Waste fishing gear threatens Ganges wildlife

Waste fishing gear threatens Ganges wildlife
Fishing on the Ganges. Credit: Heather Koldewey

Waste fishing gear in the River Ganges poses a threat to wildlife including otters, turtles and dolphins, new research shows.

The study says entanglement in fishing gear could harm species including the critically endangered three-striped roofed turtle and the endangered Ganges river dolphin.

Surveys along the length of the river, from the mouth in Bangladesh to the Himalayas in India, show levels of waste fishing gear are highest near to the sea.

Fishing nets—all made of plastic—were the most common type of gear found.

Interviews with local fishers revealed high rates of fishing equipment being discarded in the river—driven by short gear lifespans and lack of appropriate disposal systems.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Exeter, with an international team including researchers from India and Bangladesh, was conducted as part of the National Geographic Society’s “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition.

“The Ganges River supports some of the world’s largest inland fisheries, but no research has been done to assess plastic pollution from this industry, and its impacts on wildlife,” said Dr. Sarah Nelms, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Waste fishing gear threatens Ganges wildlife
Fishing on the Ganges. Credit: Heather Koldewey

“Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife, but our threat assessment focussed on entanglement, which is known to injure and kill a wide range of marine species.”

The researchers used a list of 21 river species of “conservation concern” identified by the Wildlife Institute for India.

They combined existing information on entanglements of similar species worldwide with the new data on levels of waste fishing gear in the Ganges to estimate which species are most at risk.

Speaking about the why so much fishing gear was found in the river, Dr. Nelms said: “There is no system for fishers to recycle their nets.

“Most fishers told us they mend and repurpose nets if they can, but if they can’t do that the nets are often discarded in the river.

“Many held the view that the river ‘cleans it away’, so one useful step would be to raise awareness of the real environmental impacts.”

Waste fishing gear threatens Ganges wildlife
Fishing on the Ganges. Credit: Heather Koldewey

National Geographic Fellow and science co-lead of the expedition Professor Heather Koldewey, of ZSL (the Zoological Society of London) and the University of Exeter, said the study’s findings offer hope for solutions based on “circular economy”—where waste is dramatically reduced by reusing materials.

“A high proportion of the fishing gear we found was made of nylon 6, which is valuable and can be used to make products including carpets and clothing,” she said.

“Collection and recycling of nylon 6 has strong potential as a solution because it would cut plastic pollution and provide an income.

“We demonstrated this through the Net-Works project in the Philippines, which has been so successful it has become a standalone social enterprise called COAST-4C.”

Professor Koldewey added: “This is a complex problem that will require multiple solutions—all of which must work for both local

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Are Wildlife Trade Bans Backfiring?

The CITES Secretariat said in a statement that the treaty’s administrators do collect data from countries on legal imports and exports, and for some iconic animals they have established more elaborate monitoring systems. The most sophisticated of these tracks the illegal killing of elephants and analyzes illegal trade. When wildlife rangers around the world find elephant carcasses, for example, they establish the cause of death and report the information to the CITES program that monitors the illegal killing of elephants. The information is included in a database and analyzed to help keep an eye on poaching and trends in illegal trade.

But Challender argues that this isn’t enough. Decisions to tighten trade, he says, need a comprehensive assessment of the likely consequences of doing so—including information on market factors such as retail prices, sales volumes, consumer preferences, and social and cultural attitudes to the consumption of wildlife. And when the data suggest that outright bans or severe trade restrictions won’t work, those who would safeguard wildlife should look to other creative solutions. “A trade ban may feel intuitively positive, but it’s difficult to predict the outcome for species,” he says.

Complicating matters are disagreements over how to best safeguard a species from extinction while balancing its importance to some people’s livelihoods.

Groups such as Born Free, which prioritizes animal welfare, doubt that wildlife trade could ever be sustainable or thus helpful to conservation. Legal trade creates opportunities to launder specimens obtained illegally, say Jones and Stroud. For example, ivory products from legal and illegal sources were sold side by side in China prior to the country’s domestic ban on ivory trade in 2017.

But some wildlife-trade analysts note that sustainable trade provides a livelihood for people in many communities, and constitutes big business in countries like China. Banning or restricting trade when there’s little evidence to suggest that tighter controls may help a species, they say, can harm local communities and shift countries’ limited conservation funds away from neglected species.

“From our perspective, a [trade ban] is more a sign of conservation failure rather than a goal to strive for,” Zain says. A ban, he adds, shows that previous efforts to restrict trade through limited export permits failed to help a species’ population recover.

Zain wants to see more effort put into making trade restrictions work for species by better assessing their populations and how much trade a given population can handle. If those additional efforts fail, countries could then consider a ban.

Representatives from CITES acknowledged that legal wildlife trade is essential for the livelihoods of many local people, but said that the type of extensive data collection advocated by Challender would be too time-consuming and expensive if done for every species under threat. Still, they added, the convention has made improvements. Since 2017, it has required countries to report data on illegal trade garnered from seizures and other violations. Member countries have contracted the United

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Wildlife movements offer window on climate change effects

Stephen Lewis sees a golden eagle flying over Mount Sentinel and feels the whole Arctic Circle exhale.

That eagle might be one he radio-collared while working in Alaska’s Denali National Park. The collar traces the bird’s migration path between the Arctic and the Lower 48 states. That trace entwines with about 50 other eagles the wildlife biologist has collared for his U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study. And that study now joins hundreds of other research projects from around the planet in a new Arctic Animal Movement Archive.

When all those radio-collared eagles, caribou, whales, wolves and other critters get their travels animated on a computer map, it looks like the whole Northern Hemisphere is breathing in and out.

“I have a couple hundred-thousands of location points for eagles,” Lewis, who’s working on a doctorate degree at the University of Montana, told the Missoulian. “With the archive, we have millions of locations. Now you can ask these larger-scale questions and see bigger-scale changes. Over generations of eagles, that really leverages what you can do.”

The Arctic Animal Movement Archive project has 160 co-authors, including Lewis. At the bottom of the list is UM wildlife biologist Mark Hebblewhite.

“The first name on the publication is the lead author of the study,” Hebblewhite explained. “The last author is the research group that led the work.”

What Hebblewhite, Lewis, and their 158 colleagues did was coalesce three decades’ worth of movement studies on 86 different animals from almost every nation with Arctic wildlife research activity. And they broke through the language and methodological boundaries so every study uses the same measuring sticks. Meters or feet, minutes or hours, Mongolian or American, any participating researcher can go to the archive and look for planetary patterns.

The archive goes live as climate researchers find increasing evidence that the Earth’s polar regions are warming almost twice as fast as lower latitudes. When the animal movements overlay climactic shifts over time, the scale of change is profound.

“These climate-induced changes on animal movement are operating right here in Montana,” said Hebblewhite, who last week was hunting elk in a T-shirt during a record-setting November heat wave. “The implications of the study is: This is our future. We need to make policy makers in the south care about impacts in the Arctic. It seems far away, but these are the kinds of changes we’re about to see in Montana in 10 or 20 years.”

A lot of NASA climatic satellite research underpins the Arctic Animal Movement Archive. Study co-author Gil Bohrer of Ohio State University helped link the space agency’s records of change in the Arctic — the places turning green earlier as well as the places going brown for lack of rain and snow — with an international wildlife movement database called MoveBank that he helped found.

“These are all things we can observe from space,” Bohrer said. “NASA has a very good sense of environmental conditions. We wanted to match that with animal movements, and that

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Bank loans scrutinized for harm to wildlife as well as climate

LONDON (Reuters) – Campaigners called on Wednesday for global banks to stop financing industrial activities driving animal and plant species toward extinction, after a report ranked 50 lenders involved in sectors that pose the greatest threat to wildlife.

While European and U.S. banks have faced years of pressure from regulators or environmental groups to act on climate change, their role in financing economic activities that destroy biodiversity is also coming under growing scrutiny.

Portfolio.earth, a network of researchers that published the “Bankrolling Extinction” report here, said none of the lenders had adequate systems to limit the impact of their loans on the web of animal and plant life that supports human well-being.

“Banks are starting to realize that if they invest in sectors that cause climate change, that will hurt their returns,” Liz Gallagher, director of portfolio.earth, told Reuters. “Banks need to understand that the same holds true for destroying biodiversity.”

The report found that in 2019, the 50 banks provided loans and underwriting of more than $2.6 trillion to sectors such as industrial farming and fishing, fossil fuels and infrastructure that scientists say are big drivers of biodiversity loss.

Kai Chan, an environmental scientist at the University of British Columbia, and a leading author of a global study published last year that found a million species are at imminent risk of extinction, endorsed the findings.

“Imagine a world in which projects can only raise capital when they have demonstrated that they will contribute meaningfully and positively to restoring the planet’s bounty and a safe climate for all? That’s the future this report envisions and builds toward,” he said.

Bank of America and Citigroup, identified among the 10 biggest lenders, declined to comment, referring Reuters to existing sustainability pledges. BNP Paribas, also ranked highly, said the authors had not contacted it or shared their methodology so it could not comment.

HSBC, also ranked in the top 10, pointed out that it had teamed up in August with climate change advisory firm Pollination Group to create an asset management venture focused on “natural capital”, which seeks to put a value on resources such as water, soil and air to help to protect the environment.

“Climate and nature are intricately linked, and the financial services industry can help customers transform their businesses to low carbon and also enable credible investments that preserve and protect nature and biodiversity,” said Daniel Klier, global head of sustainable finance at HSBC.

Banks also pointed to their support for various biodiversity initiatives, such as a new Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures tnfd.info designed to boost transparency among companies and the finance sector, but some investors want more.

The report emphasised the risks associated with lending to industrial agriculture, which is a major cause of biodiversity loss, particularly when tropical forests in the Amazon basin or Asia are cleared to grow commercial crops.

“This report from portfolio.earth confirms what our research also shows, that banks globally still need to step up their game and develop an approach

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Hong Kong Needs Tougher Laws To Tackle Wildlife Crime Say Researchers

Hong Kong is thriving as a transnational wildlife smuggling hub because its laws are not strong enough to tackle organised crime running the lucrative trade, researchers said Friday.

With its busy port and transport links, the semi-autonomous territory is a major transit point for illegal parts of endangered animals like elephants, rhinos and pangolins — most of it headed for consumers in mainland China.

Record seizures have been made in recent years.

But Hong Kong University researchers said the confiscations mask the lack of progress, noting: “No wildlife traffickers have ever been prosecuted for money laundering related offences and no syndicates indicted for wildlife smuggling.”

The two year study, authored by Amanda Whitfort, a professor at the law faculty, and Fiona Woodhouse, from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, highlighted major deficiencies in the city’s battle against the multi-million dollar trade.

The most glaring problem, they wrote, was that wildlife smuggling was not categorised as seriously as illegal drugs or human trafficking.

Hong Kong’s serious crimes legislation — which has been wielded against “triad” crime gangs — contains wide investigatory powers for the police, including intelligence gathering, as well as heavier sentences for those convicted.

With its busy port and transport links, Hong Kong is a major transit point for illegal parts of endangered animals like elephants With its busy port and transport links, Hong Kong is a major transit point for illegal parts of endangered animals like elephants Photo: AFP / Anthony WALLACE

But wildlife smuggling is not listed as one of the areas covered by the law, and researchers believe its inclusion would allow better investigation into the trade.

In the past seven years, Hong Kong’s customs department have seized over HK$767 million ($99 million) in trafficked wildlife, including 22 tonnes of ivory, 70 tonnes of pangolin and 66 tonnes of other endangered species, the report noted.

But while seizures are up, the number of prosecutions remains low.

Compared with other overseas jurisdictions, Hong Kong’s sentences have been “lenient, with imprisonment rare and most offenders fined less than 10 percent of the value of the contraband they have smuggled,” the review found.

In May 2018 the maximum penalty for smuggling endangered species was increased to ten years imprisonment and a HK$10 million fine.

But reviewers said some sentencing tariffs still fall below international standards.

Wildlife crimes are taken as seriously by the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crimes as drugs, firearms, humans and counterfeit goods trafficking.

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This wildlife crossing helps mountain lions cross the 101 in LA

Reconnecting the open space on either side of the freeway is crucial for wildlife. “We know from science what’s going on there, and it’s a little deeper than just that the animals are getting hit by cars,” says Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation, one of several partner organizations working on the project. “They are becoming genetically isolated, because animals cannot move into the small islands of habitat that are created by our freeways.” The situation is most acute for mountain lions, who risk extinction in the area within decades, but other wildlife, from lizards to birds, are also showing a decline in genetic diversity.

Fires fueled by climate change are making the challenges worse, as animals often can’t relocate when their habitat is destroyed, or can’t directly flee the flames. A mountain lion named P-64, who died because of the Woolsey Fire, is one example. “That cat knew how to move in an urban environment,” Pratt says. “He had actually crossed the 101 using a culvert. But fire came and he could not get out of the burn zone.”

The project has been in planning for around eight years, but is moving relatively quickly given the scale, complexity, and cost. “It’s over the busiest freeway, probably, in America, with multiple public agencies,” she says. “These things usually take decades. But I think everybody recognizing that mountain lions are running out of time.” The cost, at $87 million, will be largely funded by private money. If fundraising continues on schedule, the groundbreaking will happen in 2021.

Around the world, other wildlife crossings exist and have been proven to work, though the project will be the first in a dense urban area. “We have something no other crossing has, which is millions of people around it,” says Pratt. “The Kardashians are down the street. We’re building this in the most densely populated metropolitan area in the country, and these crossings, for the most part, have been built in very rural areas. So we have some things we have to mitigate for that they don’t, and two of those are sound and light.” Three hundred thousand to 400,000 cars pass through the area each day; the bridge, 165 feet wide, is designed to keep the crossing as quiet and dark as possible, with vegetation planted to extend to the wild spaces on either side of the freeway.

“We’re saving mountain lions and we’re reconnecting an ecosystem for all wildlife,” she says. “But we’re also going to have some great model for what others can do in urban areas to get animals across the road.”

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Droughts and Human Interference Wiped Out Madagascar’s Gigantic Wildlife 1,500 Years Ago | Smart News

Thousands of years ago, humans lived alongside behemoths such as giant lemurs, dwarf hippos, giant tortoises and the world’s largest bird, the elephant bird, on the island of Madagascar. These species have long been extinct, leaving scientists to figure out if climate change or human interference are to blame for their disappearance. A new study reports that although droughts created harsher environments for the animals to survive in, “humans were the straw that broke the elephant bird’s back,” reports Elizabeth Pennisi for Science.

Fossils reveal that the giant creatures went extinct around 1,500 years ago, but, until now, the reason why has been unclear. A team led by Hanying Li, a post-doctoral scholar at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, traveled to Rodrigues—a small, remote island east of Madagascar—to piece together the region’s climatic history, reports David Bressan for Forbes.

The team ventured into the island’s caves to analyze the concentration of oxygen, carbon and other trace elements in the mineral deposits, like the stalactites and stalagmites formed when minerals deposited by water droplets build up. The deposits grow in layers, similarly to tree rings, and reflect fluctuations in temperature and precipitation. Layer by layer, the team reconstructed a climatic timeline for the southwestern Indian Ocean—specifically Madagascar, Rodrigues and another island called Mauritius—dating back 8,000 years. Their findings were published last week in the journal Science Advances.

Analyses of the cave deposits revealed that the region experienced a series of megadroughts that lasted for decades at a time. The most recent dry spell was around 1,500 years ago—around the time when all the megafauna species went extinct. But Madagascar’s wildlife had survived even more severe droughts before, so scientists say that it’s unlikely that the dry climate wiped them out. However, archaeological records showed that human presence increased around that time, and with increased presence comes habitat destruction, overhunting, disease, fire and agriculture. Those stressors, coupled with megadroughts, brought about the end of Madagascar’s megafauna.

“While we cannot say with 100 percent certainty whether human activity, such as overhunting or habitat destruction, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, our paleoclimate records make a strong case that the megafauna had survived through all the previous episodes of even greater aridity,” Ashish Sinha, a geochemist at California State University, Dominguez Hills and study co-author, says in a press release. “This resilience to past climate swings suggests that an additional stressor contributed to the elimination of the region’s megafauna.”

Kristina Douglass, an anthropologist at Penn State, says that Madagascar is a huge island with a wide range of ecosystems and local climates, plus varying levels of human interference. It’s likely that “the path to extinction is going to look different in different places,” she tells Science.

Within just a couple of centuries of human colonization, native wildlife populations on both Rodrigues and Mauritius were decimated. Rodrigues lost its saddle-backed Rodrigues giant tortoise, for example, and the famous Dodo bird disappeared from Mauritius.

“The story our data tells

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Using sensors to detect wildlife activity in the battle against poaching

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

By recognizing the movements of animals in the wild using attached sensors, it may well be possible to detect if poachers are nearby. These animal activity recognition sensors can also help in biodiversity research or cattle management. Researcher Jacob Kamminga of the University of Twente developed a motion sensor with built-in intelligence for recognizing motion patterns of a wide range of animals. The sensor consumes very little energy and is prepared for harsh conditions.

To this day, many elephants are killed for their ivory, and rhinos for the alleged healing properties of their horns. Although stricter rules have resulted in some improvement, far too many wild animals are victims of poaching. By recognizing the movements of animals, it might be possible to detect their response to the presence of humans. Satellite, GPS data and remote sensing already prove to be valuable for such activities. Data coming from sensors that are directly connected to the animals’ bodies may have substantial added value.

Kamminga did research on the type of measurements needed for this type of recognition, as well as the built-in intelligence. A remarkable conclusion of his work is that in most cases, a single sensor, an accelerometer, is sufficient. “I also added a gyroscope that measures rotation. This can make it more accurate, but this comes with a price. It consumes 100 times more energy than the accelerometer. In most cases, just the accelerometer is accurate enough,” says Kamminga. Replacing the battery is not an option, so energy efficiency is one of the top priorities.

Intelligence inside

The movements of the sensor are recognized by the system’s intelligence. Training the system with many possible movements for every animal species is labor-intensive. This is called labeled data, and Kamminga shows that the sensor intelligence can operate using mostly unlabeled data, with just a small set of labeled data as a basis. The actual recognition could be done using relatively simple decision trees, but today, it is also possible to include a deep-learning neural network in the sensor. This improves the flexibility of the system. Kamminga has already analyzed the movement patterns of goats, sheep and horses.

After measuring and classification, the data has to be sent using a mobile network or a satellite connection. To avoid using too much energy, the sensor only transmits data when there is a change. Rough natural circumstances may be another challenge: If the sensor band moves, the data should still be accurate. Kamminga developed a solution for that, as well.

This type of animal activity data can also be used for analyzing biodiversity in a certain area. Do animals in a particular location have enough food and freedom of movement? These are typically questions for the UT-Faculty ITC—for Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation. Professor Andrew Skidmore was involved in Kamminga’s work. He says, “Linking wild animal movement recorded using sensors with remotely sensed imagery and GIS models is promising technology to better understand the ecological requirements of species, as well as

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NSW National Parks and Wildlife deploy drones in post-bushfire recovery

unmanned drone low pass in sunset panorama landscape

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Following the devastating Black Summer bushfires, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife has been using drones to assist with post-fire recovery.

Speaking as part of the digital DroneDeploy Conference this week, NSW National Parks and Wildlife chief remote pilot Gareth Pickford explained that using drones to assist various stakeholders within the NSW government to assess the damage caused by bushfires last summer is a cost-effective and efficient way to collect data.

“The types of data that we actually were planning on getting out in the field was around fire severity areas that were affected by fires, not just in local parks that are open to tourism, but also wilderness areas, which are natural habitats to certain species that may have been affected by fire,” he said.

“We wanted to understand how much they were going to be affected by the fire, and its post-effects.”

Some of the specific activities that the drones were used for included ecology assessments, which are live snapshots and maps of different terrains across the state; multispectral mapping to examine the types of vegetation that either survived or were destroyed; archeological analysis of historical sites; and evening thermal scanning to assess the animal population in certain areas, particularly in remaining vegetation patches.

“A lot of the terrain is very dangerous; a lot of trees are still falling over, as the winds and the storms move through a lot of hollowed-out trees … so, what we would do is take footage of certain areas to illustrate to people and our stakeholders of what that terrain looks like,” he said.

Read more: How drones are steadily advancing Australia’s environmental industry (TechRepublic)

The drones have also been used to collect data for pest control purposes following the fires. 

“A lot of feral animals will come out and start destroying the regrowth ability in certain vegetated areas. For example, wild pigs would come out and destroy the chances of certain forests rehabilitating themselves,” Pickford said.

Pickford added that data collected by the drones was used in conjunction with satellite imagery to provide the team with better intelligence.

“The biggest thing against us was time. Because vegetation was growing back, the key was to get out as quickly as possible to identify priority sites so we could get that data point for next time, get an understanding of ecology and species so we can understand the effect,” he said.

The recovery program is part of a wider drone operation that spans across the 80 million hectares that make up the state, of which 7 million hectares is national park. In addition to bushfire and fire operations, the 30-pilot drone team operates across a range of other categories such as land management, environmental science, water, marine research, compliance, and enforcement.

Using more advanced drones, alongside other technologies such as remote sensors, data science, and artificial intelligence, was one of the key recommendations handed down as part of the NSW bushfire final report in August.

The report said equipping firefighters

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