May 22

Today is the United Nation’s International Day of Biological Diversity, which this year has been dedicated to island biodiversity.

Islands are home to an estimated 20% of all bird, reptile and plant species despite making up less than 5% of Earth’s land area. Islands also contain 40 percent of all critically endangered species, and the extinction rates on islands are disproportionately high despite a global extinction rate that may be 1000 times the historical background rate.

Islands contain 40 percent of all critically endangered species

“Biodiversity is crucial to meet human needs. Our economies, livelihoods, health, and cultures depend on the proper management of this natural capital.  This is even more important on islands where natural ecosystems are fragile and easily disturbed.” said Olivier Langrand, Island Conservation’s Director of Global Affairs, member of the Steering Committee of Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) and co-chair of the GLISPA Working Group on Invasive Alien Species.

The necessity of urgent action in aid of island conservation, to halt and reverse the loss in biodiversity is highlighted in the new publication , “Island Bright Spots in Conservation & Sustainability” by the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA). This report showcases inspired island conservation solutions in action, “bright spots”. These “bright spots” will also be showcased during the 2014 International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to encourage investment in scaling and replicating initiatives that work. In this publication Island Conservation’s Allen Cay and Small Islands, Big Difference (SIBD) projects are highlighted as successful examples that could serve as innovative models for island restoration around the globe.

Island Conservation’s Allen Cay

Allen Cay, The Bahamas is a small island habitat but is home to important populations of Audubon’s shearwater and provides critical habitat for the endemic, endangered Allen Cay rock iguana. However, invasive house mice were indirectly threatening the native species by providing an abundant food source for barn owls, increasing the owl populations, which predate heavily on Audubon’s shearwater and juvenile Allen Cay rock iguanas. In 2012, Island conservation collaborated with the Bahamas National Trust, Government, NGO and private partners to remove invasive house mice from Allen Cay. This successful partnership protected nationally and globally significant biodiversity, and laid foundations for future restoration and conservation projects in the Bahamas.

Allen’s Cay rock iguana on beach

Island Conservation’s Small Islands, Big Difference Project

Island Conservation’s Small Islands, Big Difference (SIBD) campaign was launched in Montreal, Canada in 2012. The goal of this campaign is to financially support hundreds of partners and island nations in protecting thousands of species through the removal of invasive species from 500 islands.

Island Conservation and local partners helped protect critical habitat for the waved albatross by removing invasive goats and feral cats from Isla de la Plata

The“Island Bright Spots in Conservation & Sustainability” publication also highlights emerging initiatives such as the recent launch of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a three year open-ocean journey around the world undertaken in two Hawaiian voyaging canoes. The aim of this project is to catalyse awareness and action on how to care for Earth, the Oceans and our natural heritage. The crew aim to bring stories of our islands and oceans to inspire communities and leaders to take action to protect these critical resources.

Read more about the importance of Island habitats on Arkive.

Read more about Island Conservation.

Find out how the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage is progressing.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 16

Island species are under threat.  Despite only making up about 3% of the Earth’s land area, islands are home to about 20% of all species and 50% of endangered species.

Approximately 80% of all known extinctions have occurred on islands. One of the primary causes for extinction of island species is the presence of invasive species. Since 1994, the charitable organisation Island Conservation has fought to prevent these extinctions by removing invasive species from island ecosystems.  Focusing on islands where the need is greatest, as biodiversity is concentrated and the rate of extinction is high, Island Conservation has deployed team members to 52 islands worldwide to protect 994 populations of 338 native species.

Invasive species are a threat to the Critically Endangered Juan Fernández firecrown

Once invasive species are removed, island ecosystems can often recover with little or no extra intervention. After the removal of invasive rats from Hawadax Island (formerly known as Rat Island), Alaska, bird species on the island increased dramatically and for the first time ever, breeding tufted puffins were documented on the island.

Working together with local communities, government management agencies and conservation organisations, Island Conservation enables many species to be brought back from the brink of extinction.

One such success story is the Anacapa Island Restoration Project. Invasive black rats on Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Islands Archipelago in California, were decimating native species populations, particularly the threatened Xantus’s murrelet (now renamed Scripps’s Murrelet),and the endemic Anacapa deer mouse. In 2001 and 2002, Island Conservation and partners removed invasive rats from Anacapa Island.  Since the removal of the rats, the nesting success of Xantus’s murrelet has increased by 90% and the Anacapa deer mice are thriving. In 2013, scientists documented the endangered ashy storm-petrel breeding on the island for the first time in history.

Anacapa Island

The removal of invasive species from island habitats has also led to the rediscovery of species once thought to be extinct. In 2011, Island Conservation and their partners removed invasive rats from Rábida Island, Galapagos to protect the native species.  A return visit to the island two years later led to an unexpected discovery of a gecko species, known only from subfossil records, which was thought to be extinct.

To date, Island Conservation have recovered and protected 338 seabird nesting colonies and taken action to restore 52 islands from the most damaging invasive animals.  With their continued work and the launch of Small Islands, Big Difference – a campaign which aims to save our world’s most vulnerable species by removing invasive species from islands at an accelerated rate, many more island species can be rescued from extinction.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing with you more about the great work that Island Conservation have carried out.

For more information about Island Conservation visit their website or facebook page.

Discover ARKive’s favourite island species from around the world.

May 14

1aOur oceans are critical to our very existence; it’s a simple matter of healthy oceans = healthy people.  Besides providing us with food (today almost one in six people in the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein), oceans provide us with many other important services that our survival depends on.  They maintain our renewable supply of fresh water through the water cycle, regulate our climate, and produce more oxygen than the world’s rainforests. With growing concern over climate change, we are turning more and more towards the oceans for clean, renewable energy.

In addition to being an important source of protein, many marine organisms have been found to provide therapeutic uses in antioxidant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, or antibiotic medicines. Additionally, the marine and coastal ecosystems offer endless recreational opportunities such as sea kayaking, sport fishing, surfing, whale watching and scuba diving, activities which not only feed our souls, but also drive economic benefits through employment for local peoples.

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Today almost one in six people in the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein.

Although critical to our existence, our oceans are in desperate trouble.  Depleted fishery stocks, habitat destruction, pollution, coastal development, climate change and invasive species, are some of the major issues threatening the healthy existence of our oceans.  In the Pacific Ocean for example, there is an area 1000 kilometres from the US coast which is larger than the entire land mass of South Africa and which is covered in plastic. It contains six times more plastic than plankton, and is growing all the time as more than 10 million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the sea each year.

3a

The marine and coastal ecosystems offer endless recreational opportunities such as sea kayaking, sport fishing, surfing, whale watching and scuba diving.

This current state of affairs is largely as a result of the dilemma known as “The Tragedy of the Commons”, in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.

Plastic debris littered along the beachfront

Our oceans are in desperate trouble. Depleted fishery stocks, habitat destruction, pollution, coastal development, climate change and invasive species, are some of the major issues threatening the healthy existence of our oceans.

Overfishing, together with global climate change and habitat destruction, are considered as the three major risks facing our oceans. When looking at this, obviously the first thing that we have to do is to control our own levels of exploitation. That means fishing within the biological limits of a fish population and assuring that the gear that we use does not destroy habitats. Today, many stocks are just hanging on to survival because of regulations that were inadequately or not properly enforced in the past. We need to abide to these regulations and support good science that guides the future regulatory parameters around fishery off-take.

5a

Fishing is taking place across food chains and thereby breaking down the efficiency of the oceans.

Globally, as human populations continue to grow, along with the popularity of seafood, fish stocks are coming under increasing pressure and can no longer keep up with pressure of current commercial fishing operations. A recently published report on the state of the world’s fisheries by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), estimated that approximately 80% of the world’s fisheries were fished at (52%) or beyond (28%) their maximum sustainable limits.

A small-pelagic fishing trawler at dawn and surrounded by seagul

Overfishing, together with global climate change and habitat destruction, are considered as the three major risks facing our oceans.

Increased levels of fishing do not only result in the overexploitation of our marine resources, but also results in the destruction of marine habitats. More than 50% of the world’s total marine catch (81 million tons) is harvested using towed fishing gear. Studies have shown that fishing can damage the seabed by, for example, breaking deep-water coral reefs and other fragile habitats.

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The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), estimated that approximately 80% of the world’s fisheries were fished at (52%) or beyond (28%) their maximum sustainable limits.

Habitat destruction is not only about the physical loss that may come from the destruction of a reef or the damming of a river, but also from pollution, diverted stream flows, and even the introduction of invasive species. Through habitat destruction, biodiversity is negatively impacted which ultimately is the cornerstone of a productive ecosystem that in turn drives the fishery resource upon which we depend. We know that 85 % of all commercially valuable fish are dependent upon wetlands and estuaries during some part of their lifecycle. Two-thirds of our estuaries and bays are already severely degraded through torrents of chemical and other poisonous runoffs and irresponsible development and agricultural practises.

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Pollution is negatively impacting on the biodiversity of our oceans.

Protecting our oceans and coast is more than stopping pollution and regulating fishing. It also means controlling our activities onshore and controlling unregulated coastal development. With all of these poisonous pollutants running into the oceans, “dead zones” have been created where only some of the smallest marine organisms can survive. These areas are created in significant part by synthetic nitrogen fertilizers flowing into the sea and nourishing massive algal blooms which then decay and cause oxygen- depletion, killing everything except the hardiest in its vicinity.

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We know that 85 % of all commercially valuable fish are dependent upon wetlands and estuaries during some part of their lifecycle.

Although these kinds of reports on the state of our marine resources may be disheartening, it is important for us to realize that there are solutions, and that if we all work together, we can turn things around. Marine Protected Areas are globally recognised as an essential tool for marine conservation and for helping restore the health of our oceans. They allow for the protection of habitats and provide areas where fish species can grow and breed without disturbance. As habitats are able to re-establish back to their natural state, they help in preventing damage from severe storms, reducing the impacts of pollutants while also aiding in reducing the impacts of climate change.

Blouberg Strand and Table Mountain

Protecting our oceans and coast is also about controlling unregulated coastal development.

Where fishing is concerned, it is important that all stakeholders abide by set fishing regulations and laws- we need to build a culture of voluntary compliance and self-regulation. Fisheries need to start implementing what is known as an Ecosystem Approach to fisheries (EAF), which seeks to protect and enhance the health of our marine ecosystems as a whole, to ensure the long-term survival of marine life and the communities that depend on it.

Marine Protected Area signage overlooking an estuary mouth

Marine Protected Areas are globally recognised as an essential tool for marine conservation and for helping restore the health of our oceans.

It is also important that we promote a sustainable seafood trade. By simply asking questions about our seafood and making more informed choices about the fish that we trade, buy and eat, we could make a huge impact in influencing positive change in the seafood chain of custody.  But this requires urgent and concerted effort from all parties involved- from the fishing industry all the way to the consumer.

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It is important that all stakeholders abide by set fishing regulations and laws.

Our oceans are a common heritage, and we all have the responsibility and the ability to help conserve and protect them- if not for our sake, then for the sake of future generations- our children.

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Support the South African Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and only eat and buy the healthiest and most well managed fish populations.

More tips on what you can do to help save the oceans:

1. Support South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas
2. Eat sustainable seafood: Support the South African Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and only eat and buy the healthiest and most well managed fish populations. For further information visit: www.wwf.org.za/sassi
3. Don’t dispose of trash or toilet waste in the ocean.
4. When enjoying recreational fishing, obey regulations and try to enjoy only catch-and-release fishing and use care when releasing fish back into the ocean. Take photos, not fish
5. Keep beaches clean. Plastics and other debris harm sea life and pollute the ocean. Clean up after yourself. Get involved! Participate in beach cleanups if you live in a coastal area.
6. Don’t purchase items that exploit marine resources unnecessarily such as shell and coral jewellery and sharks teeth.
7. Spread the word: Tell people what’s going on with the world’s oceans and what they can do to make a difference.

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Peter Chadwick
http://www.peterchadwick.co.za

May 12

Conservationists from around the world were invited to London last week to receive awards for the amazing work they have done with various different species, ecosystems and local communities.

The Whitley Awards, also known as the ‘Green Oscars’, took place at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday May 8th. The ceremony, hosted by television presenter Kate Humble, honours conservationists working in the field whose projects have benefitted endangered species and habitats, as well as local communities. The charity’s patron HRH The Princess Royal presented the winners with their awards, which are worth up to £35,000 to be spent on their respective projects. Additionally, there is the Whitley Gold Award which is worth up to £50,000.

Jean Weiner – Whitley Gold Award donated by The Friends and The Scottish Friends of The Whitley Fund for Nature

Before mass deforestation occurred after 1925, around 60 percent of Haiti was covered in lush forest. Just one percent of these forests remain today.

In 1992, Jean Weiner, a Haitian, founded the Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversite Marine (FoProBim), which is the only non-governmental organisation in Haiti that is dedicated to the protection of marine and coastal environments. The charity aims to encourage local people to manage their environmental resources and therefore create a better future for their families. This project has led to the creation of two artificial coral reefs in Haiti that will help to re-establish fish populations. Other initiatives of the project have included placing mooring buoys to prevent boats from anchors from damaging coral reefs and regenerating mangrove forests that had been removed for charcoal production. In future, it is hoped that Haiti’s first marine reserve will be established and managed by local people. Jean Weiner was awarded the Whitley Gold Award for his 22 years of tireless dedication.

Luis Torres - Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake

The dwarf Turk’s cap cactus is an Endangered plant species only found in Cuba

Luis Torres runs a project in Cuba focussing on educating local people about the importance of their native flora and encouraging them to help with its conservation. Around 85 percent of the amazing flora of Cuba is endemic and it is threatened by mining, urbanisation and unsustainable harvesting. The conservation of these extremely rare species is of global importance and the aim of Luis’s project is to ensure that these plants will not become extinct and that their habitats are protected.

Stoycho Stoychev – Whitley Award donated by Fondation Segré

The imperial eagle is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is listed on Appendix I of CITES

Stoycho Stoychev is the Conservation Director for the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB). Thanks to a decade’s worth of conservation efforts, Stoycho has increased the imperial eagle population in Bulgaria to 25 breeding pairs, which is around double the previous population. The establishment of this bird of prey as a flagship species for wild grassland habitats in Bulgaria has helped to gain public support for the species and subsequently bring it back from the brink of extinction. Other threatened species have also benefitted from the conservation efforts of Stoycho and the BSPB, including the European ground squirrel, European marbled polecat and saker falcon.

Tess Gatan Balbas – Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK

The conservation efforts of Tess and her team have increased the Philippine crocodile population on Luzon Island from 12 individuals to over 100

Thanks to efforts from Tess Gatan Balbas and her team at the Mabuwaya Foundation in the Philippines, the Philippine crocodile population on Luzon Island has increased from just 12 individuals in 2001 to over 100 in 2012. The project has increased the support of the local community for the conservation of this endemic reptile and there are now four locally run crocodile sanctuaries aiming to conserve this species.

Paula Kahumbu – Whitley Award donated by The LJC Fund in memory of Anthea and Lindsay Turner

Almost 100 elephants are killed each day in Africa

Paula Kahumbu is the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign that was launched in 2013 to help reduce the amount of poaching of African elephants in Kenya and promote their conservation. The aim of this project is to use the media to change behaviour and empower communities to respond to wildlife crime, drive the development of new legislation and enforcement and reduce international demand for ivory by establishing diplomatic relations.

Fitry Pakiding – Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation

The Pacific population of the leatherback turtle is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Fitry Pakiding is a researcher and lecturer at the State University of Papua and leads a community programme aimed at working towards improving the quality of life of local communities and conserving biodiversity. The project aims to empower local communities to become guardians of leatherback turtles and their habitat, preventing poaching and educating young people about turtle conservation. The project is run in the communities neighbouring Jamursba Medi and Wermon beaches in West Papua which is where the largest remaining Pacific nesting aggregation of this ancient species exists.

Shivani Bhalla – Whitley Award donated by The Garden House School Parents’ Association

There are fewer than 2,000 lions left in Kenya and the population could become extinct in the next two decades without successful conservation

Shivani Bhalla is the Founder and Director of Ewaso Lions, which was established in 2007 to promote human-carnivore coexistence. Conflict between lions and local communities is prevalent throughout Kenya due to this species being known to predate livestock. The project established by Shivani helps to equip people with the tools and knowledge to protect their livestock and empowers young Samburu warriors from local communities by making them wildlife ambassadors. The ongoing monitoring of the wild lion population and verification of the exact range of the species will hopefully help to inform conservation action for the future and prevent the extinction of this amazing animal.

Melvin Gumal – Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats, donated by the Arcus Foundation

The Bornean orangutan population has declined by over 50 percent in the last 60 years

Melvin Gumal is the Director of the Malaysia Programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Melvin initiated the Integrated Conservation and Development Project in Sarawak, Malaysia, which involved local land owners in protected area management for the first time ever. He now works with all local stakeholders to protect a 2,000-square-kilometre area of forest that is one of the last remaining habitats of the rarest subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. The project aims to educate local people to reduce the hunting of orangutans, increase the amount of protection for areas inhabited by this species and conduct surveys in unstudied areas.

Monica Gonzalez – Whitley Award donated by Sarah Chenevix-Trench

Around 90 percent of umbrellabird habitat has been lost in northwest Ecuador

Monica Gonzalez is the Director of the Foundation for the Conservation of the Tropical Andes (FCAT), which is based in the Mache-Chindul Reserve, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. This area is also home to the long-wattled umbrellabird which is a keystone species within the habitat, playing an extremely important role in seed dispersal and therefore helping to maintain the health of the forest habitat. The aim of Monica’s project is to protect and expand remaining forest fragments by working with local communities, develop sustainable economic alternatives to logging and educate local stakeholders on the importance of conservation. The imminent construction of a highway bisecting the Mache-Chindul Reserve has made conservation efforts in the area extremely urgent and vital.

Congratulations to these amazing, inspirational people from all of us at ARKive, and please keep up the good work!

See photographs of the winners receiving their prizes and of their work in the field.

Find out more about the Whitley Fund for Nature.

Find out more about previous winners of the Whitley Awards and their projects.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 10
Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Species: Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: There are thought to be fewer than 100 spoon-billed sandpiper pairs remaining in the wild, and it is predicted that this species could go extinct within the next decade if urgent conservation action is not taken.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a striking little bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill, as its common name suggests. This unusual bill is used to probe for small invertebrates in low vegetation, wet meadows and water, or even within muddy sand. A strongly territorial species, the spoon-billed sandpiper breeds in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation, and its scattered breeding range extends from the Chukotsk peninsula to the Kamchatka peninsula in north-eastern Russia. This species has very particular habitat requirements, choosing its nesting sites carefully, and it always breeds within six kilometres of the sea. A migratory bird, the spoon-billed sandpiper flies to overwinter in south and Southeast Asia where it can be found on mudflats and saltpans.

Habitat loss is currently the principal threat to the spoon-billed sandpiper, posing a particularly high risk as this species has such a small population, high nest fidelity, and extremely specific habitat requirements. Throughout this bird’s migratory and wintering ranges, tidal mudflats are being reclaimed for industry or aquaculture and are becoming increasingly polluted. Several important staging areas for the species have already been reclaimed, and many more are under serious threat of reclamation in the near future. Climate change and human disturbance have also altered the spoon-billed sandpiper’s habitat, while egg collection, hunting and accidental capture in nets intended for other wader species directly affect the population and its ability to regenerate.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is listed on both Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, meaning that this threatened species would benefit from international agreements and cooperation to ensure its future survival. While the spoon-billed sandpiper is protected in several areas throughout its range, including the Moroshechnaya Wetlands and several other local wildlife refuges in Russia, China, India and Vietnam, it would benefit from enforced legal protection wherever it is present. In addition, preventing the reclamation of intertidal mudflats along the spoon-billed sandpiper’s entire migration route is of utmost importance.

Conservation organisations and individuals have worked with local communities to help reduce the hunting pressure on this species, and various advocacy activities have been carried out, including two training workshops in schools in China, to raise awareness of the plight of the spoon-billed sandpiper. A special Task Force has been set up, charged with implementing an action plan to save this migratory species, and a captive breeding and rearing programme is underway. It is essential that international cooperation is achieved to monitor and conserve the spoon-billed sandpiper throughout its range and bring it back from the brink of extinction.

See images and videos of the spoon-billed sandpiper on ARKive.

Find out more about spoon-billed sandpiper conservation.

Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day and find out more about the need to protect these species and their habitats.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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