Monthly Archives: March 2009



HONOLULU – A rare Hawaii vine has been added to the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said yesterday.

It’s the second species to be classified as endangered by the Obama administration.

The first was the reticulated flatwoods salamander, an amphibian native to south Georgia, north Florida and coastal South Carolina. It was put on the list last month.

The Hawaii plant is found only in the wet forests on the island of Molokai, 2,300 to 4,200 feet above sea level. The green vine’s loosely spreading branches often tangle in a large mass.

The vine doesn’t have a common name, and is known only by its scientific name of Phyllostegia hispida.

“It is our hope that it will come to the forefront of public attention along with Hawaii’s other numerous endangered plants,” said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the agency’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

Only 10 individual plants of the vine had been spotted between 1910 and 1996, the agency said.

It was thought to be extinct in 1997. But two seedlings were found at the Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve in 2005.

Since 2007, 24 wild plants have been discovered. A total of 238 plants are known to currently exist.

The vine’s low numbers put it at higher risk for being wiped out by natural disasters like hurricanes and disease outbreaks.

Feral pigs, an invasive species, and competition from nonnative plants also threaten the plant.

The Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu, Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Molokai, and other organization have been growing specimens that may be used to plant the vine in the wild, the agency said.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources has put up fences in some areas to protect them from pigs and other feral animals.

Hawaii has 329 federally protected endangered species, more than any other state.

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57 varieties of sweet water fishes on verge of extinction in S region


At least fifty-seven indigenous varieties of sweet water fishes, particularly small ones, are on the verge of extinction throughout the southern region.

According to a study conducted by Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, in recent past more than 260 varieties of sweet water fishes were available in Barisal division which now decreasing every day and already 57 varieties of regional sweet water fishes marked as endangered at the verge of extinction in southern region.

Probir Kumar Ganguly, professor of Zoology department of Barisal Brojo Mohon College, cautioned these varieties would be extincted within next ten years.

He viewed that frequent and indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers in agricultural land , farming hybrid, aggressive carp variety of fishes had directly or indirectly been destroying the open and culture water fishery resources and fish food organisms of the wetland and floodplains.

Barisal divisional fishery office sources claimed that over-fishing due to increasing population, environmental crises like siltation of open sources of sweet water like rivers, canals, ponds, enclosures , sharp declining of spawning, breeding ground and natural seed production of fish in most areas, pollution of water bodies by industrial wastes, chemical fertilizers and pesticides and lack of fish sanctuaries guided by proper policy mechanisms led to such a situation.

Divisional fishery office sources said six districts of Barisal division have 4.5 lakh hectors of river,2.84 hectares of river estuary ,20 thousand hectares of bil or haor,1.45 lakhs hectares of polder and enclosures to produce 1.37 lakhs tons of sweet water fishes against the regional demands of 1.57 lakhs metric tons of sweet water fishes.

Besides those open water sources there are about 40 thousand hectres of closed water bodies including 86,200 ponds and ditches on 23,500 hectres of land, five lakes on 900 hectares of land, other small water bodies on 15,600 hectares of land.

In 2004-05 fiscal 13,000 metric tones of indigenous varieties of fishes were produced from those closed water bodies, which decreases to 8,000 metric tons in 2007-08 fiscal, sources informed.

Bankim Chandra Biswas, assistant deputy director of Barisal divisional fishery office, said they have preserved photo description of 86 local varieties of sweet water fishes of the region and within last five years average yearly production of these fishes have been decreased to 59.68%.

If this rate of indigenous sweet water fish production continued to be falling down, then production of those fishes in open and closed water sources would be decreased to zero percent within next ten years, cautioned ADD of divisional fishery officer.

Thirteen out of those endangered 57 including Nandina, Ghora, Swarna Puti, Moha Shoul, Rita, Kajli, Ghaura, Bacha, Shilong, Pangas, Bagha Aier, Chenua and Gila Shoul, are mostly endangered.

Sixteen other varieties including Foli,Bao Bain, Kash Khoira,Tat Kini,Golsha, Bash Pata,Gang Magur,Kucha,Nama Chanda, Lal Chanda,Bish Tara,Veda,Raga,Tara Bain and Shal Bain, also marked as endangered.

Rest 28 varieties including Chitol,Joya, Khoksa,Sefatia,Kala Bata, Kali Boush,Ghonia, Dhela, Boal,Darkina,Beti, Rani,Aier, Tengra, Pabda, Ek Thotha,Kota, Kumirer Khil,Napit Koi, Neftani, Gojar, Boga, Ram Sos, Chaumma Chingri,Taki, Khoilsa, Molanti, Deshi Koi,Magur, Sing, are also near to be endangered.

Abdul Aziz, deputy director of Barisal divisional fishery office, said along with the biological management system of the water bodies, there is a need to establish ‘fisheries sanctuary’ and shifting control of water body management from land ministry to fisheries ministry to preserve all varieties of fish.

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Now the hunter has become the hunted: warnings that the end is near for sharks


NEARLY TWO tonnes of dried shark fins – from at least 100 sharks caught at sea – found in the hold of a Taiwanese fishing vessel in Cape Town harbour have shed light on a trade that is driving the top hunter of the oceans towards extinction.

The South African permit for the Chien Jiu, whose 26 crew members are being held pending trial, was for the acquisition of just 100 kilos of shark fin. Under international regulations, the Chien Jiu’s skipper was also required by maritime officials to produce the entire body of each shark from which fins were taken: he was unable to do so.

Given the scale of the Chien Jiu’s horde, the Cape Town authorities said the vessel should legally have produced 32 tonnes of whole shark. Only four tonnes were found.

The regulation was brought in to curb the widespread practice of “finning.” Sharks are caught and hauled on board where crewmen remove the gelatinous dorsal and other fins with hot metal blades before sliding the finless fish back into the ocean where, immobile and bleeding, they die from suffocation or predator attack.

“Our oceans are being emptied of sharks, and the scale of the problem is global,” said Julia Baum, a scientist at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She added: “We are looking at a high risk of extinction of some shark species over the next few years. The loss of top predators such as sharks can damage whole marine ecosystems.”

While sharks kill few humans each year – perhaps dozens, with only 19 fatal attacks in Australian waters since 1990 and four in “Jaws” territory off Florida in the same period – humans kill nearly 100 million sharks each year.

In a quasi-legal trade, linked to Chinese Triad gangs, the fins – selling at US$700 a kilo – are exported into various corners of Asian affluence where bowls of shark fin soup, reputed to offer medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities, are dished up at $200 a time.

Great white and hammerhead sharks have been reduced in numbers by 70% in the last 15 years, while others, such as the silky white tip, have disappeared from the Caribbean, according to the late Dr Ransom Myers, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“If you go to any reef around the world, except for those that are really protected, the sharks are gone,” said Myers. “Their value is so great that completely harmless sharks, like whale sharks, are killed for their fins.”

Even Peter Benchley, who put the fear of God into people with his 1974 best-selling novel and film Jaws, about a man-eating great white shark, had a Damascene conversion before he died in 2006. Having dived in a shark graveyards where he saw the corpses of finless sharks littering the sea, he became an ardent shark conservationist.

He said: “I like to think that, after thousands of years and hundreds of generations of fearing sharks and hating them and wanting to kill them, perhaps we’re beginning to appreciate them for the magnificent animals they are.”

Benchley became a member of the US National Council of Environmental Defence, where a spokesman for its oceans programme said: “The shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain. It would have to be written as the victim for world-wide, sharks are much more the oppressed that the oppressors.”

Millions of fins are consumed in shark fin soup in Asian communities, who revere the product as a status symbol and a cure for a range of ailments – although there is no scientific evidence to back the claims.

To serve the soup at a large affair, such as a wedding, is to make a statement about one’s success. “Without shark fin, a Chinese banquet does not look like one at all,” said Chiu Ching-cheung, chairman of Hong Kong’s Shark Fin Trade Merchants’ Association.
Benchley tried it and gave this verdict: “It’s stringy and slimy and mucousy and tasteless – but savour isn’t the point of shark fin soup. The point of serving and eating it is to show off.”

Dr Len Compagno, one of the world’s leading shark experts, based at Cape Town’s Iziko Museum, said: “I fear the bitter end for sharks is already here.”

He said that although great white sharks are protected in South African waters some species, such as the blue shark, which grows to nearly four metres long, have been severely depleted.

Compagno said shark species can take up to 20 years to reach sexual maturity and give birth to only a few young at a time. As the top predators at the apex of reef systems, sharks keep the ecological balance, he said. “By eliminating sharks, you pull the plug on the reefs, resulting in overpopulation, overgrazing and overfeeding by other reef dwellers.”

Meag McCord, a scientist with the South African Shark Conservancy, said “finning” is illegal in South African coastal waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore. She said the Chien Jiu had probably caught most of its sharks outside the South African coastal zone, although within it there is little monitoring of foreign fishing fleets.

McCord said assessments of the South African shark stock had begun recently. “The reality is that our sharks are being targeted,” she said.

“It appears that while our stocks are sustainable, they are nevertheless declining despite their protection by law.”

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Wild elephants in Bengkulu under threat of extinction


Wild elephants in Bengkulu province are under threat of extinction because illegal loggers and land squatters have begun to operate in areas close to the Seblat Elephant Training Center in North Bengkulu district, a local nature conservation official said as reported by Antara newswire on Saturday.

If the illegal activities were not stopped soon, the forest corridor linking the Elephant Training Center with the Kerinci Seblat National Park would be breached and the habitat of elephants under the center`s care destroyed, Andi Basral, head of Bengkulu`s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said on Friday through Aswan Bangun, coordinator of the Seblat Elephants Training Center.

“We can do little to overcome the illegal activities because of lack of support from the local law-enforcing agencies,” Bangun said.

The BKSDA had the authority to act against the illegal loggers and squatters but the agency`s personnel were limited in number and could therefore not achieve much, he added.

Bangun said about 1,500 heactares of the 6,865-hectare forest-covered zone belonging to the Seblat Elephant Training Center were now in seriously damaged condition because of the illegal activities.

The Seblat Elephant Training Center could only be saved if the local administration, including law-enforcing agencies, took part in efforts to protect the center and the elephants` habitat, Bangun said.

In the past, he said, he had asked for and received assistance from the local forestry service and police to drive away the illegal loggers and squatters but it was only temporary.

“When they (illegal loggers and squatters) get wind of an imminent joint operation against them, they cease their activities but as soon as the officers have gone, they are at it again,” he said.

If the illegal activities were not halted, the elephants` habitat would gradually disappear
and leave the protected animals nowhere to live.

Bangun said he believed 85 percent of Bengkulu`s wild elephant population was living outside the center and the Kerinci Seblat National Park but did not know exactly how many wild elephants there were in Bengkulu province.

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Time for U.S. to stop killing, start helping jaguars


SILVER CITY, N.M. – On Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity will argue in federal court in Tucson that the Bush administration’s refusal to develop a recovery plan or designate critical habitat for endangered jaguars was illegal and should be reversed.

The eventual ruling in that court case will determine whether Macho B, the much-photographed southern Arizona jaguar that died in captivity on March 2, will be remembered as one of the last jaguars ever to be seen in the wild in the United States – or as one of the first jaguars among many in this still-young century to live his life in the wilds of the southwestern United States.

For thousands of years, jaguars inhabited large swaths of the present-day United States. In historic times, they were reported from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Appalachian Mountains. Habitat degradation, fur trapping and predator control eliminated them from the vast majority of this range.

In 1918, the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey initiated a jaguar-eradication program in behalf of the livestock industry, when it killed a jaguar in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. The last known female jaguar in the United States was shot by the survey’s successor agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 1963 in the White Mountains. The government’s transformation from the jaguar’s agent of extermination to protector has been a slow one.

In 1969, Fish and Wildlife listed the jaguar as an endangered species throughout its range except in the United States. In 1979, the agency announced that only through an oversight was the jaguar not on the U.S. list of endangered species, and the next year, the agency proposed listing the jaguar domestically. But it failed to finalize the proposal. In the absence of federal protection in the United States, a jaguar was shot in 1986 in the Dos Cabezas Mountains east of Tucson.

A Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit finally resulted in the jaguar’s protection as a U.S. endangered species in 1997, which should have led to the appointment of a recovery team, development of a recovery plan and protection of critical habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, refused to do any of this.

Even after years of motion-sensor photos of Macho B and other jaguars in Arizona, and despite historic reports of jaguar kittens in California and Arizona, as well as old reports of jaguars as far afield as Louisiana and North Carolina, the Bush administration announced that a recovery plan was inappropriate for an animal whose “historic and current ranges occur entirely under the jurisdiction of other countries.”

In contrast, the American Society of Mammalogists endorsed developing a jaguar-recovery plan and protecting jaguar critical habitat, as well as continued opportunities for jaguars to cross the international border. These scientists noted that “Habitats for the jaguar in the United States, including Arizona and New Mexico, are vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species, especially in response to ongoing climate change.”

Critical habitat designation would protect jaguar habitat from a multitude of threats, including mining, urban sprawl, roads and others. Formation of a recovery team would lead to development of a recovery plan, which would provide a road map for recovering the jaguar.

A recovery team could have also provided oversight of jaguar research, which might have prevented the early death of Macho B. Indeed, two jaguars died in 2002 and 2003 shortly after capture in Sonora, after which jaguar experts warned that snares may not be appropriate for capturing the animals.

Despite this warning, Arizona Game and Fish still allowed placement of snares in the same mountain range where Macho B had recently been found. Federal scientific leadership through a scientific recovery team is needed to investigate Macho’s demise, evaluate the record of jaguar captures and recommend research methods consistent with recovery.

Jaguars are important to the natural balance of the ecosystems in which they evolved. Their hidden presence is part of the reason that deer developed their alertness, that bighorn sheep can climb almost-sheer cliffs to safety, and that javelinas in herds act aggressively when threatened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, having helped exterminate the jaguar in the U.S., can do more to welcome our big cats home.

Michael Robinson is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, and author of “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West.”

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Africa’s first bird extinction likely within four years (Re-Issue


London, March 22 (ANI): A new study has warned that Africa might soon see its first bird extinction in about four years time.

According to a report in New Scientist, the bird in question is the Sidamo lark, which may become the first contemporary African bird to go extinct.

The lark is adapted to Ethiopia’s ‘rangeland’ – the savannah of native grasses that traditionally covered large parts of east Africa, but is now rapidly disappearing.

‘If the rangeland goes, so will the lark,’ said Claire Spottiswoode from the University of Cambridge.

‘Rangeland degradation is often overlooked by conservationists, but it is not just the birds that suffer from the change in land use. The native people, the Borana pastoralists, also rely on intact rangeland to support their nomadic lifestyle,’ she added.

Spottiswoode and her team became interested in the Sidamo lark after a BirdLife International report estimated that only 1600 to 2000 individuals of this little known bird were left on Ethiopia’s Liben plain, occupying an area of 760 km square.

However, once the team began to map the vegetation and count larks along transects, they quickly discovered that the population is actually much smaller.

Changes to traditional ways of life mean that much of the rangeland has disappeared.

In areas where the Liben plain has been overgrown by bush, converted into farmland or destroyed by overgrazing, the team rarely found Sidamo larks.

They conclude that the range of the bird is now down to only 35 km sqaure and that the remaining patch hosts 250 adult larks at best.

The Sidamo lark seems to be dependant on grassland 5 to 15 centimeters tall. Away from the Liben plain, there is no similar vegetation for over 200 km, meaning the lark has nowhere else to go.

‘It’s effectively like living on an island, and that’s where most extinctions happen,’ said Spottiswoode.

‘If the situation does not improve rapidly, this species will be gone in four years or even sooner,’ said Spottiswoode, who is calling for the bird’s status to be moved to critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. (ANI)

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Rotonda residents still fighting to save turtles


ROTONDA — Amid reports that turtle harvesters are back trying to work their canals, concerned residents are monitoring the waterways and pinning their hopes on stricter regulations that have been proposed by the Florida Wildlife Commission.

Rotonda residents have been signing petitions and writing to the commission for months in support of tighter regulations. When some residents noticed commercial fishermen in the canals recently, they have also begun calling law enforcement agencies to make certain they are abiding by the current regulations.

The reason: “If you take these turtles away,” said Berlinda Olsen, “how can we expect them to come back?”

That question has been echoed by countless Floridians as well as more than three dozen scientists who support a possible new ban on soft-shell turtle harvesting. If approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the ban will set much stricter limits on the hunting of freshwater turtles.

In November 2008, Rotonda residents were appalled to find trot lines with nearly 500 hooks on them floating in the community’s canals. The lines were lying in wait to trap soft-shell turtles that swim through the nearly 30 miles of waterways in Rotonda.

Olsen and her husband Don saw the boats and trot lines from their back yard.

“We were just furious,” she said. “I had no idea there was even such a thing.”

The turtles that could usually be seen poking their heads out of the canal weren’t around for weeks after the fishermen’s stay, Olsen added.

The couple was even more shocked to learn that what the fishermen were doing was completely legal.

Though other states have made the practice illegal, licenses are available in Florida that allow up to 20 soft-shelled turtles to be harvested per day.

Olsen is now on a mission to stop the harvesting of these turtles. Since November, she has collected more than 200 signatures for a community petition.

“They’re necessary to the health of our waterways,” she said, “and nobody’s monitoring this harvesting.”

The issue has been a long-standing debate between the fishermen who harvest the turtles for a living and conservationists who fear the extinction of the docile Florida creatures.

Perhaps the most powerful advocate of the ban is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

In November, Crist personally wrote to the commission asking for “a move toward a complete ban on the harvesting of our wild turtles.”

A flourishing Asian market is to blame for the recent demand for the turtles, Olsen and other concerned citizens said. In parts of Korea, China and Japan, turtle meat is considered a delicacy and is used in many dishes.

However, Asia’s turtle population has been harvested nearly to extinction and the market is now looking to the United States for its supplies.

“The species is being depleted,” said Bob Winter, a member of the Aquatic Canal System Committee in Rotonda, “people are getting upset.”

After a significant harvest in an area it can take years for population numbers to rebound, due to the slow growth and maturation process of many soft-shell turtles.

“Few places in North America have the rich diversity of turtles that we have here in Florida,” said Tim Breault, director of Habitat and Species Conservation at the FWC. “This proposed rule ensures their long-term survival.”

A decision on the possible ban of turtle harvesting will be made April 15 in Tallahassee by the commission.

If approved, the proposition will be sent to a final hearing at the June commission meeting.

Those who want to write to the Florida Wildlife Commission about new rules for harvesting turtles should send their letters to:

Rodney Barreto, Chairman

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

620 S. Meridian St.

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600

To send an e-mail to him, address it to:


Sun Correspondent

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Fears for endangered species after bushfires


Environmentalistsfear the bushfires have threatened the survival of some of Australia’s most endangered species.

An investigation by the Wilderness Society has found the intense fires burnt through the habitats of the Sooty Owl, Spotted Tree Frog, Ground Parrot and the Barred Glalaxias Fish.

Spokesman Richard Hughes says there are also fears for the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

“It’s had a significant percentage of its habitat impacted by these fires,” he said.

“There’s going to need to be careful monitoring and management because these areas are going to be sensitive and important in terms of the species’ survival.”

Mr Hughes says we need specific rescue plans for a number of endangered species that live in areas affected by the fires.

“The implications may not be known in terms of the broader populations for some time, it may in fact be some years,” he said.

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Federal report highlights threat to Hawaii birds


HONOLULU: A federal report released Thursday highlighted the perilous state of Hawaii’s avian population, noting nearly all native Hawaiian bird species are in danger of becoming extinct.

One-third of U.S. endangered birds are in Hawaii, said the report issued by the Interior Department. More bird species are vulnerable to extinction in the islands than anywhere else in the country.

“That is the epicenter of extinctions and near-extinctions,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which helped produce the study. “Hawaii is (a) borderline ecological disaster.”

Many in the islands are aware Hawaii’s birds are in trouble. But it’s rare for the issue to receive such prominent attention.

And there are already signs the spotlight may translate into more funds for bird population restoration efforts in the islands.

Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy’s executive director of conservation advocacy, told a Washington, D.C., news conference announcing the report that only 4 percent of the Bush administration’s spending on endangered species recovery went to Hawaii birds.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, acknowledging this and other similar remarks, indicated he would try to change the situation.

“My hope is that some of these places where we have had holes, we can address,” Salazar said of upcoming budget plans.

Hawaii’s native birds are threatened by the destruction of their habitats by invasive plant species and feral animals like pigs, goats and sheep.

Diseases, especially those borne by mosquitoes, are another killer.

One of those in trouble is the palila, a bird that lives on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea. Its population plunged by more than 60 percent from 6,600 in 2002 to 2,200 last year.

Habitat loss and predators are part of the problem, said Holly Freifeld, a vertebrate recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu.

Another is that grazing feral sheep ruin mamane trees, which provide palila birds with their preferred food: mamane seed pods. The trees are also being killed by disease.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to fence off an area on Mauna Kea, and remove sheep from the fenced area, to give the palila an environment where it can flourish, Freifeld said in an interview.

The restored habitat would also likely help other endangered birds which also have lived in the same forest ecosystem, she said.

Similar habitat restoration projects have worked in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.

Workers there installed fences, controlled invasive plant species, removed pigs, and planted koa and ohia trees.

The Interior Department’s report, called “The State of the Birds United States of America 2009,” noted Hakalau’s populations of the Hawaii creeper and akiapolaau have increased dramatically.

“Application of these successful methods is urgently needed elsewhere,” the report said.

Scott Fetz, wildlife program manager at the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said he was confident such efforts could help restore all of Hawaii’s endangered species, excluding those that have already become extinct.

“The basic, fundamental problem that we have is a lack of funding to do what we need to do,” Fetz said. “If we had a lot more funding that we do, we would be able to recover most, if not all, of the species that we have that are endangered.”

Fetz said legislation pending before Congress could provide a welcome boost.

One called the “Teaming with Wildlife Act” would provide funding for restoration efforts.

Another designed to provide money to help states cope with climate change would help Hawaii because warmer temperatures allow mosquitoes to enter habitats at higher elevations currently inhabited by the palila and other forest birds.

The U.S. State of Birds report, released by the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday, was requested in October 2007 by President George W. Bush.


On the Net:

State of the Birds report:

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Leatherback Turtle Threatened By Plastic Garbage In Ocean

PRESS RELEASE – from Science Daily

Leatherback turtles, the most widely distributed reptiles on Earth, are threatened with extinction themselves, in large part due to the carelessness of humans. A Dalhousie University professor addresses the threat of plastics to this endangered species.

They survived the extinction of the dinosaurs. They’re descendants of one of the oldest family trees in history, spanning 100 million years. But today leatherback turtles, the most widely distributed reptiles on Earth, are threatened with extinction themselves, in large part due to the carelessness of humans.

We’ve seen reference to the dangers plastic poses to marine life, garbage that we humans directly and indirectly deposit in the oceans, but how clearly have we received the message? Not well enough according to a recent article in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin co-authored by Dalhousie University’s Mike James.

“We wanted to see if plastics ingestion in leatherbacks was hype or reality,” says Dr. James, senior species at risk biologist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and adjunct professor with Dalhousie’s Department of Biology.

“It was a monumental effort that looked back at necropsies over the last century from all over the world,” he explains. (Necropsies are post-mortem examinations performed on animals.) “After reviewing the results of 371 necropsies since 1968, we discovered over one third of the turtles had ingested plastic.”

Since leatherbacks prefer eating jellyfish, it’s widely believed they mistake bags or other plastics for their meals. Since jellyfish and marine debris concentrate where ocean water masses meet, leatherbacks feeding in these areas are vulnerable to ingesting plastic.

Once leatherbacks ingest plastic, thousands of spines lining the throat and esophagus make it nearly impossible to regurgitate. The plastic can lead to partial or even complete obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in decreased digestive efficiency, energetic and reproductive costs and, for some, starvation.

“Plastics ingestion doesn’t always cause death, but there are clearly health risks to the turtles,” says Dr.James.

Fascinated by reptiles as a child, Dr. James developed a lifelong interest in turtles, from raising them as a kid, to his PhD research and now as a biologist and conservationist. He says there are simple ways to stop these ongoing threats.

“The frustrating, yet hopeful aspect is that humans can easily begin addressing the solution, without major lifestyle changes,” says Dr. James. “It’s as simple as reducing packaging and moving towards alternative, biodegradable materials and recycling.”

Leatherback turtles are classified as critically endangered world-wide. The true population size is not precisely known, as only adult females come ashore for nesting in remote tropical locations. During the summer and fall, Canadian waters support the highest density of foraging leatherbacks in the North Atlantic.

Journal reference:

  1. Mrosovsky et al. Leatherback turtles: The menace of plastic. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2009; 58 (2): 287 DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2008.10.018
Adapted from materials provided by Dalhousie University, via Newswise.

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