Apr 7

Readers of the ARKive blog may remember that last year we featured a guest blog introducing the fantastic Barren Isles Project, which is working towards creating Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. Recently Olivier Raynaud, the Barren Isles Project Coordinator, got in touch let us know how the project is progressing.

Barren Isles image

Head down under the rain the whole morning, bailing water out of the pirogue as it crashes back in at once, one can’t help but reflect on how this mission hasn’t quite gone to plan…

We’d originally set out for a two-week mission covering all of the nine islands and eight coastal villages which make up the Barren Isles, but now, just 6 days in, we’re headed home early, and let’s face it; this particular consultation trip to the Barren Isles has been less than successful. Uncooperative equipment was daunting enough, but a patch of unexpected inclement weather added insult to injury, forcing us to abort the mission and scramble back to the mainland.

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

In contrast to this undeniably disappointing mission, overall project development is relatively stable and encouraging, as we work our way towards Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. If there’s anywhere that warrants protection in Madagascar’s coastal waters, it’s the Barren Isles archipelago. When out on the islands, I never miss a chance to duck in for a snorkel, and am always rewarded with pristine coral reefs teeming with fish. Despite hosting hundreds of migrant fishers every year, fish populations remain relatively in tact here, as the fishers, mostly coming from Madagascar’s southwest coast, are here in search of high-value sharks and sea cucumbers.  As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why we’re engaging with local and migrant fishing communities, before these reefs and fish go the way of many of the reefs of southwest Madagascar. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for local shark and sea cucumber populations, which are already largely fished out.

The Malagasy government now has in its possession all the paperwork required to establish an official Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Barren Isles. Throughout the creation process, and beyond all the legal and scientific requirements, we, as project promoter, have gone to great lengths to ensure transparent and constant communication between all stakeholders by gathering together, on a regular basis, all actors relevant to the Barren Isles conservation initiative.

Indeed, strong community support and collaboration between stakeholders are the only chance for the MPA to be a success, as it will depend on local communities to both create and enforce the rules and regulations, in partnership with government representatives and industrial sectors.

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

For instance, when the initial outline for the MPA perimeter overlapped with industrial shrimp fishing grounds, back-to-back delimitation propositions were exchanged between traditional fishermen and the national industrial fishing lobby (Groupement des Aquaculteurs et Pêcheurs de Crevettes de Madagascar – GAPCM). The negotiations reached a win-win compromise, where a considerable portion of the ecosystem is to become off limits to trawlers, hence allowing the regeneration of stocks, and in turn increasing the productivity of adjacent fishing grounds.

This MPA protection status will regulate external and industrial threats to the local marine resources. It will also provide a legal framework for the broader LMMA approach, through which local issues (such as destructive fishing practices) will be addressed by elaborating and implementing a marine dina – a set of rules agreed on and enforced by the community.

It is precisely in order to finalize this dina with the fishing communities that we headed back off to the isles on our ill-fated trip.

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Though the mission got off to a good start, with weather forecasts predicting clear skies and smooth sailing, by the second day it was quite apparent that the weather was not going to cooperate much longer. An evening thunderstorm on Nosy Lava put a serious damper on the open-air outreach activities we had planned- a mix of showing environmental documentaries, giving updates on the MPA creation process and fielding questions from the community- sending everyone running for cover. A downpour the following day, as well as confirmation that our resupply pirogue bringing fresh water from the mainland would not be able to make the trip, made up our minds, and so on the third day we headed out early, while the sea was still calm and the skies relatively clear.

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra - when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra – when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

After the very first leg of the trip, and its occasional waves actually crashing in the boat, our generator had already drowned. A day spent drying – as far as sitting disassembled in the ambient dampness can be called drying – and it was back to life; hopes were high!  All the Nosy Dondosy fishermen gathered round, and… as we pulled the starter rope, it snapped. The final blow. Bummer.

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time... (© O. Raynaud)

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time… (© O. Raynaud)

Back home, after a quick stop for a – not so well-deserved but nonetheless necessary – hot pizza and icy beer (funny thing about being on the islands during inclement weather is that the fishers can’t go fishing, so our dinners were limited to rice and beans), and nothing left to do but pull ourselves up by the boot straps, plan another trip and keep our fingers crossed that this crazy atypical weather finally moves on to bother someone else… Heads Up!

By Olivier Raynaud, Barren Isles Project Coordinator

Jul 18

Summer has officially arrived here in the UK, and the sunny days mean that the ARKive team are itching to get out and about and enjoy the good weather. For those not lucky enough to be out enjoying the sunshine just yet, why not have a browse through some of our favourite summer photographs to get you in a summery mood?

1. Bees

Honey boo photo

One of the insects most commonly associated with summertime is the bee. This photograph beautifully captures a buff-tailed bumblebee feeding on the nectar of a summer flower.

2. Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly photo

Summer is also the main time to find butterflies. Caught mid-flight, these monarch butterflies are shown during their long distance migration. This species can travel around 3,000 miles at speeds of up to 80 miles per day.

3. Common starfish

Common starfish photo

The common starfish is widely associated with visits to the seaside and exploring rockpools. Sand, seaweed and the sighting of an occasional starfish definitely represent the summer holidays for many people. If you plan to explore the coast this summer, make sure you try our Beach Treasure Hunt!

4. Arctic fox

Arctic fox photo

The Arctic fox  is superbly adapted for life at sub-zero temperatures, and while this species is known for its pristine, white winter coat, during the summer it is almost unrecognisable.

5. Lesser crested tern

Lesser tern photo

There is nothing like cooling off in the water on a hot summer’s day, and we love this shot of young lesser crested terns piling into the water to take a dip.

6. Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly photo

A dragonfly darting around a pond is a favourite summer sight. This photo beautifully captures the emperor dragonfly mid-flight.

7. Sunflower

Sunflower photo

Sunflowers are always a bright and cheery sight. Did you know that each sunflower is not a single flower, but many small reddish-brown disk flowers surrounded by yellow ray flowers?

8. Montipora coral

Montipora coral photo

As almost everyone hopes for a summer getaway, this image of montipora coral shows clear skies and sparkling blue sea.

9. Southern plains gray langur

Southern plains gray langur photo

There is nothing better than a breath-taking view on a summer’s evening, and these southern plains gray langurs seem to have picked an excellent spot!

10. West Indian Manatee

West Indian manatee photo

This water looks so inviting that we almost feel jealous of this West Indian manatee!

Which of ARKive’s photos represent summer for you? Use the comments form below and let us know!

Jan 3

Endemic to the island of Madagascar, lemurs are a charismatic group of primates comprised of nearly 90 living species. Lemurs range in size from the small pygmy mouse lemur to the impressive indri, and fill nearly every niche the diverse country of Madagascar has to offer. However, deforestation has led to a decrease in lemur populations and consequent listing of several species on the IUCN Red List.

Pygmy mouse lemur

The pygmy mouse lemur is one of the smallest primates in the world

What makes lemurs special?

Lemurs are unique to Madagascar. Having evolved on an island, lemurs were isolated from human contact up until 2,000 years ago. After humans arrived, three lemur families went extinct; however, there are still five families remaining. The lemurs that remain on the island have adapted well to their environment, and display a wide variety of diets and behaviors.

Diademed sifaka in habitat

A diademed sifaka in its natural habitat

To the trees!

Lemurs are mainly an arboreal species, which means that they live in trees. Their hands and feet are specially adapted to grip onto branches, and their long sturdy tails provide balance. All lemurs except for the largest species, the indri, have long tails. However, unlike monkeys their tails are not prehensile, meaning they cannot grip things. Even though lemurs are mainly arboreal, many of the larger species travel along the ground as well. The Verreaux’s sifaka is famous for the way it leaps across the ground. You can watch a video of a Verreaux’s sifaka “dancing”!

Verreaux's sifaka 'dancing'

Verreaux’s sifaka displaying the ground leaping behavior

Black-and-white ruffed lemur

Black-and-white ruffed lemur relaxing in a tree














Lemur diversity

Since lemurs occupy all different kinds of habitats across Madagascar, there is a large amount of diversity. The five extant, or living, families of lemurs are Cheirogaleidae (mouse and dwarf lemurs), Daubentoniidae (aye-aye), Indriidae (sifakas and woolly lemurs), Lemuridae (true lemurs), and Lepilemuridae (sportive lemurs). There is a large range of physical appearances among lemurs as well. The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur bears a resemblance to a flying squirrel, while the large silky sifaka looks like it would be at home with the monkeys of the Amazon.

Aye-aye probing rotton wood for grubs

The aye-aye was originally classified as a rodent, as no one had ever seen a primate look like this!

Threats to lemurs

The main threat that lemurs face today is loss of habitat due to deforestation. Since lemurs only occur on the island of Madagascar, it is important to preserve the forests there that house the unique animals. Conversion of wooded areas to fields for agriculture is the main reason for Madagascar’s deforestation; unfortunately, this deforestation can also lead to the erosion of land, adding to habitat destruction. Current conservation efforts for lemurs include preservation of habitat, though humans continually expand into the lemurs’ natural habitat due to a need for resources.

To check out some of the lemurs ARKive has to offer, flip through the MyARKive Lemur Scrapbook! Learn all about how special lemurs are, and how important it is to ensure the conservation of them.

You can also read ARKive’s recent blog article about a decline in taboos putting lemurs at risk.

Christin Knesel, Intern, Wildscreen USA

Sep 15

The number of sea turtles accidentally captured and killed in U.S. coastal waters has declined by an estimated 90% since 1990, according to new research.

Photo of a green turtle

An estimated 300 green turtles died in U.S. waters each year after being caught by fisheries.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers analysed bycatch data from 20 fisheries operating in Atlantic and Pacific waters between 1990 and 2007, looking at the number of different turtle species accidentally caught and killed in fishing gear.

The results showed that the number of turtles being killed each year was around 4,600, down from an estimated 70,000 in 1990. Overall, the total number of turtles caught, including those that were not killed, fell by about 60% from 300,000 a year in 1990.

Photo of a loggerhead turtle caught in a fishing net

Loggerhead turtle caught in fishing net. An estimated 1,400 loggerhead turtles died each year due to fishing activities.

The researchers put the decline in bycatch down to regulations put in place over the last 20 years to protect turtles, together with overall declines in U.S. fishing activity.

Reducing turtle deaths

Regulations put in place by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have included the use of circle hooks in longlines, as well as removing hooks from equipment to reduce the severity of injuries to turtles. Special ‘turtle excluder devices’ have also been used in shrimp trawl nets to allow turtles to escape.

There have also been measures to keep fishing activities and turtles separate in places and at times that turtles are likely to be present in large numbers.

The authors of the study say that these mitigation measures could also be effective in reducing sea turtle deaths in other countries.

According to Elena Finkbeiner, the lead author of the study, “The reduction of bycatch and mortality shows important progress by NMFS, which serves as a model for reducing sea turtle bycatch in other parts of the world. Our findings show that there are effective tools available… to reduce sea turtle bycatch, as long as they are implemented properly and consistently.”

Photo of Kemp's ridley turtle hatchlings

Kemp’s ridley turtle hatchlings. This species suffered the highest mortality from bycatch in U.S. waters, with around 2,700 killed every year.

Still work to be done

However, the researchers also noted that there are shortcomings in the current approach. Sea turtles are managed on a fishery-by-fishery basis, which does not take into account the impacts on overall turtle populations. This may mean that the total amount of bycatch exceeds what sea turtle populations can sustain.

The study also found that the Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery, which accounts for 98% of sea turtle deaths, does not consistently comply with regulations. A lack of onboard observers recording bycatch makes enforcing regulations difficult.

Photo of a leatherback turtle on nesting beach

Leatherback turtle on nesting beach. Around 40 leatherbacks were killed each year in U.S. waters.

We commend the successful efforts of fishers and NMFS managers to reduce sea turtle bycatch, but there is still important work to be done,” said Bryan Wallace, one of the authors of the study.

Bycatch limits must be set unilaterally across all U.S. fisheries with overall impacts to populations in mind, much as it’s done for marine mammals. This would ensure that these bycatch reductions are successful in recovering sea turtle populations.”

Baseline for monitoring

Six species of sea turtle occur in U.S. waters. The olive ridley turtle is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, while the green turtle and loggerhead turtle are classified as Endangered. The leatherback turtle, Kemp’s ridley turtle and hawksbill turtle are classified as Critically Endangered. All six species are listed as ‘Threatened’ or ‘Endangered’ on the U.S. Endangered Species List.

The researchers noted that the actual levels of turtle bycatch in U.S. waters are likely to be higher than those recorded in the study, due to the lack of onboard observers in many fisheries. However, the study does provide a baseline from which scientists can examine which measures are working and what can be improved to better protect sea turtle species.

Read more on this story at Science Daily and Mongabay.

View photos and videos of turtles on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jul 29

It’s no secret that the ARKive Education team enjoys creating fun, interactive and educational activities using ARKive’s extensive collection of threatened wildlife imagery. But, to be honest, the best part of the job is play-testing all of our new resources with kids in the classroom!

Recently, we’ve launched two new education resources and we couldn’t have done so without first trying them out with helpful educators and eager students. Here’s a look at the newest additions to the ARKive Education teaching resources and a peek into the work that goes into creating them.

ARKive Geographic: Biodiversity Around The World

ARKive Geographic - Exploring the World's Biodiversity

ARKive Geographic: Biodiversity Around the World introduces students to concepts of biodiversity and helps to open their eyes to the incredible variety of plant and animal species around the globe. The activity consists of custom-made ARKive species cards that are included in the activity pack along with a map of the continents that can be printed as large or as small as the teacher likes to fit the size of the classroom.

By placing the species cards around the world via the continent maps, students get a glimpse of just how biologically diverse Earth really is!

Students take turns holding up their species card and quizzing fellow students on the biological information on the back.

Students take turns holding up their species card and quizzing fellow students on the biological information on the back.

To create this lesson, we worked with a local teacher to iron out the basics of the new activity and then got to work drafting up Teacher’s Notes, a suggested classroom Power Point presentation and any additional handouts for the session. We then visited the teacher’s classroom to play-test the nearly final product and to make any tweaks after the students have completed the activity.

We also play-tested this activity in Chicago during our Biodiversity Quest pilot program.

ARKive staff visit the classroom to introduce ARKive and play-test new education modules.

ARKive staff visit the classroom to introduce ARKive and play-test new education modules.

 Lonely Planet: An Introduction to Endangered Species

Endangered Species Bingo

Who doesn’t like to play a round of Bingo? We’ve found that kids (and adults!) of all ages enjoy this timeless game and when you involve images of species that are rarely seen, it makes it even better. In this new activity, students are introduced to the definition of an endangered species and some of the factors that contribute to a species’ status. After a presentation and class discussion, it’s time to reinforce this new knowledge with a round or two of Endangered Species Bingo!

Having spotted one of the species called out during Endangered Species Bingo, a student marks it off on her game card.

Having spotted one of the species called out during Endangered Species Bingo, a student marks it off on her game card.

While working with an educator to create this activity, she mentioned that, instead of putting the letters B-I-N-G-O across the top, why not exchange them with the different species’ conservation statuses: Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct. We then filled the columns underneath with species from ARKive that currently have that status. This was a great suggestion and helped students understand the different conservation categories. An even better idea came from one of the students who, while playing the game, suggested the winners shout out ‘ARKive’ instead of ‘Bingo’!

You can find both of these new resources on ARKive Education now. If you use these or any other activities from ARKive Education in the classroom, please tell us about it. We just might publish your story on ARKive to share with other teachers around the world.

Liana Vitali, ARKive Science, Education and Outreach Officer, Wildscreen USA


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