By Alexandria Villaseñor
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.
After experiencing California's wildfires, I researched the connection between wildfires and climate change. Even though I was only 13 at the time, I realized I needed to do everything in my power to advocate for our planet and ensure that we have a safe and habitable Earth for not only my generation's future, but for future generations. Every day, our planet is increasing its calls for our help. Our ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising; heatwaves and droughts are increasing. We're seeing more frequent wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events. Climate change is happening right now, and people all over the world are losing their livelihoods — and even their lives — as a result of the growing number of climate-fueled disasters.
My activism started with the youth climate strike movement, which began when Greta Thunberg started striking in front of the Swedish Parliament in 2018. However, I want to acknowledge that young people, especially youth of color, have been protesting and demanding action for the planet for decades. I'm honored to follow in the footsteps of all the youth activists who paved the way for my activism and for the phenomenal growth of the youth climate movement that we have seen since 2018.
My experiences in the youth climate movement have allowed me to see that one of the greatest barriers we have to urgent climate action is education. Because of the lack of climate education around the world, I founded Earth Uprising International to help young people educate one another on the climate crisis, which ultimately has the effect of empowering young people to take direct action for their futures.
The primary mission of Earth Uprising International is increased climate and civics education for youth. Climate literacy and environmental education are the first steps to mobilizing our generations. By adding climate literacy to curricula worldwide, governments can ensure young people leave school with the skills and environmental knowledge needed to be engaged citizens in their communities. A climate-educated and environmentally literate global public is more likely to take part in the green jobs revolution, make more sustainable consumer choices, and hold world leaders accountable for their climate action commitments. Youth who have been educated about the climate crisis will lead the way in adaptation, mitigation, and solution making. Youth will be the ones who will protect democracy and freedom, advocate for climate and environmental migrants, and create the political will necessary to address climate change at the scale of the crisis.
So this year, for Earth Week, I am thrilled to be organizing a global youth climate summit called "Youth Speaks: Our Message to World Leaders," on April 20. Together, in collaboration with EARTHDAY.ORG and hundreds of youth climate activists around the world, the summit will address our main issues of concern, including climate literacy, biodiversity protection, sustainable agriculture, the creation of green jobs, civic skill training, environmental justice, environmental migration and borders, the protection of democracy and free speech, governmental policy making, and political will.
From this summit, youth climate activists from all over the world will be creating a concise list of demands that we want addressed at President Biden's World Leaders Summit, occurring on Earth Day, April 22. We believe that youth must inform and inspire these critical conversations about climate change that will impact all of us!
For more information about our global youth climate summit, "Youth Speaks: Our Message to World Leaders," go to www.EarthUprising.org/YouthSpeaks2021. There, you will find information about how to participate in our summit as well as be kept up to date on the latest agenda, participants, and follow along as we develop our demands and platform.
The youth will continue to make noise and necessary trouble. There is so much left to be done.
This story originally appeared in Teen Vogue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Julia Conley
Ecologists and environmental advocates on Thursday called for swift action to reintroduce species into the wild as scientists at the University of Cambridge in England found that 97% of the planet's land area no longer qualifies as ecologically intact.
"Conservation is simply not enough anymore," said financier and activist Ben Goldsmith. "We need restoration."
Just 3% of world’s ecosystems now remain intact. Conservation is simply not enough anymore. We need restoration. https://t.co/iWcLxAoLWn— Ben Goldsmith (@Ben Goldsmith)1618487636.0
The authors of the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, expressed alarm at their findings, which showed that of the 3% of fully intact land, much lies in northern areas which weren't rich in biodiversity to begin with, such as boreal forests in Canada or tundra in Greenland.
The amount of ecologically intact land "was much lower than we were expecting," Dr. Andrew Plumptre, head of the Key Biodiversity Areas Secretariat at Cambridge and lead author of the study, told Science News.
"Going in, I'd guessed that it would be 8 to 10%," he added. "It just shows how huge an impact we've had."
The researchers examined whether natural habitats had retained the number of species which were present in the year 1500—the standard used by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to assess species' extinction.
Earlier research using satellite imagery led to estimates that 20 to 40% of the planet had retained its natural biodiversity. But areas including dense forests, which can appear intact from above, were found to be missing numerous species.
The researchers linked the loss of unscathed land to hunting and other destructive human activities, disease, and the impact of invasive species. According to The Guardian, the study may underestimate the intact regions because it does not "take account of the impacts of the climate crisis, which is changing the ranges of species."
Only 11% of the land still considered intact was found to be in officially protected areas, but much of the intact regions "coincide with territories managed by indigenous communities, who have played a vital role in maintaining the ecological integrity of these areas," the researchers wrote.
In light of the study, advocates including author George Monbiot and ecologist Alan Watson Featherstone called for "rewilding," or species reintroduction in affected areas.
Rewilding isn't a luxury. It's essential to protect the world's living systems. https://t.co/WbqrTU3VTR— George Monbiot (@George Monbiot)1618465601.0
If anyone wonders why we have a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration & rewilding has to become a major focus for huma… https://t.co/7V8IewrqLC— Alan Watson Featherstone (@Alan Watson Featherstone)1618468497.0
The reintroduction of up to five species could help restore 20% of the planet to previous levels of biodiversity, the study found.
"Examples would include reintroducing forest elephants in areas of the Congo Basin where they have been extirpated, or reintroducing some of the large ungulates that have been lost from much of Africa's woodlands and savannas because of overhunting (e.g., buffalo, giraffe, zebras etc.), as long as overhunting has ceased," the researchers wrote.
Previously, the rewilding of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. led to a resurgence in the park's ecosystem.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.
Plastic waste breaks down into smaller pieces until it becomes microscopic and gets swept up into the atmosphere, where it rides the jet stream and travels across continents, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Researchers discovered this has led to a global plastic cycle as microplastics permeate the environment, according to The Guardian.
"We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world," Janice Brahney, lead author of the study and Utah State University assistant professor of natural resources, told the Cornell Chronicle. "This plastic is not new from this year. It's from what we've already dumped into the environment over several decades."
In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the most likely sources of more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western U.S. To their surprise, the researchers found that almost none of the atmospheric microplastics came from plastic waste in cities and towns. "It just didn't work out that way," Professor Natalie Mahowald from Cornell University, who was part of the research team, told The Guardian.
It turns out that 84 percent of atmospheric microplastics came from roads, 11 percent from oceans and five percent from agricultural soil dust, the scientists wrote.
"We did the modeling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be," Mahowald told the Cornell Chronicle. "It's amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places."
The scientists say the level of plastic pollution is expected to increase, raising "questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases," The Guardian reported.
The study coincides with other recent reports by researchers, who confirmed the existence of microplastics in New Zealand and Moscow, where airborne plastics are turning up in remote parts of snowy Siberia.
In the most recent study, scientists also learned that plastic particles were more likely to be blown from fields than roads in Africa and Asia, The Guardian reported.
As plastic production increases every year, the scientists stressed that there remains "large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics," and wrote that further research should be prioritized.
"What we're seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it's going to increase by tenfold [per decade]," Mahowald told The Guardian. "But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere."
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday after a leak at a wastewater pond posed a major flooding threat and prompted more than 300 homes to be evacuated.
Officials said that water pouring out too quickly posed the greatest risk. The latest projection shows that 340 million gallons of wastewater could rush out within minutes, potentially creating a wall of water 20 feet high.
"What we are looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation," DeSantis said at a press conference, The AP reported on Sunday.
Officials first detected the leak on Friday in a Piney Point reservoir pond located in the Tampa Bay area. The pond is 33 hectares and 25 feet deep and contains millions of gallons of water contaminated with phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant, The AP reported on Saturday. This led the Manatee County Public Safety Department to send out two evacuation notices Friday evening warning of an "imminent uncontrolled release of wastewater," WFLA 8 reported.
A total of 316 homes were impacted by the evacuation orders, The AP reported. To prevent flooding, officials are now pumping water out of the reservoir at a rate of 22,000 gallons per minute and transferring it to Port Manatee. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said that they were hoping to increase that rate with more workers, and that the risk of collapse should decrease by Tuesday.
The water contained in the wastewater pond is not radioactive and "meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen," The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said, according to NPR. "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern."
However, officials are worried that a collapse of the leaking pond could destabilize other nearby ponds that are more polluted.
"The pond is basically salt water. We saw ducks yesterday, there are snooks swimming in there. It's sustaining wildlife. That's not the case for the other two pools," Hopes told The AP on Saturday.
The ponds are located amidst a stack of phosphogypsum, the radioactive waste from processing phosphate ore into phosphoric acid for fertilizer, and the incident calls attention to the problems of storing this waste.
"This environmental disaster is made worse by the fact it was entirely foreseeable and preventable," Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. "With 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than one billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to step in right now. Federal officials need to clean up this mess the fertilizer industry has dumped on Florida communities and immediately halt further phosphogypsum production."
Phosphogypsum contains radium-226, which has a half life of 1,600 years. The waste product can also contain toxins such as arsenic, lead and mercury. Its storage is an ongoing problem for Florida and other states. In 2004, a breach at a stack in Riverview, Florida, sent millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay. In 2016, a sinkhole opened beneath a different phosphogypsum site and contaminated an aquifer with 215 million gallons of waste. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, a stack began to shift in 2019, prompting emergency action. There are also phosphogypsum stacks in Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
"Phosphogypsum stacks are getting bigger and more dangerous by the minute, and Piney Point's fate could befall them all," Environmental Attorney Rachael Curran said in the press release. "We need real solutions that start with halting the addition of any phosphogypsum and process water to active stacks so that we can deal with the problem we already have. Underground injection control wells or building radioactive roads out of phosphogypsum are dangerous, unacceptable distractions."
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By Jenessa Duncombe
During some years in the spring, so many jellyfish wash ashore on the beaches of Washington, Oregon, and California that they carpet the sand in thick, gooey mats. The jellyfish Velella velella can pile so high that taken together, they likely equal six and half blue whales' worth of stuff.
Researchers now want to know where the jellyfish came from and what they could mean for the ecosystem.
"The question is, Are all those gazillions of Velella colonies out there eating all the fish eggs?" said Julia Parrish, a marine ecologist at the University of Washington.
New research from Parrish and her colleagues suggests that mass strandings of V. velella come from spikes in population caused by warmer-than-average ocean temperatures off the U.S. West Coast. The spikes have happened in 14 of the past 20 years.
"When we see gazillions of the Velella showing up year after year, they in fact are telling us that the system is breaking," said Parrish. Climate change is expected to warm ocean waters, so V. velella strandings could become more common.
Although Velella can't harm humans, the species is related to the venomous Portuguese man-of-war. Understanding how and why so many V. velella end up marooned on beaches could help scientists predict the movement of their more dangerous relative.
V. velella go by many names: by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, and sea raft.
The hydrozoan, not a true jelly, spends most of its days floating on the surface of the ocean. It is approximately the size and shape of a potato chip, has sapphire coloring, and uses little tentacles on its underside to feed. Its most distinctive characteristic is a translucent fin that extends upward like a sail.
Scientists don't know how far V. velella travel, but when groups are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the wind blows them onshore in droves. In addition to the West Coast of North America, Velella have washed up on beaches of the Mediterranean Basin, the Galápagos Islands, and Great Britain.
"We don't believe that stranding of these guys is indicative of the species in trouble," said Parrish. "They are signaling that there's a change in the environment."
Between 2003 and 2006 and 2014 and 2019, the temperature of the sea surface off the U.S. West Coast was up to 2℃ warmer than average during the winter. Consequently, V. velella washed ashore the following spring each year. Parrish and her colleagues saw reports of the jellyfish from Northern California's Cape Mendocino to the Canadian border.
"They literally carpet the wrack line for a thousand kilometers," said Parrish.
According to a study by Parrish published this month in Marine Ecology Progress Series, the strandings happened most frequently between mid-March and mid-April and concentrated near the outlet of the Columbia River. Sporadic strandings happen in the fall, too. The data were collected by community volunteers through the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team.
Parrish guesses that the jellyfish populations spiked in warm years because they had more to eat. V. velella love munching on northern anchovy eggs, which become more common in warm seasons. Without more research, however, scientists can't say for sure what's driving the surge in Velella strandings.
Along for the Ride
"There's still a lack of data about the environmental factors driving the occurrence or bloom development," said Rita Pires, a scientist at the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere in Algés who was not involved in the work.
But this research gives scientists useful indications on what conditions affect similar species, like the Portuguese man-of-war, Pires said. "From my experience, in periods when both species are reproducing…they are frequently found together in the beach strandings." Man-of-war stings can be fatal, and sightings shut down beaches.
Shin-ichi Uye, a professor who studies jellyfish at Hiroshima University who was not involved in the research, said that mass strandings represent change on the surface of the ocean.
"If global warming continues," Uye said, "V. velella standings will be more widespread and prevalent."
If so, Parrish said the jellies might benefit from climate change. "It's moving into the position of being a winner."
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
A massive explosion at an oil refinery in Indonesia's West Java province on Monday injured about 20 people and forced nearly 1,000 to evacuate.
It was still burning Tuesday morning, Eastern Time.
The state-owned Pertamina Balongan Refinery has a capacity of about 125,000 barrels per day and supplies fuel to Jakarta, Banten and some parts of West Java.
Local news reported the explosion could be heard miles away. Oil is Indonesia's primary energy source, and Pertamina has caused environmental disasters in the past, including a weeks-long oil well leak that created a miles-wide oil slick that disrupted the local fishing and tourism industries.
The cause of the fire and explosion, which blew out windows and damaged hundreds of nearby homes, are unknown. One man died of a heart attack in the process of evacuating.
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By Hans Nicholas Jong
An Indonesian forestry company with possible links to pulpwood and palm oil powerhouse Royal Golden Eagle has cleared forests the size of 500,000 basketball courts since 2016, some of them home to critically endangered orangutans, according to a new report.
Nusantara Fiber controls 242,000 hectares (598,000 acres) of industrial tree plantations via six subsidiary companies in the Bornean provinces of West, Central and East Kalimantan. Industrial trees include acacia and eucalyptus, which are used in the production of paper and textile fibers; timber trees; and trees grown for biomass energy generation.
The Nusantara Fiber group obtained most of its permits from 2009-2011 and started clearing forest areas to develop its plantations in 2016, according to a spatial analysis by the research consultancy Aidenvironment. The analysis used satellite imagery, forest cover maps from Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and Global Forest Watch maps of tree cover loss.
The analysis shows that from 2016 to 2020, the group cleared 26,000 hectares (64,200 acres) of forests, making it the top deforester among all company groups with industrial tree concessions in Indonesia during this period.
Most recently, the group cleared 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of forests in 2020. It contends these areas were designated as degraded land, and that its clearing activity was approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which Aidenvironment acknowledged in its report. "Indeed, the Indonesian government has not banned all forest-clearing," it said.
But the forests that were lost were still valuable, according to the NGO. It cited a concession managed by PT Industrial Forest Plantation (IFP), one of Nusantara Fiber's six subsidiaries, in Kapuas district, Central Kalimantan province. Based on a 2016 assessment of orangutan habitat in Indonesia, the forests inside IFP's concession overlapped almost fully with a known habitat of the southwestern subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii, a critically endangered animal.
A 2014 assessment commissioned by IFP had also identified the presence of orangutans inside the concession boundaries, as well as other protected fauna and flora, including 29 bird species, 22 mammal species, six types of reptiles, and 15 tree and plant species.
Despite these assessments, IFP went on to deforest 10,700 hectares (26,400 acres) between 2016 and the end of October 2020. Most of the deforestation took place in 2019 and 2020, with 3,200 hectares (7,900 acres) and 5,800 hectares (14,300 acres) of forests cleared respectively.
"Bornean orangutans are Critically Endangered, so any disturbance of their habitat is massively concerning," Aidenvironment Asia program director Chris Wiggs told Mongabay.
Aidenvironment said IFP's case shows how the cleared areas were still valuable, even though they might have been classified as secondary or degraded forests. As of now, there are approximately 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of forests remaining in Nusantara Fiber's concessions. They are at risk of disappearing too, as the concession holders are licensed to clear them.
"If it's cleared it could have a devastating impact on orangutans and wider biodiversity in this area." Wiggs said. "Nusantara Fiber must urgently halt forest clearance on its concessions."
Aidenvironment also called on Nusantara Fiber to publish assessments of high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) areas inside the concessions. Audits of some of Nusantara Fiber's subsidiaries make references to HCV assessments that appear to have been conducted, yet none of these assessments are publicly available. There's also no information on any HCS assessments that may have been carried out.
Who's Behind Nusantara Fiber?
Despite being the top industrial tree plantation deforester, the Nusantara Fiber group is shrouded in secrecy, with its owners' identities concealed thanks to the offshore secrecy jurisdiction of Samoa. That's where Nusantara Fiber's parent company, Green Meadows Holdings Limited, is registered.
While registering in an offshore jurisdiction is not in itself illegal, it's often done to shield the beneficial owners of a company from liabilities, obligations and accountability in the territory where it operates.
"Establishing connections between companies is always difficult, and it's made harder when companies use secrecy jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands," Wiggs said.
In the case of Nusantara Fiber, Aidenvironment has unearthed historical records and incorporation documents that potentially link the group to palm oil and pulp and paper conglomerate Royal Golden Eagle (RGE). A subsidiary of Green Meadows Holdings Limited is Hong Kong-based Green Meadows Fiber Products Limited. This company is also the majority owner of Nusantara Fiber's plantation subsidiaries.
Two of the three first directors of Green Meadows Fiber Products Limited previously worked at RGE, Aidenvironment found. "Another couple of the first directors are or were involved in various palm oil businesses totalling 27 palm oil mills and/or kernel crushers, and RGE is a customer of all 27 companies," the report says. "Historical ownership records of Nusantara Fiber group's companies reveal past control by entities that are part of or connected to RGE, before the companies were moved to secrecy jurisdictions."
These records, Wiggs said, "clearly connect the group to Royal Golden Eagle," and should be reason enough for RGE to step up and put an end to the deforestation conducted by Nusantara Fiber's industrial tree plantations.
"The RGE group of companies should engage with the Nusantara Fiber group, and use its leverage to immediately stop the present and any future deforestation," Aidenvironment said. "The leverage should decisively include the palm oil businesses RGE undertakes with past or present directors of the Nusantara Fiber group."
A chart of Royal Golden Eagle trade volume and deforestation within Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
RGE is the fourth-biggest palm oil refiner in Indonesia, which in turn is the world's top producer of palm oil. Like its major competitors, RGE has a policy of no deforestation, no developing on peatland, and no exploiting workers and local communities, known as an NDPE policy. It covers commitments to preserve HCV and HCS areas as well as peatlands, but is restricted only to its palm oil business.
For its pulp and paper business, which is supplied by industrial tree plantations, RGE has adopted what it calls a Forestry, Fibre, Pulp & Paper Sustainability Framework across the group. While it's similar to the NDPE policy in use across its palm oil business, this sustainability framework still allows development of peatland as long as it's not forested, Aidenvironment said.
It called on RGE to apply its NDPE policy to all its businesses, not only palm oil.
"Whenever the palm oil refiners adopted a cross-commodity NDPE policy, they could stop more deforestation," Aidenvironment said.
Even then, the policy would only apply to companies and their suppliers that RGE acknowledges as being part of the RGE group of companies. In the case of Nusantara Fiber and its subsidiaries, RGE has denied any connection.
"We can confirm that neither RGE nor [pulp and paper unit] APRIL Group's supply chain have any connection to the six Nusantara Fiber Group companies mentioned in Aidenvironment's February 2021 report," RGE spokesman Ignatius Ari Djoko Purnomo told Mongabay.
He added the fact that two of the Nusantara Fiber group's directors were past RGE employees didn't constitute any kind of link. "We operate in a free and open employment market in which employees can choose to join or leave employers as they wish," Ignatius said.
In response to the ownership of the 27 Nusantara Fiber-linked palm oil mills that RGE sources from, Ignatius said the group had no knowledge of the alleged ownership links listed in the report.
"There was no alleged violation against palm oil industry standards or Apical's sustainability policy by these suppliers noted in the report," he said, referring to RGE's palm oil arm, Apical. "Apical is not the sole buyer of palm oil from these suppliers."
Wiggs said RGE should have provided its own data to back up its denials and be fully transparent.
"We welcome any willingness by Nusantara Fiber and Royal Golden Eagle to clarify any incorrect data in our report," he said. "Agricultural sectors must be fully transparent about their ownership structures, corporate links and operations."
Instead, he said, RGE is able to deny any connection to Nusantara Fiber because both entities use opaque and complex company structures.
"Industrial tree and palm oil businesses should refrain from using opaque company structures," Aidenvironment said, "because this hinders their accountability for unsustainable practices."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
By Tara Lohan
European green crabs arrived on the eastern shores of North America in the early 1800s, likely as ship ballast stowaways or affixed to boat hulls. They found their way to the continent's western shores by the 1980s, and they've caused trouble in every new ecosystem they invade.
Wherever green crabs (Carcinus maenas) land, scientists have documented them decimating food webs by devouring benthic invertebrates that provide nourishment for shorebirds, fishes and other species. Over the years, they have eaten their way onto a list of the world's top 10 most unwanted species.
The economic toll of their appetite is large, too. European green crabs were estimated to have caused $22 million in damage a year to the East Coast commercial shellfishery alone.
Causing both ecological and economic harm has put green crabs in the spotlight, and a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis and other institutions have been studying how to best eradicate them. Along the way the scientists made a surprising discovery that they believe could change how managers deal with other invasive aquatic species.
Green Crab Revelations
In 2009 the researchers decided to see if they could eradicate the invasive species from a small area where the crabs had newly arrived — the Seadrift Lagoon in Stinson Beach, California, about half an hour from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.
"We thought we could undertake this kind of proof of concept to determine how many bodies, how many traps and how much effort it would take to get rid of the green crab in a fairly small, contained area," says one of those researchers, Edwin (Ted) Grosholz, a professor at U.C. Davis.
They were successful at reducing the population by more than 90% — from 125,000 crabs in 2009 to fewer than 10,000 by 2013. "We were feeling very good with ourselves," he says, "But then suddenly the population exploded, and we were faced with even more crabs."
Catching invasive European green crabs. USFWS
By 2014 the number of green crabs in Seadrift Lagoon shot up to an alarming 300,000. Other nearby bays didn't experience a similar population explosion, leaving the researchers wondering what the heck could have caused it.
It turns out that this rather counterintuitive ecological response — where removal efforts can trigger a steep population rebound — had been found in theoretical models, uncontrolled studies and anecdotal reports for decades. "But we were the first who showed in an experiment with controls that in fact, this can happen, it did happen," says Grosholz.
The reason why they believe the population took off? Quite simply, green crabs are cannibalistic. Adults keep the population in check by eating some of the youngsters. But traps to eradicate the crabs caught only the adults, which left a slew of uneaten offspring ready to grow big and strong.
Given time things could have gotten even worse, as a female green crab that reaches maturity can produce up to 185,000 eggs.
These findings revealed important data for managing invasive European green crabs, which have now made their way to five continents, but the researchers believe the implications go far beyond one species.
"The results of this study provide an urgent warning to those involved in the management of invasive species," they write in a new study in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
The factors that led to the population explosion — known as the hydra effect — aren't unique to European green crabs. It could happen with other aquatic species, too, says Grosholz, including almost all crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and even a number of fishes.
And it's not just species that eat their young, either. "You can see this response in any species where the adults consume a lot of the resources that their offspring might use," he says.
Their findings, he says, suggest that ecologists and managers may need to rethink how they manage invasive species that fit these criteria.
"The bigger picture is that there are people all over the planet spending a lot of money trying to eradicate invasive species — in marine ecosystems in particular — and our message here is to stop, back away," he says. "Let's give up trying to fully eradicate these types of species."
A better idea, he says, is to reduce the species down to a lower level where the harm they cause is eliminated or reduced, but not so low that the species have an opportunity bounce back.
Another recent study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, by Grosholz and University of Alberta biologist Stephanie J. Green, lays out how to undertake this strategy of "functional eradication."
Grosholz and Green surveyed more than 200 aquatic invasive-species specialists about how they try to manage invasive species and whether they focus on eradication, containment or suppression. What was most interesting, says Grosholz, was that virtually none had specific population targets for the invasive species they were managing.
"It's either 'we're going to go get them all' or 'we're going to try to knock the population down,' but they don't have any specific number," he explains. "So we actually provide a way of suggesting how managers who are undertaking these programs can use the data that they usually already have to come up with the best target."
The goal is to determine the ideal range of population where managers can begin to recover the native species or ecosystem function that's been harmed by the invasive species. And often the answer isn't simply linear, he says. "It's not like if you reduce the invasive species a little bit more, you can bring more native species back — there's often a threshold you need to hit for recovery to begin."
If the number is too low, the invasive species will still damage the ecosystem. If the number is too high, managers might be putting in more work than they need to.
Their research on functional eradication aims to help invasive species specialists more quickly find that crucial number.
An invasive red lionfish in the Bahamas. James St. John / CC BY 2.0
For example, they calculate that reducing populations of another deadly invasive species, the red lionfish, to below 25 individuals per hectare in the tropical Western Atlantic "could prevent predation‐induced declines in native fishes and result in low rates of recolonization."
Doing the Work
Having that data is a critical first step. But getting the work done on the ground is another issue. For managers working to control invasive species in aquatic systems it can be particularly challenging — and resource-intensive.
"With a lot of terrestrial invasions, especially involving things that don't move like plants, it's pretty easy to know when you succeed and when you've gotten them all," says Grosholz. "But when you're thinking about things in the water — in lakes or estuaries or oceans — you often can't even see them. So in most cases, when the horse is out of the barn, it's going to be very difficult to eradicate something in these ecosystems."
That's where community scientists can come in, he says.
"We have throughout this [work in California] relied on volunteers to help pull the traps and count the crabs. We put out 90 traps a day and pull in thousands of crabs a day," he says. "Volunteers were really instrumental in reaching our goals for the project. And now they're really instrumental in maintaining this low population level."
The key to community science, though, is finding people who are concerned enough to do the work — and have the time.
When those two things align significant conservation work can be accomplished — and it's work that will become increasingly important as climate change and other environmental pressures further threaten biodiversity.
Invasive species have contributed to many examples of loss of biodiversity, but driving species to extinction isn't the only threat, says Grosholz. Invasive species can also cause "functional extinction" of native species.
"In other words, the role in the ecosystem — whether it's exchanging energy biomass or contributing to trophic support — can be eliminated," he says. "So we may not entirely lose the native species, but we may lose the function they provide to the ecosystem — and that's really important, too."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Oliver Miltenberger and Matthew D. Potts
Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?
As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.
What Is 'Net-Zero' Emissions?
The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a "net-zero" balance on paper.
The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.
Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.
Environmentalists may welcome Shell's newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
Concerns About Voluntary Carbon Markets
Voluntary markets are organized and operated by a diverse range of groups where anyone can participate. Have you ever seen the option to offset your flight? That offset probably happens through a voluntary carbon market. The activities that produce the offsets include projects like forestry and ocean management, waste management, agricultural practices, fuel switching and renewable energy. As the name implies, they are voluntary and therefore largely unregulated.
Because of the wave of net-zero pledges and subsequent demand for offsets, voluntary carbon markets are under pressure to expand quickly. A task force launched by United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Action Mark Carney and involving several major companies released a sweeping blueprint at Davos 2021 that predicts voluntary carbon markets need to grow fifteenfold over the next decade. It suggests that the net-zero surge represents one of the largest commercial opportunities of our time – prompting keen interest from investors and big business. It also identifies and proposes solutions to some persistent challenges and critiques of voluntary carbon offset markets.
Some critics of the blueprint argue that it overlooks deeper problems rooted in the overall reliance on and effectiveness of voluntary carbon markets as a solution.
Though there is historical evidence of misuse and plenty of criticism, voluntary carbon markets are not inherently bad or useless in the pursuit of climate targets. In fact, quite the opposite. Some voluntary carbon market projects, in addition to mitigating climate change, provide other benefits, such as improvements to biodiversity habitats, water quality, soil health and socioeconomic opportunities.
However, there are real concerns about the ability of voluntary markets to legitimately deliver what they promise. Common concerns include questions about the permanence of the projects for storing carbon long term, verifying that offsets actually reduce emissions beyond a business-as-usual scenario and confirming that credits are not being used more than once. These and other challenges expose voluntary carbon markets to potential manipulation, greenwashing, unintended consequences and, regrettably, failure to achieve their purpose.
Can Global Ecology Meet the Demand?
Voluntary carbon markets can improve landscapes and help make up for unavoidable emissions. However, they cannot accommodate all of the developed world's net-zero targets.
Most of these initiatives have not yet started, yet emitters from developed countries are already seeking offsets outside their borders. This is raising concerns that wealthier companies may be placing the burden of their emissions onto poorer countries that can produce offsets cheaply, begging the notion of a newfound climate colonialism. Local communities may benefit from some environmental improvements or socioeconomic opportunities, but should economically developed polluters be forcing that decision?
Beyond ethics, in statistical terms, there is simply not enough ecological capacity to offset the world's emissions.
Take the interest in using forests as offset solutions. There are around 3 trillion trees on Earth today with room for about 1 to 2.5 trillion more. The Trillion Tree Initiative, 1T program, Trillion Trees, and the CEO of Reddit, among others, aim to plant a trillion trees each. From just a few examples, there is already a paradoxical impasse.
Offsets can realistically do only so much for reaching climate targets. That is why the focus must turn toward reducing rather than offsetting global emissions. Voluntary carbon markets serve a critical role as innovation sandboxes for creative offset solutions, and they are mobilizing the private sector to act; however, they must be limited.
While some prominent organizations are pursuing net-zero, most businesses and governments have not yet pledged, let alone developed, clear and plausible road maps to meet targets in line with a 2050 net-zero global economy.
The Needed Goal: A Negative Net
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the world can keep global warming in check if emissions are cut in half by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, and reach net-zero by midcentury. However, it also states a need for greenhouse gas removal beyond net-zero emissions targets.
The real act of climate cleanup begins at net-negative emissions for all greenhouse gases. Only then will their atmospheric concentrations finally begin shrinking. That feat will require more renewable energy, widespread infrastructure and transportation developments, improved land management and investments in carbon capturing activities and technologies.
While net-zero is a critical step toward addressing climate change, it must be achieved smartly. And, importantly, it can't be the end goal.
Oliver Miltenberger is a Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Economics, The University of Melbourne.
Matthew D. Potts is a Professor, S.J. Hall Chair in Forest Economics, University of California, Berkeley.
Disclosure statement: Matthew Potts is also a scientific advisor for Carbon Direct. Oliver Miltenberger does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By John R. Platt
Spring has arrived, and while the rapidly improving weather begs us to spend more time outdoors and with friends and families, the ongoing pandemic also offers some good reasons to stay safe and indoors until most people have been vaccinated.
So let's get out into the world virtually with the latest books about environmental issues we care about. Publishers have lined up a great set of new titles to read while you stay indoors during what we hope is the final phase of the pandemic.
We've collected ten of the best new books of 2021 to date. They cover climate change, the extinction crisis, environmental justice and a whole lot more. You'll even find a cookbook to freshen up your mealtimes, a collection of comics to inspire the kids in your life, and some weird fiction to keep your blood pumping. Most are available now, with a few titles hitting the shelves over the next two weeks.
The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet by Michael E. Mann
We've been played, but we can fight back.
"A renowned climate scientist shows how fossil fuel companies have waged a thirty-year campaign to deflect blame and responsibility and delay action on climate change and offers a battle plan for how we can save the planet." (Check out our interview about Mann's previous book, The Tantrum That Saved the World.)
Earth's Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World by Kathleen Dean Moore
What does the extinction crisis sound like?
"At once joyous and somber, this thoughtful gathering of new and selected essays spans Kathleen Dean Moore's distinguished career as a tireless advocate for environmental activism in the face of climate change." (Read our interview with Moore.)
A relevant book as President Biden looks to undo the previous administration's damage.
"…acclaimed adventure writer David Roberts takes readers on a tour of his favorite place on Earth as he unfolds the rich and contradictory human history of the 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears domain. Weaving personal memoir with archival research, Roberts sings the praises of the outback he's explored for the last twenty-five years."
Will the pen be mightier than the poisoners?
"Lee Johnson was a man with simple dreams. All he wanted was a steady job and a nice home for his wife and children, something better than the hard life he knew growing up. He never imagined that he would become the face of a David-and-Goliath showdown against one of the world's most powerful corporate giants. But a workplace accident left Lee doused in a toxic chemical and facing a deadly cancer that turned his life upside down. In 2018, the world watched as Lee was thrust to the forefront of one the most dramatic legal battles in recent history."
#EATMEATLESS: Good for Animals, the Earth & All by the Jane Goodall Institute
Honor your tastebuds and the natural world at the same time.
"…nourishing vegan recipes crafted especially for curious consumers looking to incorporate healthier dietary practices, those interested in environmental sustainability and animal welfare, and for fans of Jane Goodall's work."
Mutts Go Green: Earth-Friendly Tips and Comic Strips by Patrick McDonnell
Laughs and eco-lessons for younger readers, but the comic strips speak to us all.
"…a special kids' collection of the popular comic strip MUTTS, featuring themes of ecology, environmental friendliness and animal education." (Available 3/30.)
Gonna Trouble the Water: Ecojustice, Water, and Environmental Racism edited by Miguel A. De La Torre
A challenging book for challenging times.
"With compelling contributions from scholars and activists, politicians and theologians — including former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, global academic law professor Ved P. Nanda, Detroit-based activist Michelle Andrea Martinez, and many more — Gonna Trouble the Water de-centers the concept of water as a commodity in order to center the dignity of water and its life-giving character." (Available 4/1.)
Lessons From Plants by Beronda L. Montgomery
Look into the green world and learn.
"Lessons from Plants enters into the depth of botanic experience and shows how we might improve human society by better appreciating not just what plants give us but also how they achieve their own purposes. What would it mean to learn from these organisms, to become more aware of our environments and to adapt to our own worlds by calling on perception and awareness? Montgomery's meditative study puts before us a question with the power to reframe the way we live: What would a plant do?" (Available 4/6.)
The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country From Corporate Greed by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
An inspirational story that will echo around the world.
"The David and Goliath story of ordinary people in El Salvador who rallied together with international allies to prevent a global mining corporation from poisoning the country's main water source."
Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
Science fiction with a horrific real-world twist.
"Security consultant 'Jane Smith' receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control." Sales benefit two organizations working to fight wildlife trafficking, the Wildlife Conservation Society and TRAFFIC. (Available 4/6.)
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Despite public resistance, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to ban the possession and breeding of 16 high-risk invasive species.
The new ruling, approved late last month, includes Burmese pythons, Argentine black and white tegus, green iguanas and 13 other high-risk, non-native snakes and lizards which "pose a threat to Florida's ecology, economy, and human health and safety," the FWC wrote in a statement.
So far, environmental groups have celebrated the decision, saying it will help protect Florida's natural ecosystems, waterways and native species, while exotic pet owners and breeders who benefit from the state's profitable animal trade have condemned it.
More than 500 non-native species have been reported in Florida, 80 percent of which have been introduced through live animal trades, the FWC wrote. When these same animals are released into the wild, they reproduce and ultimately out-compete native species.
"I'm very sensitive to the people in the pet trade and enthusiasts. But this action is a result of the invasive species that continue to get into the wild," FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood said in a statement about the ruling. "We have so many of these species now: pythons, tegus, iguanas. These animals are doing lots of damage and we are incumbent to do something."
The public hearing lasted four hours and included more than 80 people from across the country, many of whom called in to oppose the rule, The Washington Post reported. Some exotic pet owners expressed concern over losing pets they considered family members.
"If you take them away, "I would be really messed up," said one caller who owns pythons and iguanas, according to the Washington Post.
The green iguana, first spotted in Florida in 1960 and deemed an "exotic curiosity," is now considered an environmental threat that carries salmonella, enters sewers and digs up sea walls, The Guardian reported. The FWC is now encouraging locals to humanely kill iguanas found on their property in order to prevent them from causing further ecological damage, The Guardian added.
The ban will not require current owners to get rid of their pets as long as owners meet new compliance rules. It also gives businesses three years to "get rid of their breeding stock," The Washington Post reported.
Business owner Eugene Bessette, who started his Central Florida python business, Ophiological Services, more than 40 years ago, assumes the ban will result in illegal trade. This will only accelerate the invasive species problem. "If people want something, they're going to find a way to get it," Bessette told The Washington Post.
But the ban could also stop less responsible pet owners from releasing non-native reptiles into the state, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board wrote. "While the move feels at least 20 years too late for some of the damaging reptiles like the Burmese python, it's better than nothing."
The python, which can grow to be more than 15 feet long, is responsible for wreaking ecological havoc across the Everglades, the editorial board wrote. In a 2012 study, researchers found raccoon populations had dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent since 1997, while marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits and foxes had disappeared. The wildlife populations that had declined the most were also the ones most commonly found in the stomachs of Burmese pythons that had been removed from Everglades National Park, the USGS reported.
Environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Florida and the Everglades Coalition, have praised the recent ban for what it could mean for Florida's communities and iconic ecosystems.
"The Nature Conservancy supports proposed rule changes to address the threat of nonnative species and looks forward to working with the FWC toward solutions that could further protect Florida's environment, human health and safety, and economy," said Greg Knecht, the Florida chapter's deputy director of the Nature Conservancy, according to the FWC.
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