Science Club

The British Birdwatching Fair 2011

The time has come again for the world’s largest international birdwatching event, held annually at Rutland Water Nature Reserve in Leicestershire.

Dubbed as ‘the birdwatchers Glastonbury’ by organisers Tim Appleton and Martin Davies, this weekend’s event is hosted in a RAMSAR and Special Protected Area managed by The Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. Working in partnership with the RSPB the event has gradually gained publicity and momentum since it originated as the local ‘Wildfowl Bonanza’ in 1987.

As the fair has developed, it has raised over £2,000,000, which has been gratefully received by Birdlife International and its partners and goes towards helping to save birds and their habitats all over the world.

Previous years have seen money go to the rainforests of Sumatra, the wetlands of Madagascar and the dry forests of Peru. Supported projects also include those helping save birds like the albatross and the white-winged guan from the brink of extinction, as well as the creation of several new national parks.

This year the money raised will go towards Birldlife’s Flyways Campaign aimed at increasing awareness concerning migratory birds. International collaboration is the only way to conserve migratory birds as they pass along their flyways and this campaign will work with partners to look at three major global flyways (African-Eurasian Flyway, Americas Flyway and East Asian-Australasian Flyway).

Sponsored predominantly by Viking Optical ltd and In Focus, the British Birdfair is also supported by names such as Birdwatch and BBC wildlife as well as brands such as Naturetrek and Nikon.

Perhaps not in the same category as one of the worlds biggest music festivals, but with lectures from internationally renowned conservationists, live music and a huge variety of exhibitions and stands from the informative to the fun, the British Birdfair has something for anyone with an interest in British wildlife and conservation.

By Nicki Hollamby

X Factor of the animal world

With all the hype of the X Factor starting in the U.K. this Saturday, a comparison between the talent of the natural world and the individuals that will appear on the show can offer an interesting comparison!

Mimic – each year a contestant will try and impersonate their favourite singer on the show for maximum effect. However, they are never going to be as good as mimicking abilities of the lyrebird which is endemic to Australia. Of all the passerines, the lyrebird has the most complex musculature surrounding the syrinx allowing this species to imitate a variety of natural and man made sounds including car alarms and chainsaws.

Loudest – some of the characters on the X Factor do not suffer from shyness in terms of their singing volume and neither does the blue whale. The blue whale call can reach up to approximately 188 decibels and can travel for hundreds of miles underwater. That is the equivalent of the noise produced by a rocket launch pad. If humans stood near to this without ear protection the noise would cause irreversible damage to our hearing.

Specialist – the occasional contestant will try and do something different during their audition to get noticed including rapping and beat boxing. An army of frogs all croaking at alternating times may give the beat boxers a run for their money as different pitches and styles are combined. The sound is produced via a space in the throat called the glottis which is surrounded by the vocal chords and arytenoid cartilage. The loud noise reverberates around the expanding vocal sac causing the croak to become louder.

Sounds to make you shudder – during the first few weeks of the X Factor, there will be plenty of contestants who think they can sing resulting in cutting comments from the judges. Vocalisations from some species have the same affect on people such as a cockerel crow or a noisy dog living next door to you. The near – threatened aye – aye gets a raw deal if it is heard in its native Madagascar due to superstitions. Indigenous people think of the aye – aye as a symbol of death and as a consequence, they will dispatch of any if they are seen or heard.

Surprising sound from an unlikely source – many auditions show macho men singing in high pitched tones or beautiful opera performed from an unexpected individual. In nature, various species also make surprising noises. A rabbit will generate a high pitched squeal when in distress and cheetahs make a chirping noise, quite dissimilar to the roar of most big cats. This chirp is a very intense noise and can be heard approximately one mile away!

By Haley Dolton

Elephant count in Sri Lanka cause for concern?

Publicity surrounding Sri Lanka’s first elephant census in 100 years has given rise to debate as to whether the count is for conservational purposes or to find the healthiest young animals to be brought into captivity.

Nearly 4,000 soldiers, farmers and villagers participated in the 48 hour survey last week by staffing treetop outposts surrounding water holes across the country. The elephants were classified by age and sex, with the aim to provide details of elephant abundance and distribution.

Conservation groups initially planning to assist with the count pulled out after Sri Lanka’s wildlife minister, S.M Chandrasena was quoted as suggesting the government would use the exercise to find healthy elephants and bring them into service at various temples for religious purposes.

Elephants are an essential part of religious and cultural pageants held in Sri Lanka. The number of tamed elephants is dwindling fast on the island and the owners of tamed elephants are requesting the government to find a solution to the problem.

Chandrasena, who is said to have been addressing the issue, has since dismissed the allegations that there is an ulterior motive for the 2011 census. The Sri Lankan wildlife department has said the survey will give them an “overall picture of the situation in Sri Lanka, and help guide habitat protection policies in the near future.”

Experts have questioned the accuracy and validity of the census given that man-power was low and observers were not adequately trained. Rukshan Jayawardene, chairman of Wildlife Conservation Forum says “this census is actually a smokescreen to capture wild elephants when they are young and basically take them for domestication.”

Conservationists fear that capturing and removing more elephants from their habitat would further reduce the elephant population. ”Breeding males are already in danger of dying out because of the various threats they face on a daily basis” says Jayawardene, implying that taking tuskers from the wild will intensify the problem.

The number of elephants present in Sri Lanka today is but a fraction of the number of elephants counted in the last census over a century ago. Sri Lankan elephants are also widely used in tourism for private purposes and for industrial labour.

A human-elephant conflict has arisen due to increasing pressures from habitat loss and an ever growing human population which frequently results in death for one or both parties. Add this conflict to the removal of elephants for domestic purposes and pressures from poaching and the future of elephants in Sri Lanka is becoming less and less secure.

By Nicki Hollamby

Animal trafficking

In the past few months the incidence of animal trafficking has been reported in the media at a higher frequency. It normally occurs due to demand for the pet trade, medicine, hiding narcotics or for tourist souvenirs. Most of the general public are shocked and appalled when they hear about how these animals have been treated, not only because of their extraction, but by the transportation methods they are subjected to.

An Indonesian man has attempted one of the largest smuggle attempts over the past couple of months. He was caught at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport after shopping for the animals in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. In 3 custom made suitcases, 259 animals were crammed into specially designed compartments. Some of the animals found inside included: 132 tortises, 22 common squirrels, 1 grey parrot and 42 snakes. This case highlights the sheer volume of animals that may be trafficked and also how the market (which is situated near to the Wildlife Protection and Nature Crime Police Offices) is still able to operate.

In a separate incident, another shipment was rumored to be going to a Dubai prince. Due to the high profile of the recipient, the Thai police were faced with pressure to drop the case from politicians to protect the prince. The smuggler was attempting to transport 4 leopard cubs, 1 marmoset, 1 gibbon and 1 Asiatic black bear cub all in his hand luggage. The smuggler was again flying from Suvarnabhumi airport suggesting the Chatuchak Market was the source of animals.

Many of Madagascar’s endemic species (especially chameleons) are also poached and sold in the national and international pet trade in Thailand. A 15 – day survey conducted by TRAFFIC this year found over 40 traders and vendors in Thailand selling a combined total of 591 endemic amphibians and reptiles of Madagascar (233 of which were chameleons). Although some of these species can be bought legally, huge discrepancies were found between the number of specimens present and the number that could have been bred in captivity and legally obtained.

The prosecution of animal traffickers can be challenging due to different laws imposed in various countries. If poachers are caught in Malaysia for example, they can face imprisonment for up to 5 years, whereas in other countries a fine is acceptable.

Calls to standardise procedures have been suggested by many conservationists and in 2013, Thailand will be hosting the next conference of the Parties to CITES to debate problematic animal trafficking. Another factor that needs to be considered is the use of technology allowing for easy communication and finding suppliers via the internet. As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply for this lucrative business.

By Haley Dolton

Toxic Mammals

We are used to being wary of animals that slither and crawl due to their poisonous and venomous armaments however we are far less accustomed to fluffy mammals posing a potential toxic threat. Nevertheless, the small list of such mammals has been added to after an investigation into the strange behaviours of the African crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi).

Jonathan Kingdon and his team, based primarily at Oxford University, have recently released a paper which describes the rat’s anti-predation strategy. The rat exhibits an extraordinary behaviour whereby it gnaws on the roots and bark of the poisonous Apoctnaceae tree (Acokanthera schimperi). It then salivates the toxin it acquires from the plant material onto specialised hairs on its sides, which effectively hold the poison. If under attack the crested rat pulls back its head and shoulders, contracting dermal muscles which part the fur and expose the poison filled hairs to the attacker.

The tree toxins have previously been used to tip the arrows of tribes who hunt elephants, displaying its lethal properties. Consequently, if a predator was to make contact with the rat it can expect symptoms ranging from a mild lack of coordination, to a sudden death from heart failure. This species of rat has other adaptations such as an armoured skull, dense thick skin which dog teeth cannot penetrate, and a fearless attitude, all of which help to protect the slow-moving rat from predation.

This self-anointing behaviour is rarely seen in mammals, with its closest comparison being exhibited in the New Zealand hedgehog, which was studied by Edmund Brodie in 1977. Brodie found that the hedgehog takes the toad’s anti-predator chemical secretions into its mouth, and then licks it onto its spines. This causes a more irritating and painful reaction when predators attack it and are pierced by its spines, however no effects have been recorded as severe as those from the African crested rat.

There are also mammals that produce their own venom. These include some shrew species, the European mole and the male platypus. The male platypus has a venomous spur on its hind legs which produces toxins powerful enough to kill a dog and is excruciatingly painful to humans. The European mole’s venom is directed towards the predation of earth worms as its toxins are able to paralyse such invertebrates. Shrew salvia is also highly venomous, but its prey of amphibians and insects are most at risk as its teeth are unable to puncture the thick skin of larger animals.

The discovery of toxic mammals has sparked a lot of interest in how they evolved, and particularly how behaviours such as those of the African crested rat have developed alongside their environment to be able to utilise plant materials so effectively. The rat’s physiological and biochemical features which prevent it from succumbing to the toxins are also sure to be further researched as a better understanding of such adaptations may help us to treat heart failure in humans.

By Lizy Tinsley

Shell gets approval from US on Arctic drilling

The US interior department has conditionally approved a proposal for Royal Dutch Shell to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic next year. This comes at a critical time for the US and demonstrates Obama’s willingness to approve oil and gas exploration in response to increased petrol prices along with securing the future of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
Environmentalists are outraged at the approval stating that the dangers of drilling in the Arctic are increased due to extreme weather conditions. For Alaskan natives, an oil spill in the region has the ability to destroy livelihoods as they depend so heavily on the sea for resources.

Over the past five years, Shell has spent over $US4 billion to win the right to drill in the Arctic yet continue to face administrative hurdles. Officials told opponents that the company still requires approval for secondary permits before exploration in the Arctic can begin.

Shell faces an environmental impact assessment from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) who just last week suspended arctic scientist Charles Monnet for scientific misconduct. The suspension caused controversy amongst environmentalists claiming that the decision came at a time that was crucial to the interior department’s approval. Director of BOEMRE, Michael Bromwich said ‘’we base our decisions regarding energy exploration and development in the Arctic on the best scientific information available.’’ BOEMRE conditionally approved the proposal to drill after Shell successfully obtained permits from EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

However, the proposal is sure to face legal pressures with the Centre for Biological Diversity already suing to stop oil exploration and drilling in the Chukchi Sea west of Alaska. Environment groups also state that the proposed drilling is in a region frequently used by bowhead whales and has the potential to significantly disrupt their migration to feeding grounds.

Despite opposition, proponents say that the project is crucial for the US economy with claims that the area contains approximately 26 billion barrels of oil. Shell has proposed to drill four wells in the Beaufort Sea and must obtain permits for each well before given final approval from BOEMRE.

By Holly Alsop

Destruction of the Deep Sea

Scientists at the Census of Marine Life project (COML) have recently published findings on the impacts that humans are having on the deep sea.

The analysis is a product of a 10 year assessment on the world’s oceans that was completed in 2010. The conclusions show that a habitat which accounts for 73% of the global oceans is being highly exploited by commercial trawlers, mining, damaged by marine litter and impacted by climate change.

In the past the main human impact affecting the deep sea was litter which led to a ban in 1972 on the dumping of litter in the oceans. Scientists from the Institute of Marine Science in Barcelona found that approximately 6.4 million tonnes of litter per year was being dropped in the oceans. Today, although this impact is lessened, plastics are still numerous mainly due to their very slow degradation rates. Small particles of plastic in particular are becoming more common however, the impact that they may be causing is unknown.

Commercial trawling of the deep sea has been occurring for decades due to the large collapse in shallow water fish stocks and is currently of most concern to scientists. This worry is brought about by the lack of knowledge on the biology of the deep sea environment and the life histories of the species found there. It is now known that many deep sea organisms are long lived, have low fecundities and are slow growing therefore making them ill suited to dealing with heavy fishing pressure. Not only are target fish impacted but also non target species as well as the benthic substrate itself. Deep sea commercial fishermen use beam trawls which run over the substrate leaving a pristine environment as rubble.

Furthermore, successful deep sea mining at hydrothermal vents for valuable minerals has been achieved. This has the potential to impact the organisms found there through habitat destruction and subsequent effects to fauna. This is of particular concern since hydrothermal vents are a hot spot within the deep sea for biodiversity due to the richness of dissolved minerals being released. This supports a large population of chemo – autotrophic bacteria which are in turn supporting a wealth of larger organisms.

Climate change has been indentified as an additional impact to the deep sea through increases in CO2 and the subsequent rise in ocean acidity. This may lead to difficulties in the production of calcium carbonate exoskeletons in deep sea organisms such as scleractinian cold water corals, plankton and molluscs.

The exploitation of the deep sea and the negative effects it is having on both the environment and the fauna within it needs to be addressed before irreversible damage is induced.

Anthony Kubale

BearNew findings use synthesised bear bile compound to help treat heart conditions

The Imperial College London has turned heads recently after publishing a report that suggests properties of bear bile can be used to help treat abnormal heart conditions in humans.

The study is the result of a long term collaboration between  two Imperial research groups, headed by Dr Juila Gorelik, at the National Heart and Lung Institute and Professor Catherine Williamson at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology.

Entitled “A synthesised compound which is also found in bear bile could help prevent disturbances in the hearts normal rhythm”, Dr. Julia Gorelik has been quick to clarify, “In our work we used synthetic UDCA. We do not recommend using bear bile.”

The study found that ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) can be used to treat abnormal heart rhythms in the foetus and after heart attacks in adults. It does this by altering electrical properties of micro fibroblasts and helping the heart muscle to conduct electrical signals effectively.

UDCA is a compound that is easily synthesised, and many have adopted it as an ethical alternative to bear bile. However, unfortunately the use of natural bear bile is still common in traditional Asian medicine to treat eye and liver problems, along with a variety of other ailments.  This is a major conservation and animal welfare issue, particularly since China rejected the European Parliament’s demands for an immediate ban in 2006.

The deputy director-general of the Department of Wildlife Conservation in China stated that “Until we can find a good substitute we cannot accept the EU resolution that urges the elimination of bear farming”. This is supported by Yang Liang of the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who claims the synthetic substitute (UDCA) is too different from natural bile.

In an attempt to put an end to the association between the use of bear bile and the treatment of heart conditions, Dave Eastham, a campaign leader for the WSPA says that “the study presents an undoubtedly exciting result, offering great hope for patients at risk of heart disease, but it should not be tainted by the tremendous suffering associated with bear bile.”

By Nicki Hollamby

Koalas under threat

Environment groups in Australia are calling for the Strzelecki koala to be listed as a threatened species as logging continues to affect the animal’s natural habitat.

The Strzelecki ranges in Victoria are logged at an alarming rate, resulting in fragments in the koala’s habitat. Friends of the Earth researcher Anthony Amis says mountain ash trees felled in the region are replaced by shining gums, which are not a viable food source for the koalas.

Furthermore, the population of Strzelecki koalas significantly declined after the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 with many suffering from stress-related illnesses months later.
The status, health and sustainability of the Strzelecki koala population are currently under examination by The Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications.

When asked if forestry could be sustainable in Victoria, Mr Amis stated that “the demands of [the] industry are to knock out entire catchment areas” however believes that minimal logging could work.

Mountain ash make up the majority of Victoria’s old growth forests, supporting a variety of flora and fauna endemic to the region. Highly valued for its timber, mountain ash are clear felled and most commonly used as woodchips and in paper production.

Chief executive of Hancock Victorian Plantations Linda Sewell disputes claims that the industry acts irresponsibly stating that high operating standards are maintained and that wildlife are taken in to consideration. Ms Sewell said workers are required to ‘’conduct visual assessment of any koalas before logging periods, and if koalas are found during harvesting, operations are temporarily suspended while koalas move through the logging area.”

Despite these regulations, Friends of the Earth maintain there is little hope for the Strzelecki koala whilst logging in the region continues.  A Senate inquiry on the status of the animal is due to report their findings on August 24 with the hope that the Strzelecki koala will be recognised as a threatened species.

By Holly Alsop

Arctic scientist under investigation

Wildlife biologist and government scientist Charles Monnett has been suspended just as a decision is about to be made on offshore drilling in the Arctic. Monnett’s work has been put under official investigation for possible scientific misconduct. Questions have been raised as to whether these actions are politically motivated, or whether his observations on the effects of climate change on polar bears, have been misleading.

Monnet drew links between climate change and the decline polar bears after coming across the bodies of four of these beautiful giants whilst on a research flight tracking bowhead whales in 2004. Scientists concluded the bears had drowned swimming the long distances between patches of solid Arctic sea ice.

In a paper published in science journal Polar Biology in 2006, Monnett’s fellow government scientist Jeffrey Gleason wrote “drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.” Monnett and Gleason were questioned regarding this paper during part of the investigation.

US authorities deny the suspension is linked to Monnett’s initial work on polar bears drowning. Monnett oversaw over £30 million in research contracts, the most recent being a study on the effect of changing habitats on polar bears. This research is now the focus of government investigation.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) have filed an official complaint and are petitioning to have Monnett reinstated. According to Jeff Ruch, the president of PEER, the suspension comes at a time where the interior department is about to make a critical decision on offshore drilling in arctic waters.

“You have to wonder: this is the guy in charge of all the science in the Arctic and he is being suspended just now as an arm of the interior department is getting ready to make its decision on offshore drilling in Arctic seas,” Ruch said.

Extensive research is now looking to determine the problems of drilling in such a fragile environment, with oil firms exploring innovative and advanced accident prevention and clean-up strategies. However, the environmental community believe the logistical problems of trying to clean up a spill in the Arctic would leave the world fighting a losing battle.

By Nicki Hollamby

Shark week

Until the 6th August 2011 it is shark week on discovery channel. So to wet your appetite, here are some interesting facts about them.

1)    Glowing shark – one species of shark, the cookiecutter, attracts prey using a similar principle that is employed by the deep sea anglerfish. It has photophores on the underside of the shark to lure in its prey.

2)    Fastest shark – the fastest recorded shark is a short fin mako that can reach speeds of up to 35kph.

3)    Largest teeth – the largest teeth belonging to an extant species belongs to the great white who possess teeth up to 2 inches long.

4)    Highest breeching shark – this belongs to the short fin mako again. They can reportedly leap 6 meters.

5)    Longest shark – the whale shark can reach lengths of over 15m!

6)    Highest number of offspring (viviparous  and oviparous) – the blue shark can give birth to approximately 135 pups/litter and the whale shark can produce roughly 300 eggs/shark

7)    Weirdest objects found inside a shark stomach – half a bull dog, half a sheep, license plates, a torpedo and a tattooed arm which led to an arrest in a murder case!

8)    Unusual sharks – one of the most unusual sharks is a species called the megamouth. It was only discovered in 1976 and only 51 specimens have ever been seen. They are filter feeders and can reach lengths of around 5.5m, with their mouths being 1.3m wide.

9)    Poisonous shark – the flesh of the Greenland shark is highly poisonous and must be boiled in several changes of water before being consumed.

10)    Things you are more likely to be killed by than a shark – a toaster, bee sting, cows, lightning and you are more likely to be bitten by someone in New York than a shark in the water!

By Haley Dolton

Cuban crocodile hybridisation

The Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and is now restricted to two small habitats in Cuba; the Zapata and Lanier Swamps. One of the main dangers facing this declining population is hybridisation with the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). These two species are known to hybridise in captivity, but it has only just been established by DNA testing that hybridisation occurs in the wild.

Seven microsatellites, nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA were analysed from fossilised and living specimens of C. rhombifer and C. acutus to establish any evolutionary links. It was concluded that hybridisation between C. rhombifer and C. acutus has been occurring during their evolution as well as in the present. This is because only a 1% sequence divergence and different frequencies of haplotypes have been found.

This discovery poses some interesting dilemmas for conservation strategies looking to protect C. rhombifer as a percentage of the population will not be “pure” but composed of hybrids. A lot of time, money and resources have gone into protecting the Zapata swamp which is home to approximately 3,000 C. rhombifer. The question facing this conservation project now, is whether it is worth continuing with this research or finding a new method to protect only the “pure” populations.

One suggestion includes making the swamps less tolerable to C. acutus by restoring freshwater flows. However, this could potentially affect the delicate balance of solutes already in the swamp causing irreversible damage to the entire ecosystem.

By Haley Dolton

New Turtle Project at Ganado, Drake Bay

As the peak turtle nesting season draws closer, the Frontier Costa Rica Project has seen exciting developments as a new camp has been established.  In the beautiful region of Drake Bay Frontier volunteers have moved into ”Lyddon Lodge”, a small wooden house which looks out onto the mouth of the Rio Ganado, where it meets the roaring waves of the Pacific ocean.  Constituting part of the largest mangrove expanse on the Pacific coast of all the Americas, the camp is surrounded by wildlife.  Green herons are seen regularly stalking their fishy prey and the house is often visited by friendly frogs such as the rotund Smokey Jungle frog and the athletic Gladiator tree frog.  A trip in the Titanic (our rather hefty row boat) across the river takes you to the paradise-like Ganado beach.   It is here where Frontier staff and volunteers patrol the 2.9km stretch both morning and night.  So far, we have already relocated one turtle nest and witnessed a hatchling successfully make its first journey to the sea!

In addition to the beach patrols, the Frontier crew have been helping the Corcovado Foundation build a hatchery on Playa Drake.  In the heat of the sun, we got hands on with sieves and shovels to clean all the sand in the hatchery to ensure that there were no roots or stones which could impede a hatchlings exit from a nest and also to remove any competing iguana eggs.  Mesh walls were made for the perimeter of the hatchery and a sand-bag wall was erected to protect the hatchery from any super-high tides.  This somewhat sweaty work was rewarded with several “pipas” (fresh coconut) breaks and a real sense of achievement when the job was finally done.  Once turtle nests have been relocated to the hatchery, it will be guarded 24/7 to ensure none of the nests are poached or predated.

On Ganado beach, nests are relocated to another part of the beach rather than to a hatchery.  The purpose of nest relocation is to improve the hatching success rate.  By disguising the nest in a new location, away from the tell-tale tracks of the nesting female, it is less likely to be discovered by poachers.  Also, although sand from the original nest is used for the new nest as it contains mucus-like substances which are important for egg development, sand from the new site is used for the top layers of the nest as it will not carry the scent of the nesting turtle, therefore reducing the chance of a predator finding the eggs.

The project, started by the Corcovado Foundation  about  6 years ago, works closely with the locals who help lead patrols, guard the hatchery and participate in educational activities in the community.  This is a vital factor in the project’s success, and it has seen several ex-poachers contribute to turtle conservation.  In return, volunteers can contribute to the community through eco-tourism with activities such as horse-riding, bird-watching walks, and trips to waterfalls, the nearby national park and even zip-lining!  The current Frontier volunteers went on a trip to the nearby Isla del Caño, a small island made famous by its feature in the Jurassic Park movies.

By Flora O’Brien

Overfishing of cod wastes £2.7 billion in less than 50 years

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has calculated that just over 2.1 million tonnes of cod was thrown overboard in Northern Europe between 1963 and 2008.  According to the New Economics Foundation (NEF), the revenue that this would have amounted to is approximately £2.7 billion.

Cod is one of the most documented and fading stocks with over 90% being fished before they can breed. However, it is by no means the only species that is suffering. Not only is it of conservational importance that stocks are diminishing at an alarming rate, but also for the economy and industry which rely on fish stocks being at their best.

Researchers estimate that up to 39 million tons of unwanted fish are caught and dumped back into the sea each year because of unsustainable fishing practices and equipment. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that almost 70% of the world’s major fish stocks are over-exploited or depleted.

EU fisheries all face similar problems; most stocks are being overfished by a fleet that is too large and too efficient. To meet EU regulations fishing fleets are discarding fish when too many are caught, when the fish are too small or have low economic value as well as any bycatch.

A revised EU common fisheries policy (CFP), publicized in early July, said discarding would be phased out with fishing boats obliged to land all stocks of commercial fish they catch.

When presenting the proposals, Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries said “Action is needed now to get all our fish stocks back into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations. Only under this precondition can fishermen continue to fish and earn a decent living out of their activities.”

Rupert Crilly, an environmental economics researcher at New Economics Foundation has said that for all the potential benefits of the EU discard ban, there are other aspects that require change in order to combat the problem of diminishing fish stocks.

Crilly suggests that fishing guidelines be set by scientists who understand and can assess the ocean as a whole ecosystem, rather than treating it as a resource. The total catch must drop significantly and guidelines strictly enforced if fish are to sustain their populations and continue to support a commercial harvest.

The problem of overfishing and the negative effect it is having on fish stocks is an important global issue that needs to be comprehensively addressed before the damage is irreversible.

By Nicki Hollamby

The Butterfly Effect – The Need to Reverse the Decline

Renowned throughout the world for their bright colours and multifaceted life cycles, butterflies are much more than what they seem. This well-known insect can reach sizes of up to 12 inches across (like the Owl butterfly from South America), fly at speeds of up to 30mph (like the cryptically coloured Skippers), and has the ability to taste food with its feet.

This highly developed creature has one of the most complex classification systems in the animal kingdom. From the order Lepidoptera, butterflies are divided into 6 families which are then further divided into almost 40 sub-families, followed by tribes and even sub-tribes before eventually slotting into over 20,000 different species that can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Some butterfly species are highly mobile and can travel great distances in order to find a suitable place in which to live. The Monarch Butterfly is famous for its seasonal migration between Canada to Mexico. At up to 4500km this migration can span the life of three or four generations of the butterfly whose lifespan can be as short as two months. Mothers will lay their eggs en-route and the next generation will continue the journey.

Butterflies can act as indicators of a changing environment because they are some of the first creatures to respond to variations in the environment. Because of this butterflies can be used to establish the overall health of a particular environment, predict patterns in other taxonomic groups and even help to determine climate change.

Species such as the Silver-spotted Skipper in Britain require specific habitat qualities in order for the larval stages to develop. There are also some specialist species that will rarely move more than 20 metres from where they hatched from their chrysalis if the surroundings are unfavourable. This limited mobility makes these species extremely sensitive to small changes in the environment and it is these species that are the most at risk from local, regional and ultimately complete extinction.

Many factors contribute to the decrease in butterfly numbers. Both natural and managed changes can render habitats unsuitable for once abundant species. The use of insecticides, pesticides and fertilisers also contribute to the significant decline in wildlife in rural areas.

In the UK wild meadows that were once harvested for hay in late summer and were abundant in flowers and insects are no longer as common, and changes in EU policies and funds for land set aside by farmers as nature areas mean even more butterfly habitats are being lost.

Although many species have a preference for open, sunny and even disturbed areas the fragmentation of butterfly habitats due to development can have a shrinking effect on the gene pool. This can decrease the strength of the affected populations often resulting in interbreeding and disease.

Awareness concerning the importance of butterflies is gradually increasing as research concludes their success as biodiversity indicators. But action needs to be taken.

The IUCN Red List of European Butterflies states that 9% of butterflies are Threatened and a further 10% are Near Threatened. In Britain alone 4 species are regionally extinct with over 50% listed as Concern.

Butterfly Conservation in Britain headed by Sir David Attenborough, is on a mission to ‘halt and reverse the declines’ and is encouraging people to take part in a nationwide survey to determine the health of the British environment.

By Nicki Hollamby


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