Anja Disseldorp via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Anja Disseldorp via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

India Has Its First Fully Organic State

Anja Disseldorp via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Anja Disseldorp via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

As of late last month, the farms of Sikkim in northwest India have been certified 100 percent free of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, making it the country's first fully organic state.

This achievement has been a long time coming. A resolution to make the Himalayan region completely organic first passed through the state legislative assembly in 2003. Over the next 12 years, the import of chemical additives was restricted and their sale in the state forbidden, leading to the gradual organic certification of 75,000 hectares of agricultural land.

The harmful effects of pesticides and fertilizers has been an issue facing India for decades. Following the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century, India’s food production increased which led to a higher prevalence of modified seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides in farming. The chemicals were hazardous to the environment, as well as a threat to the health of citizens. Several years ago, over 150 people in south India were struck by a condition related to head swelling and brain damage caused by a deadly pesticide called endosulfan, which led to its nationwide ban in 2011. 

Sikkim has one of the smallest areas of farm land in India, with the majority of it dedicated to maize, paddy, and cardamom. Amit Khurana, the program head of New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment’s food safety team, told Quartz there’s still a lot to be done before the rest of the country gets up to speed.

“(W)e need a system in place that regulates the daily acceptable intake of pesticides,” he said. “There are also concerns that close to one-fifth of pesticides used in the country don’t have their minimal residual limit approved by food safety authorities.”

Despite the long road ahead, according to Khurana, the initiative in Sikkim is now inspiring other states to implement similar policies of their own. 

[h/t: Quartz]

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Why Scientists Are Hunting Down Iguanas in Florida
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

In South Florida, iguanas had better watch their backs. That's because scientists are on an unusual hunt to kill them, with the help of captive bolt guns and a $63,000 research grant, according to the Sun Sentinel.

It's not as cruel as it might seem at first glance. The green iguana, native to Central and South America, is an invasive species in Florida. The large lizards—which can grow up to 6 feet long—first made it to Florida in the 1960s, and as their population has exploded, they have expanded farther north. The reptiles damage roads, sidewalks, sea walls, and flood-control canals with their burrows; chomp their way through landscaping; spread Salmonella, largely by pooping in people's backyard pools; and compete with the endangered Miami blue butterfly for precious food resources.

The population boom has caused an uptick in complaints from residents, Florida Fish and Wildlife's Sarah Funck told the Sun Sentinel in 2017, pushing the state to find new strategies to deal with the reptiles. One approach? Hire scientists to hunt them down and kill them.

As part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife research project, 15 University of Florida biologists have been tasked with executing as many iguanas as possible in Broward County (home to Fort Lauderdale and parts of the Miami metropolitan area), setting out in teams of two at night. Armed with flashlights and captive bolt guns—which are often used on animals in slaughterhouses and are considered a humane way of killing an animal instantly and painlessly—the researchers attempt to sneak up on sleeping lizards and shoot them before they can scurry away. They also sometimes dispatch the iguanas by smashing their heads against a hard surface, including the side of a truck or a boat.

They've exterminated 249 lizards so far. They take the dead animals back to the lab to be weighed and measured for their dataset, then deposit the carcasses in a landfill. The iguana killing spree is expected to last into May.

While they have tried trapping the iguanas in county parks, they haven't succeeded in capturing any with that method.

As part of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's iguana-eradicating efforts, the agency has also been hosting public workshops on how to deter and trap iguanas and has hired a dedicated trapper to control populations on public lands in the Florida Keys. 

[h/t Sun Sentinel]

©AMNH/R. Mickens
7 Technologies That Are Revolutionizing Ocean Exploration
©AMNH/R. Mickens
©AMNH/R. Mickens

The Earth is an ocean planet—more than 70 percent of the surface is covered by seawater. But despite being such an essential part of life, the deepest parts of the world's oceans are still largely unexplored. According to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, merely 10 to 15 percent of the seafloor has been mapped with accuracy, which means we know less about the seafloor than the surface of Mars.

But the state of sea exploration is changing fast. The dark, high-pressure conditions of the ocean depths that once made research there impossible are now being explored with cutting-edge technology. That new tech and the discoveries to come from it are the focus of a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History called Unseen Oceans. As museum curator John Sparks said at a press preview, the goal of the exhibition is to show visitors "how little we know, and to tell them how much we're learning so rapidly with technology."

Here are some of the technologies featured in the exhibition, which opens March 12.


One of the biggest recent discoveries made in the field of deep ocean exploration is the proliferation of biofluorescence in the darkest parts of the sea. Realms that look pitch black to human eyes are actually filled with more than 250 species of fish glowing in red, orange, and green hues. One of these species is the catshark, which fluoresces green in the dim blue light that reaches the sea floor. To detect this effect, researchers built a camera that filters out certain wavelengths of light like the shark's eye does. (This is how the sharks see each other in the darkness.) Combined with artificial blue light to enhance the fluorescent color, this equipment allows scientists to record the light show.


Listening to whales vocalize tells us a lot about the way they live and interact, but this is difficult to do when a species spends most of its time in the deep ocean. In order to eavesdrop on beaked whales, scientists needed to fit sophisticated acoustic equipment into a submersible built to explore high-pressure environments. Enter the Deep Ocean REMUS Echosounder, or DOR-E. (REMUS stands for "Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS.") Developed by marine scientist Kelly Benoit-Bird and her team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the autonomous underwater vehicle can reach depths up to 1970 feet and has enough battery life to record a day's worth of deep-sea audio. The device was named for Finding Nemo's Dory because it "speaks whale," according to Unseen Oceans.


Family looking at museum exhibit
©AMNH/D. Finnin

Collecting specimens at the bottom of the ocean isn't as simple as collecting them on land; researchers can't just step out of their submersible to pick up a mollusk from the seabed. The only way to retrieve a sample at such depths is with a machine. When these machines are designed to be bulky and rigid to withstand the intense water pressure around them, they can end up crushing the specimen before scientists have the chance to study it. So-called soft grippers are a clever alternative. Memory foam evenly distributes the force around the creature being handled, and Kevlar lace keeps the fingers from spreading when they inflate with water. Even with its squishy construction, the mechanism is sturdy enough to work at depths reaching 1000 feet.


A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) can explore the tight, crushing pockets of the ocean that human divers can't reach. This technology is often costly and limited to research teams with big budgets. A new company called OpenROV aims to make underwater drones more accessible to everyday explorers. Their signature ROV, Trident, starts at just $1500.


Topography exhibit in museum.
©AMNH/D. Finnin

Sometimes the easiest way for scientists to get a view of the bottom of the ocean is by sending equipment to space. Satellites in orbit can estimate measurements of the peaks and valleys shaping the seabed by beaming radar pulses towards Earth and calculating the time it takes for them to bounce back. While this method doesn't provide a terribly accurate map of the ocean floor, it can be used to gauge depths in even the most remote areas.


Autonomous undersea robots come in all shapes and sizes. Mini-autonomous underwater explorers, or m-AUEs, developed by Scripps oceanographer Jules Jaffe are meant to be deployed in large groups or "swarms." The grapefruit-sized devices act like plankton, bobbing at a constant depth in the ocean and measuring factors like water temperature. By studying the underwater explorers, scientists hope to better understand how plankton, major contributors of the Earth's oxygen, thrive and travel through the sea.


Kids looking at museum exhibit.
©AMNH/R. Mickens

This technology is so new, it hasn't hit the water yet. Once it's ocean-ready, researchers plan to attach the miniature suction cups to the bells of jellies. The device automatically measures a jelly's movements and ocean chemistry as the animal swims around. Eventually the jelly regenerates the top layer of its bell, shedding the tag and moving on unharmed. Once detached, the tag floats to the water's surface where it alerts scientists to its location via a VHF antenna and green reflective tape.


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