Weekly round-up: November 8

DNA analysis has proven Australia’s greater glider population is formed of three distinct species, not one. The greater glider, a nocturnal possum-sized marsupial capable of gliding up to 100m, is found the length of Australia’s eastern seaboard, from the Great Dividing Range in Queensland to the national parks of Victoria.

For years two subspecies of the greater glider have been recognised by the Australian government for conservation purposes, but research published in the journal Nature this week supports a 2015 call for the species to be divided into three species – Petauroides volans, Petauroides volans minor and Petauroides armillatus, which are genetically and morphologically distinct.

The move will have conservation consequences for all three species, with the greater glider (P. volans) already listed as vulnerable by both the IUCN Red List and Australia’s National Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Reliant on eucalypt trees for both food and habitat – during the day the glider shelters in trunk hollows – they are particularly susceptible to deforestation and wildfires. The 2019-20 wildfire season was the most destructive on record, destroying significant areas of greater glider habitat in Victoria and New South Wales.

Gentoo penguins (Wikimedia Commons)

A recent study also proposed division of the Gentoo penguin into four separate species, with populations in the South Shetland Islands/Western Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, Kerguelen Islands and South Georgia all genetically and morphologically distinct.
Publication Nature; Ecology and Evolution

An iceberg the size of Somerset is on a path towards the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, with significant consequences for local wildlife if it becomes grounded off the coast. A68a, which broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf in 2017, is 158km long and 48km wide – and so would result in a major detour for wildlife dependent on the seas around the island to feed their young if grounding.

Professor Geraint Tarling, an ecologist at British Antarctic Survey, said: “When you’re talking about penguins and seals during the period that’s really crucial to them – during pup- and chick-rearing – the actual distance they have to travel to find food really matters. If they have to do a big detour, it means they’re not going to get back to their young in time to prevent them starving to death in the interim. 

“However, the iceberg does bring benefits if it remains in the open ocean. It carries enormous quantities of dust that fertilise the ocean plankton in the water that cascades up the food chain. This plankton also draws in carbon from the atmosphere, partially offsetting human CO2 emissions.”

The iceberg is not certain to continue on its path towards South Georgia, with the current possibly carrying it south of the island.
Source British Antarctic Survey

The actress Joanna Lumley has joined forces with three marine charities to halt the destruction of Second World War bombs in Britain’s seas through detonation – with concerns the blasts can deafen whales and dolphins, impairing their navigation.

Regular clearance of the wartime relics – of which there are an estimated 100,000 tonnes – is required to clear the seabed for the construction of wind turbines, but Lumley is calling for the bombs to be burned out rather than detonated. Marine Connection, the World Cetacean Alliance and Advocating Wild are also supporting the campaign.

A bottlenose dolphin leaps out the sea near Berwick-upon-Tweed (Walter Baxter)

Marine Connection co-founder Liz Sandeman said: “For whales and dolphins, the conventional ammunition removal by blasting is a particular hazard as it can cause severe physical injury, hearing loss or death, either direct or indirect from the initial blast wave.”

In 2011 a mass stranding of 39 long-finned pilot whales in Scotland was later found to have been caused by the detonation of four large bombs – 19 of the cetaceans died.

In Sri Lanka this week local residents teamed up with the navy and coast guard to save more than 100 short-finned pilot whales stranded on Panadura Beach along the country’s south-west coast. Working through the night teams managed to save all but four of the whales.
Source Marine Connection/ITV; NPR

Personal protective equipment (PPE) was found on 30 per cent of beaches during the annual Great British Beach Clean in September. Face masks and gloves were also found in almost two-thirds of litter picks during the Source to Sea Litter Quest, with 80 per cent of rubbish on British beaches originating from inland parks, streets and rivers. PPE poses a significant threat to marine life.

Great British Beach Clean co-ordinator Lizzie Prior said: “The amount of PPE our volunteers found on beaches and inland this year is certainly of concern. Considering mask wearing was only made mandatory in shops in England in late July, little more than three months before the Great British Beach Clean, the sharp increase in PPE litter should be a word of warning for what could be a new form of litter polluting our beaches in the future.”

The Great British Beach Clean is the Marine Conservation Society’s flagship event.
Source Marine Conservation Society

A leaked report shows the Scottish government has failed to meet its ten-year target for preventing damage to important marine life and habitats. The report, leaked to The Ferret, reveals “priority” seabed habitats have shrunk in five large areas since 2011. It blames activities including dredging, trawling and overfishing – as well as climate change and ocean acidification – for the decline in seagrass, flames shells, seaweed beds and tube worm reefs.

The report, titled “Scottish Overall Assessment 2020”, reviewed the status of six habitats in 11 marine regions – in addition to the five highlighted as having declined, there was insufficient data to confirm whether or not targets had been met in the remaining six.

In March 2010 the Scottish parliament passed the Marine Scotland Act, requiring the government to “protect and manage areas of importance for marine wildlife, habitats and historic monuments”.
Source The Ferret

Natural England launched the Nature Recovery Network on Thursday, a coalition between more than 600 organisations to help drive the restoration of protected sites and recover threatened animal and plant species. 

The network has also pledged to create or restore at least 500,000 hectares of additional habitat beyond existing protected sites, support the planting of 180,000 hectares of woodland and provide wildlife corridors to help species migrate in response to climate change.

Natural England chair Tony Juniper said: “Achieving nature recovery is a complex task that can only be realised through partnerships. These are needed to bring together the people who manage land and sea, the different sources of investment and knowledge that we need to make progress, the variety of official policies we have, and to make the most of the passion of the many leaders who are ready to step up to deliver action on the ground. 

“Our vision is for that network of organisations and people to create a network of places that will bring huge benefits for wildlife, landscapes and people. It is an ambitious idea, but the fact is that in different parts of the country it’s already happening, and we should take great encouragement from that.”
Source gov.uk

A report by Surfers Against Sewage revealed companies discharged raw sewage into bathing waters in England and Wales around 3,000 times between October 2019 and September 2020, polluting waterways and putting swimmers at risk. Analysis showed 2,941 combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharge notifications were issued during the period, but reported that Southern Water had regularly failed to provide CSOs throughout the 2020 bathing season (May 15 – September 30).
Source Surfers Against Sewage

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