Puffin and turtle dove populations have dropped so drastically that they now face the same threat of extinction as the African elephant and lion.
For the first time, Atlantic puffins and European turtle doves have been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. In total, four UK bird species were added, doubling the number of commonly-seen bird species with “vulnerable” statuses. Furthermore, 14 UK species are now considered “near threatened.”
“Today’s announcement means that the global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores. The number of species facing extinction has always been highest in the tropics, particularly on small islands. But now the crisis is beginning to exact an increasingly heavy toll on temperate regions too, such as Europe. The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”
Climate change, gill net fishing, invasive predators and high breeding failures are the major factors in the puffin’s population decline. Atlantic puffin numbers are suffering in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, which constitutes 80% of the European population. Numbers are also declining in Fair Isle and Shetland, UK.
The turtle dove has also suffered drastic declines across Europe, with more than a 30% decline in the last 16 years. More than 9 out of every 10 birds have been lost since the 1970s. Potential causes include hunting while migrating, shifts in land-use patterns and climate change. RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge says:
“We are researching a number of different reasons why, including changes in agricultural practice across Europe, which means a struggle to find food and nesting sites…We do know there is strong illegal hunting of turtle dove around the Mediterranean.”
What is the most common type of trash in our oceans? And which ones are the most deadly?
More than 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries spanned over 13,000 miles in the 2014 International Coastal Cleanup. And over 16 million pounds of trash were collected in last year’s Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup program.
The data from the program, dating back 30 years, in addition to a survey of 274 experts, was put into a study that ranked their findings.
The most common types of trash found were cigarette butts, food wrappers, bottles and bottle caps. And some of the deadliest types for marine mammals, turtles and seabirds included fishing gear, plastic bags and utensils, balloons, cigarette butts and bottle caps.
See the report by the numbers with Ocean Conservancy’s infographics:
Thought climate change was bad for everyone? Think again. It may actually have benefits to the only penguin native to the northern hemisphere, the Galápagos penguin.
According to a study led by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shifting equatorial winds and water temperatures – potentially related to climate change – have caused an undersea river to reach the Galápagos Islands. The river, called the Equatorial Undercurrent, creates a steady flow of cold ocean water that has revitalized food sources on the western side of the Galápagos, where a majority of the penguins live.
Now that the Galápagos penguins have more fish to eat, they’ve hatched more babies who make it to adulthood, more than tripling their numbers. 15 years ago, there were just a few hundred, but today there are over 1,000 penguins.
The refreshed food supply has also been good for fur seals and iguanas in the region. Associate scientist with Woods Hole and lead author of the study Kristopher B. Karnauskas says:
“When you see a cold pool of water where you’d expect to see warm water, that indicates something is mixing that water up from below. That water is feeding everything from plankton on up. It has been strengthening in the past 30 years and expanding northward…The sea surface temperature trend shows that just to the north of where most of the penguins are has become more of a suitable environment than it was in the past.”
Karnauskas believes the findings in his study can help conserve and increase the Galápagos penguin population. But he is only cautiously optimistic because rising ocean temperatures are still harmful to the rest of the world’s marine habitats. Karnauskas explains:
“This could be interpreted as ‘Global warming is good for penguins.’ I think that’s glossing over the details too much. The Galápagos happens to be this little outpost that, at least in the near term, is benefiting from changes in ocean circulation that could be driven by anthropogenic climate change. But I wouldn’t necessarily count on this saving them forever.”
As we venture farther into 2016, it’s always good to reflect back on the previous year. Today, we are reflecting on animals that were either declared endangered or were upgraded from endangered to critically endangered in 2015.
1. Mexican Wolf
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) declared the Mexican Wolf as endangered earlier in 2015. Over-hunting almost wiped out the entire population 40 years ago. Now, the Mexican Wolf has new protections to conserve this rare mammal.
The USFWS placed multiple species of sawfish on the endangered species list in 2015. Several populations have fallen victim to overfishing and negative human factors.
3. Steppe Eagle
The Steppe Eagle was upgraded to “endangered” this year by the IUCN because of changes to the raptor’s environment. Habitat disturbances, such as agricultural development and a veterinary drug spreading toxic effects through its ecosystem, have caused the eagle’s population to drastically drop.
4. New Zealand Sea Lion
The IUCN classified the New Zealand Sea Lion as endangered due to “fishing-related mortality” and other threats from disease and food limitations. It is one of the rarest sea lions in the world with a population of around 10,000 and decreasing.
5. White Headed Vulture
In 2015, the IUCN upgraded the status of the White Headed Vulture from threatened to critically endangered. The vulture’s population has declined because of human threats, including poisonings and persecution.
6. Great Green Macaw & Military Macaw
The USFWS listed both the Great Green Macaw and the Military Macaw as endangered in October, 2015. The two species’ already small populations are declining due to poaching and habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation.
7. Ishikawa’s Frog
The IUCN declared the Ishikawa’s Frog, a Japanese amphibian, as an endangered species in 2015. The frog population is in serious decline because of habitat loss from dam and road construction.
8. Honduran Emerald Hummingbird
The USFWS classified the Honduran hummingbird as endangered in 2015, which gives federal officials in the U.S. the authority to prosecute anyone smuggling the bird across the border. The population has dropped to 5,000-10,000 breeding pairs after facing habitat loss and other human-related changes.
9. Narrow-striped Mongoose (also known as Boky Boky)
In 2015, the IUCN placed the Narrow-striped Mongoose, also know as the boky boky, on the endangered list. The small Madagascan mammal’s population has been negatively affected by hunting, logging and several environmental factors.
10. Splendid Toadfish
The IUCN upgraded the Splendid Toadfish from threatened to endangered in 2015 because of tourism and over-fishing. It is a mud-dwelling fish that lives in the waters of Cozumel and Belize, but has experienced habitat loss with decreasing coral reefs.
According to a recent study, seabirds have faced a massive drop in numbers – approximately 70% over the last 60 years.
Seabirds are those that forage primarily at the sea, such as pelicans, gulls, albatross, penguins and more. The study covered half of the 325 species of seabirds that exist and collected data from as far back as the 1950s, with most of the information from the 70s and 80s.
The findings showed that, of the monitored populations that make up 19% of the world’s seabirds, there was a total decline of 70%. That accounts for a loss of around 230 million birds since the 1950s.
But the drop in numbers isn’t that surprising, as seabirds have faced increasing threats for decades. Threats range from food depletion, fishing gear, pollution, non-native predators and climate change.
Seabirds are very important to both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. They are part of a delicate food chain and also enrich the terrestrial ecosystem through fertilization. Their disappearance would be tragic, as well as have a negative impact on the food chain and ecosystems.
“Seabirds are threatened by a suite of different human activities in the world’s oceans. [They] play an important role in how the marine food web works. Removing seabirds from the food web would alter the overall health of the marine and coastal ecosystems.”
How can we help? The public can help by reducing pollution, particularly plastic pollution and fossil fuel consumption. People can also lobby the goverment or vote to support large marine protective areas that provide refuge for seabirds.
The cause is from a combination of plastic overproduction and birds mistaking plastic for fish eggs and other food. Study co-author and senior research scientist at the CSIRO, an Australian federal agency devoted to scientific research, Denise Hardesty says:
“It’s pretty astronomical. In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s. [Birds] think they’re getting a proper meal but they’re really getting a plastic meal.”
Certain birds are especially prone to eating plastic, including some species of albatross, shearwaters, fulmars, and petrels. The plastic has devastating effects on the birds, with many choking on the various pieces. Others collect plastic bits in their gut, which reduces their ability to absorb nutrients, causing weight loss and eventual death. Still others suffer from toxic chemicals leaking out of the plastic in their stomach.
Interestingly, the biggest problem didn’t occur where there was the most pollution, but where there were the most species: specifically, in the southern hemisphere near Australia and New Zealand.
After reaching the conclusions in this study, the researchers are estimating numbers will increase to 99% of seabirds holding plastic in their guts by 2050. But the research also offered some positive insight into how to seabirds. Lead author of the study and senior research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Chris Wilcox says:
“Another surprise in our research was that seabirds eat plastics in proportion to the rate in which they encounter them. If a seabird is in an area with a lot of plastic, they eat a lot of plastic. That makes the problem a very tractable one.” Identifying where birds feed and where oceanic plastic is, he says, will allow conservationists to “make pretty straightforward predictions about the risk to birds.”