Apr 22

The Face of Climate Change

Today more than one billion people from around the world will take part in Earth Day, an annual event which celebrates our amazing planet and encourages people to take positive actions to protect it.

It is easy to think of climate change as a remote problem but the reality is it is impacting people, places and species all over the world, and the numbers are increasing. The theme of Earth Day 2013 is ‘The Face of Climate Change’, which was chosen to highlight the increasing impacts of climate change on individuals around the world.

This year to mark Earth Day we have selected our own ‘Faces of Climate Change’ in order to raise awareness about some of the many species affected by climate change.

ARKive’s Faces of Climate Change

To mark Earth Day 2013 here at the ARKive office we have selected our own Faces of Climate Change.

Polar bear

Climate change is the biggest threat facing the polar bear

The polar bear is dependent on sea ice to hunt, breed and rest but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice coverage across the Arctic region. This reduces the polar bear’s access to prey, forcing them to spend more time on land and rely on stored fat reserves.

Coral Reef

Coral bleaching is increasing due to rising sea temperatures

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to coral reefs. Coral bleaching, a process where corals lose their symbiotic algae due to the stress of being exposed to extreme temperatures, is becoming more frequent as the sea temperatures rise. Bleached coral are unable to obtain enough nutrients so begin to starve. To find out more visit ARKive’s coral reef conservation page.

Koalas

Climate change is likely to affect the amount of nutrients koalas get from eucalyptus

Climate change could affect the amount of nutrients koalas obtain from eucalyptus, their main food source, as higher carbon dioxide levels reduce the protein levels and increase the amount of tannins in the leaves of eucalyptus.

North Atlantic Right Whale

Climate change is likely to have an affect on the abundance of the North Atlantic right whale’s prey

Increases in sea temperatures and changes in ocean currents is likely to cause the planktonic prey of the North Atlantic right whale to move location or reduce in abundance, having potentially devastating consequences for this already highly endangered species.

Atlantic Salmon

Increasing water temperatures could affect the developmental rate of juvenile Atlantic salmon

The Atlantic salmon’s developmental rate is directly related to water temperature. Therefore it is possible that increasing water temperatures could result in more rapidly developing juveniles entering the ocean before their planktonic food source has reached sufficiently high levels.

Arctic Fox

The tundra habitat of the Arctic fox is changing due to climate change

Climate change is turning the tundra, the habitat of the Arctic fox, into boreal forest as new plants are beginning to colonise the area. This change in habitat is causing a decline in the Arctic fox’s prey species and allows the red fox, a competitor, to move into the area.

Golden Toad

Climate change and chytridiomycosis are thought to be responsible for the extinction of the golden toad

The extinction of the golden toad is thought to have been caused mainly by climate change and the disease chytridiomycosis.  Amphibians are sensitive to even small changes in temperature and moisture, with changes in global weather patterns altering breeding behaviour and affecting reproductive success. Find out about what is being done to protect the world’s amphibians with our amphibian conservation topic page

Sea turtles

Climate change could lead to a disproportionate number of females in sea turtle populations

The gender of sea turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated in the nest, with cooler temperatures producing more males and warmer temperatures more females. Increasing temperatures, due to climate change, will result in a disproportionate number of females in a given population.

To find out more about climate change visit ARKive’s climate change topic page. You can also test your knowledge with ARKive’s Climate Change Quiz.

Jemma Pealing, Media Researcher

Apr 10
Olivier Raynaud, Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator, Blue Ventures © Blue Ventures

Olivier Raynaud, Blue Ventures

In this week’s guest blog we meet Olivier Raynaud, the Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator for Blue Ventures. Blue Ventures is an award-winning social enterprise that works with local communities to conserve threatened marine and coastal environments, both protecting biodiversity and alleviating poverty.The Barren Isles project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs whilst ensuring the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods, by establishing a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar.

Hi Oliver, welcome to the ARKive blog! Can you tell us a little bit about your scientific background?

My academic background is centred on engineering and the management of public environmental issues (such as the design and coordination of local initiatives to regulate natural resources exploitation), but my practical scientific know-how mainly results from various field experiences in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean. It includes ecological monitoring, research on threatened species (seabirds, turtles, sharks…), invasive species control and eradication, and socio-economic research.

Why do you do what you do?

The money! No just kidding, I do it because I enjoy myself. This is a totally personal judgement, but to my knowledge, conservation is the only field that has enhanced my motivation and implication in a way that permits me to work in an efficient manner. My passion for nature and my somewhat subconscious need to spend time on issues that I find ethically rewarding, have catalyzed my involvement. At the moment I can’t imagine being as stimulated as I currently am, if I was working on any other mission than one aiming for the conservation of species, habitats and traditional livelihoods.

Why is scientific research important?

Whatever project it is that you are working on, success and achievements will be linked to the notion of progress. The trick is that progress cannot be assessed unless you are in some way measuring, determining and analysing all relevant parameters. Scientific research allows you to justify and elaborate result-oriented, pertinent strategies to start with, but more importantly it gives you the information necessary to evaluate the progress being made. Hence scientific research provides the knowledge necessary to steer and adjust action plans and strategies to ensure their efficiency.

Tell us a bit about the project you are currently working on and what the end result will be…

The project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs, and ensure the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods. Our strategy is based on the establishment of a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar, and expected outcomes include the preservation of pelagic fish stocks and ecosystem services, local capacity building in conservation, development of alternative and durable livelihoods, and the obliteration of illegal, destructive practices.

In our quest for a durable and efficient management configuration, in order to preserve and organise the utilisation of the Barren Isles’ precious ecosystems, Blue Ventures has had to address local overexploitation and unsustainable practices, but also considerable outside threats. These threats include the presence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels, mining interests targeting the islands for guano extraction, and illegal dive teams using scuba gear to collect sea cucumbers.

These external pressures are so conspicuous they are likely to discourage any conservation efforts made by the local fishermen, and in the long term may constitute a threat to community conservation. In order to avoid such a perilous start, and simultaneously take in hand all the issues, the community-based management of the area will need to be based on a primary legal status, an official Marine Protected Area.

What is the process for creating a Marine Protected Area in the Barren Isles?

In order to design and request a Temporary Protection Status that is relevant and tailored to the needs of the local communities, we embarked on a journey to consult each and every one of the 6 coastal villages and 8 islands connected with the project, all the way down to Soahany, 75 km south of Maintirano.

Nosy Dondosy, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

Nosy Dondosy, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

This was our brand new motorised pirogue’s first trip, and it consisted of a busy and demanding two weeks, which introduced the boat to the great variety of waterways in the area; unpredictable open sea swells, coastal breaking waves, meandering mangrove channels, and idyllic lagoons.

As the public meetings were held in the first weeks of November – before migrant communities head back south to their home towns for the rainy season – the great majority of the fishing communities participated in discussions on resource use initiatives in each location. They proposed regulations and drew outlines for a perimeter of the MPA, according to the conservation targets, and with regard to their preferred fishing zones.

Following this trip, a large meeting was held in Maintirano on December 5th and 6th, co-organised by the Direction Regionale de l’Environnement et des Forets and Blue Ventures. It gathered together representatives from local communities, regional authorities, and other stakeholders for creation of an Atelier Scientifique. This is where the conservation targets are identified, and an Atelier de Concertation is also made – where the stakeholders’ desire for MPA creation is formalised in an engagement document. The assembly agreed on proposing a perimeter that delimits a huge area; the proposed MPA includes all of the Barren Isles, 100 kilometres of coastline and numerous remote reefs, for a total area of over 5,000 square kilometres!

Public consultation in Ambalahonko, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

Public consultation in Ambalahonko, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

As the MPA has now been approved by stakeholders on the regional scale, the project now needs to be brought to the national level with another Atelier de Concertation to be held in Antananarivo in January – then the Temporary Protection Status can officially be requested to the environmental government entities. In the meantime, the proposed delimitation may be an issue for some national stakeholders, such as shrimp fishery representatives, and hence maybe subject to change.

However, what does remain certain is that stakeholder and community participation has driven this project a long way in the past weeks. This steady wind has propelled all of us at a steady pace through a rather smooth first leg of a very long LMMA trip!

What is the best and worst thing about being a conservation scientist?

It seems to me that the advantages and drawbacks of this profession are related to the feeling of working on legitimate, essential and challenging issues. The best thing of the job is motivation; being aware how pertinent your tasks are, and realizing how this wonderful occupation is significant in light of worldwide issues and future generations.

The worst thing of the job is frustration; realizing that despite knowing it makes sense to invest time in effort in such genuine and rightful cause, some other project stakeholders do not understand the need and critical importance of these issues.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I enjoy the most is being out there! It’s a combination of simply enjoying personal interests and working on public interest issues on the spot. Because you’re constantly confronted to the local reality, some days you’re disappointed by unreasonable behaviours, cupidity of individuals or lack of concern in long term public interests, but that’s only some days. The rest of the time your reaction to events is predominantly paced by YES, WOW, or RIGHT ON!

What is your favourite species or group of species and why?

Recently, my favourite encounters have been with rays. Meeting with these majestic creatures makes any snorkelling/diving sessions wonderful; whether they’re spotted eagles, mantas or devil rays, observing these massive bird-like shapes smoothly fly through the water is quite a show. My admiration is also due to their very social behaviour: how crazy is it that when you scream underwater, one of these beautiful rays may turn around, and circle you slowly before it slowly moves away? One of rare wild animals that seems to show respect and politely say “Hi” to humans despite our generally reprehensible behaviour!

 

Spotted eagle ray photo

Spotted eagle ray

Taking inspiration from Team WILD, what would your science superhero power be?

It’d have to be the ability to travel in time, or more precisely to send other people in time! See, what constitutes the greatest asset in the Barren Isles is the current good health of ecosystems and the affluence of marine resources. It’s an asset but it also brings major difficulties; how do you get people to adhere to conservation initiatives when today there are plenty of resources for everyone?

Being a superhero, I’d send a few community leaders to the Barren Isles in 2050, to make them realize that 2013’s prolific natural resources were exploited in a way that did not allow the regeneration of stocks. If we could make local communities realize the impacts that current practices potentially engender on the long term, that’d be a game changer for conservation and our project!

Thanks for Oliver! Do keep us posted on progress with the Barren Isles project.

Learn more about Blue Ventures and the Barren Isles project.

Test your own science superhero skills with Team WILD and learn more about coral reef conservation on ARKive.

Mar 6

As you may be aware, not only is this week the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of CITES, it is also Climate Week in the UK. The biggest climate change campaign in Britain, Climate Week aims to inspire us to create a more sustainable future through a range of activities.

Climate week logo

Throughout the course of the week schools, businesses, charities, councils and many other organisations will run over 3,000 events attended by around half a million people interested in finding out more about the future of climate change and what we can do to safeguard against its impacts.

With such a wide range of events on offer there is bound to be something for everyone so do try to attend if you can. Not only will it be informative, by the sounds of it you will also have a lot of fun. Activities include test driving electric vehicles, growing your own food in community allotments, a green building show with a Climate Week Pledge Wall, swapping clothes, books, toys and DVDs, developing a Community Energy Plan and even an event at Manchester United hosted by none other than England football coach Gary Neville. There are too many to list but more information can be found on the Climate Week website.

Polar bear jumping between ice floes

Polar bears are dependent on sea ice for its survival, but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice cover

If you are unable to attend any events near you (or, alas there are no events in your proximity), we’ll do our best in this blog to give you an overview of climate change and why it is so important for us to safeguard our wildlife and environment against it.

About climate change

Without wanting to be too accusatory, there is no doubt that climate change is caused by man-made impacts on our planet. You may have heard it referred to as ‘global warming’, due to the steady rise in the Earth’s temperature that is occurring. Both terms are correct, however they actually refer to different phenomena. Climate change refers to the changes in climate which arise as a result of the increasing global temperature. These can include changes in precipitation patterns, increased incidence of drought, heat waves and other extreme weather conditions. In essence, global warming does not mean that we will all have increasingly warmer weather; the planet’s steadily rising temperature will be associated with changes across the world in climate pattern, and more extreme and unpredictable weather. Some places may well become hotter, but some will become colder, and others wetter or drier.

Atlantic krill

Antarctic krill die due to ocean acidification

These changes in climate may not sound like much, but they are creating huge problems on a global scale for both wildlife and people. The severity of storms and floods are increasing, and ruthless droughts are on the rise. The acidity of our seas is rising, affecting species such as coral and krill and destroying marine food chains that ultimately maintain the balance of life in the oceans. The lack of arctic ice in the summer creates a dire situation for polar bears as well as compounding global warming because the ice would usually serve to deflect sunlight away from the planet. The increased heat absorbed due to the absence of this natural deflection in turn causes permafrost to thaw, releasing trapped methane gas. This gas, along with carbon dioxide released by the process of deforestation and the warming oceans both serve to increase what is known as the greenhouse effect; some gases trap and retain the sun’s heat giving rise to this phenomenon.

Hawksbill turtle

Rising sea levels could wash away hawksbill turtle nests and decrease nesting habitat

As we can see, this process is not pretty, and we’ve only scratched at the surface of what is happening in this blog. Mass extinction of wildlife is predicted in the near future, including species such as polar bears and emperor penguins that will lose their habitat to melting ice and rising sea levels. Colourful corals such as the Acanthastrea coral will die as a result of ocean acidification. Also affected are species that live and breed on low-lying remote islands, for example marine turtles like the giant South American, hawksbill and leatherback turtles. There are too many to name here, but you can check out more species that will be affected by climate change on ARKive.

Staghorn coral

Climate change is already having measurable impacts on coral reefs worldwide

 

So, even if it’s just spreading the word on climate change, will you do your bit this Climate Week?

Find out more about climate change, the species it affects and what we can do to mitigate the effects on our Climate Change topic page.

Download Climate Week resources from the Climate Week website.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Mar 2
Photo of Ctenella chagius in coral reef habitat

Ctenella coral (Ctenella chagius)

Species: Ctenella coral (Ctenella chagius)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Ctenella chagius is the only coral species in the Meandrinidae family to occur in the Indian Ocean rather than in the Caribbean Sea.

Ctenella chagius forms hemispherical colonies which are green, cream or light brown and have wavy ridges across their surface. As in other corals, the colonies of this species are composed of numerous small, anemone-like animals known as polyps. The polyps secrete a hard skeleton which over many generations helps to form a coral reef. Ctenella chagius is found only in the Chagos Archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, where it lives on reef slopes and in lagoons at depths of up to 45 metres.

Like other corals, Ctenella chagius is threatened by climate change, which is likely to cause increased sea temperatures and more frequent, damaging storms. Rising carbon dioxide levels are also making the ocean more acidic, making it harder for corals to produce their hard skeleton, while other threats to corals include human development, overfishing, pollution and invasive species. Fortunately, much of the range of Ctenella chagius is now protected in the world’s largest marine reserve, the Chagos Archipelago Marine Protected Area. This area now needs to be effectively enforced, and further research is needed into Ctenella chagius and the threats it faces.

Find out more about conservation in the Chagos Archipelago at the Chagos Conservation Trust.

Find out more about coral conservation at Reef Check and The Coral Reef Alliance.

See images of Ctenella chagius on ARKive.

Corals feature in ARKive’s new online game – play Team Wild here!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Oct 2

In less than three decades, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its coral cover, according to a new study.

Elegance coral image

Elegance coral with polyps extended

Coral reefs

An important part of the marine ecosystem, coral reefs provide food and protection for fish and other aquatic species, yet around the world these beautiful areas of biodiversity are under threat from a variety of factors. The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s most iconic reef and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has not been spared, having lost half of its coral cover in the last 27 years.

Recent results from a study conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal provide compelling evidence that the devastating declines in the Great Barrier Reef are a result of the cumulative impacts of tropical cyclones, coral bleaching and population explosions of crown of thorns starfish.

 

Mass destruction

The observations of the decline in the Great Barrier Reef are based on the results of more than 2,000 surveys of 214 reefs conducted between 1985 and 2012, which show that coral cover on the reef has declined from 28% to 13.8%, amounting to a total loss of 50.7% in just 27 years. The study has also revealed that the rate of decline has increased in recent years, with two-thirds of the coral loss occurring since 1998.

If the trend continues, coral cover could halve again by 2022,” said Peter Doherty, a research fellow at AIMS. This is a worrying statistic for a reef system which is classified as the world’s least threatened due to the strong legal protection it is afforded, and does not bode well for other more threatened coral reefs worldwide.

Crown of thorns starfish image

Crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci)

Insatiable starfish

The study found that while 48% of coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef could be attributed to tropical cyclones, a worrying 42% could be linked to the crown of thorns outbreaks, with just 10% of coral loss resulting from coral bleaching.

The world’s second largest sea star, the crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) is a renowned predator of coral, and sadly there have been several outbreaks of this species in the Great Barrier Reef in the last few decades. Such outbreaks used to be a relatively rare occurrence, only happening once every 50 to 80 years. However, population explosions of these coral-eating invertebrates have increased dramatically to about once every 15 years, which may be linked to increased fertiliser and chemical run-off from the mainland after major floods.

 

Controlling the crown

We can’t stop the storms, and ocean warming (the primary cause of coral bleaching) is one of the critical impacts of the global climate change. However, we can act to reduce the impact of crown of thorns,” says John Gunn, the chief executive of AIMS.

Scientists predict that the reef could recover if the crown of thorns starfish, which was first noted as a problem in 1962, can be brought under control. “When we say outbreaks, we mean explosions of populations to a level where the numbers are so large that they end up eating upwards of 90% of a reef’s coral,” said Mr Gunn.

Crown of thorns starfish group image

Group of crown of thorns starfish feeding on coral

Buying some time

The study has shown that coral cover could increase at a rate of 0.89% per year in the absence of the crown of thorns, a statistic which increases to 2.85% with the additional absence of cyclones and bleaching. As a result of this, direct action to remove the crown of thorns starfish from the area has been recommended in order to buy the Great Barrier Reef some time.

Control of crown of thorns starfish populations would involve improving the water quality of rivers running into the reef, to reduce the levels of nutrients flowing in from agricultural run-off. High levels of such nutrients in the reef feed crown of thorns starfish larvae, enabling them to thrive. Biological control of the crown of thorns starfish populations has also been suggested, but despite promising results from research on such a method, it is not yet ready to be applied in the field.

Mushroom coral image

Mushroom coral (Heliofungia actiniformis)

More to be done

However, controlling populations of the crown of thorns starfish will not be enough to halt coral loss entirely. Ultimately, climate change will need to be dealt with to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef, along with other coral reefs across the globe, has a decent chance of survival.

David Curnick, Marine and Freshwater Programme Co-ordinator at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), highlighted the part we all must play in saving the Great Barrier Reef, “We can achieve better water quality, we can tackle the challenge of crown-of-thorns, and we can continue to work to ensure the resilience of the reef to climate change is enhanced. However, its future also lies with the global response to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The coral decline revealed by this study – shocking as it is – has happened before the most severe impacts of ocean warming and acidification associated with climate change have kicked in, so we undoubtedly have more challenges ahead.”

 

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Great Barrier Reef loses more than half its coral cover and at Mongabay.com – Great Barrier Reef loses half its coral in less than 30 years.

Learn more about the crown of thorns starfish on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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