According to a new study, scientists estimate that between 600,000 and 800,000 coastal seabirds died because of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, a number far greater than any previous estimate. Understanding the ripple effect of 800,000 coastal birds dying in the Gulf of Mexico is critical to the recovery of this special place. These findings come from a study to be released this summer in Marine Ecology Progress Series, which was recently reported in the New York Times.
This new estimate for bird deaths in the Gulf is unprecedented for an oil disaster. For context, the estimate of dead birds following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was around 300,000.
What are the ecosystem effects of 800,000 birds dying?
Whether novice or expert, birdwatchers in California delight in the avian abundance along the state’s coast. California also boasts the nation’s only statewide network of marine protected areas, providing not only gorgeous places to seek out a stunning diversity of birds but insurance that their most important breeding and feeding grounds have extra protection.
Below is a list of the top bird-watching spots at these “ocean parks,” plus highlights. Additionally, there is information about visiting, plus a link to where you can learn more.
1. Point St. George Reef Offshore State Marine Conservation Area
Crescent City Viewing site, interpretive panel on Pebble Beach Drive, just south of Point St. George
Originally inhabited by the Tolowa Dee-ni’, California’s northernmost coast boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in the state and is dotted with Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas. A wide range of bird species live and migrate around nearby Lake Earl, and the profusion continues at sea, where exposed rocks and underwater ledges make up the St. George Reef. Reaching the protected area requires a boat, but visitors can experience similar conditions from the safety of the shoreline just south of the point, where Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge sits.
The refuge is a modest 14 acres, yet it supports several hundred thousand seabirds each year. Take a spotting scope to Pebble Drive from February to mid-April to catch the dawn fly-off of Aleutian cackling geese. Observe one of the largest breeding populations—100,000—of common murres making their nests along the island’s cliffs. Castle Rock is also home to three species of cormorants, pigeon guillemots, Cassin’s and rhinoceros auklets, Leach’s and fork-tailed storm-petrels, and tufted puffins.
Artist Chris Jordan is best known for his large-scale images that deconstruct huge numbers while making a statement about our mass consumption habits. For example, the tiny pieces of plastic in “Gyre” represent the pounds of plastic that enter the world’s ocean.
The trailer includes some disturbing images of dead and dying birds, but as the narrator says, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?” We can only hope the answer is “yes.”
How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.
Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.
But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.
Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.
The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.
To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration. Continue reading »
When the dog days of summer blast in, there’s nothing like a romp at the beach with your canine friend to beat the heat. My golden retrievers love a beach on the Delaware shore where they are welcome after 5 p.m. for a frolic in the surf. And over the years, I’ve learned a few things that make a good evening great.
Planning ahead makes for the best beach trip possible, so before you head out, find a beach where dogs are allowed and check out the rules on leashing. When outside for longer periods of time, your pup needs the same things you do, including plenty of fresh water and protection from the sun. And remember: The urge to run and swim will be irresistible; if your dog isn’t used to a lot of activity, take it easy to avoid pulled muscles or exhaustion.
I’ve lived in the Gulf of Mexico region my entire life and have seen many natural events ranging from hurricanes to jubilees. But last week I experienced something completely new to me — a songbird fallout.
You may know many species of birds don’t hang out in the same place all year. Like people, they yearn for warmer climes during the cold winter months. Many species make a twice yearly migration, heading South in the fall and North in the spring in search of plentiful food, shelter and perhaps a special bird friend. As if they have a built-in roadmap, these birds travel using several corridors, or flyways, to criss-cross the hemisphere, many of which intersect the Gulf Coast. Abundant food sources, reliability of water, and favorable weather patterns make travel along these flyways as easy as flapping for 1,000 or more miles can be. Continue reading »