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Ocean warming shifts tiger sharks’ habitats: 3 stories you may have missed

© Albert Kok

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.

1. Some tiger sharks are migrating farther north due to climate change

Climate change is redrawing the marine habitats of an apex predator. 

The story: From tuna to Atlantic cod, climate change is shifting the habitats of many marine species. A new study finds warming waters are now affecting one of the Northeast Atlantic’s most critical apex predators: the tiger shark. 

“The tiger shark’s typical seasonal patterns are not unlike those of certain wealthy retirees: they spend the winter months in the tropics near Florida or the Bahamas and only venture farther north once things warm up in the summer,” writes Alex Fox for Smithsonian Magazine. 

Now, ocean warming is causing this shark species to migrate north about a month earlier than it did in the 1980’s and travel around 434 kilometers (270 miles) farther.

The big picture: As tiger sharks venture farther north, they are spending less time within marine protected areas (MPAs) — a shift that could bring them into increased conflict with humans, experts say

“If we are concerned about marine biodiversity and want to create effective MPAs we have to understand where animals are and when,” marine biologist Sara Iverson told Smithsonian Magazine. “This study suggests that for this species existing MPAs may be less effective going forward.”

A report by Conservation International scientists outlines eight guidelines for countries to create a global network of MPAs that can actively respond to the impacts of the climate crisis. These guidelines include creating new tools to update fishers as marine species move, developing a global database of new ocean management techniques, and ensuring that all MPAs are climate-resilient through adequate staffing and funding.  

Read more here

The United States is about to get a whole lot wetter — and many communities are unprepared, according to a new study.  

The story: As climate change accelerates, floods are becoming more frequent and severe — and flooding losses in the U.S. are expected to rise by more than 26 percent over the next 30 years, a new study found

Using data from flood insurance claims, building records and the census, researchers forecast that flood damages will jump from US$ 32.1 billion to US$ 40.6 billion in the U.S., with the greatest impact on marginalized and impoverished communities in the Southeast, along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. If countries don’t reach their emissions reductions targets to slow climate breakdown, damages are likely to be even worse, reports Aaron Gregg for The Washington Post. 

The big picture: “Climate change is indivisible from social justice and uneven power dynamics not only in the United States but also globally,” said Shyla Raghav, who leads Conservation International’s climate strategy. “Financing and equal access to resources for vulnerable populations must be at the core of our efforts to address climate change.” 

Around the world, nature could help fortify communities against the impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise and floods. For example, mangroves provide an estimated US$ 82 billion in flood risk prevention annually. By creating the Restoration Insurance Service Company (RISCO) for Coastal Risk Reduction, Conservation International is working with insurance companies to incorporate the value of mangroves into insurance products through fees and carbon credits that support community-based wetland restoration.

Read more here

Spider venom could help combat chronic pain, researchers say.

The story: A new study found that venom from the king baboon spider, a tarantula native to Tanzania and Kenya, could offer clues to developing more effective painkillers, reports Neel Dhanesha for Vox. Researchers discovered that this tarantula’s bites — which can cause muscle spasms and swelling — target sensory neurons, causing the brain to send signals of pain throughout the body. With insight on the mechanisms that cause extreme pain, researchers may be able to create medicines that have the opposite effect — blocking the channels that lead to these sensory neurons in the brain. 

The big picture: Many modern-day medicines — including aspirin, penicillin, morphine and several chemotherapeutics — were derived from plants, animals, fungi and spiders. 

“When we protect tropical forests, we also maintain ‘nature’s medicine cabinet’ — in other words, the wildlife and plants that could offer clues to solving illnesses such as cancer and cystic fibrosis,” Dr. Neil Vora, a practicing physician and Conservation International’s pandemic prevention fellow, told Conservation News in a recent interview

However, widespread biodiversity loss and deforestation could threaten reserves of medicine in the wild — including remedies that have yet to be discovered. 

Read more here


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

Cover image: Tiger shark, the Bahamas (© Albert Kok)