Category Archives: Barrier Reef

First Mammal Made Extinct by Manmade Climate Change

YWQ4NzExMzNjNyMvbExMbWZqTEg5NUxOckZBUFdTaldMTDE1c1prPS8weDM6OTAweDQ0OC85MDB4NDQ2L2ZpbHRlcnM6cXVhbGl0eSg3MCkvaHR0cDovL3MzLmFtYXpvbmF3cy5jb20vcG9saWN5bWljLWltYWdlcy92d3JhZ2FsZ2psbndwcDRmY29zMGN5cDZwb2FlZ2d6dmRmdHRyN29ocSource: Queensland Government

Queensland, Australia environmental researchers reported that the Bramble Cay melomys, a rodent species found on a small island in the eastern Torres Strait, appears to have been completely eradicated from its only known habitat. Also called the mosaic-tailed rat, this tiny creature marks the first mammal that has disappeared due to human-caused climate change, though experts warn it will likely be the first of many: a 2015 report noted that ⅙ of the world’s species are in danger of climate change-based extinction.

This melomys was the only mammal species native to the Great Barrier Reef, and in 1845 European sailors first noticed the rats living in high density around Bramble Cay, a small coral cay on Queensland’s north coast. The island is a significant wildlife hotspot, and remains the most important breeding ground for green turtles and several seabirds within the Torres Strait.

In 1978 the melomys population was estimated at several hundred, though they were last seen in 2009, leading to an extensive 2014 search for the creature. Since then, a report led by Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, in partnership with the University of Queensland, has recommended the species be labelled extinct.

As part of their search, researchers laid 150 traps on the island over six nights, and thoroughly examined the vegetation they typically inhabit for signs of life. After no evidence that any Bramble Cay melomys’ remained, the report’s authors concluded that extensive flooding due to rising sea levels was the “root cause” of the extinction, killing many animals and destroying 97% of their habitat from 2004 to 2014. Around the Torres Strait, sea levels have risen at twice the global average between 1993 and 2014. “For low-lying islands like Bramble Cay, the destructive effects of extreme water levels resulting from severe meteorological events are compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise…Significantly, this probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change,” the authors noted.

The Queensland government website suggests that attempts to restore the population are futile. “Because the Bramble Cay melomys is now confirmed to have been lost from Bramble Cay, no recovery actions for this population can be implemented,” it says. However, the report’s authors hold out hope that there might be an undiscovered population of the creatures in Papua New Guinea. They posit that several melomys may have initially arrived at Bramble Cay by floating over on debris from the Fly River region of New Guinea. Thus, the authors recommend surveying Papua New Guinea to see if the rodents or their close relatives could be living there.

Ecologist John White of Australia’s Deakin University said this extinction marks the beginning of a long battle for wildlife conservationists: “I am of absolutely no doubt we will lose species due to the increasing pressures being exerted by climate change,” he said. “Species restricted to small, low lying islands, or those with very tight environmental requirements are likely to be the first to go…Certainly, extinction and climatic change has gone hand in hand throughout the history of the world,” he said. “So, if this is one of the first, it is more than likely not going to be the last.”

3d653a26-0746-4ed6-8347-abc2db35753e-1920-1080Source: CAMERON DEJONG/FLICKR/CC2.0

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Are Animal-Friendly Films Actually Harming Our Animals?

The long awaited sequel to Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo is finally here, but many are questioning whether Finding Dory will pose the same threat to exotic fish as happened after the release of Finding Nemo.

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Finding Nemo, released in 2003, followed the story of a young fish named Nemo who was captured by divers and separated from his Dad. The mega-popular film’s main message focused on the danger and cruelty of keeping animals in captivity and separating them from their natural habitats. Ironically, that message did not reach many viewers who were so fascinated by the beauty and color of the clownfish that they wanted a “Nemo” of their own for their home aquarium. The movie even created the memorable line “fish are friends, not food.” Pet and aquarium stores everywhere saw the sale of exotic fish, especially the clownfish, skyrocket following the popularity of the movie. Sales grew an estimated 40% as a result of the film, and clownfish became the fifth most important species into the United States.

Many other animal-friendly films, including The Wild Thornberrys and Free Willy emphasize important lessons about the cruelty of captivity and harm of keeping animals in small, enclosed tanks. However, somehow these messages are getting lost. Just like with the sale of clownfish following Finding Nemo, there was an increase in sales at parks like SeaWorld that held captive Killer Whales, and an increase in popularity of having monkeys as pets.

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So, while it is entertaining and exciting to catch the animal-friendly, heart-warming movie that is Finding Dory, it is also important to keep in mind that these fish are wild animals and they need to be protected. Wild, exotic fish like the clowfish and the blue tang fish are not meant to be aquarium fish. The increasing demand for these fish is even starting to affect their role in their natural environments. The capturing of blue tang fish is even more dangerous than clownfish because blue tangs cannot be bred in captivity. This means capturing these fish could completely eliminate their role in the environment, and have an extreme threat to their population size.    

As a precaution to this threat, Disney has worked with animal-rights groups, pet stores such as PetSmart and Petco, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to advise people on home aquariums in hopes of conserving blue tangs.

Source: Lang, Brent. “Finding Dory Could Lead to Dangerous Demand for Blue Tangs as Pets.” June 22, 2016.

Bardroff, Jenna. “ Why Animal-Friendly Fiction Films Might Not Be Friendly to Real Animals.” October 9, 2014. 

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NO Oil Exploration in Belize Barrier Reef

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The Belize government has approved a policy that will legally ban offshore exploration in all seven areas that make up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage area. The decision will effectively exclude the entire World Heritage area from any future oil exploration and make the site consistent with the World Heritage Committee’s position that oil exploration is incompatible with World Heritage status.

The decision is a major first step forward in the government’s efforts to remove Belize Barrier Reef from the List of World Heritage in Danger. Following an IUCN-WHC mission to Belize last January, the government of Belize agreed on an ambitious 3-year roadmap that sets out a Desired State of Conservation for removal of the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger. A permanent ban on oil in the World Heritage area and its surrounding zones with a functional ecological connection to the property is anticipated by 31 January 2016.

_Belize Barrier Reef_

The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef system in the world. In 2009, the site was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of concerns on the sale, lease and development of mangrove islands and the absence of a solid regulatory framework that can ensure the conservation of its exceptional values. In 2010, the World Heritage Committee expressed serious concern about the potential for oil developments within and immediately adjacent to the iconic World Heritage site.

The World Heritage Committee has taken a very clear position that oil and mining exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status. In recent months, a growing number of firms in the extractive sector recognize their shared responsibility in conserving the worlds’s most iconic places and subscribe to a no-go commitment in World Heritage sites.

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
& Biodiversity Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
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Christopher@WCFF.org
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Twitter: @CJGERVAIS
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