One-third of the world’s protected areas face ‘shocking’ human impact

May 18, 2018 by  
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Bad news for wildlife: 2.3 million square miles of protected areas around the world face human pressure from activities like road building, urbanization, or grazing, according to a new study . Lead author Kendall Jones, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland , said in a statement , “We found major road infrastructure such as highways, industrial agriculture, and even entire cities occurring inside the boundaries of places supposed to be set aside for nature conservation .” Millions of square miles “have this level of human influence that is harmful to the species they are trying to protect,” University of Queensland professor James Watson told the BBC . “It is not passive, it’s not agnostic; it is harmful and that is quite shocking.” Scientists at the University of Queensland, University of Northern British Columbia , and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) teamed up for the study, described as a reality check, that was recently published in the journal Science . Related: Chile creates five new national parks from 10 million acres of land in historic act Watson said that governments claim the areas are protected “when in reality they aren’t.” Even though more land has been protected in the last few decades, the lack of real protection is a major reason for  biodiversity ‘s continued, catastrophic decline. There was a ray of hope in the study’s findings: protected areas that have strict biodiversity conservation objectives in place tend to experience less human pressure. WCS listed the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia, the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve in Ecuador, and the Madidi National Park in Bolivia as examples. Watson said, “We know protected areas work — when well-funded, well-managed and well placed, they are extremely effective in halting the threats that cause biodiversity loss and ensure species return from the brink of extinction . There are also many protected areas that are still in good condition and protect the last strongholds of endangered species worldwide. The challenge is to improve the management of those protected areas that are most valuable for nature conservation to ensure they safeguard it.” + Wildlife Conservation Society + University of Queensland + Science Via the BBC Image via Depositphotos

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One-third of the world’s protected areas face ‘shocking’ human impact

Bering Sea ice is "at record low levels for this time of year"

May 18, 2018 by  
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Arctic sea ice is low, with the Bering Sea’s ice extent “the lowest recorded since at least 1979,” according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). This reflects a larger overall trend: in April, Arctic sea ice covered an area 378,400 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average. According to Alaska-based meteorologist Rick Thoman, Bering Sea ice extent “is five percent of normal” for the middle of May, and “there is almost nothing left except for near shore ice in protected areas.” The worrisome part of all this? There are still four months to go in the Arctic’s melt season. NSIDC provided information on Arctic sea ice extent in April of this year, and said 2016 and 2018 essentially tied “for lowest April sea ice extent on record.” Barents Sea and Bering Sea ice extent was below average, as it was during the 2017 to 2018 winter. According to Earther , the Bering Sea has been something of a ground zero for crazy ice, with sea ice disappearing when it was supposed to be growing in February, rebounding slightly in March, and then plummeting in April. Bering Sea ice extent is 5% of normal for mid-May and there is almost nothing left except for near shore ice in protected areas. Chukchi Sea ice extent also at record low, with open water now north of 71N. #akwx #Arctic @Climatologist49 @ZLabe @lisashefguy @amy_holman pic.twitter.com/Ur7UmoptgL — Rick Thoman (@AlaskaWx) May 17, 2018 Related: Extreme Arctic warmth deeply concerning, scientists say Warm oceans have played a role in the dive of Bering Sea ice levels; University of Alaska Fairbanks climate researcher Brian Brettschneider told Earther that “Bering Sea SSTs [sea surface temperatures] have been at record or near record levels for months now. This represents a strong positive feedback. Warm waters are hard to freeze, which then allows for more solar absorption.” And Bering Sea ice typically protects Chukchi Sea ice. When Bering Sea ice disappeared in February, open water seeped into the Chukchi Sea — an event that has probably only happened in one other winter on record. + National Snow and Ice Data Center Via Earther Images via Depositphotos and the National Snow and Ice Data Center

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Bering Sea ice is "at record low levels for this time of year"

This great ape species was discovered 6 months ago and it’s already threatened by a dam

April 23, 2018 by  
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The Tapanuli orangutan was only discovered six months ago — and it’s already under threat of extinction from human development. Only 800 Tapanuli orangutans live in the wild today — however state-run Chinese company Sinohydro plans to construct a dam in northern Sumatra that will result in the deforestation of the orangutan’s habitat. If completed, the dam could pose an existential danger to the animals. Researchers fear that the construction of the  510 megawatt dam in the fragile Batang Toru ecosystem will result in the extinction of certain communities within the already vulnerable Tapanuli population. “Building the dam means chopping the orangutan population in half,” Borneo Futures director and orangutan expert Erik Meijaard told The Guardian . “You end up with two smaller populations, and these will have much reduced chances of survival, because a small population is more likely to go extinct than a large one.” Although Sinohydro did not include the orangutan in its environmental management plan, the Indonesian government approved the project. “The impact will not just be the destruction of the habitat where they want to build the dam and roads, tunnel, electricity lines,” scientist Gabriella Fredriksson explained to the Guardian , “but it will cause the extinction of two of the three sub-populations, and in addition create access and destroy the most important habitat of the only viable population left.” Related: UK researchers are developing an orangutan-safe alternative to palm oil “The Indonesian government needs to respect its own laws,” Meijaard said. “Orangutans are protected species. The Indonesian law clearly prohibits any actions that harm a protected species or its nests. It is obvious that the hydrodam is harming a protected species, so why does the government allow this?” Instead of building a dam, researcher Serge Wich suggested that the government pursue a geothermal project farther north from the orangutan habitat. According to Wich, this proposed project could yield one gigawatt of power, significantly more than the dam. The newly discovered orangutans are suffering under a broader extinction crisis, in which the large mammals of Sumatra, such as the Sumatran tiger , the Sumatran rhino and the Sumatran elephant have become critically endangered. Via The Guardian Images via Tim Laman and Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme

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This great ape species was discovered 6 months ago and it’s already threatened by a dam

Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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Patagonia strikes back at Trump over public lands policies

April 2, 2018 by  
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Outdoor clothing company Patagonia is calling out  President Trump  and his administration as liars regarding the role that fossil fuels played in the administration’s recent public land decisions . When the Trump Administration announced that it would shrink Bears Ears National Monument , Patagonia embarked on an activist campaign that featured the words “The President Stole Your Land” against a black background. In light of the recent evidence that shows the administration lied to the public about its motivation for changing the boundaries, the company added “And You’ve Been Lied To,” highlighting the way in which land belonging to all Americans has been sold to the highest bidders. In a video on their website, Patagonia states “the five indigenous tribes that call this place home set aside their differences and asked President Obama to designate Bears Ears as a national monument.” After a century of struggling to protect the area, Obama finally made it happen in 2016. But right after Trump took office, it became clear that Bears Ears was in the new administration’s crosshairs. In addition to its bold text message, Patagonia also published a blog post entitled It Was Always About Oil, Coal, Gas and Uranium , in which the company elaborates on its stance against the current administration. “The redrawing of boundaries was deliberate and directly influenced by an industry that spends millions of dollars lobbying the government to get what it wants,” said the company in a statement . The idea that the administration was motivated to shrink Bears Ears and nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in order to extract resources from the ground was initially refuted by US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke . “We also have a pretty good idea of, certainly, the oil and gas potential—not much! So Bears Ears isn’t really about oil and gas,” said Zinke. Related: Chile creates five new national parks from 10 million acres of land in historic act However, scores of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests paint a different picture. “The Kaiparowits plateau, located within the monument, contains one of the largest coal deposits in the United States,” reads one Interior Department memo, referring to the Kaiparowits plateau on which Grand Staircase-Escalante is located. The oil and gas industry have also expressed interest in developing 90,000 acres of land along the eastern edge of Bears Ears. Up to 500,000 tons of uranium could also be extracted from the ground over the next twenty years if permitted by the administration. This is of particular concern for the Navajo Nation , which has had its drinking water supplies contaminated by the more than 500 uranium mines that have operated in the region. While court challenges against the administration’s move are pending, Patagonia urges its customers to take action. “It is your voice and your vote that are the two most important tools we have to remind elected officials that Americans—everyone from sportsmen and women, to outdoor enthusiasts, to conservationists and the tribes who have known these lands longer than anyone—want public lands protected,” said the company in a statement. Via Outside Online Images via Patagonia and  Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management

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Patagonia strikes back at Trump over public lands policies

Huge graveyards of abandoned bikes are piling up in China after sharing craze reaches peak

April 2, 2018 by  
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Bike-sharing took off in China , where many city dwellers battle smog and bikes offered a potential clean alternative. Now, without the infrastructure to support them, and an over-saturation in the sharing market, abandoned bikes have piled into massive graveyards in cities like Shanghai and Beijing  – forcing us to ask: are bicycles polluting metropolises they were intended to aid? The Atlantic reported  bike sharing growth surpassed demand and  Deutsche Welle (DW) said  that bikes are piling up into massive graveyards. 16 to 18 million bikes hit streets in China from around 60 companies, TIME said , and most cities weren’t prepared to handle the influx. There aren’t any set docking stations or bike stands, so most bikes are just parked on the side of the road, according to the publication. Back in December, Fortune reported the co-founder of bike-share startup Ofo , Zhang Siding, said, “The bike-sharing phenomenon has grown very quickly in the last few years, but the layout and infrastructure [of] cities in China aren’t something that can be changed as quickly to accommodate this new trend.” Related: China’s largest bike share launches air-purifying bicycles for 20 million citizens Bike graveyards have grown as some bike-sharing companies fold, and their surplus bicycles sprawl in vacant lots. DW said police now have to gather unwanted vehicles from roads and parks, and pile them in fields out of city centers. According to Fortune, last year Ofo launched a credit score system: users would be penalized for antisocial behavior like traffic violations or bike dumping, and rewarded for positive behavior, like reporting damaged or lost bikes. If users’ points were all deducted, they’d be barred from the service. They were also reportedly working with interest groups in cities to come up with new strategies — for example, in Guangzhou, traffic wardens or local groups can send feedback to the company if bikes are accumulating and Zhang said, “we’ll send people down to deal with it.” Health and air quality benefits are still present with bike-sharing, and The Atlantic said the trend is still popular, and bike-sharing will likely keep growing — just maybe at a slightly more sustainable rate. Via The Atlantic , TIME , Deutsche Welle , and Fortune Images via Philip Cohen on Flickr , Chris on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Conservationists sound the alarm to address ‘America’s wildlife crisis’

March 29, 2018 by  
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A coalition of conservationist groups have called for urgent action to address the drastic decline in American wildlife . According to the groups’ recently released report, one in three animal species in the United States is vulnerable to extinction, while one in five face a severe threat amid a serious decline in American biodiversity. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground,” Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, told the Guardian . “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.” Over 1,270 species native to the United States are listed as at-risk under the Endangered Species Act, which include such iconic creatures as the grizzly bear and the California condor. In their recent report, the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society argued that the actual number of at-risk species is significantly higher. The difference in numbers is accounted for by the data source. While federal authorities document species on a case-by-case basis, the report relies on data from  NatureServe , which determines the health of any particular species on a sliding scale. Related: Spending bill would open the world’s largest intact temperate forest to logging Some kinds of animals have fared worse than others. 40% of all freshwater fish in the United States are now endangered or at-risk while amphibian populations shrink within their known territory by 4% each year. “This loss of wildlife has been sneaking up on us but is now like a big tsunami that is going to hit us,” Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University who advised the report, told the Guardian . Species decline can be attributed to a variety of factors, including habitat loss, increased spread of disease, climate change , and pesticide use. The report emphasizes the need for a federal response to deal with this crisis, citing successful examples of species recovery efforts throughout the United States. This increased threat to biodiversity is not unique to the United States. “ Extinctions are ramping up, and if that continues it will be one for the history books for the whole planet,” environmental scientist Erle Ellis told the Guardian . The world is getting very humanized and I’m very concerned about the cost to biodiversity . It’s a challenge that will face us throughout this century and beyond.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Mice are eating nesting seabirds in the Pacific alive

March 28, 2018 by  
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On the Midway Atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, invasive mice are attacking nesting albatrosses , causing gruesome wounds that bleed profusely and can cause birds to abandon their nests or die. Why would mice do this? Scientists think it may be because they are drinking the birds’ blood. Non-native species cause a majority of seabird extinctions around the world, and mice have become a particularly bad problem on the island since 2015, attacking the birds from behind and causing open wounds on their heads and necks. The Midway Atoll is home to the world’s largest colonies of Black-footed and Laysan albatross. The common house mouse was introduced along with the black rat to the island about 75 years ago. While the rats have been eliminated on the island, mice have thrived without any competition. The mice have learned to sneak up behind the albatross while they nest, taking them by surprise. The mice may be causing these wounds to obtain hydration and sustenance from the birds’ blood. Related: New Zealand just eradicated 200,000 mice from a single island Nesting Albatross are particularly vulnerable because instead of leaving their nest, they refuse to abandon their eggs – so mice can easily attack them. The attacks began two years ago, and have since spread across the entire island. “Albatross did not evolve in contact with mice and they are defenseless against them. Albatrosses’ natural behavior – sitting on their egg for weeks at a time – leaves them particularly vulnerable to this emergent threat. In the first year, birds were killed (eaten alive) and nests abandoned in three areas on the island. The next year, the attacks, deaths, and nest abandonment spread across the entire island and increased exponentially,” said the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). USFWS wants to work to remove the mice – something that was just successfully accomplished in New Zealand – but debate continues on how to best do that. “The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to eradicate all mice from Midway Atoll using the rodenticide Brodifacoum 25D Conservation, a pelleted rodenticide bait intended for conservation purposes for the control or eradication of invasive rodents on islands or vessels.” Via IFLScience Images via USFWS

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Mice are eating nesting seabirds in the Pacific alive

Scientists create ‘umbrella’ spray to protect coral reefs from sun damage

March 27, 2018 by  
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Researchers have crafted a new liquid substance that can be sprayed onto the surface of the water above vulnerable coral reefs , shielding them from intense UV and visible light beaming down from the Sun . In doing so, the spray may help to defend reefs from extreme bleaching events. 50,000 times thinner than a human hair, the biodegradable spray is made from a natural lipid and calcium carbonate, a key component of coral reefs. “It is white so it reflects and scatters all the light which hits the ocean surface,” study researcher Andrew Negri told the Sydney Morning Herald . Laboratory tests revealed that the spray was capable of reducing the amount of light reaching underwater coral by 20 percent. “In the laboratory, it actually stays on the surface for several weeks, but in the ocean it could be broken up by wave action and moved around by the currents,” explained Negri. The spray will quickly biodegrade after it is broken up. Trials in a real-world environment will begin soon to refine the spray and make it more resilient to sometimes turbulent waters . Related: Spraying spiders with graphene helps them spin webs 6 times stronger than normal Conservationists are enthused about the idea of using the spray to protect acute vulnerabilities in coral reefs. “The idea being that you could in the future, knowing there is going to be hot days ahead… spray this film on top of key reefs… and this will act as a bit of a shield… almost like an umbrella, to protect these reefs underneath and the animals underneath,” Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden told the Sydney Morning Herald . “It’s important to note that this is not intended to be a solution that can be applied over the whole 348,000 square kilometres of Great Barrier Reef ,” Marsden noted. “That would never be practical, but it could be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high value or high-risk areas of reef.” Via The Sydney Morning Herald Images via Depositphotos (2 , 3 )

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Scientists create ‘umbrella’ spray to protect coral reefs from sun damage

World’s rarest marine mammal could face extinction under Trump administration

March 26, 2018 by  
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Under 30 vaquita porpoises live in the wild — but Donald Trump’s administration may be violating federal laws that could protect the animals, according to a lawsuit recently filed by conservation groups and reported on by Mother Jones . Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) staff attorney Giulia Good Stefani said in a statement  that the lawsuit “might be the vaquita’s last chance.” Will vaquitas vanish forever? Environmental groups are concerned they might, and the NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity , and Animal Welfare Institute are calling out Trump’s administration for failing to protect what the World Wildlife Fund calls the world’s rarest  marine mammal . The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act  requires the Secretary of the Treasury to “ban the importation of commercial fish or products from fish which have been caught with commercial fishing technology which results in the incidental kill or incidental serious injury of ocean mammals in excess of United States standards.” The vaquita can drown in gill nets, which are used to catch seafood , but the Trump administration has not banned seafood harvested with these nets in the Gulf of California, the sole habitat of the vaquita. Related: Trump administration ‘declares war’ on West Coast turtles, dolphins, and whales Gill nets kill around 50 percent of the vaquita population every single year — and, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the creatures might even go extinct next year if fishing practices aren’t changed. Mexico  also hasn’t permanently banned all gill nets in the Gulf of California, though scientists have recommended they do so. And Animal Welfare Institute’s marine animal program director, Susan Millward, said the United States is “a leading importer of fish products caught in the upper Gulf of California.” The groups that filed the suit are calling for an immediate US ban on seafood imports that come from the upper Gulf and Mexican shrimp, hoping such a move would pressure Mexico to completely ban gil lnets in the vaquita’s habitat. Millward said, “The U.S. seafood market should not be contributing to the extinction of a species.” + Center for Biological Diversity Via Mother Jones Images via Wikimedia Commons and NOAA Restoration Center, Chris Doley

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