Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Newsworks: Why the Red Knot lives and dies by what happens in NJ

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

NewsWorks ran a feature story on red knots and the incredible team of international volunteers who make Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s past two decades of scientific surveys possible.

Read the full story here.

Firing the net so that the shorebirds can be tagged and released. Photo by Bill Barlow.

 

Dick Veitch (left) and Dr. Larry Niles (right)

 

The Importance of water temperatures, windstorms and shoals on the Delaware Bay

Friday, May 19th, 2017

By Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates LLC

As we begin our field work on Delaware Bay shorebirds, our 21st season, oddly enough we are once again faced with extraordinary circumstances. As usual, the birds, after various flight of up to 6 days of nonstop flying, arrive in emaciated conditions. For example, in one catch this week we caught several red knots at around 86 grams far lower than normal weight of 130 grams. Putting that into perspective, a woman of 145 pounds would tip the scale at 93 pounds while a male of 175 pounds at 113 pounds! In other words, these birds are desperate to feed on the only prey on which they can build weight fast, the eggs of Delaware Bay horseshoe crabs.

But the various impacts of climate change and destructive forces of sea level rise, storm surge and out of normal weather patterns can wreak havoc on the timing of the horseshoe crab spawn. It messes with the heating and cooling of the bay and when combined with the normal variation one expects in an estuarine system, it creates almost unpredictable consequences.

Adding more uncertainty to this mix is the ongoing harvest of crabs for bait and the irresponsible bleeding by international medical companies. Both kill hundreds of thousands of crabs every year while doing nothing to create new crabs. Their combined impact has put the brakes on any recovery of the population after they both nearly mortally wounded the Bay population in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Higher numbers of crabs would overcome a lot of early season uncertainty; lower numbers exacerbate them.

And thus, the story of this early part of the shorebird stopover. It starts with the odd weather this April and May. Can everyone remember how warm the weather of this winter? The map below is a reminder that it was one of the warmest on record. The figure below that shows how the Bay’s water warmed early reaching the threshold temperature for horseshoe crab breeding by early May. We trapped sanderling in the first week and were surprised to see a truly great crab spawn on May 4. Thank God for that.

The bays water temperature as measured at the Lewis DE buoy, increased earlier than normal until the first week of May. By that time it reached the threshold for horseshoe crab spawning. But by the second week it plunged as a consequence of the cooler than normal weather.

By the second week of May and yesterday (May 16) temperatures plunged in horseshoe crab world. We generally consider water temperature of near 59 degrees necessary for crabs to spawn in great numbers. We reached 62 degrees on May 4, then it went down to 58 degrees, lingering there for five crucial days.

At the same time, we suffered brutal westerly winds. Wind from this direction gins up waves on Delaware Bay that crash against many of the important crab spawning beaches. Crabs don’t spawn in waves.

Westerly winds turn the Delaware Bay into a tumult of breaking waves because of its relative shallow depth. Horseshoe crabs won’t breed in breaking waves

And just as the first flush of shorebirds came to the Bay, over 5,000 red knots on the New Jersey side, all the spawning shut down. All tried desperately to find enough horseshoe crab eggs to regain lost weight and begin the process of doubling their body weight.

Fortunately, breaking waves and cold water will prevent crabs from spawning on the beaches but not in the intertidal creeks. One of the key features of the New Jersey bayshore are its abundant tidal creeks. Most drain only tidal watersheds, draining and filling marshes twice every day. Naturally they build sand shoals because sand moves around the Bay generally in a south to north direction along the Cape May peninsula. When sand encounters the currents of the creeks, it settles forming shoals.

A small creek just north of Dennis Creek on Delaware Bay. The tidal creek mostly drain tidal marsh, the daily ebb and flow warming the waters making crab spawning possible when the bay waters are too cold

These shoals support most shorebirds during these early days. This is so because the intertidal flow of water into the marsh and out again warms the water that flows over the shoals. The shoals themselves are practically paradise for breeding crabs because of the loosely consolidated and large grain sand. They breed with abandon laying eggs in the shifting sands that brings many of the eggs to the surface where shorebirds can prey upon them. And they do.

This diagram by Joe Smith shows how the creeks of Delaware Bay create superior spawning and shorebird foraging habitat. Sand movement on the Cape May section of the bay moves northward because of tidal currents. This moves sand from south to north. When the American Littoral Society and CWF placed sand on Pierces, Kimbles and Cooks beaches, some part moved northward to the adjacent beaches. Ultimately it ended up on south Reeds making it a great spawning site. But on the way the sand falls out of the current and settles on the creek shoals. These shoals are large grain sand, loosely consolidated, making them perfect for crab spawning. At the same time the shoals shift exposing eggs to the sea, thus making them available to the birds. This is why the shoals are among the most important habitat on the bay.

This is what happens in the early days of this season. It was nip and tuck for most of the scientists, not knowing if the shoal resources would hold up to an ever-growing number of shorebirds arriving in desperate condition.

But today (May 19) we enjoyed warmth with the promise of the season back on track.

In the last 5 days, we were able capture enough knots, turnstones and sanderlings to track conditions and add new flags to the population for a later determination of population size. Despite adversity, so far so good. The data for each species is below.

Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.


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Climate Change is Threatening the Existence of the World’s Most Amazing Bird

Monday, December 15th, 2014

By: Lindsay McNamara, Communications Coordinator

The Rufa red knot (a shorebird) named "Moonbird," or "B95," photographed in a crowd of birds at Fortescue, NJ. Credit: Christophe Buidin.

The Rufa red knot (a shorebird) named “Moonbird,” or “B95,” photographed in a crowd of birds at Fortescue, NJ. Credit: Christophe Buidin.

“Moonbird is the most famous, charismatic member of a group of mid-sized shorebirds called Rufa red knots, whose numbers have plummeted so dramatically in the past several decades that they just became the first bird ever listed under the Endangered Species Act with climate change cited as a “primary threat.”

 

Rufa red knots are among the avian world’s most extreme long range flyers (especially in light of their relatively small size). They travel vast distances — some flying over 18,000 miles — in the course of an annual migration that begins in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and extends all the way up to the Canadian Arctic (and back again).

 

Which brings us to Moonbird’s distinction: Because he is so old — he is at least 21 — he is believed to have flown as many as 400,000 miles in his lifetime. The distance to the moon varies, depending on where it is in its orbit, but the average distance is about 237,000 miles. Thus, Moonbird has not only flown the distance it takes to reach the moon — he has also covered the bulk of the return voyage.

 

Assuming that Moonbird is still living — the last sighting was in May — there are reasons to wonder whether there will ever be another bird that is his equal. Why? Simply put, his subspecies has been devastated, and climate change will only make matters worse — making extreme survival of the sort that Moonbird has achieved that much more difficult.”

 

Washington Post Science and Environment Reporter Chris Mooney explores Moonbird’s journey, threats to the species, and the recent Endangered Species Act listing of the Rufa Red Knot:

 

Learn more:

Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Coordinator for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Climate Legislation Overdue

Friday, May 21st, 2010
Don’t put off by a decade what needs to be started today

by Margaret O’Gorman, Executive Director

Wind turbines stand out in Atlantic City, NJ. © Ben Wurst

Last week Senators Kerry and Lieberman released a draft of their new Senate energy bill called “The American Power Act.” At the heart of this bill is an effort to develop new American energy, create American jobs and protect American communities. These are all laudable goals made even more laudable when placed against the job loss and community damage occurring in the Gulf right as a result of our continued reliance on old energy.

“The American Power Act” is a serious effort to address global climate change and thanks to the hard work of a national coalition called “Teaming with Wildlife,” of which Conserve Wildlife Foundation is a member, it contains language that not only promotes better energy policies but also the need to help our natural resources during these times of changing climate.

The bill, like its predecessor passed by the House of Representatives, seeks to set aside funding to protect and restore species, habitats and ecosystems threatened by the impact of climate change. It also proposes programs focused on water systems, floods, wildland fires and coasts.

“Climate change is impacting our wildlife populations now and will impact our populations in greater ways as the changes in climate become more pronounced.”

These inclusions are very important because they recognize the impact of a changing climate on our natural resources – the lands, plants and animals that add value to our lives, both economic and intrinsic.

The inclusion of this language happened because of the strong coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to wildlife and natural resource protection in this country but the timing of the funding leaves a lot to be desired.  In the Kerry Lieberman bill, allocations (funding) for Safeguarding Natural Resources/Community Protection, doesn’t start until 2019.   Allocations start at 0.75% in 2019, increasing to 3% by 2030.  It is unclear how this translates in to actual dollars, but most importantly there is no funding for nearly a decade. This is unacceptable.

The other worrying part of this draft bill is whether the funding to establish programs to address impacts to natural resources is dedicated or not. This is unclear in the bill’s current wording and is also unacceptable.

Severe beach erosion along the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey. © Ben Wurst

Climate change is impacting our wildlife populations now and, under the most conservative scenarios, will impact our populations in greater ways as the changes in climate become more pronounced. New Jersey species at risk include the shorebirds that are already teetering on the edge of extinction due to the decimation of their stopover food source; beach nesting birds like the piping plover that is already fighting for beach space as sea-level rise continues to threaten its habitat. Other species like the bog turtle and eastern salamander are threatened by loss of habitat from changing seasonal patterns and endangered raptors face losses every breeding season from storm events that used to happen every 100 years and are now much more frequent.

Senators Kerry and Lieberman should be thanked for introducing this important bill but they, and all other Senators, should be encouraged to remove the ten-year delay for wildlife and natural resources and insist that such funding should be dedicated to help our natural systems adapt to a world where a changing climate could spell extinction if steps are not taken to mitigate where possible and allow adaptations where necessary.

If you’ve a minute today, contact your New Jersey Senator and tell him we can’t put off for ten years what needs to be done today.

Credit: The National Wildlife Federation’s analysis of the bill informed this article.

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