Komodo dragons, beefless Whoppers, bleached reefs: 3 big stories you might have missed

West Papua

Sea life in West Papua, Indonesia. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. Komodo considers tourist ban to help boost dragon numbers

Komodo Island in Indonesia may temporarily close its borders to tourists to enable dragon populations recover.

The story: Komodo dragon numbers have been dwindling — due in large part to smugglers, Kate Lyons reported for The Guardian last week. A temporary tourism ban would help protect the dragons from smugglers and let authorities replenish the dragons’ food supply by planting native vegetation.

The big picture: Komodo dragons are an endangered species — there are only about 5,700 in the wild — and they’re being trafficked for food and traditional medicinal use. The dragons are an essential part of the food chain on the island, and could be significant to science, too: Antimicrobial peptides in their blood give them the ability to recover from the venomous bites of other Komodo dragons, which scientists believe could provide the foundation of a new antibiotic for human medicine.

Read the story here.

  1. Behold the beefless ‘Impossible Whopper’

Last week, Burger King began selling a vegetarian Whopper in 59 restaurants around St. Louis, Missouri.

The story: Burger King is partnering with Impossible Foods to create a vegetarian “Impossible Whopper” that mimics the taste of real beef, Nathaniel Popper reported for The New York Times last week. While a version of the sandwich is already offered at fast-food chains White Castle and Carl’s Jr., its addition to Burger King’s menu will more than double the places people can get an Impossible burger.

The big picture: The majority of people that order meatless burgers aren’t vegetarian — they’re looking for a healthier option for themselves or for the planet, according to Burger King’s research. Cows produce methane, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet, and expanding cattle ranches — driven by growing global demand for beef — are the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. The Impossible Whopper emits 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and producing it requires half as much energy as the original Whopper.

Read the story here.

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  1. The Great Barrier Reef is being battered by climate change, and it might only get worse

Corals in the Great Barrier Reef aren’t recovering as well as they used to, new research finds.

The story: In the past, healthy coral was able to recover from bleaching events (and replace dead coral) by spawning new larvae, but that’s not happening to the same degree anymore, Brady Dennis reported for The Washington Post last week. Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of bleaching events, resulting in a higher death count for coral — and fewer healthy coral to spawn and replenish the reef. Within the past few years, new coral growing on the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 89 percent.

The big picture: Coral reefs offer vital habitat for fish and other marine species, which in turn provide nourishment and livelihoods for millions of people. The reefs also help to protect shorelines from extreme weather events. Yet global carbon emissions continue to rise, heating and acidifying the ocean and bleaching the world’s coral. If we do not curb climate change, the majority of coral reefs could cease to exist.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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