The Strange and Magnificent Nudibranchs of the Cape

One nudi looks like an open gas flame blazing underwater.

Another one appears on the sea floor like a ghost with rabbit ears.

One looks like strings of neon noodles clinging to the reef.

Another looks like puffs of tiny white clouds.

And one even looks like a little marine rhinoceros with orange-tipped horns.

The list of things that nudibranchs resemble is endless.

These little marine slugs are so utterly strange and out-of-this world that the only way somehow comprehend their countless shapes and beautiful colours is to compare them to things that sit more comfortably in our consciousness.

A gas Flame Nudibranch: Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

It’s become a mini-obsession of mine. Each time I freedive in chilly waters off the coast of Cape Town, among the granite reefs and kelp forests that fringe this lively coast, I search for these little wonders, hoping to find something new.

Its strange. Nudibranchs are hard to see at first. They are tiny slug-like animals that move slowly along the sea floor, blending in with the many other purples and reds and blues of the reef. Their miracle colouring is a defence mechanism. Having shed their protective snail shells in some previous evolutionary diversion, their colours signify extreme toxicity. Stay away, they say. But it has the opposite effect on me. They are also totally mesmerising. Once you spot one and dive down close, hanging weightless above the animal, you simply cannot take your eyes away from the neon colours dancing in the light, the soft tentacle-like arms swaying in the swell.

Their magnetism can be a problem when freediving, because at some point you need to tear your eyes away and head towards the surface for a breath.

One of the ways to appreciate nudis for longer than a single breath is to look closely at photographs of them. Luckily, there are a few committed divers around Cape Town who spend hours underwater searching for and photographing nudibranchs and other marine wonders. Below are some of the most interesting contributions made in the nutrient rich waters of the Cape.

Look closely at the nudis. Get lost in their shapes and colours and see what images your mind produces. And for a moment, admire the natural wonders that our ocean produces, but are so rarely seen.

1. The Crown

A Crown Nudibranch, Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

2. The Ghost

A Ghost Nudibranch. Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

3. The Frill

Frilled Nudibranch, Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

4. The Medallion

Silver Tipped Nudibranch. Photo by Ben Wiid @two_oceans_one_breath

5. The Coral

A Coral Nudibranch, Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

6. The Ink Spot

Ink-Spotted Nudibranch, Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

7. The Fire

White-tipped Capensis, Photo by Raoul Coscia

8. The Dark

Black Nudibranch, Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

9.  The Club

Orange Clubbed Nudibranch, Photo by Ben Wiid @two_ocean_one_breath

10. The Gas Flame

Gas Flame Nudibranch, Photo by Richard Darke @RCDImages

Special thanks to Richard Darke @RCDImages, Ben Wiid (@two_oceans_one_breath), and Raoul Coscia for the Nudibranch gallery.

What’s Next?  The coastal waters of the cape are some of the richest and most diverse in the world. The collision of warm and cold currents at the tip of Africa creates a nutrient rich environment supporting animal species of all sizes – from nudibranchs and shrimps up to southern right whales and great white sharks. To celebrate these natural wonders, we have put together a photo database of the Cape’s magnificent ocean animals and their habitat. Through working with local divers and photographers, we will be publishing regular galleries of the most interesting and stunning images from our Two Oceans.

If you have any images to contribute, we will be creating a regular gallery of the top images from the sea for everyone to appreciate. Please submit these to [email protected]

Originally posted 2018-02-27 11:58:55.

Top 25 Wild Birds Photographs of the Week: Birds in Flowers

The wonderful colours often observed when birds interact with flowers have inspired many works of art; from a painting style in Chinese history based entirely on this theme, to modern day bird photography. Often the relationship between birds and flowers is mutualistic; birds obtain nesting material and food, and flowering plants are pollinated. Some bird species such as hummingbirds have co-evolved with particular flower species to become specialised pollinators; this ensures that the flowers always have a pollinator, and reduces competition for nectar between nectivorous bird species.

Thank you to all the photographers who submitted birds in flowers photographs this week, your pictures can bring greater awareness to the variety of birds that make use of flowers. Here we present the Top 25, we had an amazing response to this week’s theme and selection of the Top 25 was not easy!

An American goldfinch collects plant down from a musk thistle in New Jersey, USA (Kelly Hunt)This crimson sunbird photographed in SIngapore is a nectar feeder (Senthil Kumar Damodaran)Rose-ringed parakeet feeding in Faridkot, Punjab, India (Gagan Bedi)A colourful shot of a ruby-throated hummingbird, which has amazing control of its flight, hovering here in Louisiana, USA (Rhonda Lane)Close up of a scaly-breasted munia photographed by Panthera Tigirs in Kotagiri, IndiaAnna’s hummingbirds, found along the Pacific coast of the US, have increased their range since the early 20th century from northern Baja in California due to planting of exotic flowering plants in gardens (Sutapa Karmakar)Red-tailed minla in Darjeeling, India (Ajoy Kumar Dawn)Loten’s sunbirds are endemic to Peninsula India, and Sri Lanka (Malay Mandal)A black-bellied bustard in Tanzania peeks out from amongst the flowers (Edwin Godinho)Broad-billed hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flower in Arizona, USA (Jola Charlton)Black redstarts are found in rocky areas, and have adapted to urban environments, here photographed in Nubra Valley India by Sandipan Ghosh.Jerdon’s leaf bird feeding on flower nectar in Bangalore, India (Ramesh Aithal)Black-headed oriole perched on an aloe plant in South Africa (Sharon Templin)Brown-throated sunbird hangs from a branch in Singapore (Ananth Ramasamy)Cape spur fowl in amongst the flowers (Owen Deutsch)Purple sunbirds range across the Asian continent, and will defend their territory by singing and mobbing intruders (Sanjeev Kumar Goyal)Brahminy starlings feed on nectar, fruit, and insects (Indranil Bhattacharjee)Olive-backed sunbird perches in a flower in Singapore, they feed on nectar and have adapted to live in urban areas (Bharath Srinivasan‎)Green bee eater in flight in Kushilian Wildlife Sanctuary, India (Vishesh-Kamboj)Purple-rumped sunbird photographed in Pondicherry, India (Pallavi Sarkar)White wagtails are found near water, but have adapted to foraging in urban areas, photographed here in Gujarat, India (VishwasThakker)Sapphire-spangled emerald hummingbird taking nectar from a flower in Brazil (Adriana Dinu)White-cheeked barbet perching on a flower in Bangalore, India (Ganesh Rao)A verditer flycatcher perched on a branch in Sattal, India (Preety Patel)Yellow-rumped warbler flying away, in California, USA (Barbara Wallace)

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Laurie Johnson, Campaign Manager

Top 25 Wild Birds Photographs of the Week: The Cranes

Originally posted 2018-09-07 17:15:15.

Climate change puts the Pacific Walrus population on thin ice

These massive haulouts can be incredibly dangerous for walruses. The crowded animals are easily spooked; any sound or scent—an airplane flying by, a human, or a whiff of a predator—can cause a deadly stampede. In their rush to the ocean, the heavy walruses—which can weigh up to 1.5 tons—can trample other walruses, especially young calves, which are susceptible to injuries and death. Last year, disturbances to a haulout near Cape Schmidt, Russia caused more than 500 deaths.

In addition to posing risks for individual animals, these mass aggregations are a troubling sign that Pacific walruses and other species are under serious threat from climate change-driven habitat loss. “Some projections suggest that the Arctic could be ice-free in the summers as early as 2040,” says Advani. “That means sea ice-dependent species like walruses and polar bears will be spending more time on land, which could decrease access to their prey base and increase human-wildlife conflict.”

Pacific walrus numbers reached record-low numbers in the early 1960s, but rebounded by the 1980s following significant conservation efforts. Unfortunately, the Pacific walrus population is once again in decline—with just 129,000 animals left.

Originally posted 2018-06-28 12:00:00.

A Fun Approach for Educators to Engage Students in Insect Biodiversity & Climate Change

Game logo. Design by R. Isaí Madriz

Insects are not generally appealing to most, outside the “charismatic” colorful butterflies and beetles. How can flies and “maggots” be presented in an interesting and appealing way? The secret lies in exposing the insects’ secret lives. Did you know that you can use “maggots” to see if the water from a stream is good to drink? That there are primitive crane flies that have survived seemingly unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs (Jurassic period)? What if I told you there are entire families of flies that parasitize spiders as big as tarantulas? Or that there are fly larva living in rivers with ventral hydraulic suckers that keep them firmly attached to the submerged rocks?

How can you engage young minds in complex topics like climate change, conservation, endemism and bioindicators of environmental health in one fun package?

This free game is meant to serve both typically developing children and atypically developing children (such as those with mild autism and other special needs). The materials encompass written words which can be read by the child or out loud by the educator, photos for visual representation, and tactile pieces to enhance understanding.

There are two main components to this educational approach: 1) the game and 2) facilitated discussion (the role of the educator).

The Game. 

Students engage in a combination of topics including species discoveries, endemism, climate change, introduced species and biomonitoring through exploration, discovery and proactive thinking.

The game board itself is an artistic composite of satellite images of geological features and habitats of Patagonia (Aysén, Chile).

Game board with Explanation of Figures. Design by R. Isaí Madriz

As “explorers” the players set off into an unknown land traveling to different habitats looking for rare and new species of insects, which must be acquired through species-specific tools (insect net, tweezers, etc.) These tools can only be obtained by answering questions about the biodiversity. The questions will vary according to the age group of the players.

Along the way, players will encounter introduced species and will learn about their impact on the environment (how they displace/outcompete endemic species). Likewise, they will learn about the microhabitat of where each species inhabits.

The bioindicator approach is simple and aims to provide the students with a broad understanding of their use as bioindicators as well as a simplistic view of how to identify the groups themselves.

Along the way, the players may acquire, through the draw of a wild card, an “invasive species” and they will try to figure out a way to “deal with” (control) the invasive species that established itself in the player’s new land.

The game is meant to have a group approach. The player with the most species is not the winner, rather the object of the game is to discuss and interpret the various insects and their habitat information to create a balance.

The insects selected for this game prototype are a combination of new, charismatic and poorly known species. The insect information provided is based on scientific facts from peer-reviewed publications and accurate unpublished accounts of natural history of the selected species.

Species Card with Explanation of Figures. Design by R. Isaí Madriz

Facilitated Discussion (the role of the educator).

The educator does not need to be an expert in entomology to use this game with the students. The educator is meant to help facilitate the learning before and after the game is played. An introduction of broad topics such as biodiversity, ecosystems, etc. can be presented prior to playing the game. The focus can be based on how the game’s material fits with the curriculum requirements of the classroom.

At the end of the game the educator will guide a discussion among players to help each other to achieve “a planet in balance” based on the insects they collected. Further discussion is encouraged so that students reflect on what they learned and why it is important.

The goal of the facilitated discussion is to encourage the students to explain their reasoning for how they played the game and their strategy of creating a diverse, healthy ecosystem. There is potential for many perspectives and outcomes, which creates a more powerful learning process.

R. Isaí Madriz acquiring torrent midge information for the game. Photo by Anand Varma.

Note: This learning tool was inspired by ten years of education, conservation and scientific experience working with local communities across the Americas in conservation topics to help educators engage their students and bring the wonders of exploration and scientific discoveries into the classroom.

This game and its components can be adapted to any part of the world in dimensions as small as a county to as large as a continent and beyond. As well, this game and its components/content can be adapted for diverse learning styles and is currently being developed in Spanish and English. 

*For more information including rules of the game and access to PDFs of the components, please reach out through the comment section of this blog or write to [email protected]

Follow Isaí Madriz on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Equipment used for this nine month project is courtesy of Fulbright, National Geographic, Iridium, Alpacka Raft, Aqua-BoundBoo Bicycles, Kokatat, Seal Line, Osprey, TentsilePatagonia, Voltaic & Jax Outdoor Gear.

Originally posted 2018-05-03 06:29:00.

Celebrating Sulawesi: An Exuberance of Indonesian Biodiversity

By Matthew Linkie

Indonesia is a megadiversity country, but even by its exceptionally high levels of biodiversity, Sulawesi stands out for its bewilderingly rich, charismatic and, at times, quirky species. The island, whose shape resembles a hyper-extended letter K, is the 11th largest in the world.

Sulawesi’s shape and rugged terrain were forged by the collision of land masses from Asia and Australasia that brought with them their own unique flora and fauna, which subsequently went into evolutionary overdrive as rapid speciation ensued.

Sulawesi is a rich treasure trove of awe-inspiring biodiversity that inhabits the island’s rugged and lush forest landscapes. WCS and MoEF are working together to document these species and fully protect them for future generations.

There are a staggering 127 mammal species in Sulawesi, of which 62 percent are endemic just to this island. If bats are removed from this list then the number of endemic mammal species rises to almost 99 percent. Among the 233 species of birds, more than a third are Sulawesi endemics.

Sulawesi contains seven endemic species of macaque, including the Critically Endangered black-crested macaque. Credit: WCS Indonesia.

To document this vast array of poorly understood wildlife as a first step in identifying and prioritising areas for protection, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF)—with support from the UNDP/GEF EPASS project, Rainforest Trust, and Fondation Segré—have just completed the first ever systematic camera trap campaign for Sulawesi.

Over the course of a year, WCS-MoEF-community field teams surveyed two of the island’s flagship protected areas: Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park and the Tangkoko Forest Management Unit. The findings offer invaluable scientific data and rare insights into Sulawesi’s little known species, including the first ever photographic record of arguably Sulawesi’s most elusive bird.

Here, we highlight some of the exciting discoveries.

Despite hunting threat to Sulawesi’s two wild pig species, our surveys found that, encouragingly, they still occur both inside and outside of the protected areas.

Babirusa and Sulawesi warty pig

Of Asia’s 11 threatened species of wild pig, two are endemic to Sulawesi. The babirusa, listed as Vulnerable on the Red List of species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is an ancient species of pig that is hairless and has enormous tusks growing through its upper jaw.

The babirusa, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, is one of two wild pig species endemic to Sulawesi. Credit: WCS Indonesia.

In stark contrast, the Near-Threatened Sulawesi warty pig has a jet-black coat and a white ‘war paint’ looking fur line across its face. Both species are hunted to supply the Christian food markets in North Sulawesi. Yet despite this threat, our surveys found that these species, encouragingly, still occur both inside and outside of the protected areas.


The Endangered lowland anoa and mountain anoa are dwarf species of buffaloes that more closely resemble deer. They have become flagship species for protection.

The Endangered lowland anoa and mountain anoa have become flagship species for protection. Credit: WCS Indonesia.

As Lukita Awang Nistyantara, the Head of Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, put it, “The anoa is a Ministry of Environment and Forestry priority species and we’ve set a goal to increase its population size. So, we’re delighted with these new findings from inside the park because we’ve just established the first ranger patrol teams, which forms part of our site-level management implementation.” He continued, “We’ll now use these data to direct our teams to focus on protecting the critically important forest anoa habitat identified”.

Sulawesi’s apex mammalian predator is the sleek and slender Sulawesi civet.

Sulawesi civet

On the nearby island of Sumatra, wild pigs and deer sustain populations of tiger, clouded leopard and dhole. Yet, even though Sulawesi has an equally rich and diverse prey base, this has not given rise to the island’s own large carnivore. Instead, the island’s apex mammalian predator is the sleek and slender Sulawesi civet.

Sulawesi’s apex mammalian predator is the sleek and slender Sulawesi civet. Credit: WCS Indonesia.

Weighing around 6 kg (13 pounds) with a diet of rodents, birds, and palms fruits, this largely arboreal mammal is one of the least known species from Sulawesi. Our surveys not only succeeded in obtaining the first island-wide records after a 20-year absence but also the very first records of the species from both Bogani Nani Wartabone and Tangkoko.

Endemic macaques

Sulawesi contains seven endemic species of macaque. Our camera traps reveal where two of these species—the Critically Endangered black-crested macaque and Vulnerable Dumoga macaque—have neatly separated their range. The surveys also captured another one of Sulawesi’s distinctive peculiarities with the first ever record of a pure white ‘black’ crested macaque!

WCS camera traps have revealed that the Vulnerable Dumoga macaque (above) and the Critically Endangered black-crested macaque have neatly separated their ranges on Sulawesi. Credit: WCS Indonesia.

Agustinus Rante Lembang, Head of the North Sulawesi Natural Resource and Conservation Agency noted, “there may only be 9,000 black-crested macaques left in the wild, yet about 60 percent of these occur in Tangkoko. It’s only 84 square kilometers, but you see its importance for the species’s survival.”

To prevent maleo egg theft, WCS has been employing ex-bird poachers as nest guardians. Since 2001 they have overseen the release of 12,515 chicks in four key nesting grounds.


This unique but Vulnerable bird incubates its eggs in nests that are heated either by the sun on Sulawesi’s pristine beaches or by the warmth of underground volcanic activity at inland sites. Maleo eggs are roughly five times as large as that of a domestic chicken’s and, because of this, highly susceptible to poaching.

To prevent egg theft, WCS has been employing ex-bird poachers as nest guardians. Since 2001 they have overseen the release of 12,515 chicks in four key nesting grounds in and around Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, which has become a stronghold for the species.

Sulawesi’s Vulnerable maleo incubates its eggs in nests that are heated either by the sun on the island’s pristine beaches or by the warmth of underground volcanic activity at inland sites. Credit: WCS Indonesia.

WCS’s Sulawesi Program Manager, Iwan Hunowu, who has been studying maleos for 12 years, noted that “the camera trapping showed maleos using new forest corridors connecting beach nesting grounds to the national park.”

Unfortunately, forest loss and fragmentation due to the encroachment of small farms threatens to sever vital linkages between these nesting sites and forest refuge inside the national park. “Because of this,” adds Hunowu, “we’re now working with local communities to fully protect these corridors through improved agroforestry schemes.”

WCS has recorded the first ever photograph of the endemic Sulawesi woodcock in the wild.

Sulawesi woodcock

Perhaps the most incredible discovery of all was recording the first ever photograph of the endemic Sulawesi woodcock in the wild. Previously known to inhabit high elevation forests over 1,700 meters, here it is recorded at 1,100 meters from the Duasudara mountain in Tangkoko—a finding that extends its distribution to the easternmost part of the island.

WCS has recorded the first ever photograph of the endemic Sulawesi woodcock in the wild. Credit: WCS Indonesia.

The significance of this exciting discovery was captured by WCS Indonesia’s Communications Manager, Tisna Nando. “I’m from Sulawesi and an avid birder,” she observed. “This is actually my dream bird. I’ve never seen one in the wild, only in guidebooks and 18th century paintings. Now we have this beautiful photo from Tangkoko!”

Sulawesi really is a rich treasure trove of awe-inspiring biodiversity that inhabits the island’s rugged and lush forest landscapes. WCS and MoEF are working together to document these species and fully protect them for future generations. Who knows what surprises our future surveys will uncover?

Matthew Linkie is Terrestrial Director for the Indonesia Program of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Originally posted 2018-02-26 22:43:20.

A small-scale farmer leads the way for big changes to rubber farming in Myanmar

Her advice is in demand, as rubber production is a promising new livelihood opportunity in southern Myanmar.

With that context, it is clear that Hey Mer is a prominent leader in her village. She sheepishly tells me that she knows it. And that she knows that, for a woman to be perceived as the leader there, is a bit unique.

Hey Mer is not just producing good quality rubber, she is doing so in accordance with farming practices that don’t degrade the forests or mistreat workers. Such steps are necessary to protect the environment and human rights, but also to ensure good rubber prices for farmers and a long-lasting rubber industry.

Fortunately, the number of people like Hey Mer is on the rise. The Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture—along with WWF, the Karen National Union and the Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association—is going from village to village to educate people about why, if they want to produce rubber, they should do so in accordance with sustainable farming practices.

This is particularly important in Hey Mer’s village, as it is within the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape, a vast mountainous region that is one of the best remaining habitats in the world for tigers and Asian elephants.

Originally posted 2018-03-27 12:00:00.


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