Walruses in the UK, Fighting E-Waste, Plus More Good Climate News

Clockwise from top left. Shipping container with "reuse" painted on it, two northern bettongs in a nest, a lone tree in a national park, and a large walrus visiting UK land.

The Wildlife Trusts’ annual Marine Review reports the return of humpback whales and long-distance orcas to the UK along with puffins and walruses.

One of Australia’s most endangered marsupials is even more at-risk than previously thought, but conservation work is already underway to protect the remaining population. Meanwhile, The Nature Conservancy has announced its largest-yet nature preserve in California, 100 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Additionally, in the British city of Bristol, council-supported schemes are collecting, reusing, and redistributing e-waste, while technology known as “tidal kites” could help generate the renewable energy of the future while “flying” beneath the waves.

Here’s this week’s good climate news.

Photo shows a rare Walrus, Odobenus rosmarus, lying on the ramp of Tenby lifeboat station in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK.
Wally the walrus was one of the most popular visitors to the UK last year. | sandra standbridge/Getty

Whales, orcas, walruses, and dolphins all visited the UK in 2021

The good news: The UK’s Wildlife Trusts just released its Living Seas Team’s highs and lows of the last year, with inevitable human-caused disruption offset by a wide variety of “fantastic” megafauna sightings, particularly in the southwest of England. Much of the positive news and notable wildlife comes as a result of years of conservation efforts on the part of the Wildlife Trusts, other environmental organizations, and countless individuals.

The impact: The marine review noted more than 75 recorded sightings of humpback whales since 2019, indicating that the species is finally recovering after commercial whaling was banned in 1986. Two orcas that typically reside just off the Scottish Hebrides were also spotted in Cornwall and Dover, their most southerly sighting in more than 50 years. White-beaked dolphins and bottlenose dolphins also visited the UK, while the Isle of Man saw its first pair of puffins in around three decades.

Did you know? Wally also featured in the review, an Arctic walrus who showed up in British waters and made several notable appearances, to the delight of spectators. While walruses are occasionally seen around the UK, there have been just 27 sightings in the last 130 years.

Wally, like the rest of his species, is an enormous, flipper-footed marine mammal with two distinctive tusks. Wally was most recently spotted in Iceland, no doubt making the journey home, and some conservationists have hypothesized that his travels were prompted by changing ocean temperatures and melting ice. 

How you can help: Read the complete marine review here, and support The Wildlife Trusts here. Learn more about British whales and dolphins from the WDC and donate to help fund their important work. You can also support the Marine Megafauna Foundation here, and check out a complete map of Wally’s Atlantic-crossing journey here.

Photo shows bettongs in a bed of hay
Australia’s great northern bettongs are particularly important for helping to restore land after wildfires. | JohnCarnemolla/Getty

Conservationists are protecting Australia’s endangered bettongs

The good news: According to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), urgent work is underway to protect the endangered northern bettong, a small marsupial and an irreplaceable ecosystem engineer in its habitat of Queensland. The animals, which are also known as potoroos, can grow to a little over 30 centimeters.

The impact: The New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service and the federal government have provided grants to create a predator-free area for northern bettongs in the Mount Zero-Taravale Wildlife Sanctuary. The 950-hectare refuge will be the first of its kind in northern Australia. Conservationists hope it will support the return of the endangered animals, whose numbers have fallen dramatically in the years following European colonization.

The AWC recently discovered that Mount Carbine Tableland’s bettong population is even smaller than previously thought (less than 50 individuals), and is at a high risk of imminent extinction. Immediate intervention is required to save the species.

Did you know? Bettongs have a taste for the finer things in life, namely truffles, which make up the vast majority of the small animals’ diet. According to the AWC, northern bettongs carry their front paws curled close to their chests and move with a “low, distinctive springy hop,” perhaps contributing to their comparison to kangaroos. Because they help to spread seeds and fungal spores, the presence of bettongs is particularly important following environmental destruction such as wildfires, which are increasing in severity due to climate change.

How you can help: Support the work of the AWC here, and learn more about the northern bettong from the WWF here. Inappropriate wildlife management, fire regimes, deforestation, and climate change are all threats to these endangered marsupials. Read about how Indigenous fire practices could transform forest management here, and learn more about the undeniable link between climate change and increasing extreme weather events here.  

Photo shows a tree standing alone in an arid landscape
Wildlife corridors help connect habitats that have been separated by human activities. | stevemendenhall/Getty

The Nature Conservancy announced a 72,000-acre wildlife corridor

The good news: The Nature Conservancy is turning a $50 million philanthropic gift into a 72,000-acre (five times the size of Manhattan) wildlife corridor, its largest in California. The Frank and Joan Randall Preserve will be located in the Tehachapi Mountains and should help protect a myriad of endangered and protected species, from mountain lions to salamanders.

The impact: By securing a huge swathe of California from north to south, the corridor will enable the state’s various species to travel and migrate, particularly in the face of changing temperatures and environmental destruction. Overall, this latest addition helps to connect a network of wide-open spaces from Canada all the way to Mexico.

Did you know? California is home to in excess of 28 sensitive species, including condors, lizards, eagles, moths, badgers, salamanders, and mountain lions, in addition to a variety of plants and flowers. California mountain lions are currently “specially protected,” and were previously featured in this column when the state built a much-needed bridge across Highway 101.

How you can help: Donate to support the Nature Conservancy here, and learn more about what the organization does here. Learn about the wide variety of Californian wildlife from the government here, and the Californian mountain lion here and here. You can still donate to the Mountain Lion Foundation here and adopt a mountain lion here.

Photo shows a shipping container with "reuse" spray painted on the side.
The Reuse and Electric Avenue shops are redistributing e-waste in Bristol, UK. | Bristol Waste

Bristol is reusing and redistributing e-waste

The good news: The UK’s city of Bristol is working hard to cut back on waste, including the growing problem of electronic “e-waste,” for which the UK has the second-highest generation per capita in the world after Norway.

There is a permanent Reuse shop located at Avonmouth recycling center, while the Electric Avenue pop-up shop (run in collaboration by Hubbub, Ecosurety, and the Bristol Waste Company) specifically countered Black Friday consumer culture by organizing a concerted electronics collections drive in the last week of November 2021.

The impact: According to the Bristol Waste Company, approximately 40 million unused gadgets sit in UK homes, while 1.9 million households remain “digitally disconnected” due to lack of access to electronic devices. By collecting, repairing, and redistributing e-waste, workers keep unused phones, computers, and other technology out of the trash—and regift them to those with a need.

Did you know? Manufacturers produce more than 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year, and the vast majority of this—83 percent—is improperly discarded. Furthermore, in 2020 alone, the mobile phone industry sold around 1.4 billion smartphones. This cannot continue. Changes such as reduced production, improved longevity, the right to repair, and effective reuse, redistribution, and recycling, can all help to keep e-waste out of landfills.

How you can help: If you live in Bristol, check out Electric Avenue’s map of repair cafes and centers throughout the city. The organization also provides tips on self-repair, care, and recycling. Wherever you live, there are likely a variety of repair shops and freelancers that can help you extend the life of your devices, as well as countless online guides (thanks, Instructables). As ever, consuming less and shopping consciously also make a huge difference.


‘Tidal kites’ could be a new way of generating energy

The good news: High-tech, underwater machines known as “tidal kites” and “sea dragons” could be the future of renewable energy generation. As reported by the BBC, a pair of kites, produced by the Swedish company Minesto, currently occupy the waters surrounding the North Atlantic ocean’s Faroe Islands. The kites are approximately five meters across the wingspan and tethered to the seabed using durable, 40-meter cables.

The impact: These two machines have now been producing energy for SEV, an electricity company for the self-governed Scandinavian islands, on an experimental basis for the last 12 months. Electricity is generated by the kites and passed through tethering cables along the seabed to a nearby control station. Each kite is capable of powering 50 to 70 homes.

Did you know? Tidal energy is both sustainable and efficient thanks to its reliability and predictability. However, turbines and similar technology can negatively impact marine life either directly (due to rotating parts) or indirectly through noise pollution and sediment processes. According to Minesto, its kites are unique in that they have a minimal environmental impact.

How you can help: As always, switching to a sustainable energy supplier is one of the single best ways to show demand for renewables and reduce demand for fossil fuels. The U.S. government has a brief guide to buying clean electricity here, while the Renewable Energy Hub has a guide for UK residents here. Learn more about tidal power here, and more about Minesto’s underwater kites here.  

Looking for more good climate news? Read the previous installments here.