TIME Environment

Check Out This Photo of a Pet Fish That Grew Into a Feral Aquatic Killer

Photo provided by Murdoch University's Freshwater Fish Group & Fish Health Unit

It's what happens when you ditch little Otto into a local lake

Setting a pet fish free in a local lake or waterway is not an act of liberation — it’s ecological sabotage.

According to researchers at Australia’s Murdoch University, once pet fish are introduced into lakes and rivers they have the potential to decimate an ecosystem.

While a goldfish or koi might remain miniature when housed in a bowl or aquarium, once freed into a larger environment the fish are able to grow at an exponential rate. They also eat up food that native species depend on and introduce exotic diseases.

A study published last year by Murdoch University’s Freshwater Fish Group and Fish Health Unit claims “introduced freshwater fishes are one of the major global threats to aquatic biodiversity.”

“They are eating up the food resources and using up the habitat that our native fish would otherwise be using,” Jeff Cosgrove, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Murdoch University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In addition, once they’ve been introduced into a new ecosystem they can be “extremely difficult to eradicate,” says Cosgrove.

Read next: The Brontosaurus Comes Back from the Dead

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

California Drought Leads to Historic Toilet Policy

The California Energy Commission mandated on Tuesday that new toilets and faucets sold in California must conserve water

California officials working to combat the state’s four-year drought are taking aim at everyday practices that use billions of gallons of water each year: flushing toilets and running faucets.

The California Energy Commission took emergency action on Tuesday by mandating that all toilets, urinals and faucets sold in the state must conserve water. That means only low-flush toilets and low-flow sinks will be allowed for sale after Jan. 1, 2016, regardless of when they were manufactured. The mandate applies to both public places and private residences.

“We’re seeing serious dry spell here in California,” says Amber Beck, a spokesperson for the commission. “And we need to make sure we are not only saving water right now but in the coming years.” These regulations come less than a week after Governor Jerry Brown imposed the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, aimed at cutting the state’s usage by 25%.

The commission’s action will set historic efficiency standards for appliances in the Golden State, which are much stricter than the voluntary standards laid out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense conservation program. As of 2016, all urinals sold in California can use only one pint of water or less per flush; the current standard is one gallon, while the EPA will put its WaterSense stamp of approval on any urinal that uses half a gallon or less.

The commission estimates that the new standards will save 10 billion gallons of water in the first year, and more than 100 billion gallons as old appliances are replaced by new ones over the coming years. As of January, there were more than 45 million faucets, 30 million toilets and 1 million urinals operating in California.

Read next: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

TIME nature

Sardine Fishing Off the U.S. West Coast Could Be Banned As Stocks Are So Low

482149911
Getty Images

The phrase "packed like sardines" could soon sound obsolete

Correction appended, April 10

A rapid decline in sardine populations along the U.S. Pacific Coast may push authorities to impose a widespread ban on harvesting the species soon.

Conservationists argue that chronic overfishing has caused sardine numbers in U.S. waters to fall by an estimated 90% since 2007. However, others suggest the decline is part of a natural fluctuation in biomass.

With fewer sardines in the wild, malnourished sea lions are struggling to find food and washing up on Californian shores in records numbers, while predatory birds, like the brown pelican, are also suffering.

If the ban is enacted, it’s expected to hit West Coast seafood producers hard.

“Most sardine fishermen also fish for other species such as mackerel, anchovy, or squid,” Kerry Griffin, a staff officer with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, told Reuters. “But not having sardines available as one of their staples could be difficult.”

The council is set to make its ruling on Sunday.

[Reuters]

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated who blamed overfishing for the reduced sardine populations. It was conservationists.

TIME Environment

Here’s Why Allergy Season Might Be Especially Unpleasant This Spring

Pollen levels are going to be intense this month, experts warn

There’s one more downside to winters that seems to drag on: allergy season is intensified.

Tree pollen levels may reach unusually high levels in the coming weeks because persistent colder temperatures delayed some trees from pollinating last month, according to allergy experts. Since not all trees pollinate at the same time — maple, cedar and elm trees, for example, pollinate early — the delays result in a large amount of trees pollinating at once.

“You may even see clouds of pollen being released over the next several weeks, where there will be almost a green mist,” Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy specialist at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., told CBS New York last week.

Experts say those living in the New England region — which saw its “last hurrah” winter storm in March — might want to pay particular attention to pollen levels, though any region that’s been slow to warm up this year may be affected.

“The general principle is the same: in the spring, wherever you are, whenever it becomes temperate, trees start to emit their pollen,” Dr. Rachel Miller, chief of pediatric allergy, immunology and rheumatology at Columbia University Medical Center, told TIME.

So what can you do to avoid the runny noses, itchy eyes and headaches? There are the classic over-the-counter allergy pills like Zyrtec and Claritin, but for those that suffer from more severe allergies, this spring might be the perfect time to finally get checked out.

“Certainly people can visit their allergists,” said Dr. Miller, “who can help make sure that they’re doing certain behaviors to try to minimize exposure when, say, they’re exercising or jogging in the park — as well as medical management, or possibly immunotherapy.”

 

TIME public health

White House Says Climate Change Threatens Public Health

'This is not just a future threat, this is a present threat'

Extreme heat and increased asthma attacks due to pollution and smog are among the consequences of climate change that pose a danger to public health, the White House said Tuesday. The Obama administration will partners with medical schools and private partners like Microsoft, among other initiatives, to address the issue.

“This is not just a future threat, this is a present threat,” said Brian Deese, the president’s senior climate change advisor, on a conference call. “The challenges we face are real and they are clear and present in people’s daily lives.”

Tuesday’s announcement came part of a week-long effort by the President to draw attention to the public health implications of climate change, Deese said. Among the new initiatives announced is an effort from Microsoft to use drones to collect data and eventually build an early warning system for infectious disease outbreaks.

President Obama was also set to address the issue at an appearance at Howard University Tuesday afternoon.

Read More: Carbon Regs Will Help Your Health More Than the Planet’s

The White House outlined the devastating impact of the climate change on public health in a report last year, highlighting increased asthma-related hospitalizations due to pollution and the effects of extreme heat. Research suggests that the number of asthma-related hospitalizations in the New York City area will have increased by more than 7% between 1990 and 2020 due to climate change, for instance, and extraordinary heat waves in many cities have caused death as well.

The focus on climate change and public health comes at a crucial moment for U.S. efforts to safeguard the environment. The White House hopes to play a leading role in crafting a landmark global agreement on climate change at a United Nations Conference in December.

TIME Environment

The Number of Sea Lions Washing Up on Californian Shores Is Higher Than Ever

Sea lions
Rich Lewis—Getty Images/Flickr

Rising sea temperatures mean less food for the mammals

Emaciated sea lions are showing up on beaches in Southern California at unprecedented rates, because rising sea temperatures have reduced the populations of sardines and squid that form their main diet.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reports that a record-breaking 2,250 sea lions, largely young pups, have washed ashore in California so far this year.

That’s double the number seen in 2013 (which was previously the worst winter season for the mammals) and 20 times the stranding rate over the same period during the past decade, Reuters reports.

Read: Why Hundreds of Starving Sea Lion Pups Are Washing Up in California

In March alone, 1,050 sea lions — the highest number recorded in a month — were stranded according to scientists tracking their rates at an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

California’s rescue facilities have been overwhelmed by the surge, with teams working frantically to rehabilitate the starving animals.

[Reuters]

TIME Environment

The Problem with U.S. Wildlife Protection Efforts

Getty Images

'It’s up to us to make sure these species have a place to live'

Since the Wilderness Act took effect in 1964, the United States government has protected more than 100 million acres of land for the purpose of conservation. About 8% of the continental U.S. is under protection, including natural treasures like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

But while these efforts have preserved some of the country’s most unique scenery, other areas that may be even richer in animal and plant biodiversity aren’t being protected, finds a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The U.S. has protected many areas, but it has yet to protect many of the most biologically important parts of the country,” says lead study author Clinton Jenkins, a visiting professor at the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil.

Map biodiversity endangered species
Courtesy of Clinton Jenkins, Institute for Ecological Research

Jenkins and his team analyzed thousands of species of animals and trees to identify areas with the richest endemic biological diversity. Some of those regions, like the Everglades, are already protected, but many others are not. The areas most in need of protection are the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and mountains on the California Coast, the study concluded.

“This is the most important scientific report of at least the last decade on the distribution of America’s parks and biodiversity, with implications for future policy on conservation and land use,” said study editor E.O. Wilson, Harvard University professor emeritus, in a statement.

Read More: Obama Moves to Protect 12 Million Acres of Alaskan Wildlife

Some of these regions might have been overlooked because of conservation policy that stretches back decades, says Jenkins. Land protection in the mid-twentieth century often focused on protecting “big beautiful landscapes, strange ecosystems and odd places,” rather than unique wildlife, Jenkins says. Conservationists also often found it difficult to enact protections on lands that could easily be used for other purposes like development or agriculture, even if they were rich in biodiversity. “There’s not as much competition for using that land,” Jenkins says.

Another factor in conservation policy has been the type of species facing extinction. Many conservation efforts have highlighted endangered mammals and birds while ignoring smaller and less visible reptiles and amphibians. The Southeastern U.S., for instance, is home to a wide variety of salamanders and fish, but has a lower percentage of its land protected than elsewhere in the country.

Jenkins says he hopes that conservation priorities will shift to include neglected regions and species, in part due to research like his. “If the U.S. doesn’t do something, they’re at risk of disappearing,” says Jenkins. “It’s not going to happen over night, but it’s up to us to make sure these species have a place to live.”

TIME Environment

California Governor Defends Water Restrictions That Largely Spare Farms

California Drought Reveals Uneven Water Usage
Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Ramona, Calif.

"I can tell you from California, climate change is not a hoax"

Governor Jerry Brown defended his state’s new mandatory water restrictions on Sunday as critics claim they largely spare some farms that consume much of California’s water.

The state’s farms account for 80% of its water consumption but only 2% of its economy, according to the think tank Public Policy Institute of California. But Brown asserted in an ABC News interview taking water away from farmers could create a number of problems, including displacing hundreds of thousands of people and cutting off a region that provides a significant fraction of the country’s food supply.

“They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” he said. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America and a significant part of the world.”

At the end of the interview, the Democratic governor reiterated a broad warning after four years of drought. “I can tell you from California, climate change is not a hoax,” he said. “We’re dealing with it, and it’s damn serious.”

[ABC News]

Read next: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

California’s Water Crisis By the Numbers

California Drought Rice Harvest
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Rice harvested by Mike DeWitt is loaded into trucks near Davis, Calif., Oct. 10, 2014. DeWitt is among the Sacramento Valley farmers who planted 25 percent less rice than normal because of water cutbacks.

Almost two-thirds of water is used for agriculture — but Gov. Jerry Brown's measures apply mainly to urban areas

California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday imposed historic water controls on the drought-stricken state. But who will the burden of conserving water fall upon? Here, nine numbers that explain the new measures:

25%
The amount by which cities and towns across the state must reduce water use under Brown’s new regulations. That would total about 487.5 billion gallons of water over the next nine months.

50 million square feet
The area of lawns throughout the state to be replaced by “drought tolerant landscaping,” in partnership with local governments. The plan will also require university campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to make “significant cuts” in water use, Brown said.

38 billion gallons
The amount of water used every day throughout California according to 2010 estimates, more than any other state in the country.

16.6%
The average share of water consumption in the U.S. that goes toward domestic purposes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, such as washing dishes or drinking water.

80-100 gallons
The amount of water the average American goes through a day, much of it in the bathroom, according to the USGS. Showers use on average two to two-and-a-half gallons per minute. A full tub holds an estimated 36 gallons. Washing your hands and face take a gallon, while toilet flushes in older models use three gallons. (Newer ones use closer to one and a half.) Washers also go through a significant amount of water: about 25 gallons a load in newer models.

70 gallons
The amount of water used by San Francisco Bay Area residents after Brown asked Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 20%. Some in Southern California continued to use some 300 gallons a day on amenities such as lawns and swimming pools.

$10,000
The possible daily fine for those of California’s 400 local water agencies who fail to meet the governor’s 25% target.

61%
The average share of the nation’s water that is used for agricultural purposes, including irrigation and livestock (Another 17.4% goes to thermoelectric power plants). In California that share is about 80%.

76,400
Number of California farms and ranches, which produced $21 billion in agricultural exports in 2013, according to the California Department of Food & Agriculture, including $7.6 billion in milk and $5.8 billion in almonds. More than 400 different crops and commodities are grown in the state, accounting for 14.7% total U.S. agricultural exports. The measures announced by Governor Brown on Wednesday do not apply to the agriculture industry.

 

TIME Environment

3 Maps That Explain Why California Is Restricting Water

California Drought
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Houseboats float in the drought-lowered waters of Oroville Lake near Oroville, Calif., Oct. 30, 2014. Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1, 2015, ordered sweeping and unprecedented measures to save water in California.

Extreme drought combined with higher temperatures and very little snow

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued mandatory water use restrictions Wednesday for the first time in the state’s history, ordering towns and cities to cut water use by 25%, which will affect everything from farms to golf courses to residents’ front lawns.

The state has been experiencing drought-like conditions since 2011 but in the last few months, things have gotten even worse. Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range has hit all-time lows for this time of year while temperatures remain above average, making an already dire situation worse. Below are three maps showing just how dire things have gotten throughout the state.

MORE: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

1. Extreme Drought Conditions

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, 99.85% of California experienced drought conditions as of March 31, affecting 37 million people; 40% of the state is currently considered to be in an “exceptional drought.”

 

California drought
California drought key

 

 

2. Snowpack at all time-lows

Snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range at this time of year would normally begin melting and become part of the state’s overall water supply. But snowpack is at roughly 5% of its April average, which can be seen in these maps by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One researcher with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service told the USA Today that snowpack statewide is “the worst in a century.”

Snowpack 2011
Snowpack 2015

 

3. Temperatures above average

On top of all that, temperatures have been higher than normal in the first three months of the year, accelerating persistent drought conditions and leading to increased evaporation of the water sources that remain. Some places in the state over the last few months have experienced temperatures more than 10 degrees above normal, according to the NOAA Regional Climate Centers.

 

California average temperature

 

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