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13 Pounds of Plastic Found in Dead Sperm Whale

Animals
A sperm whale that washed up in Indonesia's Wakatobi National Park had plastic bottles, bags and cups in its belly. @WWF_ID / Kartika Sumolang

Yet another whale has suffered from plastic pollution. A sperm whale that washed up dead in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials told the Associated Press.

Researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the park's conservation academy uncovered more than 1,000 other pieces of plastic, including 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops and a nylon sack.


WWF-Indonesia posted disturbing photos of the beached whale on social media.

The carcass of the 31-foot marine mammal—found late Monday near Kapota Island in Wakatobi National Park—contained "hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g), plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g), plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g), flip-flops (2 pieces, 270g), pieces of string (3.26kg) & plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)," the conservation group tweeted.

It's not clear if plastic was the direct cause of the whale's death since it was in an advanced state of decay when it was found, Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF-Indonesia, explained to the Associated Press.

"Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," she said.

Wakatobi park plans to bury the whale on Tuesday and its remains will be used for study by the local marine academy, Reuters reported.

Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem, but it's particularly bad in Asia, where there are few collection and recovery systems. China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are responsible for up to 60 percent of the marine plastic entering our oceans, according to a 2015 study from the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

Around the world, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste gets dumped in our seas every year, causing countless marine animals to suffer from either becoming entangled in the material or ingesting it, which leads to suffocation or starvation. In June, a pilot whale died in southern Thailand after swallowing 17 pounds of plastics.

Indonesia itself produces about 130,000 tons of plastic and solid waste per day, The Guardian reported in March, citing data from the Rivers, Oceans, Lakes and Ecology Foundation. Unfortunately, only half of that trash reaches landfills. The remaining half is either illegally burned or dumped into the country's waters.

Last year, the Indonesian government announced it will pledge $1 billion a year toward reducing marine waste by 70 percent by 2025.

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia's coordinating minister of maritime affairs, told the AP that the whale's plight should raise public awareness about the necessity to curb the use of plastic.

"I'm so sad to hear this," said Pandjaitan. "It is possible that many other marine animals are also contaminated with plastic waste and this is very dangerous for our lives."

Pandjaitan has pushed the government to take tougher action on plastic to help protect our oceans.

"This big ambition can be achieved if people learn to understand that plastic waste is a common enemy," he said.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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