Saturday, June 8, 2013

Current Events: Environmental News

Several environmental issues made the news this week, two of them good and one bad.  Since this past Wednesday was World Environment Day, I thought I would share these stories:

1) Frog Thought Extinct Is Rediscovered

From National Geographic

The Hula painted frog (Latonia nigriventer), long thought extinct, was recently rediscovered in the Hula Valley of Israel.  This frog was the first amphibian to be declared extinct, and prior to its rediscovery was last seen in 1955.  It is the only living member of the genus Latonia, and is considered a rare "living fossil", a species that has not changed in millions of years and has few or no living close relatives.  It is believed that the current population numbers 100 to 200 frogs, but because much of its original habitat was destroyed when the wetlands of the area were drained, the survival of the Hula painted frog is still of concern.

2) Ancient Australian Lake in Pristine Condition

From Australian National University

After analyzing lake parameter data collected over 117 years, scientists from the University of Adelaide have concluded that Australia's Blue Lake has remained essentially unchanged for 7,500 years.  The discovery is so remarkable that one scientist has dubbed this lake "God's bathtub".  While other lakes in the area have been severely impacted by drought brought on by climate change, Blue Lake remains pristine, due to the fact that its water is renewed on a regular basis from an underground aquifer, allowing lake levels and chemistry to remain constant.  This lake has been a refuge to the freshwater biota of the region, but scientists warn that even a tiny amount of human influence could cause drastic changes to this fragile ecosystem.

3)  United States Atlantic Puffin Population in Peril

From KOMO News

In the United States, the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) could be in trouble, and there are signs that these seabirds are at risk in other parts of the world as well.  Puffin breeding colonies are only found in localized areas of coastal Maine in the US.  Recently weak and dead starved adult birds have been found washed ashore along the eastern coast, and last summer the survival rate of puffin fledglings in Maine plummeted.  Scientists speculate that shifting fish populations in response to climate change have made it difficult for puffins to find food, especially for their young.  In addition, extreme oceanic conditions have been washing away puffin nesting sites along the coast, further reducing survival rates for the population.  Die-offs and population declines have been noted in other parts of the world as well, such as Iceland.  The Atlantic Puffin population in the United States is of particular concern because it has been brought back from near extirpation once before, when the birds were almost hunted to extinction in the late 1800s.  The recovery of this population was a rare success story, but the Maine puffin population is not large, and huge losses such as the ones being seen now could have a dramatic negative effect on their continued existence in this nation.

I have mentioned before that the Atlantic Puffin is my favorite bird.  At this point the puffins' continued existence in the US seems to be a matter of whether or not the birds can adapt to the changes in Atlantic fish populations, but I hope that in the near future more can be done to help these birds survive.

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