New World Rewilding

Mexican gray wolves have been reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico over the last two decades. JIM CLARK / U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

We have been posting about rewilding for nearly a decade, and it sees fair to say that the idea has developed traction worldwide:

T0GFFN Bison or Bufalo within prairie and pasture in protected natural area. Rancho el Uno, a space dedicated to the conservation of this species in Janos, Chihuahua. This fishery was reintroduced by the organization The Nature Conservancy, TNC. Janos Biosphere Reserve
  (© Photo: LuisGutierrez / NortePhoto.com

Bringing Back the Beasts: Global Rewilding Plans Take Shape

With a growing number of studies demonstrating the importance of large mammals to healthy ecosystems, scientists are proposing concrete plans to reintroduce these animals to the wild. The return of just 20 species to native habitats, they say, could be a boon to biodiversity.

A jaguar guards its prey, a white-lipped peccary, in Goiás, Brazil. OCTAVIO CAMPOS SALLES / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

For thousands of years, bison herds thundered freely throughout the Chihuahuan Desert on both sides of what is now the U.S.-Mexico border. In November 2009, after three frantic months of chasing down the required permits, Rurik List and Nélida Barajas watched as 23 bison from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota arrived by tractor-trailer at the Santa Teresa international cattle crossing in southeastern New Mexico.

The animals, 20 females and three males, galloped through the dusty stockyards, across the border, and into the state of Chihuahua. Continue reading

Wetland Treasury

The U.S. once held a wealth of wetness, but the country’s treasury has shrivelled. Illustration by Carson Ellis

The word swamp does not have a pleasant ring to it. The thing itself, though, is something much more than pleasant. Essential to our future, Annie Proulx clarifies in a lovely manner, swamps should be treated with greater care:

Swamps Can Protect Against Climate Change,

If We Only Let Them
Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we’ve drained much of this land. Can we learn to love our swamps?

It can be hell finding one’s way across an extensive boggy moor—the partially dry, rough ground and the absence of any landmarks let the eye rove helplessly into the monotype distance. Continue reading

Turtles & Tortoises & Negative Senescence

A giant Galápagos tortoise, only as old as it feels. Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

When I learn a new word–even if it is a word I cannot picture using in conversation but it represents a concept that is interesting and surprising, I consider that a good day. Jack Tamisiea, thanks for the science reporting here, and especially for the word senescence:

Tortoises and turtles don’t just live for a long time — they barely age while they live.

The black marsh turtles displayed negative rates of senescence, meaning their mortality risk decreased as they aged. iStock/Getty Images

For mammals like humans, aging is inevitable. No matter how many vitamins we take, skin sags, bones soften and joints stiffen over time. However, turtles and tortoises age more gracefully. Despite their wrinkled skin and toothless gums, species like Galápagos giant tortoises seem unscathed by the ravages of aging. Some show few signs of slowing down as they plod into their 100s.

To determine what drives these ageless wonders, two groups of researchers examined turtles, tortoises and their ectothermic, or coldblooded, brethren in a pair of studies published Thursday in the journal Science. Continue reading

Southern Cone Rewilding

A horse and rider pull a tourist boat through the Iberá marshes

When we have linked to stories about conservation and efforts to rewild in the Southern Cone, it has been a mix of big cats and the efforts of Doug and Kris Tompkins. Our thanks to Patrick Greenfield and the Guardian for taking these themes long form:

El Impenetrable national park, home to thousands of charismatic plants, flowers and animals, including jaguars.

How to rewild a country: the story of Argentina

It began with a philanthropic couple buying a swamp but has become one of the world’s boldest experiments in restoring degraded habitats, bringing wildlife and landscapes back from the brink

Chapter one

The return of the jaguar

It took about three seconds for piranhas to devour part of her left foot, biologist Deborah Abregü recalls, as we sit waiting for pizzas to cook on an open fire in Argentina’s El Impenetrable national park. Continue reading

Ed Yong Explains Umwelt

Sally Deng

Ed Yong’s new book was already on our reading list, but just got notched up in the priority list:

Spectacle floods into my eyes whenever I watch a wildlife documentary. A vortex of small fish is gradually picked off by waves of oceanic predators. Snakes chase after marine iguanas. Giraffes clash at sunset. Continue reading

Lionfish Leather

A lionfish caught off Venezuela, where the authorities organise sport fishing competitions to curb the dangerous proliferation of the invasive species. Photograph: Yuri Cortéz/AFP/Getty

Lionfish came to our attention in a series of posts starting in 2014. That year we came to see that fighting this invasive species would require innovative entrepreneurial conservation methods. We published more posts and series about initiatives in the years since then, but the problem continued to grow. For some reason the stories about initiatives started fading from our attention and then stopped with a post in 2018. Now, 22 posts since the first post and four years since the last one, lionfish are back in our thoughts thanks to Inversa’s innovation:

Lionfish leather. Inversa says it is helping to solve an environmental crisis by using an invasive species that eats lots of other fish but has no predators in much of its range. Photograph: Inversa

Fish leather is here, it’s sustainable – and it’s made from invasive species to boot

An avid diver saw how lionfish have devastated populations of Florida’s native tropical fish and resolved to help solve the problem

Aarav Chavda has been diving off the coast of Florida for years. Each time he became increasingly depressed by the ever-growing void, as colourful species of fish and coral reefs continued to disappear. Continue reading

Good Journalism, Excellent Environmental Coverage

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. A white ibis flies over the Everglades, where many bird species nest each year. Restoration efforts in Florida’s “river of grass” have begun to show signs of progress.

The CS Monitor was the newspaper delivered to our home when I was growing up. Lucky me. These days it still offers good journalism, but is no longer a paper. They made the switch to digital-only in 2008. In earlier years of my monitoring dozens of news sources for this platform it was the source of numerous stories of environmental interest in our pages. But in the last few years, for no particular reason, I failed to monitor their website for stories. And then today, this:

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Birds look like white flecks from the air.

‘River of Grass’: Inside the quest to restore the Everglades

Richard Mertens Special contributor

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Three eggs sit in a nest in the Everglades.

Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands. Continue reading

Pantanal Priorities

The Pantanal wetlands in Brazil.

The Pantanal wetlands in Brazil. MARKUS MAUTHE / GREENPEACE

There is not much that has happened in Brazil in the last few years that I would consider good environmental news.

YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

So one more urgency is at risk of getting lost in all the rest (which may be part of a strategy). But making it easier to extract the extracted from the center of the continent is akin to adding fuel to a very big fire:

A Waterway Project in Brazil Imperils a Vast Tropical Wetland

The Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, has been battered in recent years by agricultural development, drought, and fire. Now, a push to turn the region’s key river into a waterway for soybean-laden barges threatens to alter the natural flows of this iconic ecosystem.

It takes 14 hours for Lourenço Pereira Leite to reach his fishing spot.

He and his brother-in-law chug along in a simple one-engine motorboat, towing their traditional fishing canoe behind them. Continue reading

Friday Feel-good Photos

Scientists named the giant tortoise Fernanda, after the Fernandina Island, a largely unexplored active volcano in the western Galápagos archipelago that she calls home. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/PA

Every now and then it is time for nature photos. First, above, is from a story that surprises, from a place we love:

‘Fantastic giant tortoise’ species thought extinct for 100 years found alive

Identification of Galápagos tortoise celebrated by scientists as a big deal for island’s biodiversity

And then there are photos unconnected to any news stories, scientific or otherwise, submitted for us to enjoy by people from around the world:

A newly hatched green iguana rests on foliage in a terrarium at the Chennai Snake Park in Chennai, India.  Photograph: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images

Two are from India, our home for seven years. Monkey business was a constant theme.

Monkeys eat watermelons during the heatwave in New Delhi, India. Photograph: Rajat Gupta/EPA

Another from a place whose name has lots of meaning for us:

A jellyfish swims off the island of Ithaca, Greece
Photograph: Cor Kuyvenhoven/Ghost Diving/Reuters

See all the other photos here.

Deep Divers & Learning

Thanks to Stephanie Pain, Knowable Magazine and Smithsonian for this:

What Are Scientists Learning About the Deepest Diving Creatures in the Ocean?

Animals-turned-oceanographers are helping biologists find out what they do when they get to the cold, dark depths

Chilean devil rays swim in the Atlantic Ocean near the Azores. Reinhard Dirscherl / ullstein bild via Getty Images

There’s only one word for it: indescribable. “It’s one of those awesome experiences you can’t put into words,” says fish ecologist Simon Thorrold. Thorrold is trying to explain how it feels to dive into the ocean and attach a tag to a whale shark — the most stupendous fish in the sea. “Every single time I do it, I get this huge adrenaline rush,” he says. “That’s partly about the science and the mad race to get the tags fixed. But part of it is just being human and amazed by nature and huge animals.”

Whale sharks are one of a select group of large marine animals that scientists like Thorrold, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, have signed up as ocean-going research assistants. Continue reading

Orchidelirium Anew

Burnt tip orchids. At least 10 vanished from a national nature reserve at Mount Caburn, East Sussex. Photograph: Katewarn Images/Alamy

Susan Orlean brought orchidelirium to our attention in 1999, shining a light on how and why these flowers inspire lots of good, and plenty of bad behavior. Orchids have been abundant in our pages over the years for various reasons, most recently due to a show; today due to criminal enterprise:

Spate of orchid thefts in England puts rare species at risk

Experts believe plants in Sussex and Kent were ‘stolen to order’

Hardy Orchid Society Replying to @HardyOrchidSoc This is what you should have seen. If you have any information that can help in the investigation please contact @kentpolice @BBCNews

A spate of thefts of rare orchids from sites in southern England has concerned scientists, who say endangered species may be at risk.

Orchid experts believe that the plants, from locations including in Sussex and Kent, may have been “stolen to order”.

Conservationists at the Sussex Wildlife Trust were dismayed last week to hear of at least 10 burnt-tip orchids missing from a national nature reserve at Mount Caburn, while in Kent the Hardy Orchid Society reported that 30 late spider orchids had been taken from a site in Folkestone.

Neil Evans, of the Hardy Orchid Society, said: “The theft represents a major loss to the population. They are only found in this country in a few sites in Kent.” Continue reading

What the #@ ϟ ⚛︎!

The first mention of humpback whales in our pages, more than a decade ago, was a very brief reference in a post explaining the tragedy of the commons, a precursor to Seth’s environmental history honors thesis.  One post mentions humpback whales in Monterey Bay but we missed the video above until now. There have been so many posts about these whales, that missing it makes the following book review all the more interesting to read to the end. Of course, since it is a review by Elizabeth Kolbert, about a book by Ed Yong, you will want to read to the end anyway:

The Strange and Secret Ways That Animals Perceive the World

Nonhuman creatures have senses that we’re just beginning to fathom. What would they tell us if we could only understand them?

One evening almost sixty years ago, a Tufts University researcher named Roger Payne was working in his lab when he heard a radio report about a whale that had washed up on a beach nearby. Although it was a cold, wet March night, he decided to drive to the shore. Continue reading

More Māori Ancestral Knowledge Coming Your Way

William Anaru, the biosecurity manager of the local tribe, Te Arawa, at Lake Rotomā. Cornell Tukiri for The New York Times

Pete McKenzie shares more from the place where ancient knowhow is respected:

As a weed choked a New Zealand lake, a tribe found a surprising solution in a centuries-old tool, adding to a pitched debate over how Indigenous knowledge can complement conventional science.

LAKE ROTOMA, New Zealand — A riot of native plant life once covered the shallows of Lake Rotomā, one of the many bodies of water that speckle New Zealand’s upper North Island. At night, mottled green crayfish scuttled from the deep to graze beneath the fronds in such plentiful numbers that the local Māori tribe could gather a meal in a few minutes of wading. Continue reading

Biggest Plant On Earth

The Posidonia australis seagrass meadow in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Photograph: Rachel Austin/UWA

We have posted several times about the world’s largest living thing. Since fungi are a different category of life, that leaves room for something to be classified as the largest living plant. Thanks to Graham Readfearn for this Guardian article pointing out to us what that thing is, and where:

The plant’s spread can be seen in this aerial view of Shark Bay. Photograph: Angela Rossen

Scientists discover ‘biggest plant on Earth’ off Western Australian coast

Genetic testing has determined a single 4,500-year-old seagrass may have spread over 200 sq km of underwater seafloor – about 20,000 football fields

About 4,500 years ago, a single seed – spawned from two different seagrass species – found itself nestled in a favourable spot somewhere in what is now known as Shark Bay, just off Australia’s west coast. Continue reading

Three Cheers For Lawrence MacEwen

We missed this documentary film last year, perhaps because it was not reviewed in any of the news outlets we regularly monitor. But if you click the image to the right you can preview the film for a couple minutes. You will see it is about a man who spent his life protecting what he cared about. Since that is the underlying theme of the nearly 12,000 posts we have shared on this platform since 2011, it is cued up for viewing in our home this evening.  The film came to my attention in The Economist, and the accompanying photograph is unique in the history of obituaries in that publication or elsewhere:

The barefoot laird.

Lawrence MacEwen made a tiny island prosper

As soon as spring arrived, the young Lawrence MacEwen shed his shoes. Barefoot, he ran to school down the only road on Muck, a mile and a half of gravel mixed with grass. Barefoot, he jumped among the fallen basalt stones of the dykes built long ago by kelpers, who had made a living gathering seaweed from the rocks. Barefoot he climbed the craggy western cliffs, hanging on to heather for dear life, and scampered to the top of Beinn Airein, the highest hill, to look out past Eigg and Rum to Knoydart and the Cuillin Hills. Barefoot he would stand for hours on the beach below his house, so mesmerised by the rolling tide that he could not stir until his mother called him in for tea. His feet would sink a little into the white sand, embedding him in the place. Continue reading

Proto-Peat In The Arctic

PHOTOGRAPH: SANNA PIILO

We have posted enough times about the importance of protecting peat, but this is the first we hear the question Carbon-Rich Peat Is Disappearing. But Is It Also Growing? Our thanks to Matt Simon at Wired for this one:

PHOTOGRAPH: SANNA PIILO

Scientists have discovered “proto-peat” forming in the Arctic as the Earth naturally sequesters carbon, but it could take centuries to mature.

THANK PEAT FOR that scotchy flavor of Scotch whisky: The muck forms in Scotland’s bogs, when layer after layer of dead vegetation resists decay and compresses into fuel, which is burned during scotch distillation. But you can also thank peat for helping keep our planet relatively cool, as all that muck—which is particularly common across the Arctic—traps a tremendous amount of carbon that would otherwise heat the atmosphere. Continue reading

The World’s Largest Living Thing

The world’s largest living thing is a stealthy parasite that lives mostly underground and beneath the bark of infected trees in a pale, stringy fungal network. COURTESY MIKE MCWILLIAMS

Thanks to Milo‘s interest in fungi, which we found infectious, we learned years ago what the world’s largest living thing is. We used to feature more stories from Atlas Obscura, but this is the first in a few years:

What the World’s Largest Organism Reveals About Fires and Forest Health

The Humongous Fungus is most visible when it produces the edible and tasty honey mushroom, but the season is brief and doesn’t happen every year. PETER PEARSALL, USFWS/PUBLIC DOMAIN

In Oregon, the Humongous Fungus plays a complex role in an ecosystem reshaped by humans.

UNDER THE BLUE MOUNTAINS OF Oregon lurks something massive and prehistoric. Yet the largest recorded organism on Earth, weighing more than 200 blue whales and dwarfing even Pando, Utah’s famous grove of quaking aspens, is nearly invisible to the untrained eye. It’s a single, genetically identifiable specimen of honey mushroom, or Armillaria ostoyae, that has been growing for thousands of years. Continue reading

Learning To Appreciate Wasps

Wasps are one of the least appreciated creatures on the planet, but we have always suspected they deserve some respect. We just never investigated why that might be the case. So, our thanks to the Guardian for bringing this book to our attention in an article titled Why we should all love wasps:

Wasps have always had a bad press. But Dr Seirian Sumner, who has spent her life studying them, argues they are sophisticated, socially complex and essential to the environment

In The Wasp Woman, a 1959 B-movie directed by Roger Corman, the owner of a failing cosmetics company becomes the test subject for a novel anti-ageing formula manufactured from the royal jelly of wasps. Continue reading

P-22 & Other Cats In The Santa Monicas

Near the location of the future Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a volunteer for the National Wildlife Federation carries a cardboard cutout of a mountain lion known as P-22. Photograph by Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / Shutterstock

When we linked to earlier stories about mountain lions in urban California, P-22 was already the it-cat. And the story below, by Emily Witt, shares some anecdotes about P-22’s less fortunate wider family. But mainly it is about one hopeful initiative that P-22 seems to have unwittingly helped make happen:

An Urban Wildlife Bridge Is Coming to California

The crossing will span Route 101, providing safe passage for mountain lions and other animals hemmed in by the freeways that surround the Santa Monica Mountains.

It was just after midnight on April 21st when the radio collar of P-97, an eighteen-month-old mountain lion, sent its last signal. P-97 had only recently separated from his mother, setting out east in the Santa Monica Mountains in search of territory to call his own. (The “P” stands for puma; the number, 97, marks how many mountain lions the National Park Service had tagged when he received the designation.) Continue reading

Desalination’s Discontents

The commissioner of the panel said: ‘The ocean is under attack … I cannot say in good conscience that this amount of damage is OK.’ Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Desalination, which we celebrated multiple times over the years, might not be all as good we thought it was:

Joy for environmentalists as California blocks bid for $1.4bn desalination plant

Poseidon Water sought to turn seawater into drinking water but activists said plan would devastate ecosystem on Pacific coast

California coastal panel on Thursday rejected a longstanding proposal to build a $1.4bn seawater desalination plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water as the state grapples with persistent drought that is expected to worsen in coming years with climate change. Continue reading