Conservation and 'Renewed Hope': Mountain Gorilla Numbers Rebound
First, the good news. Collaborative conservation efforts have brought "renewed hope" for mountain gorillas and two large whale species, according to today's update from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The mountain gorilla subspecies moved from "critically endangered" to "endangered" due to anti-poaching patrols and veterinary interventions. In 2008, their population dropped to as low as 680 individuals––but the new estimates reveal that the number of mountain gorillas has increased to more than 1,000 individuals—the highest figure ever recorded for the eastern gorilla subspecies, the IUCN said.
Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise https://t.co/PW1sCLxfzE @wwf_uk @JaneGoodallInst— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1530610221.0
Meanwhile, the fin whale's status moved from "endangered" to "vulnerable" and the western subpopulation of the gray whale moved from "critically endangered" to "endangered."
"These whales are recovering largely thanks to bans on commercial hunting, international agreements and various protection measures," Randall Reeves of the IUCN cetacean specialist group said in a press release. "Conservation efforts must continue until the populations are no longer threatened."
Now, the bad news. The Red List update shows that other flora and fauna are under threat due to overexploitation, including the globally important vene timber tree (now "endangered"), the aquilaria agarwood that's prized for its fragrant wood (13 out of 20 species are threatened with extinction), the giant bolson tortoise of North America (now "critically endangered"), and the pungent and endangered "corpse flower" that is now in decline due to logging and destruction of the plant's habitat from palm oil plantations.
Not only that, the assessment also shows that 13 percent of the world's grouper species and 9 percent of Lake Malawi fish are now threatened with extinction.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™: November 2018 Update www.youtube.com
"At least two billion people depend directly on inland freshwater fisheries such as Lake Malawi for their survival," William Darwall, head of IUCN's Freshwater Species Unit, explained in the press release. "Almost 80 percent of catch from freshwater fisheries comes from food-deficit countries—where the general population does not have sufficient food to meet recommended daily calorie intake—yet freshwater resources are not prioritized on national or international agendas. Target 6 of the UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, focused on avoidance of overfishing, will therefore be missed. This omission puts local livelihoods at risk and increases the risk of food insecurity across the world."
The Red List now includes 96,951 species of which 26,840 are threatened with extinction. The report was released as governments gather for the Convention on Biological Diversity conference this week in Egypt.
"Unfortunately, the latest update also underlines how threats to biodiversity continue to undermine some of society's most important goals, including food security," IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said in the press release. "We urgently need to see effective conservation action strengthened and sustained. The ongoing UN biodiversity summit in Egypt provides a valuable opportunity for decisive action to protect the diversity of life on our planet."
Wake up world. https://t.co/mSwLvbOw5V— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1541854816.0
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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