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Injured sea turtle rescued from fishing net in Phang Nga

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PHOTOS: Jalert Jesadawal

A sea turtle has been rescued from a fishing net off the coast of Phang Nga.

Khao Lampi Hat Thai Mueang National Park officers were notified that a sea turtle was tangled in a fishing net on the shores of Natai Beach in Kok Kloi, Phang Nga yesterday afternoon.

They arrived to find the male Olive Ridley sea turtle, 62 centimetres wide and 63 centimetres long, flailing, trying to free itself from the nylon net.

The turtle already had deep wounds from the fishing net when it was found. The turtle was taken to the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC) in Phuket for treatment. Once it has fully recovered it will be returned to the seas off Phang Nga.

Injured sea turtle rescued from fishing net in Phang Nga | News by Thaiger Injured sea turtle rescued from fishing net in Phang Nga | News by Thaiger

 

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Thailand

Covid-19 outbreak contributes to elephant population decline in Southern Thailand

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The following was submitted by the Southern Thailand Elephant Foundation.

There has been a significant decline in the elephant population of Southern Thailand as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Phang Nga Province, which normally has more domesticated elephants than any other Southern Thailand province, the elephant population has dropped by a third of its normal number.

This fall in elephant numbers is linked directly to the Covid-19 pandemic and the decimation of Thailand’s tourist industry (even now there is a Covid emergency decree in place in Thailand). Without tourists to visit the elephant parks and sanctuaries that abounded in the region, there is no income and therefore no money to buy food for the elephants.

The realisation that the Covid-19 lockdown would affect the tourist industry for the long term meant that many mahouts had little choice but to return to their homes and families, many of which are in the north of Thailand. Of course, they took their elephants with them, and so, at least for now, Southern Thailand has been depleted of its elephant population.

Some owners transported their elephants to Surin, a major elephant centre in northern Thailand, from where some government support is being provided during the pandemic. But this is a journey of more than 1,200 kilometres and many owners cannot afford the cost of a truck ride for their elephant over such a distance.

Most of the elephant parks and camps in Southern Thailand are now closed, and some will never reopen. Only a few parks or sanctuaries are still operating, and these are managing to care for their elephants only as a result of their own fund-raising efforts. Some of these parks have even taken in other elephants from owners who were struggling to feed them. Adult elephants drink around 100-200 litres of water a day and consume 200-300 kilograms of vegetation, costing more than 400 baht a day to feed.

When the lockdown first came to Thailand, many elephant parks in the region had closed almost overnight and simply told the elephant owners to remove their animals. But these owners were mostly mahouts who had one or two elephants contracted to a tourist park.

Without any income from the park, the mahouts were left struggling to feed their elephants and they had no money to send back to their families. Aware of the impending crisis as the parks closed their doors, the Southern Thailand Elephant Foundation stepped in to provide food for the elephants in need.

Our ‘Feed the Starving Elephants’ campaign, which ran from April to July last year, raised more than 1.7 million baht and our volunteers on the ground in Southern Thailand delivered over 700 truckloads of food. As the drift north began last summer, and the number of elephants in the region declined, the foundation was able to wind down its campaign.

When tourists eventually return to Southern Thailand in significant numbers, hopefully, the elephants will return too. For so many people, the chance to get up close, stroke, and feed these magnificent creatures is the highlight of their holiday.

 

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Environment

Mekong unseasonal water levels endanger nesting birds in Thailand

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An egg from a flooded nest in 2018 (Image: Bueng Kan Rak Nok)

The following story was written by Tyler Roney for Third Pole, a “multilingual platform dedicated to promoting information and discussion about the Himalayan watershed and the rivers that originate there.”

Just 50 metres from the Mekong, in the shadow of a discarded plastic cup, a lone chick sits camouflaged on the sand. It is a newly hatched small pratincole in Bueng Kan province, northeast Thailand.

“I recorded 15 nests on the beach, smaller numbers compared with previous years,” says Ratchaneekorn Buaroey, a member of the Bueng Kan Rak Nok conservation group, who recorded the chick in February​. “I have serious concerns about the declining of (small pratincoles and little ringed plovers) because the nesting ground is impacted by the Mekong mainstream dams.”

Small pratincoles (Glareola lactea) mate for life and, like other vulnerable birds on the Mekong, lay their eggs in the sands of the October-May dry season. But in recent years, hydropower dams have contributed to unseasonable water levels.

Ratchaneekorn and her husband, Noppadol​ Buaroey, have been monitoring the birdlife of Bueng Kan for 12 years, noting the eggs of beach-nesting birds on the banks of the Mekong. This year, Ratchaneekorn says, the waters have been so low that this area of the bank has not flooded. In contrast, in 2018 nests holding 21 bird eggs were flooded, more than half the active eggs Bueng Kan Rak Nok recorded here.

Unnatural Mekong

“These birds require several months of low water to incubate their eggs and rear their chicks. With the unseasonal water levels, the nests are unpredictably flooded,” says Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok from the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand. “The river needs to be dry during the right season and flooded during the right season. Otherwise, species that have relied on such seasonal rhythms for centuries will gradually go extinct.”

There are 12 operational mainstream Mekong dams upstream of Bueng Kan, 11 in China, and one in Laos, and more mainstream dams are in various stages of planning and development in Laos.

“Sudden releases of water from Chinese dams during the dry season have rendered the Mekong almost unrecognisable from the river it once was,” says Phil Round, regional representative of the Wetland Trust and research associate at Michigan State University Museum. “Many eggs and small, still flightless young are washed out and destroyed.”

The 2021 dry season has been unpredictable, largely driven by the maintenance and testing of China’s Jinghong dam site close to the Thai and Laos borders.

According to data from the Stimson Center, a Washington DC-based think tank, levels below the Jinghong have been spiking up and down since December, the result of hydropeaking operations. This is when, because of demand peaking during the day, the turbines are shut off overnight with water release restricted until demand spikes the next day. Brian Eyler of the Stimson Center says the Jinghong hydropower plant is responding to local energy demand in Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna prefecture.

The principal affected species along Thai stretches of the Mekong are small pratincoles, of which there may be fewer than 1,000 pairs, and river lapwings, with perhaps fewer than 100 pairs, Round says, adding that the little ringed plover and red-wattled lapwing are similarly affected.

“We actually need some properly structured studies of the impact of dams on birds so as to have a more precise idea of what is taking place,” Round says. “I am not aware that anybody is looking properly to assess the damage.”

The economic impacts of upstream dams – the salinisation of the delta or the decline of Tonle Sap’s fisheries – are having drastic consequences for people along the Mekong, but large areas of the region lack reliable bird surveying, particularly in Cambodia.

One of the rarest Mekong birds is the river tern (Sterna aurantia), which has decreased in number by 80% in Cambodia in the past 20 years, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). In February, WWF announced that the Mekong population of the river tern had doubled in five years despite disruptions to the river, aided by local conservation efforts. Despite this, river terns, as well as black-bellied terns, have already disappeared from the Thai and Laos stretches of the Mekong.

“There are some stretches of the lower and mid-Mekong that are not so well surveyed for birds in Cambodia’s northeast provinces and southern Lao People’s Democratic Republic, but likely of importance based on recent data,” says Dr Ding Li Yong, Flyways Coordinator for Asia at BirdLife International, adding that human encroachment has already endangered many species. “There are now very few stretches of undisturbed parts of the Mekong where these riparian birds occur in any number.”

Thailand and Cambodia are home to the Mekong’s only endemic bird species: the Mekong wagtail, which was not confirmed as a species until 2001. The Oriental Bird Club lists the Mekong wagtail’s chief threat as the construction of dams.

Data and the Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle at Chiang Saen, where Thailand’s border meets with Myanmar and Laos, sits downstream of 11 of China’s hydropower dams on the Lancang (China’s section of the Mekong). The area is also upstream of the Thai-built Xayaburi dam. In northern Laos there are plans for dams at Pak Beng, Pak Lay, Luang Prabang, Sanakham, and Pak Chom – all with varying levels of Chinese involvement in development and construction.

Mekong unseasonal water levels endanger nesting birds in Thailand | News by Thaiger

“The stretch between Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong, in particular, has changed drastically. The water level is unnaturally high during the dry season, reducing the exposed sandbars which used to be filled with small pratincoles and other birds,” says Ayuwat.

For Thailand’s conservationists, Chiang Saen’s section of the river has long been a point of contention with China, exacerbated by long-term plans to blast stretches of the river to increase navigability.

Chiang Saen is also the location of the Mekong’s uppermost near-real-time monitoring station outside of China, the vanguard for determining the water levels from China’s upstream dams. The Stimson Center’s Mekong Dam Monitor uses a combination of satellite data, and water and weather monitoring.

Prediction of little value

“The Mekong Dam Monitor is capable of issuing alerts for sudden releases or restrictions from the Jinghong dam 48 hours prior to the effects of those releases or restrictions hitting Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong,” says Brian Eyler.

Combined with China’s Lancang-Mekong data portal, predictions for sudden rises or falls downstream are accurate within a few centimetres. However, prediction is so far of little value to bird conservationists.

“[Predictive data] wouldn’t be helpful if we can’t negotiate with those who are in control of the water flow. The key to reducing environmental impacts on both birds and other animals is to let the Mekong river run naturally,” says Ayuwat. Birds like the small pratincole lay eggs that hatch in around two to three weeks and remain flightless for weeks after, so any water on the banks during that time will destroy the nests.

Birdwatchers congregate in Chiang Saen at Nong Bong Kai Non-Hunting Area in the winter months to see harriers roost. Eight kilometres away stands the gaudy Kings Romans Casino in Laos, a monument to Chinese financial and cultural influence in the country. Dams financed by China face little resistance in Laos, and Thailand and other riparian countries contend via the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an entirely advisory body.

“The government should create platforms for downstream civil societies to participate or negotiate with China,” says Teerapong Pomun, director of the Mekong Community Institute (MCI) and Living River Siam Association (LRSA). “We cannot let just the government or MRC do it because they have limitations and agendas. Civil society is an important factor to balance the power and fill the gaps.”

One of the most pressing dams for Thai conservationists is Sanakham in Laos, just two kilometres from the border with Thailand. Laos plans to sell the power generated to Thailand, so the Kingdom finds itself in an uncommon position of being able to stop its construction by refusing to sign a power purchase agreement.

Two hundred kilometres away from where the Sanakham dam is planned, Ratchaneekorn and Noppadol Buaroey count little ringed plovers and small pratincoles by marking their nests and noting their eggs. “I have been monitoring the Mekong’s birds for 12 years,” says Ratchaneekorn. “And I’ll continue to work to raise awareness of the ecological impacts from the Mekong mainstream hydropower dams.”

 

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Thailand

Biochar could solve smoke pollution problem in Chiang Mai

Neill Fronde

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FILE PHOTO: Could biochar clear Chiang Mai's smoky skies?

The emerging technology of biochar may be at the forefront of dealing with Chiang Mai and its globally infamous smoke and air pollution. After another terrible burn season where the air quality was rated among the worst in the world, Chiang Mai is often rated the most polluted city in the world.

As scientists worldwide tackle climate change, Chiang Mai stands out as an example of how animal agriculture is a major and often overlooked part of the climate crisis. While coal burning and gas-guzzling automobiles tend to get the most attention in the climate change debate, food production is a massive contributor to the problem.

Michael Schaefer, an American university professor now running Chiang Mai’s Warm Heart Foundation explains that as people earn more money, they want to indulge in costlier foods such as meat and dairy. With the increased demand for these animal products comes an equally increased need for the staple crops that feed these animals like corn.

Corn growth has become a linchpin of farming in Chiang Mai as well as Myanmar and Laos. This farming feeds animals like chickens and pigs, whose consumption is unlikely to wane in popularity anytime soon. But burning the waste from the corn to feed livestock is what creates Chiang Mai’s massive smoke problem.

Corn is an inefficient crop with only 22% of the plant being edible making the amount of waste to be burned off problematic. The husk, cob, and corn stock have to be cleared before you can plant the next year’s crop. Other methods of clearing the land like tractors or hand picking are just too time-consuming and inefficient when a fire can do the job quickly.

The Warm Heart Foundation has proposed turning this waste in Chiang Mai into biochar, a version of charcoal that’s far more eco-friendly. Biochar can be used to make smokeless briquettes for our barbecues, as well as soil decontaminant and fertilizer. By using the waste from the burn off to create byproducts farmers can essentially have a secondary income source.

Creating biochar does not require expensive high-tech machinery, as smokeless incinerators can be built out of old oil drums or livestock feeding troughs. Putting that carbon-rich biochar back into the soil in Chiang Mai will last for thousands of years and remove it from the atmosphere.

Animal agriculture and food systems contribute 25 to 30% of the greenhouse emissions in the world according to the Our World in Data project from Oxford University. Agriculture accounts for half the usable land on the planet and 77% of that land is farming livestock, even though the animals raised only provide about 18% of the calories the world’s population consumes. Half of all the farming harvests go to feed these animals being raised for consumption. Animal agriculture also uses 15 times more land, 13 times more water, and 11 times more fossil fuel to generate protein.

It’s not a perfect solution for the environment, but a step in the right direction as converting the world to a plant-based diet is not likely anytime soon. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that farmlands roughly the size of North America and Brazil combined could be returned to nature if everyone stopped eating meat.

Letting nature take its course is still the best way to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but without a vegan revolution, this is not likely. If Chiang Mai could start using this biochar production model it would remove hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere and create more fertile fields allowing farming land to potentially be decreased and returning some land to nature.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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