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Posts tagged "habitat"

The scale of coral reef destruction in south Florida is enormous. Nearly 50% of the coral reefs have died in the past two decades. And the problem is getting worse.

But why does this matter? The Key’s reefs are among the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, and less coral has a cascading affect up the food chain. This affects the fishing and tourism industries, which (like it or not) makes Florida such a big draw. Coral reefs buffer coastal cities against storm surge, protecting countless real estate and businesses worth tens of billions. And in Florida Keys alone, there are over 33,000 jobs that depend on the reefs.

Check out “The world’s ocean are absorbing carbon dioxide at an unprecedented rate and the resulting acidification is transforming marine ecosystems. We look at how ocean acidification is already affecting coral reefs in the Florida Keys.”

At the 178-nation Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting, Burkina Faso and Kenya cited the “merciless slaughter of elephants” in their attempt to extend to a wider group of nations a pledge from some countries not to sell ivory stockpiles before 2016.

But the proposal was seen as legally flawed by many delegates and failed to get support.

But Tom Milliken, head of the elephant and rhino team at wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, said he was more optimistic than ever that tough action would still be taken. “This time people are listening because everything is pointing in the same direction: poaching is up to a record high, as is illegal ivory trading and elephants seem to be down,” he said. About 25,000 elephants were killed by poachers in 2012.

At the Cites talks, 19 nations face bans on all wildlife trade unless they crack down on the poaching, smuggling or sale of illegal ivory. The summit is also considering compulsory forensic testing of seized tusks, so the criminal chain can be traced and compulsory reporting of stockpiles of ivory, to prevent corruption or thefts.

Separately, Kenya attempted to prevent the export of trophy-hunted rhino horns from South Africa. Vietnamese and east European gangs use the practice as a cover to feed the illegal Vietnamese market with the 1,000 horns a year it is demanding. But Milliken said that South Africa had already put an end to the “pseudo-hunting”. There are 20,000 white rhinos at present, he said, and despite more than 600 being poached in 2012, the population is rising.

Milliken said: “It is probably a good idea to keep these [trophy-hunting] incentives for private wildlife reserve owners at a time when they are having to spend more on protection from poachers.” He said, in contrast, Vietnam was doing extremely little to tackle rhino sales.

The Cites meeting did, however, unanimously raise the protection of the west African manatee to the highest level, overriding advice from officials that “scant” scientific data did not support the move.

The slow-moving creature, which can measure up to 4.5m long and weigh 350kg, is found in the coastal lagoons and rivers of 21 states, and can reach as far inland as Mali, Niger and Chad.

Illegal kills can raise $4,500 per animal and less than 10,000 remain. They are hunted for meat and oil, killed as by bycatch by fishermen and also suffer as their habitat is destroyed by mangrove harvesting, pollution and dams. The Cites conference also bid farewell to a series of extinct animals by removing them from protection lists, including Australia’s dusky flying fox, crescent nail-tail wallaby, buff-nosed rat-kangaroo and the pig-footed- and rabbit-eared bandicoots.”

Via The Guardian


Bid to ban international trade of Polar Bear parts fails

Today delegates at the CITES meeting in Thailand rejected the proposal to protect polar bears from the commercial trade of their body parts. The proposal was put forward by the US with support from Russia but was opposed by Canada, the only country to allow the exporting of polar bear parts.

Unfortunately the proposal failed to win the two-thirds needed to pass. The results ended with 38 countries voting in favour of the US proposal, 42 against and 46 refrained.

“Limiting commercial trade in this species would have addressed a source of non-climate stress to polar bear populations and contributed to long-term recovery,” said the statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Each year, an average of 3,200 items made from polar bears - including skins, claws and teeth - are reported to be exported or re-exported from a range of countries. Polar bear hides sell for an average of $2,000 to $5,000, while maximum hide prices have topped $12,000.”

The rejection of the proposal means that the export of polar bear skins, teeth and paws from Canada will continue.

[Photo credit: Martin Lopatka]

Proceeds from the sale of the app go to protect marine environments in the Philippines. Thank you WWF for your good work!

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) is working with AppLabs Digital Studios Inc. to bring forth a philanthropic collaboration concerning marine creatures.

EnviroPop is the first game application from WWF-Philippines. The app aims to educate people about sea creatures, and the need to address the marine pollutants that harm them. 

EnviroPop is a puzzle game that allows users to clear marine threats such as PET plastic bottles, fish trawl nets, cyanide bottles, and oil drums.

The objective of the game is for players to eliminate these hazards and save the WWF marine characters like Clara the clownfish, Pattie the Green Sea Turtle, Bobby the whale shark, and Gary the grouper

The app serves as one of WWF-Philippines’ alruist weapon to arm people with the knowledge of their marine programs and and their aim to fortify the marine biodiversity.

The full version of the app costs $0.99. For every download of the app, proceeds will go directly to WWF-Philippines’ marine conservation program

As WWF-Philippines Individual Donor Program Officer Honey Carmona explains, Philippines is nestled at the apex of the Coral Triangle making the island the geographic point of marine life. This concludes the call to prioritize marine conservation as most Filipinos depend on the sea for sustenance and ecotourism. 

This should go over well with politicians.

"Coming Soon: Long-Delayed Decisions on Endangered Species

The Oregon spotted frog, a four-inch-long amphibian that prefers the Pacific Northwest’s dwindling marshy spots, is to be considered this year for federal protection as an endangered species.

It has been languishing for 22 years — since 1991 — awaiting its day in the bureaucratic sun.

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake has been a candidate for protection since 1982, a legless bridesmaid, never a bride. Ditto the elfin-woods warbler. Like them, the Dakota skipper butterfly, a cucumber-bodied flier that zips unusually fast (for a butterfly) over the Minnesota and Dakota prairies, is dying out as development shrinks its habitat. It nevertheless has hung on, its candidacy deferred since 1975.

Belatedly, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service is giving them all — and 258 more — a thumbs up or down for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the 1973 law that was among the early triumphs of the environmental movement.

It is evidence of the law’s travails that it took a federal judge to get them to this point.

Under a 2011 settlement of two lawsuits by conservation activists, the wildlife service has pledged to decide the fates of all the backlogged species by 2018. A schedule issued by the service on Feb. 8 promised to decide by September whether to add 97 species to the endangered list, including 70 covered by the lawsuit settlement.

Moreover, the service has finished preliminary work on more than 550 other potential candidates for the endangered-species list, almost all of which will be further evaluated after the backlog is erased.

“They’ve dramatically increased the number of decisions they’re making — both positive and negative decisions, but the vast majority of decisions are positive,” said Kierán Suckling, the executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona conservation organization that is a party to the settlement.

It is the most feverish activity on imperiled wildlife in two decades, an improbable feat amid ferocious attacks from conservative critics and in an economy with little money to spare for environmental frivolities.”

Via NYTimes

My open letter to the New York Times to dedicate more resources to environmental coverage.

Read More

Before/After - Map shows shrinking range and dwindling populations of elephants in Africa. All eyes are on China, which is fueling the illegal slaughter of thousands of elephants for their tusks.

VANISHING ELEPHANTS  Killing African elephants for their ivory is devastating a species that’s already losing ground to a growing human population. Via

A pizzly bear is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear. Apparently, grizzlies are migrating north as they adapt to warmer temperatures. They expose a strange loophole in conservation and animal law, where governments protect habitat of vulnerable species. Pizzlies are not categorized as endangered or protected, thus making them prime targets for hunters.


Pizzly / Post by Katie Billing of Polar Bears International

You may have heard of ligers and labradoodles, but have you ever heard of a pizzly? A pizzly is a hybrid animal, meaning that both parents are of different species. As the name sounds, a pizzly is the inbred product of polar bears and grizzly bears. (Sometimes they are known as grolar bears.) These unique hybrids were spotted April 23, 2012 by two biologists from the University of Alberta.

Jodie Pongracz and Evan Richardson were on a trip in Viscount Melville Sound in the High Arctic of Canada with expectations to satellite-collar polar bears (Struzik, 2012). What they spotted in Wynniatt Bay was a pizzly! This hybrid is unusual because it has occurred in nature. Labradoodles and other dog hybrids are bred through artificial selection. The pizzly exists today because grizzly bears have been venturing up to the Northern Arctic due to climate change. 

Grizzly bears are not the only animals moving north. Several other species have been spotted including fish species, caribou, and red foxes! (Erica and I spotted both red and arctic foxes in Churchill!) Some people think that pizzlies/grolar bears are a good solution for climate change. Pennsylvania State and University of Buffalo have sequenced polar bear genomes and found that brown bears helped create polar bears to begin with. They predict that the inbreeding occurring now is caused due to the polar bear’s shrinking habitat. The unfortunate people who find climate change undisturbing are thankful to hear this news and deem it the perfect solution. However, polar bear experts see problems facing the new hybrids. 

Ed Struzik in Yale’s Environment 360 Digest quoted Andrew Derocher, one of the top polar bear researchers. Derocher mentioned in the article the diversity between grizzly bears and polar bears in terms of ecology and physiology. He stated that, “ While they may closely resemble each other physically and genetically, they have evolved in very different ways. Grizzlies, for example, have learned to live off a variety of foods such as caribou, berries, roots, and even seals. The polar bear, on the other hand, is almost exclusively a hunter of seals” (Struzik, 2012). Not a lot of research has been conducted on these new species and there is no knowing if they are the saviors of the polar bear species. What is known is that they can’t be relied upon. In addition, there are currently no regulations or restrictions on the hunting of pizzlies. Derocher mentions, “…Bear hunters would pay dearly for the chance to shoot (hybrid polar/grizzly bears). That could mean that hybrids - not subject to the strict hunting quotas governing the threatened polar bear - could face heavy hunting pressure” (Struzik, 2012).

The polar bear’s sea ice habitat is diminishing with the warming climate. Scientists now know that polar bears are taking drastic measures to keep their species alive by mating with grizzly bears and producing offspring. In a presentation given by Dr. Evan Richardson, a wildlife biologist from the Canadian Wildlife Service, he mentioned that a female polar bear mated with a male grizzly and produced a female pizzly. That female pizzly mated with a male polar bear and produced a cub. This data shows that these hybrids are not sterile. This gives some hope on the genetics side of things; however hybrids are not the solution to climate change, nor will they ever be as breathtaking as the 100% pure bred polar bear. 

Great work by Katie Billing of Polar Bears International


Dumping of Toxic Fracking Wastewater Reaffirms Natural Gas Industry Free-for-All in Ohio
A week after the dumping of at least 20,000 gallons of toxic and potentially radioactive fracking waste into a storm drain that empties into a tributary of the Mahoning River in Youngstown, Ohio, by Hard Rock Excavating, state regulators have yet to disclose information about the quantity of waste and the chemicals involved.

Dang. Most storm drains dump untreated run-off into a river, pond, lake, or some other body of water. Storm drain infrastructure drains roads and parking lots of rain water and snow melt.
My understanding is that it is illegal under the Clean Water Act (e.g., the EPA) to dump toxic chemicals into these drains since fish, riparian mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, birds, kids, swimmers, and farmers use surface waters on a regular basis.
If the above is correct (I’m skeptical), that frackers are dumping chemical-waste-water into storm drains, holy shit - Ohioans downstream are in for a big surprise…


Dumping of Toxic Fracking Wastewater Reaffirms Natural Gas Industry Free-for-All in Ohio

A week after the dumping of at least 20,000 gallons of toxic and potentially radioactive fracking waste into a storm drain that empties into a tributary of the Mahoning River in Youngstown, Ohio, by Hard Rock Excavating, state regulators have yet to disclose information about the quantity of waste and the chemicals involved.

Dang. Most storm drains dump untreated run-off into a river, pond, lake, or some other body of water. Storm drain infrastructure drains roads and parking lots of rain water and snow melt.

My understanding is that it is illegal under the Clean Water Act (e.g., the EPA) to dump toxic chemicals into these drains since fish, riparian mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, birds, kids, swimmers, and farmers use surface waters on a regular basis.

If the above is correct (I’m skeptical), that frackers are dumping chemical-waste-water into storm drains, holy shit - Ohioans downstream are in for a big surprise…


Undersea Images

David Doubilet takes these amazing photographs in his quest to create a visual voice for the world’s oceans and to connect people to the incredible beauty and silent devastation happening within the invisible world below.


New evidence suggests that polar bears first appeared about five million years ago, making them much older than previously thought. They diverged from brown bears and underwent a series of evolutionary changes in order to survive in the harsh conditions of the Arctic—adaptations from the shape of their body to keener senses, white fur, and sharper teeth.

The findings indicate that polar bears evolved over a long time frame to a life of hunting seals and surviving extreme cold, a life quite different from terrestrial brown bears.

Interestingly, the genome evidence shows that after brown bears and polar bears separated, there were periods when they came into contact again. The new study also reveals surprisingly little genetic diversity in today’s polar bears, suggesting bottleneck periods, probably during warm periods, when their numbers were severely reduced.

What does this mean in the face of the current arctic warming now taking place? First, the longer evolutionary period shows that polar bears won’t be able to adapt to changing sea ice conditions within a mere one hundred years. And although the longer time frame means that polar bears survived previous warm periods, the temperatures reached in the Arctic if we continue on our present greenhouse-gas-warming course will be unlike anything polar bears have survived before.

Read more via Polar Bears International.

I like that the author chose to use the findings towards a practical discussion vis a vis “what does this mean?”. We need more of that in science communication.

This promises to be a good webinar. “Downscaling" is a fancy term for making climate science available in your community. Keeping it simple, most climate science is based on computer models that predict where impacts will occur, like flooding, droughts, and storms.

For example, these models show that the southwest U.S. will be come drier, and there will be water shortages. But the models cover huge areas, like thousands of miles. That doesn’t really help you or your town figure out what could happen.

So scientists came up with a solution to help better predict what will happen in smaller, geographical areas. Instead of modeling the entire state of Arizona, “downscaling” allows for predictions at a much smaller area, such as your county or city.

There are a lot of problems with these computer models - climate impacts are often more severe than the models show. But the general trend is they are reliable predictors of what will happen as the climate changes.

This particular webinar covers how scientists are using downscaled climate models to manage wildlife habitat on the coasts.

Why does this matter? It helps locals, businesses, and governments plan for the future. If there is going to be water shortages, for one example, then all three constituencies can (and should) work together to figure out how to make better use of their water infrastructure. It’s the same situation for coastal communities that face sea-level rise. Communities can use downscaled models to figure out the best places to move homes, protect habitat, stop development, restore wetlands, dredge deltas etc…

Downscaling is technical. Yet it’s one of the most important tools the public can use to make their communities more resilient to disasters and other environmental impacts. So push through the tech-jargon if you can. This webinar will give you an idea of how climate science is being used in the real world, and should spark neato thoughts on how you can use it to help your community.

Below are the details. If you sign up, hit me up and let me know what you think!

January 16th from 1:00-2:30pm ET
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Federation hosts:
Downscaling Climate Change Models to Local Site Conditions: Effects of Sea-Level Rise and Extreme Events on Coastal Habitats and Their Wildlife.”
Dr. John Y. Takekawa (Research Wildlife Biologist, USGS Western Ecological Research Center) will provide an overview of the project. It examines the potential climate change effects on transitional coastal habitats with high-quality local habitat data, downscaled climate models, and projected storm effects. It also links habitat responses to wildlife using vulnerability assessments.
Register online here. If you cannot attend, a recording will be posted approximately1-2 weeks after the presentation at:


Rare View of Critically Endangered, Painfully Adorable Chicks Taking First Steps

Every summer, endangered spoon-billed sandpipers meet in Russia’s far east. For two months, the small, russet-and white-colored birds breed and raise their young. Each chick is crucial. With around 100 breeding pairs, the species teeters on the edge of extinction.

Now, the unsteady first steps of tiny sandpiper chicks have been captured on video. The footage, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, shows the stumbling, fluffy chicks wandering around near their wind-blown nest near Meinypilgyno, Chukotka — an autonomous region in extreme eastern Russia.”

Beautiful birds, beautifully told. Only about 200 birds left alive…

New York hotelier, Eric Goode, was featured on “60 Minutes” to discuss his non-profit, The Turtle Conservancy. The organization works to conserve turtles and tortoises endangered by aggressive development, poverty, and illegal trade to China.