Saturday, 18 November 2017

Trump to reverse ban on elephant trophies from Africa

The Trump administration plans to allow hunters to import trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the United States, reversing a ban put in place by the Obama administration in 2014, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News today.

Even though elephants are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, a provision in the act allows the government to give permits to import these trophies if there is evidence that the hunting actually benefits conservation for that species. The official said they have new information from officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia to support reversing the ban to allow trophy hunting permits.

"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said in a statement.

This change only applies to elephants in those two countries but questions about using game hunting to generate money for conservation efforts also came up during the controversy after Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe in 2015.

The government has not actually announced this policy change yet but it was reportedly announced at a wildlife forum in South Africa this week, according to Safari Club International, which filed a lawsuit to block the 2014 ban.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

As disasters surge, nations must slash emissions faster, climate experts urge

The Trump administration has formally released a report that details the growing threats of climate change.

With hurricanes, floods and other impacts of climate change becoming increasingly destructive, countries urgently need to step up their ambitions to cut emissions if they are to keep global warming within safe limits, experts said ahead of UN climate talks starting in Germany on Monday.

About 163 countries have submitted plans on how they will contribute to meeting the Paris climate agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
But put together, the plans are likely to lead to a 3 degree temperature rise this century, according to the United Nations.

Out-of-control wildfire tore through parts of California, US, in October.

Nicholas Nuttall, spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the national plans delivered in advance of Paris, "were well known at the time to fall short of the Paris Agreement's long-term goals".

But the agreement also calls for countries to take stock of international progress on climate action and ratchet up the ambition of their national plans accordingly.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

China's recyclers eye looming electric vehicle battery mountain

While electric car makers are technically liable for recycling batteries, in practice they sign deals with suppliers to recycle batteries on their behalf.
After years of dismantling discarded televisions and laptops, a Shanghai recycling plant is readying itself for a new wave of waste: piles of exhausted batteries from the surge of electric vehicles hitting China's streets.

The plant has secured licences and is undergoing upgrades to handle a fast-growing mountain of battery waste, said Li Yingzhe, a manager at the facility, run by the state-owned Shanghai Jinqiao Group.

"We believe there will be so much growth in the number of electric vehicles in the future," he said.
Shanghai Jinqiao will be entering a market that includes Chinese companies like Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium and GEM, whose share prices have risen as they invest in battery recycling facilities of their own. That confidence comes even as companies face considerable hurdles launching battery recycling businesses, including high operating costs.

The growth of China's electric vehicle industry - and the ambitions of recycling companies - is underpinned by a government drive to eventually phase out gasoline-burning cars, part of a broader effort to improve urban air quality and ease a reliance on overseas oil.

Led by companies like BYD and Geely, sales of electric vehicles in China reached 507,000 in 2016, up 53 per cent over the previous year. The government is targeting sales of 2 million a year by 2020 and 7 million five years later, amounting to a fifth of total car production by 2025.

According to the International Energy Agency, China accounted for more than 40 per cent of global electric car sales in 2016, followed by the European Union and the United States. It also overtook the United States as the market with the greatest number of electric vehicles.

Production in China of the lithium batteries that power those cars has also soared. In the first eight months of 2017, Chinese manufacturers produced 6.7 billion batteries, up 51 per cent from the year-earlier period, according to industry ministry data.

All that activity could put China in pole position for dominating the global electric car industry, as well as related businesses like batteries and recycling.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Government considering experimental climate change visa

An experimental visa for people from the Pacific displaced by climate change is to be investigated by the Government.

Climate Change Minister and Greens leader James Shaw said the intention was to work with the Pacific Islands in the coming months and years on an experimental humanitarian visa category for people from the Pacific displaced by rising seas caused by climate change.

At the same time, he did not want to send a message that the Government was giving up on the top priority, which was to "try to prevent catastrophic climate change and therefore have there be no need for people to be displaced", Shaw told Radio NZ.

The goal of New Zealand becoming carbon neutral by 2050 was consistent with the ambitions of the Pacific Islands.

The big question was whether there would be changes to the 2030 target, which the Greens had criticised as inadequate while they were in opposition, Shaw said.
"Of course when you have a new target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, then the existing 2030 target starts to look inconsistent with that. So we are looking at reviewing that next year."

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Climate change predicted to take big toll on Kiwis' mental and physical health

Our changing climate is expected to see some plants release eight-times more pollen by 2100, worsening hayfever symptoms.

Allergies will become more prevalent and their symptoms worse, drinking water will be less reliable, and poisonous pests may find a new home in New Zealand's warmer climate.

These are just a few of the effects climate change is expected to have on human health, according to a newly-released Royal Society report.

Kiwis may have to contend with more intense heat waves and extreme weather events, including flooding and fires, which would take a toll on mental health.

The invasive Australian redback spider has already appeared in Otago. But as our country gets warmer, it may spread to other places.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners said the stresses on children would compare to those growing up under the threat of nuclear war.

Royal Society president Richard Bedford said higher concentrations of CO2, increased temperatures and changes in rainfall were expected to extend growing seasons.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Some New Zealand climate change impacts may already be irreversible, Government report says

Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ environmental reporting looks at the pressures, state and impacts on the environment and tracks change over time. Here are some key findings from Our atmosphere and climate 2017.

Climate change may have already had an irreversible impact on New Zealand's natural systems and the effects are likely to worsen, a new Government report says.

Data showed conclusively that temperatures had risen in New Zealand, which would have an impact on the economy, extreme weather events, biodiversity and health.

The Our Climate and Atmosphere report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand on Thursday, details issues related to climate change and how they impact the country.

The report concluded the effects of a warming climate were already apparent in a range of ways, while our own contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions had increased.

Temperature data showed New Zealand's annual average temperatures had increased 1 degree since 1906, which was likely to increase more quickly under current emissions trends.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

New Zealand glaciers have shrunk by almost 20 cubic kilometres in the last 36 years.
According to the Ministry for the Environment, glacier ice volumes in 1978 were above 50 cubic km.
In 2014, it dropped to slightly more than 35 cubic km.

University of Otago department of geography lecturer in hydrology Sarah Mager said last year that ice loss observed at the famous Tasman Glacier was likely a natural readjustment to climate changes.

Melting ice had formed a terminal lake.

The glacier was losing more ice volume than was being naturally replaced through snowfall and ice accumulation, Mager said.

The terminal lake is now 7 kilometres long and deeper than Lake Pukaki due to the glacier's ice loss, and was expected to grow much larger.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Return of 'ocean chimney' the size of Tasmania puzzles Antarctic scientists

Known as the Weddell Sea or Maud Rise Polynya, the ice-free zone appeared in September and has grown to as large as 80,000 square kilometres, according to the University of Toronto.

Polynyas, defined as a stretch of open water surrounded by ice, are frequently found in the Arctic and Antarctica, usually near the coast. They rarely reach the extent now seen in middle of the pack ice.

"Something has changed" to bring the polynya back, Kent Moore, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, said. "But we are not quite sure what that trigger was," he said.

A much smaller polynya opened up in the same Maud Rise region last year for a couple of weeks. Before that, the previous such event there was in the mid-1970s, with the polynya lasting three years and swelling to as much as five times the current size, Moore said.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Just two baby penguins survive disastrous breeding season from colony of 36,000 in Antarctica

A colony of more than 18,000 pairs of Adelie penguins in Antarctica have suffered a catastrophic breeding season with just two chicks surviving, wildlife experts say.

Scientists say an unusually extensive sea ice late in the summer - despite low ice early in the season - is being blamed as this meant the penguins had to travel further for food causing the chicks to starve.

Conservation group WWF says the devastating breeding season also proves waters off East Antarctica must be protected from fishing fleets which make it harder for penguins to find their key food source, krill.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will meet on Monday to consider a proposal for a new marine protected area for the waters off East Antarctica.
A marine protected area, which would prevent krill fishing, would help to secure a future for the wildlife of East Antarctica, including Adelie and emperor penguins, WWF said.

Adelie penguins are generally faring well in East Antarctica, but declining in the Antarctic peninsula region where climate change is already established, the conservation group said.

But the same colony which failed to breed chicks this year, failed to produce a single chick four years ago from 20,196 adult pairs, with heavy sea ice combining with unusually warm weather and rain followed by a drop in temperature leaving many chicks saturated and freezing to death.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Scientists mapping Greenland have found an ice surprise, but it's not a nice surprise


 Greenland is less parts rock and more parts ice than previously thought.

Greenland, the world's largest island and home to its second largest ice sheet, is a land of ragged cliffs, breathtaking fjords and unimaginable amounts of water on either side of the freezing point.
It has also, until now, been something of a mystery.

Greenland drew some pointed attention during the world wars and the Cold War, thanks to its strategic location.

But it is only today, thanks to rapid climate change, that scientists are beginning to take the full measure of all the earth, rock and ice in a place that's now raising seas by nearly a millimetre every single year.

Two new studies of Greenland, using sophisticated technologies and large scientific teams to pull together and process the data, have now gone further in taking the full measure of the island through that ever-so-basic scientific act: mapping.
Greenland ice melt is already predicted to raise sea levels, so the discovery of more ice is worrying.
The first, a comprehensive seabed mapping project, relying in part on new data from NASA's OMG ("Oceans Melting Greenland") mission, concludes that the Greenland ice sheet is far more exposed to the planet's warming oceans than previously known - and has more ice to give up than, until now, has been recognised.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Cattle behind unexplained surge in methane emissions, US study finds

The study found that for 2011, global emissions were 8.4 per cent higher from enteric fermentation and 36.7 per cent higher from manure management, compared with research by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

When it comes to climate change, we know where the most important warming agent - carbon dioxide - is coming from.

Most of it is coming from the burning of fossil fuels, with some additional contributions from deforestation and other causes.

But the second most potent greenhouse warming agent - the hard-hitting, if short-lived, gas known as methane - presents more of a mystery. There has clearly been an alarming uptick in atmospheric methane in recent years, following a flattening of concentrations from 2000 to around 2007.

Some blamed the fracking industry for increases in atmospheric methane.

But the cause of this particular pattern has been hotly debated, with some blaming the fracked natural gas boom (natural gas is primarily composed of methane), and others pointing to other causes, such as agriculture

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Japan's sea animals floated across Pacific on 'rafts' of plastic waste

Plastic debris in the oceans is accidentally transporting creatures across the globe, scientists have warned.

For the first time in recorded history, researchers have discovered that entire communities of coastal species have crossed thousands of miles of water floating on makeshift rafts.

Between 2012 and 2017, nearly 300 species of marine animals arrived alive in North America from Japan, having travelled on crates and other objects released into the Pacific after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

Although the natural disaster was an extreme case, scientists say it is likely that many non-native species are travelling across thousands of kilometres of water on "ocean rafts" of marine plastic, carried by storm surges.

"I didn't think that most of these coastal organisms could survive at sea for long periods of time," said Greg Ruiz, marine biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. "But in many ways they just haven't had much opportunity in the past. Now, plastic can combine with tsunami and storm events to create that opportunity on a large scale."

John Chapman, a marine scientist at Oregon State University, added: "This has turned out to be one of the biggest, unplanned natural experiments in marine biology, perhaps in history."

The 2011 tsunami swept millions of objects out to sea, from small pieces of plastic to entire fishing boats and even docks. Scientists began finding tsunami debris washing up in Hawaii and western North America in 2012, with living organisms still attached.

They detected 289 live species on debris originating from Japan.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Pole dancing, late-night visits, evading the law: Australian police report encounters with koalas

Public indecency, stalking and fleeing from police - Queensland koalas have some serious questions to answer after several incidents were reported by officers during the past month.

The most serious allegations came on September 10, when police in the Townsville suburb of Stuart in north Queensland allege a koala, which went by the name of Fernando, gave officers a pole dancing display in the middle of a busy road.

Sergeant Julie Cooke wrote in an online account of the incident that officers were "concerned for the koala's safety" but the animal was "very stubborn and reluctant to move on".

"But when police pumped the new Taylor Swift song through the radio he showed his distaste and ditched the pole dancing lesson," Sergeant Cooke wrote.

Kenny the koala came off second-best after being clipped by a car.

In Brisbane, police were also forced to pursue a koala on August 21, after it fled from officers into thick bushland.

According to Sergeant Darnielle Fioriti, Holland Park officers were hunting "a different kind of offender" off Logan Road in Mount Gravatt when they saw a koala jaywalking in front of them.

Police will allege the animal showed a "blatant disregard for authority" before it was clipped by a car and staggered off into nearby bushland.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A new species of spider has been found in Australia

A new species of spider has been found in Australia. Just what the world needs.

The discovery was made by Helen Ranson during a spider spotting nature expedition on the New South Wales South Coast last year.

Canberra's spider man Stuart Harris led the BioBlitz expedition in the Murrah Flora Reserve for a group who were interested in finding spiders.

Stuart Harris, Julie Morgan, Helen Ransom and Diane Deans on the BioBlitz expedition.
Ranson was looking through a leaf litter when she spotted a spider.

"She said to me 'oh Stuart, what's this?' and I looked at it and was like 'oh no, that's a new species', I just knew straight away," Harris said.

"We were all over the moon jumping around, you can imagine how they felt.

"They just went out for a day in the bush to maybe find some pretty spiders and then they found a new species."

The spider, which on Wednesday was named Maratus sapphirus, was sent to Dr Jurgen Otto, a peacock spider expert who confirmed Harris' suspicions.

Harris said the name Maratus sapphirus came from his suggestion of sapphire.

"Maratus which means peacock spider is the name that's given to any spider in that genus [type]," he said.

"Because it was found on the Sapphire coast - the South Coast of NSW, I suggested the name be something to do with sapphire, also because of its colour."

Harris said the chances of finding a new species as a citizen scientist was slim, saying the find was "significant" not only for the finders but to experts.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Western Australia to ban plastic bags from July 2018

Up to 6 billion bags a year go into landfill in Western Australia, after being used for 12 minutes.
From July 1, 2018, single-use plastic bags will be banned in Western Australia, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson announced on Tuesday.

 Dawson told Radio 6PR the state-wide ban would end any uncertainty caused to retailers in some local councils that had already decided to ban plastic bag use within their districts.

"Over the past few months we've seen a range of local governments act to ban plastic bags in their locality, we've also seen Coles and Woolworths indicate they're going to ban plastic bags," he said.

"Given there's been a bit of concern amongst retailers - they have shops in one local government where they're going to be banned but they're not going to be banned in the next suburb - we've decided the best thing to do is actually ban them across the state.

"We wanted to give communities certainty now that the ban will happen, local government don't need to act, they can wait for the state to implement the ban next year."

The ban will apply to light-weight single use bags, but not sturdier bags typically used at retail outlets.

"The evidence shows that [light-weight] bags last an average of 12 minutes, those stronger bags you get in Myers and other places, they last a lot longer and people can and tend to reuse those," Dawson said.  \
"[We also won't be banning] barrier bags that you get your hams and your meats in," Dawson said.

The state-wide ban will bring Western Australia into line with South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory which already have plastic bag bans in place.

Queensland has also vowed to ban the bag from July 1, 2018.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Holding back the rising tide, naturally

Thousands of homes and billions of dollars of public assets are at risk from rising sea levels and we should be strengthening our natural defences now, experts say.

A leaked government draft report on Coastal Hazards and Climate Change concluded that $19 billion worth of buildings, 43,000 homes, and 2000 kilometres could be inundated by rising sea levels.

The greater Wellington region faces a double-whammy of rising seas and sinking land, meaning it will have the highest relative rise in New Zealand, but planners said they were "ahead of the game" compared with other areas. 

Greater Wellington Regional Council natural hazards analyst Dr Iain Dawe said  not enough was being done nationally to prepare for the coastal impacts of climate change, but Wellington was the first to have a natural hazards plan in place.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Funding for underwater vehicle helps unlock the secrets of sponges

Sponges so deep not even divers can reach them may soon have a name, thanks to the use of an underwater drone.

A team from Victoria University of Wellington will be using a state-of-the-art underwater vehicle to study the sponge gardens off the coast of North Taranaki in the Parininihi Marine Reserve.

With most sponges yet to be identified and named, the study will give scientists a chance to get closer to the small animals than they have in the past.

The study is the work of Ben Harris, a student from the United Kingdom who is investigating how the reefs function compared with shallow water sponge groups elsewhere and deeper water sponge groups in the Taranaki region.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Raglan leading the way to ban plastic bags

Co-chair of Raglan Chamber of Commerce Morgan Morris, left, project manager of Plastic Bag Free Raglan June Penn, and Rakaipaka Puriri, 18 months, celebrating Four Square Raglan going plastic-bag free.

The little town of Raglan is leading the fight against plastic bags.

On Friday, the Waikato beach town's Four Square banned plastic bags, encouraging people to provide their own reusable bags or use the store's compostable​ bags.

The compostable​ bags are made from vegetable starch that will fully break down in the natural environment.
Green MP Denise Roche said New Zealand is far behind other countries in banning single-use plastic bags, and it's up to the Government to put legislation in place.

"If they land on the streets, oceans, they break down to plant [matter], causing no harm to wildlife or the food chain," Plastic Bag Free Raglan project manager June Penn said.

The initiative is a joint project with the community board, businesses, kerbside recycler Xtreme Zero Waste and Raglan Chamber of Commerce.

Plastic is a multigenerational issue with huge implications, Penn said.

A plastic bag is a lightweight toxic material made from fossil fuels that is unable to fully break down.
We use in excess of 1.6 billion plastic bags nationally in New Zealand, Penn said.

"It is the number one consumable item in the world and has an average life of 12 minutes."

Friday, 1 September 2017

West Coast conservation groups share ideas in effort to restore birds' dawn chorus

A plan to create a predator-free zone along a stretch of the West Coast may ensure people can hear birds sing at dawn again.

Forest and Bird and local West Coast conservation and animal protection groups are trying to restore the habitat of the great spotted kiwi, kea, South Island kaka, Westland petrel and other native species along the Coast Rd (State Highway 6) from Fox River to Rapahoe, north of Greymouth, and along the Paparoa Range.

West Coast Forest and Bird chairwoman Kathy Gilbert said the groups wanted to experience a full "dawn chorus" again.

The Westland petrels' breeding location was confined to an 8-kilometre stretch of coastal forest in the foothills of the Paparoa Range near Punakaiki. The Department of Conservation estimated there were about 4000 breeding pairs at the site each year.

About 15,000 great spotted kiwi were left in New Zealand, with about 30 per cent living in the Paparoa Range. Dogs and stoats were a major threat to their population.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Sea Shepherd permanently abandons Antarctic whaling face-off over Japanese military fears

Activist group Sea Shepherd is abandoning its annual face-off with Japanese whaling ships in Antarctic waters, saying it has little chance of success against Japan's economic and military might.

The end of the 12-year campaign means Japan will continue its so-called "scientific" whaling programme without the group trying to physically prevent the annual slaughter, which takes place despite loud international protest.

Japan reportedly intends to take about 4000 whales over the next 12 years in the name of "research", and ultimately plans to resume commercial whaling.

A minke whale is loaded on to the Japanese whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru.

In a statement, Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson said Japan had doubled its hunting grounds in the Southern Ocean and reduced its annual whale-kill quota to 333, giving its fleet "more time and more area to kill".

He said Japan was also using "military" tactics in the form of real-time satellite surveillance to track Sea Shepherd ship movements, "and if they know where our ships are at any given moment, they can easily avoid us … we cannot compete with their military grade technology".

"The decision we have had to face is: do we spend our limited resources on another campaign to the Southern Ocean that will have little chance of a successful intervention or do we regroup with different strategies and tactics?

"If something is not working the only recourse is to look for a better plan," he wrote.

Watson said Japanese whalers were backed by resources and subsidies from their government, while Sea Shepherd was "limited in resources and we have hostile governments against us in Australia, New Zealand and the United States."

Watson pointed to Australia's refusal to allow the group charitable tax-deduction status, hampering its ability to raise funds.

He said the group was "not abandoning the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary ... we need to cultivate the resources, the tactics and the ability to significantly shut down the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese whaling fleet".

Watson said Sea Shepherd was "in the Southern Ocean doing what the Australian government has the responsibility to do but has refused to do". He called on the Turnbull government to uphold international and Australian law in relation to whaling.