e360 digest
Biodiversity


18 Mar 2014: Wildflower Season in Rockies
Is 35 Days Longer as Climate Warms

A warming climate has extended the wildflower season in the Rocky Mountains by 35 days since the 1970s, according to a 39-year study of more than two million blooms. The bloom season, which used to run from late May to early September, now lasts from late April to late
Rocky Mountain wildflowers
David Inouye
Crested Butte, Colorado
September, the researchers say. Previous, less extensive studies seemed to indicate most wildflowers simply shift their bloom cycles to earlier in the year, but new findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that the changes are more complex, with the flowers reaching peak bloom sooner and flowering later in the year. The shift in the timing of blooms could have a major impact on pollinating insects and migratory birds. For example, hummingbirds that summer in the Rocky Mountains time their nesting so that their eggs hatch at peak bloom, when there is plenty of flower nectar for hungry chicks. As the bloom season lengthens, the plants are not producing more flowers. The same number of blooms is spread out over more days, so at peak bloom there may be fewer flowers and less food for hummingbirds, the researchers say.
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05 Mar 2014: Routes of Young Sea Turtles
Shed Light on Mystery of Turtles' Lost Years

By placing satellite tags on newborn sea turtles along the coast of Florida and tracking them in the western Atlantic Ocean, researchers have gained new insights into the early migrations of threatened and endangered

Click to Enlarge
turtle tracks

Sea turtle tracks
turtles during their so-called "lost years" between hatching and returning to coastal waters as large juveniles. Rather than swimming in the currents of the North Atlantic gyre, as scientists had assumed, the young turtles actually leave the gyre and travel to the Sargasso Sea, which lies in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. While there, sensors on the turtles' shells registered more heat than the scientists expected, leading them to believe that the young turtles swim near the surface of the Sargasso, basking in sunlight and feeding on a type of seaweed that grows in deep ocean waters. "From the time they leave our shores, we don't hear anything about them until they surface near the Canary Islands, which is like their primary school years," said an author of the study.
PERMALINK

 

28 Feb 2014: Seafaring Drones Could Reveal
Mysterious Lives of Sharks, Researchers Say

New automated watercraft are helping scientists understand the secret lives of great white sharks, which gather in large numbers each winter in an area nicknamed the "White Shark Cafe." Although this stretch of ocean between Baja California and Hawaii

Watch Video
“great

Shark migrations to Hawaii and the “Cafe”
contains relatively few food sources, the sharks congregate and display strange behaviors, perhaps related to mating or feeding, one researcher explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. Scientists haven't had a way to efficiently track and observe sharks in this environment, but new seafaring drone technologies might change that. For example, drones could follow migrations by homing in on acoustic tags on the sharks themselves. Marine biologists at Stanford were recently able to track two great whites on their journeys from California to Hawaii and the White Shark Cafe, as the map shows, but current technology only allows scientists to recreate the sharks' journeys after monitoring tags pop off and are recovered. The new drones may prove useful not only for tracking sharks and other pelagic fish in real time, but also for collecting important ocean data such as temperature, acidity, and salinity, researchers said.
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18 Feb 2014: Website Allows Whistleblowers
To Report Wildlife and Forest Crimes

A new whistleblower site offers people a secure and anonymous way to report incidents of poaching, wildlife trafficking, and illegal logging around the world. The site is called WildLeaks, a nod to the well-known WikiLeaks site, and it's backed by the California-based Elephant Action League. Users can upload documents, video, or images detailing the crimes, and submissions will be encrypted so data and identities remain secure. The aim is to provide a safe way for citizens to report these illegal activities so that local and federal governments can take action. Prosecuting wildlife crimes and illegal logging is often a low priority in countries where some of the worst offenses occur; moreover, local government corruption often deters people from reporting such crimes, organizers say. "We [will] work to transform this information into a verified and actionable item, a point for launching an investigation or sharing it with the media or, when possible, with selected and trusted law enforcement officers, always aiming at exposing wildlife crimes and bringing the responsible individuals to justice," said the WildLeaks project leader.
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17 Feb 2014: New Maps Pinpointing Wind
Turbines Will Help Track Effects on Wildlife

More than 47,000 wind turbines dot the U.S. landscape, predominantly clustered in the Midwest and Great Plains, as a new interactive tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows. The maps — the first

Click to Enlarge
U.S. wind turbine locations

Wind turbines in the U.S.
publicly-available, nationwide data set for wind energy generation — show the locations of every turbine in the U.S., from large wind farms to single turbines, and are accurate to within 10 meters. The maps are part of the USGS's effort to assess how wind turbines impact wildlife, and they show detailed technical information such as the make, model, height, area of the turbine blades, and capacity of each turbine. Turbine-level data will improve scientists’ ability to study wildlife collisions, the wakes causes by wind turbines, the interaction between wind turbines and ground-based radar, and how wind energy facilities overlap with migratory flyways, the USGS says.
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Five Questions for Elizabeth Kolbert
On Facing Up to the Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Kolbert's new book, The Sixth Extinction, focuses on one of the most troubling realities of our age: We are living in a period when, for only the sixth time in earth’s history, the diversity of species is contracting suddenly and rapidly — but now, we humans are the cause. For her reporting, Kolbert, an e360 contributor and New Yorker staff writer, traveled from the Peruvian Andes to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, probing the fate of a dozen species. Yale Environment 360 asked Kolbert five questions about the book and what she discovered in researching it.
Read more.
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10 Feb 2014: New Plant Found in Andes
Supports up to 50 Species, Researchers Say

Researchers working in the Ecuadorian Andes have discovered a new species of black pepper plant that is a nexus of biodiversity. The plant, named Piper kelleyi, supports roughly 40 to 50 insect species, the scientists estimate, many of which are entirely dependent on the
P. kelleyi caterpillar
Specialist herbivore Eios feeds on P. kelleyi
plant for survival. P. kelleyi produces chemical compounds that are known to deter most herbivores, but a single type of caterpillar has adapted to overcome the toxicity of the plant's defenses. That caterpillar, in turn, is preyed upon by species of wasps and flies dependent on that specific caterpillar species — and ultimately the plant — for survival. Altogether, an assemblage of up to 50 species of herbivorous and predatory insects are dependent on P. kelleyi, the researchers report in the journal PhytoKeys.
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07 Feb 2014: Chimpanzee 'Mega-Culture'
Documented in Remote Forest in Congo

Researchers have documented a huge population of chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo — a community of perhaps tens of thousands of individuals with its own unique customs and behaviors, the Guardian reports. The so-called "mega-culture," which spans 50,000 square kilometers of virtually untouched

Watch Video
Chimps in DRC

Chimps are thriving in a remote Congo forest.
forest, is thought to be the largest population of chimps in Africa and one of the last remaining continuous populations of chimpanzees in the wild, the scientists report in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers first reported on this community in 2007, but their new survey includes detailed videos of the thriving population and its unique behaviors, which include feasting on leopards, using tools to harvest giant African snails and swarming insects, and building ground nests far more frequently than other chimps. While the find is heartening in terms of chimpanzee conservation, the researchers and wildlife advocates fear the population could be decimated by habitat loss and poachers, who stand to make huge profits in the bushmeat trade.
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06 Feb 2014: Maps Show Tropical Corridors
Important to Wildlife As Climate Changes

A new set of maps highlights the importance of habitat corridors in helping wildlife deal with the effects of climate change and deforestation. The series of maps shows more than 16,000 habitat corridors— swaths of

Click to Enlarge
South America habitat corridors

Protected areas and corridors in South America
land that connect forests or protected areas and allow animals to move between them — in tropical regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. High-resolution data on biodiversity, endemism, and vegetation density allowed the researchers, led by Patrick Jantz of the Woods Hole Research Center, to determine which corridors are most important for maintaining biodiversity under changing climate conditions. The maps also highlight which corridors are most important for sequestering carbon and averting carbon emissions associated with deforestation. Researchers hope the findings will help guide wildlife protection plans and serve as a framework prioritizing the conservation of habitat corridors.
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28 Jan 2014: Peru Park Holds Record
Reptile and Amphibian Diversity, Study Finds

A new study crowns Peru's Manu National Park as the place with the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians — 287 species in all. The park's 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species outnumber those in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park, which, with 271 reptile
Manu glass frog
Alessandro Catenazzi
A glass frog from Manu's cloud forests
and amphibian species, was previously believed to contain the world's most diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians. Although Manu National Park represents only 0.01 percent of the world's land area, it houses 2.2 percent of all amphibian species and 1.5 percent of all reptile species, the researchers note. They attribute the rich diversity to the park's elevation gradient, which spans the Western Amazon's tropical rainforest up through high Andean cloud forests, providing a wide range of habitats. Manu also has record bird diversity — with 1,000 species, or 10 percent of the world's total species — and tremendous butterfly diversity, with 1,200 species. Scientists say the inventory of the national park's richness is far from complete. DNA analyses, frog call studies, and other techniques will likely reveal even more diversity, the authors note in the journal Biota Neotropica.
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Interview: How Citizen Science Is
Aiding and Democratizing Research

When biologist Caren Cooper carries out her avian studies, she’s aided by thousands of assistants, none of whom are paid for their work. That’s because Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, relies on the help of so-called citizen scientists, volunteers from across the country who contribute data
Caren Cooper
Caren Cooper
to her research projects. These lay people provide information that enables her and other scientists to study bird life in ways that would otherwise be impossible. But, as Cooper notes in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the uses of citizen science go well beyond bird research. Bushmen in the Kalahari are using apps to document wildlife and natural resources that need to be protected. Environmental activists also are employing open-source technology to measure and monitor pollution, including the deployment of kites and balloons to document such events as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “A lot of the ways for us to move forward in certain fields require massive collaboration,” says Cooper. “And so we’re building all the infrastructure for these collaborations, all of the web tools — whatever we need to make that happen.”
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

22 Jan 2014: New Virus Associated With
Massive Bee Die-Offs, Researchers Report

A rapidly mutating virus may be partially responsible for the massive bee die-offs known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has wiped out a third of commercial bee colonies annually for the past seven years, a group of U.S. and Chinese researchers reports. Most scientists, including the study's authors, believe CCD is triggered when colonies are weakened by a combination of factors, such as viruses, parasites, and perhaps pesticides. The study, published in the journal mBio, found in bees a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus, an RNA virus that likely jumped from tobacco plants, to soy plants, to bees. Weak bee colonies began succumbing to massive die-offs in autumn, and the researchers found those bees were heavily infected with tobacco ringspot — which is believed to affect honeybees' nervous systems — and other viruses. Strong colonies that made it through the winter showed no evidence of infection by tobacco ringspot. The researchers believe the virus jumped from plants to bees through "bee bread," a concoction of pollen, nectar, and saliva they feed their larvae. Bee infection by tobacco ringspot is the first known instance of a virus from pollen jumping to bees.
PERMALINK

 

20 Jan 2014: Soil Microbes Can Alter DNA
In Response to Climate Change, Study Says

A 10-year study of soil ecosystems has determined that microbes alter their genetic code in response to a warming climate so they can process excess carbon being absorbed by plants from the atmosphere, a team of U.S. researchers reports in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. A 2-degree Celsius temperature increase spurred microbes in soil ecosystems to, over many generations, tweak their DNA, amping up their respiratory systems and converting extra organic carbon in the soil to CO2. The soil contained extra carbon because the 2-degree temperature increase made plants grow faster and higher; when those plants began to die, the carbon in their leaves, stems, and roots was added to the soil and taken up by the microbial community. Understanding the "black box" of carbon's fate in soil ecosystems holds important clues for better forecasting an ecosystem's response to climate change, says Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Kostas Konstantinidis, an author of the study. "One reason that models of climate change have such big room for variation is because we don’t understand the microbial activities that control carbon in the soil," he said.
PERMALINK

 

17 Jan 2014: More Than 1,000 Rhinos
Poached in 2013, South African Officials Say

More than 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year, a record total and an increase of more than 50 percent from 2012, South African officials say. South Africa is home to nearly all of the
Black rhino
Adam Welz
world's 20,000 rhinos, which are targeted by poachers because their horns are highly valued and believed to contain medicinal properties. Although those claims are scientifically unfounded, demand from increasingly wealthy consumers in China and Vietnam has driven the price of rhino horns to over $65,000 per kilogram — more valuable than gold, platinum, or cocaine. South Africa has tried to stem the crisis by training park rangers to use arms, drones, and helicopters, but those anti-poaching efforts have shown limited success. Rhino poachings in 2012 also increased by 50 percent over 2011 totals, and 37 have been poached so far in 2014, officials report. Most of the killings are taking place in South Africa's Kruger National Park, where 606 rhinos were killed last year and 425 in 2012.
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16 Jan 2014: Pebble Mine Would Endanger
Alaska's Bristol Bay, Major EPA Study Finds

A three-year study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that mining in Alaska's Bristol Bay area would pose significant dangers to the environment, a potentially fatal setback for plans
Bristol Bay watershed
Mulchatna River, part of Bristol Bay watershed
to develop Pebble Mine, a major open-pit mining project that aimed to exploit one of the largest and richest mineral deposits in the world. The EPA study cited concerns for the region's thriving sockeye salmon population and its native people, saying the mine would destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes. Pebble Mine proponents, including Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, criticize the study as flawed and rushed, since the development company wasn't allowed to submit its mining plan before the EPA study. Native groups, fishermen, and environmental organizations are applauding the study. The proposed mine — which seeks to exploit gold, copper, and other metals — was already in trouble, with one of two major partners withdrawing from the project last year.
PERMALINK

 

15 Jan 2014: West African Lions Are
Critically Close to Extinction, Study Says

West African lions are close to extinction, and vulnerable populations could be wiped out in the next five to 10 years, according to new research led by the wild cat conservation group Panthera. West African lions, which are genetically distinct from other African lions, once numbered in the tens of thousands. Now the
West African lion
Philipp Henschel/Panthera
Male West African lion
population has been reduced to around 400 individuals spread across 17 countries, largely due to habitat loss, a shortage of prey, and poaching, according to the study published in PLOS ONE. Of the remaining lions, only about 250 are mature enough to reproduce, but in many cases those individuals are spread too far apart to breed. West African lions are now present in only 1.1 percent of their original habitat and should be considered "critically endangered," according to the study. Running low on habitat and prey, the lions sometimes kill livestock. Villagers then kill the lions in revenge. "It's become very complicated for this carnivore at the top of the food chain to find enough space and food to survive," one scientist told Reuters.
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09 Jan 2014: Faced With Sea Ice Loss,
Emperor Penguins Alter Breeding Tactics

Confronted with the loss of sea ice in some parts of Antarctica, four colonies of emperor penguins have come up with an innovative breeding strategy to adapt to their changing environment. Using satellite images,
Emperor penguin
an international team of scientists tracked the four colonies from 2008 to 2012. In the first three years, the emperor penguins hatched and incubated eggs in their customary fashion — atop the sea ice that freezes during the Antarctic winter and spring. But in 2011 and 2012, sea ice did not form until a month after the breeding season began. As a result, the emperor penguins, which are the largest penguin species on earth, did something never before witnessed by scientists: They climbed the nearly sheer walls of large, floating ice shelves — huge structures, often hundreds of square miles in extent, that flow from land-based glaciers into the sea. In the region of the four colonies, the ice shelf walls reach as high as 100 feet. The scientists say the altered breeding behavior could demonstrate how ice-dependent emperor penguins may adapt to a warming world.
PERMALINK

 

06 Jan 2014: China Crushes Six Tons
Of Ivory to Stem Elephant Poaching

In an effort to stem elephant poaching, Chinese authorities have crushed six tons of confiscated ivory, the first such effort in the country's history. Coordinated by the State Forestry Administration and the General Administration of Customs, the event was widely publicized and aimed at spreading awareness in China of the scale of the global poaching crisis. Conservation
China's ivory crush
groups consistently name China as a major driver of elephant poaching, as the country's growing middle class has increasingly sought to buy ivory ornaments and ivory-based medicinal therapies, which have no scientific or medical basis. The six tons of ornaments and tusks that were crushed represent only a fraction of China's ivory stockpile, which is probably more than 45 tons, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) estimates. Still, many conservation groups are applauding China's efforts. "This destruction of ivory by China is a symbol of the government's growing responsiveness to the ivory crisis," the WCS said.
PERMALINK

 

31 Dec 2013: Atlantic Ocean Zooplankton
Are Now Reproducing in Arctic Waters

For the first time, scientists have discovered species of Atlantic Ocean zooplankton reproducing in Arctic waters. German researchers say the discovery indicates a possible shift in the Arctic zooplankton community as
amphipod
The amphipod Themisto compressa
the region warms, one that could be detrimental to Arctic birds, fish, and marine mammals. Studying traps that have been suspended for 13 years in the Fram Strait, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute found that small species of crustaceans common to the Atlantic are increasingly moving into Arctic waters. The researchers found fertile females as well as individuals at all stages of development, showing that the Atlantic species is reproducing in the frigid waters. The one-centimeter amphipods are smaller than respective Arctic species, meaning that the spread of the Atlantic crustaceans northward could reduce the volume of food available to Arctic predators. The research was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
PERMALINK

 

Photo Essay: Documenting the Swift
Change Wrought by Global Warming


Documenting global warming photo essay
Peter Essick

For 25 years, photographer Peter Essick has traveled the world for National Geographic magazine, with many of his recent assignments focusing on the causes and consequences of climate change. In a Yale Environment 360 photo essay, we present a gallery of images he took while on assignment in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung locales affected by climate change.
View the photo gallery.
PERMALINK

 

09 Dec 2013: Intensifying Storms Are
Contributing To Ongoing U.S. Wetlands Loss

The U.S. is losing wetlands at a rate of 80,000 acres per year, in part because of intensifying coastal storms and sea level rise, according to a new government study. From 2004 to 2009, the country lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands, a decline driven both by traditional factors, such as coastal development, as well as worsening storms and slowly rising seas, the study says. The rate of loss is a signal that government efforts to protect and restore wetlands are failing to keep pace with major environmental changes, experts told The Washington Post. The most pronounced wetlands losses were along the Gulf of Mexico, where major hurricanes have wreaked havoc on coastal lands. Along the Atlantic coast, a rapid increase in coastal development is funneling stormwater runoff into wetlands that cannot handle it, the study said. The loss rate of 80,000 acres annually represents a 25 percent increase over the rate of wetlands loss during 1998-2004, the last time government agencies examined the problem.
PERMALINK

 

03 Dec 2013: Microplastic Pollution Harms
Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds

As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report. Two British studies found that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat
Jezzdk/Wikimedia
Beach sediments churned by a lugworm
less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem. The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. Lugworms, often called the "earthworms of the sea," are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet.
PERMALINK

 

02 Dec 2013: Poachers Killed 22,000
Elephants in Africa Last Year, Group Says

Poachers slaughtered 22,000 elephants in 27 African countries last year, according to a new report. Officials with The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and two conservation groups said that 15,000 elephant
Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay
A herd in Namibia
deaths from poaching were officially reported in Africa and that another 7,000 deaths went unreported. Although that number is a slight decrease from the 2011 estimate of 25,000 poaching deaths, CITES officials warn that poaching rates are far too high and could soon lead to local extinctions. Africa, which is currently home to roughly 500,000 elephants, could lose a fifth of its elephant population over the next 10 years, CITES says. "The estimated poaching rate of 7.4 percent in 2012 remains at an unsustainably high level, as it exceeds natural population growth rates (usually no more than 5 percent)," the report says.
PERMALINK

 

29 Nov 2013: Wide Mangrove Destruction
Is Documented Along Coast of Myanmar

Rapid agricultural expansion destroyed nearly two-thirds of the mangrove forestsin Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta between 1978 and 2011, increasing the region’s vulnerability to cyclones and typhoons, according to a new study. Using remote sensing imagery

Click to Enlarge
Mangrove destruction map

Webb et al., 2013
Mangrove forest loss
and field data, researchers from Myanmar and Singapore said that the dense mangrove cover in the Ayeyarwady Delta declined from 2,623 square kilometers to 1,000 square kilometers in that 33-year period. The main cause was agriculture expansion and the researchers said that if rates of destruction continue at their current pace the delta’s mangroves could be completely deforested by 2026. Reporting in the journal Global Environmental Change, the scientists said the loss of mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta could put the region at greater risk of major storms such as Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in Myanmar in 2008. But the researchers said the destruction could be slowed if Myanmar creates coastal protected areas.
PERMALINK

 

26 Nov 2013: Updated Conservation List
Finds Forest Giraffes on Brink of Extinction

In an updated list released today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) noted some significant successes and failures in global wildlife
Okapi, forest giraffe
Wikimedia Commons
Okapi, or forest giraffe
conservation efforts. A major success story is the leatherback sea turtle, whose Atlantic population has recovered enough for the species to be considered only vulnerable, rather than critically endangered. The IUCN attributed the leatherback rebound to better protection of nesting beaches and reduced fisheries bycatch. The updated Red List contains more somber news, though, for the blue-tongued forest giraffe, the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The striped-legged forest giraffe, a species of okapi, is on the brink of extinction due mainly to the long, ongoing civil war in that country, which has led to increased poaching and loss of habitat. The Red List's ranks of threatened species have grown by 352 species since this summer, Mongabay reports, with roughly 21,000 species now listed as threatened.
PERMALINK

 

Fish 2.0: A Contest Seeks to Foster
A More Sustainable Seafood Industry

Twenty pioneers in the sustainable seafood business climbed a stage at Stanford University in November in an effort to woo the judges at the Fish 2.0 contest

Click to Enlarge
Oyster harvesting

HM Terry Co.
The winning project connects fishermen directly to customers.
with proposals on how to change the way the U.S. catches, distributes, and markets fish. A business competition at heart, Fish 2.0 brought together entrepreneurs and investors to spur innovation in the tradition-bound seafood industry. Competitors's proposals ranged from converting waste at fish processing plants to expanding a Hawaiian network of aquaponic growers, who raise fish and vegetables together in tanks, into the developing world. One proposal aimed to create a data system to track catches in real time, enabling fisheries managers to hold the line on harvests. Contestants headed home with more than $75,000 in prize money.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

19 Nov 2013: Pollution From Plastic Trash
May Make Tiny Island a Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to study whether plastic pollution on a small island in the Pacific Ocean is severe enough to warrant listing it as a Superfund clean-up site. Tern Island, a 25-acre strip of land about 500 miles northwest of the Hawaiian island

Click to Enlarge
Tern Island debris

Duncan Wright, USFWS
Tern Island marine debris
Oahu, is home to millions of seabirds, sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity asked the EPA to add the entire Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and parts of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the list of federal Superfund sites due to extreme marine debris pollution, but the agency has only agreed to undertake an environmental study on Tern Island. The island is awash with debris ranging from plastic water bottles and bits of plastic to discarded fishing gear and home appliances. Studies have shown the trash can take a heavy toll on wildlife — seabirds, for example, often ingest bits of plastic after mistaking them for food and eventually die of starvation. The EPA study is the first step of a potentially years-long process to determine if the island qualifies for listing under the 1980 Superfund law.
PERMALINK

 

14 Nov 2013: U.S. Crushes Six Tons
Of Illegally Trafficked Elephant Ivory

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) destroyed six tons of elephant ivory today that field agents seized over the past 25 years. The U.S. Ivory Crush event, which took place in Denver, Colorado, marked the first time the FWS has destroyed large quantities of ivory. The move was an attempt to send a clear message that the U.S. will not tolerate illegal ivory trafficking and the toll it's taking on elephant populations in Africa and Asia, the FWS said. Seized ivory is usually kept as evidence for prosecuting traffickers, then later used for education and training, but the FWS had accumulated far more ivory than it needs. The ivory that was crushed included full tusks, carved tusks, jewelry, carvings, and other objects, and came from at least 2,000 poached elephants, the FWS estimates.
PERMALINK

 

13 Nov 2013: Plastic Debris in Ocean
Has Spawned a 'Plastisphere' of Organisms

The plastic debris that litters the world's oceans has developed its own unique and diverse microbial ecosystem, researchers report. The microscopic community, which scientists dubbed the "plastisphere,"

Click to Enlarge
Diatom on plastic debris

Zettler, et al./ES&T
Diatom and bacteria on plastic debris
includes more than 1,000 species of algae, bacteria, microscopic plants, symbiotic microbes, and possibly even pathogens, the researchers say in Environmental Science & Technology. Some of the plastisphere microbes, many of which had never before been documented, contain genes that could help break down hydrocarbons, indicating the microbes may play a role in degrading the debris, the research shows. Plastic trash is the most abundant type of debris in the ocean, inflicting harm on fish, birds, and marine mammals that are entangled by it or ingest it. Until now, researchers hadn't looked at microbes living on the debris, which make up a sort of artificial "microbial reef," one of the scientists said.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Using Robots to Unlock
Mysteries of CO2 and the Oceans

As climate change accelerates, scientists are focusing on the key role the world’s oceans play in absorbing half the planet’s carbon dioxide. But the precise mechanisms
Wave Glider
Liquid Robotics
Robotic Wave Glider
by which the oceans remove carbon from the atmosphere and the consequences for marine life remain poorly understood. That has led Tracy Villareal, a professor of marine science at the University of Texas at Austin, to devote his research to diatom phytoplankton. To better understand how these tiny organisms mitigate climate change, Villareal has become a pioneer in the use of a wave- and solar-powered ocean-going robot, known as the Wave Glider. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Villareal discusses why unlocking the secrets of diatoms is critical to understanding climate change and how deploying robots will revolutionize marine science. “There are all sorts of wild robotic systems under development,” he says.
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

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