Unmapped roads raise risk to Southeast Asian rainforests — study

An aerial photo of a road running through an palm plantation in Dumai, Riau, Sumatra island, Indonesia. (Antara Foto/Rony Muharrman/via REUTERS/File)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Unmapped roads raise risk to Southeast Asian rainforests — study

  • Researcher Alice Hughes found that roads have penetrated areas previously considered untouched and unreachable by vehicles.
  • An average of 75 percent of roads in five countries were missing from OpenStreetMap (OSM), a mapping platform widely used by researchers and academics.

KUALA LUMPUR: Forests in parts of Southeast Asia face greater threats than previously thought because researchers often rely on data that ignores new roads, which are precursors to deforestation and development, a study shows.
The paper, published this month by the journal Biological Conservation, showed that an average of 75 percent of roads in five countries were missing from OpenStreetMap (OSM), a mapping platform widely used by researchers and academics.
“Large-scale forest clearance is preceded by the growth of road networks, which provide a stark warning for the region’s future,” the study said.
Author Alice Hughes, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, studied a total of 277,281 square kilometers by analyzing satellite images and maps showing forest loss and coverage, as well as agriculture concessions.
She found that roads have penetrated areas previously considered untouched and unreachable by vehicles.
“We are deluding ourselves that we still have large tracts of inaccessible, pristine forest, when the reality is highly-fragmented, very accessible forests,” Hughs said on Friday.
Her research examined road networks in parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
“In some parts of the region, up to 99 percent of roads on those global maps, which are used as the basis for a huge amount of further analysis, are not included,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Deforestation and development of forests in the area studied have occurred at a rapid pace since 2000, said Hughes, while maps used by researchers do not regularly update their road data.
“Most of the time these roads are just providing access to forests and up to 99 percent of deforestation is within 2.5 km of road,” she said. “They are clearly the access method.”
She added that the region urgently needs better protection and enforcement for its remaining forests.
Indonesia, which is the world’s biggest palm oil producer, introduced a forest clearing moratorium in 2011 to help reduce deforestation.
Hughes said the ban should be expanded beyond just land designated as natural, untouched primary forest to include all high biodiversity forests.
Hughes’ research methodology should be used to determine whether the same patterns exist in other parts of the world, said Christopher Martius, team leader for climate change at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research.
“It is surprising that nobody ever did that before, and it is shocking that the result shows we grossly underestimated the possible threat to tropical forests from road building,” he said by email. 


Prince Harry and Meghan arrive in hot Fiji for 3-day visit

Updated 13 min 30 sec ago
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Prince Harry and Meghan arrive in hot Fiji for 3-day visit

  • The couple was scheduled to attend a reception and state dinner with Fijian President Jioji Konrote
  • They will finish their tour with a four-day visit to New Zealand

SUVA, Fiji: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were greeted by hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers on Tuesday after arriving in Fiji for a three-day visit as part of their tour of the South Pacific.
School children in uniform and people of all ages lined the streets and waved both British Union Jack and Fijian flags as Prince Harry and Meghan’s motorcade drove past.
The couple arrived from Australia, where Meghan, who is four months pregnant, had her schedule reduced in recent days after a hectic start to their 16-day trip across four countries. Meghan has not announced any plans to reduce her schedule in Fiji.
After stepping off the plane, Meghan needed to hold her cream-colored hat to prevent it from being blown away as Harry inspected a guard of honor. There was a light drizzle and an official held an umbrella above Meghan’s head.
The couple was scheduled to attend an official welcome ceremony at Suva’s Albert Park that will mirror one attended by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1953. It was to involve traditional elements of Fijian culture, including dances and a kava ceremony. Members of the public are invited and 15,000 are expected to attend.
The couple was scheduled to attend a reception and state dinner Tuesday evening hosted by Fijian President Jioji Konrote.
Home to just over 900,000 people, Fiji is a former British colony that became independent in 1970 and later became a republic. Fiji remains a part of the Commonwealth group of countries and is a popular destination for tourists thanks to its warm climate and beaches.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women not travel to a number of countries including Fiji and Tonga because of the presence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which can cause severe birth defects.
There is no vaccine for Zika, and the CDC says the best way to avoid infection for those who must travel is to take extra precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
The couple is scheduled to visit Tonga on Thursday before returning to Sydney on Friday night for the final days of the Invictus Games, Harry’s brainchild and the focus of their tour. The couple will then finish their tour with a four-day visit to New Zealand.