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The platypus- the egg-laying mammal found in rivers in eastern Australia- has seen its habitats shrink by about 200 000 sq km, or 22%, since 1990, according to researchers. This is due to human activities in these river systems, bad droughts and introduced predators, among other things. The researchers have called for Australia to reclassify the species as “nationally threatened.”

Professor Richard Kingsford, lead author of the study, says, “Protecting the platypus and the rivers it relies on must be a national priority for one of the world’s most iconic animals. There is a real concern that platypus populations will disappear from some of our rivers without returning, if rivers keep degrading with droughts and dams.”

What is Happening?

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While the Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley said that the government had already committed around USD$731 000 to protecting platypus ecosystems, a representative said that the call to list it as a threatened species “would be considered.”

The platypus is one of Australia’s most iconic species, so it is vital to protect it from extinction. On a more grassroots level, people can plant native plants along the stream banks where platypuses live, which will protect the banks and provide areas to live, while people can also clean up streams, being sure to remove plastic bags and broken bottles. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

As technology advances exponentially, experts in the field of forestry have harnessed these technologies to better understand and monitor deforestation, conservation and environmental degradation. Oleg Seliverstov, Head of GIS at Aspectum, a cloud-based solution for data analytics and visualisation, shared his thoughts with Earth.Org about deforestation, environmental degradation, nature conservation, drone mapping technologies and the role of geospatial technology in forestry.

Earth.Org: One of the most critical issues facing forests in the world is alarming deforestation. In your view, how can geospatial technology address this issue in forestry?

Oleg Seliverstov: Interestingly enough, in some regions natural tree growth outstrips the deforestation rates. Forest areas are increasing as logging areas, pastures and abandoned arable lands are becoming overgrown. As a result of weather conditions and climate change, forests may be spotted even in the steppe regions. 

Still, the overall statistics show that there’s a sharp decline in forest land areas on the planet. In the last 40 years, the average forest area decreased twofold from 1.2 hectares to 0.6 hectares per person.

There are different reasons behind deforestation tendencies. Obviously, the principal one is felling. We keep destroying forests for raw materials, paper production, fuel and furniture. Also, wood is cut down to free land for construction or farming. 

Also, the problem is that in many cases tree felling is illegal and therefore uncontrollable. There must almost always be a license for chopping a tree down, and if it is cut without one, it’s a felony. The penalties vary depending on the crime volume and on the country. For example, in the EU the penalties range from €63.49 per tree to up to 2 years imprisonment. Despite the punishments, illegal logging costs the global market US$10 billion annually. 

But it’s not only about the money. All organisms on the planet Earth are intertwined. By eradicating forests, we destroy the habitats of myriads of animals and plants, reduce biodiversity, disrupt regional water balances, and destabilise ecosystems. The latter, in turn, reduces nature’s ability to cleanse water and air from pollution and leads to an increased risk of diseases spreading.

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EO: Why is using geospatial technology in forestry important? What industry trends do you foresee?

OS: Every year forestry enterprises, just like enterprises in any other industry related to natural resources, are increasingly adopting geospatial technology to improve daily operations. The rapid progress of technology is changing the GIS used, turning it into a distributed “neural system” that analyses current situations, predicts options for future states and recommends optimal solutions.

For instance, stationary sensors allow you to more accurately track the weather, insect pests, warn of fires and other adversities. Mobile sensors of transportation vehicles, employees’ mobile devices, timber batches tags, etc. allow you to control the movement and condition of resources, as well as better coordinate field and office teams, and take prompt corrective actions. For example, a cell phone collects a rich amount of data. It has different types of sensors for detecting motion, environment and position. A cellphone has on average twelve sensors that collect data. Ideally, this data should be used for GIS intelligence and forestry as well. 

Regular surveys from drones, airplanes and satellites provide farms with data on equipment conditions, warehouses, roads and forests with a level of accuracy reaching down to individual trees. In the coming years, we will be able to determine the height, trunk diameter, species and age of each tree. As for groups of trees and small areas of forests, we will be able to determine signs of damage, infection, drying out, and more. 

Drones are gradually taking the stage as the market share of drone services is expanding and is predicted to reach $63.6 billion in five years

EO: One of your points of interest is nature conservation. Can you tell us more about its importance and the input of GIS into it? 

OS: Numerous studies suggest that the contemplation of nature drastically decreases stress and improves mental well-being. But sadly, each year city citizens have fewer and fewer of such opportunities. 

Now the efforts of experts in the field of nature conservation are directed at the studying, monitoring and forecasting of natural processes separately and in conjunction with anthropogenic ones. Certain applied areas of nature conservation include the development of the state and business policies, development of legislation and regulatory requirements, business certification, and business and government control mechanisms. All these initiatives aim to reduce industrial and household emissions, slow down the destruction of species and their habitats, develop environmental education and introduce best practices for balanced consumption and sustainable development.

And since all these tasks have a spatial component, it is impossible to perform them efficiently without using maps, spatial models and geographic information systems. 

EO: The benefits of UAV (drone) capture are higher-quality imaging and temporality. Can you expand on that and the other benefits you see in this technology?

OS: Usually, UAVs (drones) are used when for some reason data from ground sensors, aerial or space surveys is insufficient or when the work of a field specialist is impossible or ineffective.

With the help of UAV, we can quickly examine sites “on-demand” at a smaller cost than from operational satellite imagery. Moreover, we receive information on damage from poor weather, fires, landslides, etc. Thus UAV can be useful for investigating with passive sensors under the cloud cover when satellite imagery is ineffective. In addition, UAV will be useful for regular monitoring of the condition of a limited area, for example, at the level of a forest enterprise or even at the level of individual plantations of a young forest. 

Furthermore, UAV is irreplaceable if we want to obtain the spatial resolution of data at the level of the upper inches of the surface, for example, to monitor the level of water rise, tree growth rate, or to investigate individual parts of the tree crown.

EO: How can different industries adopt drone mapping technology?

OS: Drones help make our maps more accurate, both spatially and temporally. In many cases, drones are already more cost-effective than field teams and are safer because they can operate in hostile environments, reducing the risk of personnel injury. If your business has been previously associated with collecting field data or performing routine mechanical operations, it’s important to closely follow current trends in the industry and cases of successful implementation.

Oleg Seliverstov is a Head of GIS at Aspectum, technological specialist, geospatial and remote sensing data analyst with more than 15 years of experience in projects related to geography, cartography and forestry.

The advancement in cinematography, specifically through the use of drones, over the last few decades is particularly evident in David Attenborough’s latest documentary, A Life on Our Planet. The use of drones has given filmmakers the opportunity to capture never-before-seen images of some of the world’s most elusive animals. Similarly, drones can be used in conservation efforts. But how?

A drone, or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is a self-propelled airborne device that has no pilot onboard. Some drones are capable of autonomous flight, but most are remotely controlled from the ground. The ability to attach cameras and sensors to drones has aided in their increasing popularity amongst scientists and filmmakers alike.

The versatility of drones is seeing them be used in a variety of scientific applications. In wildlife research and management, light aircraft are traditionally used to complement ground-based surveys. However, a lack of resources and logistical complexity often inhibits scientists’ ability to rely on light aircraft. Additionally, the success of the study depends on visibility, but many protected areas are densely forested, meaning only the canopy is clearly visible from the air. Furthermore, in order to reduce visual bias and increase the accuracy of the count, a greater number of observers is required. Finally, the altitude that the planes are required to fly at in order for observers to clearly see the wildlife is often dangerously low. A study published in Wildlife Society Bulletin found that between 1937 and 2000, of the 91 job-related deaths of American wildlife workers, 66% of the deaths occurred in aviation accidents, whereby stalling of engine and crashes with power lines were the main contributing factors, both results of the need to fly at a low altitude.

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Drones not only mitigate some of the dangers faced by conservationists, but they also help increase the accuracy of scientific research. A 2018 study found that census data derived from drones were “more accurate and more precise than the traditional data collection method.” The researchers believe that more accurate census data will allow conservationists to better detect population trends and have a greater confidence in the population estimates, thus allowing better management decisions to be made. A different study, which focused on counting Chinook salmon nests, found that drones were a safer and more accurate alternative to helicopters. 

Drones have already been successfully used in numerous population studies.They were utilised in a study which produced the first direct estimates of the densities of shark and ray populations in coral reef ecosystems. They have also been used to determine the density and distribution of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan, to assess the abundance of Steller sea lions in Alaska, and to track bison in Colorado. During a survey of grey whales’ foraging behaviour off the coast of Oregon, USA, drones were found to provide three times more observational capacity than traditional boat observations. Currently, in the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia, drones are assisting rangers in protecting vulnerable flatback turtles during nesting season. Drones are used to identify the species of turtle based on their tracks in the sand, calculate the number of nesting sites and monitor and record nest predation and hatching events. This information is particularly important, as little is known about population trends or conservation status of flatback turtles, but it is known that they only nest on beaches in Australia. 

As many species are pushed to the brink of extinction, a rapid reaction time by conservationists to events is becoming increasingly more important. Drones have been used to manage important conservation issues happening in real-time (e.g. deforestation and wildfires) and have also been used to manage human-wildlife conflict. Drones can be used to effectively monitor habitat degradation, which is particularly useful in protected areas and along their borders, as the data allows conservationists to assess the success of their initiatives. A report in the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems in 2016 found that drones offer a more accurate way of assessing the damage caused by ungulates on agricultural crops. A more precise estimation of the damage caused by wildlife will allow for more accurate compensation for farmers.

In 2017 in northern Tanzania, a unique method of mitigating conflict between elephants and farmers using drones was trialled; during crop-raiding events, wildlife managers deployed drones in an attempt to encourage the elephants to depart from the area. The wildlife managers found that in 100% of the trials, the elephants responded to the drones by rapidly departing from the area. While these trials suggest that drones have a significant part to play in management of wildlife conflict, more testing and sound regulations are required to protect both people and animals, as it is clear from the trial’s outcome that the drones disrupted the elephants’ natural behaviour. 

One of the largest hindrances to the use of drones in conservation is restrictive legislation which focuses on protecting the safety and privacy of individuals. There is a need for a consensus amongst governments to adapt legislation, allowing for a distinction to be made between leisure activities and research and management. Overly restrictive and indiscriminate legislation often prevents the use of drones in anti-poaching operations, with regulations prohibiting night flights, limiting the altitude drones can reach, and often restricting the distance a drone can fly from the pilot. 

As the technology improves, drones are becoming quieter and less polluting. They have the potential to evolve and replace the current, more invasive techniques of observing wildlife. While more research is needed to ensure that the trade-off between the benefits and the environmental costs is minimised, drones appear to be fast becoming an invaluable asset for conservationists and their conservation efforts. 

Tristan da Cunha, a four-island archipelago in the south Atlantic Ocean with 245 permanent residents, is creating a massive marine protected area (MPA), set to become the fourth largest completely protected marine area in the world, and the largest in the Atlantic. 

The government of Tristan da Cunha made the announcement last week, saying that the protected area will span almost 700 000 sq km, making it almost three times larger than the UK, and will protect 90% of the waters around the island chain by making them a “no-take zone,” in which fishing, mining and other extractive activities are banned. 

Why Does This Matter?

The UK- which has a duty to protect wildlife in all its territories- will be responsible for the long-term monitoring and enforcement of the MPA. The new sanctuary is the result of a collaboration between the Tristan da Cunha and U.K. governments, and a number of other conservation groups, including The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which has worked in the region for 20 years, and the National Geographic’s Society’s Pristine Seas initiative.

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Conservationists say that this will help bolster a small lobster fishery outside the sanctuary, and it will also protect foraging grounds for the tens of millions of seabirds that roost on the island and the habitats for seals, sharks and whales. The island also serves as a critical nursery for blue sharks.

James Glass, Tristan da Cunha chief islander, says, “Our life on Tristan da Cunha has always been based around our relationship with the sea, and that continues today. The Tristan community is deeply committed to conservation: on land, we’ve already declared protected status for more than half our territory.

However, some NGOs have criticised the UK government’s support for marine protection in its overseas territories when its own record on protecting its domestic marine habitats is less-than-superb. An investigation by the Guardian revealed that all but two of Britain’s offshore MPAs were being bottom trawled. 

Jonathan Hall, head of UK overseas territories for the (RSPB), says, “We should also be looking at protecting UK waters. The contrast is stark. We have this small community that is showing leadership in protecting their waters, but there have been lots of examples this year where more effective management of our existing protected areas is needed.”

MPAs are seen by experts as a silver bullet for conservation. A study found that MPAs worldwide protect food supplies by producing larger catch yields. Fisheries that are left undisturbed can produce a “spillover” effect in which an abundance of fish from a protected area spills over into fishing hotspots. The study found that expanding the current network of protected areas by just 5% could boost global fish catch by at least 20%.

Featured image by: Flickr 

The world has a history of using nature to help repair crises; in 1993, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt allocated USD$10 million for emergency conservation efforts under the New Deal. In South Korea, a famine and refugee crisis in the 1950s saw the government restoring forests and farmland, which created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic is seeing nations use nature restoration to create jobs to kickstart their economies. Here’s how seven countries are looking to repair nature by including restoration commitments in their COVID-19 recovery plans. 

France

One of the countries looking to repair nature as part of their COVID-19 recovery plans is France. About one-third of France’s $120 billion recovery package is devoted to greening the economy. The country is investing in clean buildings, industry and transport, and it is also allocating resources for the “agro-ecological transition” of agriculture. This includes training and tax credits for organic farmers, replanting and restoring hedges along field boundaries and supporting locally-based food systems and urban farming. 

Kenya

Nairobi has hired families struggling from the pandemic to clean up its parks and waterways, the benefits of which are already being seen: over 1 000 tons of rubbish have been removed and fish are returning to the Nairobi River. 

Ireland

The nation has allocated $18 million to rehabilitate over 30 000 hectares of degraded peatlands. This project is aimed at improving and increasing the area of wetlands for endangered species and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Colombia

The government is planning to plant 180 millions trees, 50 million of which should be planted before the end of the year. The package includes funds to promote agroforestry and agropastoralism, both of which can restore soils and ecosystems. The government also plans to tighten mining regulations. 

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Pakistan

The country has hired tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs during COVID-19 lockdowns to plant saplings, including mulberry and acacia trees. The government exempted the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami initiative from some lockdown restrictions. 

Ethiopia

The country is planning to plant 5 billion seedlings in 2020, in an effort to double its forest cover by 2030. Ethiopia has focused on forest restoration to create green jobs, improve the health of its citizens and kickstart an economic recovery from COVID-19. Last year, the country planted over 350 million trees in one day, a world record. 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The UK plans to invest up to $52 million in a “Green Recovery Challenge Fund,” which will help create or safeguard up to 5 000 jobs in nature conservation and restoration. The UK is also developing a system to assess its natural capital to improve its understanding of habitats and provide better guidance for decision making.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, says, “A green recovery is one that tackles the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises at the same time.”

Restoring nature is one of the core objectives of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global push to repair lands lost to development, that is set to begin in 2021. 

Featured image by: Flickr

Borana Conservancy is a wildlife sanctuary situated at the foothills of Mount Kenya. Spreading over 13 000 hectares, it aims to provide a sustainable ecosystem for critically endangered species, including black rhinos, elephants, lions, reticulated giraffes and Grevy’s zebras. It has also shown commitment to the surrounding communities, ensuring a harmonious relationship between the animals and humans in their network.

In 2013, a founding population of 21 black rhinos was introduced to Borana Conservancy. Once they were settled and had established territories, the fence between Borana and the neighbouring Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was dropped, forming one landscape. This created over 92 000 acres of wilderness which now supports over 200 black and white rhinos, making it one of East Africa’s largest continuous rhino habitats. 

Conservation

In 2019, there were a total of 32 rhino births (17 black and 15 white) across the Lewa/ Borana Landscape. Populations for all other species are stable or increasing; since 2016, buffalo populations have risen by over 100% to a current population of over 2 000. The joint landscapes are home to 46% of Kenya’s black rhino population, 90% of the global population of the endangered Grevy’s zebra, over 7 000 elephants and many others. 

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Environmental Care

Borana Conservancy is working to achieve carbon neutrality over the next three years. All of its houses and lodges are powered by solar farms with a combined total output of over 300 KVA. To achieve this carbon neutrality goal, it has set time bound targets with its carbon footprint measured on a monthly basis. 

It also has a recycling eco centre at its headquarters. All properties sort waste on site and then the eco centre receives it and stores it. It also has a glass crusher that makes “eco-concrete” for buildings and has completely eliminated single-use plastics. 

Moving forward, Borana Conservancy has launched the work on attaining UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which it hopes will lead onto II Ngwesi and the Mukogodo Forest. 

Community Upliftment

Besides its wildlife conservation work, Borana has also shown its commitment to uplifting the community around it. Through the Borana Education Support Programme, it invests in primary, secondary and tertiary education through contributions to bursaries, faculty and facilities. The Conservancy also has a mobile clinic that administers thousands of services, including health education, family planning, HIV/AIDS counselling, immunisations and basic healthcare services. Altogether, Borana provides employment, pensions and health insurance to over 400 members of its immediate community.

Borana also works with women’s groups in the neighbouring area who make beaded products. These items are sold across the Conservancy’s properties, with all profits going back to the women’s groups.

Featured image by: Sean Mousley

A $9.3 billion residential and tourism development has been approved within the buffer zone of the Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve here in this city of 13 million, the largest urban area in Vietnam. The project was proposed by the Can Gio Tourism Urban Area Joint Stock Company, a subsidiary of Vinhomes, the real estate arm of Vingroup, the country’s largest private company. The Can Gio Tourist City would span 2,870 hectares (7,100 acres), largely on land that would be filled in along the South China Sea coast using sand.

The 75,740-hectare (187,200-acre) reserve was established in 2000 and is overseen by a local management board. Home to one of the world’s largest rehabilitated mangrove forests, it protects the area from storm surges while also acting as a “green lung” for a heavily industrialised region.

The projected completion date for the Vinhomes development is 2031, when planners expect 230,000 people will live there long-term, and about 9 million tourists will come and go annually. In comparison, just over 70,000 people currently live in Can Gio (pronounced similarly to ‘yo’), the largest of Ho Chi Minh City’s 24 districts by area.

Tourism development in Can Gio has been relatively slow, as the region can only be reached by ferry, but construction of a huge bridge linking the district to the rest of Ho Chi Minh City is expected to begin in 2022, making it easier to reach.

The response to the approval of the “tourist city,” which was first proposed in 2000 but was stalled until Vinhomes took over the project, has been largely negative. The company increased its original planned size from 821 hectares (2,030 acres) to 2,870 hectares.

In early July, 23 prominent environmentalists, academics and researchers sent a petition calling for an independent assessment of the project to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, the legislative National Assembly, and other government bodies. It is rare for Vingroup to be publicly criticised in Vietnam, as the company is known to react aggressively to such complaints.

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An English-language version of the petition shared with Mongabay says the planned development “poses a serious threat on the Can Gio mangrove forest, which in turn may lead to a series of harm to the urban regions of HCMC, whose population and authority are already facing major environmental challenges such as pollution, floods and land collapses.”

The petition is now online, in both English and Vietnamese, and had been signed by more than 5,900 people at the time of writing. It adds that the project poses huge threats related to erosion, flooding and water stagnation, all of which could have serious environmental and social impacts, while also threatening the integrity of Can Gio’s unique, important mangrove ecosystem.

The Nikkei Asia Review reports that 138 million cubic meters (4.9 billion cubic feet) of sand would be needed to reclaim land for the project. Some media reports have said this sand would be dredged from the nearby Mekong Delta, which is already facing serious subsidence due to sand mining and a loss of sediment caused by upstream dams. None of the activists contacted for this story would speak on the record, even anonymously, for fear of retaliation from Vingroup or the police. One environmentalist said they had been repeatedly harassed by the police for their outspoken criticism of the project on Facebook.

Vocal activists can face serious consequences for their actions here. In 2017, an environmental blogger known as Mother Mushroom was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state” following a major environmental disaster. She was eventually released early and now lives in exile in Houston.

Vingroup did not respond to requests for comment on the project.

While detailed plans of Can Gio Tourist City aren’t public, one satellite rendering shared widely on social media shows a huge stretch of land, including a large artificial lake, tacked on to the southern end of Can Gio, where the district meets the East Sea, as the South China Sea is known here.

This means there would not be construction within the heavily restricted core area of the mangrove biosphere reserve.

However, it is a delicate ecosystem.

Mangroves in general are highly sensitive to changes in hydrology and sedimentation,” said Marie Arnaud, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham who has conducted extensive research on Can Gio. “For example, if you decrease sediment supply, then you might have erosion of the mangrove’s land, which can cause mangrove loss. It has been observed in many parts of the world, mostly due to upstream sand mining, but it has also been observed from areas which have been dredged.”

The Vinhomes development would be downstream from the mangroves, but it is not clear where the sand used to reclaim land will come from. Adding thousands of hectares of land just a few miles from the reserve will have an impact.

“If they dredge sand to create land or build, they’ll hurt the sedimentation and the hydrology of the mangroves,” Arnaud said. “Then, those buildings are static, while normally this area is quite dynamic. This means that there will be sand accumulation in some spots, but also places where the soil will be eroded because the dynamic is moving.”

Some supporters of the plan have noted that it will not be located within the mangrove reserve’s core, but Marc Goichot, WWF freshwater lead for Asia Pacific, says this doesn’t mean it makes sense.

“If it’s closer to the coast, it’s not necessarily better because again, it’s dynamic,” he said. “If the area is a marsh or partially or completely on the water, then they’re going to dredge material out from the riverbed, which will starve the coast of its replacement sediment and put at risk the entire existing system.”

He went on: “Even if they bring material in from far away, which they probably won’t because it would be expensive, then you’re burying the area and changing the ecosystem completely, and the dynamic of currents and the movement of nutrients.”

This would impact fisheries and aquatic life in the area. The huge number of people that the Can Gio Tourist City would attract, meanwhile, will also create problems.

“This might induce pressure on local fish, crabs and bivalves,” Arnaud said. “People from [central] Ho Chi Minh City like to go to Can Gio to eat seafood because it’s cheaper, but if so many come it might really decrease the density of the fauna. And if people are not sensible, you’ll have a lot of plastic pollution, and possibly sewage runoff as well.”

Then there is the placement of the development, directly on the coast.

“This project will be high-risk,” Arnaud added. “With climate change, you have storms that are becoming more frequent and stronger, you have sea level rise, and this touristic spot will be at the front of all of this.”

Featured image by: Flickr

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Tim Rist, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

 

Scientists have put forward a proposal to develop a universal list of species on Earth. The 10-principle framework aims to better manage biodiversity and conservation in the age of accelerating environmental changes. What are these principles and how would they help? 

When it comes to conservation and biodiversity, a universal list of species would serve multiple functions. Broadly, it would help the mitigation of the trade on wildlife products, as restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The lack of such an authoritative universal list hinders the effectiveness of conserving biodiversity as different taxonomic practices may confuse users. 

There are projects such as the Catalogue of Life that are already working on creating a comprehensive global index of species, however it has not been universally adopted by taxonomists, governments or conservation organisations. 

The lack of a single authoritative list of species has resulted in a number of issues. Four main drawbacks of the existing taxonomic practices have been identified: first, some of the world’s species are invisible to those who lack the resources to access or navigate specialist taxonomic literature: there is hardly a single complete list of marine invertebrates of the deep sea, however there are four big ones for birds. Second, the lack of a unified list means that  taxonomic contributions are often missed because information is so scattered. Third, it causes confusion between what lists to consult and fourth, users may unknowingly follow outdated species identification guides or lists. 

What Do The Principles Consist Of?

The 10 principles of compiling the universal list of species were proposed by a group of scientists aiming to support pre existing efforts on building a global list and providing a legitimate reason and institutional authority for adopting the list as a global standard across governments and world organisations. 

These proposed governing rules help guarantee that the list will be properly managed and accepted by stakeholders including the taxonomist community, naturalists, ecologists, the commercial sector and government agencies:

  1. The list should be built on science, where non taxonomic considerations and interference, such as political and economic considerations, should be avoided. The funding authority of the taxonomic authority should not interfere with the governance process and the funding of the list should be open to the public.  
  2. The governance of the list should strive for community support and use, where global support of the list demands all interested parties to be engaged. The governing process should also be validated by international organisations to maintain a high level of international governance.  
  3. The decisions about compiling the list should be transparent. The list itself should also be freely accessible, archived, provide citation and indicate where any edits have been made. 
  4. The governance of the validated lists of species should be separate to the governance of the naming of species, but the lists should be compatible or even be integrated if possible.   
  5. The governance of the lists should not interfere with academic freedom. 
  6. The set of criteria considered to be sufficient to recognise species boundaries may vary between different taxonomic groups but should be consistent when possible. 
  7. The list should provide archived versions to accommodate users who prefer currency and stability and vice versa, since taxonomy is a dynamic process, where taxonomic research is constantly tested, adopted and overturned. To accommodate users such as legislators, who would require a stable version of the list, the archived versions of the list should be accessible as long as it is needed.
  8. The people who prepare and annotate the list should receive recognition. 
  9. Full citations of the literature including scientific nomenclature and the foundation of the specific associated taxonomic concept should be included.
  10. The global listing process should ensure both global and local diversity be considered.

The adoption of this governance system would require consensus and collaboration among different bodies. These principles should be agreed upon and refined, where the system would be operated by a representative body in accordance with these principles. The system should also be endorsed by key users such as the IUCN and other national bodies. The united list would also gather the thematic parties to develop a work plan for combing the current competing lists and maintaining and managing the created list. 

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A pilot programme has been launched by the International Union of Biological Science (IUBS) that aims to extend this 10-principle framework by gathering the taxonomic expertise, users of taxonomy, current aggregators of taxonomic lists and governance experts to establish a globally accepted taxonomic authority.    

Compiling a global authoritative list may not be an easily accomplished task but in In view of facing the global extinction crisis, creating a globally-accepted list of the world’s species may help better manage the planet’s biodiversity.  

For the first time in 3 000 years, Tasmanian devils have returned to the wild in mainland Australia. Aussie Ark, in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk, recently released 11 Tasmanian devils into a 400-hectare wildlife sanctuary on Barrington Tops in a bid to rewild Australia, which has the world’s worst mammal extinction rate. 

Tasmanian devils vanished entirely from mainland Australia partly because they were outcompeted by dingoes. Additionally, a transmissible, painful and fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)—the only known contagious cancer—decimated up to 90% of the wild population of Tasmanian devils. Just 25,000 devils are left in the wild of Tasmania today.

The reintroduction took place on September 10 following a successful assisted trial release with 15 Tasmanian devils. 26 devils now call the wild of mainland Australia home. Aussie Ark selected the particular devils for reintroduction based on those most suitable to breed with one another without any inbreeding. The wild sanctuary will prevent the spread of disease, feral pests, noxious weeds and fire The wild sanctuary will also keep cars out, ensuring that the devils learn not to associate cars with food—an association that could be deadly when they are more widely released.

Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, says, “In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country. Not only is this the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but of an animal that will engineer the entire environment around it, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation from introduced foxes and cats and other invasive predators. Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, someday we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3,000 years ago.”

As apex predators and the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials, Tasmanian devils help control feral cats and foxes that threaten other endangered and endemic species. Additionally, because they are scavengers, they keep their habitats clean and free of disease.

The Tasmanian devil is one of seven species critical to Australia’s ecosystem that Aussie Ark plans to reintroduce to the wild sanctuary in the coming years: Eastern quoll, Brush-tail rock wallabies, Rufous bettong, long-nosed potoroo, parma wallabies and southern brown bandicoots.

This is the first of three planned reintroductions. In the next two years, Aussie Ark will do two additional releases of 20 devils each. The animals will be monitored through regular surveys, radio collars fit with transmitters and camera traps. This will give the researchers the opportunity to learn about how the devils are faring, where they are claiming territory, what challenges they are facing, what they are eating, and whether they’re reproducing. All of this information will help to inform future releases, including in Tasmania and elsewhere on the mainland.

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About Aussie Ark

Aussie Ark was established in 2011 as ‘Devil Ark’, with a focus on saving the Tasmanian devil from extinction. Since then, the role of the organisation has expanded, and now has a vision of creating a long-term future for threatened Australian species. Aussie Ark will secure wild sanctuaries to conserve native wildlife, free from unnatural predation. Learn more at www.aussieark.org.au

About Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians, maximising its impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery and conservation leadership cultivation.  Learn more at https://globalwildlife.org

About WildArk

WildArk is a global not-for-profit conservation effort that was founded in 2016, aiming to promote and support activities that educate, enable, provide resources or inspire humanity to sustainably conserve, protect or restore the environment and the world’s ecosystems, natural resources, wildlife and wild places. The mission is manifested through positive storytelling, scientific research, supporting wildlife conservation and investing in space for the wild. Learn more at www.wildark.org.

In early June, a fleet of around 260 Chinese vessels reached the limits of Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone around the Galápagos Islands to fish for Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas), engaging in illegal fishing. For months, the fleet skirted this area, drawing outrage among Ecuadorans as well as scientists and conservationists around the world.

The fleet remained in international waters and no ship crossed the country’s maritime limits, according to the Ecuadoran authorities, who detected no illegal actions. However, scientists and fishery analysts say the volume of fishing is so high as to potentially overexploit the squid. Moreover, the boats could be capturing species threatened with extinction. Beyond that, vessels within this Chinese fleet have a history of illegal fishing, according to Milko Schvartzman, a marine conservation specialist with the Argentine organization Circle of Environmental Policies, who has studied the fleet for years.

Experts say the presence of these ships is not only a problem for Ecuador but for other countries in the region, too. Every year they travel a route that goes from the South Atlantic off Argentina to the South Pacific near the Galápagos, passing through Chile and Peru. According to Schvartzman, at least two boats that have been caught illegally fishing in Argentine waters and were pursued by that country’s navy were fishing south of the Galápagos in August.

The Route of the Chinese Ships

Between December and May, in the western South Atlantic off Argentina, the controversial Chinese fleet fishes another species of squid, Illex argentinus. Then, between May and July, it moves to the Pacific, passing through the Strait of Magellan, and operates just outside the northern stretches of Chile’s exclusive economic zone. Next it continues toward Peru in the direction of the Galápagos. Then it makes a return trip.

“There are years that they start a little further north,” Schvartzman said. “This year the fleet started the season closer to Peru than to Chile but there have been years in which the fleet has been operating on the edge of Chile’s exclusive economic zone.”

These variations depend on the movement of the squid, said Max Bello, an ocean policy adviser with Mission Blue, a California-based NGO created by renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle.

In Bello’s opinion, the difference is that this year the ships “have come much closer to the exclusive economic zone and two or three years ago we did not have the level of satellite information that we have today.”

Indeed, ship-tracking platforms, including Global Fishing Watch, show that “we are talking about a gigantic fleet,” said Luis Suárez, director of Conservation International-Ecuador.

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chinese vessels illegal fishing
Hammerhead sharks congregate around Wolf Island and Darwin Island in the Galápagos archipelago. Chinese vessels have been contributing to the illegal fishing of this endangered shark. Image by Pelayo Salinas de León.

However, Bello said it is impossible to know exactly how many boats made up the fleet. “All the numbers we have are not real or official,” he said. “We don’t know how much they are really fishing either.” This is because these ships constantly change their registration, turn off their satellite transmitters and have no observers on board, he said.

report released this month by the international NGO Oceana based on an analysis of the fleet’s behavior between July 13 and Aug. 13 on Global Fishing Watch tried to clarify the scope of the fleet and its activities. It put the number of Chinese vessels at 294, compared with 10 vessels from other nations, and claimed they logged a total of 73,000 hours fishing near the Galápagos. The report found 43 instances where the Chinese vessels in the fleet appeared to turn off their tracking devices, each for an average of two days, a common ploy to obscure illegal fishing activity, although there are innocuous explanations for such breaks, too, such as gaps in satellite coverage.

The large volumes of marine life these boats could be catching is the main concern for scientists. The overfishing of squid could cause ecological problems because various species, some of them emblematic of the Galápagos such as the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), feed mainly on them, according to Alex Hearn, a marine biologist and vice president of the California and Mexico-based NGO Migramar. Also, scientists fear that the ships are catching species threatened with extinction.

Industrial and artisanal fishermen in South America who fish for squid are also concerned, as are the companies that process the squid. Pascual Aguilera, a spokesperson for the National Coordinator of Jibieros a Chilean association of artisanal squid fishers, said the fleet “is like a city, a chain, a wall [of boats],” which settle in to fish at the 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometer) limit of the exclusive economic zone, where the territorial waters of each country end. That is why “we find that the resource is increasingly scarce. We have to go looking for it further and further,” the fisherman said.

Alfonso Miranda, president of the Committee for the Sustainable Management of the Giant Squid (CALAMASUR), added that the concern is greater because this fleet “has illegal and transgressive behaviour within our maritime domains.”

In fact, Schvartzman has identified at least two vessels within the Chinese fleet that recently fished outside the Galápagos territory that have a history of illegal fishing and were pursued by the Argentine Navy, captured and sanctioned.

One of those boats is the Hua Li 8. On Feb. 29, 2016, the vessel was detected illegally fishing 800 meters, about half a mile, within Argentine waters. The coast guard attempted to detain the vessel but it fled into international waters without even responding to the warning shots the navy fired.

A few days later, on March 3, the ship reentered Argentine waters. This time it was heading for the port of Montevideo, Uruguay. Argentina sent two coast guard ships and a helicopter to the area and began a five-hour chase. The ship managed to escape, but two months later it was captured by the Indonesian Navy.

This July and August, the Hua Li 8 was fishing outside the Galápagos exclusive economic zone, as Schvartzman confirmed via Global Fishing Watch. He said this is not an isolated event since the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 668, which the Argentine Navy also chased in April this year for illegally fishing, was there too.

A Regional Problem

“This is a regional problem and all countries have a responsibility. None of them are 100% victim,” Schvartzman said, pointing out that the countries provide logistical support to the vessels.

“Argentina has a responsibility because it should not release the captured ships,” he said. The offending vessels are taken to port, where they stay for a while and operators hit with a fine. “Purely economic sanctions are not enough to prevent, discourage and combat predation and illegal fishing,” Schvartzman’s organization, Circle of Environmental Policies, wrote in a document it presented to the Argentine Congress, which is currently working on a bill to toughen the sanctions against vessels caught fishing illegally.

Ecuador, for its part, has at least one oil tanker that supplies Asian vessels. Last year, the country’s navy detected the Ecuadoran vessel María del Carmen IV supplying fuel to the Chinese fleet while it was, like this year, fishing outside the Galápagos exclusive economic zone. The company that owns the ship, Oceanbat S.A, said in a statement addressed to the newspaper El Telégrafo, that it had all the proper permits to carry out its activities.

In addition, Schvartzman’s analysis shows that Panama has mother ships, known as reefers, that receive fish from Asian vessels on the high seas and take it to ports in Peru and Uruguay. The Oceana report documented six apparent transshipment encounters between different Chinese fishing vessels and a Panama-flagged reefer between mid-July and mid-August.

“It does not necessarily mean that the Chinese ship that passed the fish to the Panamanian reefer had been fishing illegally,” Schvartzman pointed out. However, he said, one of the reasons why such transfers, called transshipments, are carried out is to launder fish. “Reefers receive loads from many fishing boats made up of different species that were caught in different places. This [legally and illegally caught fish] is mixed in the hold and no one can later know which ship the cargo that arrives in the reefer belongs to,” he said. In fact, according to the FAO, transshipment is the biggest cause of illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.

Flor Torrijos, director of the Panama Aquatic Resources Authority, told Mongabay that all Panamanian-flagged cargo ships must have an observer on board. “It is a mandate from the IATTC and Panama that all vessels that provide support to purse-seine vessels must have an observer onboard,” she said, referring to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which manages tuna and other fisheries in the eastern Pacific Ocean. She added that there is “considerable control and surveillance over Panamanian vessels everywhere in the world and now especially in this area [around the Galápagos exclusive economic zone].”

“It is important that Latin American countries form an alliance to fight illegal fishing, and part of that is to prevent collaboration with this fleet,” Schvartzman said, referring to port services, transshipments and fuel supply.

President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador announced the formation of a team of experts to design a protection strategy for the Galápagos Islands. Private sector actors in the region — both artisanal and industrial, as well as squid-processing companies — also signed an agreement to demand the regulation and inspection of distant-water fleets, such as China’s.

Faced with pressure, in early August China announced a fishing ban on its boats in the vicinity of the Galápagos exclusive economic zone. Global Fishing Watch indicates that the fleet moved away from the Galápagos around the end of August. However, observers remain skeptical.

“It would be necessary to study whether this closure is going to have an effect or not,” Bello said. “It could be that it coincides with the time when the resource is no longer in that place and they are simply going to move the fleet from place to place, which is part of the normal action of the fishery.”

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Michelle Carrere, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

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