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.

2a

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.

7

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.

8

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.

9

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.

12

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.

13

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.

14

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

Apr 1

Today is April Fool’s Day, a 12-hour window where everybody needs to be on their guard as friends, relatives and colleagues do their best to fool and out-smart them. If you are plotting a prank, remember to carry it out before midday, otherwise the joke is on you!

While we keep an eye out in the office for any sign of trickery, we thought we’d gather together a few examples of sneaky species for which it is April Fool’s Day every day of the year!

Mucous mask

Did you know that parrotfish are the masters of mucous?! Before settling down for the night, species such as this daisy parrotfish may spend up to an hour making their own ‘mucous bubble’ in which to sleep. It may sound pretty gross to us, but this slimy sleeping bag is thought to serve a very important function, potentially disguising the scent of the sleeping fish and preventing it from being picked up by sharp-nosed nocturnal predators. What a great trick!

While reef fish are kept free of parasites during the day by hard-working cleaner fish, they receive no such protection at night, and studies have shown that the mucous mask may also act as a bubbly barrier against blood-sucking crustaceans known as gnathiid isopods.

Crying wolf

The tufted capuchin monkey, a subspecies of the black-capped capuchin, could certainly be referred to as a cheeky monkey, as it is known to fool and deceive all in the name of a quick snack! Within groups of these monkeys there is a strict social hierarchy, with the dominant individuals gaining better access to rich food sources. Lower ranked individuals have been observed to produce false alarm calls to trick the dominant monkeys into thinking they are in danger, causing them to scurry for cover, leaving the delicious food available for the lower-ranking individuals to get their hands on!

Cunning cuttlefish

Cuttlefish, such as this common cuttlefish, are related to octopuses and squid, and are rather crafty creatures! These intelligent invertebrates are able to change colour to match their surroundings, and the males are willing to employ some deceptive measures to make sure they get some quality time with the ladies. Male cuttlefish put on rather spectacular displays to attract females, flashing bands of colour along their bodies. To ensure their wooing attempts are not disturbed by potentially more dominant males, some male cuttlefish may ‘flash’ their bright colours only on the side nearest to the female, while maintaining female-looking colouration on the other side. Any potential rivals surveying the scene would then simply see two ‘female’ cuttlefish hanging out, and would not attempt to attack the sneaky male.

 

What are your favourite animal tricksters? Comment below to share with us!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Mar 26

On Saturday 29th March at 8:30 pm, millions of people across the world will take part in WWF’s Earth Hour by turning off their lights for one hour. Held annually, WWF’s Earth Hour is a unique phenomenon that encourages individuals, communities and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour as a symbol of their commitment to the planet.

Now in its eighth year, the Earth Hour event was first held in Sydney in 2007. For Earth Hour 2013, over 7,000 cities and towns across more than 150 countries and territories participated.

This year has seen the launch of Earth Hour Blue, an all-new digital crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platform for the planet. This new platform gives individuals from around the world the chance to help fund or add their voice to environmental and social projects which are important to them.

Here at ARKive, to get ready for Earth Hour we have been thinking about species which are at home in the dark.

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

Believed to be the world’s smallest living primate, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is a nocturnal primate endemic to Madagascar. This lemur is well adapted to its nocturnal lifestyle as it has extremely large forward-facing eyes with a shiny layer behind the retina that reflects light back through the eye, significantly improving night vision.

Cave salamander

This unusual-looking animal is the rare cave salamander,  an amphibian which lives in dark, subterranean caves in central Europe. As this cave-dwelling animal spends its entire life in darkness, its eyes are so poorly developed that it is actually blind. 

Lion’s mane jellyfish

One of the largest jellyfish in the world, the lion’s mane jellyfish gains its common name from the long, thin, hair-like tentacles found hanging from the underside of its bell-shaped body. As well as being one of the largest jellyfish, the lion’s mane jellyfish is also often bioluminescent, meaning it produces its own light, making it glow in dark waters.

Night-flowering orchid

As its common name suggests, the night-flowering orchid is the only known orchid species which opens its flowers at night. Described as recently as 2011, it is not yet known for certain why this orchid opens its flowers at night, but it is likely that the flies which pollinate this species are nocturnal.

Devil’s worm

Thought to be the world’s deepest-living animal, the Devil’s worm is definitely a creature at home in the dark. Found at a depth of more than one kilometre into the Earth’s crust, the Devil’s worm demonstrates a high temperature tolerance and is thought to be able to survive in conditions of up to 41 degrees Celsius!

If you want to find out more about how to get involved in Earth Hour, visit  WWF’s Earth Hour website.

And don’t forget, Earth Hour is on Saturday 29th March at 8:30 pm local time, so join the ARKive team and millions of other people worldwide and switch off those lights!

Feb 21

562995_460205190743127_1808199899_nWhat is your job, where do you work?

My name is Neil Green and I am the Avon Invasive Weed Forum (AIWF) Project Officer.  I work mainly on the rivers and watercourses within Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset.

What is your background?

My background includes life guarding in Cumbria, teaching English in Madrid, exporting oil for BP lubricants, building balconies in Bondi Beach and running my own landscape gardening business in sunny Swindon!  In more recent years I  have been a Coastal Ranger for the National Trust in North Cornwall and worked on the Source to Sea Invasive species project for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

What is the Avon Invasive Weed Forum, what projects are you working on?

The AIWF is an independent group of relevant stakeholders such as Bristol City Council, Bristol Zoo Gardens, The Environment Agency and South Gloucestershire Council, currently funded by Defra. The aim is to survey as much of the Avon catchment as possible for Non-Native Invasive Weeds (NNIW), so far we have over 70 kilometres of riparian habitat logged. Once the surveys are mapped we then get the NNIW into the appropriate management to control and reduce the abundance of these alien nasties.

How are you helping to fight invasive species in the UK?

We are helping by engaging with local conservation and community groups to take ownership of their local areas and the invasive species that they may have. In the Spring and Summer we carry out many practical Himalayan balsam weed pulls – we managed 22 ‘BIG PULL’ events last summer.   Himalayan balsam has a very shallow root system and is easy and very enjoyable to yank out of the ground. Removing the plants stop them from seeding, which is of paramount importance to help fight the invasion!

brislingtonbrook

How can people get involved?

You can get involved by volunteering to help manage the Himalayan Balsam as part of our ‘BIG PULL’ campaign or help survey the watercourses and open water in the Avon Catchment.   You can do this by contacting your local conservation groups, community groups or myself at the Avon Invasive Weeds Forum, we welcome individuals, groups and corporate social responsibility requests.

If you are not in the Avon area you can take a look at the GB NNSS website and find an Invasive Species Project closer to home.

You can also help by following the guidelines in the Check, Clean and Dry and Be Plant Wise Campaigns too.

Find out more about the Avon Invasive Weed Forum by visiting their website or their Facebook page.

Learn more about invasive species in the UK by visiting our UK invasive species page.

Oct 17

Large numbers of British children are missing out on engaging with nature, according to a new study.

Red squirrel image

Red squirrel

First of its kind

The ground-breaking study, led by the RSPB, marks the first time that connectivity between children and nature has been studied in the UK. Following 3 years of research, the project concluded that only 21% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 were ‘connected to nature’ at a level which is considered to be both realistic and achievable for all young people.

The report stems from growing concerns over the distinct lack of contact with and experience of nature among modern children, which some have argued is having a negative impact on their education, health and behaviour. In addition, this disconnection is viewed as being a very real threat to the future of UK wildlife.

Horse chestnut image

Horse chestnuts in autumn

Connecting to nature

Around 1,200 children from across the UK took part in the study, which was based on a specially developed questionnaire. Analysis of the results revealed several statistically significant differences in children’s connection to nature across the UK, including between boys and girls, and between urban and rural homes.

This report is ground-breaking,” said Rebekah Stackhouse, Education and Youth Programmes Manager for RSPB Scotland. “It’s widely accepted that today’s children have less contact with nature than ever before.  But until now, there has been no robust scientific attempt to measure and track connection to nature among children across the whole of the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.”

Scotland come out top in the regional comparisons, with 27% of children in the country being found to have a particular level of connection to the natural world, while children in Wales had the lowest score across the UK, with just 13% achieving the basic level of exposure to nature.

Perhaps surprisingly, the study revealed that the average score was higher for London than the rest of England and that, overall, urban children were slightly more connected to nature than those living in rural areas.

European starling image

European starling flock in flight

Gender differences

Interestingly, this latest research found that girls were more likely than boys to be exposed to nature and wildlife. While only 16% of boys were at or above the ‘realistic and achievable’ target, 27% of girls were found to be at the same level.

We need to understand these differences,” said Sue Armstrong-Brown, Head of Conservation Policy at the RSPB. “Whether boys and girls are scoring differently on different questions, are girls more empathetic to nature than boys, for instance? We need to analyse the data to find that out.”

Positive impacts

The aim of the study was to create a baseline against which connectivity of children to nature in the UK can be measured and monitored, so that recommendations can be made to governments and local authorities on ways in which this can be increased. In turn, it is hoped that children will reap many benefits from a higher level of interaction with the natural world, including positive impacts on education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and social skills.

To further underline the importance of engaging young people with wildlife, the RSPB has signed up to The Wild Network, a unique and pioneering collaboration between organisations which is working to reverse the trend of children losing touch with their natural surroundings and is encouraging them to play outdoors.

Hedgehog image

Hedgehog

Influential attitudes

The RSPB says that some adults perceive nature to be dangerous or dirty, and that these attitudes could be having a significant effect by holding children back.

There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging. In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that’s an attitude that won’t help a young person climb a tree,” said Armstrong-Brown.

In addition to the benefits reaped by young people, Armstrong-Brown believes that an improvement in the engagement of young people with wildlife is a vital component in ensuring the future of nature conservation in the UK, saying, “If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Just one in five children connected to nature, says study and RSPB News – Just one in five UK children ‘connected to nature’, groundbreaking study finds.

View photos and videos of UK species on ARKive.

Get connected with nature with ARKive’s fun educational activities.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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