Climate change endangers World Heritage Sites


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Elephant populations at one Ivory Coast Natural Heritage Site have been replenished. (Guillaume Mignot/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 14, 2017

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced this week at the 23rd Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany that climate change now threatens one in four natural heritage sites.

There are a total of 206 Natural World Heritage properties, or sites elected by UNESCO to have “outstanding universal value.” Sixty-two of these sites are now considered to be at risk due to climate change by the organization, up from 35 in 2014.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) director general Inger Andersen said in a statement, “Climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet. The scale and pace at which it (climate change) is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.”

Coral reefs, wetlands, deltas and glaciated areas are among the most threatened ecosystems. Rising sea temperatures have killed off colorful algae that used to adorn the Aldabra Atoll Reef in the Indian Ocean, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, resulting in a “devastating” bleaching effect. The Everglades are also threatened by climate change as sea level rise brings salt water into the wetland ecosystem.

Although countries are responsible for protecting and managing natural heritage sites within their boarders, the report noted that natural heritage site management has decreased since 2014, mostly due to decreased funding.

Proper management can reduce risk for some threatened sites. The report tells of replenished elephant and chimpanzee populations in Ivory Coast’s Comoé national park due to improved management and international support.

On The Radio – 38 million pieces of trash found on remote Pacific island


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The most recent recorded density of litter on Henderson Island was 671 items per square meter. (Jennifer Lavers/Associated Press). 
Jenna Ladd| June 19, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how an extremely remote island in the Pacific ocean bares the highest litter density in the world. 

Transcript: Henderson Island is one of the most remote islands in the world and is also the most affected by pollution from plastic debris.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

When researchers traveled to the tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the island.

The island is situated at the edge of the South Pacific gyre, where ocean currents meet in a vortex that captures floating trash, carrying some of it from as far away as Scotland.

Over 99 percent of the debris on the island is made of plastic—most pieces are unidentifiable fragments. The researchers say that fishing-related activities and land-based refuse likely produced most of the debris.

The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island’s extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

To learn more about the island, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

34th Prairie Preview takes place this Thursday


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Dr. Steve Hendrix, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Iowa, will be the featured speaker at this year’s Prairie Preview. His lecture is titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation.” (John Flannery/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 7, 2017

The 34th Prairie Preview will take place this Thursday evening in Iowa City.

The event is hosted by the Bur Oak Land Trust, an Iowa City organization that accepts land donations from residents seeking to place natural areas into public conservation trusts. The Prairie Preview XXXIV will feature a presentation from University of Iowa professor emeritus Dr. Steve Hendrix. Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” will discuss the economics and biology of pollinators, declines in honey bees and wild bee populations, the value of restoration for wild bees and the future of wild bees, among other topics. Hendrix will also provide basic information about wild bees that live in Iowa. His presentation will be based on his original research along with the work of others in the field.

Hendrix said his presentation “is important from the perspective of ecological services that wild bees provide. They are responsible for the successful reproduction of prairies and they provide the pollination needed for fruits and vegetables that keep us healthy.”

More than 40 environmental organizations and agencies will also be present at the Prairie Preview XXXIV sharing information and providing resources to attendees. The event is free, open to the public and will take place at the Clarion Highlander Hotel and Conference Center at 2525 N Dodge St, Iowa City, Iowa 52245 on March 9th, 2017. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the event begins at 7:30 p.m. 

This Prairie Preview, which usually attracts crowds of over 200 people, is sponsored by the Iowa Living Roadway Trust, Iowa Native Plant Society, City of Coralville, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Fiddlehead Gardens LLC, Forever Green, Friends of Hickory Hill Park, HBK Engineering, Legacy GreenBuilders, Project GREEN, Veenstra & Kimm, Inc., and Lon and Barbara Drake.

More information can be found here.

More than 700 threatened animal species hit hard by climate change


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Tropical marsupials, such as the bushtail opossum, are most likely to be negatively impacted by climate change. 
Jenna Ladd | February 16, 2017

The changing climate has had a significant negative impact on 700 mammal and bird species according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change.

While the majority of existing research focuses on the impact climate change will likely have on animal species in the future, new research suggests that the future is now. Researchers performed a systematic review of published literature and found that 47 percent of land mammals and 23 percent of bird species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species have already been been negatively effected by climate change.

At present, the IUCN reports that only seven percent of mammals and four percent of bird species are threatened by the warming planet.

The study found that climate change is impacting animals on every continent. In general, animals that breed more slowly and live in high altitudes are suffering the greatest losses. Mammals with a more specialized diet are most profoundly effected due to regional vegetation change. For birds, species with small dispersal distances and longer generation lengths are most at risk.

The article read, “Our results suggest that populations of large numbers of threatened species are likely to be already affected by climate change, and that conservation managers, planners and policy makers must take this into account in efforts to safeguard the future of biodiversity.”

Those animals belonging to taxonomic orders which have been most extensively studied showed the most significant trend. Michela Pacifici of the Global Mammal Assessment program at Sapienza University of Rome is the report’s lead author. He said,

“We have seriously underestimated the effects of climate change on the most well-known groups, which means those other groups, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants, the story is going to be much, much worse in terms of what we think the threat is from climate change already.”

Animals that live in tropical regions, like primates and marsupials, are at the highest risk because they have adapted to that biome’s climate, which has been relatively stable for thousands of years. The study said, “Many of these [animals] have evolved to live within restricted environmental tolerances and are likely to be most affected by rapid changes and extreme events.”

Just two orders of mammals, rodents and insect-eaters, were found to have benefited from climate change. Generally, these animals thrive in a variety of climates, breed quickly, and can burrow to protect themselves from changes in weather.

One of the study’s authors, James Watson, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia, said climate researchers should shift their focus to present-day.

“It’s a scientific problem in that we are not thinking about climate change as a present-day problem, we’re always forecasting into the future,” Watson added, “When you look at the evidence, there is a massive amount of impact right now.”

Wild reindeer shrink in size and number


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A recent study found that the largest herd of wild reindeer in the world’s population is decreasing rapidly due to warming temperatures in northern Russia. (Hermanni Tommonen/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 13, 2016

The wild reindeer, a holiday icon, is facing sharp population decline due to climate change.

Andrey Petrov, director of the University of Northern Iowa Arctic Center, led a study of the largest reindeer herd in the world, located on the Taimyr Peninsula in the northernmost tip of Russia. Petrov’s work shows that the herd’s population has dropped from 1 million reindeer in 2000 to about 600,000 today. Scientists say rising temperatures in the region may be the cause.

Petrov said, “Climate change is at least one of the variables.” He added, “We know in the last two decades that we have had an increase in temperatures of about 1.5C overall. And that definitely impacts migration patterns.” During his presentation at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco on Monday, Petrov explained that the longer distance the animals have to travel in order to find cold weather is increasing calf mortality. When the reindeer have to travel further and to higher elevations in the winter, it is also more difficult to find land bearing food in the summer months. Petrov also explained that the region’s rivers are growing wider as ice in the area melts, causing more deaths as the herd attempts to swim across bodies of water.

“Reindeer are tremendously important for biodiversity – they are part of the Arctic food chain and without them other species would be in trouble,” he said. Petrov added, “Thousands and thousands of people rely on wild reindeer; it is the basis of their subsistence economy. So it’s about human sustainability too.”

Wild reindeer are also shrinking in size. Scottish and Norwegian researchers recently released a study which found that the average weight of reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, has fallen from 121 lb. in the 1990’s to 106 lb. today. Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, said, “Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough.” The researchers explained that less snowfall during warmer winters means that the reindeer have to traverse sheets of ice, making it harder for the animals to reach food sources.

In contrast to the Tamiyr population, the Svalbard herd is growing in size.”So far we have more but smaller reindeer,” Albon said. He added that the growing population means competition for food has become more intense.

Wildlife conservation has health benefits, experts say


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Health professionals spoke out in favor of wildlife conservation on Thursday. (USFWSmidwest/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 9, 2016

Six health organizations spoke out in favor of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund on Thursday.

The measure would raise the state sales tax three-eighths of one cent in order to finance water quality measures, outdoor recreation areas and wildlife conservation. Representatives from the health organizations said that the trust fund could reduce Iowans’ risk of chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Richard Deming is a Des Moines doctor who founded Above+Beyond Cancer. He said, “Our organization has seen first-hand the health benefits of vibrant outdoor recreation and the importance of a safe, healthy environment for the body’s overall well-being.”

Iowans voted sixty-three percent in favor of establishing the fund in 2010, but lawmakers have failed to provide funding for the initiative. The health organizations have joined a broader coalition of 75 individuals, businesses, outdoor enthusiasts as well as conservation and farm groups called Iowa’s Water & Land Legacy. The coalition is a subgroup of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Joe McGovern is president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. In a statement, McGovern pointed out that the Iowa Republican majority is caucusing this week. He said, “We want I-WILL to be part of the solution to water quality and outdoor recreation.”

Following the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, Iowa’s Water & Land Legacy has argued that alternative funding proposals focus too much on water quality improvement. The three-eighths of one cent sales tax would generate $180 million each year. Proponents say about 60 percent could go to water quality, and the remaining funds could be used for wildlife habitat, parks, trails and other conservation efforts.

Lawsuit continues against Sioux City company for herbicide residue in honey


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Glyophosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been found in Iowa’s honey. (Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 8, 2016

The Sioux Honey Association is being sued by two national advocacy groups for false advertising regarding the purity of its honey.

Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association filed the lawsuit following the release of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study which noted the company’s Sue Bee Honey contains trace amounts of glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Roundup. The advocacy groups acknowledge that the herbicide residue may be the result of neighboring row crop farmers’ actions, but still find issue with what they say is false advertising. They said, “labeling and advertising of Sue Bee products as ‘Pure,’ ‘100% Pure,’ ‘Natural,’ and ‘All-Natural’ is false, misleading and deceptive.” The Sioux Honey Association, founded in 1921, did not respond to requests for comment from the Des Moines Register.

The lawsuit also calls for increased government oversight over glyphosate levels in honey. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet set the maximum levels of glyphosate herbicide residue allowable to ensure consumer safety. In contrast, the European Union’s maximum residue limit for the herbicide is 50 parts per billion. One Iowa honey sample in the FDA’s study contained 653 parts per billion.

Glyphosate’s effect on human health is unclear. In one email between FDA officials, representatives say that EPA evaluations have “confirmed that glyphosate is almost non-toxic to humans and animals.” However, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, has deemed the herbicide “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Glyphosate contamination in Iowa is a complicated issue. Twenty-five million acres of row crop were planted this year, the majority of which were treated with Roundup and other herbicides. Iowa’s 4,500 beekeepers face challenges finding safe locations for their hives. Andrew Joseph is the state apiarist and a beekeeper. He said, “I don’t think there’s anywhere that would be safe. I don’t think there’s any place for beekeepers to hide.” Joseph also said that any herbicide contamination is an issue for beekeepers, many of whom consider honey purity  to be a source of pride. Bees travel in about a three mile radius from their hives when pollinating, which can make limiting their exposure to contaminants difficult. Darren Cox, president of the American Honey Producers Association, said, “I don’t know how you would fix that,” he added, “Bees need agriculture, and agriculture needs bees.”