Sep 12

Alaska’s sea otters are helping to combat ocean acidification by preying on sea urchins which, if left unchecked, could be detrimental to the health of the oceans, according to a new study.

Sea otter image

Sea otter grooming among kelp

Climate-friendly lunch

By preying on sea urchins that feed on underwater kelp beds, sea otters are stemming the accumulation of acidic carbon dioxide in Alaska’s waters. When absorbed into the ocean, atmospheric carbon dioxide increases water acidity levels, a phenomenon known as ‘ocean acidification’, which can be harmful to marine environments. Kelp beds are important components of marine ecosystems, as they absorb oceanic carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, and produce oxygen in its place.

According to a new study published in a recent issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, otter-protected kelp beds absorb approximately 12 times as much carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis as thinned-out kelp beds. By eating sea urchins, otters are providing the kelp forests with a chance to grow and help reduce ocean acidification.

Based on prices used in the European Carbon Exchange, the study reports that it would cost between $205 million and $408 million to offset the carbon that urchin-eating sea otters are enabling kelp beds to absorb.

Sea otter feeding image

Sea otter feeding on red sea urchin

Cute and beneficial

Co-author Jim Estes said that he hopes the study, which relied on data collected over a 40-year period between British Columbia, Canada, and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, would help people to understand the importance of sea otters and the far-reaching benefits they provide.

On the one side, people like sea otters because they’re fuzzy, cool things. On the other side, a lot of people hate them,” said Mr Estes, a biologist and sea otter expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He went on to explain that fishermen, including shellfish harvesters, are in direct competition with sea otters, and are notoriously hostile towards the charismatic marine mammals. However, Mr Estes pointed out that by preserving kelp forests, sea otters are actually providing a service to fishermen, as kelp beds are an important habitat for many fish species.

Sea otter pair image

Sea otter pair anchored in kelp

A species under threat

Victims of a commercial harvest, sea otters were once hunted to the brink of extinction, until a treaty in 1911 ended the commercial hunt and numbers began to increase. Yet according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the species is still not out of the woods. The sea otter population from Kodiak, Alaska, to the western Aleutian Islands has dropped sharply in size in recent years, potentially declining as much as 67% since the mid-1980s. In 2005, the western Alaska sea otter population was listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act.

Oil spills and other human-related impacts have also had a negative effect on sea otter numbers, but many scientists studying Alaska’s populations believe that predation by killer whales is currently the main reason for declines. Steller’s sea lions and seals, key prey species for killer whales, have become scarce, leading the whales to target sea otters.


Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Sea otters ‘helping combat ocean acidification’.

Find out more about sea otters on ARKive.

Learn more about sea otters and their conservation at Monterey Bay Aquarium and at Friends of the Sea Otter.


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Sep 11

Welcome back to our blog series covering the latest news coming out of the IUCN World Conservation Congress on Jeju Island, South Korea, where more than 8,000 people from around 170 countries have gathered to discuss, debate and deliberate. In the third blog of this series, we cover awards, ‘Top 100s’, and exciting new partnerships.

Wildscreen Patron Sir David Attenborough image

Wildscreen Patron Sir David Attenborough

Outstanding individuals honoured by IUCN

We are delighted to report that Sir David Attenborough, Patron of Wildscreen, has been awarded IUCN’s highest conservation honour, the John C. Phillips Memorial Medal. Sir David was selected to receive this award in recognition of his outstanding service to international conservation. An iconic figure in the wildlife film industry, Sir David has created awareness of the natural world and its vulnerability through his captivating programmes on natural history, inspiring generations to protect and conserve our planet.

IUCN is an organisation of enormous importance for all of us who care about the natural world. There is no other international organisation quite like it, none which is quite so scientifically based, none whose compliments I would value more highly,” said Sir David in a video message to the IUCN Congress.

Further awards have been issued at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, including the Harold Jefferson Coolidge Memorial Medal for outstanding contributions to conservation of nature and natural resources, awarded to Dr Wolfgang E. Burhenne. Eleven other conservation greats were granted honorary membership of IUCN, including Dr Russell Mittermeier of the United States, and Mr Achim Steiner of Germany.


More information:

  • For more detailed information and to see the full list of honoured individuals, read the full press release here
Tarzan’s chameleon image

Tarzan’s chameleon

Priceless or worthless?

This is the question being asked as a new report – which identifies 100 of the most threatened species on Earth – is released by IUCN and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Topping the list of species are Tarzan’s chameleon, the spoon-billed sandpiper and the pygmy three-toed sloth, all of which are pretty charismatic species, but conservationists are concerned that this is not enough to save them. The worry is that as these species do not provide obvious ‘benefits’ to humans, they may be allowed to be driven to extinction. The publication hopes to promote the conservation of ‘worthless’ species, and Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, explains why: “All species have a value to nature and thus in turn to humans. Although the value of some species may not appear obvious at first, all species in fact contribute in their way to the healthy functioning of the planet.


More information:

Mountain gorilla image

Mountain gorilla

Saving the world’s natural wonders

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, and IUCN is marking the occasion by calling for stronger measures and increased resources to guarantee the future of World Heritage sites. A worrying 8% of the 217 natural World Heritage sites are currently on the World Heritage Danger List, with 25% being affected by serious conservation issues.

Too many World Heritage sites are left with few resources to ensure their proper management, risking their role as natural flagships for the protection of critical habitats and unique wildlife vital to the future of our planet,” said Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. The success of World Heritage has been the way it has recognized exceptional places and focused international attention on their protection. But there are worrying signs that the Convention could become less effective if it does not uphold its standards and it will need decisive action to remain relevant to the growing conservation needs of the 21st century.


More information:

  • Read the full press release here
Spoon-billed sandpiper image

Spoon-billed sandpiper

Battling species extinction through partnerships

IUCN and Microsoft are joining forces in a new partnership which aims to tackle species extinction by strengthening the information available on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN Red List is the starting point for conservation action. Many species have been saved from extinction through conservation programmes based on sound science,” said Dr Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “The skills and knowledge that Microsoft brings to The IUCN Red List partnership will be invaluable in developing policies and conservation programmes to protect species.

Microsoft has already developed a new software application which enables users to query and map relevant IUCN Red List information, which will be important in capturing spatial information on species-specific threats.


More information:

  • Learn more about the new partnership by reading the full press release here


It’s certainly full steam ahead in Jeju, so check back again soon for more exciting news!


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Sep 10

In the second blog of this series, we find out more about the latest news coming out of the IUCN World Conservation Congress on Jeju Island, South Korea, where more than 8,000 people from around 170 countries have gathered.

Coral reef image

Coral reef

New guidance on MPAs

Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, are being given a new lease of life, as IUCN releases ‘Guidelines for Applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas’. This new guidance comes in the wake of increasing concern surrounding the state of natural resources and the degradation of the world’s oceans, and aims to clarify what is most significant and of highest priority when it comes to MPAs.

It is time to stop pretending more of the ocean is protected than it actually is. Understanding what is protected in the ocean and how it is protected is of paramount importance in driving global conservation efforts forward,” said Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice-Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. The guidance we are issuing aims to make clear the most important aspects of marine protected areas and will help countries more accurately detail their successes. Without this information it is difficult to hold the process of determining marine protected areas accountable.


More information:


Jeju Opening Ceremony

World Conservation Congress Opening Ceremony

IUCN Green List of Protected Areas

Following in the footsteps of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species comes the IUCN Green List of Well-Managed Protected Areas. Preparations are gathering pace on this exciting new initiative prior to its official launch in 2014 at the next IUCN World Parks Congress in Australia.

The IUCN Green List will celebrate protected area successes, with those wishing to be included on the list having to meet certain criteria, including achieving effective management and meeting their conservation goals. Inclusion on the IUCN Green List will provide protected areas with greater international recognition and increased political support, as well as an elevated interest in quality tourism.

The IUCN Green List will make a valuable contribution to the more effective conservation of protected areas,” said Trevor Sandwith, Director of IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Programme, which is overseeing the initiative in partnership with the World Commission on Protected Areas. “The Green List will serve as a powerful motivator, inspiring protected areas to meet the standards and be shining examples of global best practice.


More information:

  • Read the full press release here


World Leaders' Dialogue Jeju

World Leaders’ Dialogue, Jeju, South Korea

Boosting nature’s hotspots

A unique partnership between IUCN, the European Commission, and the German Development Programme (GIZ) has led to the creation of an exciting new venture: the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme (BIOPAMA).

BIOPAMA has been created to develop conservation capacity in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. These are areas of rich natural and human diversity which house 11 of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots and at least 220 different indigenous groups; however, a current lack of information and effective management has placed the sustainable use of these regions’ natural resources under threat. BIOPAMA is set to address this challenge by providing skills, tools, training and information to conservation managers, policy makers and indigenous and local communities, enabling protected areas in these countries to be more effectively managed.

Better conserving and valuing our biodiversity can help reduce poverty and provide benefits for local and national development,” said Grethel Aguilar, Director of the IUCN Regional Office in Mesoamerica, which will be helping to implement BIOPAMA’s Caribbean efforts. “BIOPAMA will, for example, help provide protected area managers and conservation staff in the Caribbean with the skills, knowledge and networks they need to conserve biodiversity, in turn benefiting the region’s diverse communities.


More information:

  • Read the full press release here
Sand dune image

Sand dunes

Moving forward with the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems

Modelled on the influential IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the new IUCN Red List of Ecosystems aims to assess the status of a variety of ecosystems worldwide, from coral reefs to rainforests and deserts. This new initiative will identify the threats to these vital natural areas, and the potential impacts the threats have on both ecosystems and human wellbeing.

Much like its species counterpart, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems will use an internationally accepted set of criteria to determine if an ecosystem is vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. It is hoped that this assessment standard will enable the Ecosystem Red List to help guide conservation action on the ground, as well as influence the policy process of international conventions.

Natural environments are under increasing pressure from unsustainable use and other threats,” said Jon Paul Rodriguez, Leader of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management’s Ecosystems Red List Thematic Group. “Functional ecosystems are essential to our livelihoods and wellbeing. We will assess the status of marine, terrestrial, freshwater and subterranean ecosystems at local, regional and global levels. This, in turn, will help inform on the link between such systems and the livelihoods of those who depend on them. The assessment can then form the basis for concerted implementation action, so that we can manage them sustainably if their risk of collapse is low, or restore them if they are threatened and then monitor their recovery.


More information:


Check back soon for more exciting news and outcomes from the World Conservation Congress!


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Sep 9

Did we blink and miss summer? September has somehow managed to sneak up on us and that can only mean one thing – it’s time to go back to school!

While we know you’d much rather be burying your face in the pillow and snoozing sleepily on when your alarm buzzes, we think that our exciting new education resources might make dragging yourself out of bed and heading back to school that little bit easier.

“I’d forgotten what this time on a Monday morning felt like…”


Photo of woodland jumping mouse


Catching up on the latest news, gossip…and education resources!

A lot can happen over the summer break, and the first week back at school is a great time to catch up on all the news and holiday gossip. Humans aren’t the only ones in the animal kingdom to enjoy a good chatter – these Barbary macaques certainly seem to have lots to talk about too!

Animals don’t just communicate vocally; communication can be visual, acoustic, chemical or physical. And animals don’t just want to find out the latest gossip! They communicate for many reasons, including territorial defence, courtship and learning. Find out more about how and why animals communicate with one another in our great new ‘Animal Communication’ resource for 14-16 year olds.


Photo of Barbary macaque playing in water Communcation thumnail image


Making an impact

It’s tempting to just grab a bottle of water or a fizzy drink with your lunch or on your way home from school, but have you ever thought about how many plastic bottles you use each year? And where they go once you’ve thrown them in the bin? In the UK alone we consume 10-13 billion bottles of water per year, while in the US the figures are even higher – somewhere between 29 and 50 billion. How many of these billions of bottles of water are recycled? At the moment, it’s not even half.

Find out more about the impact of plastics on the environment in our new, thought-provoking resource ‘Human Impacts on the Environment’. Explore how humans and our activities can have negative impacts on the environment and endangered species, and discover the sad fate of the Laysan albatross in Hawaii.


 Pair of Laysan albatross at nest Human impact thumbnail


Discover more exciting resources on ARKive Education to keep you entertained this school year…

Whether you’re a student looking for ways to beat the back to school blues or a teacher in need of some natural inspiration for the classroom, ARKive and its fun-packed education resources have all you need to get the new school year off to a flying start.

From adaptation to food chains and classification to evolution, we’ve got it covered. Discover all of these resources and more on ARKive Education.


Education resource montage


Get in touch

We would love to hear how you have used ARKive in the classroom. If you have any ideas for how we could develop ARKive Education and our teaching resources in the future please let us know!

Helen Roddis, ARKive Education Officer


Sep 7

More than 8,000 people from around 170 countries have gathered on Jeju Island, South Korea, for the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the world’s largest and most important conservation event. In this blog series we’ll cover the latest stories coming out of Jeju.

Jeju 2012 Congress logo

Jeju, 2012

The Congress, which opened yesterday in a blaze of colour, music and inspirational speeches, brings together government and non-governmental organisations, scientists, businesses and community leaders to discuss, debate and vote on solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental and development issues. Held every four years, the Congress aims to look in depth at how nature, our most valuable tool, provides the solution to many of the globe’s problems.

Nature is inherently strong, but we must improve how quickly nature and people adapt to change, said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director-General of IUCN. If we strengthen nature, we’ll see that ecosystems are more resilient and people, communities and economies are healthier.

Running from 6 to 15 September, the Congress will focus on a wide variety of global and local issues, from climate change and threatened species to using nature to promote peace between nations. A whole host of notable figures will be joining the delegates, including leading author and oceanographer Sylvia Earle, and HRH Prince Carl Philip of Sweden.


More information:

Bubble coral image

Bubble coral (Plerogyra sinuosa)

Caribbean coral decline

It is crunch time for Caribbean corals, according to a recent IUCN report. Studies have shown that average live coral cover on Caribbean reefs has declined to just 8% of the reef area, a drastic reduction from the 50% cover in the 1970s.

These shocking declines have been attributed to a variety of threats, as Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, explained: “The major causes of coral decline are well known and include overfishing, pollution, disease and bleaching caused by rising temperatures resulting from the burning of fossil fuels,” he said. “Looking forward, there is an urgent need to immediately and drastically reduce all human impacts if coral reefs and the vitally important fisheries that depend on them are to survive in the decades to come.

Although the deterioration of live coral cover on some of the more remote reefs in areas such as the Cayman Islands is less marked, with up to 30% cover still remaining, the rates of decline on most reefs are showing no signs of slowing down. In response to these worrying statistics, IUCN is calling for strictly enforced local action to improve the health of coral reefs, including extending the reach of marine protected areas (MPAs) and introducing catch quotas to limit fishing levels.


More information:

Protected area sign

Boundary sign for a bridled nailtail wallaby protected area

New report on protected areas

Protected areas assist in reducing deforestation, as well as habitat and species loss, and support the livelihoods of over one billion people worldwide, according to the Protected Planet Report, released today by IUCN.

Encompassing national parks, nature reserves and other natural areas, protected areas are growing in number and now cover 12.7% of the world’s terrestrial area, and 1.6% of our oceans. The good news is that protected areas are diversifying rapidly in places critical to their success, with indigenous people and local communities being increasingly involved in the management of a substantial number of these areas.

The bad news is that the current protected area global coverage is well behind the Aichi Targets, a set of goals agreed upon two years ago by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). These targets set an objective of obtaining protection and equitable management of at least 17% of the world’s terrestrial areas and 10% of the world’s marine areas by 2020.

Protected areas have contributed significantly to conservation of the world’s biodiversity and an increase in their coverage and effectiveness is vital to a thriving planet and communities for the future, said IUCN Director-General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. These rich natural areas are very important for people, who rely on them for food and clean water, climate regulation and reducing the impacts of natural disasters.


More information:


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author


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