Climate Change: Impending dangers, debates, conflicts and negative impacts on global avifauna

January 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

The recent (November, 2014) climate change goals announced by two major global economies (US and China) for reducing 28% emissions by 2025 and 2030 by US and China respectively appear on the surface to be exciting news. However, the real consequences down the decades are doubtful. How far this will really make any significant difference to global climate justice is absolutely doubtful. None of the top industrialized nations are ready to cut down the rate of their industrial growth or switch to alternative available technologies from the fear of losing the quality of their life and slowing down their economies. The power house of global politics across the planet has been dominated by the vested interests of different industrial lobbies. An eyewash treaty may look excellent on the media platform but if there is no political will to implement them in any form other than making political and strategic gains, they will turn out into another joke like the “Kyoto Protocol” and fail to achieve anything significant with respect to abetment of global warming and climate change. Since “seeing is believing”; the world will watch with interest if any such real change is actually observed following the flamboyant announcements or whether it is yet another political joke that we are all used to.

The impending dangers of global warming are indeed a matter of great concern for all, from the tropics to the temperate in both the eastern and western hemispheres; from the unpredictable weather patterns in the tropics to the harsh Eurasian winters or melting of ice in the polar region are threatening our globe with serious consequences. If one reviews an example from the context of the Indian subcontinent, the impending danger of climate change is alarmingly exposed. The increasing sea water level in the Indian Ocean basin has been threatening several small island nations and island groups like Maldives and parts of coastal Sri Lanka, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Lakshadweep group of islands are extremely vulnerable. We have to initiate the process of engineering an advanced, detailed plan to prepare for any possible disaster mitigation in the future. Several small low lying island nations across the planet await similar prospect. Furthermore, if this be the situation for human aspect of the story, one could clearly imagine what fate waits for the helpless wildlife of these unfortunate countries that are severely impacted by climate change.

It is important to note from a historical perspective that the Western nations have been industrialized far back compared to the numerous under-developed and developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, that earned their independence and transformed into modern democracies only in the post World War II period. These countries are unfortunately still struggling to find a stronger economic foundation plagued by several problems after centuries of ruthless exploitation by the colonizers from the West. Under such appalling conditions and disproportionate global economic growth, can we ever think about anything close to climate justice? Several of these countries are in need of rapid industrialization utilizing their regional and local natural resources for stabilizing their highly jeopardized economy and have no available technology to reduce green house gas emissions. Hence, an immediate effective and efficient resolution with respect to climate change mitigation from the perspective of developing and under developed nations is a distant and unsettled dream.

One of the criticism as projected by the developing and under-developed countries against the developed and industrialized world is that lack of consideration for real life situations in the developing countries. According to this, the rosy ideas regarding climate change regulations that hovers in the mind of Western philosophers, environmentalists, activists, diplomats and politicians who had never seen anything whatsoever close to true economic hardships, abject poverty, civil wars, deaths and destruction are making important decisions for the whole planet and taking credit for this. As long as there will be this economic disparity between the developed and developing nations of the world; all fascinating ideas regarding climate change mitigation and climate justice will be a failure. The developing countries insist that they are in need of rapid industrialization utilizing their natural resources for establishing a better regional economy for their long term sustenance. The climate mitigation regulations will therefore jeopardize their economic progress and that thy lack the alternative green technologies and funds necessary for switching towards climate friendly technology and policy currently.

The developed nations who have been industrialized heavily and responsible for the major and historic share of the climate change issues do not agree to this and indicated that no such compensation funding could be provided by them based on the current global economic situations. Hence due to lack of coordination and cooperation between the developing and developed nations no concrete roadmap for climate mitigation could be actually drawn. The recent 12-day meeting at Peru (Peru Summit, 2014) by 190 nations to agree on a draft proposal for constituting a historic agreement on climate change to be signed at Paris in December 2015 and for enactment by 2020 did not reach its’ targeted objective. The developed nations informed that there will be no funds available to support the programs for climate mitigation in developing and under developed nations currently; and the developing nations blocked the motion for climate mitigation as their economies are not ready or prepared yet to handle the burden of climate change mitigation immediately. As a consequence, a dead block has been reached with no viable alternative tabled to resolve the situation with a long term sustainable and comprehensive solution, agreeable to both stakeholders.

How does it impact the global wildlife, particularly the global avifauna? The impact is unfortunately quite drastic and detrimental to the global avian life and population. Change of temperature has been found to be negatively correlated to the foraging, nesting and breeding behaviors of several species distributed across the planet both in the tropical, temperate regions. What is more disturbing is the fact that a vast majority of avian species have their habitats in the biodiversity hotspots located in the developing and under-developed countries. Unless serious, comprehensive, global effort is initiated with respect to climate mitigation a substantial number of species across the planet are in the danger of losing their habitats and hence are seriously endangered due to global climate change. Another important factor is the shortage of availability of traditional prey species for several avian members in various parts of the globe.

Climate change has seriously impacted both aquatic (freshwater, estuarine and marine) and terrestrial biomes across the planet thereby negatively impacting the food bases of several avifauna members. The life cycles of fishes and numerous smaller aquatic and terrestrial invertebrate species and their reproduction has been showing signs of transformations with respect to their population dynamics over the decades; reducing the number of several prey species, while increasing the preponderance of different pest species. The steady availability of prey species and food sources are directly related to the population dynamics of the avian species; and hence any shift in that will be reflected in the avifauna population across the planet. Furthermore, the loss of habitats are also negatively impacting the traditional foraging and breeding sites further impacting the avifauna population. In addition, some trends in the shifting of migration patters have also been noticed in some species impacting the distribution as well as the structure of the population of vulnerable species.

Climate change has been impacting regional economies; in particular developing and under developed nations are worst hit in the process. As a consequence, the anthropogenic pressures on the prime wildlife habitats and biodiversity hotspots are ever increasing with need for industrialization, agricultural expansions, extension of rural and urban areas promoting encroachment, poaching, illegal capture and underground pet trade for endangered avifauna. The roadblock in the negotiation for climate mitigation between developing and developed countries is thus having a serious effect on the life of different global avian species. Unless we get together on a common platform and agree to establish a framework for global climate mitigation pretty soon, it may be too late in terms of saving the critically endangered avian members of the planet.

Article submitted by: Saikat Kumar Basu

The Sunderbans: A fragile ecosystem with vulnerable avifauna

January 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

The Sunderbans, represents a sensitive ecological region that is split across the international boundary of India and Bangladesh in South Asia and represents an unique ecosystem unparallel to anywhere else in the world due to its spectacular mangrove forest and amazing biodiversity. Home to a wide variety of highly endangered flora and fauna the region deserves special conservation status. However, the mangrove vegetation has been negatively impacted as a result of unrestricted growth of local human population well beyond the carrying capacity of this fragile ecosystem. The majority of the population being impacted due to lack of economic opportunities is heavily dependent on the easily accessible forest resources for their daily sustenance. As a consequence, the highly endangered mangrove vegetation and the local wildlife have been seriously impacted due to anthropogenic activities such as encroachments in the restricted forest belts, non-judicious harvest of forest and riverine products, poaching and capturing wildlife, deforestation, pollution and diseases. Due to severe anthropogenic pressures, the mangrove vegetation is rapidly disappearing making this region extremely vulnerable to cyclonic disturbances from the Bay of Bengal.

Figure 1. The map of the Sunderbans.

The mangrove vegetation serves as an important natural barrier to the regular micro-climatic turbulence and fluctuations in weather pattern of the adjoining Bay of Bengal with enhanced frequency of powerful cyclones (Fig 1). The local mangrove vegetation (Fig 2) is a nature’s safeguard in the form of a protective shelter belt to the devastating cyclones impacting this region from geological past. The rapid and unrestricted destruction of this natural shelter belt is soon or later going to have serious environmental impacts in South Bengal and adjoining region including the city of Kolkata, India (Fig 3).

Figure 2. The spectacular mangrove vegetation of the Sunderbans.

Similar situation is also prevalent in adjoining Bangladesh with similar impacts. It is therefore important for all of us to realize the ecological significance of the mangrove forest and take every necessary measure to protect it from further degradation. Unless suitable monitoring and stringent laws are not applied very soon the ecosystem that has been stretched beyond its carrying capacity may be irreparably damaged. Since anthropogenic impacts are the significant factors impacting the stability of this ecosystem; as long as the economic condition of the local human populations of the region remains impoverished, very little is expected in terms of successful conservation of the fragile mangrove ecosystem.

Figure 3. Progressive deterioration of coastal mangrove vegetation due to severe anthropogenic pressure, environmental pollution and natural disasters is severely impacting the local ecosystem and its unique wildlife.

This unique global ecosystem is home to a wide diversity of avifauna such as fishing eagles or ospreys, Pallas’s sea-eagle, white-bellied sea eagles, peregrine falcons, brahminy kite, pariah kites, northern eagle owl, brown fish owl, common crow, jungle crow, white-breasted kingfisher, pied kingfishers, white collared kingfisher, black-capped kingfisher, pied kingfisher, brown-winged kingfisher, woodpeckers, drongo, common snipes, crow pheasant, magpie robin, wood sandpipers, marsh harriers, paradise flycatchers, jungle babbler, green pigeon, spotted dove, cotton teal, munia, common mynah, black-tailed godwit, sparrow, red jungle fowl, swamp partridge, Indian cuckoo, rose ringed parakeet, Rufous treepie, water hen, coot, pheasant tailed jacana, cormorant, grey heron, purple heron, green-backed heron, night heron, golden plover, pintail, egret, white ibis, white-eyed pochard, greater adjutant, Asian open billed stork, black-necked stork, herring gull, spotted-billed pelicans to name only a handful. However, the rapid and illegal encroachments and severe anthropogenic pressure has been negatively impacting the habitat of the helpless avifauna as they are proving detrimental to all forms of wildlife inhabiting this unique ecosystem.

Figure 4. Avifauna of the Sunderbans. Photo credit: Rahul Ray

Heavy rates of poaching, illegal capture of birds for both local and international, underground pet markets, pollution of the local stream and tidal creeks through toxic wastes directly released into the river without treatment and detoxification from industrial workhouses and agricultural run offs rich in toxic agro-chemicals (synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides fungicides, weedicides etc) are deteriorating the local environment and negatively impacting the fish and other estuarine and aquatic food sources which in turn is having their subsequent secondary impact on the avian population. Several of the bird species inhabiting this ecosystem are top predators and as such are severely impacted through the process of biomagnifications as a consequence of consistent and unrestricted environmental pollution. Recently ecological disasters in this region in the form of oil spillage from oil tankers travelling across the sensitive ecozone and from accidents are further deteriorating this ecosystem making the life of the local wildlife including the avifauna at the turn of a dangerous peril; Unless strict measures of conservation are adopted and the anthropogenic pressure on this ecosystem is not considerably curbed the future of this unique ecosystem and environment and its majestic wildlife and avifauna stands the chance of being slowly wiped out in the not so distant future.

Figure 5. Avifauna diversity of the Sunderbans. Photo credits: Saikat Kumar Basu, Rahul Ray, Peiman Zandi, Srimoyi Mazumder and Pallav Mukhopadhyay

Figure 6. Avifauna of the Sunderbans. Photo credits: Saikat Kumar Basu, Manorma Sharma, Rahul Ray and Srimoyi Mazumder.

Fig 7. Anthropogenic pressure on Sunderbands include growing human population, extensive and unrestricted developments in horticulture, agriculture, fisheries, small industries, tourism and increased transportation severely impacting this fragile ecosystem. Photo credits: Saikat Kumar Basu, Ratnabali Sengupta, Srimoyi Mazumder, and Pallav Mukhopadhyay.

Article contributed by Saikat Kumar Basu

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