before Vi gave birth.

    Braun, in consultation with other international marine mammal experts and with the assistance of Ocean Adventure veterinarians and trainers, helped deliver the calf.

    “Vi has been a great mom. She’s done everything right. She pushed the baby to the surface for his first breath, helped him avoid the walls and increased his lung capacity by taking him for progressively longer and deeper swims underwater,” Magno said.

    Baby dolphins are very vulnerable, Ocean Adventure resident veterinarian Leo Suarez said.

    “Every scratch on their delicate skin is a potentially a lethal source of infection until their immune system develops several days after birth. They must swim continually to stay afloat with a soft tail that takes hours to become rigid enough for efficient swimming,” he said.

    The calf will be at risk for the first 30 days of its life, Suarez said.

    At least eight sea lions have been born at Ocean Adventure.


 
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