Penguins’ plastic peril: Scientists warn of growing threat to endangered birds from toxic fibres polluting the ocean

Penguins’ plastic peril: Scientists warn of growing threat to endangered birds from toxic fibres polluting the ocean

SOURCE: Sunday Post DATE: February 10, 2020 SNIP: A study in Antarctic has found that over three quarters of the penguins surveyed in South Georgia had microfibres in their stomachs. Smaller than a baby’s fingernail, and often coated in toxic chemicals, they can lodge in a bird’s stomach, and as they break down into even smaller nanoparticles, wreak havoc throughout the body. Until recently it was believed that the Antarctic, protected by the Circumpolar Current flowing eastward around the uninhabited continent, was a haven from the menace. The island is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of King Penguins, with around 100,000 pairs, and was praised by Sir David Attenborough as one of the most extraordinary places on Earth. Standing over three feet tall, the birds raise just one chick every two years, and have a striking patch of orange-gold feathers on their neck. Lead researcher Camille Le Guen from St Andrews University, who spent over two months on the island, said: “The seas are suffering from climate change, and over-fishing. Plastic pollution is an added and growing threat. “The Southern Ocean was supposed to be the cleanest ocean in the world – but maybe this is not such an isolated place after all. “The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is like a semi-barrier for microfibres, but once they manage to get in, they are stuck because of that current and then they will accumulate.” She added: “We found 77% of birds had microfibres in their diet, birds with chicks and even non-breeding birds.” And almost 300m tonnes of plastic debris are estimated to be floating at sea surface...
Half-a-million insect species face extinction

Half-a-million insect species face extinction

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: February 10, 2020 SNIP: Half of the one million animal and plant species on Earth facing extinction are insects, and their disappearance could be catastrophic for humankind, scientists have said in a “warning to humanity”. “The current insect extinction crisis is deeply worrying,” said Pedro Cardoso, a biologist at the Finnish Museum of Natural History and lead author of a review study published Monday. “Yet, what we know is only the tip of the iceberg,” he told AFP. The disappearance of bugs that fly, crawl, burrow, jump and walk on water is part of a gathering mass extinction event, only the sixth in the last half-billion years. The last one was 66 million years ago, when an errant space rock wiped out land-based dinosaurs and most other life forms. This time we are to blame. The main drivers are dwindling and degraded habitat, followed by pollutants—especially insecticides—and invasive species. Over-exploitation—more than 2,000 species of insects are part of the human diet—and climate change are also taking a toll. The decline of butterflies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, flies, crickets and dragonflies has consequences far beyond their own demise. “With insect extinction, we lose much more than species,” Cardoso said. “Many insect species are vital providers of services that are irreplaceable,” including pollination, nutrient cycling and pest...
Antarctica logs hottest temperature on record with a reading of 18.3C

Antarctica logs hottest temperature on record with a reading of 18.3C

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 7, 2020 SNIP: Antarctica has logged its hottest temperature on record, with an Argentinian research station thermometer reading 18.3C (65F), beating the previous record by 0.8C. The reading, taken at Esperanza on the northern tip of the continent’s peninsula, beats Antarctica’s previous record of 17.5C, set in March 2015. A tweet from Argentina’s meteorological agency on Friday revealed the record. The station’s data goes back to 1961. Antarctica’s peninsula – the area that points towards South America – is one of the fastest warming places on earth, heating by almost 3C over the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Almost all the region’s glaciers are melting. The Esperanza reading breaks the record for the Antarctic continent. The record for the Antarctic region – that is, everywhere south of 60 degrees latitude – is 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982. Prof James Renwick, a climate scientist at Victoria University of Wellington, was a member of an ad-hoc World Meteorological Organization committee that has verified previous records in Antarctica. “The reading is impressive as it’s only five years since the previous record was set and this is almost one degree centigrade higher. It’s a sign of the warming that has been happening there that’s much faster than the global average. “To have a new record set that quickly is surprising but who knows how long that will last? Possibly not that long at all.” He said the temperature record at Esperanza was one of the longest-running on the whole continent. Previous research from 2012 found the current rate of warming in...
Trump is blowing up a national monument in Arizona to make way for the border wall

Trump is blowing up a national monument in Arizona to make way for the border wall

SOURCE: The Intercept DATE: February 6, 2020 SNIP: Contractors working for the Trump administration are blowing apart a mountain on protected lands in southern Arizona to make way for the president’s border wall. The blasting is happening on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a tract of Sonoran Desert wilderness long celebrated as one of the nation’s great ecological treasures, that holds profound spiritual significance to multiple Native American groups. In a statement to The Intercept, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the blasting began this week and will continue through the end of the month. “The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction, within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector,” the statement said, referring to an area also known as Monument Hill. “The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month.” The agency added that it “will continue to have an environmental monitor present during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities.” Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, told The Intercept that he has zero faith that the Department of Homeland Security’s “environmental monitor will do anything to avoid, mitigate, or even point out some of the sacrilegious things that are occurring and will continue to occur, given the way they’re proceeding.” Grijalva’s blunt assessment is based on a visit he made to Organ Pipe last month, alongside archaeologists and leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose ancestral homelands and sacred burial sites are in the crosshairs...
10 US oil refineries exceeding limits for cancer-causing benzene, report finds

10 US oil refineries exceeding limits for cancer-causing benzene, report finds

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 6, 2020 SNIP: At least 10 US oil refineries have been emitting cancer-causing benzene above the federal government’s limits, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project. The group reviewed a year of air monitoring data recorded at the fence lines of 114 refineries, as reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. The facilities are not breaking the law, but they are required by EPA to analyze the causes of the emissions and try to reduce them. Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said while some refineries have made improvements, others are still releasing benzene at harmful rates. “Benzene comes with elevated cancer risk but also lots of non-cancer issues that are harder to quantify,” Schaeffer said. People can get sick from low levels in the long term or high levels in the short term. Benzene is just one of multiple dangerous pollutants emitted by refineries – which turn oil into gasoline and other products. Studies have shown the populations living around refineries – often people of color and low-income families – to have worse asthma and other respiratory problems. Benzene harms cell processes. It can keep bone marrow from producing enough red blood cells and can damage the immune system and increase the risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Over the long term, benzene exposure causes other problems, including cancer, according to the Department of Human Health and Services. The highest-emitting refinery, the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Pennsylvania, shut down in June after erupting in explosions and fires. It was polluting benzene at five...
Trump finalizes plans to open Utah monuments for mining and drilling

Trump finalizes plans to open Utah monuments for mining and drilling

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 6, 2020 SNIP: Plans finalized on Thursday for two national monuments in Utah downsized by Donald Trump would ensure that lands previously off-limits to energy development will be open to mining and drilling. The move comes despite pending lawsuits from conservation, tribal and paleontology groups, who have challenged the constitutionality of the president’s action. The Trump administration slashed the size of Bears Ears national monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument by nearly half in December 2017, in what represented the largest elimination of public lands protections in US history. Conservation groups criticized the Trump administration on Thursday for spending time on management plans they believe will become moot when the court sides with their assertion that Trump misused the Antiquities Act to reverse decisions by previous presidents. A joint statement released by Native American tribal nations and conservation groups behind the court cases challenging Trump’s downsizing said the monuments are hotbeds of paleontological research, as well as archeological, cultural and natural resources. Sarah Bauman, the executive director of the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, said the monument was an essential site for research into the climate crisis. “As a result of its physical isolation and areas of minimal human impact, as well as its enormous ecological diversity, it provides mankind with rare opportunities for unique comparative climate change studies,” she said. “Without protections, these opportunities will be lost and with them our ability to build essential knowledge and resources for mitigating climate...