By Shreya Dasgupta
Discovering a new species is always exciting—it shows that much of our world remains to be explored and described. This year, too, scientists discovered and described several new species of animals and plants, including 13 new dancing peacock spiders, a new crab that was found in a pet market, a new species of whale, a tarantula that shoots balls of barbed hair at enemies and one bird that is now 13 distinct species.
Below are Mongabay's picks for top new species discovered in 2016 (in no particular order). Note: for each entry, the publication and author are listed in parentheses.
1. New species of Beaked Whale (Mongabay, by Jeremy Hance)
When a dead whale washed up in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands in 2014, people believed that it was a Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii). But subsequent DNA tests showed that the whale is very likely a new species of beaked whale, smaller and darker than its cousin, the Baird's, with a larger dorsal fin and a distinctly shaped skull. The whale appears to be rare, although Japanese whalers—who refer to the whale as karasu, or raven, due to its dark color—claim to have seen it in life. However, very little is known about the new beaked whale's behavior, and scientists are yet to give it a new name.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Baird's beaked whales are capable of diving to depths of 9,840 feet (3,000 meters).
2. Thirteen New Dancing Peacock Spiders (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta, Mike Gaworecki)
In two separate studies, researchers announced the discovery of several new species of brilliantly colored peacock spiders—miniscule spiders with elaborate dance moves, known only from Australia. In one paper, biologist Jürgen C. Otto, and spider expert David Knowles described seven new species of peacock spiders, including Maratus vespa, a spider with a distinct pattern of wasp on its tail flap, and M. bubo, which seems to have the face of a horned owl inscribed on its back. In a second paper, researchers Barbara Baehr and Robert Whyte described six new species of peacock spiders, including Maratus lincunxin, named after Chinese-trained dancer and Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin.
The pattern on M. bubo's back resembles an owl.
Photo credit: Jürgen C. Otto
3. Rare Devil’s Orchid (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Discovered in the forests of southern Colombia, the new species of reddish-violet orchid Telipogon diabolicus has a wine-red or maroon reproductive structure that resembles a devil's head. The new orchid is known only from a single population of 30 orchids found, and is already on the verge of extinction. The lone population is found in a vulnerable habitat close to the main road Pasto-Mocoa.
Close-up of the new orchid species Telipogon diabolicus showing its flower resembling a devil's head.
Photo credit: Marta Kolanowska
4. Three New Species of Mouse Lemurs (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)
This year, scientists used genetic analysis to describe three new species of mouse lemurs that live in the South and East Madagascar: Microcebus boraha, Microcebus ganzhorni, and Microcebus manitatra. This brings the number of known mouse lemurs—the world's tiniest primates—to 24. All three mouse lemurs are small, nocturnal animals with brown fur and large eyes.
Microcebus ganzhorni is named in honor of the Hamburg ecologist Prof. Jörg Ganzhorn who has worked on ecology and conservation in Madagascar for more than thirty years.
Photo credit: G. Donati
5. Deepest Fish Species Discovered by Deep-Diving (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
At a depth of 150 meters in the West Pacific, off the coast of Batangas, Luzon, Philippine Islands, scientists have discovered a new species of strikingly colored fish that belongs to a group of fish called groppos. The fish was discovered without the use of submarines or other indirect methods, making it the deepest new fish discovery done by diving to date. The scientists have named the pink-and-yellow-hued fish Brianne's Groppo or Grammatonotus brianne.
Brianne's Groppo (Grammatonotus brianne).
Photo credit: Luiz Rocha
6. Silver Boa That Is “On Its Way to Extinction” (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)
This new silver boa (Chilabothrus argentum) was found in a remote corner of the Bahamian Archipelago called the Conception Island Bank. It is a nonvenomous, constricting snake, and one of the most endangered boid snakes globally, a group that includes boa constrictors and anacondas. Scientists believe that it should be listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
The Bahamian silver boa or Conception Bank silver boa (Chilabothrus argentum).
Photo credit: Graham Reynolds / UNC-Ashville
7. Rabbit-Like Pika (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Discovered in the remote upper reaches of the Eastern Himalayas in Sikkim, India, the cuddly new rabbit-like animal, Sikkim pika (Ochotona sikimeria), was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika (Ochotona thibetana). But the two species are not even closely related, scientists say. The new species was identified by analyzing genetic data sampled from its poop, and comparing it with the DNA of other related pikas. The new species seems to be abundant in Sikkim and may not be immediately threatened by extinction.
The new species—named Sikkim pika or Ochotona sikimeria—was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika or Ochotona thibetana.
Photo credit: Prasenjeet Yadav
8. Caribbean Plants Named After James Bond (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Biologists discovered an entire new sub-group of plants in Central America and the Caribbean Islands that they have named Jamesbondia. The name does not honor the popular spy character James Bond. Instead, the group gets its name from notable American ornithologist James Bond (1900-1989), who was an expert in Caribbean birds and author of the book Birds of the West Indies. Ian Fleming—also a keen birdwatcher—is believed to have used the ornithologist's name for his fictional spy series.
A new subgenus of plants has officially been called Jamesbondia.
Photo credit: Taylor & Francis
9. Giant Air-Breathing Fish (National Geographic, by Brian Clark Howard)
A new species of a giant arapaima—massive fish that breathe through primitive lungs—may be lurking in the backwaters of the Amazon. National Geographic explorer Donald J. Stewart and his colleagues claim to have found genetic evidence of at least one new species of arapaima in southwestern Guyana. Stewart believes there may be more distinct species of arapaimas currently unknown to science. Arapaimas, which can grow up to 10 feet long and weight 440 pounds, are little-studied and highly endangered.
Scientists have found genetic evidence of at least one new species of arapaima in southwestern Guyana.
Photo credit: Jeff Kubina / Flickr
10. Tarantula That Shoots Balls of Barbed Hairs at Enemies (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
The new species of tarantula, Kankuamo marquezi, is a badass. Discovered in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria mountain range in Colombia, the tarantula subdues its enemies by shooting a ball of barbed hairs into the air that it releases by rubbing its hind legs against its belly vigorously. The hairs have sharp tips that can then penetrate into the enemy's skin or mucous membrane, causing irritation. The scientists have named the sspider, K. marquezi, after famous Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature for "One hundred years of solitude."
The new tarantula stabs its butt's bristled hairs into its enemy directly instead of releasing a flying cloud of sharp hairs into the air as many other tarantulas do.
Photo credit: Dirk Weinmann
11. Two Species of Magnolia Discovered Online (BBC)
Thanks to photographs on Arkive, a website that hosts thousands of pictures of flora and fauna, two naturalists could identify two previously unrecorded species of Magnolia, one of Earth's oldest flowering plants. Roberto Pedraza Ruiz had photographed several plants within eastern Mexico's Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in 2010 and uploaded it to Arkive. After seeing the photos, biologist José Antonio Vázquez, living 200 miles away, identified two of the plants as new species of Magnolia. One of the species, Magnolia rzedowskiana, was named after Jerzy Rzedoswski, a Mexican botanist, while the second species will be named Magnolia pedrazae, in honor of its photographer.It was this image that first raised questions. It is now identified as a Magnolia rzedowskiana flower.
Photo credit: Roberto Pedraza Ruiz
12. New Scops Owl (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)
Scientists have discovered a new species of Scops owl on Príncipe, one of the two major islands that make up the country of São Tomé and Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Central Africa. The owl had been long rumored to exist by researchers. But Belgian ornithologist Philippe Verbelen confirmed the presence of the owl during an expedition in the forests of Príncipe, during which he photographed at least two different individuals. The owl is yet to be formally described.
A photo of the previously undiscovered Scops owl (Otus) discovered in the forests of Príncipe Island (Gulf of Guinea).
Photo credit: Philippe Verbelen
13. Parasitic Orchid That Never Blooms (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
The new plant—named Gastrodia kuroshimensis—was discovered on the Japanese island of Kuroshima. It occurs in the dark understory of forests where little light penetrates. So instead of using sunlight or photosynthesis to generate nutrients, the plant parasitizes the fungi in the forest soil for its daily dose of nutrition. The new plant also produces dark greenish-brown flowers that remain closed throughout the entire flowering period, relying completely on self-pollination within closed buds.
Photo credit: Kenji Suetsugu
14. Spider That Looks like the ‘Sorting Hat’ from Harry Potter (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Gryffindor! The biologists who discovered this new spider in a forest in central Western Ghats, India, are big fans of the Harry Potter franchise. Surprised by how closely the spider resembles the magical sorting hat, they chose to name it Eriovixia gryffindori after the hat's owner Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The tiny spider is an excellent mimic, and is adept at resembling dried foliage.
Eriovixia gryffindor, a new species of spider was discovered in Karnataka. India.
Photo credit: Sumukha J. N.
15. Six New Deep-Sea Animals Discovered in Undersea Hot Springs (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Around hydrothermal vents in Longqi ('Dragon's Breath'), 1,242 miles southeast of Madagascar, a research team has discovered six new species of deep-sea animals that are nourished by hot fluids gushing out of the vent chimneys. The new species include a hairy-chested 'Hoff' crab, closely related to 'Hoff' crabs at Antarctic vents; two species of snail and a species of limpet, and two species of deep-sea worms.
A group of hairy-chested 'Hoff crabs'.
Photo credit: University of Southampton
16. Three New Miniature Salamanders Are Already Headed for Extinction (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Scientists have described three new species of miniature salamanders, occurring in the remote mountains of Oaxaca in Mexico, that are smaller than a matchstick. These tiny creatures belong to the elusive genus Thorius, members of which are the smallest four-legged animals on Earth. The group is also one of the most endangered genus of amphibians in the world, and the three newly discovered species are already on the verge of extinction, researchers say. The new salamanders have been named the pine-dwelling minute salamander (Thorius pinicola), the long-tailed minute salamander (Thorius longicaudus) and the heroic minute salamander (Thorius tlaxiacus).
A pine-dwelling minute salamander (Thorius pinicola)—one of the newly described species of minute salamander.
Photo credit: Mario García-París
17. Crab Discovered in Chinese Fish Market (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Colorful freshwater crabs are being increasingly traded in South China's pet markets. At one such ornamental fish market in northern Guandong, China, researchers collected a new species of maroon-brown crab with reddish-purple claws and legs, which belongs to both a new species and a new genus. The scientists have named the newly described crab Yuebeipotamon calciatile, its species name "calciatile" referring to the pools of limestone hill streams where the crabs are found.
Close-up of a male individual of the new crab species and genus Yuebeipotamon calciatile.
Photo credit: Hsi-Te Shih
18. New Millipede Has 414 legs, 4 Penises (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Scientists have discovered a new species of a very "leggy" millipede inside a dark, marble cavern in Sequoia National Park, California. The tiny thread-like millipede has 414 legs, and is cousin to the 750-legged Illacme plenipes, the leggiest known millipede on earth, researchers say. It has some other odd features: its 20 millimeters-long body is covered in spines, tubercles, and silk-secreting hairs, and four of its legs are modified into penises or gonopods that it uses to transfer sperm into the female. Researchers have named the new species Illacme tobini after Ben Tobin, a cave specialist and hydrologist at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
The new species (Illacme tobini) of extremely leggy millipede from a Sequoia National Park cave.
Photo credit: Paul Marek / Virginia Tech
19. Smallest of Giant Flowers (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
The parasitic plant, Rafflesia or corpse flower, produces the world's largest flowers. Now, on Luzon Island in the Phillipines, a team of scientists have discovered the smallest of these giant flowers. Some Rafflesia flowers can grow up to a meter and a half in diameter. But the newly discovered flower has an average diameter of 9.73 cm when fully expanded, making it a "dwarf" among all known Rafflesia species. The discovery was serendipitous — researchers tripped on the flower while walking in a forest on Luzon Island. Only two populations of R. consueloae are known from two mountain sites, Mt Balukbok and Mt Pantaburon, and the species may be Critically Endangered.
The newly described Rafflesia consueloae.
Photo credit: Edwino S. Fernando
20. One Bird That Became 13 (Motherboard, by Kaleigh Rogers)
For a long time, scientists believed that a single bird, the red bellied pitta (Pitta erythrogaster) that lives in the Philippines, was also found on a small island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, on Indonesia's Banggai and Sula Islands, and in Buru, Ambon and Seram in the south Moluccas. But a detailed genetic analysis and taxonomic review of the species revealed that the birds lumped under red-bellied pitta are actually 13 distinct species found around southeast Asia. This splitting of the species has important conservation implications, researchers say. The original red bellied pitta was classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. But a review of the population status of the new species shows that at least three are threatened and at risk of extinction.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
A massive iceberg is towering over a Newfoundland town, as climate change continues to cause dramatic and spectacular events.
The giant iceberg near Ferryland, Canada has created quite a stir and even caused traffic jams as locals stop to take pictures.
Icebergs commonly appear off the coast of Ferryland—in fact, this area called "Iceberg Alley" is famous for iceberg tours that start in May. However, this particular iceberg is unusual for its mammoth size and early appearance.
The Canadian Ice Service classified the iceberg as "large," their second largest category that includes heights of 151-240 feet and lengths of 401-670 feet.
According to Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the United States Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, 616 icebergs have already moved down the North Atlantic this year, while last year, 687 were counted by late September.
"When you look at the iceberg chart, it's truly incredible," Rebecca Acton-Bond, acting superintendent of ice operations with the Canadian Coast Guard, told CBC News.
"Usually, you don't see these numbers until the end of May or June. So the amount of icebergs that we're seeing right now, it really is quite something."
This rare climate event is only one of several reported this month. Scientists discovered a giant waterfall forming in Antarctica and an entire river in Canada's Yukon territory suddenly and unexpectedly changing direction.
Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Prize recognizes grassroots activists for significant achievement to protect the environment and their communities.
The winners will be awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the San Francisco Opera House (this event will be live streamed online). A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC will follow on April 26.
This year's winners are:
Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo
Putting his life on the line, Rodrigue Katembo went undercover to document and release information about bribery and corruption in the quest to drill for oil in Virunga National Park, resulting in public outrage that forced the company to withdraw from the project.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Prafulla Samantara, India
An iconic leader of social justice movements in India, Prafulla Samantara led a historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh's land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Uroš Macerl, Slovenia
Uroš Macerl, an organic farmer from Slovenia, successfully stopped a cement kiln from co-incinerating petcoke with hazardous industrial waste by rallying legal support from fellow activists and leveraging his status as the only citizen allowed to challenge the plant's permits.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Wendy Bowman, Australia
In the midst of an onslaught of coal development in Australia, octogenarian Wendy Bowman stopped a powerful multinational mining company from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental destruction.
Goldman Environmental Prize
mark! Lopez, United States
Born and raised in a family of community activists, mark! Lopez persuaded the state of California to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of East Los Angeles homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had polluted the community for over three decades.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala
An indigenous leader in Guatemala's Agua Caliente, Rodrigo Tot led his community to a landmark court decision that ordered the government to issue land titles to the Q'eqchi people and kept environmentally destructive nickel mining from expanding into his community.
Goldman Environmental Prize
By Lauren McCauley
The amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere is now officially off the charts as the planet last week breached the 410 parts per million (ppm) milestone for the first time in human history.
"It's a new atmosphere that humanity will have to contend with, one that's trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate," wrote Climate Central's Brian Kahn. "Carbon dioxide hasn't reached that height in millions of years."
The milestone was recorded Tuesday at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Keeling Curve, a program of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego. Since the planet reached the dangerous new normal of 400 ppm last year, scientists have warned that that the accelerated rate at which concentrations of CO2 are rising means that humanity is marching further and further past the symbolic red line towards climate chaos.
What's more, as Aarne Granlund, a graduate student researching climate change at the University of the Arctic, pointed out, the recording was taken before carbon levels are expected to reach their annual peak, meaning they could soon notch even higher.
But despite the unprecedented threat, climate action has ground to a halt in the U.S. under the leadership of President Donald Trump and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, forcing campaigners and concerned citizens to take to the streets in droves to prompt the government to do something to address the threat of planetary devastation.
Saturday's March for Science saw tens of thousands of people rally in Washington, DC and across the world to send a message to the Trump administration that governance should be based on research and facts—not ideology.
Speaking at the march in San Diego, Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 program at Scripps whose father founded the Keeling Curve, gave an impassioned speech on why legislators need to abandon the partisan effort to stymie environmental legislation, declaring: "The climate change debate has been over for decades."
Now, infused by the energy of the March for Science, campaigners are gearing up for next weekend's Peoples Climate March with a week of action that centers on creating a just transition away from fossil fuels.
"The Peoples Climate March is the next step for the March for Science, a call to get more engaged in our political system, to confront power and to demand solutions," explained May Boeve, executive director of 350.org.
"The demands we will put forward—respect for Indigenous peoples, investments in communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, transitioning from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy economy that works for all and more," Boeve continued, "highlight the intersections between our different struggles and the common solutions we can work for together."
Dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," the more than 50 events in the lead-up to Saturday will include strategy sessions, a massive youth convergence, the introduction of a 100 percent Clean Energy Bill in Congress and non-violent direct actions.
On Friday, activists will form "Mother Earth's red line" on the Capitol lawn to symbolize the multiple lines that must not be crossed by corporations and governments in the increasingly severe climate crisis, organizers said.
"This is about strength in unity; diverse groups of people are coming together like never before and are creating a red line of protection against capitalism, militarism and racism," said Kandi Mossett, Indigenous energy and climate campaign organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the group's organizing the direct action. "We are here to push for solutions like Indigenous rights, divestment and renewable energy as we continue to fight for a just transition away from a fossil fuel based economy."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
According to Business Insider, each pair uses an average of 11 plastic bottles and incorporates recycled plastic into the shoe's laces, heel webbing, heel lining and sock liner covers.
"The new additions to the adidas x Parley collection are another step in our journey to creating one million pairs of Ultraboost from up-cycled marine plastic," said Mathias Amm, a product category director at adidas.
The new, ocean-inspired sneakers will be available in-store and online May 10.
Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans—a team of artists, musicians, actors, directors, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors and scientists addressing major threats to the world's oceans— to develop materials made from ocean plastic waste to use in its products starting in 2016. Last November, adidas and Parley rolled out 7,000 pairs of its 3D-printed shoes made from recycled ocean plastics.
To ramp up its commitment to sustainability, adidas phased out plastic bags in its 2,900 retail stores around the world, saving 70 million plastic shopping bags by switching to paper bags in its stores.
EcoWatch has extensively covered the devastating global issue of ocean plastic, which is a major threat to marine life, marine ecosystems and our own health. A staggering 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year.
Tens of thousands of people celebrated Earth Day Saturday by taking to the streets in a historic day of action for science and truth. A massive March for Science took place in Washington, DC, and more than 600 sister marches took place in other cities around the world.
"We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and our prosperity," Bill Nye, honorary co-chair of the March for Science, told the crowd in DC.
Saturday's March for Science was the perfect launching pad to a week of action that will culminate in the Peoples Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29. As Ploy Achakulwisut, PhD Candidate in Atmospheric Science at Harvard University, put it, "the Science March is about respecting science, the People's Climate March is about acting on it."
The week of action, dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," will feature more than 50 events, including the launch of visionary clean energy legislation, a speak-out of the 21 young people suing the U.S. government, massive youth convergence, direct actions and more.
"Scientists have not been eager to get politically involved, but in the face of unceasing attacks and organized denial, they're putting their credibility to good use," Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder, said. "Now the rest of us can back them up next weekend when everyone gets to march!"
May Boeve, 350.org executive director, shared the same sentiment.
"The Peoples Climate March is the next step for the March for Science: a call to get more engaged in our political system, to confront power and to demand solutions," she said.
"The demands we will put forward—respect for Indigenous peoples, investments in communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, transitioning from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy economy that works for all, and more—highlight the intersections between our different struggles, and the common solutions we can work for together."
In addition to the march in DC this weekend, there will be hundreds of sister marches in cities across the globe.
Check out these amazing tweets from the March for Science:
Opendata.epa.gov—the U.S. government's largest civilian-linked data service, storing crucial information on climate change, life cycle assessment, health impact analysis and environmental justice—could face shut-down this Friday, according to people familiar with the plan.
"Last week, after numerous conversations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Information (OEI), and various technical contractors who support them, we were notified that funding is not available to continue operation U.S. EPA's flagship Open Data Web service," wrote open data scientist Bernadette Hyland—the CEO and co-founder of 3 Round Stones, a platform for publishing data on the web—in a Medium post on Sunday.
A screenshot taken from the site this morning around 7:50 a.m. shows a popup announcing the Friday shutdown.
Hyland noted in her post that the U.S. EPA Open Data Service website, which has been publicly available since 2016, provides human- and machine-readable information for more than 4 million EPA-regulated facilities, from dry cleaners to nuclear power plants. The critical service contains linked open data on 30 years of toxic releases into the environment maintained by the EPA Toxics Release Inventory Program, she wrote.
Hyland detailed how the EPA contacted her Fredericksburg, Virginia-based company and said, "We need to be ready to turn-off the EPA Open Data web service by noon on April 28, 2017—the last day of the current continuing resolution. If Congress does not pass a budget, we will be facing a government shutdown and won't be able to give technical direction to continue any work."
Reports of the EPA Open Data web service going dark spread wide Monday morning, prompting online backlash and efforts to quickly copy the data.
As the Independent explained, if the site were to shut down, this means that "citizens will no longer be able to access information on their environment and climate, keeping them from researching potentially fatal changes to their area."
It is well known that President Trump's administration has been wiping Obama-era climate initiatives off the Internet. Rex Tillerson's State Department has scrubbed from its websites the mention of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and other efforts on fighting climate change.
And it emerged last week that Rick Perry's Department of Energy has significantly altered its websites on renewable energy, removing references on how clean energy technologies can reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and help lower climate-changing emissions.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the president will sign new executive orders this week, including two on energy and the environment to make it easier for the U.S. to develop energy on and offshore.
Following a four-month battle for his life, Chris Linaman committed to sharing his story to help raise awareness about the growing threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As executive chef at a large medical center, he is also driving change at an institutional level, harnessing his purchasing power to support the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals.
Linaman is the recipient of the "Sustainable Food Procurement Award" by Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition committed to environmentally responsible health care. As part of Pew's Supermoms Against Superbugs initiative, Linaman recently met with policymakers in Washington, urging them to maintain sufficient funding for efforts that are critical to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which has become a public health crisis. He spoke with Pew about his illness and his advocacy.
Chris Linaman. © The Pew Charitable Trusts
Q: Can you tell us about your MRSA infection and how it affected you and your family?
A: My nightmare started as a basketball injury. I'd had a successful ACL surgery and several weeks into my recovery was doing great and thought my incision was fully healed. But that all changed very quickly. After a weekend trip to visit friends, I went to sleep on a Sunday night feeling fine and woke up Monday morning to find my knee had swollen to the size of a melon. It was bright red and hot to the touch. Within hours, my MRSA infection had been diagnosed and I was in emergency surgery—the first of several surgeries I would need over the course of four days.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of my struggle to survive MRSA.
Just a few days after being sent home from the hospital, my wife found me nearly unconscious, with a swollen face and a temperature of 105 degrees. She rushed me back to the hospital and the doctors told her to begin making plans because they didn't expect me to make it. Luckily, the spinal tap showed the infection had not yet gotten to my brain. But I needed to have even more surgeries to get rid of it and I also lost my epidermis—the outer layer of my skin—over my entire body, due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they were using to treat me.
Ultimately, the doctors were able to get the infection under control within a few weeks, but the road to recovery was long and painful. Even after my infection was cleared and I was out of the hospital, my body was still reeling from all it had been through. My leg muscles were wrecked from all of the surgeries and it took extensive physical therapy to get me back to anything resembling normal. To help put it in perspective, my original ACL surgery had been in early May and it wasn't until mid-July that I was even able to walk around the block in my neighborhood, a feat that took more than an hour.
Beyond the physical trauma, the whole ordeal also nearly ruined our family financially and it was emotionally devastating as well. At the time, our two kids were just 2 and 4 years old and they didn't understand what was going on. It still breaks my heart to think about it. Those were the darkest days of my life and, honestly, it's hard to believe that I'm still here.
Q: Why do you think it's so important for superbug survivors to share their stories?
A: I don't think enough people realize the extent of what's at stake. People have maybe heard the term "post-antibiotic" era but don't really understand what that could mean to them and their families. While it's still very difficult for me to talk about—even today, more than 10 years later—sharing my experience can help show what that future could look like if we don't keep up the fight and do what we can today. As horrible as my MRSA infection was, I'm the "good" outcome—I survived. Way too many others have not.
Q: Why do you advocate for the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals and how have you brought that advocacy to life in your work?
A: It's absolutely essential that we have effective antibiotics available when people need them. I know this firsthand and I want to make sure that my kids never live in a world where there are no antibiotics to help them. So we need to do anything and everything we can to conserve these lifesaving drugs so that they work when they're needed—that includes making sure antibiotics are used appropriately and only when necessary—both in people and in animals.
Shortly after I recovered from my MRSA infection, I began working as the executive chef at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, Washington and in that role I created a procurement policy for the center that prioritizes bringing healthy food to our community and gives preference to food producers who are working to reduce antibiotic use. That policy has really been the foundation for driving significant increases in the proportion of responsibly raised food we're able to source. We've gone from approximately 19 percent of our proteins being classified as "reduced antibiotic use" in 2012, up to 80 percent in 2016. And during this same time, I've seen the market for responsibly raised meats evolve as well. It's been increasingly easier and less expensive to find these types of proteins and that's part of what's made our dramatic shift at Overlake possible. It's not just small and local famers offering these types of products anymore, it's also producers on a larger scale and that's encouraging.
Q: What can individuals do to support the responsible use of antibiotics in animal agriculture?
A: Everyone can do something. As patients, we can talk to our doctors about whether an antibiotic is necessary. When it comes to reducing antibiotic use in food animals, we can all commit to doing our research and being mindful shoppers who choose to purchase products from farmers and companies that are committed to minimizing antibiotic use. Consumer demand for responsibly raised food has been a powerful force for change in recent years and together we can make sure that demand continues to grow and make a real difference.
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