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 three stories from the past week that you should know about.
“Floating scarecrows” could save thousands of seabirds.
The story: Each year, gillnets — panels of netting used to catch fish — kill at least 400,000 seabirds, which become trapped in the nets as they search for food. Now scientists, conservationists and engineers have developed a buoy outfitted with a pair of artificial, looming “eyes” that mimic those of a predator to scare seabirds away, reported Annie Roth for the New York Times. When tested in the waters off Estonia, the bobbing-eyed buoys — akin to marine scarecrows — reduced the number of seabirds within a 50-meter (165-foot) radius by nearly a third, according to a new study. Though still in prototype phase, the buoys could eventually be attached to gillnets and deployed in fisheries.
The big picture: Bycatch — that is, fish and other marine animals caught unintentionally — has a significant impact on the ocean’s biodiversity. Gillnets are a major culprit. Depending on the size of the mesh, they can entangle, injure or kill sea turtles, whales, dolphins and sea lions. In the case of seabirds, the problem “is probably underreported,” according to the New York Times.
As a group, seabirds are among the world's most endangered birds — especially albatrosses, petrels and penguins. Their top threats are invasive species, the impacts of bycatch and climate change. Innovative solutions like the looming-eyes buoys, could help protect seabirds from fishing gear, but are not a panacea.
“It is unlikely that a silver-bullet solution exists,” Yann Rouxel, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times, “so a toolbox of measures is probably our best option.”
Nature is critical to minimizing climate impacts by 2050, and far beyond.
The story: Nature is a massive, and largely untapped, resource in the fight against climate change, with the potential to absorb more carbon than the global transportation sector’s annual emissions, according to a recent commentary, co-authored by Conservation International scientist Bronson Griscom, in the journal Nature. But leveraging the potential of “natural-based solutions” — actions that enhance carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions — will require an urgent investment. And currently only a fraction of climate-mitigation financing goes to these solutions.
Researchers point to three critical actions: Stopping deforestation to avoid emissions, restoring degraded ecosystems to absorb greenhouse gases and improving land management to increase the ability of soil to capture carbon.
The big picture: According to the analysis, these strategies could limit temperature rise by as much as 0.3 degrees Celsius (0.54 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century — which could benefit everything from biodiversity to national security — but only if we act now.
“Our findings highlight the importance of deploying natural climate solutions — both rapidly and thoughtfully — to unlock their major contribution to stabilizing global warming,” Griscom said. “Natural climate solutions are not only critical to limiting temperature rise, but also for bringing temperatures back to safe levels in the future. This research emphasizes what we already knew: Natural climate solutions complement, but do not substitute for, the massive reductions in fossil fuel emissions needed to stabilize the climate.”
Ocean warming and acidification deliver a devastating one-two punch to corals.
The story: Analyzing data from 183 reefs worldwide, a new study finds that corals could stop growing in the next decade due to the impacts of climate change. Corals build skeletons from calcium carbonate (similar to limestone) — a process that is highly sensitive to ocean warming and acidification. Under the worst-case scenario researchers found, 94 percent of all reefs could erode by 2050, Julia Jacobo reported for ABC News.
"The only hope for coral reef ecosystems to remain as close as possible to what they are now is to quickly and drastically reduce our CO2 emissions," Christopher Cornwall, the study’s lead author, told ABC News. "If not, they will be dramatically altered and cease their ecological benefits as hotspots of biodiversity, sources of food and tourism, and their provision of shoreline protection."
The big picture: Around 20 percent of the world’s coral is already gone. A Conservation International study showed that relatively small measures such as creating marine protected areas or enacting stronger fishing regulations can have big impacts on coral reef conservation worldwide. Researchers found that when applied to coral reefs with low-to-medium human impacts, these two strategies create a “coral reef first aid kit” that can give reefs a fighting chance before it’s too late.