Quantcast

Russian Polar Bear 'Invasion' Is a Sign of Something Much Bigger

Animals
As Earth's rising temperatures shrink Arctic ice, where will polar bears go? Andreas Weith / CC BY-SA 4.0

Authorities in northern Russia's Novaya Zemlya islands declared a state of emergency this weekend after a "mass invasion" of polar bears in the settlement of Belushya Guba, the BBC reported.

Media reports and video footage show the bears eating garbage, appearing near school grounds and entering buildings and residential homes.


Officials said they've never seen anything like it.

"I have been in Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but there has never been so many polar bears in the vicinity," said Zhigansha Musin, a local administrative head, according to Russian news agency TASS.

The bears are considered an endangered species in Russia, so killing them is prohibited. But officials said that if non-lethal means cannot drive the animals away, they might have no choice but to cull them, the BBC noted.

The officials said the bears no longer fear either police patrols or the signals used to scare them away.

Bear invasion - 3 www.youtube.com

Some 52 polar bears have been counted near the settlement since December.

Local official Alexander Minayev said the bears were exhibiting "aggressive behavior," including "attacks on people and entering residential homes and public buildings," AFP reported.

"There are constantly six to 10 bears inside the settlement," he said. "People are scared, they are afraid to leave their homes ... parents are frightened to let their children go to schools and kindergartens."

This story is unfortunate all around, for the village and for the polar bears that might be killed. But the underlying threat, as The Washington Post pointed out, is clearly climate change.

In the Russian Arctic, the polar cap and permafrost is melting twice as fast compared to a decade ago due to rising global temperatures. The dwindling sea ice has forced polar bears to abandon their usual habitats and descend upon human settlements in search of food.

In a statement to TASS, researcher Ilya Mordvintsev of the Severtsev Institute of Ecology and Evolution said the bears were migrating north but stopped in Belushya Guba to find food.

"Compared to previous years, they come ashore in the southern part of the archipelago, where the ice is changing. They migrate through Novaya Zemlya heading north, where the ice is solid," the expert said. "It is migration from the south to the north. They are staying in that location [near Belushya Guba] because there is some alternative food. They could have gone past but for the food. But as there are bins with edible waste, they stop to flock."

Federal authorities in Moscow are sending a team of investigators to look into the situation, AFP reported. So far, they have refused permission to shoot the bears but they have not ruled out a cull.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Hedges, 2019 © Hugh Hayden. All photos courtesy of Lisson Gallery

By Patrick Rogers

"I'm really into trees," said the sculptor Hugh Hayden. "I'm drawn to plants."

Read More Show Less
BruceBlock / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Thanks to their high concentration of powerful plant compounds, foods with a natural purple hue offer a wide array of health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Environmental Investigation Agency

By Genevieve Belmaker

Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.

Read More Show Less
Jessica Kourkounis / Stringer

The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

Pixabay

By Manuella Libardi

Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
XL CATLIN SEAVIEW SURVEY / THE OCEAN AGENCY

Hope may be on the horizon for the world's depleted coral reefs thanks to scientists who successfully reproduced endangered corals in a laboratory setting for the first time, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less

Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.

Read More Show Less
PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Drinking water treated with fluoride during pregnancy may lead to lower IQs in children, a controversial new study has found.

Read More Show Less