Massive road and rail projects could be Africa’s greatest environmental challenge


Bill Laurance, James Cook University

Africa’s natural environments and spectacular wildlife are about to face their biggest challenge ever. In a paper published today in Current Biology, my colleagues and I assess the dramatic environmental changes that will be driven by an infrastructure-expansion scheme so sweeping in scope, it is dwarfing anything the Earth’s biggest continent has ever been forced to endure.

People, food and mining

Africa’s population is exploding – expected nearly to quadruple this century, according to the United Nations. With that, comes an escalating need to improve food production and food security.

In addition, Africa today is experiencing a frenzy of mining activity, with most of the investment coming from overseas. China, for instance, is investing over US$100 billion annually, with India, Brazil, Canada and Australia also being big foreign investors.

To feed its growing population and move its minerals to shipping ports for export, Africa needs better roads and railroads. When located in the right places, improved transportation can do a lot of good. It makes it easier for farmers to get access to fertiliser and new farming technologies, and cheaper to get crops to urban markets with less spoilage. It can also encourage rural investment while improving livelihoods, access to health services, and education for local residents.

Improved transportation is especially important for Africa’s agriculture, which is badly under-performing. In many areas, large “yield gaps” exist between what could be produced under ideal conditions and what is actually being produced. With better farming, Africa’s yields could be doubled or even tripled without clearing one more hectare of land.

Using rudimentary methods, small-scale farmers eke out a living in Gabon.
William Laurance

Pandora’s box

However, there is another side to new transportation projects — a dark side, especially for the environment. When located in areas with high environmental values, new roads or railroads can open a Pandora’s box of problems.

Roads slicing into remote areas can lead to range of legal and illegal human land uses. For instance, in the Amazon, 95% of all deforestation occurs within five kilometres of a road; and for every kilometre of legal road there are three kilometres of illegal roads. In the Congo Basin, forest elephants decline sharply, and signs of hunters and poachers increase, up to 50 kilometres from roads.

A forest elephant shot by poachers.
Ralph Buij

In the wrong places, roads can facilitate invasions of natural areas by illegal miners, colonists, loggers and land speculators. In my view, the explosive expansion of roads today is probably the greatest single peril to the world’s natural environments and wildlife.

Africa’s ‘development corridors’

Earlier studies that my colleagues and I conducted, including a major study published in Nature last year, suggest Africa is likely to be a global epicentre of environmental conflict. A key reason: an unprecedented scheme to dramatically expand African roads, railroads and energy infrastructure.

In total, we have identified 33 massive “development corridors” that are being proposed or are underway. At the heart of each corridor is a road or railroad, sometimes accompanied by a pipeline or power line.

The 33 development corridors that are being proposed or constructed in sub-Saharan Afirca.
William F. Laurance et al. (2015) Current Biology.

The projects have a variety of proponents, including the African Development Bank, national governments, international donors and lenders, and commercial agricultural and mining interests. They’re intended to promote large-scale development and their scope is breathtaking.

If completed in their entirety, the corridors will total over 53,000 kilometres in length, crisscrossing the African continent. Some individual corridors are over 4,000 kilometres long.

Will these corridors generate key social and economic benefits, or will they cause great environmental harm? To address this question, we looked at three factors, focusing on a 50-kilometre-wide band laid over the top of each corridor.

First, we assessed the “natural values” of each corridor, by combining data on its biodiversity, endangered species, critical habitats for wildlife, and the carbon storage and climate-regulating benefits of its native vegetation.

Second, we mapped human populations near each corridor, using satellite data to detect nightlights from human settlements (to avoid lands that were simply being burned, we included only places with “persistent” nightlights). We then combined the natural-value and population data to generate a conservation-value score for each corridor, reasoning that sparsely populated areas with high natural values have the greatest overall conservation value.

Finally, we estimated the potential for new roads or railroads to increase food production. Areas that scored highly had soils and climates suitable for farming but large yield gaps, were within several hours’ drive of a city or port, and were projected to see large future increases in food demand.

Costs versus benefits

When we compared the conservation value of each corridor with its potential agricultural benefits, we found huge variation among the corridors.

A two-minute video summary of our study’s main findings

A half dozen of the corridors look like a really good idea, with large benefits and limited environmental costs. However, another half dozen seem like a really bad idea, in that they’d damage critical environments, especially rainforests of the Congo Basin and West Africa and biologically rich equatorial savanna regions.

In the middle, there are 20 or so corridors that appear “marginal”. These tend to have high environmental values and high potential agricultural benefits, or vice versa.

We argue that these marginal projects should be evaluated in detail, on a case-by-case basis. If they do proceed, it should only happen under the most stringent conditions, with careful environmental assessment and land-use planning, and with specific measures in place (such as new protected areas) to limit or mitigate their impacts.

Dangers for Africa

There’s no such thing as a free ride. For Africa, the dangers of the development corridors are profound. Even if well executed, we estimate that the current avalanche of corridors would slice through over 400 protected areas and could easily degrade another 2,000 or so. This bodes poorly for Africa’s wildlife and biodiversity generally.

Wild zebras in the Serengeti.
William Laurance

Beyond this, the corridors will encourage human migration into many sparsely populated areas with high environmental values. The wild card in all this is the hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investments pouring into Africa each year for mining. Even if a corridor is likely to yield only modest benefits for food production, it may be very difficult for governments and decision makers to say no to big mining investors.

The bottom line: it could be a fraught battle to stop even ill-advised development corridors, though not impossible. If we shine a bright light on the corridors and argue strongly that those with limited benefits and large costs are a bad idea, we may succeed in stopping or at least delaying some of the worst of them.

This is unquestionably a vital endeavour. Africa is changing faster than any continent has ever changed in human history, and it is facing unprecedented socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

The next few decades will be crucial. We could promote relatively sustainable and equitable development — or end up with an impoverished continent whose iconic natural values and wildlife have been irretrievably lost.

The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Road closures Barrington Tops & Thunderbolts Way – 13 July 2015


Stroud Community Web

Thunderbolts Way remains closed, there is no access to the New England Highway via Gloucester. There are barrier boards and road closed signs at Giro turn allowing enough room for vehicles to turn around.

Also, due to heavy snowfalls, the gates are closed at Honeysuckle, Dilgry Circle and the Dingo Gate. 4WD access only from Cobark Park picnic area to Honeysuckle picnic area and there is a Ranger at Cobark Park advising visitors and turning away 2WD vehicles.

National Parks have also advised that there is snow impacting Gloucester Tops Road and they are getting a ranger to assess it and provide us with additional details. Please advise anyone you talk to to drive carefully and to the conditions.

Scone Visitor Information Centre has advised that western access to Barrington Tops is now closed to all vehicles from Moonan Flat due to vehicle accidents.

Updates are regularly issued at

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New Zealand: Milford Sound Tunnel Axed


The links below are to articles reporting on the axing of a plan to build a road tunnel to Milford Sound in New Zealand.

For more visit:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/8930108/Government-axes-Milford-Tunnel
http://www.scene.co.nz/minister-blocks-tunnel-plan-for-milford-sound/310712a1.page

Media Release: Annual Trail Closures at Barrington Tops National Park


The link below is to a media release concerning annual trail closures at Barrington Tops National Park.

For more visit:
http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/media/OEHmedia13053003.htm

Gap Creek Falls


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

I thought I would go to Gap Creek Falls today, which is about 1.5 hours drive from where I live, in the Watagan Mountains. So you can imagine my disappointment when about 5 km from the falls at most I came across this.

Road Closed

I couldn’t believe it. So, I had to do other things which I’ll post about over the next day or so.

So what had I intended to visit and walk to? The picture below is Gap Creek Falls. My favourite place in the region and one of my favourite places in New South Wales.

Gap Creek Falls

ABOVE: Gap Creek Falls Barely Flowing BELOW: Palms at Gap Creek

Palms at Gap Creek Falls

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Bulahdelah


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

So I was right about my day when I spoke of it yesterday. Not a lot going on today, so today’s post will be more about yesterday. I hope that makes perfect sense to everyone – it sounded even worse with the original way I was going to write it (I was trying to be clever, so went for simplicity in the end).

Bombah Point Ferry

The Punt at Bombah Point On the Punt

On the Punt

To get to Bulahdelah from Hole in the Wall, you need to go via Bombah Point and the ferry service there. I guess you could also call it a punt. Many people still call it that. Anyhow, as the pictures show, it doesn’t cover a great distance. How much is the charge for this journey – at the moment it’s $5.00 AU. Seems a little excessive for something that’s over in less than 5 minutes. Still, there is a…

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Myall Lakes National Park


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

It was my first official day of annual leave from work today and of course it had to start with a good sleep-in, which I might add I’m going to try and avoid doing for the entire period of my annual leave – just the first couple of days. I have been extremely tired, so a few sleep-ins will be helpful – for my health and well being you know. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about and agree with me entirely. I take your silence as tacit agreement. Thank you for that.

Myall Lakes National Park

Once I was up I thought I should do something – so the day wouldn’t be viewed as an entire waste. So a drive to Bulahdelah was on the cards via the Myall Lakes National Park and the Bombah Point Ferry. So that’s what I decided to do, after I thought through a few more possible options for…

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Check In: Day 2 of Holiday


I have had a most interesting couple of days on the road and in the bush. Currently I’m in a motel room at Woolgoolga, near Coffs Harbour on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Australia. ‘Hardly the wild,’ I hear you say, and you’re quite right – it isn’t. The weather was beginning to change I noticed on the final leg of my day’s itinerary, so I decided to hide out in a motel room for the night – good decision, it’s pouring outside.

I won’t give all away – I’ll leave the main description of the holiday to the website – but just some of the ‘downlights’ of the first couple of days for this post.

I didn’t arrive at Cathedral Rock National Park until just on dark, but did get the tent up prior to darkness arriving – when it did, it was dark! The campfire took an eternity to get going as all of the timber was damp and by the time I got it started it was time for bed – all-be-it an early night (7.30pm). I had decided to not spend the money on replacing all of the gear I needed to replace for camping, following the loss of a lot of gear over the years due to storage, etc. I hadn’t done much in the way of bushwalking or camping for years due to injuries sustained in my car crash and a bad ankle injury, so I left it all a bit late. I figured that for this holiday I’d make do and replace the gear with quality gear before the next trip. In short, I’ll get by – but it would have been nice to have some good gear just the same. It was a very cold night let me tell you – and long.

When I reached the heights of my first walk today, standing on top of Cathedral Rock National Park, my digital camera decided to die on me. I knew there was something wrong with it during the ascent as it was really chugging away taking pictures. I did get a couple of reasonable panoramic shots on the top of Cathedral Rock before it died, so that was good. I took stills with the video camera I was using, so it wasn’t a complete loss. When I completed the Woolpack Rocks walk I made the trip to Coffs Harbour to seek a replacement and got one for a reasonable price. It’s just another compact and so I will also buy a digital SLR prior to my next trip I hope. My previous SLR was basically destroyed when the camera cap came off during a multiple day bushwalk and all manner of stuff got into it. It wasn’t digital so I didn’t bother repairing it.

So tomorrow – off to Dorrigo National Park I hope and several lengthy walks I haven’t done before. Hopefully the rain will clear.

 

NSW Road Trip 2010: A Few Thoughts From the Road


It is now day 5 of the road trip and I have already covered almost 3000km. As you can appreciate covering that amount of territory in 5 days doesn’t leave a lot of time to Blog, especially when I have been trying to keep the website updated as well.

See the NSW Road Trip 2010 website at:

http://www.kevinswilderness.com/NSW/nswRoadTrip2010.html

What I thought I might do in this Blog is just pass on a few thoughts that have come to me while I have been driving around this great state of Australia – New South Wales. Let’s call this post, ‘A Few Thoughts From the Road.’

I have often thought that the governments of this country are wasting a great opportunity in promoting tourism in Australia. With such great distances to travel in Australia, wouldn’t it be great if the governments came up with an action plan to improve the rest areas throughout the country. Certainly some of them have been upgraded to a wonderful state – but then there is a lack of maintenance.

Many of the rest areas I have stopped at in the last few days have no facilities at all. Often they are nothing more than an overloaded garbage bin on the side of a road, with limited space in which to park.

To cut a long story short, I think Australia’s tourism industry would get a great shot in the arm if rest areas were improved across the country. It would also be good if hey could be located somewhere with a good view, an attraction, a small park for families, etc.

To go a step further (and this is perhaps pie in the sky), wouldn’t it also be great for the many Australians that drive throughout the country on camping/caravan holidays, if a percentage of these rest areas had some limited facilities for tents and caravans as well?

Perhaps a lot more people would travel around the country if such improved rest areas were created. There would also need to be some plan to keep the maintenance of these areas up to scratch also.

Another thing that militates against the travelling tourism that is fairly popular in Australia (it could be far greater), is the condition of many of the caravan parks across the country. To be sure, there are some excellent parks – but there are also a large number of parks that charge top dollar for run down facilities and grubby grounds. These poor operators need to lift their games to provide good facilities for their customers or they won’t get the return business that caravan parks depend upon. They need to spend a bit of money in order to make money.

I won’t return to a caravan park in which I had a bad experience – whether it be top dollar for run down facilities, poor service, poor attitudes of operators, etc. Some of these places just have no idea how to run a successful caravan park.

More thoughts to come – these will do for today.

Holiday Planning: NSW Road Trip 2010


The planning for my holiday is now well and truly underway, with the holiday now being referred to as my ‘NSW Road Trip 2010.’ There is also a website address for viewing my itinerary and for following my progress. It has been a rushed process in the end, organising this road trip, so there will yet be some changes to the itinerary.

I am expecting changes in far western NSW due to road conditions, especially given recent weather conditions out that way, including the widespread rain and flooding that has taken place. Given I have only got a small rental for this trip, I am not really prepared to take the car onto certain roads (which I believe will be part of the rental agreement anyway).

At this stage I am expecting to miss Ivanhoe and head for Mildura instead. I also expect to miss Tibooburra in the far northwest corner of the state, as the Silver City Highway is largely dirt. With these probable changes to the itinerary, I will also miss driving through the Menindee Lakes area, which really was something I was hoping to see – another time perhaps.

On another ‘track,’ I found our that the hottest February temperature experienced in Ivanhoe was around 48 degrees Celsius. No, not the reason I am thinking of bypassing Ivanhoe – most centres out west have similar temperatures in February anyway.

The website:

http://www.kevinswilderness.com/NSW/nswRoadTrip2010.html