Nature conservation disrupted since pandemic started – dpa international

DUBLIN — Nature conservation has been “significantly impacted” by the coronavirus and related restrictions, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Thursday, a year to the day since the outbreak was declared a pandemic. While responses to the pandemic “temporarily slowed down human impacts upon nature,” the IUCN said, restrictions such as stay-home lockdowns and widespread travel curbs later led to “conservation work job losses among protected area rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols and environmental protection rollbacks.” Over the past year, according to the IUCN, “protected and conserved area operations were scaled down or suspended, visitor facilities closed, workplaces shut, many staff withdrawn from duty stations and supply chains disrupted.” Over half Africa’s protected areas “were forced to halt or reduce field patrols and anti-poaching operations as well as conservation education and outreach,” according to IUCN surveys.

Forest peoples accuse governments of using pandemic to damage jungles – dpa international

DUBLIN — The novel coronavirus pandemic has facilitated government-backed “economic opportunism” in the world’s rainforests, according to a report published on Thursday. Authorities in Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru “have set aside social and environmental safeguards in favour of destructive development projects that are harming indigenous communities,” said the Forest People’s Programme, a British-based organization that works with indigenous people’s representatives in dozens of countries.

Air pollution contributes to a “significant fraction” of coronavirus-related deaths

DUBLIN — Fifteen per cent of all novel coroavirus-related deaths worldwide “could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution,” according to a German-led team of researchers. Published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, the estimate is based on analysis of pollution and pandemic data by organisations including the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Harvard University’s public health school and The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmosphere Research Center. Exposure to air pollution likely aggravates “co-morbidities that could lead to fatal health outcomes of the [novel coronavirus] infection,” the research team said. Deaths linked to a combination of air pollution and Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, represent “potentially avoidable, excess mortality,” they added.

Study suggests Atlantic plastic pollution far worse than thought – dpa international

Looking out on the Atlantic over cliffs next to the Céide Fields, a landmark neolitihic site in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

LIMERICK — Plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean could be 10 times worse than previously thought, according to estimates by the UK-based National Oceanography Centre (NOC) published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Samples of Atlantic seawater taken at depths of up to 200 metres suggest the “supply of plastic to the ocean [to] have been substantially underestimated,” the NOC reported. The NOC said the volume of invisible or near-invisible microplastics “is comparable in magnitude to estimates of all plastic waste that has entered the Atlantic Ocean over the past 65 years.” The NOC’s Katsiaryna Pabortsava, the report’s lead author, said that earlier studies did not measure “the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface.”

German-registered fishing boat detained by Ireland’s navy – dpa international

The Atlantic Ocean seen from the coast of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A German-registered boat was detained overnight by Ireland’s navy for “alleged breaches of fishing regulations,” the Irish Naval Service and Irish Defence Forces said in a statement on Friday. The intercepted vessel is being escorted to port by an Irish navy ship named after poet William Butler Yeats, where it will be handed over to police, the navy said. The vessel was stopped in the Atlantic Ocean around 250 nautical miles (463 kilometres) north-west of Malin Head, the island of Ireland’s northernmost point. The waters where the vessel was detained are rich in cod, haddock, whiting and plaice, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations body.

Ireland’s seal orphans get surrogate mothers made from old wetsuits – dpa international

Beach near Westport on Ireland's Atlantic coast (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — With temperatures bobbing around an unseasonally cool 12 degrees and the usual summer storms rumbling toward the Atlantic seaboard, it’s been a busy June and July for Seal Rescue Ireland. The charity helps hundreds of injured seals who are thrown by storms onto Ireland’s craggy, wave-battered coast., wiith volunteers typically spending these months keeping an eye out for grey and common seal pups parted from their parents by soaring seas. Pups do not usually live for very long without their mothers. “If this happens before they’ve gained sufficient weight or have learned necessary life skills, they have virtually no chance of survival on their own,” says Melanie Croce, Seal Rescue Ireland’s executive director. “This season alone, starting with our first common seal pup on the 4th of June, we’ve had 20 orphaned pups that have come into our care,” says Croce.

Lockdown leads to temporary re-wilding in Malaysia, but at a cost – dpa international

Shutters down on a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Dubbed one of the world’s 12 “mega-diverse” countries by wildlife experts, Malaysia is home to an array of instantly recognizable species, many of which have been driven to near-extinction by deforestation. A Google project in 2013 showed Malaysia losing almost 15 per cent of its jungle over the previous decade – much of it cleared to make way for plantations generating the palm oil that makes up around 4 per cent of exports. Although land clearances have slowed, decades of deforestation have left marquee species – such as the orangutan and local variants of elephant, rhinoceros and tiger – listed as threatened or endangered by monitoring organizations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The animals have been granted a respite of late, with their human tormentors transfixed by an epidemic that prompted an unprecedented response: shutdown.

Singapore debates sale and slaughter of wild animals in wet markets – dpa international

Frogs for sale in a Singapore wet market (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore will consider banning selling and killing live animals in wet markets, the country’s environment minister told the legislature on Tuesday. The practice is common in parts of East and South-East Asia, but has come under scrutiny due to the possibility that the new coronavirus pandemic could have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China – or in a nearby laboratory. In Asia, a wet market is typically a bustling open-air bazaar where freshly caught fish and meat and new vegetables are sold. Amy Khor, Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, said that “international benchmarking and scientific evidence” would be used to determine the risk of transmission of dangerous viruses due to the practice.

Pandemic pummels Malaysia’s vital but controversial palm oil trade – dpa international

A handful of people outdoors in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Palm oil exports from Malaysia, the world’s second-biggest supplier, dropped by 41.7 per cent year-on-year during the month up to April 14, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali said on Thursday. The month coincided with the imposition of a lockdown aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 102 people and resulted in 6,002 infections in the country. Malaysia is expected to suffer a 2 per cent fall in GDP in 2020 due to the virus. The lockdown, which has run since March 18, has forced many businesses to close, though the palm oil sector is operating. A vital export commodity, palm oil and related products made up 3.9 per cent of Malaysia’s total goods sold overseas in 2019.

Malaysia to try counter virus impact with huge 58bn-dollar stimulus – dpa international

Beggars on otherwise near-empty streets during lockdown in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday that Malaysia aims to spend 250 billion ringgit (58.2 billion US dollars) to counter the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking on national television, Muhyiddin said the “people’s economic stimulus package will benefit everyone.” With the economy at a standstill since a lockdown was imposed by the government on March 18, the prime minister pledged around a third of the funds to support hard-pressed businesses and promised one-off cash payouts to a range of groups, including unmarried low-income earners, pensioners and bottom-tier civil servants. A recent dip in prices for export commodities such as palm oil could leave Malaysia hard-pressed find the money to pay for its mammoth stimulus, which equates to just under a sixth of the country’s estimated 370-billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP).