Not Just for Polar Bears: New Climate Report Documents Growing Extinction Risk for Arctic Wildlife

For Immediate Release, September 13, 2010

Contact: Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5301

Not Just for Polar Bears: New Climate Report Documents Growing Extinction Risk for Arctic Wildlife

SAN FRANCISCO— A new report offers a dramatic look at Arctic species being pushed toward extinction by rapid climate change. “Extinction: It’s Not Just for Polar Bears” documents 17 Arctic animals, from Arctic foxes to whales to plankton, struggling to survive the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. It was produced by the Center for Biological Diversity and Care for the Wild International.

“The polar bear is the best-known victim of rapid melting in the Arctic, but if we don’t slash greenhouse pollution, many more creatures will follow it down the path to extinction,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director and lead author of the report.

Some Arctic species have already experienced widespread die-offs and population declines after losing key habitats and food sources; others face extreme weather events or suffer new pressure from predators and pathogens moving northward.

Today’s report comes as Arctic summer sea ice approaches another near-record minimum. Rapid disappearance and thinning of the sea ice is having devastating effects on the many species that depend on it for rearing young, hunting, resting and avoiding predators. Sea-ice loss forces Pacific walrus mothers and calves to come to shore, where young are sometimes trampled to death in stampedes. Early sea-ice breakup prematurely separates ringed and harp seal mothers from their pups before the pups are big enough to survive. Eight of the world’s 19 polar bear populations are declining as they struggle to raise young and hunt for food on shrinking ice sheets.

The oceans have absorbed more than a quarter of all of society’s carbon dioxide emissions, and the addition of this vast quantity of CO2 is changing the chemistry of ocean water, turning it more acidic. The Arctic ocean is becoming corrosive to shell-building creatures like plankton and clams more quickly than temperate waters. It could become lethal to the most sensitive shell-builders by 2050, threatening the marine ecosystem with collapse.

On land, tundra habitat is moving northward, thawing permafrost threatens to drain wetlands, and extreme winter weather events are causing die-offs of Arctic grazers like muskoxen that are prevented from reaching their food. The Arctic fox is disappearing from the southern edge of the tundra as larger, more dominant red foxes move northward and lemming prey grow less abundant as temperatures warm.

”The plight of Arctic species is effectively acting as an early warning system. We need our governments to act now to protect the Arctic ecosystem from collapse,” said Mark Jones, programs director for Care for the Wild International. “If we don’t, the impacts will be devastating, not just for the Arctic, but for the whole planet.”

The report concludes that science-based actions are urgently needed to protect Arctic wildlife. Atmospheric CO2 must be reduced from its current level of 390 parts per million (ppm) to, at most, 325 to 350 ppm to avoid catastrophic impacts from climate change and ocean acidification, and to restore Arctic sea ice to the size it was 25 years ago. Other key actions include curbing powerful, short-lived greenhouse pollutants like black carbon (soot) and methane, preventing new oil and gas development in the Arctic, and reducing threats from overhunting and contaminants.

A link to the report and slideshow can be found here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Care for the Wild International is a charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of wildlife around the world. Working with our partners, we aim to protect wildlife and its habitat, rescue and rehabilitate displaced wild animals, and act as a global voice for wildlife protection through campaigns, research and education.

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Filed under animals, biodiversity, conservation, endangered, environment, environmentalism, extinction, nature, wildlife, zoology

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