Friday, March 29, 2013


Ecuador is the first country to recognize Rights of Nature in its Constitution.  Trees, animals, rivers – entire ecosystems – have the constitutional right to exist and flourish.  A great first step for humanity towards intelligent change.  Here are some images of Ecuador:

Magnificent frigatebird (Isabela, Galapagos)

 Common Gallinule (Isabela, Galapagos)

 Snowy egret (Guayaquil)

 Sally lightfoot crab (Santa Cruz, Galapagos)

Sea lions (Isabela,  Galapagos)

Tall cactus forest (Santa Cruz, Galapagos)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Youth climate seminar Egypt-Germany

Introduction to Climate Change and how YOUth can become the solution

Do you care about the environment? Would you like to make a change in people‘s behaviour and in the government‘s regulations?

Deadline for applications is March 31st!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ocean Cleanup Array

19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.


Water is fundamental to basic human needs. This includes not only safe drinking water and decent sanitation for all, but also food security. Water is central to socio-economic development, poverty reduction and sustainable economies. And water is fundamental to sustaining all terrestrial, wetland, coastal and marine ecosystems, the life they support and the benefits they deliver to people.

The hydrological cycle involves interaction between water, the physical landscape and the ecosystems they support. The functioning of ecosystems determines the flow, storage and quality of water. Therefore, sound ecosystem management and water management are intricately linked. Accordingly, we are seeing increasing emphasis on the role of ecosystems as solutions to addressing water related challenges. Ecosystems are being considered as “natural infrastructure” because of the way they can deliver water management outcomes similar to those of man-made infrastructure, sometimes by substituting built infrastructure but, more usually, by augmenting it to make the most efficient use of both approaches. Examples include using the water storage abilities of wetlands to help manage flood risk, using forested catchments to deliver clean drinking water supplies and to reduce erosion risks and, in farming systems, improving the vegetation on soils, and the biodiversity within them, to improve water availability for crops, increasing resilience to droughts and reducing run-off.

These attributes of biodiversity, and the ecosystem services underpinned, are well recognised in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, especially Target 14 that, by 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, are restored and safeguarded. Natural infrastructure approaches also deliver other significant benefits, in addition to those relating to water; such as to tourism and recreation, fisheries and helping to achieve biodiversity conservation outcomes. For example, restoring a wetland to protect people and assets in cities from flooding brings benefit to water-birds, fish and other fauna and flora that in turn bring added benefit to people.

The theme of World Water Day this year is Water Cooperation. We are all water managers. Each time we turn on a tap or buy food we are responsible for a small element of the much larger water management cycle. The responsibility to manage water extends across sectors, governments, countries and individual citizens and should be considered as an activity that requires cooperation and integration from local to international levels. Similarly, the appropriate management and protection of biodiversity is a shared responsibility. The relationship between management of water and biodiversity should not be one of conflict: there are significant win-win outcomes to be gained.

It is well established that sound water management is complex and requires an integrated, multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach. A wide range of government agencies, civil society organisations, private sector concerns and individuals are involved. But water resources and biodiversity are usually managed in separate sectors, each focused on meeting specific objectives, rather than as part of an overarching framework that balances different water or biodiversity uses to optimize and share their various benefits across society and the economy. Cross-sectoral and systematic  approaches are needed to consider and initiate the use of natural infrastructure in order to achieve water security, including gaining climate resilience and rebalancing water distribution.

We are, however, seeing a significant shift to cooperation at the water and biodiversity interface, facilitated by a focus on the mutual objective of sustainable development. Biodiversity specialists have learnt to better understand the real and immediate problems being faced by water managers and users and, by offering solutions to such problems, there is a reciprocated understanding of the role and importance of biodiversity planning and management. Water managers and users are increasingly recognizing that the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity are indeed relevant to them and to the problems they address. Recognition of the common interests of various stakeholders is a cornerstone of effective cooperation.

Let us further build on this, not only today, but tomorrow, and until we achieve the future we want.

Images by Michael Leveille 2013


Forests sustain human well-being through a multitude of ecosystem services, including water purification, provision of oxygen, and spiritual and cultural benefits. For many indigenous communities, forest biodiversity is fundamental to their culture and identity. Forests have an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, combating desertification and building resilience of ecosystems and people, including to natural disasters.

Globally, forests remove about 15 per cent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere every year. Tropical forests cool the Earth by evaporating immense volumes of water and creating clouds that reflect sunlight back into space. The Amazon rainforest alone releases around 8 trillion tonnes of water vapour to the atmosphere each year.

We mark the first occasion of the International Day of Forests as the world’s forests are facing immense pressures. In the coming decade, we need to do nothing less than to reverse the trend of deforestation and forest degradation and begin to restore forests worldwide as to maintain the biodiversity of the world’s forests for the well-being of present and future generations. The good news is that the international community has made the commitments to do so.

In October 2010, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a new Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for the period 2011-2020, with twenty clear and measurable targets. Five of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are particularly relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity.

In Target 5, the international community aims to at least half, and where feasible bring close to zero, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests. It also calls for a significant reduction in degradation and fragmentation. Target 7 aims that, by 2020, areas under forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity. Target 11 aims that at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas.

Target 14 aims that ecosystems which provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local  communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

And Target 15 aims that, by 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks is enhanced through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems.

Restoration is part of the plan for forests globally. Biodiversity of degraded forests can often be successfully restored if the factors that lead to forest degradation can be effectively controlled. Restored forest landscapes provide food, water, shelter and many other essential ecosystem services.

Intact forests can provide cost-effective “insurance” against the impacts of climate change. For example, nature can defend coastal communities against the effects of storms and natural disasters if coastal ecosystems are intact. Compared to hard infrastructure, such as seawalls and levees, restoring mangrove forests is much more affordable for protecting large coastal areas and requires less maintenance.

On this first International Day of Forests, let us see both the forests and the trees, appreciate their value to communities, and take the actions needed to ensure that they and their biodiversity remain healthy, resilient and rich for future generations.

Images by Michael Leveille 2013

The Inside Story

A report urging that the attitudes and perceptions environmental criminals be taken into account by all stakeholders in environmental crime.

You can read and download the report at

Monday, March 25, 2013

The beauty of Galapagos!

 There are few places like this on Earth.  A magnificent frigatebird keeps watch high over the village of  Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.

 A great blue heron hunts along a beach, with little fear of humans.

 The rare lava gull

 Wild tortoise

 Marine iguanas on lava rock.

 Sally lightfoot crabs enjoying the sun.

 An eel hunts in the shadows.

Sea lions enjoying the beach on Isabella.

 The raw power of the Pacific Ocean!

We can learn from what is being done in the Galapagos.  Our species can live side-by-side with the natural world.  Images by Michael Leveille

Monday, March 18, 2013

Youth in South America experiencing Biodiversity

Students from St-Laurent Academy in Ottawa, Canada are visiting South America this week.  The goal of this trip is to experience biodiversity in a big way!  Plans include visits to Inca sites and the famous Galapagos Islands. 

CITES: Rhetoric and tiptoeing around elephant poaching

Given that the elephant poaching crisis was at the forefront of the minds of all at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES as never before, what was actually done by CITES to stop the killing of elephants across Africa?
The actual outcome was far short of what was expected and, indeed, what was needed to secure the fate of elephants.

Stage 1: Big talk (63rd meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, March 2, 2013)

When the CITES proceedings began on March 2, 2013 with the 63rd meeting of the Standing Committee, gripping speeches were delivered about “the elephant poaching crisis”, the “unsustainable” levels of elephant mortality for trade, “organised crime” and the need for “time-bound measurable action” to stop the killing and the illegal trade in ivory.
Shockingly, throughout the proceedings, there was one word that was avoided like the plague by the Parties – “China”.
This was a bizarre state of polite tiptoeing around a country, China, which had been “heavily implicated” as a destination for illicit ivory.
Despite official information presented to CITES about the laundering of ‘illegal’ African elephant ivory into domestic ‘legal’ ivory markets in China and Thailand, and despite an assessment that “any future decline in illicit trade in ivory will depend upon the actions taken by China and Thailand to deal with outstanding problematic issues in their ivory markets”, there were NO calls from governments to shut down the LEGAL domestic markets for ivory in both China and Thailand.

This blatant lack of pressure from the international community on China and Thailand is particularly appalling for several reasons, including 1) the flourishing ‘legal’ market in China for African elephant ivory was enabled by CITES Parties themselves when they decided in 2008 to allow certain African countries to sell ivory to China in a “one-off” sale that has had devastating impacts on African elephants, and 2) Thailand has for several years now been making tall claims to CITES about changing its domestic legislation to tackle illicit ivory trade in Thailand, although such action has not been forthcoming. Indeed there was much ado about the Thai Prime Minister’s inauguration speech where she said that as “a next step” the country “will work towards … the goal” of putting an end to ivory trade and to be in line with international norms.
Frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, I will refrain from applauding the Government of Thailand for something they ought to have done years ago and have still not done – inaction which has lead to a burgeoning haven in Thailand for criminals smuggling ivory.

Stage 2: Denial, or looking the other way (CITES CoP16 Proceedings)

The progress that we did manage to achieve at the CITES conference included adoption of a recommendation that Parties report annually on government-held ivory stockpiles; adoption of a decision that Parties involved in ivory seizures of 500kg or more should collect and submit DNA samples from the ivory seized to an appropriate forensic analysis facility samples; and adoption of a resolution for implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan. These measures, if implemented effectively, will significantly help with combating the ivory trade.
Shockingly, although nine Parties identified as being of ‘secondary concern’ and six Parties identified as being of “importance to watch” were subject to a decision that directs the Secretariat to develop country-specific actions and deadlines on ensuring significant progress by July 2014 on the implementation of measures to effectively control trade in ivory and ivory markets, CITES CoP16 did not specifically address the roles of two Parties of “primary concern” ie, China and Thailand.
In addition, Parties failed to take stock of the impact of the previous ivory sales they had authorised and while on the one hand they called for actions to reduce demand for ivory, on the other they initiated the establishment of a decision-making mechanism for “a process of trade in ivory” that is expected to be adopted at the next Conference of the Parties in South Africa.
This mechanism will pave the way for adopting criteria and processes for future trade in ivory. But why did the CITES Parties not nip this in the bud in the face of the worst elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade levels, and a recognition that DEMAND is driving the poaching of elephants? As I said, denial and looking the other way.

Stage 3: Too late (64th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, March 14)

It turns out the heart of the discussion on how to address the role of “primary concern” countries including China and Thailand was left to the very last minute, after the conclusion of CITES CoP16, in the CITES Standing Committee meeting that followed.

Such a meeting is typically for mundane housekeeping purposes and therefore lacks any significant attendance by Parties and NGOs. And so it happened that when most delegates had already left for the airport and the conference centre was mostly empty but for farewell hugs, photographs and organisers wrapping up, from about 5.30 pm in a barely half-full meeting room CITES discussed actions required by primary implicated Parties to curb the poaching and illegal trade in ivory.
No surprise at all that the Chair of the meeting concluded that there wasn’t much time to discuss this issue in great detail and they had to wrap up as it was getting late.
In brief, China and Thailand were bundled in along with other countries of ‘primary concern’ and they were all asked to submit “national ivory action plans” by May 15, 2013 aimed at reducing illegal trade in ivory and to report on implementation of these plans in July 2013 to the 65th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in Geneva.
The decision adopted yesterday does not articulate what goes into these plans, whether they will be made public, whether there is anything CITES can do if the Parties submit meaningless documents as such plans. While the Secretariat reported that some Parties had submitted ‘draft’ plans to the Secretariat during the course of the meeting ,these drafts have not yet been made publicly available.
To conclude, what did CITES do in Bangkok to address the role of China and Thailand in ivory trafficking? It simply asked them to decide what they would like to do and then submit reports on it.
This is the way CITES deals with a “crisis”.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The global treaty charged with ensuring wildlife is not commercially exploited to extinction[1] fell short of putting the breaks on poaching of elephants, tigers, and rhinos at its biannual meeting that closes today in Bangkok.
Poaching and trafficking of elephants, tigers and rhinos is at crisis levels, yet domestic trade is still allowed and international trade in the body parts of these critically endangered animals is still being negotiated. 
Some experts and governments are sending mixed messages to consumers, traders, and the law enforcement community,” said Steven Galster of FREELAND.  “They are advocating for demand reduction efforts on one hand, while discussing legalisation of trade in endangered species on the other.  It's like putting water on one side of the fire of extinction, and gas on the other.
The bans on international commercial trade in products made from elephants, rhinos and tigers initially worked well, allowing all three species to rebound in wild.  Unfortunately, approval and continued negotiations of so-called “limited legal trade” in elephants and rhinos has rekindled what had been a dying market for ivory and rhino horn.  Trade in tiger skins and bones is also still going on in China, permitting legal trade in skins from captive-bred tigers to supply a growing luxury market for exotic home décor.
“Trade bans work – unless they are sabotaged,” said Avinash Basker of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.  In Basker’s home country India, the demand for elephant ivory for use in making religious items and wedding bangles has been drastically reduced thanks to the government’s laws, law enforcement and public-outreach efforts.
The mixed messages coming out of the Bangkok meeting confuse consumers and encourage criminals, putting elephants, rhinos, tigers and the people who protect them in grave danger.  “Criminals all along the supply chain, from poachers to smugglers to retailers, are watching what happens here,” said Mary Rice of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency.  “It is time for this treaty to get back to its founding precautions and to stop experimenting with the fate of endangered wildlife.”

[1]  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was created in 1973 and came into effect in 1975.  As of 12 March 2013, 177 countries had become CITES Parties.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


CITES lists endangered wood in bid to halt booming illegal trade

BANGKOK, THAILAND: Granting international protection to threatened Siam rosewood is a major step towards saving the species from extinction and curbing the explosion of violence around illegal trade in the precious wood.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has been supporting the efforts  of  the Thai Government to secure listing for Siam rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), currently meeting in Bangkok.

Today, the 177 member countries of CITES agreed to the listing by consensus.  

“This is a significant step forward for this desperately threatened species,” said Faith Doherty, head of EIA’s Forests Campaign. “With this listing, the consumer markets will need to work with Thailand and the range states of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos to ensure Siam Rosewood is actually protected, especially as there is a logging ban in Thailand.

“Finally, we have a legal tool to use in China, the main destination and where rosewood prices on the black market are spurring a flood of smuggling and associated violence.”

Thailand’s last forests are increasingly threatened by illegal logging, the major driver of which is the multi-million dollar rosewood trade to feed China’s desire for luxury ‘Hongmu’ antique-style furniture.

The increasing scarcity of Siam rosewood has driven the prices offered by international traders to as much as US$50,000 per cubic meter; with so much money involved, official corruption facilitates the trade at every stage, from forests to the borders and ports.

Violence has become a regular feature of the trade, with increasing incidents involving exchanges of gunfire between Thai enforcement agencies and Cambodian logging gangs crossing the border to steal rosewood. Scores of deaths have occurred.    

EIA’s research indicates the illegal rosewood trade in Thailand has boomed since demand surged in China in 2007 and today’s listing agreement will compel the Chinese authorities to seize illegal Siam rosewood entering the country.

“Thailand and co-sponsor Vietnam are to be congratulated for the courage to ask for help in securing international protection for this key tree species,” added Doherty.

“With formal protection in place, EIA will now be closely monitoring the illegal trade in rosewood and looks forward to working closely with all enforcement agencies in rosewood range states and China.”