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Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

World’s Largest Marine Reserve Declared in Antarctica

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Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

In a move hailed by conservationists, an international governing body has created the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea. The designation will protect 598,000 square miles of water off the Antarctic coast, a region teeming with wildlife from krill to killer whales.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was created by international convention in 1982 and includes delegates from 24 countries, including the United States, and the European Union. The commission was founded in response to growing commercial fishing interest in Antarctic krill—an essential link in the marine food chain.

Both krill and plankton are abundant in the near-pristine Ross Sea. Their presence provides food for the tiniest sea creatures, which in turn are eaten by little animals, onward and upward all the way to pods of minke and killer whales.

“The Ross Sea is probably the largest ocean wilderness left on our planet,” marine biologist Enric Sala told National Geographic. “It is the Serengeti of Antarctica, a wild place full of wildlife such as emperor penguins, leopard seals, minke whales, and killer whales. It's one of these rare places where humans are only visitors and large animals rule.”

The sea’s isolation kept it safe for a long time. But as commercial interests enlarge and fuel prices drop, even these frigid waters will need more official forms of protection.

The new ruling prohibits fishing in 72 percent of the reserve, while other areas will be open to limited collections for scientific purposes. "A number of details regarding the MPA are yet to be finalized but the establishment of the protected zone is in no doubt and we are incredibly proud to have reached this point,” Andrew Wright, CCAMLR executive secretary, said in a statement.

Protections will go into effect in December 2017 and hold for 35 years. It’s a very welcome development, say conservationists, but it’s also a temporary fix.

Rod Downie is the polar program manager for the World Wildlife Fund. “This is a milestone for the conservation of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean,” he told New Scientist. “We want a permanent and enduring agreement for future generations that will safeguard the whales, penguins, seals and thousands of other amazing species that live there.”
 
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Tre' Packard
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Art
Artists Transform the Polar Bear Capital of the World Into Massive Mural Gallery
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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.

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

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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