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Adrian GloverDeep-Sea Systematics and Ecology Group, Department of Life Sciences

Wednesday 28 January 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


The deep oceans contain a vast and untapped wealth of minerals useful to humans. In geological terms, there is much known with regard the distribution of these minerals at different types of deep-sea environment. The first polymetallic (or manganese) nodules were recovered by the Challenger expedition in 1873, in the deep Atlantic. In the 1960s, the first estimates were made of the total mineral wealth of the oceans, and the first surveys undertaken. In 1978, the first fully integrated mining trials recovered several hundred tonnes of nodules from the central abyssal Pacific at depths of 5500m; in the preceding year, hydrothermal vents were discovered on the Galapagos rift. Since then, an average of 5 hydrothermal vent fields have been discovered every year, and 19 exploration licences for deep-sea minerals in both abyssal nodule and deep-sea vent environments have been issued by the United Naitons International Seabed Authority, 5 of these in 2014 alone. The United Kingdom government is sponsor to 2 exploration licence claims in the central Pacifc covering 267,000 square km, an area larger thant the UK itself.

Despite our accumulated knowledge of the mineral wealth of deep-sea ecosystems, our biological data remains extremely patchy. The central Pacific nodule regions have been well-sampled for nodules, but the majority of species are undescribed and fundamental questions such as the biogeographic distributions of animals unstudied. The diversity and ecological resilience of species to disturbance regimes are largely untested. At hydrothermal vents, critical data such as degrees of endemicity and gene-flow between vent fields is lacking.

The NHM is in a unique position to provide advice to industry and government, as well as academic research, in deep-sea mining from both the geological and environmental point of view. This has potential to be a key area in our Sustainable Futures strategy. In my research group, we have been working with an industrial contractor on the UK-1 deep-sea mining claim in the central Pacific for the last 18 months and are part of an EU FP7 deep-sea mining project. In this talk I will outline some of the history of deep-sea mining, the fundamental science at stake, our role in current projects, the importance of taxonomy, open data and bioinformatics and some of our plans for our forthcoming fieldwork (we sail for a 2-month trip on Feb 12).

 

More information on attending seminars at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/news-events/seminars/

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As free events go one cannot expect more happenings than the annual Europe-wide celebration that is European Researchers' Night, and the Museum is just one of the 100s of institutions that once again will open its doors for an evening bonanza of science at Science Uncovered.

 

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Science Uncovered, our annual celebration of science as part of European Researchers' Night, is fun, free and gets better every year.

 

 

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4 Successful Years: as part of the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme, our Museum has successfully hosted 4 Science Uncovered evenings, one each September, with a total of more than 30,000 visitors attending so far!

 

Every year has been more popular than the previous, and with around 300 scientists taking part, our visitors have enjoyed activities as diverse as interactive science stations, debates, behind-the-scenes tours and science bars.

 

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This year's Science Uncovered is on Friday 26 September and we are confident it will be another great success. You'll be welcome to join in from 15.00 and our aim is to enthusiastically entertain you until 22.30.

 

The event will be programmed according to the 3 main strategic themes of the Museum: Sustainability, Biodiversity and Origins & Evolution and there will be activities related to these themes in the Darwin Centre, Life and Earth public galleries respectively.

 

Because I was away at the time, I wasn't able to take part in last year's Science Uncovered but I will be there this year with some of my colleague curators, in one of the forest stations, so do drop by and say hello.


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This is an opportunity not to be missed as we'll be taking with us some of our favourite specimens, usually jealously protected in our extensive state-of-the-art collections.

 

We would love to show and tell you about some of the work we do in our Museum and we'll endeavour to answer many of your questions. We'll be setting up some games to test your knowledge and stimulate your curiosity; of course there will be prizes too, but only if you are smart enough.

 

I really hope you'll be one of the thousands people who visit during the evening, joining in to celebrate biodiversity, knowledge and the importance of all inquisitive minds.

 

See you then.

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In the run up to the landmark Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brasil this week, the Open Access resource – Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy - has highlighted some of the key areas being discussed this year: ocean management; disasters; water; employment; food; cities; energy data in the article Creating the future we want.

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This ejournal is freely available via Open Access and has a wealth of information in all areas related to sustainability and the environment.  See the Researchers toolkit for analyising datasets, a visualisation tool for manipulating data and keep up to date with current issues and posts via the SSPP blog.                                                                                                    

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Read this and more reviews of the latest news and views in sustainability and environment with this peer-reviewed  ejournal. This journal is available on the NHM Library catalogue.          

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Helen Buckland is UK Director, Sumatran Orangutan Society

 

Palm fruit.jpgThe world’s voracious appetite for palm oil - an ingredient found in up to half of all packaged supermarket products in the UK - is fuelling the destruction of some of the most biodiverse rainforests on the planet, home to countless species, including the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (see www.orangutans-sos.org). Whilst every individual has the right to make choices about the food they eat and the cosmetics they use, I feel that a boycott of products containing palm oil is not the answer to saving Indonesia’s forests, for a number of reasons.

 

In order to boycott products containing palm oil, you need to know which ones to avoid – which is not easy. Palm oil is usually a hidden ingredient in food and cosmetic products, listed simply as “vegetable oil” on packaging, so it is currently almost impossible to make informed choices about what you buy at the supermarket.

 

Even armed with a palm-oil-free shopping list, protesting with your wallet may have some unintended consequences. Oil palms are the most productive oil seed in the world – more than 10 times as much oil is produced from a hectare of oil palms as other crops. If companies are forced to switch to alternative oils, even more land could be put at risk by increasing demand for oils which need larger plantations. Soybeans, for example, tend to be grown under a similar model to oil palms: huge monocultures, often at the expense of tropical forests in South America. We do not want to export the problem - saving the Southeast Asian rainforests from conversion at the expense of the Brazilian Amazon, swallowing up even more forest in the process. We simply want forest conversion to stop.

 

Palm oil is a “wonder crop” when it comes to meeting the huge global demand for vegetable oils, accounting for more than a third of the world’s supply. Countries such as India and China rely on huge palm oil imports to meet their populations’ nutritional needs, bringing billions of dollars to top producer countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. As long as the world needs vegetable oil, there is no question that the palm oil industry will continue to grow; what we need to be concerned with how this expansion happens.

 

The development of new oil palm plantations does not need to entail forest destruction. While precious ecosystems are being devastated, millions of hectares of abandoned land lie idle, available for cultivation.  It is estimated that the amount of land growing oil palms in Indonesia could quadruple without impacting forests (http://www.projectpotico.org/), enabling the industry to grow whilst drastically reducing its environmental footprint.

 

wild male.jpgThe Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was established to create a clear set of standards for reducing the environmental impacts of the industry. Change has been slow, and it’s not a perfect system, but oil certified as sustainable according to these standards has started to trickle into the world market.

 

Many millions of hectares of forests have already been lost to the palm oil industry. It is absolutely critical that the conversion of forests is stopped. We need more research into how to increase output on existing plantations, as current yields are in many cases well below their potential, and this would reduce the need for cultivating more land.  Environmentally-sensitive land use planning, improved productivity, responsible investment by banks and purchasing by manufacturers and retailers are all crucial to halt the conversion of Indonesia’s forests for agricultural development.
So what can you do to help? If you know a certain product contains palm oil, and would rather not to buy it on that basis, make sure that you write to the company that makes it and tell them. You can also demand that companies use only certified sustainable palm oil, and to clearly label this on their packaging. Making your voice heard really can make a difference – several big companies have already made commitments to cleaning up their palm oil supply after hearing from their customers about this issue - see the WWF website for a list.  We can all also pressure our elected officials to make decisions that help conserve our planet's limited resources and threatened biodiversity, and save precious species, including the orangutan, from extinction.

 

For further information on the environmental and social impacts of the palm oil industry see: http://www.orangutans-sos.org/campaigns/palm_oil_and_biofuels/

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Phew, hot off the press, we've just released tickets for our October evening event.....Biodiversity: The Next Step

 

If you enjoyed the Big Nature Debate, or you're interested to know more about biodiversity, why it's important and what's being done to conserve it, then this is the event for you!

 

We've got some fantastic speakers and the event will be discussion based, so there'll be lots of opportunity for you to ask questions and discuss your ideas and concerns.

 

Details below or look on our website.

 

Biodiversity: The Next Step

 

Why is biodiversity important? In this, the International Year of Biodiversity, are we any more aware of its significance in our lives, and the fact that it is declining at an unprecedented rate?

This October, the United Nations is holding a global conference to discuss the continued decline in animal and plant species and set new targets to prevent a global disaster. But is it too late? We have already failed to meet the targets set in 2002. Will this time be any different?

Join us and hear from the following invited speakers:
Prof Geoff Boxshall (Merit Researcher, Zoology Department, Natural History Museum)
Peter Unwin (Director General for Environment and Rural, Defra)
Tony Juniper (Writer and environmentalist)
Prof Tom Burke (Environmentalist and Environmental Policy Adviser to Rio Tinto)


Take part in the discussions as we consider what needs to change, and how the goals set by the UN in Nagoya will influence both our own future and that of global biodiversity.

Part of Nature Live Nights.

Tickets £8 each (£7.20 members) plus £1.50 booking fee. Please book online, visit an information desk or phone 020 7942 5725.
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John Jackson is Science Policy Co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum.

 

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO3) published in May 2010 says that, ’The target agreed by the world’s Governments in 2002, “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth”, has not been met.’

 

Biodiversity loss is not slowing - Jonathan Ballie’s post refers to the Buchart et al. paper in Science that reaches that conclusion with scientific data. The CBD secretary’s note for Nagoya states that not a single country has reported that it has met the 2010 target “to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010”. For the UK, the 2010 JNCC Biodiversity Indicators in Your Pocket shows that things look good if you are a bat, but less good news for birds and plants.

 

GBO3 is a key document in looking forward from Nagoya and is well worth reading - straightforward and not too technical. It points to some progress on controlling pollution and managing protected areas, but otherwise the global picture looks grim: species diversity; genetic diversity; sustainable use and consumption; habitat loss; invasive species; climate change; access and benefit sharing; policy development; and other areas - for all of these the record is not good.

 

So a question for debate: 2020 will be the next set of targets. What is going to make this approach more of a success than 2010? What needs to change?

 

Twenty 2020 targets have been drafted for Nagoya, part of a 195-page document, and propose for agreement that by 2020 (a somewhat arbitrary selection):

  • Target 1: all people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
  • Target 5: the rate of loss and degradation, and fragmentation, of natural habitats is [at least halved][brought close to zero].
  • Target 10: to have minimized the multiple pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.
  • Target 12: the extinction and decline of known threatened species has been prevented and improvement in the conservation status [for at least 10% of them] has been achieved.
  • Target 14: ecosystems that provide essential services and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are safeguarded and/or restored and equitable access to ecosystem services is ensured for all, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities and the poor and vulnerable.
  • Target 19: knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.

 

Ambitious? Extremely. Necessary? Absolutely. Practical? That is up to us.  What are we going to do now that will enable us all to congratulate ourselves on how well we have done since 2010?

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For a sneak preview of what we'll be discussing on 25th March and the chance to see one of our speakers in action (Rob Parry-Jones from TRAFFIC Europe) have a look at - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oX1ewcnlbDA

 

And to see our very own Richard Sabin in action (who will also be speaking on the 25th), have a look at this film all about the Thames Whale....remember that, it was a while ago now...!  http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/nature-live/video-archive/videos/sperm-whale-skull/

 

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Richard Sabin from our Mammal Department uses microscopes to identify whether products siezed by HM Revenue & Customs have been made from protected species such as elephant and rhino.  But scientists elsewhere use DNA to identify species - such as in this film which shows how shark fins can be tested and the species of shark identified.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHCzdQHre1U

 

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A couple of weeks ago I hosted an event with mammal curator Richard Sabin.  Richard helps to look after the mammal collections here at the museum, but is also involved in helping HM Revenue & Customs crack down on the illegal trade in endangered animal species.

 

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When customs find suspicious items being shipped or flown into the country, they turn to Richard to help them find out whether the bracelet/ornament/piece of furniture in question is made of a harmless material or whether it contains components of an endangered animal.

 

Richard specialises in hard materials, such as bone and horn. By studying items closely underneath microscopes, such as the bracelet above, he is able to spot the tell-tale signs that suggest what it has been made out of (ie plastic, bone or horn) but also what animal it may have come from.  Incredibly, the tusks, horns and teeth of different species have different characteristics which, after years of training and experience, Richard is able to recognise.

 

The illegal trade in endangered species is an ongoing and international problem.  Some say that it is worth more than the arms trade. It's an issue that is being tackled by governments and independent organisations around the world, but one that is far from black and white. There are many reasons for why people chose to kill and sell endangered animals, and many different demands for how these animals are used such as to make medicine, jewellery and food.

 

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments, which aims to ensure that the survival of plant and animal species is not threatened by trade. It influences legislation and laws that help protect threatened species. The 175 governments that have signed up to CITES are currently meeting in Qatar to discuss new measures and suggest changes to previous guidelines.  At the top of the agenda are issues such as banning the trade of blue-fin tuna and legalising the sale of ivory stockpiles.  

 

We'll be discussing the work of CITES and extent of the illegal trade at this months evening event, Crossing Borders: The Illegal Trade in Endangered Species on Thursday 25th March.  Tickets are available on our website and by phone 020 7942 5555.  Richard Sabin will be speaking about his involvement, as well as representatives from TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network), Defra and a researcher from Oxford Brookes University who is involved in undercover work in South East Asia.

 

 

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What fish have your eaten in the last month? If it includes Cod, Salmon, Tuna or Haddock, then you are not alone! These are the most commonly eaten fish in the UK, and our appetite for them is putting pressure on their survival.

 

We are often told we should eat two portions of fish a week, as it's a really nutritious food, but at the same time warned that some fish are severely over-fished, that their stock levels are dangerously low, and that several species should be listed as endangered!

 

So what are people supposed to do?

 

This was the focus or our Nature Live Nights evening event, on Thursday 28th January, also a 4SEAS event.

 

Well, there were lots of suggestions from our speakers. Oliver Crimmen, one of the foremost fish experts at the Natural History Museum, stated that there actually lots of different types of edible fish out there - by widening the types of fish we eat, and not just sticking to the same four main ones, that could help take the pressure off. However, we do need to have a good understanding of the ecology of our new choices.

 

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               Jo from the Billingsgate Seafood Training School prepared some delicious samples for our taste test - results up soon!

 

 

Tim Ferrero and Geoff Boxshall, also from the Zoology Department, talked about checking how your fish was caught, and also the aquaculture or fish farming option - with the global human population set to soar, could this be an answer?

 

Background to the quota system, and possible options at a governmental level were the focus of both Dr Kenneth Patterson from the European Commision, and Zoe Hodgson from DEFRA.

 

And finally, sustainability, eco labels, and how consumers can make a difference by Tom Pickerell, from the Shellfish Association of Great Britain. There are lots of different eco labels out there for fish - Tom recommends the Marine Stewardship Council stamp, as it takes into account lots of different considerations including stock levels, fish ecology, and how they are caught.

 

So next time you fancy some fish and chips, try a different fish (Coley was very popular in our taste test!) and check to see whether your fish has the MCS seal of approval.

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DSCN8315.JPGYesterday morning I have to admit I was a little worried when Max Barclay told me “Oh, and I won’t forget your beetle soup”. I had to wait for the event at 14.30 to be reassured that he wasn’t doing an all too literal recreation of life in the field for the Nature Live audience! Although he did mention that on occasion he has had to choose between starving and eating bugs for dinner; today beetle soup was actually the name of the amalgam of insects he collects in fieldtrips and brings back in bottles of alcohol.

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He brought along the bits and bobs from his collection kit, took us through some amazing landscapes, talked about the challenges of carrying the equipment through the forest (and how this is becoming easier because the forest is now much less vast and you can reach its 'heart' much faster). He also spoke about how he chooses where to go on an expedition and how to identify puma pee with butterflies!! (Handier than you might think!)

 

 

So, from the traps to the beetle soup: Max, live in the studio, sorted out one of his beetle soup bottles from Colombia and showed us all the identification and taxonomical work that takes place, which means that you can then find out if you have discovered new species.Picture10.jpg

 

All this, plus Max’s characteristic enthusiasm, questions and comments from the visitors, and lots of WoWs when some of the jungle beetles were revealed! After all this exploration, we hope to have inspired some of our visitors to not only be amazed by the beautiful beetles in our collections but realise their importance within the Earth’s ecosystems. Our collections are huge - 28 million of insects, 22,000 drawers of beetles – and aim to represent the entire world so they can be relevant in understanding life and defining strategies for the sustainability of our Planet!