One Arctic town's very busy polar bear patrol

One Arctic town's very busy polar bear patrol

Living with polar bears

Dine steps outside the incineration plant early in the morning to smoke a cigarette. Flicking on his lighter, he finds himself looking into the eyes of a polar bear standing by his ATV four meters away. The bear moves straight towards him. Dine races for the corner of the building, and fortunately, the bear chooses to move in another direction.

Mikkel, who works at the weather station, goes to launch a weather balloon at 22:00. As he walks towards the building, he hears the ice crunch behind him. He turns around and sees a polar bear three meters away. He runs inside, and the polar bear takes off down the slope at the dump and swims towards Storesten.

The hard work of the polar bear patrol

Throughout the Arctic, conflicts between polar bears and humans have risen as summer sea ice shrinks due to climate change. In some areas, bears are now forced to stay on land for longer periods than before. In their search for food, they are often attracted to nearby villages.

In Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland, the problem is particularly severe as a deluge of bears created life-threatening situations for both bears and the villagers.

In 2007, nine polar bear conflicts were registered in all of Greenland. By 2017, there were 21 conflicts between August and December in Ittoqqortoormiit alone. In almost all of the 21 cases, the local polar bear patrol was called to ensure that the bears were scared away from the community and kept under observation.

WWF provided support for the community to establish a polar bear patrol in 2015 to protect the town's 450 residents from dangerous encounters on their way to school or work, and to reduce the number of bears killed in self-defense. During peak polar bear season in autumn, the patrol is particularly active just before school opens each morning.

“The community members tell us that the patrol gives them greater peace of mind, and we prevent a lot of polar bears from being shot in self-defense”, says Bo Øksnebjerg, Secretary-General of WWF-Denmark. “So on the one hand, we’re glad that the polar bear patrol is working so well. On the other hand, we regret that the patrol is so busy. Everything indicates that the problem of hungry polar bears in communities will continue to grow as the sea ice shrinks.”

WWF supports similar polar bear patrol projects in Alaska and Russia. These community projects aim to prevent unintended and potentially fatal encounters between polar bears and people, keeping both towns and bears safe. Deterrence tools such as noisemakers as well as better lighting near public places, bear-proof food storage containers, and warning plans for when bears enter communities are further effective means of protection.

The village of Wales, Alaska—the westernmost town in mainland North America— started a polar bear patrol in 2016. Now, they are embarking on an expedition to six other villages in the region to tell their story, listen to the concerns of other villages, and see if a polar bear conflict avoidance/deterrence program might be a good fit for them. WWF has committed to helping two additional Alaskan villages initiate polar bear patrol programs in 2019. 

Published February 26, 2018 at 06:00AM

3 things you should know about January’s record-low Arctic sea ice

3 things you should know about January’s record-low Arctic sea ice

January brought record-low sea ice cover to the Arctic, according to new data released by the US government. That’s bad news for the ocean, wildlife, and local communities that rely on both for survival.

1. The science is solid

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) uses satellites to measure how much ice is covering the planet and found it nearly 10% below average this January in the Arctic, an area larger than the states of California, Oregon and Washington combined.

There is consensus among experts that the Arctic climate is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, which inevitably leads to more weather anomalies. In fact, this winter, parts of the Arctic have experienced temperatures upwards of 45°F above average.

Carbon emissions are driving this change and researchers warn that even if world leaders meet their climate commitments, “warming and substantial ice loss are projected for the next 20 to 30 years, along with other major physical, biological, and societal changes.”

2. Record-low sea ice has real world impacts

There’s a reason nature needs sea ice and record low coverage presents a real problem for wildlife and people. Polar bears, for example, rely on sea ice as a platform to hunt for food, rest, and breed. A warming climate is the biggest threat to their survival.

In the 2017 Arctic Report Card, which tracks the region’s environment relative to historic records, the US government warned that, “The unprecedented rate and global reach of Arctic change disproportionally affect the people of northern communities, further pressing the need to prepare for and adapt to the new Arctic.”

Billions of people around the world could feel the effects of accelerated warming in the Arctic—sea level rise, droughts, severe storms—thanks to what’s called a feedback loop. As the Arctic warms, melting snow, ice, and permafrost release even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which further fuels warming. And less ice means less of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space, which means more of that warmth gets absorbed by Earth. 


3. The March maximum will be crucial

The January record low is an important data point, but the trends worth watching come from gauging the annual minimum and maximum over time. This year’s data on the Arctic sea ice maximum will be reviewed in March. Last year the analysis revealed that Arctic sea ice set its lowest spring extent since satellite record keeping began in 1979. The Arctic’s maximum sea ice cover has been declining at a rate of about 3% every decade.

WWF has been sharing details of retreating sea ice season, after season, after season. It’s a story that needs repeating as pressure grows to rethink oil and gas drilling in areas historically out of reach for industry.

Want to help? Take action to keep oil and gas leasing out of the waters of America’s Arctic.

Published February 22, 2018 at 06:00AM

Remarkable video shows how minke whale feeds

Remarkable video shows how minke whale feeds

For the first time ever, scientists in Antarctica attached a camera to a minke whale and captured incredible evidence of how it feeds. The camera – one of three “whale cams” funded by WWF-Australia – is part of efforts by scientists to better protect whale feeding areas in Antarctica.

The camera was secured to the whale’s body using non-invasive suction cups that are designed to fall off after 24-48 hours. In an incredible stroke of luck, the camera slid down the side of the whale but stayed attached. The resulting footage—which would not have been possible with the original camera placement—shows how the whale’s throat expands as it moves through the water and feeds.

Minke whales grow to about 29 feet and are the second smallest baleen whale. They filter primarily krill or small fish out of the water using specialized feeding plates, known as baleen, in a method known as lunge feeding.

 “What was remarkable was the frequency of the lunges and how quickly they could process water and feed again, repeating the task about every 10 seconds on a feeding dive,” said Dr. Ari Friedlaender, an associate professor from the University of California Santa Cruz and lead scientist on the research. “He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding.”


Sea ice is an important part of a minke’s habitat, a place where they feed and hide from killer whales. The minke’s ability to maneuver through sea ice, due to its relatively small size, and its skill in feeding quickly has helped the whale survive in the Antarctic. But because of climate change, sea ice in the Antarctic Peninsula is shrinking.

There is also concern that critical feeding areas for baleen whales – and other krill predators such as penguins, seals and seabirds – overlap with the krill fishery industry.

“WWF is working with Dr. Friedlaender and his team to put his vital new information about whales before decision makers,” said Chris Johnson, senior manager of WWF’s Antarctic Program, who joined Dr. Friedlaender on the trip as part of the research team.

WWF-Australia has provided funding for three ‘whale cams’ to help scientists better understand critical feeding areas in the Southern Ocean and the impact of shrinking ice caused by warming sea temperatures. WWF is advocating for more marine protected areas in Antarctica to protect its remarkable biodiversity. 

Dr. Ari Friedlaender’s work is supported by OneOcean Expeditions and is in collaboration with scientists from Stanford University and the California Ocean Alliance. It is conducted under permits granted from the National Marine Fisheries Service and Antarctic Conservation Act, including institutional animal care and use protocols.

The research is being conducted in collaboration with scientists at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart and under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission’s Southern Ocean Research Partnership (IWC-SORP). The aim of the Partnership is to implement and promote non-lethal whale research techniques to maximize conservation outcomes for Southern Ocean whales.

Published February 20, 2018 at 06:00AM

Artificial nests bring new hope for vulnerable shy albatross

Artificial nests bring new hope for vulnerable shy albatross

Dozens of fluffy shy albatross chicks sitting on artificial nests are a promising sign for scientists behind an innovative plan to give the vulnerable species a boost to help counteract the negative impacts of climate change.

Over 100 specially built mudbrick and aerated concrete artificial nests were airlifted on to Bass Strait’s Albatross Island off the northwest coast of Tasmania in July 2017 to trial a program aimed at increasing the breeding success of the shy albatross.

Higher air temperatures and increased rainfall associated with climate change are reducing breeding success for Australia’s only albatross, and the rapid warming of the ocean may also make it harder for foraging parents to find prey. Monitoring shows that birds with inferior nests are less likely to successfully raise a chick.

Luckily, the artificial nests appear to be working.

“Shy albatross lay a single egg in late September and those eggs have now hatched,” said Dr. Rachael Alderman, a biologist with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. “At this stage in the trial, the breeding success of pairs on artificial nests is 20% higher than those on natural nests. There are many more months ahead for all the chicks, and a lot can change, but so far it’s very promising.”

Endemic to Australia, shy albatross only nest on three islands off the coast of Tasmania—Albatross Island, Pedra Branca, and Mewstone. In some parts of the Albatross Island colony, birds struggle to find and keep sufficient nesting material, resulting in poor quality nests.

Conservation scientists and funding partners from the Tasmanian and Australian governments, WWF-Australia, WWF's Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund, CSIRO Marine Climate Impact, and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund have worked together to place nests in areas where they were typically of lower quality. Recent monitoring shows that the birds are accepting the nests and personalizing them with mud and vegetation.

“Albatross Island gets hit with wild weather,” said Darren Grover, WWF-Australia’s head of living ecosystems who recently visited the project site. “Good quality nests keep eggs and chicks safe and sound. The artificial nests were all intact, but many of the natural nests were already starting to deteriorate. That’s not the best start in life for a chick.”

When the chicks are fully grown and about to fly from the island for the first time, scientists will attach tiny satellite trackers to them to capture the movements of their first few months at sea. This will provide crucial information about why fewer juveniles are surviving.

As the climate continues to change, scientists need to develop, test, and evaluate new approaches to protecting vulnerable species. This collaborative innovation is an encouraging step for the future of the shy albatross and can serve as a model for other wildlife recovery efforts.

“It’s fantastic to see this project come to fruition,” said Dr. Sally Box, Australia’s threatened species commissioner. “We all have a role to play in protecting our threatened species, and thanks to contributions by government, scientists, and non-government partners, we are starting to see some really positive outcomes for the shy albatross in Tasmania.”

Published February 15, 2018 at 06:00AM

Conservation on the move

Conservation on the move

One muggy morning, a group of uniformed fifth graders files from their classroom and forms a circle in the grassy common of State Elementary School 192. At their center, wielding a microphone, a compact, energetic man named Samsuardi counts them into groups of three, and announces their roles: Ones and threes will grasp each other’s shoulders, representing large, shady trees in the forest; twos are elephants, which must hide under the trees for shelter.

The elephants dutifully find trees to crouch beneath. “HUNTER!” Samsuardi shouts, his high-pitched voice ricocheting off the compound walls. The elephants scurry out from under the trees to the edge of the field. He calls them back, then bellows, “LOGGER! LOGGER!” This time the trees flee, giggling as they miraculously uproot themselves and leave the elephants exposed.

The game looks like anything you’d expect to see on a playground, until Samsuardi ends it with a mini conservation lesson. “It’s important to keep elephants and trees together,” he tells the students, his tone serious now. “If there is no forest, the elephants will suffer.”

State Elementary School 192 serves Tri Makmur Village in central Sumatra. Since the mid-1980s, small-scale and industrial farming operations have gnawed away at the Indonesian island’s rain forests, steadily replacing its lush native trees and vegetation with palm oil and rubber plantations. As those forests have shrunk, critically endangered Sumatran elephants and Sumatran tigers have been pushed into smaller and smaller habitats—and more conflict with nearby human communities

The rapid deforestation of Sumatra has caused severe consequences for people too, Local villagers lose the built-in services provided by intact forests—including flood and erosion control. They may also suffer from health-endangering haze when land is illegally cleared by slash-and-burn methods on a massive scale. Tri Makmur Village lies close to a forest known as Thirty Hills (Bukit Tigapuluh in Bahasa), one of the last remaining havens for Sumatra’s elephants and tigers.

Samsuardi, an awareness education specialist for WWF, directs the Mobile Education Unit , a conservation program started in 2016 and funded by the Michelin Foundation. Through games like the elephant-and-tree exercise, a mobile library, and a series of lessons taught by School 192’s teachers, the MEU is helping students here—along with those at nine other local elementary schools—learn how to protect vulnerable wildlife and prevent conflict with elephants and tigers. 

The program also works to educate local adults and companies. “As of June 2017, we’ve already engaged 400 community members, about 350 students, and employees at two companies,” Samsuardi says.

The hope is that each resident will become an ambassador for protecting the forest and its species. For students at School 192, that means going home and sharing what they’ve learned from the MEU with their families.

"Teach these stories and games to your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, and your sisters,” Samsuardi tells the whole student body at the end of the MEU’s visit. “Tell them about the importance of protecting the forest. Habitat is home, so it’s important to protect our home.”

Published February 07, 2018 at 06:00AM

Dams planned along the Mura River would devastate the “Amazon of Europe”

Dams planned along the Mura River would devastate the “Amazon of Europe”

As a little boy, WWF Freshwater Expert Arno Mohl would chase lizard and frogs along the free-flowing rivers that meandered through Central Europe. He would catch fish with his parents along the rivers' shores, enjoying the amazing scenery and plethora of life. Now he clings to these memories as the wild rivers that anchored them have transformed into chains of reservoirs.

For several decades, the pressure on river landscapes has increased steadily. People are straightening and regulating rivers to better serve their needs; mining them for gravel and sand, which are critical to construction industries; or harnessing them for hydropower.

"You have to travel farther to find river landscapes and floodplain forests of the kind that were typical of the whole of Central Europe in the past," said Mohl. "Most flowing water bodies fall victim to electricity production."

Some pristine wilderness remains along the floodplains of the Mura, Drava, and Danube rivers, which flow through Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia. The area is justifiably referred to as the “Amazon of Europe” due to its immaculate natural beauty and abundance of life. The rivers provide opportunities for recreation and nature tourism, and they supply clean drinking water and natural flood protection. In 2011, the governments of all five countries signed an agreement committing to the long-term protection of this area.

Unfortunately, the Mura river—a relatively connected stretch of water that serves as one of the last refuges for wildlife and rare fish like otters and the Danube salmon—is at significant risk of dam development. Eight currently proposed dams, the first of which is in Hrastje-Mota, would devastate wildlife habitat and more than 31 miles of river. Endangered migratory fish species would no longer be able to move up and downstream, and river bed deepening would dry out floodplain forests, oxbows, and agricultural areas. The loss of natural water retention areas would lead to increased flood risk for communities downstream.

Damming the Mura, and consequently transforming the river into eight lifeless reservoirs, also goes against the Slovenian government’s commitment to ensure international protection of the area.

Last year, Slovenia’s Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, with the support of the Slovenian government, nominated the area to join a future multi-national UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. At 1.9 million acres, it’s the largest and first protected area in Central Europe that crosses country borders. The area is also part of the European Union’s protected areas network called Natura 2000, designated for the protection of vulnerable habitats of specific species. Damming the river would breach both Slovenian legislation and EU environmental law.

Together with our partners, WWF is urging the Slovenian government to stop the eight hydropower dams planned on the Mura. This river needs to remain free-flowing for the people and wildlife that depend on it.

"In some places, the river paradise of my childhood still exists,” Mohl said. “We will fight to keep them.”

You can help. Sign our petition to Irena Majcen, Slovenia’s Minister for Environment and Spatial Planning, and urge the stopping of the eight hydropower dams planned on the Mura.

Published February 05, 2018 at 06:00AM

5 interesting facts about the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland

5 interesting facts about the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland

Wetlands—places where the land is covered by water, either salt, fresh, or somewhere in between—cover just over 6% of the Earth's land surface. Sprinkled throughout every continent except Antarctica, they provide food, clean drinking water, and refuge for countless people and animals around the world. Despite their global significance, an estimated one-half of all wetlands on the planet have disappeared.

Amid the loss, one specific wetland stands out: the Pantanal. At more than 49.4 million acres, the Pantanal is the largest and one of the most pristine wetlands in the world. The Pantanal sprawls across three South American countries—Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay—and supports millions of people there, as well as communities in the lower Rio de la Plata Basin.

WWF is working on the ground to conserve the region through the creation of protected areas and promoting sustainable use of natural resources.

Check out these facts about the Pantanal that every wetland enthusiast should know!

1. The Pantanal is larger than 29 US states and at least nine European countries.

That’s right! If the Pantanal was overlaid on the US it would be bigger than New York, Florida, and Wisconsin, among 25 other states. Put the Pantanal over Europe, and it would be larger than at least nine countries, including England, Austria, Hungary, Greece, and Ireland.


2. The Pantanal comprises about 3% of the entire world’s wetlands.

A conservative, cumulative estimate of the size of the world’s wetlands places the figure at 1.4 billion acres. Though only a fraction of that figure, the Pantanal remains more intact and pristine that most other wetland systems.


3. The Pantanal is a refuge for iconic wildlife.

This massive wetland has the largest concentration of crocodiles in the world, with approximately 10 million caimans. Jaguars, the largest feline in the Americas, hunt caiman in the Pantanal, which has one of the highest density of jaguars anywhere the world. The Pantanal is also home to the biggest parrot on the planet, the hyacinth macaw. Sighting these animals and others help attract the 1 million tourists who visit the Pantanal every year.


4. Less than 5% of the Pantanal is protected.

The areas that are protected are globally significant, with parts that fall under an agreement called Ramsar that requires national governments to conserve and wisely use wetlands, and some that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves. Around 95% of the Pantanal is under private ownership, the majority of which is used for cattle grazing.


5. Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil are creating a new way to manage the Pantanal across borders.

WWF supports a new initiative in which the three countries are working on a tri-national agreement for the sustainable development and conservation of this globally significant freshwater resource. The framework they're creating could be replicated in other places around the world. 


Published January 31, 2018 at 06:00AM


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