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Humpback Whales

Information on the Humpback Whale

The humpback is a whale that sings amazing songs. It employs complex feeding and cooperation techniques. This species is different from the rest because it has unusually long pectoral fins and tail, and a very large dented and knobbly head. It is approximately 15 to 17 meters long and can weigh up to 30 tons. Humpback whales are sea acrobats, often breaching and slapping the water. The name describes the way the whale arches its back outside the water right before it submerges.

Although its shape generally resembles that of a fish, humpback whales are mammals just like human beings and boast a series of features that are common to all mammals:
- They have hot blood
- they breathe air
- they nurse their young

They are different from the rest of marine mammals (seals, sea lions, otters), because they spend their entire life cycles in a water environment.
Male whales produce a complex whale song, which lasts between 10 and 20 minutes and is repeated for hours. The purpose of this song is yet unclear, although it appears to have a mating end.

Humpback whales live in big loose groups. Most associations among humpback whales are temporary, lasting a few days at most. The only exception is the strong and lasting bond between a mother and its calves.

Humpback whales live on the ocean’s surface, both in open seas and in shallow coastal waters. When they aren’t migrating, they prefer shallow waters. They migrate from warm tropical waters where they reproduce and breed, to Arctic waters, where they feed.

There are three different groups of humpback whales, those that live in the North Pacific Ocean, those that live in the North Atlantic Ocean and those who live in the Southern hemisphere, in addition to the wanderers.

Scientific research has shown that whales are descendants of a terrestrial animal with four extremities. The first known whale fossil remains are from over 52 million years ago, but many scientists estimate that the origin of these animals dates even further back, to 60 million years ago.

There are fewer than 10.000 humpback whales in the Southern hemisphere and no more than 7.000 in the Northern one. Therefore, humpback whales are an endangered species and killing them is illegal. Whales are hunted in different parts of the world, usually for food purposes, and sometimes for scientific research.

The humpback whale is one of the main targets of hunters and their populations became drastically reduced before the hunting moratorium was introduced in 1966.

There are 85 countries in the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which has, for several years, been trying to reach a new agreement on whale hunting and preservation. For the present year, the Whaling Commission has decided to halt all hunting until next year.

Humpback whales are also protected in the Dominican Republic. With the objective of protecting this animal, one of the most endangered species in the world, the United States and the Dominican Republic have agreed to join their sanctuaries. By doing so, and thanks to an agreement signed by the Dominican Ministry of the Environment and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary will be connected to the Santuario de Mamíferos Marinos de Samaná (Samaná Marine Mammal Sanctuary).

On June 29, 2009, Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (FUNGLODE) in collaboration with its sister institution in the United States, Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD), partnered with ATEMAR, and hosted a national get together on marine mammals of the Dominican Republic. This was thanks in part to the fact that 85% of the whales that come from the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Northern Europe travel to Dominican bays, rendering the country the number one sanctuary with the highest density of any whale species anywhere else. This sanctuary has been known as Santuario de Mamíferos Marinos del Banco de la Plata (Banco de la Plata Marine Mammal Sanctuary) since October 14, 1986.

The Dominican Republic is a member of the International Whaling Commission and can intervene on extending the conservation of marine mammals.

Interesting facts about Water

  • A person can survive one month without food, but less than one week without water
  • A human fetus is 90% water
  • 70% of our body is made of water. We find water in blood, in saliva, within our cells, in our organs, in our tissues and even in our bones.
  • Our brain is 75% water.
  • The human body loses ½ a liter through breathing, and between 600 and 900 ml a day through sweating
  • A human being will drink approximately 64.000 liters (16.000 gallons) of water throughout the course of his/her life, and a daily average of 2 and a half liters a day (2,5 fourths of a gallon).
  • It is estimated that there are between 12.500 and 14.000 million cubic meters (12.500 to 14.000 cubic kilometers) of water available on the planet per year for human use.
  • In villages and cities, water carries away waste generated by homes and industries.
  • Water has always been present: in myths and legends, in waterfalls, for hygiene or to quench thirst or serve as a means of transportation. But, beyond being famous, water is contemporary “star” because we now know more and more details about water which are vital for our planet to operate, such as:
    • It regulates Earth’s climate, maintaining adequate temperatures;
    • Its incredible strength generates energy;
    • Rain water cleans the atmosphere, eliminating pollutants;
    • And in addition: in villages and cities, water carries away waste generated by homes and industries.

All this makes water an unsubstitutable and priceless element we need to look after.

Climate change

What is climate change?
It is the global variation of Earth’s climate. This change can be caused by two factors: natural causes and human action. The first does not pose a threat because it is a normal process within nature. The problem arises when this cycle, which generates normal climate variations, is affected by irresponsible actions on the part of humans and the inappropriate use of natural resources.

Climate has always had variations; the problem with climate change is that in the past century, the rhythm of these variations has accelerated at an abnormal rate, to a degree in which it affects life on the planet. When looking for the cause of this acceleration, some scientists found that there is a direct relation between global warming and the increase in greenhouse effect gas emissions, mainly caused by industrialized societies.

One phenomenon concerns the entire world: global warming and its direct effect, climate change, the study and control of which occupies a good part of the international scientific community’s efforts, because, as experts assure, it poses a risk to the future of humanity.

What is the greenhouse effect?
Air temperature of the earth’s surface is a result of the balance between the energy that reaches the planet in the shape of solar radiation, and that which is lost through cooling, mainly through infrared radiation.

When the sun’s energy reaches the atmosphere, part of it is reflected back to space, another small part is absorbed and the rest reaches the surface of the earth and heats it. By contrast, when in turn, Earth reflects energy to the atmosphere in the form of infrared rays, a big part of it is absorbed by the molecules of certain gases, such as CO2 and they are reflected back towards the surface of the earth. These gases are called greenhouse gases because they work like the glass panes in a greenhouse, maintaining an adequate temperature for life on earth. If the presence of these gases is increased, as occurs as a consequence of human actions, there is a greater percentage of radiation returned to the earth’s surface. As a result of this, the levels of heat are increased, with negative results for all living beings.

Why is it given the name Greenhouse Effect?
It is given this name after glass greenhouses used in temperate climates. Plants housed within these structures release carbon bioxide which absorbs solar rays making the inside temperature rise and consequently, plants grow.

What produces climate change?
It is produced by the accumulation in the atmosphere of GHGs, which are produced by human actions and alter the greenhouse effect, resulting in higher temperatures on our planet. Activities that lead to the release of GHGs are:

  • Waste deposits
  • Fossil fuel burning
  • Forest logging
  • Industrial processes (Interesting fact: Haina, Dominican Republic, is among the 10 most contaminated places IN THE WORLD)
  • Agriculture
  • Livestock farming

Why the concern?
Renowned scientists agree that the increase in greenhouse effect gas concentrations in the atmosphere is provoking alterations to the climate. They also agree that greenhouse effect emissions (GEE) have been intensified ever since the Industrial Revolution, which is the time when man’s effect over nature became more intense.

Originally, it was a natural phenomenon
The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that enables life on Earth. It is caused by a series of gases that are present in the atmosphere, causing some of the heat that the sun reflects on our planet to be trapped, thus maintaining the global average temperature at +15o centigrade, which is a temperature that favors life, as opposed to -18o centigrade, which would be harmful.

Thus, for many millions of years, the greenhouse effect kept the earth’s temperature at a relatively stable average level and enabled the development of life. Greenhouse gases kept the heat from the sun close to the surface of the earth, facilitating the evaporation of superficial waters which formed clouds, which in turn, returned water back to Earth, a vital cycle which had remained balanced.

In approximately 160,000 years, the Earth had two periods in which the average global temperature was around 5o centigrade lower than it is today. The change was slow. It took several thousands of years for Earth to creep out of the ice age. At present, however, atmospheric greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly, because humans are burning ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels and are destroying forests and prairies, which could otherwise absorb carbon dioxide and favor a temperature balance.

In light of this, the scientific community has issued a warning that if human development, demographic growth and energetic use supported by fossil fuels keep increasing at current levels, by the year 2050 carbon dioxide concentrations will have doubled in comparison to their pre-Industrial Revolution levels. This could bring dire consequences to life on the planet.

The international community rallies



The international community is reacting and for this purpose created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. This Panel is formed by experts from around the globe and its objective is to provide world governments with scientific, technical and economic information available on climate change, its impact and possible solutions.

The IPCC is a UN specialized agency created to study the issue of global warming in depth. This scientific organization issues a periodical report from the information that it has at its disposal and from scientific advances achieved around the world.

It is worth noting that, at present; this panel of experts is the number one source of scientific council and gathers approximately 3,000 experts from 150 countries. The first IPCC Assessment Report was published in 1990, and was the scientific basis of negotiation for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which ended in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The Second Assessment Report was published in 1995 and its key conclusion was: "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate". This report was decisive for Kyoto Protocol negotiations in December 1997. The Kyoto Protocol is the most important international instrument in the fight against global warming.

Kyoto Protocol
Governments agreed in 1997 to the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The agreement went into effect on February 16, 2005, when it reached the milestone of the support of 55 nations that account for 55% of the world’s greenhouse effect gas emissions. At present, 166 countries have ratified it, reaching the level indicated by the UNFCCC barometer. The main subject discussed was how humanity is altering the way in which solar energy interacts with the atmosphere, which provokes a change in the planet’s climate.

The objective of the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce by 5.2% global greenhouse effect gas emissions in the period 2008-2012. This is the only international mechanism in place to start to face climate change and to minimize its impact. To this end, it has set legally binding objectives for industrialized countries to reduce their emissions of the 6 greenhouse effect gases of human origin, which are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), as well as three types of industrial fluorinated gases: hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

A non-mandatory objective was set to stabilize emissions to their 1990 levels by 2000. The Kyoto protocol is the first legally binding global agreement to reduce greenhouse effect gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol legally binds the countries which have ratified it as of February 16, 2005, after two conditions were met: the support of at least 55 countries, and that these countries account for at least 55% of carbon dioxide being emitted by developed countries.

It is important to point out that the second condition was met in November, 2004, when Russia ratified the Protocol. At present, the countries that support it account for 61.6% of the total emissions.

Worth noting is the reiterated refusal on the part of the United States to ratify the Protocol, despite being the world’s number one contaminator, claiming that to do so would affect the nation’s economy, in addition to the fact that the protocol does not include China, a country which boasts a buoying industry and growing emissions of contaminating gases. The United States in addition, claims it has doubts based on scientific arguments as to the role of humans in the acceleration of the pace of global warming.

The Group of Eight (G-8)
However, international efforts move forward, on the basis of scientific data provided by the United Nations. For this purpose, leaders of the world’s eight richest countries, members of the G-8, dedicated their 2005 summit, held between October 31st and November 8th, to the subject of global warming, in yet another effort to find solid agreements on the subject. The United States continued refusal to sign treaties in the field is expected, but international pressure continues to escalate.

The Group of Eight was created on March 25th, 1973 and is integrated by Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Japan and Russia; and the five guest nations are Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Mexico.

This meeting seeks to design strategies to fight the issue, through policies that promote the use of clean energy generation technologies, as well as to set favorable conditions for future negotiations within the framework of the United Nations (UN).

Thanks to this meeting, the subject of global warming is acknowledged as one of the biggest problems emerging in today’s world, which demands more and better actions by the international community, alongside other issues such as poverty and hunger, the arms race and peace in the Middle East.

Climate Change in the Dominican Republic
The effects of climate change in our country are evidenced by the fact that the rainy seasons have undergone a change in patterns throughout the year. Drought seasons have changed as well, and it is estimated that their impact will be even stronger in coming decades, due to this phenomenon. During some seasons rains have moved to other months, such as June and December, according to statistics collected the past couple of years.

Some regions in the country record substantial decompensation in their natural resources, population and basic needs.

As a consequence of climate change, extreme events become even more violent, in terms of the intensity of both drought and rain. However, it is foreseeable that the most pessimistic scenario, in terms of future availability of water resources, will bring with it a significant reduction in the impact of hurricanes on the country’s geography.

Countries with the largest amounts of greenhouse effect gas emissions (GEE) as of 1990:

What is happening to my planet as a consequence of Climate Change?
Global warming is provoking the melting of poles, which can in turn, result in catastrophic floods around the planet. One of the regions that would be most affected by climate change is Central America, as it is in the middle of two oceans. According to Vida Amor de Paz, ecologist and director of Bosque Tropical foundation, at present, scientists have estimated that the North Pole will have no ice during the summer months within a decade, and the amount of ice during the winter will be reduced. She points that to date, the amount of ice in the Arctic has been reduced by one million square kilometers in only two years, all due to climate change provoked by mankind through carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.

What else is happening to my planet?

  1. Glaciers are melting
  2. The level of the sea is rising, endangering people who live on islands and coastal areas
  3. Some animals are endangered, as the natural conditions of their habitats are changing. Such is the case of polar bears, penguins, seals and sea lions.
  4. Rain intensity is increasing because global warming gives the planet more energy to produce natural phenomena.
  5. At present, there are many people on the planet without drinking water, and if temperatures continue to rise, this problem will only increase.
  6. Due to extreme weather, harvests may be reduced and an even larger number of people on the planet will be left with nothing to eat.

We can ALL do something to help fight Climate Change... but, what?
Climate change is affected by every single aspect of our daily live, by transportation, heating and even our diets.

  • When we drive our car, it emits CO2 from the gas or fuel burned by the engine, in addition to releasing gases that produce low level ozone, yet another greenhouse effect gas.
  • When we eat meat or rice, we are indirectly contributing to the generation of methane which is produced by cows and rice pads.
  • When we dispose of organic matter such as food, leftovers and paper, it decomposes in landfills and produces methane.
  • When we buy refrigerators that use Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), we cause damage, as this is one of the most contaminating greenhouse effect gases.

If we combine all this, we will see the problem is overwhelming and difficult to contain. However, actions can be taken from many different sides and many behaviors can be changed in our daily lives...

Sources:
Global Warming:
http://www.bio-logia.com.ar/El%20Calentamiento%20Global.htm
Greenhouse Effect:
http://www.portalplanetasedna.com.ar/efecto_invernadero1.htm
Rodríguez, Héctor. Lluvias, sequías y cambio climático en República Dominicana. "Cambio Climático y su impacto en la República Dominicana y el Caribe" Seminar, Santo Domingo, April  20, 2006.

Biodiversity

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is comprised of all living beings on the planet, the environment they live in and their relationships. It groups all the animals, plants and organisms, from the largest ones (whales or sequoia trees), to the smallest (such as bacteria). It also includes all ecosystems, both terrestrial and marine, as well as all the relationships that are established among them.

Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity is very important to life and the survival of nature. Thanks to it, if there is an environmental change that isn’t good for one species, there will always be another one which will benefit from it. This is how nature has survived since the first living organisms appeared. For instance, dinosaurs became extinct, but fortunately, there were many species on the face of the Earth which were able to survive given the circumstances, thus ensuring that life went on its course.

Is biodiversity in danger?
There are several things that can lead to the loss of biodiversity:

  • Introduction of alien species.
  • Illegal species trade.
  • Illegal, uncontrolled hunting and fishing.
  • Air, water and soil contamination.
  • Habitat modification of the different species.

What can we do to halt the loss of biodiversity?
We can all contribute to caring for biodiversity, and to do so we need to follow these suggestions:

  • Talk to everyone you know about this, so that they too will understand biodiversity and its importance.
  • Keep the environment clean, try to reuse materials and to not discard them in places that are not adequate.
  • Save resources: turn out lights when you don’t need them, close the tap when you aren’t using water...
  • If you want a pet, choose one that is accustomed to living with humans, such as a dog or a cat, as opposed to others which need to be captured and taken from their natural habitat.

Biodiversity is defined by the number of different flora and fauna species, by the differences among species (shapes, colors and behavior) and by the complexity of inter-relations between individuals and populations of different species which inhabit a certain area.

In the neo-tropical region to which the Dominican Republic belongs, there are approximately 5,600 species of vascular plants (36% are endemic and exist only on the island). In terms of vertebrate fauna, the region boasts 254 bird species (17.5% are endemic), 70 fish species, 60 amphibians (97% endemic), 141 reptiles (83% endemic) and 33 mammals.

The Dominican Republic occupies the first place in biodiversity in the Antilles and the third in insular biodiversity in the world (Global Environment Facility - GEF) in relation to its area, thanks to the diversity of life zones that exist (tropical, subtropical, temperate and cold), as a result of the altitude which ranges from 45 meters below sea level (Isla Cabritos) to 3,087 meters above sea level (Duarte Peak).

 

 

 

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