Category News

Scientists Create the First Complete Map of the World’s Coral Reefs

Ailinginae Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (photo by Greg Asner; courtesy of Allen Coral Atlas)

Coral reefs are sometimes referred to as “the rainforests of the seas” — they are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Although they cover just one percent of the ocean floor, these mesmerizing, scaly habitats support an estimated 25 percent of all marine life. They are also highly endangered: the climate crisis, coastal development, ocean acidification, and destructive overfishing are a few of the many factors contributing to their alarming decline. By some estimates, nearly all remaining reefs will be at risk by 2050.

Scientists have now completed the first comprehensive, continually-updated map of the world’s shallow coral reefs, a critical tool for their preservation. Using 2...

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Stop the hunt of dolphins and small whales

More than 100,000 dolphins and small whales are hunted and killed every year. Most hunts are unregulated, illegal and unsustainable with unknown impacts on populations. A huge pod of white-sided dolphins were brutally slaughtered in the Faroe Islands yesterday evening with nearly 1,500 specimens slaughtered during the gruesome hunt. The slaughter has invoked outrage from animal rights activists.

The hunt, known as the ‘grindadráp’, was held over the weekend with local whalers targeting a massive pod of white-sided dolphins. The Danish autonomous Faroe Islands remain the last territory in Europe allowed to hunt marine mammals, as the grindadráp is considered to be an example of traditional “aboriginal whaling.”

During the grindadráp, dolphins are herded by motorboats toward...

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Some coral communities are doing better than expected

Climate change presents some detrimental obstacles to fragile coral reefs such as heat-related bleaching, but new research shows that some coral communities are evolving to become more heat tolerant as ocean temperatures rise. A new study investigated the impact of heat stress on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), and discovered that despite 75 percent of the coral reef being damaged by a heatwave in 2003, a later heatwave in 2010 was far less damaging. 

A 2015-2016 heatwave that was twice as strong as the 2003 example was almost half as damaging, with just 40 percent of coral cover loss. 

“We’re seeing areas that were devoid of corals after 2002-2003 that are now flourishing with most of the original species,” said study lead author Michael Fox, a coral reef ecologist at...

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Tuna bounce back, but sharks in ‘desperate’ decline

Tuna are starting to recover after being fished to the edge of extinction, scientists have revealed. Numbers are bouncing back following a decade of conservation efforts, according to the official tally of threatened species. But some tuna stocks remain in severe decline, said the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the extinction Red List.

It said pressures on marine life are continuing to grow.

And almost four in ten sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction. 

Meanwhile, on land, the Komodo dragon is moving closer to oblivion. The heaviest lizard on Earth faces threats from climate change, with fears its habitat could be affected by rising sea levels.

The revised list of the world’s endangered plants and animals was released at ...

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Migratory species in Asia-Pacific threatened by plastic pollution

Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores

A new U.N. report on the Asia-Pacific region said Tuesday that migratory species, including endangered freshwater dolphins that drown in fishing nets and elephants forced to scavenge through rubbish, are among the most vulnerable to plastic pollution. Plastic particles have infiltrated even the most remote and seemingly pristine regions of the planet, with tiny fragments discovered inside fish in the deepest recesses of the ocean and peppering Arctic sea ice.

The paper by the U.N.’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) focused on the impacts of plastic on freshwater species in rivers and on land animals and birds, which researchers said were often overlooked victims of humanity’s expanding trash crisis.

It said that because these creatures encoun...

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Blue whales returning to Spain’s Atlantic coast after 40-year absence

Blue whales, the world’s largest mammals, are returning to Spain’s Atlantic coast after an absence of more than 40 years. The first one was spotted off the coast of Galicia in north-west Spain in 2017 by Bruno Díaz, a marine biologist who is head of the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute in O Grove, Galicia. Another was spotted in 2018, another the following year, and then in 2020 they both returned. Just over a week ago a different specimen was sited off the Islas Cíes, near O Grove.

Díaz said it was not yet clear whether the climate crisis was leading the creatures to change their habits and return to an area where they were hunted almost to extinction.

“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” he said...

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Massive 400-year-old coral is widest ever found in Great Barrier Reef

You’ve heard of chonky cats, but how about chonky coral? Researchers have measured a piece of coral that’s the “chonkiest” yet discovered in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The Porites (a genus of coral) specimen is located in the Palm Islands in Queensland, Australia. The Indigenous Manbarra people, traditional custodians of the area, named it Muga dhambi (big coral). “It is the widest and sixth tallest coral measured in the Great Barrier Reef,” according to a statement Thursday by Springer Nature, publisher of a study on the coral in the journal Scientific Reports. 

The study, led by marine scientist Adam Smith of James Cook University, describes the coral as “exceptionally large” and estimates the age at 421 to 438 years old. The coral measures 17.4 feet (5...

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Talks resume on global plan to protect biodiversity

UN negotiators have resumed work on the text of world-wide plan to protect nature and species for the next decade. The draft Global Biodiversity Framework aims to conserve at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans. It will also push to eliminate plastic waste and cut pesticide use by at least two thirds.

The pact was due to be agreed at a UN biodiversity summit in China this October, but face to face talks have been delayed until April next year.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a UN treaty that has been ratified by 195 countries plus the European Union. 

The United States signed the agreement in 1993 but has failed to ratify it and remains outside the pact.

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Over the past three decades, countries have agreed a series of plans under the CBD to protect n...

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Climate change: UN to reveal landmark IPCC report findings

The world’s largest ever report into climate change will be published later, setting out the stark reality of the state of the planet. The study is by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a UN group that looked at more than 14,000 scientific papers. It will be the most up-to-date assessment of how global warming will change the world in the coming decades.

Scientists say it will likely be bad news – but with “nuggets of optimism”.

And environmental experts have said it will be a “massive wake-up call” to governments to cut emissions.

The last time the IPCC looked at the science of global warming was in 2013 – and scientists believe...

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Pandemic gives breathing room to endangered sea turtles

Nikoletta Sidiropoulou and her colleagues in the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece (Archelon) are huddled together on Marathonisi beach, carefully digging in the sand. Eventually they find what they’re looking for: a turtle nest, containing upwards of 100 eggs. “It’s really exciting,” says Sidiropoulou.

Endangered loggerhead sea turtles, or Caretta Caretta, make their main nesting spot on the Mediterranean island of Zakynthos – one of the most visited islands in Greece, with roughly 1 million yearly visitors, including many British tourists. Mass tourism has long threatened the loggerheads: tourists frequently break rules designed to keep them away from nests. But new research suggests the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed these turtles to come up for air.

The research...

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