Penny Thoughts

Threatened Species of the Week- Tasmanian Devils and Transmissible Cancer

Welcome to the very first post in my new feature: Threatened Species of the Week!

Which species will have the honour of being the first threatened species on my list? I was thinking of ways to choose this first species and dabbled with a few ideas. I decided to look into a threatened species that comes with a very interesting story to liven things up a little.

Because of this I decided to go for.. drum roll please.. the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)! How terribly exciting.. right so let’s give you some facts about this creature and why it is threatened by extinction.

Tasmanian Devils are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Redlist classification which is all explained in a previous post which you should have a look at if you haven’t already. These marsupials are found wild only in Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia.

Their numbers have been declining for some time for numerous reasons, however the most devastating culprit is a disease which is rapidly wiping out the isolated populations. This disease is called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) and is a kind of cancer. The cancer is common throughout 60% of the Tasmanian Devils’ natural range and is spreading at a rate of 7-50 km per year.

Studies of these tumours stunned scientists as they realised something very bizarre was going on. If you compare the tumours of people suffering from the same kind of cancer the DNA of the cancerous cells are specific to that individual. Essentially each person’s tumour cell DNA is different.

However, studies of the tumour cells of these Tasmanian Devils found that the DNA was almost identical. Now this makes very little sense as tumour cells are those which have mutated from that individual’s normal healthy cells. So how on Earth can all of these different diseased Tasmanian Devils have the same DNA in the cells of their tumours??

The answer to this question is that the cancer is being directly transmitted from infected individuals to uninfected individuals. But how can this be? Cancers don’t spread from person to person, they occur as a consequence of genetic and environmental factors. So this existing transmissible cancer occurring in Tasmanian Devils is something incredibly intriguing.

Research and observation soon found the key to this unusual transmissible cancer. The temperament of the Tasmanian Devil created by Warner Bros. was based on fact, with real Tasmanian Devils being incredibly aggressive creatures. They regularly fight and this characteristic is the root to why these Devils share the same tumours.

The tumours that form as a result of DFTD form on the face, commonly around the mouth and jaw. When an infected Devil fights and bites their opponent the teeth essentially act as needles, injecting the cancerous cells into the flesh of the other Devil. So these Devils are directly transmitted this cancer to each other.

In the region of Tasmania where most Devils are found, roughly 30% of the total population was lost within the first 3 years after the disease’s arrival, and the adult population declined by 50% each year. From this information it has been predicted that within 10 years of the disease’s arrival, the devils in that region will be extinct.

Already the population has predicted to have declined from 130 000-150 000 individuals in 1987 to 10 000-25 000 in 2007. Estimates of the whole Devil range predict that over 70% of the total population will be lost in less than 10 years.

The tragic thing about this situation is that, although the cause of decline is well understood, very little can be done to prevent it. There is no cure for this cancer and the fighting nature of the devils means that the disease will continue to spread. To make things worse devils are commonly killed by vehicles, dogs and foxes in the region and the low genetic diversity that exists as the population bottlenecks with further threaten the devils in the future.

Efforts are being done to protect the devils and attempt to limit the spread of the disease in the currently unaffected regions. The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program works to research DFTD and maintain the existing population. Devils are being reared in captivity to act as a kind of insurance population as the wild devils continue to decline. The program is also trying to develop resistance to the disease through rearing programs and also are developing a vaccine to treat DFTD, however the use of the vaccine would not be feasible for wild devils.

The situation is not looking good for Tasmanian Devils and in my opinion the wild population will become extinct and the “insurance” devils will attempt to make up for the loss with reintroductions to the wild.

Right.. well I hope you enjoyed the first instalment of Threatened Species of the Week and will be reading again next week!

NEW FEATURE- Threatened Species of the Week

As I generally blog about current biological issues I fancied mixing things up a little and decided I would create a regular feature for my blog. It took me a bit of time to decide what this feature would be, but I decided upon something that interests me and will hopefully interest you readers.

So the plan is that I will be publishing a post each week on a threatened species. This species may be an animal, plant, fungus.. whatever. My main aim is to increase awareness of those threatened species that we rarely hear about.

We are costantly being bombarded with pleas to protect tigers, rhinos, polar bears etc, but these are a mere fraction of the number of species threatened by extinction in our over-polluted and over-populated world.

I will be using the IUCN Redlist to choose threatened species so I’ll give a quick Redlist 101 for those of you unfamiliar with the classification.

So the IUCN Redlist is a list of species that are classified into varying categories depending on how threatened by extinction they are.

So there are 9 categories starting with:
1. Least Concern (LC)
2. Near Threatened (NT)

These two categories do not count as “threatened” and therefore those species classed as LC or NT will not be included in this feature. The following 3 categories describe the varying levels of being threatened by extinction and therefore, species within these 3 categories will be included.
3. Vulnerable (VU)
4. Endangered (EN)
5. Critically Endangered (CR)

There are two categories defining extinct and these are:
6. Extinct in the Wild (EW)
7. Extinct (EX)

Again those species within these categories will not be included as it is unfortunately too late for them.

So I will be looking at those species that fall into the threatened categories of Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered.

There are 2 other categories as can be seen in the picture, these are Data Deficient (DD) and Not Evaluated (NE). It takes a lot of time and effort to collect enough population data and make an assessment of species and therefore there are an enormous number of species that have not been evaluated or there is not enough data available to accurately categorise. Constant efforts are however in place to get as many species categorised as possible.

So that is all a little dry, but I wanted to make sure we were all clear on the ins and outs of the classification I was using. I look forward to posting my first threatened species very soon!

Greenpeace Activists Reach New Heights as they Climb the Shard

A group of Greenpeace activists are climbing the tallest building in Western Europe today in a protest against oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

At 4.20am this morning, police were called to the Shard as people reported climbers scaling the side of the building. The team, made up of 6 women, although from varying corners of globe, are all united in the fight against gas and oil drilling in the Arctic.

The protesters main target is Shell, who’s headquarters surround the Shard. Shell have recently announced that they are going ahead with their plans to expand gas and oil drilling in the Arctic. This fragile continent is already dramatically impacted by climate change and therefore there is enormous concern about the direct and indirect impacts that this drilling will have.

Updates on the progress of the climb are being covered by Greenpeace on twitter. Pictures and accounts of the women scaling the sides of the 310m high Shard are regularly being posted alongside pleas for support and plans to contact Shell. These women are clearly skilled climbers if they can keep their twitter up to date while clinging to the side of the glass fortress that is the Shard.

Already over 33 000 people have signed up to show their support for the climbers and their disgust at Shell and numerous other gas and oil companies’ plans. A live broadcast by Greenpeace is also covering the event and getting in contact with scientists, conservationists and Shell.

Shell have acknowledged the event and accept Greenpeace’s opinion, however are showing no sign of changing their plans. A spokesman said that “If responsibly developed, Arctic energy resources can help offset supply constraints and maintain energy security for consumers throughout the world”. The spokesman also claims that Shell do take action to reduce environmental impacts, however no specific examples were given.

A spokesman from the Metropolitan police announced that they are doing all they can to ensure the safety of the protesters, the public and those working in the building. The climbers are currently at 150m; just under half way. All climbers are wearing harnesses and are attached to the building, with a maximum of 6m fall if an accident were to occur.

Once they complete their climb the protesters will be hanging a piece of unknown artwork to emphasise their message.

Everyone please get involved, join the fight, use the hashtag (#iceclimb) and follow the journey of these brave women!

Duck Feeding, Dog Poo and Goldfish Dumping: The Nightmares of Public Parks

I must apologise.. I have rather been neglecting my blog recently. I got back to university and have had to jump immediately into my final year project.. so I have been a little overwhelmed.

I’ve been doing tonnes of research so as soon as I come to terms with the endless pages of notes I’ll try to get posting regularly again.

My dissertation is on what works to maintain biodiversity in urban areas. Being that I live in London while I study, it has been something I’ve thought about since arriving at Imperial two and a half years ago. I’ve always looked at the paved streets and concrete buildings and thought that you couldn’t really be further from nature. The idea of looking into the horizon is pretty unexciting when I am at home in Leicester. However, in London I find that I go 8 weeks without really seeing the horizon at all.

It all sounds a bit depressing, but don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love living in London. The constant hustle and bustle and vibrancy of the people and surroundings keeps me busy wherever I go. But there is no place in London I prefer than Hyde Park.

Being at Imperial has its perks; I’m probably only ever a 2 minute walk from Hyde park. Recently with the weather picking up I’ve been nipping there at lunch times to enjoy the sunshine in a more green and pleasant place than my computer labs.

Being that part of my dissertation is about how London parks manage their grounds to maintain biodiversity, I feel I have some kind of excuse to spend a little more time there than I probably should.

But saying all that, this week I have learnt a lot about how much work goes into maintaining the urban parks of our world. The constant pressure from the incessantly growing urban matrix means our parks are hugely vulnerable and are in a constant war against pollution and people.

Things that I’m sure we are all guilty of doing can have really detrimental effects on our much beloved parks and green spaces. Feeding the ducks, letting our dogs poo all over the place, littering, building dens, making fires, going off the paths, and trampling through meadows and bushes are things that many of us do with only the smallest tingling of mild guilt.

However, these relatively minor behaviours have big impacts on our parks that are already under constant fire from the “big problems” of air, noise and water pollution.

Something I have found surprising is just how bad feeding the ducks is.. I mean I thought I was helping them out. Apparently if you feed park birds and mammals too much bread it fills them up very quickly and means they don’t eat other food. The bread basically leaves no room for the animals to eat the foods that actually provide them with the nutrients they need. Also excess feeding leaves a lot of food on the ground and this attracts pests like rats and foxes, and nobody wants that.

I am not a dog owner so the idea of picking up a dog’s poo has never really been something I’ve worried about. We all know that dog poo is damaging to the environment in many ways; yet I seem to spend my life hop, skipping and jumping these piles of joy whenever I’m walking around London.

In many of the parks in London they have acid grasslands. These are basically ecosystems that are made up of plants that require very little soil nutrient content to survive and thrive. These are rare habitats in urban areas and are being managed to maintain their existence and to enable this ecosystem to thrive in our challenging urban environment.

Dog poo is a big threat to these grasslands as they provide nutrients to the soil, like a stinking, doggy  fertiliser. This added nutrient alters the soil and makes it increasingly unsuitable for the acid grassland plants. It also means that more common species of plants (often weeds) can colonise the area now that there is more nutrient in the soil. If this continues, these less specialist species can spread and take over the rare acid grassland. This is only one example of the damage to the natural environment that can occur when people let their dogs release their load in our green spaces.. pick up your poop.

Not only do we humans let our dogs do their business all over our urban parks, we also discard of our unwanted pets in them.. what a great idea! I’m sure some people probably think they are doing their poor neglected pet a favour by releasing it into a natural environment.. this is not true.. at all.

I spoke to a wonderful lady at Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park about her experiences in the urban-based park and she shared some brilliant insight into the difficulties of maintaining these precious spaces. She mentioned that one big problem they have is people releasing unwanted pets like goldfish and terrapins into their lakes and ponds. As multiple goldfish had been dumped they bred and now have increased rapidly in number. Some of their lakes are riddled with these household pets. Yes, goldfish are lovely, but that is when they are in a fish tank fully equipped with fake shrubbery and bubbling treasure chests. The lakes and ponds on Greenwich Peninsula are not where these fish belong and they are eating everything.

The staff at the ecology park are doing their best to control these unwanted gold guests, but with their continued breeding and people’s continued ignorance it is proving relatively difficult. Working with locals and informing them about where they should take their unwanted pets is helping; so hopefully this amazing wetland will be goldfish free in the near future.

These are only a couple examples of how our behaviours can directly damage the areas we love so much. Urban parks and green spaces keep us happy and provide an oasis in an otherwise grey and polluted environment. Let’s respect these places we love; they are struggling enough as it is.

 

Sustainability: Fashion or Function?

As I’m currently doing a project on the maintenance of biodiversity in urban areas, words like “sustainability”, “ecosystems”, “biodiversity” are popping up all over the place. These terms are generally all wonderfully defined, fully equipped with a visual aid and chart of the writer’s choice.

After reading my first few reports and papers I started to realise that people are throwing these words around like their going out of fashion. It seems that saying that you’re being “sustainable” is the new cool. People like these words; it makes them sound future-thinking, caring and wordly. Really I think it’s a whole load of crap.

In most cases these words are being thrown out with really very little understanding of what is going on. It seems that the sustainability club is the new jock club of political life. Politicians absolutely love it. As much as I like Boris Johnson it seems that he can hardly go 2 minutes without mentioning being  “sustainable”, and “green”.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is brilliant that politicians and policy makers are being more considerate of the environment; it sets a good example for our future. But really they’re just trying to stick a tiny tiara of “sustainability” on the massive turd that is our past. Maybe they think that if they say sustainability enough times the huge damage we humans have done to our environment will vanish in a poof of smoke.

I came across a google program called Ngram Viewer where you can type in a word and see how much it has been used in literature over time. If you want to have a play follow this link. I typed in these new environmental buzzwords and found something rather funny. There has been no mention of these words anywhere up until about the 1960s and 1980s.

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These words are getting people ever so excited; everyone wants a piece of them. They are  like the shiny, new iphones of the word world.. people can’t wait to show off just how sustainable they are being and how much they truly care for these ecosystems they know very little about.

Hopefully there will be some substance behind the politician’s new favourite words. But it still seems to me that the people who are actually making the difference are the conservation charities and organisations. Governments and councils are still realistically more interested in developing their growing economies than helping out the natural world that we have been shitting on for the last few hundred years.

Herbert Girardet: Regenerative Cities

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For my final year project I’m investigating what measures are and can be employed in cities to maintain biodiversity. I was recently allocated this and luck would have it, that two days later I get an email saying that Herbert Girardet was coming to Imperial to talk about regenerative cities.

Girardet has worked in urban development for many years and is the co-founder of the World Future Council. He has released numerous books including “Creating Sustainable Cities” and  “Cities People Planet“. He has also directed more than 50 documentaries, working all over the world. All of this and his receipt of the UN Global 500 Award for outstanding achievements in environmental science suggest just how much influence this man has had in the field of sustainable cities over the years.

So as you can imagine, I was pretty excited about going to this talk and therefore, managed to arrive far too early and ended up sat alone in the lecture theater for about 15 minutes before anyone else trickled in.

Girardet was a great speaker and he oozed with the confidence that comes with many hugely successful years in his field. He started by outlining how our cities have developed across the world and how, even though applicable at the time, this type of development cannot continue forever. Delving into the threats that face us now and are inevitably set to worsen in the future, he emphasised the importance of changing the ways our cities function and develop.

Using numerous cities, including Adelaide, Australia, as examples he has been heavily involved in, he showed how cities could be, shifting from a linear system on resources in and waste out, to a more circular system with the regeneration and reuse of resources. I won’t dive into all of these methods Girardet explained but you can find a little more information on this website.

Girardet’s main message has now switched from his previous idea of sustainable cities to regenerative cities, saying that now, simply being sustainable is not enough. We need to start giving back and enabling regeneration of our environment, not just sustaining present levels.

After the talk there was a short Q&A session, but unfortunately there was no time for my question. However, he was hanging around afterwards so I managed to grab him then. He was huddled within a group of students which I managed to barge my way into. I asked him whether he thought that these actions and the move to becoming more proactive than reactive was realistically going to happen before we reach the ever looming point where our effects on our planet are completely irreversible. Unfortunately, like myself, he did not. It’s a rather pessimistic end but people like Girardet have spent the majority of their lives trying to take actions to reduce our effects on the world, however there is only so much scientists can do.

We need big cultural changes across the globe and actions to be taken now rather than when it is too late. One thing I have learnt recently is that scientists need to concentrate efforts on policy makers, politicians and governments before any serious action can be taken to attempt to resolve our greedy attitudes to the world we live in and the resources it provides.

New Hope For Corals: Self-Recovery

study publsihed this week in Science has shown that coral reefs can in fact recover themselves after disaster, when under the right conditions.

Scott reef is an isolated reef found 250km from the coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean.  It suffered a mass bleaching event in 1998 in which over 80% of the coral cover was lost. Dr James Gilmour, the lead author of the study stated that, “The initial projections for Scott Reef were not optimistic”.

Before this paper, it was believed that seriously damaged corals could only recover in the presence of nearby coral reefs. Planula are the gametes of corals; they are what forms when the male and female gametes of the corals fuse together, much like our eggs and sperm. These planula are free-swimming and can reach neighbouring reefs and settle. Before the findings of this study were published, this process was thought to be the mechanism by which damaged reefs could recover.

Scott reef was monitored for 15 years by the researchers and the findings were very much unexpected. The researchers did not have much faith in the reef recovering to its pre-bleaching state in the near future. However, over the years of monitoring they observed the reef recovering at a surprisingly fast rate considering its isolation and level of damage.

Instead of the reef relying on propagules from other healthy reefs, the researchers found that the very few surviving corals were producing planula at high enough rates that self-replenishment was taking place.

It was soon realised that these few survivors were growing at such high rates because of the conditions existing in this isolated reef. Because Scott reef is so isolated from other reefs and so far offshore, the levels of human influence are reduced. The water quality at Scott reef is much better than other near shore reefs which receive higher levels of pollutants from the coast.

Water quality is linked with the health of reefs and meant that Scott reef had an increased ability to cope with and recover from the bleaching. The reef also received reduced levels of fishing and sedimentation compared to other reefs helping with its surprisingly speedy recovery.

The isolation that was initially considered a hindrance for the reef was actually enabling its survival.

This work proves that coral reefs can spring back from extreme damage. However, this recover is dependent on conditions. These findings are great for those reefs similar to Scott reef; isolated and with reduced human pressure. However, the majority of reefs do not have these qualities and are still at threat from the ever increasing human pressures. Non-isolated reefs are relatively safeguarded by neighbouring reefs sending propagules, but there is only so much these reefs can take.

Even conservative estimations predict that all coral ecosystems could be lost by the end of this century. So although this paper is good news in that it shows another way in which corals can recover after severe damage, the pressures facing coral reefs are ever worsening and need to be addressed.

Pesticides Wiping The Memories of Our Bees

This year, evidence has mounted supporting the idea that neonicotinoid pesticides are contributing to the dramatic falls in bee populations over the last few decades. I have already written two posts regarding this matter. If you are interested feel free to give them a quick read as I won’t be going over too much of the stuff I included. The first can be f0und here and delves into what effects neonicotinoids are having on bees and other pollinating insects. The second summarises the results of the EU vote against the ban of these pesticides and can be found here.

The proposed ban of neonicotinoids was rejected when put forward to the European Commission on the 15th March this year. One of the main arguments presented by opposers of the ban, including the UK environmental secretary, Owen Paterson, was that more data and research was required supporting the idea that neonicotinoids are negatively impacting bees, before a ban could be properly considered.

There has been a lot of response to this, including  a recent evaluation by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This report has suggested that neonicotinoids do not pose a serious threat to bees in a natural, real life setting. One of their main arguments is that the majority of the research that has been carried out has been done so in a lab based environment. They believe that the levels of neonicotinoids that most bees are exposed to in the wild are not comparable to those used in the lab based research and that the results are therefore over estimations.

This is a major punch in the face for supporters of the ban and researchers trying to investigate into this topic. With DEFRA being such a big name, it is likely that many people will be swayed due to this report. However, I have not.

This is a little irritating to me. Yes, a lot of the research was carried out in lab based environments, but I do not feel that this fact alone is enough to render these findings invalid. The huge majority of scientific work takes place in the most part in labs. Does this mean that all lab based work should be dismissed? NO.

The neonicotinoids are affecting bees and other pollinating insects in detrimental ways, whether that be in the lab or the field. It is likely that the lab setting may intensify these effects, but bees are being affected in the real world. Numbers are falling and something is causing that.

I found this very recent study published yesterday in Nature. This study is something different, it has lab AND field based experimentation. The researchers have shown that neonicotinoids actually impair the memory of bees which is impacting their ability to successfully forage and therefore pollinate the world’s plants. The study was led by Mary Palmer and her team and they state that it is known that neonicotinoids do impact bees, but that there is little empirical evidence to explain how and this needs to improve.

They successfully demonstrate how 2 neonicotinoids (imidacloprid and clothianidin) directly affect neuronal transmission within the nicotinic receptors in the brains of honey bees. They looked at the effects of neonicotinoids in bee Kenyon cells (KCs). KCs are neurons found in the brains of arthropods, including incsects. These KCs play an important role in learning and memory, particularly when it comes to smells.

The research team looked at the effects of sublethal levels of neonicotinoids on honeybees in the field and in the lab. They found in the lab group that the exposure led to a significant impairment of the bees’ abilities to learn and remember smells. This is particularly important as bees rely in part on the specific scents of certain flowers in their foraging and pollination behaviours. In the field, the neonicotinoids impair bees’ abilities to forage efficiently and navigate to and from the nest. Effects are being seen in the field.

These findings are worrying as they show that the levels of neonicotinoids that many bees are exposed to are impacting learning and foraging abilities. If bees cannot forage efficiently, then they cannot pollinate efficiently. This does not bode well for our already suffering global food security.

Another concerning finding is that these impacts are being exacerbated by other pesticides. This is very important as there is a lot of overlap in pesticide use and also regular switching of pesticides. This means that the majority of bees will be affected as they find themselves in ever increasingly common regions of extensive pesticide usage.

This study is great in showing an actual physiological change that results in the cells of bees in response to exposure to neonicotinoids. The use of research in a lab and field environment also helps with securing the accuracy and representativeness of their findings and reducing the opportunity to dismiss this important work. However, Mary Palmer and her team do state in the paper that improvements could be made. They explain that the cultured KCs do show marginally different levels of response to actual KCs and that future work could look into this disparity.

Regardless of the potential flaws, this study empirically shows neonicotinoids directly impacting bee learning and memory. I’m sure that this study will be just one of many similar studies appearing in the near future. The research is likely to be faced by a lot of opposition, with papers like the above being in the firing line of organisations who intend to undermine as much as possible.

This area is a hot topic and the demand for this type of research is ever increasing. Let’s hope that the methodology is a stringent as possible giving opposition very little excuse to dig their claws in and undermine very important work.

Beaches Turn Red as Thousands of Langoustines Wash Up on Chilean Beach

Beaches in Chile have turned red with the presence of thousands of washed up prawns and langoustines and no one knows why.

Unfortunately the best photo I can get hold of is this screen grab of some footage, but more photos should be popping up online soon I’m sure.

Numerous beaches of the Concepcion Province are coated in a carpet of langoustines. Investigations are being carried out to attempt to find out the reason for this occurrence.  Tests of sea temperature, electrical conductivity and oxygen levels will be carried out to help to determine what has caused the deaths of thousands of langoustines. The main culprits at the moment are viruses of the langoustines, offshore oil exploration and poisoned food, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.

This is not the first time living creatures have washed up on Pacific Chilean beaches, but this event is on a much greater scale and has perplexed locals and authorities in the area.

For a little more information watch this video from the Guardian.

There is concern that these events are becoming more common. Is this a chance event or is something happening in our oceans driving this kind of strange occurrence?

Hopefully there will be some more answers over the next few days..

Things are Looking Up: Sharks and Manta Rays

My posts have been pretty depressing recently so I thought I’d look for something slightly more positive to write about. It is relatively difficult to find positive stories when it comes to the state of our world’s wildlife, but I found some happiness in sharks and manta rays.

A Slightly Depressing Start…

The CITES conference that has taken place over the last couple weeks has featured quite a lot in some of my more recent posts. It was where the proposals for the legal trade of rhino horn and polar bear hunting ban were rejected. Generally I have had quite a negative slant on the outcomes of the conference so here comes a more positive outcome.

Sharks and manta rays are facing increasing levels of exploitation. Once again there is increasing demand for them in Asia which is only worsening due to the increasing wealth in this continent. China’s insatiable demand for shark fin for their soup and use of manta ray gill rakers for medicinal properties is tempting many people into the poaching industry.

The sharks and rays are common in coastal regions where many poor people live. The poaching provides a stable income on which many people rely on. 1kg of shark fin can be sold for over $100 on the black market, which is a large amount of money for many of these poachers.

The increasing demand for these products with Asia’s increasing wealth is tempting more people into poaching, but is having a huge detriment on the shark and ray populations. Inhambane is a coastal region of Mozambique and has seen an 87% decrease in shark numbers in the last 10 years alone. This region’s thriving sea life brought in tourists from all over the world, as people could see 7-8 sharks on one dive. Now however, it is a very different story. The chances of seeing even one shark are pretty poor and this has led to a huge decrease in the number of tourists being attracted to the area.

Some Good News I Promise…

This is the case in many regions where these sharks and rays used to thrive. Local economies have suffered and more and more people are turning to more environmentally damaging practices like poaching. It has been a vicious cycle and this has now been internationally recognized by CITES.

At the conference 2/3 of the CITES parties had to vote in favour of the proposal to protect shark and manta ray species. Success was seen, with 5 shark species and 2 manta ray species being granted protection under CITES. Some of these chosen few include the oceanic white tip shark, porbeagle sharks and 3 species of hammerhead sharks.

This is a great step in the right direction for conservation of these animals. The trading of these animals is a big problem but this action has been taken at a good time. It should hopefully ensure their protection in the future by targeting protection more effectively. With demand increasing, well thought out conservation should help to safe guard these animals from the ever increasing threats.

Research Progress for Rays and Sharks

To ensure effective conservation attempts more information is going to be needed. Research into the current population sizes and assessment of the market data would be a good start, and the good news is, this is already underway.

A team from Equipe Cousteau and The Deep have just finished the first phase of their shark and ray conservation project. The expedition was led by Nigel Hussey and Steven Kessel, both marine biologists from the University of Windsor and members of the Ocean Tracking Network.

The work was carried out at Dungonab Bay marine park in the Sudanese Red Sea. With the help of local conservation teams and fishermen, the team managed to successfully tag 22 manta rays with acoustic, satellite and GPS tags. This is the first time the manta rays have been tagged in such a way and is a huge step in increasing our knowledge of these amazing creatures. The acoustics will be monitored and the GPS tags will allow tracking of these rays enabling us to monitor their movements.

This will provide precious data about the rays which can hopefully work to enable better application of conservation measures especially on the back of the new CITES protection.

Genetic work has already found that the majority of the manta rays may in fact be the giant manta ray species rather than the coastal manta ray species which was previously believed. So already, this research is improving population data for these quite poorly researched animals.

They next phase of the research will be focusing efforts on sharks and hopefully equally promising results will be seen.

I feel that this is a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise depressing world of conservation failures and needs. Fingers crossed more cases like this will begin to receive more support and media coverage to capture increased public interest. The state of the world’s wildlife is pretty tattered, but cases like this are helping to patch up some of this mess. There is no miracle cure for the state of the Earth, but a gradual and widespread recovery process is going to be needed to make the difference.