Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

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Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

Climate Change Messes With Fish

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 3:30 PM EDT

Climate change is leading to bigger fish in shallow water. But it's also making littler fish in deeper water, reports The Mercury, in Hobart, Tasmania. The study involved scientists examining 555 fish earbones aged two to 128 years, which show similar characteristics to tree-growth rings. These data were correlated with water temperature records taken over 60 years from the waters around Tasmania. The findings prove that water temperature has been a primary factor in determining juvenile growth rates in the species examined. --Julia Whitty

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Biofuels Threaten Endangered Species

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 3:15 PM EDT

European Union green fuel targets will accelerate the destruction of rainforests in South-East Asia. Loss of habitat will threaten endangered species like the orangutan, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. In March, EU leaders set a target that biofuel (energy sources made from plant material) comprise 10 per cent of all Europe's transport fuels by 2020. Yet the European Commission admits that the effort to cut CO2 emissions may have the unintended result of speeding up the depletion of tropical rainforests and peatlands in South-East Asia. This would further increase, not reduce, global warming. If the target is met, European consumption of plant-based fuels will soar from about 3 million tons at present to more than 30 million tons in 2010, driving a boom in imports of cheap biofuels... How about using less? Of everything? Instead. --Julia Whitty

Next American Species To Go Extinct May Be Two Hawaiian Birds, Global Warming Amplifies Threats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 9:12 PM EDT

There's been a dramatic drop in sightings of the Akekee and the Akikiki. These two birds from the Hawaiian Island of Kauai may be on the brink of extinction, according to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species (329), and in extinctions, with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since humans colonized the islands. Several Hawaiian bird species, the Poouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.

David Kuhn and Doug Pratt who lead birding tours on Kauai recently alerted scientists, state officials, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to their concerns about the drop in sightings. "I and others paying attention to Kauai's endangered endemics have supposed that the Akikiki would be the next species to disappear--now it is more like a race to the finish," said Kuhn. "While the Akikiki depopulation and range contraction has been linear and relatively slow, Akekee is suddenly crashing." Doug Pratt says the Akekee "was common when I was last here in fall of 2004, and has apparently crashed drastically in the last three years."

The Akikiki is a small bicolored bird from the wet montane forests in central Kauai, with less than 1,500 remaining individuals occupying less than 10% of its former range, the population declining 64% due to habitat loss and alteration, the introduction of invasive species, mosquito-born diseases such as avian malaria and pox, and the impacts of hurricanes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2005 that the Akikiki should be officially designated an endangered species, but declined to move forward with the listing for budgetary reasons, reports the ABC.

The Akekee, a small yellow and green bird that lives in the high-elevation rainforests of Kauai, was until recently thought to have a stable population, estimated at 20,000 individuals. It's also threatened by habitat loss, invasive species and disease. Evidence suggests that rising average temperatures could allow mosquitoes to survive at higher, elevations, exposing the birds to deadly diseases. Researchers for the U.S. Geological Survey conclude that even a small increase in temperatures in Hawaii's forests will eliminate much of the mosquito-free safe zone that once existed for Kauai's birds.

Read gone, and why many biologist consider the sixth great extinction underway a more dangerous threat to life on Earth than even global warming. --Julia Whitty

Good News In Uganda, Mountain Gorillas Increase In Number

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:33 PM EDT

The most recent census of mountain gorillas in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park finds the population has increased by 6 percent since 2002. ScienceDaily reports Bwindi's gorilla population now numbers 340 individual gorillas, up from 320 in 2002, and 300 in 1997. Bwindi is one of only two places in the world where the rare gorillas exist. "This is great news for all of the organizations that have worked to protect Bwindi and its gorilla population," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Dr. Alastair McNeilage, who is also the director of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi. "There are very few cases in this world where a small population of a endangered primates is actually increasing."

Reading this makes me realize how rare good news is in this trade and what a strange, alien feeling hope is. May there be more of it.

For more on the sixth great extinction underway and the fate of at least half of all lifeforms on Earth, read MoJo's latest cover piece. --Julia Whitty

One Down, 33 To Go, Rare Leopardess Found Shot

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:07 PM EDT

A female Amur leopard has been found killed. She was one of only 25 to 34 of the Amur or Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) remaining in the wild, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund. Anonymous tips led an anti-poaching squad to the body of the leopardess about two miles from Bamburovo village in the territory of Barsovy National Wildlife Refuge in the Russian Far East.

The next day veterinarians from the Zoological Society of London found the 77 pound mature female leopard had been shot in the back side, the bullet coming through the tail bone, crushing the hip bones, and lodging in the belly. She was then beaten to death with a heavy object. "The killing of even one female is a huge loss for a cat on the brink of extinction, " said Darron Collins, managing director of the Amur-Heilong Program, World Wildlife Fund. "This year's census showed a desperate situation, with just seven female Amur leopards left in the wild and four rearing cubs. Now we've lost a mature, reproductive leopardess and her potential cubs in a senseless killing. This is the third leopard killed within this area over the last five years and underscores the desperate need for a unified protected area with national park status if the leopard is to survive in the wild."

Just in case you're entertaining the notion that the loss of remote leopards won't impact your life, read on--MoJo's latest cover story, GONE.--Julia Whitty

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