Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.
"Even before the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires, it was clear that the koala in NSW, already a threatened species, was in significant trouble," says the report, adding that previous population estimates counting 36,000 individuals were "outdated and unreliable."
"Then came the fires. With at least 5,000 koalas lost in the fires, potentially many more, it was deeply distressing but extremely important for committee members to agree to the finding that koalas will become extinct in NSW before 2050 without urgent government intervention."
At least 5,000 animals were lost in the 2019 bushfires responsible for killing more than 1 billion animals. Conservation groups warned of the possible extinction in March after projections that the wildfires resulted in the loss of 80 percent of habitat, forcing the charismatic marsupials into "functional extinction."
Endemic only to the eucalyptus forests in the southeastern and eastern parts of the continent, koalas rely on the trees for both habitat and food, according to National Geographic. They are threatened by the destruction of habitat through the clearing and fragmentation of their unique habitat, which is further exacerbated by climate change and ongoing drought conditions that have plagued the region for years.
As part of their analysis, the independent committee received more than 5,700 responses and 300 submissions, in addition to nine public hearings and site visitations across several locations. Philip Spark, a wildlife ecologist, warned in the report that successive extreme events in the past had reduced one koala population by as much as half and pushed another to local extinction.
"With the trees dying and the streams drying there is a recipe for disaster. Koalas are really on the brink of not surviving," said Spark. "A crisis can happen with very little warning."
Citing a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Sparks added that by 2050, one in 100-year events are expected to occur every year with 50-degree Celsius heatwaves in the next 20 years. The committee further found that climate change has a severe impact on koalas and not only affects the quality of their food and habitat, but also compounds the "severity and threats of other impacts, such as drought and bushfires."
The committee made 42 recommendations to ensure the future of the koala, including prioritizing the conservation of koala habitat, establishing more thorough approaches to monitoring koala numbers, and allocating additional resources and funding to conservation projects by calling on the government to protect and restore koala habitat on both public and private land. The report also notes that officials should investigate "without delay" the establishment of the Great Koala National Park, a proposed public conservation area dedicated to protecting the species. An interim report on Australia's national environmental laws is expected this week and is expected to consider the findings that Australia's iconic species is in need of assistance, reports The Guardian.
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Recent figures put the total number of confirmed cases at more than 1,086,990 and 50,659 deaths. The recovery rate is just above 53 percent, according to CoronaTracker. Reuters reports that officials expect the actual numbers to be much higher because of a lack of nationwide testing – typically the country has recorded more than 1,000 deaths per day but registers less over the weekend.
On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) also announced the largest single-day increase of cases around the world, with more than 183,000 new cases of COVID-19 having been reported to the WHO in what Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described as "easily the most in a single day so far." More than 9 million cases have been reported since the health agency declared the severe respiratory disease a global pandemic in March.
"Some countries are continuing to see a rapid increase in cases and deaths. Some countries that have successfully suppressed transmission are now seeing an upswing in cases as they reopen their societies and economies," said Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Monday's press briefing.
"All countries are facing a delicate balance, between protecting their people, while minimizing the social and economic damage. It's not a choice between lives and livelihoods. Countries can do both."
The BBC reports that São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have seen the largest spikes at 12,500 and 8,800 deaths, respectively. More than 12,000 additional deaths have been reported in the northern states of Amazonas, Pará and Ceará.
A report conducted by the New York Times largely faults government responses and measures for the increase in cases. Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro previously dismissed dangers of COVID-19, calling the virus a "measly cold" and has stalled quarantine measures with unclear responses and a chaotic approach. Additionally, the Ministry of Health has not put forth a comprehensive plan and the nation has been unsuccessful in importing coronavirus tests, ventilators and other potentially lifesaving equipment.
Brazil is second in cases only to the US, which has reported more than 2.2 million – a 32,411 increase in just one day. There have been over 119,000 deaths across the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, over 9 million people have been infected by SARS-CoV-2 with more than 469,000 deaths across the globe. Experts caution that those numbers are likely to be much higher given a lack of worldwide testing, reports CBS News.
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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.
Located just off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is a remote island nation and home to one of the most biodiverse pockets in the world, among them the elusive diamond frog. Even in the most well-studied areas, new species are constantly being discovered.
Defining and characterizing the "hyper diverse island" is an ongoing effort that has yielded many results in recent years, including defining and characterizing frogs of the diamond genus Rhombophyrne. In the last decade alone, the diversity of diamond frogs has more than doubled, yet even so a number of undescribed species still persist in the wild. Now, Rhombophyrne ellae is a brightly orange colored, highly miniaturized frog described in Zoosystematics and Evolution that is furthering the scientific community's understanding of amphibians on this remote, isolated island.
"As soon as I saw this frog, I knew it was a new species," said Dr. Mark D. Scherz of the Technical University of Braunschweig. "The orange flash-markings on the legs and the large black spots on the hip made it immediately obvious to me. During my Master's and Ph.D. research, I studied this genus and described several species, and there are no described species with such orange legs, and only [a] few species have these black markings on the hip. It's rare that we find a frog and are immediately able to recognize that it is a new species without having to wait for the DNA sequence results to come back, so this was elating."
The study is just the third to have been published on reptiles or amphibians in the park, and describes the finding of R. ellae in 2017. Characterized by the orange coloration on its legs and large black spots, this species is closely related to another poorly known and undescribed species of frog from northern Madagascar. It remains unclear why diamond frogs have such dramatic coloration even though it appears that this feature has evolved in many Madagascar frogs.
In itself, the discovery highlights how little is still known about our planet, particularly small species found in remote and biodiverse places around the world – even the most well-studied regions.
"The discovery of such a distinctive species within a comparatively well-studied park points towards the gaps in our knowledge of the amphibians of the tropics," said Sherz.
"It also highlights the role that bad weather, especially cyclones, can play in bringing otherwise hidden frogs out of hiding – R. ellae was caught just as Cyclone Ava was moving in on Madagascar, and several other species my colleagues and I have recently described were also caught under similar cyclonic conditions."
Though the conservation status of R. ellae still remains unknown, the researchers conclude that it is likely to be considered "near threatened" due to its small range.
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An estimated 14,000 tons of microfibers sloughed off of soiled laundry is believed to be released into European oceans every year, further contributing to microplastic pollution with a threat of becoming a "significant environmental issue."
That amounts to about two garbage trucks every day, new research suggests.
Many synthetic clothes, linens, and households textiles are made with petroleum-based products like plastic. When these are laundered in a washing machine, microscopic pieces fragment and break down before being flushed into wastewater systems that ultimately enter rivers, waterways and world oceans. A new forensic analysis published in PLOS ONE suggests that an average of 114 milligrams of microfibers — defined by a fine strand of synthetic fiber with a diameter fewer than ten micrometers — is released for every two pounds of fabric washed during a standard cycle.
However, researchers at Northumbria University say that microfiber contamination could be cut by nearly one-third if people choose to wash at cooler, faster cycles — an annual amount of over 4,000 tons.
"This is the first major study to examine real household wash loads and the reality of fiber release. We were surprised not only by the sheer quantity of fibers coming from these domestic wash loads but also to see that the composition of microfibers coming out of the washing machine does not match the composition of clothing going into the machine, due to the way fabrics are constructed," said John R. Dean, professor of analytical and environmental sciences at Northumbria University.
"Finding an ultimate solution to the pollution of marine ecosystems by microfibers released during laundering will likely require significant interventions in both textiles manufacturing processes and washing machine appliance design."
The team, led by university researchers joined with laundry detergent companies, turned to forensics expert Dr. Kelly Sheridan whose work has been employed on murder investigations analyzing small, microscopic fibers left behind at crime scenes. Scientists employed similar technologies and ensured that cross contamination from other sources didn't occur. Using a spectroscope and microscope, the team was able to examine the structure and composition of microfibers released from clothing to then weigh and characterize those released in each load.
Larger wash loads were shown to decrease the release of microfibers because of the ratio of water to the fabric. As such, people should fill — not overfill — their washing machines to around three-quarters. A 30 percent reduction of microfiber release was observed when launderers used a half-hour wash cycle at 86 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the standard 85-minute cycle with a water temperature at 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Newer clothes were shown to release more microfibers than older clothes, particularly during the first eight weeks. Additionally, fibers made from plant and animal fibers degraded more quickly than those from synthetic fabrics.
Consumer choice can have a "significant impact" on decreasing pollution caused by microfibers when making informed decisions in how they do laundry and the products that they purchase, the researchers conclude. Though such choices will not eliminate the issue, they may "achieve a meaningful short-term reduction" in harmful environmental pollution.
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Human activity has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide to higher levels today than they have been at any other point in the last 23-million-years, potentially posing unprecedented disruptions in ecosystems across the planet, new research suggests.
Understanding atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is "vital for understanding Earth's climate system" because it "imparts a controlling effect on global temperatures," said scientists in a study published in Geology.
Climate change is largely driven by a disproportionate increase of CO2 in the atmosphere largely resulting from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas as well as cutting down or burning forests that serve as carbon stores, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. A 2013 study published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that climate change from CO2 and greenhouse gas emission is not only caused by humans but has had "widespread impacts on human and natural systems."
Previous measurements have turned to ice cores to determine CO2 levels present in the atmosphere throughout Earth's history, but have only pieced together the last 800,000 years. To expand upon this record, researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette used fossilized remains of ancient plant tissue to produce a record of atmospheric CO2 dating back 31 million years of "uninterrupted Earth history."
As plants grow, the amount of two stable carbon isotopes, carbon-12 and carbon-13, change in response to CO2 levels in the atmosphere. With this in mind, the research team measured the relative amount of these carbon isotopes in fossil plant materials from 700 measurements, published in 12 studies, characterizing ancient plants and their lipids in order to calculate concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere during the timeframe that the plants grew.
This atmospheric "timeline" did not show fluctuations in CO2 that are comparable to increases seen in the last century. In fact, the highest concentrations of CO2 were found during the Miocene, between 5 and 23 million years ago, but were still determined to have been below present-day levels.
"These data suggest present-day CO2 exceeds the highest levels that Earth experienced at least since the Miocene, further highlighting the present-day disruption of long-established CO2 trends within Earth's atmosphere," write the study authors in Geology.
The abrupt increase of greenhouse gas distribution today is unprecedented in Earth's 23-million-year history, indicating that ecosystems and global temperatures may be more sensitive to smaller changes in CO2 levels than previously thought. Though CO2 levels have varied widely throughout Earth's history, researchers believe that they have never fluctuated nor been as high as in recent years.
"One of the most pressing messages that climate scientists attempt to convey to the public is that current CO2 is elevated compared to the geological past," write the study authors, adding that the results also indirectly imply that major changes in plant and early humans were not driven by large changes in CO2 but rather "relatively small-amplitude changes."
Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than one-third since the Industrial Revolution began, according to NASA. Though the BBC reports "worst-case scenario" for emissions of CO2 in the 21st century is considered unlikely by researchers, scientists still expect a rise of around 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, according to The Guardian — 1.5 degrees Celsius above goals set forth by the Paris agreement. A report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this year corroborates the findings, confirming that CO2 levels in 2018 were higher than at any other point in the past 800,000 years. The last time amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, when global temperatures were between 3.6 and 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today.
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As many parts of the planet continue to open their doors after pandemic closures, a new pest is expected to make its way into the world. After spending more than a decade underground, millions of cicadas are expected to emerge in regions of the southeastern U.S.
The scale of the emergence events is "astounding," according to Virginia Tech. Experts note that people living in Virginia, West Virginia and in parts of North Carolina are now set to see their hatch in the earlier part of the summer as an estimated 1.5 million insects per acre of land emerge from the soil, reports BBC. This "unique natural phenomenon" has not occurred in the region since 2003.
"Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue," said Eric Day, Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist in Virginia Tech's Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "Hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent — and amazing — this event is."
It comes after roughly a billion cicadas took over parts of the northeastern U.S. in 2016, reported EcoWatch at the time. The group of insects is made up of roughly 15 "broods," with Brood IX emerging this year following a Brood V emergence four years ago.
Cicadas are some of the longest-lived insects in the world, yet they spend most of their lives underground as part of their nymph stage, feeding off of roots for periods lasting between 13 and 17 years before emerging from the soil through mud tubes known as "cicada huts."
During such events, the finger-sized insects crawl out to molt into winged adults and mate. The specific timing behind this unique life cycle largely remains a mystery, though some experts speculate that it could have evolved as a method to avoid syncing with predator cycles, according to ABC News. As such, the New York Times notes that cicadas' best defense is their incredible numbers emerging in synchronicity.
After their surfacing, the insects live outside of the ground for around a month and though they are not harmful to humans — and can actually serve as an important source of food for animals — they can wreak havoc on important crops, vines and saplings, according to a fact sheet provided by Virginia Cooperative Extension.
"Cicadas can occur in overwhelming numbers and growers in predicted areas of activity should be watchful," said Doug Pfeiffer, a professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Entomology.
The dramatic timeline is short-lived. Cicada egg-laying takes place over the course of about four to six weeks before the generation dies off. Entomologists at Virginia Tech suggest that tree growers wait a year or two before major emergence events before planting new trees as existing treatment options, such as netting or sprays, don't have a large effect on the bugs.
People living in the southeast can expect a loud singing sound caused by the vibrating membrane of the insects' abdomens in what entomologists liken to a "field of out-of-tune car radios." Others may see the casted skins on trees as large swarms of cicadas as they congregate.
"This insect is really fascinating, and if you don't have fruit trees or grapevines to protect, you can enjoy this phenomenon while it lasts," said Pfeiffer.
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A new health condition seemingly related to COVID-19 related symptoms has appeared in more than 100 children living in New York and New Jersey, prompting health officials to ramp up awareness campaigns and spur new health protocols in response to the mysterious disease.
At least 102 children in New York and 18 cases in New Jersey have been reportedly connected to the newly named "pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome (PMIS)," reports NBC. At least three children have died in connection with the disease as another two deaths are currently under investigation. More than a dozen states have confirmed similar cases.
PMIS is a new health condition believed to be related to COVID-19, the severe respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, but experts say that the connection is "still not clear." Like other inflammatory conditions, such as toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease, childhood cases of PMIS are linked to issues with the heart and other organs and can sometimes require hospital support in an intensive care unit.
"So far, from what we understand, this is a rare complication in the pediatric population that [doctors] believe is related to COVID-19," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker told The New York Times.
Although uncommon, PMIS can be life-threatening. Guardians are urged to call a doctor immediately if their child becomes ill and has a continued fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) lasting several days, along with other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, swollen hands and feet, or a red tongue that "looks like a strawberry." PMIS is not believed to be contagious, but its connection to COVID-19 suggests that a child may be infected with the virus or another underlying infection that may be contagious.
"Until we know more, hospitals in NYC that are treating children with PMIS are taking the same precautions they take for patients with COVID-19," writes the New York City Department of Health.
European pediatricians first reported a rising number of COVID-19 cases connected with a similar inflammatory disease in April, reported IFLScience. At the time, doctors reported that it was unclear whether it was related to the novel coronavirus, and that there "may be another as yet unidentified infectious pathogen associated with these cases." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that it is studying the disease but at the time does not know how prevalent it is or what its relationship to SARS-CoV-2 may be.
"As more data are emerging, CDC is working with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists and other domestic and international partners to better understand and characterize this new syndrome, its prevalence and risk factors for it; and to develop a case definition that will allow us to keep track of it,'' the agency told USA TODAY through a spokesman.
Kawasaki disease is an acute febrile illness that typically infects children under the age of five, according to the CDC. Clinical signs often overlap with toxic shock syndrome to include fever, rash, as well as redness of the mouth and throat.
A new study published Wednesday in The Lancet "provides the strongest evidence yet that the syndrome [Kawasaki disease] is linked to the coronavirus," The New York Times reported. Doctors in Bergamo, Italy "aimed to evaluate incidence and features of patients with Kawasaki-like disease diagnosed during the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic," according to the report. After studying 15 girls and 14 boys age 7 and younger, the doctors concluded: "The SARS-CoV-2 epidemic was associated with high incidence of a severe form of Kawasaki disease. A similar outbreak of Kawasaki-like disease is expected in countries involved in the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic."
NPR reports that most children with PMIS have either tested positive for coronavirus infection or for its antibodies, which suggests a prior infection. There is currently no cure for PMIS but doctors say that cases are being treated with different therapies and drugs that help reduce the body's immune response, prompting the inflammatory syndrome in the first place. Although it remains unclear whether the condition is related directly to COVID-19, experts recommend taking similar precautions as well as practicing proper hand hygiene and social distancing measures.
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Two of the world's leading cruise lines are facing scrutiny and potential legal consequences due to their handling of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the coronavirus responsible for the severe respiratory disease COVID-19.
Royal Caribbean faces a wrongful death lawsuit after a 27-year-old crew member on the Celebrity Infinity died from the virus and two others were airlifted off of the Oasis of the Seas vessel, reported USA Today at the time.
"It's very clear that the entire cruise industry dramatically mishandled the entirety of this outbreak, not only as it relates to passengers, but also as to crew members," maritime attorney Michael Winkelman, who represents the man's family, told CBS News.
"I think had they taken the steps that pretty much every single person around the world was taking, I don't think he would be dead today. Had they implemented proper social distancing quarantines, given proper masks to everybody, I think that Pujiyoko [the man] would still be alive today."
As of May 4, the Miami Herald reported that at least three crew members from the ship have died as a result of the virus.
Meanwhile, Congress has launched an investigation into Carnival Cruise Line's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Bloomberg reported that the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is investigating the company's handling of the outbreak as more than 1,500 cases have been confirmed from aboard the company's ships and dozens of passengers and crew members have died.
The committee sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Coast Guard and Carnival Corps. Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald has requested internal documents and has future plans to address concerns as cruise ships gear up to continue halted operations as early as August, reported NBC.
"Long before the COVID-19 pandemic began to race around the world, affecting local communities, churches, cities, homes, hospitals, and cruise ships sailing at sea, the cruise industry had a problem managing, containing, and responding to public health outbreaks," wrote Chairman Peter DeFazio, adding that at least ten norovirus outbreaks occurred on cruise ships last year.
At the height of the pandemic outbreak, the CDC issued a no sail order for all cruise ships after at least 10 vessels reported crew or passengers that had either tested positive or exhibited symptoms in line with those related to COVID-19. Additionally, the agency said that it was aware of 20 anchored or at-port ships in the U.S. with known or suspected infection with members on board. Crews required to stay onboard are suggested to have twice-daily temperature checks reported and recorded by the ship's medical center, which is required to submit weekly data to "conduct surveillance for COVID-19 among crew who remain onboard cruise ships."
On April 9, the CDC renewed the No Sail Order until July 24 under the conclusion that cruise ship travel "may continue to introduce, transmit, or spread COVID-19."
"Cruise ships are a fertile breeding ground for infectious diseases due to their environmental conditions and physical structure," wrote DeFazio, citing a 2018 study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine that found that the nature of cruise ships facilitates the "rapid spread of highly infectious agents." Three years ago, a book on cruise ship tourism stated that the industry was lacking in its proactive approach in crisis management and recommended prioritizing and preparing for emerging health issues, yet a report by Bloomberg published earlier this year found that the industry did not heed such advice.
Executives have until May 15 to deliver the requested documents and records.
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Honey bees guarding the entrances to their respective hives are twice as likely to allow access to virus-infected trespassers, suggesting that the pathogen is capable of altering the insect's behavior and physiology to boost its spread to neighboring colonies.
Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) is a widespread virus that has been linked with colony losses, such as the mysterious outbreak of honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder across the U.S. Publishing their work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign determined that the virus is capable of changing certain host behaviors and physical traits, particularly in social contexts, of one of the world's most critical pollinators.
"The most important finding of our study is that IAPV infection increases the likelihood that infected bees are accepted by foreign colonies," said lead study author and professor of entomology Adam Dolezal. "Somehow, the infected bees are able to circumvent the guards of foreign colonies, which they shouldn't be able to do."
IAPV is considered a "category of concern" and previous research has shown that honey bees infected with the virus are more likely to get lost when returning to their home hives. To determine how the pathogen manipulates host behavior, researchers built on previous work that employed an automated system to study bees' use of trophallaxis, the regurgitation of food and other liquids to feed colony members.
"Honey bees use trophallaxis to share food with each other as well as hormones and other signaling molecules that can affect their physiology and behavior. They do it in pairs by touching their mouthparts and antennae, and each bee does this with hundreds of partners a day," said study co-author and entomologist Gene Robinson.
"Trophallaxis is essential to the spread of information and nutrition throughout the hive, but unfortunately, a behavior performed with such close social contact also allows viral infections to be transmitted through a hive."
Bees were tagged with a barcode for continuous monitoring to determine how IAPV affects the use of trophallaxis. Observations showed that individuals infected with IAPV were just as mobile but engaged less in trophallaxis with home colony members, which protected their hive from viral infection. However, when a honey bee was placed at the entrance of a foreign hive, bees were more likely to engage through trophallaxis with guards – and those guards were then more likely to permit hive entrance to infected bees than healthy ones.
Further analysis determined that the virus also changes the chemistry of hydrocarbons that coat the bees' exoskeletons – in essence changing how they smell – suggesting that the infected bees may also be "behaving in a way that is meant to appease the guards by engaging more in trophallaxus."
The findings show that the virus is evolving in ways that enhance its ability to spread, which could be detrimental to honey bee colonies in the long-run. Human-induced environmental changes create conditions that make emerging diseases more likely – a problem that the study authors write is "likely to worsen as humans continue to move domesticated species around the world and adopt increasingly intense management practices."
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For the first time, microscopic plastic pollution has been found in Antarctic sea ice samples collected more than a decade ago, suggesting that microplastic concentrations in Southern Sea ice may be higher than previously believed.
A total of 96 microplastic particles from 14 different types of polymer were discovered in an ice core sample collected from Casey Station located in East Antarctica in 2009. As ice freezes in the region, scientists believe that small pieces of plastic may become trapped in ice, which acts as a reservoir for pollution until it is released again by ice melt.
"The remoteness of the Southern Ocean has not been enough to protect it from plastic pollution, which is now pervasive across the world's oceans," said lead study author Anna Kelly who published her findings in Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Plastic particles measuring less than 5 millimeters have become common in remote marine habitats, from nearly every corner of the world to the bellies of the world's most remote organisms. Since researchers began tracing microplastics six years ago, they have found plastic pollution in Antarctic surface waters and sediments as well as in Arctic sea ice. Though these regions are remote, concentrations of microplastics have been found to rival those found in more urban settings.
"Forming from seawater, around 80 percent of Antarctic sea ice melts and reforms each year, providing seasonal opportunities for microplastics on the sea surface to become trapped in the ice," said Kelly, who worked with a team of scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and the Australian Antarctic Division. Researchers wore a Tyvek suit both when collecting the ice core and when processing it, and a cotton lab coat was worn 11 years later to prevent potential cross-contamination.
An average of nearly 12 particles of microplastic were found in every examined liter of coastal land-fast sea ice, which is sea ice "fastened" to the coastline, according to the Polar Science Center. This number is slightly lower than what previous studies in polar regions have detected, but the overall size of each was larger, which indicate that the pollution came from local sources as it had "less time to break down into smaller fibers than if transported long distances on ocean currents."
"Local sources could include clothing and equipment used by tourists and researchers, while the fact that we also identified fibers of varnish and plastics commonly used in the fishing industry suggests a maritime source," Kelly said.
It could be that tourists or scientific researchers visiting the continent contribute microplastic pollution from their clothing fibers and other equipment, especially considering that the ice core sample was collected near a research facility that sees a steady stream of visitors. Microplastics trapped in ice rather than sinking to the deep ocean allows the pollutants to "persist for longer near the surface," making them more likely to be consumed by small marine organisms like krill who mistake it for food. Additionally, the findings suggest that sea ice could serve as a reservoir for microplastic debris in the Southern Ocean, posing potential biogeochemistry consequences.
"It is worth noting that plastic contamination of West Antarctic sea ice may be even greater than in our ice core from the East, as the Antarctic Peninsula hosts the bulk of the continent's tourism, research stations and marine traffic," said Kelly.
The researchers conclude that the findings present a "crucial need for stringent methods" when it comes to both to recovering and measuring microplastic particles from polar regions.
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Wild bears in Yosemite National Park are coming out of the woodwork in what park officials are calling a "party" following the park's March 20 closure in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The wildly popular park is visited by millions of people every year, and at the same time hundreds of bears call the Rhode Island-sized park home, said Ranger Katie, a wildlife biologist who has worked with black bears in Yosemite National Park for more than a decade, in a Facebook live streaming over the weekend.
"For the most part, I think [the bears] are having a party," said Ranger Katie. "This time of year is difficult for the animals here. There can be literally walls of cars, stop-and-go traffic, or people in the park."
Yosemite National Park on Facebook Watch
American black bears can weigh between 300 and 500 pounds and seeing them can "evoke excitement, awe, and fear," writes the National Park Service. Ranger Katie is a part of the park's human-bear management program, whose role is to mitigate conflict between humans and bears. In the video, the park ranger uses a tracking device to show a young male bear heading towards the visitor's center, which would normally be packed with people during the warm, sunny spring.
A video shared to Instagram by the park shows a black bear walking in an area across from Yosemite Village, an area of the park normally packed with people.
"It could be said that spring, summer, and fall are just one big meal to a black bear. If that's the case, then grass is a bear's favorite springtime appetizer," wrote the park. "Bears have been active in Yosemite Valley lately, and they've been busy grazing on fresh spring grass."
Any animal growing up in the pack will see hundreds – even thousands – of humans within its first year of life, according to the park service. Ensuring that animals do not become too comfortable around humans is an essential part of staff duties year-round by making sure that food is stored properly and people remain at least 50 years away from animals.
"Bears are these amazingly powerful and intelligent animals that we make our homes alongside. Because they have those characteristics and they're very food-motivated, bears can wrack up a huge amount of property damage or even injure somebody in their pursuit of food," said the biologist. Identified bears who have developed a taste for human food or are habituated will be captured, tagged and outfitted with a transmitter for future observations.
A worker at Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel told the Los Angeles Times that not only has the bear population "quadrupled," but that he and his coworkers have also seen more coyotes and bobcats near their living quarters.
"It's not like they aren't usually here," said Dane Peterson. "It's that they usually hang back at the edges, or move in the shadows."
Ranger Katie says that the meandering bears could be an issue when people return to the park. Bears that live in Yosemite Valley "key in" on triggers of people being around and tend to start to avoid places when humans become more frequent. It will take a "little bit of a learning curve," she adds, and newer bears will be on a "steep learning curve about where they can be and when."
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A third cougar has been sighted wandering through a residential neighborhood in the Chilean capital of Santiago as millions of the city's residents are under lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
A video shared by the National Zoo of Chile shows the big cat being released at "dusk under strict security measures" darting from an enclosure back into its mountain landscape. The zoo adds that the big cat was captured in a private home on Monday and was in deemed in good enough health to release it the same day, according to a Facebook post.
Two other cougars have also been captured in the city as a majority of its six million residents are practicing quarantine and self-isolation measures amid the coronavirus outbreak. As people have moved inside for the last two weeks, wild animals often pushed to urban outskirts have been making their way into city centers.
"They sense less noise and are also looking for new places to find food and some get lost and appear in the cities," Horacio Bórquez, Chile's national director of livestock and agriculture service, said of the animals in a report by the BBC.
The foothills surrounding Santiago have also been experiencing a severe drought, which Reuters adds may be further pushing the thirsty felines toward urban centers in search of water. Central Chile has received 30 percent lass rainfall that normal over the last decade in what scientists have nicknamed a "megadrought." Last year was particularly dry with rainfall deficits of 80 to 90 percent, according to NASA.
"An 80 percent deficit means that the semi-arid region north of Santiago has seen almost no water, as seen in the marked browning of the vegetation," said René D. Garreaud, a scientist at the University of Chile. "South of Santiago has received some rain — 100 to 300 millimeters (4 to 12 inches). That is still not much, but it has been enough to keep the vegetation green."
It is unclear whether wildlife is "rebounding" in the absence of humans or if they are simply taking advantage of a unique situation. In recent weeks, social media has shared videos of wildlife making its way to human-populated areas as if in response to global lockdowns – claims that National Geographic has challenged. Many of the reports – which include accounts of swans, dolphins, and even drunk elephants – are either misrepresented or a regular occurrence.
"The phenomenon highlights how quickly eye-popping, too-good-to-be-true rumors can spread in times of crisis. People are compelled to share posts that make them emotional," writes the publication. "When we're feeling stressed, joyous animal footage can be an irresistible salve. The spread of social phenomena is so powerful, 2016 research shows, that it can follow same models that trace the contagion of epidemics."
As human populations grow and encroach on natural habitat, interactions between people and wildlife continue to increase. Protective regulations have further helped once-endangered animal populations to bounce back, further spurring potential urban-wildlife conflict. A 2019 study suggests that understanding animals living at the wildland-urban interface is necessary to ensure the safety of both animals and humans, which is "especially true for large carnivores" as these species are not always tolerated by the public.