Tag Archives: Fishing

Four ways to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises simultaneously

A landmark report by the world’s most senior climate and biodiversity scientists argues that the world will have to tackle the climate crisis and the species extinction crisis simultaneously, or not at all.

That’s because Earth’s land and ocean already absorbs about half of the greenhouse gases that people emit. Wild animals, plants, fungi and microbes help maintain this carbon sink by keeping soils, forests and other ecosystems healthy.

Failing to tackle climate change meanwhile will accelerate biodiversity loss, as higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns make survival for many species more difficult. Both problems are intertwined, and so solutions to one which exacerbate the other are doomed to fail.

Luckily, there are options for addressing climate change and biodiversity loss together, called nature-based solutions. If implemented properly, these measures can enhance the richness and diversity of life on Earth, help habitats store more carbon and even reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, making ecosystems more resilient while slowing the rate at which the planet warms.

1. Protect and restore ecosystems

Everyone is familiar with the need to preserve tropical rainforests, but there are other pristine habitats, on land and in the ocean, which are in dire need of protection.

Mangrove swamps occupy less than 1% of Earth’s surface, but store the equivalent of 22 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s around two-thirds of total emissions from burning fossil fuels each year. These coastal habitats act as a home, nursery, and feeding ground for numerous species. More than 40 bird, ten reptile and six mammal species are only found in mangroves.

Under the canopy in a tropical mangrove forest.
Mangroves are particularly good at storing carbon. Velavan K/Shutterstock

Peatlands – those soggy ecosystems which include bogs, marshes and fens – store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests. The top 15cm stores more carbon below ground than tropical rainforests do above ground. In the UK, peatlands store the equivalent of ten billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and host precious plant and animals such as red grouse, mountain hares and marsh earwort.

Unfortunately, more than 80% of the UK’s peatlands are degraded in some way. A single hectare of damaged peatland can emit more than 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – equivalent to the yearly emissions of seven family cars.

Protecting these ecosystems can prevent carbon being released into the atmosphere. Restoring them where they’ve been damaged can suck carbon dioxide from the air and guarantee shelter for rare wildlife. Diverse natural systems also bounce back better from climate extremes than do species-poor, highly degraded systems, and will keep helping biodiversity and people even as Earth continues to warm.

2. Manage farmland and fisheries sustainably

Not all of the world’s land and ocean can be left to nature, but the land and ocean people use to produce food and other resources can be managed better.

People currently use about 25% of the planet’s land surface for growing food, extracting resources and living. The global food system contributes one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Methods of farming – such as agroecology, which involves incorporating trees and habitats within farm fields – and sustainable fishing practices can protect and regenerate topsoil and seabed habitats, boosting biodiversity and improving how resilient these ecosystems are to climate change.

Rows of vegetable beds with lines of young trees.
Reforestation in tandem with food growing: lettuce, cauliflowers and tomatoes grow among saplings in Brazil. Luisaazara/Shutterstock

3. Create new forests – with care

People have already cut down three trillion trees – half of all the trees which once grew on Earth.

Creating new woodlands and forests can draw down atmospheric carbon and provide diverse habitats for a range of species, but great care must be taken to plant the right mix of trees in the right place. Vast plantations of non-native trees, particularly when they’re a single species, offer less useful habitat for wildlife, but a mix of native trees can benefit biodiversity and store more carbon in the long run.

A study in south-east China showed that forests containing several tree species stored twice as much carbon as the average single-species plantation.

We can do the same thing in the ocean by restoring seagrass meadows.

4. Shift to more plant-based diets

Globally, animal agriculture is a major contributor to biodiversity loss. Millions of hectares of Amazon rainforest, African Savanna and Central Asian grassland have been ploughed up to create pasture and plant feed crops for the cows, pigs and chickens that we eat. Nearly 60% of all planet-warming emissions from food production originate in livestock rearing.

Reducing demand for meat and dairy, through diet changes and cutting waste, would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which itself benefits biodiversity by limiting climate change – it would also lower pressure for farmland and so reduce deforestation and habitat destruction, freeing more land for the wider use of nature-based solutions.

A vegan burger with a side of sweet potato fries.
A vegan diet is better for wildlife and the climate than a high-meat one. Rolande PG/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Meat, especially highly processed meat, has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and bowel and stomach cancer. Plant-based diets are healthier, reduce healthcare costs and reduce carbon emissions.

A note of caution

It’s important to remember that nature-based solutions aren’t a substitute for the rapid phase out of fossil fuels. They should involve a wide range of ecosystems on land and in the sea, not just forests. Wherever they’re implemented, nature-based solutions must proceed with the full engagement and consent of Indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultural and ecological rights. And nature-based solutions should be explicitly designed to provide measurable benefits for biodiversity – not just carbon sequestration.

With all this in mind, the world can design robust and resilient solutions for the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, sustaining nature and people together, now and into the future.

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About the authors:

Pete Smith currently receives research funding from UKRI, EU, Wellcome Trust and Scottish Government. He is on the science advisory team for Carbon Direct (https://carbon-direct.com/).

Mark Maslin is a Founding Director of Rezatec Ltd, Co-Director of The London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, a member of Cheltenham Science Festival Advisory Committee and a member of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group. He is an unpaid member of the Sopra-Steria CSR Board and Sheep Included Ltd Advisory Board. He has received grant funding in the past from the NERC, EPSRC, ESRC, DFG, Royal Society, DIFD, BEIS, DECC, FCO, Innovate UK, Carbon Trust, UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, Research England, Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Trust, The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation Sprint2020, and British Council. He has received research funding in the past from The Lancet, Laithwaites, Seventh Generation, Channel 4, JLT Re, WWF, Hermes, CAFOD, HP, and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Camille Parmesan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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A Bird’s-Eye View of Fishing

Problems to solve

Fishers — whether humans or birds — have three fundamental problems to solve:

(1) find fish, (2) approach them, and (3) capture them.

A typical method of early Egyptian fishermen was to use a harpoon to spear fish. These fishermen employed the same basic techniques that some birds of the heron family used long before human competitors appeared on the scene.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Photo credit: Vicki’s Nature)

The gray heron, a bird common in Egypt’s Nile delta, uses its sharp beak like a lance to spear fish. It can even spear two different fish at the same time, and it may eat over a pound (0.5 kg) of fish a day. The heron might be said to surpass human fishermen in guile.

Generally, herons specialize in stalking and striking their prey. A heron will wade slowly through shallow water or sometimes just stay totally still with its beak at the ready. When a fish comes within striking distance, the heron plunges its head into the water and captures the fish with its beak. Patience is usually the key to the bird’s success.

Fishing

Fishing With Bait

According to the book The Life of Birds, green-backed herons in Japan seem to imitate people who feed bread to fish found in ornamental lakes. Those ingenious birds use pieces of bread to lure fish to within easy reach.

Egrets in the Caribbean also use bread to lure fish. Egrets even catch fish without any bait at all, using their yellow feet. Standing in shallow water on one foot, they wag their other foot in the water to attract the attention of inquisitive fish.

Grab-and-Go Techniques

African fish eagle just caught a cat fish in L...

African fish eagle just caught a cat fish in Lake Baringo, Kenya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Birds do their fishing in various ways. Fish eagles, often called osprey, could best be described as grab-and-go fishers. They fly above the water, keeping a lookout for any fish swimming near the surface. Once one is spotted, they fold their wings and dive steeply toward the water, realigning their swoop as necessary before snatching the fish with their talons. This technique requires perfect timing and excellent eyesight.

Sometimes the African fish eagle discovers that the fish it has captured with its talons is too heavy to lift. The fish may weigh up to six pounds (2.7 kg)! What does the eagle do then? Naturalists have observed some solving the problem by paddling to shore using their wings!

Diving for Dinner

Gannets and boobies also dive for fish, but they use a vertical dive. Small flocks fly together searching for shoals of fish that swim near the surface. The silvery bodies of these fish change the color of the sea from dark blue to pale green when viewed from above. This telltale patch of green sets gannets and boobies in motion.

After locating a shoal of fish, gannets plunge like arrows into the water at speeds of up to 60 miles (96.56 km) an hour. The birds create a spectacle one might compare to an Olympic diving competition. Other flocks soon notice the activity and quickly arrive at the spot to share in the feast.

An African Fish Eagle about to catch a fish in...

An African Fish Eagle about to catch a fish in Lake Naivasha, Great Rift Valley, Kenya. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike herons, boobies and gannets do not spear the fish when their head enters the water. The force of their dive carries the birds to a depth of several feet. Then, as they swim to the surface, they catch the fish and swallow it whole.

Terns are also proficient divers, but they swoop and hover much closer to the water. The Handbook of the Birds of the World explains that rather than dive-bombing as boobies and gannets do, terns depend on “skill, grace and agility in flight.” They will scoop a fish from the surface. Only briefly, on occasion, do they pursue a fish under water.

Team-spirit

Fishing as a Team

Pelicans may look ungainly because of their huge beaks, but they are accomplished fliers and fishermen. Brown pelicans usually dive for their dinner, and they may also snatch fish from local fishermen as they haul in their nets. But pelicans really excel at collective fishing.

By nature, pelicans are gregarious. A remarkable trait is their habit of coordinating fishing efforts. Typically, a flock of a dozen birds alight on the water and form a semicircle. Swimming slowly, they herd a shoal of fish into a convenient shallow area. As they do, they all open their wings and submerge their heads in unison, gulping fish into their beaks.

Of course, like any human fishers, birds often fail in their attempts. But their success rate is generally much higher than that of their human competitors.

鷺鷥 Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret (Photo credit: ArthurJo)

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  • Awakenings on the River (playamart.wordpress.com)
    The Daily Post tossed out a challenge with four options this week; I selected this one: “Take a draft post that you didn’t published because it didn’t turn out as you expected. Change the story, revise it, and publish.”
  • Master fisherman heron catches a fish using bread as bait (thisismoney.co.uk)
    As most avid fisherman will tell you, you’ve got to use the right bait to attract the big fish.While a seagull might happily feast on a proffered chunk of bread, a green heron knows exactly how to turn that bread into a fish supper.A fascinating video of the heron’s antics shows the bird dropping the bread in the water to lure a fish.
  • Constant cacophony: Herons return to Devil’s Lake (wiscnews.com)
    According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, herons are about 4 feet tall, and theycan be identified by their distinctive coloration, which includes blue-grey feathers with a black stripe and plume above their eyes. Their long, yellow beak is perfect for spearing fish.“They’re migrating back now,” Johansen said of the birds, adding that the male herons return first.

    The females arrive soon after.

    “The males will come in, and they’re figuring out their territories, and then they will attract a female to come in and build a nest and start a family together,” Johansen said.

  • Loving Who You Are: The Story of the Heron and the Crow (mylovingartproject.com)
    The heron knew his time had come. Even the crows knew that the heron was the most patient of all the water birds. He did not mind standing in the water for long periods of time. Today, the heron was firmly planted and balanced on one leg. His piercing eyes were searching. He was ready to harpoon his long and agile beak into the water at the first sign of movement.At that very moment, the last crow circled above the heron and accidentally dropped what was in its beak. The crow’s prized catch fell straight down to the water from high above.  It was a thrown out piece of candy wrapped in a shiny red foil. The wrapper sparkled in the sunlight all the way down and hit the water with a small flicker.  This caused a faint glimmer of light and immediately caught the attention of the largest fish in the lake. In a flash, the fish swam quickly up to the surface and the heron, who was ready and waiting, made the final move. The heron was a skilled fisher and he did not need to chase the fish. His beak moved swiftly and decisively down into the water and the fish was his at last.
  • Colonial Waterbird Monitoring (gulfcoastbirdobservatory.wordpress.com)
    All these different species nesting in one place is gorgeous, but add to it that all of these birds were parading around in their fantastic breeding plumage and you have yourself a breathtaking view that you never want to leave. Breeding plumage is of course the plumage many birds acquire right before the breeding season to try to attract a mate. Birds dress up to impress each other too! This plumage may include bright colors or unusual feather shapes (such as plumes and streamers).
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    Words could never do these beauties justice. Whether breeding or not these birds are remarkable, but that extra boost of breeding plumage only adds to the wonder of these amazing creatures. It was an amazing experience and if you ever get the chance to see a heron rookery you should definitely go!
  • Herons and egrets in the UK – your Green shoots photographs (theguardian.com)
    Every year grey herons gather in large numbers to breed and raise young, building huge untidy nests out of large twigs, perilously perched high up in clumps of tall trees. London’s Battersea park has a heronry of 30 nests, but from Ulster to Northamptonshire and Devon to Cheshire, now is the best time to see these nests in the wild. Here is a list of best places to see heronries

    Little Egret~Egretta garzetta
    Little egret (Egretta garzetta) are, as their name suggests, much smaller than the great whites. They are about 60cm tall, with a wingspan of about 90cm. Photograph: Jump for joy2010/Green Shoots/Flickr
  • Wild Heron at the Oceanside Harbor (bilomathewsblog.wordpress.com)
    We like to walk to the beach harbor at Oceanside to watch the activities of people and the pelicans that hang around the fishing boats docked at the harbor. The pelicans will follow the fishing boats that return from the ocean into the harbor knowing that there is possibility of getting fish treats from the boat crew.
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