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Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Steven dosRemedios / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

If you follow environmental news, every day it seems like the world is getting worse. One landmark study found that animals are going extinct 1,000 times faster than their natural rate because of human influence and habitat loss.

To help fight back against these worrying trends, Swiss billionaire and conservationist Hansjörg Wyss will be donating $1 billion over the next 10 years through his Wyss Foundation.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. Simisa / Wikimedia Commons

The Seychelles has created two vast new marine protected areas in the Indian Ocean after a groundbreaking finance deal brokered by the Nature Conservancy and other stakeholders, including environmentalist and Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio.

In exchange for writing off a portion of its debt, the island nation agreed to protect a total of 81,000-square-miles of ocean—that's about the size of Great Britain.

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Christy Williams / WWF

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.

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The Trump administration is considering cutting protections for two national monuments lying south of Hawaii in the central Pacific. The decision, scientists warn, will threaten reefs across the Pacific.

The move, according to a memo from Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke obtained by the Washington Post in September, would "allow commercial fishing" in the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument and the Rose Atoll National Marine Monument.

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A baby-pangolin. The U.S. has been instrumental in the past in combatting wildlife trafficking, a role the nation could abandon under Trump's draconian budget.

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.

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Forests cleared for oil palm plantations in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace

By Tim Radford

Land use is often a forgotten priority, yet those of us who wish to contain global warming and avert catastrophic climate change have a natural ally: the land.

As nations plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, an international team of scientists has calculated just how much the natural and farmed world could contribute to future stability by absorbing ever more carbon dioxide.

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A reef off the coast of Cancún will become the first in the world with its own insurance policy, testing a new strategy meant to encourage local investment in the wellbeing of the reef.

Under the policy, created by insurance company Swiss Re and the Nature Conservancy, local hotels and other organizations dependent on tourism will pay into the policy, receiving reimbursements to repair the reef and local beaches after natural disasters.

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Tar Sands Blockade

This morning, a fake press release was sent from an email address at yourtdbank.com, to a parody website designed to look like TD Bank's press page announcing the bank's divestment from Keystone XL and tar sands. The fake release cited President Obama's recent climate speech and a host of economic problems for the tar sands industry as reasons for TD Bank’s decision to sell its $1.6 billion stake in Keystone XL and live up to their motto to be “As Green As Our Logo.”

The media stunt was claimed by the Texas-based nonviolent direct action organization, Tar Sands Blockade, who over the last year has successfully caused major delays to the construction of the southern segment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The fake story was published by media sources such as International Business Times, before later realizing it was a hoax.

Today’s hoax was part of a sustained campaign to encourage financial institutions bankrolling Alberta’s tar sands industry to divest from toxic projects like Keystone XL and highlight TD Bank's blatant hypocrisy on environmental issues.

Yesterday, TD Bank touted their eco-consciousness by announcing a partnership with the Nature Conservancy to preserve 107 acres of Florida forests. The tar sands mega-project, which analysts say will only be economically viable if Keystone XL and other pipelines are built, would destroy or degrade 34 million acres of the world's largest, most pristine forest and the largest terrestrial carbon sink.

“Today's media stunt was intended to hold TD Bank accountable for bankrolling the most ecologically devastating project on planet Earth. If TD Bank wants to be 'as green as its logo,' then it must immediately divest from tar sands exploitation and Keystone XL, which will have devastating climate impacts,” said Ron Seifert, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson.

“TD Bank’s green-washing of its preservation of 107 acres in Florida while simultaneously investing in the destruction of a forest the size of the entire state of Florida is downright absurd and must be brought to light.”

Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL and TAR SANDS pages for more related news on this topic.

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The Nature Conservancy

On Feb. 27, 643 organizations, representing tens of millions Americans, expressed strong support for the Conservation Title of the U.S. Farm Bill in a letter sent to Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Frank Lucas (R-OK), as well as the ranking members of those committees.

The letter urges the committees to provide the greatest possible priority for conservation programs in the funding and structuring of Farm Bill reauthorization.

The letter states that, “In our vast collective experience as landowners, farmers, ranchers, forest managers, agricultural and forest businesses, hunters and anglers, local and state government officials, and non-profit organizations representing a wide range of interests, we can say, without any doubt, that the programs within the Conservation Title work cost-effectively to serve the short and long term interests of the American people.”

On behalf of the signers, 10 agricultural, forestry, and conservation organizations who coordinated distribution of the letter said that, “Farm Bill conservation programs provide a multitude of benefits for every region of America, not the least of which is helping landowners stay on the land as stewards of America’s legacy of natural resources. We, and all the signers of this letter, urge the Agriculture Committees to reauthorize the Farm Bill in a manner that sustains conservation funding to meet our national needs. The conservation efforts in the Farm Bill are critical to a strong economy, healthy and productive rural lands and vibrant communities. We appreciate the leadership of the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on this issue.”

Additional statements of support include:

Roger Wolf of the Iowa Soybean Association: “The Iowa Soybean Association supports a Conservation Title resulting in stronger soils and safer waters from our most productive working-land areas. Working in partnerships on priority resources concerns, keeping working-land productive and securing performance is key to our farmers.”

Becky Humphries of Ducks Unlimited: “While we understand these are difficult times, we believe every possible effort should be made to provide sufficient funding for the Conservation Title programs over the next five years so that they can continue to benefit the American people.”

Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for Environmental Defense Fund and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee: “Farm Bill conservation programs are a smart government investment in the long-term health of both American agriculture and our environment because they leverage additional resources from agricultural producers, who share the cost of implementing conservation practices on the land. Because increasing global demand for food is intensifying pressure on America’s land and water resources, it is more critical now than ever to maintain and strengthen conservation programs.”

Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: “Our long-term food security depends on balancing production needs with protection and enhancement of natural resources. No farm bill investment is more important or more cost effective than helping farmers protect natural resources and prevent pollution.”

The full text of the letter to the leaders of the Agriculture Committees can be found online, including the complete list of signers.

For more information, click here.

The Nature Conservancy

So you think you’ve had some strange dates? This Valentine’s Day, The Nature Conservancy compiled the top 10 most bizarre examples of love in the wild.

“Nature can get pretty wild, especially when love is in the air,” said Terry Sullivan, director of The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico.

Unfortunately, many of these creatures are at risk of disappearing forever because of habitat loss, climate change, and other threats.

“Here in New Mexico, the lesser prairie chicken faces an uncertain future because of loss of habitat,” said Tish McDaniel, southern short grass project director for New Mexico’s Conservancy. “As much as 90 percent of the lesser’s habitat has been lost due to fragmentation. We are out of balance.”

The lesser prairie chicken is renowned for the extraordinary dance that it performs as part of its mating ritual. To make sure these incredible animals survive in the future, The Nature Conservancy is protecting habitat on the Milnesand Prairie Preserve, the heart of the prairie chicken population. We also collaborate with partners, including landowners, ranchers and farmers, to access funding for habitat restoration projects. Plus, the conservancy, in concert with others, is restoring abandoned oil and gas roads and removing invasive shrubs and non-native trees.

 “Nature is powerful, but for many animals their future depends not only on their mating prowess but on what help we give them,” McDaniel added. “If we don’t act now to protect the lands these iconic creatures call home, they may not be around for future generations to witness their spectacular mating dances.”

In an effort to raise awareness about the importance of protecting prairie chickens, the conservancy partners with the community of Milnesand, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Department and Grasslands Charitable Foundation for the 11th Annual High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival on April 20-22. 

In addition to the incredible displays of our own lesser prairie chicken, here are 10 other bizarre mating practices from around the planet:

1) Deep sea angler fish—“Losing yourself in love”

Male anglerfish bite their mates and permanently fuse to their bodies. Over time, the male’s brain, eyes and organs dissolve until he turns into a small lump, releasing sperm whenever the female is ready to lay eggs. Scientists first thought the lumps were fins before discovering they were the males. 

2) Prairie Chickens—“Strut Your Stuff”

Male prairie chickens attract females with loud “booming” noises that can be heard miles away. They also perform an elaborate dance—lowering their heads, erecting their neck feathers, inflating orange air sacks, dropping their wings and pointing their tails, all while frantically stamping their feet. 

3) American Burying Beetle—“Family Oriented”

American burying beetles not only are monogamous but also raise their children together. Expectant parents bury dead birds or mice and lay eggs nearby. The parents lie on their backs and use their legs like a conveyor belt to move carcasses up to 200 times their own weight. Once hatched, larvae feed on the carcass or the parents rub their wings together to call the larvae and regurgitate meat into their mouths. 

4) Freshwater mussels—“The bait and switch”

Male mussels release sperm into the water, which females capture downstream. Larvae hatch inside the females’ shells but must then attach to a fish to grow. To lure fish, mother mussels wave appendages that look like worms, crayfish or other bait. Some emit a smell of rotting flesh to attract scavenger fish. When fish approach, the mussels shoot the larvae onto the fish. 

5) Prairie Vole—“Born to be Faithful”

Unlike most rodents, prairie voles are monogamous. Scientists have discovered that prairie vole faithfulness is caused by hormone receptors located in their brain’s reward centers, giving them the sense of pleasure from monogamy. 

6) Bower birds—“Bachelor Pads”

Male bowers of Australia and New Guinea build large and elaborate bachelor pads on forest floors, decorated with flowers, leaves, shells and even stolen coins—anything they think will attract a mate. Some paint the walls with chewed berries, others build lawns of moss. Drab males build the flashiest pads to compensate for their dull colors. 

7) Lions—“One Track Mind”

When lions mate, the coupling usually lasts only about 20 seconds. But the pair will repeat the act every 20 minutes or so—sometimes up to 40 times a day. This will continue for three to seven days straight, with the male and female neglecting to hunt or eat during the entire time.

8) Tree crickets—“Smooth talker”

Male crickets bite holes in leafs to amplifier their love songs and attract females. Once they mate, however, male sperm packets don’t fit inside the females’ bodies so a portion hangs out. The ever-ravenous females try to eat the packet before fertilization can occur. To distract her, the male sings and secretes a tasty goo from his back, feeding her until the eggs are fertilized. 

9) Day Octopus—“Keep Your Distance”

Female day octopi are known to eat their partners after mating, so the males keep their distance. When a male finds a female, he extends one arm and waves. If she responds, he uses his arm to place a sperm packet under the female’s body covering. The octopi stay at an arm’s length—appearing as though they are holding hands. 

10) Little Brown Bats—“Waiting for the Right Time”

Because these bats mate in the autumn—but hibernate during winter—females store sperm for seven months to delay pregnancy until springtime. While bats normally hang upside down, females stand upright to give birth and catch their babies in a membrane between their legs. Newborns cling to their mothers even during nighttime flights as they search for food.

For more information, click here.

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The Nature Conservancy

Florida Nature Conservancy Scientist Kris Serbesoff-King called the drastic loss of common mammals in the Everglades due to Burmese pythons, reported by the Florida Academy of Sciences, “really scary” and worries about the repercussions for all wildlife and for Everglades restoration.

The Nature Conservancy not only trains responders through the Python Patrol to capture pythons in an effort to contain the spread but is also working with national partners to develop U.S. policies designed to fend off the next big invasion.

“Right now imported species are innocent until proven guilty,” Serbesoff-King said. “As a nation, we need to focus on pre-importation screening—that is to say looking at what will likely be a small number of non-native imported wildlife that could go on to be harmful to the lands and waters life depends on.”

Nature Conservancy scientists for years have been working on “risk assessments” for plants and animals coming into the U.S., a series of questions that determines an import’s probable impact on native species. It’s already been shown with plants that accurate results are possible with little interruption to trade.

“For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just started in the right direction for plants,” she said. “There is no pre-screening right now for wildlife.”

The Florida Academy of Sciences report, called The Effect of Burmese Pythons on the Mammals of South Florida, was released Jan. 30.

“Prevention is critical as this report clearly shows,” Serbesoff-King said. “We have to figure out what the next Burmese python could be. Unfortunately, it might already be out there.”

For more information, click here.

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The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide.

Save the River

Save The River, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund—Canada (WWF) offered their organizations’ support for the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) new approach to water level regulation in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River Jan. 30. The three organizations are encouraged by the proposed Plan BV7 which, if appropriately implemented, will take steps to restore the lake and river after 60 years of environmentally damaging regulation.

Save The River, The Nature Conservancy and WWF-Canada look forward to learning more about Plan BV7 throughout 2012 and urge citizens and national, state, and provincial governments to support the IJC moving this forward-thinking approach from plan to action over the course of the year.

Jennifer Caddick, Save The River executive director said, “Save The River applauds the IJC’s new approach for water levels regulation on the Lake and River. Plan BV7 will begin to reverse damage caused by years of destructive regulation, and allow the lake and river ecosystem to once again thrive. The plan will also enrich the quality of life for citizens living in these areas, as the balanced proposal protects property owners and has clear benefits for recreational boating, hunting, fishing, shipping, and clean hydroelectric production. Save The River urges its adoption.”

The proposed plan represents an innovative approach that delivers environmental improvements along with substantial benefits for the regional economy and property owners.

Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York Chapter executive director, remarked, “This plan strikes a balance between people and nature. Plan BV7 is a common-sense proposal that benefits hydropower, shipping, hunting and fishing, recreational boating, and shoreline property, while focusing on the health of the Lake Ontario—St. Lawrence ecosystem as a whole. The result will be a thriving lake and river system that enhances property values by generating more fish, more wildlife, more tourism, and better recreation opportunities for people.”

Tony Maas, WWF-Canada’s freshwater program director said, “As a science-based organization, WWF is working to protect and restore environmental flows—the quantity, quality and timing of river flows—in Canada and around the world as part of our freshwater conservation program. The St. Lawrence is one of North America’s most important and most threatened rivers. Restoring more natural rhythms of water flows is fundamental to improving the overall health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it. The integration of environmental flow in BV7 will help to make this possible and I look forward to the realization of environmental, social and economic benefits coming out of this effort.”

Sixty years of regulation forcing unnatural flow conditions and water levels has caused damage to the lake and river environment and the livelihoods and well-being of the people who rely upon it. The approach contained in Plan BV7 shows that benefits for the environment, the regional economy and property owners can go hand-in-hand.

Plan BV7’s approach will create the conditions for:

Environmental Benefits

A healthier lake and river, as evidenced by the following:

  • Increased populations of Northern Pike, Black Tern and other marsh-nesting birds. Northern pike, the top predator in coastal marshes, have declined by 70 percent since regulation began. Populations of the Black Tern have declined by more than 80 percent in coastal marshes, and are now on the list of threatened species in New York and designated as species of Special Concern in Ontario.
  • A 40 percent increase in wet meadow habitats, which are vital to native fish and wildlife. Since regulation began this entire class of coastal wetlands has declined by more than 50 percent and been replaced by dense stands of cattails.
  • Return of a cornerstone mammal. The muskrat is an essential habitat engineer whose year-round grazing on cattails creates openings on which other animals and plants depend. Muskrats have almost disappeared from Lake Ontario coastal marshes since regulation began, and their beneficial effects will nearly quadruple under Plan BV7.

Economic Benefits

  • Significant economic investment. The economy of the Great Lakes depends on the health and beauty of the lakes and their ecosystems. A 2007 cost-benefit analysis by the Brookings Institution demonstrates that each dollar of restoration brings two dollars of benefits to the economy of the Great Lakes region.
  • Improved conditions for recreational boating and commercial shipping. For the vast majority of years, Plan BV7 will extend the season for recreational boating by avoiding the rapid draw-down of the Lake and upper River as under the current plan. Plan BV7 would also improve conditions for commercial navigation in the River by reducing shipping delays.
  • Additional recreational opportunities. Healthier Lake and River wetlands will support stronger populations of native fish and wildlife, improving the area’s hunting and angling, and strengthening the recreational economies that rely upon them.
  • Less flooding and more hydropower. Plan BV7 would slightly decrease the risk of flooding in the lower River while enhancing hydropower production in Canada and the U.S.      

Shoreline Benefits

  • Protection from flooding. Plan BV7 will ensure water levels are managed in ways that will minimize the risk of flooding to shoreline property.
  • Continued protection for property owners. Plan BV7 is estimated to save property owners on the lake and upper river $24 million dollars a year by reducing the cost of maintaining shoreline properties when compared to no regulation. This may be 12 percent lower than the current level of support offered to shoreline property owners, but it is still a significant benefit.
  • Rebuilt shorelines. Restoration of low water to Lake Ontario will help rebuild shoreline property.  In some areas, once sandy beaches have been replaced with rocks and cobbles, a result of the current plan’s absence of naturally occurring low water conditions.

For more information, click here.

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Save The River and The Nature Conservancy represent more than 17,000 homeowners living on the lake and river, business people, environmentalists, hunters, anglers and recreational users of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. The groups have a combined 85 years of experience conserving and advocating for these bodies of water and the people who use them. Save The River was formed in 1978 to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Upper St. Lawrence River through advocacy, education, and research. The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

WWF is creating solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet, helping people and nature thrive.

Plan BV7 has been formulated over the course of ten years with the input of more than 180 stakeholder representatives, experts, and scientists from government agencies, academia, NGO’s and industry in New York, Ontario, and Quebec.

Nature Conservancy

Mercury accumulation, previously considered a risk for aquatic ecosystems, is also found in many wildlife species living on the land, according to a new report published by the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. Hidden Risk: Mercury in Terrestrial Systems of the Northeast highlights the BRI’s scientific findings on high levels of mercury contamination in songbirds and bats throughout 11 northeastern states.

“While the risk of mercury to people is well known—there are more than 3,700 fish consumption advisories issued in the U.S.—we are still learning about mercury’s effects on wildlife,” says David C. Evers, Ph.D., BRI’s executive director and chief scientist. “Mercury accumulation has many implications for the health and survival of wildlife species across habitats, not just those that live and feed in aquatic habitats. Our research has found that mercury concentrations in animals that live in terrestrial environments are significant enough to cause physiological and reproductive harm. This knowledge is creating a major paradigm shift in ecotoxicological research, assessment, monitoring, management, and policy.”

Hidden Risk is the most complete synthesis of songbird and bat mercury data in the Northeast published to date. This report documents, for the first time, elevated levels of mercury in a wide range of songbirds and bats living in a variety of terrestrial ecosystems in northeastern states from Maine to Virginia. Among the findings:

  • Current environmental mercury loads have the ability to significantly reduce reproductive success in several songbird species of conservation concern in the northeastern U.S., including the saltmarsh sparrow and rusty blackbird
  • Bats also build up significant body burdens of mercury. Individuals from multiple species from all 10 areas sampled in the northeastern U.S. exceeded the subclinical threshold for changes to neurochemistry
  • Mercury loading in songbirds is not only restricted during the breeding season. For some species, such as the northern waterthrush, high levels of mercury accumulate during migration and in tropical wintering grounds.

Songbirds and bats, often referred to as insect eaters, are more accurately called invertivores because they eat a wide variety of invertebrate species such as spiders, snails, and worms, in addition to insects. “The role of invertivores in the ecosystem has until now been largely ignored in mercury investigations,” says Evers. “However, these species are more common, widespread, and sensitive to mercury contamination than previously known; studying the terrestrial food web can serve as an effective biological network of important indicators for people and wildlife.”

Hidden Risk presents findings from at-risk habitats, and associated indicator species are identified based on the species’ level of conservation concern, relative abundance, and ability to build up mercury in the body. The report demonstrates the significant costs of mercury to wildlife that were not factored into previous cost/benefit analyses.

In the U.S., mercury becomes an air pollutant largely through emissions from coal-fired power plants. In some areas, cement plants and mining related industries also add to mercury pollution. Airborne mercury eventually returns to the earth in rain, snow, and fog droplets, as well as in dry form. Under the right conditions, mercury is transformed into methylmercury, an organic toxin that becomes magnified as it is ingested up the food chain. The toxic effects of methylmercury may include both neurological and reproductive harm to wildlife, and to people who consume contaminated wildlife.

“While air pollution impacts people and nature on public and private lands, the good news is that when action has been taken to reduce mercury emissions, the results are very promising,” says Dr. Timothy Tear, New York director of science for the Nature Conservancy. “Research has shown that reduction in mercury levels do make a difference to dramatically and quickly reverse mercury contamination trends in fish and wildlife. Reducing this neurotoxin from the environment will benefit wildlife and people.”

Hidden Risk outlines a number of management actions that can be taken to reduce the mercury risk in various terrestrial ecosystems, ranging from cleaning up legacy dump sites to reducing atmospheric deposition. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) Rule that requires coal-fired power plants to update their mercury pollution control technologies, and this report highlights the importance of tracking the biological implications of this rule through better national and international monitoring programs. The report also calls for the establishment of critical loads for air-borne contaminants that are based upon preserving healthy ecosystems. Critical loads identify the maximum level of pollutant deposition that ecosystems can handle before harmful effects occur.

Air pollution continues to be an important area of environmental concern. The recent U.S. EPA MATS ruling and release of the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program Report to Congress: An Integrated Assessment underscore the fact that although efforts to reduce air pollution in the U.S. are working, there is still much more work to be done.

More than 50 researchers contributed to the information in this report, which illustrates the continued interest in advancing our understanding of the impacts of air pollution—in particular mercury—on nature and people. Hidden Risk: Mercury in Terrestrial Systems of the Northeast and related materials are available online at by clicking here.

The mission of the Biodiversity Research Institute is to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research, and to use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers. BRI’s science programs include wetlands, mammal, raptor, waterfowl, migratory bird, marine bird, coastal bird, wildlife and renewable energy, and tropical programs. BRI’s research efforts stretch throughout most of North and Central America, as well as across sites in South America, Russia, South Africa and Europe. For more information about BRI's work, click here.

For more information, click here.

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The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide.