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  • Cheetahs Return to India After 70 Years

    Namibia and India have agreed to a historic pact to relocate African cheetahs to a part of India where Asiatic cheetahs once roamed. Eight of the animals, four males and four females, are due to arrive from Namibia in August 2022 to coincide with commemorations of India’s 75th year of independence. Cheetahs have been extinct in India for over 70 years. India Minister Bhupender Yadav, who heads the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, tweeted that “restoring the fastest terrestrial flagship species, the cheetah, in India, will rekindle the ecological dynamics of the landscape." "Cheetah reintroduction would also greatly enhance local community livelihoods through eco-tourism prospects in the long term," he added. The “Action Plan for the Introduction of Cheetah in India,” unveiled in a January 2022 press release, was co-signed with Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah. As part of the announcement, Minister Yadav conveyed India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intention to conserve seven “major big cats” in India. Minister Yadav said that “fifty cheetahs will be introduced in various national parks over five years.” The new home for the first group of cheetahs is set to be the Kuno Palpur National Park in India’s Madhya Pradesh state. All villages have already been relocated outside this park, and the location has ample prey and grasslands. The site can also sustain populations of tigers, leopards, and lions, as they naturally coexist with cheetahs. Other sites considered for relocation are: Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh Shahgarh bulge, Rajasthan Mukundara Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan Cheetahs fight extinction because of human-wildlife conflict, loss of habitat and prey, and poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking. In Iran, the Asiatic cheetah has almost disappeared, with about a dozen known survivors. In May, Iranian officials happily announced that three cheetah cubs were born in Touran Wildlife Refuge—the first cheetah births in captivity. However, two of the cubs died within the month. Sources: The Guardian, phys.org/news/2022-07, phys.org/news/2022-05, pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage, cheetah.org

  • How Hot Was June? Depends on Who You Ask

    According to NASA, June 2022 was tied with 2020 as the hottest global June since record-keeping began in 1880. Was it really? Depends on who you ask, says Yale Climate Connections (YCC). Was June 2022 Really the Hottest? NASA reported in July that June 2022 was 1.18℃ above the “pre-industrial” temperatures of 1880-1920. NOAA disagreed, ranking June 2022 as the sixth warmest June on record. The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS) declared June 2022 as the third-warmest June on record. The Japan Meteorological Agency agreed with the CCCS’s ranking. The differences between the various agency rankings weren’t very big, says YCC. They were “separated by only 0.08 degree Celsius (0.14°F) in the NOAA database,” says YCC contributor, Jeff Masters. What accounts for the differences? It depends on how the agencies “treat data-sparse regions such as the Arctic,” says Masters. Source: https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2022/07/nasa-june-2022-tied-as-earths-warmest-june-on-record/

  • Zoos and Aquariums: Educating the Next Generation of Environmentalists

    *AUTHOR BIO Zoological institutions have come a long way in the last fifty years. Those that are doing things well are creating wildlife sanctuaries, nurturing endangered species, and helping conservation efforts. But they’re also great education spaces, sparking the next generation of environmentalists. Institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) (based in the US and overseas) receive more than 200 million visitors every year, including fifty-one million students. They train 40,000 teachers annually, provide support for science curricula, and offer practical opportunities for students. Creating an Inclusive Movement Karen Tingley, director of education at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), headquartered at AZA member Bronx Zoo in the Bronx, NY, says: "The ultimate vision of the education department is to foster a diverse and inclusive movement of conservation advocates." The Bronx Zoo, one of America’s largest zoos, has more than four million visitors a year. It is among the WCS’s five zoos and aquariums across New York that aim to increase scientific literacy, empower people to act to protect the environment, and build the next generation of leaders. At the Bronx Zoo, these aims are achieved through a range of programs. Summer camps offer "an all-access pass" to the zoo’s 265 acres, where school children can learn about 10,000 animals and more than 700 species. In addition, volunteering, internship and employment opportunities are available for young people and adults, and there’s a graduate scholarship program for conservationists. The zoo also provides certification and educational resources for teachers. Conservation Action and Policy Change Advocating for positive environmental change is another primary focus of the zoo and its supporters. "On a policy level, we have people signing petitions, but also making drawings of why these natural spaces are important to us," says Tingley. "Currently we’re working to make the Hudson Canyon and the offshore area off the coast of New York City a marine-protected area. And, so, kids are drawing pictures about the wildlife that are there." People have also been involved in a campaign to reduce plastics, which has involved a trip to the state capital Albany to speak to government officials and key decision makers. Tingley explains: "Our goal is not that every young person who works, interns or volunteers at WCS goes on to be the head of the World Wildlife Fund or the Nature Conservancy. Maybe they’re a lawyer who, when they’re making a decision at work, they think about the environment. Maybe they’re a parent who advocates for more programming for their young people. Our goal is creating a well-rounded conservation ethic that’s integrated into whatever career you pursue." One of the most popular exhibits is the zoo’s groundbreaking Congo Gorilla Forest. At the 6.5-acre exhibit, visitors can see mountain gorillas and many other animal species, plus 400 types of plants. The exhibit, which offers live daily Congo Cams to watch at home, gives families a memorable connection to Central African wildlife while educating them about a critically endangered animal. Developing an Ethic of Care When asked about critics who warn that zoos harm animals and habitats, Tingley has a ready response. "I have never met people who care more about wildlife, who care more about animals, than people who work in zoos," she says. "I think that at the heart of it there is an ethic of care. Their care is not only for the animals that live here, but also for wildlife out in nature. And those are intertwined." For example, she adds: "We recently … released six purebred bison back into the wild in Oklahoma. Historically, we have been a part of the reason that bison still exist here in the US, and to be able to have animals that you know were born here at the Bronx Zoo and that are released out into the wild, that’s a beautiful story." Other ‘Immersive’ Experiences Aquariums are also playing a vital role in educating people about the Earth’s oceans and rivers. The Tennessee Aquarium, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, home to more than 12,000 animals, representing almost 800 species, has many popular educational exhibits, including the Deeper Dive guided tour. The tour provides groups of eight with a behind-the-scenes look at how animals are cared for. Participants can see creatures, such as the sand tiger shark, watch live feedings and learn about the flooded Amazon rainforest. And there’s also the IMAX 3D theatre, a sixty-six feet tall and eighty-nine feet wide cinema screen, with state-of-the-art technology, that allows audiences to feel immersed in waterways and oceans. Each movie is accompanied by educator resources that can be downloaded and used in the classroom. Reaching Out to the Community Another important part of the aquarium’s education program is community outreach. The aquarium recently partnered with the Urban League of Chattanooga to provide science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) experience to thirty eighth graders from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. Natali Rodgers, the aquarium’s director of learning and evaluation, explains how the initiative offered "an engaging learning experience centered around conservation and providing the opportunity for these youth to understand the important work that we do at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI)." The girls were able to interact with lake sturgeon—the massive, eight-feet-long fish that are now close to extinction because of overfishing, dams, and habitat degradation—that are the focus of one of the TNACI conservation projects. "It was very exciting to get to see them interact with the lake sturgeon and get to be able to touch or hold these fish," Rodgers said during the event. "That is the first time that these young ladies are even able to do something like that." She added: "Women are specifically underrepresented when it comes to STEM-faced careers …. This was an opportunity to bring awareness to these young ladies and expose them to these different career paths. And what's even more significant about this is, not only are they young ladies, but these are young ladies that come from diverse backgrounds. … I just wanted to spark interest and curiosity to learn more about what we do here at the Tennessee Aquarium. So, if we've done that, I know we've done a great job." A similar education outreach program was organized at the Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, a nonprofit that provides early childhood education and care. Meanwhile, the aquarium’s Shaping Our Oceans outreach program includes discussions about the ocean ecosystem and the impact of microplastics pollution. "This program ties in with the important work that our partner Washed Ashore does to help address this huge problem that our environment is facing," states Rodgers. "Currently through October, guests can come to see several of the sculptures that Washed Ashore has created using plastic waste that was found in the ocean." Helping Species to Flourish Like the Bronx Zoo, the Tennessee Aquarium is working to make sure creatures are released into the natural environment. "The lake sturgeon reintroduction program at the Tennessee Aquarium is a wonderful example of how an AZA institution is doing just that," says Rodgers. "Not only are we reintroducing this species back into their native habitats, but we are also working to protect these habitats and engage the public on this important work so this species and many others can once again flourish." *Yasmin Prabhudas is a freelance journalist working mainly for nonprofit organizations, labor unions, the education sector, and government agencies.

  • Promises and Pitfalls: The Future of Nuclear Energy

    *AUTHOR BIO The global nuclear energy debate has now reached important key inflection points that could determine its future in the world’s energy mix. In the run up to last November’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the International Energy Agency (IEA) called for the nuclear industry to nearly double in size over the next two decades to meet global net-zero emissions targets. This February, Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine appeared to all but guarantee the future of nuclear power as a clean source of energy. The ongoing conflict has placed a giant question mark against a return to Europe’s decades long dependence on Russian oil and gas in the foreseeable future. Nuclear power plants' most obvious advantage is their low carbon footprint. They are also cheaper to run than their coal or gas rivals. The World Nuclear Association (WNA) estimates that the cost of a nuclear plant can be between 33% to 50% of the cost of a coal plant and 20% to 25% of that of a gas combined-cycle plant. Another clear advantage is nuclear power’s higher reliability over renewables like solar and wind. Set against the pros is the potential for accidents and the possibility of sabotage or nuclear terrorism. There’s also the vexed question of how to dispose of nuclear waste, estimated by the WNA at 34,000 cubic meters globally. However, with climate change concerns—now joined by severe restrictions on Russian gas and oil—topping the energy policy agenda, the global argument seems to move in favor of nuclear power. Nuclear Power Future Hangs in the Balance The WNA estimates that 440 nuclear power reactors provide about 10% of the world's electricity. They are the world's second largest source of low-carbon power. But despite these gains it is by no means certain—judging by its history—that nuclear power will succeed in significantly replacing fossil fuels in the future global energy mix. Ever since the first nuclear power generating stations were commissioned in the 1950s to great fanfare, progress has been mixed. Since the first nuclear power plants began operating in the 1950s, progress has been mixed. By the 1970s and 1980s, it had reached its nadir following accidents at Three Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in the Ukraine. Then in 2011, the Fukushima incident in Japan led to the shutdown of the country’s entire fleet of thirty-three nuclear generating plants. The Japanese shutdowns were mirrored in South Korea; and in Europe, in what many observers deemed an inexplicable over-reaction to the events at Fukushima, the German government decided to phase out all nuclear plants by the end of 2022. All of this was compounded by the green lobby’s warnings about nuclear waste disposal. Many Europeans remain skeptical about deep geological disposal, and the European Commission is also not sold on the idea. Reviving Coal Instead of Nuclear Plants Meanwhile, a new study from Rystad Energy shows that nuclear power in Europe is underperforming. Although most EU nations are pro-nuclear, a group of five—Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, and Portugal—banded together at COP26 to urge the European Commission to keep nuclear out of the EU’s green finance taxonomy. Vladimir Petrov, senior power analyst at Rystad Energy said, "European nuclear power stations are not producing at capacity and are expected to average 69% utilization through 2022 unless shutdowns and reductions are reversed. This is below the global average of 76% utilization." European nuclear power stations are not producing at capacity and are expected to average 69% utilization through 2022—compared to a global average of 76%—unless shutdowns and reductions are reversed. Faced with dwindling natural gas supplies from Russia, Germany decided to restart its old coal plants. The country has the largest coal power generation fleet in Europe, "a total of 46.7 gigawatts (GW) of installed coal power generation capacity in 2020, all of which was planned to be gradually decommissioned by 2038. … These plans have now been reversed, and the government is trying to extend the life of 10 GW of mothballed coal capacity until March 2024," Petrov continued. The debate about extending the life of its three remaining nuclear power facilities has split the German government coalition. The German Social Democrats (SPD) and German Free Democrats (FDP) want to extend the plants’ operation until at least to the summer of 2023 to avoid energy shortages during the cold German winter. The Green Party (Die Grünen) insists on phasing them out by the end of 2022. The debate about extending the life of its three remaining nuclear power facilities has split the German government coalition. France, whose fifty-six nuclear reactors produce over 70% of its electricity, continues its plans to build up to six new next-generation EPRs (European Pressured Reactors II) by 2030. Furthermore, France is expected to study the construction of eight additional EPRs as well as new small modular reactors (SMR) for a total capacity of 25GW by 2050. The UK is also looking to expand its nuclear fleet: an industry consortium led by Rolls-Royce will spend £405m ($494.6 million) to develop a fleet of SMRs over the coming years. But in the short-term, French nuclear power is facing several woes that are expected to impact the UK this winter. Output from Electricite de France’s (EDF) nuclear reactors is plunging. This has forced EDF to draw in supplies from connected markets such as the UK. Fintan Slye, director of the UK National Grid’s network operator, said that several of the utility’s plants are halted for repairs, and the big questions are whether they will get back to normal operations in time and what will that mean for interconnector flows to France this winter. Mixed Outlook in Asia In Asia, China is currently building more new nuclear reactors than any other country. Their plan for as many as 150 by 2030 is estimated to cost around $500 billion. With these reactors in place, the country will overtake the US as the operator of the world’s largest nuclear-energy system. It is also experimenting with SMRs. Japan is still reeling from the effects of the Fukushima incident, and as of March this year had only brought ten reactors back online out of a fleet of thirty-three. A further fifteen reactors are in the process of restart approval. In the past, 30% of Japan’s electricity came from nuclear. In 2020, the figure was down to just 5.1%. Meanwhile, South Korea, which has twenty-five operable nuclear reactors, with a combined net capacity of 24.4 GWe, has decided to re-embrace nuclear energy. The nation had taken a hiatus in 2017, when then-President Moon Jae-in decided to phase out nuclear energy. In July 2022, South Korea’s new government, under President Yoon Suk Yeol, announced that construction of two new reactors at the Hanul Nuclear Power Plant on the country's east coast would be restarted. South Korea is also exporting nuclear power technology, including constructing a four-unit plant in the United Arab Emirates. By 2030, South Korea’s Energy Ministry wants nuclear to make up at least 30% of the country's power generation. This is a step up from its previous goal of 27%. Nuclear Power Depends on Political Will The future of nuclear power depends now on the sufficient political will to increase the amount of nuclear power generating facilities. The WNA’s “Harmony” program proposes the addition of 1,000 GWe of new nuclear capacity by 2050 (current capacity of 1,250 GWe), to provide 25% of global electricity use (about 10,000 TWh). However, as seen in Europe, nuclear power still has a way to go to before legislators recognize its “green” credentials. *Nnamdi Anyadike is an industry journalist specializing in metals, oil, gas, and renewable energy for over thirty-five years.

  • The ‘Junk Food’ Dilemma: How to Steer Kids from Highly Processed to Highly Nutritious Foods

    *AUTHOR BIO If one starts with potato chips, "junk food" has been around since 1853—that’s when African American chef George Crum is believed to have sliced and fried super thin potatoes to appease a picky diner, and the “chips” were a hit. In the 1940s, candymakers made non-messy, hard-shelled chocolate "M&Ms" for US military forces fighting overseas, while after the war, American inventor C.E. Doolin discovered that dehydrated cheese and cornmeal "Chee-tos" were irresistible to millions. By the 1950s, as the snack food industry exploded with new products, the phrase "junk food" entered US dictionaries, and the battle began over how to handle store shelves bursting with yummy, inexpensive, and high-calorie items that have very little nutritional value. Many Products Are Aimed at Children Cracker Jack is a popcorn-peanuts-caramel-molasses product that debuted in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair and was later named America’s "first" junk food by author Andrew F. Smith in his 2006 "Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food." In 1912, the makers of Cracker Jack added toys in their packages to attract young consumers, continuing the popular practice for more than a century, until 2016. Ultraprocessed foods often include substances that are not normally used in cooking, such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, flavor enhancers, artificial colors, and emulsifiers. Today, there is ample evidence that many US children and adults consume a lot of high-sugar, high-fat, empty-calorie foods. A 2021 study found that from 1999 to 2018, ultraprocessed foods became the main source of the young people’s energy. This study of 33,795 US youths aged 2-19 years, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the São Paulo Research Foundation, and published in 2021 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Ultraprocessed foods" in the 2021 study refer to products that are "ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat industrial formulations made mainly with ingredients refined or extracted from foods and contain additives but little to no whole foods." Although these foods were originally processed to ensure food safety and increase food security, they are usually low in fiber, minerals, protein, and vitamins but replete with added sugar, trans-fat, sodium, and refined starch. Ingredients in ultraprocessed foods also often include substances that are not normally used in cooking, such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, flavor enhancers, artificial colors, and emulsifiers. Examples of these foods include candy and packaged snacks, bread and cereals, sugar-sweetened beverages, ready-to-heat pasta dishes and pizza, hotdogs, and chicken nuggets. From a healthy-diet vantage point, the statistics are discouraging. From 1999 to 2018, the estimated percentage of energy from consumption of ultraprocessed foods increased overall from 51.4% to 67% while the percentage of total energy consumed from unprocessed or minimally processed foods dropped from 28.8% to 23.5%. The most significant increase in consumption was for ready-to-heat and -eat mixed dishes (pizza, sandwiches, hamburgers, etc.), which jumped from 2.2% to 11.1%. However, the final tally of ultraprocessed foods making up the largest estimated percentage of energy for children in 2018 included grains, like manufactured breads and cereals (14.5%), and sweet snacks (12.9%). Similar proportions of ultraprocessed foods were eaten by kids at school cafeterias. The Highly Processed Dangers In June 2022, Jacqueline Vernarelli, PhD, associate professor and director of the Master of Public Health program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, reported disturbing news regarding the effects of ultraprocessed foods on young children. She found that children aged 3-5 who consumed higher quantities of ultraprocessed foods had poorer locomotor skills than children who ate less. Moreover, teens aged 12-15 who consumed more ultraprocessed foods showed lower cardiovascular fitness than kids of the same age that ate less, she said, citing results from a study for the American Society for Nutrition. A variety of studies suggest that high intake of ultraprocessed foods promotes obesity and cardiometabolic risk factors in children. "Our findings point to the need to educate families about cost-effective ways to reduce ultraprocessed food intake to help decrease the risk for cardiovascular health problems in adulthood," said Dr. Vernarelli. While highly processed foods may be convenient, research shows the importance of healthier snacks and meals, she added. Indeed, the childhood obesity rate has been steadily rising among US youth during the past twenty years, and there is increasing evidence that eating "junk foods" leads to excessive calorie intake and weight gain. A variety of studies suggest that high intake of ultraprocessed foods promotes obesity and cardiometabolic risk factors in children. Later, in adulthood, there are additional risks for cardiovascular diseases and cancers. In addition to poor nutrient profiles, ultraprocessed foods may impact people’s glycemic response and satiety, thus adding to the obesity dilemma. Furthermore, animal studies have shown food additives such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, and artificial sweeteners are linked to adverse metabolic effects. What To Eat—And Not to Eat The foods everyone should limit in quantity are those with added sugars (brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, etc.), saturated fats from meat and full-fat dairy products, trans fats from foods that have partially hydrogenated oils, and sodium. In general, a healthful diet should include nutrient-dense foods such as protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 is a free download from the US Department of Health and Human Services that shows what to eat and drink to meet nutrient needs, promote health, and help prevent chronic disease. It is organized by life stage, from birth through older adulthood, including women who are pregnant or lactating. Sometimes eating healthier is as simple as swapping out the less healthy food choices for more nutrient-dense options. One of the easiest ways to help children is to make sure the home kitchen is stocked with whole foods and limited quantities of processed foods. One of the easiest ways to help children is to make sure the home kitchen is stocked with whole foods and limited quantities of processed foods. Here are some tips: Sweet desserts may be one of the toughest foods to give up. But healthier food can still satisfy a sweet tooth. Try skipping the ice cream and have a bowl of fruits topped with creamy yogurt and crunchy nuts. Make it fun and let each person create their own personalized dessert cup. Healthful baked treats can be made at home. Try a variety of tasty muffins that include whole grains and loads of good ingredients. They can be baked ahead for quick breakfasts, snacks, or lunchbox desserts. Taco night is another great time to encourage kids to make healthy choices. Set up a tabletop buffet of lean meat or meat alternative, black and/or pinto beans, tomatoes, colorful bell peppers, avocado chunks or guacamole, shredded cheese, lettuce or spinach, healthy salsa and whole-grain tortillas. Encourage kids to choose at least five ingredients or five colors for their taco creation. Sometimes it’s even OK to play with your food. "Ants on a Log" is a timeless favorite (a peeled banana or a stick of celery smeared with nut butter and topped with a line of raisins). Make a smiley or silly face with any food on the plate, or allow kids to be artful and create a snake or a mountain or a tree, and then eat their creation. Get Them Involved Encouraging kids to get involved in choosing healthy food can motivate them to eat healthier diets. Meal planning, grocery lists and shopping, food prep, and serving food can help them feel ownership of the process. Older kids can learn how to read nutrition labels and follow recipes to further fuel their healthful decision making. Should power struggles arise over food, experts now advise not to force or bribe children to eat something. Instead, serve up small portions of everything at the meal and let kids ask for more. At all costs, don’t prepare a special meal for a picky eater. Without making it a drama, encourage the child to stay at the table. Eventually, they might eat, and if not, healthful meals and snacks served at regular times each day will help ensure that a child who refuses a meal won’t miss nutrients. When new foods are introduced, it’s a good idea to discuss the aroma, color, shape, and texture of the food. It may take several exposures to a new food before a child decides that the taste is good (or perhaps not good; after all, taste is subjective). And speaking of shapes, why not cut some foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters? Serve veggies cut in different shapes and have ready a favorite dip or sauce. As long as they eat some veggies, the dip isn’t really a concern. To add fun to learning about nutrition, the US Department of Agriculture’s My Plate program has a page of activities for kids on balanced nutrition, including online games, printable activities, and challenges for eating well, being proactive about nutrition, and staying physically active. When all the foods at the table are healthful, parents can sit back and let the kids make their own decisions. Kids that feel the power of choice may surprise adults with how they choose to fill their plates. And if adults model healthful eating and activity, children are more likely to do the same. Encouraging healthy choices at home and away from home can promote a lifetime of healthy eating. *Julie Peterson is a freelance journalist based in the Midwest region of the U.S. who has written hundreds of articles on natural approaches to health, environmental issues, and sustainable living. Editorial Note: Source for Andrew Smith book: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/weekinreview/08manny.html

  • Seagrass: The Global Seafood Supermarket

    *AUTHOR BIO How a Seafood Nursery Feeds Millions The word is out about the ways seagrass aids the environment, but more needs to be known about how this vital ecosystem boosts local economies. For those who are not familiar with seagrass, the term covers the many species of the world’s only flowering underwater plant. Seagrass spreads along the ocean floor through rhizomes, often hugging shorelines in colonies that resemble the rolling, grassy meadows found on land. Seagrasses are found globally in temperate and tropical waters where their biodiverse ecosystems rival those of coral reefs, protecting and nourishing wide varieties of marine prey and predator alike. Seagrass Studies Ignore Local Economic Benefits Environmentalists have spearheaded the call to protect and restore the seagrasses. Not only are fields of seagrass superior at carbon sequestration, they can slow, and even help rectify, ocean acidification, according to a 2021 study by the Monterey Aquarium Research Institute in California. Researchers at Swansea University in Wales describe seagrass as a "nature-based solution for greenhouse gas mitigation," calling it "vital for biodiversity." But unfortunately, the immense ecological importance of seagrass beds doesn’t translate into wholesale preservation efforts. Seagrass keeps communities from falling into poverty, or into greater poverty. Often overlooked are seagrass beds’ significant economic importance to coastal communities. In fact, seagrass keeps communities from falling into poverty, or into greater poverty, says Benjamin L.H. Jones, a professor in the department of Ecology, Environment, and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University in Sweden. Jones is the lead author of a study that looked at the role seagrass plays in local economic income. The study, published in the June 2022 issue of the journal Ocean & Coastal Management, is one of the first of its kind to define the importance of seagrass to the coastal populations, Jones says. "The support that seagrass meadows provide to communities can no longer be ignored; doing so would create further poverty for the most vulnerable in society," Jones says. Food Security: On Par with Environmental Concerns Efforts to restore and maintain fields of seagrass in oceans and seas mainly center around environmental arguments, Jones said. But how will the local populations that depend on seagrass for the fish and seafood they eat and for their livelihoods be affected by vanishing seagrass meadows? Their plights should also be a consideration in preservation efforts, Jones says. When seagrass meadows are lost, household income goes down, Jones and his fellow researchers found. In Southeast Asia and other tropical regions, plentiful fields of seagrass help alleviate poverty in local communities. That’s because many residents comb through the meadows to catch the fish, crab, turtles, and shrimp that live among the grass-like plants. Seagrass is a prominent food source for these households, the study finds. Small-scale fisheries also rely on plentiful fields of seagrass because many types of fish—both large and small—live in the meadows, which proliferate relatively close to shore. In fact, Jones and his colleagues discovered that, wealthy or poor, all the households they studied relied on seagrass to one degree or another. By looking at income and other factors from 147 villages across four countries within the Indo-Pacific, the researchers were able to examine the ways the households depend on seagrass. Even wealthy households that fish offshore with their own boats also fish within beds of seagrass, Jones says. Actually, seagrass meadows serve as a nursery habitat "to over 1/5th of the world's largest 25 fisheries," according to a 2018 study. That includes pollock (see video), "the most landed species on the planet," wrote the study authors. But overfishing and pollution are rapidly diminishing seagrass meadows that these populations rely on. In fact, a football field of seagrass disappears every half hour, according to a study done last year by researchers at the University of California Davis and other institutions. Jones and his colleagues join environmentalists, politicians and others in calling for the conservation of seagrass meadows. "Safeguarding seagrass meadows across the Indo-Pacific is vital to alleviate poverty," he says. Push-Pull Needs of Fisheries and Seagrass Meadows The depletion of seagrass can threaten food security in a number of ways other than impoverishment, says Mariana Herrera, a marine science researcher at the University of Vigo in Spain. Particularly important is seagrass meadows’ role in supporting fisheries worldwide and bringing food to nearby populations, Herrera says. People in tropical countries often rely on small-scale fisheries for their everyday food needs, she says. Small-scale fishers often operate without boats or with small boards. They’re not able to fish far from the shore, meaning seagrass meadows are important to support the shore life that creates their livelihood, Herrera says. Many marine species that live close to the shore "are easy to target using low-tech fishing gear or simply collection by hand [allowing] such fisheries to prevail across the tropics, more so in low-income and emerging economies," writes Jones and colleagues in their paper. Small-scale fisheries are increasingly difficult to manage as they are tied to the fate of coastal habitats like seagrass meadows, which themselves are impacted by factors like poor water quality and coastal development, Herrera says. Meanwhile, Jones and his colleagues found that, in the 147 households they studied, low-income households that depend on seagrass for income from fishing could be hit hardest by such factors as habitat loss and overfishing. "If seagrass meadows are lost, the most vulnerable in society will have the most to lose," Jones says. "The support that seagrass meadows provide to communities can no longer be ignored, doing so would create further poverty for households that depend on seagrass for food and work." *Jean Thilmany is a freelance writer living in St. Paul, MN, who writes frequently about science and engineering topics.

  • Microplastics Now Found in Human Blood

    *AUTHOR BIO Risks for Inflammation in Human Organs Still Unknown In a scientific first, researchers have found microplastics in human blood. A recent study reveals that tiny plastic particles can travel within the body via the circulatory system. The study by researchers from the Department of Environment and Health at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Amsterdam University Medical Center detected tiny pieces of plastic in 77% of participants tested. This is "the first real-world evidence that plastic particles are absorbed in the human bloodstream," says Dr. Heather Leslie, lead author of the study. The new study is an important addition to the growing body of research that finds microplastics in various human organs, tissues, blood, and waste matter. Additional research seeks to answer many more questions—especially about human health risks—associated with these man-made materials. Earlier Studies Prompted Blood Research Previous research studies identified the presence of microplastics in the placenta and in feces. (Following the discovery of microplastics in human blood, another research team found them in deep lung tissue). "We were aware that microplastics had been found in human stool, so we hypothesized that they could have crossed barriers and be found in the blood," says Dr. Juan J. Garcia-Vallejo, co-author of the study and associate professor at the Department of Molecular Cell Biology & Immunology, Amsterdam University Medical Center. In addition, a research study found that infant exposure to microplastics from consuming formula—prepared in polypropylene infant feeding bottles—was higher than previously recognized. The researchers stated that the study’s results highlighted an "urgent need" to assess whether exposure to microplastics at the levels found in the study—as high as 16,200,000 particles per liter—is a risk factor for infant health. Discovering Microplastics in Human Blood "What we didn’t know beforehand was if the plastic dust we see in our indoor environment, air, water and food chain gets absorbed into the human bloodstream in amounts that are detectable with our current technology," says Leslie. The Amsterdam researchers developed a robust and sensitive analytical method to measure plastic particles. That technique would then be applied to measuring the presence of plastic particles with dimensions of 700 nanometers and up in the blood of healthy human volunteers. Quality control and validation of their analytical techniques were of particular importance to the researchers. To identify and quantify the levels of microplastics in the blood, the researchers used their analytical techniques to measure the quantities in the participants’ blood of five specific polymers commonly used in high volume plastic production: polyethylene terephthalate, polyethylene and polymers of styrene, poly (methyl methacrylate), and polypropylene. Four of the five polymers were detected in some of the human blood samples, with only polypropylene levels being below the limits of detection of the researchers’ techniques. "When we got the first data in, we were shocked, even though it validated our hypothesis." "We went from expecting there to be microplastic in human blood to knowing it is there," says Leslie. "When we got the first data in, we were shocked, even though it validated our hypothesis," adds Garcia-Vallejo. The results of the research project, called Immunoplast, were published in the scientific journal Environment International. The research program strives to gain more insight into the potential health implications of plastic particulates and actions that can be taken to limit their possible harmful effects. The Amsterdam researchers recommended further studies to ascertain the health implications of microplastic accumulation in human bodies and whether plastic particle exposure is a public health risk. Exposure to Microplastics Unavoidable Microplastics originate from all items made from plastic. As these items wear down during use or at the product’s end of life, plastic fragments are released into the environment. Once released, they "start a big journey waltzing in and out of living beings pretty much unscathed, back into the air and water and earth again," Leslie notes. According to Garcia-Vallejo, exposure to microplastics through food or drink is the most likely route of entry into humans. Leslie emphasized that plastic, either inhaled with air or ingested with food and water, has a gigantic number of potential sources. That is because plastic pollution is ubiquitous, and tiny shreds of plastic can usually be detected in processed food, vegetables, meat, tap water and bottled beverages. Vast amounts of consumable foods come in contact with plastic packaging. "We are most concerned about the fine particles that get absorbed, enter the bloodstream, and from there travel to all parts of the body to be deposited in organs and tissues where they can potentially cause inflammation and toxic effects." Plastic particles in the body can end up in the toilet if they are too big to be absorbed in the lungs or gut. "That is why we are most concerned about the fine particles that get absorbed, enter the bloodstream, and from there travel to all parts of the body to be deposited in organs and tissues where they can potentially cause inflammation and toxic effects," says Leslie. "The microplastics made today won’t fully degrade for several more generations, so in that sense, I see them as our message to the future: We used a lot of plastic that was incompatible with ecosystems, and we had a hard time figuring out what to do about it," Leslie adds. Microplastics and Human Health Regarding the implications that microplastics in the bloodstream have for human health, Leslie explains, "the risk to human health arises when the exposure reaches levels that toxicity starts to kick in." The study showed exposure levels in a small group of humans. Research is ongoing to determine the plastic in blood levels in larger samples of the human population. More donors need to be measured to get a better idea of the distribution of plastic among the population, Leslie shares. "It is not just about more toxicity research, but also we need to establish the exposure levels in a lot more humans before we can extrapolate to say a human population as a whole," Leslie continues. There are also currently ongoing European projects designed to determine the threshold levels for toxicity. "What we do know already comes from the field of particle and fiber toxicology," says Leslie. Some particles or fibers can elicit toxicity, which starts with oxidative stress and inflammatory response. "Chronic inflammation is considered a prelude to many chronic diseases," says Leslie. "We need to figure out if plastic particles cause these kinds of inflammations," explains Leslie. "My question is, how different is the toxicity of plastic particles from other particles that we know cause human health issues, such as particulates in air pollution?" Leslie asks. Much of the past research into the toxicity of chemical additives that leach out of plastic has shown that exposure to them can lead to endocrine disruptive effects in humans, she says. However, the human health effects of plastic particles themselves are a nascent research field. At the moment, researchers know more about the toxicity of chemicals that leach out of plastic materials, Leslie confirms. "Microplastic might be toxic because of the additives, the particle getting caught up in biological processes, or a combination of the two," Leslie details. Plastic can also exert what is called particle and fiber toxicity. Limiting Exposure to Microplastics The question of what can people do to limit their exposure to microplastics—in terms of it entering their bodies—is "very difficult," says Garcia-Vallejo. "We need to act on limiting plastic pollution in the environment so that the exposure decreases," he says. People can best use their voice, become politically active, support civil society groups tackling plastic pollution, talk to their elected representatives, and sign petitions and letters. "In other words, don’t keep it to yourself!" says Leslie. "Also, think before you purchase something if you want it, need it, and if it needs to be plastic, or if there is another solution to the product’s function," adds Leslie. Furthermore, design signals intention. "Whenever people design a product, if there is an intention to design plastic pollution out of the product, everything changes," says Leslie. "People making decisions at work about product design or procurement can make a larger scale difference than you or me searching for a supermarket that doesn’t wrap cucumbers in plastic," Leslie continues. Removing Microplastics from the Body Currently, there are no known protocols to remove microplastics from the human body. Still, researchers are confident ways will be found to heal humanity from pollution damage. "Never underestimate the power of human intention and ingenuity," says Leslie. "We can easily share this planet with 8 billion people without trashing it; it is just difficult for most adults to imagine it," she adds. *Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe is a freelance journalist and editor. Over the past 10 years, Natasha has reported for a host of publications, exploring the wider world and industries from environmental, scientific, business, legal, and sociological perspectives. Natasha has also been interviewed as an insight provider for research institutes and conferences. Editorial notes Sources: Interview with Juan J. Garcia Vallejo, MD, PhD, MBA, Associate Professor, Dept. Molecular Cell Biology & Immunology, Amsterdam University Medical Center. Interview with Dr Heather Leslie, formerly Senior Researcher, Dept. of Environment and Health, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Dr Heather Leslie left the VY as of 1st March 2022.

  • Caribbean Shores Smothered by Summer Seaweed

    Seaweed washing up on Caribbean shores is nothing new, but it has been showing up in the record numbers this summer. Words like “smothering” and “choking” have been used to describe the heaping mounds of brownish seaweed covering beaches from Florida to Puerto Rico to Barbados. More than a nuisance, the invading plants have stymied tourists and local hospitality businesses as reports come in of dying fish and the smell of noxious gases. Enjoying a swim is out too, due to the long, crescent-shaped blankets of seaweed that choke fishing grounds before washing ashore. According to the University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab, a staggering 24 million tons of the brown seaweed, called sargassum, covered the Atlantic in June, breaking the 2018 record by 20%. USF offers a sargassum monitoring report called the Sargassum Watch System (SaWS) via its website, using information provided by NASA and other sources. Causes for the influx are not yet fully known, but according to the UN Environment Caribbean Programme (UNCEP), associated factors may include rising ocean temperatures, nitrogen fertilizer runoff, and sewage that feed algal growth. Sources: Yahoo News, optics.marine.usf.edu

  • Nuclear War Impacts Updated

    The war in Ukraine has raised fresh concerns about nuclear war. Louisiana State University (LSU) research brings us up-to-date on what would occur in hypothetical scenarios. Nuclear War in Hypothetical Scenarios According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, nine nations control the world’s 13,000+ nuclear weapons. According to the LSU study, the first month following nuclear detonation would see average global temperatures plunge by about 13°F, a bigger temperature change than occurred during the last Ice Age. Rapidly dropping ocean temperatures would expand sea ice by more than 6 million square miles and 6 feet deep in places, possibly blocking major ports, such as Beijing's Port of Tianjin. Urban firestorms could send particles into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. The resultant smoke would last three times longer than volcanic aerosols. In a US vs Russia scenario, shortwave radiation could be reduced by 70%, and the global average surface temperature (including land) could decline by 7°C (44.6°F) at first, reaching a peak anomaly of −10°C (14°F) in the third year. Following each of the nuclear war scenarios, a decade-long solar radiation reduction and cooling event would occur. In all nuclear war scenarios, temperature modifications and biogeochemical profiles would continue for decades, more likely for hundreds of years, due to long recovery times for the deep ocean. Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220707100953.htm

  • Baptismal Rite Breaks New Ground

    The Anglican (Church of England) Bishop of Oxford has added a new environmentally friendly vow to the church’s baptismal rite. According to Anglican Mainstream, the Rt. Rev. Steven Croft added a sixth question to the liturgy that calls on the newly baptized to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the Earth, with the response being: With the help of God, I will. Speaking on June 11, 2022, to the church’s Diocesan Synod, the bishop read the following scripture in support of his stance: Psalms 24 The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, The world and all those who live in it For he has founded it on the seas And established it on the rivers. The bishop recalled his father’s gardening expertise and how it helped him to understand the role of human beings in caring for the natural world: Part of our role is to tend creation; the first and recurring image of paradise in scripture is a beautiful garden. The word "paradise" itself is a Babylonian word meaning walled garden. A garden is not an entirely natural thing. It does not happen by itself. Sources: Anglican Mainstream, Diocese of Oxford

  • UNEP Celebrates 50 Years of Milestones

    The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was founded fifty years ago (1972) as an outcome of the first global environmental conference, held that year in Stockholm, Sweden. To celebrate its golden anniversary, UNEP released an update on its important milestones. UNEP Milestones To date, the UNEP has 193 member states. In 1973, the MARPOL treaty was signed to address ocean pollution from ships and CITES was signed to curb or control the international trade of wild species. All in all, UNEP served as a “docking station” for 15 multilateral environmental agreements related to everything from air and water pollution to species conservation. On June 5, 1974, UNEP initiated the first World Environment Day. UNEP moved into its present home on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1975. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), founded by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. UNEP member states signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5°C (equivalent to 2.7°F). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were also introduced in 2015. UNEP released its Making Peace with Nature Report in 2021. UNEP celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022 in Stockholm, Sweden. Source: https://www.unep.org/environmental-moments-unep50-timeline

  • Can Conservation and Assisted Migration Save Biodiversity?

    *AUTHOR BIO The migration route of monarch butterflies spans southern Canada to Mexico, a distance of about 2,500 miles. In their journey across the North American continent, the monarchs must cross the broad waters of Lake Superior. In the middle of this arduous leg of the journey, the monarchs make a mysterious hard turn to the east before continuing south. We’re not sure why the monarchs do this. One theory suggests that thousands of years ago there may have been a mountain blocking their way. The monarchs have weathered obstacles before, but any change in the habitat of this stalwart traveler is likely to have devastating effects. And now the monarch butterfly is officially listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered. Ensuring the survival of threatened species has never seemed more urgent, but there is debate about how to proceed among some ecologists and conservationists. Some say efforts should be directed to reversing climate change so threatened species can naturally restore their diminished populations. Others think it’s time to intervene, to make sure species will survive. An intervention may involve physically moving plants and animal species to an area where they are more likely to thrive, a process known as assisted migration. Insects and plants are particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change and may require some human assistance to adapt quickly. For example, since 2007, the San Mateo County Parks Foundation in California has been making a concerted effort to restore populations of the San Francisco Bay checkerspot butterfly. The butterflies and their larva are moved into the conservation area and monitored by trained volunteers. For the monarchs, human intervention was needed to restore their unique winter habitat in northern Mexico. Oyamel fir forests, which grow in mountainous terrain, have dense canopies that can retain heat from the ground and keep Monarchs warm. The trees also protect the butterflies from rain, wind and snow. Mexico has created sanctuaries, such as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. In 2015, a devastating, illegal logging event destroyed part of the forest, and oyamel fir seedlings have been planted again to restore the monarch habitat. Critics of assisted migration techniques cite past disasters, such as the invasive cane toad. The cane toad was brought to Queensland, Australia, as a control for agricultural pests, but with no natural predators on the island, it became a notorious ecological disaster. Critics argue that when a threatened species is moved to an area outside its original habitat, it becomes, in effect, an invasive species. But with the climate warming, many species may find themselves outside of their historical range. Saving the Three-toothed Cinquefoil Some scientists think moving plants from one location to another will increase genetic diversity among populations that may help them weather climate change. One experiment taking place in Acadia National Park, Maine, involves a rose family plant called three-toothed cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata). Modeling has shown that this low-growing plant with small white flowers may be particularly susceptible to temperature changes and may lose much of its original range as the climate warms. In particular, it may disappear from Mount Cadillac, one of the park’s treasures, and leave the summit susceptible to erosion. Climate change biologist Chris Nadeau is studying the plant as part of the Sustainable Summits Project, a research program in association with Acadia’s scientific research partner, the Schoodic Institute. Nadeau is measuring the performance of three-toothed cinquefoil taken from the summits of southern mountains in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and replanted in a controlled garden setting in Maine. Nadeau wants to see if plants from warmer climates have genes that will help their northern counterparts weather the warming conditions in Maine. The experiment is one of the largest and most rigorous of its kind, and it could provide valuable information about how increasing genetic diversity can help a species endure. The process of relocating a species to create genetic diversity is called assisted gene flow. "What we’re doing is moving genotypes within the distribution of species," said Nadeau, "So we’re not extending the range of three-toothed cinquefoil, we’re just moving individuals from one location to another distribution." Searching for the Best Response to Climate Change Nadeau’s experiment is controlled to prevent potential disease and invasion from plants from other states, but one of the reasons Nadeau chose three-toothed cinquefoil was because it was already being used to restore vegetation on Cadillac’s summit. Therefore, Nadeau’s research poses a very practical question: can current restoration efforts continue to provide a benefit in a warming climate? "This is phase one of trying to understand how we can restore vegetation on the degraded mountain summits throughout New England and ensure that those restorations persist into the future," said Nadeau. Nadeau’s project fits into a new framework that has been adopted by the National Park Service as a response to climate change. The Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) framework is a departure from an earlier directive, outlined by the park’s famous Leopold Report, written by Aldo Starker Leopold in 1963, that recommended that National Parks be restored to "vignettes of primitive America." When faced with climate change-related challenges within the park, RAD is used to calculate a response. "Resisting" might involve the removal of a new invasive species, and "accepting" would mean no intervention. The Sustainable Summits Project would fall under the heading of "direct," where conservation efforts are calculated with a warming future in mind. But Nadeau believes that his project has implications beyond the parks: "We are expecting to learn a ton, not just about sustaining mountain summits, but climate change adaptation throughout the world." For the monarchs, the effort to restore their destroyed habitat in Mexico seems to be a success, but the future of the trees, like the monarchs, is not secure. As warming progresses, oyamel firs, like the three-toothed cinquefoil, may be unable to weather the heat in a place where they were once common. What conservationists and others do today—working together collectively, like the Monarchs’ migration—may help sensitive species find a more secure future. *Mal Cole is a freelance science and nature writer based in Massachusetts. Editorial Note: Sources: Nadeau, Chris, interview by author, July 29, 2022.

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