Land Use and Pollution Lead to More Male Snapping Turtle Babies, Researchers Find
The sex of reptiles like snapping turtles is determined by the temperature of the nest, with warmer temperatures leading to female births and colder temperatures leading to male babies. Because of this, climate change is projected to increase the number of female turtle births. However, scientists have discovered that other human impacts on the environment are leading to conditions that actually produce more males.
In a study published this month in Biological Conservation, researchers at Virginia Tech, the College of William & Mary and the University of North Texas found that agricultural land use and Mercury (Hg) pollution both increased the number of male relative to female turtles.
Agriculture cools nest temperatures by 2.5 degrees Celsius because crops shade the nest, leading to more male births.
In addition, Mercury passed from mother to offspring also increased the number of males born.
A visual abstract of the study shows that agriculture and Mercury (Hg) passed on from the mother leads to more male relative to female births.Biological Conservation
According to a release republished by Phys.org Tuesday, this is the first study to look at the effects of Mercury on sex determination.
"Our work illustrates how routine human activities can have unexpected side effects for wildlife," study leader and Virginia Tech professor William Hopkins said in the release. "We found strong masculinizing shifts in sex ratios caused by the interaction of two of the most common global changes on the planet, pollution and crop agriculture."
While the research looked specifically at snapping turtles, or Chelydra serpentina, it has implications for other reptiles as well.
Researchers studied turtles in the field along the South River in Virginia, which has a floodplain still contaminated with Mercury due to leaks from a nearby manufacturing plant from 1929 to 1959. They also replicated field temperature and moisture conditions in the lab to verify their results.
According to Hopkins, the results are cause for concern.
"Turtle populations are sensitive to male-biased sex ratios, which could lead to population declines. These findings are particularly alarming because freshwater turtles are one of the most endangered groups of vertebrates on earth," he said.
The results also indicate that climate change is not the only game in town when it comes to impacting other species.
"These unexpected interactions raise new, serious concerns about how wildlife respond to environmental changes due to human activities. They also add an extra layer of complexity to current projections of climate change," Hopkins said.
The good news is that they provide guidelines for conservation. Turtles are attracted to agricultural areas because they prefer nesting sites in sandy or loose soil that get plenty of sun. However, as the eggs incubate from May to September, the plants around the nests grow.
One solution is for farmers to leave different fields uncultivated from year to year to allow the turtle eggs to hatch unimpeded by plant growth.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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