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Skyscraper-sized coral, new marsupials, rainforest bridges: 3 stories you may have missed

© Santiago Cassalett

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. A pinnacle of coral is discovered in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef 

A skyscraper-sized coral reef feature was discovered in the Great Barrier Reef. 

The story: For the first time in more than 120 years, a large new coral reef structure — known as a pinnacle — was discovered in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, reported William J. Broad for The New York Times. Taller than the Empire State Building, the pinnacle is detached from the main body of the Great Barrier Reef and instead rises from a seabed near the Cape York Peninsula — a remote area in the far north of Australia with little to no human activity. According to the scientists who discovered the coral structure, the reef area is extremely healthy and teeming with marine life, including sharks and rare squid. 

The big picture: Recent research has found that the coral reef areas that stand to benefit the most from conservation efforts are the ones that have experienced relatively little stress from human activities such as fishing and boating. “The less stress a reef is under, the greater the conservation potential,” wrote Jack Kittinger, the head of Conservation International’s global fisheries work, in an op-ed for CNN. According to Kittinger, conservation efforts to protect these reef areas — including the new coral reef structure found in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — must focus on implementing strong fishing regulations and creating new marine protected areas. 

Read more here

Using genetic data, scientists recently discovered two new mammals in Australia.

The story: Two new species of greater gliders — small, possum-like marsupials — were recently discovered in Australia, reported Jessie Yeung for CNN. Originally thought to be just one species, greater gliders vary widely in size, color and physiology, leading many scientists to believe that this small mammal may actually be three distinct species. Using DNA sequencing techniques, a team of researchers confirmed this by identifying the genetic variations between gliders across different populations. 

The big picture: "This year Australia experienced a bushfire season of unprecedented severity, resulting in widespread habitat loss and mortality," said Kara Youngentob, a co-author of the study, in a recent news release. "As a result, there's been an increased focus on understanding genetic diversity and structure of species to protect resilience in the face of climate change." According to reports, nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced by the bushfires that raged through Australia in 2019 and 2020. By studying and discovering new species such as greater gliders, researchers can help determine the most effective way to manage and protect these species in the face of natural disasters or habitat loss. 

Read more here

Inexpensive aerial bridges could help wildlife adapt to changes in their habitat. 

The story: A growing body of research suggests that artificial bridges made from inexpensive materials such as PVC piping and rope can help connect terrestrial wildlife to habitats that are disrupted by human activities or natural disasters, reported Rachel Nuwer for Scientific American. For example, in the Hainan island province of southern China, a recently installed rope bridge offered a new way for tree-dwelling gibbon primates to reach different areas of their habitat after a monsoon destroyed large swaths of forest in the region. In other countries, including Peru and Brazil, aerial bridges have helped endangered species such as sloths and slow lorises reach their habitats after they were fragmented by the construction of roads and other infrastructure. 

The big picture: “In many places, so much has already been heavily modified, and so much already lost,” Anna Nekaris, a primate expert, told Scientific American. “We should be looking for ways to help species persist in these modified environments, too.” Experts agree that the most crucial step to conserve the planet’s biodiversity is to protect nature, particularly tropical forests in Latin America, Africa and southeast Asia. However, aerial bridges and other wildlife corridors are critical to helping animals adapt to changes in their habitat caused by development and deforestation. 

Read more here.


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: A gibbon in Cambodia (© Santiago Cassalett)

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