Friday, October 29, 2010

Bats Fight Frightening Disease

Four years after the first bats were found dead as a result of a mysterious disease known only as white-nose syndrome (WNS), the epidemic has spread from upstate New York across the Mississippi River. Over one million bats have been killed by the disease, despite cave closures and other efforts to stop it's spread.

WNS is a disease that strikes hibernating bats in cave ecosystems. It's so named because of the white growth that appears on afflicted bats' noses, though the fungus has also been found on bats' ears, tails, belly and wings. Bats affected by WNS
often exhibit signs of starvation, leading scientists to conclude that the disease may be causing bats to wake up more often during winter, depleting their stored energy reserves.

In addition to being an iconic symbol of Halloween and an often maligned and misunderstood creature, bats serve a critical role in our ecosystem. Supreme predators of flying insects, they're able to consume over one thousand mosquitoes in a single hour. In their absence, farmers would be forced to use increased pesticides and insect-borne illnesses would rise. Bats also serve as pollinators and seed dispersers in some environments.

WNS is a threat to at least 9 species of bats, 2 of which are already endangered. The Indiana and gray bats could face catastrophic loss and potential extinction if the disease's spread isn't stopped.

A 2008 study identified the fungus responsible for the disease as Geomyces destructans, but prevention solutions have proven evasive. No definitive cure has been found and despite efforts to halt the westward encroachment of the disease, it continues to spread.

We've partnered with our member group Bat Conservation International to implore the Administration to fund research while there's still time to prevent the threat of extinctions.  

You can take action to help save bats today by sending President Obama a letter asking him to fund WNS research.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill After 6 Months

Six months after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, unleashing a violent leak that would take months to cap, the crisis continues for wildlife in the Gulf.

As of October 14th, the most recent published update, 6104 birds, 605 sea turtles and 97 mammals have been found dead as a result of the nearly 200 million gallons of oil displaced into Gulf waters. Tragically, these estimates are unknowably low as recovery efforts were limited by regulations preventing greater NGO access to oiled wildlife.


The clean up continues in the Gulf, with some 500,000 miles of shoreline still having oil visible and many more with oil buried beneath the surface. Dispersants such as Corexit, the chemicals used to allow oil to sink, may have prevented greater amounts from washing ashore but have never been used on that scale and have their own toxicity issues.

The full scope of the disaster and it's effects on the region's wildlife won't be known for years. Millions of gallons of oil remain both ashore and floating at various depths within the sea, causing species that rely on that habitat to interact with the toxic mix.

There is however, hope for recovery. Operations to relocate sea turtle eggs to safer nesting areas were somewhat successful and over a thousand birds have been released, in some cases following extensive rehabilitation.  Efforts are ongoing by organizations working in the region to dissuade migratory birds from entering oiled areas through the use of annoyance devices in areas still unsafe due to oil and the construction of alternate habitat.

Politically, the response has been largely disappointing. The moratorium on new offshore oil drilling put in place following the blowout was prematurely lifted earlier this month with no new attempts to enact wildlife or environmental protections and Congressional efforts to respond to the crisis have stalled. Revised regulatory measures to allow greater search and recovery access to non governmental organizations met with resistance, likely resulting in needless loss.

The Endangered Species Coalition will continue to vigorously advocate for full Endangered Species Act compliance and the enactment of policies that would allow qualified organizations and wildlife recovery experts to assist in future spill events.

You can find out more about impacted species and take action to help them at oilspillwildlife.org.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010-Water

Today is Blog Action Day 2010 (#BAD10 on twitter). The Endangered Species Coalition is honored to be a part this year and we're excited that change.org is creating a worldwide discussion about water.

If you have not already, please sign the petition in the sidebar to United Nations Secretary Ban Ki Moon urging him to prioritize the Millennium Development Goal to reduce by half the number of people worldwide without access to clean, safe water.

The global water crisis is already impacting species. Loss of freshwater habitat is increasingly a factor in the severe decline in Pacific salmon populations. The lack of sufficient fresh water in California is causing conflicts between farmers and fishermen and nearly led to unprecedented Congressional action that would have overridden the Endangered Species Act.

Against that backdrop, it's imperative for the survival of marine species that we prioritize maintaining the health of the world's water.

The Earth's oceans are increasingly affected by human activities. The United Nations called last year for a global ban on plastic bags to address the accumulation of plastics in our oceans that has led to floating garbage islands, some as big as the state of Texas. Plastic is the most prevalent component of marine debris and is responsible for significant loss of marine life. Endangered sea turtles mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish due to the similar appearance and movements and subsequently ingest them. A recent United Nations study found that 94% of fulmars in the North Sea had plastics in their stomachs. Endangered monk seals and even sperm whales have been known to swallow the bags and suffocate, drown or starve as a result.

Worldwide efforts to regulate the use of plastic bags have had varying levels of success. China banned them in 2008, reportedly saving millions of barrels of oil and certainly keeping untold amount of plastic out of it's waterways. Ireland has heavily taxed them and several U.S. cities and states, as well as the District of Columbia, have taken a similar tack.

Offshore oil extraction has of course had the most visible and recent impact on our oceans. The BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in April and ensuing spill dumped an estimated 185 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The total loss of marine life directly attributable to the spill is nearly unknowable but thousands of birds, turtles and marine mammals have been found dead or visibly oiled in the months since the spill.

Six of the world's seven species of sea turtles make their home in the Gulf, all are listed as threatened or endangered. The spill happened during their peak nesting season, likely causing significant loss to future generations as oil fouled the beaches on which the turtles lay their eggs. The turtles were forced to swim through the oil and were at one point being burned alive in careless attempts to dispose of the leaked oil.

As many as 44 endangered or threatened species  remain at risk due to the oil spill. These include a variety of birds such as the brown pelican and piping plover, endangered blue and finback whales, and West Indian Manatees.

The long term effects of the BP spill won't be known for decades. Using the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska as an example, we can see that the future is perilous for Gulf species. Oil is still being found in the spill zone decades later, leading to multiple species' inability to recover.

The spill impacted an already ailing Gulf. A hypoxic area, or "dead zone" of nearly 8000 square miles forms yearly as nitrogen and phosphorous swept into the Mississippi and Atchafalaya is carried into the Gulf. This stimulates excessive algae growth and ensuing oxygen depletion forcing marine life to either flee the area or suffocate. This year's dead zone was among the largest ever.

Our world and it's species depend on clean water. It's vital that we make the sometimes difficult but necessary choices to protect those resources. Safeguarding species and their habitat by protecting our coasts and  waterways not only benefits wildlife but greater society as we depend on some of those same waterways as sources for drinking water. 

To find out how you can help, visit our website at stopextinction.org.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Moratorium Lifted Amidst Unresolved Wildlife Threats

The Obama Administration lifted it's moratorium on new off shore oil drilling on Tuesday, unveiling what U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar described as the "gold standard" of safety regulations for drilling deeper than 500 feet. The moratorium was enacted May 28, 2010, by DOI in response to safety concerns following the BP Deepwater Horizon incident that released 185 million gallons of oil into Gulf waters.

The new regulations, however important, do not address the ongoing threats to wildlife. The premature lifting of the moratorium saw no new attempts to protect the 40+ endangered & threatened species in the Gulf region, where much of the new drilling would occur.

Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition said, "Scientists are just beginning to understand the impact that the oil spill has had to endangered species and other wildlife.  The last spill should have been a very clear lesson to us that we humans are intricately connected to nature.  Prematurely lifting the oil drilling moratorium before we know enough about how to protect wildlife puts all living creatures at risk, including ourselves."

The moratorium was set to expire November 30th, but the Administration was pressured by industry interests and Members of Congress to lift it sooner. In one such effort, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) blocked the appointment of the White House budget director in protest.

To learn more about the ongoing impacts to Gulf wildlife and what you can do to help, please visit our spill response site Oil Spill: Wildlife Crisis.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Victory For Sound Science at DOI

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an order last Thursday directing the department and all its bureaus to ensure the scientific integrity of those agencies and protect whistle blowers in the event they should "uncover and report scientific misconduct by career or political staff".

Secretary Salazar stated that the new policy "defines the roles and responsibilities of all department employees, including career staff and political appointees, in upholding principles of scientific integrity and conduct."

In advocating for an enhanced scientific integrity policy, the Endangered Species Coalition coordinated with our member groups and other scientific and conservation organizations to hold meetings and submit testimony in favor of a robust scientific integrity policy.

Additionally, over 1200 comments were submitted to Secretary Salazar by ESC activists demanding improvements to the policy.

The order takes effect immediately and, assuming it's followed in spirit, is a win for sound science and for endangered species that have seen decisions made by the department improperly influenced in the past.

We hope the Administration continues to support sound science based policy in the Gulf, Arctic and across the United States.