Archive for ‘Wildlife Preservation’

September 20, 2014

Green Groups Tell Mekong Leaders Lao Dam Evaluation Process Flawed

Green Groups Tell Mekong Leaders Lao Dam Evaluation Process Flawed

2014-09-19

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/fishermen-09192014174244.html

laos-xayaburi-dam-jan-2014.jpg

Construction work begins on the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in northern Laos, Jan. 2014.

Nearly 50 environmental groups have written to the leaders of countries along the Mekong River to revamp a regional official evaluation process for the controversial Don Sahong dam project in southern Laos, saying the current mechanism is flawed.

Their letter to the prime ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand said the concerns of local communities impacted by the project are not being included as required by the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) for hydropower projects in the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

The PNPCA requires transboundary impact assessments and discussions among member countries, as outlined in a 1995 agreement that led to the formation of the MRC, which supervises development along Southeast Asia’s artery.

The Sept. 10 letter from 45 groups, including U.S.-based International Rivers, Japan’s Mekong Watch, Thailand’s Northern River Basins Network, and Vietnam Rivers Network, was sent more than two months after Lao authorities decided to open the 260-megawatt Don Sahong project to consultations and scrutiny among MRC members.

The Lao authorities said it would suspend construction of the project, the second dam to be built on the Mekong after the Xayaburi dam, but the developer, Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad, said work was continuing.

Regional threat

The Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams pose a regional security threat for the 60 million-some people in Southeast Asia who rely on fish and other products from the Mekong for their nutrition and livelihoods, environmental and conservation groups say.

“We are concerned that, as they stand, the PNPCA procedures cannot allow for a legitimate and participatory consultation process for the Don Sahong dam, and the project is set to follow the same destructive path of the Xayaburi dam, bringing further severe impacts to the Mekong and its people,” the letter said.

It said the prior consultation process for the Xayaburi dam, which is under construction, had been a “failure.”

“The limited stakeholder consultation both in number of participants and areas involved excluded many critical voices, including those of local communities in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam,” the letter said.

“The voices of communities must be the priority in the process related to the development of dams on the Mekong River,” it said.

The letter also said many studies indicate that if the Don Sahong dam is built, it will have “severe impacts on Mekong fish and their migration throughout the Lower Mekong River Basin.”

“This threatens the food security and livelihoods of millions of people as well as the economic and political stability of the region, due to increased tension between governments over the failures of regional cooperation,” the letter said.

“As the MRC’s mandate is not for local Mekong communities, there needs to be clarification on how local communities affected by Mekong dams can meaningfully participate in the decision-making process and how their participation will inform decisions made about whether or not a project will proceed,” it said.

“The rights of communities must be recognized.”

United they stand

Following the letter’s issuance, fishermen and villagers from Cambodia’s Tonle Sap and along the Mekong joined representatives from Thailand’s Pak Mun dam area at a conference in Bangkok this week to announce their opposition to dam construction in the Mekong Basin as well as support for including locals’ voices in transboundary impact reviews.

Residents of the Pak Mun dam area, situated nearly six kilometers (about 3.5 miles) west of the confluence of the Mun and Mekong rivers, must negotiate every year to have the dam gates opened to allow in fish from further upstream, said Somphong Viengchan, an activist who represents fisherman from the Ubon Ratchathani province in northeastern Thailand.

“If the Don Sahong is built, there won’t be fish to return to the Mun River anymore,” she said, according to a press release issued after the conference.

Fishermen from Cambodia and Thailand threw their support behind Laotians in riparian communities who want their views included in ecological impact reviews of dam projects, including Don Sahong.

A separate statement issued by the fishing community networks said the Lao government must immediately revise the decision to build the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams and allow a cross-border study that would involve all people from Mekong communities.

“We insist that any act to prevent the people in Mekong countries from knowing about the dams or prohibiting them from raising their voices against the projects is a complete violation of human rights and our rights,” said a joint statement issued by the fishermen.

As the Lao government already has made the decision to build the Don Sahong dam, Laotians can’t do anything about it, Viengchan said at the conference.

Laotians risk arrest if they voice opposition to hydropower projects, she said.

“It is impossible for them to come out and exercise their rights,” Viengchan said. “Therefore, after the discussion, we six Thai Mekong riparian provinces have to do something to give voice via the Thai government to the Lao government about the [dam project’s] transboundary impact.”

International Rivers says the Don Sahong dam will block fish migration routes, destroy the Mekong River ecosystem and cut off the flow of sediments and nutrients.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

 

 

August 20, 2014

Ivory trade: Why elephant poaching is still rampant

 

Ivory trade: Why elephant poaching is still rampant

World’s largest land mammal doesn’t deserve to die ‘for trinkets or financial investment’

By Janet Davison, CBC News Posted: Aug 20, 2014 5:00 AM ET.  Last Updated: Aug 20, 2014 7:01 AM ET

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/ivory-trade-why-elephant-poaching-is-still-rampant-1.2740635

An elephant is pictured in Tsavo East National Park in southern Kenya on Jan. 31, 2013.

An elephant is pictured in Tsavo East National Park in southern Kenya on Jan. 31, 2013. (Ivan Lieman/AFP/Getty)

In some countries, the idea of cherishing anything made of ivory has become repugnant, especially given that an elephant had to die — usually at the hands of poachers — before any elaborate carving of its tusks could be done.

In areas such as China and other Asian countries, however, ivory remains a symbol of status for an emerging middle class, some conservationists say.

Africa Elephant Slaughter

In this Feb. 13, 2013, file photo, a Maasai boy and his dog stand near the skeleton of an elephant killed by poachers outside of Arusha, Tanzania. (Jason Straziuso/Associated Press)

And that’s contributing to the huge spike reported this week in the death rate of African elephants at the hands of poachers.

“There’s a burgeoning middle class that has a lot more expendable money and time, and is able to buy nice things now,” says Jake Wall, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia and a research scientist with the Kenya-based Save the Elephants organization.

“I don’t think many people understand the effect that buying ivory is having, and a lot of people [in China] believe that the tusks simply fall out of elephants and that they’re collected and turned into carvings.

“They don’t realize that elephants are being massacred for their ivory, and so that level of education is sorely needed in China and places in Asia.”

Complicated history

China knows it has an image problem around the ivory trade, but the demand for ivory is still there.

“China is a very complicated case culturally and image-wise and so on,” says Colman O’Criodain, international wildlife trade policy analyst with the World Wildlife Fund International.

The country is “very proud historically of its artistic ivory-carving tradition,” he said in an interview from Geneva.

Ivory pieces after destruction in Belgium

Pieces of ivory that were seized from illegal trade are seen after being smashed by authorities in Tervuren, Belgium, on April 9, 2014. The 1.7 tonnes of ivory with an estimated value of 680,000 euros ($930,000) were seized in recent years by Belgian customs. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

“On the one hand there’s a drive to reinforce that and to protect it, but on the other hand of course they are conscious of the fact that they’re seen as one of the drivers of poaching.”

As he sees it, the main driver for the loss of elephants from the savannahs and forests of Africa is not the  desire for big artistic carvings. “It’s the small trinkets like bangles and chopsticks and earrings and so on, because they result in far more wastage.”

Ivory was, he says, originally very much reserved for the aristocracy, but now its use is spreading to an increasing affluent middle class.

“They want to acquire the trappings of the aristocracy there, so they want to give presents of ivory or rhino horn or tiger wine.”

‘Whiff of danger’

Plus, he says, there’s a “whiff of danger” around ivory that makes it attractive.

“There’s also a cultural consideration there, too, because a bit like moonshine in the United States …. there’s a kind of cachet about the illegal product, that you have to go to more trouble to get it.”

In fact, according to a report in the Guardian, the price of ivory in China has tripled in the past four years because of demand.

Africa Elephant Slaughter

A herd of adult and baby elephants walks in the dawn light across Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya on Dec. 17, 2012. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

Wall points to a decision in 2008 to sell 102 tonnes of stockpiled ivory to accredited Chinese and Japanese traders, a sale supervized by the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“That essentially introduced legal ivory back into Asian markets, and ever since then we’ve seen this dramatic increase in poaching, peaking in 2011.

“It shows that if you trickle in a little bit of an illicit and coveted substance …you create this huge black market for it as well.”

However, countering that black market, and the poaching that is threatening the population of the world’s largest land mammal, is not a simple prospect.

Observers say it requires a multi-pronged approach that reaches from Africa to the ports through which smuggled ivory travels to those middle-class folks who covet the goods.

‘Many-headed beast’

“It’s like a many-headed beast to tackle,” says George Wittemyer, a Colorado State University professor who was lead author of the report this week that found poachers have killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012.

“For me, the key to the whole story is really undermining the demand, the consumption.”

Ivory tusks waiting for destruction

Ivory tusks are displayed after the official start of the destruction of confiscated ivory in Hong Kong on May 15, 2014. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Steps have been taken to try to do that in China, including some high-profile campaigns that have featured celebrities. In one, China’s most famous basketball player, retired NBA star Yao Ming, took to billboards and TV public service announcements to urge his native country to say no to ivory and rhino horn.

“He’s been extremely outspoken about this issue,” says Wall.

Efforts to target the illicit ivory trade chain have also been made, which the WWF sees as crucial.

“To counter poaching … you also have to counter illicit trade,” says O’Croidain.

Those efforts can focus on ports such as Mombasa in Kenya, and Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania.

“You have to tackle the problem there as a straight-forward smuggling problem,” says O’Croidain. “Similarly in southeast Asia, there are transit points where you can intervene.”

Better monitoring

Other potential measures include increased monitoring of the existing elephant population, something Wall advocates and has been involved with through a high-tech Save the Elephants program that involves GPS satellite tracking collars.

He also sees a need for better wildlife protection programs involving the African communities where elephants roam, programs that would give residents economic options other than poaching.

In one case, some ex-poachers have been hired as wildlife rangers, complete with salaries they can live on.

“I think that is really a key thing that we develop human programs so that people don’t feel the need to go out and poach elephants, and that they feel they can make a living in other ways.”

No one is under any illusion, however, that any of this will be an easy task.

“It’s a long-term process. It may be a generational process,” says James Kinney, elephant program officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare

“That’s why we take a multi-pronged approach because it doesn’t seem elephants have generations to wait for the Chinese to stop consuming ivory.”

The IFAW feels elephants “don’t deserve to die for trinkets or for financial investments,” Kinney adds.

“They’re important on a number of levels, individually as sentient beings and as kind of mega-gardeners in the forests and savannahs where they live.”

 

August 20, 2014

100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds

National Geographic

100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds

Central Africa has lost 64 percent of its elephants in a decade.

By Brad Scriber | National Geographic | Published August 18, 2014

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140818-elephants-africa-poaching-cites-census/

Ivory-seeking poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants in just three years, according to a new study that provides the first reliable continent-wide estimates of illegal kills. During 2011 alone, roughly one of every twelve African elephants was killed by a poacher.

In central Africa, the hardest-hit part of the continent, the regional elephant population has declined by 64 percent in a decade, a finding of the new study that supports another recent estimate developed from field surveys.

The demand for ivory, most notably in China and elsewhere in Asia, and the confusion caused by a one-time sale of confiscated ivory have helped keep black market prices high in Africa.

The new study, published in the August 19 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, included local and regional population estimates and concluded that three-quarters of local elephant populations are declining.

The study authors conducted the first large-scale analysis of poaching losses using data on illegally killed elephants maintained by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Wittemyer and his team hope the new information will move the discussion beyond anecdotes and wild guesses. “I think it’s the only quantitatively based estimate out there,” he said.

Researchers and conservationists hope the analysis will prompt policy makers to take further action to stem the years-long onslaught of poaching, which now threatens the survival of elephants in Africa.

Previous estimates of population declines produced by study co-authors Julian Blanc and Kenneth Burnham, both of CITES, used similar data to examine poaching trends, but those estimates limited the analysis to just 66 sites that were being monitored.

“Nobody’s put out any scientifically-based numbers for the continent,” Wittemyer said. “People have said numbers, but they’re based off guesses. This is the first hard estimate we have at that level.”

Photo of a boxes of ivory.

Confiscated elephant tusks and boxes of figurines carved from ivory sit in the main hall of the National Wildlife Property Repository, in Colorado.
Photograph by Kate Brooks, Redux

Targeting the Policymakers

Although conservationists have agreed for years that there’s an ongoing poaching crisis with huge implications for the future of African elephants, the authors point out that it’s been “notoriously difficult to quantify” the raw number of animals killed by poachers.

In recent years poachers have perpetrated mass killings, such as the 2012 slaughter of hundreds of elephants with automatic weapons in Bouba Ndjidah National Park in Cameroon.

Poachers have also used poisoned arrows to kill iconic individual elephants. In February, a poison-tipped arrow killed Torn Ear, a well-known Kenyan elephant. (See “Mourning the Loss of a Great Elephant: Torn Ear.”) Three months later, Satao, another of Kenya’s most beloved elephants, was also killed by a poisoned arrow by poachers, who cut off his face to remove his massive tusks. (See “Beloved African Elephant Killed for Ivory—’Monumental’ Loss.”)

These criminal acts have prompted some official actions, including a U.S. ban on the commercial trade in ivory, but the killings continue at an unsustainable level, with new births unable to keep pace with the killings.

“At the higher policy levels there have been a lot of questions and debate about what the numbers actually are, what they indicate, and how we should be interpreting them,” Wittemyer noted.

“There hasn’t been a robust scientific piece to rely on definitively as the source. In my mind what we’ve locked down here and provided the community—and in my mind we’re really targeting the policymakers—are definitive numbers on which they can act and on which they can discuss and debate approaches they can take.”

Hard-Won Numbers

In 2002 CITES created a program called MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) to attempt to quantify the number of elephants killed by poachers. Rangers at MIKE sites note all dead elephants they find and determine what proportion of the dead animals was illegally killed.

But the growing number of locations where monitoring is done—the program now monitors between 30 and 40 percent of the population—is still only a portion of the range of the species, and there are big differences in how closely these sites are monitored.

Another problem is that no one knows how many African elephants there are. Elephants are present over many thousands of square miles, which makes it expensive and time-consuming to estimate their overall numbers.

A map of elephant range and poaching statistics.

VIRGINIA W. MASON AND BRAD SCRIBER, NGM STAFF
SOURCES: COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY; SAVE THE ELEPHANTS; MONITORING THE ILLEGAL KILLING OF ELEPHANTS (MIKE); DEPARTMENT OF ZOOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD; KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE; DIANE SKINNER, AFRICAN ELEPHANT SPECIALIST GROUP, IUCN.

The most recent comprehensive population estimate for the continent—a range of between 472,000 and 690,000 elephants—was published in 2007 by the IUCN’s African Elephant Specialist Group. That figure was based on the best available data at the time, which for some locations were already nearly a decade old.

The African Elephant Specialist Group continually collects updated population survey data for portions of the continent and shares them with researchers via its public database. But it has yet to produce a new comprehensive population estimate for the continent. Meanwhile, a continent-wide aerial survey, the Great Elephant Census, is under way, with results expected in mid-2015.

Modeling the Numbers

For their study, Wittemyer and his co-authors used the most recent population numbers available from the African Elephant Specialist Group database for well-monitored locations. The researchers calculated that in the absence of poaching, about 3 percent of an elephant population would be expected to die each year.

Applying the percentage of deaths from poaching in 2010 through 2012, derived from MIKE data at the most closely monitored sites, they were able to calculate the percentage, and the numbers, of elephants poached regionally and continent-wide.

Kenneth Burnham, the statistician with the MIKE program who devised this method, used a similar approach to project the number National Geographic magazine used in its October 2012 cover story, “Ivory Worship.” The magazine reported that “it is ‘highly likely’ that poachers killed at least 25,000 African elephants in 2011. The true figure may even be double that.”

The new study puts the 2011 number at 40,000 elephants slaughtered at the hands of poachers.

Trevor Jones, of the Southern Tanzania Elephant Project, who didn’t participate in the study, said, “I think this paper represents an honest attempt to interpret the MIKE data, and no doubt its results and conclusions are broadly correct in describing an overall trend of large declines in elephant populations across Africa.”

He points to continued misgivings about the MIKE numbers because they are based on a smaller number of carcasses than aerial surveys. “Aerial censuses of the Selous Game Reserve,” Jones said, “estimate a decline from 2009 to 2013 of 39,000 to 13,000—yet the MIKE data estimate 4,931 elephants poached from 2010 to 2012.”

Jones, like many others, is eager for the results of the forthcoming Great Elephant Census. “The best way to update data on population sizes in most areas is by aerial sampling, and I strongly suspect that the census is going to confirm the unprecedented scale of the current crisis for elephants across the continent. Those results cannot come a day too soon.”

But aerial surveying has drawbacks too. Forest elephants can’t be seen from the air, and assessing their numbers takes labor-intensive foot surveys of dung piles. A recent forest elephant survey took “80 foot-surveys; covering 13,000 km; 91,600 person-days of fieldwork,” according to the study abstract.

What We Lose When We Lose Elephants

The huge scale of the losses of African elephants could reduce genetic diversity to the point where healthy and robust populations become dangerously weakened.

But, as Wittemyer said, the problem is greater than genetic diversity. “You’re talking about the distribution of species and its ecological role.”

Elephants are vital to the web of life in Africa. As a keystone species, they help balance all the other species in their ecosystem, opening up forest land to create firebreaks and grasslands, digging to create water access for other animals, and leaving nutrients in their wake. Sometimes called the “megagardeners of the forest,” elephants are essential to the dispersal of seeds that maintain tree diversity.

Since three out of four local populations are declining, those losses have serious ecological implications. “That’s a problem we probably didn’t speak to strongly enough in this paper,” Wittemyer said.

Follow Brad Scriber on Twitter.

RELATED

May 10, 2014

Researchers warn captive elephants in Laos could be extinct in 100 years

UQA - The University of Queensland

 

Captive elephants in Laos face extinction

 

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://bit.ly/1nh6Koa

or  http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2014/05/captive-elephants-laos-face-extinction

5 May 2014

A UQ study has shown the captive elephant population in Laos is declining as the elephants are not allowed to breed at a rate sufficient to sustain the population. Photo courtesy of ElefantAsia (elefantasia.org)

The captive elephant population in Laos will be extinct in just over a century if current management practices do not change, a University of Queensland study has found.

It is estimated that only 480 captive elephants remain across Laos, and the study shows that changes to conservation management are necessary to prevent extinction.

The study’s lead author, Dr Ingrid Suter, from UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, said captive elephants were an important part of Lao culture and supported the livelihood of many rural communities.

“Elephant ownership has long been associated with Lao culture and national identity,” Dr Suter said.

“Extinction of this population would lead to loss of income for the mahouts (elephant owners) and their communities, impact on tourism and the logging industry, and would mean the end of thousands of years of elephants and humans working alongside each other.”

The study shows the captive elephant population in Laos is declining as the elephants are not allowed to breed at a rate sufficient to sustain the population.

Female elephants require at least four years off work to produce and wean a calf, an unaffordable length of time for mahouts.

UQ researchers collaborated with ElefantAsia, a non-government organisation which aims to overcome this barrier through the Baby Bonus program.

The program works with mahouts to provide alternative income while their elephants are on “maternity leave”, and to ensure the calves are well cared for.

UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management’s Dr Greg Baxter, senior author on the study, said a wider management approach was needed to prevent further population decline.

“The small number of breeding-age females is limiting the growth of the captive Laos elephant population,” he said.

“Increasing the breeding rate through programs such as the Baby Bonus is a good start, but it is unlikely to prevent population decline over the next 100 to 200 years.

“Establishing a rental agreement with other countries would allow the import and exchange of elephants for the purpose of breeding and provide benefit to all countries involved.”

The research was published in Endangered Species Research this month.

Contact: Dr Greg Baxter, 07 3365 8064 and +61403174149, gbaxter@uqg.uq.edu.au; Dr Ingrid Suter, +31 6 2730 3026 ingrid.suter@uq.edu.au .

—-

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    An Australian study has warned that captive elephants in Laos will be extinct in 100 years, if nothing is done to increase numbers.

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May 8, 2014

Why We Shouldn’t Dam the World’s Most Productive River – ทำไมเราถึงไม่ควรสร้างเขื่อนในแม่น้ำโขง

 

Why We Shouldn’t Dam the World’s Most Productive River

Saving the Mekong’s giant fish

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/lessons-from-the-field-mekong-giant-fish/

 

A Mekong giant catfish on the Tonl$#233; Sap River, Cambodia.

A Mekong giant catfish on the Tonlé Sap River, Cambodia.

ABOUT LESSONS FROM THE FIELD: National Geographic is inviting scientists, community leaders, water managers, conservationists, and activists to share the lessons they’ve earned from the field—and the innovative solutions they’ve found. We hope their stories will build a shared sense of community and motivate the public across the world to conserve freshwater and the diversity of life it sustains. Read all of their stories.

Photograph by Zeb Hogan, National Geographic grantee

Read morehttp://dtphorum.com/pr4/showthread.php?3789-T%E1%BB%99i-Nghi%E1%BB%87p-%C4%90%E1%BB%9Di-Sau&p=128615

Dams spell Doom (talkvietnam):  http://www.talkvietnam.com/2012/10/dams-spell-doom/#.U2OsvPldUpo

————————————————————————

By Zeb Hogan

Assistant Research Professor, University of Nevada

It’s unclear why so many species of giant fish occur in the Mekong River, the 2,700-mile (4,350-kilometer) river that runs from southern China to the delta south of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Certainly part of the answer is the river’s size: Large rivers have more space and more food to accommodate larger fish.

Another part of the answer may lie in the productivity of the Mekong River Basin ecosystem, including the floodplains and flooded forests that provide an abundant source of food for many species of fish during the rainy season.

The Mekong River is also—depending on whom you ask—either the second or third most biodiverse river on Earth (in terms of freshwater fish) and it’s logical that a river with so many species of fish would also support several species of giants.

Not only is the diversity of large fishes found in the Mekong amazing, so is these fishes’ persistence, given the number of people who live on the river and the level of fisheries’ exploitation. It just goes to show that fish populations can be remarkably resilient: It’s not typically overfishing that drives species to extinction. Usually, it’s habitat degradation or invasive species.

In this sense, the Mekong River is still a relatively healthy, natural, free-flowing river—a river that, in large part due to the fact that most habitats and connections between habitats are still intact—is still capable of producing 2,500,000 million tons of fish a year. That makes it the most productive river in the world.

Given that the Mekong does produce so much fish, it’s not unreasonable to question whether the benefits of proposed dam projects will outweigh the environmental costs. It’s a question that needs to be answered (and will require more study) before construction of the dams moves forward.

The hydropower dam planned on the Mekong River in Sayabouly Province, northern Laos, is a threat to the survival of the wild population of Mekong giant catfish. Under threat are the suspected spawning locations for many species of fish. The Sayabouly dam is the first lower Mekong River mainstream dam to enter a critical stage of assessment before construction is approved by the Mekong River Commission, which includes representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, according to a recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report on the ecological implications of new dam projects.

The other dam closest to being approved is the Sahong. The Sahong channel is the most important migratory pathway in Southern Laos.

WWF is absolutely correct to suspect that mainstream Mekong dams will have deleterious effects on the giant fish of the Mekong. Almost all of the information that we have about these species (e.g. the Mekong giant catfish is highly migratory, endemic to the Mekong, seems to need specific cues to spawn, cannot reproduce in reservoirs, and probably spawns in northern Thailand and in Laos), suggests that the Sayabory dam and other Mekong dams will have serious negative impacts.

The same is true of other species of Mekong giants: We know very little about the ecology of these species and what we do know suggests that they need healthy, free-flowing rivers to survive.

Without further study, it’s highly likely that mainstream dams will drive at least one, if not all, of these species to extinction. We’ve seen something similar happen on the Yangtze where the two largest species in that river are now in grave danger  after dam construction (one, the Chinese paddlefish, may already be extinct).

Beyond dams, the other threats to the Mekong’s megafish include over-harvest (which has already brought populations of giant Mekong species to very low levels), habitat degradation (such as dredging and blasting upstream of the only known spawning ground of Mekong giant catfish), and invasive species.

One of the largest fish in the world, the Mekong giant catfish can reach 10 feet (3 meters) long and weigh up to 650 pounds (300 kilograms). This critically endangered species has suffered from all of the above—overfishing, dam building, and habitat destruction.

The risk of losing these fish before we understand them—and the threats they face—cannot be overstated.

Up to 80 percent of Mekong giant fish are at risk of extinction.

Several large-bodied catfish of the Mekong are migratory.

Mekong giant catfish, “dog-eating” catfish, and giant barb (Catlocarpio siamensis) are extremely rare, with only 5-10 adult fish caught per year.

Mitigation

There are several actions that would help ensure the survival of the giant fish species of the Mekong, including:

•    Maintenance of connectivity between rearing grounds and spawning habitat: Many species of Mekong fish have complex life cycles that involve long-distance migrations. Maintenance of migratory pathways is crucial.

•    Management of the river for environmental flows: Both the fish and the fisherfolk of the Mekong rely on the natural dry season, rainy season cycle. Flows often cue fish to migrate or spawn and the high flows of the rainy season open up vast habitats for feeding fish. Likewise, local people have invented all manner of ingenious ways of catching fish and most of these methods are adapted to a specific site, flow, and time of year.

•    Regulation and monitoring of harvest: Over-harvest is a serious threat to the Mekong’s largest, longest-lived, and most vulnerable species. In areas with heavy fishing pressure (and that includes virtually the entire Mekong Basin), catch of the largest fish must be regulated to ensure their survival. Lessons from other parts of the world indicate that relatively slow-growing large-bodied fish cannot sustain heavy fishing pressure indefinitely.

•    Research and decision-making based on research: This may seem like standard scientist-speak, but research on the ecology and conservation status of giant fish is urgently needed in the Mekong River Basin. The “dog-eating” catfish (Pangasius sanitwongsei) is a case in point. We know almost nothing about its ecology or conservation status and yet it is undoubtedly one of the largest, most rare, and most vulnerable fish in all of Southeast Asia. It’s likely that at least a hundred times more research is being done on salmon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States than on fish in the Mekong, but the consequences of losing the Mekong’s fish are a hundred times more significant in terms of biodiversity and potential impact to livelihoods.

Zeb Hogan earned an undergraduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizona. He later became a visiting Fulbright student at the Environmental Risk Assessment Program at Thailand’s Chiang Mai University. Returning to the United States, Hogan completed a National Science Foundation-sponsored Ph.D. in ecology at the University of California, Davis. He is currently a fellow at the University of Wisconsin and a World Wildlife Fund fellow. Hogan also leads Megafishes, an effort to protect the world’s largest freshwater fishes, and is a research assistant professor at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Nevada.

For More Information:

The Megafishes Project

Mekong River Commission

WWF

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ทำไมเราถึงไม่ควรสร้างเขื่อนในแม่น้ำโขง

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ยังไม่มีข้อสรุปแน่ชัดว่าทำไมปลาขนาดใหญ่หลายชนิดปรากฎตัวอยู่ในลำน้ำโขง แม่น้ำขนาดใหญ่ที่มีความยาวราว 4,350 กิโลเมตร ที่ไหลจากตอนใต้ของประเทศจีนไปยังเมืองโฮจิมินฮ์ ประเทศเวียดนาม ซึ่งขนาดของมันนี่เองที่อาจเป็นคำตอบถึงความหลากหลายทางชีวภาพในลำน้ำโขง

อีก ส่วนหนึ่งของคำตอบคือความอุดมสมบูรณ์ของระบบนิเวศลำน้ำโขง ซึ่งรวมไปถึงพื้นที่ราบและพื้นที่ป่าน้ำท่วมถึง ซึ่งเป็นแหล่งอาหารให้กับปลาหลายชนิดในช่วงฤดูน้ำหลาก และข้อความจริงที่ว่า ลำน้ำโขงเป็นแม่น้ำที่มีความหลากหลายสูงที่สุดเป็นอันดับสองหรือสามของโลก เมื่อเปรียบเทียบกับแหล่งน้ำจืด จึงไม่น่าแปลกใจที่จะมีสปีชีส์ปลาขนาดใหญ่อาศัยอยู่เป็นจำนวนมาก
นอกจากความหลากหลายทางชีวภาพที่น่าแปลกใจ แต่ปลาที่พบในแม่น้ำโขงยังทำหน้าที่หล่อเลี้ยงคนจำนวนมากที่ทำอาชีพประมงได้ อย่างดี ในขณะที่จำนวนประชากรของปลาในลำน้ำก็ยังสามารถฟื้นฟูมาจนเพียงพอต่อการประมง ดังนั้นการจับปลาเกินขนาดคงไม่สามารถทำให้สายพันธุ์เหล่านั้นสูญพันธุ์ แต่ภัยคุกคามที่สำคัญคือการทำลายล้างแหล่งที่อยู่อาศัย

ในมุมนี้ ลำน้ำโขงนับว่าเป็นแม่น้ำที่ยังคงสภาพดี มีการไหลค่อนข้างเป็นธรรมชาติ กล่าวคือไม่มีการก่อสร้างสิ่งปลูกสร้างขนาดใหญ่มาขวางกั้นลำน้ำ ดังนั้นพื้นที่อยู่อาศัยของปลาก็ยังมีขนาดใหญ่และสามารถเดินทางขยายพันธุ์ ได้อย่างอิสระ และตัวเลขสถิติการจับปลาปีละกว่า 2,500,000 ล้านตันต่อปี ก็สะท้อนได้อย่างดีว่าลำน้ำนี้คือลำน้ำที่มีผลผลิตมากที่สุดของโลก

จาก ศักยภาพในการผลิตปลาจำนวนมากนี้เอง คำถามที่ว่าประโยชน์ที่ได้จากการก่อสร้างเขื่อนนั้น จะคุ้มค่ากับต้นทุนทางธรรมชาติที่เสียไปหรือไม่ ก็เป็นคำถามที่จะต้องตอบและศึกษาเพิ่มเติม ก่อนจะเดินหน้าสร้างเขื่อน

เขื่อน ไฟฟ้าพลังงานน้ำที่จะก่อสร้างในจังหวัดไซยะบุรี ทางตอนเหนือของลาว นับเป็นภัยคุกคามอย่างใหญ่หลวงต่อประชากรปลาขนาดใหญ่ในแม่โขง เนื่องจากการก่อสร้างเขื่อนจะไปทำลายแหล่งที่อยู่อาศัยตามธรรมชาติของปลา หลายชนิด และเขื่อนไซยะบุรี ยังเป็นเขื่อนแรกในลุ่มน้ำโขงตอนล่างที่มีการก่อสร้างเดินหน้าไปอย่างต่อ เนื่อง ในขณะที่กรรมการลุ่มน้ำโขง ซึ่งประกอบด้วยประเทศไทย ลาว กัมพูชา และเวียดนาม ยังไม่ได้ให้การรับรอง

นอกจากเขื่อนไซยะบุรี ก็ยังมีอีกเขื่อนหนึ่งที่จะก่อสร้างในลำน้ำดอนสะโฮง ลำน้ำสายย่อยที่เป็นช่องทางสำคัญที่สุดของปลาอพยพทางตอนใต้ของประเทศลาว

กอง ทุนสัตว์ป่าสากลหรือ WWF มองว่าการก่อสร้างเขื่อนดังกล่าวจะส่งผลกระทบอย่างร้ายแรงต่อพันธุ์ปลาขนาด ใหญ่ในลำน้ำโขง และจากข้อมูลทั้งหมดที่เรามีเกี่ยวกับสายพันธุ์ปลาขนาดใหญ่อย่างปลาบึก (Mekong Giant Catfish) ซึ่งเป็นสายพันธุ์ปลาอพยพ มีพบเฉพาะในลำน้ำโขง และดูเหมือนว่าจำเป็นต้องใช้พื้นที่เฉพาะในการขยายพันธุ์ ไม่สามารถแพร่พันธุ์ได้ในอ่างเก็บน้ำ การก่อสร้างเขื่อนกั้นลำน้ำโขงสายหลักย่อมส่งผลร้ายต่อสายพันธุ์ปลาดังกล่าว

ข้อ ความจริงดังกล่าวก็เช่นเดียวกับปลาขนาดใหญ่สายพันธุ์อื่นในแม่โขง ที่เรารู้ข้อมูลเกี่ยวกับระบบนิเวศของสปีชีส์เหล่านี้ค่อนข้างน้อย แต่สิ่งเดียวที่เราคาดว่าปลาเหล่านี้ต้องการคือสายน้ำที่ไม่ถูกกักกั้นและ ไหลตามธรรมชาติ

การก่อสร้างเขื่อนขนาดใหญ่ อย่างน้อยต้องส่งผลกระทบให้บางสปีชีส์ต้องสูญพันธุ์ เช่นเดียวกับกรณีตัวอย่างการสร้างเขื่อนในแม่น้ำแยงซีเกียง ที่หลังการก่อสร้าง ทำให้สายพันธุ์ปลาขนาดใหญ่สองสายพันธุ์ต้องเสี่ยงต่อการสูญพันธุ์

นอก จากภัยคุกคามจากการก่อสร้างเขื่อนแล้ว ปลาขนาดใหญ่ในลำน้ำโขงยังต้องพบภัยคุกคามอีกหลายอย่าง จนกว่าร้อยละ 80 ของสปีชีส์ปลาขนาดใหญ่พบกับความเสี่ยงต่อการสูญพันธุ์

จะดีกว่าไหม ถ้าเราหันมาศึกษาเรียนรู้พวกเขา ก่อนจะก่อสร้างโครงการขนาดใหญ่ ?

แนวทางการลดผลกระทบ
– สร้างเส้นทางเชื่อมต่อระหว่างที่อยู่อาศัยและพื้นที่ขยายพันธุ์ เนื่องจากปลาหลายชนิดในลำน้ำโขงมีลักษณะเป็นปลาอพยพทางไกล การรักษาไว้ซึ่งช่องทางในการอพยพจึงเป็นเรื่องสำคัญ

- การบริหารจัดการให้ปล่อยน้ำตามลักษณะการไหลธรรมชาติ เนื่องจากทั้งปลาและชาวประมงรอบลำน้ำโขง จำเป็นต้องดำรงชีวิตตามฤดูกาลแล้งและฝนตามธรรมชาติ การไหลของน้ำจะสัมพันธ์กับการอพยพของปลาเพื่อขยายพันธุ์ หรือการสร้างพื้นที่น้ำท่วมใหม่เป็นแหล่งอาหารให้กับปลา รวมไปทั้งชาวประมงในพื้นที่ที่คิดค้นวิธีการจับปลาที่สอดคล้องกับธรรมชาติ

- ต้องมีการทำวิจัย เพื่อใช้ข้อมูลในการตัดสินใจ เนื่องจากหลายสายพันธุ์ที่เสี่ยงต่อการสูญพันธุ์เช่น ปลาเทพา (Pangasius sanitwongsei) ที่เราแทบไม่รู้จักการดำเนินชีวิตและระบบนิเวศของมัน ซึ่งปลาดังกล่าวนับเป็นปลาที่ใหญ่ที่สุด หายากที่สุด และมีค่าที่สุดในเอเชียตะวันออกเฉียงใต้ ซึ่งหากเปรียบเทียบแล้ว ในสหรัฐฯมีการทำวิจัยเกี่ยวกับกลาแซลมอนคิดเป็น 100 เท่าของการทำวิจัยปลาในแม่น้ำโขง ทั้งๆที่การสูญเสียสายพันธุ์ปลาในแม่น้ำโขงนั้น จะส่งผลเป็นร้อยเท่าต่อระบบนิเวศและความเป็นอยู่ของคน

บทความโดย Zeb Hogan ผู้ช่วยนักวิจัยมหาวิทยาลัย Nevada (Assistant Research Professor, University of Nevada)
ต้นฉบับจาก Why We Shouldn’t Dam the World’s Most Productive River’
http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/lessons-from-the-field-mekong-giant-fish/

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