In general, oil spills can affect animals and plants in two ways: from the oil itself and from the response or cleanup operations. Understanding both types of impacts can help spill responders minimize overall impacts to ecological communities and help them to recover much more quickly.
Spilled oil can harm living things because its chemical constituents are poisonous. This can affect organisms both from internal exposure to oil through ingestion or inhalation and from external exposure through skin and eye irritation. Oil can also smother some small species of fish or invertebrates and coat feathers and fur, reducing birds' and mammals' ability to maintain their body temperatures.
What Creatures Are Most Affected by Oil Spills?
Since most oils float, the creatures most affected by oil are animals like sea otters and seabirds that are found on the sea surface or on shorelines if the oil comes ashore. During most oil spills, seabirds are harmed and killed in greater numbers than other kinds of creatures. Sea otters can easily be harmed by oil, since their ability to stay warm depends on their fur remaining clean. If oil remains on a beach for a while, other creatures, such as snails, clams, and terrestrial animals may suffer.
What Measures Are Taken When an Animal Comes in Contact with Oil?
Most states have regulations about the specific procedures to follow. Untrained people should not try to capture any oiled bird or animal. At most U.S. spills, a bird and/or mammal rehabilitation center is set up to care for oiled animals.
What Type of Spilled Oil Causes the Most Harm?
The type of oil spilled matters because different types of oil behave differently in the environment, and animals and birds are affected differently by different types of oil. However, it's not so easy to say which kind is worst.
First, we should distinguish between "light" and "heavy" oils. Fuel oils, such as gasoline and diesel fuel, are very "light" oils. Light oils are very volatile (they evaporate relatively quickly), so they usually don't remain for long in the aquatic or marine environment (typically no longer than a few days). If they spread out on the water, as they do when they are accidentally spilled, they will evaporate relatively quickly.
However, while they are present, light oils present two significant hazards. First, some can ignite or explode. Second, many light oils, such as gasoline and diesel, are also considered to be toxic. They can kill animals or plants that they touch, and they also are dangerous to humans who breathe their fumes or get them on their skin.
In contrast, very "heavy" oils (like bunker oils, which are used to fuel ships) look black and may be sticky for a time until they weather sufficiently, but even then they can persist in the environment for months or even years if not removed. While these oils can be very persistent, they are generally significantly less acutely toxic than lighter oils. Instead, the short-term threat from heavy oils comes from their ability to smother organisms. Over the long-term, some chronic health effects like tumors may result in some organisms.
Also, if heavy oils get onto the feathers of birds, the birds may die of hypothermia (they lose the ability to keep themselves warm). We observe this same effect if sea otters become oiled. After days or weeks, some heavy oils will harden, becoming very similar to an asphalt road surface. In this hardened state, heavy oils will probably not harm animals or plants that come in contact with them.
In between light and heavy oils are many different kinds of medium oils, which will last for some amount of time in the environment and will have different degrees of toxicity. Ultimately, the effects of any oil depend on where it is spilled, where it goes, and what animals and plants, or people, it affects.
The world’s oceans are on the verge of collapse. The overexploitation of fish has tripled since the 1970s, rapidly depleting the seas of fish. About 90 percent of the world’s fish have now been fully or overfished, and a 17 percent increase in production is expected by 2025, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The UN's The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) says that the state of the world's marine “resources” is not improving. Almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels, triple the level of 1974. Some 31.4 percent of the commercial wild fish stocks regularly monitored by FAO have been overfished.
The situation in the Mediterranean and Black Sea - where 59% of assessed stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels - is alarming. This is especially true for larger fish such as hake, mullet, sole and sea breams. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the possible expansion of invasive fish species associated to climate change is a concern.
Globally, fish provide 6.7 percent of all protein consumed by humans. Some 57 million people are engaged in the primary fish production sectors, a third of them in aquaculture.
Fishery products account for one percent of all global merchandise trade in value terms, representing more than nine percent of total agricultural exports.
The depletion of the oceans' fish starts with consumer demand. You can make a difference by eliminating your consumption of seafood. The average person can save 225 fish and 151 shellfish a year by cutting seafood from their diet.
A few years ago, northern parts of the central United States got an unexpected visitor in the summer. Actually, it got thousands of them. The area experienced an invasion of a brown and yellow bird named the dickcissel.
Dickcissels are common to many areas in the United States. They are not common in northern parts like North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Why did the dickcissel show up in these areas? Extreme weather caused by climate change may have forced them to find a new home.
Climate change does a lot more than just heat up our planet. Climate change can also cause more intense weather. That could mean more hurricanes, floods, heat waves, droughts, and even cold spells. This extreme weather can be trouble for birds.
Scientists have noticed that when extreme weather happens, fewer birds show up in the places they call home. Why? One idea is that the birds avoid the extreme weather by moving to a friendlier area.
Amazingly, scientists can use satellites to test this idea. Even though these satellites are high above Earth, they can tell us a lot about what is happening on the ground. The scientists use two types of satellites. One type works like a big 3D camera that takes pictures of the ground. They use this kind to map the neighborhoods of different species of birds. The second type looks at weather and climate. These satellites can measure things like temperature, precipitation and evaporation, and cloudiness. Scientists can then combine this information to see when extreme weather happens in the areas that different birds call home.
But how do they know if these weather events are affecting the birds? This is where field scientists, amateur birders, and everyone can help by collecting data on where birds show up (and where they don’t show up). Using this data, scientists can see when and where birds travel.
If scientists find a bird species in a new area at the same time their regular home experiences extreme weather, this could explain why there appear to be fewer birds. Their numbers don’t shrink—they just move somewhere else.
Scientists have just begun to use satellites to figure out what happens to birds during extreme weather. Their work is very important. If birds are moving to other areas because of climate change, they may need our help. We may need to protect their new habitats. Thanks to satellites, we can get the clearest picture so far of where these new habitats could be.
Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.
Marine conservation is the study of conserving physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem functions. This is a relatively new discipline. Marine conservationists rely on a combination of scientific principles derived from marine biology, oceanography and fisheries science, as well as on human factors such as demand for marine resources and marine law, economics and policy in order to determine how to best protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems.
Coral reefs are the epicenter for immense amounts of biodiversity, and are a key player in the survival of an entire ecosystem. They provide various marine animals with food, protection and shelter which keep generations of species alive.
Unfortunately, because of human impact of coral reefs, these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The biggest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. This in conjunction with increased carbon in oceans, coral bleaching, and diseases, results in no pristine reefs left anywhere in the world. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs at either "high" or "very high" risk of disappearing which directly effects biodiversity and survival of species dependent on coral.
In island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines, many fisherman are unable to catch as many fish as they used to, so they are increasingly using cyanide and dynamite in fishing, which further degrades the coral reef ecosystem. This perpetuation of bad habits simply leads to the further decline of coral reefs and therefore perpetuates the problem. One solution to stopping this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine spaces that include coral reefs is important. Once the local communities understand the personal stakes at risk then they will actually fight to preserve the reefs. Conserving coral reefs has many economic, social, and ecological benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people throughout the world as well.
Although humans cause the greatest threat to our marine environment, humans also have the ability to create effective management plans that will be the key to successful marine conservation. One of the best marine conservation tools simply stems from smarter individualist choices we make.
Strategies and techniques for marine conservation tend to combine theoretical disciplines, such as population biology, with practical conservation strategies, such as setting up protected areas, as with marine protected areas (MPAs) or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means.
International laws and treaties related to marine conservation include the 1966 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. United States laws related to marine conservation include the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which established the National Marine Sanctuaries program.
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament enacted new legislation for the protection of marine life with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The provisions in the Act include: marine planning, marine licensing, marine conservation, seal conservation and enforcement.
The Bureau of Land Management’s current approach to managing our public lands is allowing companies to lease most of America’s public lands for oil and gas development – with over 90 percent of public lands open to leasing – undermining conservation efforts and cheating taxpayers, according to data detailed in The Wilderness Society’s report, No Exit: Fixing the BLM’s Indiscriminate Oil & Gas Leasing.
The Wilderness Society found the Bureau of Land Management’s current policies for oil and gas leasing are outdated and out of step with the agency’s guiding principles.
The BLM rarely closes lands to oil and gas leasing in its resource management plans, despite the risks to wildlife, recreation, cultural and wilderness resources, while ignoring important opportunities to protect other values.
There is almost no effort to protect some public lands from oil and gas leasing. 90 percent of U.S. public lands and mineral resources are available for leasing, even if BLM has found they have no actual potential for oil and gas development. The agency’s Handbook on Planning for Fluid Mineral Resources has not been overhauled in more than twenty-five years.
The current approach to leasing is in conflict with the agency’s guiding management principle, the multiple use mandate. The BLM is required to manage public lands for a range of uses such as conservation, wildlife management and recreation, but the agency routinely defaults to keeping lands open to leasing, which precludes all other uses.
When public lands with low energy development potential are leased to oil and gas companies, taxpayers lose out on revenue. These lands are routinely purchased for well below-market value, and can be held for a nominal annual fee for the duration of the 10-year lease term without yielding a meaningful return from development. Oil and gas companies often extend the terms of the leases they hold indefinitely through “suspensions,” which can last decades, with no annual fees.
Furthermore, pervasive leasing creates roadblocks for supporting other resources, such as recreation, wilderness values, and fish and wildlife habitat. Conservation efforts are thwarted by BLM’s current policies, as speculative leases prevent the proactive management of environmentally valuable areas. Protective designations for these other values are difficult to obtain – creating a double standard which improperly favors oil and gas over other multiple uses.
In the Bighorn Basin Resource Management Plan in Wyoming, the BLM considered whether to manage 43 inventoried units, totaling over 476,000 acres, to protect their wilderness characteristics. But ultimately, none of these lands are being managed to protect wilderness characteristics, primarily because they contain speculative oil and gas leases.
In the White River Resource Management Plan Amendment in Colorado, the BLM expressly acknowledged that undeveloped leases on low-potential lands effectively prevented management to protect wilderness characteristics.
Greater sage-grouse habitat in Idaho is open to oil and gas leasing under the federal management plan for sage-grouse in Idaho, even though no productive oil and gas wells have ever been drilled in Idaho and 100% of the most important habitat does not have high or even moderate oil and gas potential.
Well over 900 plants and animals are endangered, and hundreds more are threatened. Many of the reasons certain animals are disappearing forever are because of human activities.
FIVE MAJOR CAUSES
The mnemonic HIPPO represents the five major causes of declining wildlife biodiversity:
H - Habitat Loss I - Invasive Species P - Pollution and Pesticides P - Population Growth (human) and the Pet Trade O - Over-hunting and Over-collecting
Habitat Loss results from human activities and land development. Many animal species are in decline because their environment is no longer able to fulfill their basic requirements. All species require food, water, shelter, space and the ability to find a mate and have children. Some species require small habitats, while others need large areas to successfully survive. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of habitat loss and deforestation.
Invasive Species are plants and animals transported from one country or region to another and introduced into the wild. While most do not survive in a foreign world, some assimilate into their new world and thrive. Often they out-compete native plants and animals for their niche in the ecosystem, upsetting the balance of nature.
Pollution and Pesticides, in forms of garbage and trash, air and water pollution, soil contamination and noise and light pollution, harm ecosystems and wildlife. Pesticides are toxic and harm more than their target. Pollution harms the environment and animals.
Population Growth and the Pet Trade threaten countless animal species. As humans take more and more wilderness areas for agriculture, housing and industry, less land is available for wildlife. Native animals are often forced into less suitable habitats and can decline or disappear forever. Many “pets”, including fish, reptiles, spiders, birds, rodents and exotic mammals, are harvested from the wild.
Over-hunting and Over-collecting has impacted many endangered species, reeking havoc on ecosystems and eliminating entire species forever.
HOTSPOTS & COLDSPOTS
● Biodiversity Hotspots are regions with large numbers of species that do not live anywhere else in the world, where habitat destruction has occurred at alarming rates. Many organizations and agencies focus on saving these hotspots in an effort to do the greatest good and save the most species. Hotspots make up less than 2% of the planet.
● Coldspots, over 98% of the earth, are areas that have less species diversity but they need just as much help as areas with lots of biodiversity. In fact, some biodiversity coldspots are home to very rare plants and animals. Protecting these areas before too much destruction occurs prevents us from having to work backwards.
THE DOMINO EFFECT
All plants and animals have many complex intertwining links with other living things around them. Hippopotamus have birds that feed off the insects that grow on them. If the hippo were to become extinct, so would the birds…leading to further destruction as other species depend on the birds. This is referred to as Chains of Extinction, or the Domino Effect.
A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a crucial role in how an ecosystem functions. Without the keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or would not be able to survive. While all species in a habitat rely on each other, keystone species have a huge impact on their environment. Their disappearance would start a domino effect, leading to other species in the ecosystem also disappearing.
An indicator species is a plant or animal species humans focus on to gather information about an ecosystem. Their presence or absence in an environment can be a signal that all is well, or something is not right. Certain types of plants or animals may exist in a very specific area. If the species begins to disappear, this ecoregion may be shrinking and action may need to be taken to save the environment. Indicator species can tell humans about the health of the environment. Many are extremely sensitive to pollution or human interference and serve as a “miner's canary”. UMBRELLA SPECIES
An umbrella species is a plant or animal species that has a wide range and requirements for living as high or higher than other animals in the habitat. If the umbrella species' requirements are met, then so are the needs of many other species in its ecosystem. The Monarch butterfly is an example of an umbrella species because of its lengthy migrations across North America, covering lots of ecosystems. Any protections given to the Monarch will also “umbrella” many other species and habitats.
Often times umbrella species are used by organizations and agencies to capture the public's attention for support for conservation efforts. These flagship species - such as pandas, whales, tigers, gorillas and butterflies - are species that the public finds captivating and are interested in helping. When the flagship species is helped, so are species in their ecosystems that the general public may find less appealing.
An ecosystem is the natural balance between organisms, plants, and animals in a particular place. Certain species of wildlife depend on particular species of plants, insects and organisms for survival. Even a small patch of forest can have a complete ecosystem of its own. So can a rivulet, a pond, a lake and sea. In any given landscape, there can be numerous ecosystems. This is what is called biodiversity.
Never before has biodiversity faced such destructive forces as it has in recent times from human activities. Almost half of what took millions of years to take shape and evolve has been destroyed by man in a very short time.
Man-made pollution is one of the main threats to wildlife habitat. Humans have regarded the air, water, and soil as waste receptacles, giving little consideration to the ecological consequences of pollution. Wildlife populations are constantly confronted with a massive array of pollutants released into the environment.
In the last 80 years, the world chemical output has grown 500-fold, contaminating entire landscapes, accumulating in bodies of animals and plants, and altering and disrupting the DNA of wildlife in those places. Out in the seas and oceans, destruction caused to marine life cannot be fathomed. Trash washed down rivers and city streets, mountains of plastic, garbage and debris, are finding their way into the oceans by the ton on a daily basis – causing massive disruption in coastal ecosystems. Pollution from industrial emissions, traffic and other commercial activities have eaten into the ozone layer and altered complete climatic patterns. Ecosystems that have survived and evolved through the ages, dependent on climate and seasonal cycles, have been totally derailed.
These destructive human activities are causing massive extinctions. Up to 30% of mammal, bird and amphibian species are already threatened with extinction, including: 1 out of 4 mammals, 1 out of 8 birds, 1 out of 3 amphibians, and 6 out of 7 marine turtles. A third of reef-building corals are threatened with extinction. If global temperatures rise by more than 3.5°C, up to 70% of the world’s known species risk extinction. Extinction risks are outpacing conservation successes.
Pollution Disrupting Ecosystems
Thousands of synthetic chemicals are being released into the environment at alarming rates, altering the distribution of naturally occurring substances. Wild animals are facing conditions they have never experienced before. These alien conditions disrupt the delicate biological balance that has evolved over thousands of years.
Toxic metals from human activities accumulate to create a bewildering number of hazards to wildlife. Animal agriculture, fossil fuels, mining, metal refining, and waste-water discharge create toxic levels of pollutants beyond what naturally cycles through soil, air and water.
Pollution is have detrimental effects on the health of wildlife. Synthetic chemicals, acid rain and oil are all toxic. Additional types of pollution harm wildlife in indirect ways, changing or destroying their habitats. Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere, resulting in changes in climate and the distribution of habitats. The ozone layer is being damaged by chlorofluorocarbons, causing destruction from the effects of excessive ultraviolet radiation on wild animals and their food sources. Grasslands, marshes and canyons are being destroyed by solid waste landfills.
Air Pollution Harming Wildlife
Gases, solid particles and aerosols are polluting the air. Air pollution negatively affects wildlife by changing plant communities. Stunted plant growth from atmospheric ozone affects the quality of habitat and food sources.
Birds are threatened directly by coal power production exhaust, which damages their respiratory systems. Air pollution also indirectly threatens birds. pH level increases result in fish kills, causing a decline in food sources. Mercury accumulates in the food chain, wreaking havoc on predatory bird populations.
Acidic rivers and streams, resulting from acid rain, causes respiratory distress in fish. Clearer water from higher acid levels also results in temperature and light increases in the water, causing native fish to relocate to cooler and darker habitats. Amphibians have changed both physiologically and behaviorally due to air pollution. Ozone damages their immune systems.
Insects are especially susceptible to the dangers of air pollution. Air quality fluctuations can cause insects to relocate, affecting the plants and animals connected to them. Insects more resilient to air pollution digest organic waste less effectively, resulting in a buildup of organic waste when air pollution increases.
Metal smelters release toxic metals through tall smokestacks that have negative effects on wild animals. Pollutants cause environmental contamination both close to the source, and downwind of smelters.
Air pollution is damaging lung tissues of animals. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have damaged the ozone layer that protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation. Ozone molecules near the ground damage wildlife lung tissues and reduces plant respiration by blocking openings in leaves. A plant not able to photosynthesize at a high rate due to inadequate respiration cannot grow. Holes in the ozone layer also cause skin cancer in wildlife.
Greenhouse gases from air pollution are warming the planet. Through photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and use the carbon to grow. But the amount of carbon dioxide being released by human activities is much greater than plants can convert. Ice and frozen ground are melting near the Poles. As a result, habitats and resources are changing for plants and animals. Ocean warming and rising sea levels are affecting shallow marine environments, including coral reefs. Less rainfall, caused by global warming, is limiting water resources for plants and animals.
Air pollution is particularly hazardous to animals when in the form of acid rain. Acid rains kills fish by increasing water acidity. Rising pH (a measure of acidity) levels are destroying plants and trees.
Acid Rain Killing Wild Animals
Acid rain, primarily caused by sulfur and nitrogen released into the atmosphere from automobiles and the combustion of oil and coal, discharges toxic aluminum into water systems. Acid rain has numerous disastrous effects on ecosystems, especially aquatic ecosystems. pH levels are changed, killing many wild animals outright and throwing ecosystems completely out of balance.
Gravity draws acid rain towards water bodies in low areas. When the acidity in these water bodies increases, fish and other organisms lose their ability to survive and reproduce. Acid rain has already killed off fish populations in hundreds of lakes.
Water Pollution Detrimental To Wildlife
Water pollution is detrimental to wildlife. Frogs species are in decline. Water bodies polluted with nutrients are causing massive growths of toxic algae that are eaten by animals, resulting in diseases and deaths.
Mining operations result in weathering waste rock and ore deposits, creating "acid mine drainage." Acid mine drainage creates toxic water pollution.
Monumental amounts of toxic metals are released into the air by industries and automobiles. These toxins settle to the ground and are then transported by fallen rain, along with pesticides. "Storm water runoff" is carried to local sewer systems, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. It is one of the largest sources of toxic water pollution.
Oil spills result in the deaths of countless wild animals. Oil coats animal fur and feathers reducing their insulating properties, and exposes animals to deadly toxins. The long-term effects of oil spills are more subtle, but just as detrimental. Toxic chemicals on beaches, in the water, and in the food web results in anemia, decreased disease resistance, impaired reproduction, cancers, birth defects and neurological damage.
In coastal belts where human habitation concentration has grown the most in the past few decades, wanton garbage disposal, especially of plastic, has almost completely wiped out marine ecosystems within miles of the shores. Spectacular creatures such as whales and dolphins, that were once a common sight for beach goers, have been driven from their natural habitat into deep seas – having lost their centuries-old feeding grounds to pollutants.
In closeted water bodies like lakes, pollutants like oil, detergents, nitrogen and phosphate can create havoc in its ecosystems by stimulating growth of unwanted plants and choking the water of oxygen so essential to the survival of fish.
Wild Animals Affected By Noise Pollution
Pollution is not always physical. Sound waves from oil rigs, ships and sonar travel for miles disrupting communication, hunting, migration, and reproduction of aquatic animals. Noise pollution from gas and oil explorations are causing mass strandings and chronic stress.
Animal Agriculture A Major Threat To Wildlife
Pollution from animal agricultural is one of the biggest threats to wildlife. Pesticide usage in agriculture has jumped 26-fold in the last 50 years causing serious consequences for the environment. Lakes, streams, drains and groundwater have been contaminated to an extent that not only are they not fit for use, entire ecosystems around them have perished. Chemical runoff leaches into streams, waterways and groundwater. Fertilizers alter nutrient systems in waterways, creating explosive growths of algae that deplete oxygen in the water. Around 400 dead zones have already been created as a result.
Animal agriculture produces significantly more greenhouse gases than all of the traffic in the world combined. Spouting out huge percentages of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, the industry is leaving behind pollutants known to remain in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. Animal waste also produces toxic levels of methane and ammonia, which leads to climate change as well as acid rain. Cows alone produce approximately 120lbs of manure per day, resulting in about 150 billion gallons of methane each day. Unmanageable amounts of animal waste is collected in cesspools and is either sprayed on fields or left to sit. The toxic fumes from the pools are emitted into the air and harm the environment.
Pesticides not only harm wild animals through long-term exposure via the food web; direct exposure also kills wild animals. Pesticides drift, decimating mammal, bird and fish populations.
Littering Killing Wildlife
Littering causes the deaths of many wild animals. Toxic trash can be fatal. Entanglement in litter is a common threat. Tons of plastic litter finds its way into the oceans, washed off streets and blown from landfills. Animals often mistake litter for food and attempt to eat the litter, resulting in fatalities. Litter accumulates in giant patches. Some is transported by currents and washed onto shore. Trillions of other pieces of decomposing plastic create gigantic swirling garbage patches in the ocean.
Effects of Household Pollutants On Wild Animals
Many households products contain toxic metals. Household waste-water often transports toxic metals into aquatic environments. Toxic chemicals used in households are washed down drains and flushed down toilets. Even more massive amounts of solvents, cleansers, and other chemicals are used in industrial activities, adding toxic pollutants to industrial waste-waters.
We Must Act Now
Pollution, along with habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, unsustainable practices, and invasive alien species, are affecting biodiversity around the globe. The result is the massive destruction of ecosystems and a frightening reduction in biodiversity.
Earth's ecological system has been in balance for millions of years, but is now threatened by human activities. Current extinction rates are likely to result in collapses of ecosystems on a global scale.
Pollution has had devastating impacts on wildlife. Most types of pollution are not necessary, and others can be drastically reduced. Technology is available that can significantly reduce pollution. Reduced consumption of fossil fuels would also bring down emissions of toxic metals and acid rain. Shifting to plant-based, organic farming would eliminate the massive amounts of pollutants produced by the animal agriculture industry.
Awareness, creativity, and a willingness to modify our lifestyles will curtail threats that pollution causes to both wildlife and humans. You can help wildlife and ecosystems by supporting environmental groups that are fighting polluting practices, as well as by making your own conscious decisions regarding eating choices, waste management, harmful chemicals and irresponsible household products.
Humans are not the only species to show a strong work ethic and scruples. Researchers have found evidence of conscientiousness in insects, reptiles, birds, fish and other critters.
Attributes such as industriousness, neatness, tenacity, cautiousness and self-discipline have been proven to occur across a broad range of creatures great and small.
Just as in humans, conscientiousness in animals -- which includes working hard, paying attention to detail and striving to do the right thing -- has such evolutionary benefits as giving them an edge in hunting and gathering, attracting mates, procreating and fending off predators.
Honeybees, who are more likely to remove bee carcasses from their hive, have more offspring. Birds who keep their nests tidier are less susceptible to being preyed on. For many bird species, mastering song is key to mating success.
In some bird species, females carefully inspect the display nests that are built by males. Those males that build the best display nests, and that have chosen nesting sites that are well hidden from predators, are more likely to be selected as mates.
UC Berkeley psychologists have divided the conscientious characteristics in animals into two main categories: "order and industriousness," which includes organization and cleanliness, and "achievement striving and competence," which covers mastery and deliberation.
Birds and insects tend to fit into the orderliness category, whereas primates and other mammals fit more squarely into the achievement striving box.
Moreover, researchers say this split is reflected in the "phylogenetic" family tree in which primates and other mammals branched off from birds, reptiles, invertebrates and other species as their personality traits evolved to help them adapt to differing life conditions. Orderly and industrious tendencies appear to have originated in insects and fish, whereas achievement striving and competence may be more closely related to problem-solving, group living, and the complexity of the environment that those animals inhabit.
Among other tools, researchers track animal characteristics using the "Big Five" model, which breaks down personality into the five overarching categories of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Conscientiousness has been recognized throughout the animal kingdom.
We live on land, but our world is a water world. The ocean covers 70% of Earth's surface. The average depth of the ocean is about 2.7 miles. In some places, the ocean is deeper than the tallest mountains are high. The ocean contains about 97% of all the water on Earth.
The ocean plays a starring role in whatever happens with the environment. One big part of its role is to soak up energy (heat) and distribute it more evenly around the Earth. Another part is to soak up CO2.
In the ocean, all creatures depend on the supply of plankton (tiny plants and animals) at the bottom of the food chain.
The ocean does an excellent job of absorbing excess heat from the atmosphere. The top few meters of the ocean stores as much heat as Earth's entire atmosphere. So, as the planet warms, it's the ocean that gets most of the extra energy. But if the ocean gets too warm, then the plants and animals that live in it must adapt—or die.
Algae and plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. Plankton includes many different kinds of tiny animals, plants, or bacteria that just float and drift in the ocean. Other tiny animals such as krill (sort of like little shrimp) eat the plankton. Fish and even whales and seals feed on the krill. In some parts of the ocean, krill populations have dropped by over 80 percent. Why? Krill like to breed in really cold water near sea ice. What would happen if there were no sea ice? What would happen if there were very little plankton or krill? The whole food web could come unraveled.
Coral is another ocean creature in trouble. Coral is a very fragile animal that builds a shell around itself. It lives in harmony with a certain kind of colorful algae. The algae make food using sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. They share the food with the coral, and, in turn, the coral gives the algae a safe and sunny place to live. The two of them get along fine, living in clean, clear, shallow waters where the sun shines through brightly. Fish love coral too, because there are lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide in.
But the algae cannot carry out photosynthesis in water that is too warm. The algae either die, or the coral spits it out. Scientists are not sure exactly what happens, but it's bad for the algae, the coral, and the fish. The corals lose their colorful food sources and become weak. This sad event is called coral bleaching, and it is happening on a grand scale in many places around the world.
How does the ocean soak up CO2? The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere wherever air meets water. Wind causes waves and turbulence, giving more opportunity for the water to absorb the carbon dioxide. Fish and other animals in the ocean breathe oxygen and give off carbon dioxide (CO2), just like land animals. Ocean plants take in the carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, just like land plants. The ocean is great at sucking up CO2 from the air. It absorbs about one-quarter of the CO2 that we humans create when we burn fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas.) If not for the ocean, we'd be in even worse trouble with too much CO2. However, the ocean and everything in it are paying a price. The ocean is becoming more acidic.
What does this mean? Liquids are either acid or alkaline. Each liquid falls somewhere along a scale with acid at one end and alkaline at the other. Normally, ocean water is less acidic than fresh water. Unfortunately, as the ocean absorbs more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it becomes more acidic. Lemon juice is an example of an acidic liquid. Toothpaste is alkaline. The ocean is slightly alkaline.
However, when the ocean absorbs a lot of CO2, the water becomes more acidic. The alkalinity of the ocean is very important in maintaining a delicate balance needed for animals to make protective shells. If the water is too acidic, the animals may not be able to make strong shells. Corals could also be affected, since their skeletons are made of the same shell-like material.
But besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
How does the ocean affect the climate? One way the ocean affects the climate is by carrying heat to the north in the Atlantic Ocean. Way up north, cold water in the North Atlantic ocean sinks very deep and spreads out all around the world. The sinking water is replaced by warm water near the surface that moves to the north. Scientists call this the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt. The heat carried north helps keep the Atlantic ocean warmer in the winter time, which warms the nearby countries as well. The "great ocean conveyor belt" refers to the major ocean currents that move warm water from the equator to the poles and cold water from the poles back toward the equator.
Does the salt in the ocean do anything? Fresh water has lower salinity (saltiness) than estuary water, where the ocean water mixes with river water. The ocean itself is most salty of all. The amount of salt in the ocean water also affects currents. Saltier water is heavier than less salty water. When salty ocean water freezes, the ice can no longer hold on to the salt. Instead, the salt mixes with the water below making it saltier and heavier. Glaciers, land ice and icebergs are made of fresh water, so what happens when this ice melts? The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt carries warmer, less salty water from the equator to the poles, and colder, saltier water from the poles back toward the equator. Colder water and very salty water are heavier than warmer water and less salty water.
The water in the North Atlantic sinks because it's cold, but also because it's salty. Being both cold AND salty makes it really heavy, so it can sink very far. But if too much ice melts in the North Atlantic, the water could become less salty. If that happens, what about the Ocean Conveyor Belt? Would it stop warming the North Atlantic?
Trillions of cigarette butts are littered annually and their metal contaminants are endangering marine environments. Littered cigarette butt metals are leaching into aquatic ecosystems and potentially entering the food chain.
Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter found in the marine environment, with an estimated 5 trillion or so discarded outdoors around the globe every year. Research has shown that metals can leach from cigarette butts. To gain an understanding of the potential implications, levels of metals in cigarette butts were recently monitored at nine different locations along the north part of the Persian Gulf in the Bushehr seaport coastal areas.
The metals assessed included cadmium (Cd), iron (Fe), arsenic (As) nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn) and manganese (Mn) from discarded cigarette butts in the top 10 cm of sediment and deposited at the tidal mark on the beaches. The metal content was measured twice, with a period of 10 days in between, to gauge the potential impact of marine currents on levels. But there was little significant change in levels between the two assessments, irrespective of where the samples had been taken.
Metal content is likely to vary according to the cultivation and growth of the tobacco leaf and the application of pesticides and weed killers. Additional metals may be added during cigarette manufacture and/or during the application of brightening agents on the wrapping paper.
Cigarette filters, which are made of cellulose acetate, may act like other plastics in providing a conduit to transport metals in marine environments. The response of animal and plant life to metal content is highly variable. Whereas elevated concentration of heavy and trace metals in water and soils can adversely affect some species, contamination may increase the metal tolerance of other organisms.
Considering the estimated amount of cigarette butts littered annually (4.95 trillion), the release of metals from littered cigarette butts in the marine environment may increase the potential for acute harm to local species and may enter the food chain.
More research is needed to understand fully the leaching behavior of metals from cigarette butts into the marine environment. But from what we already know about the toxicity of discarded cigarette butts in the marine and coastline, it's obvious we need to decrease the environmental hazards of cigarette butts in these areas.
Monkeys have long been a common sight in temples and tourist destinations around the world. These intelligent animals once stayed away from urban hubs, restricting themselves to the fringes of big cities. But deforestation, animal agriculture, industrialization and fast expanding cities is reducing monkey habitat at an alarming rate. As a result, many species of monkeys are invading cities for food, shelter and water.
Many monkeys have long taken to temples, where they are often protected and fed. From these temples they radiate out to nearby forests. But urbanization has invaded temple areas, bringing the city to the monkeys.
As natural monkey habitats are continuously destroyed, monkeys are loosing their fear of humans. In search of new food sources, they raid farms, beg for food, and steal from homes and businesses. Urban areas offer monkeys easy access to shelter, food, water and large trees, causing population explosions. Telephone and electric wires give them easy access throughout the urban jungles.
Monkeys are now as plentiful as squirrels in many Asian cities. They hang out in train stations, beg at the side of roads, dig through trash cans, and steal food from humans.
Cows, stray dogs and cats have roamed the streets of the capital city of India, New Delhi, for centuries. Now, monkeys have taken over. There are tens of thousands of rhesus macaques skirting rooftops of buildings, darting through work places, raiding kitchens, scattering files and attacking workers. Instances of human-monkey conflicts include monkeys biting people, snatching foodstuffs, picking pockets, and even drunken monkeys misbehaving. Monkeys have spread to other Indian cities of northern states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Langurs, another species of monkey, are now seen on the rooftops of Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. Ironically, the langur was brought in to scare off the rhesus macaques.
While the rhesus macaques are having a free run of many Indian and Asian cities, the baboons have their sights set on the affluent neighborhoods of Cape Town, South Africa. Man and baboon have co-existed in the Western Cape for centuries, but tolerance for the creature seem to be running thin. Loss of habitat from development and urbanization is turning this once-friendly creature into an aggressive one. Baboons are breaking into glitzy estates on the Cape, raiding kitchens for food, rummaging into garbage cans and stealing whatever they think may be of use to them. Even restaurants haven't been spared.
Many urban communities feed the monkeys, often compounding the problem. The monkeys quickly loose their fear of humans and become dependent on human handouts. Thousands of monkeys went on a rampage in northern Thailand when the council ran out of rice for the monkeys after a drought. Shops, homes and restaurants were invaded by gangs of hungry monkeys.
Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms, invade towns and break into homes and businesses to steal food. Forestry has reduced their wild food sources, leaving the monkeys little choice.
While monkeys are not native to the US, vervet monkeys have made a tiny patch of forest near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport their home. They have survived in the area for generations. Silver River, in central Florida, is home to rhesus macaques that were introduced to the central Florida wetlands to drum up tourism. They have lived there for decades and are now moving as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Orlando.
Attempts to reduce urban monkey populations have ranged from outright elimination, to forced migration and awareness campaigns not to feed monkeys.
Many farmers have resorted to shooting monkeys to save their crops. A more humane attempt to avoid monkey damage is switching from fruit and vegetable crops to growing crops less likely to attract monkeys.
Culling methods are not only inhumane, but also ineffective. New monkeys soon move in from surrounding areas. Their numbers swell quickly to match the original populations. Culling also results in the monkeys becoming more aggressive.
Capturing city monkeys in cages, and keeping them in captivity before release, causes extreme stress to the animals. Relocation of monkeys only results in new troops entering the area. Diseases can also be spread by monkeys from one area to another.
Large-scale sterilization of monkeys has yet to be attempted. At least 1/3rd of the population needs to be sterilized to arrest the rate of population growth. Capturing enough monkeys to be effective is both challenging and expensive. Oral contraceptives for monkeys, that can be administered through food, are in the works.
In South Africa, "virtual fences" on the perimeters of cities are being created. These virtual fences are a line of speakers that emit sounds of predatory beasts, like the lion, to keep baboons at bay. Whether that will be a long term solution is a matter of conjecture.
Conservationists are proposing filling monkey habitat with food sufficient enough to dissuade them from venturing into cities. Some areas have proposed mass planting of trees to create green islands to provide habitation to monkeys.
To help save monkey and other wildlife habitats, humans must also shift from animal based agriculture to plant based farming. Expanding animal farming is the leading cause of deforestation, resulting in ever-increasing habitat loss. Animal agriculture takes up over 40% of the planet. 56 million acres of land are used to feed factory farmed animals, while only 4 million acres produce plants for human consumption. It takes 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant based diet than it does to feed meat eaters.
Urban monkey challenges have been created by humans, and must be solved by humans. Monkeys are not the villain. Monkey habitats and food-sources have been greatly depleted in the wild by irresponsible human activity. Coexistence is the only solution.
The majority of the world's fisheries are in a state of collapse. Too many boats are chasing too few fish. Many of the fish species currently in decline serve as important food sources for sea animals who, unlike humans, have no other food choices. In the Bering Sea, the effects of overfishing on marine animals are obvious. Fur-seal populations have not increased despite a long-standing ban on commercial hunting. The number of Steller's sea lions, which feed mostly on pollack (the number one ingredient in frozen fish sticks and served by fast food chains), has plunged 80% since the 1970s, and seabirds such as the red-legged kittiwake are also in trouble.
Modern fishing techniques have enabled humans to catch more fish than ever before, and the once seemingly abundant ocean is now being stripped of life.
In addition to the vast numbers of target fish being caught by today's fishermen, there are also non-target casualties. "Bycatch" is the name that fisheries have given to sea life that is caught, yet not wanted at the time. Bycatch may include dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, starfish, or even commercially valuable fish not sought by a particular vessel.
DAMAGING FISHING TECHNIQUES
These are industrial fishing vessels with large-mouthed nets wide enough to encompass three Statues of Liberty lined up end to end. Upon being cast into the ocean, these nets catch just about everything they touch. "Trawling" and "trolling" are sometimes confused, but trolling refers to a vessel towing bait near the surface of the water. With trawling, for every pound of commercial catch, 10 to 20 pounds of bycatch is caught and discarded as waste. As the huge nets drag across the sea floor, they not only capture sea creatures, they literally clear-cut the ocean floor, grinding up coral reefs and other habitats. By removing the organisms that provide shelter for little fish, trawling is not only breaking the food chain, but may also be the underlying cause of the recent collapse of many commercial groundfish stocks, which include cod, haddock, pollock and flounder.
These are fishing lines up to 80 miles long, which carry several thousand baited hooks at a time. These may catch swordfish, sablefish and sometimes tuna. Frequently, longlines catch other sea animals including sharks and sea birds. Worldwide, an estimated 180,000 birds die on longline hooks each year. Scientists agree that longline fishing severely impacts at least 13 seabird species, 3 of which are globally threatened with extinction. About 10% of the world's wandering albatross population is killed each year by longlines. Sharks have also been severely impacted by longline fishing, often killed just for their fins to be used in soup. Sharks have slow growth and reproductive rates, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
These vessels will surround a school of fish with a large net, which is closed off at the bottom with a cable. This technique can trap an entire school of tuna as well as other fish. In the Eastern Pacific, yellow fin tuna often travel with dolphins (for reasons yet unknown), who are vulnerable to entanglement in purse seines if herded and encircled by the net.
MARINE MAMMAL CONFLICTS
Many marine mammals eat the same fish that humans do. In the past, subsistence cultures that fished only to meet the needs of their villages had few conflicts with marine mammals. Today, commercial fisheries strive to profit by catching as many fish as possible, while marine mammals are perceived as competition. The fish that these marine mammals eat to survive is considered lost industry profit. Too often, many marine mammals become scapegoats for declining fish stocks and are harassed or killed. Other times, certain types of fishing gear inadvertently harms non-target marine mammals. SEALS & FISHERY CONFLICTS
Fishermen claim that seals are a costly menace, because they damage nets and eat or wound fish that "belong" to the fishermen. Despite the fact that most of the world's fisheries are in trouble due to overfishing, fisheries mismanagement, and pollution, fishermen routinely blame seals for reduced catches. Complaints by fishermen often lead to seal slaughters or "culls," which are crude and cruel attempts to boost fishery yields. However, there is little scientific evidence that seal slaughters help replenish fish stocks. In fact, removing large numbers of seals may actually hurt fish stocks, as other animals usually eaten by seals also eat commercial fish or compete with them for the same food. Additionally, fish eaten by seals account for only a small proportion of the fish that are removed from the marine environment. In some cases, fishermen remove 25 times more than seals, while other fish may eat 30 times more.
OTTERS & SHELLFISH
To stay warm in the North Pacific's cool waters, a 50-pound adult otter will consume a quarter of its body weight each day, which equates to roughly 16 pounds of crab, lobster, urchins, oysters and clams. The shellfish industry of Southern California owes its success to the near eradication of the sea otter by fur traders almost 100 years ago. As the sea otter population is slowly recovering and has begun to reclaim its native range, the shellfish industry has pushed for the enforcement of "otter-free zones." These zones are created when otters are removed from their rightful place in the ecosystem, and relocated to less productive areas where fishermen, and subsequently otters, have little interest. Sea otter relocation efforts are doomed to fail, as otters cannot recognize the invisible line that surrounds an "otter-free zone." Once relocated, otters fail to thrive. Relocation not only disrupts the sea otter social structure, but it increases food competition and causes territorial disputes, which ultimately results in more otter deaths.
DOLPHINS & TUNA
Some species of tuna swim with dolphins. This special relationship has led to the depletion of both species, as fishermen locate tuna by looking for leaping dolphins. Scientists have confirmed that chasing and netting dolphins causes harm to their populations and suppresses their recovery. In 1986, before the original "dolphin safe" law went into effect, 133,000 dolphins were reported killed because of tuna fishing. In 1988, thanks to strict guidelines that prohibited the netting of dolphins, deaths were reported at less than 2,000. But in 1999, dolphin protection took a huge step backward. New guidelines have rendered the label meaningless, as tuna companies that encircle dolphins with huge nets are now allowed to label their tuna as "dolphin safe." Tuna are also in trouble from commercial fishing. Within the next few decades, blue fin tuna are expected to reduce to 10% of their historic range. Most blue fin on the market today are juveniles, as nearly all of the adults have been caught. Bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna populations are also declining.
SEA TURTLES & SHRIMP
All but one of the eight species of sea turtles are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, and all are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite this protection, it is estimated that worldwide 155,000 sea turtles drown in shrimp nets each year -- many in U.S. waters. "Turtle-Safe" shrimp is caught with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which attach to shrimp nets and allow turtles to escape. While sea turtle drownings are almost entirely eliminated by the use of TEDs and are required in U.S. waters, some fishermen disable them because they mistakenly believe that TEDs reduce shrimp catches. Shrimp that is imported to the U.S. is also supposed to be caught with TEDs, however, regulation and compliance of foreign vessels is very questionable. And unfortunately, while TEDs may help protect sea turtles, they are unable to remedy the devastating damage that shrimp nets cause as they drag across the sea floor, destroying critical habitat and food sources for sea turtles and other sea life.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Eliminate or decrease fish from your diet.
Support legislation that sets strict standards for commercial fishing.
Urge National Parks, National Marine Sanctuaries and National Wildlife Refuges to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing within their boundaries.
If you witness a marine mammal being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, contact the National Marine Fisheries Service. The toll-free, national phone number for the enforcement division is 1-800-853-1964.
If you witness any other wild animals (ducks, geese, raccoons, etc.) being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, call your state Fish and Wildlife or Fish and "Game" department listed in the Government section of your local phone book.
When visiting a beach, lake or river, pick up any discarded fishing gear that you see and dispose of it properly.
Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
For more than 200 years, or since the industrial revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change. The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the CO2 that is released in the atmosphere, and as levels of atmospheric CO2 increase, so do the levels in the ocean.
When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur resulting in the increased concentration of hydrogen ions. This increase causes the seawater to become more acidic and causes carbonate ions to be relatively less abundant.
Carbonate ions are an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral skeletons. Decreases in carbonate ions can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying organisms such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton.
Pteropods are small calcifying (or shelled) organisms that live as zooplankton in the water column and are an important prey species for many fish. Changes in ocean chemistry can break down their calcium carbonate shell, ultimately leaving the marine food web at risk.
These changes in ocean chemistry can affect the behavior of non-calcifying organisms as well. Certain fish's ability to detect predators is decreased in more acidic waters. When these organisms are at risk, the entire food web may also be at risk.
Ocean acidification is affecting the entire world’s oceans, including coastal estuaries and waterways.
Surviving in an environment of continuous threat and stress is a serious challenge for most living species. Living organisms, in whatever form, need to adapt to changes in the weather, climate and all sorts of changes in the environment. Add to this the natural calamities in the form of floods, storms, fires and volcanic bursts and their aftermath. When new lifeforms enter their ecosystems, pressure on existing species mount.
Dangers can be parasitic or predatory in nature. Challenges to adaptation can be in the form of diseases or the very complexity of biological changes themselves.
After millions of years of adapting to their environments, animals faced a new kind of threat - the advent of human beings. The effect of humans on the planet has been profound and has threatened the existence of all kinds of organisms to a degree that has caused scientists to believe that the Earth is beginning to witness extinction on a mass scale.
Being a a part of nature, the dangers arising from human actions are extensions of natural threats. But the threats from mankind are within human control and can be curbed by changes in behavior. Humans are in a position to realize the consequences of their actions on the environment and can easily make changes in behavior that would affect the future health of the planet in a positive way.
Human Threats To Animals
Destruction of habitat and fragmentation: Destruction and fragmentation of animal habitats for the purpose of agriculture, urban development, building of hydro-electric projects and other self-serving uses are major threats to the Earth’s wildlife.
Effects on global climate: Large scale emissions from fossil fuel burning and excessive flaring of gas have wrought serious damage to the Earth's atmosphere, especially the ozone layer, causing climate changes in many parts of the globe.
Introduction of new and invasive species: Loss of endemic species have been caused by introduction of new species into their ancient habitats.
Hunting and poaching: Hunting animals for sport and poaching them for profit as part of the illicit wildlife trade are among the major threats to wildlife.
Effects of pollutants: Industrial wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides have infiltrated and consumed entire habitats of all forms of living creatures and organisms.
Accidents: Loss of habitat causing animals to venture onto freeways and other manmade obstacles is also a common occurrence. More birds are being killed by a growing traffic in aviation and from colliding into windows.
Mountain ranges are located all around the globe. They are the result of plate movements below the planet's crust. Mountains vary in height from small hills to Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Animals that inhabit mountainous regions must withstand dramatic temperature changes and lower oxygen levels.
The two main types of mountain ranges are temperate mountains and tropical mountains.
Temperate mountains are often cold all year and more seasonal than tropical mountains. They are found in North and South America, Europe and Central Asia. During spring and summer months a burst of plant life at high altitude occurs, encouraging herbivores up the mountain.
Tropical mountains feature warmer climates with plants adapted to high altitudes. They are located in South America, Africa and south-east Asia.
Mountain wildlife are adapted to high altitudes and changing temperatures. The higher up a mountain, the lower the temperature. Plants are usually seasonal in mountains. Those that do occur year round, such as conifers, are adapted to handling the cold temperatures.
Hoofed and herbivorous mammals, including deer, goats, llamas and sheep, are common in mountains. They are well suited to the terrain and graze on ledges and cliff faces. During the spring and summer, they move up the mountains when plants are plentiful. In the fall, they move back down the mountains in cooler weather when food is more scarce.
Large predators also inhabit mountain regions, including bears and mountain lions, who prey on the herbivores.
Some animal species do not live on the mountains, but inside of them. Caves provide habitat for amphibians, insects and bats.
Threats to mountain habitats include deforestation, quarrying and development. Changes in climate also affects the growth of plants at higher altitudes.
If you're a Bowhead whale and you spend summers in the Arctic—congratulations! Life is good. Your food supply is growing and your waters are warming. Your summer "vacation" lasts a few weeks longer now than it used to (say, back in 1980). That's because there isn't as much sea ice and it doesn't form as early in the fall as it used to.
The sea ice is thinner, too. That's why there's more food for you. The tiny plants you eat, called phytoplankton, grow in the top layer of the ocean. Like all plants, they need sunlight to grow. Since there's less ice, the sunlight can shine through the water better. So, more phytoplankton for you.
Also, you are discovering some of your long-lost relatives. Bowhead whales who live on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Arctic are meeting up with Bowhead whales who live on the Pacific side of the Arctic. You guys have been separated by Arctic ice for eons, but now that a lot of it is melted, you are free to mingle.
You, dear whales, are definitely winners in the warming of the Arctic. But, alas, where there are winners, there are often losers.
Condolences to the polar bears, though. You guys are having a tough time of it with the shrinking ice. Where are you supposed to sit while you eat the meal you have caught in the water? Where can you rest if all the ice chunks are melted? After all, you are not fish that can just live in the water all the time. You are not whales either. You need sea ice to get around, to hunt, to find a mate and, in some areas, to make a den and have cubs.
Of 19 groups of Arctic polar bears, seven are losing members. Scientists don't have enough data yet on several of these groups. However, at the rate the Arctic ice is melting, it's likely that the polar bears will continue to struggle.
Why do we talk so much about the Arctic?
While the overall temperature of Earth is rising, temperatures in the Arctic are rising 2 to 3 times faster than temperatures farther south. This situation is called "Arctic amplification."
Why does this happen?
As you may know, light colors reflect more sunlight than dark colors. That's why people are more comfortable in light-colored clothing in the summer. In the same way, sea ice reflects more sunlight than does the darker ocean. As the sea ice melts, there's less "white" to reflect the sunlight and more "dark" to absorb it. So the ocean gets a little warmer. And more sea ice melts, and the darker water absorbs even more sunlight and heat.
And so it goes, in what scientists call a positive feedback loop, or "vicious circle."
What other living things will be winners or losers in the Arctic?
Scientists are keeping a close watch on conditions in the Arctic. It is a clear indicator of how rapidly Earth's climate is changing.
Rivers are essential to the health of the Earth. They are among the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Rivers can be degraded by many human activities, including pollution, channelization and watershed destruction – but dams have the greatest impacts.
Dams are barriers that hold back water and raise the water level, resulting in a reservoir. They are constructed for electric production, flood control, water supply and irrigation. Despite their benefits to humans, dams are destroying riparian ecosystems.
With an ever-increasing demand for energy and water, the amount and size of reservoirs is increasing around the world. Environmental consequences are outnumbering the benefits of dams – which degrade water quality, disrupt flows, affect the movement of sediment and nutrients, destroy habitats, and reduce recreational options. Dam reservoirs also slow and widen rivers, raising their temperatures. Water quality is degraded, and non-native species invade the ecosystems.
There is no such thing as “clean hydro power” on a large-scale. Hydro dams result in fluctuations in downstream flows, dewater stream channels, and cause the death and reduction of aquatic species.
Dams eliminate habitats both in the reservoirs and in the river below. Migratory fish may not survive their downstream travel, faced with numerous man-made obstacles. The return trip is even more challenging. Dams also contribute to global warming. Within the last 20 years, large dam methane emissions have equaled about the equivalent of 7.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
Degraded water quality results when organic materials from in and outside rivers build up behind dams. When the movement of sediment is disrupted, materials build up at the mouth of the reservoir, starving downriver ecosystems of vital ingredients. These backed-up materials, when decomposing, consume large amounts of oxygen, often resulting in algae blooms that create oxygen-starved “dead zones”. Temperatures of the water are affected, threatening marine life. When the oxygen-deprived, temperature affected water is released, downstream ecosystems also suffer.
Dam Development Out of Control
The United States has built thousands of dams, while some countries are just beginning to construct dams and are doing so at a disturbingly fast rate. Withing the next 30 years, thousands of new dams are expected to be constructed globally. Seventy percent of rivers impacted by the new dam construction are home to the greatest diversity of fish species on the planet. The irreversible destruction caused by these dams will affect both people and wildlife.
The Three Gorges Dam in China, built on the Yangtze River in 2003, supports a catchment area of almost 400,000 square miles. The Hubei region in which the dam is situated is home to 6,300 species of plants, 57 percent of which are endangered. This Central Yangtze region also supports 378 species of freshwater fish, 280 species of mammals and 166 species of reptiles. The project has severely affected temperatures of water and flow patterns that has taken a toll on aquatic life surrounding it. Instances of rotating turbine blades injuring fish abound. The most serious case of wildlife abuse has been the complete extinction of the Baiji, or Chinese river, dolphin.
Destruction of wetlands in the wake of the Three Gorges project has driven away tens and thousands of the rare Siberian crane that come to spend winters there. Today, only around 3,000 of these majestic birds are to be sighted in these wetlands. The Yangtze sturgeon, a species of fish endemic to the waters of this region, have been nearly driven to extinction. To make matters worse for wildlife survival, the human population in the Yangtze River Basin has doubled in the last 50 years which resulted in more dams to cater to the energy and irrigation needs of probably the biggest concentration of human population in the world. The number of dams in China is now 80,000, a majority of which have been constructed after 1949. What this has done to ecosystems and the biodiversity it supports is unfathomable.
Similarly, hydro power projects on the Mekong, Congo and Amazon rivers have caused incalculable losses to the once rich biodiversity and wildlife abounding their catchment areas. Dam construction on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, threaten the existence of 50 species of fish unique to the waters of the lower Xingu.
Dams interfere with the natural water flow of rivers and cause intense harm to downstream flora and fauna. Dam projects on the Mekong River in South-East Asia are causing massive disruption to aquatic ecosystems the river supports. Nearly two-thirds of the freshwater fish are long-distance migratory species that travel downriver for spawning in the Lower Mekong. The construction of dams on the upper Mekong has blocked such migratory routes, causing a huge drop in the population of such fish. A massive reduction in commercial fish catch by as much as 30 percent is a poignant indicator of this.
The above are not just isolated instances; hundreds of them occur in various parts of the world. Forest areas totaling 9 million hectares have been submerged as a result of the 1,800-odd dams constructed between 1980 and 2000. Ecosystems supporting flora and fauna were obliterated overnight. Unlike humans, wild animals are incapable of being forewarned of impending floods and this creates panic among them. Wary of leaving their habitat, some of them simply drown and the more fortunate migrate to safer but unknown territories.
Canals or drainage for irrigation purposes can also act as obstructions to wildlife habitats; so can power lines cutting through forest patches. Dams also affect the biosphere by way of greenhouse emissions.
Nearly 500 dam projects are currently in the pipeline worldwide. This spells danger to the 4,000 unique species of fish in just three major rivers systems alone – the Amazon, the Mekong and the Congo. What lies in store in numerous other river systems of the world are the extinction of many fish and other aquatic species, the decimation of floodplains, wetlands and farmlands that support a vast array of bird life, and erosion of coastal deltas.
As communities begin to realize that the environmental, economic, and cultural consequences of dams outweigh the benefits, dam removal is becoming a popular occurrence. Removing dams helps to restore ecosystems and river flow for wild animals while restoring natural nutrient flow and sediment and nutrient flow.
Dam removal can also eliminate safety issues in a community, protect wetlands and coastal beaches, improve community water quality, restore recreational opportunities, and save taxpayer money.
Dams Are Not The Solution
To meet the needs of a burgeoning human population, plundering of natural resources and destruction of the world's ecosystem have been resorted to, posing a grievous threat to the future of Earth's wildlife. Among the millions of pinpricks inflicted on nature by man, one has been the wanton construction of dams.
Despite the construction of such a huge multitude of dams, over a billion people still are deprived of clean drinking water. Two billion are bereft of basic sanitation, and a similar number still lack electricity.
Scientific studies have shown that dams are not the green, clean and economical source of electricity they are made out be. For the sake of the world's dwindling wildlife population, governments and authorities must pay heed to their plight.
New technologies offer more environmentally responsible alternatives to dams. More efficient energy sources – including wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, wave and biomass options – can help eliminate our dependence on dams. Residential, commercial, and agricultural water reduction is also an effective solution to reducing the need for dams.
As the population of the world grows, more mouths to feed means more land needed for agriculture. Where will the land come from? From the denudation of forests, of course.
Rather than focusing on sustainable forms of vegetable farming, the modern farming industry continues to promote animal agribusiness. Raising animals for food results in massive amounts of forest destruction. It takes 12 times as much land, 13 times more fuel and 15 times more water to make a pound of animal protein than to make a pound of plant protein.
Subsistence agriculture is farming carried out with the sole aim of feeding the farmer and his family. Nearly half of the world's deforestation has been a result of subsistence farming. But commercial agriculture is now responsible for another third of the planet's deforestation, with one more acre of land cleared every second.
Up to the year 1947, nearly 6.2 million square miles of tropical forest covered the earth. Only 3.2 square miles remain now. Tropical forests hold 80% of the world's biodiversity. With the destruction of forests, entire ecosystem – in which millions of species of animals and organisms once thrived – are being eliminated.
Seventy percent of the Earth's plant and animals dwell in forests, and deforestation affects them directly. Once their habitat is lost, they are on their way to extinction. According to recent estimates, the world is losing 137 species of plants, animals and insects every day to deforestation. A horrifying 50,000 species become extinct each year.
Of the world's 3.2 million square miles of the planet's rain forests, 2.1 are in the Amazon alone. But much of these forests are vanishing at an alarming rate. The Brazilian Government's incentive to the meat and leather trades in the early 1990's led to massive deforestation between the years 1991 and 2004. During this time, jungles cleared in the Amazon for this purpose alone accounted for an astonishing 15 percent of the world's tropical forest cover. Three decades of continued deforestation have resulted in the complete extinction of 10 mammal, 20 bird, and 8 amphibian species. Another 20 percent of the species that still survive will slowly perish from the loss of habitat.
And it's not just the Amazon. 90 percent of eastern tropical jungles of Madagascar have vanished over the century and endanger the survival of the lemurs – those exotic creatures so unique to this island nation. In Haiti, what remains is a pitiable 1 percent of the original forest acreage. Countries like Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Laos, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana Ivory Coast, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras have lost between 30 to 50 percent of their forest cover within a century. In the United States, 260 million acres of forests have already been lost.
Below is a list of just some of the creatures that may soon be extinct due to massive deforestation.
Mountain Gorilla: The Mountain Gorilla is a critically endangered animal found primarily in the mountains of Rwanda in Central Africa. They captured the public imagination after the screening of the 1981 movie "Gorillas in the Mist". Only about 900 of this species remain today.
The Javan Rhinoceros: This animal is one of the rarest on earth and is listed as 'critically endangered' by the The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). There are just 60 of these animals surviving in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia.
The Bornean Orangutan: Illegal logging, a rampant palm-oil industry, and forest fires have taken a toll on one of the most intelligent species in the world. It is on the critically endangered list of the IUCN.
The Giant Panda: Ecological changes have accounted for the numbers of this lovable creature plummeting in a habitat in the Sichuan province of China.
The Golden Lion Tamarin: This tiny animal of the Amazon forest has seen its habitat evaporate in the face of extensive soy farming and timber-felling, which is why it finds itself in the IUCN's critically endangered list.
Organizations have endeavored to protect the forests of the world and its denizens for the past 50 years. Bill will it be enough? Forests now cover only 31 percent of the planet's surface. Unless drastic measures are taken to protect them from further denudation, that number will reduce to 10 percent by the year 2030. With so little forest cover, what the effect on the environment and wildlife will be is hard to imagine.
Conservation is the protection of things found in nature, including species, their habitats and ecosystems. It encourages the sensible use of the planet’s natural resources so they do not go extinct, and promotes keeping the environment clean and healthy.
The rapid decline of established biological systems around the world means that conservation biology is often referred to as a "Discipline With a Deadline" - we must act before it is too late.
Conservation is classified as either on-site conservation, which is protecting an endangered species in its natural habitat, or off-site conservation, which occurs outside of their natural habitat.
● In-situ (on-site) conservation involves protecting or cleaning up the habitat or defending the species from predators.
● Ex-situ (off-site) conservation may be used when in-situ conservation is too difficult or impossible. Animals may be removed from a threatened habitat and placed in a new location, which may be a wild area or within the care of humans.
Non-interference may also be used, which is called preservation.
Preservationists advocate for giving areas of nature and species a protected existence without interference from the humans. In this regard, conservationists differ from preservationists, as conservation engages society to seek solutions for both people and ecosystems.
Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and seeks to control pollution and protect plant and animal diversity.
Animal advocates believe humans have a moral responsibility to treat animals with respect, and that the interests of humans and animals should be considered equally.
ECOLOGY: PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY
Ecology is the relationship of living things to each other and what is around them. It includes not only how those living things interact with each other, but how they interact with their physical environment, such as soil, water and climate.
Scientists who study ecology are called ecologists. They learn about living things by observing, seeing what happens, then recording what they find - all part of the scientific method.
Some ecologists study a specific habitat or species. They might study the behavior of a certain type of animal to learn how it interacts with the environment or other organisms. Or they may study many different species that depend on, or compete with, each other. What ecologists learn from their observations helps us to preserve biodiversity.
BIODIVERSITY: THE VARIETY OF LIFE
Biodiversity refers to the all the variety of life on the planet, or the total variety of life in a certain area. It includes all the different species of plants, animals, fungi, and even microorganisms and bacteria on earth or a given area.
Biodiversity takes into account the similarities and differences among individuals of the same species, and includes communities of plants and animals that interact together.
We don’t know the total number of species in our world, but there are tens of thousands of species of plants and animals discovered so far, and more being discovered everyday.
Conserving animals and plants is important for the benefit of humans and the benefit of other species. Individual species help meet our basic needs, including providing materials for food, clothing, shelter and fuel. Plants produce the oxygen we need to breathe, and are the source of many medicines. Insects pollinate crops and control pest populations. Birds, reptiles, frogs and amphibians control insect and other animal populations. Microorganisms decompose waste and recycle nutrients. Biodiversity also provides us with recreation and contributes to our physical, mental and spiritual well being. Every species contributes to our world in its own unique way. Loosing any one species affects the balance of nature.
Threats to Biodiversity
Human activities on earth in the last century have led to an enormous amount biodiversity loss, which continues to increase. The number of plants and animals becoming extinct exceed those of prehistoric mass extinctions. Loss of biodiversity also leads to genetic diversity loss and a loss of ecosystems.
The biggest threats to biodiversity include:
● Pollution: Despite efforts to reduce pollution, pesticides, acid rain, fertilizers and other pollution continue to change the chemical balance of ecosystems, negatively affecting plants and animals.
● Habitat Destruction, Alteration and Fragmentation: The biggest cause in decline of species populations is loss of habitat. Development, wetland filling and other ecologically irresponsible activities reduce and fragment forests, grasslands, deserts and wetland habitats into areas too isolated and too small to support some animals.
● Invasive Species: The spread of invasive, non-native species also changes the composition of wildlife and wild lands, reducing or replacing native plants and animals.
● Illegal Collection and Hunting: Many animals are poached and collected for the pet trade. Commercial hunting has decimated species populations, and led to the extinction of some animals. Fish are threatened by overharvesting.
● Changes in Climate: Changes in the earth’s climate can be difficult for some species to adapt to, eventually leading to extinction.
The threats faced by wildlife around the world continue to increase. Each year, thousands of animal species are lost to extinction. Mountain areas provide one of the last safe havens for endangered plant and animal species. But even these last safe havens are now under threat by irresponsible human activities.
A large number of mammals have taken up homes in mountainous areas. The most cited reason for this is environmental variation, which is the evolution of different species that live in the valleys and mountains. But studies have revealed that the high level of biodiversity in mountains can also be attributed to the protection mountains offer to endangered species. Animals are taking refuge in mountains because we've driven them from other ecosystems.
Mountains provide safety to animals that have come near extinction. But these last safe areas for wildlife are continually faced with a myriad of challenges which include animal agriculture, human development, insufficient water, climatic changes, desertification and declines in biodiversity.
The brown bear once flourished in Asia, North America and Europe. But now they can only be found in mountainous areas due to the threats faced in lowlands. In the past 100 years, only 1% of the entire population of brown bears has survived in the United States.
Pumas, otherwise known as mountain lions, are mostly found in the mountains – especially in the Andes and Rockies. It took its home in these areas primarily due to the threats they face from the activities of man.
Red pandas are mostly found in the Himalayan mountain chain. Even though this region is reasonably inaccessible to humans, the red panda is having a difficult time surviving as bamboo, which it feeds on, continues to be depleted. For the giant panda to survive, three things are important; high mountains with deep valleys, lush bamboo vegetation, and rippling streams – all of which are threatened by human activities.
The golden eagle has its home in the Northern Hemisphere. Like many other endangered species, the number of golden eagles has plummeted due to human actions.
Not only do mountain forests serve as protection for wildlife, but billions of people depend on them for their income. 60% of the world’s fresh water comes from the mountains even though they cover just 12% of the Earth’s surface. The quality and quantity of water supplied to industries and lowland communities is influenced heavily by mountain forests. If there are no forests in the mountains, erosion is bound to occur, leaving the quality of water in jeopardy.
Most cities source their water supply from the mountains. For instance, 95% of Vienna’s water comes from mountain forests of the Northern Alps. Honduras and Tegucigalpa get 40% of their water supply from the cloud forest of La Tigra National Park. 97% of Kenya’s electricity is generated from Mount Kenya using hydroelectric technologies. The Tibetan plateau serves as a water tower for more than 3 billion Asians.
A large amount of carbon in contained in mountain forests. When these mountain forests are lost, a massive amounts of carbon will be released into the atmosphere.
Threats to Mountain Animals
Every day mountain forests continue to face threats from human activities.
As the world’s population continues to increase, farmers are migrating to higher lands, contributing to the depletion of forest life. More than half of Africa’s mountainous areas have been turned into grazing lands. Excessive grazing leads to the destruction of fragile vegetation. 10% is used for growing crops. This practice is unsustainable due to the fact that crops do not do well on highlands. Most mountainous areas are unproductive lands. Only a meager 3% of mountain land is suitable for growing crops.
About 25% of mountain lands across the world have been used for roads, dams, pipelines and mining projects. Every year, billions of minerals are extracted from mountains. Not only does road construction lead to erosion, it also provides easy access to cut down trees.
Mountain habitats are very susceptible to climatic changes. As glaciers continue to melt, snowcaps are receding. Scientists believe this will eventually lead to a series of landslides which will eventually affect water reserves. As climatic conditions continue to change, there will be an increase in the number of pests which further endanger forest life.
Civil wars have a devastating effect on mountain areas. Insurgents base their stations in the mountains. It has been estimated by the United Nations that 67% of African mountain regions have been used for violent activities.
Action Is Needed
Governments have slowly begun to take small steps to reduce forest depletion. National parks are being erected in different parts of the world to conserve some fragile regions and to serve as refuges to endangered species. Although national parks are protected, they are still subject to environmental pressure. The high rate at which animal species are being lost is a clear indication that mountain strongholds are still being attacked by poachers.
Mountains are vital to all life on earth, including humans. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects all life in the lowlands. Lands, freshwaters and even oceans are affected by moutains. Much larger steps must be taken now to save these last wild areas from animal agriculture, development and other human impacts.