Humans were sheltered from ancient Toba eruption, according to scientists – dpa international

DUBLIN — It was the world’s biggest volcanic blast for at least the last 2 million years, but when Mount Toba in Indonesia exploded around 74,000 years ago, humans were not as badly affected as previously thought, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the US. While the blast “likely caused severe global climate disruption,” early humans “were sheltered from the worst effects,” according to the NAS study. Overall, the scientists said, “the impacts [of the eruption] on climate and human evolution remain unclear.” Other scientists have in the past blamed Toba for causing a decade-long volcanic winter, leading to a millennium of global cooling and then an ice age.

Scientists say plastic pollution impact could be irreversible – dpa international

vRubbish disposal and recycling facility in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Global plastic pollution is heading for an “irreversible tipping point,” according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science. Despite worldwide alarm triggered by shocking images of rivers and seas deluged with plastic rubbish, the problem may be already beyond repair, the researchers warned, saying that “rates of plastic emissions globally may trigger effects that we will not be able to reverse.” Lead author Matthew MacLeod of Stockholm University said plastic “leaks out into the environment everywhere,” including in countries “with good waste-handling infrastructure.” Even then, recycling has “many limitations,” according to co-author Mine Tekman of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, as wealthy nations ship rubbish “to countries with worse facilities.”

Poorer nations face bigger food bills as prices surge – dpa international

DUBLIN — Less well-off countries are facing bigger food bills, according to the United Nations, which on Thursday said the world’s food imports are set to increase by 12 per cent this year to 1.72 trillion dollars, equivalent to Russia’s gross domestic product. In its biannual report on global food markets, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated consumer prices for proteins and calories to have increased by between 20 and 34 per cent compared to a year ago, risking “deteriorating quantitative and qualitative dietary trends in vulnerable countries” where food can account for up to half of household spending. The FAO last week estimated an overall annual jump in food costs of around 40 per cent, due to “a surge in prices for oils, sugar and cereals.”

Nature conservation disrupted since pandemic started – dpa international

DUBLIN — Nature conservation has been “significantly impacted” by the coronavirus and related restrictions, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Thursday, a year to the day since the outbreak was declared a pandemic. While responses to the pandemic “temporarily slowed down human impacts upon nature,” the IUCN said, restrictions such as stay-home lockdowns and widespread travel curbs later led to “conservation work job losses among protected area rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols and environmental protection rollbacks.” Over the past year, according to the IUCN, “protected and conserved area operations were scaled down or suspended, visitor facilities closed, workplaces shut, many staff withdrawn from duty stations and supply chains disrupted.” Over half Africa’s protected areas “were forced to halt or reduce field patrols and anti-poaching operations as well as conservation education and outreach,” according to IUCN surveys.

Forest peoples accuse governments of using pandemic to damage jungles – dpa international

DUBLIN — The novel coronavirus pandemic has facilitated government-backed “economic opportunism” in the world’s rainforests, according to a report published on Thursday. Authorities in Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru “have set aside social and environmental safeguards in favour of destructive development projects that are harming indigenous communities,” said the Forest People’s Programme, a British-based organization that works with indigenous people’s representatives in dozens of countries.

Air pollution contributes to a “significant fraction” of coronavirus-related deaths

DUBLIN — Fifteen per cent of all novel coroavirus-related deaths worldwide “could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution,” according to a German-led team of researchers. Published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, the estimate is based on analysis of pollution and pandemic data by organisations including the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Harvard University’s public health school and The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmosphere Research Center. Exposure to air pollution likely aggravates “co-morbidities that could lead to fatal health outcomes of the [novel coronavirus] infection,” the research team said. Deaths linked to a combination of air pollution and Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, represent “potentially avoidable, excess mortality,” they added.

Study suggests Atlantic plastic pollution far worse than thought – dpa international

Looking out on the Atlantic over cliffs next to the Céide Fields, a landmark neolitihic site in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

LIMERICK — Plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean could be 10 times worse than previously thought, according to estimates by the UK-based National Oceanography Centre (NOC) published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Samples of Atlantic seawater taken at depths of up to 200 metres suggest the “supply of plastic to the ocean [to] have been substantially underestimated,” the NOC reported. The NOC said the volume of invisible or near-invisible microplastics “is comparable in magnitude to estimates of all plastic waste that has entered the Atlantic Ocean over the past 65 years.” The NOC’s Katsiaryna Pabortsava, the report’s lead author, said that earlier studies did not measure “the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface.”

German-registered fishing boat detained by Ireland’s navy – dpa international

The Atlantic Ocean seen from the coast of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A German-registered boat was detained overnight by Ireland’s navy for “alleged breaches of fishing regulations,” the Irish Naval Service and Irish Defence Forces said in a statement on Friday. The intercepted vessel is being escorted to port by an Irish navy ship named after poet William Butler Yeats, where it will be handed over to police, the navy said. The vessel was stopped in the Atlantic Ocean around 250 nautical miles (463 kilometres) north-west of Malin Head, the island of Ireland’s northernmost point. The waters where the vessel was detained are rich in cod, haddock, whiting and plaice, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations body.

Ireland’s seal orphans get surrogate mothers made from old wetsuits – dpa international

Beach near Westport on Ireland's Atlantic coast (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — With temperatures bobbing around an unseasonally cool 12 degrees and the usual summer storms rumbling toward the Atlantic seaboard, it’s been a busy June and July for Seal Rescue Ireland. The charity helps hundreds of injured seals who are thrown by storms onto Ireland’s craggy, wave-battered coast., wiith volunteers typically spending these months keeping an eye out for grey and common seal pups parted from their parents by soaring seas. Pups do not usually live for very long without their mothers. “If this happens before they’ve gained sufficient weight or have learned necessary life skills, they have virtually no chance of survival on their own,” says Melanie Croce, Seal Rescue Ireland’s executive director. “This season alone, starting with our first common seal pup on the 4th of June, we’ve had 20 orphaned pups that have come into our care,” says Croce.

Lockdown leads to temporary re-wilding in Malaysia, but at a cost – dpa international

Shutters down on a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Dubbed one of the world’s 12 “mega-diverse” countries by wildlife experts, Malaysia is home to an array of instantly recognizable species, many of which have been driven to near-extinction by deforestation. A Google project in 2013 showed Malaysia losing almost 15 per cent of its jungle over the previous decade – much of it cleared to make way for plantations generating the palm oil that makes up around 4 per cent of exports. Although land clearances have slowed, decades of deforestation have left marquee species – such as the orangutan and local variants of elephant, rhinoceros and tiger – listed as threatened or endangered by monitoring organizations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The animals have been granted a respite of late, with their human tormentors transfixed by an epidemic that prompted an unprecedented response: shutdown.