First, the good news. Collaborative conservation efforts have brought "renewed hope" for mountain gorillas and two large whale species, according to today's update from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The mountain gorilla subspecies moved from "critically endangered" to "endangered" due to anti-poaching patrols and veterinary interventions. In 2008, their population dropped to as low as 680 individuals––but the new estimates reveal that the number of mountain gorillas has increased to more than 1,000 individuals—the highest figure ever recorded for the eastern gorilla subspecies, the IUCN said.
Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise https://t.co/PW1sCLxfzE @wwf_uk @JaneGoodallInst— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1530610221.0
Meanwhile, the fin whale's status moved from "endangered" to "vulnerable" and the western subpopulation of the gray whale moved from "critically endangered" to "endangered."
"These whales are recovering largely thanks to bans on commercial hunting, international agreements and various protection measures," Randall Reeves of the IUCN cetacean specialist group said in a press release. "Conservation efforts must continue until the populations are no longer threatened."
Now, the bad news. The Red List update shows that other flora and fauna are under threat due to overexploitation, including the globally important vene timber tree (now "endangered"), the aquilaria agarwood that's prized for its fragrant wood (13 out of 20 species are threatened with extinction), the giant bolson tortoise of North America (now "critically endangered"), and the pungent and endangered "corpse flower" that is now in decline due to logging and destruction of the plant's habitat from palm oil plantations.
Not only that, the assessment also shows that 13 percent of the world's grouper species and 9 percent of Lake Malawi fish are now threatened with extinction.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™: November 2018 Update www.youtube.com
"At least two billion people depend directly on inland freshwater fisheries such as Lake Malawi for their survival," William Darwall, head of IUCN's Freshwater Species Unit, explained in the press release. "Almost 80 percent of catch from freshwater fisheries comes from food-deficit countries—where the general population does not have sufficient food to meet recommended daily calorie intake—yet freshwater resources are not prioritized on national or international agendas. Target 6 of the UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, focused on avoidance of overfishing, will therefore be missed. This omission puts local livelihoods at risk and increases the risk of food insecurity across the world."
The Red List now includes 96,951 species of which 26,840 are threatened with extinction. The report was released as governments gather for the Convention on Biological Diversity conference this week in Egypt.
"Unfortunately, the latest update also underlines how threats to biodiversity continue to undermine some of society's most important goals, including food security," IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said in the press release. "We urgently need to see effective conservation action strengthened and sustained. The ongoing UN biodiversity summit in Egypt provides a valuable opportunity for decisive action to protect the diversity of life on our planet."
Wake up world. https://t.co/mSwLvbOw5V— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1541854816.0
- World's Largest Gorilla Declared Critically Endangered - EcoWatch ›
- Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise ›
Back in July, the government-supported Marine Institute's SeaRover survey found a large school of blackmouth catsharks and what appears to be thousands of their egg cases, also known a "mermaids purses," at depths up to 750 meters (2,500 feet).
"It was incredible, real David Attenborough stuff. This is a major biological find and a story of this magnitude would have been on Blue Planet if they'd known about it," David O'Sullivan, the chief scientist on the SeaRover survey, told the Guardian. "Very, very little is known on a global scale about deep-sea shark nurseries."
Rare shark nursery discovered - SeaRover 2018 www.youtube.com
The deep-sea find was announced Thursday at the INFOMAR Seabed Mapping Seminar in Kinsale, West Cork.
"We are delighted to report the discovery of a rare shark nursery on a scale not previously documented in Irish waters," O'Sullivan said in a press release. "This discovery shows the significance of documenting sensitive marine habitats, and will give us a better understanding of the biology of these beautiful animals and their ecosystem function in Ireland's Biologically Sensitive Area."
The scientists observed a healthy coral reef in the vicinity, which may act as a refuge for the juvenile shark pups once they hatch, O'Sullivan added.
"It is anticipated that further study of the site will answer some important scientific questions on the biology and ecology of deep water sharks in Irish waters," he explained.
Along with the blackmouth catsharks, the scientists also came across the uncommon sailfin roughshark, which is threatened by trawl and gillnet fisheries, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Maurice Clarke from the Fisheries Ecosystem Advisory Services at the Marine Institute said in the press release that "both species are of scientific interest as Ireland has an obligation to monitor deepwater sharks under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive," which aims to protect the marine environment across the European Union.
Shark Week 2018: Interactive Map Shows How Commercial Fishing Threatens Sharks https://t.co/UbbhTAevxW… https://t.co/kI87NCUAxG— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1532384108.0
- Gillnet Fishing Blamed for Killing Up to 100 Baby Hammerhead ... ›
- 9 Facts That Will Change How You Think About Sharks ›
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.
On Sept. 22, local authorities from the Central African island state of São Tomé and Príncipe boarded the Senegalese-flagged, but Spanish-linked, long-line fishing vessel Vema in a joint operation with Sea Shepherd marine conservationists and Gabonese law enforcement officers called Operation Albacore III.
Although the long-liner was licensed to fish for "tuna and similar species," inspections carried out by São Toméan authorities working on board the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker revealed their fish holds were solely filled with sharks, predominantly blue sharks that are classified as "near-threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Fishing line tracers (or snoods), which are the monofilament segments that support the fishing hooks, were reinforced with steel wire, thereby underlining the suspicion that the targeted species of the Vema was mainly sharks, not tuna. Steel snoods are used to prevent sharks from biting through the fishing line to escape.
Fish on board were also found gutted and processed, which is a violation of São Toméan fisheries regulations when advance approval has not been sought, which the Vema did not obtain.
Approximately two tons of sharks—including shark fins severed from their corresponding torsos—were discovered by inspectors, a fraction of what would have been uncovered had the Vema not recently returned to São Toméan waters from Walvis Bay, Namibia, a port commonly used for offloading shark fins.
Vema fishing for sharksSea Shepherd Global
The arrest of the Vema is the fourth shark-finning bust carried out over the past two years, three of which were the direct result of joint operations between São Tomé and Príncipe and Gabon, with assistance by Sea Shepherd ships and crew.
In August 2016, São Toméan authorities, again operating on board Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker, arrested a Spanish long-line fishing vessel, the Alemar Primero. On board the Alemar Primero were 87 tons of sharks and shark fins. The EU Directorate-General of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG Mare) decided not to pursue charges of violating the European Union Finning Ban, despite complaints lodged by the São Toméan fisheries department.
In October 2017, the São Toméan fisheries department issued a Notice of Violation of Fisheries Rules to another Spanish ship owner, as well as a request to the European Commission to investigate an additional violation of the European Union Finning Ban, this time by a Spanish long-line fishing vessel, the Baz.
On Sept. 12th, 2018, one week prior to the arrival of the Bob Barker in the waters of São Tomé and Príncipe, the Taiwanese-flagged Shang Fu was arrested by São Toméan Coast Guard with assistance from the Portuguese Navy.
Shark species are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they're slow to grow, late to mature and breed small numbers of offspring.
São Toméan fisheries regulations that prohibit processing of sharks at-sea and the European Union Finning Ban are existing conservation measures that ensure shark bodies are not discarded at sea to make room for the more valuable shark fins, therefore allowing far more sharks to be killed. Sharks are being killed in increasingly large numbers to meet a demand for fins to make shark fin soup.
Sea Shepherd works with authorities in African coastal states in unique joint patrols that allow shark finning operations to be uncovered through critical boardings and inspections at sea.
"Given how sensitive shark species are to overfishing, coupled with the fact that 15 percent of shark species in the Atlantic are now endangered, it is alarming that industrial fishing vessels, many from Europe, continue to massacre sharks under the guise of tuna licenses," said Sea Shepherd director of campaigns Peter Hammarstedt. "These trojan horse fishing licenses deliberately mislead African coastal states as fishing vessels [and] slaughter sharks with reckless abandon. Sea Shepherd applauds the São Toméan authorities for working together with Gabon and Sea Shepherd to bring African marine wildlife poachers to justice."
Sea Shepherd Uncovers Huge Shipments of #Shark Fins https://t.co/I1qKbFaTLG @seashepherd @CaptPaulWatson @acousteau @Greenpeace @Oceana— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488980429.0
By Morgan Lynch
The news came as lawmakers in the United Kingdom were considering a similar move, The Guardian reported earlier this month.
Lawmakers in Hong Kong voted for a bill that would abolish the ivory trade by 2021, following China's complete ban on ivory sales that went into effect at the end of last year, the Associated Press reported.
Hong Kong's ban will be enforced in three stages: an initial ban on trade in hunting trophies and ivory dating from after 1975, followed by a ban on the sale of ivory acquired before 1975, and finally, traders would have to dispose of their stock by 2021. The penalties for violators will be increased to a maximum fine of HK$ 10 million (US$ 1.3 million) and up to 10 years in prison.
Conservation groups lauded the move.
"This is just the latest milestone in a global movement to end the global ivory trade and protect elephants in the wild," said M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, which has worked with communities in Africa for years to help protect the animals. "Other nations considering ivory bans must follow through with strong action, and enforcement must remain a priority for countries that have committed to closing their markets."
An elephant in the Mara North Conservancy in KenyaJon McCormack
According to the most recent statistics from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 36 elephants are killed each day for their ivory. Today, there are only 350,000 African savanna elephants left in the wild, marking a decline of 30 percent in less than a decade. Meanwhile, the illegal wildlife trade has funneled billions of dollars to organized crime networks.
"Elephant populations remain in jeopardy," Sanjayan said, "but today's news provides new hope that the tide is turning in their favor."
By Niki Rust
The smallest wild cat species in the Americas faces big problems as its habitat dwindles and it's targeted as a farm pest. But a new study shows it may be able to persist in a human-dominated world—if farmers and policymakers give it a hand.
The güiña (Leopardus guigna), also known as kodkod, weighs 2 to 2.5 kilograms (4.4 to 5.5 pounds), eats birds and rodents, and is only found in the temperate rainforests of Chile and western Argentina. It's listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with habitat loss and illegal killing considered the major causes of its decline.
A güiña (Leopardus guigna) is captured by camera trap. Nicolás Gálvez
Habitat destruction is one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss globally. Converting forests and grassland for agricultural use usually results in widespread population declines. Indeed, scientists consider land conversion to be the main cause of the precipitous decline of many large carnivore species around the world.
Smaller, more omnivorous species like foxes and coyotes appear to be less susceptible to the negative effects of habitat loss as they are more adaptable and can adjust their diets relatively easily. But what about those that eat only meat, like cat species? Part of a group called obligate carnivores, cats can't shift their diets to non-meat sources.
Nicolás Gálvez, a lecturer at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, has had an interest in the güiña ever since one killed his chickens when he was a boy, and decided to investigate what was causing its population to decline. He and colleagues from institutions around the world interviewed residents and surveyed güiña habitat using camera traps and remote-sensing imagery to model the drivers of local extinction in the Chilean portion of the species' range.
They found the biggest threat to the güiña in Chile is agricultural land subdivision, which is causing habitat fragmentation. Their results were recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
According to Gálvez and his coauthors, large plots of agricultural land in Chile are often subdivided into pieces and sold as smaller plots. When this happens, understory vegetation—"a key component of habitat quality," they write—is often completely removed.
Much of the güiña's habitat is now made up of forest fragments interspersed with agricultural land. Nicolás Gálvez
Cropland abuts a forest remnant.Nicolás Gálvez
In addition to habitat degradation, the researchers found land subdivision causes an influx of people into a region, some of whom may perceive güiña as pests and kill them.
"There is a set cultural perception that the cat is negative because it kills chickens," Gálvez said. "People tend to kill the cat when they find it in their chicken coops. The cat hurries out and climbs the first tree it finds. Here they are sitting ducks."
As more and more people move in, so do their pets like domestic dogs and cats, which can easily outcompete the tiny güiña and bring with them the threat of disease. Livestock can overgraze pastureland, which may reduce the abundance of the güiña's prey.
The güiña's range has lost much of its forest cover, with an estimated 67 percent cleared by 1970. While Chile's deforestation rate has slowed somewhat, habitat conversion is still an ongoing threat, with satellite data from the University of Maryland showing that around 8 percent of the region's remaining tree cover was lost between 2001 and 2016.
A güiña peers from its mossy vantage. Jerry Laker
But while the study upholds the notion that habitat fragmentation is certainly a key threat, it finds the güiña appears to be able to tolerate a fair amount of habitat loss. The researchers even detected it in intensively farmed cropland, which conservationists usually rule out as suitable wildlife habitat.
"We cannot discard intensive agricultural lands as important conservation areas," Gálvez said. "We must engage with the development sector and political authorities as to how the landscape is being subdivided which is highly complex from an economic and social point of view."
To ensure a future for the Americas' smallest cat, Gálvez thinks it's important to build spatial plans for this species at the landscape scale and incentivize farmers to manage their lands in a güiña-friendly way. If done correctly, the researchers say this miniature wild cat may have a bright future.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
By Jason Bittel
The striped hyena gets a bad rap. Not only does much of the world mistake it for its cousin, the spotted hyena—which The Lion King taught us to despise—but its shaggy coat, skittish nature and nocturnal lifestyle have all contributed to the idea that this creature is spooky at best. And at worst?
While studying the species in Rajasthan, Singh met villagers who referred to striped hyenas as "the horses of witches." As the legend goes, witches ride on the backs of these animals. When a hyena comes across a carcass and eats the flesh, the witch feeds on the soul of the dead.
In parts of the Middle East, similar misconceptions exist. Some Arab cultures believe that striped hyenas are grave robbers. Others contend that a striped hyena can put a spell on people before dragging them back to a cave and eating them alive.
"I had a Bedouin guy swear to God that he was enchanted by a hyena and that his friend saved him by slapping him on the head at the last moment," said Jonathan Tichon, a Ph.D. student who performed camera-trap studies on striped hyenas while at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.
All of this bad PR can have real-world consequences. There are several videos online of people abusing striped hyenas, with wire muzzles, repeated kicking, boulders—not the type of stuff you want to see.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species is "near threatened." From India and the Middle East to southeast Africa, there may be fewer than 10,000 of the animals left, and that number is thought to be decreasing.
I say "thought to be" because there are very few researchers working on this species. In addition to being roundly disliked, the animals exist at extremely low population densities. While spotted hyenas are known to run around in clans of as many as 80 members, striped hyena clans max out at about half a dozen. This means that even a huge area can have just a few of the animals, making it difficult to keep tabs on the population.
Being few and far between also makes the animals vulnerable to changes in land use, said Singh. New urban centers, railway and road construction, and extensive fencing carve up and reduce the habitats of striped hyenas in India. Mining and quarrying straight-up demolish their den sites.
Tichon said run-ins with automobiles may now be the leading cause of death for the striped hyena in Israel, although it's also possible we're simply more aware of such incidents now that everyone has a phone in their pocket and access to social media.
When it comes to threats to the striped hyena, we have to talk about traditional medicine as well. Because they are thought to be touched by the devil, body parts are sometimes sought for healing and for boosting potency. "Dried penis of striped hyena is being used as a lucky charm," said Tichon. "It's supposed to give you man-powers or something―I don't know."
Striped hyena skins and especially brains are also worth money on the black market, according to the IUCN. And striped hyena meat has recently come into vogue following a declaration that it can be considered halal. According to Ahmad al-Bouq, director of the Wildlife Research Center in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia, demand for the meat is now so fierce that the animals are threatened with extinction in that country. One interviewee in the Saudi Gazette was quoted as saying, "Hyena meat has a unique taste and has an effect that is stronger than well-known aphrodisiacs."
Tichon made it very clear that he thinks the animals are quite lovely and undeserving of their negative reputation. But even he said striped hyena is one of the absolute last meats he'd consume. "Striped hyenas eat terrible stuff," he explained. During his time in the Israeli armed forces, Tichon said, striped hyenas would sometimes come into camps and eat from the latrines.
But their diet, while off-putting, is something to respect. Whether it's rotting flesh or fecal matter, these animals are a bit like four-legged vultures. They have the ability to stomach every manner of filth, which helps speed up decay and reduces the amount of nasty microbes lingering about.
"They're perfect cleaners for the environment," said Tichon.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
It's been a big year for conservation.
Together we assured the world that the U.S. is still an ally in the fight against climate change through the We Are Still In movement, a coalition of more than 2,500 American leaders outside of the federal government who are still committed to meeting climate goals. WWF's activists met with legislators to voice their support for international conservation funding. And we ensured that Bhutan's vast and wildlife-rich areas remain protected forever through long-term funding.
As 2017 comes to a close, we're taking a moment to highlight some of our biggest conservation successes of the year. And we couldn't have done it without your support.
RoschetzkyProductions / Shutterstock
Leaders across the U.S. economy reaffirmed their commitment to climate action despite the Trump administration's decision to pull out of an unprecedented and essential international agreement to curb climate change.
Amid a dire poaching crisis, wild Asian elephants in Myanmar received swift and essential aid from thousands of WWF supporters committed to protecting this iconic species. More than 3,000 people donated $263,211 in less than four weeks to fund an emergency action plan to train rangers and get boots on the ground to fight wildlife crime.
WWF-US / Keith Arnold
More than 1,000 WWF activists—including more than 200 staff—joined 200,000 marchers in Washington, DC, to show they support strong action on climate change. WWF Panda Ambassadors and staff held sister marches across the country in cities including Dallas, Long Beach, Seattle, Portsmouth, Chicago and San Diego.
Through more than 60 face-to-face meetings on Lobby Day 2017, our activists shared with key legislators their concerns and hopes on topics ranging from stopping wildlife trafficking to tackling climate change.
WWF and Walmart are working together to cut carbon pollution and curb some of the worst impacts of climate change to protect people and wildlife at risk with Project Gigaton.
Day's Edge / WWF-US
In early March, nearly 2,500 people donated a total of $256,512 to extend bison habitat at the park from 57,640 acres to 80,193 acres. This will allow the park to achieve and sustain a herd of more than 1,000 bison, and will allow more park visitors to see and learn about the U.S. national mammal.
In July, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificates were awarded for more than 320,000 acres of forest land in southern China. Nearly two-thirds of the land is owned and managed by one private company, Maoyuan Company. The remainder is owned and managed by Guangxi Qinlian Forestry Company, a state government entity. The land includes semi-natural forests and forest plantations.
WWF began working with the American Hotel & Lodging Association and its member hotels to reduce food waste. Starting with 10 hotel properties, WWF and AHLA tested waste-reduction strategies, including low-waste menu planning, staff training and education, and customer engagement. Overall, participating properties reduced food waste by at least 10 percent, and lowered food costs by three to five percent.
Emmanuel Rondeau / WWF-UK
Bhutan is one of the most important players in the global fight against climate change. Bhutan's ranking in this regard is due to it being the only country in the world to commit to remaining carbon neutral, meaning it absorbs as much carbon dioxide as it emits into the atmosphere. And now Bhutan has a great means for bringing that commitment to life—long-term funding to ensure its protected areas, which cover half of the country, are properly managed forever. It is the first initiative of its kind in Asia and one of only a few in the world.
WWF and research partners are now tracking river dolphins in the Amazon using satellite technology after scientists successfully tagged dolphins in Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia. The small transmitters safely attached to the dolphins will provide new insights into the animals' movements and behavior, along with the growing threats they face.
For more than 30 years, the Amazon has been the poster-forest for the environmental movement. And deforestation in the Amazon is largely slowing down. Unfortunately, however, the Cerrado continues to lose ground to expanding beef and soy production, plus other commodities and infrastructure. In fact, losses in the Cerrado have been greater than those in the Amazon for the past decade.
WWF teamed up with Conservation International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Nature Conservancy to form the Global Mangrove Alliance. The alliance is an initiative to reverse the loss of critically important mangrove habitats worldwide. The target is ambitious: to expand the global extent of mangrove habitat 20 percent by the year 2030.
By Jason Bittel
Scientists have discovered a new orangutan species in the mountainous forests of northern Sumatra. Of course, the Tapanuli orangutan has been here for quite a while—but it's new to us!
"Discovering a new species of great ape in this day and age just shows how little we know about the world around us and how much there still is to learn," said Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist at the Australian National University and one of the authors of the new paper about the discovery, published online today in the journal Current Biology.
The Tapanuli now joins the ranks of the other two known orangutans, the Sumatran (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus), which lives across the Java Sea. Most of us might look at this new ape and just see another cinnamon-colored orangutan, but to experts, the differences are striking. The Tapanuli's frizzy body hair distinguishes it from its Sumatran neighbor, whose hair is long and smooth, and its skull and teeth measure differently from those of its two cousins. The Tapanulis also have distinct mating calls and eat plant species that Meijaard says nobody has ever observed orangutans dining on before.
The skull of the new orangutan species, the Tapanuli.Matthew G. Nowak
But even as the scientists are announcing this species' existence, they are in the same breath also cautioning us on its potential extinction. With just 800 individuals in an area of only 386 square miles (roughly three-quarters the size of Los Angeles), the Tapanulis are in trouble. In fact, if the scientists' population estimates are accurate, the International Union for Conservation of Nature will have no choice but to declare the new orangutan among the most endangered great apes on earth.
According to the team's population viability models, which take into account variables such as range size, life span (up to around 50 years) and how long it takes a species to reproduce (Bornean orangutans have young every seven to eight years, Sumatrans every nine years), the Tapanuli orangutans could be in danger of dying out if they lose more than 1 percent of their population yearly. That would mean just eight or so orangutans. Losing adult females would make the species' outlook even worse, since they are in charge of raising the next generation, which takes up to seven years.
That puts the Tapanuli in a delicate position. Meijaard and his coauthors say the species is threatened by road construction, deforestation, hunting, the wildlife trade and conflicts with humans over crops. In fact, the skeleton the scientists measured that identified the ape as a new species was the result of a human–ape incident. The researchers write that the animal, an adult male, "died from wounds inflicted by local villagers in November 2013."
Combined with the species' dwindling numbers is the possibility of dwindling genetic diversity. Although the scientists had access to the DNA of just two animals, they found a surprising amount of "homozygosity" in their genomes. In other words, the pair were a little too related, and the researchers suspect the population may already be inbreeding due to a lack of mating options.
There's a possibility the Tapanulis could mix it up with the Sumatran orangutans, but their populations are about 62 miles apart. Any mating between the two would require a cross-island trek to even get within sniffing distance of each other. Plus, the Sumatran orangutan is itself critically endangered.
Living in remote forests can have its perks, though. One of the biggest dangers to orangutans at large is the clearing and burning of forests for palm oil plantations, but so far the Tapanulis have escaped this agricultural scourge. "The habitat is too mountainous and oil palm growers prefer flat lowlands," said Meijaard.
That said, the geographic isolation concerns Stephanie Spehar, a primatologist at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who is unaffiliated with the paper. "If we want this population to be viable over the long term, it really can't afford to get any smaller or be fragmented any more than it already is," she said. "Conservation measures must be implemented swiftly."
Of course, this is easier said than done. Spehar says conservation in Indonesia is usually difficult and complicated, requiring the cooperation of the government, local communities, private companies and NGOs. And unfortunately, she adds, there are typically more incentives for exploitation than for conservation.
Paper coauthor Ian Singleton, conservation director for the Orangutan Project, however, says the country's changing political climate gives him hope. "Indonesia's younger generation understands the power of public pressure," he said. They've seen that protests can work—in the late nineties, they even led to the end of three decades of corrupt rule under President Muhammad Suharto. Today's Indonesians also have the benefit of Internet access and more experience working with NGOs, which multiplied in the country after the devastating 2004 tsunami. Put it all together, says Singleton, and you have a whole new generation of well-informed citizens, which just may translate eventually into better management of the country's natural resources.
"I can see some improvements over the coming decades," said Singleton. "The challenge, however, is to ensure there are still forests then."
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
By William H. Funk
Proposed funding cuts to environmental programs in President Trump's proposed 2018 budget have drawn anxious attention from around the world. But while the biggest numbers deal with rolling back the Obama administration's climate change initiatives, more subtle withdrawals of federal support from lesser known international programs threaten the continued existence of some of the planet's most iconic animals.
President Trump's 2018 budget proposes a 32 percent across-the-board shrinkage of U.S. foreign assistance, affecting hundreds of sustainability, health and environmental programs.
As comparatively paltry as a few million dollars retracted here and there from a $1.15 trillion federal budget may seem, for those desperately striving through underfunded programs to preserve the world's wildlife, the loss of monetary and moral support from the U.S. could be devastating.
And wildlife wouldn't be the only victims. The societal havoc wreaked by unchallenged trafficking cartels, and the loss of important tourist income due to vanished elephants, lions and giraffes resulting in abandoned safaris, could directly impact poor communities in Africa and Asia.
It remains to be seen if the U.S. Congress will embrace Trump's draconian cuts for 2018. But even if the legislature disallows the reductions next year, the administration still has between three and seven years left to run. And it seems unlikely that the president will shift very far away from his professed "America First" policies.
An elephant in Tanzania. USAID programs have helped fund community conservation programs and ranger equipment and training in Africa. Trump's budget would slash funding to many such programs. nickandmel2006 / flickr
Less money to curb the illegal wildlife trade
The U.S. State Department is tasked with administering the Presidential Taskforce on Wildlife Trafficking, co-chairing that body with USAID, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Department of Justice. This interagency coalition justifies its mission this way: "Wildlife trafficking is an international development issue because it undermines security, rule of law, and our efforts to end extreme poverty."
Through the auspices of the State/USAID interface, the U.S. has applied a multi-pronged approach to combat global trafficking. That includes anti-poaching workshops utilizing SMART technology for rangers in Central and East Africa; helping strengthen wildlife laws in Kenya and Mozambique; working with major American and African airlines to train staff to detect and intercept trafficked goods; and initiating a cultural shift by reaching "over 740 million people across Asia through the Internet, TV spots, and installations at airports" to reduce wildlife product demand. If Trump's budget is approved, the State Department's budget for all this will be more than halved—falling from $90.7 million to $40.9 million.
USAID's biodiversity program, which in FY2017 spent $265 million in conservation efforts across fifty countries in a mission to protect natural landscapes and wildlife while enhancing U.S. economic and security interests, would see its expenditures shrink to less than a third of that amount, to $69.9 million.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service white rhino monitoring program in Nakuru National Park, KenyaKarl Stromayer / USFWS
In 2015, USAID programs helped fund community conservation in northern Kenya, reduced poaching of elephants and rhinos by 35 and 78 percent respectively, and invested in training, equipment, education and new outposts for rangers—the men and women on the front lines of the wildlife wars. One result: rangers in Central Africa patrolled up to 50 percent more territory than the year before and apprehended more than 400 poachers thanks to wider deployment of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), a system of ranger-based monitoring techniques and technologies.
Under Trump's budget, the USFWS's International Species program—focusing on African and Asian elephants, great apes, migratory birds, tigers, rhinos and sea turtles—would go from a 2017 budget of $9.15 million to being completely zeroed out.
With that cut, significant anti-poaching, community engagement, habitat protection and wildlife management programs would vanish from poor countries whose priorities generally place conservation far down the list. Under Trump's plan, the cash-strapped USFWS would see its 2018 budget decreased by $202.9 million compared to 2017.
A black rhino. U.S. wildlife conservation efforts have contributed much to the preservation of animals worldwide in past years. Those efforts are now threatened by the Trump administration. John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Environmental groups have petitioned for several species imperiled by criminal wildlife trafficking to be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including giraffes, pangolins and African elephants. Such listings would curb America's role in the trade of these species' body parts, among other benefits. But proposed funding cuts make it likely that the Trump administration won't act on these petitions.
While it may be difficult to accept, this is the way the world will look if the president of the U.S. successfully moves his proposed budget through Congress. Calls to congressional offices failed to shed light on how many and how much of Trump's reductions will show up in the 2018 budget to be approved by the House and Senate.
A snow leopard. Already underfunded international conservation efforts could be seriously undermined by Trump's 2018 budget if it is approved.Sujit kumar Mahapatra
America First puts wildlife last
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, funding to protect new species under the Endangered Species Act would be cut by nearly 17 percent under Trump's budget, which would "severely hinder" the USFWS from progressing with its seven-year plan that allows the agency to prioritize over 350 species for listing decisions.
The proposed Department of the Interior budget slashes one million dollars each from the African Elephant Conservation Act and Asian Elephant Conservation Act; the African Elephant Conservation Act was funded at $3 million in 2016 and 2017, and would now be funded at $2 million; the Asian Elephant Conservation Act was funded at $2 million and would now be funded at $1 million.
These cuts couldn't come at a worse time. African elephants are currently being slaughtered for their ivory at the rate of eight percent of their total population per year, or nearly 30,000 annually. Interior's conservation programs provide technical and financial assistance to range states to protect elephants and their habitats, with money for elephant population management, public education, and anti-poaching activities. The USFWS website details some of the important projects that have been funded in the past and are now on the budgetary chopping block.
The USFWS Conservation and Enforcement Budget would likewise be cut, from around $182 million for 2017 to $166 million in 2018. While this may not seem like a huge reduction, it is being sliced from a budget that is already far too small to do the job. This funding is critical to protecting species imperiled by the illegal wildlife trade, and enables U.S. investigations of wildlife crimes, helping put traffickers in jail; regulating the wildlife trade; and helping Americans understand and obey wildlife protection laws. Species that will be most hurt by this cut would likely be those for which the U.S. is a major market, including elephants (the U.S. is the second largest international market for trafficked wildlife, after China).
In a reply to an emailed query, U.S. Senator and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he would "strongly oppose" the president's 2018 budget plan, noting that in 2013, the U.S. joined 21 nations in launching Operation Cobra, a successful multinational strategy designed to tackle illegal wildlife trading in Africa and Asia. Kaine also pointed to President Obama's Executive Order 13648, aimed at improving coordination with other governments in combating trafficking. Both of these pledges of American leadership to confront the international wildlife crisis are now on the table for defunding.
A pangolin scale burn in Cameroon, Africa, supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pangolins are believed to be the most heavily trafficked wild mammals in the world, with as many as one million being poached from the wild during the last decade.Linh Nguyen Ngoc Bao
USFWS Special Agent Steve Oberholtzer discusses ivory trafficking with reporters. In the past, the U.S. has worked diligently to combat the illegal wildlife trade.USFWS
Empty coffers mean empty forests
To put all of this in perspective, Congress only provides approximately three and half percent of the funding that the USFWS's own scientists estimate is needed to recover species, according to a Center for Biological Diversity report on endangered species spending. This amount, however meager and inadequate, is now in the crosshairs of an administration whose antipathy for wildlife, natural landscapes and environmental protection is manifest in its many administrative actions.
The Trump budget would cut the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which allows state and federal partners to recover currently listed species, by $34 million, a 64 percent reduction. His budget also reduces funding for foreign endangered species like elephants, rhinoceros and tigers by 19 percent, and reduces the funding for the listing program by 17 percent. Currently 500 plants and animals are waiting for consideration for protection.
Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund, said that the 2018 budget in its current form would be a calamitous abandonment of American pledges to assist poor countries struggling to preserve our common wild heritage. "These cuts will turn back the clock on advances made in combating common global challenges like food and water security, wildlife trafficking, and climate change," he said, urging passage of a budget that "more closely aligns with America's long-held humanitarian and conservation values."
Roberts's appeal is echoed by other leading conservation groups, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and The Nature Conservancy, whose president Mike Tercek explained that, "American investments in international conservation support sustainable livelihoods, political stability and good governance in difficult regions of the world, thereby supporting our own national security and economic objectives." Pulling back on these commitments, he said, would be prohibitively costly, harming our last remaining rhinos, snow leopards and sea turtles, but also undermining governmental accountability and due process in the developing world—critical to combatting the persistent state corruption that underlies the tragic success of international trafficking networks.
An 1895 photo of a young but dead Javan Rhino in Ujung Kulon; the hunter is Charles te Mechelen. Donald Trump Jr. is an avid big game trophy hunter in an era when conservationists are battling fiercely to protect the world's fast vanishing wild animals.
Blasting away at the wild world
Fortunately for declining wildlife, the president does not have the final say on the U.S. budget. That remains for the House and Senate to decide, a decision that they've already once delayed this year. But the news out of Congress thus far isn't all that good.
"Environmental groups are blasting pending House spending legislation," E&E News reported on Sept. 7, warning that proposed budget amendments in the House would undermine environmental protections, making major "funding cuts aimed at the Interior, EPA and Commerce Department work on protection and conservation."
As of this writing, the State Department's International Conservation Programs project, which this year allotted a mere $7 million to some of the most important wildlife organizations on earth, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and its indispensible Red List of data on thousands of species, would be totally defunded under Trump's plan.
The jury's still out on what the final 2018 budget will look like (with a vote not likely due until early December), but it's clear that the current administration and many in the GOP dominated Congress are advocating an abandonment of long-held, fundamental domestic and international American tenets—especially helping the disadvantaged and taking a stand for treasured wild animals the world over.
Meanwhile, those who continue to assert these values, do so from a self-declared position of wanting to help others, of being on the right side of history, and of fulfilling our obligations across the globe.
For the planet's most spectacular and endangered wildlife, public participation in the seemingly mundane wrangling over budgetary priorities has never been more important.
Rhino mother and calf grazing in Kaziranga National Park, India. With so much wildlife at risk globally, Trump's proposed reductions to U.S. international wildlife conservation programs couldn't come at a worse time.Deepraj
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
By Rina Herzl
Picture an animal enrobed in a fiery, jigsaw-patterned coat. A creature of such majestic height that it towers amongst the trees. As your eyes make their way up its long neck that appears to defy gravity, you find crowned atop its head two Seussian, horn-like protrusions framing dark, curious eyes fanned by lashes. In its truest sense, the giraffe fits the description of a creature plucked from the pages of a fantastical story. Even its species name, Giraffa camelopardalis, comes from the ancient Greek belief that the giraffe is a peculiar camel wearing the coat of a leopard. Meanwhile, the Japanese word for giraffe and unicorn are one and the same.
Today, we continue to walk the Earth with these awe-inspiring creatures, which range across much of Africa. But giraffes are facing what many are calling a "silent extinction." Public awareness and global action is critically due. "These gentle giants have been overlooked," appeals Sir David Attenborough in BBC's Story of Life documentary series aired in late 2016, urging that "time is running out."
As word begins to get out about the difficulty giraffes are facing, a small, committed cohort are fighting for the species. They are working diligently in the field to learn more about the animals and their populations, cooperating with governments to preserve land giraffes depend on, and collaborating with communities to conserve their wildlife. Meanwhile, others are championing for giraffes on the legal frontlines, advocating for further protections. In particular, wildlife advocates have called for great protections at the international level, as well as domestic restrictions on trade in giraffe parts in the U.S.
The sharp decline of giraffe numbers over the past three decades led to an official change in their conservation status in December 2016, when the giraffe was "uplisted" from Least Concern status to Vulnerable—more specifically, "Vulnerable to Extinction" in the wild—on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. (Listings under the IUCN don't come with specific protections, but provide valuable information about species' status as well as attention to the threats they face). In making the decision, the IUCN cited an ongoing population decline of 36 to 40 percent between 1985 and 2015. This represents a change from approximately 106,191 to 114,416 mature individuals in 1985 down to 68,293 in 2015. (It's important to note that this population count is of mature individual giraffes, as giraffe reproduction is inherently slow to replace lost population. A long gestation period of 15 months typically yields only one calf, and those calves are vulnerable to predation by wild dogs, hyenas, leopards and lions. Approximately 50 to 75 percent of all young giraffes perish due to predation, one of the highest mortality rates among animals).
Giraffes' updated IUCN conservation listing is "a wake-up call," said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Giraffe scientists and conservation NGOs are all working to raise awareness of the giraffe crisis and prevent it."
One of these efforts is currently playing out in the U.S. where the giraffe is not currently protected by law. In April 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Natural Resources Defense Council filed a legal petition to protect giraffes under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). An endangered listing under the ESA would come with a ban on most imports and sales of giraffe trophies, bone carvings and other giraffe "products." A listing would also send an urgent message to the world community to protect this majestic species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet responded to the petition, though the 90-day period within which the agency is supposed to respond has passed.
"The Endangered Species Act is one of the most effective tools for species conservation," said Sanerib. "Given the significant imports to the U.S. of giraffe bones, bone carvings, skins, and trophies, the U.S. is undeniably a part of the decline of giraffes and an ESA-listing would raise awareness about this fact and increase scrutiny of our imports."
Aggregate giraffe populations are on a downward trend in Africa, but some of the nine giraffe subspecies are suffering worse than others. The Masai giraffe population, the tallest of the subspecies with a darker star-shaped pattern coat, halved between 1985 and 2015. The number of reticulated giraffes, which live in the horn of Africa and have a bright neatly-patterned coat, declined nearly 80 percent in the same period. Roughly 400 West African giraffe remain in Niger and Nubian giraffe number at only 650. Today, giraffes have become extirpated or locally extinct in at least seven African countries and have vanished from most of West Africa. It's not all bad news, though: Certain populations, including ones in Tanzania and and South Africa, are growing due to breeding for legal game hunting and tourism.
Biologists have found that, unlike other species, giraffe will not associate or interbreed between subspecies. For example, in Kenya, three species coexist, the Masai, Reticulated and Nubian giraffe, and though they may encounter one another they each maintain a unique genetic makeup and do not interbreed. Dr. Julian Fennessy comments that giraffe are "so much more unique than many other species out there that do interbreed and have viable offspring."
This brings into focus that: While giraffe populations are plummeting, scientists are still making discoveries about giraffes. For example, giraffes are currently recognized as one species with nine subspecies. Each subspecies visually distinguishable by their different coat patterns. This understanding, however, may be changing: Recent scientific analyses suggest that giraffes may be four or even up to nine distinct species. Kirstie Rupport, who works on giraffe conservation in Kenya for San Diego Zoo Global, believes giraffes are finally gaining "heightened conservation attention" given these recent discoveries. She reminds us that this research "shines a light on how little we know about a species that is so iconic and how little we know relative to other big species."
These genetic findings could be cause to separate the species taxonomically. Once separated, those species facing greater threats would merit protections under international law, including endangered or critically endangered listings on the IUCN Red List. In 2007, Dr. David Brown, a biologist who did an extensive genetic study on giraffe, said that "lumping all giraffes into one species obscures the reality that some kinds of giraffe are on the brink. Some of these populations number only a few hundred individuals and need immediate protection." Ten years later, international protection is still lacking.
Changing their classification, however, won't be easy. Should it happen, it will "be a very slow process and more work on classical taxonomy will be required before initiating this change," said Stephanie Fennessy, co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
So, what is ultimately causing the decline of giraffe populations? As with species the world over: human-created pressures. Giraffe declines across the continent are tied to to habitat loss, civil unrest, illegal hunting and poaching, and ecological changes (like those related to mining activity and climate change). In each country and region, the specific threats vary.
With respect to habitat, Rupport points to "the need for conservation partnerships, both in the private and public sectors to protect those large tracts of land, not just for giraffes, but also for the many African megafauna that really need it in order to survive." Coexistence between humans and wildlife is a palpable issue in biodiverse regions across the globe. Giraffes are a species that do little to disrupt human livelihood in these regions and even still the "establishment of community conservancies [in Kenya] really has given a lot of hope for coexistence between pastoralist people in this region and wildlife," Rupport said.
In Uganda, there is a growing interest in oil exploration, right in the heart of giraffe range. As a preventative measure, Giraffe Conservation Foundation and the Uganda Wildlife Authority "translocated" or moved 18 Rothschild's and Nubian giraffes across the Nile in 2016, to protect giraffes from the potential impacts of prospective oil mining.
In Kenya, an ongoing drought is posing a problem. No longer an issue reserved for polar bears living at the edge of the planet, climate change is now impacting giraffes as well by exacerbating drought conditions. Across Africa and other parts of the world, climate change impacts vegetation through desertification—a process by which fertile land becomes desert—negatively impacting people and wildlife alike. Rupport described that "[This] past year Kenya really faced an extreme drought and is still in the midst of it." She added, "When [giraffes] face extreme drought in these places the regeneration of grass for livestock and for wildlife species is really compromised." This not only impacts availability of food for wildlife, but also that for humans, and can lead communities to resort to hunting wildlife for bushmeat, as found by Rupport and Derek Lee of the Wild Nature Institute. As well, with smaller ungulates perishing due to increased drought, lion predation increases on giraffe young. Rupport states "climate change—at least, extreme drought and connecting that to climate change—is one of the most pressing challenges in this region that we're facing on a daily basis."
"Across central Africa and parts of eastern Africa poaching has been a really big threat in recent years," said Dr. Julian Fennessy. In Kenya and Tanzania giraffes are experiencing dramatic increases in illegal killing for their meat as well as for trophies. These are regions in which giraffe numbers are already under considerable strain, and illegal hunting is emerging as a real threat to the species. TRAFFIC, a leading NGO working globally on the trade of wild animals and plants, is prioritizing giraffes in their investigative work and is planning "to carry out work on giraffe trade in parts of East Africa, in response to the rising number of reports we've encountered of giraffe parts in trade." And though illegal hunting is becoming a greater issue, many advocates, including Sanerib, argue that legal hunting is also contributing to the decline of giraffes.
Legal trophy hunting for all species continues to give rise to heated debate in the conservation community regarding whether it is a viable conservation tool. "If well-managed, trophy hunting is a form of sustainable use that can provide direct income and benefits from wildlife resources to local communities," said Dr. Richard Thomas of TRAFFIC. The key term to question here is whether it is "well-managed." However, evidence is mounting against hunting as a conservation tool. Research suggests that little money made from big game hunting actually goes to local communities and the amount dedicated to conservation efforts itself is negligible. That same study found that trophy hunting makes up as little as 1.8 percent of tourism revenues across the continent. Growing evidence also suggests that legal trophy hunting can compromise the genetic health of a species and that it engenders illegal hunting and wildlife crime. (Read more about the debate on legal hunting as a conservation tool here).
What conservationists agree on is that urgent action is needed for the protection giraffes. Currently, giraffes are not internationally protected by trade laws or by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES regulates and restricts the international trade of threatened species; as giraffes are listed as Vulnerable, they just miss the mark to gain protection, despite the fact that some subspecies on the brink. "Giraffes are not protected under CITES and we know that the U.S. is a significant importer of giraffe trophies," said Sanerib. Between 2006 and 2015, an average of 374 giraffe trophies were imported into the US per year. That is more than a giraffe a day.
The Center for Biological Diversity and their petition co-sponsors believe protection under the ESA is critical. "The U.S. is undeniably a part of the decline of giraffes and an ESA-listing would raise awareness about this fact and increase scrutiny of our imports," said Sanerib.
And this fall, the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species will decide whether to protect giraffes, which periodically and cyclically cross international borders or did so historically, under that convention. Angola proposes listing giraffes on CMS Appendix II, which would require the establishment of agreements to protect and restore species habitat.
Though there is much to be done, it seems considerable strides are being made to learn more about giraffes and to protect them, from enacting greater legal protection and employing concerted anti-poaching measures to improving land-use planning and developing stewardship programs with local communities.
"I think giraffes capture our imaginations to begin with, but the more we learn about these animals the more fascinating they become," said Sanerib. "Raising awareness about the decline of giraffes is so important, we have to halt their decline before it is too late."
This is just the beginning of a giraffe recovery. With growing concern over their decline will hopefully propel the public to call on NGOs, governments, scientists, communities and advocates to come together to protect and elevate this remarkable species so that it may thrive on our planet once again.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Earth Island Journal.
An 18-foot long whale shark washed up dead on Pamban South Beach in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on Tuesday.
"The cause of death is found to be heavy internal injuries it has suffered when it either hit a rock or a big vessel," local wildlife ranger S Sathish told the Times of India.
Whale sharks are considered "endangered" under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Its global population has shrank more than 50 percent over the last 75 years. Its greatest current threats include fisheries catches, bycatch in nets and vessel strikes, according to the IUCN.
Whale sharks are the the biggest fish and shark of the seas. The gentle giants are filter feeders that dine on plankton with its massively wide mouth.
But during a necropsy, wildlife officials also uncovered a plastic spoon stuck in the dead shark's digestive system. The plastic spoon was likely sucked into the animal's digestive system while it was eating, the officials explained.
"It is a stark revelation how plastic waste is getting into the marine eco-system. The marine species can't distinguish between a floating plastic and prey. We should avoid dumping plastic waste inside sea," Sathish added.
It's clear from this story and many others that plastic trash is a major threat to aquatic life. Australian scientists published a paper in July suggesting that plastic pollution is spread throughout the marine environment. An of-citied 2016 study also found that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish if our current consumption pattern continues.
The dead whale shark was buried on Pamban beach on Tuesday.
Humans Have Created 9 Billion Tons of Plastic in the last 67 Years https://t.co/xpBRuDC4AF— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@Robert F. Kennedy Jr)1500998733.0
By Jonathan Hahn
On President Trump's first Earth Day in the White House, he declared on Twitter that "we celebrate our beautiful forests, lakes and lands"—an amiable if blasé arm-punch to the planet from the leader of the free world.
Until a few hours later that is, when the president resorted to his usual right cross.
"I am committed to keeping our air and water clean," he tweeted, "but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection. Jobs matter!"
Rarely does President Trump or his surrogates miss an opportunity to propound that "jobs matter" when it comes to the nation's environmental policies—especially where climate change is concerned. This binary logic—environmental protection equals job killer—is deeply woven into their world view. Trump has repeatedly called Obama-era initiatives like the Clean Power Plan "job killers" and vowed to "rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions, including the Climate Action Plan."
The delegation of fishermen that set sail Wednesday from a marina in Solomons, Maryland, would beg to differ. The only "job destroyer" for them is climate change.
Concerned about the threat global warming poses to their livelihoods, a crew of sustainable ocean farmers began a three-day journey they're calling the "Climate March by Sea." At the tiller of the small commercial fishing boat is Bren Smith, owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm and the executive director of GreenWave. They're heading south down the Chesapeake before they plan to turn north up the Potomac on their way to Washington, DC.
Their final destination: the Peoples Climate March, when thousands of people, including indigenous, civic, social justice, business and environmental advocacy groups are set to take to the streets of the nation's capital to demand action on climate, jobs and justice.
"Climate change was supposed to be a slow lobster boil," Smith said in an interview before casting off. "For me, it arrived 100 years earlier than expected. We fishermen are the citizen scientists reporting that water temperatures are going up, species are moving north, the weather is becoming more extreme. We can see it with our own eyes. We're way beyond the idea of climate denial."
When it comes to environmental policy, the "job killer" argument is a red herring. According to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project, "two-tenths of one percent of layoffs are caused by government regulations of any kind, including environmental regulations. Layoffs are caused far more often by corporate buyouts, technological advances and lower overseas labor costs."
For fishermen, the real crisis isn't government regulation, but the threats climate change poses to healthy oceans and seas. Marine and coastal fisheries contribute more than $200 billion in economic activity and 1.8 million jobs in the U.S. each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The World Wildlife Fund reports that marine populations are in catastrophic decline, plunging by 49 percent between 1970 and 2012, thanks in part to ocean acidification caused by warming waters, rising sea levels and extreme weather.
Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of fisheries have crashed due to overfishing, resulting in upward of $50 billion in economic losses, the California Environmental Associates assessed in its Charting a Course to Sustainable Fisheries report. One out of four marine species is threatened as a result of overfishing and climate change, among other factors, with 37 out of 1,288 bony fish species facing extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.
The Climate March by Sea will cover 150 miles over three days, making occasional stops to pick up supporters. The crew of ocean farmers and commercial fishermen will be posting and live tweeting along the way on GreenWave's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages with the hashtag #climatemarchbysea. They hope the voyage will help adrenalize public discourse about solutions to the climate crisis in the days leading up to the Peoples Climate March this Saturday.
An eclectic medley of individual, advocacy and corporate partners have come together to sponsor the journey, including celebrity chefs René Redzepi and David Chang, Patagonia, Ben and Jerry's, Dr. Bronners, 350.org, Bioneers, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana and the Sierra Club, among others. The trip's organizers are also raising individual donations to help pay for supplies and to sponsor more fishermen.
During the voyage, the crew will cowrite a letter, addressed to President Trump, in which they intend to make clear that climate change itself, not the policies devised to combat it, threatens the economy, their jobs and their way of life. They will also demand an end to the planned cuts to agencies like NOAA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Smith plans to reaffirm in the letter what has become his most ardent message: There will be no jobs on a dead planet.
"Climate change is an economic issue, not just an environmental issue," he said. "It's not just about the birds and the bees. It's also about how do I run a small business and make a living in an era of extreme weather? We're heading to DC to send that message—that our livelihoods depend on a healthy ecosystem. That for those of us who care about building domestic employment, we have to mitigate climate change and protect our water."
For Smith, the Climate March by Sea is the latest in a multi-decade career during which he witnessed the ramifications of overfishing and extreme weather firsthand. A high school dropout who grew up in a fishing village, Smith first cast out to learn how to fish when he was 14. He started working on the Bering Sea as a fisherman at the height of industrialized fishing, catching fish that mostly went to companies like McDonald's for fish sandwiches. "We were tearing up entire ecosystems with our trawls, producing some of the unhealthiest food," he said.
Later, after he'd set up his own oyster farm, two hurricanes in a row wiped him out: Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. Smith lost 90 percent of his crops, he said. Most of his gear washed out to sea.
When he began the process of rebuilding, he took an interest in extreme weather and what was causing it. He quickly became disillusioned.
Smith developed an innovative form of marine polyculture featuring a mix of shellfish and seaweed, which he calls "3-D farming." Seaweed soaks up five times as much carbon as land-based plants and is rich in omega-3s, vitamins and minerals. It also serves as storm-surge protectors. "So you can see this nexus of new environmentalism, which isn't just about conservation," he said, "it's about jobs, environmental protection and addressing food security all at once. I think we're at that sweet spot."
Since then, Smith has also created GreenWave, a nonprofit, to open-source his model of sustainable ocean farming for other fishermen and to engage in policy work and research around ocean planning, such as developing new mobile hatcheries. He also runs Seagreen Farms, which is a for-profit in the early stages of building seafood hubs in poor neighborhoods.
"I'm not really an environmentalist per se," he said. "My journey has been trying to figure out how to spend my life working on the water. This jobs-versus-environment choice that the administration keeps telling us, whether we're coal miners or fishermen, is a false choice. Environmentalism and the future of the new economy are inextricably linked."
The Climate March by Sea will dock at the Washington Marina in Georgetown on Friday morning, where the crew will hold a press conference at 10:00 a.m. They'll host an event that night at Patagonia, where they will be shucking oysters, serving beer and making signs as they prepare for the Peoples Climate March the following day.
"The Peoples Climate March represents to me the future of environmentalism," he said. "It's also time to push back. We need to defend our ground, our waters, our funding. We need to drive home that there is a whole generation of blue collar people that believe in climate change and demand that it be addressed now."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.