Budding Aquaculture of….Sea Cucumbers?

Along the coast of Madagascar lies a community called Velondriake.  The Vezo people who live have evolved accomplished conservationists due to their reliance on the ocean for almost everything, including their own survival.

The Vezo have turned the part of the ocean they depend on into a marine reserve, and govern it with elected representatives from 25 different villages.  The governing body has passed laws prohibiting formerly widespread destructive fishing practices.  Despite the relative success of these laws, they unfortunately aren’t enough to keep the community afloat.

This is where the sea cucumber comes in.  Fishermen forced to scale back on fishing due to environmental concerns still needed to find a way to generate an income and feed their families.  It is for this reason that the Vezo have begun to farm the peculiar echinoderm known as the sea cucumber. Surprisingly, the sea cucumber is not only edible, but also delicious. Luckily, the shallow inlets surrounding the Vezo communities are excellent environments for the culture of sea cucumbers and farming is not too difficult, as the cucumbers feed on naturally occurring detritus on the seafloor.

The sea cucumbers arrive at the farms from a marine institute in Toliara, a larger city in Madagascar, as juveniles and mature within nine months. The exportation of the sea cucumbers has given Velondriake its own niche in the global market and is boosting local incomes.  With the help of Blue Ventures, a British marine conservation group, the Vezo people are taking big steps away from poverty and toward sustainability.

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Where Did All The Moose Go?

Across North America, moose populations are in a steep decline and no one really knows why.  In Minnesota, one of two main populations has dropped from 4,000 in the 1990s to fewer than 100 today.  For this reason, moose hunting is currently prohibited in Minnesota.  In Montana, fewer hunting permits are being issued to combat the issue.

It is widely suspected that the chief factor in the disappearance of the moose is climate change caused by global warming; however, a definitive cause has not been established.  One result of climate change is shorter winters, which have allowed tick populations to skyrocket.  Some moose become so ridden with ticks that they develop anemia.  The nightmarish brain worms and liver flukes that plague large mammals prefer the wet environments provided by melting snow.

Moose are simply not built for temperate climates.  With temperatures on the rise, they are forced to expend energy to stay cool, resulting in exhaustion and potentially death.  Also to blame may be unregulated hunting and growing wolf populations.

Whatever the cause, scientists are taking action.  One team in Minnesota has developed a $1.2 million dollar project to save the moose.  When live moose are captured, they are fitted with collar and fed a transmitter in that monitors heartbeat.  This study is so important because the high-fat content of moose make them decompose extremely rapidly.  In order to perform a necropsy, the dead animal must be found within 24 hours.  A team is on constant standby – ready to go by car, and even sometimes by helicopter.


Trees Running from Global Warming

A recent study has revealed that Amazonian plants are actually migrating to higher elevations to escape the rising temperatures at lower elevations due to climate change.

Tropical biologists Miles Silman and Ken Feeley are the lead scientists of the project monitoring this mass arboreal exodus, dubbed the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group, which has set up 20 one-hectare grids in the jungle of Peru to monitor these plants.  Statistical analysis of these plots revealed the “tree-migration” phenomenon.  The project has shown that younger generations of plants are spaced roughly 8 to 12 vertical feet apart from each previous generation.

If you think this seems like a lot of vertical feet, you’d be right, but these plants must continue to move to higher elevations if they are to survive climate change. And unfortunately, it appears that some are not moving fast enough.  To reach the elevations at which temperatures are optimal, the plants would need to be moving 20 vertical feet per year.  Biologists predict that a 7 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature (which is projected to occur before 2100) will cause the extinction of 50% of tropical species.  The implications of this are grave, as we depend on rainforests to absorb greenhouse gases and recycle fresh water.  Without these vital ecosystem services, global warming will accelerate.

This issue requires far more attention and funding than it has been getting.  Rain forests in countries like Ecuador and Indonesia are extremely natural resource rich.  It is for this reason that subsidies must be provided to countries so that they will protect the forests rather than exploit them for resources.


Amazon Rain Forest

Pangolins at Risk

The small, often-overlooked pangolin is being seriously threatened by the illegal trade of both its meat and scales.  Unfortunately, business at the black market is booming.  Pangolin meat has become somewhat of a status symbol of the wealthy in China and Vietnam and the scales are widely used in East-Asian traditional medicines.

Pangolins are mammals, though they have scales, and are found in the tropical regions of Africa and Asia.  When frightened, pangolins curl up and may emit a foul-smelling acid similar to that of a skunk.  These animals are often referred to as armored anteaters because of their extremely long and extendable tongues which they use to feast on ants deep inside anthills.  Their nocturnal hours and shy habit of nesting high in trees do not get them much attention.  This is changing, however, as all eight species are subject to the growing threat of poachers.

Most recently, smugglers have been apprehended in France at the Charles de Gaulle airport, carrying 110 pounds of scales worth $100,000 on their way to Vietnam.  In Vietnam, 6.2 tons of frozen pangolin cargo was pulled from an incoming ship from Indonesia.

One reason that the problem of pangolin poaching is so serious is because captive breeding is very difficult and has not yet been successful.  This means that, should the wild populations reach dangerous lows, or become wiped out entirely, there will be no undoing the damage.  Even if captive breeding programs were developed, the infrequent birthrate of pangolins would not be enough to replace the pangolins in the wild at the rate they are being killed.

Conservationist Lisa Hywood rehabilitates pangolins at her facility in Harare, Zimbabwe for eventual release into the wild. Hywood has a particular fondness for one pangolin she has been raising for 18 months, named Chaminuka, who greets her when she comes home.

It is clear that these are remarkable animals.  The only question remaining is whether we will take the initiative to save them.