On 18 February, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report highlighting the three major emergencies that are currently challenging the entire planet— climate, biodiversity, and pollution. “Making peace with nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies” is based on evidence from global environmental assessments. “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations in the report foreword.
A guest post by Julie P. Avery, Nicole Misarti, Todd M. O’Hara, and Lorrie D. Rea
Do you like fish? Have you heard warnings from the FDA about consuming predatory fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark due to high mercury? Fish are a healthy food and an excellent source of lean protein, healthy omega-3 fats, vitamin D, iron, selenium, zinc, and iodine. Fish provide all these nutrients, which are essential for human and animal health. Marine mammals in Alaska, like Steller sea lions and northern fur seals, thrive on a diverse fish diet. But what about the mercury? Since we eat some of the same fish as seals and sea lions, we can study them to understand how mercury might affect humans.
Coastal and Arctic communities are especially vulnerable to the effects of mercury contamination due to their dependence on fish and marine resources for food and sociocultural needs. According to the World Health Organization, mercury is one of the top 10 contaminants of concern for human health.
In 2009, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly acknowledged that the Earth and its ecosystems are our common home and adopted its first resolution on “Harmony with Nature.” It recognized that while Nature has been treated as a commodity that exists largely for the benefit of people, it is now necessary to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations. Since then, the UN General Assembly has adopted eleven resolutions on Harmony with Nature.
Since COVID-19 started spreading worldwide during the first months of this year, we’ve heard intriguing stories and watched fascinating videos of wildlife emerging in city streets emptied by lockdown measures, even in metropolitan areas. The “great pause” has brought about unexpected effects. “Peacocks stroll the streets of Ronda, Spain; a gang of goats wander around a seaside town in north Wales; a puma climbs down from the Andes Mountains into Santiago, Chile; and coyotes trot around San Francisco.” Continue reading →
The following post previews the research that will be presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting, held virtually as SciCon (3–7 May 2020).
A guest post by Verena Sesin, Steering Committee member of the SETAC Global Plants Interest Group
From our backyards, to parks, nature areas, and agriculture – plants surround us! We often forget that plants not only look pretty, but they are also vital for our daily lives. Plants are key parts of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. In rivers, wetlands, grasslands, forests, agricultural fields, and various other habitats, plants provide shelter and food for many animals, from tiny microbes and invertebrates, to large mammals – including us humans. And, don’t forget, plants use the light energy from the sun to produce macromolecules and oxygen – a very special skill that supports all life on our planet. Continue reading →
Locusts—the oldest migratory pests in the world—are decimating crops and threatening food security in East Africa. Unlike ordinary grasshoppers, these pests gregarize and migrate over long distances. The most devastating of all locust species is the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), which is currently swarming at extraordinary levels. According to the latest update (5 March 2020) provided by Locust Watch, “The situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa, specifically Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season.” Continue reading →
With their sapphire-tinted claws, their olive green shell, and their paddle-shaped rear swimming legs, blue crabs are easily recognizable. They’re famous not only for their looks, but also for their telltale scientific name (Callinectes sapidus), which translates roughly to “savory beautiful swimmer.” Indeed, they’re prized for their tender meat and sweet, delicate flavor and are, not surprisingly, the most heavily harvested crustaceans in the geographical areas in which they live. They’re found in brackish coastal lagoons and estuaries from Nova Scotia, through the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Uruguay. Notably, they’re considered the Chesapeake Bay’s signature crustaceans. Continue reading →
Overexploitation—the unsustainable use of natural resources—is one of the greatest pressures that human populations force upon ecosystems worldwide. Overfishing, a type of overexploitation based on “catching too much fish,” contributes to the well-established decline of fish stocks.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), globally, the fraction of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels has exhibited a decreasing trend, from 90.0 percent in 1974 to 66.9 percent in 2015. Further compounding this, the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 33.1 percent in 2015, with the largest increases in the late 1970s and 1980s, and a slight decline in 1996. However, a study published in 2016 shows that we catch much more fish than estimated by the FAO. Daniel Pauly, lead author of the study, told The Guardian: “Our results differ very strongly from those of the FAO. Our results indicate that the decline is very strong and is not due to countries fishing less. It is due to countries having fished too much and having exhausted one fishery after another.” Continue reading →
What’s in soil? Water, air, sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. What’s in organic matter? Humus, earthworms, insects, bacteria and, we just learned, giant viruses. As their name implies, these viruses are big—their dimensions and genome sizes are comparable to those of bacteria. Continue reading →
Can you imagine our beautiful planet becoming a “plastic planet”? In the BBC documentary film Blue Planet II, members of the producing team noted that plastic waste is ubiquitously floating in the sea, including fishing lines, plastic packages, and plastic bottles. Marine organisms can be trapped by plastic waste that is everywhere in the oceans, even in the deepest and most remote parts. So it is essential to carry out intensive studies of plastic waste. Large plastics can either be physically or chemically broken into fragments after having been in the water a long time, traveling long distances. Such fragments, coupled with ones that were released into seas as fine plastic particles (smaller than 5 mm), are collectively called microplastics.
Surface water trawling for floating microplastic collection on the Pearl River estuary in China. Inset pictures are pieces of microplastic (fragments, pellets, and lines) from the trawl. Credit: Lei Mai.