Current Affairs - Ecology & Environment


Recently, scientists have discovered that an enzyme called laccase, generated by fungi, has the potential to degrade a variety of hazardous organic dye molecules found in waterbodies after being discharged by the textile industry.

  • The enzyme has a substrate promiscuity that makes it useful for designing enzyme-coated cassettes that can treat heavily dye-polluted water.
  • Through testing the efficacy of laccase in degrading standard dye molecules like Methyl Green, Crystal Violet, Thioflavin T, Coumarin 343, and Brilliant Blue, scientists have found that the enzyme can degrade a wide range of dye molecules with varying kinetics, charge, size, and shape. (Note: Methyl Green, Crystal Violet, Thioflavin T, Coumarin 343, and Brilliant Blue, are different types of dyesthat laccase has the ability to break down).
  • Using UV/Visible spectroscopy and computer simulations, researchers demonstrated that laccase contains an active site that can adapt to accommodate a wide range of dye molecules due to conformational plasticity of a loop covering the active site.
  • The substrate promiscuity of laccase offers potential for a broad-spectrum degrader for industrial dye effluents, which can help in making the environment greener.

Horseshoe crabs

Recently, scientists raised concerns about the disappearance of horseshoe crabs from their spawning grounds along Chandipur and Balaramgadi coast in Odisha.

  • Threats to Horseshoe Crabs: Unregulated fishing and damage to eggs by locals.
  • Medicinal Value: Horseshoe crab blood is crucial for development of rapid diagnostic reagents and potential treatment for pre-eclampsia (Note: Pre-eclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and damage to organs, most commonly the liver and kidneys).
  • Importance for Human Health: Horseshoe crabs' strong immune system critical for medical research.
  • Warning of Extinction: Scientist who discovered horseshoe crabs warns of their impending disappearance in India.
  • Conservation Measures: Odisha government must protect breeding grounds and prevent destructive fishing practicesbydeveloping SpeciesRecovery Plan.

Dinoflagellate algae

Currently, the small fishing village of Kumbalangi in Kerala, India is experiencing a natural neon phenomena caused by bioluminescence.

  • Shrimp farms lining the backwaters of the village are glowing in electric blue and fluorescent green sparkles at night, attracting visitors from across Kerala and beyond.
  • The phenomenon, known as 'kavaru' in Malayalam, has been going on for several weeks and is caused by dinoflagellate algae.
  • The popularity of the bioluminescence has been partly due to its appearance in the Malayalam film "Kumbalangi Nights" in 2019, as well as social media exposure.
  • Concerns have been raised by shrimp farmers about potential damage to their farms from visitors throwing stones and wood in their enthusiasm to see the glow.
  • Kumbalangi is one of India's first eco-tourism villages and has been successful in tapping its tourism potential for the welfare of the local community that is dependent on fishing and allied activities.

Bioluminescence refers to the natural phenomenon where living organisms, such as some types of bacteria, fungi, algae, and animals, produce light through chemical reactions within their bodies.

Kappaphycus alvarezii

A report released on March 16, 2023, has revealed that the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, situated in Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, is currently experiencing a concerning coral breach due to the invasive seaweed species Kappaphycus alvarezii.

  • 20 years ago, the intentional introduction of Kappaphycus alvarezii for commercial cultivation took place in Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu.
  • Currently, 750 farmers in 18 villages of Ramanathapuram engage in seaweed farming, primarily Kappaphycus.
  • Kappaphycus grows rapidly and seeks out live corals to thrive on, unlike native seaweeds that typically grow on dead corals.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed Kappaphycus as one of the world's 100 most invasive species.
  • The Indian government has allocated INR 600 crore to increase seaweed production to 11.85 million tonnes by 2025, which could exacerbate the invasive seaweed problem in the Gulf of Mannar.
  • The government's plan to set up a seaweed park in Tamil Nadu could lead to further spread of Kappaphycus.

Zero Waste Mandatory for Buildings

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in India is set to send a directive to all State governments to make net zero waste and liquid discharge treatment mandatory for upcoming housing societies and commercial complexes.

  • About: It is a convergence of programs like Swachch Bharat, NAMASTE, and AMRUT.
  • Aim: To achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and modernize sewage disposal system.
  • Manhole to Machine-hole: The scheme aims to replace manual scavenging with a mechanized sewage system (Machine-hole system).
  • Untreated Wastewater: This move aims to address the issue of untreated wastewater and promote a shift towards sustainable and eco-friendly waste management practices in the country.
  • India generates 72,368 million liters per day of urban wastewater, with only 28% treated.

NAMASTE (National Action Plan for Mechanised Sanitation Ecosystem) is a Central Sector Scheme of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) aimed at eliminating manual scavenging and promoting mechanized sanitation.

AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) is a scheme launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs to provide basic infrastructure and services in urban areas with a focus on water supply, sewerage, and urban transport.

Glacier Retreat in Himalayas

On March 7th, 2023 scientists from the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) have published a report on the impact of debris cover on the loss of ice mass and terminus recession of glaciers in the Himalayas.

  • The report suggests that the thickness of supraglacial debris significantly affects the rate of ice mass loss in glaciers, and the presence of a thick debris cover can slow down the process of glacier retreat, as seen in the Pensilungpa Glacier with a thick debris cover.(Note: Supraglacial debris is the rock and sediment that accumulates on top of glaciers due to weathering and erosion processes).
  • On the other hand, glaciers with a thin debris cover are more vulnerable to surface lowering and mass loss, which can accelerate the rate of glacier retreat.
  • Debris cover impacts glacier dynamics and mass balance.
  • ‘Himalayan glaciers' retreat rates vary due to topography and climate.
  • Supraglacial debris thickness affects ice mass loss due to ablation.

Kottigehar Dancing Frog

On February 26, 2023, the Jerdon's narrow-mouthed frog, which had not been observed since 1934, was rediscovered in the Western Ghats by a team of zoologists.

  • The frog has a unique longish snout and shiny brown skin with darker brown, red and golden spots on the back and head.
  • It is considered a montane species and is found in rock pools or tree holes filled with rainwater at altitudes ranging from 800-1,916 metres.
  • The tadpoles of the species are free-swimming and exotrophic, feeding on other species.
  • The frog is classified as "Near Threatened" in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, but researchers are campaigning for it to be put under the "Endangered" group to aid conservation efforts.

Kuno National Park Unsuitable for 20 Cheetahs

Recently, the wildlife scientists stated that the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh, which currently hosts 20 cheetahs brought in from Africa, does not have enough prey to sustain all the animals.

  • Eight cheetahs from Namibia and 12 from South Africa were transported to India between September 2022 and February 2023.
  • The transportation was part of an initiative to reintroduce the cheetah species to India, where it had gone extinct in the early 1950s.
  • There are about 20 chital, the cheetah’s main prey, per square kilometre available at the KNP, a sharp decline from the nearly 60 chital per square km that could be found in the park in 2014.
  • This situation is concerning as it could lead to the death of the cheetahs due to starvation.
  • Furthermore, political considerations have prevented the transfer of some cheetahs to the Mukundra Tiger reserve in Rajasthan, which has better habitat suitability.

Carnivorous Plant found in Uttarakhand

An ultra-rare carnivorous plant Utricularia Furcellata has been found in Uttarakhand (in the western Himalayan region) for first time.

  • It was found in Uttarakhand's Mandal valley, Chamoli district, at an altitude of 4,800 feet.
  • The plant was last seen in the country in northeastern Meghalaya state in 1986.
  • The plant belongs to a genus, commonly known as bladderworts, which uses one of the most sophisticated and developed plant structures for trap and its targets range from protozoa to insects, mosquito larvae and even the young tadpoles.
  • Its operation is simply based on a mechanical process that is by creating a vacuum or negative pressure area to draw prey inside the trap door. These plants are mostly found in fresh water and wet soil.
  • The species face threat due to heavy biotic pressure because of being at a tourist spot.

Thiomargarita magnifica: World's Biggest Bacterium

Scientists have discovered the world's largest bacterium in a Caribbean mangrove swamp.

  • The bacterium is named Thiomargarita magnifica, or “magnificent sulfur pearl”.
  • Most bacteria are microscopic, but this one is so big it can be seen with the naked eye.
  • These bacteria, on average, reach a length of a third of an inch (0.9 centimeters).
  • T. magnifica is a chemosynthetic bacterium. It makes the sugars it needs to fuel itself by oxidising the sulphur compounds produced by the rotting organic matter in the sediments of the mangrove swamp. All it needs is something solid to hang on to.
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