Group Seeks Federal Protection For New England's Undersea Paradise

And now, for some good news: The waters off the coasts of Connecticut and Rhode Island are home to a beautiful and thriving aquatic Eden. To ensure that it stays that way, conservation organizations have petitioned the White House to designate the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts area the first National Marine Monument in the Atlantic. 

The area’s five enormous canyons and four seamounts support an astonishing diversity and quantity of marine habitats, from the East Coast’s largest kelp forest to thousand-year-old corals. Research expeditions to the area have found vibrant populations of not only corals, anemones, and sea turtles, but also seabirds, dolphins, and whales, as well as apex predators like tuna, cod, and sharks. You can see some of them in the above video, put together by the NRDC using footage from the NOAA's Okeanos Explorer

To date, the area has remained remarkably healthy, in part because there has been little fishing activity and no undersea mining or drilling. But that all could change unless the area is protected. 

That's what Protect New England's Ocean Treasures Coalition is after. The coalition, comprised of 12 different science and conservation organizations, aims to secure government protection for the site in the form of a National Marine Monument designation.

Why a monument? Because unlike marine sanctuaries and other types of protected spaces, national monuments are totally off-limits for fishing, mining, and drilling.

The members of the coalition aren’t the only ones hoping to protect the canyons and seamounts. A June 2016 poll [PDF] of 403 Rhode Island and 400 Massachusetts residents found that 80 percent supported the protection of marine areas, even when that meant a ban on fishing, mining, or drilling. 

Lisa Dropkin works for Edge Research, the market research firm that conducted the survey. “We often see strong support in polls for ocean conservation, and these results are among the most positive I have seen,” she said in a press statement.

Header image from YouTube //  NRDC

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Tre' Packard
Artists Transform the Polar Bear Capital of the World Into Massive Mural Gallery
Tre' Packard
Tre' Packard

The freezing village of Churchill, Manitoba has just gotten a whole lot brighter. Sixteen “artivists” recently descended on the self-titled Polar Bear Capital of the World, leaving behind beautiful murals with a meaningful message.

The Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative is an international art project by the nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, which melds culture and environmental activism to increase public interest in saving our oceans. From 2014 to 2017, the program sponsored more than 300 murals in 12 countries by 200-plus artists from around the world.

Churchill’s Sea Walls were created in collaboration with the Polar Bear Fund (PBF), a nonprofit that supports innovative projects to raise awareness about the polar bears’ plight.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Spending more than 80 percent of their time in the water, polar bears are technically sea creatures, PBF founder Kal Barteski said in a statement.

“Polar bears are directly affected by the unprecedented melting of sea ice and subsequent habitat destruction at an alarming rate, resulting in a big challenge for the species to survive.”

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Artist painting a polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Tre’ Packard is the founder and executive director of PangeaSeed. “Public art and activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our seas,” he said.

“Regardless of your location – large metropolitan city or small seaside village like Churchill – the ocean supplies us with every second breath we take and life on Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans.”

All images courtesy of Tre’ Packard. Artists, top to bottom: Kal Barteski, Arlin, Dulk, Jason Botkin, and Charles Johnston.

Harry Potter Has Created a Huge Black Market for Owls in Indonesia

There are many fantastical things in the Harry Potter world you can’t have. Teleportation. Invisibility. A weird tween’s ghost hanging out in your school bathroom. If you know where to look, though, you can buy yourself a pet owl like Hedwig. And that’s not a great thing for the owls.

In Indonesia, researchers believe that the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise is leading to a significant uptick in black-market owl trading, Nature reports.

A new study in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation examined the number of owl sales in 20 bird markets on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, where wild-caught birds are sold as pets. In the early 2000s, owls were rare in these markets, but now, more owls from a variety of species are available to buy, spelling bad news for bird conservation. (The first Indonesian translation of Harry Potter came out in 2000, and the first film was released in 2001.) In larger bird markets, there might be 30 to 60 owls representing as many as eight species available at once, according to the study. Owls made up less than 0.06 percent of the birds in Indonesian bird markets before 2002, but after 2008, they were 0.43 percent of the market.

While there could be other reasons for the increase in demand for owls as pets, such as greater internet access allowing people to trade info on where to get the birds, the world’s most famous boy wizard surely shares some of the blame. Look no further than the birds' popular name: "Harry Potter birds." They used to be known as "ghost birds," the researchers write.

Technically, selling wild-caught owls is illegal, but the law isn’t well enforced. Indonesia doesn’t monitor its native owl population, so it's hard to pin down exactly how this is affecting the numbers of wild owls in the region. But typically, nothing good comes of large numbers of wild birds being sold as pets, especially when they're kept in sub-par conditions. The paper's authors recommend that owls be placed on the country's protected species list, with better education for both bird traders and the public on the illegality of buying and selling owls caught in the wild. Maybe a "Save Hedwig" campaign is in order.

[h/t Nature]


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