Weekly round-up: May 16

Scalloped hammerhead sharks are critically endangered (Kris Mikael Krister)

More than 14,000 sharks are thought to have been caught in an Indian Ocean marine protected area – in which all fishing is banned – between 2010 and 2020.

A study led by the University of Exeter recorded evidence of illegal fishing in the British Indian Ocean Territory and conducted interviews with local fishers from Sri Lanka and India, the results of which suggest the actual number could be even higher.

“Enforcement of MPA rules in a large, remote area such as this is extremely difficult,” said lead author Claire Collins, of the University of Exeter. “Our findings highlight the threat of illegal fishing to sharks in the BIOT MPA, which is home to critically endangered species such as the oceanic whitetip and scalloped hammerhead

“Fishers often target reef areas, where many of the sharks are juveniles, and taking sharks at this life stage could be especially damaging to species numbers.”

The study, run in conjunction with ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Oceanswell and MRAG Ltd, also conducted focus groups with communities previously associated with illegal fishing in the area, who told researchers vessels often fished in the MPA undetected.

Co-author Tom Letessier said: “It is crucial to work with fishing communities to understand where, when and why people fish illegally – and how we can improve deterrence. For example, we found fishers had very different ideas of the fines they could face, and some felt they were very unlikely to be caught – so improving awareness of the sanctions, in addition to increasing the probability of being caught, could be beneficial.”

Collins added: “Following the recent news that the Maldives was considering lifting its shark-fishing ban [the ban has since been reaffirmed], the importance of large areas within the Indian Ocean where shark fishing is banned was brought to everyone’s attention. 

“This study emphasises the need to ensure that sharks within these important areas are fully protected.”

However, in a boon for shark conservation, the UK effectively ended its legal shark fin trade by implementing legislation requiring carcasses to be sold as a whole commodity. Previously EU legislation allowed anyone to carry up to 20kg of dried shark fin across European borders, while finning is permitted provided the animal is landed, not discarded back into the sea alive as is common practice around the world.

An investigation by Greenpeace in 2019 revealed the UK had exported more than 50 tonnes of shark fins over the preceding two years.
Publication Frontiers in Marine Science
Source gov.uk

Damaged areas of Canada’s boreal forests have shown significant regrowth since 2000

Almost 59 million hectares of forests have regrown worldwide since the turn of the century, an area with the potential to store 5.9 gigatonnes of CO2 – more than the annual emissions of the US.

Analysis conducted by Trillion Trees, a venture between WWF, BirdLife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society, revealed the greatest regeneration was found in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, the boreal forests of Mongolia and Canada, and central Africa.

The study also showed minimal involvement by humans was required to facilitate regrowth bar the halting of destruction, and the removal of invasive vegetation or grazing pressures where necessary.

William Baldwin-Cantello, director of nature-based solutions at WWF UK, said: “We’ve known for a long time that natural forest regeneration is often cheaper, richer in carbon and better for biodiversity than actively planted forests, and this research tells us where and why regeneration is happening, and how we can recreate those conditions elsewhere. 

“But we can’t take this regeneration for granted – deforestation still claims millions of hectares every year, vastly more than is regenerated. To realise the potential of forests as a climate solution, we need support for regeneration in climate delivery plans and must tackle the drivers of deforestation.”

Explore the Trillion Trees map of regeneration hotspots here.

A second study published this week revealed the extent to which humans have altered Earth’s surface is around four times greater than previously estimated, with land-use change affecting almost a third of global terrestrial area since 1960.

Analysis also showed geographically contrasting land-use changes, with afforestation and cropland abandonment in the Global North and deforestation and agricultural expansion in the South.
Source WWF
Publication Nature Communications

Bears rubbing on trees may be a staple of wildlife documentaries and the inspiration for a thousand gifs, but new research suggests individuals who rub more, mate more.

Researchers from the University of Alberta collected and identified bear hairs from 899 rub spots over four years which enabled them to genotype 213 individual brown bears, adding them to a previous database of 2,043 brown bears and creating family trees. The results showed that both male and female bears who rubbed more frequently and at more sites had a higher number of mates and offspring. In males, for every rub object at which a bear was detected, the number of mates increased by 1.38 times.

A grizzly bear rubbing on a tree – a study in brown bears has shown individuals who rub more, mate more

“As far as we know, all bears do this dance, rubbing their back up against the trees, stomping the feet and leaving behind odours of who they are, what they are, what position they’re in, and possibly whether they are related,” said co-lead author Mark Boyce. “What we were able to show is that both males and females have more offspring if they rub, more surviving offspring if they rub and they have more mates if they rub.

“It seems bears that are in good condition are more vigorous and they rub more, and that could be correlated with reproductive success.”
Publication PLoS One

Guardian Australia revealed on Thursday how the federal government attempted to prevent the publication of an academic paper which showed it needed to “drastically increase its spending on threatened Australian wildlife”.

A freedom of information release showed officials in the federal environment department pressured scientists from the government-funded Threatened Species Recovery Hub to either halt publication of the paper, remove references to the programme or publish the paper under different author names.

The study, known as the Spending to Save paper, highlighted that Australia was spending only a tenth of what the US allocates to protecting and recovering endangered species.

Deakin University professor Don Driscoll, who recently led a study on the pressures scientists face regarding the non-publication or authorship of work, told Guardian Australia: “It’s really worrying because the public service is trying to hide important information about the state of our biodiversity from the public. The public needs to know why our biodiversity is under threat. They need to know it’s being enormously under-funded.”

After the story was published, the environment department released a statement stating that it “strongly reject[s] any assertion that department officials sought to pressure researchers in relation to the non-publication or authorship of the paper”.
Source Guardian Australia

White-tailed eagles were once widespread in Britain (Andreas Weith)

White-tailed eagles are to be reintroduced to a Norfolk conservation estate following approval from Natural England.

Up to 60 of the birds could be released on Ken Hill Estate as part of a decade-long programme by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

Once widespread across Britain, persecution in the 19th century led to the eagles’ local extinction as a breeding population.
Source gov.uk

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