The 6th Mass Extinction is Here– and it’s Local
On a recent trip, I was sharing my website with a fellow photographer who exclaimed, "Oh, you have starfish! And, I had to say no, those disappeared the last half of January, 2014. Then she said "look at all the Pelicans! I can't believe you have that many Pelicans!” And, I had to say, “Well, that was in 2014. In 2015 90% of the fish population the Pelicans feed on collapsed, so very few Pelicans are around anymore.” In March, this year I counted only one Pelican for Audubon’s annual Pelican count. There used to be hundreds. And then she was quite taken with a Black Oyster Catcher photo. And, once again, I had to explain that in 2014 the fishermen wiped out one of the key habitats the Oyster Catchers relied on and I only see one, maybe two, at a time now rather than a half a dozen like I used to.” After that I left the room.
The Black Oyster Catchers, one of our year-round wildlife neighbors, are on Audubon’s Watch List (Yellow)[i]. In 2014, the Oyster Catcher was designated a climate priority species by Audubon California and is considered an indicator for the health of rocky intertidal shorelines. Threats to this habitat are real and growing: sea level rise, ocean acidification, and increased recreational and commercial use of coastal areas. But there is hope -- we can safeguard this bird as its habitat changes by understanding it better.
The 6th Mass Extinction[i] is real and it's happening with stunning speed in our own backyard. What’s happened to the south jetty at the mouth of Ballona Creek is a small, local example. In the past 60 years, the world has lost 52 percent of its species. On the Pacific Flyway1 alone, 70% of the seabirds are gone. In the next three to four decades, it’s expected that another 40% of the remaining seabirds will be extinct. Per Audubon, the other migrating bird populations are down by 57%. In geological time, these same species, same lineage/same DNA, have been migrating to the same areas for 10s of thousands of years. That this drop has happened in a mere 50-75 years is breathtakingly sudden. Consider this: if 60,000 years is an hour, this is like a collapse happening in .001th (a thousandth) of a second. The birds and rest of nature are not able to response to such rapidly changing conditions. For example, the Ballona Wetlands is a primary west coast estuary for over 200 bird species, and countless other land and aquatic wildlife. Yet, for over 100 years it has been manipulated, compromised, built on, and/or saturated with toxic, chemical by-products. It barely functions as an estuary, much less a robust wetlands. And the wildlife is here is hanging by a thread.
What’s to Blame?
Current land-use policies and practices, which routinely disrupt and destroy natural habitats, are based on 200-year old beliefs. We are just starting to understand how significantly our past approaches have compromised the natural ecosystem functions and nature’s innate ability to replenish and balance itself.
Antiquated Fish and Wildlife “Take” laws,
Fish & Wildlife laws have allowed over harvesting of fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. This has led to indiscriminate fish and wildlife destruction. For example:
What Can We Do Locally?
[i] The term “extinction event” is used to define any period from three to twenty centuries, during which the planet loses 75 percent of its biodiversity (i.e. a “mass extinction”).
[i] Audubon Watch List identify what species are most at risk to be extinct within 30-50 years.
Keywords: 6th Mass Extinction, Ballona Photography, Bev-Sue Powers, Black Oyster Catcher, California Audubon, Pacific Flyway, Urban Wildlife, Urban Wildlife
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