Category Archives: environmentalism

Mercury on the rise in endangered Pacific seabirds

Public release date: 18-Apr-2011

Contact: Todd Datz
Harvard School of Public Health

Mercury on the rise in endangered Pacific seabirds

Boston, MA – Using 120 years of feathers from natural history museums in the United States, Harvard University researchers have been able to track increases in the neurotoxin methylmercury in the black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), an endangered seabird that forages extensively throughout the Pacific.

The study shows that the observed increase in methylmercury levels, most likely from human-generated emissions, can be observed and tracked over broad time periods in organisms that live in the Pacific Ocean.

The study was published in an online early edition on April 18, 2011, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study has important implications for both environmental and public health, say the authors. “The Pacific in particular warrants high conservation concern as more threatened seabird species inhabit this region than any other ocean,” said lead author Anh-Thu Vo, who did her research while an undergraduate at Harvard and is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. “Given both the high levels of methylmercury that we measured in our most recent samples and regional levels of emissions, mercury bioaccumulation and toxicity may undermine reproductive effort in this species and other long-lived, endangered seabirds.”

The researchers collected feathers from black-footed albatross specimens in the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology and the University of Washington Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and analyzed methylmercury in samples from 1880 to 2002. They found increasing levels of methylmercury that were generally consistent with historical global and recent regional increases in anthropogenic mercury emissions.

“Methylmercury has no benefit to animal life and we are starting to find high levels in endangered and sensitive species across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems, indicating that mercury pollution and its subsequent chemical reactions in the environment may be important factors in species population declines,” said study co-author Michael Bank, a research associate in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

“Using these historic bird feathers, in a way, represents the memory of the ocean, and our findings serve as a window to the historic and current conditions of the Pacific, a critical fishery for human populations,” said Bank. Consumption of mercury-tainted fish from the Pacific Ocean is an important source of human exposure to methylmercury in the United States and may lead to adverse neurodevelopment effects in children, he added. “Much of the mercury pollution issue is really about how much society values wild animal populations, yet we are also faced with the tremendous public health challenge of communicating potential risks from mercury exposure to vulnerable adult and child human populations. Although most people have low or no risk from mercury exposure, for the people who are at risk, for example, from excessive fish consumption, the problem can be considerable,” said Bank.


Study co-authors include James Shine, HSPH Department of Environmental Health, and Scott Edwards, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

Support for the study was provided by the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Harvard College Research Program.

“Temporal increase in organic mercury in an endangered pelagic seabird assessed via century-old museum specimens,” Anh-Thu Vo, Michael S. Bank, James P. Shine, Scott V. Edwards, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online April 18, 2011.

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit

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Lawsuit Filed to Stop Unlawful Killing of Endangered Wolves in Oregon

For Immediate Release, May 3, 2011

Contacts: Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands,             (541) 434-1463
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Greg Dyson, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, (541) 963-3950 x 22
Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild,             (503) 283-6343       x 210

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Unlawful Killing of Endangered Wolves in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.— Conservation groups today moved to stop the killing of two wolves from the Imnaha Pack in eastern Oregon. They filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has ordered and plans to carry out the killing of two wolves from the pack in response to a late April wolf kill of a calf. Cascadia Wildlands, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild brought the suit on the basis that the Fish and Wildlife Service has not conducted the necessary environmental review to kill wolves in Oregon and that such killing violates the federal Endangered Species Act, which, at least for the time being, still protects Oregon’s wolves.

“Oregon is big enough for people and wolves,” said Greg Dyson with the La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is acting too hastily in moving to kill these wolves before exhausting other management options. We were left with no choice but to protect wolves in court.”

Wolves have only begun to recover in Oregon, with fewer than 25 wolves in two packs. Despite their small numbers, Oregon wolves will be removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection very soon under a congressional rider attached to the budget bill funding the government for the remainder of 2011.

“Oregon’s struggling wolf population cannot sustain these killings,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The killing of these two wolves highlights why Congress should not meddle in complex scientific decisions over the management of our nation’s endangered species. Oregon wolves are nowhere near recovered and continue to need protection.”

The kill order stems from a wolf depredation of a calf last weekend, another in February, and six cattle depredations in May and June 2010 attributed to the Imnaha Pack. Nonlethal measures to keep wolves away from livestock — including fencing, a range rider, hazing and cleanup of livestock carcasses — are being used and appear to have some success. It is also notable that ranchers are compensated for livestock losses to wolves, which is not the case with the far more common occurrence of other predators taking livestock. In 2005, for example, domestic dogs killed 700 sheep and cows in Oregon, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“There is no basis for concluding that randomly killing two wolves from the pack will have any effect on the likelihood of further livestock depredations,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “Over 60 years ago, we completed a sad chapter in our history by killing the last wolf in Oregon. Today we’re fighting in court to ensure that we do not repeat that history.”

To further challenge wolves in Oregon, a series of bills have been introduced into the legislature that would weaken protections for the animals and make it easier to kill them. Conservation groups have recently testified in opposition to these bills and are working to support a bill that would fairly compensate ranchers for lost livestock attributed to wolves. The bill would also set up a proactive fund to make nonlethal tools available to ranchers to head off wolf-livestock conflict.

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Vietnam’s elephants to be extinct in ten years


VietNamNet Bridge – After the death of an elephant named Beckham in the Central Highland city of Da Lat last week, wildlife experts have warned that the number of elephants in Vietnam is falling and elephants will be extinct in the next ten years.

Scott Roberton, Country Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Vietnam, talked about elephant conservation in Vietnam.

A male elephant named Beckham was killed in Da Lat city. What do you think about this case?

In Vietnam, at least ten elephants were reportedly killed in Dong Nai and Dak Lak province in the past 19 months.

The number of elephants in Vietnam, both wild and tamed elephants, is facing extinction. The murder of elephant Beckham is another warning about this situation and man must take responsibility for the extremely endangered situation of elephants.

If the situation is not improved, elephant species will be extinct in Vietnam in the next ten years.

In Vietnam, Asian elephants are now at the significant turning point for their survival due to hunting and losing their living environment.

The elephant killed (in Da Lat) is a tamed elephant. When the elephant was brought from the forest to a tourist site to tame and to serve tourists, that elephant no longer performed its mission in the nature.

What do you think about wildlife preservation in Vietnam?

Endangered wild animals like primates, turtle, tiger and elephant may be extinct in the next ten years.

Vietnam lost the war to save the Java rhino species on April 29, 2010 (the day the body of the rhino which is considered as the last of its kind in Vietnam was found). Wild animal species in Vietnam will disappear very quickly, so we need to take action immediately.

We don’t need more speeches or action plans. It’s time to take action; otherwise it will be too late.

In you opinion, why does illegal hunting wild animals exist in Vietnam?

Vietnam is among markets for wild animals and products from wild animals which are used as pets, medicines, decorative items or to take meat. This threats wild animals.

Vietnam has had legal systems on wildlife preservation, sufficient finance and human resources. However, Vietnam still lacks determination and effectively implementation of its laws against crimes related to wild animals.

Could you tell us of some experiences in the world in wildlife preservation?

There are many countries that are examples in the conservation of wild animals. The decisive factor for their success is strictly executing the laws.

India is a typical example. This is one of the two largest countries by population, but India can still preserve its abundant biodiversity. The number of tigers is increasing in many nature reserves in India because they protect these areas very well.

In Nepal, rhinos have been saved from the brink of extinction through effective and strong implementation of law.

Source: VNE

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New research finds mangroves key to climate change


New research shows that mangroves store exceptionally more carbon than most tropical forests, but they are being destroyed from coastlines at a rapid rate causing significant emissions of greenhouse gases.

The findings from the study, which was carried out by scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the USDA Forest Service, underscore a call by scientists for mangroves to be protected as part of global efforts to combat climate change.

“Mangroves are being destroyed at an alarming rate. This needs to stop. Our research shows that mangroves play a key role in climate change mitigation strategies,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, Senior Scientist at CIFOR, a co-author of the paper, entitled Mangroves among the most carbon-rich forests in the topics.

In the study, which was published on April 3 in Nature Geoscience, scientists quantified carbon storage in mangroves across a large tract of the Indo-pacific region. No studies to date have integrated the necessary measurements for total mangrove carbon storage across broad geographic domains.

From the results, the scientists estimated that the destruction and degradation of mangrove forests may be generating as much as 10% of all the global deforestation emissions despite accounting for just 0.7% of tropical forest area. Much of that carbon is stored in the ground below the mangroves forests that can be seen above the ground and water.

Deforestation and land-use change currently account for 8% to 20% of all global carbon emissions, second only to the use of fossil fuels. An international initiative known as REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) is considered one of the most cost-effective ways to slow the rate of climate change.

Mangroves occur along the coasts of most major oceans in some 118 countries. A 30% to 50% decline in mangroves over the past half-century has raised fears that they may disappear altogether in as little as 100 years.

Rapid 21st century sea level rise has also been cited as a primary threat to mangroves, which have responded to past more gradual sea-level changes by migrating landward or upward. Under current climate trends, sea level is projected to rise 18-79 centimeters this century – and even higher if ice-sheet melting continues accelerating.

Mangroves are also being threatened by increasing pressures from urban and industrial developments, as well as fish farms.

“There is a lack of awareness of the full implications of mangrove loss for humankind,” Murdiyarso said. “There is an urgent need for governments to acknowledge their importance and develop better policies to ensure their protection.”

Mangroves are not only key to climate change mitigation efforts, they also play important roles in adapting to the changing climate. They protect coastlines from storm surges and fluctuations in sea levels, including from tsunamis.

Source : Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

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More than 22,000 Pledge Support for Saving Imperiled Bluefin Tuna

For Immediate Release, April 8, 2011

Contact: Catherine Kilduff, (415) 644-8580

More than 22,000 Pledge Support for Saving Imperiled Bluefin Tuna

Supporters’ Signatures Presented to Obama Administration Ahead of
Decision on Endangered Species Act Protection for Rare Fish

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today delivered to the Obama administration the names of more than 22,000 people from 104 countries who have pledged to boycott bluefin tuna as part of a larger campaign to save this imperiled fish from extinction. The signatures were submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is poised to decide next month on a petition from the Center to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act. If approved, the listing could prohibit the trade and sale of bluefin tuna in the United States as early as May 2012.

“Saving bluefin tuna from extinction will require cutting consumer demand for this high-priced sushi item and implementing real protections that will finally put a halt to overfishing,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center staff attorney.

Bluefin boycottThe Center launched the bluefin boycott Nov. 30, 2010, after the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas refused to act to protect the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which has dropped by about 80 percent since 1970.

Since then, more than 22,000 people have signed on to the boycott. Dozens of the signers are chefs and owners of seafood and sushi restaurants — including prominent chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and Dan Barber of Blue Hill in Manhattan — who have pledged not to serve bluefin in their restaurants.

“Dollars spent on bluefin tuna support unsustainable and often illegal fishing around the world,” Kilduff said. “In 2010, the United States imported $11.6 million worth of Atlantic bluefin tuna, with almost half of that amount going directly to Spain, a fishing power that frustrates international efforts to secure meaningful bluefin tuna protections. Because these imported bluefin tuna cross the Atlantic Ocean, buying bluefin is paying other countries to take them out of our waters. Rebuilding the bluefin tuna population and restoring our oceans requires breaking this consumer-driven cycle.”

Some Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico from March through June. Now, a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed an estimated 20 percent of juvenile bluefin tuna, the bluefin tuna are returning to the Gulf of Mexico even while the government continues to permit drilling without fully understanding either the cause or the ecological effects of the spill.

Southern bluefin tuna, fished around Australia, are critically endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Meanwhile, the overfishing of baby Pacific bluefin tuna risks the population’s sudden and irreversible collapse; 70 percent of these fish are caught before they are a year old and more than 90 percent before they are two years old.

Bluefin tuna are oceangoing fish that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh 1,200 pounds. Unlike almost all other fish, they are warm-blooded and able to regulate their body temperature, which helps during their epic transatlantic journeys. Top ocean predators, they sometimes hunt cooperatively, much like wolves. With streamlined bodies and retractable fins, they can bolt through water at speeds of 50 miles per hour, crossing oceans in weeks.

Bluefin, which remain a staple in some sushi restaurants, have been declining for decades due to overfishing. A record-breaking $396,000 bluefin tuna was sold at auction in January 2011.

Please visit to sign the pledge, and share the Facebook page (

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African penguin edging closer to extinction


The birds are a top attraction in Simon’s Town, a naval village in Cape Town where motorists yield to the seabirds, but their numbers are dwindling, a worrying factor that also points to wider threats to the world’s oceans.

“The African Penguins have been decreasing, by 60 percent now, since 2004, so that’s why we are all very worried,” said Lorien Pichegru of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

“There’s 26,000 pairs left and that’s the lowest number ever recorded. At the beginning of the 20th century we had more than 2 million birds.”

Scientists call penguins an indicator species: one that is easy to monitor and can also point to unseen and wider problems in the ocean.

Africa’s nesting penguins were reclassified as endangered last year after their numbers were nearly wiped out, likely as a result of competition for food from commercial fisheries and shifting fish stocks.

The flightless birds, known for their “tuxedo” plumage and their comical walks, mainly eat anchovies and sardines and only breed in southern Namibia and South Africa.

But changing fish patterns have forced them to travel farther to find food and even establish new nesting areas such as at Simons Town’s Boulders Beach, where a pair arrived in the 1980s, and returning to Robben Island, famous for the prison that held Nelson Mandela.

“Food is one of the biggest threats, if not the biggest threat,” said Rob Crawford of South Africa’s department of environmental affairs, pointing to a 600-km shift in the migration path of sardines.

“Penguins cannot swim that far to feed their chicks and then at the end of breeding they’ve got to fatten up to moult as well,” he said.

Birdlife International has warned that the African Penguin, one of the world’s 18 penguin species, is edging closer to extinction.

To halt the slide, it has called for research into the effects of climate change and possible no-fishing zones around island colonies.

A 20-km trawling ban around the world’s biggest colony on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay, east of Cape Town, allowed nearly three-quarters of birds there to stop having to make exhausting long-haul hunts, research showed last year.

Healthy populations of the seabird would ordinarily withstand raids by egg-stealing gulls and hunters like seals, cats, dogs or wild predators.

But the population concerns mean that every individual is now seen as critical, and oiled, injured and abandoned chicks are rescued. Last year 49 babies were flown off an Algoa island due to threats of cold weather.

Rehabilitation is successful “because the birds are so feisty and they are able to survive after the release (from captivity)”, Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds boss Venessa Strauss said.

The non-profit Cape Town-based organization treats around 1,000 penguins annually, including around 500 birds slicked in oil.

“It’s bigger than the penguins. It’s about the health of our marine ecosystem,” said Strauss, surrounded by solemn rescued adults from the species once known as Jackass penguins because of their noisy brays.

“A lot of focus is on the penguins but at the end of the day it’s about the ecosystem. The marine ecosystem is taking strain, and the penguins are just really telling a part of the story,” she said.

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Gardeners urged to save butterflies


Gardeners are being urged to plant butterfly-friendly flowers to “make nature come back to life”, after five rare species have become extinct and half of the remaining 56 species are under threat of extinction.

More than 70 per cent of butterfly species are in decline, according to the wildlife organisation Butterfly Conservation.

The number of small tortoiseshells have fallen by 68 per cent, while peacocks have dropped by 30 per cent in the past decade.

People are being urged to plant buddleia, verbena bonariensis, perennial wallflowers, lavender and marjoram, which are sources of nectar for the insects.

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