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Posts Tagged ‘wetlands’

Photo: Jaime Rojo/WorldWildlife.org.
“Life here for us is very fulfilling,” says Elizete Garciada Costa Soares about the Brazilian wetland. “We have fish to eat; we have bait to sell to make money for other necessities. Even if we don’t have money for meat, we can go out on the river to fish and bring back a piranha to eat with manioc flour.”

Without actually realizing it, we’ve accepted the message over the centuries that subsistence living is undesirable. But back before capitalism, having enough for food and shelter — and something to sell if a few extras were needed — could make a pleasant life. In some parts of the world it still does.

Jill Langlois writes at World Wildlife Magazine about people who build good lives from South America’s huge wetlands.

“By the time Elizete Garciada Costa Soares wades into the deep, warm waters of the Paraguay River, the sky is usually black. The tiny crabs and bait fish called tuvira, which she captures with a metal screen, come out at night, long after the hot sun that washes over the Brazilian Pantanal has set.

“It takes Soares at least an hour to reach the best spots to fish for bait, where the tuvira and crabs hide under the thick green leaves of the water hyacinths that float on the river’s surface. She’ll be gone for at least three or four days, so she brings a tent to pitch along the riverbank. Later, she will sell the bait to other fishers, usually in the nearby town of Miranda.

“Soares is well aware of the dangers of her profession — she’s had her fair share of run-ins with jaguars and anacondas in the 26 years she’s been heading out on the river to fish. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“ ‘Life here for us is very fulfilling,’ says Soares of herself and her husband. ‘We have fish to eat; we have bait to sell to make money for other necessities. Even if we don’t have money for meat, we can go out on the river to fish and bring back a piranha to eat with manioc flour. Here, we never go hungry.’

“At just over 42 million acres, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland, created by the convergence of more than 1,200 rivers and streams rushing down from the eastern Andes and the high plateaus of the Cerrado, the vast tropical savanna to the east. More than 10 times the size of Florida’s Everglades, it stretches across the borders of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Its primary waterway is the Paraguay River, which meanders through the three countries before joining the Paraná River and flowing into Argentina.

“The Pantanal is a landscape of extremes. Acting like a giant sponge, the upper part of the basin retains floodwaters from October to March, providing natural flood protection for the millions of people who live downstream. It then slowly drains between April and September, leaving discrete pools teeming with wildlife and providing life-giving water long after the rains have gone.

“This seasonal rise and fall, the pulsing of water in and out of the surrounding landscapes, is responsible for the wetland’s significant biodiversity. Though often overshadowed by the Amazon, its neighbor to the north, the Pantanal is home to more than 4,700 plant and animal species, including fig and ipê trees, jabiru storks, capybaras, and caiman. …

“In addition to being an environmental jewel, the Pantanal is also a tremendous resource for people, says Lucy Aquino, director of WWF-Paraguay: ‘The Pantanal is one of the most important regions in the world, in terms of services provided to humanity, and one of those regions that supplies food to the world.’

“For now, the Pantanal is relatively intact, sustaining more than 270 communities — 1.5 million people — in addition to its flora and fauna, and helping to stabilize the climate throughout the region and beyond.

“But while much of the Bolivian Pantanal is protected, the overwhelming majority of the wetland, lying in Paraguay and Brazil, is not. In all, conservation areas represent just 4.6% of the Pantanal, and its headwaters in the Cerrado are at particularly high risk.

“In recent years, roads, water management systems, hydroelectric dams, large-scale mines, farms, and cattle ranches have begun to change the dynamics of the wetland, threatening the region’s integrity. In addition to poorly planned infrastructure, mining, and agricultural development, the region faces other threats, including the lack of basic sanitation and the construction of canals for navigation.

“Moreover, by the end of the century the Pantanal is expected to be much drier and hotter, with potentially devastating results, including extreme droughts and floods, and the possible shrinking of the wetland as a whole. In the absence of a holistic vision, unsustainable development threatens to limit the Pantanal’s ability to function and to adapt to climate change, putting homes and habitats at risk.

“There is a tension between communities’ needs for development — for sanitation services and clean drinking water, for example, along with roads and hydropower dams — and the costs of such development to the ecosystem and people alike. But development done right, well-designed and sustainable, would contribute to the wetland’s conservation, says Julio Cesar Sampaio da Silva, who leads WWF-Brazil’s work in the Cerrado and Pantanal. …

“ ‘Considering the Pantanal as a shared territory and developing strategies for shared management — creating a truly shared vision for the region — is fundamental to having effective conservation of these natural resources,’ he says. …

“In 2018, the three countries formally signaled their shared commitment to sustaining those resources when they signed a landmark trilateral agreement known as the Pantanal Declaration. …

“Citing the importance of the wetland to those well beyond its boundaries, WWF-Bolivia director Samuel Sangueza-Pardo calls the agreement

‘a decisive step in integrating Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay’s joint commitment to maintain this ecosystem, which is fundamental for the welfare of more than 10 million people.’ …

“For Pantanal residents like Elizete Soares, that kind of commitment provides hope for the future of the only home they know. ‘The Pantanal, for us,’ says Soares, ‘is everything.’ ”

More at the World Wildlife, here.

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Photo: Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Australian wetlands researchers behind the Feather Map invite citizen scientists to send feathers and include an explanation of where the feathers were found.

I recently saw a great quote on twitter from a Rhode Islander about what he learned years ago when he visited post-apartheid South Africa: “I learned that the power that you have to change big things is entirely about how strong of a community you can form.”

That quote came to mind as I was reading about how researchers in Australia are enlisting the enthusiasm of citizen scientists to address the challenges of wetlands protection. That may not sound as important as ending apartheid, but wetlands are expected to play a big role in the fight against global warming.

Livia Albeck-Ripka had a report at the New York Times.

“One day in April 2016, Kate Brandis opened a weathered envelope, mailed to her from suburban Sydney. Instead of a letter inside, she found the feathers of an Australian white ibis. A day or so later, another envelope arrived, stuffed with more feathers. In the days following, more began to come.

“Soon, Dr. Brandis, who is a research fellow at the University of New South Wales’s Center for Ecosystem Science, was receiving three to four envelopes a day containing the feathers of birds from across Australia, including those of pelicans, wood ducks, cormorants, herons and spoonbills. …

“Two years before, she had put out a call to the public to send her fallen feathers of wetland birds so she could analyze where they came from, in an effort to map how the birds are moving between the country’s disappearing wetlands. …

“Wetlands — which include swamps, marshes, lakes, mud flats and bogs — are biodiverse ecosystems that can improve the quality of water and mitigate damage from flooding and pollution. But since the beginning of the 20th century, some estimates say, more than half the world’s wetlands have been lost, largely because of human activities. …

“Now, the impacts of climate change — which can include less rainfall in some areas, changing river flows and flood patterns, and potential saltwater intrusion into inland bodies of water — are further threatening some of Australia’s wetlands, and the birds that rely on them for breeding. …

“ ‘When our floodplains flood, which is only every couple of years, these birds come together in the hundreds of thousands to breed,’ Dr. Brandis said. But when the water recedes, the birds disband. …

“Where do the birds come from, and where do they go afterward? ‘Because we don’t track our birds, we have no idea,’ she said.

“Traditional tracking methods, like banding birds, have not fared well in Australia. … Many birds, like the ibis, have a high mortality rate. Another factor is simply Australia’s size: Inland birds often go to places where people do not.

“For that reason, Corrie Kemp, a 73-year-old retiree from Queanbeyan, New South Wales, made a special effort to collect feathers for Dr. Brandis’s project from among the most remote corners of Australia, in western Queensland. ‘We made a point of going places where no other people where going,’ Mrs. Kemp said, adding that she and her husband, Peter, had devoted an entire three-month trip to collecting feathers, during which she kept a diary of her discoveries and often corresponded with Dr. Brandis. …

“Bird feathers, like human hair and nails, are made of a protein called keratin. As the feathers grow, the keratin keeps a record of the bird’s diet, much like the rings of a tree. By analyzing a section of a feather, Dr. Brandis and her team can get a snapshot of the bird’s diet while the feather was developing.

“Feathers from chicks — which have spent their entire lives at one wetland — are particularly useful to researchers, providing what Dr. Brandis and her team call a ‘fingerprint’ of each place. By comparing the diet record of adult feathers against this information, researchers hope to map which wetlands the birds have been using, and how healthy those wetlands are. …

“Dr. Brandis said the possibilities were endless when studying animals’ tissue for clues about their environments, their habits and their origins. ‘It’s like the tip of the iceberg.’ ”

Read more about the Feather Map of Australia here and here.

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Photo: Simon Peter Fox 
Deakin University researchers bury the first of 50,000 teabags to be placed in wetlands around the globe as part of a project to monitor which wetlands do best at soaking up the carbon that causes global warming.

It’s reassuring to know that people will keep doing whatever they can for the environment no matter what. The increased carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming will not go away by itself. One approach to breaking it down could come from preserving wetlands.

Melissa Davey writes at the Guardian about Australian scientists who are using Lipton green tea bags and red tea “rooibos” bags to study how wetlands capture carbon and make it harmless.

“Australian scientists have launched a project to bury tens of thousands of teabags in wetlands around the world. …

“Lipton green tea and red tea ‘rooibos’ varieties will be used in the project, which already involves more than 500 scientists in every continent except Antarctica.

“Leader of the project, Peter Macreadie from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab, said wetlands were important for carbon capture and storage, a process known as carbon sequestration, holding up to 50 times as much carbon by area as rainforests.

” ‘But some wetlands are much better at carbon storage than others, and some are in fact carbon emitters, so they’re not all fantastic,’ Macreadie said.

“ ‘We need to find out the best wetland environments for carbon sequestration so we know where we should invest our energy.’

“That’s where scientists have come up against barriers in the past. There are hundreds of thousands of wetlands around the world. A standardised technique for monitoring the carbon is needed for accurate comparison, and monitoring devices can cost thousands of dollars to install.

“But Macreadie had been reading scientific research about teabags being buried and used to measure the rate at which carbon was being released from soil into the atmosphere.

“Fast decay of the tea inside the bag meant more carbon was being released into the atmosphere, while slower decay meant the soil was holding the carbon.

“ ‘I thought, “Jeez this is a bloody good idea. Why aren’t we using it in wetlands?” ‘ Macreadie said.

“ ‘People think of innovation as involving fancy new technology, but sometimes the best ideas are the most simple ones.’ ” More here.

I wonder if this property of tea relates to another thing I’ve noticed. Loose tea seems to absorb the aroma of whatever is around it. I’ve often thought that if you wanted to remove, say, a burned smell from upholstery or clothing, tea (not brewed) could do the trick.

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