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Documentary short: Carnivorous Plants

Documentary short: Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants intimately details the biology, history and life of one of the worlds strangest plants: the Venus flytrap. Perfectly adapted to it’s region, which only spans a 70-mile radius in Southeastern North Carolina.

Its uniqueness comes at a price, though. Rapid land development is destroying habitats suitable for this plant, and it is recognized by the state as an endangered species. Time may be running out for this amazing plant, and the time to act to save it is now.

Directed by Sam Draper
Cinematography by Brayden Roberge
Sound by Julia Morris and Chase Tharington
Camera Assistant Cole Secura
Interviews with Jessica Roach and Christopher Helms
Archives from William-Randall Library
Archivist Rebecca Baugnon

Special Thanks to Rebecca Baugnon, NC State Parks and UNCW

Watch the Adorable Moment a Baby Gorilla Born Prematurely is Reunited With its Family

Watch the Adorable Moment a Baby Gorilla Born Prematurely is Reunited With its Family

After their premature baby was hospitalized for weeks, this gorilla family had a delightful reunion that was captured by caretakers.

The tiny western lowland gorilla, nicknamed Baby G, was born October 26 at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio.

Baby G was hailed with quite the fanfare in the city last Autumn, because it was the first baby gorilla to be born at the zoo in its 139-year history.

But they were in for a roller coaster ride of health issues.

When its 23-year-old mother Nneka did not show appropriate maternal care, the troop’s eldest female, Fredrika, 47—who herself has raised four infants elsewhere—instinctively took over looking after the newborn.

Baby G weighed only about three pounds at birth, and later contracted pneumonia, so he had to be separated from his family, in order to be treated.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, SWNS

Two weeks later, the now-healthy gorilla who weighed nearly seven pounds was reintroduced to his surrogate mother.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo-SWNS

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Skye Meaker began taking photos when he was just seven years old. A decade later, he was named Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year.


If you were to ask a photographer the recipe for the perfect shot, you’ll likely get a list of ingredients that include time of day, lighting, framing and a dash of luck. South African wildlife photographer Skye Meaker sees things differently.


SpaceX’s operations at its Boca Chica test site in Texas have severely impacted the adjacent Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife due to rocket explosions, wildfires and excessive road and beach closings, according to a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA).

Keepers at the zoo put the baby in a makeshift nest to get him used to how it would feel to be in the gorilla troop.

They then exited the enclosure and let in Fredrika who, after sniffing him for a few minutes, picked him up and has barely let go of him since.

The baby’s surrogate mother continued to impress the zoo’s staff by bouncing Baby G and displaying all the maternal instincts she had before he was removed.

The other gorillas, including its father, Mokolo, 24, welcomed the baby back into the group, with dad keeping a watchful eye.


Good News Network

Rare, pristine coral reef found off Tahiti coast

Rare, pristine coral reef found off Tahiti coast

Deep in the South Pacific, scientists have explored a rare stretch of pristine corals shaped like roses off the coast of Tahiti. The reef is thought to be one of the largest found at such depths and seems untouched by climate change or human activities.

Laetitia Hédouin said she first saw the corals during a recreational dive with a local diving club months earlier.

“When I went there for the first time, I thought, ’Wow — we need to study that reef. There’s something special about that reef,” said Hédouin, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Moorea, French Polynesia.

What struck Hédouin was that the corals looked healthy and weren’t affected by a bleaching event in 2019. Corals are tiny animals that grow and form reefs in oceans around the world.

Globally, coral reefs have been depleted from overfishing and pollution. Climate change is also harming delicate corals — including those in areas neighboring the newly discovered reef — with severe bleaching caused by warmer waters. Between 2009 and 2018, 14% of the world’s corals were killed, according to a 2020 report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Project.

Rare, pristine coral reef found off Tahiti coast

Image 1 of 4

In this photo provided by @alexis.rosenfeld, researchers for the French National Centre for Scientific Research study corals in the waters off the coast of Tahiti of the French Polynesia in December 2021. Deep in the South Pacific, scientists have explored a rare stretch of pristine corals shaped like roses off the coast of Tahiti. The reef is thought to be one of the largest found at such depths and seems untouched by climate change or human activities. (Alexis Rosenfeld/@alexis.rosenfeld via AP)

The newfound reef, stretching 2 miles (3 kilometers), was studied late last year during a dive expedition supported by UNESCO. Unlike most of the world’s mapped corals, which are found in relatively shallow waters, this one was deeper — between 115 feet (35 meters) to 230 feet (70 meters).

Exploring such depths posed a challenge: the deeper a diver goes underwater, the shorter amount of time can be safely spent at each depth. The team was equipped with special tanks and did 200 hours of diving to study the reef, including taking photographs, measurements and samples of the coral.

The reef is in a spot where many researchers haven’t spent a lot of time in, said former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer Mark Eakin.

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‘Seeing one in real life is indescribable,’ says marine biologist of the technicolour marine mollusc she spotted off Queensland

The coral reefs of Aqaba have a resilience to warming waters seen nowhere else in the world


Corals in the Gulf of Aqaba have a unique evolutionary history that could help them survive the climate crisis. Scientists even hope to breed their resilience into other reefs.

“We’ll be seeing more of these discoveries as the technology is applied to these locations,” said Eakin. “We may find some bigger ones somewhere, but I think this is always going to be an unusual reef.”

The recent volcanic eruption in Tonga that triggered tsunami waves across the Pacific has not affected the reef off Tahiti, said Hédouin.

Hédouin hopes the research can help experts understand how the reef has been resilient to climate change and human pressures, and what role these deeper corals might play in the ocean ecosystem. More dives are planned in the coming months.

“We know very little about the ocean, and there’s still so much that needs to be recorded, needs to be measured,” said Julian Barbière, the head of UNESCO’s marine policy and regional coordination.


Victoria Milko via Associated Press

Could the Red Sea’s heat-resilient corals help restore the world’s dying reefs?

Could the Red Sea’s heat-resilient corals help restore the world’s dying reefs?

Corals in the Gulf of Aqaba have a unique evolutionary history that could help them survive the climate crisis. Scientists even hope to breed their resilience into other reefs.

Beneath the warm, crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea, lies a bustling city of colorful corals. At sunrise, fish emerge from their coral shelters, joining eels, turtles and octopuses to swim through these teeming waters. 

This vibrant scene is untouched by the mass bleaching that has plagued reefs elsewhere. Most corals can only survive within a narrow temperature range. As oceans get warmer, stressed corals evict their energy-producing algae and lose their color. When corals bleach and die, entire ecosystems can collapse with them. 

Corals, like these on the Great Barrier Reef, have already succumbed to warming waters, leaving a ghostly underwater landscape bleached of once-vibrant life

A recent study found that 14% of the world’s coral reefs were lost in less than a decade. Ravaged by global heating, pollution and habitat destruction, global coral reef cover has halved since the 1950s. Experts predict that up to 90% of corals could perish in the coming decades. 

But some hope is emerging from the northern shores of the Red Sea, as Aqaba’s corals appear unaffected by steadily warming waters. 

“We found that the corals in Aqaba could withstand temperatures far above the summer maximum of 27 degrees [Celsius],”  (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) said Maoz Fine, a marine biology professor who led research on coral heat-resilience at The Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel.

Map of the location of Gulf of Aqaba

Hope from the Red Sea 

Fine and his team designed an aquarium system to simulate future conditions in the Red Sea and ran experiments on what makes the corals in Aqaba so resilient. 

While most corals will bleach within a degree or two above their normal range, experiments showed that Aqaba’s corals could endure temperatures up to six degrees Celsius higher than the maximum summer temperature they’re usually exposed to. 

“We tested about 20 different species of corals, and all of them showed high tolerance to thermal stress,” said Fine. “Despite rising temperatures, the corals never bleached.”

This resilience to heat is thought to be a product of how corals migrated into the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean during the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago.

To reach the Gulf of Aqaba, corals had to pass through the Gulf of Aden and the southern part of the Red Sea, where water temperatures are much higher. Over generations, larvae of surviving corals moved north and populated areas with significantly lower water temperatures, but they retained their heat resilience.  

The ‘Red Sea Simulator’ allows scientist to study Aqaba’s uniqely heat-resistant corals

“These corals were selected for high temperatures, but they live in temperatures about six degrees below their bleaching threshold,” said Fine. 

Although corals in other regions are adapted to warmer waters, Fine said no other corals have such a large gap between the maximum temperatures of the waters they live in and their bleaching thresholds. “This is one of the few places we know where corals will be able to survive global warming,” he said.

As coral reefs face mass destruction across the globe due to rising temperatures, researchers and conservationists hope the Gulf of Aqaba could become a refuge for the world’s remaining corals. 

Could Aqaba’s corals help other reefs? 

“Aqaba’s corals could be a source to repopulate reefs if corals die everywhere else,” according to Manuel Aranda, a marine biologist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. 

The problem, Aranda said, is scale. 

“The Great Barrier Reef is the size of Italy. We can’t plant reefs the way we spread seeds on land,” he said, since coral plantation requires divers to go into the water and manually fix coral fragments grown in nurseries. 

Coral plantations are too costly and time-consuming, and species introductions are often very challenging. But Aranda is part of a research group at KAUST that is working to identify heat-resilient corals and cross-breed them with coral populations elsewhere to increase their heat tolerance.

Corals support a rich diversity of marine life that’s acutely vulnerable to climate change

“Usually, it takes many generations for corals to adapt,” said Aranda. But the planet is warming faster than this process of adaptation. He hopes to speed up genetic exchanges to give corals a chance of keeping up with rising temperatures: “We hope that with cross-breeding, we don’t have to plant corals, they will reproduce themselves.” 

But this method still takes time and Fine isn’t convinced it will work on a large-scale. He believes the focus should be on identifying and preserving resilient reefs, rather than trying to grow corals elsewhere. 

“What we can offer is knowledge, understanding which genes were selected down south when entering the Red Sea and what that means for thermal resilience,” Fine said.  

‘We owe it to future generations’

About 25% of all marine species live in and around coral reefs, making them among the most diverse habitats in the world. 

“The Gulf of Aqaba has a very diverse ecosystem,” said Jordanian conservationist Ehab Eid. “In Jordan, we have identified 157 species of hard corals and there are over 500 species of fish. More than half of them depend on the corals.”

In addition to providing vital habitats for marine life, coral reefs also provide food and medicines, protect shorelines, and secure the livelihoods of over 500 million people worldwide. 

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Corals are the foundation species of tropical reefs worldwide, but stresses ranging from overfishing to pollution to warming oceans are killing corals and degrading the critical ecosystem services they provide.


A “game changing” 20-year effort suggests that even severely depleted marine ecosystems can be brought back to life.

Despite their resilience to high temperatures, Aqaba’s corals are vulnerable to pollution and unsustainable urban coastal development, putting at risk the livelihoods of the many people in Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt who depend on fishing and tourism in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Fishermen in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, whose catch depends on the coral ecosystem, say fisheries aren’t as plentiful as they used to be

“The corals are essential for fish here,” said Ibrahim Riady, who has worked as a fisherman in the Jordanian city of Aqaba for over two decades. “Our livelihoods depend on them.” He and other local fishermen said their catches had declined over the last decades. 

Scientists are calling for the reef to be protected to ensure the gulf can serve as a refuge for corals that, if they survive local threats, could revive reefs elsewhere. “The Gulf of Aqaba might be one of the last reefs standing at the end of the century,” said Eid. “It’s a treasure. We owe it to future generations to preserve it.”


Marta Vidal at DW

‘Dancing through the water’: rare sighting of blanket octopus in Great Barrier Reef

‘Dancing through the water’: rare sighting of blanket octopus in Great Barrier Reef

‘Seeing one in real life is indescribable,’ says marine biologist of the technicolour marine mollusc she spotted off Queensland

Only a handful of people have spotted the dazzling blanket octopus in the wild, making it one of the rarest sights in the marine world.

The technicolour marine mollusc was spotted last week by reef guide and marine biologist Jacinta Shackleton, off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef .

“When I first saw it, I thought it could have been a juvenile fish with long fins, but as it came closer, I realised it was a female blanket octopus and I had this overwhelming sense of joy and excitement,” she said.

“I kept yelling through my snorkel, ‘it’s a blanket octopus!’ I was so excited I was finding it difficult to hold my breath to dive down and video it.”

Blanket octopuses are extremely rare. The first sighting of a live male was made 21 years ago just north of the Great Barrier Reef in the Ribbon Reefs by Dr Julian Finn, a senior curator of marine invertebrates at Museums Victoria, and colleagues.

‘Rainbow-like’ blanket octopus off Lady Elliot Island, Queensland.
‘Rainbow-like’ blanket octopus off Lady Elliot Island, Queensland. Composite: Jacinta Shackleton

In the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, he noted they are the “most extreme example of sexual size-dimorphism in a non-microscopic animal”.

While females grow up to 2 metres in length, the males have only been seen to grow to about 2.4cm long.

Males also don’t develop the blanket octopus’s iridescent “blanket” that makes the species so alluring.

For the females that do develop it, the display can be shed to elude predators.

The extreme difference between the sexes is thought to have developed because of the blanket octopus’s unique habit of carrying blue-bottle stingers for self-defence.

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Corals are the foundation species of tropical reefs worldwide, but stresses ranging from overfishing to pollution to warming oceans are killing corals and degrading the critical ecosystem services they provide.

This Gilbert's Potoroo was caught on a motion sensor camera on Middle Island on November 1, 2021. (Supplied: DBCA)


Many remote islands are now being used as homes for critically endangered species, as mainland populations come under threat from bushfire and feral predation.

Shackleton said she believes there have only been three sightings of the octopus in the area before hers. It generally spends its lifecycle in the open ocean so it’s even more unusual to see one on the reef.

Shackleton said she feels lucky to have been in the water at the right time to capture vision of the spectacular species.

This is not Shackleton’s first extraordinary sighting. She has also encountered a rare ornate eagle ray and a rare melanistic manta ray but says the blanket octopus “has got to be one of my all-time favourite reef experiences”.

“Seeing one in real life is indescribable, I was so captivated by its movements, it was as if it was dancing through the water with a flowing cape. The vibrant colours are just so incredible, you can’t take your eyes off it.

“I’ve truly never seen anything like it before and don’t think I ever will again in my life.”


Bertin Huynh at The Guardian

Lowland gorilla born in DRC, boosting Virunga park population to seven

Lowland gorilla born in DRC, boosting Virunga park population to seven

The new arrival is a boost for the critically endangered species, which has been hard-hit by unrest in eastern Congo

A lowland gorilla, a critically endangered species, has been born in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s famed Virunga national park, authorities said, boosting the population to seven.

Conservationists have long sought to protect the world heritage site’s gorilla population even as violence and instability has plagued the DRC’s eastern provinces for the past 25 years.

“We’re excited to announce the first lowland gorilla birth of the year! Rangers discovered the newborn during a patrol in the Tshiaberimu area yesterday,” park authorities tweeted late on Friday.

“Rangers are working hard to safeguard this vulnerable population which now stands at seven individuals,” it added.

The global population of lowland gorillas has plunged from around 17,000 to fewer than 6,000 today and they continue to experience a rate of decline of 5% per year, according to the park.

They are often illegally hunted for bushmeat.

Seventeen mountain gorillas – a close cousin of the lowland gorilla – were born in the park last year.

Situated on Democratic Republic of Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda, Virunga covers around 7,800 square kilometres (3,000 square miles) of the North Kivu province, of which Goma is the capital.

Inaugurated in 1925, it is the oldest national park in Africa and a sanctuary for the rare mountain gorillas, which are also present in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.

Virunga has also become a hideout for local and foreign armed groups that have operated in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for around 25 years.


Agence France-Presse via The Guardian

Gilbert’s Potoroo among a handful of rare species surviving on remote Australian islands

Gilbert’s Potoroo among a handful of rare species surviving on remote Australian islands

Rangers from the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation are monitoring a small population of Gilbert’s Potoroos on Middle Island

An insurance population of the potoroo was translocated to the remote island, off WA’s south coast

Many remote islands are now being used as homes for critically endangered species, as mainland populations come under threat from bushfire and feral predation

Few places are more isolated than the islands off Western Australia’s rugged south coast.

Windswept and surrounded by dangerous seas, they remain uninhabited, and some are almost impossible to access.

But as Australia’s wildlife comes under increasing threat, many of these outcrops are taking on a critical role in conservation — as safe havens for some of our most endangered species.

On Middle Island, 120 kilometres south-east of Esperance, rangers are working to preserve the world’s rarest marsupial.

The Gilbert’s Potoroo is a small relative of the kangaroo, and is critically endangered, with only about 100 left in existence.

“We’re just seeing if the population can grow, because on the mainland they’re getting eaten by foxes and wild cats,” ranger Zane Vincent said.

Three rangers with their backs to the camera walk across the island, the ocean and other islands are visible
Rangers spend almost six hours trekking across Middle Island to download camera footage. (ABC News: Emily Smith)

Every three to six months, rangers from the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation travel to the island to download footage from three motion sensor cameras, designed to snap pictures of the animals, and replace their batteries.

Small canisters are placed within the frame of the cameras and filled with food – peanut butter and oats or other treats – in the hope the smell will attract potoroos and trigger the cameras.

But, as ranger Hayleigh Graham describes, it is difficult work.

She sits in the bush wearing a cap
Hayleigh Graham is a ranger with the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation. (ABC News: Emily Smith)

After a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride to the island, the rangers spend almost six hours trekking to the different camera sites before making the return journey.

“It’s pretty hard; it’s different land over here. You’re climbing under trees, you’re going alongside granite rocks,” she said, “You’re pretty much bush-bashing all the way through.”

But it is work they are happy to do.

“It’s pretty good learning about all this stuff, going around all the islands. I love … just love being on Pop’s country, my great grandfather’s country,” Mr Vincent said.

He sits under a tree on the island, in a high-vis jacket, looking at the camera, fairly close up
Ranger Zane Vincent said working on the Esperance islands is his favourite part of the job.(ABC News: Emily Smith)

‘Insurance populations’ save Potoroos

Middle Island, also famous for its bright pink lake and for once being home to Australia’s only pirate, is a relatively new home for the Gilbert’s Potoroo.

Aerial shot of Lake Hillier on Middle Island, with its pink-coloured water
Middle Island is home to the vibrant pink Lake Hillier, which tourists usually see via a scenic flight. (Supplied: Jaimen Hudson)

The species was believed extinct, until it was spotted for the first time in more than a century near Albany in 1994.

Tony Friend, a research associate with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, said a new population was then successfully relocated to Bald Island off Albany.

The idea was to create an insurance population, so if something happened to the original one, the species would survive.

It was a wise move – a fire wiped out most of the original population at Two People’s Bay in 2015.

Aerial shot of the fire burning in the Two People's Bay Nature Reserve.
The fire at Two People’s Bay Nature Reserve in November 2015 decimated the potoroo population and habitat.(Supplied: DPAW)

Funding was then granted to establish another population, as a replacement, and Middle Island was chosen for its size, absence of predators and for the fact it has the underground fungi which the potoroos eat.

Recent evidence suggested the animals were breeding, with six individuals caught during a research trip in April, three of which were born on the island.

But it is not yet clear whether numbers will continue to grow.

A Gilberts Potoroo standing in dry leaves in bush land staring at camera holding front paws together
The Gilbert’s Potoroo is believed to be persisting on Middle Island, near Esperance. (GPAG: Dick Walker)

“Potoroos live for about 10 years so there’s plenty of time for that little population to build up,” Dr Friend said.

The data from the recent trip in November has not yet been analysed, but some potoroos were captured on the motion-sensor cameras.

A night-time black and white image of the potoroo
Footage taken from Middle Island in November shows the Gilbert’s Potoroo is persisting. (Supplied: DBCA)

Islands last refuge for endangered species

As more and more wildlife come under threat, from things like climate change, bushfires and feral predation, remote islands are frequently being used for “insurance populations” of critically endangered species.

A close up, he is wearing glasses and a cap
Tony Friend, from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, said islands could play an important role in conservation. (ABC News: Mark Bennett)

Dr Friend said in Western Australia alone about 23 or 24 islands were being used for these programs, including Bald Island, Dirk Hartog Island, the Montebello Islands and islands off Jurien Bay and the Pilbara coast.

Over the past few decades, he said the criteria for initiating these programs had been refined, and the success rate was now about 90 per cent.

But he said there were also challenges, in that they are difficult to work on, populations have to be carefully managed to prevent inbreeding and careful research had to be done to ensure they did not impact other native species already on the island.

He sits in a bucket hat at the beach, smiling at the camera
Wayne Gill recently trekked across Middle Island, along with rangers Hayleigh Graham and Zane Vincent, to download images from motion sensor cameras, targeting potoroos. (ABC News: Emily Smith)

Wayne Gill used to work for Parks and Wildlife, but now lends his expertise to the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, and said he believes the Recherche Archipelago, with more than 100 uninhabited islands, hold potential for more of these insurance population programs.

As well as the Gilbert’s Potoroo program, he noted two other islands had been used for similar initiatives – a population of dibblers translocated to Gunton Island are believed to be persisting, although noisy scrub birds taken to Mondrain Island have not been detected since 2020.

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Brush-tailed bettongs are back. These tiny endangered marsupials have been reintroduced to mainland South Australia after disappearing more than a century ago.


A native mouse that was thought to be extinct was found off Western Australia recently, The Guardian reported. Gould’s mouse was found on several small islands after not being found on the mainland.

A tiny, furred creature, a cross between a weasel and a mouse.
Dibblers, one of Australia’s carnivorous marsupials, have also been translocated and are doing well on Dirk Hartog Island. (Supplied: Perth Zoo)

“I think it’s definitely on the cards; I don’t see why they couldn’t do more,” he said, “We’ve already stuffed the planet up quite a bit through our activities.

“So, it’s nice to do what you can to save what’s left.”

She wears high-vis and sits on a tinny
Hayleigh Graham on the way out to a larger boat, that will take all the rangers to Middle Island. (ABC News: Emily Smith)


Emily JB Smith at ABC News

Antarctica: Invasive species ‘hitchhiking’ on ships

Antarctica: Invasive species ‘hitchhiking’ on ships

Species from around the world that are “hitching a lift” on ships threaten Antarctica’s pristine marine ecosystem.

That is the conclusion of a study tracking research, fishing and tourist vessels that routinely visit the protected, otherwise isolated region.

It revealed that ships from 1,500 ports around the globe visit Antarctica.

“These ships travel all around the world,” explained lead researcher Arlie McCarthy from the University of Cambridge.

“It means that almost anywhere could be a potential source for invasive species.” Those non-native species, she explained, “can completely change an ecosystem”.

“They can create entirely new habitats that would make it harder for those amazing Antarctic animals to find their own place to live.”

Antarctica’s coasts are home to many endemic species that have been isolated for millions of years

The scientists say that more stringent measures are needed to ensure that ships do not bring species that could disrupt Antarctica’s fragile habitats.

The research team, from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge, used satellite data and international shipping databases to work out the weight of Antarctic traffic – and the origin of those ships.

“What was really surprising was that they don’t just have one home port that they go back and forth to,” said Ms McCarthy.

Instead, the global movement of vessels links otherwise isolated parts of Antarctica to more than 1,500 ports all around the world.

Clinging on

Any marine species that can cling to the hull of the ship and survive the journey to Antarctica could pose an invasive threat.

Creatures, including mussels, barnacles, crabs and algae, are of particular concern, because they attach themselves to hulls, in a process termed “biofouling”.

'Biofouling' - marine organisms clinging to ships - can be seen here in a water discharge outlet on the hull of an Antarctic-going research vessel
‘Biofouling’ – marine organisms clinging to ships – can be seen here in a water discharge outlet on the hull of an Antarctic-going research vessel

Mussels, for example, can survive in polar waters and spread easily, threatening marine life on the seabed. Their water filtering alters the marine food chain and also the chemistry of the water around them.

“This is the last place in the world where we don’t have marine invasive species,” explained Ms McCarthy. “So we [still] have an opportunity to protect it.”

Professor David Aldridge from the University of Cambridge explained: “Antarctica’s native species have been isolated for the last 15-30 million years.”

This makes invasive species one of the biggest threats to its biodiversity. And, as Prof Lloyd Peck from the British Antarctic Survey added, “your chance of losing a species that is completely unique is much higher in the Antarctic”.

Tourist traffic

Tourism is regulated in the region; tourist ships have to follow biosecurity protocols. But this study revealed that tourism accounted for 67% of visits to Antarctic locations (followed by research, which accounted for 21% and fishing, 7%).

Researchers going ashore in Antarctica

According to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, the 2019/20 season saw more that 70,000 people visit the region. And while the industry has been disrupted by the pandemic, that number has been increasing steadily since the first few hundred visitors from Chile and Argentina arrived in the South Shetland Islands in the 1950s.

It is an increase, say researchers, that has other consequences.

Ms McCarthy told BBC News: “Anywhere these ships go, we see other kinds of human impact on the environment, whether that is accidental release of waste, pollution, collisions with wildlife or noise disturbance.”

Prof Peck said Antarctic tourism was both “positive and negative”. “They are a big part of the number of visits [to the continent] and therefore could bring [non-native species] in.

“But the tour operators are very interested in the environment and take a lot of security measures.”

The British Antarctic Survey uses sniffer dogs to search for rats or mice aboard research vessels
The British Antarctic Survey uses sniffer dogs to search for rats or mice aboard research vessels

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Scientists have created the first ever large-scale map of microscopic algae as they bloomed across the surface of snow along the Antarctic Peninsula coast. Results indicate that this ‘green snow’is likely to spread as global temperatures increase.

Ship paint fragments were found to make up most of the samples the scientists found - SWNS


Scientists studying the origins of microplastics in Antarctica have discovered that 89 per cent of the samples they analysed came from the paint on their own ship.

More broadly, biosecurity measures to protect Antarctica – such as cleaning ships’ hulls – are currently focused on a small group of recognised Antarctic “gateway ports”.

But since this study revealed that many more ports around the world are linked to the region, the British Antarctic Survey is calling for “improved biosecurity protocols” and environmental protection measures to protect Antarctic waters. This means inspecting ship hulls with cameras and cleaning them more frequently.

Prof Peck said this was particularly important “as ocean temperatures continue to rise due to climate change”. He added: “we know something will arrive if we leave things as they are”.


Victoria Gill at CNN

Beavers support freshwater conservation and ecosystem stability

Beavers support freshwater conservation and ecosystem stability

One of the most comprehensive studies conducted on beavers has conclusively demonstrated that beavers are essential for freshwater conservation and ecosystem stability by creating and preserving aquatic and wetland environments in Minnesota. This new research from the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth was recently published in the journal Ecography

“Although there are many studies on how beavers change ecosystems, the scale of this study—spanning 70 years across five different watersheds—is really unprecedented and, as a result, gave us the unique opportunity to understand how beavers transform and engineer ecosystems over long time periods and large spatial scales,” said Tom Gable, coauthor of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. “We think this work will be of value to many conservationists, scientists and citizens who want to understand how reintroduced or recovering beaver populations can positively affect their ecosystems.”

Understanding how ecosystems become more resilient is a key goal for ecologists because it can provide insights into how ecosystems may respond to human impacts and climate change. This study suggests beavers, as ecosystem engineers, can be a biological tool that helps buffer ecosystems against disturbances and alterations. 

Ecosystem engineers are ecologically important species that benefit other species by physically altering their environment. Although ecosystem engineers are relatively uncommon, they are not rare: they exist in most major ecosystems.

Most previous research on ecosystem engineers has suggested that their ecological impact does not vary across time or space. However, this research team led by Sean Johnson-Bice—who studied beavers for his master’s degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth—determined that how beavers impact ecosystems can vary depending on the scale at which they are studied.  In other words, beavers’ ecological role varies between local and regional perspectives.

“In combination with other recent research we conducted on beaver population dynamics in northern Minnesota, our study demonstrates the resilience and stability that beaver populations have within landscapes,” said Johnson-Bice, lead author of the study who is currently a PhD student at the University of Manitoba. “Their populations at a landscape scale appear relatively unaffected by environmental conditions and, as such, they can be key drivers of freshwater habitat diversity and promoting ecosystem stability.” 

In the study, the researchers evaluated how beavers influence water storage along the North Shore of Lake Superior using aerial imagery from five watersheds over 70 years (1948-2017). This period encompassed the full recovery and subsequent stabilization of beaver populations in the region. They found that:

  • Beavers are major drivers of water retention in ecosystems, suggesting that restoring beaver populations to ecosystems they no longer inhabit may be a valuable method that managers and conservationists could use for freshwater conservation objectives. 
  • The longer beavers are present in an ecosystem, the more old and abandoned ponds help contribute towards storing water; although these abandoned ponds may no longer have beavers living in them, their dams can still hold back water allowing the pond to store water.
  • At large spatial scales, beaver populations are resilient to moderate environmental and human disturbances.
  • Even though beaver populations within each of the five watersheds studied showed considerable variation in population size, water storage remained stable across the entire region. Essentially, changes in beaver population size in one watershed would be counterbalanced by changes in the other watershed(s), which helped stabilize water storage amounts across the North Shore of Lake Superior. 

“Digitizing almost 800 historical and recent aerial photos from 1948 onward represents a tremendous effort on the part of Sean and the NRRI and Twin Cities GIS laboratories,” added George Host, now retired director of NRRI’s Forest and Land Initiative and Geographic Information System laboratory and a member of the research team. “The resulting dataset provided significant insights into the critical role beavers play in regulating water storage along the North Shore.”


University of Minnesota via phys.org

England’s farmers to be paid to rewild land

England’s farmers to be paid to rewild land

Nature recovery schemes are part of post-Brexit subsidies overhaul, but eco campaigners are sceptical

Farmers in England will be given taxpayers’ cash to rewild their land, under plans for large-scale nature recovery projects announced by the government. These will lead to vast tracts of land being newly managed to conserve species, provide habitats for wildlife and restore health to rivers and streams.

Bids are being invited for 10-15 pilot projects, each covering at least 500 hectares and up to 5,000 hectares, to a total of approximately 10,000 hectares in the first two-year phase – about 10 times the size of Richmond Park in London. These pilots could involve full rewilding or other forms of management that focus on species recovery and wildlife habitats.

Rare fauna such as sand lizards, water voles and curlews will be targeted, with the aim of improving the status of about half of the most threatened species in England.

The exact funding has not been disclosed, as bids will be compared to determine value for money before a final decision on which should go ahead is made this summer. However, the total amount available for such schemes is expected to reach £700m to £800m a year by 2028. By 2042, the government aims to have up to 300,000 hectares of England covered by such “landscape recovery” projects – an area roughly the size of Lancashire.

Ministers also plan to offer English farmers payments for “local nature recovery”. The smaller-scale actions taken on their farms could include planting more trees, restoring peatlands or wetlands and leaving space for wildlife habitats. These payments, which will be revealed later this year, should also reach up to £800m a year by 2028.

George Eustice, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said the aim was for wildlife and nature protection to run alongside food production as a matter of course for most farmers. He is expected to tell farmers at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday: “We want to see profitable farm businesses producing nutritious food and underpinning a growing rural economy, where nature is recovering and people have better access to it. Through our new schemes, we are going to work with farmers and land managers to halt the decline in species, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, increase woodland, improve water and air quality and create more space for nature.”

As well as the two new schemes – landscape recovery and local nature recovery – farmers will also be able to apply for payments to help them protect their soil and take other basic environmental protection measures, under plans announced last year. Funding for these measures will also reach about £800m a year, as part of the post-Brexit overhaul of the £2.4bn-a-year farming subsidies into a system of “public money for public goods”. This means farmers are paid for making environmental improvements, rather than the amount of land they farm.

Water vole
The water vole is one of the rare species to be helped by the schemes. Photograph: Mark Smith/Alamy

Green campaigners were sceptical over whether the new payments would be enough to meet the government’s aim of halting the loss of wild species abundance and managing 30% of land for the good of nature by 2030, as well as ensuring that farmers help to solve the climate crisis rather than add to it. The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and National Trust charities said detail on how the schemes would work was still lacking.

Craig Bennett, the chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The real test of this agricultural transition is not whether it is a little bit better or moderately better than what came before, but whether it will be enough to deliver on [the government’s targets]. Anything less than that means that this historic opportunity will have been wasted. While we’re hearing the right noises from the government, the devil will be in the detail and the detail is still not published nearly six years after the EU referendum.”

The schemes would fail unless more was done to help farmers move away from intensive practices, said Jo Lewis, the policy and strategy director at the Soil Association. This could include the introduction of ambitious targets for reducing pesticide and fertiliser use.

“These schemes won’t work in isolation. They risk failure if they are forced to compete with mounting commercial pressures that encourage more intensive farming and cheap food production, for which the environment and our health ultimately pay the price,” she said.

Though some are benefiting from high grain prices, many farmers are facing a difficult outlook, with rising input costs, plummeting exports due to Brexit red tape, and potential new competition from prospective importers after post-Brexit trade deals.

Related post:

The rangers will manage the first wild bison to roam in the UK for thousands of years. Photograph: Tom Gibbs and Donovan Wright


Animals arrive in Kent in spring 2022 and will create forest clearings – described as ‘jet fuel for biodiversity’

Martin Lines, the UK chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said that farmers who already take environmental measures were “left in limbo” before the schemes start in 2024. “Government has been running similar environmental stewardship schemes voluntarily for farmers for 20 or 30 years, yet we still have seen huge declines in wildlife. We need these schemes to be bolder and more ambitious, not just delivering more of the same with minor improvements,” he said.

Tenant farmers, who work on about a third of farmed land in the UK, are concerned over how they can access the new schemes. They also fear that their landlords may take advantage of large-scale rewilding to remove their tenancies.

George Dunn, of the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “It is alarming that, after at least three years of discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it has no clear plan for access to these schemes by tenant farmers. [Current payments] are being removed while we have a vague commitment for further work to be undertaken on how tenants, and those who use common land, can access schemes. It does feel like we are pushing water uphill.”

Mark Tufnell, the president of the Country Land and Business Association, which represents 28,000 farmers, landowners and rural businesses, said: “The government must also ensure that policy changes look towards domestic food production and security. Britain is already at the forefront of agricultural innovation and animal welfare standards, and we must do more to make certain that our great produce is supported here and abroad. We need to guarantee that profitable agriculture remains a core part of the rural economy and feeds the nation sustainably.”


Fiona Harvey at The Guardian