Keystone XL: Resisting Against a Fossil Fuelled Future

I had a very difficult decision to make when deciding what to write about this week. There are a number of exciting developments, accompanied by a few worrying setbacks, that have occurred. Most notably there are the developments proposed by President Trump. Not only has the President signed documents that will pressurise federal agencies to support the construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, but he has also allegedly ordered the prevention of the US Environment Agency from providing updates ‘on social media or to reporters’. Without a shadow of a doubt many of us environmentalists were worried about the consequences for the planet caused by Trump’s Presidency, and if it wasn’t before to some, it is now clear to all that the environment is not at the top of his priority list. At the moment, it may seem like all of the environmental progress that had been made over the past decade, particularly with regards to climate change and the Paris Agreement, may have been in vain.

For those of you who don’t know, the Keystone XL Pipeline is a 1,179 mile proposed pipeline running from the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada to Steele City in Nebraska. From this point it will adjoin to an existing pipeline that runs all the way to Texas, thus providing an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil every day. It is a highly controversial plan, with a complicated network of players from all walks of life affected. Plans for Keystone XL have been around for a while. Many of you may have studied it briefly for A Level Geography, and therefore are aware of the catastrophic effects this plan will have not only on the immediate landscape, but also for a vast array of people, such as native First Nation tribes people.

It seems to me as though not only would the decision to grant permission for the Keystone XL Pipeline be immediately detrimental, it would also be seen as a symbol of an unsustainable future for the rest of the world. The United States of America is a superpower and in a position of undeniable global influence. They should be pioneers for innovative, sustainable technologies and alternative green energies to steer away from our global dependency on fossil fuels. The creation of the Keystone XL Pipeline will not only promote the message of fossil fuels, but it will also increase consumption from the Alberta Tar Sands tenfold. This is a short-term plan, jeopardising the future of our planet in the name of economic profits.

According to the Institute of 21st Century Energy, the main pros of the Keystone XL Pipeline will be the increase in U.S. Energy Security and improved U.S. Economic Growth. The only plus-side to all of this truly would be the increased production of fossil fuels – if you can even see that as a plus-side. A recent report in The Guardian stated that as little as 35 permanent jobs will be created as result of the construction. This isn’t even going to be a source of viable long-term employment. Unfortunately, it seems that being pollution pioneers in the name of economic growth is the route Trump has decided to take for the United States.

After all of the hard-fought environmental progress that occurred during Obama’s presidency, in a matter of days, Trump has shattered the hopes of many global citizens. It is difficult to see what hope there is campaigning for resistance against a President who appears to not care about the majority. But if we don’t have anything, at least we do have hope. In the interest of climate change and the global community, it is paramount that the war against increased fossil fuel consumption is won. We are now at a tipping point, where our impact on the planet could become irreversible, leading to catastrophic implications for future generations.

“If you really think the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money” – Dr. Guy McPherson

 

Adélie to Waitaha: Why you should care about World Penguin Day

Today marks an important day in highlighting the issues facing some of the natural world’s most charismatic creatures. It’s safe to say that penguins are adored by both young and old across the globe. These dopey and clumsy, adorable birds are featured in countless documentaries and are arguably the most recognised icon of Antarctica. There are roughly 17 species of penguin.  From the more widely recognised Emperor Penguin of Antarctica to the lesser known Fiordland Penguin of New Zealand and Magellanic Penguin of South America, all of them are under threat.

It comes as no surprise that penguins, not unlike vast numbers of other animals, are under threat. Just last year an article on The Guardian website has stated that the Adélie penguin is considered the fourth most at risk species from extinction on the planet. Rapid increases in sea temperatures and incredible declines in sea ice are just two of the causes for a predicted 80% decrease in Adélie colonies in the West Antarctic Peninsula. Population changes due to anthropogenic forces such as these are previously unprecedented, but there are changes we can make on an individual basis to alter the future of this group of birds. And we are changing. Despite being adapted to living in extreme environments, penguins like most species, are highly sensitive to climate change.

Perhaps the most commonly recognised penguin is the Emperor Penguin. Being the largest living species of this flightless bird, it is often the most documented, and sadly, the most widely kept in captive environments. It is without a doubt that the largest threat posed to penguins of all species is climate change, particularly within the cold environments surrounding the Southern Ocean. Extreme melting of sea ice leads to less habitat being available for the penguins. In the south-west Atlantic, populations of Adélie and Emperor penguins have shifted poleward, whilst the ice-intolerant Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins have increased their geographical range southward. Additionally, the polar sea ice is a critical breeding ground for the penguin’s principle sources of food, such as krill, and indirectly zooplankton and phytoplankton which form the basis of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean food web. Fluctuating weather patterns exacerbated by climate change, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, will also cause alterations in marine ecosystems, ultimately affecting penguin populations. As penguins have a long life span, they are unlikely to be able to adapt to their new ecological niche due to slow microevolution, meaning they require phenotypic plasticity in order to survive their changing environment.

Arguably more directly, although perhaps less frequent, oil spills are devastating to almost all species within the oceanic environment when they occur. We often overlook penguin species that do not reside in the polar environment of Antarctic, such as the Galapagos Penguin and the African Penguin, but these are more at risk from oil spills due to trade routes operating in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, in 2011 more than 800 tonnes of fuel leaked from a Maltese ship into the Southern Atlantic threatening half of the world’s northern Rockhopper Penguins. Penguins coated in oil are unable to control their body temperature and cannot forage for food, leading to starvation due to their inability to float in water caused by the oil. Many birds will try to clean themselves of the oil as well, which results in the ingestion of oil causing numerous infections and ulcers leading to their death. Although it is difficult to volunteer at an oil spill site when it’s happening on the other side of the globe to you, if one should ever, devastatingly occur, within driving distance of your home please consider volunteering. It takes thousands of people to clear up the environmental disaster created by tonnes of oil flooding into the ocean. Two people are required to clean up each bird, each taking up to an hour. As you can probably imagine, this may seem like an endless task, so every little effort really does help.

Overfishing is a widely-known threat to oceanic ecosystems and food webs and indirectly affects penguins across the planet. It is one of the primary threats caused by humans to global penguin populations, whilst also being something we can all actively mitigate in our individual lives. In recent years there has been a trend towards the consumption of krill oil as a health supplement. I cannot stress enough how important it is to not buy into this industry. Krill, aside from zooplankton and phytoplankton, make up the basis of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean food webs. Almost all of the species residing within these ecosystems depend on krill for their survival, whether indirectly or directly, including penguins. Unsustainable catching of krill, alongside larger species such as sardines and herring, are fuelling the population decrease of penguins as parents are spending a longer time at sea searching for food for their chicks, ultimately leading to their chick’s death. Out of all the steps you can undertake to help future population’s of penguins, this is probably the simplest. Actively look for Marine Conservation Society certified sustainable fish when shopping. It really is that simple. Most of the major supermarkets sell fish from these sustainable stocks, so this one really isn’t that hard to implement into your life.

Climate change, oil spills and overfishing are the primary causes for declines in global penguin populations. That said, there are a number of other causes such as illegal egg collections, fishing bycatch and marine pollution that all contribute to their decline. It is obvious that several of these causes are interconnected, and by mitigating the effects of one, it is perhaps easy to reduce the effects of others. If one thing is for certain, everyone can play their part in the survival of this group of loveable, flightless birds.

Fundamentally, I believe it’s not fair to condemn hundreds of thousands of species to an extinction, whether that is indirectly or directly caused by anthropogenic forces. Of course, I am biased entirely. I study natural sciences and I have been fascinated with conserving the natural world ever since my first fundraiser in primary school, but if we cannot safeguard a keystone group like penguins, then what hope does everything else have?

How You Can Help

https://support.wwf.org.uk/adopt-a-penguin

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/global-penguin-conservation

https://www.falklandsconservation.com/wildlife/penguins

 

 

Tilikum: A Star in Changing the Conservation Conversation

After the heart-breaking death of world-famous killer whale Tilikum, the debate about the role of zoological parks has come into the limelight again. Tilikum principally rose to fame through the documentary Blackfish, which highlighted the cruelty subjected to orcas as they are captured and forced into the entertainment business. Most importantly, the lesser-known intelligence and emotional capacity of these majestic mammals became an increasingly integral part of the documentary and the wider argument. Gone are the days when we were unaware of the brain capacity of these creatures. We are now aware that killer whales have an area of their brains linked to emotions and relationship connections with a higher capacity than ours does. Yet knowing this, SeaWorld, alongside other marine zoological parks, continue to disconnect families and break up pods. This is highly distressing for these marine mammals and has contributed to what some scientists are referring to as a psychosis in some individuals.

It is exceedingly rare for killer whales to attack a human during interactions in the wild. In captivity, this is a very different case, with Tilikum himself having been responsible for three major attacks during his time in confinement. Most notably, the tragic death of senior-trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010. With such a high intelligence ranking, it is arguable that the confinement of these enormous mammals causes a form of psychosis within their brains, which in turn creates irritable and erratic behaviours. One tactic utilised by SeaWorld is the withdrawal of food in order to encourage the orcas to perform the ‘tricks’ they are so infamously known for, which understandably adds to their tension. There’s more about the effects of captivity on killer whales in my blog post here.

Undoubtedly, zoological parks play a very significant role in the conservation story. They are integral to gaining the interest of young kids into the natural world and the importance of being environmentally aware. Many children’s first encounters of lions, tigers, zebras – the list could go on, have all usually taken place within the confines of a zoo. They engage and they educate. Nevertheless, in terms of animal welfare, they don’t always get a gold star.

San Diego Zoo is perhaps the best example of what zoological parks of the future should look like. At 100 acres in size, and as a pioneer of cageless, open-air exhibits that aim to re-create the animals natural habitats in the best way possible, it is highly regarded as a zoo of the future by experts. It makes sense to me that if an animal has a large territory in the wild, then that should be reciprocated in captivity. There are several species which cannot thrive within the confines of cement and glass – for example, Great White Sharks are greatly pelagic, which is one reason scientists believe they die soon after they enter a captive environment. Great White Sharks are also known to become greatly depressed and agitated if they are kept in a confined space for any length of time. Killer whales are one of many creatures that can swim up to 100 miles a day too, therefore to keep them in captivity does not seem to be logical or ethical either.

For many people, the tragic story of Tilikum raised the public profile of a lot of the problems associated with captive animals. It inspired a younger generation to rise up against the large multinational companies, like SeaWorld Entertainment, and demand that enough is enough. It was announced that SeaWorld Entertainment experienced a $15.9 million loss following the release of Blackfish, which many critics attributed to the message of the film causing thousands to stop attending the SeaWorld Parks. Public demand then forced the SeaWorld officials to announce plans for a new killer whale enclosure – Blue World Project. Of course, this was eventually abandoned, as more public pressure led to the decision to end all killer whale breeding at SeaWorld Parks. As a result, this will be the last generation of orcas within their marine parks.

Although some may argue that the fight is not over until the current generation of killer whales are released into their natural environment, it seems more realistic to me that it is realised that this will probably not happen. The result of the ending of the breeding of killer whales at SeaWorld is nevertheless a fantastic result. Tilikum should, and will, always be remembered as the star of this conservation story.

Because of his story, thousands of people have been encouraged to carry out acts of conservation and to educate themselves more on the importance of animal ethics. People are now more aware of the intelligence of these cetaceans, as well as a whole host of other organisms. There are more individuals wanting to make a difference, and there are more kids wanting to become conservationists and marine biologists.

We may not have saved Tilikum, but we have saved future generations of killer whales from being enslaved by SeaWorld. But unfortunately, it is not over yet. There are still killer whales being kept in a number of marine parks across the world in terrible conditions – most notably Lolita at Miami SeaAquarium. And let’s not forget the thousands of dolphins and belugas that are kept within the zoological entertainment business, as well as the tens of thousands of other animals’ captive in terrible conditions across the globe.

Zoological parks do have their place within the conservation story. It is a highly complicated topic, which deals with many different ethics and issues, players and impacts. The story is far from over, but thanks to Tilikum, the waves can finally start rolling.

Top 5 Ecotech Advances for 2017

Well, it is finally upon us – Two thousand and seventeen. 2017. 2K17. However, you refer to it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that it’s finally here and what comes with it is even more environmental responsibility than years previous.

So what do we have to look forward to within the environmental world this year? According to Scientific American, there’s a plethora of technological advances ahead of us this year, as well as many daunting challenges that will be presented us too. Arguably, the largest challenge for the global environment is the inauguration of president-elect Trump,  who poses a massive threat to the Paris climate deal, announced just last year in 2016. But for now, back to the positives of the year ahead. Here I’ve detailed just a few of the environmental technological advances that we can look forward to in 2017, but this by no means is an exhaustive list. Here’s my top 5:

Altering Coral Bacteria

As an ocean advocate, this first one particularly excites me. The alteration of coral microbiota in order to replace those lost due to abiotic factors like increasing temperatures, which will only worsen with climate change, is initially a fantastic potential idea. The fragility of coral reefs due to bleaching caused by increasing temperatures and rising sea levels, not to mention higher levels of alkalinity, is widely known and publicised. Just last month the world cried out for help as it was announced that parts of the Great Barrier Reef are dying, with some already being pronounced dead. As a result, you can imagine the enthusiasm behind the idea of inserting bacteria, potentially either thermophilic or psychrophilic, into existing coral communities in order to replace those that are no longer adapted to their changing environment. Of course, there are negatives to this proposed solution. For example, it is not currently known what ecological impacts these bacteria will have on the existing ecosystem communities. There may also not be any suitable natural bacteria for this solution, therefore requiring a genetically engineered microbe to fulfil this proposition.

Bionic Leaves

The solution to a zero-fossil fuel future may nearly be upon us. Researchers, Daniel Nocera and Pamela Silvers at Havard University have produced pioneering research for ‘bionic leaves’, which are roughly 10 times better at photosynthesis than the average plant. By utilising a catalyst made from a cobalt-phosphorous alloy, water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. Engineered bacteria then engulf the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce liquid fuel. It really does sound like something out a science fiction movie to me. Science has advanced so much that we can now harness the sun’s energy to produce liquid fuel via photosynthesis, better than a plant can. It’s ludicrous. But absolutely ingenious at the same time. At present, bionic leaves are not commercially viable; however, since this research was presented in summer 2016 considerable advances have already been made, with some scientists arguing that this technology may be available globally within the next few years.

The Ocean Cleanup

The inspirational story of Boyan Slat, who founded The Ocean Cleanup in 2013 at the age of 17 is purely sensational. What an innovative idea. If you are yet to hear of the principle behind The Ocean Cleanup, let me break it down for you. The Ocean Cleanup utilises technology which allows ocean currents to concentrate plastic found in the oceans into solid screens. These screens catch the floating plastic, funnelling it towards the central collection point. From here, the plastic is extracted and sent to the land where it is recycled. How ingenious. It is innovative technologies like this that, in my opinion, are the main answer to our environmental problems. Although this technology has been around for almost four years now, it is set to become more prominent in 2017, with the pilot Ocean Cleanup Array being deployed this year. Most excitingly, in 2020 there is a scheduled launch date for the full-scale clean-up of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Smart Highways

There are a number of different technologies and initiatives that are included within the ‘smart highway’ framework, such as intelligent transport systems and wireless vehicle charging for electric cars. Most recently, the world’s first photovoltaic opened in Tourouvre, Orne, France in  2016 Although being less than a mile long, and costing a whopping $5.2 million, I believe this is a step in the right direction and with time, could be a viable source of solar energy.  According to reports, this kilometre of photovoltaic road is proposed to produce 767 kilowatt-hours/day, which is enough to power the street lights of a 3,400 population village. In addition to the huge cost of the product, as with all solar energy sources, there is also the slight problem that there is not a guaranteed level of production each day due to fluctuating weather patterns. The photovoltaic roads are currently in a two-year testing period; however, the technology is predicted to become really prominent within the next five years with France aiming to have installed 1,000km within that period.

Supertrees

Featured in the spectacular Planet Earth II: Cities episode, Singapore’s Supertrees are part of a botanical oasis within the Marina Bay area of the city. More than 162,000 plants from 200 species have been intertwined into the 18 tree project, with 11 having been equipped with environmentally-friendly equipment, such as photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. Although unknown for its ecological advances, Singapore is an example to other cities across the globe. It presents a perfectly eloquent and self-sustaining example of what cities can build and achieve with relatively not that much space. Furthermore, they’re aesthetically pleasing and add to the beauty of any parkland or open space. Despite no plans being announced as of yet for any other cities in 2017, I firmly believe that these could be a fantastic addition to any major development. I find them to be an excellent example of sustainable engineering and am completely in awe of them. Well, to be fair, they are almost 16-storeys high, so it is difficult to not be overwhelmed by their immense height.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with my top 5 ecotechnology advances for this year? Maybe you have some other thoughts or even better advances that I haven’t listed here. Send me a tweet @HannahSRudd or visit me on Facebook if you have any thoughts! I’m excited to hear your views.

Have a good week 🙂

How far is captivity responsible for increasing counts of psychosis and health problems in Orcinus orcas?

Orcinus orcas, or killer whales as they are more commonly known, are one of the most intelligent species on the planet. In their natural environment, such as the Arctic region, orcas can swim hundreds of miles a day in close-knit family pods, often forty orca-strong. In the wild, there are no records of orcas attacking humans. At present, there are 57 orcas in captivity globally, 35 of which have been born in captivity as of December 2014. The practice of keeping killer whales in captivity is highly controversial, particularly within recent years with the release of documentaries such as Blackfish and a number of widely-supported campaigns in response to senior-trainer Dawn Brancheau’s tragic death in February 2010.

Arguably, the most notorious, and the most widely publicised killer whale in captivity is Tilkium. Tilikum is a 12,000 pound, 22.5 feet long bull orca that is owned by SeaWorld and is currently being kept at SeaWorld Orlando. Throughout the course of his lifetime, Tilikum has been involved in a number of trainer attacks, which SeaWorld officials claim are ‘accidents’. As previously stated, killer whales are not violent in the wild, so it is questionable as to what has caused a number of killer whales, such as Tilkium to become increasingly aggressive. In order to understand the possible causes behind these attacks, the intelligence and sociability of these cetaceans must first be understood.

One of the most commonly thought reasons behind increasing counts of psychosis among captive orcas is the synthetic family groups that are created. In the wild, orcas belong to extensive pods, sometimes comprising of up to forty individuals, all of which have grown up together. Recent research into these close-knit communities has found that each pod has their own distinctive set of vocalisations, which other non-members may be unable to understand. It has been suggested that these are forms of ‘languages’, although many members of the scientific community are reluctant to call them languages, due to Homo sapiens being the only species that can use language in the way that we know of. The non-profit organisation Orca Network has been following the movement of SeaWorld’s orcas for decades and states that at least eight orca calves have been removed from their mothers prior to their thought independence of five years old. One famous instance of this is that of Takara and Kasatka. Takara was taken from Kasatka as she was being a disturbance during shows at SeaWorld Orlando, therefore SeaWorld officials decided to transport her to another park. It was found to be a highly distressing time for both individuals. Kasatka began to produce vocalisations that had never been heard before by scientists; they were later found to be long-distance vocalisations as she was trying to communicate with her removed offspring (Takara). Despite SeaWorld’s manipulation of their orca pods being well-known by non-profit organisations and other non-governmental organisations, the company still denies this practice and has been filmed manipulating the truth when park guests have asked.

When returning to Tilikum it is possible to understanding his psychosis when examining the first few years of his life. After his capture in November 1983, Tilikum was sent to Sealand, a small marine park in Victoria, Canada. During his time there Tilikum was often raked by the two larger female orcas that were also at the park – male orcas rank lower within the social groups of orcas than females. These rakings often resulted in large incisions on his pectoral fins and his abdomen, which often became infected. Each night the orcas were stored in a shed that made them immobile, with very little stimulation and in the morning Tilikum often had fresh rake marks. In order to coax the orcas into their storage unit, they often were starved or food was held back. Tilikum’s first attack occurred while he was at Sealand, shortly afterwards Sealand closed and Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld Orlando. During his time at SeaWorld Tilikum has been involved in a further two attacks,

both of which have been blamed on trainer error. Most infamously, senior-trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled into the water on 24th February 2010 during a training session with Tilikum, resulting in her tragic death. Later examinations of this event come to the conclusion that the lack of food as reinforcement was what resulted in Brancheau’s death.

Any captive organism is entirely dependent on humans, whether they are zookeepers, trainers or pet-owners for food. Food is used as resource for positive reinforcement in order to encourage animals to perform certain behaviours – especially within the marine entertainment business, which often involves dolphins, killer whales and sea lions performing up to two, one hour shows every day, alongside other allotted training times. The use of food as positive reinforcement has created a culture within marine parks of starving orcas if they do not complete the required behaviours, adding to their aggression and also contributing to the noted psychosis found in so many captive orcas.

Dorsal-fin collapse is another noticeable difference between killer whales in the wild and those that reside in captivity. Researchers from The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society have reported that less than 1% of the well-studied pods of orcas off the coast of British Columbia have collapsed dorsal fins, whereas in captivity this figure is closer to 90% – particularly with the males of the species. There are a number of hypothesised reasons behind dorsal fin collapse, including larger amounts of time spent at the surface leading to the dorsal fin not being supported by the water pressure and lowered blood pressure due to reduced activity levels.

An additional health problem that occurs within captivity is dental hygiene, due to increased instances of biting metal bars or the sides of the pools. It is unknown as to why captive orcas display this behaviour; however, it is commonly thought that it is due to lack of sufficient enrichment, frustration at the lack of available space and, in some cases, an attempt to leave the enclosure through aggression. In response to dental bacterial infections among orcas, it is common practice for vets to drill through the infected teeth in order to remove any built-up plaque. The infected teeth are then flushed out three times a day with antibacterial reagents for the remainder of the orcas life. This practice can be incredibly stressful and time-consuming for the animal, increasing its irritability. As previously said, orcas are highly intelligent organisms and are thought to feel emotions in a more complex way than humans are able to comprehend, so any stress can cause them to become highly anxious and impact on their way of life.

Finally, the lifespan of captive orcas is drastically lower than those in the wild, although this is still widely disputed. A 2015 study featured in the Journal of Mammalogy has put forward research concluding that the life expectancy of captive orcas at SeaWorld is similar to those in the wild; however, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society have stated that in captivity the average life expectancy of thirty years, whereas in the wild females live 60-80 years and males live 50-60 years, typically. Additionally, despite organisations like SeaWorld claiming that veterinary care in captivity allows captive orcas to have a reduced risk of disease, it has recently been suggested that this is not the case. For example, in 2007 Taku, a 14-year old killer whale captive at SeaWorld San Diego suddenly died of pneumonia, despite regular health checks.

In conclusion, there are a number of highly controversial issues with the practice of keeping orcas in captivity. Undoubtedly the largest problem is the increasing number of attacks on trainers and members of the public, which has subsequently led to the prevention of SeaWorld trainers swimming in the water with the orcas any longer. Alongside obvious implications on health and welfare, such as dorsal fin collapse, lack of enrichment and substantially reduced mobility, there is the issue of synthetically-produced pods. It is arguable that this is the biggest cause of psychosis in killer whales in captivity. As previously stated, killer whales have an emotional centre in the brain which is not found in any other organism, thus when they are removed from their specific social groups this can be a very taxing on their behaviour, thus resulting in increased aggression, particularly towards their trainers and other whales in their captive environment. Despite all of the issues with captivity discussed, it must be noted that before killer whales were captured for the purpose of marine entertainment, very little about them and their behaviour was known to science. Today, researchers at organisations such as SeaWorld are able to access orcas of a range of ages and sizes intently, thus increasing out scientific knowledge of their physiology, natural history and behaviour. That said, animal rights campaigners argue that this research is of little value as it is not in a natural setting. In brief, there is no doubt that captivity has impacted negatively on the health and wellbeing of orcas that are held in marine parks across the globe.

Hacked to Death: The Politics of Africa’s Elephants & The Ivory Trade

Illegal trade in ivory is an exceedingly hot topic now. Ivory is big business. The controversy surrounding poaching and the illegal trade in ivory is widely publicised, with programmes such as Hugh and the Ivory War on BBC One and documentary films like The Ivory Game on Netflix being extremely popular. Trying to imply people are ignorant to elephant poaching for ivory would be arrogant. We are familiar with being bombarded with facts, figures and statistics about alarming rates of extinction, but with the focus on ivory being in Africa and Asia, it is often easy to dissociate ourselves from this monstrous act.

It is without a doubt that the economics and politics surrounding the ivory trade is exceedingly complicated. It is comprised of an intricate network of suppliers and buyers. It is far more convoluted than poachers aimlessly killing elephants with AK47s and shipping the resulting ivory off to the Far East for a hefty profit. I had so many questions when I first began researching this topic, questions which I feel as though the media sometimes swerve away from. As a member of the public who has no power whatsoever politically, what can I do to help this problem? Are the current laws in place enough? Are they enforced? What loopholes are there? If ivory is illegal, then why can you still buy antique ivory pieces online? What is the prison sentence for being caught with ivory? Is there a minimum requirement of weight you must meet before you can be prosecuted?

As you can tell, there are a plethora of questions surrounding the ivory trade, both legal and illegal. And I don’t have all the answers, I wish I did. In recent years, there has been an increase in the destruction of existing raw ivory by governments, with most recently Vietnam destroying an estimated $7 million of elephant tusks and rhino horns just the other week. But is destroying existing ivory the best way forward? The destruction of confiscated ivory is designed to deter poachers against murdering more elephants, but surely it makes ivory more lucrative? Surely, if there is less ivory, the remaining ivory increases its existing value, making it more desirable? Recent studies and documentaries have suggested that Asia’s expanding market is the main culprit for increasing levels of poaching, particularly in China where ivory is viewed as a symbol of wealth.

In 1975 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITEs) came into force, under which both African and Asian Elephants are featured. A few years later, in 1989, the United States of America issued the African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA), designed to “perpetuate healthy populations of African elephants”. Additionally, the AECA aimed to fund conservation projects across Africa to prevent the slaughter of African elephants. This all seems well and good, but the ivory problem isn’t just occurring in Africa. No, ivory is much closer to home for me, and a lot of you probably too. Gone are the days when we could share a heartfelt moment as we watch conservationists succumb to the terrors that unfold before them, after which we would mutter ourselves something about how barbaric the whole thing is. The ivory trade is right on our front doorstep, in Europe, and it probably has been for a while now.

Ignorance truly is bliss. But we are no longer ignorant to the loopholes the Asian market are using here in Europe to evade international laws. The European Union is the biggest exporter of legal ivory, that is mammoth ivory and pre-1947 ivory; although the various discrepancies are incredibly complex. In Hugh’s latest documentary Hugh and The Ivory War, an ivory vendor can be seen stating that “Heathrow at 4am” is the best time to export ivory, because there are “no customs”. I find this atrocious. But the truth is, ivory sellers have participated in this black market trade for almost 30 years since the international ban in 1989. They know these loopholes and how to get around them. If there’s nobody to enforce the law, can we really blame them for utilising the gaps?

What makes matters worse for me personally, is that in 2016 the European Commission said that they would rather promote sustainable management of elephants within countries with average populations than enforce an all-encompassing ban. I fail to see why both management strategies cannot be employed. Recently, a coalition of 29 African states, known as the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) called for elephants to be listed under Annex I of CITES, which would enable a complete ban on any future domestic ivory trade. The European Union has one of the biggest stakes in CITEs, with 28 member states enabling vital funding and trade levers to the developing world, making it vital to CITEs decision-making.

It has been stated that the demand to fuel the ivory trade has now led to one elephant being killed every 15 minutes by poachers. Every 15 minutes. That’s staggering. By the time I have finished 1 lecture, 4 elephants have been poached. That’s 32 elephants whilst you sleep, if you manage to get the recommended 8 hours per night. Equating to a distressing 224 elephants per week for the time you’re not even awake to do anything about it.

I, personally, am absolutely astounded by the European Union’s stance on the ivory crisis. And I am not alone. Member of the AEC’s secretariat, Patricia Awori, has exclaimed that “when you consider that there were 600,000 elephants at the start of the crisis which led to this Appendix I proposal and there are now less than 400,000, I am at a loss to understand why this is not more troubling for the EU”. One of the most troubling parts of CITEs is that elephants are under a different appendix depending on what country they are in. They are not counted as an endangered migratory species. “An elephant that wakes up in the morning in Angola as ‘Appendix I’, could be in Namibia under ‘Appendix II’ in the same afternoon”, stated the director of Uganda’s Wildlife Authority, Andrew Seguya, according to The Guardian.

If one thing is clear from my investigation into the ivory trade in Europe, I have only just scratched the surface. There are a number of issues that are being covered up by governments, in my view, to protect the economic interests of the ivory trade. I was aware of the corruption operating in many African countries toward elephant conservation, but I am startled at the unwillingness of the European Union to commit to the cause and enforce an outright ban on the trade in ivory. Without sounding like I’m getting on my soapbox, I feel incredibly let down and taken back, that supposed leaders in the developed world feel as though they cannot be ambassadors for environmental change. By passing and enforcing an outright ban, a very large difference will be made. A species will be saved. A species that is becoming extinct through no fault of its own. A species that is dying because of it’s ability to produce large amounts of dentine and enamel. It’s a joke.

If you take one thing away from this post, I hope it’s the devastating fact that every 15 minutes one elephant is killed to fuel an unsustainable demand for ivoryI hope that when you’re aimlessly bored and notice 15 minutes have passed, you are reminded of the somber thought that, somewhere in Africa, an elephant has just lost it’s life to the ivory trade. I hope it inspires you to do something about it. Sign a petition, donate to an NGO or even just tell a friend about the issue. Everything matters. The more people are aware of the damages being done, the more demand there will be for something to be done about it. We truly are running out of time to save Africa’s elephants, please don’t let it become too late.

How You Can Help:

http://savetheelephants.org/

http://elephantswithoutborders.org/

https://gifts.worldwildlife.org/gift-center/gifts/Species-Adoptions/African-Elephant.aspx?sc=AWY1505WC920&_ga=1.133568462.1932658183.1478997349

http://ivoryforelephants.org/category/petitions/

http://actionforelephantsuk.org/petitions-to-sign/

http://www.bloodyivory.org/petition

Introducing Me…

For the past fortnight, I have been rushed off my feet with deadlines at uni and contacting various experts and organisations regarding my next post about the illegal trade in manta and mobula ray gill rakers. As a result, I haven’t had much time to do any other research into a serious blog post that would have any more substance than my own, existing knowledge. For that reason alone, I have decided to be a little bit indulgent and write about why I’m so interested in all of this, how I came to decide to study biological sciences and why I want to make a difference.

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This is me, very happy in Key Largo, FL. We went there to visit research centres about their findings on archaea in hydrothermal vent ecosystems for a project I was working on at the time.

Ever since I can remember I have been interested in saving and conserving endangered species. Now, I’m not just saying that – when I was in primary school I managed to raise  £55 for the World Wildlife Fund with a table top sale with some of my mates. I know, impressive, right? I was far too excited when I received the certificate and the WWF pin badge through the post. Then I went through the phase at secondary school of being the crazy girl who consistently put posters up about some kind of campaign that was going on, hoping that someone would notice. There was WWF’s Earth Hour and then World Endangered Species Day, amongst a plethora of others. I was consistently banging on about saving the planet. Everyone must’ve thought I was a bit nuts really. But, I guess you could say I found my niche.

I love the environment. And I’m absolutely obsessed with saving it. Now, before you think I’m one of those over-the-top tree huggers – I’m not. I’m real and I’m practical. For one, I like my home comforts and there is no way I would ever suggest that everyone should stop using their cars – I’m a bit of a petrol head as well. But there are ways we can utilise innovation and technology to have both of those things. I cannot wait for the day when our homes are run solely on renewable energy and our modes of transport use green energy that doesn’t feel like it needs a day to charge to travel five miles.

Museums were always a thing for me. I had my 12th, or maybe it was my 13th, birthday party at the Natural History Museum in London. I’m sure there were parents who were perplexed at this idea, but walking around those exhibits was one of the most exciting things to me at the time. It’s my home away from home now, much like university is. I have probably visited the NHM more times in the past year than I could count on my fingers, but every single time I discover something I never knew before, and I urge you to do the same. What I would do for an evening down in the zoological samples section. I just think it’s incredible. I can’t even fathom a sentence together to express how cool that would be for me.

As I say, I love the environment, but more specifically than that I freaking adore the oceans. It’s such a cliche word to use, but I am so passionate about what goes on underneath the waves of our marine world, that just the thought of it puts the biggest grin on my face. I guess I’m a geek – a fish geek to be more specific. One of my main motivations for studying biological sciences at university was to discover more about a realm that we’ve only discovered 5% of. That’s staggering to me. 95% of the world’s oceans haven’t even been explored yet. Wow. I don’t know about you, but the inner child in me just wants to put on on a diving suit, head out and see what I can find. Adventure is everything to me, and the ocean is a million different adventures waiting to happen. Yet so far in my studies, I have done very little other than stay in a lab looking at cell samples or conducting other experiments with plants *yawn*. I guess I am only a second-year undergrad, but I am so eager to actually get into the field.

I have been umming and aring about what I want to do with my life for quite a long time now. I have also known that it had to be something to do with the environment and conservation, but I didn’t quite know what. I went through a phase of wanting to be a marine biologist, and quite frankly I don’t think that phase will ever end. I’m fascinated by everything, but one species takes the cake for me – Great White Sharks. They’re so terrifyingly beautiful and majestic. The fact that my blood curls with anxiety every time I see one, yet I’m staggered by their refinement never ceases to amaze me. At the same time, the illegal trade in wildlife is also a topic which captures my heart. I love writing too – hence this blog, which is why I’ve decided that I would love to be a presenter and an investigative journalist into environmental issues and crimes. I could not think of a better job, personally.

Travelling is something I also love, but then again, doesn’t everyone? This year I was fortunate enough to travel to the Norwegian Fjords. The pure breathtaking beauty of Norway is truly something to behold. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to witness the great Aurora Borealis, but there’s always next time.

No, for now, I’m stuck in rainy Lancashire. But my dreams and ambitions, as corny as it sounds, are what get me through every day. Everything that I’m doing now is all leading up to the moment when I land my first broadcasting job as a naturalist present. Life is that little bit easier if you have a passion and a desire to do something. Find what you’re interested in, find your niche. It doesn’t have to be environmentally related if that’s not your thing, just find something you care a lot about. Next week I am going to be fortunate enough to be interviewing Dr Andrea Marshall about manta rays. Dr Andrea was the first person in the world to complete a PhD on manta rays. The first person! That alone inspired me to continue pursuing my personal goals, and I hope you find some inspiration in your everyday life to continue doing what you love and are passionate about. In the meantime, I guess being stuck in a lab in Lancaster isn’t too bad when the Lake District is on your front doorstep.

Welcome…

Hello, and welcome to Ecological Me. Here you will find a selection of the most important environmental issues that we as a planet are facing currently and how we can potentially tackle them, in my very humble opinion. My name is Hannah Rudd and I am currently a student at Lancaster University. I have been fascinated with the natural world ever since I can remember and have always wanted a career within that world – even though it often gravitates between disciplines. This blog has been started as a platform for myself to write about, and hopefully bring to people’s attention, key problems of varying intensity which are happening within the natural world as you read this now. Some of which people have been campaigning against since the 1980s, even as early as the 60s and 40s in some cases. I shall try to be as unbiased as possible in my approach; that said, however, the design of this blog is to promote how disastrous events such as the finning of 100 million sharks each year (Marine Policy) truly are. It is very natural for us as human beings to be very remorseful when watching these events unfold on national television and then blissfully carry on with our very own, often stressful lives, without giving it much thought again for a couple of weeks, or even months. I, myself, am equally guilty of that premise.

But it isn’t good enough. We simply can’t sit around moaning about how bad climate change is, or how terrible it is that elephants are being slaughtered for their tusks across Africa at an alarming rate, it simply isn’t good enough. No, action is needed. Action which I myself should’ve taken a very long time ago. There is no time like the present, and change is needed in the present. If we, as a global community, wish to safeguard the natural world for future generations we need to change now. Not in 5 years, not in 10 years, not even in 20 years, now. It is no good setting targets that we know full well will never be met – *cough cough Kyoto Protocol*. We must act before it is too late.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you will make a large enough impact to make a difference, because if a large enough community club together, change is possible. I hope by reading this blog you are inspired to make change, to make a difference. I hope you find one issue, however; small it is, that you carry close to your heart and are willing to help make a difference towards. Whether that’s participating in a climate change protest in your closest metropolitan city, signing a petition against the utilisation of microbeads, or fundraising for a non-governmental organisation like the WWF, it doesn’t what matter it is. What matters is that you’re being proactive about our planet, no matter how big or small. Everyone truly can make a difference.