Help Wanted: 27 Planet Earths

This story was featured on the IPS wire and on the Al Jazeera network in 2011. It shows that national parks, conservation and protected areas do not and cannot halt the decline in biodiversity that is humanity’s life support system. It is hopeless without addressing the root causes: too many of us, taking too much and having too big of an impact. On our present course we’ll need 27 planet Earths by 2050 experts conclude. — Stephen 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 29, 2011 (IPS)

Protecting bits of nature here and there will not prevent humanity from losing our life support system. Even if areas dedicated to conserving plants, animals, and other species that provide Earth’s life support system increased tenfold, it would not be enough without dealing with the big issues of the 21st century: population, overconsumption and inefficient resource use.

Without dealing with those big issues, humanity will need 27 planet Earths by 2050, a new study estimates.

The size and number of protected areas on land and sea has increased dramatically since the 1980s, now totaling over 100,000 in number and covering 17 million square kilometres of land and two million square kilometres of oceans, a new study reported Thursday.

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But impressive as those numbers look, all indicators reveal species going extinct faster than ever before, despite all the additions of new parks, reserves and other conservation measures, according to the studypublished in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

“It is amazing to me that we haven’t dealt with this failure of protected areas to slow biodiversity losses,” said lead author Camilo Mora of University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“We were surprised the evidence from the past 30 years was so clear,” Mora told IPS. Continue reading

Oceans Filled with Plastic Trash – Changing Marine Ecology

Tiny bits of plastic now found throughout the world’s oceans

Ban single-use plastic: bags, bottles, cups etc, scientists say

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 10, 2012 (IPS)

Plastic trash is altering the very ecology of the world’s oceans. Insects called “sea skaters”, a relative of pond water striders, are now laying their eggs on the abundant fingernail-sized pieces of plastic floating in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean instead of relying on a passing seabird feather or bit of driftwood.

With an average of 10 bits of plastic per cubic metre of seawater, there are now plenty of places for sea skaters to lay eggs in a remote region known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, 1,500 kilometres west of North America. Not surprisingly, egg densities have soared, a new study has found.

“We’re seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic,” says Miriam Goldstein, study co-author and graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

This is the first proof that plastics in the open ocean are affecting marine invertebrates (animals without a backbone), which will have consequences for the entire marine food web.

“We simply don’t have the data to know what those consequences will be. It is a very remote region of the ocean, hard to get to and expensive to conduct research,” Goldstein told IPS.

The North Pacific Gyre is one of five large systems of rotating currents in the world’s oceans. It has become better known in recent years as theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch”. It has at least 100 times more plastic today than it did in 1972, according to the study published this week in the journal Biology Letters.

“There were no hard surfaces before in the North Pacific Gyre other than the occasional feather and piece of wood,” says Miriam Goldstein, study co-author and a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“The ocean looks pretty normal out there in the gyre. There is no floating island of trash as some people imagine,” Goldstein told IPS. Continue reading

Plastic Circulating Endlessly in Oceans Killing Huge Numbers of Birds, Turtles, Fish and Marine Animals

“Degradable or compostable plastic should be banned….bio-plastics simply break down into microplastic particles”– scientist

By Stephen Leahy

HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., Mar 24, 2011 (IPS)

That plastic bottle or plastic take-away coffee lid that has 20 minutes of use can spend decades killing countless seabirds, marine animals and fish, experts reported here this week.

On remote Pacific island atolls, diligent albatross parents unknowingly fill their chicks’ bellies with bits of plastic that resemble food. The chicks die of malnutrition, and when their bodies decay all those plastic bottle tops, disposable lighters, and the ubiquitous bits of plastic detritus get back into the environment in a cruel perversion of ‘recycling’.

There is now so much plastic in the oceans it is likely that virtually every seabird has plastic in its belly if its feeding habits mean it mistakes plastic bits for food. The same is true for sea turtles, marine animals or fish, experts say.

Northern fulmars, a common seabird numbering in the millions, have a collective 45 tonnes worth of plastic bits in their bellies, estimates Jan Andries van Franeker, a biologist with the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies at the University of Wageningen in Holland.

At least 95 percent of fulmars in the North Sea where van Franeker has been working for three decades have one to several dozen bits of plastic in their stomachs. The same is true for related species like the tiny Wilson’s storm petrels, which unknowingly transport an estimated 35 tonnes of plastic from their wintering grounds in the North Atlantic to breeding grounds in the Antarctic, he says.

“If a seabird’s feeding habits mean it could mistake plastic for food, then it will likely have plastic in its stomach,” he said in an interview at the week long Fifth International Marine Debris Conference, which ends Friday in Honolulu, Hawaii. Continue reading

Super Cyclone Yasi leaves cassowary in greater peril

The 6ft bird was at risk before the storm hit Australia. Now its survival is even more doubtful

[As Yasi hit the Queensland coast Feb 2 I wondered about how it might affect the endangered cassowary having been confronted by one of these amazing and sometimes aggressive birds in the jungle near Mission Beach a few years ago. Sorry to say it doesn’t look good for a truly incredible species. — Stephen]

By Roger Maynard

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The cassowary, one of the world’s largest birds, beaten for size and weight only by the ostrich and emu, is in a fight for its life. The flightless bird has talons that can tear open a human with one swipe, but it is normally a placid and shy fruit-eater. Now it is in peril as food supplies run low in the wake of Cyclone Yasi, which flattened vast swathes of rainforest in northern Queensland earlier this month.

Emergency food drops have already been made in the Mission Beach area, south of Cairns. The Queensland government has set up more than 50 feeding stations to supplement the birds’ diet.

Graham Lauridon, a local vet, said the main threat is to younger cassowaries, unable to fend for themselves, who have to compete for food with adult birds. “There’s a strong likelihood we will lose quite a few in the next six months,” he said.

via Cyclone puts cassowary in greater peril – Nature, Environment – The Independent.

Factory Farms, Bird Flu and Global Warming

Report Blames Factory Farms for Bird Flu
By Stephen Leahy

Feb 20 (IPS) – Factory farms are responsible for both the bird flu and emissions of greenhouse gases that now top those of cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), according to a report released Monday.

Sixty percent of global livestock production, including chicken and pig “confined animal feedlot operations” (CAFOs), now occur in the developing world. Unregulated zoning and subsidies that encourage these CAFOs or factory farms are moving closer to major urban areas in China, Bangladesh, India, and many countries in Africa, said the report, “Vital Signs 2007-2008” by the Worldwatch Institute.

Continue reading

Using DNA “Barcodes” to Protect Biodiversity and Endangered Species

DNA Bar-Coding Could Rewrite Book of LifeCassowary, Queensland, Australia - Copyright 2004 Renate Leahy
By Stephen Leahy

Feb 19 (IPS) – Fifteen new species of birds have been discovered in North America following the first ever genetic analysis of nearly all 690 known species. A similar DNA profiling or “bar-coding” of Guyana’s 87 bat species revealed an additional six genetically distinct bats.

These new species are nearly indistinguishable to human eyes and ears from known species but the analysis shows their DNA evolved along different paths millions of years previously, according research published Sunday in British journal Molecular Ecology Notes.

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Iraq’s Birds and Marshes Return Amid Bullets, Bombs and Violence

mesopotamian_marshes-nature_-iraq-sml Amid Sectarian Chaos, Bird Lovers Persevere


By Stephen Leahy

Jan 25 (IPS) – Can Iraqi dreams for a better future be glimpsed in the publication Thursday of the first-ever field guide to the country’s 387 bird species?

“For Iraq, a nation that has lost so much of its wildlife in the last 20 years, this book opens the door for the growing conservation movement in this country,” said Ali Douabul of Nature Iraq, an Iraqi NGO focused on the protection and restoration of the environment.

Published in Arabic, the “Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq” is a fully illustrated guide based on three years of surveys by mainly Iraqi and Jordanian birders and biologists.

Why a bird book for Iraq?
Continue reading