Bird-watchers spot illegal hunting in China

A spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea). (© Hazel Watson/Flickr Creative Commons)

When the spoon-billed sandpiper started to disappear, bird-watching groups in China decided they needed to do something about illegal hunting.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a small, reddish-brown bird with a “one-of-a-kind” black bill. Scientists found that one of the reasons that there are only about 100 breeding pairs of spoon-billed sandpipers remaining is the prevalence of illegal hunting in the birds’ winter habitats in China and Southeast Asia, where it migrates from the Pacific coast of Russia.

“The illegal hunting is not just a problem for the spoon-billed sandpiper, but also for other migratory birds that settle in ,” said Vivian Fu, the manager of the China program for the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

Pangolin, pictured above, in Cambodia. (© Peter Yuen/Animals in Photos)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

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Meet a scientist: the whale whisperer

Olive Andrews, marine program manager for Conservation International. (© Olive Andrews)

Editor’s note: A recent survey found that 81 percent of Americans could not name a living scientist. No, not a single one. At Conservation International (CI), we have lots of scientists you should know. Here’s one.

Olive Andrews is a marine program manager for Conservation International, where she works with Pacific Island nations to protect the ocean — and the resources coastal communities rely on — in the face of climate change, pollution and overfishing.

We spoke with her about what whales can teach us about the health of the oceans — and her longtime friendship with a humpback named “Nala.”

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What can a bird-catching tradition tell us about conservation?

An endangered Philippine Eagle, pictured above, in the Philippines. (© Olivier Langrand)

Conservationists have a lot to learn from indigenous peoples.

In the Philippines, the Sagada Kankanaey community participates in ikik, a traditional bird-catching practice in which residents hike up the nearby mountains at night and catch birds using a bright kerosene lantern and a net. In addition to providing food and recreation, the practice paints a detailed picture of the migratory habits of multiple species of birds — information that could help scientists identify critical trends in climate change.

Conservation International’s indigenous fellows program is helping environmental leaders connect local knowledge and science to help confront the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss within their communities.

Human Nature sat down with Josefa Tauli, Conservation International’s indigenous fellow from the Philippines, to talk about what we can learn from the bird-watchers of Sagada Kankanaey.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

A Loggerhead turtle, pictured above, in Belize. (© Mito Paz/Marine Photobank)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about. 

  1. A Victory for coral: UNESCO removes Belize reef from its endangered list

The story: The Belize Barrier Reef has been removed from the United Nations list of endangered world heritage sites, Tryggvi Adalbjornsson reported for the New York Times on June 27. Removal from the list is a direct result of the Belize government’s conservation actions in the nearly 10 years since the reef was added to the list.

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Hawaiʻi votes to protect coral reefs — from our sunscreen

A coral reef, pictured above, in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaiʻi. (© James Watt/NOAA/Flickr Creative Commons)

Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige will sign a bill tomorrow to prohibit the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals that contribute to the destruction of coral reefs.

Hawaiʻi is the first state in the U.S. to pass such a law, which met with praise from conservationists.

“Conservation International applauds the state of Hawai’i for recognizing the importance of corals and taking this bold step forward towards improving the protection of Hawaii’s world-class reefs,” said Matt Ramsey, director of Conservation International Hawaiʻi. “The significance of this action will extend far beyond the islands. With 9 million visitors each year, Hawaii’s commitment will educate consumers worldwide about the harmful effects that sunscreen can have on marine life.”

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

A clownfish, pictured above, in the Verde Island Passage in Batangas, Philippines. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. In the Philippines, dynamite fishing decimates entire ocean food chains

The story: Fishers in the Philippines drop explosives into the ocean and dive down to collect all of the dead fish they can find. This approach is wiping out fish populations and coral reefs, Aurora Almendral reported for The New York Times on June 15. As climate change poses an increasing threat to the health of coral reefs in the Philippines, efforts to stop human stressors on the reefs — such as dynamite fishing — are ramping up.

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3 science stories you should know about

 (© Shawn Heinrichs)

Sharks, pictured above, in New Caledonia. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

New research is shedding light on why you won’t see a shark in most coral reefs — and how a simple agreement with local communities can help keep tropical forests standing.

Conservation International scientists explore three specific ways to keep our oceans and forests healthy.

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3 ways climate change affects tropical rainforests

A sloth hanging from a tree, pictured above, in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador. (© Lucas Bustamante)

Not everyone lives in a tropical rainforest — but everyone benefits from them.

Home to nearly half of the plants and wildlife on Earth, tropical rainforests perform an essential function for the climate by absorbing carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, cutting down these forests is releasing carbon into the atmosphere and driving climate change — in fact, deforestation causes 15 percent of all human-induced carbon emissions.

Multiple studies show that climate change is harming tropical forests. But there’s hope. On International Day for the Conservation of Tropical Forests, Human Nature explores three issues and potential solutions.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world — good news edition

A manta ray, pictured above, in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. Rare manta ray nursery discovered

The story: Marine biologist Josh Stewart found a nursery ground for giant manta rays off the coast of Texas,  Alejandra Borunda reported for National Geographic on June 18. Because mantas are currently listed as “threatened” on the U.S. Endangered Species List, the discovery of a previously unknown habitat — with a healthy population of juvenile rays — could signal hope for their survival.

The big picture: The biggest threat to mantas: Fishing. Mantas are vulnerable to bycatch and are sought after for medicinal uses in China. By studying this healthy manta nursery and understanding what makes it attractive to juvenile mantas, scientists hope they will be able to find similar nurseries around the world — and to tailor their conservation efforts for maximum impact. “It’s really important for us to know where these nursery sites are,” said Andrea Marshall, a National Geographic explorer. “Anywhere that has tiny mantas is really important for us to learn about, so we can target our protection strategies.”

Read more here.

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