The United States recently announced a ban on importing Burmese Pythons and transporting the snakes across state lines. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement at a flood control pumping station near the Florida Everglades with Florida Senator Ben Nelson and Florida Wildlife Commission officials as they held aloft a recently captured 13-foot python. The ban also affects the yellow anaconda and northern and southern African pythons.
The Burmese python is the most prevalent “invasive species” in subtropical Florida. Native to southeast Asia and considered one of the six largest snakes in the world, Burmese pythons are one of many invasive species that start out as seemingly harmless pets. At a young age, pythons can measure less than a foot in length. But within a matter of years, they typically grow to be 12 feet long, and in some cases closer to 20 feet. The enormity of the snakes, and the effort involved in caring for one, has led many pet-owners to let their pythons loose in the wild.
The increasing disposition of the pythons to the Everglades has led to an overabundance of pythons that the fragile ecosystem simply cannot handle. Producing an average of 12 to 36 eggs per female each year in March and April, needless to say the species is thriving. According to the US Natural Park Service, over 1330 Burmese Pythons had been captured by the end of 2009, and the numbers seem to be getting worse each year. Their diet often consists of endangered birds and mammals, but pythons are known to have attacked and eaten alligators, as well as swallowing entire deer.
A February 2008 report published by US Geological Survey scientists concluded that, by the end of the 21st century (based on global warming predictions and climate modeling for the snakes’ natural habitat), Burmese Pythons could migrate and flourish in one-third of the continental United States. Although a more recent study using different ecological modeling has attempted to contradict this claim, the Pythons’ growing numbers in Florida is worrisome. Hopefully the recent ban is enough to halt the species’ rapid territorial expansion and keep the already fragile Everglades ecosystem intact. –Raffi Simel
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Our friends over at EthicalTraveler.org have selected ten developing countries to make up its annual list of The Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Travel Destinations.
Over the last half century, as developments in commercial aircraft and information technology have been taken advantage of and used more widely, the world has become increasingly interconnected. This fact has brought opportunities for global adventurers to travel like never before. However, the typical traveler’s limited resources don’t allow him or her to travel to every destination in the world: We must choose, and for the sake of the planet we must choose responsibly. To do so, we must understand and maximize our power as consumers, using our dollars and sense to financially support the most ethical destinations.
But what qualities do the folks at Ethical Traveler look for when measuring the world’s most ethical travel destinations? The primary factors they take into consideration include Environmental Protection, Social Welfare and Human Rights. After weighing the scores of hundreds of destinations around the world, the countries to be congratulated this year (in alphabetical order) are:
The folks at Ethical Traveler have an incredibly in-depth ranking procedure that compares data from sources such as Freedom House, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the World Bank, and many other environmental indicators such as the Socioeconomic Data & Applications Center and the Environmental Performance Index, just to name a few. The data is also examined over time, to determine the growth of these destinations in these critical areas.
Many countries that did not make their 2012 list ranked very high on one or two of the aforementioned criteria, such as Environmental Protection or Social Welfare, but failed to meet the standards on the others, such as Human Rights. The countries selected for the Best Ethical Destinations list really have to have the whole package: The highest rank went to The Bahamas, followed by Chile.
In Environmental Protection, Costa Rica had the highest marks– the only developing country in the world to score in the “100-85” category in the Environmental Protection Index (EPI). Chile scored particularly high in environmental protection as well. Namibia has been thought of by many environmentalists as one of the most environmentally progressive countries in Africa, but they have not been included on Ethical Traveler’s list because of their horrific fur seal slaughter rates. Hopefully they will end the annual wildlife massacre soon, and be included on next year’s list.
Social Welfare included indicators such as child mortality rates (Serbia and Latvia scored particularly well), access to safe drinking water, malnutrition, vaccinations, as well as sustainable water and agricultural management.
Perhaps the most interesting criteria, though, was Human Rights. The Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Palau and Uruguay received the highest possible scores in Political Rights and Civil Liberties. Rights for homosexuals also proved to be critical in consideration for the rankings. Argentina’s senate passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage (the only Latin American country to do so). Nations such as Ghana, Belize and Guyana have incredibly impressive records in environmental standards and boast a lot of travel appeal, but their anti-gay statutes are stringently enforced and for that reason alone they were removed from consideration.
While all of the country on the EthicalTraveler.org list would be excellent destinations to visit, the indirect aim of their ranking system is to urge travelers to become more mindful of how powerful their travel choices can be, and what those choices say about their personal priorities. We here at Green Global Travel hope that you’ll take these factors into consideration in your future travel plans, and perhaps you’ll prioritize visiting one of the great destinations on this list. –Raffi Simel
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The nation of Ecuador is heading a controversial fundraising initiative to keep their Yasuni-ITT region of the Amazon– arguably the most biodiverse region in the world– out of harm’s way. In order for the country not to drill oil from the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin blocs of the Yasuni National Park, they have asked the international community to pledge $3.6 billion (approximately half of what the oil would be worth) to the United Nations Development Fund.
The South American country– long considered at the forefront of environmental conservation thanks to its management of the Galapagos Islands– recently revealed that they’ve raised $116 million for the initiative at the turn of the year, just over the $100 million mark needed to keep the initiative alive. Some of the donors thus far have included other countries, such as Turkey, Chile, Columbia, Georgia, Australia, Spain and Belgium. Italy has agreed to forgive $51 million of debt from Ecuador to be put towards the initiative, one of the largest single donations. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa has contributed $40 million of his own winnings from a recent lawsuit he won over an opposition newspaper. Other donors include environmentalist Al Gore, and movie stars including Leonardo Dicaprio and Edward Norton.
Why are these countries and celebrities lining up to donate to what some would consider environmental blackmail? Because the stakes are too high not to. The Yasuni-ITT initiative will prevent an estimated 410 million tons of C02 from entering the atmosphere, safeguard indigenous populations, and protect one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. Research has shown Yasuni National Park contains the highest number of species in the western hemisphere based on data on birds, mammals, amphibians and plants. Up to 655 different tree species grow in a single hectare there– more than in all of the U.S. and Canada combined.
According to Hugo Mogollon, executive director of Finding Species (an NGO that works in Ecuador), “The Yasuni-ITT Initiative is pioneering. It is a serious effort to keep megadiverse forest intact, coming from the office of the President of Ecuador. Governments of the region and around the world should really want to support this.” At some point, governments around the world need to recognize that the long-term economic benefits of sustainable business practices far outweigh the short-term gain of commercial exploitation of natural resources. Perhaps this is a roundabout way of achieving just that.
Whether you agree with Ecuador’s methods or not, the country is managing to keep one of the most diverse regions in the world safe from oil drilling, not to mention initiating hundreds of millions of dollars worth of donations towards world development. Hopefully, other nations are taking note… –Raffi Simel
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Australian black-tip sharks are smaller than their more common cousins and can only live in warm tropical waters. But a team of Australian research scientists have found numerous generations of the hybrid species more than 2,000 km away off the continent’s east coast, where the waters are significantly cooler. Genetic testing done during cataloguing field work showed that some sharks who appeared to be one species were, in fact, something else altogether.
According to lead researcher Jess Morgan of the University of Queensland, the study (which was recently published in Conservation Genetics) suggests that the Australian black-tip shark may be adapting to ensure its survival as sea temperatures rise. “If it hybridises with the common species it can effectively shift its range further south into cooler waters, so the effect of this hybridising is a range expansion,” Morgan said in a recent interview. “It’s enabled a species restricted to the tropics to move into temperate waters.”
Further studies will be necessary in order to understand whether this new hybrid species is stronger than its Australian ancestors, but the team’s research found that hybrid sharks accounted for nearly 20% of the total black-tip population in certain areas. The results of the study are challenging traditional notions about shark species, and has led to speculation that a similar phenomenon may be occurring in other parts of the world.
“It’s very surprising because no one’s ever seen shark hybrids before: This is not a common occurrence by any stretch of the imagination,” Morgan said. “This is evolution in action.” –Bret Love
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Recent news stories have suggested that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest over the past year has been lower than it has in several decades. But 175 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon– an area larger than the state of Texas– is in serious threat of being stripped to make way for agriculture and cattle ranching.
Brazil’s longstanding forest protection code is in jeopardy of being revised as members of the Brazilian House and Senate are rushing the proposed changes through the government. What’s most troubling? “Input from scientists, researchers, family farmers and social groups has been systematically ignored,” says World Wildlife Fund-Brazil’s CEO Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito. “You cannot argue that a law favors Brazil’s development and well-being when so many leading experts say otherwise. The entire process has defied common sense.”
The implications of the revised code are astounding. Brazil has made commitments to cut their greenhouse gas emissions growth curve by 40% and their rate of deforestation by 80%. If the revised code passes, the country’s environmental goals will become an empty promise. But the revision is not only troubling for Brazilian eco activists: Global goals will be put at risk as well. In a worst-case scenario, 25 billion tons of CO2 will be added to the atmosphere, which is four times the global reduction goal under the Kyoto Protocol during 2008-2012.
With the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics all on the the way to Brazil, the country must understand that their environmental reputation is at risk here, as much of the world will be looking on with a watchful eye. Only a few steps remain in the lifeline of the revised code. The bill is headed back to the House of Representatives for a final vote and then will be sent to the President for approval or veto in the next few weeks. Let’s hope that Brazil’s leaders realize that they cannot push the revised forest code forward while simultaneously attempting to position the country as a global environmental leader. –Raffi Simel
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