Legal harvest of marine turtles tops 42,000 each year

A new study has found that 42 countries or territories around the world permit the harvest of marine turtles — and estimates that more than 42,000 turtles are caught each year by these fisheries.The research, carried out by Blue Ventures Conservation and staff at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, is the first to comprehensively review the number of turtles currently taken within the law and assess how this compares to other global threats to the creatures.All seven marine turtle species are currently listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.Frances Humber of Blue Ventures and a PhD student at the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: “This is the first study to comprehensively review the legal take of turtles in recent years, and allows us to assess the relative fisheries threats to this group of species. Despite increased national and international protection of marine turtles, direct legal take remains a major source of mortality. However, it is likely that a fraction of current marine turtle mortality take is legal, with greater threats from illegal fisheries and bycatch.”The first marine turtle harvest legislation was instigated in Bermuda in 1620 to protect “so excellent a fishe” and prohibited taking any turtle “under eighteen inches in the breadth or diameter.”But large scale commercial taking of turtles continued all over the world for centuries, with global capture peaking at over 17,000 tonnes in the late 1960s. For example, during the peak of Mexico’s sea turtle exploitation in 1968 it is estimated that the national take was over 380,000 turtles.Increased conservation awareness at an international scale has led to greater protection of marine turtles, with 178 countries now signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) restricting the international trade of turtle products.The direct take of turtles has continued legally in many regions and countries, often for traditional coastal communities to support themselves or small-scale fisheries supplying local markets with meat, and sometimes shell. The fisheries are an important source of finance, protein and cultural identity, but information can be scarce on their status — despite often being listed as one of the major threats to turtle populations.The researchers collated data for all seven species of marine turtles from over 500 publications and 150 in-country experts.They estimate that currently more than 42,000 marine turtles are caught each year legally, of which over 80% are green turtles. Legal fisheries are concentrated in the wider Caribbean region, including several of the UKs Overseas Territories, and the Indo-Pacific region, with Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua and Australia together accounting for almost three quarters of the total.The data indicates that since the 1980s more than 2 million turtles have been caught, although current levels are less than 60% of those in the 1980s.Bycatch — the unwanted fish and other marine creatures trapped by commercial fishing nets during fishing for a different species — is thought to be a far higher cause of death for marine turtles, likely running into hundreds of thousands each year.Illegal fishing also continues to be a major cause of mortality, with the researchers estimating a minimum of 65,000 turtles taken from Mexico alone since the year 2000. The scale of global illegal capture is likely to be severely underreported due to the difficulties collecting information on such an activity.Dr Annette Broderick, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, added: “We were surprised to find that there are 42 countries with no legislation in place that prohibits the harvest of marine turtles, although for many of these countries these harvests provide important sources of protein or income. It is however important to ensure that these fisheries are operating at a sustainable level.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Arctic biodiversity under serious threat from climate change

Unique and irreplaceable Arctic wildlife and landscapes are crucially at risk due to global warming caused by human activities according to the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA), a new report prepared by 253 scientists from 15 countries under the auspices of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council.”An entire bio-climatic zone, the high Arctic, may disappear. Polar bears and the other highly adapted organisms cannot move further north, so they may go extinct. We risk losing several species forever,” says Hans Meltofte of Aarhus University, chief scientist of the report.From the iconic polar bear and elusive narwhal to the tiny Arctic flowers and lichens that paint the tundra in the summer months, the Arctic is home to a diversity of highly adapted animal, plant, fungal and microbial species. All told, there are more than 21,000 species.Maintaining biodiversity in the Arctic is important for many reasons. For Arctic peoples, biodiversity is a vital part of their material and spiritual existence. Arctic fisheries and tourism have global importance and represent immense economic value. Millions of Arctic birds and mammals that migrate and connect the Arctic to virtually all parts of the globe are also at risk from climate change in the Arctic as well as from development and hunting in temperate and tropical areas. Marine and terrestrial ecosystems such as vast areas of lowland tundra, wetlands, mountains, extensive shallow ocean shelves, millennia-old ice shelves and huge seabird cliffs are characteristic to the Arctic. These are now at stake, according to the report.”Climate change is by far the worst threat to Arctic biodiversity. Temperatures are expected to increase more in the Arctic compared to the global average, resulting in severe disruptions to Arctic biodiversity some of which are already visible,” warns Meltofte.A planetary increase of 2 C, the worldwide agreed upon acceptable limit of warming, is projected to result in vastly more heating in the Arctic with anticipated temperature increases of 2.8-7.8 C this century. …

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New primate species native of Madagascar, Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur, discovered

July 29, 2013 — The island of Madagascar harbors a unique biodiversity that evolved due to its long-lasting isolation from other land masses. Numerous plant and animal species are found solely on Madagascar. Lemurs, a subgroup of primates, are among the most prominent representatives of the island’s unique fauna. They are found almost exclusively on Madagascar. The only exceptions are two species of the genus Eulemur that also live on the Comoros Islands, where they probably have been introduced by humans.Thanks to extensive field research over the past decades, numerous previously unknown lemur species have been discovered. Dwarf lemurs in turn received relatively little attention to date and the diversity within this genus is still not well known. Researchers of the universities of Mainz and Antananarivo have investigated lemur populations in southern Madagascar. Based on fieldwork and laboratory analyses, they now identified a previously unknown species of dwarf lemur. The findings of the research project have recently been published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.”Together with Malagasy scientists, we have been studying the diversity of lemurs for several years now,” said Dr. Andreas Hapke of the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). …

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Pareiasaur: Bumpy beast was a desert dweller

June 24, 2013 — During the Permian era, Earth was dominated by a single supercontinent called Pangea — “All-Earth.” Animal and plant life dispersed broadly across this land, as documented by identical fossil species found on multiple modern continents. But a new study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology supports the idea that there was an isolated desert in the middle of Pangea with a fauna all its own.Roaming this desert in what is now northern Niger was a very distinctive creature known as a pareiasaur. Pareiasaurs were large, herbivorous reptiles that were common across Pangea during the Middle and Late Permian, about 266-252 million years ago. “Imagine a cow-sized, plant-eating reptile with a knobby skull and bony armor down its back,” said lead author Linda Tsuji. The newly discovered fossils belong to the aptly-named genus Bunostegos, which means “knobby [skull] roof.”Most pareiasaurs had bony knobs on their skulls, but Bunostegos sported the largest, most bulbous ones ever discovered. In life, these were probably skin-covered horns like those on the heads of modern giraffes. Although at first blush these features seem to suggest that Bunostegos was an evolutionarily advanced pareiasaur, it also had many primitive characteristics. Tsuji’s analysis showed that Bunostegos was actually more closely related to older and more primitive pareiasaurs, leading to two conclusions: first, that its knobby noggin was the result of convergent evolution, and second, that its genealogical lineage had been isolated for millions of years.So how do you isolate a population of cow-sized reptiles? Though there were no fences in the Permian, climatic conditions conspired to corral Bunostegos — along with several other reptiles, amphibians, and plants — and keep them constrained to the central area of the supercontinent. “Our work supports the theory that central Pangea was climatically isolated, allowing a unique relict fauna to persist into the Late Permian,” said Christian Sidor, another author of the paper. …

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