World’s largest sea turtle could come off ‘endangered’ list

A rare leatherback sea turtle named Yawkey moves off the beach and returns to the the Atlantic Ocean at Isle of Palms, S.C., after it was treated at the South Carolina Aquarium. (AP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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World’s largest sea turtle could come off ‘endangered’ list

Federal ocean managers say it might be time to move the East Coast population of the world’s largest turtle from the United States’ list of endangered animals.
An arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has received a petition from a fishing group asking that the Northwest Atlantic Ocean’s leatherback sea turtles be listed as “threatened,” but not endangered, under the Endangered Species Act. The giant reptiles, which can weigh 2,000 pounds, would remain protected under federal law, but their status would be moved down a notch.
NOAA officials have said the agency has reviewed the petition from New Jersey-based Blue Water Fishermen’s Association and found “substantial scientific and commercial information” that the move might be warranted. The agency now has about eight months to make a decision about the status of the turtles.
Leatherbacks live all over the world’s oceans and have been listed as endangered by the US since 1970. Deciding whether the listing should be changed will require determining the stability of the population, said Jennifer Schultz, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries.
“We’ll look at scientific papers, we look at the best available scientific and commercial data,” she said. “And then we’ll say, ‘What does the status look like? How are they doing?’“
The fishing group that requested the change wants the Northwestern Atlantic’s leatherback population to be considered a distinct segment of the population. That segment would include all of the leatherbacks that nest on beaches in the eastern US states. But NOAA Fisheries is going to look at the status of the turtles worldwide, said Angela Somma, chief of endangered species division with NOAA Fisheries.
Blue Water Fishermen’s Association requested the change of listing in part to spur new research into the status of the leatherback population, said Ernie Panacek, a past president of the organization. Data about species such as sea turtles and marine mammals play a role in crafting fishing regulations, and fishermen fear the government is using outdated data about leatherbacks, he said.
“I get a little frustrated in the fact that they are making regulations without scientific data in front of them,” he said. “The more turtles there are, the more interactions you are bound to have with them.”
The leatherback sea turtle has been the subject of intense interest from conservation groups over the years. It’s listing as endangered by the US predates the modern Endangered Species Act that was enacted in 1973. The Costa Rica-based Leatherback Trust, an international nonprofit group, describes them as “ancient creatures celebrated in creation myths belonging to diverse cultures around the world.”
International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the leatherback sea turtle as “vulnerable,” which is one notch above “endangered” on the IUCN’s scale. It’s one of the largest reptiles on Earth, feeding mostly on jellyfish, which has left them at risk to plastic in the ocean, which can kill them if they ingest it. They are also notable for being the deepest diving and most migratory of all sea turtles, and for their lack of a bony shell.
NOAA is collecting information and comments on the subject until Feb. 5.


Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Updated 21 August 2018
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Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

  • The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election
  • The company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the US Senate.
Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.
The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.
The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”
The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.
Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from US special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.
Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.
Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.
Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.