Thousands of Migrating Birds Found Dead or Injured in Greece
Thousands of swallows and other migratory birds have died in Greece trying to cross from Africa to Europe this spring.
The birds were buffeted by unusually rough weather, wildlife groups and experts told reporters Thursday.
"It's a major disaster," Maria Ganoti of the wildlife protection group Anima told AFP, in a story published by The Guardian.
Ganoti said the birds had been found injured or dead in the last three days. They have been found on the streets and balconies of Athens, in the country's north, on islands in the Aegean and around a lake in the Peloponnese, AFP reported. The Hellenic Ornithological Society posted images of the carnage on social media.
Οι αντίξοες καιρικές συνθήκες και οι ισχυροί βορινοί άνεμοι έχουν αναγκάσει χιλιάδες μεταναστευτικά πουλιά να διακό… https://t.co/djVyoLm9MM— ornithologiki (@ornithologiki)1586326690.0
The group wrote that the night of April fifth to sixth was especially perilous for the birds. A combination of cold weather, strong winds and few insects exhausted birds that had already crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean. South-blowing winds pushed the birds to North Africa, where they then faced the north-blowing winds of the Aegean and flew towards eastern Greece for rest. The group described what happened next:
On April 6th, the morning light revealed a shocking sight: tens of thousands of birds, chilly and exhausted, were unable to move. Swallows and martins had to rest on the ground, on the blacktop, on balconies, on rooftops and any other surface available. Swifts –a purely airborne species that can not rest on the ground or on a wire– found a temporary shelter by grabbing a wall or by hiding in scuppers or air ducts. Flycatchers filled parks and gardens in Athens and other cities. All this happened throughout Eastern Greece, from southernmost Crete to northernmost Macedonia.
‼️ Δύσκολοι καιροί για τα μεταναστευτικά πουλιά! Τι μπορούμε να κάνουμε για να τα βοηθήσουμε; 👉Δείτε αναλυτικά εδώ:… https://t.co/nFhN4FyEBI— ornithologiki (@ornithologiki)1586349219.0
Greece is in the flight path of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, AFP reported, and storms are a major danger for all migrating birds, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Some deaths are sadly to be expected, and birds have evolved to weather harsh conditions to a certain degree, the Hellenic Ornithological Society explained.
"However, this specific weather combination was unprecedented and pushed entire populations to their limits," the group wrote. "If we take into account all the hardships that human activity brings about during their journey — habitat loss, desertification, illegal killing etc. — these losses could prove devastating."
They urged concerned bird lovers not to approach or feed the resting birds, to protect them from drivers and cats and to call a wildlife center if they encountered one who needed medical help.
Swallows, which were particularly impacted by the harsh weather, are Greece's most popular bird, according to Greek Reporter. Their arrival heralds spring. They also make an incredible journey.
"These birds fly up to 350 kilometers (217 miles) a day, with anticyclones favoring them on their journey as they lift them higher up in the sky," associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Environment at Thessaloniki University Dimitris Bakaloudis explained to Greek Reporter.. "They spent the winter months in southern Sahara and as far as South Africa and start migrating in waves from early March on a route of more than 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles)."
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Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
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