One in five vertebrates face extinction

The bad news: One in five vertebrates could go extinct within our lifetime, and the number may rise even higher than that.

The good news: It would be a lot worse if it weren’t for conservation efforts.

That’s the verdict of a global study of 25,000 threatened vertebrate species presented to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Nagoya, Japan. It found mammals, amphibians, and birds are especially hard hit, with fifty species a day sliding closer to extinction. The main culprits are logging, agriculture, hunting, and alien species.

Yet conservation efforts are saving some animals. The white rhino, like the ones pictured above, was almost extinct a hundred years ago but is now the most common rhino in Africa and its status has been upped to Near Threatened, meaning that while it still needs to be watched, it’s not in any immediate danger. Here’s where ecotourism comes in handy. For example, Niger is hoping to cash in on safari tours by helping a unique subspecies of giraffe, bringing the population from fifty to two hundred in just a decade. Countries where the white rhinos roam are also pushing ecotourism and safaris.

Another success story is the giant marine reserve created in the South Pacific a few years back. This 73,800 square-mile reserve is one of the world’s largest and was created by Kiribati, one of the world’s smallest countries. If tiny island nations and poverty-ridden countries can help out their animals, one has to wonder why any species in the First World are threatened at all. Major food sources like tuna face extinction and even mythical beasts like the Loch Ness Monster may be extinct. When even our legends are dying out, you know we’re in trouble.

[Photo courtesy Joachim Huber]

UNESCO ponders new World Heritage sites

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, has announced that it will consider expanding their list of World Heritage Sites when the organization meets in Brazil in a few weeks time. The current list consists of 890 places from around the globe that are considered to have universal appeal for natural or cultural reasons.

There are 41 locations, in 35 countries, up for consideration this year, including first time contenders from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tajikistan. Kiribati has submitted the Phoenix Islands Protected Area for inclusion on the list, while the Bikini Atoll, a famous nuclear testing zone, represents the Marshall Islands’ hopes for their first World Heritage site. Tajikistan’s spectacular Pamir Mountains could be their first entry as well.

The UNESCO committee will also review the state of 31 of their current sites that have been listed as being in danger. Those sites could be under siege from a number of sources, including environmental concerns, urban development, poor management, increased tourism, wars, or other natural disasters. Last year, Germany’s Elbe Valley was de-listed because a new four-lane bridge was built through the region, while the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman was dropped because of poor conservation efforts.

The 34th meeting of the World Heritage Committee will take place in Brasilia from July 25 to August 3, with the final rulings on these new locations being decided then.

[Photo credit: Irene2005 via WikiMedia Commons]

Kiribati: A Disappearing Nation?

KiribatiEver since I read J. Maarten Troost’s hilarious book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, I’ve wanted to visit the island nation in which the story takes place: Kiribati. It appears that there’s not a whole lot to do there — except go diving and savor a culture fairly different from my own — but that’s sort of the point.

Kiribati — a remote nation of 33 islands, 14 hours by plane from the nearest land mass — occupies roughly 2 million square miles. Most of that, of course, is Pacific Ocean. Recently, the government shocked the world when it created the world’s third largest marine park in the area. In some ways, setting aside so much area to a marine park may have been proactive. After all, it appears Kiribati is disappearing one inch at a time.

Thanks to global warming, sea levels are rising, slowly claiming the land that hundreds of thousands of people currently occupy. Anote Tong, the region’s president, expects Kiribati to be unlivable soon; unless something is done soon, he fears the entire nation will be gone — its people, its language, its culture — within 50 years. If you’re interested in learning more about Kiribati’s disappearing act, check out Bill Weir’s excellent video report of the island that’s slowly sinking. Pay no attention to the ironic commercial that precedes the video.

Guess I need to make my travel plans soon.

Word for the Travel Wise (06/27/06)

Kiribati FlagWith half the land mass of Kiribati, tourists to the area are bound to visit the largest coral atoll in the world, Kiritimati (Christmas) Island during their Pacific island escape. Think 100 lakes or ponds sprinkled throughout the four village interior of the atoll. If I had the opportunity to go to Kiribati I’d make it a point to see the land by foot, the water by boat and the bigger picture by helicopter or airplane. I’d imagine one could capture some stellar aerial shots from above, an additional travel past time I’m slowly picking up in my own travels.

Today’s word is a Gilbertese word used in Kiribati:

te wanikiba – airplane (the canoe that flies)

English and Gilbertese (Kiribatese) are the two official langs of Kiribati where Gilbertese has only 102,000 speakers worldwide. A small percentage of the inhabitants of Tuvalu, Fiji, and Marshall Islands may also speak Gilbertese, but majority of speakers reside in Kiribati. According to Wikipedia It is a language from the Austronesian family, part of the Oceanian branch and of the Nuclear Micronesian subbranch. You’ll find a few basic words included in the Wiki as well, but go to this Peace Corps Language Handbook series to get sample dialogue and vocabulary lists. Lonely Planet has a South Pacific phrasebook that looks as if it doesn’t cover the Gilbertese tongue, but if you’re doing some island hopping you may wish to purchase it anyway.

Giant marine reserve created in the South Pacific

From National Geographic
:  The Republic of Kiribati, a tiny country in the South Pacific, has just designated 73,800 square miles
of Pacific atolls, coral reefs and deep ocean as one of the world’s largest marine reserves.  This region, called
the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, will protect "some of the planet’s most pristine coral reef ecosystems,"
and is the third largest such marine park in the world:  Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Northeaster
Hawaiian islands are the larger two.

This initiative was announced by  Kiribati President Anote Tong at
the Eighth UN Conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity in Curitiba, Brazil.  "If the coral and
reefs are protected, then the fish will grow and bring us benefit," the president said.  "In this way
all species of fish can be protected so none become depleted or extinct."

Because of the new
designation, the region will be closed to commercial fishing.  However, what I’m looking forward to hearing is
whether the region will be open to recreational diving.