Page 1


 many fish such as parrotfish, surgeonfish and damselfish, as algae can be cultured on them. In addition useful chemicals can be extracted from them. The pharmaceutical industry greatly depends on them as they provide novel compounds such as prostaglandin, and others, which are used in producing anti-cancer drugs. They also help in the manufacture of cement and concrete. Furthermore they produce tourist revenue through snorkeling, diving, and fishing.

INTRODUCTION We find it hard to comprehend large spaces, just like we find it hard to grasp smallest details. Its just the way the human brain works. Our survival was never really reliant on the minutest detail or the large oceans and atmosphere. That has changed. While we are slowly coming to the realisation that we can change the makeup of the vast atmosphere and the acidity of the oceans, we are yet to fully grasp the ecological disasters already playing out in our plant and animal life. That is because it is happening in small sizes but at large scale.

For corals to survive and function normally the optimum temperature of the ocean must be between 18°C and 29°C, the carbon dioxide levels must be below 350 ppm and the water must be devoid of turbidity. Since coral reefs are fragile, even a modest change in any of these survival factors would be detrimental. Unfortunately there has been a considerable change in climate and this is having a great impact on the corals.

Extinctions of types of plants and animals are progressing at an unprecedented rate. While large mammals remain symbolic of the threat to biodiversity, it is the small animals, the humble bee for example, which our very food chain relies on. Plant species lost forever due to deforestation could contain medical cures and agricultural solutions. Climate change and other forms of natural habitat destruction is wiping out genetic complexity and biological functions that often took millions of years to develop. We don't really understand what this means for our own future food chains and our resistance to diseases. This issue of the newsletter is dedicated to the challenges of BioDiversity. Sometimes its the small details that will come back to bite us.

Sea temperatures in many tropical regions have increased by almost 1°C. Reef-building corals contain plant-like organisms called zooxanthellae that live symbiotically within their tissue. Zooxanthellae provide their coral host with food and oxyge and in return, the zooxanthellae receive nutrients, carbon dioxide, and an enemy-free shelter. This symbiotic relationship has been critical to the success and evolutionary radiation of corals and to the development of reef ecosystems. When summertime water temperatures are just a degree or two warmer than usual for a few weeks, this delicate symbiotic relationship breaks down and the zooxanthellae are expelled, often leading to the coral’s death. The phenomenon is called “coral bleaching” because the coral appears to turn white after the zooxanthellae loss.

Gaurav Gupta, Director, TCP-India

MARINE BIODIVERSITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE Coral reefs are the most spectacular, diverse and beautiful of all marine habitats. They have dominated tropical oceans for 200 million years and are often known as ‘oases’ of the ocean. In India there are 206 known species of corals, which can be found in the reefs present in the Indian Ocean in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep Islands, Gulf of Kutch, and Gulf of Mannar. Besides their aesthetic charm, coral reefs are also crucial to the environment and economy. They act as habitats for various invertebrates such as conch, squid and octopus. They are a source of food for

Ocean warming can also indirectly increase coral mortality by magnifying the effects of infectious diseases. This is because elevated water temperatures can induce physiological stress on the


corals, and it can reduce the immunity levels making the corals more susceptible to diseases. One of the most prevalent diseases is white syndrome and it has severely damaged the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

mortality is of utmost importance to us and we must begin to protect conserve and save the most fascinating marine creation of the planet now! Jahnavi Shah, Volunteer, TCP-India 1

Another factor that is significantly affecting the corals is ocean acidity. Because carbon dioxide is a soluble gas, it is rapidly absorbed by seawater, and anthropogenic carbon dioxide has accumulated in the world's oceans. The limestone or calcium carbonate, structures of coral reefs are constructed by coral animals from the calcium and carbonate dissolved in seawater. The increasing acidity of the ocean is reducing the amount of carbonate available in seawater, and it of concern that these changes in 1 the chemistry of the ocean are reducing coral cover.


Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, 2007. The Encyclopedia of Earth, 2008

CLIMATE CHANGE, BIODIVERSITY AND HEALTH What is the nexus between climate change, biodiversity and health? How does a rise in temperature affect health? Climatic factors influence the emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases, in addition to ecological multiple human, biological, and determinants. Climatologists have identified upward trends in global temperatures and now estimate an unprecedented rise of 2.0°C by the year 2100. Of major concern is that these changes can affect the introduction and dissemination of many serious infectious diseases.

Climate change and ocean acidity have some grave irreversible impacts on the reefs. One of the most direct effects is that the rate of coral mortality greatly increases. Based on surveys in the 1960s and early 1970s and recent studies of relatively “pristine” reefs, it appears that historically, coral cover has 2 reduced by 50-60% . It also affects the reproductive ability of the corals. Due to this, the population of reefs significantly decreases over a period of time. In addition to this, the loss of zooxanthellae causes a drastic reduction in the productivity of the coral since zooxanthellae controls primary production. This makes the corals weaker as they are less calcified than usual and this in turn reduces its chances of survival.

The World Health Organisation estimates that the warming and precipitation trends due to anthropogenic climate change of the past 30 years already claim over 150,000 lives annually. Many prevalent human diseases are linked to climate fluctuations, from cardiovascular mortality and respiratory illnesses due to heatwaves, to altered transmission of infectious diseases and malnutrition from crop failures Infective agents and their vector organisms are sensitive to factors such as temperature, surface water, humidity, wind, soil moisture, and changes in and forest distribution. This applies particularly to vector-borne diseases (e.g. malaria).

If temperatures continue to rise then the future of the coral reefs looks very bleak. Even under moderate greenhouse scenarios, present and future increases in sea temperature are likely to have severe effects on the world’s coral reefs within 20-30 years. Most coral reef systems are predicted to experiencing near-annual bleaching events by the year 2040. Some coral reefs (e.g. Caribbean, South-east Asian) 2 may even reach this point by 2020.

Malaria is a parasitic infection spread by Anopheles mosquitoes. The Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria is neither a virus nor a bacterium - it is a single-celled parasite that multiplies in red blood cells of humans as well as in the mosquito intestine. When the female feeds on an infected individual, male and female forms of the parasite are ingested from human blood. Subsequently, they meet and mate in the mosquito gut following which infective forms are passed into another human when the mosquito feeds again. Higher temperatures boost the mosquito reproductive rate, lengthen their breeding season and make them bite more

Since all these happenings have not been occurring in our visual range we have not paid them any attention and have taken it for granted that they will not have a major impact on our lives. But in thinking this way we are being misled. For the issue of coral


frequently. Higher temperatures also shorten the time it takes for the pathogens the mosquitoes carry to mature to an infectious state. The graph below compares the transmission window of malaria in India in 2000 and 2080.

illnesses, such as cholera and shellfish poisoning. Human migration and damage to health infrastructures from the projected increase in climate variability could indirectly contribute to disease transmission. Human susceptibility to infections might be further compounded by malnutrition due to climate stress on agriculture and potential alterations in the human immune system caused by increased flux of ultraviolet radiation.

Many vector-borne diseases that are likely to be affected by climate change have been ranked by WHO as the most important tropical diseases in the world. The human impact of these diseases is enormous. They affect productivity and cause a vicious spiral of poverty and disability. The distribution and seasonality of many of these diseases may be influenced by climate change. Increases in temperature would tend to accelerate vector life cycles and would also decrease the incubation period of the parasite or virus.

Rodent population is also influenced by climate anomalies. Prolonged droughts deplete rodent predators (owls, snakes etc), whereas rains provide new food supplies. The Hanta Virus is a deadly respiratory disease carried by wild rodents. With global warming, the population of rodents will soar because there will be long periods of drought followed by warm, early spring, and rodents thrive in these climate conditions. If a person comes in contact with a rodent or if one breathes air that contains their waste you could get the virus. Dogs and cats are not known to carry the Hanta Virus. People most likely to get it are people who work in fields, or install and fix things in basements or attics where rodents can nest.1

Fig: Malaria Transmission Window in 2080

Climate Change also affects algae. The growth of algae in surface waters, estuaries and coastal waters is sensitive to temperature. About 40 of the 5000 species of marine phytoplankton (algae) can produce biotoxins, which may reach human consumers through shellfish. Warmer sea temperatures can encourage a shift in species composition of algae towards the more toxic dinoflagellates. It is also seen that growth of algae potentiates the transmission of cholera. Electron microscopy has shown that algae and the zooplankton that feed upon them provide a natural refuge for Vibrio cholerae, where, under normal conditions, the bacteria exist in a nonculturable, dormant state. An increase in sea surface temperature, along with high nutrient levels (eutrophication) that stimulate algae growth and deplete oxygen, can activate the blooms and vibrios. Sea surface temperature in the Bay of Bengal is correlated with algal blooms and outbreaks of cholera in Bangladesh. Climate variability and change may thus influence the introduction of cholera into coastal populations. 2

The incidence of mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria, dengue, and viral encephalities, are among those diseases most sensitive to climate. Climate change would directly affect disease transmission by shifting the vector's geographic range and increasing reproductive and biting rates and by shortening the pathogen incubation period. Climate-related increases in sea surface temperature and sea level can lead to higher incidence of water-borne infectious and toxin-related

It is evident from the above cases that changes in temperatures facilitates growth in diseases. If this rise in temperature continues, what will happen to India with the 2-degree rise in temperature? Will cities shut down for days on end as it is happening


due to swine flu? It is in our hands to control the carbon levels if we want our future generation to live in a cleaner surrounding. If each of us do our bit, there is a surely a definitive chance for a greener tomorrow!

rising water levels ensuing from glacial melt, a pattern that is repeating throughout Ladakh. This ecosystem shows more than the vulnerability of a single bird to changes in climate. The same rise in temperature that is diminishing the Black-Neck’s habitat is threatening the crops that provide food for the local population. The Times of India recently interviewed Leh Balaji, Divisional Forest Officer for Ladakh, who observed “The crops are in peril due to locust attacks from China. It might result in a faminelike situation any time”.

Supriya Rao, Project Manager, TCP-India 1 2

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, USA. Canadian Medical Association Journal, September 2000.


Climate change is such a complicated and encompassing threat that we often try to break the impacts down into manageable chunks – agriculture, human health, water. But when talking about biodiversity, I think it’s worth remembering that global warming simultaneously threatens both animal and human habitats.

Every spring, the Black-Necked Crane migrates south to breed, resting on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayan regions of India. Surrounded by cold and dry desert peaks, high altitude wetlands like those around Tsomoriri Lake play host to around 600 of these birds.

The two images below are not often put next to each other. The first shows the mean species abundance, with the red and orange sections representing a reduction of between 70 to 90%. The second shows projected changes in agricultural capacity by 2080 where the red areas have undergone a 15 to 50% reduction. They illustrate how ecosystems are not separate green reserves where environmentalists can walk bare foot in the grass. They encompass and make possible civilization. When one suffers so does the other.

The Black Neck has a spiritual significance to Himalayan communities. Its image can be found in temples across Ladakh; whilst in Bhutan, the return of the cranes signifies the start of the growing season and is marked by a festival. The winter wheat is not planted until the first specks of white and black are seen circling on the mountain winds.1

Mean Species Abundance in 2080

But the glaciers are melting. The local temperature in Ladakh has risen by 1 degree C over the last 35 years, a trend that is expected to continue. Also taking into account localized particulate pollution from the diesel generators that sustain tourists in the region, the ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) expects 35% of the glaciers to disappear over the next 20 years. 2 With only some 5500-6000 individuals left, the Black Neck is now classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The islands in Lake Tsomoriri where it makes its nest are falling victim to


continent. India is home to two thirds of the tiger population with an official figure of 1,411 tigers, of which around 500 are found in the Sunderbans, a 26,000 sq. km of low lying swamps on India’s border with Bangladesh; making it the largest single population of tiger in one area.

Source: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

Projected Changes in Agricultural Productivity in 2080

Unfortunately tigers are also extremely threatened and their population is shrinking at an accelerating speed. According to a recent finding climate change is threatening to push the Royal Bengal Tiger on the verge of extinction over the next six decades.1

Source: UNEP

Richard Strauss, Volunteer, TCP-India 1

International Crane Foundation 2007 ‘Dirty air, lack of water threaten Ladakh’ Times of India, July 2009.


A recent study by WWF predicted that the tiger population would significantly drop as a direct fallout of climate change and corresponding rise in the sea level which would lead to habitat loss.


Take for example, the Sundarbans. In 2000 there were 102 islands, but in 2002 there were only 100. Some parts of the Sunderbans have lost up to 2.5 km of their lands to the sea. On average islands have lost 48% of their land. Reports that the sea levels in West Bengal are rising at 5 mm per year. The new phenomena of Super Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal pose a huge threat to the security of the mangroves and the tigers. When the Sunderbans was hit by the Tropical cyclone Aila this year the endangered Bengal Tigers, was inundated with 20 ft of water. Many animals including the tigers are reported to have drowned.

Since time immemorial tigers have been regarded as a powerful symbol of reverence among the variety of cultures that have commanded respect, awe or fear from their human neighbours . A cat of beauty, strength, and majesty, the tiger is found in a wide range of habitats ranging from the evergreen and monsoon forests of the Indo-Malayan realm to the mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands of the Russian Far East and the mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans, shared by India and Bangladesh. According to the WWF today only about 4000 tigers are left in the wild. Of the eight original subspecies three tiger subspecies, the Bali, Javan, and Caspian tigers have become extinct in the past six decades. The five different kinds or subspecies of tiger alive in the world today are - Siberian, South China, Indochinese, Bengal, and Sumatran.

Tiger Conservation experts are of the view that endangered tigers in the world’s largest reserve are turning on humans because rising sea levels and coastal erosion are steadily shrinking the tiger’s natural habitat. Rapidly rising sea levels have led to an increase in the salinity within the mangroves and degradation of the habitat. Due to this increased salinity, tigers begin moving up north to find fresher water and more secure habitats. However, as they

The Indian tiger is the most numerous of all tiger subspecies and is found throughout the Indian sub



move northward, they find themselves in the domain of humans and this gives rise to tragic tiger-human conflicts. When the sea levels rise, tiger’s most common prey like crocodiles, fish and big crabs, dwindle making it difficult for the tigers to survive.

The Green Jobs Fair will be the start of a national movement to promote awareness and action for supporting the next Green economic revolution. Helping to bring about and maintain a transition to environmentally sustainable forms of production and consumption, a green job could be anything from an architect helping to design energy efficient buildings to a rural woman practicing sustainable farming.

One of the major causes of climate change is deforestation. 25 per cent of India’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation. When forests are logged or burnt, carbon is released into the atmosphere, thereby increasing the amount of greenhouse gases and thus accelerating climate change has posed serious threat to tigers -a century ago there were 40,000 tigers in India; there were 3642 in 2002 but today only 1411. Protecting the tiger is the need of the hour; its time we come together and help protect this strong, yet vulnerable creature.

The Fair is being promoted by TCP-India and the Sierra Club, and will soon be joined by a coalition of partners representing a spectrum of civil society and business. This event is being organized in conjunction with India’s first Habitat Summit, which seeks to paint an alternative sustainable future for urban development. The summit and the Fair will cross fertilize each other with ideas and participants. The aim is to reach out to university level students and people interested in a green job. Our partners in this effort are the India Habitat Centre, the Urban Habitats Forum, and the Sustainability Planet Institute.

Jaspreet Arora, Analyst, TCP-India The statistics used in this article are taken from


For more information log on to


Jahnavi Shah has completed her 10 grade and is here with us for two months after which she is going to go to United World College, Pune for high school. 

You can reach us at or +91 22 32223320

CORRECTION The picture depicted in the article ‘A forest in our midst’ in the June 2009 newsletter was taken by our Civil Society trained presenter Mr. Chinmai Hemani. TCP-India apologizes for not mentioning his name last month and thanks him for the beautiful image. 


The Climate Monitor - July 2009  

The monthly newsletter for The Climate Project India.