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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    Last week hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets of the Uttar Pradesh state in India to plant 50 million trees in 24 hours, in an attempt to beat the world record.

    Although six of the top 10 cities with the world’s worst air quality are in India, the country of 1.25 billion people is moving forward with climate change reduction efforts.

    Not only do they have the world’s first 100 percent solar powered airport, and the world’s largest solar power station, but solar power has recently become cheaper than coal in India.

    So increasing air quality with this 50-million-tree project is ambitious, but only a small part of India’s goals when it comes to fighting climate change.

    "The world has realised that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change," the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, told volunteers in the city of Kannaui, which is 250 kilometres (155 miles) southwest of the state capital, Lucknow.

    "Uttar Pradesh has made a beginning in this regard," he added.

    The current Guinness World Record for the most trees planted in one day goes to Pakistan, with 847,275 trees planted back in 2013. Although the Guinness World Record auditors have not yet finished checking the numbers from India’s latest effort, it is likely that the record will be broken thanks to the 800,000 volunteers that took part.

     "The biggest contribution of this tree planting project is, apart from the tokenism, that it focuses on the major issues,"said Anit Mukherjee, policy fellow with the Centre for Global Development. "It addresses many of the big issues for India: Pollution, deforestation, and land use."

    The Indian government has earmarked US$6.2 billion for tree-planting for the next 15 years, because although deforestation plays only a minor role in India’s net greenhouse gas emissions, an increased demand for agricultural land in rural areas means that planting new trees is important to the region.

    But planting is just the beginning of the challenge for those involved with the project, as officials told the Associated Press that approximately 60 percent of new saplings won’t make it, due to disease or lack of water.

    "You can’t just plant the trees,"says Edward Parson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, "Of course it is great to plant 50 million trees, but you also need to have procedures in place to care for them and protect them."

    Senior forest official Sanjeev Saran said that the sites where the trees have been planted, such as along country roads, highways, rail tracks, and forest areas, will be monitored by aerial photographs, to keep an eye on the saplings’ survival.

    Token gesture or not, we’re impressed at India’s contribution towards fighting climate change, first with solar power, and now a few million trees. We would love to see a few other nations picking up the pace in protecting our climate.

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    CHICAGO (AP) — Fracking may worsen asthma in children and adults who live near sites where the oil and gas drilling method is used, according to an 8-year study in Pennsylvania.

    The study found that asthma treatments were as much as four times more common in patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than those living far away.

    But the study did not establish that fracking directly caused or worsened asthma. There's also no way to tell from the study whether asthma patients exposed to fracking fare worse than those exposed to more traditional gas drilling methods or to other industrial activities.

    Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting oil and gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to crack rock. Environmental effects include exhaust, dust and noise from heavy truck traffic transporting water and other materials, and from drilling rigs and compressors. Fracking and improved drilling methods led to a boom in production of oil and gas in several U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.

    Johns Hopkins University researcher Sara Rasmussen, the study's lead author, said pollution and stress from the noise caused by fracking might explain the results. But the authors emphasized that the study doesn't prove what caused patients' symptoms.

    More than 25 million U.S. adults and children have asthma, a disease that narrows airways in the lungs. Symptoms include wheezing, breathing difficulties and chest tightness, and they can sometimes flare up with exposure to dust, air pollution and stress.

    Previous research has found heavy air pollution in areas where oil and gas drilling is booming.

    The new study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

    The researchers noted that between 2005 and 2012, more than 6,200 fracking wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. They used electronic health records to identify almost 36,000 asthma patients treated during that time in the Geisinger Health System, which covers more than 40 counties in Pennsylvania. Evidence of asthma attacks included new prescriptions for steroid medicines, emergency-room treatment for asthma and asthma hospitalizations.

    During the study, there were more than 20,000 new oral steroid prescriptions ordered, almost 5,000 asthma hospitalizations and almost 2,000 ER asthma visits.

    Those outcomes were 50 percent to four times more common in asthma patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than among those living far away.

    The highest risk for asthma attacks occurred in people living a median of about 12 miles from drilled wells. The lowest risk was for people living a median of about 40 miles away.

    Dr. Norman H. Edelman, senior scientific adviser for the American Lung Association, called the study "interesting and provocative." But he said it only shows an association between fracking and asthma, not a "cause and effect," and that more rigorous research is needed.

    "Asthma is a huge problem," he said. "Anything we can do to elucidate the causes will be very useful."

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    Amur LeopardEvery day, species around the planet are going extinct. And for each species that goes extinct, many more become and remain endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, human activities, and climate change. Some are so critical that they are teetering on the brink of extinction.

    All these threatened animals are included on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, a non-prescriptive list that is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species.

    “The IUCN red list tells us how close to extinction species are,” Craig Hilton Taylor, head Red List Unit of the Global Species Programme at the IUCN, told Business Insider. “It is a fairly coarse measure [but] we have a set of quantitative criteria that we try to rank species under, and if a species moves into one of the threatened categories — vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered — then we know that a species either has a high, very high, or an extremely high risk of going extinct in the wild unless we do something about it.”

    For example, he said, polar bears are considered vulnerable to extinction, while tigers are endangered (a more critical category), and just this July, the IUCN declared that the Bornean orangutan critically endangered.

    Here are 12 species at risk of extinction, including some that you probably didn’t even know existed.

    The Bornean orangutan

    Found only on the island of Borneo, Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) have a broader face and shorter beard than their cousins, Sumatran orangutans. This July, the IUCN changed their status to critically endangered because their population has declined by 60% since 1950, and, according to Scientific American, new projections estimate that their numbers will fall by another 22% by the year 2025.

    The main threats for these animals are habitat loss (forests are turned into rubber, oil palm or paper plantations) and illegal hunting. Aggravating the problem, females only reproduce every six to eight years— the longest birth interval of any land mammal — which makes conservation efforts slow.


    The Ili pika (Ochontana iliensis) is a small mammal (only 7-8 inches long) that's native to the Tianshan mountain range of the remote Xinjiang region of China. Living on sloping bare rock faces and feeding on grasses at high elevations, this little creature is very rare — there are less than 1,000 left.

    The species was only discovered in 1983, but its numbers have declined by almost 70% since then, reports CNN. This is because its habitat is being drastically affected by climate change. Rising temperatures have forced the pikas to retreat up into the mountain tops. In addition, grazing pressure from livestock and air pollution have likely contributed to their decline.

    Giant Otter

    Found only in South America, Giant otters, or Pteronura brasiliensis, are the largest otters in the world, with some as long as 6 feet. They are also the rarest otters in the world, with only a few thousand believed to be surviving in the wild. Sometimes known as the “river wolf,” their fur is chocolatey brown and extremely soft. They also have a creamy white patch on their throat that is unique to each otter, Meg Symington, managing director of the Amazon for WWF, told Business Insider.

    “They are extremely smart animals, and sort of like wolves or lions, they can be cooperative hunters. They live in groups and they hunt fish together as a group, herding the fish,” she said. “They’re active during the day, so they’re actually a large mammal that you can see easily in the Amazon, which is unusual since a lot of large animals are hard to see in the jungle.”

    Historically, giant otters were hunted for their pelts, causing a huge decline in their numbers. While they are no longer hunted today, they remain endangered because many of their aquatic habitats (rivers and lakes) have been degraded and destroyed, causing the fish populations they rely on for food to dwindle. They are many times viewed as nuisances by humans, especially by fishermen. They are also threatened by gold-mining in the region, which leads to mercury poisoning. “Because they are an apex predator, they accumulate mercury because they eat so much fish,” Symington explained.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    We’re taught that evolution is all about “survival of the fittest”. But that’s not always the case.

    In fact, sometimes evolution can be the result of a lucky animal finding “any port in a storm”.

    And the finding that Luzon, an island in the Philippines, has the greatest concentration of unique mammals in the world – even more than Madagascar – is the perfect example.

    Islands are often examples of an evolutionary free for all, where a newly-introduced species may find itself in the perfect situation, whether that’s a new and different type of habitat and resources or even a complete lack of competitors and predators. Being introduced to an island ecosystem can turn a rather mediocre mainland species into a weird and wonderful new creation.

    Examples of species found on one island and nowhere else (known as island endemics) can be found almost anywhere we look. The lemurs on Madagascar are found nowhere else on Earth, the Galapagos islands are home to flightless cormorants and aquatic iguanas and there are even quirky examples of island species from across the British Isles such as the Scilly shrew or the Orkney vole.

    Lemurs are feed by a caretaker at Antananarivo's Tsimbazaza Zoo Madagascar, in this December 5, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti/Files

    However, islands are not just a melting pot for new species – they’re also responsible for some rather strange adaptations, often allowing species to develop physically in ways that we would never expect to see in their mainland counterparts. This is maybe best shown by the “island rule” which, when all the complicated bits are stripped away, means that small species become big and big species become small.

    For proof of this, just look at the dwarf elephants which once lived in the Mediterranean or even dwarf humans in Indonesia. At the other end of the scale, consider how tortoises from Madagascar and Ecuador washed up in the Seychelles and the Galapagos respectively and thrived as giants.

    Luzon laboratory


    It seems islands are nature’s evolutionary laboratories, the places where natural selection runs wild. But even between islands, some are more spectacular than others. Scientists from the Field Museum in Chicago have just published a study where they looked for the world’s greatest concentration of unique mammal species.

    It turns out that Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, holds this honorable prize. Their 15-year study concluded that out of 56 species of mammals (not including bats) on the island, a staggering 52 were found to be endemic. With 93% of its non-flying mammals found nowhere else on Earth, Luzon is a biological treasure trove.

    But if all islands are special for the development and emergence of new species, then what makes Luzon more special? The team puts it down to the island’s size – at more than 40,000 square miles, it’s larger than Cuba or Iceland – and because it has never been connected to the mainland.

    With lots of space (in different habitats) and across lots of time, Luzon has given any colonizing animals just the right ingredients to adapt and evolve into new species. For animals that swam across from other islands or were swept over on rafts of mangroves or palm trees, it was the perfect opportunity not only to adapt into new species themselves but then for these new species to diversify into yet more species.

    image 20160715 2141 rym0u72Even within this one island, high, forest-covered mountains then acted as “sky islands” – separate ecosystems cut off from the land below, with different evolutionary pressures. This in turn increased the likelihood for even further species diversity. From unusual mice that mainly hunt and eat earthworms, to other rodents with long elegant whiskers stretching the entire length of their bodies, Luzon is an incredible example of island evolution.

    Sadly, the fragile nature of these ecosystems often means island species are often threatened with extinction. In the Galapagos, introduced goats outcompete tortoises for food, while snakes accidentally taken to Guam, where the birds had never seen a snake before, are destroying the fine balance of island ecosystems there. With pollution and hunting and the ever-increasing threat of climate change all also taking their toll, maybe nowhere are conservation efforts needed more than when dealing with unique island species.

    Ben Garrod, Fellow, Animal & Environmental Biology, Anglia Ruskin University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    Gypsy moth caterpillars have taken a serious bite out of the forests of New England this summer — in fact, their destruction is so severe, it is visible from space. 

    Aerial photos taken May 25 and June 26 from the NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites show just how much defoliation these furry caterpillars caused in just one month's time. 

    The healthy forests appear green in these satellite images, whereas the gray-brown tinted regions are the parts of the forest that have been munched on by these hungry critters.  

    The beginning of summer is usually the worst time for forest defoliation, because caterpillars hatch in late April to early May and they voraciously eat leaves throughout the month of  June, targeting the trees before they have had the time to regrow leaves. 

    Dry weather only makes problems worse, because dryness actually weakens the pathogens that usually harm the caterpillars. In addition, there has also been a decline in the caterpillars' predator — the white-footed mouse — allowing the caterpillars to thrive unchecked. 

    Paul Ricard, Rhode Island's forest health program coordinator of the Department of Environmental Management, told NASA that the outbreak is linked to two consecutive dry springs. However, he added, that he is not yet worried about the overall health of the forest because usually these trees can usually undergo a couple of seasons of heavy defoliation without huge turmoil.

    However, the Providence Journal reports that eggs left behind by this year's gypsy moth caterpillars could bring another severe infestation next spring as well. 

    gypsy moth caterpillarAccording to the University of Illinois-Extension, gypsy moth eggs are laid and attached to the trees themselves. When they hatch in late spring, the caterpillars that emerge can be identified by 5 pairs of blue dots and 6 pairs of red dots on their backs. These caterpillars are also covered in a brown-gray fur. They avoid coniferous trees (firs and pines) and target deciduous trees (such as oaks) that make up most of New England's hardwood forests. 

    Usually, young caterpillars feed during the day and older caterpillars feed at night. But during population booms like the one that has occurred this summer, they all eat whenever they get the chance. 

    Gypsy caterpillars aren't the only tree-killing creatures. According to a 2001 study in BioScience, insects and disease combined to ravage about 45% more forest area each year than did wildfires. Still, the United States Department of Agriculture lists the gypsy moth as one of the worst offenders in killing trees because it has the largest role in defoliating hardwood trees in the eastern United States.

    The trouble comes when a period of continuous destruction occurs. After a sustained attack, tree tops can become thin, buds and branches die, and parasites that attack stressed trees start to become more prevalent. This can then lead to huge die-offs in the forest.

    With the large numbers of eggs left in the forests, populations of these caterpillars won’t start to decrease until well into the feeding period next season. But, there is some hope as  area-wide outbreaks usually only remain high for around 3 years, so the forests should hopefully be in better shape by the summer of 2018. 

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    Reported cases of algal blooms, when algae grow rapidly from an influx of nutrients in waterways, have been rising at an exponential rate in recent decades.

    Industrialized countries have the highest incidence with North America, Europe and eastern Asia being hotbeds for new cases due to runoff from industry and cities as well as these areas' intensive use of manufactured fertilizers.

    These events often cause a noticeable change in the color and smell of natural water bodies and may be accompanied by highly visible fish kills or even respiratory distress in humans who inhale tiny, aerosol particles created by wind and waves.

    A highly visible new case recently developed in Florida, where a particularly intense bloom of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) formed in Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in the state. As is often the case with today’s larger, more intense blooms, the event was visible to satellites orbiting in space. This year’s Lake Okeechobee bloom was first noticed on Landsat 8 images during early May 2016 and persisted through at least midsummer.

    While blooms of this nature are not uncommon in Lake Okeechobee, this one received more attention because of its intensity and size – it covered 33 square miles. Also, the bloom was exported to the coast when water managers released water from Lake Okeechobee in response to several months of heavy rainfall and concerns that rising water levels in the lake, which is contained by a dike, would cause flooding.

    Upon reaching the coast through two man-made diversions that short-circuit the lake’s natural, southerly flow to the Everglades, the bloom persisted instead of dispersing, causing economic damage to local tourism, fishing and boating businesses. Florida’s governor subsequently declared a state of emergency in three of the hardest-hit counties on the Atlantic coast and in one county on the Gulf coast.

    Apart from the economic damages, Floridians are also bothered by the environmental degradation these events cause. What are the environmental and health dangers from this sort of large-scale algal bloom?

    Bloom types and basic bloom mechanics

    Blue-green algae are one of three types of single-celled algae that frequently cause harmful blooms in coastal waters. In Florida and elsewhere, the blue-greens tend to bloom in fresh water and at the upper ends of estuaries, near where freshwater runoff first starts to mix with coastal seawater. The other two algal types, diatoms and dinoflagellates, tend to bloom at more seaward locations (especially the dinoflagellates).

    While the fundamental causes of coastal algal blooms are well understood, there is considerable uncertainty about the details. A large part of the debate involves determining which cocktail of nutrients – whether it’s nitrate, ammonia, orthophosphate or organic nutrients such as urea – promotes one particular bloom type over another.

    image 20160718 2138 hbvp6k

    One of the well-understood fundamentals about algal blooms is that land use has a strong bearing on the types of nutrients that are delivered downstream to bloom-prone water bodies.

    Urban development introduces new nutrients from sewage, manufactured fertilizer and rain-borne emissions from burned fuel to downstream parts of local drainage basins. Agriculture, especially row crops, can introduce manufactured fertilizer in large amounts to drainage basins. Intensive animal feed lots may also introduce excessive nutrients; hog farms in North Carolina and duck farms on Long Island are two well-known examples of intensive animal production leading to harmful algal blooms and lowered water quality. In Florida’s case, intensive feed lots are not common, but the other two land-use types are.

    Also well-understood is that water stagnation encourages blooms by giving the algae enough time to remain in calm surface waters where the light needed for photosynthesis is most abundant. In Florida and elsewhere, water is withdrawn from rivers and streams for various municipal, agricultural and industrial purposes, and these withdrawals tend to increase the incidence of stagnation. On the other hand, there are coastal areas both inside and outside of Florida that are relatively immune to stagnation and algal-bloom formation because tidal flushing is strong there.

    Once blooms have formed, they can have two types of effects, indirect and direct. The most prominent indirect effect is low dissolved oxygen in the water, or hypoxia. During a bloom, the algae produce dissolved oxygen while they photosynthesize during the day, but then consume dissolved oxygen at night in the dark as they respire.

    Although the balance between these two opposing processes (photosynthesis vs. respiration) can be either positive or negative, the trend toward hypoxia becomes stronger as the algae from the bloom start to die off and decompose. First, the sick and dying cells stop producing as much oxygen through photosynthesis, and then the total amount of respiration surges once nonphotosynthetic bacteria start to break down the newly abundant, dead algae cells for food.

    Hypoxia can lasts minutes to months, but is nearly permanent in some bodies of water.

    Harms to many organisms

    Why should we be concerned about hypoxia? Basically, the answer is that hypoxia determines which animals can survive in a given body of water.

    Hypoxia and anoxia (the complete absence of dissolved oxygen) kill aquatic organisms of all sizes, but the less-mobile bottom animals are usually the first to go. In some cases, hypoxia/anoxia spreads throughout much of the water body, resulting in fish kills. Even if fish kills do not occur, the likely loss of bottom animals eliminates a critically important food supply for the fish community.

    image 20160718 2150 1e4xckx

    Many aquatic animals, especially larger predators such as fish, obtain their energy from food webs that include bottom animals; even fish and other aquatic animals that do not eat bottom animals directly may be affected. A study of European fisheries revealed that this food-web effect translated into a dramatically changed composition of the fish community over a period of decades. As algal blooms became more common, highly valued fish that were once abundant in the harvest became scarce.

    Toxicity, however, is the most direct effect of algal blooms. Some types of bloom are never toxic, but still cause harmful hypoxia, and others are toxic in some cases but not others.

    Blooms of algal types such as the red tide organism (Karenia brevis, a dinoflagellate) always appear to be toxic once the blooms exceed a threshold density of cells. Karenia’s toxic product, brevitoxin, mostly kills fish, although other marine life, including dolphins and manatees, have also been killed by red tide. Nutrients released from the decomposing fish are believed to prolong the blooms.

    The toxins from various types of algal blooms can become dangerously concentrated within shellfish, especially filter-feeding clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. While the detection of blooms often leads to the closure of shellfish beds by authorities, human deaths have occurred in areas where such regulation does not exist, and also in areas where new blooms are believed to be forming for the first time, catching people off-guard.

    One study identified 2,124 cases of saxitoxin poisoning in the Philippines, with 120 deaths between 1983 and 2002. These cases were attributed to Pyrodinium bahamense, the same dinoflagellate that blooms intensively in Tampa Bay, apparently without becoming very toxic (yet).

    Researchers are starting to suspect that asthma and other human respiratory ailments are more related to algal blooms than previously believed. Also, there is concern that with continued environmental change, blooms that are presently mildly toxic could become far more toxic in the future.

    Possible remedies

    Given these economic, environmental, and human-health impacts at the coast, what can be done? In Florida, managers release freshwater from the interior to the coast for flood control and water supply. But ecosystem health at the coast must also be managed.

    In accordance with the U.S. Clean Water Act, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program, which sets pollution limits in bodies of water, is being implemented to lessen the nutrient runoff that fuels algal blooms. The TMDL program provides a geographic accounting of pollutant sources, including excessive nutrient runoff. Yet new blooms keep forming.

    In addition to TMDLs, further development and implementation of best management practices for agricultural and urban land use needs to continue with the goal of curbing excessive nutrient runoff, particularly during rainy periods.

    Detailed computer models of water circulation should be used more routinely in the course of water management to predict where coastal algal blooms are likely to form. Finally, natural wetland buffers should be used to intercept nutrients before they reach the coast (provided this does not cause a different set of problems in the interior), and the construction of engineered treatment wetlands should be considered.

    In the Lake Okeechobee case, restoration of flow to the Everglades may go a long way toward solving Florida’s current problems at the coast.

    Ernst B. Peebles, Associate Professor of Biological Oceanography, University of South Florida. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    A crowd of beachgoers watch researchers examine and dissect a Great White Shark that washed up on Goosewing Beach in Little Compton, Rhode Island in this September 1, 2012 file photo. Picture taken September 1, 2012. REUTERS/Scott Eisen/Files

    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s great white sharks could die out due to human interference, ocean pollution and a limited gene pool, a new study released on Wednesday showed.

    There are 350-520 great white sharks left off the South African coast, 50 percent fewer than previously thought, according to a six year study carried out mainly in Gansbaai, a shark hotspot 160 kilometers from Cape Town.

    "South Africa’s white sharks faced a rapid decline in the last generation and their numbers might already be too low to ensure their survival,” said Sara Andreotti, research leader and marine biologist at the University of Stellenbosch.

    Scientists say there are still thousands of great white sharks off the coast of Australia, Canada and the east coast of the United States.

    Thousands of tourists travel to South Africa's Western Cape each year to catch a glimpse of the ocean's top predator from underwater cages, but human interaction has made the largest contribution to declining local shark numbers.

    Great white shark

    Shark nets used to protect swimmers and surfers killed more than 1,000 great whites off the Durban coast in the 30 years up to 2008, while trophy hunting and pollution also killed off large numbers of a species which can trace its lineage back 14 million years.

    South African great white sharks also have the lowest genetic diversity of all white shark populations globally, making breeding more problematic and the likelihood of illness higher, the study, which included documenting individual sharks by their dorsal fins, showed.

    There are only 333 great whites capable of breeding in South African waters, below the 500 usually needed to prevent "inbreeding depression", the study found.

    "We are already in a situation where our number of breeders is below the minimum level required for a population to survive," Andreotti told reporters.

    Losing great white sharks, which have no natural predators, would have a knock-on effect on ocean ecology. Common prey, such as the Cape fur seal, could flourish in their absence and reduce fish numbers.

    South Africa helped pioneer great white shark conservation and in 1991 became the first in the world to declare the predator a protected species, with other countries including the U.S. and Australia following suit. 

    (Editing by Joe Brock)

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    sea turtles hatchingGreen sea turtles are hatching around the world from now through October. Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings make it to adulthood.

    So how do these lucky few hatchling even make it out of their nests and to the ocean?  With a little help from their siblings, of course.

    An experiment done by researchers at the University Malaysia Terengganu showed that baby sea turtles expended less energy and made it out of their nest at a higher rate when they were buried with a larger number of their siblings.

    For the experiment, the scientists covered the eggs in a layer of tinfoil and hooked it up to a battery, creating a circuit on top of the nest. Then, when the first turtle broke out of its egg, the circuit was broken and the scientists could observe the number of days that it took for the clutch of turtles to break out of the sand. They found that in larger clutches, baby turtles made it out in three and a half days, while in the smallest clutches, the turtles took 8 days to break the surface of the sand.

    This is because they had fewer siblings to help them dig their way out. 

    This delay in time also meant that each individual turtle in the smaller clutches was expending a lot more energy — a precious commodity for a tiny creature that is fighting for its life.

    By monitoring the oxygen output in the cages that the turtles were buried in, the researchers were able to determine how much energy they were using. It turned out that the clutches with the most siblings used only about 10% of their stored energy (which comes from the nutrients in their egg shells), while clutches with fewer siblings used up to 67% of their energy stores.

    Depleting this much energy could mean death for some turtles. Green sea turtle hatchlings are only about 2 inches long when they hatch. After emerging from the sand, they must make a quick dash to the safety of the ocean, so they need all the energy they can get to make it (and avoid predators, like ghost crabs, birds, and raccoons). 

    If these tiny turtles make it to adulthood, they transform into large creatures that can weigh over 300 pounds and reach up to 4 feet in length. Adult females reach sexual maturity between 20 and 50 years of age, when they then start laying eggs. From then on, females can lay 75 to 200 eggs in underground nests every 3 to 4 years.

    Since the species is endangered, there are a lot of conservation projects working to help their numbers rebound. In fact, sometimes nests are dug up so that the baby turtles can be moved to a safer area.

    The researchers of this study hope that their findings will be useful to conservationists, highlighting just how important it is to keep large clutches together in order to give hatchlings a better chance of survival.

    Green turtles will be hatchingfor the next couple of months in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and over 80 other countries around the world. If you are lucky enough to witness this beautiful sight, be sure not to disturb the hatchlings.

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    tree forest study

    Forests can slow the warming of our planet by absorbing around 25% of the emissions of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), but only if the forests are healthy. And, according to a new study published today in the journal Ecology Letters, North American forests might not be healthy enough to help in the near future.

    When temperatures get too high and stay high year after year, whole forests in North America could be devastated, the researchers said. Heat or drought weakens trees, making them more susceptible to fire, disease, and insects, thereby preventing healthy growth, and diminishing their absorption rate of carbon dioxide.

    “There is a critical and potentially detrimental feedback loop going on here,” Noah Charney, study author and researcher at the University of Arizona, said in a press release.

    In fact, forests could actually turn into a source of CO2 in the atmosphere — maybe as soon as 2050 — because the trees could die faster than they could absorb carbon dioxide. If they die, they would release trapped carbon, adding to the vicious cycle and helping accelerating climate change.

    The newly published study combined widely-used climate projection models, tapped 1,457 sample sites across the continent, and utilized the North American historic tree-ring records from 1900 to 1950 to arrive at their results.


    By 2075, trees in the north and southwest (including the Rocky Mountains, Canada, and Alaska) could grow as much as 75% slower than normal.

    The study challenged previous research, which had suggested that trees in colder areas could grow larger with warming temperatures and absorb more CO2.

    The researchers say their work adds to the evidence that carbon emissions need to be monitored in order to have any impact on limiting the effects of a continually warming world.


    SEE ALSO: 12 rare animals that are teetering on the brink of extinction

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    NOW WATCH: A spacecraft is about to explore Jupiter like never before — here’s what NASA fears the most

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    fescue grass

    Ever since people have begun to realize the negative impacts that fossil fuels have on this planet, scientists have become serious in the search for efficient and new renewable energy sources.

    At Cardiff University, researchers might have found a simple and surprisingly unlikely source: grass. More specifically, fescue grass, a type of grass that is tolerant to shade as well as cold. 

    Their new study, just out today, reveals that with the addition of a simple catalyst —nickel — fescue grass could just be an excellent new source of hydrogen.

    Hydrogen, not a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, makes it a very viable option for sustainable energy. Scientists have known for some time that it might be a good option but they had struggled to find a cheap way of extracting it. Now, the new study suggests that we are able to get this much-needed hydrogen from the cellulose found in fescue grass. Cellulose is the long chain of sugars in plant cell walls that make them sturdy.

    The process works by using sunlight to activate the catalyst, nickle, which in turn converts the cellulose and water into hydrogen. They tried other catalysts, including palladium and gold, but nickle proved to be the most effective and cost-efficient way at making the process work.

    According to the United States Energy Information Administration, hydrogen can be used to fuel many things, including laptops, cell phones, and cars. Currently, there are around 500 hydrogen-fueled cars driving around the US, which use electrical currents produced from hydrogen. 

    While scientists are still in the early stages of harnessing hydrogen from grass, this new method of hydrogen production is potentially an incredibly fast, cheap, and environmentally friendly way to fuel our lives in the future. 

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    UP NEXT: The Amazon rainforest might catch fire this summer — here’s why that could be devastating

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    NOW WATCH: This is why you should stop letting your dog lick your face

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    RTX1UUU2In the last few months, wildfires have ravaged through Alberta’s boreal forests and California. According to the Climate Central Wildfire tracker, there are 66 large fires burning right now in the western US. And now, NASA is warning that the Amazon rainforest might be in store for an epic wildfire season this summer due to the long-lasting effects of El Niño.

    El Niño conditions in 2015 and early 2016 altered rainfall patterns around the world, resulting in less rain in the Amazon basin during the wet season, plunging part of the forests into drought, and setting it up for an intense burning season that could last from July through September.

    In fact, this is the driest the Amazon has been at the beginning of its annual dry season since 2002. According to NASA’s Amazon fire forecast, the forest is so dry that the risk of wildfire for the coming months now exceeds the fire risk of 2005 and 2010 — both drought years that saw wildfires burn large sections of the forest.

    “When trees have less moisture to draw upon at the beginning of the dry season, they become more vulnerable to fire and evaporate less water into the atmosphere,” Jim Randerson, one of the UC-Irvine scientist who built the Amazon fire forecast model, said in a statement. “This puts millions of trees under stress and lowers humidity across the region, allowing fires to grow bigger than they normally would.”

    The Amazon rainforest stores an estimated 120 billion metric tons of carbon in its trees, making it a very important carbon reservoir, or “carbon sink” in scientific terms. This means that it absorbs more carbon dioxide than it creates. The rainforest is also crucial in regulating most of South America’s rainfall cycle.

    So, a massive Amazonian wildfire could potentially release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, damage nearby croplands, harm wildlife, and smother the region in smoke, thereby degrading the air quality in major Brazilian cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, where the 2016 Olympic games are being held this August.

    There is also always the potential that a massive wildfire in this region could damage the forest so badly that it makes it unable to recover its carbon-absorbing, water-cycling role, which would have massive consequences not only on this ecosystem, but also on the entire planet.


    It's important to note that the Amazon’s fires don’t start spontaneously. As The Washington Post reports, logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and other human-induced changes have altered the rainforest landscape, making it more and more susceptible to fires. The forest is now much more fragmented and the thinning of trees has allowed more light to get through the canopy, making the ground leaf layer hotter, drier, and more flammable. Agricultural fires can also easily spread. 

    The scientists at UC-Irvine and NASA have been working with South American officials to broadcast their forecasts and increase awareness of the elevated fire risk, and they are hoping that this will encourage local authorities to take necessary precautions this season.

    SEE ALSO: Don't count on trees to stop the world from getting hotter — here’s why

    DON'T MISS: 12 rare animals that are teetering on the brink of extinction

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    NOW WATCH: The most powerful physics machine on Earth may have found something that breaks the laws of physics as we know them

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    Yao honey-hunter Orlando Yassene holds a wild greater honeyguide female, temporarily captured for research, in the Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique, in this handout picture released July 21, 2016. Claire Spottiswoode/Science/ Handout via REUTERS

    OSLO (Reuters) - A small African bird that guides people to bees' nests hoping to share honey and wax responds to hunters' special calls in a rare example of a partnership between wild animals and humans, scientists said on Thursday.

    Cooperation between the greater honeyguide bird and hunters was first written about by a Portuguese missionary in 1588, but was widely dismissed as pure hearsay. In recent years, however, researchers have found ever more evidence of the bond.

    In Mozambique, hunters are far more successful in finding honey when they use a traditional call - a trill followed by a grunt that sounds like "brr-hm" - to attract honeyguides, the experts wrote in the journal Science.

    Once attracted, the birds lead hunters to trees with bees, relying on the humans to subdue the insects with fire and smoke, chop open the trunk, get the honey and then leave behind some beeswax that is a delicacy for the birds.

    In the 1980s, scientists documented that honeyguides seek human help by making distinctive calls and flitting from tree to tree to attract attention.

    "We've found it's a two-way communication," lead author Claire Spottiswoode, an evolutionary biologist who works at Cambridge University and the University of Cape Town, told Reuters. "Humans communicate back to honeyguides as well."

    The 'brr-hm' call "signals to honeyguides that they (hunters) are eager to follow. Honeyguides use this information to choose partners," she said.

    The call doubles the chances of getting led by a honeyguide to 66 percent from 33 and increased the probability of finding a bees' nest to 54 percent from 17, compared to the use of other human or animal sounds to lure birds.

    Most human cooperation with animals is with domesticated or trained animals, such as dogs or falcons. The only other known partnership with wild creatures is when dolphins sometimes work with fishermen, according to the study.

    Spottiswoode said 20 Yao hunters interviewed in the Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique did not know the origin of the traditional "brr-hm" call. By contrast in Kenya, hunters whistle to attract the birds.

    Still, honeyguides are not entirely sweet.

    Like cuckoos, they lay eggs in the nests of other birds and baby honeyguides kill their foster siblings by stabbing them with sharp hooks on their beaks. Spottiswoode called them "the Jekyll and Hyde of the bird world."

    (Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Mark Heinrich)

    SEE ALSO: The US government is trying to save the declining honeybee population

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    NOW WATCH: Incredible video of bees swarming their hive in slow motion

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    forever 21

    Have you ever wondered how stores like Forever 21 and H&M can sell trendy and fashionable t-shirts and dresses so cheaply—often for less than twenty dollars each?

    These stores are part of the fast fashion movement, a billion-dollar business that relies on cheap labor and efficient supply chains to replicate the latest couture trends, turning them into clothing that's sold in mass quantities.

    The movement kicked off in the nineties when Forever 21 began making dresses and tops inspired by designers like Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui. These designer-inspired replicas allowed shoppers to purchase these trendy pieces at a fraction of the runway cost.

    But consumers reaping the rewards of fast fashion are unaware that being “on trend” inexpensively comes at a price. According to the Ethical Fashion Forum, it takes approximately 700 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed to make just one t-shirt, and Americans are buying, even more, t-shirts than they did twenty years ago.

    Next to oil corporations, the fashion industry is the second largest polluting business in the world.

    Fast fashion has become the super-sized version of retail because low clothing prices encourage consumers to purchase multiple items at a time.

    But while the quantity might be great, the quality is not. This clothing is not durable; it falls apart at the seams. For that reason, most shoppers wear these items less than ten times before they discard them, which contributes to the 10 million tons of textile waste that takes up five percent of all landfill space.

    To help solve this environmental problem, social impact clothing lines— brands, such as BeruReformation, and Christy Dawn— are cropping up to combat over-consumption and waste, by making use of surplus materials from the large fashion houses, such as 7 For All Mankind. 

    Instead of creating their own fabric, these designers use deadstock materials, fabric remnants leftover from other brands and garment factories to set up their own clothing lines in limited quantities that meet—not exceed—demand.

    Sofia Melograno, founder of Beru, a zero waste children’s clothing line creates her entire collection from unused textiles.

    “I think there’s a misconception that eco-fashion is “crunchy granola” and not aesthetically appealing. That is far from the truth,” says Melograno.  “I like the elevated level of innovation that comes with being a zero waste designer.”

    Another zero waste designer, Christy Dawn, is inspired by her love of vintage clothing. Dawn loves designing unique, beautiful "Christy Dawns" that tell a story.

    @KarlieKloss in the Augie two piece. #refbabe

    A photo posted by Reformation (@reformation) on Jun 5, 2016 at 2:50pm PDT on

    "My dresses are all produced in limited quantities so that each woman who purchases one receives a special, eco-friendly piece for her wardrobe," she said.

    Today’s young designers are learning about slow fashion before they even start their careers.

    Parsons has embraced the concept by offering courses that teach fashion students how to incorporate sustainability into their creative process. And for those who wish to create zero waste garments but don't want to become professional designers, Holly McQuillan and Timo Rissanen wrote Zero Waste Fashion Design, a book that teaches people how to make simple patterns that they can transform into cutting edge, zero-waste designs.

    Another author, Elizabeth Cline, hopes to raise awareness about the ethics behind the world of fast fashion in her book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

    Whether you are a designer, consumer or educator, slow fashion catapults all of us back to an era when clothing was a timeless, form of self-expression, produced in ethical ways.  And that’s a scenario worth sketching out.

    SEE ALSO: America has been drinking out of 'the worst thing that ever happened to beer'

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    hemp farm

    The road into Taranto is dotted with 100-year-old olive trees and low stone houses. The town, in the region of Puglia, is in the heel of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. “The city between the two seas” straddles the southern Mediterranean, known as the Mar Grande, and a small inlet known as the Mar Piccolo. The air has a heavy metallic scent.

    At the edge of town is a farm that has been known, since the 1800s, for its traditional cheeses. People came from all over to buy dairy products handmade in ancient, wood-fired terracotta furnaces. Those days are long gone, owner Vincenzo Fornaro explains, as he stands in a field surrounded by chest-high cannabis plants.

    In 2008, local officials forced Fornaro to cull his animals, which were no longer safe for human consumption. They were contaminated with a dangerous cocktail of nickel, lead, and other toxic substances. That was the end of the cheese. The culprit, just over a mile away, is the biggest steel plant in Europe. The cannabis plants have replaced the dairy farm in an attempt to undo the environmental damage.

    Fornaro was aware the plant was spewing toxic chemicals into the air and soil, he said, in Italian. “I can see the effects of this horrible factory on me.” When he was 20, he had a kidney removed. He told Italian newspaper La Stampa that his own mother had died after being diagnosed with a tumor.

    The Ilva steel plant covers 15 million square meters—nearly three times the size of the city itself. It opened in 1965 and doubled in size by the 1970s. It once churned out almost one-third of Italy’s steel. The plant helped turn Taranto into a grimy industrial city. Smoking chimneys, blast furnaces, and aggregates yards now dominate the once-pastoral town. Even today a giant oil refinery and a huge cement factory welcome visitors.

    Production at the plant has declined steadily, from 9 million tons at its height, to 4.7 million tons in 2015. But the environmental effects have been devastating. One study found that 11,000 local residents died as a result of severe toxin poisoning in factory fallout from 2005 to 2012. High levels of lead and dioxins (carcinogenic compounds) were found in the urine and blood of locals who lived near the factory. They had higher rates of heart disease and cancer.

    The dilemma is that the plant has dominated the local economy. At its height, it employed 40,000 people, and a European Union report found that the plant made up 75 percent of Taranto’s income in 2008.

    Unemployment in the region was almost 20 percent as recently as last year, so for many local residents, the jobs almost make up for the pollution. Initially, the local government didn’t do anything because the steel plant was too important.

    “A long time ago, a choice was made to sacrifice this part of Italy, jeopardizing the health of the citizens of Taranto and its community and the biodiversity of the two seas,” said politician Domenico Finiguerra. “It was decided to sacrifice this land in the name of Italy’s economic future, supplying its industry with all the steel it needed.”

    Taranto represents an economic model based on cement, steel, and oil, which is no longer sustainable, Finiguerra said. “This poisoned territory urgently needs an ecological regeneration project.”

    As the full scale of the environmental devastation became clear, local residents decided to take action. In 2012, the plant was seized by magistrates and put under special administration. Last year, 47 people were indicted for crimes including crimes against public safety, corruption, bribery, abuse of office, and murder and injury by negligence.

    Leaves of marijuana plants to extract the hemp fiber that is often used in traditional Japanese clothes and accessories, are seen at Japan's largest legal marijuana farm in Kanuma, Tochigi prefecture, Japan July 5, 2016. Picture taken July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Issei Kato

    Among those indicted were the powerful owners of the plant, the Riva family, managers at the factory, as well as the former governor of the region and a former mayor of the city of Taranto. Fabio Riva had been on the run since 2012 and had to be extradited from the United Kingdom. His billionaire father died in 2014, after two years of being under house arrest.

    The legal action couldn’t save the agriculture sector, however. Since 2012, about 1,000 enterprises have shut down, and there has been a 10-percent decrease in meat production due to the slaughtering of 1,000 animals in the area. The soil is thoroughly contaminated, and farmers are banned from grazing their animals within a 12-mile radius of the steel plant.

    Which brings us to hemp.

    “We found ourselves at a crossroads, we had to decide whether to leave or to stay,” said farmer Vincenzo Fornaro. “We decided to stay to defend our land.” To do that, he planted marijuana plants, which can absorb toxic substances from the soil and neutralize them. The fist time hemp was used for environmental rehabilitation was after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine.

    “We started recovering our land using hemp,” Fornaro said proudly as he stood amid the marijuana plants. When I visited, the three-month-old crop was verdant and fragrant. The strong, sweet scent of marijuana coming from the three-hectare field contrasted strongly with the fumes from the nearby steel plant, which still employs 14,000 people.

    Fornaro started cultivating the controversial plant two years ago with the help of CanaPuglia, a local startup founded by hemp enthusiast Claudio Natile. “Hemp is a versatile plant, with strong links to the Italian tradition, with thousands of properties, which over the years has been criminalized,” Natile said.

    Hemp was a major Italian agricultural crop for hundreds of years. In the ’50s, the country was the second-largest hemp producer in the world after the Soviet Union. Italian hemp seeds provided some of the most resistant fibers, which were turned into clothing. However, with industrialization and the advent of synthetic fibers such as nylon, hemp started to disappear.

    Natile said part of CanaPuglia’s work was teaching people that history. “We went to the schools, spoke to the priests, to the farmers, and even the local military police to explain what we were going to use this plant for. The day we planted the seeds we invited all of them.”

    Cultivating hemp is legal in Italy, as long as farmers tell the police that they are planting it for industrial use and plant a legal variety, which has low levels of THC, the mind-altering chemical. (Italy is currently considering legalizing recreational marijuana consumption.)

    marijuana plant

    In just five years, hemp production in Puglia has increased from 3 hectares to 300, with about 100 farmers in the area planting seeds. It has even brought new investments to the region such as the first hemp processing plant in Southern Italy, which transforms the hemp into fiber that can be turned into shoes, bags, clothes and even bricks for construction.

    Hemp seeds are ground into high-protein, high-fiber, gluten-free flour that can be used for baking as well as to make pasta. But most farmers in the region, like Fornaro, are planting hemp to help clear their land of toxins. Fornaro can sell plant fibers for processing because the toxins don’t show up in the plant itself, but he is not able to sell the seeds (to be ground into flour, for example) because they could be contaminated.

    “We have to start giving back what we took from the environment and provide an alternative employment to our children,” said Fornaro. “For now we use hemp only for industrial processing. I hope in the future we can use it also for nourishment. But what is certain is that we will surround the Ilva plant with hemp.”

    SEE ALSO: A former Keurig executive explained why he left to work at the 'Keurig of Cannabis'

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    Smog over NYC

    For travelers with the gleam of the Big Apple in their eye, nothing seems better than New York City in the summertime.

    Restaurants have outdoor seating, there are festivals all over town, and you don't have to worry about bringing your jacket to Top of the Rock.

    But long-time city dwellers know the horror behind the mystique: those awful smells that dominate every daily commute to and from the office.

    Here's why it's hard to escape the stench of the city in the heat of summer.

    New York City has the highest population density in the US, and with 8,550,405 people roaming the nation’s melting pot, it’s bound to get smelly.

    A census conducted in July 2015 showed that the city had a population density of over 27,000 people per square mile. To put that into perspective, the US, on average, holds only 80 people per square mile. That much combined body odor alone could be enough to scare anyone away.

    With such an insanely huge number of people living in just one city, it should come as no surprise that there is also an insanely huge amount of garbage produced.

    Although residents of the city produce 12,000 tons of waste every day, New York City doesn’t have any of its own landfills or incinerators. Garbage piles up in dumpsters until it can all be taken across the Hudson River to be incinerated in New Jersey, or, if possible, recycled locally and overseas.

    But even after most of this waste has been incinerated across the river, strong winds can still carry the stench back over to the city on a hot day.

    The sheer amount of garbage isn’t the only problem. There also has to be a way to get all of it out of the city. Diesel trucks carry garbage out of Manhattan 7.8 million times each year. Let this sink in: That’s the same as driving around the earth 312 times, and that's just for one city.

    Halal food truckAll this driving only adds to pollution and the greenhouse effect, causing the city to become warmer and smellier as time continues.

    You may also be wondering why those subway vents on every block smell so much more putrid on a steamy summer day. Or how it is possible to smell a food cart from all the way down the street.

    It turns out the combination of heat and humidity allow bacteria to grow faster and smells to travel further. Increasing temps mean molecules move faster, resulting in enzymes speeding up metabolism and cells quickly increasing in size. Heat is bacteria’s best friend.

    So when you get stuck with one those incredibly humid days, smells become only more potent. The water in the air causes these odors to dissolve, trapping them longer than if it were a dry day outside.

    To many, New York is the city of dreams, but you have to be willing to accept it for the good, the bad, and the smelly.

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    mushrooms burger

    The next genetically modified food you eat probably won't be a GMO.

    At least not in the conventional sense of the term, which means genetically modified organism.

    It will probably be made using Crispr, a new technique that lets scientists precisely tweak the DNA of produce so that it can do things like survive drought or avoid turning brown.

    Harvard geneticist George Church thinks crops like these might be our best hope for ending the war against GMOs, which he and dozens of other experts call misguided, once and for all.

    "It's a beautiful thing," Church told Business Insider.

    The US Department of Agriculture seems to agree. It has already moved two crops made with Crispr — a type of mushroom and a type of corn— closer to grocery store shelves by opting not to regulate them like conventional GMOs. DuPont, the company making the corn, says it plans to see the crop in farmers' fields in the next five years.

    When a GMO is not a GMO

    What makes these crops not GMOs, you might ask? It all comes down to the type of method that scientists are using to tweak their genes. And Crispr is a far more precise method of modifying genes than scientists have had access to before.

    Instead of relying on the genetic engineering people are referring to when they talk about GMOs, which involves swapping out a plant's genes with chunks of DNA from another organism such as a bacterium, Crispr allows scientists to simply swap out a letter or two of the plant's genetic code (composed from the letters A, G, C, and T) and replace it with another one that, say, prevents it from turning brown.

    "Changing a G to an A is very different from bringing a gene from a bacteria into a plant," Church said.

    Grilled Corn

    At the center of the agency's decision not to subject the new crop to its rules is the fact that the Crispr-edited mushroom doesn't contain any "introduced genetic material" or foreign DNA, which is how most GMOs are made.

    This could mean that everything we know about genetically modified food is about to change.

    "DuPont views the USDA's confirmation as an important first step toward clarifying the U.S. regulatory landscape and the development of seed products with CRISPR technology," Neal Gutterson, DuPont Pioneer's vice president of research and development, told Business Insider by email.

    A world of Crispr crops?

    Teams of researchers across the globe are working on developing more crops made with Crispr, and experts say the USDA's recent decision is a promising development.

    "If USDA decides the first product does not require regulation, that would definitely be encouraging for the many people already using Crispr," Joyce Van Eck, an assistant professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute, told the Genetic Expert News Service shortly before the USDA made its decision.

    Crispr was first introduced as a genome-editing tool in 2013 in a couple of common laboratory plants, including a weed called Arabidopsis and a tobacco plant. Since then researchers have been experimenting with it in a range of crops, including oranges, potatoes, wheat, rice, and tomatoes. "By the end of 2014, a flood of research into agricultural uses for CRISPR included a spectrum of applications, from boosting crop resistance to pests to reducing the toll of livestock disease," Maywa Montenegro wrote in January in the science magazine Ensia.

    Of course, Church would prefer that people embrace GMO foods as they are now, since numerous scientists have determined they are safe. After all, he said, Americans have embraced GMOs in other things like clothing (94% of the cotton that goes into things like T-shirts is genetically modified).

    "I hope people wake up one day and realize, 'Hey almost everything is GM — it's in the air, on our bodies, in our medicine — maybe we can get over the GM foods controversy," Church said.

    Until then, we have Crispr.

    ALSO CHECK OUT: You've been avoiding the wrong 'unhealthy' ingredient all along

    READ MORE: I went to the source of the world's best coffee — and saw firsthand why the industry is in trouble

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    NOW WATCH: New USDA dietary guidelines have good news for coffee drinkers — and drop breakfast recommendation and cholesterol warnings

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    GettyImages 74089254

    The following is an excerpt from “Water in Plain Sight.” The author, Judith D. Schwartz, uses a conversation she had with ecologist Allan Savory to explain why there are some places in the world where no amount of rain is enough to end a drought.

    In Allan Savory’s view, what’s important is not the quantity of rain a given location receives, but rather how much usable or effective rainfall there is.

    It doesn’t really matter how much rain falls on a stretch of land, he says, if 90% of the water either evaporates or streams away by the next day.

    He describes a 1981 visit to Yemen, a country that struggles to keep up with its water needs and could even achieve the dubious distinction of becoming the first nation in the world to run out of water.


    Savory was with a team from the World Bank in the Tihama Plains, an arid region in the north of the country, when the skies opened in a heavy downpour.

    A full inch came down in a brief amount of time, leading to localized flooding. On the way out of town the next morning, the group stopped at a site that had flooded.

    The land was bone dry—so much that “I had to borrow the car keys in order to break that soil surface,” he recalls.

    All that rain did nothing to nourish the land, thirsty though it must have been.

    41lPRr0FxmLThis is desertification—the loss of land’s capacity to sustain plant and animal life. It is a story that’s being written across arid and semi-arid landscapes throughout the globe, from the savanna in Africa and the steppes in central Asia to once-fertile Mediterranean farm regions and large swaths of the western United States.

    Desertification is neither inevitable nor wrought by nature’s whim; rather, it is the result of human impacts that include deforestation, fire, poor grazing management, tillage and inappropriate use of irrigation—most basically, Savory says, “management that leads to a high level of bare soil between grass plants and thus less effective rainfall.”

    Degraded and desertified land is the backdrop for much rural poverty, which ultimately means urban poverty as well, because when land won’t produce people see no option but to flock to the cities.

    It’s why we have rainfall boom and bust scenarios that have communities reeling between floods and droughts: long, sun-beaten dry stretches broken only by too much rain all at once. This pattern has become relentless.

    And it’s happening all over the world. Just to note a few countries and regions that of late have made news with this brand of back-and-forth weather extremes: Spain, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Russia and the Amazon River Basin, not to mention the entire United States Midwest, our once vaunted breadbasket.

    floodingWhat would it take to make rainfall more effective?

    To Savory, rain is effective “when the bulk of the rain (or snowmelt) soaks into the soil and only leaves the soil through plant growth, or through perennial flow to streams, springs or underground water storage, including aquifers.”

    This sounds awfully simple: that it’s just a matter of keeping the water in the landscape.

    It’s possible that much of the destruction and despair caused by floods and droughts comes down to the failure to keep water in the ground. If that's the case, we should be able to figure out ways to change that.

    Excerpted from WATER IN PLAIN SIGHT: Hope for a Thirsty World by Judith D. Schwartz. Copyright © 2016 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

    SEE ALSO: 2 reasons California's drought hasn't caused food prices to skyrocket

    DON'T MISS: China is quickly turning into a desert, and it's causing problems across Asia

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    NOW WATCH: A devastating look at the California drought

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    Solar Impulse 2

    Solar Impulse 2 has completed the first round-the-world flight by a solar-powered airplane, after touching down in Abu Dhabi early on Tuesday.

    The final leg of the feat, aimed at showcasing the potential of renewable energy, was a bumpy one, with turbulence driven by hot desert air leaving the solo pilot, Bertrand Piccard, fighting with the controls.

    The plane, which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747 and carries more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings, began the circumnavigation in March 2015 in Abu Dhabi.

    It has since crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans using no fossil fuel and has spent more than 23 days in the air.

    Speaking to the Guardian from the cockpit shortly before landing, Piccard said he was feeling emotional as he neared the end of the journey: “It is a very, very special moment – it has been 15 years that I am working on this goal.

    “I hope people will understand that it is not just a first in the history of aviation, but also a first in the history of energy,” he said.

    Solar Impulse 2

    The flight path

    Screen Shot 2016 07 26 at 10.40.42 AM copy

    “All the clean technologies we use, they can be used everywhere. So we have flown 40,000km, but now it is up to other people to take it further. It is up to every person in a house to take it further, every head of state, every mayor in a city, every entrepreneur or CEO of a company.

    “These technologies now can make the world much better and we have to use them, not only for the environment, but also because they are profitable and create jobs.”

    Guardian graphicDuring daylight, the solar panels charged the plane’s batteries, which make up a quarter of the craft’s 2.3 tonne weight. The pilot also climbed to 29,000 feet during the day and glided down to 5,000 feet at night, to conserve power. The plane flies at about 30mph, although it can go faster if the sun is bright.

    The plane could fly almost perpetually but the pilots cannot, due to the grueling conditions aboard.

    Bertrand alternated with André Borschberg to fly the 16 legs of the journey, spending up to five days in the unheated and unpressurised cabin, taking only short naps and with the single seat doubling up as a toilet. Borschberg flew the longest leg, 4,000 miles over the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii, smashing the record for the longest uninterrupted journey in aviation history.

    But Bertrand said his biggest challenge was getting his pilot’s license in the first place: “The challenge was to come from the world of ballooning and hang gliding to the world of airplanes and instruments and procedures. When I initiated the project, I had no airplane license so I had to work for it over six years. I did hundreds of hours to be allowed to fly a prototype airplane.”

    Piccard and Borschberg, both Swiss, are seasoned adventurers. Piccard made the first non-stop balloon flight around the world in 1999, while Borschberg, a former Swiss Air Force fighter pilot, has had brushes with death involving an avalanche and a helicopter crash.


    Bertrand said the final leg from Cairo to Abu Dhabi was particularly tough, because of having to fly at high altitude to avoid the worst of the turbulence. “It is a much more demanding and exhausting flight,” he said. “It is so turbulent, there were moments in the last night that I could not rest at all, I just had to fight with my flight controls.”

    He said his ground team had made the record-breaking flight possible: “I am alone in the plane but all the people who have worked on this project are people who are completely devoted and committed to success. I will give to each of them a big hug, because they made my dream possible.”

    The aim of the Solar Impulse adventure was not to develop solar-powered planes for widespread use, but to show the capabilities of renewable energy.

    “I worked for 15 years to have [this] demonstration of the improvements of these technologies, so now I really want to leverage this demonstration and create a world council for clean technologies,” Piccard said. “That will allow all these experts and specialists to advise the governments and big corporations on which types of technology to use to profitably fight climate change and profitably protect the environment.”

    Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said: “Solar Impulse has flown more than 40,000 kilometers without fuel, but with an inexhaustible supply of energy and inspiration. This is a historic day for Captain Piccard and the Solar Impulse team, but it is also a historic day for humanity.


    “You may be ending your around the world flight today, but the journey to a more sustainable world is just beginning. The Solar Impulse team is helping to pilot us to that future.”

    Solar Impulse’s journey has not been without difficulties. Crosswinds in China caused weeks of delays in 2015 and overheating batteries during the Pacific crossing forced it to spend the winter inside a Hawaiian hangar. The team also overcame financial troubles in 2015 after raising €20m from sponsors.

    SEE ALSO: Solar is on pace to contribute more new electricity to the grid than any other type of energy

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    Photographer Ami Vitale in a panda costume

    Before photographer Ami Vitale ventured up to the Wolong Nature Reserve in China, local panda caretakers warned her not to get her hopes up.

    "People are like, 'Well how hard can it be to shoot a panda?' You can't believe how hard it was," she told Tech Insider.

    But Vitale persevered with a lot of patience — and by wearing a crude panda costume soaked in panda urine. She went home that day with a shot that ended up as a full page spread published in the August issue of National Geographic magazine.

    "I was like 'Oh my God. The panda gods are on my side," she said.

    Pandas are shy bear that hide deep in the woods. Up until the 20th century, people spotted them so infrequently that Chinese artists almost never incorporated them into their artwork. Even in the fenced-in Wolong Nature Reserve the bears rarely showed themselves to human beings.

    Here's how Vitale, working for five years on the project, captured some of the wildest panda photos we've ever seen.

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    Vitale went to Wolong that day on a mission. To round out her images of the breeding centers, releases, and handlers with the bears, she wanted a shot of a bear alone in the reserve.

    It didn't come easily.

    "You go there and they sit on the top of treetops for days on end. And I would go into these huge enclosures to try and find them. And I couldn't find them," she said.

    "So I would literally wait for days for the panda to come down the tree. And then the rain and it's dark — it's incredibly dark, because they live in bamboo forests."

    She and her cinematographer Jacky Poon carried bright LEDs, heavy portrait lighting for a photo of an animal they weren't even sure they'd find. Both wore panda costumes of an aesthetic somewhere between public-access channel children's program and bank robbery— except for the spritzes of panda urine in their fibers, designed to enhance the bear-fooling effect.

    Vitale couldn't enter the enclosures, so instead she circled an electrified fence around the forested area. To shoot a picture, she'd slip her camera through the fence and gingerly follow a panda with her hands to aim and shoot.

    One day they were in luck.

    A 16-year-old bear called Ye Ye — named to celebrate the friendship between China and Japan — lumbered out of the mist. Gingerly, Vitale stuck her camera through the fence as Poon lofted the LEDs.

    Vitale says the large black-and-white creature posed "like a supermodel."

    "She just came up for a moment," Vitale said, "like a magician. And just showed up and disappeared, as pandas do. They're very good at disappearing."

    Then the humans were alone again, stunned by their luck.

    Vitale said, "We were doing the panda dance after in our panda costumes, dancing around like 'Did that just happen?'"

    However, even photographing pandas within more structured habitats, like the ones where the babies are kept, proved challenging.

    Flourescent lights used in the habitats flicker, and the effect will ruin an image unless the shutter speed is below 1/30 of a second. She had to make images of squirmy baby pandas without letting them motion-blur across her frame.

    It's hard to overstate how unlikely many of shots were, according to Vitale.

    "Really, these are million-dollar babies," she said, products of China's expensive breeding program.

    "[The handlers] want you out of the way. So that was the challenge. And they've got a lot of bad media as well. So they're very sensitive. It was not easy."

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    New Zealand has announced a plan to make the country free of rodents and other invasive species that threaten its natural species by 2050. 

    Never before has such an ambitious program been tried for such a large area. 

    "It's wonderful that they're going to attempt to do this, it's certainly on an unprecedented scale," Sarah Dawson, the director of the Wohlsen Center for Sustainable Environment at Franklin and Marshall College, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

    "It's never been attempted for such a large area or for species that are so difficult to control." 

    The government plans to initially put $28 million into a new project, Predator Free New Zealand Ltd, which will provide money on a "one for two" basis, offering $1 of funding for every $2 local governments and private companies contribute. Predator Free New Zealand intends to identify promising large predator control projects and work to bring on co-investors, as New Zealand news website Stuff reported. 

    "Rats, possums, and stoats kill 25 million of our native birds every year, and prey on other native species such as lizards and, along with the rest of our environment, we must do more to protect them," New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who announced the initiative, said. 

    Since many birds in New Zealand had evolved to become ground-dwellers when they had no competition from mammals on the island, they were especially vulnerable when humans and the predators they brought with them arrived on the islands.  

    AP_081128035581The Kiwi, the national symbol of New Zealand, is an endangered species that dies at a rate of 20 each week, as The Guardian reported. There are now fewer than 70,000. 

    Now, this generation of humans on New Zealand wants to reverse the harm their species has done to the natural environment. 

    New Zealand has been a leader on eradicating predators of endangered species, Mark Hoddle, the director of the Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California, Riverside tells the Monitor. New Zealanders have been able to clear rugged, moderately large islands of rodents, he said. 

    "It's terrific that the government has stepped up and put some money on the table," Dr. Hoddle said. "It's highly probable within our lifetimes.... There's a good chance we may actually see the benefits of this very aggressive control program, and I think that's exciting." 

    Although eliminating rats and mice from urban areas will be a major challenge, Hoddle says in more rural areas, "they may have a shot at achieving large areas known to be predator free."

    Along with protecting more birds, the flora will "benefit immensely" as well, Hoddle says. 

    New Zealand officials aim to have 1 million hectares of land where pests are suppressed; develop a scientific breakthrough that could eliminate an entire mammalian predator species; make 20,000 hectares "predator free" without using fences; and complete a removal of alien predators from offshore island nature reserves.  

    Generally, three steps are taken to fight invasive species, Dr. Dawson says. First, attempts are made to keep the species out of the territory it would invade in the first place. If they do get in, the next step is to aggressively attempt to eradicate the species while the population remains small. If this fails, generally the next step is to just manage the effects of the species. New Zealand's will be the largest attempt at a fourth step, which is fighting already established invasive species.

    The invasive species in New Zealand, where Dawson briefly lived, are well-established and difficult to fight, she says.

    "Rats, stoats, and possums, they're across the island, they're everywhere," she says. "It's not like they're just in small, little holdout populations." 

    The species targeted under this new initiative are smaller species that breed more quickly, and live on private land where they are harder to eradicate than public land. There are also welfare considerations for the animals targeted for eradication, which can cause issues with public acceptance or support. 

    The eradication project could cost up to NZ$9.04 billion (about US$6.32 billion) over 50 years, according to a 2015 paper by New Zealand conservationists. However, the benefits of eradication could total NZ$9.32 billion (US$6.51 billion), the same study found. 

    There are some technical issues that could stand in the way. Use of chemicals to poison the species, one of the common ways to eradicate invasive species, is unpopular to some members of the general public because of worries that it will affect their pets or other native species. However, Hoddle says research shows the biodegradable 1080 poison, widely used in the country to kill possums, has only a minimal environmental risk. 

    As for methods, Hoddle says, "I think they're really back to the basics: poisons, exclosures, traps and lethal things." 

    Expanded use of GPS technology on traps for the mammals and the possibility for future developments has made the 2050 goal possible, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce told the New Zealand news site, Stuff. 

    "I think what's really exciting is for those of us watching this closely, is that the technology has moved dramatically," he said. "Now you can set them and leave them, link them through GPS, it's about one-seventeenth of the cost to maintain predator control over a piece of land than it was just a few years ago." 

    New Zealand's project may be a model for future projects, Dawson says. 

    "The eyes of a lot of conservation biologists are going to be on New Zealand," Dawson says. "It's going to be a major testing ground, and I think they're going to learn a lot of lessons about what's effective, what's not effective, where new technologies or new management strategies need to be employed, and I'm hoping the rest of the world can really learn a lot from what's going on here." 

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