Nations Agree on Language for Historic Treaty to Protect Ocean Life – The New York Times


‘After two decades of planning and talks that culminated in a grueling race over the past few days in New York, a significant majority of nations agreed on language for a historic United Nations treaty that would protect ocean biodiversity.

As marine life faces threats from climate change, overfishing, the possibility of seabed mining and other dangers, the treaty would make it possible to create marine-protected areas and enact other conservation measures on the “high seas,” the immense expanse of ocean covering almost half the world.

“Today the world came together to protect the ocean for the benefit of our children and grandchildren,” said Monica Medina, an assistant secretary of state. “We leave here with the ability to create protected areas in the high seas and achieve the ambitious goal of conserving 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.” ‘

Why 23 Dead Whales Have Washed Up on the East Coast Since December – The New York Times


“First a North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species, washed ashore in Virginia. Then a humpback floated onto a beach in New Jersey. Not long afterward, a minke whale, swept in on the morning tide, landed on the Rockaway Peninsula in New York City.

And that was in just a single week this month.

In all, 23 dead whales have washed ashore along the East Coast since early December, including 12 in New Jersey and New York, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The pace of the deaths is worrisome to federal scientists, even if the total numbers are below some prior years.

Late Monday, the Coast Guard spotted another whale floating south of the Ambrose shipping channel, between New York and New Jersey; two teams from New York located the animal and determined that it was a humpback, but it was not clear where it might wash ashore.

Most of the fatalities have been humpbacks, and post-mortem examinations have suggested that ship strikes are likely the cause of many of the deaths.”

Deborah Cramer | When the Horseshoe Crabs Are Gone, We’ll Be in Trouble – The New York Times

Ms. Cramer is the author of “The Narrow Edge,” about red knots’ migration and horseshoe crabs.

Anyone who gets a flu or Covid shot, childhood immunization, heart stent or hip replacement — and that’s almost everyone — is protected from exposure to potentially lethal contaminants known as endotoxins by a test that uses what might seem like an odd ingredient: the blue blood of the horseshoe crab.

Endotoxins are a worry in medicine. They exist in the cell walls of certain bacteria and can be released when the bacteria break down or die. These toxins can send a patient into a tailspin of fever, chills, septic shock and death.

To keep patients safe, pharmaceutical companies run roughly 70 million tests a year on injectable medicines and implants for the presence of these toxins with a substance called limulus amebocyte lysate. It is an extract of cells from horseshoe crab blood and can identify even infinitesimal amounts of the toxin by reacting with it. No other natural substance is known to work as well.

The problem is that horseshoe crabs are in trouble. Their numbers are declining — “a finite source with potentially infinite demand,” as one pharmaceutical executive told Agence France-Presse last year, “and those two things are mutually exclusive.”

Sturgeon Outlasted the Dinosaurs. Can They Survive Us? – The New York Times

“The American caviar rush began on the lower Delaware estuary, a landscape today crowded with chemical plants, container ports and the sprawl of Philadelphia. But this was the 1870s, when nature edged up to the city’s limits, when probably nowhere else in the country was home to more Atlantic sturgeon: During the spring spawn, an estimated 360,000 adults thronged the reach that marked the brackish threshold between bay and river. Theirs was the roe prized by the Russian czars, whose brokers at one point paid more than $1,400 in today’s dollars for a single female Atlantic sturgeon. Bayside, N.J., came to be known as Caviar, a miniature, pop-up New Bedford in the state’s marshy south. During the fishery’s peak, in 1888, 16,500 Atlantic sturgeon — they can live 60 years and grow to 14 feet and 800 pounds — were “harvested,” or killed. Most were female, and the millions of eggs that each could produce during a spawn never made it into the water within which they were meant to hatch.

For an estimated 10 to 15 million years, Atlantic sturgeon, or Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus, have spawned in as many as 38 rivers throughout eastern North America. An anadromous fish, it is born in fresh water, spends its adulthood in salt water and returns to its natal rivers to spawn. Because individuals from different rivers do not commonly interbreed, their homing instinct has produced populations whose genetics are unique to the waterways of their birth. But the caviar rush of the late 19th century ravaged the Atlantic sturgeon, and today breeding populations remain in only 22 of its 38 natal rivers. In 2012, the species became protected under the Endangered Species Act.

At the time, researchers estimated that the Delaware population consisted of 300 or fewer spawning adults per year. While the Delaware Atlantic sturgeon is just one branch of the species, its decline epitomizes the global biodiversity crisis. “If you lose one population and their functional genetic diversity, then you’re possibly eliminating the ability for the species to adapt to new conditions in the future,” says Isaac Wirgin, an associate professor of environmental medicine at N.Y.U. Langone Health, who has sequenced Atlantic sturgeon DNA. In other words, when one branch is extirpated, a block from the genetic Jenga tower is removed and the whole family teeters further.”

David Lindsay Jr.

NYT comment:

Thank you Andrew S. Lewis et al. This is an amazing, and depressing story. We should bend over backwards to try and save the North Altantic sturgeon, as well as many other endangered species as well. How do we stop the corruption in our own regulatory agencies? David blogs at

Mark Elbroch | Cougars Are Heading East. We Should Welcome Them. – The New York Times

Dr. Elbroch is the director of the puma program at Panthera, a nonprofit group focused on protecting the world’s wild cats and the ecosystems they inhabit, and the author of “The Cougar Conundrum.”

“Numerous cougar sightings were reported east of the Mississippi River last fall, encounters that have become more frequent in recent years. A trail camera glimpsed one in northern Minnesota, for instance, while authorities captured another in Springfield, Ill., after it had made its way there from Nebraska. Yet another was fatally struck by a car on I-88 west of Chicago.

Cougars once had the run of the continent, ranging far and wide. But they were virtually eliminated in the Eastern United States by the early 1900s (except for a small population that survives in Florida), victims of bounty hunting and habitat loss. In recent decades, their numbers in the Western United States, where they were also once targeted for eradication, have rebounded, and now these big cats, also known as mountain lions, panthers and pumas, are slowly moving east.”

“. . . . .  Wary of humans, cougars feed mainly on deer and smaller prey. The risk of a cougar attack — on people or domestic animals — is extremely low, and almost zero with pragmatic precautions. Fewer than two dozen people have been killed by cougars in North America in the past 100 years. (Males range in size from 120 to 180 pounds, depending on where they live; females are much smaller, ranging from 70 to 110 pounds.) Scientists estimate a recolonization of the Eastern United States by cougars could reduce deer-vehicle collisions by 22 percent over 30 years, averting 21,400 human injuries, 155 human fatalities and over $2 billion in costs. The return of cougars to South Dakota in the 1990s, for example, reduced costs of deer-vehicle collisions by an estimated $1.1 million annually.”

David Lindsay: Bring them back, I say.  Here is the top comment, I endorsed:

New York City8h ago

in 2021, the USDA’s Wildlife Services killed 1.75 million animals, including cougars, wolves, bald eagles and other protected species to protect livestock producers raising cattle and sheep on public — not private — land. How long will we let a government agency like the USDA, and its handmaiden, the Bureau of Land Management continue protecting subsidized ranchers on public lands at taxpayer expense over the cougars and other species who belong on that land, can restore that precious but damaged land…and the public, who owns it? More cougars, please!

8 Replies461 Recommended

Robert B. Semple Jr. | Biden Set an Ambitious Goal for Nature. It’s Time He Went After It. – The New York Times

Mr. Semple, a reporter and an editor for The Times from 1963 to 2018, writes about the environment for the editorial board. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1996.

“Compared with the United Nations climate change summit in Egypt in November, the U.N. biodiversity conference held in Montreal this month may have seemed distinctly minor league.

There were no heads of state, save Canada’s. The proceedings generated few front-page headlines and little play on the evening news. Yet the issue confronting delegates from nearly 200 nations who are parties to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity was nothing less than what many scientists believe to be a planetary emergency: the alarming decline of biodiversity, which threatens the world’s food and water supplies.

This is an emergency, not incidentally, inextricably tied up with global warming. And what the conference ended up agreeing to was also significant: an ambitious pledge to protect nearly one-third of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030, a strategy whose shorthand is 30×30.”

” . . . . Second, Mr. Biden should press the Agriculture and Interior Departments to complete inventories of old-growth and mature forests and recommend protections in those deemed worthy of protection, much like the Tongass. If there is one alpha culprit in biodiversity loss, it is the clearing of forests and wetlands for farms to feed an exploding world population and, to a lesser extent, to produce biofuels. According to some estimates, the world’s natural forests are home to at least two-thirds of the world’s species. Intact forests also absorb and store enormous amounts of carbon, so preserving them assists not only the species that live there but also the struggle against climate change.”

Why protecting 30% of lands and waters is critical | The Wilderness Society

Decline in populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians over 40 years

“A 2018 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report focusing on how human activity has affected wildlife found that between 1970 and 2014, there was an approximately 60 percent decline in populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. The report highlighted deforestation and other types of land degradation as a major driver of this trend, citing data showing only about one-quarter of land on Earth is largely free of human impacts. Protecting 30% of U.S. lands and waters—as part of the global 30×30 goal—is a critical step to shore up critical habitat, save migration corridors and stop the bleeding. For example, species forced to shift to higher elevations in order to escape hotter temperatures need intact, interconnected thruways of land and water to make their move.

The chart below shows The Living Planet Index, an indicator of the state of global biodiversity cited by WWF. It measures the average rate of change over time across a set of species populations and shows an overall decline of 60% in the population sizes of vertebrates between 1970 and 2014–an average drop over half in less than 50 years.”

Source: Why protecting 30% of lands and waters is critical | The Wilderness Society

David ace-Wells | Has Climate Change Blinded Us to the Biodiversity Crisis? – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“Perhaps you saw the memes, circulating like new variants of anxiety in the early months of the pandemic: a series of tidal waves, one following another and each taller than the last. The first wave represented Covid-19; behind it, and larger, the economic recession that would supposedly follow; then, a towering wave for climate change; and then, behind that and largest still, biodiversity collapse.

For the kind of person who has spent the past few years increasingly alarmed about climate, it might be strange to think of anything as looming larger than warming, which in recent decades has seemed to subsume not only all other ecological crises in the collective cultural imagination but also the existential fate of the species and the planet. The United Nations’ 15th international biodiversity conference just concluded in Montreal, and it received only a fraction of the press coverage lavished on the COP27 climate conference recently held in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. That imbalance may seem intuitive, given one of the core principles of climate action in the post-Paris-agreement era: that decarbonization should be the environmental goal above all others, and might even offer a silver bullet to solve (or at least alleviate) all sorts of other problems, from mass extinction and insect collapse to air pollution and global inequality.”

“. . . . . . The problem is that warming is just one of the many ways that human civilization is stripping the planet of its biological complexity. In fact, last December, in a commentary published in Conservation Letters, a group of biologists called climate change a “myopic lens” through which to view the biological decline of the planet and called warming far from “the most important horseman of the biodiversity apocalypse” — indeed more of a “mule,” powerful but slow. “The current perception that climate change is the principal threat to biodiversity is at best premature,” the authors wrote. “Although highly relevant, it detracts focus and effort from the primary threats: habitat destruction and overexploitation.”

Because we all live in the world as it is today, regarding both its dimly remembered past and its uncertain future from the relatively stable-seeming vantage of the present, it can be hard to understand the scope of even recent loss. But according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, which looks at studies of some 32,000 species worldwide, vertebrate populations have declined on average by 69 percent since just 1970; since I was born in 1982, the decline has been more than 50 percent. In some ecosystems, the collapse of vertebrates has been even more drastic: In Latin America and the Caribbean, for instance, the studied populations have fallen on average by 94 percent since 1970, while among freshwater species that live in the world’s rivers and lakes, the estimated decline has been 83 percent.

As many as a million animal and plant species currently face the threat of extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (I.P.B.E.S.), a figure that translates to about 13 percent of bird species, 25 percent of mammals and 31 percent of sharks and rays. Insects are dying off, too — possibly more than 50 percent of them since 1970.”

COP15 Biodiversity Talks: Countries Sign On to “30×30” Conservation Plan – The New York Times

“MONTREAL, Quebec — Roughly 190 countries early on Monday approved a sweeping United Nations agreement to protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030 and to take a slew of other measures against biodiversity loss, a mounting under-the-radar crisis that, if left unchecked, jeopardizes the planet’s food and water supplies as well as the existence of untold species around the world.

The agreement comes as biodiversity is declining worldwide at rates never seen before in human history. Researchers have projected that a million plants and animals are at risk of extinction, many within decades. While many scientists and activists had pushed for even stronger measures, the deal, which includes verification mechanisms that previous agreements had lacked, clearly signals increasing momentum around the issue.

“This is a huge moment for nature,” Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, a coalition of groups pushing for protections, said about the agreement. “This is a scale of conservation that we haven’t seen ever attempted before.”

Overall, the deal lays out a suite of 23 conservation targets. The most prominent, known as 30×30, would place 30 percent of land and sea under protection. Currently, about 17 percent of the planet’s land and roughly 8 percent of its oceans are protected from activities like fishing, farming and industry.”

David Lindsay Jr. Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Good news for a sustainable future. Major steps in the right direction. Bravo IPBES!
Who? From their website:
“The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body established by States to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development. It was established in Panama City, on 21 April 2012 by 94 Governments. It is not a United Nations body. However, at the request of the IPBES Plenary and with the authorization of the UNEP Governing Council in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides secretariat services to IPBES. See here for more information on the history of IPBES.” — IBES.NET 

Michelle Nijhuis | Those Adorable  Are Not the Point – The New York Times

Ms. Nijhuis is the author of “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.”

“On Dec. 4, the world’s fastest land animal briefly became an influencer. With the encouragement of conservation groups, wildlife fans observed International Cheetah Day with #savethecheetah videos, facts and fund-raising appeals. “The cheetah is racing against extinction! Spread the word,” a post in circulation read.

Conservation groups, urban zoos and makers of animated films have long relied on the charisma of large, fuzzy and highly endangered species to draw attention. Entreaties to save the cheetah, a species that numbers fewer than 7,000 worldwide, raised more than $4 million from U.S. donors last year. Cheetahs do need humans’ help to survive. But by creating and leveraging what one researcher calls “spectacles of extinction,” such campaigns distract from a larger crisis that threatens all species, including ours.

When humans destroy forests, grasslands, swamps, coral reefs and other living systems, we are not only harming other species but also destroying our own food supplies, subjecting our homes to extreme weather and polluting our air and water. Though we treat conservation as an altruistic pursuit — a special interest championed by a passionate few — it’s also a selfish cause. We should approach conservation not as an opportunity for heroics, but as an obligation to the relationships we depend on for survival.”

David Lindsay: Michelle Nijhuis, thank you for this essay and your work. I loved the sentence, “We should approach conservation not as an opportunity for heroics, but as an obligation to the relationships we depend on for survival.”
While this essay shied away from mentioning overpopulation of humans, and their gross pollution, I wonder if you addressed this elephant in the room in your book, “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.”? I look forward to reading it.
David blogs at