Invasive species storming, seagrass spreading, Alps melting: 3 stories you may have missed

© Joanne-Weston

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Intensifying hurricanes are helping invasive species spread across the U.S. 

Invasive species are wreaking havoc across the United States — and hurricanes may be to blame.

The story: New research has found that hurricanes in the United States are dispersing invasive species across the country, reported Rebecca Renner for National Geographic. Fueled by climate change, hurricanes are becoming more frequent and intense, research shows; as a result, extreme storms are carrying and scattering hundreds of invasive species such as Asian swamp eels and zebra mussels into new regions of the U.S., according to the study’s authors. For example, when Hurricane Isaias tore through the Caribbean and eastern U.S. earlier in 2020, it spread more than 114 invasive aquatic species to different watersheds, where they have the potential to decimate native species and deplete food supplies. 

The big picture: Each year, invasive species cost the U.S. economy more than US$ 120 billion in damage to ecosystems and infrastructure. Experts agree that to stem their spread, they must stop it at the source: the exotic pet and aquarium trade. “If you’re going to get an exotic pet, you need to do your homework,” Steve Johnson, a wildlife ecology scientist, told National Geographic. “If you get tired of it, you cannot just go dump it in the woods or a state park or somewhere. You need to find a home for it.”

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One wetland plant helped revitalize an entire ecosystem in eastern Virginia. 

The story: A recent study showed that restoring seagrass on the Virginia coastline has increased fish populations, improved flood protection and purified the water, reported Robert J. Orth, Jonathan Lefcheck and Karen McGlathery for Scientific American. In the 1930s, seagrass populations in eastern Virginia were decimated by plant diseases, extreme weather and human activities such as coastal development and fishing. To restore this area, a group of scientists sowed seagrass across 217 hectares (536 acres) of the Virginia coastline, spurring the return of many fish species such as sandbar sharks and seahorses that use seagrasses as a habitat. Since then, the seagrasses have naturally grown to cover 3,885 hectares (9,600 acres) of Virginia’s coast.  

The big picture: Not only are coastal wetlands such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses crucial to conserving marine life and protecting coastlines, they are also critical to slowing climate change. Research shows that these types of coastal ecosystems store half the carbon buried beneath the ocean floor — known as “blue carbon.” To preserve biodiversity and prevent this carbon from being released into the atmosphere, experts agree that governments must invest heavily into the protection and restoration of coastal wetlands. 

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Melting ice in the Alps is putting hikers at risk.

The story: As climate change accelerates, avalanches and falling rocks are becoming more common in the Alps, putting mountaineers at risk, reported Agostino Petroni for Outside Magazine. In the 1900s, temperatures in the Alps rose by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), more than double the rate of warming across the Northern Hemisphere as a whole. This rapid warming has started to melt the region’s snow and permafrost, which typically bind the terrain along the massive mountain range. Now unstable, loose terrain poses a high risk for climbers, and major injuries and deaths have become more common as a result. 

The big picture: “It’s a very tricky condition,” Jacques Mourey, a geographer and climate scientist, told Outside Magazine. “You think the rock is safe, and then it moves.” If countries do not set more ambitious targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the Alps are projected to warm by another 3.34 degrees Celsius (6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, causing even more ice to melt in the region. To adapt to these unstable conditions, experts are now urging mountain guides to take climate change into consideration and adjust paths to avoid avalanches and falling rocks when planning trips for visitors. 

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News spotlight

Conservation International recently partnered with the Generation Foundation to help tackle climate change through REDD+ — a United Nations-backed framework that aims to reduce climate emissions by paying landowners to protect their forests. This project aims to create conditions for nature-based carbon reductions to be sold as carbon credits in Kenya so that companies can neutralize their emissions.

 

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Seagrasses in Honduras. (© Joanne-Weston)

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