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Parliamentary committee report highlights alarming rise in forest fires

According to report submitted by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, there is alarming rise in forest fires across India.

It says that the number of forest fires have touched 24,817 in 2016 from 15,937 fires in 2015. It shows alarming rise 55% in the past year.

The report primarily focuses on the prevention and containing of fires in the Himalayan forests spread across Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.

Findings of Committee
  • There is increase in forest fires is seen even though 2015 was considered a drought year. But there is decline in frequency of forest fires by around 16%.
  • The three central States Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha contribute a third of the forest fires.
  • Madhya Pradesh has seen a nearly ten-fold increase in forest fires, from just 294 in 2015 to more than 2,600 in 2016.
  • In Himachal and Uttarakhand, over 17,502 acres have been ravaged in 2016 due to forest fires, a rise of over 171%.
  • Large number of posts of front line forest staff were lying vacant, while fire-fighting equipment is rudimentary in many cases.
Recommendations
  • National policy on managing forest fires must be framed.
  • Replacing pine reserve forests areas with “broad-leaf” plants.
  • Procurement of sweeping machines to clear roadsides of Chir pine needles.
  • Advocating large-scale incentives and programmes (including under MNREGA) to collect pines for use as fuel, and other incineration.
Background

The committee was formed after a series of devastating forest fires earlier in the year 2016 including the prolonged one that had charred 4,000 hectares of forest land across 13 districts of Uttarakhand in May 2016. The committee was headed by Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Choudhary.

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Huge dead zone discovered in Bay of Bengal  

Scientists including those from India have found a huge ‘dead zone’ of an estimated 60,000 square kilometres in Bay of Bengal.

This area is said to support microbial processes that remove vast amount of nitrogen from the ocean. The study published in Nature Geosciences.

What is Dead zone?

Dead Zone is an area in water body that contains little or no oxygen (or they are hypoxic) in bottom and near-bottom water. Mostly they occur naturally but it can be caused by excessive nutrient pollution from human activities coupled with other factors. They are well-known off western coasts of North and South America, off coast of Namibia and off west coast of India in Arabian Sea. In recent times, warming of the atmosphere through climate change is predicted to lead expansion of ‘dead zones’ in the ocean.

Key Findings
  • Researchers, including those from CSIR’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa, demonstrated that some oxygen does exists in the Bay of Bengal waters.
  • But the concentration of oxygen is much less than standard techniques could detect and some 10,000 times less than that found in the air-saturated surface waters.
  • The researchers also discovered that the Bay of Bengal hosts microbial communities that can remove nitrogen but at really slow rates.
  • Removing more nitrogen from the oceans could affect the marine nitrogen balance and rates of marine productivity.

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Scientists discover 163 new species in ecologically diverse Greater Mekong region

Scientists have discovered as many as 163 new species in the ecologically diverse Greater Mekong region of the Southeast Asia. It includes 3 mammals species, 9 amphibians, 11 fish, 14 reptiles and 143 plants. 

These species were discovered in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand. It was revealed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report.

Key Facts
  • The new species include lizard with dragon-like horns Acanthosaura phuketensis. It was discovered at the Thai tourist island of Phuket.
  • New frog species Leptolalax isos which can fit on a fingertip was discovered in Cambodia and Vietnam.
  • It also includes eye-catching Parafimbrios lao, a snake with rainbow-like scale colours around its head. It was found in the limestone karsts region of northern Laos.
  • A new newt species Tylototriton anguliceps with dazzling red and black markings was also discovered.

About Greater Mekong region

  • The Greater Mekong region is one of the most diverse regions and biodiversity hotspot on the planet. It is a magnet for the world’s conservation because of the incredible diversity of species.
  • It includes southwestern China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Mekong river helps this diverse region to sustain.
  • The region has a diverse geographic landscape including massifs, plateaus, and limestone karsts, lowlands, deltas, fertile floodplains, forests and grasslands.
  • It is habitats for an estimated 20,000 plant species, 1,300 fish species, 1,200 bird species, 800 reptile and amphibian species and 430 mammal species.
  • However, it is under intense pressure from dam and road building as well as a thriving illegal wildlife trade and climate change.

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