Brazilian Biodiversity Information System is bringing Brazil’s biological diversity to the internet

March 18, 2019 by  
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As one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth, Brazil is taking steps to consolidate all of the nation’s biodiversity data and information into one place to support scientific research , as well as decision-making and creation of eco-friendly public policy. In an effort to achieve those goals, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC) has created the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System (SiBBr), which is an online platform that gives free access to a collection of the largest amount of data and information on biodiversity in the South American nation. What is Megadiversity? In 1998, Conservation International made a list of 18 megadiverse countries, which meant that those nations harbored the majority of Earth’s species, as well as a large number of endemic species. The term megadiversity defines an area that features a significant amount of biodiversity . According to the UN’s Environment Program, Brazil is at the top of their list of the 18 most megadiverse countries in the world. With more than 120,000 species of invertebrates, 9,000 vertebrates and 4,000 plant species, Brazil hosts nearly 20 percent of Earth’s biological diversity. These natural assets can be a significant factor in Brazil’s future economic growth, but to avoid losing their biodiversity, the country wants to monitor conservation efforts and make sure their natural resources are sustainably used. Related: Biodiversity decline puts food supply at risk On average, “700 new animal species are discovered every year in Brazil,” says UN Environment. Considering how large Brazil is— as well as the numerous institutions researching the country’s biodiversity— putting all of that information in one easily-accessible place is a formidable challenge. “When the information is spread around different institutions, one is less able to find it, judge the quality of the data and understand how it can be used. Besides, the time needed to compile the data can make its use inefficient, as is the case in public policies,” explains Andrea Nunes, general coordinator of biomes of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology , Innovations and Communications, and national director of the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System project. To illustrate her point, Nunes talked about Brazil’s special map that highlights the areas of the country that are a top priority for conservation and sustainable use. The map is a tool for public policy decision-making that takes two years to develop and is updated every four to five years. Nunes says that in terms of “territory dynamics and land use changes,” five years is a long time. However, SiBBr can change all of that. How SiBBr works Currently, the SiBBr gathers information and data from 230 Brazilian institutions, like state agencies, research centers, museums, and zoos. It has more than 15 million records about different species in the country published by those institutions. Researchers can use the database to find information on different species, as well as share their findings. Farmers can use the platform to calculate environmental compensation credits and get information about endangered animals and plants. There is also a way for Brazilian citizens to contribute their own information, like pictures and documentation on biodiversity in their area. There is also a tool called Biodiversity and Nutrition, which is a nutritional database of native Brazilian species. But, they aren’t just keeping all of this information to themselves. The SiBBr is also part of the Global Biodiversity Information Platform, which is “an international network and research infrastructure” that provides free biodiversity data from hundreds of institutions across the globe. Related: Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa This is the largest global initiative aiming to give people virtual access to free biological information, and it currently spans 60 countries and has more than 570 million species records. Conservation and sustainability is a top priority, and knowing Brazil’s biodiversity is key to achieving those goals. With SiBBr, anyone from government organizations to students and educators can access this vital information. According to their website, SiBBr is an accessible platform filled with tools to help with the “organization, publication, and consultation” of: Occurrences of species A catalog of species Ecological data Biodiversity projects The use of biodiversity Registration of the country’s biological collections The database continues to grow, and in the coming months SiBBr will switch to a new platform to make using the data even easier. BaMBa Connected to SiBBr is BaMBa, the Brazilian Marine Biodiversity database, which has the same goal for collecting data about the country’s marine life as SiBBr does for species on land. The information comes from sources like integrated, holistic studies and fish surveys which can be used for governmental policies related to the use and management of marine resources. Via U.N. Environment , SiBBr Images via Shutterstock

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Brazilian Biodiversity Information System is bringing Brazil’s biological diversity to the internet

Shark fins still being sold in US restaurants amid ban

January 24, 2019 by  
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Shark finning has sparked numerous controversies for the horrible act of animal cruelty that has led to the banning of shark finning in 12 U.S. states. However, the ban is so difficult to effectively enforce that some restaurants in at least 10 of the states still manage to have shark fins on their menus, and some are starting to question if the ban is worth it. Shark finning — the act of slicing fins off live sharks and throwing the wounded shark into the ocean , where they sink and eventually die of suffocation and blood loss — became illegal in U.S. waters back in 2000. Yet, shark fins have been making their way to the states from countries that don’t ban the practice and catch sharks. Although the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington D.C. — who supports the national shark fin ban — updates their yearly list of establishments that serve shark fin soup, restaurants are still featuring the infamous soup on the their menus. According to National Geographic ,  shark fin soup is a “status dish in Asian countries” and has a long history dating back to the Song Dynasty. Currently, the soup is traditionally served at wedding receptions as a sign of respect for guests. Related: Nine more states join seismic blasting lawsuit against the Trump administration The “luxury dish” is prepared by boiling the shark fins and removing the skin and meat. The softened protein fiber that is left behind is then shredded and put into the soup. Trying to ban this item from restaurants is proving to be a major problem for U.S. enforcement agencies due to understaffing. Not to mention, making a case against shark fin vendors can be difficult since the trade is mostly underground, like illegal drugs. “I know it’s going on, I know it’s out there,” says San Francisco marine warden William O’Brien. “But it’s a very private matter — it’s not the kind of thing that, you know, people are selling to the public.” To make matters worse, the fines and jail sentences for violating the ban are usually light and don’t deter the practice. Via National Geographic Images via Shutterstock

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A modern vacation retreat is embedded into the rolling hills of southern Portugal

January 24, 2019 by  
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Tucked into the rolling meadows of Southern Portugal’s Alentejo region, a beautiful 2,691-square-foot vacation home holds court in an idyllic area that is perfect for disconnecting from the hustle and bustle of city life. The Cercal House, designed by Lisbon-based studio Atelier Data , boasts a Mediterranean style that is embedded into the landscape in order to blend in seamlessly with the natural environment. One of the most complicated challenges for the architects was the site’s problematic topography. Located on land separated by a river, the dry terrain is sloped on each side. Taking this challenge to heart, the designers decided to use the slanted landscape to their advantage by implanting the structure into the landscape’s natural shape while reducing its impact on the land. Related: Atelier Data transforms an old horse stable into a simple but stunning home in Portugal Embedding the home into the landscape provided an  energy-efficient advantage to the home while also adding a solar orientation that would reduce the home’s energy use. Additionally, the site can capture the best views of the home’s expansive pastoral setting. Wanting to meld the design into this setting, the architects created a structure that mimicked a traditional gable-house silhouette, but they added a modern touch in the form of four square cut-outs on one side of the roof. These openings not only allow for a subtle connection to the landscape but also provide an abundance of natural light and air ventilation to flow throughout the home’s interior. Jutting out from the interior living space is a large, open-air patio with polished concrete floors, and this space frames the picture-perfect views. In fact, four open-air patios are located at each corner of the home, which has three bedrooms that are arranged in a square layout. Further connecting the home with its surroundings is a beautiful infinity pool built at land level. + Atelier Data Via Dwell Photography by Richard John Seymour via Atelier Data

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A modern vacation retreat is embedded into the rolling hills of southern Portugal

Astounding responsive map shows shark interactions with commercial fishers

July 24, 2018 by  
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Just in time for the 30th Anniversary of Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week, a new map shows the interaction of 45 sharks  with commercial fishing vessels. The interactive map, featuring over 150,000 miles of chartered shark territory and movement in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, seeks to shed light on the perilous environment in which the sharks maneuver on a daily basis and the approximate 100 million sharks killed each year. Austin Gallagher, CEO and chief scientist of Beneath the Waves and a project leader on the maps, said , “Many species of large sharks remain highly vulnerable throughout our oceans , and the integration provided here highlights the magnitude of the threats they face.” Shark expert at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and project collaborator Neil Hammerschlag explained that sharks are “highly mobile,” as demonstrated in the charted data published on the Global Fishing Watch , a non-profit organization launched by Oceana in collaboration with Google and Skytruth. Related: Endangered shark fins discovered on a Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong The sharks must navigate around fishing vessels,  creating a wide variety of potentially dangerous interactions. Hammerschlag said, “Many fishing gear types can put these sharks at risk , as both target and bycatch — especially in the international waters of the high seas where no catch limits exist for many shark species.” Many sharks are caught by accident, but they are also subject to targeted hunting for their fins. While the map currently displays recorded data of sharks tagged between 2012 and 2018, Oceana hopes to create a real-time interactive map that includes various shark species including blue sharks, great hammerheads and tiger sharks. Lacey Malarky, an Oceana analyst focused on illegal fishing and seafood fraud, said, “We’re hoping to expand and collaborate with more researchers to not only get more shark data but then other marine wildlife data as well, so that we can really create this interactive map platform that shows all types of marine wildlife and how they’re interacting with fishing vessels.” + Oceana + Beneath the Waves Via EcoWatch

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Astounding responsive map shows shark interactions with commercial fishers

Sea stars overcome melting disease through rapid evolution

June 27, 2018 by  
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Five years ago, millions of sea stars off the west coast of North America were killed by a mysterious virus that caused the animals to lose limbs and liquefy, with several species under serious threat of extinction. Following the peak of the epidemic, described as “one of the largest marine mass mortality events on record,” scientists noticed that young ochre stars, among the species most impacted by the virus, were surviving at much higher rates. Today, the starfish have seemed to miraculously recover, and researchers may have the explanation for their salvation. A new study suggests that the animals possibly developed a genetic resistance to the still-puzzling densovirus, a threat that had been lurking in the region for decades but could have been fully activated by climate change . About 80 percent of ochre sea stars died as a result of the mysterious virus , which was disturbing for its ecological consequences and the manner with which it killed. “The sick ones tend to just fall apart in front of your eyes,” biologist Jeff Marliave told KUOW in 2013 . “An arm will actually break off and crawl away.” Scientists now believe that the massive die-off accelerated the process of natural selection. “When you’ve removed a whole bunch of them, you’ve shifted the whole genetic diversity of that population,” researcher Chris Mah told the Guardian . “In other words, to put it in human terms, if you wiped out a huge chunk of the human species, you would change the genetic makeup of humans.” Related: Underwater robots seek and kill invasive starfish Those that survived the wasting syndrome had the resistant gene, which they then passed onto their offspring. While the sea stars may have avoided a terminal fate this time, such epidemics are expected to occur with greater frequency in the future. “The concern is that marine disease, extreme environmental events and the frequency of those are on the rise,” study lead author Lauren Schiebelhut told the Guardian . “If we have too many extreme events in a row, maybe that becomes more challenging for species to respond to.” Via The Guardian Images via Jerry Kirkhart , Oregon State University and David O.

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Giant manta ray nursery discovered in Gulf of Mexico

June 22, 2018 by  
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Researchers have identified the first recognized giant manta ray nursery in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico , about 70 miles offshore from Galveston, Texas . Graduate student and executive director of  Manta Trust Josh Stewart first made this discovery while studying adult mantas in the area for the first time. “I was there trying to get a genetic sample from a full grown manta, and that’s when I saw it. It was a juvenile male manta, which is a very rare,” Stewart told NPR . After expressing his excitement to local researchers, he was informed that young manta sightings were quite common there. He said, “And that’s when I knew that this was a really special, unique place.” The local researchers at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration had misidentified the young manta rays as another species, neglecting to recognize the importance of this place until the arrival of an outside perspective. Typically, adult manta rays live in deep tropical and subtropical waters, making the study of these majestic sea creatures quite difficult. Young manta rays are almost never seen with adults. Related: Microplastic pollution poses particular threat to filter-feeding rays, sharks and whales “The juvenile life stage for oceanic mantas has been a bit of a black box for us, since we’re so rarely able to observe them,” Stewart explained. “We don’t know much about their movements, their feeding behavior and how that compares to the adults. Now we have a pool of juveniles that we can study.” The recognition of the nursery will ensure that these young mantas, now an endangered species in the U.S., are protected while also providing a road map for the protection of juvenile habitats around the world. “This research backs up the need for protection of other critical habitat, especially since manta rays have recently been designated as threatened species,” study co-author Michelle Johnston told the Herald Sun . “Threatened species need a safe space to grow up and thrive and live.” + Scripps Institution of Oceanography Via NPR and  The Herald Sun Images via G.P. Schmahl / FGBNMS

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New SubCAS technology enables scientists to better study deep-sea ecosystems

June 5, 2018 by  
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Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences have created a new device that can capture and transport deep-sea  creatures to the  ocean ‘s surface without harming them, allowing scientists to better study the deep sea and potentially discover new species. The Submersible Chamber for Ascending Specimens, or SubCAS, works by first capturing wildlife within a small collecting jar. Once the SubCAS and its diver have ascended to approximately 200 feet below the surface, the jar is then moved into a larger chamber, which is sealed after an air bubble is also inserted. This air bubble expands as the pressure drops, which keeps the pressure within the jar at a constant level consistent with that experienced in the deep-sea creatures’ habitats. Until recently, technological challenges limited our knowledge of the mesophotic, or “middle light,” zone. The mesophotic ecosystems begin to exist roughly at the depth beyond which traditional diving technology ceased to effectively protect divers. On the other hand, this zone is also too shallow to justify the use of technology typically used for deep sea exploration. In the past decade, diving technology has improved, and with it our understanding of this unique part of the ocean. Related: Researchers discover a completely new ocean zone swimming with new species “When we started doing these deep dives, seeing whole ecosystems nobody’s ever seen… I wanted to bring those to the public floor,” Senior Director of the California Academy of Sciences’ Steinhart Aquarium and co-inventor of the SubCAS Bart Shepherd told Earther . The team has successfully brought 89 percent of captured mesophotic animals to the surface, while 143 of these creatures have been transported from locations all over the world to the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco , where many of them are on display in the Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed exhibit. “We’re showing a million-plus people a year these things nobody else will have the opportunity to see, and [using] that as a way to have a [conversation] about coral reef decline,” said Shepherd. The team is currently gearing up for a 2019 mesophotic expedition in the Indian Ocean. “There’s really nobody that’s done deep exploration diving on reefs in the Indian Ocean,” said Shepard. “We think we’re gonna find a ton of new species.” Via Earther Images via California Academy of Sciences

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Florida coral reefs plagued with mysterious disease

May 16, 2018 by  
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With coral reefs under threat worldwide, researchers in Florida are racing to understand and treat a mysterious disease that threatens to decimate the third-largest coral reef on Earth. Over the past four years, the as-yet unidentified, potentially bacterial disease has already had a significant impact on Florida’s coral species, half of which are fatally vulnerable to the disease. “When they’re affected by this, the tissue sloughs off the skeleton,” Erinn Muller, science director at Mote Marine Lab’s Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration in the Florida Keys, explained to NPR . “And we see that once a coral is infected, it usually kills the entire coral, sometimes within weeks. And it doesn’t seem to stop.” After being hired by the State of Florida to study the health of coral reefs near Miami , scientist William Precht first observed the disease moving from coral to coral, with particularly devastating effects on star and brain coral. “This is essentially equivalent to a local extinction , an ecological extirpation of these species locally,” Precht told NPR . “And when you go out and swim on the reefs of Miami-Dade County today, it would be a very rare chance encounter that you’d see some of these three or four species.” Related: Scientists made a liquid ‘umbrella’ to protect coral reefs from sun damage Researchers at Mote Marine Lab are hard at work to determine how to protect coral from the mysterious disease . “Anything from… looking at chlorine-laced epoxy as an antiseptic, and even looking at how antibiotics interact with the disease,” Muller said. “Because if it is bacterial, then antibiotics would be a way to stop it.” Mote Marine Lab is also serving as a nursery for baby coral, which are released into the wild when they are ready. At this moment, the reefs under siege will need all the help they can get. “We’re really at a critical juncture right now, where we have corals left on the reef,” said Muller. “Before we lose more corals, now is the time to start making a change.” Via NPR Images via  NOAA National Ocean Service   (1)

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Microplastic pollution poses particular threat to filter-feeding rays, sharks and whales

February 6, 2018 by  
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Microplastics pose a huge threat to aquatic life, particularly large filter feeders such as whale sharks, manta rays, and baleen whales . A new study by an international team of researchers led by the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) and Murdoch University identifies risks faced by these marine giants from an insidious form of plastic pollution known as microplastics. Filter feeders are at particular risk because of their constant sifting through ocean water to capture their micro-plankton prey. These large creatures play an important role in oceanic ecosystems and huge problems in the food chain could arise if they were to become threatened or even extinct due to escalating threats. While much remains unknown about the specific impacts of ingesting microplastics, evidence suggests that plastic ingestion, whether directly or through eating animals that have consumed plastics, can lead to toxicity in fish and birds. The effects on large, filter feeders is even less understood, a knowledge gap that the study authors urgently sought to address. “Understanding the effects of microplastic pollution on filter-feeding megafauna is imperative because nearly half of the mobulid rays, two-thirds of filter-feeding sharks , and over one quarter of baleen whales are listed by the IUCN as globally threatened species and prioritized for conservation,” wrote the study authors . Related: Over 200 nations commit to ending ocean plastic waste Incorporating a review of data from related research, the new study identifies microplastic “hotspots,” such as the Gulf of Mexico, the Bay of Bengal, the Coral Triangle, and the Mediterranean Sea , as areas where filter feeders gather in high numbers likely due to plentiful food sources. This unfortunate confluence of plankton and plastic pollution has led to filter feeders consuming significant amounts of microplastics, with fin whales estimated to consume up to 2,000 plastic particles per day. While a greater understanding of the problem is helpful, this new research also emphasizes the sorely needed action needed to prevent further harm from plastic pollution to ocean life, large and small. Via IFLScience Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Microplastic pollution poses particular threat to filter-feeding rays, sharks and whales

"Garbage emergency" declared in Bali as clean-up unfolds

December 28, 2017 by  
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The Indonesian island of Bali recently declared a “garbage emergency” in response to the overwhelming amount of plastic waste that has floated ashore and spoiled pristine beaches. “When I want to swim, it is not really nice. I see a lot of garbage here every day, every time,” said Vanessa Moonshine, a traveler from Australia told 24Matins . Although places in Indonesia have been described as “paradise on earth,” the nation of more than 17,000 islands has some work to do to reclaim its title and is mobilizing clean-up efforts to do so. Indonesia is the world’s second largest contributor to marine debris, outdone only by China , the most populous country in the world. In addition to degrading the beaches , plastic waste blocks waterways, impacting transportation and increasing flooding risk, while posing a risk to marine animals. The waste issue has become so debilitating that Bali officially declared a “garbage emergency” over a 3.7 mile segment of coastline last month, prompting the mobilization of resources. 700 cleaners with 35 trucks removed 100 tons of debris each day from the area, which includes the popular beaches of Jimbaran, Kuta and Seminyak. Related: Indonesia pledges $1 billion annually to tackle ocean pollution problem While economic concerns may have motivated this particular cleanup, the dangers of plastic waste are more insidious than loss of tourism. “Garbage is aesthetically disturbing to tourists, but plastic waste issue is way more serious,” I Gede Hendrawan, an environmental oceanography researcher from Bali’s Udayana University, told AFP . “Microplastics can contaminate fish which, if eaten by humans, could cause health problems including cancer.” Fortunately, Indonesia is taking action. The nation of 261 million has pledged to reduce marine plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025, in part by boosting recycling programs and reducing plastic bag usage. Local inventors have even created a type of biodegradable plastic made from seaweed , an abundant crop in Indonesia. Via 24Matins Images via Depositphotos (1)

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"Garbage emergency" declared in Bali as clean-up unfolds

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