World’s largest marine park created in Antarctica

October 28, 2016

The EU and 24 countries have signed an agreement to protect more than 1.55 million sq km of the Ross Sea, a deep bay in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica.  

 

A map of the Ross Sea protected area released by WWF

A map of the Ross Sea protected area released by WWF

 

 

Over 1.1 million sq km of the area will become a fully-protected marine reserve with no fishing allowed. Beyond this area, designated research zones will be set up allowing for controlled fishing for krill and toothfish. In total, the sanctuary will cover more than 12 percent of the Southern Ocean.

After 5 years of negotiations (including Russia and China blocking the deal), the agreement was made in Hobert, Australia on Friday (28.10.16) at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. It will expire in 35 years.  WWF said that in coming years, it “will continue to push for the Ross Sea to become a marine protected area (MPA), protected in perpetuity.”

The area covered by the agreement is home to a huge variety of wildlife including 95 species of fish as well as whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, and seabirds.

“The Ross Sea has been described as the one of the most pristine wilderness areas left on Earth”, said WWF-Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson, who attended the CCAMLR meeting in Hobart.

“It is home to one third of the world’s Adélie penguins, one quarter of all emperor penguins, one third of all Antarctic petrels, and over half of all South Pacific Weddell seals.

Today’s agreement is a turning point for the protection of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Over 1.5 million km2 is to be set aside for conservation – an area the size of France, Germany and Spain combined – with over 70 per cent of it as fully protected marine reserves.

“This is important not just for the incredible diversity of life that it will protect, but also for the contribution it makes to building the resilience of the world’s ocean in the face of climate change”.

Source: WWF

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First river dolphin species in 100 years discovered in Brazil

January 24, 2014

River dolphins are some of the rarest creatures in the world. With only four species ever before discovered, of which one is already “functionally extinct”, and no new discoveries made since 1918, the revelation of a new species in Brazil has justly made headlines. But it seems that this new family is just as endangered as its relatives… 

Scientists working at the Federal University of Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil, believe they have discovered a new species of river dolphin in the Araguaia river basin. After undertaking close analysis and DNA testing, the team found that a group of dolphins separated by a narrow canal and series of rapids, was a different species to the recognized Amazon river dolphin. The temporarily named “Araguaian boto” or “boto-do-Araguaia”, displayed stark genetic differences to its cousins, constituting “strong evidence that individuals from the Araguaia River represent a distinct biological group”. According to The Independent, the scientists’ research, published in the journal Plos One, suggests that the species most likely separated from other dolphin species more than two million years ago.

Studies of mitochondrial DNA showed that these two species shared no lineage. “The groups that we see, the haplotypes, are much more closely related to each other than they are to groups elsewhere. For this to happen, the groups must have been isolated from each other for a long time.”  said Dr Hrbek of the University. “The divergence we observed is larger than the divergences observed between other dolphin species”.

During observations of the area, which spanned 12 weeks, 120 dolphins were spotted. BBC News reported that the researchers estimate that there are about 1,000 of these creatures living in the river that flows northward for more than 2,600km to join the Amazon.

Sadly, this number is not enough to protect the species and researchers are now concerned about the future of the dolphin suggesting the new species should be categorised as Vulnerable on the Red List. Their study claims that human development is a problem:

“Since the 1960s the Araguaia river basin has been experiencing significant anthropogenic pressure via agricultural and ranching activities, and the construction of hydroelectric dams,” the authors write in their study.

“The dolphins are at the top of the line, they eat a lot of fish,” said Dr Hrbek. “They rob fishing nets so the fishermen tend to not like them, people shoot them.”

Let’s hope that these creatures do not suffer the same fate as its Chinese cousin the Yangtze river dolphin or baiji, which is believed to have gone extinct in about 2006 after a survey recorded no sightings.

Sources include: The Independent; BBC News

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Deformities found in butterflies near Fukushima plant

August 16, 2012

A recent butterfly study in Japan has found significant links between exposure to radiation after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima last year and the mutation of butterflies in the area, establishing the first recognised link between the radiation emitted as a result of the disaster and physical deformity in living organisms. The scientists involved in the study collected a sample of butterflies, still in the larvae stage of development and analysed instances of deformity that occurred in the insects, which ranged from eye and wing problems to abnormality in their colouring. These findings were then compared with a sample of butterflies collected six months after the disaster, where the percentage of butterflies showing physical abnormality shot up from 28% to 52%, according to coverage by The Guardian. BBC coverage on this study’s findings also included photographs which clearly demonstrated the physical mutations observed by the scientists.

While experts emphasise that this study of the butterfly population in the Fukushima area does not necessarily entail similar consequences for the human population and that the deformities visible in the butterflies are due to both external and internal radiation exposure, as a result of eating plants also affected by radiation, it is difficult to ignore the very tangible and visible effects that radiation exposure can have on living creatures. In fact, it is a chilling reminder that these effects have the potential to escalate at an unpredictable rate and in unpredictable ways. In this sense the study almost acts as the starting pistol to a very long waiting game for those who were exposed to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant….

News sources: The Guardian, The Japan Times, BBC online, The Seattle Times

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