Category Archives: Ecosystem Destruction

Northwest Coast of Madagascar

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.

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).

Widespread flooding and a massive red sediment plume flowing into the Bestiboka estuary and the ocean.

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

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Bombetoka Bay, Madagascar, NASA

Bombetoka Estuary, Earth Observatory, NASA

Madagascar Deforestation, NASA

A Giant Brought to Its Knees: The Atlantic Coastal Forest

“Last light on denuded hills.” Atlantic Rain Forest Region of Brazil… denuded (Minas Gerais State). Captions and Photo source: ©© Christoph Diewald

Excerpts; from Atlantic Rainforest Organization, UNEP, and OurAmazingPlanet

“It’s the most threatened rainforest in Brazil, a global biodiversity hotspot, and contains around one in 12 of all species on the planet. We must be talking about the Amazon, right? Wrong. It’s the Atlantic Forest, which used to run in a continuous strip along the 2,000 miles of Brazil’s eastern seaboard, up the steep coastal mountain slopes and, in places, far into the interior, reaching parts of Paraguay and northern Argentina. But the story of the Atlantic Forest does not end at the tide line. Its influence extends well out into the coastal waters of Brazil, as the nutrients from the forest flow into the estuaries and bays to form rich feeding grounds for a wide variety of marine creatures.” Tim Hirsch, OurAmazinPlanet

The Amazon forest is thousands of miles from where most Brazilians live, unlike the Atlantic Forest. The later has been right in the path of agricultural and urban development for 500 years, and today 130 million people live within its boundaries.

When European colonists arrived in the 1500s, the atlantic forest extended along Brazil’s entire coastline, covering more than 386,000 sq. miles along the coast, from the state of Rio Grande Do Norte thousands of miles south to Rio Grande Do Sul., and extending into eastern Paraguay and northeastern Argentina.

Atlantic forest, Itacaré, Brazil. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Now, the Atlantic Forest is a shadow of its former self.

Today, It has lost almost 93 percent of its original size. Less than 7% of that cover remains, in the wake of centuries of forest clearing for agriculture and urban development, with trees felled to produce charcoal and to be used as fuel for iron and raw steel production. For many years, the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest in Paraguay had one of the highest rate of deforestation in Latin America. The forests continue to be transformed into agricultural land without adequate planning.

In Brazil, the Atlantic forest fragmented remains, by centuries of unsustainable use and logging, cover some 28,600 square kilometers. “At this rate, the forest will be gone by 2050,” warned SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation. In a survey released May 26th 2011, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) along with the SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation, published data from Atlas of the Atlantic Forests Remnants. The data informed the dire situation in 16 out of 17 states for 2008-2010 period.

The Atlantic Forest ecoregion once stretched over 1 million km2 along Brazil’s coast in 13 states, with extensions inland into Eastern Paraguay and the Misiones province in Northeastern Argentina.

“When European colonists arrived in the 1500s, the atlantic forest extended along Brazil’s entire coastline, covering more than 386,000 sq. miles along the coast…Now, the Atlantic Forest is a shadow of its former self.”

The ecoregion contains 2 types of tropical moist broadleaf forests, the coastal and interior Atlantic Forests, and the Araucaria Pine Forest which previously covered a large portion of the Brazilian states of Parana and Santa Catarina and their borders with Argentina. The coastal and interior Atlantic Forests are some of the richest tropical moist forests on Earth, harboring unique collections of species quite distinct from the Amazon. A 1993 survey identified 450 different tree species within one hectare of Atlantic Forests in the Southern Bahia state – one of the highest diversities of tree species reported in the world.

The cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo both lie within the forests.

According to a recent analysis from the Global Land Cover Facility of the University of Maryland, NASA, and the organisation Guyra Paraguay, 35% of the Atlantic Forest was lost in Paraguay between 1989 and 2003.

Some of the largest forest remnants of the Atlantic Forest are found in the Upper Parana River watershed in Argentina and Paraguay. These remnants are still large enough to provide habitat for top predators such as the jaguar and the harpy eagle, as well as large herbivores like the South American tapir, deer, and peccaries.

Today only 7% of the original Atlantic Forests cover remains in Brazil, all of it fragmented by centuries of unsustainable use. This fragmentation, coupled with high endemism, makes the Atlantic Forests one of the most endangered rainforests in the world.” ( according to Atlantic Rainforest Organization)

A roadside scene in the Rio de Janeiro State of Brazil. Captions and Photo source: ©© Blake Maybank

Although governments have attempted to controll deforestation to a certain extent, more needs to be done for responsible soy cultivation and sustainable forest management. A stronger commitment is also needed to restore priority forest areas.

Moreover, while there are a number of protected areas in the Atlantic Forest, the majority are reserves in name only. In practice, there is not enough financing for their adequate protection.

Indeed, on May 26th 2011, the survey released by theNational Institute for Space Research (INPE) along with the SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation, was welcomed by the general media, with a priori cheering headlines:
“The rate of deforestation of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest along much of the country’s eastern coast fell by some 55 percent between 2008 and 2010, according to a study released Friday. The reduction can be explained by more stringent laws and better control.”

But, besides the “numbers” as the officials clearly stated: ” The survey proves that the native forest removal continues and the data warns to implement public policies that encourage Biome conservation and restoration.” And added, ” Between 2008 and 2010, the forest, which is the country’s most devastated ecosystem, second only in the world to the forests of Madagascar, lost 32,000 hectares.”

The deforestation rates are going down from previous year… But so are the forest surfaces’, and undoubtly so is the number of remaining trees to be cut down !!!!

32,000 hectares of a vanishing forest, is an astonishing and devastating reality!

The rates of deforestation have been presented as follow:

Period 1985-1990: 466,937 ha
Period 1990-1995: 500,317 ha
Period 1995-2000: 445,952 ha
Period 2000-2005: 174,828 ha
Period 2005-2008: 102,938 ha
Period 2008-2010: 31,195 ha

Furthermore, and corroboratively, earlier in May, the Brazil government announced the creation of an emergency task force to fight deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, after a sharp increase in deforestation in that region was recorded in March and April this year, 2011…

deforestation brazil coastal atlantic forest
Scattered clouds mingle with the smoke from scores of fires burning near the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil, Atlantic coast. The fires, most of which are probably agricultural fires people have set on purpose to clear forest, have been marked with red dots. Caption and image: by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory / NASA.

Restoration and preservation projects have been developped.

As presented by Atlantic Forest Organization’s Website, WWF has a number of restoration projects in the region aimed at returning native forest where it has previously been destroyed or degraded.

Such a protection exist as The Discovery Coast Atlantic Forest Reserves, in the states of Bahia and Espírito Santo, and consists of eight separate protected areas containing 112,000 ha of Atlantic forest and associated shrub (restingas).

WWF is also working on establishing new protected areas and creating “green corridors” to connect isolated tracts of forests.

The defined Objectives are to:
1. Increase WWF institutional presence in the Atlantic Forests, building credibility to act in the region in partnership with government and other NGOs.
2. Carry out specific activities which make information available that can serve as a basis for ecoregional conservation planning.
3. Contribute to the development of an ecoregional conservation plan, with an emphasis on establishment and effective implementation of protected areas.
4. Promote the establishment of new protected areas.
5. Contribute to the effective implementation of protected areas.
To ensure stable ecosystems and biological processes as well as to preserve viable populations of key endemic species in the long-term, all forest fragments must be preserved, prioritizing action according to forest type, biodiversity, local endemism, size and biological integrity of the forest.

Brazilian coastal forest, Itacaré. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

In addition, these fragments must be strategically linked with forest corridors, which in some cases imply forest rehabilitation. (Atlantic Rainforest).

In a press release, June 5th, 2011, UNEP declared, within the frame of a synthesis unveiled during this year’s World Environment Day (WED) celebrations, Forests in a Green Economy: : ” Investing an additional US$40 billion a year in the forestry sector could halve deforestation rates by 2030, increase rates of tree planting by around 140 per cent by 2050, and catalyze the creation of millions of new jobs according to a report by the UN Environment Programme.

The Green Economy initiative has identified forestry as one of the ten central sectors capable of propelling a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient, employment-generating future if backed by investment and forward-looking policies.

Creative tree planting are promoted to pursue regeneration and recovery, but also increasing engagement from the private sector in these nature-based assets and mobilization by cities and communities across the globe in tree planting efforts, new kinds of smart market mechanisms, ranging from REDD+ to payments for ecosystem services, are emerging.” (UNEP).

May the recognized fragility of the Atlantic coastal Forest become the very seed of its salvation…—CLG

Brazilian coastal forest, Itacaré. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Read Original Article, A Giant Brought to Its Knees

SOS Mata Atlântica and INPE disclose data from Forest Remnants Atlas May, 26, 2011, Ministerio da Ciencia e Tecnologia

UNEP, Press Release “Economic Benefits of Boosting Funding for Forests”

Restoring South America’s Atlantic forests

Destruction of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest Falls 55%, AFP in TerraDaily

Brazilian Beauty: The Threatened Atlantic Forest, OurAmazingPlanet

Rising sea levels endangering Australia’s World Heritage-listed Kakadu wetlands

Kakadu is one of the very few places listed as a World Heritage Area for both its cultural and natural values. It is a place of exceptional beauty and is considered one of the most biologically diverse places on the Australian continent. The Timor and Arafura Seas are bordering Kakadu Park’s northern shores. Photo source: ©© Matt Francey

Australia’s Kakadu wetlands ‘under climate threat’


“Rising sea levels linked to global warming will endanger Australia’s World Heritage-listed Kakadu wetlands, according to a government report released Thursday as part of the campaign for a carbon tax.
The study found Kakadu was “one of Australia’s natural ecosystems most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change”, with higher oceans a “serious risk” to its ecosystem.

Monsoon rainforests, mangroves and woodlands would suffer and unique turtle, fish, crab, crocodile and bird species would decline, said the report…”

Read AFP Article

Ranger 3 open pit, Northern Territory, Australia. Uranium mine: Photo source: Geomartin /Wikimedia

By Claire Le Guern,

As changes in climate -accelerated by increased carbon emissions and greenhouses gas- are greatly endangering coastal ecosystems mainly due to sea level rise and its direct impacts, the Kakadu national park’s area has been afflicted and environmentally altered by yet, an other man-induced environmental devastation: uranium mining.

Of the world’s proven estimated uranium reserves (5,469,000 tonnes), 23% (valued at more than $300 billion), are held in Australia, which is the third greatest uranium exporter behind Canada and Kazakhstan.(Wikipedia)

Besides the very activity itself, reported safety breaches, unplanned natural occurences, unconformity of mineral deposits, and radiologically contaminated process water, have been tainting the story of the “protected” area. Indeed, Kakadu National Park, located in the Northern Territory of Australia, possesses within its boundaries a number of large uranium deposits. The uranium is legally owned by the Australian Government, and is sold internationally.

“Australia’s Greens Party wants the Ranger uranium mine located in the country’s Kakadu National Park closed permanently, saying the mine poses a significant threat to the world heritage listed site.” ( ABC News, Australia)

Technically the site of the Ranger mine and the adjacent Jabiluka area are not per se part of Kakadu National Park, but are completely surrounded by it, as they were specifically excluded when the park was established from 1981. Wikipedia

However, polluted water is leaking into Kakadu from uranium mine. The World heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is leaking 100,000 litres of contaminated water into the ground beneath the park every day, a Government appointed scientist has revealed. This is equivalent to three petrol tankers, of contaminant leaking from the mine’s tailings dam into rock fissures beneath Kakadu.The Age News, Australia

Consequently, the uranium mine, operated by Energy Resources of Australia Ltd, has been closed since January as heavy rains threatened a spillage of toxins from a water storage facility.

That closure had been extended until late July. However, continuing exploitation is undeniably on the agenda.

Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ASX: ERA) is a public company based in Australia. It is a subsidiary of the, British mining giant Rio Tinto Group, which owns 68.4% of the company. ERA is the world’s third-largest uranium producer, through the Ranger Uranium Mine in the Northern Territory.

Kakadu National Park. Aboriginal Painting, Ubirr Rock. Photo Travelnt / Wikimedia

Kakadu National Park is located within the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory of Australia. It covers an area of 19,804 km2 (7,646 sq mi), extending nearly 200 kilometres from north to south and over 100 kilometres from east to west.

Besides encompassing breathtaking natural wonders, exceptional natural beauty and unique biodiversity, Kakadu is one of very few places World Heritage listed for both its cultural and its natural values. The area has been inhabited by indigenous Aboriginal tribes. Yet, once again, the mining industry has demonstrated its environmental destructive effects and consequent undeniable process off desacration of natural and cultural sites.

Ubirr is located in the East Alligator region of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, 40 km from Jabiru, and is famous for its rock art. It consists of a group of rock outcrops on the edge of the Nadab floodplain where there are several natural shelters that have a collection of Aboriginal rock paintings, some of which are many thousands of years old.

The rock faces at Ubirr have been continuously painted and repainted since 40,000 BCE. Wikipedia

Climate Change Strategy, Official Report, Kakadu National Park

Read More about The Uranium mining controversy

Papua New Guinea Mine Waste Dumping: The Ramu Case, in Coastal Care

Scientists Argue Against Conclusion That Bacteria Consumed Deepwater Horizon Methane

Retrieving Sample Cylinders into Gulf – Multicorer sampling operation aboard the RV Gyre.
Credit – with permission from: Texas A&M-University Corpus Christi, Sandra Arismendez / NOAA


A technical comment published in the May 27 edition of the journal Science casts doubt on a widely publicized study that concluded that a bacterial bloom in the Gulf of Mexico consumed the methane discharged from the Deepwater Horizon well.

The debate has implications for the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem as well as for predictions of the effect of global warming, said marine scientist and lead author Samantha Joye, University of Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences…

Read Full Article, By Sam Fahmy, University of Georgia

Methane Concentration Surprises Scientists, in Coastal Care

Scientists Document Fate Of Deep Hydrocarbon Plumes, in Coastal Care

1 Million Times The Normal level Of Methane Near The Gulf Oil Spill, in Coastal Care

Mediterranean Sea Invaded by Hundreds of Alien Species

Ibiza, Mediterranean sea. Photo courtesy of: © Denis Delestrac

Excerpt from, the Department of Marine Ecology at the University of Gothenburg, in ScienceDaily

More than 900 new alien species have been encountered in the coastal environments of the eastern Mediterranean Sea in recent decades, including the poisonous pufferfish.

The invasion of alien species has had the consequence that the whole food chain is changing, while there is a lack of knowledge on which to base relevant risk assessments, a four-year study conducted at the University of Gothenburg shows…

Read Full Article

University of Gothenburg

Division over future of Chagos islands and islanders

Chagos archipelago. Photo source: ©© Wikipedia


More than 150 exiled Chagos islanders and their relatives gathered in London on Thursday to press for a return to the Indian Ocean archipelago from which they were exiled 40 years ago, and to discuss the area’s environmental future…

Read Full Article, Guardian UK

Green Groups Bitterly Divided Over Future of Chagos Islanders

Chagossians would not damage their homeland
Conservationists’ Objection to resettlement Faced Criticism

Hong Kong bans trawling to save fish stocks and marine environment

Photograph: © SAF – Coastal Care


Hong Kong has banned trawl fishing in its waters, a decision welcomed by conservationists Friday as a crucial move to save fish stocks and revive the city’s depleted marine environment.

Trawling is a fishing method which involves nets being pulled through the water behind one or more boats, gathering up fish but also damaging the ocean floor and capturing other unwanted species…

Original Article, AFP

Environmental controls of giant kelp in the Santa Barbara Channel, California

Miramar beach, California. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care


Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have developed new methods for studying how environmental factors and climate affect giant kelp forest ecosystems at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales.

The scientists merged data collected underwater by UCSB divers with satellite images of giant kelp canopies taken by the Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper. The findings are published in the feature article of the May 16 issue of Marine Ecology Progress Series…

Read Full Article, By KC Cavanaugh, DA Siegel, DC Reed, PE Dennison, University of California, Santa Barbara

California: Thriving kelp forest rises from a rock reef, Los Angeles Times

New Rights Challenge to Belo Monte Dam in Brazil

mouth amazon
Mouth of the Amazon, Atlantic Ocean. Image source: NASA


For the first time in the long drawn-out struggle between indigenous peoples living in the Xingú river basin and the Brazilian government, the underdogs have won the support of a sizeable ally. In a letter addressed to the state of Brazil, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) officially requested it “immediately suspend the licensing process for the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant project”…

Read Full Article, Guardian UK

Belo Monte Dam, Construction Begins

The Problems With Dams

Xingu River From Space. Photo source: NASA