Category Archives: Climate Change

Climate Change May Actually Benefit Endangered Galápagos Penguins

Thought climate change was bad for everyone? Think again. It may actually have benefits to the only penguin native to the northern hemisphere, the Galápagos penguin.

According to a study led by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shifting equatorial winds and water temperatures – potentially related to climate change – have caused an undersea river to reach the Galápagos Islands. The river, called the Equatorial Undercurrent, creates a steady flow of cold ocean water that has revitalized food sources on the western side of the Galápagos, where a majority of the penguins live.

Now that the Galápagos penguins have more fish to eat, they’ve hatched more babies who make it to adulthood, more than tripling their numbers. 15 years ago, there were just a few hundred, but today there are over 1,000 penguins.

Photo by Rodrigo Soldon 2 / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Rodrigo Soldon 2 / CC BY-ND 2.0

The refreshed food supply has also been good for fur seals and iguanas in the region. Associate scientist with Woods Hole and lead author of the study Kristopher B. Karnauskas says:

“When you see a cold pool of water where you’d expect to see warm water, that indicates something is mixing that water up from below. That water is feeding everything from plankton on up. It has been strengthening in the past 30 years and expanding northward…The sea surface temperature trend shows that just to the north of where most of the penguins are has become more of a suitable environment than it was in the past.”

Photo by Charles Pence / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Charles Pence / CC BY-SA 2.0

Karnauskas believes the findings in his study can help conserve and increase the Galápagos penguin population. But he is only cautiously optimistic because rising ocean temperatures are still harmful to the rest of the world’s marine habitats. Karnauskas explains:

“This could be interpreted as ‘Global warming is good for penguins.’ I think that’s glossing over the details too much. The Galápagos happens to be this little outpost that, at least in the near term, is benefiting from changes in ocean circulation that could be driven by anthropogenic climate change. But I wouldn’t necessarily count on this saving them forever.”

Featured image by zpics / CC BY-ND 2.0

Seabird Populations Have Declined By 70% Over the Past 50 Years

According to a recent study, seabirds have faced a massive drop in numbers – approximately 70% over the last 60 years.

Seabirds are those that forage primarily at the sea, such as pelicans, gulls, albatross, penguins and more. The study covered half of the 325 species of seabirds that exist and collected data from as far back as the 1950s, with most of the information from the 70s and 80s.

The findings showed that, of the monitored populations that make up 19% of the world’s seabirds, there was a total decline of 70%. That accounts for a loss of around 230 million birds since the 1950s.

But the drop in numbers isn’t that surprising, as seabirds have faced increasing threats for decades. Threats range from food depletion, fishing gear, pollution, non-native predators and climate change.

Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis / CC BY-SA 2.0

Seabirds are very important to both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. They are part of a delicate food chain and also enrich the terrestrial ecosystem through fertilization. Their disappearance would be tragic, as well as have a negative impact on the food chain and ecosystems.

Study co-author Michelle Paleczny explains:

“Seabirds are threatened by a suite of different human activities in the world’s oceans. [They] play an important role in how the marine food web works. Removing seabirds from the food web would alter the overall health of the marine and coastal ecosystems.”

How can we help? The public can help by reducing pollution, particularly plastic pollution and fossil fuel consumption. People can also lobby the goverment or vote to support large marine protective areas that provide refuge for seabirds.

Featured image by Tony Fischer / CC BY 2.0

Killer Whales Will Move Into the Arctic Ocean As More Sea Ice Melts Each Summer

As the Arctic sea ice melts, it makes room for the ocean’s apex predators, killer whales, who even feed on other whales. More and more sightings of killer whales, or orcas, have been reported in the Canadian Arctic.

Killer whales are not well-adapted to the Arctic, as evidenced by their large dorsal fins. But because of climate change, they are able to access waters in the Arctic Ocean that they were unable to previously. This has raised concerns about the killer whales altering the region’s ecosystem, on top of concerns about climate change in general.

WWF Arctic species specialist Pete Ewins says:

“Receding sea ice and the resulting increase of orcas in the Arctic are ecosystem impacts we are already experiencing as a result of climate change. When new predators like orcas move in, they can change the entire ecosystem. In the face of these ever increasing, deeply concerning changes, we need leadership and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the best interest of people, the Arctic and the entire planet.”

So far, killer whales have only ventured into the Canadian Arctic. But it’s possible they will continue to move further north, deeper into the Arctic Ocean, in the future. More research is needed to confirm their exact movements.

Photo by Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith / CC BY-SA 2.0

 
 
Featured image by Alan / CC BY 2.0

With Our Planet’s Melting Arctic Comes New Threats to Whales

Climate change is the latest accomplice to whale hunting: as temperatures rise and sea ice melts, it opens more paths for people to find and kill whales.

This summer marked the first time that an Icelandic whaling vessel was able to travel through the Arctic’s Northeast Passage and hunt endangered fin whales. Near record-low numbers of sea ice opened the passageway, which is not normally accessible to larger vessels.

Ignoring an international ban on hunting these endangered whales, the vessel carried 1,800 tons of frozen fin whale meat to sell in Japan. It left Tromso, Norway on August 1 and arrived in Osaka, Japan later that month with almost 40% of the whale meat the entire country consumes annually in just one shipment.

This is a detrimental in several ways. First, a northern route will allow whaling vessels a shorter path to Japan, their main buyer. Second, it raises concerns for activist groups like Sea Shepherd who focus mostly in the Indian and Southern Oceans and can’t expand north.

Sea Shepherd’s founder Captain Paul Watson told TakePart:

“We are talking with the Russians to see if we can convince them to disallow future transports of whale meat through the Northeastern passage.”

Photo by NOAA PMEL / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by NOAA PMEL / CC BY-SA 2.0

Featured image by Dagur Brynjólfsson / CC BY-SA 2.0

Why Thousands of Walruses Were Forced Ashore in Alaska This Summer

Arctic ice is melting at an extreme pace, due to climate change, and it’s threatening the walrus. The melting ice is so drastic, it is forcing thousands of walruses to crowd onto the shore of a remote barrier island off Alaska.

The first reported sighting of the walruses came from a photographer on August 23 on the shore of the Chukchi Sea. It was then confirmed 4 days later by villagers in the remote area of Point Lay, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo by Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps., NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps., NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

Such huge gatherings, called haul-outs, are dangerous because walruses are easily spooked by aircrafts or onlookers, which could cause potentially fatal stampedes. Last year, as many as 40,000, mostly females and their young, were forced ashore – the largest known haul-out of its kind in the U.S. Arctic. – and around 60 young walruses were killed because of crowding and stampedes.

The Federal Aviation Authority had to re-route flights and tell pilots to keep their distance to avoid stampedes. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services spokeswoman Andrea Medeiros told The Guardian:

“Walruses often flee haul-outs in response to the sight, sound, or odor of humans or machines. Walruses are particularly sensitive to changes in engine noise and are more likely to stampede off beaches when planes turn or fly low overhead.”

Photo by South Bend Voice / CC BY 2.0
Photo by South Bend Voice / CC BY 2.0

Many of the walruses seem to prefer hauling out on these barrier islands north of the native village of Point Lay. The villagers dread these record size haul-outs, Point Lay tribal president Leo Ferreira III said:

“We do not believe that these sorts of visits are in the best interest of the walruses and they do not align with the haul out protection role we have developed and measures we set in place to prevent disturbances.”

Since 2000, these forced migrations and haul-outs have become an more and more common. But this year, the sea ice fell to new lows because of rising temperatures and abnormal weather patterns. Some scientists now believe that the Arctic could be ice-free during the summer months by the 2030s, which will have detrimental effects on surrounding human and wildlife populations.

Photo by South Bend Voice / CC BY 2.0
Photo by South Bend Voice / CC BY 2.0

Featured image by U.S. Geological Survey / CC0 1.0

U.S. and Russia Have Joined Forces to Save the Polar Bear

The U.S., Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway have teamed up to save the polar bear. The five countries – each with territory above the Arctic Circle and all signatories to a 1973 treaty to preserve the species – signed a new agreement to protect the bears as climate change melts its home.

The agreement involves a new 10-year plan that brings the countries together in a pan-Arctic approach. Scientists will work together to collect better estimates of current polar bear populations and evaluate the effects of climate change, pollution and disease. They will meet every two years to report on the progress and collaborate further.

Director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Arctic Program Alexander Shestakov says:

“After 40 years of cooperation, this is the first time when parties came together to agree on one circumpolar action plan for polar bears. It doesn’t mean for 40 years they weren’t doing anything. But there was a real need for a pan-Arctic approach.”

Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0

When the countries first signed the 1973 treaty to protect polar bears, the major threat was uncontrolled hunting. Now, the biggest threat is climate change and warming temperatures in the Arctic, as polar bears overall lack the ability to survive in warmer temperatures

Specifically, higher temperatures result in melting sea ice, which takes away the polar bears only habitat and the habitat of its prey. Melting ice has also stranded polar bears on land for longer periods in the year, leaving them with less access to food and more risk from people.

This summer proved to be another near record melting of sea ice. An image of an emaciated polar bear in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago by German photographer Kerstin Langenberger shows just how terrible this issue has become. She posted the image to Facebook on August 20 and it quickly went viral, becoming the latest symbol of climate change. Sadly, Langenberger says it was not an unusual sight:

Photo by Kerstin Langenberger
Photo by Kerstin Langenberger

Polar bears cannot survive in the wild unless the Arctic remains cold enough and covered by a good deal of ice year-round. But temperatures will continue to rise and ice will continue to melt if we don’t take action. Over the next few decades, countries around the world must cut burning coal and oil. If not, scientists believe the Arctic summer sea ice will disappear by the middle of the century and with it, the polar bears will likely disappear too.

 
 
Featured image by Kerstin Langenberger

One Step Closer to Ending Great Barrier Reef Dumping

We are now one step closer to protecting one of the most magnificent and biodiverse places on Earth: the Great Barrier Reef.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee has voted to continue pressuring Australia to deliver on its promise to restore the reef, making it only a matter of months before we see a full ban on dumping there.

This feat was made possible because of the support of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. More than 500,000 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supporters from 177 countries called on world leaders to defend the reef.

UNESCO’s decision requires Australia to deliver effective and sustained protection of the Great Barrier Reef from reckless industrialization, pollution and other threats. To monitor, Australia must provide reports on its progress, with its first report due in 18 months.

WWF expects that a full ban on dumping in the reef’s World Heritage waters will become real in a few months. Director General of WWF International Marco Lambertini states:

“Australia has promised to prioritize the health of the reef over damaging activities like dumping dredge spoil. UNESCO will be watching to ensure that the condition of the reef improves in coming years, as will the 550,000 WWF campaign supporters and millions of people worldwide who are deeply concerned and want to see a stop to industrial destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.”

In the decision, the World Heritage Committee expressed continued concern about the decline of reef habitats and wildlife populations. The committee also warned of the reef’s poor overall outlook due to long-term threats of pollution and climate change, calling for necessary action to protect this beautiful ecosystem.

Photo by gjhamley / CC BY 2.0
Photo by gjhamley / CC BY 2.0

Featured image: Tchami / CC BY-SA 2.0

What Marine Ecosystem is Most Threatened By Human Impact?

What marine ecosystem is most at risk of extinction from human impact? An international team of scientists used 23 million years of fossil records to conclude that the tropics are most at risk of extinction today.

In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found that the predictors of extinction vulnerability, geographic range and the type of organisms have remained consistent over the past 23 million years.

Study co-author and professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, University of Queensland John Pandolfi states:

“We used these estimates to map natural extinction risk in modern oceans, and compare it with recent human pressures on the ocean such as fishing, and climate change to identify the areas most at risk. These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions.”

Coral Reef, Santo, Vanuatu
Image credit: Roderick Eime / CC BY 2.0

With these records, the scientists were able to assess a baseline extinction risk for tropical ecosystems and marine animals like sharks, whales, dolphins, snails, clams, corals and more. They then mapped the regions where those species with high risk were most impacted by humans and climate change.

By identifying these regions, humans can now target the tropics and the species that dwell there in conservation efforts and policies. From Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, co-author Dr. Sean Anderson says:

“It’s very difficult to detect extinctions in the modern oceans but fossils can help fill in the gaps. Our findings can help prioritize areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management – protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places.”

Pulau Rawa, Rawa Island, Malaysia
Image credit: Phalinn Ooi / CC BY 2.0

Featured Image: Greg McFall, NOAA’s National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0

Julia Roberts is Mother Nature, Harrison Ford is the Ocean in a Powerful Video Series About the Environment, “Nature is Speaking”

“Some call me nature, others call me mother nature. I’ve been here for over 4.5 billion years. 22,500 times longer than you. I don’t really need people, but people need me.”

These are the dramatic first lines spoken by Julia Roberts in Conservation International’s chilling series of short videos about environmental protection. The series, entitled “Nature Is Speaking,” features eight celebrities who speak as the voices of different parts of our planet that are threatened by humans.
 
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Julia Roberts is mother nature, Harrison Ford is the ocean, Kevin Spacey is the rainforest, Edward Norton is the soil, Penélope Cruz is water, Robert Redford is the redwood, Ian Somerhalder is coral reef and Lupita Nyong’o is the flower. Each conveys the message that Conservation International calls their “Humanifesto”:

Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature. Human beings are part of nature. Nature is not dependent on human beings to exist. Human beings, on the other hand, are totally dependent on nature to exist. The growing number of people on the planet and how we live here is going to determine the future of nature. And the future of us. Nature will go on, no matter what. It will evolve. The question is, will it be with us or without us?

The videos originally came out in October of 2014, but are still relevant in spreading awareness about environmental degradation and inspiring further conservation efforts. Conservation International’s “Humanifesto” explains the project’s mission:

…there are aspects of how our planet evolves that are totally out of our control. But there are things that we can manage, control and do responsibly that will allow us and the planet to evolve together…Our movement is dedicated to managing those things we can control…Country by country. Business by business. Human by human. We are not about us vs. them…This is simply about all of us coming together to do what needs to be done.

Here are the seven other chillingly powerful celebrity-narrated videos:


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‘Projecting Change’: Electric Car Displays Messages For Wildlife Conservation on Building Walls in Colorado [VIDEO]

“In the next 100 years, we could lose 50% of all species on Earth.” This message was one of many about wildlife conservation, projected onto building walls around Denver and Boulder, Colorado.

But this was no ordinary projector. These important messages were displayed by a projector-equipped Tesla car for the 2015 Boulder International Film Festival. This footage produced by Balcony Nine Media shows the electroluminescent-painted, electric car projecting facts about endangered species, as well as images and footage of them.

The purpose of the entire effort was to promote the film Racing Extinction, a a project of the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) directed by Academy Award-winner Louie Psihoyos. The film features a team of activists and innovators partaking in a risky and bold task to save our planet’s threatened wildlife.

The film festival brought the projecting car to Colorado to illuminate Racing Extinction‘s important message in the hopes of inspiring the people of Denver and Boulder – and the world – to join in the mission and promote change for our wild cohabitants.

Also watch the trailer for Racing Extinction, below: