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We have work to do – you and I!

Every chance we get, we need to spread the word about what is happening to our world and that threatens life as we know it on this our island home – planet earth. The attacks are continuous and have risen to such a dangerous level that life itself is in peril. Indicative of the situation are the species losses that are listed elsewhere by leading scientists. The effects of man induced global warming, the largely unregulated spread of drilling for fossil fuels, the destruction of huge areas of the rain forest in the name of economic necessity, the despoliation of large tracts of the remaining areas of wilderness, the wholesale dumping of toxic waste in the world’s oceans are just of the most critical aspects of man’s destructive tendencies in the world today.

The purpose of this site is to

Honey Bee Population Decimated by Deadly Virus

The deadly link between the worldwide collapse of honeybee colonies and a bloodsucking parasite has been revealed by scientists. They have discovered that the mite has massively and permanently increased the global prevalence of a fatal bee virus.

This from “The Guardian” (UK) June 7, 2012

“The deadly link between the worldwide collapse of honeybee colonies and a bloodsucking parasite has been revealed by scientists. They have discovered that the mite has massively and permanently increased the global prevalence of a fatal bee virus.

The varroa mite’s role means the virus is now one of the “most widely distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet”, the researchers warned. Furthermore, the new dominance of the killer virus poses an ongoing threat to colonies even after beekeepers have eradicated the mites from hives.

Varroa destructor has spread from Asia across the entire world over the past 50 years. It arrived in the UK in 1990 and has been implicated in the halving of bee numbers since then, alongside other factors including the destruction of flowery habitats in which bees feed and the widespread use of pesticides on crops. Bees and other pollinators are vital in the production in up to a third of all the food we eat, but the role the mites played was unclear, as bacteria and fungi are also found in colonies along with the viruses.

But the mite’s arrival in Hawaii in 2007 gave scientists a unique opportunity to track its deadly spread. “We were able to watch the emergence of the disease for the first time ever,” said Stephen Martin, at the University of Sheffield, who led the new research published in the journal Science. Within a year of varroa arrival, 274 of 419 colonies on Oahu island (65%) were wiped out, with the mites going on to wreak destruction across Big Island the following year.

A particular virus, called deformed wing virus (DWV), was present in low and apparently harmless levels in colonies before the mites arrived, the scientists found. Even when the mites first invaded hives, the virus levels remained low. “But the following year the virus levels had gone through the roof.” said Martin. “It was a millionfold increase – it was staggering.”

The other key finding was that one DWV strain had gone from making up 10% of the virus population to making up 100%. “The viral landscape had changed and to one that happened to be deadly to bees,” Martin said, noting the DWV strain was the same one found around the world. “There is a very strong correlation between where you get this DWV strain and where you get huge amounts of colony losses. We are almost certain this study seals the link between the two.”

Even if a colony is cleared of varroa mite infestation, the deadly DWV strain remains dominant. “That means the colonies will collapse very fast, so beekeepers must keep the varroa levels down: it’s even more critical than we knew before,” said Martin. Other research by members of the team, conducted in Devon, showed that even when the varroa mites are kept under control, the presence of the fatal DWV strain kills about 10% of colonies each year.

The varroa mite magnifies the impact of DWV for three reasons. First, it transmits the virus directly into the bee’s bloodstream as the parasite feeds. This means it bypasses all the bee’s natural immune defences which are deployed when the virus is transmitted via food or sexual contact. Second, the virus can massively multiply in the mite. And third, the DWV strain best suited to transmission via the mite rapidly comes to dominate and is a strain that is particularly harmful to bees.

“This work provides clear evidence that, of all the suggested mechanisms of honeybee loss, virus infection brought in by mite infestation is a major player in the decline,” said Ian Jones, at the University of Reading, who was not involved in the work. But Martin noted that the weakening of colonies through lack of food or the presence of damaging pesticides would make them more vulnerable to infestation.

Hawaii is a particularly significant bee-keeping location as almost all the queen bees used in the US are bred on the islands. The islands also have a significant macadamia nut industry, which is entirely dependent on bees for pollination. “The bees are dropping like flies in Hawaii: macadamia nuts may be about to get very expensive,” Martin said.”

Food in India rots roadside while the poor starve

From The New York Times 06-08-2012

“RANWAN, India — In this north Indian village, workers recently dismantled stacks of burned and mildewed rice while flies swarmed nearby over spoiled wheat. Local residents said the rice crop had been sitting along the side of a highway for several years and was now being sent to a distillery to be turned into liquor.

Just 180 miles to the south, in a slum on the outskirts of New Delhi, Leela Devi struggled to feed her family of four on meager portions of flatbread and potatoes, which she said were all she could afford on her disability pension and the irregular wages of her day-laborer husband. Her family is among the estimated 250 million Indians who do not get enough to eat.

Such is the paradox of plenty in India’s food system. Spurred by agricultural innovation and generous farm subsidies, India now grows so much food that it has a bigger grain stockpile than any country except China, and it exports some of it to countries like Saudi Arabia and Australia. Yet one-fifth of its people are malnourished — double the rate of other developing countries like Vietnam and China — because of pervasive corruption, mismanagement and waste in the programs that are supposed to distribute food to the poor.

“The reason we are facing this problem is our refusal to distribute the grain that we buy from farmers to the people who need it,” said Biraj Patniak, a lawyer who advises India’s Supreme Court on food issues. “The only place that this grain deserves to be is in the stomachs of the people who are hungry.”

After years of neglect, the nation’s failed food policies have now become a subject of intense debate in New Delhi, with lawmakers, advocates for the poor, economists and the news media increasingly calling for an overhaul. The populist national government is considering legislation that would pour billions of additional dollars into the system and double the number of people served to two-thirds of the population. The proposed law would also allow the poor to buy more rice and wheat at lower prices. “

Failure in Rio

From Nature 06 June, 2012

“The world has failed to deliver on many of the promises it made 20 years ago at the Earth summit in Brazil.” by Jeff Tollefson & Natasha Gilbert

Ecological Collapse?

This is an extract from a blog on the pages of the New York Times for June 6,2012 by Justin Gillis

“Humans have already converted about 43 percent of the ice-free land surface of the planet to uses like raising crops and livestock and building cities, the scientists said. Studies on a smaller scale have suggested that when more than 50 percent of a natural landscape is lost, the ecological web can collapse. The new paper essentially asks, what are the chances that will prove true for the planet as a whole?

In interviews, scientists involved in writing the paper acknowledged that the 50 percent threshold was simply a best guess, based on extrapolating the earlier research. But they said they were deeply concerned about many of the trends on the planet and the seeming inability of the world’s political leadership to grapple with them.”

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Home

We have work to do – you and I!

Every chance we get, we need to spread the word about what is happening to our world and that threatens life as we know it on this our island home – planet earth.

The attacks are continuous and have risen to such a dangerous level that life itself is in peril. Indicative of the situation are the species losses that are listed elsewhere by leading scientists.

The effects of man induced global warming, the largely unregulated spread of drilling for fossil fuels, the destruction of huge areas of the rain forest in the name of economic necessity, the despoliation of large tracts of the remaining areas of wilderness, the wholesale dumping of toxic waste in the world’s oceans are just of the most critical aspects of man’s destructive tendencies in the world today.

The purpose of this site is to make a contribution to conservation by propagating information that will make the public more aware of the problems facing the preservation of our planet and the diversity of it’s species of flora and fauna. We will, as much as we are able, spread knowledge about the situation regarding endangered or threatened species, new incursions in to the wildlife domains for profit and exploitation and the work being done by scientists, naturalists and other lovers of the environment to sustain the planet as far as possible in it’s natural state and to protect the species with whom we share a common environment.

In order to maintain our living, we will offer eco friendly products within these pages. We will endeavor to ensure that the products so offered are useful and good value. We appreciate your sharing your comments on both content and products. We take such comments seriously and act upon them for the good of all our partners and ourselves.

Our hope is that you will find value and substance here.

The Red Knots added to the list of vulnerable species

This article was posted by the New York Times today (June 6, 2012):

“…CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, N.J. — Like clockwork, the red knots arrive every spring, descending on the beaches of Delaware Bay to feast for a few weeks on horseshoe crab eggs and, in the process, double their body weight. The knots are delicate, robin-size shorebirds named for their salmon coloration and renowned for their marathon migration — more than 9,000 miles each way, from the southern tip of South America to the Canadian Arctic. migration (Red Knots on the Jersey Shore) is fueled by an ancient synchronicity — the spawning of billions of tiny green horseshoe crab eggs just as the knots and their prodigious appetites arrive — that is now threatened. Largely because of the overfishing of horseshoe crabs for bait (they are a favorite of conch fishermen), the East Coast red knot population has plummeted. Their numbers have dropped from more than 100,000 in the 1980s to only about 30,000 today, and wildlife biologists in New Jersey worry that without stronger protections, they could vanish. But that depends on the crabs.

“The recovery of the birds can’t really start until there are more crabs,” said Lawrence J. Niles, a biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and a former official with the State Department of Environmental Protection. “We can’t wait decades. We need more crab eggs now.”

In recent years, as reliably as the red knots themselves, Dr. Niles has returned to the beaches here with Amanda D. Dey, principal zoologist for the Department of Environmental Protection. (Dr. Dey also happens to be Dr. Niles’s wife.) Together with a team of volunteers, they monitor the red knot arrivals and gauge the robustness of the crabs’ spawn, a slow-motion coupling in which several males usually go after a single female. Though lacking the passion, perhaps, of the famous beach scene in “From Here to Eternity,” it is still strangely compelling.

New Jersey has moved to protect both species, imposing a ban on horseshoe crab harvesting a few years ago, and in February, officially listing the red knot as endangered. The crabs, however, ignore state lines.

After laying their eggs in Delaware Bay, they head out into open waters, traveling as far south as Maryland and Virginia, which have been less successful in protecting them. Delaware, which limits the annual catch to 100,000 male crabs, tried to end horseshoe crab fishing, but the ban was overturned in court. Maryland and Virginia have some restrictions on their fisheries, but numerical models suggest that any rebounding of the crab population is many years off.

Besides tracking the crabs, Dr. Niles and his team trap some of the birds to weigh, measure and band them before releasing them onto the beach here. On a recent afternoon, with a hot breeze blowing off the bay, the team waited hours for the tide to rise, edging a group of red knots, as well as ruddy turnstones and sanderlings, higher up on the beach. Suddenly, a boom sounded and a cannon buried in the sand fired a large net over the birds. The volunteers sprang into action, racing to collect the birds in large plastic boxes.

The measurements looked good. Calm waters and warm temperatures this spring have provided ideal spawning conditions for the crabs, which deposit their clusters of eggs on the sand. Throughout the spring, most of the red knots were gaining enough weight to sustain them during the rest of their journey to the Arctic and allow them to breed successfully.

“It’s like eating peanuts,” Dr. Dey said. “Horseshoe crab eggs are soft and full of fat, and the knots eat them as fast as they can pick them up. That’s what makes it such a critical resource.”

In fact, the conditions were so good this year that the majority of the red knot population on the East Coast parked itself here. Dr. Niles and Dr. Dey estimated that about 26,000 stopped there to feed, double last spring’s count.

But one banner year for Delaware Bay does not constitute a comeback, scientists say. Horseshoe crabs are not only popular as bait; they are also prized by the pharmaceutical industry for their copper-rich blood, which is used in laboratories to test drugs and devices for bacterial contamination. Hundreds of thousands of the crabs are collected on the East Coast each year for that purpose. They are returned to the water, but somewhere between 5 percent and 30 percent die.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission monitors the use of crabs by the biomedical industry and has recently proposed establishing harvest levels for horseshoe crabs from Delaware Bay. The guidelines would use a complex formula that would take into account the abundance of both red knots and female horseshoe crabs.

Still, Dr. Dey believes that stronger safeguards are needed. While 30,000 red knots may sound like a lot, the population is vulnerable, whether at the hands of man or nature. “If you have 12,000 red knots in a location and 1,000 die because of red tide or an oil spill, that’s 10 percent of the population,” she said. “At these low numbers, anything can come in and knock out the birds.”

Are We in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction?

NEARLY 20,000 species of animals and plants around the globe are considered high risks for extinction in the wild. That’s according to the most authoritative compilation of living things at risk — the so-called Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

From the New York Times, June 3, 2012 Op Ed Pages:

NEARLY 20,000 species of animals and plants around the globe are considered high risks for extinction in the wild. That’s according to the most authoritative compilation of living things at risk — the so-called Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Multimedia
Graphic
Are We in the Midst
Of a Sixth Mass Extinction?

This should keep us awake at night.

By generalizing from the few groups that we know fairly well — amphibians, birds and mammals — a study in the journal Nature last year concluded that if all species listed as threatened on the Red List were lost over the coming century, and that rate of extinction continued, we would be on track to lose three-quarters or more of all species within a few centuries.

We know from the fossil record that such rapid loss of so many species has previously occurred only five times in the past 540 million years. The last mass extinction, around 65 million years ago, wiped out the dinosaurs.

The Red List provides just a tiny insight into the true number of species in trouble. The vast majority of living things that share our planet remain undiscovered or have been so poorly studied that we have no idea whether their populations are healthy, or approaching their demise. Less than 4 percent of the roughly 1.7 million species known to exist have been evaluated. And for every known species, there are most likely at least two others — possibly many more — that have not yet been discovered, classified and given a formal name by scientists. Just recently, for instance, a new species of leopard frog was found in ponds and marshes in New York City. So we have no idea how many undiscovered species are poised on the precipice or were already lost.

It is often forgotten how dependent we are on other species. Ecosystems of multiple species that interact with one another and their physical environments are essential for human societies.

These systems provide food, fresh water and the raw materials for construction and fuel; they regulate climate and air quality; buffer against natural hazards like floods and storms; maintain soil fertility; and pollinate crops. The genetic diversity of the planet’s myriad different life-forms provides the raw ingredients for new medicines and new commercial crops and livestock, including those that are better suited to conditions under a changed climate.

This is why a proposed effort by the I.U.C.N. to compile a Red List of endangered ecosystems is so important. The list will comprise communities of species that occur at a particular place — say, Long Island’s Pine Barrens or the Cape Flats Sand Fynbos in South Africa. This new Red List for ecosystems will be crucial not only for protecting particular species but also for safeguarding the enormous benefits we receive from whole ecosystems.

Another important step was the recent creation of a new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The organization, created under the auspices of the United Nations, will provide the scientific background for international policy negotiations affecting biodiversity.

Do we need to protect so many species? Or can we rely on ecosystems with a depleted number of parts? Recent results from a study of grassland ecosystems shed important new light on these questions. Seventeen grasslands with different numbers of species were created and then studied over many years. The analysis, published in Nature last fall, showed that more than 80 percent of the plant species contributed to the effective functioning of the ecosystems, causing, for instance, a greater buildup of nutrients in soils.

Another study, published in Science in January, showed that more species allow for better functioning in arid ecosystems, which support nearly 40 percent of the world’s human population. The bottom line is that many species are needed to maintain healthy ecosystems, and this is especially the case in a rapidly changing world, because species take on new roles as conditions change.

Benefits provided by ecosystems are vastly undervalued. Take pollination of crops as an example: according to a major United Nations report on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, the total economic value of pollination by insects worldwide was in the ballpark of $200 billion in 2005. More generally, efforts to tally the global monetary worth of the many different benefits provided by ecosystems come up with astronomically high numbers, measured in tens of trillions of dollars.

These ecosystem services are commonly considered “public goods” — available to everyone for free. But this is a fundamental failure of economics because neither the fragility nor the finiteness of natural systems is recognized. We need markets that put a realistic value on nature, and we need effective environmental legislation that protects entire ecosystems.

Richard Pearson is a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History and the author of “Driven to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity.”

The Threat to Bristol Bay

This is taken from the third leader of the New York Times yesterday (June 5, 2012):

The possibility that a giant gold-and-copper mine might someday be built near the headwaters that feed Bristol Bay in Alaska, one of the richest salmon fisheries in the world, is cause for alarm. A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency reinforces those fears.

The report, issued on May 18, is a draft assessment of the “potential impacts” that large-scale mining could have on the intricate network of lakes, spawning streams and wetlands that make up the Bristol Bay ecosystem, the heart of a $2.2 billion regional fishing industry.

The project furthest along in the planning stage is the Pebble Mine, proposed by a Canadian-British consortium. The proposal has inspired fierce opposition from environmentalists and commercial and native Alaskan fishing interests. The E.P.A.’s report is the first step in a long process that will include public input, a peer-reviewed study, a more detailed plan from the company itself and, at some point down the line, an agency decision on whether to allow the project to proceed. But the agency’s preliminary findings are deeply worrisome. A big operation like Pebble, it says, would destroy 54 miles to 87.9 miles of critical streams and up to 6.7 square miles of wetlands.

Beyond that is the threat of catastrophic failure of the huge man-made reservoirs known as “tailing ponds” where mining companies typically store toxic acids, metals and other mining wastes. If that happens, spawning streams would be widely polluted and future salmon harvests sharply diminished.

The consortium, the mine’s main investor, says it can extract minerals safely and that the project could provide 1,000 permanent jobs. Its proposal deserves careful review.

But just about every factor involved — the location of the mine, the mining industry’s poor environmental record, the value of the fishery that could be harmed — suggests the risks are too high.”

 

 

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