Despite the doom and gloom promoted by traditional media, there is a lot to give thanks for in the Ecology world. The Ecology Global Network takes a look at some of the good stuff that has happened in 2011.
The Animal World
Around the world, in a host of countries, conservationists are rejoicing about the return of species once thought to be extinct, or on the verge of extinction. In Russia, the Amur Leopard is showing strength in its return. There are currently fewer than 50 of these spectacular tigers in the wild and 12 have been captured in a camera trap. According to Sergei Aramilev, Species Program Coordinator at the World Wildlife Fund’s Russia’s Amur Branch, “The results are pointing to a population increase of up to 50 percent within the target group in Kedrovaya Pad and Leopardoviy,” he adds, “and I think we can attribute this to improvements in how our reserves are managed and the long-term efforts that have gone into leopard conservation.”
Recently, Interpol, the international police organization launched a campaign to coordinate the global fight against tiger poaching. Project Predator, which has U.S., British and World Bank funding, is designed to help coordinate efforts of police, customs and wildlife officials in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.
This year, sharks have scored big. Shark finning has been outright banned by numerous countries and the EU recently presented draft resolution to forbid shark finning by any vessel in EU waters and by any EU-flagged vessels in any country. Europe has the second largest global shark catch, 110,000 tons, after India. Of that, Spain, France, Portugal and Britain account for more than 90 percent of EU shark and ray catches. This year countries, states and individual companies are making shark fin soup illegal. California recently passed legislation banning shark fins in the state and even in Asia, home of shark fin soup, and where it is considered a delicacy, Peninsula Hotels, a leading Asian hotel chain, has stopped serving the soup. Shark finning is a barbaric practice where the fin is sliced off the live shark, and then the animal is thrown back overboard, still alive, and unable to swim, drowning and sinking to the ocean floor.
In the past three years, Palau, Honduras, the Maldives, the Bahamas, Tokelau and the Marshall islands have all created shark sanctuaries, creating a total of more than 4.7 million square kilometers (1.8 million square miles) of protected ocean. And in Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, urged on by shark conservationists, voted to allow catch-and-release fishing only for tiger sharks, smooth hammerheads, scalloped hammerheads and great hammerheads.
In June, California Academy of Sciences 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition discovered and documented more than 300 new species. These included dozens of new insects and spiders, deep-sea armored corals, ornate sea pens, bizarre new sea urchins and sea stars, a shrimp-eating swell shark, and over 50 colorful new sea slugs. Said Dr. Terrence Gosliner, Dean of Science and Research Collections at the California Academy of Sciences and leader of the expedition, “The Philippines is one of the hottest of the hotspots for diverse and threatened life on Earth. Despite this designation, however, the biodiversity here is still relatively unknown, and we found new species during nearly every dive and hike as we surveyed the country’s reefs, rainforests, and the ocean floor. The species lists and distribution maps that we created during this expedition will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this remarkable biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival.”
Despite new species discoveries, scientists estimate 90 percent of the species on Earth have yet to be discovered.
Around the world, organic farming is growing. In the U.S., a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of ‘local foods,’ whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That’s a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.
Recently, Peru’s Congress announced it overwhelmingly approved a 10-year moratorium on imports of genetically modified organisms in order to safeguard the country’s biodiversity. The measure bars GMOs — including seeds, livestock, and fish — from being imported for cultivation or to be raised locally. And France is the latest EU country reluctant to use genetically-modified crops with President Sarkozy suspending their cultivation.
On the recycling front, the U.S. recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans reached its highest level in a decade, with 58.1 percent of all cans recycled last year—a rate that is more than double that of any other beverage container. Aluminum drink cans are the only recycled objects that cover the cost of their own collection and re-processing.
The skies got friendlier this year when several U.S. and European airlines took off on biofuels. In July, the international certifying body ASTM International, a standards group based in Pennsylvania, formerly known as the American Society for Testing & Materials, approved the commercial use of renewable jet fuels derived from natural plant oils and animal fat, giving the go ahead for hydrotreated renewable jet fuels, or H.R.J. fuels, to be mixed with conventional jet fuel, up to 50 percent.
The development of alternative energy sources is speeding up. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, renewable energy investments will increase over the next eight years and reach $395 billion per year, an increase of $195 billion from 2010. Guy Turner, director of commodity market research at BNEF, said, “These results indicate that last year’s record renewable energy investment was no one-off despite the recent economic gloom. Big winners over the next 20 years will be the emerging renewable energy hubs in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.”
Helping the forward movement, a prominent climate change skeptic, Physicist Richard Muller acknowledged that he no longer doubts that global warming is real and caused by humans, and joined other scientists in urging action to stop it.
Wind power turbines have improved and have the potential to generate twice, or even three times the energy. By the end of the year, it is estimated that wind energy will provide 3 percent of all global energy.
In Morocco, Desertec, a German-led initiative to tap solar energy in the deserts of Northern Africa and the Middle East to meet Europe’s long-term energy needs will start construction of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) next year. This 500-megawatt solar farm will probably be built near Ouarzazate, a city in southern Morocco known as “the door of the desert.” This plant represents just the first step in a proposed network of solar plants and wind farms the coalition hopes will provide 15 percent of Europe’s electricity by 2050.
“Within 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year,” calculated Dr. Gerhard Knies, German Physicist and member of the Supervisory Board of the DESERTEC Foundation.
London Bridge, that icon of everything English is going green. The 800-foot bridge is being upgraded and brought into the 21st century with a completely new LED lighting system, ready for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Cleveland Clinic released its top 10 Innovations in Health Care for 2012. These include a wide array of new approaches including genetically modified mosquitoes. It is estimated that two million people die annually from disease carried by mosquitoes. By introducing sterile male mosquitoes, the overall mosquito populations will be diminished.
For the third year in a row, deaths from AIDS have diminished and almost 50 percent of those infected are receiving antiretroviral drug treatment. “Even in this time of financial crisis and a flattening of resources, we are seeing results,” said Michel Sidibe, director of UNAIDS, headquartered in Geneva. “Many things happened in 2011, and I think we can start thinking about the beginning of the end of the epidemic.”
By giving thanks and showing appreciation to all who strive to make our world a better place, and by doing our own part to take care of our immediate environment, we all benefit.