Petrel in Peril

Enviros Seek Endangered Status for Channel Islands Bird

Despite the ever-mounting specter of global warming and the efforts on the part of the eco-conscious to fight it, animal populations are nonetheless suffering. And while the polar bears attempt to swim for it in the melting ice of the Arctic, the California coast harbors an imperiled species as well: the ashy storm petrel.

Its territory ranging from Baja, Mexico, to the harbors of San Francisco and even including the Channel Islands, the ashy storm petrel is a nocturnal seabird whose migration, ability to nest, and lifespan are each being threatened by human activity, biologists claim. Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity explained that global warming plays a huge role in the petrel’s plight. “Global warming is an increasing threat to the global ocean,” Wolf said. “The rise in water temperature decreases the productivity.” An overall decrease in migration, nesting success, and lifespan are the results.

Global warming isn’t the only human hatched hazard facing the petrel. In fact, the presence of commercial fishing vessels, oil tankers, and offshore energy terminals interrupts the petrel’s nocturnal habits. The bright lights of the tankers illuminate the petrel’s nesting islands like a full moon, exposing its eggs to predators. Furthermore, this light pollution is also distracting the bird from its normal nesting and foraging. The petrel will circle the unnatural lighting until it becomes exhausted, often to the point of death.

Unfortunately for the ashy storm petrel, help will only come once it has been placed on the Endangered Species list. After months of waiting for a delayed response from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Biological Diversity is fighting back. “The species won’t get any protection until it’s added to the list,” claimed Wolf, who along with other Center for Biological Diversity staff have notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to file suit unless the petrel obtains the defense it deserves.

Until that defense comes, Wolf said she is doing all she can. She stresses the importance of human impacts on ocean life. “The condition of the ashy storm petrel is indicative of how we treat our coastal oceans,” she said.

Chanti Burnette is an Independent intern.

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