Kolkata: Digitally archiving wildlife and environment is a key resource in conservation, says environmental filmmaker Rita Banerji, who kick-started northeast India’s first youth and community based video documentation centre in Tezpur, Assam.
The Green Hub centre in Tezpur trains as many as 20 youths in video documentation, editing and photography to aid in recording the environment, wildlife, biodiversity Aand communities in northeast India.
“The first batch of students is now making short films and videos and a digital archive is being created. We offer a two-and-a-half month fellowship for which youngsters from remote and marginalised communities are selected. Experts in conservation coach them.”
“They can get into conservation through video documentation,” Banerji told IANS over the phone on Thursday.
Banerji, who won the Panda Award (Green Oscar) in 2010, alongwith co-director Shilpi Sharma for the film “The Wild Meat Trail”, said recording existing and disappearing biodiversity helps keep track and provides valuable information to stakeholders like NGOs and scientists who engage in conservation.
“Everybody who is working on ground has a camera and when they shoot wildlife they have a lot of footage lying around so the aim was how can we make use of those and make them openly accessible to the community so that they can protect their resources,” explained Banerji.
The Delhi-based filmmaker, who now divides her time between the national capital and the northeast, wishes to branch out to other regions, like the Odisha coast, for the video documentation hub.
Odisha coast has one of world’s largest nesting sites for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles and is also Banerji’s focus areas.
“Turtle Diaries: The Olive Ridley Turtle” by Banerji, which won the ‘Film for Children’ award at the just-concluded eighth CMS Vatavaran festival, captures a stunning mass nesting event and shows how communities are assisting in conservation locally.
“The biggest threat to the turtles and wildlife in the coastal region is the disappearance of beaches due to development projects,” added Banerji.
An alternative method of monitoring endangered lions in India can help improve estimates of their numbers and also in making informed conservation policy and management decisions.
New conservation practices have helped increase the number of Asiatic lions from 50 to 500 in the Gir Forests of Gujarat.
Accurate estimates are needed for better conservation efforts, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The existing methods, particularly a technique known as total counts, can miss some and double-count others. Also, they provide limited information on the spatial density.
Conserving this sub-specie of lions with the use of best scientific methods is a global priority and responsibility, according to authors of the study from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
In the new study, Keshab Gogoi and his colleagues have demonstrated an alternative method for monitoring Asiatic lions.
“Our research addresses this priority by developing a robust approach to their population assessment and monitoring, which can be used for all lion populations across the world,” said an author.
Gogoi and colleagues used whisker patterns and permanent body marks to identify lions using a computer programme, and analysed the data with a mathematical modelling method known as ‘spatially explicit capture recapture’ to estimate the lion density.
They also assessed the prey density and other factors that could influence the lion density.
The researchers identified 67 lions of the 368 sightings within the 725 sq km study area in the Gir Forests, estimating an overall density of 8.53 lions per 100 sq km. They found the prey density didn’t appear to influence the lion density variations in the study area.
The lion density was higher in the flat valley habitats (as opposed to rugged or elevated areas) and near sites where food had been placed to attract lions for tourists to see them.
Visitors to the Bimblebox Nature Refuge website will notice a heartfelt plead welcoming them; ‘Help save Bimblebox’. Every good story needs a villain. This time (and not for the first time) it’s Clive Palmer
The Bimblebox Nature Refuge, a well-beloved Queensland gem, is facing its toughest challenge to date. It was purchased by private individuals in 2008, when Queensland’s land clearing rates were amongst the highest in the world, in order to save it from a grim fate. Now, after 12 years of peace, it is again threatened – this time by mining mogul and billionaire Clive Palmer.
Palmer, currently accused of trading while insolvent and of other corporate misgovernance allegations by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, has an abysmal track-record in Queensland’s Galilee Basin;
Besides this new initiative, Palmer is also currently seeking approval on a monstrous coal mine 3 times bigger than Adani’s, called Alpha North. If Palmer is successful in his bid, he would construct the mine on a conservation area for the endangered black finch. And let’s not forget Palmer’s now-bankrupt nickel refinery, Queensland Nickel, which caused several major spills and leakages that harmed the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding territories, the latest one in 2018 (3 years after it shut down).
Queensland Nickel’s negligence is not just environmental; maintenance issues and safety incidents and accidents kept piling up long before it was closed, say ex-employees. Documents attained by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland mention dozens of unattended breaches.
Now, Palmer’s company Waratah Coal wants to build another mega-coal mine on the lands which today are home to the Bimblebox Nature Refuge. Its current owners claim that even though they own the land, they are still vulnerable, as “protected areas that make up the National Reserve System are not automatically protected from mineral exploration and mining, which in Australia are granted rights over almost all other land uses”.
Unluckily for the Bimblebox, it is the first protected area to face the threat of mining to the degree proposed by Waratah Coal’s proposed mine. President Paola Cassoni says the important of this case goes beyond their small protected area, and will “serve as a test case as to whether the Queensland State and Australian Federal governments are willing to alter outdated legislation so that conservation values are considered to be at least of similar importance to the state as large mining projects”.
The QLD Environment Department itself had advised in 2011 that proposed clearing on Bimblebox Nature Refuge for Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine would kill about 35,880 birds, 13,570 mammals and 780,000 reptiles. “We will fight to save this invaluable island of remnant woodland,” Cassoni said in a statement. “We cannot stand by and allow the trashing of nature for coal.”
Queenslanders have shown their support for the Nature Refuge on social media since the announcement. Many protested the proposed mine, calling leaders such as Premier and Minister for Trade, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Cameron Dick and Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Anthony Lynham for immediate action.
Greenpeace Australia, GetUp!, March Australia, Green MPS and many other groups, including local organizations Stop Adani and Galilee Blockade, have called on state officials to deny Palmer’s application and save the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, supported by citizens.
David Morris, CEO of The Environmental Defenders Office, is acting for the Bimblebox owners. He told The Guardian that the project would destroy about half the nature refuge. “The project consists of two open-cut pits and four underground mines that will totally destroy roughly 50% of the nature refuge and cut underneath the remainder, leaving it in ruins,” Morris said.“It will have a huge impact on local graziers and destroy a private conservation reserve that is one of the largest tracts of intact woodland in Queensland and home to hundreds of species, many of which are rare or endangered.”
Local farmers have concerns as well; the use of 768 billion litres, or 768 gigalitres, of groundwater over its 30-year lifespan of the proposed mine, equating to one-and-a-half times the volume of Sydney Harbour. “When you’ve lost your groundwater, you’ve lost it. It doesn’t matter how many make-good agreements you sign, you’ve lost it,” added Paola Cassoni.
Many are wondering how the state of Queensland could allow Palmer to run another mine in the region, especially considering that the Townsville City Council is taking legal action against Clive Palmer’s companies QNI Metals Pty Ltd and QNI Resources Pty Ltd as we speak, seeking more than $2.5 million from the billionaire. Palmer has apparently not paid rates and charges relating to land where Queensland Nickel’s Yabulu refinery sits and to another property since 2016.
“Not only is this frustrating, it is also unfair for the thousands of other land owners across Townsville who paid their rates and water charges as required, including those who paid despite their property suffering damage in the devastating monsoon event earlier this year,” a council spokesman has said.
Other Palmer debts, such as to the Port of Townsville, Aurizon, Queensland Rail and the state (for over $60 million paid to the workers of QNI from taxpayer money), also remain unpaid.
A court hearing in the matter of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge has yet to be scheduled. Concerned citizens can still object via phone, email or official form, lodging complaints with the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) and the Environmental Authority.
From the surface, these 22 square miles of water are unexceptional.But dip beneath the surface — go down 60 or 70 feet — and you’ll find a spectacular seascape. Sponges, barnacles and tube worms cover rocky ledges on the ocean floor, forming a “live bottom.”
Gray’s Reef is little more than a drop in the ocean 19 miles off the Georgia coast, but don’t confuse size for significance. In one of his last official acts, President Jimmy Carter declared the reef a national marine sanctuary at the urging of conservationists who said its abundance of life was unique and worth saving for future generations.
For nearly 40 years, the U.S. government has protected the reef, home to more than 200 species of fish and an amazing array of nearly 1,000 different kinds of invertebrates. Recreational fishing and diving are allowed, but commercial fishing and other kinds of exploitation are not.
And Gray’s Reef has served as a global inspiration. Following the lead of the U.S., other nations have designated similar sanctuaries and protected areas, which now cover about 6% of the world’s oceans — a bonanza for researchers but, more importantly, an important tool for safeguarding the seas.
Doubts remain about how much of the ocean they can truly save. Last year was the hottest on record for the planet’s oceans, and protected areas can’t slow the biggest source of that warming — increasing greenhouse gases. The federal government says more than 90% of the warming that has occurred on the planet over the past half-century has taken place in the ocean.
That has had dramatic effects in the waters that cover 70% of Earth’s surface. Scientists have tied the warming to the rise of sea levels, the disappearance of fish stocks and the bleaching of corals. The ocean also has become more acidic as humans have released higher concentrations of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that jeopardizes valuable shellfish and the plankton that form the base of the food chain.
The supporters for the protected areas range from sustenance fishermen on the tiniest islands of the Pacific to researchers at the most elite institutions of academia.
“We’re not protecting these areas just for ourselves,” Roldan Munoz, a research fishery biologist with the U.S.’s National Marine Fisheries Service, says during a research trip to the reef, “they’re for our nation.”
On a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expedition to Gray’s Reef, the federal research vessel Nancy Foster is packed with scientists conducting research on subjects ranging from whether invasive lionfish are present to how changing ocean conditions are affecting coral species.
Sanctuary research coordinator Kimberly Roberson and other scientists prepare to dive to collect data about what fish can be found in the area, while Craig Aumack, an assistant professor of biology at Georgia Southern University, peers through a microscope at algae.
Aumack notes that more types of seaweed and tropical species of fish are appearing on the reef as waters warm, like the odd-looking and colorful clown wrasse, a fish native to the Caribbean Sea that was found off the coast of Georgia this summer, most likely pushed hundreds of miles to the north by changing ocean temperatures.
The sanctuary is named after Milton “Sam” Gray, a biologist who studied it in the 1960s and identified it as an ecosystem worth saving — a reef not far from the U.S. coast that teemed with life, especially an “abundance of diversity of invertebrates,” Roberson notes.
Without that designation, the habitat could have vanished due to high-impact industries such as bottom-trawl commercial fishing, which are now prohibited there.
“In some ways, it’s a test of what a marine protected area can do for surrounding areas,” says Clark Alexander, director and professor at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and a former member of the sanctuary’s advisory board. “It was sort of an ideal spot to preserve this kind of habitat and make it available for research and recreation.”
In the decades since Gray’s was established, large and more stringently protected zones have popped up all over the world.
Phoenix Island Protected Area, established in January 2008, covers more than 150,000 square miles off the tiny island republic of Kiribati and has been cited by scientists for bringing back species of fish in just over a decade. And an area nearly twice as large, the Rapa Nui Marine Protected Area, now surrounds Easter Island after its creation in 2018.
Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama greatly expanded the U.S.’s protected areas. Bush created the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii and Obama extended it late in his presidency to a whopping 582,578 square miles.
Smaller protected areas, such as the 5,000-square-mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument off New England, created by Obama in 2016, also have been established.
Nine years ago, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to the goal of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. The UN said in 2017 that it was on its way to meeting that target and that protected areas “contribute substantial social, economic and environmental benefits to society” and “provide food security and livelihood security for some 300 million people.”
One commonly cited problem with the protected areas is the difficulty of enforcing rules that restrict commercial fishing and other intrusive industries from vast areas where few people ever venture, particularly in developing parts of the world where resources are limited.
Creating new protected areas without reducing fishing quotas won’t save species, says Daniel Pauly, a professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
And that is not a small issue, as some estimates say the number of fish in the ocean was reduced by half from 1970 to 2015, with warming oceans expected to add to that loss.
“Rebuilding will require not just new protected areas, but it will require quotas reduced,” Pauly says.
Many scientists believe protecting broad swaths of the ocean simply might not be enough.
Last year, a group of researchers led by University of North Carolina marine ecologist John Bruno published a pessimistic study of the effects of climate change on the world’s marine protected areas. Their findings: those areas will warm by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, destroying species and marine life despite the existence of protections.
Bruno’s study reflects the reality of coral bleaching in places such as the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, which is heavily protected but still vulnerable to the impacts of a warming world.