Category Archives: wildlife conservation

Vaquita Capture Program Ends

Vaquita Rescue Program Setback
Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a small porpoise endemic to the northern Gulf of Mexico. Illustration by Justin Shepherd
Vaquita (Phocoena sinus) Illustration by Justin Shepherd

A  rescue program to save the vaquita, the world’s most endangered cetation (whales, dolphins and porpoises), has not started off well.  Earlier this year, I reported that there were only an estimated 30 vaquitas left in the world. That number may now be down to 15 or less.   The ambitious program to save vaquitas experienced a setback when a captured female died.

Continue reading Vaquita Capture Program Ends

The Most Painful Stings

Fire Ants (solenopsis invicta)

Painful stings leave an impression. Everyone who has ever been stung has a story to tell.  Some of the stories of painful stings include common characters, such as honey bees (Apis melifera).  Being stung by a bee is fairly common, but unless you are allergic to them, your story is comparable to a common children’s tale: most people have read it, but can only vaguely remember how the story goes.  Continue reading The Most Painful Stings

Are Insect Populations Declining?

On a recent trip to research insect populations, I visited a small sliver of the Chihuahua desert that runs through the extreme southeast corner of Arizona, I encountered hundreds of eager hover flies.  I say eager, because the flies followed and buzzed around me relentlessly.  While I couldn’t identify any single individual fly, I am certain that a few of them followed me for more than half a mile as I trekked through the dry, rock strewn, dusty desert.  I am not a dancer, but all of the swatting, arm waving, and stumbling probably made me look like I move like Mic Jagger.  Relief came when wind from an approaching thunderstorm forced the flies to land or be blown away. Continue reading Are Insect Populations Declining?

Vaquita: The World’s Rarest Marine Mammal Is In Trouble

Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a small porpoise endemic to the northern Gulf of Mexico, Illustration by Justin Shepherd www.markshepherdjournal.com
Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a small porpoise endemic to the northern Gulf of Mexico. Illustration by Justin Shepherd

Another species of marine mammal is on the verge of extinction.  The Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a small porpoise endemic to the northern Gulf of Mexico, is reportedly just 30 individuals away from being lost forever.  The name vaquita is Spanish for “little cow,” and it looks somewhat like a panda mixed with a dolphin.   Because individuals suffer high mortality when trapped in illegal gill nets used by fishermen, the vaquita populations have plummeted since 1997.  Mexico has spent millions trying to stop the illegal practice of using gill nets, but to date has not been able to prevent it completely. Continue reading Vaquita: The World’s Rarest Marine Mammal Is In Trouble

Killing Poachers

Wild greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) standing by a forest track in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India. Park wardens on bicycles in the background. Photo by Jeremy Richards; markshepherdjournal.com
Wild greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) standing by a forest track in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India. Park wardens on bicycles in the background. Photo by JeremyRichards

Many are familiar with the worldwide effort to stop the illegal hunting of endangered wildlife.  Some nations have created wildlife refuges where hunting is limited, while other nations, such as Costa Rica, have banned hunting altogether.  Creating a refuge is challenging enough, but enforcing hunting limitations is far more difficult.  Even in the well protected reserves in Africa, poachers still manage to kill threatened elephant and rhinoceros. Continue reading Killing Poachers

Protecting Elephants

In October of 2016, in what was considered a surprising move, the United States, the European Union and several African nations voted against an all-out ban of the elephant ivory trade; markshepherdjournal.com
African Elephant in Kenya Photo by Kevin Lings

In October of 2016, in what was considered a surprising move, the United States, the European Union and several African nations voted against an all-out ban of the elephant ivory trade.  It was a surprising move in that there was strong support in favor of a ban from the countries hosting the two largest elephant ivory markets: the United States and China. Continue reading Protecting Elephants

Haleakala Flightless Moth

haleakala flightless moth final
Haleakala flightless moth (Thyrocopa apatela). Photo by Mark Shepherd

Many species in the Hawaiian islands are known to be endemic (found nowhere else).   An example is the Haleakala flightless moth. This moth is not just restricted to the Hawaiian Islands, but it can only be found on the windswept western slopes of the summit of Haleakala volcano.  Its scientific name is Thyrocopa apatela.  It is, however, more commonly known as the Haleakala flightless moth or the Haleakala grasshopper moth. Continue reading Haleakala Flightless Moth

The Still Mysterious Case of Missing Bees

Honey Bee (genus Apis) foraging in the field. Photo by Mark Shepherd
Honey Bee (genus Apis) foraging in the field. Photo by Mark Shepherd

We are just four months shy of the 10-year anniversary when David Hackenberg reported losing two-thirds of his bee hives to a phenomenon now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).   It was in October of 2006 that Mr Hackenberg, a Pennsylvania bee keeper, noticed that 2000 bee colonies he had transferred to Florida to pollinate crops were devoid of almost all adult bees, except the queen.  Continue reading The Still Mysterious Case of Missing Bees

Monk Parakeet Populations Growing

 

Three Monk Parakeets perched and interacting in a tangle of branches (Buenos Aires); markshepherdjournal.com
Three Monk Parakeets perched and interacting in a tangle of branches (Buenos Aires).
Photo by Rich Lindie

In 1939, nearly 77 years ago, the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) was declared extinct.  At the time, it was United States’ only known native parrot.  The cause for its extinction is not certain, but is frequently reported to be the result of deforestation.  Some experts, however, believe deforestation and hunting may have reduced the populations sufficiently to allow other factors, such as disease, to be the proximate cause of extinction.  Continue reading Monk Parakeet Populations Growing

Giant Reef Discovered in Amazon River

Since the discovery of an amazing coral reef system at the mouth of the Amazon River, there has been much excitement among the marine biologists community. Amazon coral reef discovered.
The mouth of the amazon river carries large amounts of mud and silt. This is what gives the river the caramel color in the image.

Since the discovery of an amazing coral reef system at the mouth of the Amazon River, there has been much excitement among the marine biologists community.  Overturning a generally accepted understanding that shallow reefs are only found in areas with intense sunlight, this reef has been thriving under a cover of nutrient-rich silt, where the river and the Pacific Ocean collide. The silt loading in the Amazon River is frequently so heavy that visibility is less than half a meter; it is so low, in fact, that divers can barely see their own hands.  Continue reading Giant Reef Discovered in Amazon River

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

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Photo by Willyam Bradberry

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

AKA: Pacific green turtle, black (sea) turtle

Green Sea Turtle (click on this link to watch)

While diving off the coast of Hawaii, I encountered multiple green sea turtles in the shallow areas around the shore.  Adult green sea turtles are primarily vegetarians and feed on sea grass and algae.  Juvenile turtles are reported to eat crabs and jellyfish, in addition to sea grass and algae. Continue reading Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Are Green Sea Turtle Populations Increasing along the Texas Gulf Coast?

Green Sea Turtle
Green Sea Turtle
Picture taken by Steve D.

 

Are Green sea turtle populations increasing along the Texas gulf coast?  Along the Texas Gulf Coast there appears to be an uptick in the number of sightings of Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Green Sea Turtle nests on North Padre Island. While reported sightings are not uncommon, experts do appear to agree that in 2012 and the beginning of 2013 there has been an increase in the number of sighting reports. Also increasing, is the number of turtles requiring rehabilitation due to injuries from boat encounters that too often result in the immediate death of turtles, or more frequently, leave deep disfiguring wounds that are prone to infection.

The increased sightings have some scratching their heads as to what might be occurring. A few people have suggested that there are more turtles due to the reopening of Packery Channel between Mustang Island and Padre Island. These islands form a barrier between the Texas coastline and the Gulf of Mexico, cutting off Corpus Christi Bay from the ocean and giving rise to a shallow water body known as the Laguna Madre that stretches the Texas coastline from Corpus Christi into northern Mexico. Padre Island is the longest barrier island in the world and because it separates the Laguna Madre from the ocean there is only limited mixing with ocean water, which also means limited ways for sea turtles to get in. Now that Packery Channel is open, perhaps Green Sea turtles, whose favored habitat is shallow coastal areas, are visiting more frequently than was possible before.

The turtles may also be attracted by the large gardens of sea grass that grow in the Laguna Madre. Sea grass populations have grown in the upper Laguna Madre and, because the Laguna Madre has an average depth of 3.6 feet (1.1 m), there is plenty of light from the sun and nutrients in the sandy bottoms to allow healthy growth of sea grass. In fact, 75% of all of the sea grass cover along the entire Texas coast is found in the Laguna Madre. Three species of grass dominate with shoal grass being the most abundant, followed by a moderate distribution of manatee grass and a small distribution of turtle grass. There is speculation that all of this grass is just too tempting for the vegetarian Green Sea turtle to pass up, especially in light of the fact that sea grass beds in and around other gulf coast areas have disappeared from both natural causes and human activities.

Whether the increased number of sightings is the result of an  increase in the Green Sea Turtle population or more sea turtles getting in through Packery Channel may never be known. Measuring any sea turtle population is a challenge, not just because there are not enough resources to make accurate estimates, but because making the measurements often requires disturbing turtles that may lead them to abandon their nesting grounds never to return. A second difficulty is that Green Sea Turtles that do come to shore are primarily females looking for good places to build nests. Adult males and juvenile turtles tend to stay out in the open water making population estimates unreliable.

For more information on the Green Sea Turtle and other species of sea turtle, see the associated links.
http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2006/5287/pdf/LagunaMadre.pdf
http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/Turtle%20Factsheets/green-sea-turtle.htm
http://www.orf.org/turtles_green.htm
http://www.utmsi.utexas.edu/outreach/animal-rehabilitation-keep.html
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/greentur/
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/ridley/
http://www.nps.gov/pais/naturescience/current-season.htm
http://www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2012/jun/ed_3_seaturtles/