Category Archives: Ecosystem Destruction

What was natural in the coastal oceans?

wild-horses-atlantic-coast
Wild horses at the beach, Cumberland island. Photo source: ©© Linda N.

Abstract, By Jeremy B. C. Jackson © 2001, The National Academy of Sciences

Humans transformed Western Atlantic coastal marine ecosystems before modern ecological investigations began.

Paleoecological, archeological, and historical reconstructions demonstrate incredible losses of large vertebrates and oysters from the entire Atlantic coast. Untold millions of large fishes, sharks, sea turtles, and manatees were removed from the Caribbean in the 17th to 19th centuries.

Historical reconstructions provide a new scientific framework for manipulative experiments at the ecosystem scale to explore the feasibility and benefits of protection of our living coastal resources…

Read Full Article, National Academy of Sciences

Ban turtle eggs trade in Malaysia: WWF

sea turtle egg
“El nacimiento.” A sea turtle egg. Photo source: ©©Emmanuel Frezzotti

Excerpts;

WWF urged Malaysia to impose a national ban on the trade and consumption of turtle eggs to ensure the survival of the marine creatures.

Turtles once arrived in their thousands to lay eggs on Malaysian beaches but are now increasingly rare due to poaching and coastal development.

Featured image: Green turtle surfacing, Jeff Seminoff / NOAA

Read Full Article, PhysOrg (08-03-2011)

Sea Turtle Eggs Poaching Legalized in Costa Rica: The Debate

The Endangered Green Sea Turtles, WWF

Blue Carbon Initiative: Buried Treasure For Climate and Coastal Communities

mangrove-plantation-bali
A mangrove plantation in Bali. Photo source: ©© Lawrence Hislop /Unep

Excerpts; from UNEP, The World’s Bank and Conservation International

There is overwhelming consensus amongst climate scientists that the Earth’s warming in recent decades has been caused primarily by human activities that have increased the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that nearly 50 per cent of the emissions causing global warming in the twenty-first century are from non-CO2 pollutants ranging from black carbon entering the atmosphere from the inefficient burning of biomass and dung for cooking and from diesel engines, coal-fired power stations, low-level ozone, methane and nitrogen compounds.(unep). According to researchers, black carbon’s likely near-term climate change contribution ranges from 20 to 50 per cent of the CO2 warming effects. Especially damaging are the black carbon emissions that end up on snow and ice, as consequently these surfaces absorb more of the sun’s heat. UNEP’s focus in this area has been on the Arctic and Himalayan Tibetan Plateau.

According to a 2009 report, Mitigating climate change through restoration and management of coastal wetlands and near-shore marine ecosystems, to mitigate the most serious impacts of climate change a range of different strategies to lower carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere are required.

Instead of relying on costly technologies such as carbon capture and storage, boosting investments in the conservation, rehabilitation and management of the vast stores of carbon held by the world’s ecosystems like forests and oceans, can deliver significant cuts in carbon emissions and avoid even more being released to the atmosphere.

Such activities have the added benefit of preserving the huge range of services and goods these ecosystems provide to local people and the wider community, the report concluded.

The concept of Blue Carbon, which refers to the important role that some coastal habitats play in naturally storing greenhouse gasses, thereby helping to mitigate climate change, was introduced by UNEP in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Education and Science Organization (UNESCO).

Mr Archim Stenier, the UNEP Executive Director, said that the blue carbon was a mix of the colour blue signifying oceans and the cutting on carbon emissions and how we should cope with the issue in the foreseeable future. We will have to rely more and more on carbon capture and sequestration in our eco systems done by nature. We humans should turn nature’s natural systems into assets. What is underestimated is the power of the worlds oceans to store more carbon in marine ecosystems rather than terrestrial ones.” An added, “We already know that marine and coastal ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, shipping and fisheries – now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change.” Press Release, Unep

Dubbed “blue carbon” for their ability to sequester and store huge amounts of carbon, coastal marine ecosystems are believed to be able to complement the role of forests (Green Carbon) in taking up carbon emissions through sequestration, if valued and managed properly.

Carbon sinks along the world’s coastlines, including mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes store massive quantities of carbon both in the plants and in the sediment immediately beneath them. Carbon is buried in the sediment at rates up to 50 times higher than those observed on land, and these rates can be maintained for centuries or more. (Conservation International)

According to scientists at the first 2011 International Working Group on Coastal “Blue” Carbon event, total carbon deposits per square kilometer in these coastal systems can be up to five times the carbon stored in tropical forests, resulting from their ability to sequester carbon at rates up to 50 times those of tropical forests, and this could provide an immediate and cost-effective tool to counter the impacts of climate change.”

“What we’ve seen is that that these three main systems, mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes, are phenomenally efficient at storing carbon below ground in the sediment for centuries at a time,” said Dr. Emily Pidgeon, the Marine Climate Change Program Director for Conservation International. “So it seems natural to us that oceans should be part of the climate change solution. It’s been a bit puzzling to me as to why they haven’t so far.”

According to scientific analysis, coastal systems globally are being lost at an alarming rate, with approximately two percent removed or degraded each year, which is four times the estimates of annual tropical forest loss.

“The loss of mangroves is like a one-two punch to our planet: first, it results in the rapid emission of carbon stores that in many cases have built up over centuries and the lost opportunity of future carbon sequestration from these areas, and second, it destroys habitats that are critical for fisheries around the world,” said Pidgeon.” (IC)

“Scientific studies have shown that although mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes account for less than 1 percent of the total plant biomass on land and forests, they cycle almost the same amount of carbon as the remaining 99 percent. So the decline of these carbon-efficient ecosystems is a valid cause of concern.”

mangroves bali
The removal of large areas of mangroves for industrial purposes can significantly alter these precious coastal ecosystems. This can have a broader effect on the community, threatening vital clean water sources, tourist industries and the food supplies on which we rely. In addition to this, the root system of a mangrove forest serves to stabilize the coastline, providing protection from storm surges. Being a small archipelago made up of 17,000 islands, Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels or intense tropical storms linked to Global Warming. ©© Lawrence Hislop /Unep

“From 1940 over 30% of Mangroves and 30% of Sea grass meadows and 20% of salt marshes have been lost in the name of development. Along with that 50% of the worlds wetlands have been lost while we humans ramp up carbon emissions. Now we have to link different ways to mitigate and adapt to focus on an urgent answer to get rid of this excess carbon both by blue and Green carbon efforts. Mr Steiner said this joint Blue Carbon Initiative will draw the world’s attention to the role of oceans in this fight.” (Unep)

“We appeal to all countries to preserve these abilities of coastal and marine ecosystems as important variables in global climate change dynamic”, said Dr. Fadel and Mr. Steiner.(unep)

On his first meeting in Paris, last march, the International Working Group on Coastal “Blue” Carbon, brought a set of key priorities and recommendations: link. The group of scientists will continue the collaborative scientific study in August.

Young mangrove plantation on coastal Bali. An important function of mangrove forest is to hold back silt water that damages coral reefs. In extreme weather conditions, mangroves provide a physical barrier, absorbing and dissipating the energy from tsunami, flood or storm winds. ©© Lawrence Hislop

The Project Blue Carbon, UNEP

Scientists Offer Warning And Plan For Protecting Earth’s Blue Carbon, By Conservation International

Blue Carbon Buried Treasure For Climate And Communities, By Conservation International

Mitigating climate change through restoration and management of coastal wetlands and near-shore marine ecosystems : challenges and opportunities, Report, The World Bank

Photo Source, GRID-UNEP

The Colors Of Carbon, UNEP

The Blue Carbon Portal

Sea Turtle Egg Poaching Legalized in Costa Rica: The Debate

Sea Turtle Egg Poaching Legalized in Costa Rica: The Debate

By Claire Le Guern

Two decades on, an unusual project to stabilize the population of Olive Ridley sea turtles in the coastal town of Ostional on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula that led the Government to legally permit an exemption to the ban on harvesting sea turtle eggs, remains controversial.

The rationale for circumventing a global conservation effort is to sustainably maintain the local population of Olive Ridley sea turtle, while concurrently providing a consistent income stream for the economically challenged local community of Ostional who may harvest the turtle eggs from the beach to sell locally.

People on both sides of this contentious issue have observed that with this project the government of Costa Rica has in essence legalized poaching. Indeed, despite the vigorous defense of what is claimed to be a well-managed and officially sanctioned harvest by needy local people, critics abound. Even after twenty years, independent turtle authorities remain far from any universal agreement as to the scientific and economical basis for this project’s mission and its impact.

hatchling-sea-turtle

Four of the world’s seven species of marine turtles nest on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the Pacific Green (Chelonia Mydas) or “Negra,” Leatherback (Dermochelys Coriacea) or “Baula” or “Canal,” Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) or “Carey,” and the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys Olivacea) or “Lora” or “Carpintera.” Olive ridleys get their name from the coloring of their heart-shaped shell, which starts out gray but becomes olive green once the turtles are adults. Forty-seven beaches on the Pacific coast have been identified as having turtle nesting activity.

The Olive Ridley turtles have been around a very long time, more than 100,000,000 years, are naturally very prolific and the most numerous of the seven existing species, with breeding beaches throughout the tropics, though it has, until recently, been considered “Endangered.” Indeed, past global numbers may have been as high as 10 million populations, yet the Ridley populations had declined by more than 50% from 1950’s levels. A single generation of men accomplished, prior to the subsequent laws protecting sea turtles and their eggs, what had seemed impossible: extensive fisheries and eggs harvesting in the early 20th century nearly wiping out in the blink of an eye what had taken a hundred million generations to create.

As a result of bans on fisheries and legal protection, the Olive Ridley turtle is nowadays, classified as “Vulnerable,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature And Natural Resources (IUCN), and is listed in Appendix I of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

For 10 months of the year, usually around the third quarter of the moon, olive Ridleys swim by the hundreds of thousands to an 8 kilometers long by 200 meters wide beach, at Ostional, in an ancient reproductive rite little understood by scientists, called arribadas (literally meaning “arrivals” in Spanish).

Arribada
Arribada, on Playa Ostional, Costa Rica. Photo Source: Dave Sherwood

Arribada nesting (massive turtle nesting and egg laying) is a behavior found only in the genus Lepidochelys, Olive Ridley Turtle. Uniquely among marine turtle species, which more normally nest individually, Ridleys congregate en masse at sea and then swarm the beaches like battalions. Although other turtles have been documented nesting in groups, no other turtles, marine or otherwise, have been observed nesting in such mass numbers and synchrony.

In such a strategy, simultaneous mass nesting is nature’s way of ensuring that natural predators, turkey vultures, feral dogs and raccoons, may be “overwhelmed,” having eaten all the fresh turtle eggs they want, and yet sufficient numbers of eggs are left over to produce a sustainable population of Olive Ridleys, maintaining the species.

The most important nesting beach on the Pacific coast is at Ostional, situated in the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional).

At Ostional, the arribadas occur on a lunar cycle of approximately 28 days. The majority takes place around the last quarter of the cycle although this event may happen at any time including the full moon and two arribadas (first and last quarter) may occur in the same month. The size and duration of the arribadas varies between the dry and wet seasons. Those occurring in the dry season of January to April tend to be smaller (approximately 5,000 turtles) and of shorter duration (less than four days). In the wet season of May to December, up to 300,000 turtles may lay over a period of eight to 10 days. On a number of occasions between August and October, two arribadas of 10 days each, have occurred in the same month. This results in continuous activity during the month with a few days of lower activity and two peaks of maximum nesting.

Females nest every year, once or twice a season, laying clutches of approximately 100 eggs. The turtles generally ride in on the high tide at night but during an arribada they start arriving around 4 p.m. and keep coming until 7 a.m. the next morning. Used to a life in the ocean, the turtles painfully drag their heavy bodies over the beach until they get above the high tide line. There, flicking clouds of sand, they dig a hole with their flippers and drop in an average of 100 leathery, white eggs the size of ping-pong balls. Over the course of the arribada nesting, females may leave as many as 10 million eggs in the black, volcanic sand of Ostional beach.

turtle-eggs

Ostional is one of two dozen beaches in the world where the Olive Ridley’s arribadas nesting occur. Arribadas take place on a few beaches in the eastern Pacific and northern Indian oceans. In the eastern Pacific, besides Costa Rica, arribadas occur from June through December on beaches on the coasts of Mexico, Nicaragua, and on a single beach in Panama. In the northern Indian Ocean, arribadas occur on three different beaches along the coast of India. Solitary nesting occurs extensively throughout this species’ range, and has been documented in approximately 40 countries worldwide. (NOAA).

The largest arribada thus far recorded in Ostional, took place in November 1995 when a calculated 500 000 females came ashore.

Arribadas’ downside is that the oncoming and succeeding flows of turtles, arriving on a same surface in such quantity in such a small time frame, lead to excavation of each others’ previously sand buried eggs. Indeed, as many as 200,000 Ridleys may pile ashore with as many as 20,000 at a time, digging their nests at Ostional during the course of three or four nights. Many, if not most, of the nests buried on the first and second night get dug up again on subsequent nights by later arrivals, causing destruction not only to those eggs, but, due to bacterial decomposition of the broken eggs, gross contamination of the surrounding sand. As a result, arribada beaches often realize a very small (1-2%) hatch success.

arribada
Photo Source: Dave Sherwood

In the early 1980s, biologists from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) concluded that, because of limited space on Ostional beach, the succeeding waves of nesting females coming ashore during these arribadas destroyed, and/or contaminated 70-90% of the previously laid eggs. Researchers, along with the Environmental Ministry, thus concluded that there would be no harm to the species’ relative abundance along Costa Rican shores if, instead of being trampled into one big scrambled mess, Ostional community members were permitted to dig up 1% of the nests and consume/sell the eggs.

Scientists figured that by removing eggs laid during the first two nights, the rate of successful hatching and hatchling survival might increase. The researchers wondered: why not let poachers have the doomed eggs?

Thus was born an experiment unique to Ostional. Elsewhere throughout Costa Rica, taking marine turtle eggs is illegal, and has been since 1966.

“What we have done is turn people into predators,” says Dr. Anny Chavez, a sea turtle biologist and one of the founders of the Ostional project, which is world famous among turtle activists.

An exception to the international ban on turtle eggs collecting was granted and the Ostional community was legally permitted to harvest a specific amount of eggs for commercial purposes under the supervision of the Ostional Internal Development Association (ADIO in Spanish).

Ostional community, approved in 1990 by executive order N° 28203-MINAE-MAG, law N° 8325 of the Protection, Conservation, and Recovery of Sea Turtle populations enacted on November 28th, 2002 and by law N° 8436 of Fishing and Agriculture on April 25th, 2005.

The government of Costa Rica allows then, on an annual, temporary suspension of the ban on turtle-egg taking, that the people of Ostional harvest, through an egg-harvesting cooperative, the doomed eggs on the first two dawns of an arribada.

The egg harvest at Ostional is regulated and legal.

A formal co-management model between the University of Costa Rica, a community organization called ADIO, and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MINAET) in Costa Rica, was installed to regulate the program.

Every 5 years the program is reviewed and the egg harvest management plan is reviewed and updated as needed, then submitted to the Government for approval.

The current plan notes that:
a. The current density of nests is 11 nests per square meter (Olive Ridleys can only sustain about two
nests per meter without impacting hatchling emergence success).
b. During the arribadas, the females dig up the nests of previous nesting events.
c. Due to the high level of egg breakage, putrefaction rates are very high and the resulting high levels of fungus and bacteria contaminate 100% of nests, reducing emergence success. Removal of surplus eggs has help the population increasing the hatch success by 5%.
d. Eggs can only be harvested during the first 36 hours of an arribada.
f. To be declared an “arribada”, more than 80 adult females must be nesting simultaneously.

The egg harvest program employs 300 local people and the gross income from the program is about $150,000 USD. About 15% of the eggs are harvested. While there are constant concerns about the balance between maintaining the community’s desire and tradition to harvest and consume (or sell) the eggs and the need to protect this precious resource on balance, the program is viewed by some as an example of pragmatic conservation.

arribada-black-sand
Ostional, black sand beach. Photo Source: Lara Napeleona

No harvesting of the late eggs is allowed. They are protected as they incubate and the hatchlings emerge to return to the sea.

The harvested eggs are then distributed and sold throughout Costa Rica at a government regulated low price, half the price of a chicken egg. Only eggs stamped with the ADIO trademark may legally be sold, packed in sealed bags displaying the association’s logo and sold with corresponding invoices, and purchased in Costa Rica.

This has been believed by some, to have had a dramatic effect on the strong black market. The strategy initially was to attempt to flood the markets with turtle eggs easily and cheaply available, letting some think that it is no longer worthwhile for people to sneak onto beaches in the middle of the night to dig up a few eggs.

In return, the Ostional egg harvest management program advocates that the community must clean debris from the beaches, patrol day and night for poachers and protect the turtles and their eggs.

Forty-five to fifty-four days after they eggs have been laid, the hatchlings emerge, depending on incubation temperatures, which will also determine if they will become male or female. As soon as the hatchlings have struggled out of the sand, the race to the ocean begins, under Ostional community’ s requested careful supervision.

With eyes barely opened, the mini turtles smell the breeze and instantly know the right direction. The small turtles need the run to develop their lungs. Most hatchlings don’t reach maturity, but those who make it will remember the smell of their beach. After 10 – 15 years they will return to their place of birth and again lay their eggs into the black sand of Ostional.

The result?

Bacteria have been allegedly reduced on Ostional beach. More eggs are maturing to hatching on this beach. More hatchlings are being born from this arribada nesting location. The population of Ridleys has increased to the point where they are now coming ashore, at more and more beaches along Costa Rica’s coast.

Despite the vigorous defense of what is claimed to be a well-managed and officially-sanctioned harvest by needy local people, independent turtle authorities are not universally in agreement as to the scientific basis for the activity and its impact, and critics abound regarding the very key-stone of this program. Controlling nature’s way by creating a legal exemption to an international ban on collecting turtle eggs, even though perfectly well intended, indubitably goes against the belief that real sustainability is best obtained by protecting nature, via well-thought legal frames indeed, but ones that ultimately should not infringe in the always efficacious by essence and natural, evolutionary patterns.

Ostional Olive Ridleys' Eggs Take and Sale

Furthermore, some argue that Ostional exception has not only seeded egg poaching as a vocation but also sprouted an ever-flourishing black market, locally and overseas. Mostly to blame is the absence of de facto regular and efficient control of the chain of custody between the harvesters up through the consumers. Derogatory status to existing law should not be allowed, specifically when the law itself cannot be enforced, which is a widely recognized problem in this matter.

As reported by Dennis Rogers writer in AM Costa Rica Newspaper (October 26th, 2010 article), the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s, (founded by Archie Carr as the Caribbean Conservation Corp.) official position on the Ostional situation is “While we don’t agree with this egg collection, the project is endorsed by the Costa Rican government for the time being,” according to Rocío Johnson, public relations coordinator.

The main objection of critics is that the existence of Ostional eggs on the market provides cover and even encouragement for poaching of the same, and other species, on non-protected beaches around the country. This species is the most abundant off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and nesting takes place along the whole length of the country on 48 of the 51 beaches identified as suitable for this activity. As a matter of fact, all other sea turtles that nest in Costa Rica are actually in a far more perilous state than the Olive Ridley.

On the Costa Rican beaches where solitary nesting takes place, it is estimated that human egg poaching results in the destruction of between 80 and 100 percent of the nests, depending on the accessibility of the beach. The Nosara beach for instance, located to the south of Ostional, is occasionally used during the large arribadas by the same nesters of Ostional. The nesting population, where solitary nesting is concerned, has been estimated at between 4,500 and 5,000 individuals.

After nesting, the turtles migrate to deeper waters while staying relatively close to the coast and spending a large proportion of the time on the surface. Following the primary dietary source of shrimp, coastal migration takes place between Mexico and Chile. However, there does appear to be a resident population along the Costa Rican coast.

Furthermore, until a few years ago, arribadas nesting were known to occur only at Playa Nancite, off-limits to visitors, and Playa Ostional, in Nicoya. The scarcity of available space on Ostional beach was the main scientific reason as to install a legalized harvesting of eggs for a limited time on a limited space, this because of the occurrence of arribadas deemed too large for the “small” beach. This was the keystone of the Ostional project. Ostional is 8 kilometers long, 200 meters wide beach. One might argue that eight kilometers is quite a long stretch of sand… But more importantly in the debate, recently Olive Ridleys’ arribadas have occurred at other Costa Rican beaches, such as Playa Guiones (Nosara) and Playa Camaronal, further south, and needless to emphasize that they are obviously not regulated and protected as Ostional is.

arribada
Photo Source: Dave Sherwood

What is often described as an ancient arribada ritual occurring at Ostional actually has been recorded only since 1959 when the first noticed large-scale arrival of Olive Ridley turtles occurred. Similar phenomena were known in Mexico and elsewhere before that. The Costa Rica events at Ostional and the smaller Nancite beach in Guanacaste did not even come to the attention of the scientific community until 1970. This is very little time to monitor populations of a long-lived species.

Supporters of Ostional’s arribadas’ outcome experimental project, say that the eggs destroyed by late-arriving turtles rot and promote pathogens that will damage the incubating eggs and their contents. These claims are currently under scientific investigation. Independent biologists have formed the Costa Rican National Sea Turtle Conservation Network to look at this question.

All turtles are still principally threatened by incidental capture in shrimp nets, on the long-lines off the coast and the illegal poaching of the eggs. Along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, turtle meat has traditionally been used as an ingredient in traditional dishes and turtle shells are often carved into jewelry. Turtle meat and eggs are a delicacy and a way of life in many countries, including Costa Rica evidently.

Sea Turtle Entangled
Titled “Underwater Sadness,” a photograph of a caretta sea turtle caught in a net in the Sea of Cortés. Photo Source: Ramón Domínguez

Costa Rica outlawed the taking of turtle eggs nationwide in 1966. The Law for the Protection, Conservation and Recuperation of the Marine Turtle Population (Law 8325), established in 2002 and designed to help protect declining sea turtle numbers, mandates three years of prison for anyone who “kills, hunts, captures, decapitates, or disturbs marine turtles.” The same law also imposes three months to two years of jail time for “those who detain marine turtles with the intention of marketing or commercializing products made from marine turtles.”

Nowadays, despite the legal interdictions, hundreds of locals do consistently gather at remote Costa Rican beaches, with no enforcement forces there…nobody to patrol the miles-long stretch of sandy beaches.

According to Sea Turtle Restoration, poaching on any Central American turtle beaches, and perhaps the world, is close to 100%. Even the protected areas like Ostional, poaching in the Guanacaste region is estimated at 95%.

As recall “Chevy,” a Costa Rican man interviewed in an article published in the Tico Times Directory (Costa Rica Poaching of Costa Rica Sea Turtles Eggs- Turtle Poll ):

” In the late 1960s, during the incredible arribadas massive pack trains of horses and donkeys carried away hundreds of millions of eggs collected by the hueveros (egg poachers), and at each nesting season. “Chevy” recalls that many Costa Ricans, leaving on the coast, remember the time when they were young, being sent to the beach by their parents, with sisters and brothers, to get sea turtle eggs. They would come back with baskets filled, within fifteen to thirty minutes. When money was needed, they would fill up a bunch more of baskets and sell them to local markets, restaurants and street vendors. “Back in those days one dollar was worth around 6-7 colons. Dozen eggs would be sold between 3 to four colones.

Nobody thought about conservation back then, but since the mid 1970s times have changed for the sea turtle. With worldwide eco-protection and tight legal frames, the demand for turtle and its eggs has increased, to some say, “epidemic poaching!”

Turtle meat, deemed to be ” an awesome tasting seafood” and eggs are indubitably, not only a delicacy, but also a way of life. Poaching of nests nation wide, has been a constant problem due to a traditional demand and taste for eggs for baking and as supposedly aphrodisiacal drinks in bars and brothels. The eggs are richer tasting than chicken eggs and packed in protein. Today, turtle eggs are found in local bars, restaurants and markets that are off the beaten path, far from most tourist areas. And during the nesting season, roadside stands offer them by the bucket full for $2 per egg.

Sea Turtle Eggs for Sale

As reported in The New York Times: “In a country where turtle eggs are traditionally slurped in bars from a shot glass, uncooked and mixed with salsa and lemon, biologists are also promoting cultural change. “Of course 25 years ago, you went out with your friends or family and dug up the eggs,” said Héctor García, 42. “It is a tradition. They are delicious, cooked or raw.” Today egg collecting is illegal in Costa Rica, but poaching is still common in many towns.”

“It is common street talk that turtle sanctuaries have made deals with commercial poachers who sell to traffickers. They give them X amount of eggs; in return the poachers will not steal or just plain old fashion bribery and extortion. Egg collecting and selling is illegal unless you have a permit; to get around this, these sanctuaries give the poachers a receipt, so in fact they can “legally” resell those eggs to “whomever” they please.” (Excerpt from the Tico Times Directory). Further reporting:

“When I asked Chevy about the law, he laughed, “¿Qué ley” (What law?) and explained, a few weeks ago a few of his friends were caught with a few thousand turtle eggs. His friends ended up splitting the shipment with the two officers.”

Today, there is nothing wrong de facto, with having a few turtle eggs in your possession, and normally if caught with a bunch, your fine is to share those eggs with the policeman.

There is no real regulatory enforcement and/or authority to competently oversee the number of eggs sold and collected due to lack of funds, resources, and manpower. The legal sale of any turtle eggs in the country has opened the door for the clandestine eggs harvesting from other beaches, undoubtedly. The Ostional exception has seeded egg poaching as a vocation and sprouted a flourishing black market, locally and overseas.

The local black market supposedly ” flooded” by cheaper prices, has not stopped nor hindered the demand, which not only remains strong, but the tradition and taste for the eggs is somewhat perpetrated, if not intensified or encouraged, by timely offering legal turtle eggs, at cheaper price.

This program has reportedly greatly increased the population of the Olive Ridley turtle at the site. Greater population, means more eggs available, and as we mentioned earlier, arribadas are not only seen on protected Ostional beach anymore, but witnessed elsewhere, as well as solitary nesting’s, present and striving all along the Costa Rican coast. So many turtle eggs, so easily located, so much money to be made.

The demand for black-marketed turtle eggs has inflated local sales by 500% (according to the Costa Rican Conservation network).

To the program’s defense, it has been argued that Costa Rica’s law providing the Ostional exception is mainly geared toward the locals because of cultural habits and economic disarray. The egg take was intended to provide a fledgling coastal community with a regulated source of income and food. Generation after generation has used simple turtle eggs to feed their families, directly or by the commercialization of the eggs. The exception to the law was put in place as a way to sustainably manage the area’s nesting turtle population; however, with no way to enforce that only Ostional eggs are commercialized, Costa Rica has opened the door to “a kind of sea turtle egg consumption pandemonium.” (AM Costa Rica News).

The question indeed arises: practically are the eggs going exclusively to the local economy as first intended, or to the oversea ones?

With the increase of worldwide conservation, it has been noticed that the largest demand for turtle eggs is for their supposed aphrodisiac effects, just like rhinoceros’ horns or shark fins. The largest market is in the Asian countries. In regards to the black market specifically, it appeared that the problem is not mainly Costa Rica’s culture and tradition, but extends to meet the greed of the Asian market for that matter. The demand for turtle eggs is reported to range between $100-$300 USD per egg. It is easy to see how the local smugglers have added turtle eggs to their list. The market can be profitable as drug smuggling, but nowhere close to the high risk. Due to lack of funds, resources, and manpower, literally millions of eggs find their way overseas.

turtle-eggs-costa-rica
Turtle Eggs for Sale, 30e San Jose, Avenida Central, Paseo Colon, Costa Rica. Captions and Photo source: ©© Kansas Sebastian

As the Tico Times Directory reporter, asked “Chevy”:

“How widespread is the overseas poaching?” He smiled back, “It’s like a strong wind, you can’t see it, but you can sure as hell feel and see the effects of it.”

Locally, with no transparency in the turtle egg business, the legal loophole opens the floodgates for almost anyone to claim their eggs are from Ostional, thus leading to the rampant poaching of all types of sea turtle eggs on both coasts.

“Who’s goin’ to question, “What beach do the turtle eggs come from? And “If the eggs were legally or illegally harvested?”

Nobody knows how many bags of eggs have found their way to the black market, locally and overseas. In other words, a lot of bags are stamped to resemble the Ostional stamp of approval, but no one checks to see if it is the stamp is real or just a forgery.

As reported by Dennis Rogers, AM Costa Rica News, internal conflicts and discrepancies exist within the program and organization. The Ostional Development Association’s 2008 report for instance, allegedly gives detailed accounting of the number of eggs harvested that year on Ostional beach, and the various uses by the community of the money remaining after the membership’s 70 percent share is doled out. Yet, conspicuously absent, is any discussion of the actual number of turtles that came that year. Accurate monitoring of the eight kilometers of nesting beach would require carefully designed techniques during a large wave of turtles, many of which lay at night. It is not happening.

The right to harvest turtle eggs is restricted to the 260 members of the association, registered as a cooperative. Membership is not automatic and different numbers of individuals in the same families are included. This results in some households getting a larger share than others, and this apparently is a cause of friction.

Furthermore, Ostional has been engulfed in nasty, small-town feud between the egg-harvesting cooperative and the resident biologists, over the misuse, respectively, of turtle-egg income and scientific spoils (reports John Burnett, NPR). The conflict broke out when the husband-and-wife team, biologist Anny Chavez and Leslie du Toit, a South African sea turtle enthusiast, began building a small hotel at the research station on the edge of town where they live. The couple wants to begin charging students and researchers for lodging and lab space. The community is angry that the two are starting a business on public land; other Costa Rican biologists have also questioned the ethics of the enterprise. Cooperative directors allegedly receive kickbacks from egg retailers and pocket the additional profits. “They’re a mafia; We found out what was happening and told the authorities. Our complaints alienated us.” For their part, the egg harvesters clearly do not like the couple watching over their shoulder.” say locals. Anny Chavez, who helped found the egg-harvest plan, wonders, in retrospect, whether the conflicts could have been avoided.

The experiment’s designers were biologists who apparently thought they understood turtles better than they understood people. “When we started the project, we were worried about the biological basis. We didn’t work hard to try and train the community about how to manage this big amount of money. And for me, this is part of our fault,” she says.

Sea Turtle Eggs Costa Rica

Confronted to a cultural and economical dilemma, when attempting to install a satisfying system to save turtles and their eggs while taking in consideration needs from a coastal population economically challenged, finding a sustainable and efficient path to resolve the conflict is a difficult task.

Aware of the cultural tradition of poaching, Mark Ward, founder of Sea Turtles for Ever (STF), an Oregon based non-profit whose sea turtle conservation work includes actively patrolling the Punta Pargos nesting beaches on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, offers hueveros cold cash to not dig up turtle nests. And if the hatchlings successfully emerge from their eggs at the end of their 45-day gestation period, the poachers get paid for their work. This has been called the bonus program.

Sea turtle conservationists have been quick to criticize the bonus program. Ward’s strategy has been called unsustainable because if the money runs out, the hueveros will return to stealing eggs.

To comprehend the situation Ward is dealing with in Punta Pargos, it’s important to first be aware of the socio-economic woes that plague rural, coastal villages in Costa Rica in general. Local coastal communities made up of artisanal fishermen; often struggle to feed their children and grandchildren because of the overexploitation of fisheries stocks. Ward believes that the real stewards of this country’s marine fauna, should be the Costa Rican men, women, and children who live out their days on these beaches. But after nightfall, the beaches around Punta Pargos can be a rough place as poachers are a common site, walking the sands in search of turtle tracks…

turtle-egg-harvest
Photo Source: Dave Sherwood

The extent that arribadas contribute to the population status of Olive Ridleys, creates debate among scientists, locals and sea turtle conservationists. Many believe that the massive reproductive output of these nesting events is critical to maintaining populations, while others maintain that traditional arribada beaches fall far short of their reproductive potential and are most likely not sustaining population level. While biologists have not demonstrably proven that the egg harvesting improves hatchling success, it has been shown that the Ostional nesting turtle population is stable or growing at the site, and other beaches along the coast. Is that a direct result of this program, or of a larger consensus and agreement on bans on turtle fishing and egg collecting worldwide?

Ostional state of affair shows that in an attempt to successfully protect the environment and or a species, derogatory status and gross exemptions to internationally accepted concepts and laws, might obviously not be the most appropriate answer. Furthermore, the status of legal exception unintentionally emphasizes and aggravates a pre-existing problem, on an environmental, economical and human points levels. A global approach and view on the subject appears a lot more appropriate. In this very case, forbidding sea turtles eggs harvesting once and for all, internationally, with no derogatory status. Isolationism is not a sustainable answer to global conservation.

Even though the natural arribada scenario, which is the very keystone of the Ostional legal egg harvesting exception, may seem “maladapted” at first, arribada beaches often realize a small hatch success in proportion, yet the Olive Ridley is the most numerous sea turtle species in the world. This in itself clearly reflects a successful, natural evolutionary strategy within the species!

Ridley turtles’ arribadas nesting do occur on many other beaches throughout the world and, for that matter, none other countries have regulated the Nature’s way…

Sea Turtle Hatchling

References and Sources

Red Knots Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs Knotted Together

redknots shorebirds
Red knots, an at-risk shorebird, at Delaware Bay. Red knots like to feed on horseshoe crab eggs to refuel after their marathon migrations of some 10,000 miles. Declines of horseshoe crabs and red knots seem to be related. Caption and photo source: Greg Breese, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / USGS

By The Department of the Interior / USGS

Speculation that the welfare of a small, at-risk shorebird is directly tied to horseshoe crab populations is in part supported by new scientific research, according to a U.S. Geological Survey- led study published in Ecosphere, a journal of the Ecological Society of America.

Population health of the red knot, a shorebird species whose population has plummeted over the last 15 years, has been directly tied to the number of egg-laying horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay, between Delaware and New Jersey, during the red knot’s northward migration each spring.

“This is one of the first studies to scientifically support the ecological links between these two species,” said Conor McGowan, a USGS scientist and the lead author of the study.

The research bolsters the hypothesis that managing horseshoe crab populations and their harvest may help conserve red knots. Most horseshoe crab harvest today comes from the fishing industry, which uses the crab as bait, and the pharmaceutical industry, which collects their blood for its clotting properties.

The study, which looked at data from more than 16,000 birds over a 12-year period, revealed that the chance of a red knot gaining significant weight after arriving at Delaware Bay is directly related to the estimated number of female horseshoe crabs that spawned during the shorebird stopover period each spring. Birds that do not gain enough weight tend to have a lower chance of surviving the rest of the year, and in some years the difference between heavy and light bird survival can be large.

“Our research strongly suggests that the timing of horseshoe crab spawning, not simply crab abundance, is important to red knot refueling during their stops in Delaware Bay,” McGowan added.

Horseshoe crab spawning is driven not only by tides and lunar cycles, but also by water temperatures and wave-generating storms. This means that if water temperatures or storm frequency in the mid-Atlantic region change significantly because of climate change, the timing of egg spawning would likely also change and become mismatched with when red knots and other shorebirds arrive to feed on the nutrient-rich eggs. Shorebirds depend primarily on celestial cues for when to migrate and are not as susceptible to environmental variation as horseshoe crabs, making a mismatch more possible.

“If the timing of migration and the availability of food resources, in this case, horseshoe crab eggs, do not coincide, migrating shorebirds, such as the red knot, that come to Delaware Bay each spring, could be adversely affected, both individually and as a population,” McGowan said.

The research also found evidence that the annual survival of these birds is not only partly dependent on their body mass when they leave Delaware Bay but is also strongly related to snow conditions when the birds reach their arctic breeding grounds.

“We were surprised to find that snow depth in the arctic breeding grounds increases the chances of survival for both heavy and light birds,” said McGowan. Some possible explanations are that birds may skip breeding in years with heavy snow and thus have higher chances of survival, or heavier snow may mean more food availability when the snow melts. But, McGowan noted, the cause of this unexpected result needs to be directly studied through further research.

The study has important management implications for both species. “These results indicate that managing horseshoe crab resources in the Delaware Bay has the potential to improve red knot population status,” McGowan said. McGowan and other USGS scientists have been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state fish and wildlife agencies, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to develop a horseshoe crab harvest adaptive management plan that incorporates the results of this survival analysis study.

The research, Demographic consequences of migratory stopover: linking red knot survival to horseshoe crab spawning abundance, was authored by Conor McGowan (USGS), James Hines (USGS), James Nichols (USGS), James Lyons (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and others. It was published in this month’s edition of Ecosphere, a new open-access journal of the Ecological Society of America.

redknots-shorebirds-forage
Red Knots Forage for Horseshoe Crab Eggs at Delaware Bay. Red knots forage for horseshoe crab eggs and other invertebrates on the beaches of Delaware Bay. The bird in the center has an orange leg flag indicating it was captured and flagged in the past in Argentina. Photo source: Conor McGowan / USGS

Background on Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crabs are not crabs at all, in fact, they are more closely related to spiders, ticks and scorpions. While historically horseshoe crabs have been used in fertilizer, most horseshoe crab harvest today comes from the fishing industry, which uses the crab as bait, and the pharmaceutical industry, which collects their blood for its clotting properties. While the crabs are returned after their blood is taken, the estimated mortality rate for bled horseshoe crabs can be as high as 30 percent.

Horseshoe crab eggs are an important source of food for millions of migrating shorebirds. This is particularly true for the red knot, an at-risk shorebird that uses horseshoe crab eggs at Delaware Bay to refuel during its marathon migration of some 10,000 miles. Since the late 1990s, both horseshoe crabs and red knot populations in the Delaware Bay area have declined, although census numbers for horseshoe crabs have increased incrementally recently. Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles, which used to feed mainly on adult horseshoe crabs and blue crabs in Chesapeake Bay, already have been forced to find other less suitable sources of food, perhaps contributing to declines in Virginia’s sea turtle abundance.

Original Article

Elwha River Restoration: Dams Removal Project

elwha dam
The Elwha Dam is a 108-ft (33 m) high dam located in the United States, in the state of Washington, on the Elwha River approximately 4.9 miles (7.9 km) upstream from the mouth of the river on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Photo by Larry Ward, Lower Elwha Fisheries Office (2005).

Elwha River Restoration, Olympic National Park Washington

By The National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, Olympic National Park

This September, removal of two dams on the Elwha River begins, setting in motion one of the largest restoration projects in U.S. history.

Removing Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams
The largest dam removal in U.S. history will free the Elwha River after 100 years. Salmon populations will swell from 3,000 to more than 300,000 as all five species of Pacific salmon return to more than 70 miles of river and stream.

Renewing a Culture
The returning salmon and restored river will renew the culture of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who have lived along the river since time immemorial. Tribal members will have access to sacred sites now inundated and cultural traditions can be reborn. The NPS and the Tribe are primary partners on this project.

Restoring an Ecosystem
This project creates a living laboratory where people can watch and learn what happens when salmon return after a century to a still wild and protected ecosystem. The return of fish will bring bear, eagles and other animals back to an ecosystem that has been deprived of a vital food source for 100 years.

Economic Benefits
Just as the dams played a vital role in the history and development of the area, removing them will create new opportunities for growth and regional vitality.

Restoring the Coast
Removing the dams will reestablish the natural flow of sediment from the mountains to the coast—rebuilding wetlands, beaches and the estuary at the river’s mouth.

Elwha River Restoration
Olympic National Park Washington

Major mitigation projects have been completed, while preparations continue at the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, the park’s native plant center, and sites throughout the Elwha watershed. Dam removal begins September 17.

June
• Power production ends at the Elwha River hydro- project June 1, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation begins the decommissioning process.
• Water levels in Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills drop by 18 feet and remain at this level through the summer. Boat launches will be unusable.

July
• On July 1, Lower Dam Road closes to public access as the Elwha Dam site transitions to a construction environment.

August
• On August 1, Olympic Hot Springs Road closes to public access just south of Altair Campground and will remain closed through dam removal.

• The second of two levees at the river’s mouth is completed in order to provide continued flood protection to private landowners and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s reservation.

September
• Wayfinding exhibits are installed at six Port Angeles and Elwha Valley locations, and a trail is constructed to an overlook at Elwha Dam. Web- cams go online from both dam sites.
• Elwha researchers and visiting scientists gather to share their findings at a science symposium Sept. 15-16 at Peninsula College.
• Olympic National Park and a diverse team of partners host a multi-venue event Sept. 17-18 featuring Elwha-related art, music, and cultural and educational activities.

For photos, project updates and news, check nps.gov/olym or interact with “Elwha River Restoration” on Facebook.

Elwha River Restoration, The National Park Service, US Department of the Interior

Olympic National Park


Elwha Dam Closed to Public Access : Effective July 5

By The National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, Olympic National Park

Lower Dam Road, which leads from U.S. Highway 112 to the Elwha Dam, will close to all public access on July 5.

Barnard Construction, Inc., the contractor for the $26.9 million removal of Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams, will install a gate just south of Elwha RV Park. This closure will last for the duration of dam removal, expected to take three years.

The closure is necessary to ensure public safety while the contractor takes over the site and begins preparing the site. Over the coming weeks, Barnard employees will begin minor road upgrades, removing approved trees and widening the road.

Additional work taking place this summer includes testing and removal of hazardous materials from the Elwha powerplant, including asbestos and lead-based paint. Major demolition work at the dam will begin in mid-September, with the majority of Barnard employees and equipment mobilizing in late August.

Barnard was the contractor for recently-completed road repairs at Fisherman’s Corner, along Olympic Hot Springs Road approximately one mile south of the park boundary. Those repairs included erosion control and replacing asphalt along a 2000-foot section of road. Work was subcontracted to Bruch and Bruch, Inc. and Lakeside Industries, both of Port Angeles, Wash. and performed as a modification to the dam removal contract.

Elwha Valley Access
Following a four-week closure, the Elwha Valley of Olympic National Park, including the Elwha and Altair campgrounds, reopened to public access June 29. The Elwha campground is open year-round. Altair will remain open through September 6, its normal operating season.

On August 1, Olympic Hot Springs Road will be gated and closed at a point just beyond Altair campground for the duration of dam removal.

Final designs for repairs to the Whiskey Bend Road are still being developed. These repairs will correct extensive damage caused by heavy rains last December. In addition to slide damage, an assessment by road engineers revealed large voids under the road, seriously compromising road safety and stability. The 4.5-mile Whiskey Bend Road remains open at this time to pedestrians, bicyclists and stock users, who should be use extra caution when crossing the damaged areas.

Olympic National Park is pursuing ways to enable members of the public to view dam removal and restoration as they happen, including construction of an overlook trail off of Lower Dam Road and placement of webcams at each dam site.

High-Elevation Park Roads
Olympic National Park road crews continue clearing snowdrifts that have delayed the opening of some of the park’s high-elevation roads. Obstruction Point Road, which was scheduled to open July 1, is blanketed by snow up to six feet high. After the plows reach the area commonly known as Waterhole (Milepost 3.2), the road crew will finish grading and that section of road could be reopened within one week.

Deer Park Road is also still under snow, with drifts several feet high at the top. Weather permitting, the road’s normal operating season runs May 26 – October 2. After the road crews reach the Waterhole area of Obstruction Point Road, their focus will shift to Deer Park Road. Park officials estimate that Deer Park Road may reopen by the end of July.

Road Construction
A 35-day road construction project is planned for Graves Creek Road this summer to repair damage caused by erosion along a 210-foot embankment adjacent to the Graves Creek trailhead and campground. Timing for this roadwork has yet to be finalized, and will be announced as soon as details become available.

Preliminary road repairs on Sol Duc Road will begin July 18. No closures are necessary for this project, but visitors should expect one-lane traffic and minor delays starting August 8 as contractors repair slide damage.

The Speed of Change: Oceans in Distress, An International Report

WATCH: State of the Oceans: The Speed of Change

Professor Chris Reid Marine Institute, University of Plymouth and Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science highlights the speed of change which has been greater than most scientists predicted even in worst case scenarios.

Pollution and global warming are pushing the world’s oceans to the brink of a mass extinction of marine life unseen for tens of millions of years, a consortium of scientists warned Monday.

Dying coral reefs, biodiversity ravaged by invasive species, expanding open-water “dead zones,” toxic algae blooms, the massive depletion of big fish stocks, all are accelerating, they said in a report compiled during an April meeting in Oxford of 27 of the world’s top ocean experts.

Sponsored by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), the review of recent science found that ocean health has declined further and faster than dire forecasts only a few years ago…

Read AFP Article


State Of The Oceans: The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)

Multiple Ocean Stresses Threaten “Globally Significant” Marine Extinction; Report
By The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)

whale-blue
Photo source: Blue Voice / Gene Flipsy

A high-level international workshop convened by IPSO met at the University of Oxford earlier this year. It was the first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.

The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) was established by scientists with the aim of saving the Earth and all life on it.

The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.

The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats, and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.

Delegates called for urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health.

The report summary (released 21 June 2011) outlines the main findings and recommendations. The full report will be released at a later date.

Read IPSO Press Release

Report, Short Version

IPSO, State of the Oceans

The report is also accompanied by four case studies, which look in more detail at some of the workshop’s main findings.

WATCH: State of the Oceans: The IPSO Four Case Studies; 4 Short Videos

In “The Story of Corals Video“, Professor Charles Sheppard, Warwick University gives further perspective to the extinction threat facing coral reefs and stresses that the knock-on effects are already being felt on land.

Is it really Possible a Mass Extinction Could Happen?” In this latest video, Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, gives the overview of the main problems affecting the ocean — and some suggested solutions.

Original Article and Videos

Northwest Coast of Madagascar

madagascar-2-estuaries
Betsiboka Estuary, Bombetoka Bay and Mahajamba Bay, Northwest Coast, Madagascar. Estuaries are regions where fresh water from rivers and salt water from the ocean mix, and they are among the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth. This astronaut photograph, taken from the International Space Station, highlights two estuaries along the northwestern coastline of Madagascar.

Excerpts; by William L. Stefanov, Jacobs/ESCG at NASA-JSC / NASA Earth Observatory

The Betsiboka Estuary on the northwest coast of Madagascar is the mouth of Madagascar’s largest river and one of the world’s fast-changing coastlines.

Nearly a century of extensive logging of Madagascar’s rainforests and coastal mangroves has resulted in nearly complete clearing of the land and fantastic rates of erosion.

After every heavy rain, the bright red soils are washed from the hillsides into the streams and rivers to the coast. Astronauts describe their view of Madagascar as “bleeding into the ocean.”

The Mozambique Channel separates the island from the southeastern coast of Africa. Bombetoka Bay (image upper left) is fed by the Betsiboka River, and is a frequent subject of astronaut photography due to its striking red floodplain sediments. Mahajamba Bay (image right) is fed by several rivers, including the Mahajamba and Sofia. Like the Betsiboka, the floodplains of these rivers contain reddish sediments eroded from their basins upstream.

The brackish conditions (a mix of fresh and salt water) in most estuaries invite unique plant and animal species that are adapted to live in such environments.

The salty waters of the Mozambique Channel penetrate inland to join with the freshwater outflow of the Betsiboka River, forming Bombetoka Bay. Numerous islands and sandbars have formed in the estuary from the large amount of sediment carried in by the Betsiboka River and have been shaped by the flow of the river and the push and pull of tides.

bombetoka-madagascar
This image from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite shows Bombetoka Bay just upstream of where it opens up into the Mozambique Channel. In the image, water is sapphire and tinged with pink where sediment is particularly thick. Dense vegetation is deep green. Along coastlines and on the islands, the vegetation is predominantly mangrove forests. Acquired on August 23, 2000.

The mangroves of Madagascar are very similar to those of the African mainland. Nearly all of hardy shrubs and trees of mangroves in Madagascar occur along the low-lying western coast. They are common in and around Madagascar’s estuaries, and the largest mangrove stands are found at Mahajamba Bay, Bombetoka Bay, south Mahavavy and Salala, and Maintirano.

Mangroves occupy a stretch of coastline of approximately 1000 kilometers in length. Along the northwest coast of Madagascar, mangroves and coral reefs partner up to create dynamic, diverse coastal ecosystems.The mangrove forests capture river-borne sediment from the interior lands that threatens both reefs and seagrass beds, and that would smother coastal reefs, while reefs buffer the mangroves from pounding surf.

Mangroves also provide shelter for diverse mollusk and crustacean communities, as well as habitat for sea turtles, birds, and dugongs.

Estuaries also host abundant fish and shellfish species, many of which need access to fresh water for a portion of their life cycles. In turn, these species support local and migratory bird species that prey on them.

But, a century of extensive logging of Madagascar’s rainforests and coastal mangroves has resulted in nearly complete clearing of the land and fantastic rates of erosion, threatening the health of the estuaries and their entire ecosystems.

madagascar deforestation north
Once almost entirely covered in green, lush vegetation, Madagascar has witnessed the destruction of an estimated 80 percent of its indigenous forests. The now reddish-brown terrain can be seen in this true-color image of northern Madagascar. Image by Brian Montgomery, Robert Simmon, and Reto Stöckli / NASA

Driven by a need to feed an ever increasing population, an estimated 18-20 millions residents in 2011, the people of Madagascar continue to encroach on the forests that lie along the coasts. Most of what is left of Madagascar’s native vegetation can be seen on the right side of the island in dark green on the image above.

Mangroves are threatened by human activities such as urban development, overfishing, and erosion caused by tree-cutting in the highlands. Some mangrove areas have been converted to rice farming and salt production.

The Malagasy Government encourages development of shrimp aquaculture and this habitat type is being increasingly used by the private business sector.The Mahajanga Aquaculture Development Project, a joint venture between Madagascar and the Japan International Cooperative Agency, strings along the coastal region at the mouth of the estuary (inset images). This project is a shrimp farm and has been developed since 1999.

Near water, shrimp and rice farming are then common, the rectangular blue areas near the top center edge may be shrimp pens while coffee plantations abound in the surrounding terrain. (see photo inset below).

Successive images taken by astronauts show increasing numbers of ponds constructed between 2000 and the present.

Coastal aquaculture projects are frequently controversial, pitting the protection and viability of coastal ecosystems (especially rapidly disappearing mangrove environments), against badly needed industry in developing countries.

Additionally, one impact of the extensive 20th century erosion is the filling and clogging of coastal waterways with sediment, a process that is well illustrated in the Betsiboka estuary. Increased sediment loading from erosion of upriver highlands threaten the health of the estuaries. In particular, the silt deposits in Bombetoka Bay at the mouth of the Betsiboka River have been filling in the bay. In fact, ocean-going ships were once able to travel up the Betsiboka estuary, but must now berth at the coast.

A bad situation is made worse when tropical storms bring severe rainfall, greatly accelerating the rates of erosion.

As an illustration, astronauts aboard the International Space Station documented widespread flooding and a massive red sediment plume flowing into the Bestiboka estuary and the ocean in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Gafilo, which hit northern Madagascar on March 7th and 8th, 2004 (top image).

es-madgas-2004
Widespread flooding and a massive red sediment plume flowing into the Bestiboka estuary and the ocean.

es-madagas-2003
A comparative image here, taken in September 2003 shows normal water levels in the estuary.

Read Original Article

Bombetoka Bay, Madagascar, NASA

Bombetoka Estuary, Earth Observatory, NASA

Madagascar Deforestation, NASA