Endangered Wildlife & Climate Change

Ian Somerhalder Foundation

 

We all hear about how Polar Bears are decreasing at an unruly rate due to the climate change all around the world. But did you know there are many more animals with the same fate? With pollutants in the air, land and sea, it has become hard to live a safe life for anyone. Climate change not only is hitting the arctic with the Polar Bears, Emperor Penguin and seals, it’s also hitting those in the warmer climate areas as well.

The impacts of climate change are much faster melting of ice in the Arctic, an effect much faster than anywhere else in the world; it threatens the ecosystem of the species native to this region of the planet. Ocean acidification caused by increased uptake of carbon dioxide is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than in warmer waters. Marine creatures like sea butterfly are particularly vulnerable to acidification. On land, the Arctic fox, found in the southern edges of the Arctic tundra, is facing “multiple threats of climate change, including the shrinking sea ice and tundra, the decline of prey for food and increasing competition from larger and dominant species. The Arctic is ground zero for climate change and we are pushing many species to extinction. The key to preventing their loss is the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases. Specifically carbon dioxide, a level of 350 ppm or less is the ideal level at which leading scientists believe they can restore the Arctic sea ice. (1)

Other animals listed as most endanger from climate change is a wide range from land to sea and in between – just look at the list!

  • Leatherback sea turtles. Unfortunately, these gentle giants are threatened by dual environmental forces. Over-hunting and becoming entangled in fishermen’s nets kill thousands of sea turtles each year. Global warming plays an equally destructive role with beaches eroding away due to severe storms, and the sands in which the turtles lay their eggs literally becoming too warm for healthy development of baby turtles. (2)
  • Staghorn Coral. Coral bleaching occurs when conditions lead to the decline of the corals’ symbiotic algae, which results in a pale, dying reef. Staghorn Coral is currently one of the most threatened species of coral. (2)
  • Clownfish. With the decline of coral reefs (some estimate that more than half of the world’s coral reefs will vanish in the next 20 years), the fish that depend on their cover could be left homeless. The Clownfish – famously depicted in Disney’s “Finding Nemo” – is one flagship species under watch by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) (2)
  • Emperor Penguins. Along with the Arctic Fox, Emperor Penguins are literally feeling the heat from shrinking ice and snow cover, on the opposite pole. The Antarctic, like the Arctic region, is affected by melting ice and snow, which threatens the penguins’ habitat. Emperor penguins breed almost exclusively on pack ice, with only a very small number that have ever breed on land. In addition, icebergs and ice cliffs form protective barriers for the breeding colonies. Without them, the chances of survival diminish. (2)
  • Beluga Whale. The Beluga Whale has been in severe decline in waters off the coast of Alaska, and has been listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Sadly, the listing has done little to help its numbers. A number of factors have contributed to the Belugas’ decline, from hunting to noise pollution and strikes by shipping vessels. Changes in the temperature of Arctic waters affect not only the whales’ habitat, but its food supply. (2)
  • Koalas. The icon of Australia, Koalas are among the animals most affected by global warming. With rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, eucalyptus plants produce fewer leaves, which are lower in protein and also filled with poor-tasting tannins. Because Koalas live exclusively on eucalyptus leaves, their survival is directly connected to the health of the plants. In recent years, the marsupials have had to consume greater amounts of eucalyptus to prevent starving to death. They have also been found getting diseases such as AIDS as well as urban encroachment. (2)
  • Salmon. The reason why the scientists chose Salmon as a flagship species is because its home streams have been experiencing changes in flow rate due to earlier snow melt. We’ll be able to witness the impact of a rise in a few degrees in temperature relatively quickly when it comes to these spawning fish. (2)

“Climate change is no longer a distant threat on the horizon,” said Leda Huta, the executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “It has arrived and is threatening ecosystems that we all depend upon, and our endangered species are particularly vulnerable.” It’s Getting Hot Out There—a new report by the Endangered Species Coalition in partnership with our member groups—spurs us to answer the question: if we are serious about protecting endangered species from climate change where do we begin? The ten ecosystems listed here are a starting point. To help endangered species adapt to climate change, we’ll have to invest significant resources into protecting and restoring these ecosystems and their species. (3)

The top 10 ecosystems to save for endangered species featured in the report: (4)

  1. The Arctic Sea Ice, home to the polar bear, Pacific walrus and at least 6 species of seal.
  2. Shallow Water Coral Reefs, home to the critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn coral.
  3. The Hawaiian Islands, home to more than a dozen imperiled birds, and 319 threatened and endangered plants.
  4. Southwest Deserts, home to numerous imperiled plants, fish, and mammals.
  5. The San Francisco Bay-Delta, home to the imperiled Pacific salmon, Swainson’s hawk, tiger salamander and Delta smelt.
  6. California Sierra Mountains, home to 30 native species of amphibian, including the Yellow-legged frog.
  7. The Snake River Basin, home to four imperiled runs of salmon and steelhead.
  8. Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to the imperiled Whitebark pine, an important food source for animals, including the threatened Grizzly bear.
  9. The Gulf Coast’s flatlands and wetlands, home to the Piping and Snowy plovers, Mississippi sandhill crane, and numerous species of sea turtles.
  10. The Greater Everglades, home to 67 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee and the red cockcaded woodpecker.


The point of the report is that to save these species, their surrounding ecosystems need to be protected from climate change. "I realized in talking to scientists that people have really been focusing on species like the polar bear and the walrus and these Arctic species and what’s happening in the Arctic, but there are these incredible, dangerous impacts happening around the country,” she said Wednesday during a telephone conversation from her Washington, D.C., office. “Not enough attention is being paid to those ecosystems. We could lose large numbers of endangered species if those ecosystems are seriously impacted," continued Ms. Huta, who said the impacts could be realized in as few as five or ten years. “Some of those places there have been some conservation measures, but no where near on the kind of scale that we need to protect these imperiled species.” (4)


It's Getting Hot Out There, points to some conservation strategies that could help these ecosystems and their residents. (4)

Of course, aggressively reducing greenhouse gas pollution is the most important step to guard against climate change. And we must take that action. But the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the country, and these ecosystems highlight the need to exponentially increase additional conservation measures now. Assisting species adaptation to the rapidly changing world will be essential to ensuring their survival.

Many of the conservation measures that we must take are ones that we’ve already implemented on smaller scales, such as eradicating invasive species, setting aside open space, creating wildlife corridors, and restoring wild lands. Others require that we head in new directions, such as preventing offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and transforming how we manage the water that flows through California. Whether drawing upon new or standard practice in our conservation toolkit, the urgency for all of these measures is higher than it has ever been. We must invest significantly more in funding, political solutions and hands-on conservation in a massive effort to help ecosystems and species adapt.


Getting the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management working together on identifying, and implementing, solutions can't be overstated. “Finding linkages from one to another and building wildlife corridors and having a more coordinated approach, that’s certainly from the policy angles one of the things that would need to be pursued," said Ms. Huta. "Better collaboration between I think the wildlife refuges and the parks and how they can work together to protect the species.” How much these various steps might cost is hard to say; the coalition did not try to calculate the costs. "I think it’s exponentially more than we’re spending now," said Ms. Huta, adding, however, that "We think the return on investment would certainly be worthwhile.” (4)


We are the voice to those who can not speak. It is up to you and me to make sure that every elected member knows what’s going on and what we as people can do to help those in need. From the plants that feed the animals and the animals that roam the earth to the man that is disrupting it all – it needs to end! A good read to learn more on the animals and what’s happening to them is “100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth's Most Endangered Species” by Jeff Corwin. (5) Though not suited for young readers, it dives you into what’s happening in the world all around us. After you read this post and/or the book, ask yourself “What can I do to help?” and do it!

 

  • Here is a great story on how one little baby can get lost because of different elements happening all around his home.  Please help in the fight to reverse the actions of climate change.  It's NOT too late!  Baby Polar Bear Resuced
  • GREAT move!  A good start to a greater outcome - let's keep this up!  Judge Backs Scientists on Polar Bears

 


(1) http://www.johnsanday.com/blogs/education-and-science/arctic-species-under-threat.html

(2) http://www.peachygreen.com/wildlife/what-animals-can-tell-us-about-global-warming

(3) http://itsgettinghotoutthere.org/

(4) http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2011/01/report-lists-10-us-ecosystems-whose-species-are-most-threatened-climate-change7440

(5) Available at http://www.amazon.com/100-Heartbeats-Earths-Endangered-Species/dp/1605298476
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