Feb 24

Ellie Dart, ARKive’s Online Outreach ManagerI’ve been working for Wildscreen for 5 months now. As ARKive’s Online Outreach Manager, I spend my days managing ARKive’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) programme, search marketing programme, and social media activity (with a lot of help from my friend Carolyn, ARKive’s Online Marketing Officer). In English, that means I try to get the ARKive website found by search engines, play with advertisements on Google Adwords and hang out on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

In my spare time I’m slightly less geeky. I tend to get out into the great outdoors most weekends either running, mountain biking or surfing.

What are you currently working on?

Today we’ve been doing some usability testing with CX partners. This involves looking at how we can improve the ARKive website and make it easier to use. This morning I’ve been observing various people using ARKive, taking note of any issues they have and asking for their feedback. We’ll use our observations to identify the parts of the site that need improving and where necessary we’ll make changes to the site so that people can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

I’m also looking at a variety of ways to make it easier for Google to find ARKive when returning search results. For example, when somebody types ‘tiger videos’ into Google, a number of websites are listed in the search results, including ARKive. The work I’m doing aims to push the ARKive website higher up this list. If you have your own website or blog, you could help us by creating links from your website to your favourite ARKive pages.

In terms of social media, I’m starting to pull together the results of our Facebook campaign, Speak Up For Species. The aim of the campaign was to get more people to join in with ARKive’s Facebook pages to help us to raise awareness of the world’s most threatened animals and plants. You can join in by finding out the answer to this week’s campaign clue and sharing it with your friends on Facebook:

“Males of my species use part of their anatomy to make bubbles during courtship displays. Know who I am?”  Find out on Facebook

What animal skill would you most like to have?

Jet propulsion propels cephalopods such as octopuses through the water at a rate of up to 25 miles per hour. Sometimes my paddling skills aren’t strong enough in the surf – I’m thinking jet propulsion could help me to catch that all important wave!

I’d also like to be able to jump like a puma! I reckon I’d be off to the London Olympics with a skill like that. I could enter the high jump and jump around 15 foot into the air or I could enter the long jump and easily clear 40 feet. That will be two gold medals and two world records – bring it on!

Which three people would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?

Aside from the wine (which, it goes without saying, must flow!), a decent dinner party needs good stories, good music and a good laugh. I’d love to invite Sir David Attenborough but he’s had so many invites from my colleagues, I suspect he’s all dinner-partied out.

Did you watch Man to Manta with Martin Clunes the other week? Amazing. He seemed like a nice chap, so I’d invite him for the manta ray stories. Then I’d invite Jack Johnson to play his guitar in my dining room (and potentially share a few surfing tales). And probably Alan Carr – I think he’d be a right giggle!

Where in the world would you most like to go?

I’ve just returned from a holiday in Lapland which I’d highly recommend, particularly if you’d like to see reindeer! But one day, a visit to the Galapagos Islands would be a dream come true.

Which celebrity do you most look like?

I’ll have to throw that question straight back at ya! Nobody springs to mind – but you can see the photo and decide for yourselves.

What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?

Without a shadow of a doubt, it was swimming with a large pod of wild dusky dolphins off the coast of New Zealand! Admittedly my acrobatic skills weren’t up to their standards – they’re so fast! And so playful! So much fun! Diving and twirling underwater with them completely took my breath away. It was snowing that day and I’ve never been so cold in all my life – but it was well worth it. The experience will stay with me forever.

What’s your favourite thing on ARKive?

There are just too many to choose from. I never tire of the cute sand cat videos. I think this is the strangest creature I’ve ever seen. But my favourite animal in all the world is the African elephant.

Tell us an animal related joke.

There are two ants running along the top of a cereal box. One turns to the other and says “why are we running?” The other one says “it says tear along here”.

Feb 24

More than three-quarters of the world’s coral reefs are seriously threatened by overfishing, pollution and climate change, according to a comprehensive new report.

The report, entitled ‘Reefs at Risk Revisited’, was compiled by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and 25 other research organisations. It builds on a 1998 analysis of coral reefs, and enables scientists to compare the changing threats to coral reefs around the world.

Photo of damselfish over an Acropora colony

Damselfish feeding above a healthy Acropora colony. Acropora corals are particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change.

Changing threats

The most immediate threat to reefs is overfishing. Since the 1998 report, there has been an 80% increase in the threat from overfishing and destructive fishing, particularly in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The pressure on coral reefs appears to be highest in Southeast Asia, where nearly 95% of reefs are threatened.

Photo of dead Acropora colony after cyanide fishing

A dead Acropora colony, several years after the use of destructive fishing methods.

However, by 2030 it is expected that the primary threat to coral reefs will be the effects of climate change. Mass coral bleaching, a stress response to warming waters in which corals expel their symbiotic algae and turn white, is becoming more frequent as ocean temperatures rise. Extreme bleaching events kill corals outright, while less extreme events can weaken corals, affect coral reproduction, reduce growth and calcification (vital for the development of the coral skeleton), and leave them vulnerable to disease.

Photo of boulder brain coral showing bleaching

A partly bleached boulder brain coral colony.

The report suggests that during the 2030s, roughly half of reefs will experience thermal stress sufficient to induce severe bleaching, rising to more than 95% of reefs being affected by the 2050s.

Still hope

Although the ‘Reefs at Risk’ report offers a troubling picture of the world’s coral reefs, it also offers a glimmer of hope. Reefs around the world have shown a capacity to rebound from even extreme damage, while active management is protecting reefs and aiding recovery in some areas.

There are reasons for hope,” said Lauretta Burke, senior associate at WRI and a lead author of the report. “Reefs are resilient; and by reducing the local pressures, we can help buy time to find solutions to global threats that can preserve reefs for future generations.”

Photo of blue rice coral in shallow reef

Blue rice coral is found in many parts of the United States Marine Protected Areas network.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can reduce threats to reefs, often by focusing on managing overfishing and destructive fishing practices, and by reducing pollution from land.

More than a quarter of the world’s reefs are within MPAs. However, only 6% of coral reefs found in MPAs worldwide are currently rated as effectively managed, pointing to the need to designate more protected areas and improve the effectiveness of existing MPAs to protect reefs.

By tackling local threats such as overfishing and pollution head-on and by creating healthy reef systems, we may be able to “ buy time” for coral reefs in the face of climate change, the report concludes.

The report is full of solutions – real world examples where people have succeeded to turn things around,” says Dr Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

Visit the World Resources Institute website.

Read a summary of Reefs at Risk Revisited (PDF 3.9 MB) or view the full Reefs at Risk Revisited report (PDF 6.1 MB).

Learn more about corals on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 22

The plight of our planet’s tortoises and turtles has never been worse according to a newly released report, “The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles – 2011.” 

The report highlights the 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, explaining that they will all become extinct in the next few decades without concerted conservation efforts.

Photo of male Pinta Island tortoise - Lonesome George - in clearing

Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta Island tortoise.

Authored by the Turtle Conservation Coalition, the report was released at a regional workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). 

Number one on the list is the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii), which is in fact the rarest reptile in the world. Sadly only a single male of this species, ‘Lonesome George’, remains alive today.

Photo of Red River giant softshell turtle

An enormous softshell turtle with a shell length of over 1 metre, the Red River giant softshell turtle is number 2 on the list.

Close behind is the Red River giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) of China and Vietnam. With only four animals left, the threat of extinction hangs over this species. 

Of the 25 most endangered turtles, over two-thirds (17 species) are from Asia, due to decades of massive exploitation in the region. Although evolutionary marvels, their armoured shells no longer ensure their survival against intensive collection.

Photo of male ploughshare tortoise with head retracted into shell

Endemic to Madagascar, the ploughshare tortoise has been traded as far back as the 8th century.

“Turtles are being unsustainably hunted throughout Asia,” said co-author Brian D. Horne of WCS. 

“Every tortoise and turtle species in Asia is being impacted in some manner by the international trade in turtles and turtle products. In just one market in Dhaka, Bangladesh we saw close to 100,000 turtles being butchered for consumption during a religious holiday, and we know of at least three other such markets within the city.”

Photo of batagur baska

The genus Batagur comprises one Endangered species and five Critically Endangered species, including Batagur baska.

Worldwide, the hunting of turtles is at vastly unsustainable levels. Furthering the problem is a lucrative international black-market trade in pet turtles and tortoises, which has escalated prices of some of the rarer species into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Better enforcement of existing trade laws, together with habitat protection and captive breeding are all crucial in bolstering existing turtle populations and preventing turtle species from going extinct. 

To read and download the report, visit Turtle Survival Alliance

Explore ARKive’s turtles and tortoises.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 22
Dr. Robin Moore, Amphibian Conservation Officer, Conservation International © Conservation International

Dr. Robin Moore, Amphibian Conservation Officer, Conservation International © Conservation International

Lost things usually turn up in the last place you expect to find them. Car keys behind the fridge. Glasses in a plant pot. But the last thing I expected to find in a rubbish bin in the Western Ghats of India was something last seen the year “The Empire Strikes Back” hit the big screen. Yet, as I slowly lifted the lid covering a small plastic bin in the kitchen of our retreat, I am not sure who was more surprised: me or the frog that started bouncing from wall to wall like a pinball.

And so it was that the Silent Valley tropical frog (Micrixalus thampii) was rediscovered after 30 years. It was an auspicious start to the ‘Lost! Amphibians of India’ campaign, inspired by the global Search for Lost Frogs and launched just two days earlier at the University of Delhi.

There is something especially rewarding about finding something you thought was lost. I always appreciate house keys a little more after they have been missing. And so it is with amphibians – finding species that we thought were gone provides a rare good news story and offers a second chance at survival. And why is it important? It is important because amphibians are at the forefront of a Sixth Great Extinction – the largest since the dinosaurs left our planet. It is an unprecedented opportunity to understand why some species survive while those around are disappearing. Knowledge of what makes a species resilient to the driving forces of extinction could help us stem the crisis and maintain our lifeline to a healthy future.

But as teams of scientists set out on an unprecedented collaborative global effort to search for lost species in August last year, I really didn’t know what to expect. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned that all teams would come back empty handed. The field reports started pouring in; so evocative and dripping with enthusiasm that I felt like I was right there with them, wading up streams and turning logs. I was transported from the high Andes of Chile to the dense jungles of Cameroon and Malaysia. It was exhilarating. I quickly became immersed in the thrill of the chase. The sense of anticipation was incredible, and the element of exploration ignited a childlike curiosity in the world around us. The passion from all the teams was contagious and inspiring.

And then there were moments of unadulterated joy. On Saturday 4th September I opened my inbox to find an email from N’Goran Koume, sent from a cybercafé in Danané, Ivory Coast. “Dear Robin, Yes, it is fantastic. The Mount Nimba reed frog has been found after 43 years!” I almost fell out of my chair. The excitement in the email was palpable. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

Although the successes were few and far between, each was like a generous shot of tequila (the good stuff).

Mount Nimba reed frog

Last seen in 1967, the Mount Nimba reed frog was found by researchers 2010 as part of the Search for Lost Frogs campaign.

I was also lucky enough to accompany teams of local and international herpetologists into the field to join the search. I clambered around steep hillsides in Colombia, drove through rivers to reach craggy peaks in Haiti, and came face-to-face with elephants in India. Long hours of searching for creatures that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to not be seen only strengthened my respect and admiration for the people that are dedicating their lives to understanding our planet and its fascinating inhabitants. I was bowled over by the dedication of local scientists and reminded that we should never underestimate the knowledge of local communities, who frequently steered search teams in the right direction.

Now that the Search For Lost Frogs has come to a close, it is time to reflect on what it means for amphibians and for us. The rediscoveries are significant. We are working with local partners in Ecuador toward the protection and monitoring of the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad that clings onto survival in one stream. Through the ‘Lost! Amphibians of India’ campaign we have forged partnerships and created a platform to catalyze conservation efforts in the forests of the Western Ghats, one of the richest and most threatened habitats on earth.

Photo of the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad

The Critically Endangered Rio Pescado stubfoot toad

But what about the species that were not found? More than nine out of ten of the species searched for did not turn up. Without wanting to sound like a Debbie Downer, it is a sobering reality that many of these species may be gone forever. They are sounding an alarm that the ecosystems upon which they, and we, depend for survival are sick. It is up to us – anyone who cares – to do something about it. Whether it is helping to protect the last home of the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad, or spreading the word about the amphibian extinction crisis and why we should care. While time is of the essence, with each rediscovery comes a reassurance that it is not too late. Let’s not wait until it is.

Find out more about the Search for the Lost Frogs campaign.

View Robin’s amphibian images on ARKive.

Dr. Robin Moore, Amphibian Conservation Officer, Conservation International

Feb 18
Rob Morgan - Photography www.RichardBudd.co.uk © 2010

www.RichardBudd.co.uk © 2010

I came to Bristol from Cardiff about five years ago to study Zoology, where much of my degree involved looking very closely at crayfish blood (which I admittedly loved). I’ve been with Wildscreen for just over two and a bit years as an ARKive Media Researcher.

Outside work I love photography, making films and being underwater. I’m a big Star Wars fan too. Naturally, Empire is the best.

What are you currently working on?

A few of ARKive’s species profiles were compiled a few years ago now, so the media team is currently updating them with some fantastic new imagery and footage. I’ve been tasked with such heavyweights as the great white shark, goliath frog, keel-scaled boa constrictor and chaffinch.

What animal skill would you most like to have?

Some species of nudibranch are known for their ability to incorporate the stinging cells of venomous prey items into their own bodies as a means of deterring predators.

There would no doubt be unforeseen consequences, but if I could somehow assimilate the defence mechanisms of other organisms into my being, that would be great.

Which three people would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?

Firstly, I’d invite the late Carl Sagan. I’ve learnt from Come Dine with Me that the best hosts make each course from scratch. In that case, I’ll certainly need some help with inventing the universe.

Mike deGruy would be next up. He’s an incredibly enthusiastic speaker so would surely be the life of the party. I’d also be able to get some great diving tips off him. Take a look at his TED talk.

Finally, I’d invite Gabe Newell, Managing Director of Valve. This may seem like a strange decision to many, but I’m a fan, and the effect of Valve Time would help to prolong this once-in-a-lifetime evening.

Where in the world would you most like to go?

The temperate rainforest of Canada’s western coast seems like a surreal place to visit. This is helped by the fact that it is home to a curious subspecies of black bear in which a tenth of the population is born with a white coat, resulting in what looks like a gigantic labrador (that could kill you).

Which celebrity do you most look like?

I have often been compared to Harry Potter in appearance. In fact, I’ve even had somebody who worked on the films call me out on it.

Still not entirely sure why though. Is it the owl or the glasses?

What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?

While on a field course in South Africa, my group was driving back to camp as it started to get dark. Along the way, we were treated to a spectacular African sunset featuring the silhouettes of four zebras and an Acacia tree – the kind you see in films. It was unforgettable.

What’s your favourite thing on ARKive?

It’s an image of some wild goats. Not just any wild goats, however. They are Chiltan wild goats, a Critically Endangered subspecies which can only be found in Pakistan.

Only one small population still exists. This was one of my first species on ARKive and the image itself was a quite hard to get hold of!

Tell us an animal related joke.

This actually called an anti-joke. I read it online:

“A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks, ‘Why the long face?’ The horse does not respond because it is a horse. It can neither speak nor understand English. It is confused by its surroundings and gallops out of the bar, knocking over a few tables.”

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