The U.K. Ban on Ivory Sales And Exports

Time and again, elephants have proven that they are worth more than just their tusks. Back in August, they rescued hundreds of tourists from a flood in Nepal. And while some, like war veteran Col. Faye Cuevas, are doing their best to protect them, it seems the efforts are not enough. Last year, the U.K. has taken a favorable — albeit small — step towards banning almost all sales and exports of ivory products.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced a consultation to end the trade in ivory of all ages — previous attempts at a ban would have excluded antique ivory produced before 1947.

The government says there will be some exemptions, for musical instruments and items of cultural importance.

A lack of clear restrictions is corroborating the fears of environmentalist groups, who are unsatisfied by the ban. They argue that the UK still leads in exporting legal pre-1947 ivory antiques even in the past few years, and though the transactions are technically not punishable by law, the high amount of sales stimulates demand and encourages poaching in Africa.

Nonetheless, pressures from conservationists and Prince William himself — a long-time campaigner against the trade — are pushing the government to impose a total ban. If I were being encouraged by English royalty to head towards a certain direction, I’d probably start walking.

At a wildlife conference in Vietnam, [Prince William] said: “Ivory is not something to be desired and when removed from an elephant it is not beautiful.

“So, the question is: why are we still trading it? We need governments to send a clear signal that trading in ivory is abhorrent.”

Well said, Prince William. I toot my horn (or tusk?) in your favor. While waiting for further updates this 2018 from the government of the UK, perhaps we could share a toast to the greatness of elephants.

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Farm Can Grow Vegetables In Freezing Temperatures

As a trend, home gardening is explosive. TerraFarms are a space-efficient choice that use no pesticides and 97% less water. The Ogarden system is completely hassle-free and can grow up to 100 herbs and vegetables a month. However, home gardening isn’t practical everywhere — especially in colder countries. Engineers at the German Aerospace Center are now helping snowed-in communities garden, with an Antarctic farm that can grow veggies below zero.

Called the Eden-ISS, the farm exists inside a climate-controlled shipping container. The greenhouse relies on  a technique called vertical farming, in which food grows on trays or hanging modules under LEDs instead of natural sunlight.

The farm is only 135 square feet and can grow vegetables in huge amounts. Amazing, considering the only means of transportation for produce deliveries is by ship or plane. Researchers plan to grow some 30 to 50 different plant species. In short, the new technology is beating the odds.

Over the past 100 years, Arctic temperatures have increased at nearly twice the global average, making it possible to grow crops in once-desolate places like Yellowknife in Canada and Greenland.

On a more impressive note, temperatures in the area can plunge as low as -100 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t even know it was humanly possible to exist under such conditions. Lesson learned: never underestimate the power of innovation.

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11 New Deep-Sea Creatures Found in Indian Ocean

More than half of it has not yet passed, but 2018 already seems to be a great year for zoological findings. There is the sudden resurfacing of a previously extinct insectivore in Australia, there is the identification of a new type of exploding ant in Borneo, and now the first scientific expedition to the Indian Ocean yields at least 11 previously undiscovered species of deep-sea creatures.

The expedition is a collaboration between the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. The team collected over 12,000 specimens from 63 sites in the two weeks that they stayed in the coasts of West Java.

“This is a part of the Indian Ocean that has never been sampled for deep-sea animals so we really didn’t know what to find,” Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at NUS and chief scientist for the Singapore team, told AFP. “We were very surprised by the findings.”

From the specimens, they were able to identify 800 species from families of jellyfish, molluscs, crabs, fish, worms, and others. The 11 newfound deep-sea creatures include a crab nicknamed “big ears” for the ear-shaped plate that covers its eyes, a hermit crab with green eyes, a zebra-striped orange lobster, and many others.

The team has yet to sort, analyse and catalogue the entire collection, but fully expect more new species to emerge — the reason the crustaceans were so quickly picked up is because the expedition included experts in crabs and shrimps.

The scientists from both Singapore and Indonesia are expected to categorize and study further the samples they collected until they are ready to release their results, targeting a 2020 publishing date. Come to think of it, two years is a very short time, relative to the hundreds and hundreds when these deep-sea creatures were previously unknown to science.

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Young Bug Lover Helps Write Scientific Thesis

Kids these days are ditching Playstations for programming tools, priding themselves on being the smartest generation yet. However, there are some who prefer going back to basics. Classmates bullied 8-year-old Sophia Spencer for her obsession with bugs. The young bug lover got back at her tormenters, co-writing a paper in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

“I really thought loving bugs wasn’t the best hobby,” [said Sophia] “But after I realized bugs are for girls I thought to myself, ‘Well, I think I should start loving bugs again, because just because people say they’re weird and gross doesn’t mean I shouldn’t like them.’”

This kid is more self-aware than I am. Sophia’s passion inspired mom Nicole to contact the Entomological Society of Canada for advice. The group tweeted Spencer’s plea, garnering replies from bug enthusiasts all over the world. Eventually, Ph.D. candidate Morgan Jackson invited Sophia to help compose a scientific thesis promoting women in science.

“It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs,” she wrote. “It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers.”

Sophia’s contribution to a cool scientific thesis at age 8 is living proof that one’s interests are never age nor gender-specific. So a word to parents — encourage your children’s passions, even when it seems “weird” or “gross” or “not for boys/girls.” The era we live in nurtures a plethora of possibilities, and so should you.

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Caribou Herds Rebuilt by Maternity Programs

This is no truth bomb: more and more species are becoming endangered or approaching the brink of extinction. However, there is some good news: more and more global efforts are also being executed to address the problem. In 2017, British Columbia banned recreational bear hunting. This 2018, China is funding a national park to serve as a sanctuary for giant pandas.

And some efforts are already paying off this year. With the special help of a maternity program at Smithsonian Zoo, baby Mokey — the first western lowland gorilla there in 9 years — was born to loving mom Calaya. In the same light, caribou herds are now being helped by the Revelstoke Caribou Maternal Penning Project.

About half [of the calves] are killed and eaten by wolves . . . said Scott McNay, a wildlife biologist. For the past four years, McNay has worked with the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, which are taking radical action to reverse the decline of the caribou by protecting cows and calves in “maternity pens” until the newborns are ready to survive life in the wild.

That bears and wolves feed on caribou is a natural phenomenon, but the proportion has been unhealthy for the past decade. Industrial development in the area has also worsened the situation. In addition to a ban on the hunting of caribou herds that have been imposed decades ago by the elders of the First Nations, wolf population control and habitat restoration are now being done simultaneously.

During the first four years of the pilot maternity project, 47 pregnant caribou from the North Columbia herd have been taken into the penning program and assisted in a nine-hectare enclosure. A few weeks ago, another 20 were sequestered. And the results look hopeful.

To date, 36 calves have released to the wild and they have about double the normal survival rate, which has stabilized the herd.

Funded by a variety of government agencies and other organizations, the maternity program wants to commit to protecting and releasing 20 cows and calves every year, in order to successfully restore the caribou herds.

Looking at these probable results, it seems that after all, every species including humankind is just trying to survive, with each other’s help in life.

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Baby Gorilla in Smithsonian Zoo, First in 9 Years

When critically endangered species successfully reproduce offspring and show the world their adorable baby, I’m not going to lie, I also tend to feel like getting a new shot at life. An OB-gyn who delivered a western lowland gorilla via C-section at the Philadelphia Zoo even said the experience of actually making it happen felt like an incredible privilege.

Just a few weeks ago, another western lowland gorilla was born at Smithsonian National Zoo, the first of his kind in nine years!

“The birth of this western lowland gorilla is very special and significant, not only to our zoo family but also to this critically endangered species as a whole,” Meredith Bastian, the zoo’s curator of primates, said in a statement regarding Moke’s birth.

Born to mother Calaya and father Baraka, the baby gorilla was named Moke (Mo-Key). Keeper Melba Brown went through months of training with Calaya to make sure she is able to prepare for the task of motherhood. And those months have truly paid off, as soon enough Calaya is kissing and nursing adorable Moke without difficulty.

“This infant’s arrival triggers many emotions — joy, excitement, relief — and pride that all of our perseverance in preparing Calaya for motherhood has paid off,” Brown said. “We will provide support to her if need be, but I have every confidence that Calaya will be a great mom to Moke. I am excited to see how he will fit into the group dynamic. There are a lot of different personalities in this family troop, but they all work well together.”

Surely a cute baby gorilla is enough cause to celebrate. Though of course, I would like to be proud first of amazing mommy Calaya. Now let me just go get a piece of tissue to wipe away this stray teardrop on my left cheek.

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Bike Path Is Made Of Reprocessed Toilet Paper

As one of the world’s most in-demand resources, paper has a massive carbon footprint. Because of the waste it creates, many are recycling or seeking paper alternatives. Startup MOO produces business cards made with fabric waste, while Paper Saver is a no-new-paper journal. Now, a Dutch province is recycling tons of toilet paper into a 1km bike path for cyclists.

The bicycle path uses what’s called tertiary cellulose, extracted from waste streams, says Erik Pijlman, director at KNN Cellulose, one of the partners on the project. “We take the cellulose out of these streams and once again make it into a [raw material],”

But not to worry — you won’t be seeing any remnants of used tissues on the bike path. The process includes sifting paper fibers, which are then cleaned, sterilized, bleached, and dried. To say the technique is doing fine is an understatement — it’s taking over Dutch roads.

“What we did is not only create technology and prove that it works, but we also have a market that is willing to take in the material,” Pijlman says. “And that’s really the next step in this kind of development.”

The fiber can also be used in creating filters, biofuel, and textiles, among other things. Of course, while in theory it’s useful in creating other products, we’ll keep it away from direct human contact. No one wants a stinky pillow case.

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Australia Pledges $500M to Protect Great Barrier Reef

Australia has been making waves in the environmental newsfeed this past year with some fantastic headlines: its energy sector powered 70% of the country’s homes using only renewable sources, a huge permaculture farm fed dozens and dozens of families with only organic produce, and even without human help, a supposedly extinct species of insectivore suddenly showed up. But this Sunday, Australia made just about its biggest wave yet.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull pledged more than 500 million Australian dollars for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef — the greatest single investment that this reef or any other coral ecosystem in the world has ever received.

[T]he Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a national non-profit . . . will use the money to counter water pollution, combat coral-eating starfish, increase public awareness, boost reef monitoring, and improve the environmental impact of surrounding businesses . . . The funds will also be used to expand reef restoration efforts, including trialling new techniques that can breed corals resistant to high temperatures and light stress.

For a while now, the Great Barrier Reef, which hosts about 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish, is known to be in great danger. Its damage — including coral bleaching and ocean acidification — can be traced to climate change as a consequence of burning fossil fuels, harmful coastal development, and continuous fishing despite the already-present negative effects. A 2016 study even said that more than 90% of the reef has already been affected by coral bleaching.

However, Australia’s environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, is confident that “the right plan and the right investment” will help secure what he describes as a “remarkably resistant” reef . . . “The more we understand about the reef, the better we can protect it . . . Millions of dollars will go into science and to better data management and to be able to test the impacts on the reef.”

Of course, we must inevitably mull over the damage humans have caused the beautiful coral ecosystem in the past decades, but it seems to have been resilient in maintaining itself and in forgiving us. Perhaps the millions of dollars pledged to its protection can finally help us start to make up for the damage and deserve its forgiveness. I honestly can’t help but hope it’s better late than never for us and the Great Barrier Reef.

 

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Endangered Giant Turtles Are Escaping Extinction

Some animals, such as wild tigers in Kazakhstan, are making a comeback thanks to environmental groups. However, others, like the humble sea turtle, are escaping extinction all on their own.

Massive efforts to save the egg-laying turtles by changing fishing nets and creating protected and darkened beaches are working, said . . . Antonios Mazaris, an ecology professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

“There’s a positive sign at the end of the story,” Mazaris said. “We should be more optimistic about our efforts in society.”

Before, endangered giant turtles had a difficult time with their survival due to hunting, fishing, habitat destruction, and pollution, among other things. In fact, only one of seven sea turtle species isn’t endangered. Mazaris recently found that of 299 sets of turtle populations, 95 increased. That’s serious cause for some… shell-ebration.

“Sea turtles are bellwethers. They’re flagships that we use to tell the story of what’s going on in the oceans… And that’s why people should care about turtles.”

Thanks to new fishing practices and allocated nesting hubs, the population of previously endangered giant turtles now increase by 10 – 15% annually. The Ridley sea turtle species had formerly seen a drop of roughly 38,000, and this initial devastation of turtle populations may have been our own doing. However, our awareness and action are also partially to thank now.

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Extreme Weather Patterns Foreseen by Algorithms

Since the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, people have been doing their best to reach out to victims. Nonprofit groups are replacing ruined cars with bikes. Millionaires are welcoming displaced children into their homes. Conceivably, the best way to avoid a disaster is to be able to predict it. Thanks to scientists at MIT, there is a new algorithm that may be able to foresee extreme weather patterns.

Themistoklis Sapsis, associate professor at MIT, [said] “We have applied this framework to turbulent fluid flows… They’re encountered in climate dynamics in the form of extreme rainfall, in engineering fluid flows such as stresses around an airfoil, and acoustic instabilities inside gas turbines,”

The system is complicated — we’ll leave it at that — but it can help us formulate evasion strategies. In the past, engineers relied heavily on mathematical equations in the hopes of being able to identify extreme weather patterns. Nonetheless, the data proved to be lacking.

Sapsis said that the framework is generalisable enough to apply to a wide range of systems in which extreme events may occur. He plans to apply the technique to scenarios in which fluid flows against a boundary or wall, such as air flows around jet planes, and ocean currents against oil risers.

In their fear and dislike of Math, people tend to forget that more than just being fancy abstract numbers, algorithms do have practical, visible, and useful manifestations. And this isn’t just me promoting the subject.

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