Weekly round-up: January 24

President Joe Biden has reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to limiting climate change

President Biden officially returned the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office, also signing an executive order to reverse Trump-era laws that threatened the environment.

The US formally withdrew from the international treaty in June 2017, but the action was only completed on November 4 last year, a day after the presidential election. During his campaign President Biden had already pledged to rejoin the accord, which is a legally-binding international framework to limit global warming.

In a wide-ranging executive order titled ‘Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis’, the incoming administration also placed an immediate moratorium on all oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. An auction offering leasing took place on January 6 but received little interest from major oil companies, resulting in the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority purchasing nine of the 11 leases. The sale brought in $14.4 million – opening up the area was projected to generate $1.8 billion over ten years when proposed as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The executive order also revoked the permit for construction of the controversial Keystone pipeline, stating: “The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory… Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”
Source The White House

Satellite imaging and artificial intelligence have been successfully combined to count animals in complex and diverse landscapes, an important step in the monitoring of endangered species.

Dr Olga Isupova of the University of Bath developed an algorithm that was able to detect the number of elephants as accurately as humans – in addition however, with the satellite able to cover more than 5,000km2 in a matter of minutes, double counting is eliminated, as is the risk of disturbing animals during population surveys by plane or on land.

The algorithm can detect elephants across a variety of landscapes (Maxar Technologies)

Similar projects have been successful previously to monitor whales, but changing terrestrial landscape has proved a bigger puzzle – until now.

“We need to find new state-of-the-art systems to help researchers gather the data they need to save species under threat,” said Dr Isupova. “Satellite imagery resolution increases every couple of years, and with every increase we will be able to see smaller things in greater detail. Other researchers have managed to detect black albatross nests against snow – no doubt the contrast of black and white made it easier, but that doesn’t change the fact that an albatross nest is one-eleventh the size of an elephant.”

The study, which is published in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, was a collaboration between the University of Bath, University of Oxford and the University of Twente.
Publication Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

Litter concentration on the seabed can reach a density comparable to that of landfill sites according to a new study, which also found the Messina Strait to be the most littered area of seabed – with some areas covered by more than a million items of rubbish per square kilometre.

Marine litter poses a significant threat to life in the oceans, and has been found in the most remote areas of the seabed – including the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, estimates that the volume of rubbish in the sea could surpass 30 million tonnes over the next three decades.

Marine litter in the Messina Strait (M Pierdomenico and D Casalbore)

Assessment of the seabed in the Messina Strait between the Italian peninsula and Sicily revealed a range of between 121,000 and 1.3 million items per square kilometre, with the Mediterranean as a whole identified as severely affected by marine waste.

Co-author Professor Miquel Canals said: “In the Mediterranean sea, seafloor marine litter already is a serious ecological problem. In some places of the Catalan coast, there are large accumulations of waste. When there are strong storms, such as Gloria, in January 2020, waves throw this waste on the beach. Some beaches in the country were literally paved with rubbish, thus showing to which extent the coastal seabed is littered.”

Hundreds of species are affected by marine litter, particularly mammals prone to entanglement in discarded fishing gear and those which accidentally ingest plastic – or both, such as sea turtles. In addition, fishing activities such as dredging and trawling can further spread marine litter or cause fragmentation. 

The authors highlight the need to promote specific policies to reduce the effects of this global environmental issue and call for the assessment of methods to remove existing marine litter.
Publication Environmental Research Letters

New guidelines from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature have asked high-profile scientists, conservationists and celebrity ambassadors not to post pictures or videos of themselves close to or holding primates, in a bid to reset public perception.

The guidance states: “Images of people holding or physically very close to primates give the false impression that touching primates is not physically dangerous, poses no risk to health of human or primate and that primates make appropriate pets.”

In many countries photos taken with primates are often a lucrative opportunity within the tourism sector, driving the illegal capture of primates or the killing of an adult to obtain a juvenile, which faces an uncertain future once too large to be used as a prop.

While acknowledging that the subject of the photo is likely attempting to educate the public about the species, the negative effect on public perception holding or touching a primate will undermine the message.

The guidance concludes: “Being responsible messengers for primates means we have a duty not to post images of ourselves close to primates on social media that may be easily recirculated out of context and then misconstrued.”
Source IUCN

White-tailed eagles (Wild Ken Hill)

Plans to reintroduce the Eurasian lynx to Scotland and white-tailed eagles to Norfolk are to undergo public consultation.

Eurasian lynx have been successfully reintroduced in France, Germany, Switzerland and other European nations, but a bid to release six of the big cats in the north of England was rejected in 2018. Conservationists hope the return of lynx to Scotland as part of wider rewilding efforts will, among other benefits, help control deer numbers – in turn preserving young trees and saplings.

Scotland is already home to numerous breeding pairs of white-tailed eagles following successful reintroduction programmes in the 1970s and 1990s – now Ken Hill Estate and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation hope to follow suit in Norfolk. The project will involve the release of young white-tailed eagles at Wild Ken Hill in this and subsequent years to establish a breeding population. Britain’s largest bird of prey, white-tailed eagles were once common across the south of England before being hunted to extinction in the early 19th century. A similar programme released 13 birds on the Isle of Wight in 2019.
Source New Scientist/Wild Ken Hill

%d bloggers like this: