Environmental News January — February 2020

Quote for the week

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
— Chris Maser

Smashing Urchins for Kelp
March 5, 2020
By Katrina Pyne, Grand Callegari, and Jude Isabella
Until sea otters to return to Haida Gwaii waters, Parks Canada and the Haida Nation take matters into their own hands to cultivate a healthy ecosystem without the help of the keystone species. When the fur trade came in the 1700s, sea otters slowly began decimating in their population until they disappeared completely— along with the kelp. This happened because sea otters eat sea urchins, which eat kelp, so without sea otters the whole system is disrupted. Because there were more sea urchins, which contain a special roe called uni, creating a commercial uni industry. The Haida Nation has since launched a program to restore the kelp forest on their own by allowing scientists to take aim at sea urchins and harvesting urchins with roe.
Read more here.

Scientists Warn Hu­man­ity about World­wide In­sect De­cline, and Sug­gest Ways to Recog­nise and Avert its Con­se­quences
February 10, 2020
By Pedro Cardoso
Insect declines and extinctions are accelerating in many parts of the world. Engaging civil society and policy makers is essential for the future and mutual well-being of insects and therefore people. Humanity is pushing many ecosystems beyond recovery, which is why it’s so important to have a change of attitude about preserving the planet for our own sake. Some solutions to help save the insects include setting aside high-quality and manageable portions of land for conservation, transforming global agricultural practices to promote species co-existence, and mitigating climate change. While it is important to practice insect conservation locally, collective consciousness and a global effort are necessary to successfully monitor and conserve insect and other invertebrate species.
Read more here.

Saving Nature Will Take Bold Action: “Thirty by Thirty”
February 7, 2020
By Alison Chase and Helen O’Shea
Seventy-four groups sent a letter to Senators and a letter to Members of Congress calling for bold federal action to preserve nature in the face of the climate and biodiversity crises. The U.S. currently protects only 12 percent of lands and 26 percent of oceans (primarily in the central and western Pacific). The thirty by thirty resolution calls on the federal government to set a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and at least 30 percent of ocean areas by the year 2030.
Read more here.

Arctic Ice is Changing Ocean Currents
February 6, 2020
A major ocean current in the Arctic is faster and more turbulent as a result of rapid sea ice melt, a new study from NASA shows. The current is part of a delicate Arctic environment that is now flooded with fresh water, an effect of human-caused climate change. It is called the Beaufort Gyre and using 12 years of satellite data have been able to tell how it has been insecurely equalizing a surplus of fresh water which could totally alter the currents of the Atlantic Ocean. Persistent westerly winds have also dragged the current in one direction for over 20 years, increasing the speed and size of the clockwise current and preventing the fresh water from leaving the Arctic Ocean. Scientists have been keeping an eye on the Beaufort Gyre in case the wind changes direction again. This important current is called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and helps regulate the planet's climate by transferring heat to cooler places.
Read more here.

Beaked whales may evade killer whales by silently diving in sync
February 6, 2020
By Jonathon Lambert
More formidable whales, of the sperm or pilot variety, have the size and muscle to flee or defend against a killer whale, but not beaked whales. Beaked whales have therefore have evolved an efficient way to evade these apex predators by performing an unusual highly synchronized style of diving. Previous research has hinted that, when beaked whales return from the deep, they don’t come straight up for air like other whales. Instead, they ascend at a gradual angle, surfacing far from where they dove, perhaps to slip past predators. When they did dive down to eat food, they traveled silently to extreme depths where killer whales can’t reside, and then separated and started chirping to echolocate prey. On the way back up, they regrouped and traveled silently back to the surface, about a kilometer away from where they dove.
Read more here.

From Animals to Human Society: What We Learn When Women Lead
February 6, 2020
By Bridget Alex
Among social mammals, lions are just one just a handful of examples where females are in charge. Related females band together for life, as the primary hunters and warriors. Temporary males join to mate but contribute little else to a pride’s success.
However, among the roughly 5,400 mammal species, just a couple of dozen females routinely outrank males during dominance contests. In the case of lemurs and hyenas, females are also incredibly dominant, demonstrating that men being in charge is not some inevitable destiny of mammalian biology. Their dominance might be due to “male-like traits” such as body size and threatening behavior. As for humans, because women are seen as minorities and not as capable as men, the few women in high offices are able to promote gender equality and act as a prominent reminder that women can lead.
Read more here.

Recreational fishers are increasingly targeting sharks and rays, and researchers are concerned
February 6, 2020
By Mongabay
Sharks and rays are being increasingly targeted all over the world, but very few catches are reported. This increase has happened within the past 6 decades, and compromise about 6% annual catch for recreational purposes. Mostly occurring in Oceania and South America, the real amounts of cartilaginous fish being extracted is probably underestimated. The real problem with sharks and rays is that even if they’re caught and then released, they are not likely to survive. Sharks in particular are essential to population health and management. Researchers hope to collect comprehensive data that fisheries can use for managing their various fishery sectors.
Read more here.

Global Warming is Speeding Up Earth’s Massive Ocean Currents
February 5, 2020
By Paul Voosen
The ocean’s currents, rightly considered the planet’s circulatory system, has seemingly started to thump faster. Oceanographers have suspected that climate warming is affecting ocean circulation, but so far, observations haven’t shown a trend. A study was done to observe the ocean’s kinetic energy on a monthly basis, not taking into account the energy created from storms. The analysis showed a steady increase since 1990 at an astonishing rate. There is good evidence that human activity has contributed to that strengthening, which could have globe-spanning effects. These effects include warmer temperatures in colder regions which lessen the uptake of atmospheric CO2, shifting weather patterns, and more.
Read more here.

The Pacific Ocean is So Acidic that It’s Dissolving Dungeness Crabs!
February 2020
By Eliza Erskine
A new study found that Dungeness crabs are affected by lower pH levels in the water, with their shells being dissolved and sensory organs being harmed. These crabs also happen to be one of the most profitable commercial crabs for Pacific Northwest fishing industries. Dungeness crabs along with other invertebrates that make shells and exoskeletons will continue to have their populations decimated by ocean acidification, which will in turn impact fisheries. Ocean acidification is an effect of higher amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere being absorbed by the ocean. Acidification then has its own negative effects which include higher water temperature and salinity.
Read more here.

A Safe Haven in a Changing World
February 2020
By Pike Spector
The California Channel Islands are home to some of the most productive and unique ecosystems along the west coast of North America. People from all around the globe go to visit the rugged and untamed cliffs and observe the thriving endemic wildlife. With climate change being a worldwide issue, there are few places that remain healthy and almost unaffected by the impacts of humans. As for the effects of climate change, the protected northern shores of the northern Channel Islands continue to be an ocean acidification refuge. Many crucial organisms, like the spiny lobster and red sea urchin, will be highly susceptible if ocean acidification manages to reach the vast kelp forests and seagrass meadows. These invertebrates are also highly valued fishery species, so the effect will be felt on fisheries and Californian coastal cities. Scientists and marine managers are better equipped to plan for the future of Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary in the face of a changing ocean.
Read more here.

64 New Chemicals Discovered in Washington’s Pudget Sound
January 27, 2020
By Liz Allen
Seattle, Washington is famous, in part, for its proximity to the Puget Sound, the second largest estuary in the US. The Puget Sound is also important for its role in housing orcas and the salmon they eat, but is susceptible to chemicals entering waterways through city runoff. Because Seattle is such a prominent and big city which also receives lots of rainfall, it produces about 1 million gallons of runoff water each year entering the Puget Sound. Chemicals are normally tracked in waterways using methods that search for specific, harmful chemicals, allowing unknown but potentially harmful chemicals to pass through undetected. Scientists are now trying to understand which of these chemicals, that in high concentrations, can go on to impact the health of fish, orcas, and other marine organisms. Seventy-five chemicals were identified in a study that collected water from the Puget Sound, and of those 64 had never been reported in those waters.
Read more here.

When the Ship Hits the Fin
January 23, 2020
By Frank Swain
Marine traffic is increasing worldwide, and where ships and whales overlap, collisions between the two are inevitable. When a whale washes up dead, however, it is difficult to determine if a ship collision is the cause of their death. This is because it can be weeks after a whales death before one washes ashore, already deep in the stages of decomposition. Marina Arregui, a biologist from Spain, wanted to test a new method for determining whether or not a ship strike killed a whale. By looking for small lumps of misplaced fat, (an embolism), Arregui and her team were able to determine in whales were hit by a ship before or after their death. Their data showed that most of the whales they examined had indeed died because of a ships strike. This new method of examining whale deaths is accurate enough to be used for diagnosing fatal ship strikes, which will aid in adding more measures to protect whales from vessel traffic.
Read more here.

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health
January 9, 2020
By Jim Robbins
A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate. In a study of 20,000 people, researchers found that people who spent at least two hours a week in nature were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.
Read more here.