The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
UK's 'Birdgirl' a Voice for Conservation and Equality
By Naomi Larsson
Mya-Rose Craig was just nine days old when she spotted her first bird — a lesser kestrel. She doesn't remember it now, of course, but a grainy photo shows her looking through a telescope on the Isles of Scilly off the English coast.
It's no surprise then that Mya-Rose caught the birdwatching bug early. Her father is an avian enthusiast and cultivated a love of the hobby within his family. At 17-years-old, she's now the youngest person to have spotted half the world's known birds — an impressive 5,369 species.
"I've always felt this very strong connection with birds," she says, binoculars slung around her neck. "I think especially when I was younger, just the fact that they could fly I found so interesting. And I mean, what little kid doesn't dream of flying?"
Strolling through the lush woodlands of Ashton Court Estate on the outskirts of Bristol, the English city close to her home, Mya-Rose spots a blue tit. They are common in the UK, but she says long before she was able to travel in search of rarer species, local birds offered her a way to connect with nature.
"Especially when I was younger, I definitely appreciated the fact that I didn't have to go out into the wilderness and hunt them down," she said. "You could go out and they would just be in the garden. It was that real accessibility that appealed to me."
Yet as a young woman of Bangladeshi heritage, Mya-Rose noticed early on that there were very few people in the field who looked like her.
"I noted that people going out into nature were nearly all white," she says. "And as someone who was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to engage with nature her entire life, I found it really upsetting that other people just weren't having the same opportunities."
That's something she set out to change. Under the name "Birdgirl," Mya-Rose has become a prominent voice for diversity in conservation, and joined a global chorus of young female environment campaigners, such as Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate.
'White and Elitist' Countryside
Mya-Rose's was just 13 when, with the help of her parents, she organized her first "Race Equality in Nature" conference to highlight this lack of diversity not only in access to nature, but also in conservation and environmental work. The environmental sector is among the least diverse in the UK — just over 3% of environment professionals identify as non-white minorities according to one study.
The event brings NGOs, academics, young naturalists and representatives from black, Asian and minority ethnic and faith communities together to work out the complex reasons for the lack of diversity, she says.
"It ranges from things like a lot of people in these communities not having appropriate clothes for English weather," said Mya-Rose, "or this massive cultural fear of dogs, to much more difficult issues such as this feeling within the communities that the countryside is very white and elitist, and that they're not welcome."
In the intervening years, the young conservationist has amassed more than 13,000 Twitter followers and launched a blog that's been viewed more than a million times. She's been on TV, given a TED talk and held lectures. In February 2020, Mya-Rose became the youngest Briton to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol for her diversity and environmental campaigning.
The birdwatcher also runs regular nature camps for inner-city teenagers through the organization Black2Nature, which she set up in 2016.
Over one or two nights, kids camp in the British countryside and take part in workshops during the day on everything from sketching and birding to talks about the environment and the climate crisis.
"I personally felt that it has got to the point where being able to access and enjoy nature has almost become a privilege and I just find it completely unacceptable, especially because people forget that we're animals too and we're supposed to be constantly surrounded by nature — and we're just not," said Mya-Rose.
When the Personal Is Political
Through Black2Nature, she's trying to change the idea of what "connecting with nature" means in the first place.
"I feel like there's this very old-fashioned picture here — it's going out in your fancy birding clothes with your pair of binoculars, and a lot of people just don't really fancy that idea," she explained.
"So broadening that to going down to the community gardens and growing some plants that you're going to eat, or even just like watching the foxes in your garden at night in the city, will massively help in the future."
Studies have shown getting out into green spaces and getting in touch with nature is good for mental health.
But Mya-Rose says the impact is more than just personal.
Birding gave her an appreciation for the natural world and became a gateway for her environmental activism, including getting out on the streets as part of the youth climate movement, she says. She also tries to lessen the impact of her overseas birding trips by choosing ecotourism that benefits local communities and by using the knowledge she gains to raise biodiversity issues at home.
In turn, she believes, if simple joy in spotting a bird can lead to political activism, then it stands to reason a disconnect from nature must be a factor in harming the environment and climate.
"It's increasingly important to make sure people really care and understand the environment because without knowing it and loving it, there's no way that they're going to be able to make the sacrifices to look after it," she said.
Reposted with permission from DW.
- Red Kites Are Thriving in UK Thanks to Conservation Effort - EcoWatch ›
- Red Kites Are Thriving in UK Thanks to Conservation Effort ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit a new record in 2019 and have continued climbing this year, despite lockdowns and other measures to curb the pandemic, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday, citing preliminary data.
- 13 Must-Read Climate Change Reports for 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- Large Methane Leaks Soar 32% Despite Lockdowns and Green ... ›
These black-and-white lizards could be the punchline of a joke, except the situation is no laughing matter.
By Isabella Garcia
September in Portland, Oregon, usually brings a slight chill to the air and an orange tinge to the leaves. This year, it brought smoke so thick it burned your throat and made your eyes strain to see more than 20 feet in front of you.
- 16 Essential Books About Environmental Justice, Racism and Activism ›
- 7 Devastating Photos of Wildfires in California, Oregon and ... ›
- Several West Coast Cities Have the World's Worst Air - EcoWatch ›
- Extremely Rare Leopard Cubs Born in Connecticut Zoo - EcoWatch ›
- Small Wild Cats Face Big Threats Including Lack of Conservation ... ›
- 5 Species Bouncing Back From the Brink of Extinction - EcoWatch ›