Cuban painted snails critically endangered by illegal wildlife trade

July 29, 2020 by  
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Increased trafficking of colorful snail shells is now posing a serious threat to these species. The ‘painted snails’ are native to Cuba and are known to be the world’s most beautiful snails. These snails belong to the genus Polymita . Due to their beauty, Cuban painted snails have been sought after by collectors, who sell their shells to American and European markets. This practice has pushed the six species of Cuban painted snails to the brink of extinction. Currently, all of the six species have been classified as being critically endangered . Although there are laws that prohibit the trade of painted snails in Cuba, the illegal wildlife trade continues to threaten their existence. According to National Geographic, there is evidence that painted snails are being sold in Cuba under the watch of government authorities. Between 2012 and 2016, about 23,000 painted snails were seized on their way to the U.S. by the Cuba’s customs department. You do not need to look far to see the evidence of the snails being sold. There are many American websites that currently sell the painted snail shells and even live snails. Related: How hungry snails help to protect ecosystems from climate change The efforts to protect the colored snails are also being hampered by the locals, who collect and sell the snails to tourists. While the government has put in place a fine of up to $20 per violation, it is evident that locals have made underground ways of accessing foreign markets. Currently, some biologists and environmental conservation groups are working toward educating the locals about the importance of the painted snails. Bernardo Reyes-Tur, a conservation biologist at the University of Oriente, Norvis Hernandez, a biologist with Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, and their colleagues are leading the way in educating Cubans about the benefits of having the snails around in place of selling them cheaply. If the animals are protected, they will have more value to the locals than they have on the market. Via National Geographic Images via Thomas Brown ( 1 , 2 )

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Coconut oil production is a danger to vulnerable species

July 29, 2020 by  
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Coconut oil has been in the spotlight for a while now as a superstar for personal care and healthier eating. It might seem like a miracle product, but a new study is highlighting the negative impacts of coconut oil that lurk in the shadows. Other oils, mainly palm oil , have made headlines for years. Grown in tropical areas, palm oil harvested from trees is widely acknowledged as a threat to the habitats of endangered species. Related: Dutch designer creates leather alternative from palm leaves For the discerning consumer, it can be difficult to gather information about how products you purchase are made. But the truth is all consumable products have an impact on the planet, including coconut oil, a trendy health food and personal care product. A team of researchers wanted to provide more information regarding the harvest of coconuts to consumers, but even they were surprised by the results of their study. Lead author Erik Meijaard has worked in tropical conservation for nearly three decades, so he’s familiar with the frequent publication of information about palm oil and the lack of information around other similar plants. “Both of them are tropical plants that are occupying large areas that previously would have been covered in natural forest,” he said. “Why does one end up being evil and the other one being wonderful?” The cultivation of coconut oil has been detrimental to ecosystems and is even expected to be responsible for the extinction of some animals, including the Marianne white eye, a tiny bird, and the feared-to-be-extinct Ontong Java flying fox, found only on the Solomon Islands. Other species currently threatened by coconut production are the endangered Sangihe tarsier, a small primate native to the Sangihe island of Indonesia, and the Balabac mouse-deer, which is only found on three islands in the Philippines. According to the study , now in several publications, the production of coconut oil is a danger to 20 threatened species per million liters of oil produced, the standard measurement used in establishing the level of destruction caused by production. Comparatively, palm oil measures in at 3.8 species per million liters, and soybean oil impacts 1.3 species per million liters. Another interesting tidbit from the study shows that coconut farms actually cover significantly less land space than other oil crops. For example, compared to the estimated 30.4 million acres for coconut palms, oil palms cover 46.7 million acres. The overall impact is higher, however, based on the IUCN’s Red List. The study reports that coconut plantations affect 66 species on the list, including 29 vertebrates, seven arthropods, two mollusks and 28 plants. Although this revelation on coconut oil might be shocking, it’s intended to be informative for consumers. “We want to be very careful not to say that coconut is actually a greater problem than palm oil,” Meijaard said. The study goes on to report that coconut isn’t the only culprit, and we need to maintain a wider lens when it comes to oil production. For example, the machines that harvest olive oil are blamed for the death of over 2.5 million birds each year. The researchers felt it was important to dig into the effects of oil production in products typically seen as healthy and low-impact environmentally, because these types of oils seem to benefit from a pass by the critical eye of the media and environmentalists. “What we’re really trying to say, and trying to get the public to understand, is that all agricultural commodities have their own issues,” Meijaard explained. Co-author Jesse F. Abrams added, “When making decisions about what we buy, we need to be aware of our cultural biases and examine the problem from a lens that is not only based on Western perspectives to avoid dangerous double standards.” Overall, the goal of the study wasn’t to target coconut oil production but to bring awareness to the need for more information about all consumer purchasing decisions. “At the moment, we’re simply not there yet,” Meijaard said. “We can pick any crop , and there are huge holes in our understanding and knowledge about their impact, so it’s a call from us for scientists, politicians, and the public to demand better information about commodities.” Douglas Sheil, co-author of the study, added, “Consumers need to realize that all our agricultural commodities, and not just tropical crops, have negative environmental impacts. We need to provide consumers with sound information to guide their choices.” + Coconut Oil, Conservation and the Conscientious Consumer Via Mongabay Images via Ogutier , Marie Osaki and Monicore

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Could a private car ban make NYC more livable?

July 29, 2020 by  
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When COVID-19 brought New York City’s traffic to a shadow of itself, Vishaan Chakrabarti, former New York City urban-planning official and founder of Manhattan-based design firm Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) , drafted an ambitious plan for a car-free future. Dubbed N.Y.C. (“Not Your Car”) , the proposal calls for banning private cars to create a more livable city via cleaner air, fewer car deaths and greater space allocated to the pedestrian realm. PAU’s reimagined roadways would also bolster infrastructure for cycling, ride-sharing and public transportation.  According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign , over half of New York CIty’s households do not own a car, and the majority of people who do own cars not use them for commuting. However, the amount of space that Manhattan devotes to cars adds up to nearly four times the size of Central Park, as seen in a diagram shared in The New York Times . PAU’s proposal asserts that banning private cars would not only reduce traffic but would also improve life for almost everyone who lives and works in dense American cities by freeing up space for new housing, parks and pedestrian promenades. Related: London creates massive car-free zones as the city reopens “In the case of New York City, the air in the Bronx and Queens, which are largely populated by immigrants and people of color, is more polluted than the other boroughs due to traffic sitting idle on the roads leading to Manhattan,” PAU explained. “Among other ailments, long-term exposure to polluted air is thought to increase the deadliness of COVID-19 , which is a direct result of structural racism in the city. By improving air quality, and thus reducing the health risks that invariably come along with it, the city can begin to tackle the environmental racism that plagues our communities.” The plan also offers suggestions for reengineering car-free roads with two-way bike lanes with protective barriers, dedicated bus lanes, larger dedicated trash areas to replace parking spaces, and additional crosswalks. Bridges would also be rethought; the seven-lane Manhattan Bridge, for instance, could replace four car lanes with bus lanes, paths for cyclists and a pedestrian promenade, while the remaining lanes would be used for taxis and ride-share vehicles. Local communities would also be encouraged to take part in deciding how to reclaim their car-free roads. + Practice for Architecture and Urbanism Images via Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

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Could a private car ban make NYC more livable?

70-mile wide group of butterflies shows up on radar, confuses weather scientists

October 6, 2017 by  
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“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… a flock of migrating butterflies!” After spotting a colored mass flitting over Denver and nearby counties, weather scientists at the National Weather Service supposed the phenomenon was just a group of birds. With the help of social media users, however, they later realized that the group of loosely spaced insects with big wings comprised thousands of butterflies. It turns out, there are so many butterflies migrating across central U.S., they showed up on the radar . Look at what's flying into Denver! Radar from last hour showing what we believe to be birds. Any bird experts know what kind? #ornithology pic.twitter.com/EAqzdMwpFU — NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) October 3, 2017 Weather scientists at the Boulder meteorology office posted the images to social media with the caption, “Look at what’s flying into Denver! Radar from last hour showing what we believe to be birds. Any bird experts know what kind?” After confirming that avians “rarely produce such a coherent radar signature” and taking into account social media users’ answers, the Boulder meteorology office realized they were actually butterflies. Related: 8 Ways that you can help save monarch butterflies “Migrating butterflies in high quantities explains it,” the group posted afterward. The Denverite reports that it is presently migration season for the painted lady butterfly. Orange-and-black in color, the butterflies are making their way from north to south, in time with the changing seasons. According to The Prairie Ecologies , thousands of the painted ladies butterflies travel between the southwest part of the United States/northern Mexico and the central U.S. every year. Because butterflies migrate with the wind, they were able to cover an area about 70-miles-wide. Birds, on the other hand, fly straight toward their destination. This was a big clue in differentiating the mass of flying objects. Said Sarah Garrett, a lepidopterist at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado , people as far away as North and South Dakota have spotted the butterflies , whose populations typically surge when flowers are abundant. Scientists believe the painted lady butterflies migrate to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico in the fall. Using radio tracking , studies have shown they also travel south from Europe to Africa in the fall, and return in the spring. Via Denverite Images via National Weather Service ,  Pixabay

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70-mile wide group of butterflies shows up on radar, confuses weather scientists

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