Deforestation- whatever that is

By Anna Klucnika

Society is slowly forgetting about deforestation.

That’s not in the sense that we forget it’s happening, but rather forgetting to care. I am one of the few who consciously try to recycle, to use less paper, to switch off lights. My family only recycles because otherwise the normal bin will overflow. My roommate has commented that environmental issues have been made up, as it’s “convenient” to allows us Westerners to stop development in other parts of the world.

The Bornean Rainforest  - how long will it last?

The Bornean Rainforest – how long will it last?

Even Rhett Butler, the man who founded a website that tracks global deforestation and has “devoted tens of thousands of hours to the cause of protecting forests” is not promoting a change in society’s attitude. He unwittingly commented that “lately – for the first time, really – I’ve started seeing cause for optimism about the future of forests”. This was gloriously picked up by the Independent in an article titled “Rainforests ‘out of danger’ thanks to global giants”.

This is like thinking world peace will work out next year.

Now clearly Mr Butler did not mean his words to seem that all of the world’s deforestation issues are resolved. I’m also delighted to hear Sally Uren, head of the sustainable development charity Forum for the Future, say “there is a much greater sense of shared responsibility and I am feeling reassured by the seriousness with which many big multinationals are taking this responsibility”.

But these are just words and many people will jump for joy that they can jump off the eco-friendly bandwagon.

Visiting the rainforest of Malaysian Borneo has made the issue or tropical forest conservation real to me. Driving into the heart of the land you see the town turn into jungle. Then once you get into the core primary rainforest, you realize what you thought was jungle earlier is just the left-over bones. The growing demand of palm oil (have a look at most labels and you’ll find it, probably mixed in with “vegetable oils”) has lead to dramatic fragmentation.

The new forests: Oil Palm plantation

The new forests: Oil Palm plantation

Fresh research by Benny Yeong has revealed that rainforest fragments below a certain size do not yield viable seedlings. This means that the forest will not regenerate. With an increasing proportion of the world’s forests being restricted into national parks, funded by ecotourism, this is a bad omen. Humans must intervene to help sustain forests. Conservation is no longer about stopping deforestation and conversion of land. It’s too late for that. Instead what precious forest we have left must be managed.

But with attitudes concentrating on tree hugging to prevent logging, society’s’ interest is fading. Instead there must be a new green revolution. Just as we try to prevent animal population declines and manage the populations of nearly-extinct species, we must do the same for forests.

Just go into your local bit of woodland and just experience the sense of awe. The sensation that a forest can provide is just as wonderful as that awe of watching wild animals. Forests are an evolutionary masterpiece of conquests, coalitions, and competitions. Since mankind has had such an impact on the Earth, we can no longer rely on the environment sorting itself out. Intervention is needed in a structured and positive manner. Some people are thinking in this way and making plans. But that does not mean that the cause should be abandoned. We must fight on for our forests.

Photos by Anna Klucnika

Trouble in Paradise

By Nathan Smith

If Eden has a modern parallel, then arguably it is the Galapagos Islands. Famed worldwide for its diverse habitat (over 40% of its wildlife is unique to the islands), it’s the place that inspired Darwin to put forward his theory of evolution. Whilst it may be populated with giant tortoises and finches galore, the plant species occupying the islands are no less bizarre or exotic.

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Credit “JohnnyMrNinja”

The islands have 3 major zones of vegetation: coastal, arid, and humid. The coastal zone, where a high salt tolerance is key, is populated by mangroves. Four mangrove species populate the Galapagos and, whilst none are the sole preserve of the island, they serve as an important nursery area for both commercial fish species and sharks.

The arid zone is the most extensive and the vegetative backbone consists of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), whose colloquial name translates as ‘Holy Wood’, and six native species of Opuntia cacti.

The humid zone, however, is where the floral variety of the islands really shows. The humid zone can be sub-divided into three further zones: the Scalesia zone, the Miconia zone, and the pampa zone.

The Scalesia zone is dominated by forests, consisting primarily of the species Scalesia pedunculata. Members of the Scalesia genus are closely related to daisies, whilst not all found in humid zone (some in arid zone), all are endemic to the islands. Indeed, such is their variety that they are often seen as the floral equivalent of Darwin’s finches. The Miconia zone is principally low lying shrub land and is home to plants of the genus Miconia, as well as the vast majority of Galapagos liverworts. The Miconia once dominated this zone, but the introduction of cattle has since caused it to become endangered through grazing. Finally, the pampa zone is dominated by ferns and grasses, including the Galapagos Tree fern which can reach upward of 3m. It is also the wettest zone of the islands and can receive up to 2.5 m of rain annually.

The backdrop set and the mood established, the situation today can be examined. The Galapagos may be full unique species giving it an exotic sense of wonder, but all is not well on the islands. Foreign flora have become invasive and threaten to disrupt the ecological status quo of the island. There is the quinine plant, introduced in the 1940’s for agricultural purposes, that dominates the Scalesia and Miconia zones of some islands. To add to the damage, it also alters the habitat structure and species composition widening its impact on the islands native species.

Guava is also a problem, whilst there is one species of guava native to the islands (Psidium galapageium), it is the foreign Common guava (Psidiun guajava) that is problematic, out-competing the native guava. Though, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, it is also preferred as a food source by the islands’ famous guardian tortoises.

Scalesia_pedunculata

Scalesia pedunculata (credit Haplochromis)

Perhaps the chief villain of this ecological play is the invasive hill raspberry (Rubus niveus). Introduced in the 1970’s for agricultural purposes, it has quickly become the most widespread invasive plant in the Galapagos. Its seeds can remain dormant for up to 10 years and are dense in the soil hampering control efforts. The plants quick rate of growth and sheer height (it can reach up to 4m) allows it to outcompete native species. It also has indirect effects; growing dense and blocking the migration routes of the Galapagos tortoise.

So what’s being done? 97% of the island is protected inside the Galapagos National Park, and agriculture and foreign species are closely monitored. Quinine plants have successfully been controlled through the targeted application of herbicides to incisions made in the trunk. The mass removal of goats, another species introduced for agriculture, from the island has helped reduce the destruction of native vegetation and a move towards sustainable agriculture and building can only be beneficial to the islands delicate ecosystem.

However, there is still work to be done to control invasive species. There are also environmental threats; more frequent El nino events, associated with increased Global Warming, can damage native species and allow further spread of invasive species. Whilst the Galapagos are still an iconic symbol of the biodiversity of life, with 24% of native plant species considered endangered, one thing is clear: there’s trouble in paradise.

This article is the product of an interview conducted with Pete Haskell, Communications Officer for the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT). The GCT is the only UK charity to focus exclusively on conservation and sustainability in the Galapagos Archipelago. For more information visit http://www.savegalapagos.org.