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Over 200 species found during Deep-Sea surveys of submarine canyons in Lebanon

28 November 2016
Photo: © OCEANA

After a one month deep sea expedition in unexplored areas of the Mediterranean, scientists have found over 200 species,  including new records that have only been previously reported in the Atlantic Ocean and in polar regions.

This project was initiated following a request by the Ministry of Environment, in line with its Marine Protected Areas strategy. This project relies on scientific data flow modelling collected, compiled and analyzed by Oceana, IUCN and UNEP/MAP-RAC/SPA, on behalf of the Ministry of Environment with the support of CNRS-L, GFCM and ACCOBAMS, and funded by the MAVA Foundation.

Photo: © OCEANA Enrique TalledoThis expedition used an underwater robot operated remotely that surveyed areas down to 1050 metres depth. These robots focused on a system of submarine canyons that is believed to be the most complex one in the Mediterranean, as well as in other deep-sea areas. Unique marine features have been found in Lebanon, which include, a superb belt of coralligenous gardens, beautiful corals, and a huge variety of sponges. Some fish species came as a surprise as well, longnosed skate (Dipturus oxyrinchus) was seen for the first time in the Levantine Sea, and observations of lantern shark (Etmopterus pusillus) marked the first record of this species in the Mediterranean. These preliminary findings have just been shared with Lebanese authorities.

The findings following this survey will be used to map potential marine protected area (MPA) status and to provide guidance to the Lebanese government for managing these valuable and unique ecosystems deserving protection.

“Lebanon is setting an excellent example for marine conservation in the south-eastern Mediterranean, with its commitment to studying and protecting its deep-sea marine life. By working together, the Lebanese government, local scientists, and international organisations have made a tremendous advance towards the protection of this vulnerable environment. We ask other countries to follow their lead,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director for Oceana in Europe.

About the Project:

Photo: © OCEANAThe Deep Sea Lebanon Project, launched in 2016, was undertaken following a request for partnership sent from the Lebanese Ministry of Environment in order to carry out biodiversity field surveys in the deep sea in Lebanon, following the adoption by the Lebanese Government of the Lebanon’s Marine Protected Areas Strategy in 2012, in which four sites in the deep sea were identified as potential MPAs and needed further scientific studies for their declaration.

The Lebanese Strategy aimed to create a national network of marine protected areas, in order to fulfill Lebanon’s commitments towards the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and to specifically contribute to the achievement of the CBD Aichi marine target, aiming at the protection of at least of 10% of marine eco-regions in the world by 2020.

For more information:

Oceana: Marta Madina 

IUCN: Zyad Samaha or Alain Jeudy



Biodiversity assessment reports on pollination and on scenarios and modelling launched

25 November 2016
The extent of the decline of bees, butterflies and other pollinator species is highlighted by the IPBES report. Photo: © DasWebWeib CC BY 2.0

The extent of the decline of bees, butterflies and other pollinator species was highlighted by a report published in full yesterday by the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). More than 75% of the world’s food crops rely to some degree on animal pollination, according to the report. The report draws substantially from IUCN work and expertise.

“We’re delighted with how effectively the IPBES pollination report was able to draw from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ to document the high extinction risk facing the world’s pollinators. This report also brings to light the urgency of undertaking Red List assessments for other invertebrate species groups elsewhere in the world,” says Ana Nieto, lead author of the IUCN European Red List of Bees.

Status of wild pollinators on the Red List of Threatened Species around the world. Photo: © IUCNThe report was also met with some scepticism, however. “I would question whether any practical on-the-ground action to help pollinators will happen as a result of this document. The evidence that pesticides harm pollinators is described as ‘conflicting’ in this report, which misrepresents the overwhelming weight of evidence showing that some pesticides are harmful. Moreover, given on-going declines in many pollinators, the precautionary principle should be applied, and the report fails to recommend this,” Dr Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, and member of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides of IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management and Species Survival Commission.

The addition of recommendations that pesticide risk assessment should apply the precautionary principle (in other words, require proof of safety) will therefore be important for other institutions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, which will consider the pollination assessment at its thirteenth Conference of the Parties, this December.

The report, titled “Fast-track thematic assessment of pollinators, pollination and food production,” also emphasises the role played by indigenous peoples and local communities in conserving pollinator populations.

Status of wild pollinators on the Red List of Threatened Species around the world. Photo: © IUCN“Indigenous practices which support pollination include maintaining diversified farming systems and heterogeneity of pollinator habitat in landscapes and gardens,” says Dr Rosemary Hill, Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO in Australia, member of IUCN’s Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy and World Commission on Protected Areas, and one of the report’s coordinating lead authors. “Numerous indigenous pollinator totems and sacred texts about pollinators in most religions highlight their broad significance to human societies over millennia.”

A second IPBES report, a “Methodological assessment of scenarios and modelling,” also published in full today, outlines how models and scenarios can best be used to assess the state of nature and the benefits it provides to people, and how these may change into the future. For example, models can forecast how deforestation caused by the increasing demand for palm oil might affect species and ecosystems. Many of these techniques are very familiar to the conservation community. For example, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is underpinned by quantitative models of the risk of species extinction.

Some of the techniques discussed in the assessment, however, are less well-known in current conservation policy and practice. For instance, ‘target-seeking scenarios,’ start with societally-agreed goals and then run models run backwards to shed light on the combinations of policy decisions necessary to achieve particular targets. “These approaches stand to be very valuable in supporting the simultaneous achievement of environmental, social and economic targets agreed under the new UN Sustainable Development Goals,” says Dr Carlo Rondinini, Research Scientist at Sapienza University of Rome, Coordinator of the Global Mammal Assessment for the IUCN Red List, and a coordinating lead author of the report.

The report also summarises how scenarios can be used to retrospectively determine to what degree conservation actions can be credited with improvements in the field.

“IUCN’s application of such approaches has shown that in the absence of conservation action, the rate at which ungulate species would have slid towards extinction would have been seven times faster,” explains Dr Resit Akçakaya, Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University and Chair of the Standards and Petitions Sub-Committee of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, another of the report’s coordinating lead authors. IUCN is working towards development of a system that will standardise both retrospective and prospective scenario analyses in terms of the extinction risk and recovery status of species.

The scenarios and modelling report is available here and the pollination report here.

The French Ministry of Ecology and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation supported IUCN’s engagement with IPBES over the last four years.



Dolphins fostering Thailand-Cambodia cooperation for Marine Protected Areas

16 November 2016
Irrawaddy dolphins in Thai-Cambodian transboundary water. Photo: © Petch Manopawitr.

Results of an 18-month transboundary dolphin conservation project along the coastline of Thailand and Cambodia have confirmed that the transboundary coastal areas along the Thai-Cambodian border are particularly important habitats for the globally threatened Irrawaddy dolphin, and the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. The project has made significant progress in using dolphins as ambassadors to promote the concept of transboundary Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) management.

Indo-pacific Humpback dolphin mother and calf. Photo: © Chatchai PakpienBased on surveys conducted from 2008 to 2014, the population of Irrawaddy dolphins in Trat, Thailandand Koh Kong, Cambodia is estimated at 500. This makes the Cambodia/Thailand transborder population of Irrawaddy dolphins the second largest in the world. “Unfortunately, these dolphins are in trouble. Many die when they get entangled in fishing gear, particularly gillnets.,” said Brian Smith, Asia Coordinator, IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group and project technical adviser. 

The project also revealed that there is a strong potential for integrating dolphin watching into ecotourism programmes in Trat and Koh Kong. Well-managed ecotourism offers an opportunity to strengthen dolphin research and conservation as well as improve the livelihoods of local fishermen whose activities may be affected by the establishment of dolphin management zones. 

Dolphin rescue demonstration for school children in Trat Province. Photo: © Rawiwan Booncha The project also developed best practices for dolphin watching activities and conducted trainings for boat drivers and tour operators.

Additionally, through the use of audio-visual communications tools like videos and posters, awareness was raised on both sides of the border through community meetings and outreach activities. Communication materials were produced and disseminated to communities, government agencies, non-governmental organisations, and international organisations in both countries. As a result, local dolphin conservation networks were strengthened. 

To facilitate improved cooperation between both countries, a transboundary Marine Mammal Management Committee and a technical working group was established in Koh KongUnder the new Marine and Coastal Resources Management Act (2015), a working group within the newly formed Provincial Committee was also established in Trat Province, Thailand. 

Photo ID survey on 12Nov2015 in Koh Kong, Cambodia. Photo: © Sonim Veth“Effective dolphin conservation initiatives in the Trat – Koh Kong area will require sustained collaborative efforts. Marine Spatial Planning and transboudary MPAs offer tools for all stakeholders to work together systematically and collectively over the next few years,” said Petch Manopawitr, Deputy of IUCN Indo-Burma Group and Project Manager.





Climate change dramatically disrupting nature from genes to ecosystems – study

10 November 2016
Kelp Forest. Photo: NOAA (CC BY 2.0).

Gland, Switzerland, 10 November, 2016 (IUCN) – Global changes in temperature have already impacted every aspect of life on Earth from genes to entire ecosystems, with increasingly worrying consequences for humans – according to a new study co-authored by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group (SSC CCSG), published today in the journal Science.

The study found that more than 80% of ecological processes that form the foundation for healthy marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems – such as changes to genetic diversity or seasonal migration – are already showing signs of distress and altering as a response to climate change.

“The extent to which climate change is already wreaking havoc with nature is simply astounding,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “These findings send a very clear message to world leaders gathering for climate change negotiations in Marrakech: cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the ecosystems on which we depend is an urgent matter of self-preservation.”

The study analyses 94 ecological processes, as documented in peer-reviewed literature.

Many of the climate change impacts on species and ecosystems affect people, according to the authors, with consequences ranging from increased pest and disease outbreaks, reduced productivity in fisheries, and decreasing agricultural yields. Changes in ecological processes may also compromise the capacity of ecosystems to help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, the authors warn. Healthy ecosystems contribute to climate mitigation and adaption by sequestering substantial amounts of carbon, regulating local climate and reducing risks from climate-related hazards such as floods, sea-level rise and cyclones, the report states.

“We now have evidence that, with only a ~1oC of warming globally, major impacts are already being felt,” says study lead author Dr Brett Scheffers, member of the IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group and assistant professor at the University of Florida. “These range from individual genes changing, significant shifts in species’ physiology and physical features such as body size, and species moving to entirely new areas.”

When a large number of processes are all impacted within a single ecosystem, they scale up to produce what researchers call ecological regime shifts – where one ecosystem state shifts to an alternative state. This can be seen in kelp forests that have turned into rocky barrens in temperate seas. On land and in the oceans, many ecosystems are becoming unrecognisable, with Arctic tundra ecosystems becoming dominated by boreal and temperate organisms, and temperate marine ecosystems becoming dominated by tropical organisms.

However, the study also points to hope as many of nature’s responses to climate change could be used to inform human adaptive measures. For example, improved understanding of the adaptive capacity in wildlife can be applied to our crops, livestock and fisheries. This can be seen in crops such as wheat and barley, where domesticated varieties are crossed with wild varieties to maintain the evolutionary potential of crops under climate change.

“This study has strong implications for global climate change agreements,” says co-author Dr Wendy Foden, Chair of the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group, based at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. “Countries’ current commitments reduce global temperature rise to around 3oC, but we’re showing that there are already serious impacts right across biological systems at 1oC. If we’re going to keep natural systems delivering the services we rely so heavily on, it’s imperative that we step up our efforts.”

“We are simply astonished at the level of change we observed, which many of us in the scientific community were not expecting for decades,” says senior author Dr James Watson from the University of Queensland and World Conservation Society, member of the IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group. “It is no longer sensible to consider this a concern for the future and if we don’t act quickly to curb emissions it is likely that every ecosystem across Earth will fundamentally change in our lifetimes.”

The full report, "The broad footprint of climate change from genes to biomes to people" is available here.



Living Planet Report predicts global vertebrate population to drop by two-thirds by 2020

08 November 2016
Living Planet Report 2016. Photo: WWF

The latest Living Planet Report 2016, published by WWF in collaboration with Global Footprint Network and Zoological Society of London, shows that the overexploitation of natural resources due to human activities could cause wildlife worldwide to decline by 67% by 2020.

The report monitored over 3,000 vertebrate species (mammals, birds, fishes, amphibians, reptiles) from more than 14,000 different populations from around the world and found that 58% have already declined between 1970 and 2012. The data shows that this decline is occurring at an annual rate of 2%, with no indication of this rate slowing down.

According to the report, the most common threat to declining populations is habitat loss and degradation along with overexploitation being another top threat. Humanity continues to demand more from the natural resources our planet can sustainably offer. The report estimates that by 2012, 1.6 Earths were needed to provide the goods and services demanded by humans that year. If no changes are made, it is projected that the Earth's ecosystems will exceed their regenerative capacity by 75% by 2020. As highlighted in the report, to address these social inequalities and environmental degradation, a deeper understanding of our natural systems is required and a need to shift toward living within Planetary Boundaries.

The Living Planet Report emphasises the need to accelerate our transition to a sustainable society, particularly if we are to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made under the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The report brings to the forefront the importance of increasing a shared understanding of the links between humanity and nature to ensure a more sustainable future.

"This important report, amplifies the IUCN Red List findings and once again raises the alarm of the biodiversity crisis which is too often overlooked by the climate change challenge. It may be time for a Paris Agreement on Biodiversity loss to tackle this crisis,” said Luc Bas, Director, IUCN European Regional Office.

Read the summary Living Planet Report 2016 here.

Read the full report here.



Antarctic Ocean breakthrough: Ross Sea to become world's largest marine protection area

07 November 2016
Photo: © John Weller

Home to vitally important populations of Emperor and Adélie penguins, Weddell, Crabeater and Leopard seals as well as significant numbers of Minke whales, Killer whales and sea birds, the Ross Sea is set to receive protection from commercial fishing for 35 years.

Long touted by IUCN and other environmental organisations as an area of critical scientific and ecological importance, protection for this unique continental shelf comes after long years of negotiation between state members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, Australia. The proposal developed by the US and New Zealand has gone through many versions before it was finally agreed by all the 24 state members of CCAMLR and the EU. The active engagement of all the countries holding a sceptical view on the Antarctic MPA will be critical in continuing to roll out the network of MPAs desired by most of IUCNs members, both governments and NGOs.

The area under protection, at 1.55 million square kilometres or roughly 4 times the size of Norway, will include research zones covering 28% of its area whilst the rest will be strictly no-take, the strongest form of marine protection available.  Two seamounts, unwater volcanoes that provide vital foraging areas and habitat for a variety of marine species, will be part of the protected area.

Participating at the Commission meeting, IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Programme Director Carl Gustaf Lundin said: "Protection for the Ross Sea is part of what IUCN members were calling for at the recent World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. Most of this area is in very good shape and in some ways this is the last ocean in the world that has not been significantly impacted by humans."

"This is a great day for Antarctic biodiversity.” Lundin added. “The fact that the Ross Sea protected area falls in international waters raises hopes that similar treaties can be ratified for other hotspots of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The ongoing negotiations on an implementing agreement to the Law of the Sea, should not see this as an indication that protection should be time-limited, MPAs are for perpetuity.”

Among the other positive environmental outcomes in Hobart, the fishing of krill was limited for a further five years.  Krill form the primary food source for a variety of marine birds and mammals, including penguins, whales and seals.

The Ross Sea is one of the Earth's last pristine areas, still relatively unscathed by human activities.  The new protection will come into force on December 1st, 2017.



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