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Hundreds of Sharks and Rays Entangled in Plastic Debris, Study Finds
More than a thousand sharks and rays have become entangled in jettisoned fishing gear and plastic debris, a new study has found. The researchers behind the study warn that the plastic trapping the sharks and rays may cause starvation and suffocation.
The research, published in Endangered Species Research by scientists at the University of Exeter, sought to bring light to a problem that is a major animal welfare concern, but has slipped under the radar compared to larger threats like commercial fishing, as a press release published by Science Daily reported. The entanglement causes tremendous suffering in animals that survive it.
"One example in the study is a shortfin mako shark with fishing rope wrapped tightly around it," said Kristian Parton, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall, as Science Daily reported.
"The shark had clearly continued growing after becoming entangled, so the rope — which was covered in barnacles — had dug into its skin and damaged its spine."
Most of the entanglements, 74 percent, were due to discarded or lost fishing gear. There were also cases of marine life caught in packing straps, bags and clothing.
In their research, the scientists pinpointed 1,116 sharks and rays caught in plastic. Yet, they suggest the true number could be higher, especially since examples of certain entangled species, like the whale shark, only existed on social media and not in published studies.
That discrepancy set the researchers on the course of a novel methodology. To understand the scale of the problem, they looked at published reports since 1940 and also looked at reports on Twitter since 2009.
"Our study was the first to use Twitter to gather such data, and our results from the social media site revealed entanglements of species — and in places — not recorded in the academic papers," said Brendan Godley, a co-author on the study, as Science Daily reported.
The review of academic papers revealed 557 sharks and rays entangled in plastic, spanning 34 species. An almost equal number were found on Twitter — 559 individual sharks and rays from 26 species including whale sharks, great whites and tiger sharks.
The disparity between Twitter and academic research "emphasizes that entanglement is more than likely impacting a significantly greater number of species on a vastly larger scale than this review has presented," the researchers said, as Sky News reported.
"Entanglement can lead to starvation, suffocation, immobilization and ultimately death, making this unequivocally an animal welfare issue, if not of conservation relevance," they wrote, as Sky News reported.
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Nestlé cannot claim that its Ice Mountain bottled water brand is an essential public service, according to Michigan's second highest court, which delivered a legal blow to the food and beverage giant in a unanimous decision.
A number of supermarkets across the country have voluntarily issued a recall on sushi, salads and spring rolls distributed by Fuji Food Products due to a possible listeria contamination, as CBS News reported.
If you read a lot of news about the climate crisis, you probably have encountered lots of numbers: We can save hundreds of millions of people from poverty by 2050 by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but policies currently in place put us on track for a more than three degree increase; sea levels could rise three feet by 2100 if emissions aren't reduced.
Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.
"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."
Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.
"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."
So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.
"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."
So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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