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30 percent of Great Barrier Reef Coral Died in ‘Catastrophic’ 2016 Heatwave

Extent and severity of 'mass mortality' event documented in report has shocked scientists

Scientists have chronicled the “mass mortality” of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, in a new report that says 30 percent of the reef’s corals died in a catastrophic nine-month marine heatwave.

photo of bleached coralPhoto by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Mia HoogenboomThe extent of the coral die-off recorded in the Great Barrier Reef was significantly greater than historical bleaching events. Scientists discovered that different corals have markedly different responses to heat stress, with some experiencing catastrophic die-offs while others proved more resilient. 

The study, published in Nature and led by Professor Terry Hughes, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, examined the link between the level of heat exposure, subsequent coral bleaching, and ultimately coral death.

The extent and severity of the coral die-off recorded in the Great Barrier Reef surprised even the researchers. Hughes told Guardian Australia the 2016 marine heatwave had been far more harmful than historical bleaching events, where an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of corals died.

“When corals bleach from a heatwave, they can either survive and regain their color slowly as the temperature drops, or they can die,” Hughes said. “Averaged across the whole Great Barrier Reef, we lost 30 percent of the corals in the nine-month period between March and November 2016.”

The scientists set out to map the impact of the 2016 marine heatwave on coral along the 2,300km length of the Great Barrier Reef. They established a close link between the coral die-off and areas where heat exposure was most extreme. The northern third of the reef was the most severely affected.

The study found that 29 percent of the 3,863 reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef lost two-thirds or more of their corals.

Hughes said researchers were also surprised at how quickly some corals died in the extreme marine temperatures.

“The conventional thinking is that after bleaching corals died slowly of ... starvation. That’s not what we found. We were surprised that about half of the mortality we measured occurred very quickly.”

The study found that “Initially, at the peak of temperature extremes in March 2016, many millions of corals died quickly in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef over a period of only two to three weeks.”

“These widespread losses were not due to the …more

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Coming to the Rescue of the Endangered Philippine Eagle

Can captive breeding and community-based conservation save this great raptor?

The Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), endemic to the Philippines and one of the world’s largest and heaviest eagles, continues to face the threat of extinction due to ignorance and deforestation.

philippine EaglePhoto courtesy of HCruz985/Flickr rOne of the world’s largest and heaviest eagles and the only blue-eyed raptor on Earth continues to face the threat of extinction. Only about 400 pairs of these raptors remain in the wild.

“At least one Philippine eagle is killed every year because of shooting,” laments Jayson Ibañez, research and conservation director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), a non-government organization based in Davao City in southern Phillippine. Ibañez says that deforestation due to timber poaching and slash-and-burn farming also significantly endanger this rarest of eagles.

Only an estimated 400 pairs of Philippine eagles remain in the wild, landing the raptor on the “critically endangered” list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Preventing the Philippine eagle population from dwindling further remains a tough battle, with pessimists decades ago disparaging its conservation as a “lost cause.”

This formidable challenge gave birth to the Philippine Eagle Center, a volunteer and donor-dependent organization formed by the foundation 30 years ago. The center is dedicated solely to the conservation of the majestic bird with a seven-foot wingspan — and the only blue-eyed raptor on Earth.

The eight-hectare center, on the outskirts of Davao City, made history in 1992 when it successfully hatched Pag-asa, the first captive-bred Philippine eagle.

True to her name, Pag-asa — which means “hope” in Filipino — gave the center's personnel the courage and inspiration to continue pursuing what was once deemed the impossible dream of breeding and hatching Philippine eagles in captivity. The center has successfully bred 28 Philippine eagles since the birth of Pag-asa, who turned 26 in January.

Pag-asa remains a resident of the center where she “symbolizes the breakthrough in Philippine eagle conservation in the country,” says Amira Madrazo, PEF’s communications officer. The raptor wasn’t released to the wild for the center’s worker and the public to be reminded that breeding eagle in captivity is not impossible, Madrazo adds.

Simulating a tropical rain forest environment, the center offers visitors a glimpse of the country’s forest ecosystem. The facility is located at the foothills of Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak.

“Our goal is to help increase the Philippine eagle’s population," says Dennis Joseph Salvador, executive director of the foundation. "We employ natural breeding methods and artificial insemination. The …more

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Poland Violated Law by Logging UNESCO-protected Białowieża Forest, Court Rules

At least 10,000 trees are believed to have been felled in the ancient forest since 2016

The EU’s highest court has ruled that Poland’s logging in the UNESCO-protected Białowieża forest is illegal, potentially opening the door to multi-million euro fines.

photo of Bialowieza Forest Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Poland Logs cut and ready for removal from Poland's Białowieża forest. The EU's highest court ruled that Poland's logging in the ancient forest violates EU laws.

At least 10,000 trees are thought to have been felled in Białowieża, one of Europe’s last parcels of primeval woodland, since the Polish environment minister, Jan Szyzko, tripled logging limits there in 2016.

Greenpeace says that as many as 100,000 conifers and broad-leaved trees in the lowland forest may have been lost.

Poland had claimed that the chainsaws were needed to excise a spruce beetle outbreak but, in a damning ruling, the EU judges found that Poland’s own documents showed that logging posed a greater threat to Białowieża’s integrity.

A minimum fine of €4.3 million — potentially rising to €100,000 a day — could now be levied against Poland unless the tree felling is stopped.

James Thornton, the chief executive of the green law firm ClientEarth, said: “This is a huge victory for all defenders of Białowieża forest. Hundreds of people were heavily engaged in saving this unique, ancient woodland from unthinkable destruction.”

The EU’s environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, tweeted: “Protecting biodiversity paramount. We welcome the Polish Govt’s recognition & look forward to implementation.”

The European court of justice ruling follows reports of imminent Polish concessions in a separate dispute between Warsaw and Brussels over the independence of its judiciary and free media.

EU officials though stressed that Białowieża was a “very separate” case, adding that the commission would now closely monitor Poland’s response to the verdict.

“If they comply with the judgment, no problem,” one EU source told The Guardian. “If they don’t, we have a possibility to go to a second infringement procedure that may end up in fines.”

A government statement said that Poland would soon propose a “compromise solution” for Białowieża, after a new protection plan had been prepared.

photo of Bialowieza Forest Photo by Frank Vassen Białowieża is one of the last remaining fragments of the primeval forest that carpeted Europe 10,000 …more

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Cape Town Nurtures its Water Supply in Anticipation of Taps Running Dry

If the South African city can’t avert ‘Day Zero,’ it will be the world's first metropolis to run out of water

Upon entering the South African city of Cape Town via the Cape Town International Airport, you can immediately see that something is amiss.

If you need to use the restroom before heading out from the airport, you will notice that, while you may be able to flush the toilet, the taps in the washbasins have been switched off; waterless hand sanitizer has been provided as an alternative. This is just one of countless measures being taken across the city to address Cape Town’s current drought — the worst in over a hundred years.

Cape Town panoramaPhoto courtesy of Tim Chandler Table Mountain, the flat-topped plateau that overlooks Cape Town, captures onshore winds coming off the South Atlantic Ocean and helps produce rainfall that fill local rivers and aquifers. But a prolonged drought has severely depleted its water supply.

Rental car clerks wearing T-Shirts emblazoned with “Water Warrior” inform customers that cars have not been washed due to the water crisis.

Many businesses display signs noting their use of grey water or other non-potable water for various functions.

Hotels discourage guests from removing the bucket placed in shower enclosures so staff can utilize captured water for other purposes. Locals take five-minute showers and limit toilet flushes whenever possible.

The drought has dealt a blow to businesses in a world-renowned city that relies on tourism as a key source of income — and in a region where agriculture is still a major sector of the economy. The construction industry has also slowed, and contractors are starting to look into the legal ramifications of project delays for which the causal factor is nature.

Residents, too, are trying to adjust to a new water-weary lifestyle in Cape Town, where usage is restricted to 50 litres per person per day. Any usages exceeding the various restrictions incur a steep tariff, with costs reaching almost nine times the pre-drought price of water. These water restrictions, which have been in place since February 1, have done much to avert a full on crisis thus far — but if the drought does not abate, the city says taps may need to be switched off.

According to Cape Town's website, “Day Zero is the day that almost all of the taps in the city will be turned off and we will have to queue for water at approximately 200 sites across the peninsula.” Estimations for when Day Zero might occur have fluctuated, with projected dates pushed back …more

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Mike Pompeo Is a Disaster for the Planet. Why Do Democrats Back Him?

We must pressure Democrats who have backed the CIA director nominee to change course

Ignorant, dangerous, and absolutely unbelievable.” This is how Mike Pompeo, then the nominee for CIA director, described the idea that climate change threatens our nation’s security in his 2017 Senate confirmation hearings. It’s also how our generation and many to come will remember any senator who votes to confirm Pompeo as our next secretary of state.

photo of Mike PompeoPhoto by Gage SkidmoreMike Pompeo accepted nearly $1.5 million from fossil fuel companies between 2009 and 2017.

Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Pompeo to replace the former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson signals loud and clear that he wants fossil fuel barons to continue running our government and state department. Infamous as the “congressman from Koch,” Pompeo is the top all-time recipient of Koch Industries campaign contributions; he accepted nearly $1.5 million from the fossil fuel companies between 2009 and 2017.

In exchange for these payments, he used his tenure in the House of Representatives to stymie progress on climate action, curry favors for big oil and gas, and regularly spread misinformation and lies about climate science to help pad the Koch brothers’ pocketbooks.

There’s no doubt that Pompeo, widely recognized as a militant climate denier and “yes man” to the president, will pick up where Tillerson left off in gutting the department’s climate diplomacy programs and opening the fragile Arctic to drilling for oil and gas that humanity can’t afford to burn.

And though it seems unthinkable that any secretary of state could be worse for the planet than the former CEO of Exxon, Pompeo is even more extreme than Tillerson in his climate denialism and his opposition to the Paris climate agreement (from which Tillerson urged Trump not to withdraw).

What’s more, as warming global temperatures spawn extreme weather events, fuel mass migration, exacerbate humanitarian crises, and undercut global stability, Pompeo’s anti-Muslim and anti-woman stances, war-hawkishness, and abysmal record on human rights will further endanger billions of people who are hit first and hardest by climate impacts.

With only a few years left to avert catastrophic warming, every single vote to confirm Mr Pompeo is a vote to protect profits of big oil billionaires and destroy the lives and livelihoods of millions around the world. …more

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Lawsuits Against North Carolina Hog Farms Could Help Reform State’s CAFO Industry

Hearings begin on first case against Smithfield Foods subsidiary

Roughly 4,000 pink-tinted pools containing pig feces, urine, and blood, are scattered throughout the eastern North Carolina landscape. An estimated nine to ten million pigs in state’s hog farming industry, which mainly comprise large factory farms, produce the untreated waste poured into these cesspools, equivalent to the waste of 100 million humans. The powerful stench from these pools has been making life miserable for nearby residents. So much so, that they have taken their complaint against the hog farms to court.

Swine Facility cesspoolsPhoto courtesy of Waterkeeper AllianceSome 4,000 hog farm "lagoons" containing pig feces, urine, and blood, are scattered throughout the eastern North Carolina landscape. The powerful stench from these pools has been making life miserable for nearby residents.

Last week, a federal court in Raleigh kicked off the first trail in a series of lawsuits against Murphy-Brown LLC, the hog-production subsidiary of the Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, which oversees the production of many of these industrial-scale pig farms in North Carolina. The suits could lead to long overdue changes in how these factory farms operate in the state.

The lawsuits, 26 in all, by over 500 people living near industrial pig farms in the eastern North Carolina, were filed in 2014. The plaintiffs allege the stench and pollutants from the open hog-waste pools have been detrimental to their health and wellbeing. The waste from these pools is usually sprayed onto nearby fields as fertilizer. The plaintiffs complain that that malodorous mist from the spray wafts over to their properties; that improperly dumped rotting-pig carcasses add to the general stink that makes it impossible to spend any quality time outside.

This first trial concerns 10 plaintiffs in Bladen County who live near Kinlaw Farm, which has three open-air cesspools. The farm owners, who raise some 15,000 hogs each year under contract with Murphy-Brown, are not defendants in the case. This suit, like the other 25 as well, is against Murphy-Brown since the company sets rules for how these farms should operate.

“I’ve never been to hell before, but it’s like living in hell,” says Rene Miller, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits. “I have no control over my own land, my own house, because of the scent, the spray. I have rats coming in my house now.”

Miller explains that living so close to the hog farming waste lagoons has contributed to serious health problems for her and her neighbors. She cites asthma, sinus problems, high …more

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Pruitt Isn’t Reforming the EPA, He’s Trying to Kill It

Why one former EPA advisor is suing the agency, and how he thinks we can reinvent it

In 2017, just a few days after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, a freshman GOP lawmaker with only a few days on the job of his own, proposed House Resolution 861. Its language was ominous: “The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

photo of Pruitt protestPhoto by Lorie ShaullSince taking over as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt has overseen the appointments of a diverse array of lobbyists, put the brakes on enforcement of environmental regulations, and suspended progressive regulatory actions initiated by his predecessors.

I was in my sixth year on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board when H.R.861 was introduced. When I called senior EPA colleagues to assess the threat, I was assured that it would never happen; the nation’s environmental laws, and the agency that makes and enforces them, could not be killed in two years by a ten-word resolution written by a rookie congressman.

Then along came Scott Pruitt.

Since taking over as administrator, Pruitt has overseen the nominations and appointments of a diverse array of lobbyists and corporate insiders while at the same time letting key vacancies languish. He has put the brakes on enforcement, slowed or suspended progressive regulatory actions initiated by his predecessors, and defended draconian budget cuts proposed by the White House.

He has also gutted the agency’s science advisory boards, one of which I proudly served on. Pruitt’s directive to “reform” the EPA’s science advisory boards, which I believe is both unethical and illegal, led me to join a group of scientists who are suing the agency.

From where I sit as both a scientist and former EPA adviser, the motivation behind Scott Pruitt’s actions is as clear as day: He isn’t reforming the agency; he’s trying to kill it.

The good news for the EPA is that a majority of Americans support its fundamental mission to protect the environment and public health. And, judging by recent reports, bipartisan calls for Scott Pruitt to resign are growing louder. But for the EPA to really rebound after Pruitt’s repeated assaults, the agency will need to address some of its legitimate shortcomings.

Toxic and risky

I’ve been dedicated to environmental science since college, and I have devoted a large chunk of my academic career to government service since shortly after George W. Bush was elected president.

My first job advising the EPA came in 2003 …more

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