By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
A major biodiversity conference kicked off in Marseille last week with the release of the latest Red List of Threatened Species. The first such list dates to 1964, in the latest, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessed the health of the world’s biodiversity.
The IUCN found more than 38,500 of the 138,374 species assessed – 28% – to be threatened with extinction. Broken down by type of species, that translates to 41% of amphibians, 26% of mammals, 34% of conifers, 14% of birds, 37% of sharks and rays, 33 % of reef corals, and 28% of selected crustaceans.
According to Common Dreams, ‘Red List of Threatened Species’: A Grim Tally of Those Facing Extinction:
“The red list status shows that we’re on the cusp of the sixth extinction event,” the IUCN’s Head of Red List Unit Craig Hilton-Taylor told Agence France Presse on the eve of the congress.
“If the trends carry on going upward at that rate, we’ll be facing a major crisis soon.”
The Marseille conference runs through the 11th of September and has drawn prominent speakers, including French president Emmanuel Macron and actor Harrison Ford. As reported by the Guardian, Emmanuel Macron: ‘There is no vaccine for a sick planet’:
Speaking at the opening of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the president echoed warnings from leading scientists that humanity must solve ongoing crises with climate and nature together or solve neither, urging the world to catch up on preventing the loss of biodiversity.
“There is no vaccine for a sick planet,” Macron said, detailing the urgent tasks of phasing out pesticide use, ending plastic pollution and eradicating raw materials linked to deforestation of rainforests from supply chains around the world.
In a lengthy speech, he said the world must agree goals and make financial commitments for nature equivalent to those for the climate, and said he would push for Earth’s polar regions to be recognised as common global assets at the launch of the congress.
Ford seems to be aware of the scope of the problem. Alas, this isn’t a movie, and he cannot throwing those terrorists off of Air Force One a far easier task than fixing the biodiversity crisis.
— Conservation Intl (@ConservationOrg) September 3, 2021
According to Common Dreams:
The main message from the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which opened Friday in Marseille, France, is that disappearing species and the destruction of ecosystems are no less existential threats than global warming.
At the same time, climate change itself is casting a darker shadow than ever before on the futures of many species.
Habitat loss, overexploitation and illegal trade have hammered global wildlife populations, but scientists say they are increasingly worried about the looming threats of climate change.
What Can Be Done?
The biodiversity crisis is just one existential threat facing the planet. I’m in Brooklyn at the moment and last week had first-hand experience of extreme weather, when Tropical Storm Ida stalled over the city, dumping lots of rain and causing widespread flooding. Wednesday my husband and I stayed awake through the worst of the storm, hoping that our house wouldn’t flood. We had a small surge of water come into the downstairs foyer under the stoop, one drain backed up, and a mall slick of water appeared in the basement. Prompt action, plenty of towels and a wetvac took care of the water, which didn’t cause any lasting damage. Many others weren’t so lucky. Seeing some of the reports of extensive flooding of basements and the subway, I realize we got off very easy.
NYC isn’t alone in seeing climate change. Wildfires in Europe, Siberia, and the western U.S., flooding in China, Germany, and New Orleans, drought and extreme heat in the western U.S. and Canada, offer nearly daily reminders of how the planet’s weather is changing – and not for the better.
World leaders are uttering pretty words in Marseille, but as with many other environmental crises, proposed solutions don’t seem to match the magnitude of the problems – either in scope or degree. Per the Guardian:
In a recorded message, the Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang said countries must work together to create a “clean and beautiful world”, highlighting the enormous journey of a herd of Asian elephants in Yunnan as an example of China’s growing success with conservation efforts.
“Many places have been hit by rare storms and floods. The weather events pose a severe threat to the survival and development of humanity, and make protecting nature and global not-traditional security issues more prescient,” Li said.
Protecting Piping Plovers
I don’t want to close this post bogged down in this environmental slough of despond. So at risk of appearing to be a Pollyanna – irrationally upbeat in the face of civilisation-ending threats, I’ll risk mentioning another article I read today over breakfast, Threatened Birds Have a Defender on N.Y. Beaches: The Plover Patrol. The article discusses the activities of a group of volunteers, the NYC Plover Project, who patrol local beaches to help protect the endangered piping plover, a wee shorebird. About one hundred of the roughly 8,000 of these birds remaining in the world nest in NYC.
The project’s website discusses the recent launch of a volunteers program in conjunction with partners at the National Park Service at Gateway National Recreation Area. Every day, over 50 volunteers connect with beachgoers at Fort Tilden, Jacob Riis and Breezy Point Tip, raising awareness about piping plovers nesting on these beaches.The project also works with schools and educators along the Rockaway Peninsula. From the website:
We are an unwavering voice for Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds as residents of the Rockaways, Queens and NYC. We are looking to work with elected officials and agencies alike, to make sure we are doing all we can to protect these magnificent birds. If you are a NYC elected official, or work for one, please reach out to us!
We showcase information about the Piping Plover and other at-risk shorebirds. We seek to engage the public with photography and up-to-date scientific information about Piping Plovers.
The NYT article is well worth a read and contains some great photos of piping plovers and a ghost crabs. Many people are unaware of the perilous existence these tiny birds lead. It’s all too easy for unaware beachgoers to stumble over them birds, or trod on their nests, crushing them or their eggs. Unleashed dogs pose another common hazard.
Chris Allieri recently started the NYC Plover Project. Per the NYT:
Mr. Allieri, 47, lives in Brooklyn and owns a public relations company that specializes in clean energy and climate technologies. He saw his first plover as a child with his father, an avid birder, at the Jersey Shore. He said it was like seeing “a unicorn.”
Last year, Mr. Allieri was at Fort Tilden Beach at Gateway National Recreation Area in Queens when a plover appeared next to him on the beach. Then he saw another, and another.
He also saw dogs, off-leash, chasing the fragile birds.
“Who’s protecting them?” Mr. Allieri said.
He spent much of the first summer of the coronavirus pandemic photographing plovers and communicating with the National Park Service, which oversees Gateway.
This spring Mr. Allieri started the Plover Project to educate beachgoers about the birds and to call authorities if necessary to protect them.
Plovers have seen their coastal habitat destroyed by human development and erosion. At one point there were barely more than 720 breeding pairs of Atlantic piping plovers
The birds are federally protected under the Endangered Species and Migratory Birds Treaty Acts. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were a total of 5,983 cases investigated in 2020 under both acts, of which investigations into plovers make up a fraction.
Plover chicks begin to run and feed on their own practically from birth, and they are mostly defenseless against predators like ghost crabs, gulls and raccoons, among many others. Human proximity can prevent the chicks from feeding, which can be a death sentence.
Alas, the birds arrive at NY and NJ beaches in March and stay through the autumn, when they migrate south again for the winter. Their Mid-Atlantic sojourn coincides with our peak beach season. From the NYT:
That timing is unfortunate, and some beachfront communities have resented the birds for decades because protecting them often means restricting beaches.
Whole stretches of beach can be cordoned off. Walking dogs, flying kites, lighting fireworks or off-roading to a secluded spot for fishing are banned. Anyone caught harming a plover can face stiff financial penalties and even jail time.
Protecting the birds can also mean capturing or killing animals that eat them, like foxes in New Jersey or feral cats on Long Island, actions that have angered residents. In the Hamptons, some homeowners turned against the birds, so much so that one outspoken critic published a recipe for spit-roasted plover in a local newspaper.
The village of West Hampton Dunes on Long Island was incensed over plover regulations, which required fencing about half its beaches, erecting protective structures around nests and hiring “plover monitors,” who patrol the sands and keep cars moving at a crawl on nearby roads, said the mayor, Gary Vegliante.
“We were quarantined from our beach,” Mr. Vegliante said.
But over the years residents have mostly come to accept the restrictions, Mr. Vegliante said. “The birds are cute, nobody wants to see them abandoned or lost,” he said.
The private citizens who participate in the NYC Plover Project have no legal authority to take direct actions against anyone who threatens the plovers or their habitat. They must call on the U.S. Park Service to deal with difficult situations. Per the Grey Lady:
U.S. Park Police enforce the laws that protect plovers and other threatened species on the Queens beaches that Mr. Allieri watches. But there are only so many park rangers available. Mr. Allieri’s group is a big help monitoring miles of beach, said Tony Lordo, a lieutenant with the Park Police.
“It’s the extra eyes and ears, that’s really what we need,” Lt. Lordo said at Fort Tilden Beach.
The Park Service partnered with Mr. Allieri and helped teach him and the volunteers about conflict de-escalation and the best way to approach people on the beach.
Many people, he said, are eager to learn about plovers, which are undeniably cute — their chicks look like a kindergartner’s art project, a pair of cotton balls glued to pipe cleaner legs.
Samantha Philbert, 30, said she joined the Plover Project because she found the birds “adorable.”
Few of the species on the IUCN Red List are quite as adorable as the piping plover, which is an exceptionally cute bird. Watching them skitter about a beach to the water’s edge always makes me chuckle. But it seems much of what the group has done so far is merely to raise awareness that these birds exist, as well as to draw attention to threats to their survival. Such conservation consciousness-raising can more broadly apply to protecting other vulnerable birds, especially nesting shorebirds. I imagine other critters – sea turtles, for example – also might benefit from similar general conservation awareness efforts. I’ve never seen a sea turtle in Long Island, but I understand Long Island Sound hosts five different species of turtles, see Sea Turtles of Long Island Sound.
It’s a laudable aim to make more people aware that many species nest along our sea coasts and that their eggs are fragile and easily damaged. Dogs shouldn’t romp freely in nesting areas, but should be leashed, or in some sensitive areas, banned entirely. And a walk along the public beach, looking out for the plovers, might alleviate – for a moment at least – broader worry over the catastrophic worldwide loss of biodiversity.