Carynne McIver: April 2011 Archives
Today's blog is a guest post by Seacology's partner Arkive, a multimedia source for information and images of endangered species.
Islands around the world are home to some of the most unique, bizarre-looking and biologically important species on Earth. Most people won't ever come face-to-face with these plants and animals and alarmingly, the majority of the world's species extinctions have taken place on islands over the past 400 years.
However, there is a way to come virtually face-to-face with the enormous Coconut crab, the stunning Fiji banded iguana and the playful Hawaiian Monk Seal. ARKive.org, considered the Noah's Ark of the internet era, is leading the "virtual" conservation movement by utilizing the worldwide web to create a free, online resource of images, films, sound recordings and biological fact files for the 18,000+ species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Visitors to ARKive can learn about what each of the over 12,000 species in the collection looks like, where it lives, how it behaves and why it is special. If a visitor to ARKive aimed to learn about one species every day in the collection, it would take nearly 2 years for a visitor to learn about each species currently on ARKive!
At Seacology, we've known that our planet contains thousands of islands of all shapes and sizes. But a recent study has found that the number of barrier islands around the world has been greatly underestimated. Using satellite imagery, researchers detected 657 more barrier islands than previous surveys indicated, bringing the new total to 2,149. Barrier islands are found along the coasts of all continents except Antarctica, with 74% of them in the northern hemisphere. Together, these islands measure about 13,000 miles--over half the circumference of the Earth!
Barrier islands are important for humans and environments, providing protection against flooding, erosion, and storms. The bays, estuaries, and lagoons created by the islands contain abundant biodiversity. Because of their proximity to waves and tides, barrier islands are one of the most flexible landforms, regularly eroding, migrating, and rebuilding over time. Unfortunately, they are often the site of coastal development, which can be detrimental to these ecosystems.
Although barrier islands are less common in the southern hemisphere, where most of Seacology's projects are located, we have many projects protecting mangrove swamps and other island coastal areas. Like barrier islands, mangroves are critical for flood and erosion prevention. Our new project near Uraniya Lagoon, Sri Lanka, is protecting 2,965 acres of mangroves and coastal swamp, including 642 acres of replanted mangroves. We also have recent mangrove replanting and protection projects in Tuvalu, Jamaica, and Kenya that conserve the coastal ecosystems as well as the inland habitats they guard.
Although islands cover just 5% of the world's land area, they contain over half of all recent species extinctions. Earth Day is next Friday, April 22, and it's the perfect time to celebrate our planet by helping protect these islands and their wildlife.
With only one click, you can do just that: Berkeley-based jewelry store Nina Designs, which supports fair trade and women's equality at their factories in Thailand and Bali, is raising funds for Seacology this Earth Day. For every person who "Likes" Nina Designs on Facebook before April 22, the store will donate $1 to Seacology. Click on the image below to go to the Nina Designs Facebook page--and be sure to share it with your friends!
Of the many threats encountered by the world's islands, commercial logging is one of the most severe, rapidly decimating forests and the many species they harbor. While the clear-cutting style of logging (in which all trees in an area are uniformly cut down) may be the most infamous, even selective logging (or removing only certain species) can be a death knell in some regions. One of these is the island of Madagascar, where logging of rosewood trees has become a national crisis.
Within the animal kingdom, sharks are known for their sharp teeth, and their increasingly threatened conservation status due to the popularity of shark fin soup. But now, a study suggests that sharks are also unique for the importance they place on good hygiene and healthcare!
Scientists at Bangor University in Wales have observed thresher sharks (seen in image below) visiting shallow coral reef ecosystems near the Philippines for what appear to be full-body cleanings. Upon arriving at the reef, the sharks slow down and swim in a small circle, apparently to attract the cleaner wrasse, a small fish with excellent shark-grooming skills.
One scientist describes the process as "a bit like a surgery...The sharks come in with cuts and scrapes where they might have scabs and these are treated by the cleaner wrasse, which remove dead tissue from the wound area and any parasites from the skin." The sharks remain for their cleaning for up to 45 minutes, swimming in small circles near the reef.
This shark medical care is just another example of the often surprising interactions between different species within an ecosystem. Unfortunately, with threats to sharks on the rise, sometimes a trip to the cleaner wrasse may have a tragic ending. The shallow reefs where these cleanings take place are often shared by fishermen, who either hunt the sharks (or, more brutally, remove only their fins), or use dynamite or hooks on other marine species, inadvertently killing the sharks along with them. These practices, along with irresponsible tourists who hurt the reefs while observing the sharks, also cause immense harm to the cleaner wrasse fish and all other species who depend on the coral reef.
Image courtesy of NOAA