Fishermen are cutting off the beaks of endangered albatrosses

Fishermen are cutting off the beaks of endangered albatrosses

SOURCE: Natural History Museum
DATE: November 17, 2020
SNIP: Some fishermen targeting tuna, swordfish and halibut in the southwest Atlantic are cutting the beaks off live albatrosses to free them from hooks, before tossing the birds back into the ocean to die.

The accidental catch of marine mammals, turtles and seabirds in fishing gear is one of the biggest causes of the global decline of these animals.

Lots of work in recent years has tried to limit or reduce the impact that commercial fishing has on these creatures, from lights and acoustic pingers on nets, to setting gear at night and reducing the profile of nets when they are in the water.

However, a worrying trend is emerging involving seabirds that are caught on the hooks of longline fishing equipment.

A picture posted on social media in 2015 showed a live albatross with the top half of its beak sliced clean off. This led to a group of researchers gathering as many records of this kind of seabird mutilation as they could. What they found revealed a worrying trend that has emerged in the south-west Atlantic Ocean.

Dr Alex Bond, Senior Curator in Charge of Birds at the Museum, has been involved in documenting these cases. His work has revealed that the practice is likely far more common than anyone suspected and dates back over two decades.

‘It appears to be a very specific thing that fishermen in this region are doing,’ explains Alex. ‘It’s clear that some operators are literally taking a blade and cutting the bill off to more expeditiously unhook the bird, and then tossing the bird overboard.’

Longline fishing is a technique used around the world to target a range of fish. It involves a length of cable with baited hooks spread out at regular intervals along it.

In the South Atlantic Ocean it is frequently used to fish for pelagic species, which live in the open water such as tuna and swordfish, although it is also used for deeper living species like hake and Patagonian toothfish.

Longline fishing can be a significant problem for seabirds like albatrosses. When the lines are being set, the birds will dive for the bait attached to the hooks and get caught themselves. When this happens there are safe ways for fishermen to help free the birds while reducing the risk of harm, something that Birdlife’s Albatross Task Force teaches to fishermen around the world.

Some fisheries are not employing these techniques, and are instead taking a blade to the bill of these seabirds, including those that are considered to be endangered such as the northern royal albatross and the spectacled petrel.

Pelagic seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels are extremely wide ranging. Typically breeding on the islands that dot the southern oceans and along coastlines, they will travel great distances to feed and breed. They also live to more than 60 years old.

This means that there may be significant implications of this practice on the survival of albatross and petrels in the short and long term.

‘These are high seas fleets operating far from shore,’ explains Alex. ‘So in order for any birds that do get thrown overboard and ultimately die to be recorded, they have to be washed up on a beach hundreds of miles away.

‘This means that we don’t know the true extent of the problem, but the fact that we are seeing it in this volume suggests that it is uncomfortably common.’

Joe Biden Just Appointed His Climate Movement Liaison. It’s a Fossil-Fuel Industry Ally.

Joe Biden Just Appointed His Climate Movement Liaison. It’s a Fossil-Fuel Industry Ally.

SOURCE: Jacobin
DATE: November 17, 2020
SNIP: Following a campaign promising bold climate action, president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team named one of the Democratic Party’s top recipients of fossil fuel industry money to a high-profile White House position focusing in part on climate issues.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Biden is appointing US Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he is “expected to serve as a liaison with the business community and climate change activists.”

During his ten years in Congress, Richmond has received roughly $341,000 from donors in the oil and gas industry — the fifth-highest total among House Democrats, according to previous reporting by Sludge. That includes corporate political action committee donations of $50,000 from Entergy, an electric and natural gas utility; $40,000 from ExxonMobil; and $10,000 apiece from oil companies Chevron, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy.

Richmond has raked in that money while representing a congressional district that is home to seven of the ten most air-polluted census tracts in the country.

Richmond has repeatedly broken with his party on major climate and environmental votes. During the climate crisis that has battered his home state of Louisiana, Richmond has joined with Republicans to vote to increase fossil fuel exports and promote pipeline development. He also voted against Democratic legislation to place pollution limits on fracking — and he voted for GOP legislation to limit the Obama administration’s authority to more stringently regulate the practice.

Biden is reportedly considering former Obama energy secretary Ernest Moniz for a cabinet spot or for a new international climate envoy post, according to the New York Times. Climate groups have called on Biden to reject Moniz for any position because he joined the board of directors at the electric utility Southern Company after his time in the Obama administration. Moniz has also been a fracking advocate.

Pet flea treatments poisoning rivers across England, scientists find

Pet flea treatments poisoning rivers across England, scientists find

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: November 17, 2020
SNIP: Highly toxic insecticides used on cats and dogs to kill fleas are poisoning rivers across England, a study has revealed. The discovery is “extremely concerning” for water insects, and the fish and birds that depend on them, the scientists said, who expect significant environmental damage is being done.

The research found fipronil in 99% of samples from 20 rivers and the average level of one particularly toxic breakdown product of the pesticide was 38 times above the safety limit. Fipronil and another nerve agent called imidacloprid that was found in the rivers have been banned from use on farms for some years.

There are about 10 million dogs and 11 million cats in the UK, with an estimated 80% receiving flea treatments, whether needed or not. The researchers said the blanket use of flea treatments should be discouraged and that new regulation is needed. Currently, the flea treatments are approved without an assessment of environmental damage.

“Fipronil is one of the most commonly used flea products and recent studies have shown it degrades to compounds that are more toxic to most insects than fipronil itself,” said Rosemary Perkins at the University of Sussex, who led the study. “Our results are extremely concerning.”

Prof Dave Goulson, also at the University of Sussex and part of the team, said: “I couldn’t quite believe the pesticides were so prevalent. Our rivers are routinely and chronically contaminated with both of these chemicals.

“The problem is these chemicals are so potent,” he said, even at tiny concentrations. “We would expect them to be having significant impacts on insect life in rivers.” One flea treatment of a medium-sized dog with imidacloprid contains enough pesticide to kill 60 million bees, he said.

The first report of high levels of neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid in rivers came in 2017 from the conservation group Buglife, although that study did not include fipronil. Aquatic insects are known to be vulnerable to neonicotinoids and Dutch research has shown chronic waterway pollution led to sharp drops in insect numbers and falls in bird numbers. Aquatic insects are also declining due to other pollution from farms and sewage, with just 14% of English rivers in good ecological health.

The new study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, includes almost 4,000 analyses on samples gathered by the Environment Agency in 20 English rivers between 2016-18. These ranged from the River Test in Hampshire to the River Eden in Cumbria.

Fipronil was detected in 99% of samples and a highly toxic breakdown product called fipronil sulfone was found in 97%. The average concentrations were 5 and 38 times higher than their chronic toxicity limits, respectively. The UK has no official limit for these chemicals so the scientists used a 2017 assessment produced for a water quality control board in California. Imidacloprid was found in 66% of the samples and was above toxicity limits in seven of the 20 rivers.

The washing of pets was already known to flush fipronil into sewers and then rivers, while dogs swimming in rivers provides another pathway for contamination. “It has to be the flea treatments causing the pollution,” Goulson said. “Really, there’s no other conceivable source.”

There are 66 licensed veterinary products containing fipronil and 21 containing imidacloprid in the UK, many of which are sold without prescriptions. Many pets are treated every month, whether the flea treatment is needed or not.

“When you start large scale use of any sort of pesticide, there are often unanticipated consequences,” said Goulson. ”Clearly, something has gone wrong. There isn’t a regulatory process for this particular risk and clearly there needs to be.”

Matt Shardlow, at Buglife, said: “Three years have passed since we first highlighted the risk to wildlife from flea treatments and no regulatory action has been taken. The massive over-pollution of all waterbodies with fipronil is shocking and there is an urgent need for the government to ban the use of fipronil and imidacloprid as flea treatments.” He said tonnes of these insecticides were being applied to pets every year.

1% of people cause half of global aviation emissions

1% of people cause half of global aviation emissions

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: November 17, 2020
SNIP: Frequent-flying “‘super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to a study.

Airlines produced a billion tonnes of CO2 and benefited from a $100bn (£75bn) subsidy by not paying for the climate damage they caused, the researchers estimated. The analysis draws together data to give the clearest global picture of the impact of frequent fliers.

Only 11% of the world’s population took a flight in 2018 and 4% flew abroad. US air passengers have by far the biggest carbon footprint among rich countries. Its aviation emissions are bigger than the next 10 countries combined, including the UK, Japan, Germany and Australia, the study reports.

The researchers said the study showed that an elite group enjoying frequent flights had a big impact on the climate crisis that affected everyone.

Global aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis was growing fast before the Covid-19 pandemic, with emissions jumping by 32% from 2013-18. Flight numbers in 2020 have fallen by half but the industry expects to return to previous levels by 2024.

“If you want to resolve climate change and we need to redesign [aviation], then we should start at the top, where a few ‘super emitters’ contribute massively to global warming,” said Stefan Gössling at Linnaeus University in Sweden, who led the new study.

The rich have had far too much freedom to design the planet according to their wishes. We should see the crisis as an opportunity to slim the air transport system.”

The frequent flyers identified in the study travelled about 35,000 miles (56,000km) a year, Gössling said, equivalent to three long-haul flights a year, one short-haul flight per month, or some combination of the two.

The research, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, collated a range of data and found large proportions of people in every country did not fly at all each year – 53% in the US, 65% in Germany and 66% in Taiwan. In the UK, separate data shows 48% of people did not fly abroad in 2018.

The analysis showed the US produced the most emissions among rich nations. China was the biggest among other countries but it does not make data available. However, Gössling thinks its aviation footprint is probably only a fifth of that of the US.

On average, North Americans flew 50 times more kilometres than Africans in 2018, 10 times more than those in the Asia-Pacific region and 7.5 times more than Latin Americans. Europeans and those in the Middle East flew 25 times further than Africans and five times more than Asians.

Airliner slams into bear on runway while landing at Alaska airport

Airliner slams into bear on runway while landing at Alaska airport

SOURCE: Sacramento Bee
DATE: November 16, 2020
SNIP: An Alaska Airlines flight crew spotted two bears crossing the runway early Saturday while landing at Yakutat Airport in southern Alaska. Then the pilot felt a bump.

The passenger jet’s nose gear had missed the bears, but a left engine cowl struck one of the animals, killing it, KTUU reported. None of the six passengers aboard Flight 66 were injured.

The second bear, a 2-year-old cub, escaped injury, Anchorage Daily News reported. The Boeing 737-700 will be grounded for several days for repairs.

Airport workers had cleared the runway 10 minutes before the jet’s arrival and did not spot any wildlife at that time, said Sam Dapcevich, a public information officer for the state Department of Transportation, reported the Anchorage Daily News.

Collisions with birds, either in mid-air or on the ground, are not uncommon for airliners in the United States, according to The Atlantic. But plenty of land-dwelling animals also have had fatal encounters with airplanes.

FAA records show collisions with “coyotes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, desert hares, prairie dogs, cats, dogs, foxes, bull snakes, turtles, armadillos, alligators, badgers, at least one woodchuck, an elk (and) an antelope jackrabbit,” among others, the publication reported.

Trump officials rush to auction drilling rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Trump officials rush to auction drilling rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

SOURCE: Seattle Times, Washington Post
DATE: November 16, 2020
SNIP: The Trump administration has called for oil and gas firms to pick spots where they want to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it races to open the pristine wilderness to development and lock in drilling rights before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The “call for nominations” to be published Tuesday allows companies to identify tracts to bid on during an upcoming lease sale on the refuge’s nearly 1.6-million-acre coastal plain, a sale that the Interior Department aims to hold before Biden takes the oath of office in January. The move would be a capstone of President Donald Trump’s efforts to open up public lands to logging, mining and grazing — something Biden strongly opposes.

A GOP-controlled Congress in 2017 authorized drilling in the refuge, a vast wilderness that is home to tens of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl, along with polar bears and Arctic foxes.

The administration is pressing ahead with other moves to expand energy development and scale back federal environmental rules over the next few weeks. It aims to finalize a plan to open up the vast majority of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling, as well as adopt a narrower definition of what constitutes critical habitat for endangered species and when companies are liable for killing migratory birds.

At the Energy Department, officials may weaken energy-efficiency requirements for shower heads before Inauguration Day.

Gwich’in Steering Committee executive director Bernadette Demientieff, whose people have traveled with the caribou on the refuge for thousands of years, said in a statement: “Any company thinking about participating in this corrupt process should know that they will have to answer to the Gwich’in people and the millions of Americans who stand with us. We have been protecting this place forever.”

Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, said in an interview Friday that the administration is operating “under a tight timeline,” but he added that many Alaskans support drilling in the refuge and that the 2017 law gives officials a solid legal basis for moving forward.

“Our view is that Congress has acted,” Macchiarola said. “Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a long time coming. It’s overdue, and it’s important to our nation’s energy security.”

The Bureau of Land Management will hold a 30-day comment period once the call for nominations is published Tuesday. Once that period closes, the agency could publish a lease sale notice, which must be published 30 days before an auction takes place. Under that timeline, drilling rights could be sold before Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

Increase in burning of plastic ‘driving up emissions from waste disposal’

Increase in burning of plastic ‘driving up emissions from waste disposal’

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: November 16, 2020
SNIP: Carbon emissions from waste disposal are increasing because of the expansion of energy-from-waste incineration plants, a coalition of campaigners has warned.

By 2030 the government’s push to increase incineration of waste will increase CO2 emissions by 10m tonnes a year, mostly from the burning of plastics, the groups said. They argue that the growth in energy-from-waste incineration means the UK will not be able to meet its commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In an open letter to the prime minister they are calling for a law requiring the waste sector to decarbonise by 2035, similar to legislation passed in the Scandinavian countries and Finland.

Rembrandt Koppelaar, an environmental economist and co-author of the open letter, said: “The UK will not be able to deliver on its net zero commitments unless the government intervenes in the waste sector.

“Without a change in government policy, we can expect large-scale expansion of energy-from-waste incineration to lock us into an additional 10m tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2030, primarily from the burning of plastics.”

The amount of waste incinerated in the UK increased from 4.9m tonnes in 2014 to 10.8m tonnes in 2017-18 and is set to continue rising. Meanwhile, recycling rates have reached a plateau and the UK is expected to miss its 50% recycling target by the end of this year.

Evidence presented to MPs last year suggested that areas that had increased levels of incineration of waste had correspondingly lower levels of recycling.

The Guardian and Greenpeace revealed that incineration plants are also three times as likely to be situated in the most deprived and ethnically diverse areas of the UK, raising concerns about the impact on air quality and the health of vulnerable people.

There are 50 incinerators planned or in development in the near future.

The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

DATE: November 13, 2020
SNIP: The world watched as California and the Amazon went up in flames this year, but the largest tropical wetland on earth has been ablaze for months, largely unnoticed by the outside world.

South America’s Pantanal region has been hit by the worst wildfires in decades. The blazes have already consumed about 28% of the vast floodplain that stretches across parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. They are still not completely under control.

The fires have destroyed unique habitats and wrecked the livelihoods of many of the Pantanal’s diverse indigenous communities. But their damaging impact reaches far beyond the region.

Wetlands like the Pantanal are Earth’s most effective carbon sinks — ecosystems that absorb and store more carbon than they release, keeping it away from the atmosphere. At roughly 200,000 square kilometers, the Pantanal comprises about 3% of the globe’s wetlands and plays a key role in the carbon cycle.

When these carbon-rich ecosystems burn, vast amounts of heat-trapping gases are released back into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE) has detected more than 21,200 fires in the Pantanal biome so far this year, a figure that is already 69% higher than the full-year record from 2005, when INPE recorded roughly 12,500 fires. There were 8,106 fires in September alone — more than four times the historic average for the month.

The Pantanal’s distinctive habitats rely on what scientists call the “flood pulse.” During the wet season between November and March, three quarters of the plain gets flooded, only for much of the water to drain away during the dry months, from April to September. This seasonal flooding makes the Pantanal a unique biome where large swaths of land regularly turn from terrestrial into aquatic habitats and back again.

The area is home to thousands of endangered or unusual species, including jaguars, capybaras, black caimans, giant otters and hyacinth macaws. It’s also an important stop on the routes of around 180 species of migratory birds.

But this year’s dry season has been the most severe since the 1970s.

Extreme weather events, such as drought and floods, are becoming more frequent and more severe around the world, and the Pantanal is no exception. There are indications that the region is getting drier and warmer as the global temperatures rise.

While fires ignited by lightning sometimes occur naturally in the Pantanal, Larcher, who works for environmental NGO Instituto Homem Pantaneiro, said this year’s fires have mostly been caused by people. This is despite the Brazilian government’s ban on fires for 120 days in the Amazon and the Pantanal that was issued in July.

But Andre Luiz Siqueira, the CEO of ECOA, an environmental NGO based in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, said the ban wasn’t being enforced strictly enough. “There are extensive areas (where) livestock farmers have regularly used fire as a way to clear farm fields,” said Siqueira. “This year, even with the governmental ban … these producers set fire that ended up spreading for thousands of acres due to the great drought.”

As the global demand for agricultural products rises, so commercial farmers clear more of the Pantanal’s native vegetation for growing and grazing. Brazil is already the world’s leading exporter of beef. As the demand for meat rises around the world, so does deforestation in the Amazon.

Parts of the Pantanal have been designated a biosphere conservation area and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but overall, less than 5% of the region is under formal protection, according to the WWF. More than 90% is privately owned by ranchers, farmers and conservation groups, with 80% of that private land used for cattle farming, according to Brazil’s environment ministry.

Danger in the deeps: COVID‑19 spread through wastewater could devastate some marine mammal species

Danger in the deeps: COVID‑19 spread through wastewater could devastate some marine mammal species

DATE: November 9, 2020
SNIP: Certain species of whales, seals and other endangered marine mammals could fall victim to COVID-19 infection through wastewater and sewage that seeps into their marine habitats, researchers at Dalhousie say in a new study that has found some of the animals to be highly susceptible to the virus.

In a study published in Science of the Total Environment, the team describes how it used genomic mapping to determine which marine mammals would be vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They looked at key amino acids that the virus binds to and found that there were striking similarities between those in humans and in several marine mammals, including dolphins, beluga whales, seals and sea otters.

Graham Dellaire (shown left), director of research in the Department of Pathology at Dalhousie, led the research that used a modeling approach to predict a marine mammal’s susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. The team found at least 15 marine mammal species were susceptible to infection from SARS-CoV-2 because of their ACE2 receptors—the critical protein required for the virus to enter and infect the cell.

Importantly, more than half of the species determined to be vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 are already at risk globally.

“Many of these species are threatened or critically endangered,” says Dr. Dellaire. “In the past, these animals have been infected by related coronaviruses that have caused both mild disease as well as life-threatening liver and lung damage.”

The team predicts that the majority of whale, dolphin and porpoise species—18 out of 21—have the same or higher susceptibility to the virus as humans, while eight out of nine seal species are also predicted to be highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.

Studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 is excreted in feces and can survive in water for up to 25 days, raising the possibility that wastewater provides a separate mode of spread for this coronavirus, as has happened in Spain, Italy and France where the virus was detected in untreated sewage.

For example, in Italy, SARS-CoV-2 was recently detected in untreated wastewater, while in Paris it was shown that high concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in sewage water between March and April 2020 correlated with a spike in deaths from COVID-19 about seven days later. In June, SARS-CoV-2 was also detected in the river water in Ecuador, where untreated sewage is delivered directly into natural waters.

Even wastewater treated via primary means has been shown to have detectible levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Primary treated wastewater can be released from settling ponds or lagoons, a risk the researchers identified as a potential issue in Alaska where beluga whales could be infected from sewage leaking into local waterways from the state’s system of lagoons.

There have been no documented cases of SARS-CoV-2 in marine mammals to date, but both dolphins and beluga whales have been infected with related coronaviruses in the past. And since most marine mammals are social, it is also possible for coronaviruses to be spread between animals through close contact. So, an infected animal could threaten entire populations.

Government turning a blind eye to wildlife crime

Government turning a blind eye to wildlife crime

SOURCE: Yorkshire Bylines
DATE: November 8, 2020
SNIP: The UK is known as a nation of animal-lovers, yet it’s a terrible place to be a wild animal (or plant or fungus). For ours is one of the most nature-deprived countries on the planet, the “green and pleasant land” a pure fiction.

Chief responsibility for that lies with the supermarket and multinational-dictated food system that’s seen farmland turned to green desert, and the damage done by a decade of austerity to the support systems that are supposed to protect nature – Natural England seeing two-thirds of its funding slashed in that time.

But a significant proportion of the damage being done isn’t just metaphorically criminal, but legally so.

That fact was brought vividly to life last week, by the launch of what’s become (since 2017) an annual report on wildlife crime in England and Wales, by Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), a coalition of 57 organisations that between them represent eight million members. I, and MPs and other peers, heard a succession of experts tell a tale of abuse, destruction, and government failure.

It’s easy to get exercised about individual actions: the horror tales of badger baiting and hare coursing, or the wanton destruction of crucial habitat by cynical developers in pursuit of windfall profits. But the message that came through loud and clear last week was that it is government failure that’s allowing many of these crimes to occur, and certainly ensuring that they are very, rarely punished.

There’s also concern that much wildlife-related crime is being enabled, or committed, online, with the report this year for the first time including a section on cybercrime. We have seen the creation of the Cyber Enabled Wildlife Crime Priority Delivery Group, led by the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is progress; but the issue of the level of resources, against the scale of the problem, is pressing.

Public education is a further area in which government action is needed. We heard from Plantlife that many members of the public – with the growing interest in foraging and wild foods – may be breaking the law and causing ecological damage simply from lack of knowledge, rather than ill intention.

Britain is hosting the COP26 climate talks next year, so that’s getting – in what environmental space there is – a significant amount of focus. But next year is also the postponed COP15 for the Convention on Biodiversity, and the world will be examining the actions being taken by all governments. Failure to protect nature will be in the spotlight, and the UK will be in the dock.