France moved one step closer this weekend to banning short-haul flights in an attempt to fight the climate crisis.
A bill prohibiting regional flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of less than two and a half hours passed the country's National Assembly late on Saturday, as Reuters reported.
"We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions," Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Europe 1 radio, according to Reuters.
The measure now has to pass the French Senate, then return to the lower house for a final vote. It would end regional flights between Paris's Orly airport and cities like Nantes and Bordeaux, The Guardian explained. It would not, however, impact connecting flights through Paris's Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport.
The bill is part of a legislative package which aims to reduce France's emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030, Reuters reported. It is a watered-down version of a proposal suggested by France's Citizens' Convention on Climate, BBC News explained. This group, which was formed by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and included 150 ordinary citizens, had put forward a ban on flights that could be replaced with an existing train journey of under four hours.
However, the journey length was lowered after protests from KLM-Air France, which had suffered heavy losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, and regions who were concerned about being left out of national transit networks, as The Guardian explained.
"We have chosen two and a half hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous," transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said, as The Guardian reported.
However, some environmental and consumer groups objected to the changes. The organization UFC-Que Choisir compared plane routes with equivalent train journeys of under four hours and found that the plane trips emitted an average of 77 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than the train journeys. At the same time, the train alternatives were cheaper and only as much as 40 minutes longer.
"[T]he government's choice actually aims to empty the measure of its substance," the group said, according to The Guardian.
The new measure also opens the French government to charges of hypocrisy. It bailed out Air France-KLM to the tune of a seven-billion euro loan last year, though it did require the airline to drop some domestic routes as a condition. Then, days before the measure passed, it more than doubled its stake in the airline, BBC News reported. However, Pannier-Runacher insisted to Europe 1 radio that it was possible to balance fighting climate change and supporting struggling businesses.
"Equally, we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside," she said, as Reuters reported.
This is not the first time that climate measures and aviation bailouts have coincided in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Austrian Airlines replaced its Vienna-Salzburg flight with additional train service after it received government money dependent on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, BBC News reported.
The number of flights worldwide declined almost 42 percent in 2020 when compared with 2019. It is expected that global aviation may not fully recover until 2024, according to Reuters.
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Four gray whales have washed up dead near San Francisco within nine days, and at least one cause of death has been attributed to a ship strike.
More whales than usual have been washing up dead since 2019, and the West Coast gray whale population continues to suffer from an unusual mortality event, defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response."
"It's alarming to respond to four dead gray whales in just over a week because it really puts into perspective the current challenges faced by this species," Dr. Pádraig Duignan, director of pathology at the Marine Mammal Center, said in a press release.
As the world's largest marine mammal hospital, the Sausalito-based center has been investigating the recent spate of deaths. The first involved a 41-foot female who washed up dead at San Francisco's Crissy Field on March 31, SFGate reported. The cause of death remains a mystery, as the whale was in good condition with a full stomach. The second, another female, washed up on April 3 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on Moss Beach.
"That animal's cause of death, we suspect, was ship strike," the Marine Mammal Center's Giancarlo Rulli told SFGate. "Our plan is to eventually head back out to that whale and take more samples."
The third whale washed up April 7 near Berkeley Marina, The AP reported. The center determined it was a 37-foot male in average condition, with no evidence of illness or injury.
A 41-foot female turned up the next day on Marin County's Muir Beach. She suffered bruising and hemorrhaging around the jaw and neck vertebrae, indicating a vessel strike.
Vessel strikes are one of the leading causes of death for gray whales examined by the Marine Mammal Center, along with entanglements in fishing gear and malnutrition. While the species is not endangered, the population has declined by 25 percent since last assessed in 2016, CNN reported.
West Coast gray whales travel 10,000 miles every year between Mexico and the Arctic, according to The AP. They spend the winter breeding off of Baja California, and feed along the California coast in spring and summer on their way back north. The Marine Mammal Center began noticing a problem for the migrating whales in 2019.
"Our team hasn't responded to this number of dead gray whales in such a short span since 2019 when we performed a startling 13 necropsies in the San Francisco Bay Area," Dr. Duignan said in the press release.
The 2019 deaths led NOAA to declare an unusual mortality event for West Coast gray whales. It is similar to another event that happened from 1999 to 2000, after which the whales' numbers rebounded to even higher levels. This suggests population dips and rises may not be uncommon for the species. However, it is also possible that the climate crisis is playing a role. The 2019 deaths were linked to malnutrition, and warmer waters can reduce the amount of food whales have to eat in the Arctic, giving them less energy for their migration, CNN explained. Overfishing can also play a role in depriving whales of food, the Marine Mammal Center said.
Dr. Jeff Boehm, Marine Mammal Center CEO and veterinarian, told CNN that he had observed an uptick in shipping traffic after the pandemic caused a slowdown. At the same time, the center is less able to conduct research because of COVID-19 safety precautions. And even in the best of times, only around 10 percent of dead whales wash up on shore, The AP reported.
"This many dead whales in a week is shocking, especially because these animals are the tip of the iceberg," Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Oceans program, told The AP.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
About 70% of the buildings in Kalbarri were damaged and tens of thousands are without power by winds gusting over 100 miles per hour. Climate change, caused by humans' extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, is making cyclonic storms more extreme by increasing air and ocean temperatures, which effectively supercharges the storms.
"You just thought, this is it. I would have thought that when we opened the door, that there would be nothing around us except that roof," Kalbarri resident Debbie Major told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We are a small town. Half of it has been flattened." Seroja devastated regions of Indonesia and Timor-Leste last week, where it triggered deadly flash floods and landslides.
#CycloneSeroja: homes & units before & after the cyclone hit #Kalbarri, 170kmh gusts causing major damage. #7NEWS https://t.co/WYFL2QOlwB— Paul Kadak (@Paul Kadak)1618186830.0
For a deeper dive:
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By Rishika Pardikar
Search operations are still underway to find those declared missing following the Uttarakhand disaster on 7 February 2021.
"As of now [18 March], we have found 74 bodies and 130 people are still missing," said Swati S. Bhadauria, district magistrate in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India. Chamoli is the district where a hanging, ice-capped rock broke off from a glacier and fell into a meltwater- and debris-formed lake below. The lake subsequently breached, leading to heavy flooding downstream.
The disaster is attributed to both development policies in the Himalayas and climate change. And as is common with climate-linked disasters, the most vulnerable sections of society suffered the most devastating consequences. Among the most vulnerable in Chamoli are its population of migrant construction workers from states across India.
Of the 204 people dead or missing, only 77 are from Uttarakhand, and "only 11 were not workers of the two dam companies," Bhadauria noted. The two dams referred to are the 13.2-megawatt Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project and the 520-megawatt Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant, which has been under construction since 2005. The flash floods in Chamoli first broke through the Rishiganga project and then, along with debris accumulated there, broke through the Tapovan Vishnugad project 5–6 kilometers downstream.
"Both local people and others from Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh…from all over India work on these two [hydroelectric] projects," said Atul Sati, a Chamoli-based social activist with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.
Sati noted that the local community suspects the number of casualties from the Uttarakhand disaster may be higher than reported because not all the projects' migrant workers—including those from bordering countries like Nepal—have been accounted for by the construction companies and their subcontractors.
The National Thermal Power Corporation is the state-owned utility that owns the Tapovan Vishnugad project. "NTPC has given building contracts to some companies," Sati explained. "These companies have given subcontracts to other companies. What locals are saying is that there are more [than 204] who are missing. They say there were [migrant] workers from Nepal."
NTPC and the Kundan Group (the corporate owner of the Rishiganga project) have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
No Early-Warning System
"NTPC did not have a proper early-warning system," said Mritunjay Kumar, an employee with the government of the east Indian state of Bihar. Kumar's bother, Manish Kumar, was a migrant worker employed with Om Infra Ltd., an NTPC subcontractor. On the day of the disaster, Manish was working in one of the silt flushing tunnels of the Tapovan project and lost his life in the flooding.
Mritunjay Kumar noted that it "would have taken time" for the floodwater and debris to flow from the meltwater lake to the Rishiganga project and then to the Tapovan project. "Even if workers knew 5 minutes in advance," he said, "lives could have been saved."
An advance notice "would have given [Tapovan] workers at least 5–6 critical minutes," agreed Hridayesh Joshi, an environmental journalist from Uttarakhand who reported from Chamoli after the disaster. "Many people made videos; they shouted and alerted people on site. If there was a robust early-warning system, many more lives could have been saved…even if not all, at least some would have escaped."
"It is true that this was an environmental, climate change driven disaster. But NTPC had not taken any measures to save their workers from such disasters," Kumar said. "They [NTPC] hadn't even installed emergency exits for tunnel workers. The only proper exit was a road which faces the river. If NTPC had installed a few temporary iron staircases, many people could have climbed out."
Kumar noted that the Tapovan project has been under construction since before the 2013 Kedarnath disaster, in which more than 5,000 people lost their lives as rainfall-driven floods ravaged northern India. "If they [NTPC] knew that such disasters will happen, why didn't they install early-warning systems?" Kumar asked. "Scientists have been warning about climate change and [dam and road] constructions in the Himalayas from a very long time. Obviously, NTPC was aware."
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Biden Refuses to Shut Down Dakota Access Pipeline, Despite Campaign Pledges on Tribal Relations and Climate
By Jessica Corbett
Indigenous leaders and climate campaigners on Friday blasted President Joe Biden's refusal to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline during a court-ordered environmental review, which critics framed as a betrayal of his campaign promises to improve tribal relations and transition the country to clean energy.
"Biden's inaction to protect our fragile ecosystems, natural resources, traditional medicines, and Indigenous rights is a clear sign that this administration is the exact opposite of the climate leadership narrative they promised to lead during his campaign," said Tasina Sapa Win Smith of the Cheyenne River Grassroots Collective.
Brooke Harper, campaign strategist for the environmental group 350.org, declared that "the Biden administration missed a huge opportunity today to take a step towards ensuring a livable future for everyone in this country."
"The Dakota Access Pipeline violates treaty rights and endangers land, water, and communities," Harper said. "The climate crisis is here; we can no longer afford to build polluting, dangerous fossil fuel pipelines and delay a just transition to 100% clean energy. In solidarity with Indigenous water protectors, we call on President Joe Biden to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, Line 3, and all new fossil fuel projects immediately. If Biden wants to be a climate leader on the world stage, he needs to start at home."
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who ordered the environmental impact assessment last year, held a hearing Friday afternoon so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could provide an update on whether the Biden administration planned to allow the pipeline known as DAPL to continue operating without a federal permit.
After Ben Schifman, an attorney for the government, shared that the Army Corps of Engineers would not shut down the pipeline at this time but "is essentially in a continuous process of evaluating," Boasberg granted the 10-day continuance. The DC-based judge is expected to decide whether he will order DAPL to shut down by April 19.
The pipeline carries oil from North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, to Illinois. Although the project was denied permission to cross beneath Lake Oahe on unceded ancestral tribal lands by former President Barack Obama — under whom Biden was vice president — former President Donald Trump swiftly reversed course and allowed the project to proceed.
Indigenous water protectors and environmentalists have been fighting against the pipeline for years — opposition that's been met with forceful crackdowns by private security and law enforcement. Since it began operating in 2017, DAPL and the communities through which it runs have been plagued by repeated leaks.
The climate crisis is the greatest threat we face as a nation and a planet. Today I led a letter with… https://t.co/2PuYkQChxE— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Rep. Ilhan Omar)1618001676.0
"For hundreds of years, our people have faced unwelcome and deadly incursions upon our homelands," said Phyllis Young, Standing Rock organizer for the Lakota People's Law Project and former tribal liaison to the Oceti Sakowin protest camp. "Today's decision is disappointing and demonstrates a lack of understanding by Washington politicians for Indigenous sovereignty."
"We will do our very best to see this pipeline removed, our water protected, and our sacred lands healed," Young said. "We will replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. One bad decision can't change that. We're dedicated to providing a better future for the generations to come. We've been fighting for our lives for centuries, and we aren't going to stop now."
Chairman Mike Faith of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said Friday that "we are gravely concerned about the continued operation of this pipeline, which poses an unacceptable risk to our sovereign nation."
"In a meeting with members of Biden's staff earlier this year, we were told that this new administration wanted to 'get this right,'" Faith noted. "Unfortunately, today's update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows it has chosen to ignore our pleas and stick to the wrong path."
Joye Braun, an Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) DAPL frontline organizer and citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation, said that "it is imperative that the Biden administration shut down DAPL now."
"The Army Corps of Engineers should not twist the rule of law to favor big oil interests and further spit on the nation-to-nation relationship between tribal nations and the U.S. government," Braun continued. "The Biden administration needs to do the right thing and stop this illegal pipeline."
"Why allow something illegal to continue?" Braun asked. "Set the example, honor the treaties, and show that the rule of law is greater than oil corporate interests. We will no longer accept being the sacrificial lamb for corporate raping of our Mother Earth and her water."
According to CNN, Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who has represented Standing Rock in its legal challenge against DAPL for several years, called the administration's inaction on Friday "a continuation of a terrible history."
"This pipeline is unsafe and operating in violation of federal law. Meanwhile, Energy Transfer is seeking to double capacity, which would make DAPL twice as dangerous," Hasselman added in a statement, referring to one of the pipeline's owners. "Yet the Biden administration's decision here is to do nothing."
"It's hard to see how we'll ever transition away from fossil fuels or show the rest of the world that we're serious about tackling climate change, if we are just going to shrug and look away when the fossil fuel industry brazenly ignores tribal concerns and tramples our federal environmental laws and safety regulations," the attorney said.
We are not backing down, @JoeBiden. We will #ShutdownDAPL. Respect us, or expect us.— Indigenous Environmental Network (@Indigenous Environmental Network)1617997041.0
"The Leaders Summit on Climate will underscore the urgency — and the economic benefits — of stronger climate action," said a White House statement about the event. "It will be a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow."
In a statement Friday, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune noted that "Biden campaigned and was elected on the boldest climate platform ever. Minutes after being sworn in, Biden began taking real, meaningful climate action. Less than a week into office, the president issued a memorandum on strengthening tribal consultation."
"Yet, President Biden's actions today fail to live up to the climate and tribal commitments he made," Brune said, adding that the decision to not shut down DAPL doesn't align "with the bold action he has taken since taking office."
"The Dakota Access Pipeline is a dirty, dangerous, illegally constructed pipeline that has continued to threaten tribal sovereignty and our collective right to clean water and a healthy, sustainable climate," he said. "Continued and expanded reliance on crude oil is not compatible with the president's own climate commitments, including the ones we expect him to make in weeks' time at his climate summit."
"The climate crisis demands that President Biden and his administration seize every opportunity to confront it," he concluded. "Today's decision is deeply disappointing, and we expect the courts to rightfully put an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline, just as we expect the president's future actions to meet his rhetoric and commitments."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By David Shiffman
As we enter what's hopefully the home stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's time to take stock of how it affected every aspect of our world, to consider what happened, what could be done different to avoid those problems in the future, and what's next.
That might mean confronting some of our earlier conclusions. For example, at the start of the pandemic we were bombarded with often false stories about suddenly quiet cities and waterways experiencing animals reclaiming what was once their habitat. "Nature is healing" stories like this seem to have created an overly rosy picture of the pandemic's impact on the natural world.
The reality is much more complicated, and I'm not just talking about things like the well-publicized millions of inappropriately discarded plastic bags and protective masks ending up in the ocean. Many other changes to the world's waters, including some potentially harmful ones, are taking place beneath the surface.
"Protected and conserved areas and the people who depend on them are facing mounting challenges due to the pandemic," says Rachel Golden Kroner, an environmental governance fellow at Conservation International. Indeed, for the past two decades a sizable chunk of global biodiversity conservation has been funded by ecotourism, a funding source that dries up when international travel slows down, as it did this past year.
While any global complex event has many impacts including some that we almost certainly can't predict at this point, many of the medium and long-term effects are likely to be bad.
And You Thought Your Virtual Meetings Were Bad
It's not just your workplace that's been meeting online this past year. It's every meeting, including international wildlife conservation and management meetings.
Some of these important events have been postponed, stalling critical political momentum that scientists and activists have been building for years. Others have met virtually, with notably less effectiveness.
The highest profile example of this was the December 2020 failure of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. The IATTC is an international gathering that governs a multi-billion-dollar series of global tuna fisheries, and meetings include representatives from all over the world who hammer out fishing quotas and other rules. The 2020 meeting closed without reaching an agreement on 2021 quotas. If allowed to stand, this would have meant that starting on January 1 of this year, a multi-billion-dollar global industry would have had absolutely no rules governing it. Imagine if your city council failed to agree on a policing budget, and this meant that "The Purge" was suddenly real — that's what nearly happened in the world of tuna management this past winter.
The pandemic didn't create the problem of tuna management politics, but experts believe that the virtual meeting, which precluded "schmoozing" in the hallway during coffee breaks and added an element of multiple time zone chaos, contributed to this year's unprecedented breakdown in negotiations.
"These meetings are often difficult to get through, but usually they keep working until they get it done, until there's at least a decent solution," says Grantly Galland, a global tuna conservation expert with Pew Environment. That's hard enough in person, but this year "the meeting started at 6 p.m. for me in D.C., which was midnight in Europe, and early morning in Japan. People were often frustrated. As discussions dragged into the night the incentive to keep going disappeared, and the meeting ended without rules."
Fortunately, after receiving intense pushback from environmental groups and the concerned public, the commission met for an emergency meeting a few weeks later and fixed this problem by just carrying over the 2020 rules to 2021 — hardly an ideal solution given existing problems with the 2020 rules, but a lot better than open ocean anarchy.
Still, this near-disaster shows how dependent our system of environmental management is on face-to-face meetings.
Whenever there's any economic crisis, industry will ask for a temporary (or even permanent) rollback of environmental protection regulations that they find economically burdensome. Marine and coastal protected areas, long a priority for science-based conservation and long opposed by elements of the fishing industry, have been no exception.
For example, a fisheries management council asked then-President Trump to allow fishing in currently protected areas, and the Trump administration did roll back fishing protections in the Atlantic around that time.
NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition
Marine protected areas also face other threats stemming from the pandemic. Rachel Golden Kroner, who also authored a recent paper on the impacts of the pandemic on protected areas, says: "Key challenges for marine protected areas include budget cuts, declines in tourism revenue, disruption of seafood supply chains and challenges in implementing management activities."
Golden Kroner shared examples of the near-collapse of the tourism-associated hospitality industry in Kenya, the Galapagos, Indonesia and Australia, noting that some of these industries employed former members of the fishing industry who had been persuaded to work in tourism instead.
While some coastal communities and protected areas face these serious issues, the good news is that this problem is far from universal.
"While the shutdowns, restrictions, and closures of coastal areas disrupted access and temporarily interrupted stewardship and harvest activities across Hawai'i, the connections between humans and nature forged over generations ensured that marine management actions never lost momentum," says Ulu Ching, the program manager for community-based conservation for Conservation International's Hawaii office. "Well-established community networks in collaboration with government resource management agencies continued to advance the work of mālama i ke kai (caring for the ocean) through the development and establishment of community-driven marine managed areas across the islands during the pandemic."
A young monk seal underwater in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. NOAA/PIFSC/HMSRP
Additionally, Golden Kroner points out that while some momentum for creating protected areas has stalled and some industry groups have called for rollbacks, there is good news in the form of expanded protected areas in a handful of places around the world. But it's clear that despite some positive signs, momentum in creating new marine protected areas has stalled in many places, tourism that funded their operations has slowed to a crawl, and some industries have been successful in rolling back protections.
Threats Continue, But Monitoring Has Stalled
One of the primary tools in the conservationist's toolbox for making sure that the commercial fishing industry follows the rules is observer coverage: independent people on board fishing vessels who monitor and record the catch. Due to COVID-19 safety regulations, observer coverage in much of the world has been reduced or eliminated — but fishing continues.
"For countries with fewer management resources, I can imagine that less observer coverage could lead to more rules being bent," says Simon Gulak, a fisheries consultant with Sea Leucas LLC who used to coordinate fisheries observers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Fisheries observers provide fisheries management with accurate information on all discards/bycatch at sea, not just the cuddly protected species," he says. "They're a bit like a fisher's auditor and are liked about as much."
The problem with a lack of observers means that we generally have no way of knowing if bad things are happening on the water, but there are certainly cases of fishing vessels who only follow the rules because they'll get fined if they don't.
Gulak notes that in fisheries subject to electronic monitoring — including GPS trackers and cameras that document all catch and bycatch — observers may be less important because all relevant data is recorded automatically and it's harder to get away with breaking the rules.
Galland, the tuna conservation expert, also stressed the importance of ramping up electronic fisheries monitoring efforts. If the pandemic leads to an increase in e-monitoring, that may be a long-term good. In the meantime, we just don't know what's going on in many fisheries that were previously monitored by human observers.
It's not just fisheries observing that's stalled due to workplace safety concerns, but also fish market surveys, an important scientific tool for monitoring catch from boats too numerous and small to have observers or electronic monitoring equipment. In large parts of the world, fish market surveys are the only data we have on local catch composition. Without them, we wouldn't know how many endangered species are caught, or if formerly common species started to disappear.
Monitoring of things like sea turtle nests has similarly slowed down. These nest surveys are a critical way for scientists and managers to keep track of population trends of iconic endangered species, and to protect the nests themselves by marking them so beach drivers of off-road vehicles know to not crush the hidden nests.
A recently emerged sea turtle hatchling. Becky Skiba/USFWS
So what does the pandemic mean for ocean conservation? Experts caution that it's probably too early to tell. However, it's not all stories of dolphins frolicking in suddenly quiet rivers. Environmental planning meetings, funding schemes for protected areas, and monitoring of fisheries and endangered species populations were all disrupted, giving us good reasons to fear that the story is far more complicated, and far less happy, than many of us have been led to believe.
David Shiffman is a marine biologist specializing in the ecology and conservation of sharks. He received his Ph.D. in environmental science and policy from the University of Miami. Follow him on Twitter, where he's always happy to answer any questions anyone has about sharks.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Jessica Corbett
A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.
An ice shelf, as NASA explains, "is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline." They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise.
"Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise," explained Ella Gilbert, the study's lead author, in a statement. "When they collapse, it's like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea."
"We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly," added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. "Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections."
Check out my piece for @ConversationUK on how & why #Antarctica's #IceShelves are at risk as global #temperatures r… https://t.co/YCMzgfliiR— Dr Ella Gilbert (@Dr Ella Gilbert)1617975049.0
Gilbert and co-author Christoph Kittel of Belgium's University of Liège conclude that limiting global temperature rise to 2°C rather than 4°C would cut the area at risk in half.
"At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica's ice shelf area would be at risk," Gilbert noted in The Conversation.
While the 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep temperature rise "well below" 2°C, with a more ambitious 1.5°C target, current emissions reduction plans are dramatically out of line with both goals, according to a United Nations analysis.
Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study "highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise."
"If temperatures continue to rise at current rates," she said, "we may lose more Antarctic ice shelves in the coming decades."
The researchers warn that Larsen C—the largest remaining ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula—as well as the Shackleton, Pine Island, and Wilkins ice shelves are most at risk under 4°C of warming because of their geography and runoff predictions.
"Limiting warming will not just be good for Antarctica—preserving ice shelves means less global sea level rise, and that's good for us all," Gilbert added.
All the more reason we need to push our leaders towards a quick end to the use of all fossil fuels! https://t.co/yrNUgjbkYG— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)1617915642.0
Low-lying coastal areas such as small island nations of Vanuatu and Tuvalu in the South Pacific Ocean face the greatest risk from sea level rise, Gilbert told CNN.
"However, coastal areas all over the world would be vulnerable," she warned, "and countries with fewer resources available to mitigate and adapt to sea level rise will see worse consequences."
Research published in February examining projections from the Fifth Assessment Report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as the body's Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate found that sea level rise forecasts for this century "are on the money when tested against satellite and tide-gauge observations."
A co-author of that study, John Church of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales, said at the time that "if we continue with large ongoing emissions as we are at present, we will commit the world to meters of sea level rise over coming centuries."
Parties to the Paris agreement are in the process of updating their emissions reduction commitments—called nationally determined contributions—ahead of November's United Nations climate summit, known as COP26.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Sharon Buccino
This week, Secretary Haaland chose a visit to Bears Ears National Monument as her first trip as Interior Secretary. She is spending three days in Bluff, Utah, a small town just outside the monument, listening to representatives of the five tribes who first proposed its designation to President Obama in 2015. This is the same town where former Secretary Sally Jewell spent several hours at a public hearing in July 2016 before recommending the monument's designation to President Obama.
For the first time, a Native American is in charge of shaping federal policy on public lands and waters. Secretary Haaland knows with every fiber of her body the value of the 1.35 million acres of lands originally designated as Bears Ears National Monument—not simply for their beauty and tranquility, but for their cultural significance and sacred power.
Haaland felt the pain of President Trump's destruction of the monument that Obama had created—the 85 percent loss of lands previously protected and the dismissal of the inter-tribal Bears Ears Commission created to help manage the monument. Alongside the Navajo Nation and other tribes, NRDC and other environmental groups challenged Trump's revocation in court. The cases are now on hold pending the Biden administration's action.
In Trump's repeated attacks on our monuments, he also illegally rolled back protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument. The Antiquities Act has preserved some of America's greatest treasures. Pursuant to the Act's authority, President Biden should act now to deliver the protection the three monuments Trump acted to destroy both onshore and off.
Some Utah politicians are calling for Congressional action on Bears Ears. The problem is that they have been talking about this for years and have done nothing to protect these lands. President Obama only acted after Congress failed to. In the meantime, looters, mining companies and fossil fuel promoters are taking advantage of the land instead.
Every day, the land Trump carved out of Bears Ears National Monument is getting used. We need action now to restore what has been lost. Relying on the evidence the tribes presented to Obama, President Biden should issue a proclamation restoring Bears Ears to its former glory. In the meantime, Secretary Haaland should look to the five tribes—the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Indian Tribe—who originally proposed designation of Bears Ears as a national monument to help manage these lands in a way that honors their sacred power, as well as their cultural and ecological significance.
Sharon Buccino's current work focuses on energy policy and government transparency. She actively litigates in federal court and advocates before federal agencies and Congress. She has worked to implement effective environmental review and public participation for proposed pipelines, as well as oil and gas drilling. She also led NRDC's successful litigation under the Freedom of Information Act to force disclosure of the Cheney Energy Task Force papers. Prior to joining NRDC, Buccino practiced environmental and administrative law with a private firm in Washington, D.C. and worked for the Alaska Supreme Court. She holds a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a JD from Stanford Law School. Originally from central Florida, Buccino has spent over 25 years in NRDC's Washington, D.C., office.
By Anthony Richardson, Chhaya Chaudhary, David Schoeman, and Mark John Costello
The tropical water at the equator is renowned for having the richest diversity of marine life on Earth, with vibrant coral reefs and large aggregations of tunas, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. The number of marine species naturally tapers off as you head towards the poles.
Ecologists have assumed this global pattern has remained stable over recent centuries — until now. Our recent study found the ocean around the equator has already become too hot for many species to survive, and that global warming is responsible.
In other words, the global pattern is rapidly changing. And as species flee to cooler water towards the poles, it's likely to have profound implications for marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90% of all marine species died.
The Bell Curve is Warping Dangerously
If you look at each line in this chart, you can see a slight dip in total species richness between 1955 and 1974. This deepens substantially in the following decades. Anthony Richardson, Author provided
This global pattern — where the number of species starts lower at the poles and peaks at the equator — results in a bell-shaped gradient of species richness. We looked at distribution records for nearly 50,000 marine species collected since 1955 and found a growing dip over time in this bell shape.
So, as our oceans warm, species have tracked their preferred temperatures by moving towards the poles. Although the warming at the equator of 0.6℃ over the past 50 years is relatively modest compared with warming at higher latitudes, tropical species have to move further to remain in their thermal niche compared with species elsewhere.
As ocean warming has accelerated over recent decades due to climate change, the dip around at the equator has deepened.
We predicted such a change five years ago using a modeling approach, and now we have observational evidence.
For each of the 10 major groups of species we studied (including pelagic fish, reef fish and molluscs) that live in the water or on the seafloor, their richness either plateaued or declined slightly at latitudes with mean annual sea-surface temperatures above 20℃.
Today, species richness is greatest in the northern hemisphere in latitudes around 30°N (off southern China and Mexico) and in the south around 20°S (off northern Australia and southern Brazil).
This Has Happened Before
We shouldn't be surprised global biodiversity has responded so rapidly to global warming. This has happened before, and with dramatic consequences.
252 million years ago…
At the end of the Permian geological period about 252 million years ago, global temperatures warmed by 10℃ over 30,000-60,000 years as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from volcano eruptions in Siberia.
A 2020 study of the fossils from that time shows the pronounced peak in biodiversity at the equator flattened and spread. During this mammoth rearranging of global biodiversity, 90% of all marine species were killed.
125,000 years ago…
A 2012 study showed that more recently, during the rapid warming around 125,000 years ago, there was a similar swift movement of reef corals away from the tropics, as documented in the fossil record. The result was a pattern similar to the one we describe, although there was no associated mass extinction.
Authors of the study suggested their results might foreshadow the effects of our current global warming, ominously warning there could be mass extinctions in the near future as species move into the subtropics, where they might struggle to compete and adapt.
During the last ice age, which ended around 15,000 years ago, the richness of forams (a type of hard-shelled, single-celled plankton) peaked at the equator and has been dropping there ever since. This is significant as plankton is a keystone species in the foodweb.
Our study shows that decline has accelerated in recent decades due to human-driven climate change.
The Profound Implications
Losing species in tropical ecosystems means ecological resilience to environmental changes is reduced, potentially compromising ecosystem persistence.
In subtropical ecosystems, species richness is increasing. This means there'll be species invaders, novel predator-prey interactions, and new competitive relationships. For example, tropical fish moving into Sydney Harbour compete with temperate species for food and habitat.
This could result in ecosystem collapse — as was seen at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods — in which species go extinct and ecosystem services (such as food supplies) are permanently altered.
The changes we describe will also have profound implications for human livelihoods. For example, many tropical island nations depend on the revenue from tuna fishing fleets through the selling of licenses in their territorial waters. Highly mobile tuna species are likely to move rapidly toward the subtropics, potentially beyond sovereign waters of island nations.
Similarly, many reef species important for artisanal fishers — and highly mobile megafauna such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that support tourism — are also likely to move toward the subtropics.
The movement of commercial and artisanal fish and marine megafauna could compromise the ability of tropical nations to meet the Sustainable Development Goals concerning zero hunger and marine life.
Is There Anything We Can Do?
One pathway is laid out in the Paris Climate Accords and involves aggressively reducing our emissions. Other opportunities are also emerging that could help safeguard biodiversity and hopefully minimise the worst impacts of it shifting away from the equator.
Currently 2.7% of the ocean is conserved in fully or highly protected reserves. This is well short of the 10% target by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
But a group of 41 nations is pushing to set a new target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.
This "30 by 30" target could ban seafloor mining and remove fishing in reserves that can destroy habitats and release as much carbon dioxide as global aviation. These measures would remove pressures on biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.
Designing climate-smart reserves could further protect biodiversity from future changes. For example, reserves for marine life could be placed in refugia where the climate will be stable over the foreseeable future.
We now have evidence that climate change is impacting the best-known and strongest global pattern in ecology. We should not delay actions to try to mitigate this.
Anthony Richardson: Professor, The University of Queensland. Chhaya Chaudhary: University of Auckland, David Schoeman: Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast, Mark John Costello: Professor, University of Auckland
Disclosure statement: Anthony Richardson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Chhaya Chaudhary works for Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. During her PhD studies (2014- 2019), she received part- funding from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology project funded by the European Commission's Directorate—General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), and received U21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship from the University of Auckland in 2016.
David Schoeman receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Mark John Costello does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.
"The title refers to the latest and greatest science, which reveals that whales are a lot more like us than we first thought," Skerry told EcoWatch. "Science is clinical and studied. Traditionally, [we were] afraid to anthropomorphize whales. But now, science shows us they're very complex — with societies, families, emotions and cultures."
Following orcas, humpbacks, belugas, narwhals and sperm whales, Skerry takes viewers on a journey into the underwater world to experience whales like never before — watching them make lifelong friendships, teach their young specific traditions and grieve the loss of family. This is whale culture, Skerry explained, and these social bonds are the secret to their success.
Skerry explained how Shane Gero, his friend and sperm whale researcher, helped him frame whale culture in human terms. "There's a difference between behavior and culture," Skerry quoted Gero. "Behavior is what we do; culture is how we do it. For example, we eat food. That is behavior. But whether we eat it with a fork or chopsticks, that is culture."
Using this lens, Skerry shows how orcas around the world have developed distinct cultures around food. While New Zealand's orcas hunt hidden stingrays in the shallows, Patagonia's whales catch sea lions off the beach, and Norway's whales slap herring schools with their tails to stun them. These unique customs are also passed down to each generation. In the first episode, viewers follow five orca matriarchs as they teach their young the family's unique hunting legacy. The skills are not innate traits, but learned techniques adapted for survival in the local environment. Skerry explained how, without this ancient passage of knowledge, specific ways of life would die out.
Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. Luis Lamar / National Geographic for Disney+
"This is the whales teaching their young," Skerry said. "This is generational, teaching the young how to survive, but also cultural — teaching them what matters to their family."
The episode also shows how external forces, such as humans fishing for herring in Norway, have changed whale culture in the area. When Skerry first visited the Arctic years ago, local orcas would corral fish to hunt. Now, with the advent of commercial fishing boats, they've learned to approach the ships and eat the fish that escape.
"I think of this as takeout," Skerry joked to EcoWatch. "If this behavior lasts a long time, maybe it will become culture. Maybe it already is."
For many, the series may be the first time seeing how different populations of whales have developed different customs based on where they are from, just like humans. Skerry explained, "Whales have dialects and they isolate. Sperm whales won't intermix with genetically identical animals that don't speak the same dialect. I think of this like the neighborhoods of New York, separated in enclaves by language. That's what the whales are doing."
Belugas are extremely social creatures with a varied vocal range. Peter Kragh / National Geographic for Disney+
Filmed during three years in 24 locations and narrated by Conservationist and Actress Sigourney Weaver, the National Geographic series showcases many never-before-recorded moments, such as belugas giving themselves names and humpbacks communicating through breaching. Throughout, the underlying messages are the same: whales have cultures that differ based on where they are from; they live in complex societies framed by tradition, survival and emotions; and, they're just like us.
"Whales have preferences for food, parenting technique, singing competitions. In this way, they mirror humans," Skerry emphasized.
In conjunction, Skerry has released a photography book with the same name that shares more secrets from the world's largest mammals. Plus, National Geographic's May magazine, dubbed "The Ocean Issue," aligns with the four-part series and Skerry's book, and will feature four related stories. The issue will publish April 15 and be available at natgeo.com/planetpossible.
Skerry believes the grand presentation of this new whale world will move people. He hopes viewers and readers will come to understand the complexity and connectivity between humans and the other "societies of beings" that we share the planet with. "We are visual creatures. We respond emotionally, viscerally to powerful imagery — it touches a part of our soul. Great science and storytelling that incorporates art checks all the boxes to move that needle," Skerry said.
He added, "On Earth Day, this is a good way to celebrate... this is a new view of the world. This changes our perception: no longer are we apart from nature or above it — we are intimately connected to it."
All four episodes of "Secrets of the Whales" will start streaming on Disney+ on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22nd.
A Southern Right whales is pictured in the accompanying book, "Secrets of the Whales." Brian Skerry / National Geographic
The coronavirus has isolated many of us in our homes this year. We've been forced to slow down a little, maybe looking out our windows, becoming more in tune with the rhythms of our yards. Perhaps we've begun to notice more, like the birds hopping around in the bushes out back, wondering (maybe for the first time) what they are.
When COVID-19 hit, I too found myself spending much more time in my apartment. Living in New York City during a pandemic presented fewer opportunities to safely get out into nature – an unfortunate struggle for myself and many other outdoorsy urbanites.
Yet, when I began birding, I found myself paying more attention to the nature that was, in fact, all around me. I noticed the European starlings perching in the holes of London planetrees, red-tailed hawks circling above the park, and a persistent red-bellied woodpecker with a penchant for the wooden post in my backyard. Looking for birds was a way to appreciate and acknowledge nature wherever I was; I could be excited about spotting birds anywhere – even outside my Brooklyn apartment, when I was forced to slow down and look around.
Spring is an excellent time to begin bird watching in earnest. While many common birds we come to recognize are "permanent residents" – such as starlings, mockingbirds, juncos, house sparrows, and black-capped chickadees – springtime might bring some new feathered friends into view as populations travel back north for the season. There are different types of migration, but birds generally travel north-south in North America (northbound in the spring, southbound in the fall), primarily in search of nesting locations or food.
A Coeligena helianthea hummingbird is photographed during a birdwatching trail at the Monserrate hill in Bogota on November 11, 2020. Colombia is the country with the largest bird diversity in the world, home to about 1,934 different bird species, a fifth of the total known. JUAN BARRETO / AFP / Getty Images
About 40% of birds are migratory, so whatever flyway you live within, there will be plenty of new species to look out for. The Atlantic Flyway alone (covering much of the east coast) sees 500 migratory species every year. Unless you live very far North, from February through mid-April, you should see migrating birds passing through as they head for their breeding areas.
Birding is unique in its accessibility and universality; no matter where you live – whether a bustling city, a rural town, or the South Pole – there will always be birds to learn about and look for. If you've never birded before, here are some things to keep in mind as you get started.
1. Choosing the Right Binoculars
Binoculars are a relatively indispensable tool for most birders – but, for those just starting out, it might not yet be worth the several-hundred-dollar investment. If you aren't able to scour the attics of friends or borrow a pair from a fellow bird watcher, some local birding and naturalist groups have binocular loaning programs for members, allowing you to plan ahead for a day (or week) of birding.
When you're ready to take the plunge, choosing a pair or binoculars should take some careful deliberation based on your needs and preferences; some major considerations might include size, ease of use, magnification, and price. While professional binoculars can easily run north of $1,000, there are plenty of perfectly suitable entry-level binoculars under $200. You might not get the perfect precision and clarity of more elite models, but a less expensive pair will allow you to strengthen your birding skills while deciding if you're interested in investing in a premium pair.
For a budget-friendly option, check out resale options on eBay, Facebook marketplace, or neighborhood yard sales: you might find a nicer pair whose retail price isn't within your budget.
2. Know What Birds Are in Your Area
When I began to pay more attention to the birds just outside my apartment building, I started to learn what species have always been around me: European starlings, house sparrows, blue jays, black capped chickadees, and the occasional red-bellied woodpecker. They had always been there, but I hadn't ever taken the time to identify them. Once you learn to recognize common birds in your area, you'll be able to identify the typical species right outside your window and in your community. Of course, permanent residential birds in your neighborhood will vary by region, as will those migrating through it.
3. Get Out and Explore
Venturing elsewhere might allow you to spot some different species beyond those frequenting your backyard. Anywhere with water or greenery offers a place for birding; as an urbanite myself, I've found that even small- and mid-sized parks in New York City allow me to find more elusive birds (although Central Park takes the crown for an afternoon of urban birding).
If you are able to travel a bit further from home, national wildlife refuges and state/national parks are excellent places to explore bird habitats and perhaps log some less-common sightings. The American Birding Association also lists birding trails by state, and Audubon and BirdLife International identify Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across the country – important bird habitats and iconic places that activists are fighting to protect – where birders can spot birds of significance.
4. Finding a Bird: Stop, Look, Listen, Repeat
The National Audubon Society recommends the "stop, look, listen, repeat" mantra when seeking and identifying birds.
First and foremost, spotting birds requires attention. Stopping – getting out of the car, pausing on the sidewalk, trail, or in the backyard to look up – is the most important step.
When looking for birds, try to avoid gazing wildly around; rather, scan your surroundings, focusing on any odd shapes or shadows, trying to think about where a bird might perch (power lines, fence posts, branches), or keep an eye on the sky for flying eagles and hawks. In open areas like fields and beaches, you might have a more panoramic view, and can take in different sections of the landscape at a time. Look around with the naked eye before reaching for the binoculars to hone in.
While it can be hard to sift through the noise, listening for birds is perhaps an even more important element of bird watching than looking. Once you spend more time in the field, you'll be able to parse apart the racket and identify specific species, especially aided by Audubon's Bird Guide app or by learning from their Birding by Ear series.
Repeat this pattern as you continue on your way, stopping to look and listen for birds as you go, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
When you head out for a day of bird watching – especially when you're hoping to spot some new species – you'll want to be armed with the tools to identify what you see. Major considerations when identifying birds are their group (such as owls, hawks, or sparrow-like birds), size and shape, behavior, voice, field marks, season, and habitat.
The Sibley Guide to Birds and the Peterson Field Guide are widely considered the best books for identifying birds in North America, although many specialized guides focus on specific species or regions as well.
Plenty of bird identification apps have popped up in recent years – including National Geographic Birds, Sibley eGuide to Birds, iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and Birdsnap – which are basically a field guide in your pocket. I'm partial to the Audubon Bird Guide, which allows users to filter by common identifiers, including a bird's habitat, color, activity, tail shape, and general type, adding them all to a personal map to view your sightings.
6. Recording Your Sightings
As you deepen your commitment to birding, you might join the community of birders that track and quantify their sightings, building their life list.
While a standard notebook noting the date, species name, habitat, vocalizations, or any other data you wish to include will suffice, some birders opt for a more structured birder's journal with pre-determined fields to record your encounters, take notes, draw sketches, etc.
Many birders also choose to record their sightings online and in shared databases (which include many of the field guide apps), often pinpointing them on a map for others to view. Launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, eBird is one of the largest databases and citizen science projects around birding, where hundreds of thousands of birders enter their sightings, and users can explore birds in regions and hotspots around the world. Users can also record their sightings on the eBird app.
7. Attracting Birds to Your Own Yard
Feeding birds is a common phenomenon: more than 40% of Americans maintain a birdfeeder to attract birds and watch them feast.
Not all birdfeed is created equal, however. Many commercial varieties are mostly made with "fillers" (oats, red millet, etc.) that birds will largely leave untouched. After researching what birds to expect in your area – and which ones you want to attract – you can create your own birdfeed with seeds that will appeal to them.
Beyond filling a birdfeeder, transforming your yard into an eco-friendly oasis is by far the best way to attract birds. Choosing to forgo mowing your lawn, planting native flowers and grasses, and ditching the pesticides will bring back the bugs that birds feed on, and provide a safe haven in which birds can happily live and eat.
While it's widely considered acceptable – and even beneficial – to feed birds with appropriate seeds, communal birdfeeders often foster unlikely interactions between different species, who can then transmit harmful diseases and parasites to one another. Maintaining several bird feeders with different types of seeds might keep different species from coming into contact, and feeders can be cleaned to prevent the spread of infection.
8. Inclusivity and Anti-Racism in the Birding Community
Like all outdoor activities and areas of scientific study, birding communities are subject to racist and discriminatory ideologies. Black birders have long experienced discrimination and underrepresentation in outdoor spaces. The work of organizations like the Black & Latinx Birders Fund, Birdability, and Feminist Bird Club highlight the contributions and importance of birders of color, birders with disabilities, and women and LGBTQ+ birders to the birding community, as do activists and naturalists like Corina Newsome and Tykee James. The work of Christian Cooper, Camille Dungy (read her poem Frequently Asked Questions: 10), and J. Drew Lanham – including his essay "Birding While Black" – are a great place to start.
Getting involved in birding means educating ourselves on these issues and taking meaningful action; the work of Christian Cooper and J. Drew Lanham – including his essay "Birding While Black" – are a great place to start. Just as birders are activists for protecting habitats and natural areas, we must also be active and aware of inclusivity in these spaces.
9. Get Involved
To learn from and enjoy the company of other birders, check out local birding groups in your area to join. Many Audubon chapters host trips, meetings, and bird walks for members. The American Birding Association even maintains a directory of birding festivals across the country.
Volunteering for birds is also a great way to meet other birders and take action for birds in your community; local organizations might have opportunities for assisting with habitat restoration or helping at birding centers.
Like all wildlife, climate change and habitat destruction threaten the livelihood of birds, eliminating their breeding grounds and food sources. A 2019 report released by the National Audubon Society found that two-thirds of North American birds may face extinction if global temperatures rise 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Staying informed about and taking action for legislation designed to protect birds and our climate – such as the recent Migratory Bird Protection Act – is important for ensuring a livable future for wildlife and humans alike.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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Who says you can't go home again?
A brown pelican rescued from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and relocated to Georgia has made the 700-mile trek back to Louisiana 11 years later.
"It's truly impressive that it made its way back from Georgia,'' Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Biologist Casey Wright said in a press release.
There's no place like home. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, this brown pelican was rehabilitated and re… https://t.co/VTN96fzUYZ— LaWildlife&Fisheries (@LaWildlife&Fisheries)1617907817.0
The pelican was found covered in oil on June 14, 2010, on a rock jetty off of Bataria Bay, located on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island, WBRZ reported. The bird, tagged "Red 33Z" by its rescuers, was first taken to a triage facility, then a rehabilitation facility in Louisiana. However, it couldn't be released near its home due to oil contamination. Instead, the pelican was flown to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Brunswick, Georgia, and released there on July 1, 2010.
It isn't known exactly when Red 33Z made it back home, but Wright spotted and photographed the bird on a Bataria Bay rock jetty in March. This isn't unheard of behavior for pelicans.
"Brown pelicans, like most seabirds, are thought to be hard-wired, genetically, to return to their birth colony to breed, despite moving long distances during the non-breeding season," LDWF Non-Game Ornithologist Robert Dobbs said in the press release. "That may be an overly simplistic generalization, but re-sighting data of banded pelicans often support that pattern.''
Other birds released in Georgia, Texas and Florida after the spill have also been spotted back in Louisiana.
It is thanks to careful restoration work that Red 33Z could return home. Queen Bess Island is an important nesting colony for sea birds and 15 to 20 percent of the state's brown pelicans are hatched there. But heavy damage from the spill left only five habitable acres. However, a restoration project raised that number to 36 acres by February 2020.
"Queen Bess is one of Louisiana's best redemptive wildlife stories," LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said in a statement announcing the completed restoration. "It was on this very island in 1968 that we began the process of bringing back the Brown Pelican after pesticides nearly wiped the species from the Louisiana landscape. Now we celebrate the birth of a healthy home for Brown Pelicans and many other bird species because of the marriage of science, wise planning, and the determination of state and federal governments to do the right thing."However, not all birds had such a happy ending after the 2010 oil spill. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 65,000 to 102,000 birds died in the disaster, The Associated Press reported. Still, bird populations in the area have recovered their pre-spill numbers.
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