During a bird evolution study on the island of Borneo in May of 2016, a research team discovered an owl that hadn't been seen in the wild since 1892. Quickly grabbing their cameras, the researchers captured the first-ever photos of the rare bird, identifying it as the rare Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl, native to southeast Asia.
At the time of its re-discovery, the elusive owl was roosting just a meter above the ground. "It was a pretty rapid progression of emotions when I first saw the owl — absolute shock and excitement that we'd found this mythical bird, then pure anxiety that I had to document it as fast as I could," Andy Boyce, an avian ecologist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, told the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.
The island of Borneo, which is divided politically among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, is a hotspot for biodiversity — home to orangutans, clouded leopards and pygmy elephants, according to the UN Environment Programme. It's also home to the Otus brookii brookii, one of the two sub-species and "far more elusive" Rajah scops owls, according to the Global Wildlife Conservation. The other sub-species, Otus brookii solokensis, is found in Sumatra and is well documented.
Researchers were able to identify the owl based on its distinct characteristics, such as its orange irises, small ear tufts and speckled brown and black crown, the GWC reported. But to their surprise, the researchers found that the feather colors and patterns of the O. brookii brookii varied from its Sumatran counterpart, meaning that the two owls may actually be entirely different species.
If the owl is endemic to only Borneo and is its own species, conservation action is more likely, Boyce explained. But researchers haven't been able to find the owl since and reckon its one-time sighting could mean its numbers are low in the wild.
"Unfortunately, we are only good at conserving what we know and what we name," Boyce said, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. "Our sole sighting during this intensive study confirms this owl lives in mature montane forests, likely above or below the survey area… To protect this bird, we need a firm understanding of its habitat and ecology."
Only half of Bornean forest cover remains today, the UN Environment Programme reported. As climate change, deforestation and expansion of palm oil continue to threaten the owl's habitat, researchers, with almost no data of the owl's vocalizations, distribution, breeding biology and population size, are running out of time to shine a light on the mysterious species.
Additional studies on the owl "could have important conservation implications," yet its rarity makes these studies "impossible," the researchers wrote in their findings, published last week in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Finding another individual or population is necessary to learn more about the Bornean Rajah scops owl and protect them from increasing climate-related threats.
John Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy, said the important thing about rediscovering lost birds "is the excitement and interest they generate," according to the GWC. "The idea that there's a mysterious species out there that no one can find at the moment should be a call to action for birdwatchers in the area, and it's a way of getting people excited to search new areas and help make discoveries."
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Beef cattle have an outsized environmental impact because they belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In total, they account for 3.7 percent of the United States' total greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half of all agricultural emissions, Inside Climate News reported. To replace beef, some environmentalists and scientists have suggested choosing chicken instead, which produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.
But a new study finds that consuming "less-carbon polluting meats," like chicken or fish, may not be a sustainable replacement to beef and instead may further add to its high emissions, The Academic Times reported.
The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, examined meat consumption data between 1961-2013 -- a period when chicken consumption grew five-fold per capita and beef consumption almost stayed the same.
Richard York, a sociologist at the University of Oregon and the study's lead author, said, "If you have increases in the production of poultry and fish, it doesn't tend to compete with or suppress other meat source consumption," according to the University of Oregon. "It would be great if more poultry and fish production and consumption would reduce that of beef, but that doesn't seem to be the case."
In a 2012 study, York found that expanding renewable energy did not reduce fossil fuel emissions, but increased overall energy consumption. He called this phenomenon the "displacement paradox" and wondered if it could be applied to meat consumption patterns, The Academic Times reported.
"Adding more wind doesn't really result in using less coal. If we use more energy sources, we use more energy. Likewise, when additional meat choices are offered, that additional variety tends to, more simply, increase overall meat consumption," York explained, according to the University of Oregon.
Studies show that beef production creates about four to eight times the emissions of pork, chicken or egg production per gram of protein, according to The New York Times. Although emitting much less, chicken production still has a significant greenhouse gas impact.
Greenhouse gas emissions per serving of poultry, for example, are 11 times higher than those of one serving of beans, Leah Garcés, the president of Mercy For Animals wrote in Vox – "so swapping beef with chicken is akin to swapping a Hummer with a Ford F-150, not a Prius." Global poultry production is also rising globally. Between 1990 and 2013, it increased by 165 percent, while global beef production only increased by 23 percent, Garcés wrote.
While scientists admit they don't have a silver bullet solution to limiting global warming below the Paris agreement's target of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, they say curbing emissions from food production is a necessary part of the equation, calling it a "dark horse of climate change," The New York Times reported.
York suggests policymakers concentrate on supply chains, looking at the fossil fuel and meat industries side-by-side. "Rather than simply increasing renewable energy production, we need to actively suppress fossil fuel production instead of just giving more options," York said. "With meats, we may need to address the level of subsidies given for meat consumption to realize a desired reduction in meat production."
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The contents of our mattresses are often an afterthought. That's a mistake, as research shows that the quality of your sleeping surface can significantly impact your health.
As consumers gain awareness about the health effects of sleeping on potentially toxic compounds, mattress companies are responding with new beds made from better materials. Today, you can choose from a broad range of mattresses made from all-natural components, including organic wool, cotton, and latex. Here's a summary of the best non-toxic, eco-friendly mattresses available today and how to decide between them.
Why You Should Choose an Organic Mattress
Traditionally, mattresses contain trace amounts of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that act as flame retardants and coatings on plastic components. While the popular view is that these VOCs are found in too low of concentrations to be concerning, a 2019 study published in Environmental Science and Technology indicates that body heat may transform them into toxic vapors that you breathe in through the night.
That's a reason for concern, as according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the potential health effects of VOC exposure include headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation. In extreme cases, they may trigger cancer cell development or organ damage.
8 Top-Rated Organic and Natural Mattress BrandsEach product featured below has been selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the included links, we may earn a commission.
- Best Overall – Avocado Green Mattress
- Best Cooling – GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Best Hypoallergenic – Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Best for Lower Back Support – Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Best for Couples – My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Best Fair Trade Certified – Birch Natural Mattresses
- Most Affordable – Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Best Give Back Program – Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
How We Chose These Products
When comparing the best natural mattress options, we looked at several specific factors to determine which ones stand out. Here are some of the distinguishing features.
The best non-toxic mattress brands today exclusively use certified organic textiles like cotton and wool.
Is it certified GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)? As the leading natural certifications for textiles and latex materials, GOLS and GOTS-certified products meet stringent requirements for responsible social and environmental practices.
The best nontoxic mattresses are compressed into boxes for shipping and then expand to full size once you unpack them. Environmentally speaking, smaller packages mean less fuel wasted on transportation. Others are sent in pieces or in full form and require a delivery team for installation.
Give Back Programs
The best eco-friendly mattress brands also support nonprofit programs that benefit the environment. We like brands where a percentage of your purchase may go towards a worthwhile cause.
Many of the best organic mattresses are handcrafted in the United States, which shrinks their environmental footprint by keeping production and transportation within a smaller area.
Standard practice in the mattress industry is to offer sleep trial testing periods. These range from three months to a year or longer.
Direct to Consumer
Direct-to-consumer mattress companies are increasing in popularity. They tend to be less wasteful than traditional retailers because the brand isn't putting resources towards maintaining showrooms.
9 Best Natural and Organic Mattresses of 2021
Best Overall - Avocado Green Mattress
- Materials – 100% GOTS certified cotton and wool, 100% natural latex, steel support coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – GREENGUARD Gold, Rainforest Alliance, eco-INSTITUT®, and Formaldehyde-Free certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified wool, GOTS and GOLS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
This mattress-in-a-box brand doesn't compromise its eco-friendly principles for low cost or convenience. The Avocado Green mattress boasts a gentle latex support system for balanced firmness that's ideal for larger people and those who sleep on their back or side.
Why buy: Avocado is a leading brand for affordable mattresses made from natural materials. The Green mattress makes this list for its affordable price point and five-zone support system with up to 1,400 pocketed steel support coils. Equally impressive, Avocado maintains control over its whole supply chain and employs strict social and environmental standards for every product.
Best Cooling - GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Materials – Natural wool, GOLS certified Dunlop & Talalay latex, USDA organic and GOTS certified cotton
- Manufacturing – Manufactured in the USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives vacuum sealed in a box
- Certifications – USDA organic, Control Union certified, OEKO-TEX® certified, GOLS and GOTS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 101 night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
The GhostBed Natural mattress offers five layers of natural comfort materials. Each mattress is made from natural wool, genuine Dunlop and Talalay latex, and organic cotton for solid support and air-flow cooling. This is an eco-friendly mattress made for comfort, cooling, and support.
Why buy: The GhostBed Natural mattress is a great option if you tend to get hot when you sleep, as it includes both a naturally cooling latex core and cooling airflow coil technology to help you sleep better. We also love that it is made in the United States with organic and natural materials like sustainably-sourced latex and USDA organic cotton.
Best Hypoallergenic - Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Materials – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in California
- Delivery – Delivered in two boxes, the customer must assemble
- Certifications – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool, GreenGuard Gold Certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 Certified, eco-INSTITUT® certified, Control Union Certified, Forest Stewardship Council Certified
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Plushbeds mattresses are handcrafted in the US from certified organic materials. Orthopedic specialists recommend them for their buoyant support and pressure point relief, along with an organic latex core you can customize.
Why buy: With Plushbeds' Botanical Bliss mattress, you get a non-toxic, hypoallergenic sleeping surface that keeps you cool through the night. This bed is dust mite resistant to eliminate most home's primary allergy problems and includes an organic cotton cover for comfort.
Best Luxury - Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Materials – Certified organic cotton, all-natural Talalay latex, 100% organic New Zealand wool
- Manufacturing – Made in USA within 19 independent factories
- Delivery – Purchase comes with free white glove delivery and setup, including old mattress removal
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100, eco-INSTITUT®, Rainforest Alliance, and Cradle to Cradle certified
- Sleep Trial/ Warranty – 180-day sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Saatva Zenhaven mattress is naturally hypoallergenic and made using environmentally responsible practices. The manufacturing process is entirely water-based and produces minimal byproducts. Even the certified organic cotton cover is protected by a proprietary nontoxic botanical antimicrobial treatment. Rather than using traditional flame retardants, the mattress contains a protective layer of organic New Zealand wool.
Why buy: As Saatva's premium mattress, the Zenhaven is made for low back support and a cooling, comfortable night's sleep. This 100% Talalay latex mattress contains durable materials for supported rest and boasts a flippable design for two firmness levels. This is the best option for a luxurious yet eco-friendly mattress.
Best for Couples - My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Materials – GOTS certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in a certified organic factory in Illinois
- Delivery – White glove delivery service available for $199 for setup and old mattress removal.
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Natural Escape mattress boasts a responsive zoned pocketed coil spring system covered with GOLS certified Dunlop latex for breathability. With an adaptive support system that conforms to the contours of your spine, the company recommends it for couples with opposite body types or who prefer different sleeping positions from each other. The mattress itself is button tufted to pull the layers together without the use of any potentially toxic adhesives or VOCs.
Why buy: The Natural Escape mattress from My Green Mattress delivers stellar lumbar support and proper spinal alignment—all underneath a comfortable organic cotton cover. It also provides limited motion transfer thanks to an upgraded innerspring system, making it a great option for couples as you won't disturb your partner when you move.
Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Materials – Organic cotton filling, organic wool, certified latex
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a single box
- Certifications – GOTS-certified cotton, Certified Made Safe, GOLS-certified latex, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, GreenGuard Gold Certified, Underwriters Laboratories verified formaldehyde-free, Green America Certified Business
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
Happsy's mattresses combine comfort, the latest technology in certified organic mattress design, and premium earth-friendly materials for a bed you can feel good about from every angle. In fact, the included zipper lets you peek inside to see what you're really sleeping on. The mattress utilizes a breathable coil system designed to wick moisture away to keep you cooler at night than sleeping on heat-trapping synthetic foams.
Why buy: Happsy is a small mattress brand focused on making mattresses with a conscience — meaning that all materials are chosen for being easy on the environment. The company forgoes all glues and adhesives in favor of its own pocketed spring design that keeps the mattress supportive, but never "bouncy."
Best Fair Trade Certified - Birch Natural Mattresses
- Materials – Organic cotton, wool, birch wool, natural latex, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a box
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified, OEKO-TEX®Standard 100, Eco INSTITUT® Tested Product, Wool Integrity NZ, Fair Trade Certified Factory
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Birch by Helix makes a range of natural bedding options constructed in ways that support the environment. Each mattress is made from premium materials that together work to relieve your body's pressure points, no matter how you prefer to sleep. The company claims this premium product has natural flexibility that allows it to retain its shape to provide enough softness for coziness while still offering full-body support.
Why buy: We love that all Birch mattress wool comes from New Zealand sheep farms that meet Wool Integrity NZ standards, which ensures the animals are treated ethically at every stage of production. Plus, the cotton within each mattress is Fair Trade certified, making this a responsible sleep option.
Most Affordable - Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Materials – 100% natural latex foam rubber, organic wool, organic cotton
- Manufacturing – Designed and handcrafted in Los Angeles, CA
- Delivery – Free standard delivery across the US, White Glove delivery available for an extra cost
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified, GOTS Organic wool, GOTS organic certified cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 90-day sleep trial, 15-year warranty
Eco Terra offers a budget-friendly latex hybrid mattress that includes natural materials, unobtrusive pocket support coils, and a 90-day sleep trial. Eco Terra's latex mattress is available in both a medium and medium-firm firmness level to support a wide range of sleepers. The bed is free of synthetic foams and VOCs, favoring a three-inch-thick layer of Talalay latex instead.
Why buy: Eco Terra offers a more budget-friendly option than other latex hybrid brands, making this mattress an excellent choice for comfortable sleep without compromising on natural materials. One thing to note is that this latex isn't GOLS-certified, though the other materials are GOTS certified.
Best Give Back Program - Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
- Materials – Dunlap latex, organic New Zealand wool, organic cotton, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Made in China
- Delivery – Arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – Rainforest Alliance certified latex, certified organic wool, certified organic cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 365-night sleep trial, Forever Warranty (lifetime guarantee against sagging and manufacturing defects)
Awara features premium Sri Lanka latex and wrapped coil springs to provide contour and a touch of bounce for supportive sleep throughout the night. At the core of this mattress are nine-inch pocketed coils that are thicker than standard. This gives the bed a firmer, more responsive feel that minimizes the sense of sinking when you reach the outer edge, so it's suitable for back, side, and stomach sleepers alike.
Why buy: Awara's natural latex mattress stands out for being slightly firmer than some other options. The mattress itself is made from quality materials with GOLS, GOTS, and Rainforest Alliance certification. Awara also partners with Trees for the Future to support forest systems throughout Africa. Every purchase funds the planting of ten trees throughout Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, or Tanzania.
The best night's sleep takes place on a mattress that won't make you or the environment sick. Today, there are more options than ever for finding the best organic and nontoxic mattress for your family. Seek out brands that use certified organic materials and that guarantee each bed is free from VOCs to rest easy every night.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
California Officials Move to Stop Nestlé From Taking Millions of Gallons of Water From Public Streams
California water officials have accused Nestlé of draining more water out of southern California's Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest than permitted. The drafted cease-and-desist order, which was sent to the company on Friday, asked Nestlé to stop draining millions of gallons of water out of the forest every year and comes at the same time California's Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in two counties.
Nestlé, which sells its bottled water under the Arrowhead brand, maintains rights to California spring water that date back to 1865, The Guardian reported. But state officials say the company, which is based in Switzerland, has been taking more than its share, citing a 2017 investigation which found that Nestlé was illegally drawing from Strawberry Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana river, which supplies over 750,000 residents with clean drinking water.
"We have a limited amount of water," said Julé Rizzardo, the assistant deputy director of the Division of Water Rights, according to The Guardian. "And as we face our second dry year in a row, it's important that we use our authority to protect the municipal water supply and the environment."
Currently, the U.S. Forest Service issues a $2,100 permit to Nestlé per year to operate in the San Bernardino National Forest, but it does not charge for water, The San Joaquin Sun reported. Last year, Nestlé took 58 million gallons of California water -- "far surpassing the 2.3m gallons per year it could validly claim," The Guardian reported. So the company could be draining 25 times more water than it has the right to, The Story of Stuff Project, an environmental organization, pointed out.
"Paying next to nothing in royalties, Nestlé makes billions of dollars a year selling our water. In communities across North America, the pattern repeats itself: Nestlé enters a local town making promises of local job opportunities and the highest sustainability and environmental standards to its water bottling operations," The Story of Stuff Project wrote in a statement, regarding its campaign aimed at taking back public control of water.
The draft cease-and-desist order, which still requires approval from the California Water Resources Control Board, is a product of years of organizing by grassroots campaigns.
"These are people who just want to make money, but they've already dried up the upper Strawberry Creek and they've done a lot of damage," said Amanda Frye, an activist who has been protesting Nestlé's pumping from Strawberry Creek for years, according to The Guardian. "They're a foreign corporation taking our natural resources, which makes it even worse."
Environmental groups say that as droughts and wildfires in California worsen, Nestlé's water usage will impact both local communities and ecosystems. "In the context of a global pandemic and increasing droughts and wildfires across North America, it's clearer than ever that water should be owned by and for the people," The Story of Stuff Project wrote. "All too often over recent years, we've seen water being privatized and sold in plastic packaging that's accelerating a waste crisis instead."
Nestlé Waters North America, which has recently rebranded to BlueTriton Brands, has 20 days to appeal the draft order and request a hearing, according to The Guardian. But if California's water board approves the cease-and-desist order, the company could be fined up to $1,000 a day, dating back to 2017, which would retroactively accumulate to over $1 million, The San Joaquin Sun reported.
"The state will use its enforcement authority to protect water and other natural resources as we step up our efforts to further build California's drought resilience," added Rizzardo.
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Three-and-a-half decades after the world's worst nuclear disaster, Ukrainian officials are transforming the deserted Chernobyl exclusion zone into a monument that educates and warns tourists about the consequences of human error.
On the night of April 26, 1986, reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded and caught fire, sending radioactive material into the air just 65 miles north of the capital city of Kyiv. Despite the health risks of the explosion, Soviet leaders attempted to keep the accident quiet, according to the AP.
The explosion's radiation killed 31 plant workers and firemen in the immediate aftermath, and later killed thousands more due to radiation-related illnesses, such as cancer, The Guardian reported. Eventually, tens of thousands of residents were evacuated from the surrounding areas.
"This is a place of tragedy and memory, but it is also a place where you can see how a person can overcome the consequences of a global catastrophe," said Bohdan Borukhovskyi, Ukraine's deputy environment minister, according to the AP. "We want a new narrative to appear — it was not a zone of exclusion, but a zone of development and revival."
Ukrainian officials are hoping to classify Chernobyl as a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the plan to transform Chernobyl's grim narrative. "We believe that putting Chernobyl on the UNESCO heritage list is a first and important step towards having this great place as a unique destination of interest for the whole of mankind," said Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine culture minister, according to The Guardian. "The importance of the Chernobyl zone lays far beyond Ukraine's borders... It is not only about commemoration, but also history and people's rights," he added.
Officials have taken initial steps toward making the site a monument in hopes of attracting more tourists and funding, the AP reported.
Other initiatives include using part of Chernobyl's exclusion zone as a storage ground for the country's nuclear waste for the next 100 years. Currently, Ukraine transports its nuclear waste to Russia, so the new repository at Chernobyl will save the government up to $200 million a year, the AP reported.
Ukrainian officials also hope to turn Chernobyl into a tourist attraction; visitors doubled in 2019 following the release of the critically acclaimed HBO mini-series about the disaster, Euronews reported. Although pandemic restrictions halted travel in 2020, officials hope the site will eventually earn more money for future restoration.
"Our tourism is unique; it is not a classic concept of tourism," said Borukhovskyi, according to Euronews. "This is an area of meditation and reflection, an area where you can see the impact of human error, but [where] you can also see the human heroism that corrects it."
Today, visiting certain parts of the exclusion zone with an experienced guide is relatively safe thanks to low levels of radiation. Despite higher levels of radiation in other areas, the zone is thriving with bears, bison, wolves, lynx and dozens of bird species, the AP reported. Biologists also use the site to study how animals adapt to radiation, finding that they're surprisingly resistant to exposure.
Gaining the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site could mean additional protection and more visitors for Chernobyl, but Tkachenko warns that, "Chernobyl should not become a wild playground for adventure hunters," according to the AP. "People should leave the exclusion zone with the awareness of the historical memory of this place and its importance for all mankind."
Update: The headline was updated from "Nuclear Explosion" to "Nuclear Disaster" as the latter is more accurate.
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When marine biologist Daniel J. Madigan was working on a research project around Isla San Esteban, Mexico, he heard rumors of illegal shark poaching occurring off the Gulf of California. At the time, eight fishermen illegally caught and killed as many as 14 great white sharks, Hakai Magazine reported.
After contacting the poachers and examining the shark teeth they had collected, Madigan, from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, was able to determine that four of the 14 sharks were juveniles and almost half could have been mature females.
Surprised by the findings, Madigan and his colleague, University of Delaware assistant professor and shark specialist Aaron Carlisle, compared their findings with a NOAA report that estimated the adult female mortality rate for the entire eastern Pacific was around just two sharks annually, UDaily reported.
When they saw these mortality numbers didn't line up, the researchers realized there was a "harvest of a large‐bodied, protected species that has been largely hidden from researchers and managers," they wrote in their findings, published in Conservation Letters.
"He (Madigan) found, in just a two-week time period, more mortality in this one location than what we thought for the whole ocean," Carlisle told UDaily. "It was pretty clear then that, well, something kind of important is happening here."
Researchers estimate that great white shark populations are very small, with only hundreds of large adults and a few thousand white sharks total. Usually gathered around seal colonies, the handful of great white shark populations can be found in areas such as Central California, Guadalupe Island in Mexico, South Australia, and South Africa, according to UDaily.
Researchers say their results are alarming, as they show high rates of mortality of the eastern North Pacific (ENP) population, expected to be only a few hundred adults. Their results also highlight how little they previously knew about great white shark populations in the Gulf of California, Hakai Magazine reported.
"It's been about 20 years since a new 'population' of white sharks has been discovered," Carlisle told UDaily. "The fact that the eastern Pacific has so much infrastructure focused on white sharks and we didn't know that there were these sites in the Gulf of California was kind of mind-blowing."
Although their findings raise a "red flag" to other researchers and scientists that more needs to be done to protect the important predators, the study's authors were hesitant to publish their findings at first, knowing it would spark tension between them and local fishermen, Hakai Magazine reported.
Currently, 80 percent of fishing in the Gulf of California is considered unsustainable. Although the United States and Mexico have laws in place to prevent the catching and killing of the species, as resources continue to become more scarce, fishermen are forced to rely on less conventional, and sometimes illegal, fishing practices for income, like poaching white sharks, Hakai Magazine reported.
"It was an ethical dilemma for me," Madigan explained, according to Hakai Magazine. "I didn't love the potential side effects of publishing the paper. But once I had that information, I felt obligated to put it out there."
While the researchers said their study was not intended to cause problems in the fishing community, they hope it can shine a light on alternative ways coastal communities can support their local economies.
"This seems like it would be a perfect situation for ecotourism, much like there is at Guadalupe Island," Carlisle explained, according to UDaily. "There could be huge opportunities to build businesses around these populations of sharks, and that's just from a management point of view. From a science point of view, there's all sorts of fun things you could do."
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As California enters its second consecutive dry year and braces for what could be another devastating wildfire season, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency on Wednesday, in just two counties. The declaration targets Mendocino and Sonoma counties, known for their wineries and grape growing, and where conditions are desperately dry.
Standing in the dry bottom of Lake Mendocino, Newsom said, "Oftentimes we overstate the word historic, but this is indeed an historic moment, certainly historic for this particular lake, Mendocino," according to AP News. The lake is at about 40 percent of its normal capacity. Lake Sonoma, another local reservoir, is only about 62 percent full.
Here in Lake Mendocino, we should be 40 ft. underwater but it’s dry. This is climate change. Today, we declared a… https://t.co/ISsasLAihB— Office of the Governor of California (@Office of the Governor of California)1619034124.0
According to the California Department of Water Resources, this is the state's fourth-driest year on record, especially in the northern parts of the state. At the beginning of the month, state officials announced that snow accumulation in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Cascades was about 40 percent below average levels, The Guardian reported.
Newsom's declaration has already faced criticism from state officials and farmers in the Central Valley, who say the governor's approach isn't sufficient to address the drought that impacts almost all parts of the state.
"(T)he Central Valley can't afford to be overlooked," state Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) said in a statement, according to The Mercury News. "We need a statewide emergency declaration immediately in order to deliver more water to farmers and growers in the Valley."
To others, the governor's regional approach "sounds like a good idea," Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis, told The Mercury News, who added that the governor should not declare a widespread drought too early, to avoid "crying wolf."
Currently, California is in a similar situation to what it experienced six years ago when former Gov. Jerry Brown declared a water emergency. But state officials say today's current drought will be unlike anything seen before, requiring innovative measures, according to CalMatters.
Although the governor has yet to declare a state-wide emergency, officials have been warning Californians of the drought. In March, the California's State Water Resources Control Board, for example, "sent early warnings to 40,000 water rights holders urging them to start conserving," AP News reported.
"If you're in a different part of the state, you probably need to know that this will one day happen to you," Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said of the drought declaration, according to AP News.
In early April, a group of state legislators sent a letter to Newsom urging him to declare a drought emergency, CalMatters reported. "This is the slowest, most foreseeable train wreck imaginable," said Sen. Borgeas, who helped write the letter.
Newsom's reluctance to declare a state-wide emergency may have something to do with his looming recall campaign, set for later this year, according to political strategist Dan Schnur, The Mercury News reported.
"It's hard to think of another explanation about why he'd be tiptoeing around such a critically important issue," Schnur told The Mercury News. "He's clearly very sensitive about pushing voters too hard on water usage in the aftermath of the pandemic restrictions."
Regardless of whether the declaration covers their county, some local water districts are already taking matters into their own hands. In Marin County, for example, adjacent to Sonoma, water officials voted Tuesday to require residents to reduce water use by measures such as not washing vehicles at home or filling backyard pools, AP News reported.
As the state continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and a sluggish economy, scarce resources and the threat of another wildfire season will only ignite further tensions. Acknowledging that water is a "politically fractious issue" in the state, Gov. Newsom urged people not to resort to "old binaries" like urban vs. rural, The Mercury News reported.
"This is California," he said. "We are Californians."
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In just a few weeks billions of cicadas are expected to emerge after 17 years underground, swarming portions of the U.S. from Northern Georgia to New York, The Guardian reported. While some people's skin might crawl upon hearing this news, cicada researchers are hoping to learn more about the mysterious species.
Ecology and evolutionary biologists at the University of Connecticut, including Professor Chris Simon and Assistant Professor in Residence John Cooley, are among the scientists studying the molecular genetics, evolutionary biology and behaviors of periodical cicadas, which are cicadas that are tied to a 13- or 17-year life cycle. But to answer their looming questions, researchers need to understand where to find the cicadas this spring and summer, UConn Today reported.
"I used to have to contact every agricultural extension agent in every county a brood of cicadas occupied and ask them to gather information," Simon explained, according to UConn Today. "I had to go to the county courthouse, meet the agent, pick up a map of each county, get the phone numbers and address for people who reported, and then drive around to each house or farm."
Today, researchers are enlisting citizen scientists to help track cicadas on smartphones. Developed by Gene Kritsky, dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St Joseph University in Cincinnati, the app, called Cicada Safari, encourages anyone to snap a photo of a cicada.
Once the photo is uploaded, the app captures the time, date and geographical coordinates, helping scientists better track the cicadas' emergence.
"Using citizen science to help map periodical cicadas goes back to the 1840s, when Gideon B. Smith wrote newspaper articles asking readers to send him details of where they saw cicadas," Kritsky told Entomology Today. "By the time of his death in 1867, he had documented all the known broods of cicadas."
The cicada swarms are expected to appear in mid-May as temperatures rise. Known as Brood X, they "may amass in millions in parks, woods, neighborhoods, and can seemingly be everywhere," Gary Parsons, an entomologist at Michigan State University, told The Guardian. "When they are this abundant, they fly, land and crawl everywhere, including occasionally landing on humans."
While cicadas don't harm people, scientists do suggest preventing pets from eating the insects because it might make them sick. The insect mating calls will also be hard to miss, as their sounds can reach up to 100 decibels — "the same sound as standing next to a motorcycle revving its engine," The Guardian reported.
The cicada emergence could give researchers access to data they've never had before, The Guardian noted. "I have been mining historical emergence records for 45 years, and in the process we have discovered new populations of broods that had been missed for over a century," Kritsky told Entomology Today. "It's amazing that an insect that has been studied for so long and by so many still has secrets to reveal."
This year, scientists behind the app are hoping to receive 50,000 observations. "This is the big one, a generational event," Kritsky told Entomology Today. "For those who weren't alive 17 years ago or who were too young at the time and can't remember, they are in for quite an experience."
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The survey compared six environmental concerns: drinking water pollution; pollution in rivers, lakes and reservoirs; tropical rainforest loss; climate change; air pollution; and plant and animal species extinction. While most Americans showed concern for all of these threats, the majority were most worried about polluted drinking water (56 percent), followed by polluted rivers, lakes and reservoirs (53 percent), Gallup reported.
"When it comes to environmental problems, Americans remain most concerned about two that have immediate and personal potential effects," Gallup noted. "For the past 20 years, worries about water pollution – both drinking water and bodies of water — have ranked at the top of the list. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, laid bare the dangers of contaminated drinking water and no doubt sticks in the public's minds."
According to a new study, 61.4 million people in the U.S. did not drink their tap water as of 2018, Asher Rosinger, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health, anthropology and demography at Penn State, wrote in The Conversation.
"It's important not to blame people for distrusting what comes out of their tap, because those fears are rooted in history," Rosinger explained.
Meanwhile, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency surveys found that almost 50 percent of rivers and streams and more than one-third of lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported. Without action, concerns over water quality will become increasingly relevant as the demand for fresh water is expected to be one-third greater by 2050 than it is today.
Gallup researchers have tracked environmental concerns among Americans since 2000, and water quality worries have consistently ranked high, Gallup noted.
The survey also revealed an environmental partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. For example, 68 percent of Democrats were highly concerned about global warming compared to 14 percent of Republicans.
Another recent Gallup survey found that 82 percent of Democrats believed that global warming effects had already started compared to 29 percent of Republicans. "That's a gap of 53 points; for comparison, in 2001, the gap was a mere 13 points," Grist reported.
Similarly, a 2020 Pew Research Center report revealed the widest partisan gap to date concerning whether or not climate change should be a top policy priority. Protecting air and water quality ranked as the second most divisive issue among Republicans and Democrats, The New York Times reported.
"Intense partisan polarization over these two issues in particular" has been growing for decades, Riley Dunlap, a professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University, told The New York Times last February. "Voters take cues on their policy preferences and overall positions," he added. "President Trump has, in the past, called climate change a hoax and all that. You get a similar message from many members of Congress on the Republican side. And most importantly, it's the message you get from the conservative media."
Gallup's latest figures also showed that concern about environmental threats either increased or remained the same between 2019 and 2020.
"The fluctuations in worry levels since 2019 are largely driven by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, who became more worried, on average, about the six environmental problems in 2020 during the presidential campaign and are now less worried with Joe Biden as president," Gallup reported.
While surveys like these are "not a full-blown diagnostic rundown of the nation's psyche," they are informative tools for understanding how and what Americans are feeling and thinking, Grist reported.
Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Climate change could make it harder to find a good cup of coffee, new research finds. A changing climate might shrink suitable areas for specialty coffee production without adaptation, making coffee taste blander and impacting the livelihoods of small farms in the Global South.
Published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday, the study focused on regions in Ethiopia, Africa's largest coffee-producing nation. Although studies have previously documented the impact of climate change on coffee production, what's less understood is how varying climates could change the flavors of specialty coffee, the researchers wrote.
The team aimed to fill this gap. Their results provide a glimpse into how future climate change could impact local regions and economies that rely on coffee cultivation, underscoring the value of local adaptation measures.
Researchers analyzed how 19 different climate factors, such as mean temperatures and rainfall levels, would affect the cultivation of five distinct specialty coffee types in the future, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) reported. Although researchers found that areas suitable for growing "average quality coffee" may actually increase over time with climate change, regions where specialty coffee is grown will shrink — a pending problem in light of the global demand for high-quality coffee.
"This is an issue not just for coffee lovers, but for local agricultural value creation," Abel Chemura, the study's lead author, told the PIK.
Coffee profiles rely on specific climate patterns for their unique flavors, levels of acidity and fragrances. But in a warmer climate, the coffee cherry — the fruit picked from a coffee plant — matures faster than the bean inside, making for a lower quality cup of coffee, the PIK reported.
For example, the sought-after Yirgacheffe variety of coffee, which is cultivated in southwestern Ethiopia, could lose more than 40 percent of its suitable growth area by the end of the century, PIK reported. This could impact small farms and threaten Ethiopia's economy, the researchers noted.
"If one or more coffee regions lose their specialty status due to climate change this has potentially grave ramifications for the smallholder farmers in the region," Christoph Gornott, co-author of the study, told the PIK. "If they were forced to switch to growing conventional, less palatable and bitter coffee types, they would all of the sudden compete with industrial production systems elsewhere that are more efficient." In a country where coffee exports account for nearly a third of all agricultural exports, "this could prove fatal," Gornott added.
Climate change impacts on coffee production are not unique to Ethiopia. In Columbia's mountainous coffee-growing regions, temperatures are warming by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit every decade, according to Yale Environment 360. Extreme levels of precipitation, which are becoming more common, also impact production, as they spread insect and fungal diseases.
"In earlier times, the climate was perfect for coffee," one small farmer in Columbia told Yale Environment 360. "In the period of flowering, there was summer. During harvest, there was winter. But from 2008 onward, this changed and we now don't know when it will be summer, when the coffee will blossom."
But researchers say there are glimmers of hope, emphasizing the importance of local adaptation measures that are designed for particular climates and communities. For example, in regions where temperature is an important factor for specialty coffee cultivation, the researchers suggest improved agroforestry systems that could maintain canopy temperatures, a promising step toward sustaining the "availability and taste of one of the world's most beloved beverages and, more importantly, on economic opportunities in local communities of the Global South," Gornott concluded.
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Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.
Plastic waste breaks down into smaller pieces until it becomes microscopic and gets swept up into the atmosphere, where it rides the jet stream and travels across continents, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Researchers discovered this has led to a global plastic cycle as microplastics permeate the environment, according to The Guardian.
"We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world," Janice Brahney, lead author of the study and Utah State University assistant professor of natural resources, told the Cornell Chronicle. "This plastic is not new from this year. It's from what we've already dumped into the environment over several decades."
In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the most likely sources of more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western U.S. To their surprise, the researchers found that almost none of the atmospheric microplastics came from plastic waste in cities and towns. "It just didn't work out that way," Professor Natalie Mahowald from Cornell University, who was part of the research team, told The Guardian.
It turns out that 84 percent of atmospheric microplastics came from roads, 11 percent from oceans and five percent from agricultural soil dust, the scientists wrote.
"We did the modeling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be," Mahowald told the Cornell Chronicle. "It's amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places."
The scientists say the level of plastic pollution is expected to increase, raising "questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases," The Guardian reported.
The study coincides with other recent reports by researchers, who confirmed the existence of microplastics in New Zealand and Moscow, where airborne plastics are turning up in remote parts of snowy Siberia.
In the most recent study, scientists also learned that plastic particles were more likely to be blown from fields than roads in Africa and Asia, The Guardian reported.
As plastic production increases every year, the scientists stressed that there remains "large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics," and wrote that further research should be prioritized.
"What we're seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it's going to increase by tenfold [per decade]," Mahowald told The Guardian. "But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere."
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