Ballona Photography | The 6th Mass Extinction is Here– and it’s Local

The 6th Mass Extinction is Here– and it’s Local

July 30, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

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.

Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.

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.

Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.

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[1]  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?

Habitat Destruction

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:

  • In 2015, the foraging fish populations, seabirds (including pelicans) and many marine mammals rely on for their existence, dropped by 90%.   Now, dozens of forage fish species critical for seabirds and other marine wildlife on the west coast gained landmark federal protection today under a new rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)[ii]  Yet, recreational fishing laws have not been changed nor is there an emergency moratorium on them.
  • Sea Grass and other habitat that serve as fisheries and nurseries have been taken over by invasive species or completely destroyed to the point fish cannot hatch and seabird populations relying on sea grasses as a food source are rapidly dwindling.
  • In addition, the destruction from recreational fishing is not acknowledged, and has little to no oversight or enforcement. Where there is fishing:
    • Fish hooks, nets, and gear are one of the top causes of death to fish-eating birds and marine mammals.
    • Recreational fishermen routinely harvest habitat of aquatic-dependent food sources (i.e., bi-valves (clams, mussels), crustaceans, and crabs) – in many cases to complete annihilation, which the seabirds need to survive. And it’s legal. The south jetty at the mouth of Ballona Creek was nearly wiped out in 2014 with such harvesting. This harvesting in continuing up the Ballona Creek, and even in the Del Rey Lagoon!
    • Some of the biggest hazards to our local sea lions and seals and seabirds are plastic trash (bags, snack containers, six-pack rings, etc.), fishing tackle and nets, and polluted water.

What Can We Do Locally?

  • Get to know your wildlife neighbors - what they need to eat, where they forage, nest, and roost.
  • Notice the stressors impact the Ballona Wetlands and identify ways to mitigate the challenges.
  • Vigilantly protect the precious wildlife that remains by supporting related California Audubon initiatives and other advocacy efforts, such as the Hook, Line, and Sinker Project[i].
  • Consider how to model wildlife and development laws needed to reflect 21st century realities.
  • Support local ecological restoration projects.  Plant native foliage to make sure our wildlife can endure and “Wildlife Certify” your landscape[ii].
  • Celebrate and share that you live in one of the “birdiest” and most wildlife rich urban areas in the country!

[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. 


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