Ospreys’ Recovery From Pollution and Shooting Is a Global Conservation Success Story
By Alan Poole
A hundred years ago, a person wandering the back roads of coastal New England might have come across an odd sight: at the edge of a farmyard, cheek by jowl with pigs and chickens and cows, a tall pole topped with a massive stick nest. And standing guard in the nest, a large brown-backed, white-headed wild bird of prey — an osprey (Pandion haliaetus).
Farmers in this region knew that nesting ospreys were vigilant watchdogs, quick to chase "chicken-hawks" and other predators away. But as fish eaters, ospreys were no threat to farm animals. And they were trusting enough to live comfortably near humans. So farmers lured them by building them places to nest — generally, an old wagon wheel atop a bare pole, mimicking the dead trees in which ospreys had nested for millennia.
Although these clever farmers didn't know it, they were pioneering methods that would help to bring ospreys back from the edge of extinction decades later. As I recount in my new book, Ospreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor, these birds have made a spectacular recovery from chemical pollution, guns and traps, thanks to many dedicated conservationists and an amazing ability to thrive in close quarters with humans.
An osprey fishing in spectacular super slow motion | Highlands - Scotland's Wild Heart youtu.be
Gone in the Blink of an Eye
Up to 1950, ospreys were one of the most widespread and abundant hawks in North America. Few rivers, lakes or ocean shorelines lacked a nesting pair. In certain favorable spots, such as islands along the Atlantic coast, wooded swamps in Florida and western states, and shallow-water lagoons bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Baja California, hundreds of nests were often clustered together in just one or two square miles.
But the bottom dropped out after World War II. Insecticides developed for military use — particularly DDT — flooded onto the civilian market to control farm and forest pests and mosquitoes in towns and villages. These chemicals accumulated in food chains, so ospreys received large doses from the fish they consumed. In their bodies, DDT thinned their eggshells, causing a disastrous drop in the number of eggs that produced live chicks. In addition, other insecticides poisoned nestling and adult ospreys.
By the mid-1960s, the number of ospreys breeding along the Atlantic coast between New York City and Boston had fallen by 90 percent. And, as I document in my book, most other populations in the U.S. and Canada had declined by half to two-thirds.
Spraying DDT in Barker County, Oregon to control spruce budworm, 1955 R. B. Pope / USDA Forest Service / Wikimedia
Ospreys played a lead role in this drama. Their well-documented crash provided concrete data for court cases brought to block indiscriminate spraying. Sanity prevailed: The most lethal and persistent insecticides were banned by the 1970s, giving ospreys and other birds, including the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, a respite in the nick of time.
A Seismic Shift in Nesting Sites
But restoring robust numbers of ospreys to regions where most or all of the breeders were gone required more than just curbing the flow of environmental contaminants. Nest sites were increasingly scarce along shorelines as development consumed old pastoral landscapes. With fewer safe places to raise young, osprey recovery prospects appeared dim, no matter how clean the environment or how abundant local fish populations were.
But concerned naturalists took a cue from those old farmyard nest poles and began to erect new poles in the 1970s and '80s, especially along the broad ribbon of salt marshes hugging the Atlantic seaboard. Ospreys adapted remarkably, zeroing in to nest on these poles, as well as on a kaleidoscope of other artificial sites springing up along U.S. coasts and rivers: power and lighting structures, channel markers and buoys, and more recently, even megatowers supporting cellphone and other electronic communications equipment. Other nesting birds of prey make occasional use of such sites, but ospreys have been the champion colonizers.
No one could have predicted such a dramatic shift a generation ago, or what a boost it would give to osprey numbers. Within just a few miles of where I live along the Massachusetts coast, more than 200 ospreys now nest each year, lured in by abundant nest poles we've built on wide-open marshes. Fewer than 20 ospreys were found here in the 1960s.
This is not an isolated phenomenon. Thousands of pole nests now dot the coastal landscape from Maine to Florida — testimony to persistent work by hundreds of dedicated people. In Florida, at least 1,000 pairs of ospreys have made cell towers their nesting homes. Along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, nearly 20,000 ospreys now arrive to nest each spring — the largest concentration of breeding pairs in the world. Two-thirds of them nest on buoys and channel markers maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, who have become de facto osprey guardians.
A Global Resurgence
These new nests have powered quick growth in numbers, with more ospreys in the U.S. and Canada today than ever before. Many are colonizing new areas.
And this revival extends well beyond the Americas. Ospreys have a global reach, from Scotland to Japan and from the Mediterranean to Australia. Particularly in Europe, where most ospreys were eliminated by guns and traps rather than by insecticides, we are seeing extraordinary recoveries.
Traveling to Europe in the summer of 2016 to research my book, I discovered flourishing new osprey populations. Artificial nest sites — supports built mostly in trees to stabilize existing nests and encourage new ones — were plentiful and packed with young ospreys ready to fledge. In Germany, shallow wire baskets secured atop enormous power pylons provided foundations for hundreds of new nests that had taken hold in areas long-abandoned by ospreys.
Some researchers complain that providing these birds with nest sites is making them "prisoners of platforms" — creating artificial populations where none were meant to be. But rampant coastal development, plus industrial farming and forestry in surrounding regions, have badly degraded the landscapes in which ospreys once thrived. To have robust numbers of this species back again is a reward for all who value wild animals, and a reminder of how nature can rebound if we address the key threats.
In a rare bipartisan push, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a major public lands package on Tuesday… https://t.co/r7qYOSF7DH— John Lundin 🌊 (@John Lundin 🌊)1550151386.0
Alan Poole is a research associate at Cornell University and the author of Ospreys: the Revival of a Global Raptor.
Disclosure statement: Johns Hopkins University Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
- Tigers and Wolves: The Reigning Cats and Dogs in Conservation ... ›
- Bald Eagle Nest Spotted in Cape Cod for First Time Since 1905 - EcoWatch ›
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
- Coral Reef Tipping Point: 'Near-Annual' Bleaching May Occur ... ›
- Scientists Warn Humanity in Denial of Looming 'Collapse of ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
To save the planet, we must save the Amazon rainforest. To save the rainforest, we must save its indigenous peoples. And to do that, we must demarcate their land.
A new EarthxTV film special calls for the protection of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous people that call it home. EarthxTV.org
- Meet the 'Women Warriors' Protecting the Amazon Forest - EcoWatch ›
- Indigenous Tribes Are Using Drones to Protect the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Rainforest Will Collapse by 2064, New Study Predicts ... ›
- Deforestation in Amazon Skyrockets to 12-Year High Under Bolsonaro ›
- Amazon Rainforest on the Brink of Turning Into a Net Carbon Emitter ... ›
By Anke Rasper
"Today's interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The report, released Friday, looks at the national climate efforts of 75 states that have already submitted their updated "nationally determined contributions," or NDCs. The countries included in the report are responsible for about 30% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions.
- World Leaders Fall Short of Meeting Paris Agreement Goal - EcoWatch ›
- UN Climate Change Conference COP26 Delayed to November ... ›
- 5 Years After Paris: How Countries' Climate Policies Match up to ... ›
- Biden Win Puts World 'Within Striking Distance' of 1.5 C Paris Goal ... ›
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
India's New Delhi has been called the "world air pollution capital" for its high concentrations of particulate matter that make it harder for its residents to breathe and see. But one thing has puzzled scientists, according to The Guardian. Why does New Delhi see more blinding smogs than other polluted Asian cities, such as Beijing?
- This Indian Startup Turns Polluted Air Into Climate-Friendly Tiles ... ›
- How to Win the Fight Against Plastic - EcoWatch ›
In a historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted Thursday to ban hydraulic fracking in the region. The ban was supported by all four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — putting a permanent end to hydraulic fracking for natural gas along the 13,539-square-mile basin, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
- Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report ... ›
- Long-Awaited EPA Study Says Fracking Pollutes Drinking Water ... ›
- Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Much Higher Than ... ›