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Record-breaking heat, coronavirus waste, new species: 3 stories you may have missed

© Andrew Luyten

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. What a 100-degree day in Siberia really means 

Extreme heat waves in the Arctic could become more frequent as climate change accelerates.

The Story: Amid a weeks-long heat wave, temperatures in Siberia reached 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) — the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Russian Arctic, reported Alejandra Borunda for National Geographic. Experts agree that this record-breaking heat wave is largely attributable to climate change, which is warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the planet. As sea ice melts in the Arctic Ocean, the water left behind absorbs more heat from the sun, driving a temperature increase of around 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past century. 

The Big Picture: "By 2100, under an extreme warming scenario, we would expect to see an event like this every year," says Robert Rohde, a climate scientist with Berkeley Earth. Research shows that rapidly warming temperatures in the Arctic are melting tundra ecosystems’ permafrost (frozen soil), which could dramatically impact the rest of the planet. Scientists project that permafrost could release around 130 to 150 billion tons (roughly 117 to 136 trillion kg) of carbon emissions into the atmosphere as it melts — which is equivalent to the total emissions that are projected to be released by the U.S. over the next 80 years.

Read more here.

Discarded surgical masks and latex gloves are polluting the world’s oceans.

The Story: From the beaches of the Côte d'Azur to the Soko Islands in Hong Kong, single-use COVID-19 waste (such as gloves and masks) is washing up along shorelines around the world, reported Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman for CNN. A new study revealed that roughly 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves have been used each month since the pandemic began. According to recent reports, a significant amount of this medical waste is dumped into the world’s oceans, where it can be ingested by species such as seabirds and sea turtles that confuse it for food.

The Big Picture: "We have to be serious about reducing the amount of single use plastics in our society where it is appropriate, while at the same time, ensuring we have the appropriate systems to manage the waste generated from lifesaving materials like personal protective equipment," said Nick Mallos, a senior director at the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental non-profit. According to experts, basic waste collection systems are unable to process the volume of masks and gloves being disposed of each day on top of normal levels of waste, and much of it ends up washing down waterways and into the ocean. Along with ensuring that COVID-19 waste is properly disposed, conservationists stress the importance of minimizing plastic waste by utilizing reusable products such as containers and bags when it is safe to do so. 

Read more here.

Using genetic sequencing, researchers recently uncovered two new monkey species in Southeast Asia.

The Story: Scientists recently discovered that the banded langur — a primate species found in Southeast Asia — should be categorized as three distinct species instead of one, reported Rachel Nuwer for National Geographic. Using complex genetic sequencing tools, a group of researchers determined that banded langurs from different regions of Asia had significant differences in their genome, making them more genetically diverse than previously thought. With this discovery, the scientists also concluded that these two new species of monkey now qualify as critically endangered, with limited habitat areas and less than 400 individuals remaining in the wild. 

The Big Picture: “There’s definitely a lot more diversity out there than we know of — and if we don’t know about it, we risk losing it,” said Andie Ang, a research scientist at the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund. According to a 2019 UN report, more than 1 million species face extinction due to climate change and human activities such as mining and logging. By studying and discovering new species, scientists are able to gain more insight about species’ habitats, migration patterns and geographic ranges — which could help inform new strategies to conserve the planet’s biodiversity.

Read more here.

News Spotlight

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City recently announced that it will remove its controversial statue of former President Theodore Roosevelt, which many believe represents the discriminatory and violent history of American colonial expansion. Instead, the museum will rename its “Hall of Biodiversity” in honor of Roosevelt, who established more than 93 million hectares (230 million acres) of protected areas in the U.S. during his presidency. 


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: An iceberg in the Arctic Ocean (© Andrew Luyten)

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