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Great white sharks like this are scared of killer whales. Photo credit: Cat Gennaro / Moment / Getty Images

The great white sharks of South Africa had better watch out.

Two orcas that have been known to hunt the apex predators were spotted Sunday in Cape Town’s False Bay. 

“The legendary shark snacking Killer whales Port and Starboard are back in False Bay, CapeTown,” the Seafari App announced on Twitter Monday.

https://twitter.com/SeafariApp/status/1482945852343734272

Seafari is an app that was developed to help critically endangered dugong in East Africa, but can now be used around the world to report marine mammal sightings. The particular marine mammals spotted over the weekend are named for their collapsed dorsal fins and infamous for taking on one of the ocean’s most fearsome predators. 

In fact, the pair of orcas had previously been linked to a decline of great white sharks in South Africa’s False Bay, Newsweek reported. 

False Bay used to be a hot spot for great white sightings, with 200 to 250 counted every year. However, their numbers began to drop starting in 2017, and Shark Spotters CEO Sarah Waries said only five were seen in all of 2021. 

At first, the disappearance was blamed on overfishing and illegal hunting, AFP reported. However, a government report released in 2020 revealed another culprit: a pair of orca that had first been spotted in the area in 2015. All told, the deadly duo has been seen in the area at least 41 times since then, Newsweek reported.

The remains of five great white sharks killed by orcas were discovered near Gansbaai in South Africa in 2017, according to AFP. In 2020, yet another slaughtered shark was found on a beach. These attacks seem to have scared off other sharks. 

"Each and every time that this happened, there was an immediate drop and gap in white sharks sighting," marine biologist Alison Kock said, as AFP reported. 

The phenomenon of orcas chasing off sharks isn’t unique to South Africa. A 2019 study found that sharks tend to flee when they notice orcas nearby, as ScienceAlert reported in 2020.

"When confronted by orcas, white sharks will immediately vacate their preferred hunting ground and will not return for up to a year, even though the orcas are only passing through," study co-author and marine ecologist Salvador Jorgensen of Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The research was based on orcas and sharks located in the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, so this really is a global phenomenon. 

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People walk past the Prada luxury fashion store on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2016. Photo credit: Robert Alexander / Getty Images

A new bill in the state of New York could require fashion brands to disclose social and climate impacts as well as order these global companies to work toward reducing their environmental impact.

The bill, if passed, requires major fashion retailers that make over $100 million in revenue globally and operate in New York "to disclose environmental and social due diligence policies [and] establishes a community benefit fund for the purpose of implementing one or more environmental benefit projects that directly and verifiably benefit environmental justice communities,” the bill states. That includes luxury brands, like Prada and Armani, alongside fast-fashion retailers, like Shein.

Under the proposed Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, retailers that do not disclose environmental and social policies nor work toward environmental benefit projects would face penalties of up to 2% on revenues of $450 million or higher. All fines collected from companies violating the law would go into a fund used to support projects for environmental justice.

If the new law is passed, fashion brands would need to show at least 50% of their suppliers by volume, Bloomberg reported, as well as the type and materials used to make apparel and how much of the materials are recycled. The companies must also identify impacts based on their emissions, water consumption and chemical use.

The law would also hold companies accountable for reporting wages paid to suppliers, with analyses on how that pay compares to minimum wages and living wages. All of these disclosures would need to be listed on the brands’ websites. New York’s state attorney general would then create an annual report listing any brands that do not comply with the law, and citizens could then file civil suits against the retailers.

“As a global fashion and business capital of the world, New York State has a moral responsibility to serve as a leader in mitigating the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry,” said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, co-sponsor of the bill. Biaggi also noted that the law would make the state a leader in holding the fashion industry accountable and that the law would prioritize “labor, human rights, and environmental protections.”

As reported by The World Bank, the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of all annual emissions globally. Fashion consumption is only speeding up, too, and experts estimate that the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge 50% before the end of the decade.

The law, first introduced in October 2021, is currently in committee.

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Plastic pollution on a Panama beach. Photo credit: LUIS ACOSTA / AFP via Getty Images

Humanity is currently releasing more chemical and plastic pollution into the environment than Earth can support.

That’s the conclusion of a first-of-its-kind study published in Environmental Science and Technology Tuesday, which argues that the planetary boundary for novel entities has been exceeded by human activity. The researchers defined “novel entities” as manufactured chemicals that do not appear naturally in large quantities and have the potential to disrupt Earth’s systems. 

“There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950. This is projected to triple again by 2050,” study co-author Patricia Villarubia-Gómez from the Stockholm Resilience Centre(SRC) at Stockholm University said in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. “The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals and other novel entities into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.”

In 2009, a team of researchers identified nine planetary boundaries that have led to a stable Earth for the last 10,000 years. These include greenhouse gas emissions, the ozone layer, forests, freshwater and biodiversity. The new research builds on this foundation by quantifying the planetary boundary for novel entities. 

The researchers concluded that the boundary had been breached because production and release of plastics and other chemicals now surpasses the ability of governments to assess and monitor these pollutants.

“For a long time, people have known that chemical pollution is a bad thing,” study co-author Dr. Sarah Cornell of the SRC told The Guardian. “But they haven’t been thinking about it at the global level. This work brings chemical pollution, especially plastics, into the story of how people are changing the planet.”

Scientists have previously concluded that humanity has exceeded the planetary boundaries for global heating, biodiversity loss, habitat loss and nitrogen and phosphorous pollution. 

The researchers noted that there are around 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals on the global market, with almost 70,000 introduced in the last decade. Among them are plastics, pesticides, industrial chemicals and pharmaceutical products. 

Plastics are especially concerning, the study authors said. They now weigh more than double the mass of living animals and around 80 percent of all the plastics ever produced persist in the environment instead of being properly recycled. Further, plastics are made up of more than 10,000 other chemicals that can enter the environment in new combinations when they degrade. 

In order to address the risk posed by plastics and other chemical pollutants, the study authors argued that it is important to curb their production and release into the environment. 

“We need to be working towards implementing a fixed cap on chemical production and release,” study co-author Bethanie Carney Almroth from the University of Gothenburg said in the press release. 

They also supported calls for a circular economy.

“That means changing materials and products so they can be reused not wasted, designing chemicals and products for recycling, and much better screening of chemicals for their safety and sustainability along their whole impact pathway in the Earth system,” Villarubia Gómez said in the press release. 

2022 Planetary Boundaries Novel Entities · Owen Gaffney

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