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Tuesday
Jul192016

Climate Cabinet Shake-Up, Call For More Outdoor Classrooms And Corals Get A Close Up: 11th July - 17th July 2016

Last week has seen a bid to introduce sustainability in schools by making outdoor and nature learning part of the UK curriculum, incredible innovations in marine science, and the latest (potentially worrying) post-Brexit happenings in regards to climate change. Here's your weekly news roundup:

Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC); Re-branded or Disbanded?

So far it seems the only certainty in post-Brexit politics is uncertainty. So, with a new leader in the hot seat, the future of UK sustainability has been called into question once more after the UK department responsible for tackling climate change has undergone massive changes.

Flickr | Eric HuybrechtsLast week it was announced the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is to be incorporated into the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with previous shadow climate and energy secretary Greg Clark put in charge. Despite Clark recognising the effects of climate change and advocating the action mitigating them, this decision is still cause for concern for some environmentalist groups.

The new department focuses on building relationships between government, industry and business to benefit green energy science, and supply clean energy and this very well may be a good step; to ethically incorporate large industry investment into energy strategies to build up the green energy sector infrastructure. But there are fears that the economic and industrial focus of the department may cause it to lose sight of its climate priorities, and that if the focus for tackling climate change dwindles, the government may fail to corroborate with the Paris Agreement.

The newly appointed environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom has assured that the UK’s carbon targets will still be prioritised, but in this current political maelstrom only time will tell.

New Underwater Microscope Reveals Insight into Coral Ecosystems

A paper published last week revealed new insight into coral polyp behaviour and their effect on coastal ocean ecosystems. The newly developed microscope allowed the imaging of coral polyps at a micrometre level showing ecological processes never before seen.

Flickr | eutrophication&hypoxiaCoral polyps are microscopic animals that extract calcium and bicarbonate from sea water to construct a hard limestone shell. These shells all bond together and eventually make a polyp colony or coral reef, but given their size and the relative turbulence of their habitat they haven’t been studied microscopically in the wild until now.

The study developed the specific submersible microscope capable of capturing coral in its natural environment. Interactions between coral species and their competition for food were recorded, as well as polyps of the same species sharing food via gastrovascular resource sharing, showing that coral polyps have the ability to actively differentiate between conspecifics and other competitors.

New algal-coral behaviours were also observed. It was seen that after a coral had been bleached but the polyps were still alive, algae started to colonise in a very specific honeycomb form, significantly growing around the ridges between the remaining polyps. We’re still unsure as to why these algae behave this way but the research is ground-breaking nonetheless, as prior to this all micro recordings of coral polyps had been observed in a laboratory setting.

Whole coastal marine ecosystems depend on the micro-processes coral polyps, algae and plankton provide. This scientific innovation will allow us to further understand how these coral species behave and the effect they have on their surroundings, as wells as help us to understand how to better conserve coral reefs against the anthropological pressures they face today, such as bleaching.

Latest Report Reconfirms Benefits of Outdoor Learning

The mental and physical benefits of being amongst nature have always been well documented and Plymouth University's latest report calls on 10 years of said documentation as rationale.

The Student Outcomes and Natural Schooling report aims to highlight the applications of outdoor learning, in order to create and implement a policy framework making outdoor learning accessible to all children in the UK.

Flickr | Oona RäisänenSuch applications include not only the obvious health benefits of being outdoors but also improved social skills, emotional and personal development, and an enhanced understanding of the subject being taught. Improvements in self-awareness and environmental mindfulness were also observed.

We wouldn’t be the first to implement something like this either; the successful introduction of such a widespread curriculum policy happened in Denmark in 2013, since then using local greenspaces as part of learning. Children in Australia, Finland and Scotland also successfully associated their outdoor learning spaces with a pro-nature attitude, and in Barcelona schoolchildren’s cognitive development correlated positively in association with surrounding greenspace.

The hope is to introduce this policy in the UK by 2017, and would be adopted by the Department of Education and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

A connection with nature has long been found to have beneficial psychological effects for children and adults alike, however children discovering ecology and nature for themselves is the best way to ensure the next generation is compassionate towards nature.

By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern

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