|ecoglobe news (10 September 1999)|
By Tracey Ober of Reuters
Rio De Janeiro, Sept 9 Reuters - The demise of Costa Rica's golden toad may not seem upsetting, but the World Wide Fund for Nature said on Thursday people should be hopping mad about its deeper message on environmental damage.
The toad's extinction -- due to its natural habitat drying up -- is a danger sign of a global phenomenon decimating freshwater species, the Switzerland-based environmental group said in its 1999 Living Planet Report, released in Brazil.
The organisation, which promotes its Living Planet Index (LPI) as the benchmark measure of the world's natural wealth, said human activity was responsible for the ongoing loss of animals, forests and water quality.
"Everything we do to the natural environment has an effect on plants and animals," Jonathan Loh, author of the WWF's report, told Reuters in Rio de Janeiro.
"It's not just about the golden toad, but it shows a trend for a whole class of species and is a signal that something is going wrong with the entire ecosystem."
He said the extinction of any animal was a warning to human beings about their environment, functioning like the canaries miners used to take down into the pits as early signals of poisons in the air. "The canary has died so we know something is wrong," Loh said.
Frogs, toads and salamanders are particularly sensitive indicators of an ecosystem going awry because they breathe through their skin, amphibian specialist Jose Pombal told the WWF news conference.
But according to the WWF report, alligators, flamingos and river dolphins are also threatened by climate change, pollution and heavy fishing.
Of the 281 freshwater species studied as indicators of water quality, the numbers of just over half were on the wane.
"This report is a graphic call to reduce these negative trends as the world enters the 21st century," WWF Director-General Claude Martin said.
"The observed declines in populations of freshwater species is particularly alarming as they indicate the extent of deterioration in the quality of the world's rivers, lakes and other wetlands."
The WWF released its second annual report in Brazil because of the country's important Pantanal wetlands, the world's largest freshwater ecosystem covering an area four times the size of Switzerland.
The group aims to get governments, businesses and consumers to take stock of the economic value of their natural resources in order to slow degradation.
"We are losing natural wealth and biodiversity that will increasingly affect economics," Martin said. ``This is a big problem and not just for biologists.''
The report also found that since 1970, the world has lost 10 percent of its natural forests with a loss every year of an area larger than Greece. Now, only half the world's original forest cover remains.
Damaging carbon dioxide emissions more than doubled between 1960 and 1996 from less than 10 billion tons per year to almost 23 billion tons, not including emissions from deforestation, WWF said.
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