This section contains facts and information about the Amazon Rainforest, it's people, it's flora and fauna and the growing concern over the continuing environmental pressures.
Biggest shark fin seizure in Hong Kong history recovers 26 tonnes, mostly from endangered species, in shipments from Ecuador.
Hong Kong customs officials have made their largest shark fin seizure ever, uncovering 26 tonnes taken from 38,500 endangered sharks inside a pair of shipping containers from South America, it was revealed on Wednesday.
The two consignments, worth HK$8.6 million (US$1.1 million), more than doubled the 12 tonnes of shark fin seized in all of 2019, according to assistant superintendent Danny Cheung Kwok-yin of the Customs and Excise Department’s marine enforcement group.
“Each consignment consisting of 13 tonnes broke the previous record seizure of 3.8 tonnes of controlled shark fins made in 2019,” he said.
Cheung said both consignments were sent from the same shipper to the same Hong Kong logistics company. Customs officers have arrested the owner of the logistics firm, but the 57-year-old man has been granted bail pending further investigation.
A law enforcement source said the value of the seizure would have been much higher if it had been the highest-grade shark fin, which can cost thousands of dollars per kilogram.
The two containers arrived from Ecuador within 10 days of each other in January, but the huge haul was only discovered when customs officers opened the containers at their Kwai Chung cargo examination compound on April 28 and May 4.
Officers said their suspicion had been aroused because the containers had Spanish-language markings identifying them as dried fish.
“It’s unusual for some imported goods to be described in foreign languages other than English,” Cheung explained, adding that customs officers had seized shark fins shipped from Ecuador before.
Each container contained more than 300 nylon bags of dried shark fins, with about 90 per cent of the goods from controlled species.
Seized fins largely came from thresher and silky sharks – both protected species, according to the customs department.
Endangered species protection officer Ken Chan Hon-ki of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department estimated the fins had been removed from about 31,000 thresher sharks and 7,500 silky sharks.
Cheung believed at least some of the seizure was for local consumption and destined for Hong Kong eateries and shops, noting the investigation was continuing and further arrests were possible.
Apart from the two Ecuador consignments, customs officers this year had already confiscated 15 tonnes of shark fins worth HK$5.4 million and made two arrests.
For the whole of 2019, 12 tonnes of banned shark fins worth HK$8.9 million were seized, with 13 people arrested. That marked a substantial jump from 2018, when customs officers seized 641kg of shark fins worth HK$510,000 and made five arrests.
The assistant superintendent said the rise in seizures this year was the result of enhanced inspections and intelligence exchanges with the mainland and other countries.
He said the customs department would continue to liaison closely and cooperate with outside law enforcement agencies to combat smuggling activities.
Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, importing, exporting or possessing endangered species without a licence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$10 million fine.
Gloria Lai Pui-yin, senior conservation officer for sustainability with environmental group WWF-Hong Kong, said the scale of the seizure “definitely came as a surprise to us”, noting that, between 2014 and 2018, 30 seizures were made but the total only amounted to about six tonnes.
“But this does not mean demand is rising again. It could be that traders are seeing a chance to ship the shark fins while government officials in other countries are preoccupied with efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
Lai said that, with people generally dining out less because of the pandemic, a local increase in demand for shark fin was unlikely. However, a WWF survey of 859 people still found seven out of 10 Hongkongers had eaten shark fin in 2018, mainly at three kinds of occasion: weddings, office functions and family gatherings.
“WWF-Hong Kong therefore urges hotels and restaurants to stop selling shark fins and for companies to make a ‘no shark fin’ pledge,” Lai said.
Forest fires in Brazil are at the highest rate for years and every day we see a further loss to the ‘lungs’ of our planet!!
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said his government lacks the resources to fight the record number of fires in the Amazon, and he again suggested that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had started fires in the rainforest, but admitted he had no evidence for this claim.
Earlier, Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles was heckled at a meeting on climate change.
What exactly did Bolsonaro say? Asked on Thursday who was responsible for starting the fires, he responded: "The Indians, do you want me to blame the Indians? Do you want me to blame the Martians?... Everyone is a suspect, but the biggest suspects are NGOs." Asked if there was any proof of this, he replied: "Did I accuse NGOs directly? I just said I suspect them."
President Bolsonaro has further angered those concerned over the spike in fires by brushing off the latest data.
Climate activists and conservationists have been scathing about the Bolsonaro government and its policies, which favour development over conservation.
They say that since President Bolsonaro took office, the Amazon rainforest has suffered losses at an accelerated rate. Their anger was further fuelled by satellite data showing a steep rise in fires in the Amazon region this year. The figures suggest there have been more than 75,000 fires so far this year for the whole of Brazil, compared with just over 40,000 over the same period in 2018.
Greenpeace has blamed the record number of wildfires in the Brazilian Amazon on deforestation. "The number of forest fires is higher in the Amazon regions most affected by deforestation practices, as fires are one of the main tools used for deforestation, including by farmers," the NGO said in a statement on Thursday, attacking Jair Bolsonaro government's "dismantling" of the country's environmental policies.
It also warned that it could have severe meteorological consequences for the region but also for the globe. "Forest fires and climate change operate in a vicious cycle: as the number of fires increase, so do greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the planet’s overall temperature and the occurrence of extreme weather events, such as major droughts," it said.
Amazon deforestation accelerating towards unrecoverable 'tipping point'
Data confirms fears that Jair Bolsonaro’s policy encourages illegal logging in Brazil.
Read the full article in the 'pdf' download below
National Geographic 26th April 2019
Because of human activities the world continued to lose forests in 2018, according to data compiled by research group Global Forest Watch and analysts at the University of Maryland. ........
Using satellite images, the Global Forest Watch researchers were able to see that 30 million acres of forest were lost around the world in 2018. Of that lost 30 million, over 880,000 acres were primary forests. Also called old-growth forests, primary forests are mature woodlands that haven't been disturbed by human development in recent history. They're often biodiversity hotspots that contain protected and even unknown species. .....
For the full article go to www.nationalgeographic.com
BBC World News January 25th 2019
Some 200 people are missing after a dam collapsed at an iron ore mine in south-eastern Brazil, company officials say.
It is not clear what caused the collapse of the dam, owned by Brazil's largest mining company, Vale.
The dam near the Feijão iron ore mine burst its barrier at around 13:00 local time (15:00 GMT) on Friday, flooding another dam down below.
The torrent of sludge cut through the dam's complex, nearby farms and the neighbourhood where many of the workers live, destroying houses and vehicles.
Built in 1976, the dam was one of several in the area and it was used to hold residue from the mine.
It had capacity for 12m cubic metres and had been an inactive site for three years, Vale said. It is not yet known how much waste was released.
The collapse comes just over three years since a dam (also owned by Vale, along with BHP) burst in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais, killing 19 people, in what is considered Brazil's worst environmental disaster.
The environmental activist group Greenpeace said the dam break was "a sad consequence of the lessons not learned by the Brazilian government and the mining companies."
It said the incidents "are not accidents but environmental crimes that must be investigated, punished and repaired."
What has the reaction been?
President Jair Bolsonaro called it a "serious tragedy" and said he would fly to the affected area on Saturday. "Our main concern at this moment is attending to potential victims of this grave tragedy," he said on Twitter.
The environment, mining and regional development ministers were also travelling to the region.
Vale chief executive Fabio Schvartsman called it a "human tragedy" and said a German company, hired to assess the dam, indicated in the most recent report last September that it was stable.
The firm said it was monitoring all its other dams.
"We are only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unveiling the incredible species that live in the Amazon and understanding the vital role it plays in helping regulate our climate. Despite some important conservation successes, the Amazon faces greater threats than ever before. We need to act fast to protect this life-sustaining treasure for the millions of species and people that depend on it" .
July 2018 - Hours after taking office, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby.
Global concern is palpable, but the Presidency is early, so let's see where this goes!!
The Amazon is a vast region that spans across eight rapidly developing countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, an overseas territory of France.
The landscape contains:
There is a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet. The rain forests, which contain 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, help stabilize local and global climate. Deforestation may release significant amounts of this carbon, which could have catastrophic consequences around the world.
The Amazon contains millions of species, most of them still undescribed, and some of the world's most unusual wildlife. It is one of Earth's last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles and pink dolphins, and home to thousands of birds and butterflies. Tree-dwelling species include southern two-toed sloths, pygmy marmosets, saddleback and emperor tamarins, and Goeldi's monkeys. The diversity of the region is staggering:
To protect these species, The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) works with local communities, partner non-governmental organizations, corporations and governments to ensure that deforestation and degradation of rivers are alleviated.
More than 30 million people, including 350 indigenous and ethnic groups, live in the Amazon and depend on nature for agriculture, clothing and traditional medicines. Most live in large urban centers, but all residents rely on the Amazon’s natural bounty for food, shelter and livelihoods.
South America’s Amazon contains nearly a third of all the tropical rainforests left on Earth. Despite covering only around 1% of the planet’s surface, the Amazon is home to 10% of all the wildlife species we know about – and probably a lot that we don’t know yet.
Our research shows that, on average, a 'new' species of animal or plant is being discovered in the Amazon every 3 days. However, tragically, because huge parts of the forest are being destroyed so fast, we may never know all the riches it holds.
People around the world, as well as locally, depend on the Amazon. Not just for food, water, wood and medicines, but to help stabilise the climate, playing a critical role in global and regional carbon and water cycles.
The Amazon has always been a photogenic ‘pin-up’ for the environmental movement – but its importance is much more than symbolic. We all need the Amazon. And it needs our help now more than ever.
Loss of Habitat
Jaguars are strong swimmers and climbers and require large areas of tropical rain forest and stretches of riverbank to survive. Hunting and habitat loss due to deforestation continue to threaten the survival of these marvelous cats. WWF has worked with the government of Brazil to successfully protect large blocks of Amazon forest for the jaguar. In Peru, WWF continues to track jaguars to learn more about their habitat requirements.
Loss of Habitat
Three-toed sloths also have an extra bone in their neck that lets them turn their head 270 degrees from far left to far right!!
They generally weigh almost 9 pounds,
Sloths are the slowest mammals on the planet and only move about 0.15 miles per hour. When you go out for a walk, you're about 25 times faster!
Because three-toed sloths are so slow, algae develops on their fur and gives it a green tone. That helps them blend in with the tree leaves and hide from predators.
Loss of Habitat
The Amazon river dolphin, also known as the pink river dolphin or boto, lives only in freshwater. It is found throughout much of the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. It is a relatively abundant freshwater cetacean with an estimated population in the tens of thousands. However, it is classified as vulnerable in certain areas due to dams that fragment and threaten certain populations, and from other threats such as contamination of rivers and lakes.
Illegal Pet Trade
The Amazonian rain forest is a bird lover's paradise, home to over a thousand different species, including the blue-and-yellow macaw. Macaws are highly intelligent, mate for life and can live up to 60 years. The vibrant color and pattern of their feathers make them a popular species in the illegal pet trade, which has devastated populations of wild exotic birds. WWF supports efforts to phase out importing wild birds to the United States and encourages captive breeding as an alternative to illegal capture.
Loss of Habitat
The Amazon tree boa like its common name implies, inhabits the Amazon rainforest. These are moderate sized snakes with a slender body, growing to an average size ranging from 1.5 to 2 m in length with females being slightly bigger than males. Very few if any snake species exhibit such an immense variety of colour and patterns as the Amazon tree boa. Basically, their colour can be anywhere from brown, grey and many shades of yellow, orange or red and quite a few other colours in between.
A Whilst it's true numbers are unknown, - IUCN Red List 'Data Deficient' , the Arapaima, whilst not currently endangered is certainly a threatened species. A recent survey of fishing communities in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, found that the Arapaima is already extinct in some parts of the Amazon basin and in other parts of the Amazon, its numbers are rapidly dwindling. However, the researchers also uncovered some good news: In communities where Arapaima fishing is regulated, the species is actually thriving, giving the researchers hope that conservation of the species is still possible.
17 % of the Amazon forest has been lost in the last 50 years. Extensive cattle ranching accounts for 80% of current deforestation, while agriculture is largely responsible for the rest. The vast majority of the deforestation can be found in the eastern and southeastern part of the Amazon (Brazil) in the so-called Arc of Deforestation, and the Northwestern brim of the Basin’s headwaters, primarily in Colombia and Ecuador.
Species lose their habitat, or can no longer subsist in the small fragments of forests that are left. Populations dwindle, and eventually some can become extinct. Because of the high degree of endemism, or presence of species that are only found within a specific geographical range, even localized deforestation can result in loss of species
Infrastructure & new highways that provide access to settlers and loggers into the heart of the Amazon Basin are causing widespread fragmentation of rainforests. These fragmented landscapes are affected in species structure, composition and microclimate, and are more vulnerable to droughts and fires - alterations that negatively affect a wide variety of animal species.
Deforestation reduces the critical water cycling services provided by trees. In Brazil, some of the water vapour that emanates from forests will be transported by wind to its Central-South region, where most of the country's agriculture is located. Brazil's annual harvest has a gross value of about US$65 billion, and the dependence of even a small fraction of this on rainfall from Amazonian water vapour corresponds to a substantial value for the country. When rainfall reduction is added to the natural variability that characterizes rainfall in the region, the resulting droughts may lead to major environmental impacts
See rainforest Conservation.
With reduced forests, people are less able to benefit from the natural resources these ecosystems provide. This can lead to increased poverty and in cases, people may need to move in order to find forests which can sustain them.
See Rainforest Conservation
The forests’ ability to absorb the pollutant carbon dioxide (CO2) is reduced. At the same time, there is an increased presence of CO2 released from the burning trees.