Weekly round-up: January 31

Albatrosses are at risk from fishing activities (J Marti/Pixabay)

Longline fishery fleets in Namibia have reduced seabird bycatch by 98 per cent following the introduction of mandatory mitigation measures, saving the lives of an estimated 22,000 birds per year.

Accidental death resulting from fishing activity is one of the biggest threats to seabirds, including petrels and albatrosses. Namibia’s hake trawl and longline fisheries were estimated to kill between 20,000 and 30,000 birds annually.

In a bid to reduce this impact, the Albatross Task Force engaged directly with fisheries and the industry to encourage the use of mitigation measures including bird-scaring lines – light, colourful ropes attached to fishing equipment above water – which became law in 2015.

Seabird deaths resulting from trawling also decreased, but not to the same extent – researchers studying the measures suggested they had not been as effectively implemented or enforced.
Publication Biological Conservation

More than three quarters of oceanic shark and ray species are now at risk of extinction, with 71 per cent of populations declining over the last half century. 

A study led by Simon Fraser University (Canada) revealed overfishing and bycatch are the primary threats. Species in warmer waters were found to be particularly vulnerable, with tropical shark populations declining 88 per cent over the same period.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks are critically endangered (Kris Mikael Krister)

Sharks play a vital role in marine ecosystems as apex predators, controlling numbers below them in the food chain – but are also highly valued by humans for their fins, meat, gill plates and liver oil. 

However, the researchers noted that where strictly-enforced fishing quotas are put in place populations have shown signs of recovery, such as white sharks and northwest Atlantic hammerheads.

A study in the journal Marine Biodiversity also reported that the Critically Endangered shorttail nurse shark has been recorded off the coast of Mozambique, extending the species’ range by more than 2,000km – the sharks’ previous known habitat encompassed the coasts of Tanzania and Kenya, and the waters off Madagascar.
Publication Nature/Marine Biodiversity

The death of around 750 pelicans in Senegal last week was caused by H5N1 bird flu.

The birds, mainly juveniles, were found in the Djoudj bird sanctuary by rangers on January 23. The sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is visited in transit by approximately 350 species of birds.

An outbreak of bird flu was reported on a poultry farm around 120 miles south of the site earlier this month, while other H5N1 and H5N8 bird flu outbreaks have been recorded in the Netherlands and India.
Source Reuters

Failure to transpose pledges made at global conferences into national law is the primary reason major biodiversity commitments have failed in the last two decades, according to a study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Researchers assessed the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2010 biodiversity targets and 2020 Aichi Targets – all of which were missed last year. The team highlighted that four of the Aichi Targets were not addressed in any governments’ implementation plans, while insufficient financial resources and a lack of knowledge around recording and combating biodiversity loss was also an issue.

Co-author Henrique Pereira said: “While the CBD has now presented a first post-2020 draft that contains many improvements compared to the last decade’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, the main problems remain: governments are not required to present a clear roadmap on how they will achieve and monitor the targets adopted under the CBD in their own countries.”

The authors suggest such targets should be legally binding, similar to those set out in the Paris Agreement.
Publication Nature Ecology and Evolution

The UK government is backing the use of oral contraceptives to help control the number of grey squirrels in the country.

A non-native invasive species introduced from the US in the late 19th century, grey squirrels are a significant threat to the country’s native red squirrels, not only competing more successfully for food and habitat, but transmitting squirrelpox between populations – greys are immune to the virus, but it is fatal to reds. Grey squirrels also damage woodland by stripping bark from young trees, essential to the nation’s carbon capture strategy.

Red squirrels lose habitat and food to greys (Suzanne Morris)

The proposal, put forward by the UK Squirrel Accord, involves the use of contraceptive-laced hazelnut spread placed in feeders which only grey squirrels can access. A blog on the organisation’s website states that use of the contraception alone will not be sufficient, only when deployed in populations already reduced by culling.

Speaking to the BBC, environment minister Lord Goldsmith said damage to the UK’s woodlands by invasive species costs the economy £1.8 billion a year. The species is included in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “100 worst invasive non-native species” list.
Source UK Squirrel Accord

Large-scale reforestation is not the panacea to mitigating carbon emissions and halting climate change that it is often portrayed if the wrong trees are planted in the place say researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

In a new paper, ‘Ten golden rules for reforestation to optimise carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits’, the team highlights that extensive monocultures or the use of non-native invasive species can do more harm than good to the local environment.

Dr Kate Hardwick, conservation partnership coordinator at RBG Kew and a lead author says: “Tree planting now dominates political and popular agendas and is often presented as an easy answer to the climate crisis, as well as a way for corporate companies to mitigate their carbon emissions, but sadly, it isn’t as simple as that. When people plant the wrong trees in the wrong place, it can cause considerably more damage than benefits, failing to help people or nature.”

The paper stresses the need to maximise biodiversity, not only to aid carbon sequestration but also deliver other socio-economic benefits, while putting local people at the heart of tree-planting projects, protecting existing forest first and promoting natural regrowth are also key components of best reforestation practice.
Publication Global Change Biology

BlackRock chief Larry Fink has warned that companies which do not prepare themselves for the transition to a net zero economy will see their businesses suffer.

Writing in his annual letter to CEOs, Fink said: “The world is moving to net zero, and BlackRock believes that our clients are best served by being at the forefront of that transition. No company can easily plan over 30 years, but we believe all companies – including BlackRock – must begin to address the transition to net zero today.”

He added: “Companies that are not quickly preparing themselves will see their businesses and valuations suffer, as these same stakeholders lose confidence that those companies can adapt their business models to the dramatic changes that are coming.”

Commenting on organisations with stronger environmental, social and governance (ESG) profiles, which have outperformed their peers, Fink added: “Companies ignore stakeholders at their peril – companies that do not earn this trust will find it harder and harder to attract customers and talent, especially as young people increasingly expect companies to reflect their values. The more your company can show its purpose in delivering value to its customers, its employees, and its communities, the better able you will be to compete and deliver long-term, durable profits for shareholders.”
Source BlackRock

Did you know, a herd of zebras is also called a dazzle? (David Mark/Pixabay)

ReadWhy do zebras have stripes?’ to celebrate International Zebra Day, January 31

Watch Penguins of the Forest

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