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Threatened Ecosystems

Threatened Ecosystems

An active and integral role in conservation

The ethos of Frontier is to help protect valuable sites of global biodiversity, important to us and to the whole ecosystem. Ecosystems host habitats for a huge variety of endemic and endangered species, and are refuges for important medicinal plants and new species, as yet unknown to science.

The threats to these sites are ever-increasing with the constantly growing human population and our exploitation of natural resources. Without fast action to protect these sites, many habitats, species and potential medical cures could be lost for ever.

Frontier is undertaking research out in the field at this very moment, working to protect these valuable sites. The section below outlines some major ecosystems Frontier are currently surveying, explaining some of the many complex reasons they are under threat.

Coral Reefs – Fiji, Madagascar, Tanzania

The coral reef systems found in tropical environments host some of the highest marine biodiversity sites on the planet. However they are commonly over exploited for their fish resources and the intensity and methods of fishing practices are causing irreparable damage.

Dynamite fishing is one of the most destructive fishing practices, causing massive losses in all marine species. Sedimentation from agricultural land runoff and pollution from a variety of sources cause additional harm.

The work of Frontier in coral reef environments involves biodiversity surveying in each site to assess the extent of damage in that area. The collected data is essential to prove the need for protection, for example designating the site as a marine park or site of special scientific interest.

Examples of past successful outcomes include Mafia Island, located off the Tanzanian coast. Here Frontier carried out ongoing marine surveys from 1989 – 1995, working in conjunction with the University of Dar Es Salaam and the Ministry of Tourism, Natural Resources and Environment, Tanzania and the Tanzania National Park Authority. Park staff were trained in ecological surveys, with awareness raising in the local community; essential to promote and encourage the practice of sustainable fishing and resource use. By 1995 a management strategy plan had been designed and set up for the Mafia Island Multi-User Marine Park, using data from Frontier survey work.

Savannah - Tanzania

Ever increasing clearing of savannah plains and low-lying woodland is occurring at an alarming rate to provide farmland, forestry and firewood extraction. This is having negative impacts on wildlife conservation in these areas by disturbing the migration routes of many large mammal species during the wet season. These animals migrate from the low-lying floodplains, across savannah into the dryer hinterland, providing refuge during the wet season when the plains become inundated.

The savannahs and woodlands provide an important habitat throughout the year for a variety of mammal species. For large game species: elephant, water buffalo and waterbuck, it is a principal refuge during the wet season, for others, such as sable and baboon it is the primary dry season habitat while for certain species it is vital habitat throughout the year, e.g. for pigs, duikers and dikdiks.

Frontier has worked in a savannah region of Tanzania known as the Kilombero Valley since 1998, tracking and monitoring large mammals to provide comprehensive biodiversity assessments. Frontier has been working alongside large teak companies, using results to recommend areas of lowest impact for teak plantations. In this way the species dependent upon the savannah habitat will be affected to a minimum by human interference within the area.

As part of Frontier's work it is essential to train local communities and park staff in sustainable management and conservation practices, while raising awareness of the importance of these practices. In this way the local inhabitants are encouraged to independently continue sustainable management, protecting the biodiversity of their homeland into the future.

Tropical Forests – Cambodia, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Madagascar

Rainforests are one of the most economically rewarding natural resources known to man, and therefore suffer from intense destructive practices on an enormous scale.

They suffer logging for valuable timber and clearing of land for agriculture - both grazing and plantations, for example the vast swathes of sugar palm across Indonesia and Malaysia. Almost every tropical forest suffers deforestation to a lesser or greater extent, and the ramifications of these practices are being felt on a global scale.

Destroying these carbon dioxide sinks is contributing to global warming and intensifying flood risks to low lying land and coastal areas. On a smaller scale, sedimentation of rivers is increasing the frequency and intensity of flash floods, silting up estuary mouths and damaging coral reefs and mangrove ecosystems.

However, the loss of thousands of undiscovered floral and faunal species and their potential benefits to man is an overlooked, yet major impact of deforestation.

Therefore protecting these tropical forests and their associated biodiversity is of utmost importance to the future of the planet.

Research in Tanzania's Eastern Arc mountains recently completed by Frontier has discovered almost twenty species new to science, including amphibians, lizards, chameleons, snakes, and small mammals. Research in South West Cambodia recently initiated by Frontier is exploring the baseline biodiversity of Botum Sakor National Park. This has also been highly successful so far, with twenty new tree species and six butterfly species discovered in 2006 alone. Many more unexpected species of reptiles, amphibians, small and large mammals and birds are being discovered in the area, found on the IUCN red list (endangered species) and contributing to the species inventory.

In addition, on both these projects Frontier is running socio-economic surveys into the main areas of resource use, training and education in sustainable forestry practices and awareness raising in the importance of sustainable management within the area.

Mangroves – Tanzania, Madagascar, Fiji

More than 35% of the world's mangroves are already gone, with those in the Americas being cleared faster than the rate of deforestation. They are unique ecosystems and play a variety of important roles in their natural environment.

Mangroves host valuable fish stocks and support many arboreal mammal species, birds and invertebrates. They provide protection from coastal flooding and erosion by buffering storm waves and tidal influxes. The local community are often reliant on the fish and wood resources and practice centuries-old fishing and harvesting methods.

This resource use has been sustainable in the past but due to the increased intensity, frequency and area of harvesting, these practices cannot continue in a sustained manner.

The major threats to mangrove systems today include pollution from fertilisers and pesticides, clearing for agricultural land, aquaculture and salt farms, as well as settlement and harbours. Over fishing and over harvesting for firewood, construction materials and animal fodder is a major problem, reducing the mangroves at an alarming rate. Indirect effects from processes along the coast and upstream also threaten mangrove systems. Dams and irrigation are two common anthropogenic alterations which reduce the water levels, thus increasing the salinity beyond the survival threshold for mangrove systems. Drying out of the mangroves is an additional side-effect. Deforestation upstream causes increased land erosion, runoff and sedimentation of the river bed and mangroves, smothering the roots and preventing the specialised nutrient filtering ability. In addition, destruction of coral reefs reduces buffering from tide and wave action which removes nutrients and fine sediment and prevents rooting of seedlings. Finally, climate change is a major disaster for low-lying mangrove systems, with rising sea levels causing a real threat.

Many Frontier projects have incorporated mangrove surveys and research into their uses and threats from the local community. Current research in Tanzania and Madagascar is focussing on the biodiversity of their fauna and flora to establish their potential as an ecotourism attraction, and encourage the preservation of these unique ecosystems.