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Scientists Identify Arctic Sea Ice and Shallow Water Coral Reefs as Two Priority Ecosystems to Save, as Climate Change Worsens

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New Report Identifies Vital Habitats in Need of Protection to Help Endangered Species Survive Climate Change


January 5, 2011
Washington, D.C.
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Arctic sea ice and tropical shallow water corals are in decline because of human caused carbon dioxide emissions. Oceana urges policymakers and others to reduce stress on these two important ecosystems, which provide many important services to humans.

Beyond climate change, stress on these ecosystems includes destructive trawling, offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, and other commercial activities in the oceans.  Efforts to reduce these impacts should be prioritized in federal policy programs.   

Scientists ranked Arctic sea ice and shallow water corals as two of the highest priority ecosystems threatened by climate change in an Endangered Species Coalition report demonstrating the urgency of saving habitat for endangered species. The report, entitled  It’s Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World was released today, and examines how the changing climate is increasing extinction risk for imperiled fish, plants and wildlife.

“Climate change is no longer a distant threat on the horizon,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “It has arrived and is threatening ecosystems that we all depend upon, and our endangered species are particularly vulnerable.”

“Acting now to reduce pressure on these ecosystems is a matter of life and death, for marine life and for humans as well.  Coral reefs are incredibly diverse ecosystems, providing structure and habitat for recreationally and commercially important species, and for some species that may even have medicinal value. We risk major economic losses and lost livelihoods if we fail to address the double-barreled threat of climate change and ocean acidification,” said Oceana marine scientist Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb.

“We are literally and figuratively on thin ice in the Arctic,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Pacific Director.  “Not only is Arctic sea ice vital for a myriad of iconic species, including walrus, seals and polar bears, it also provides the platform for the subsistence way of life that sustains our Arctic peoples.  And it provides a cooling system for our planet,” added Murray.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world's species will be at increased risk of extinction if global temperature increases exceed 1.5 to 2.5° C (3 to 5° F) above pre-industrial levels. The climate threats to species include increased disease, diminished reproduction, habitat loss, and declining food supply.

“For species that are already struggling on the brink of extinction, global climate change threatens to push them over the edge,” said Huta. “We certainly need to reduce global warming pollution, but we also need to act now to prioritize and protect some of the most important ecosystems for imperiled wildlife. Endangered species don't have the luxury of waiting for political leaders to act to slow the pace of climate change.”

Safeguarding Species in a Warming World

It’s Getting Hot Out There calls for the Obama Administration and Congress to provide the tools and resources necessary to protect these key ecosystems from global climate change. The Coalition would also like to see climate change factored into all future endangered species-related decisions to help prevent species extinction. 

List of top 10 ecosystems to save for endangered species featured in the report:

1. Arctic sea ice, home to the polar bear, Pacific walrus and at least six species of seal

2. Shallow water coral reefs, home to the critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn corals

3. The Hawaiian Islands, home to more than a dozen imperiled birds, and 319 threatened and endangered plants

4. Southwest deserts, home to numerous imperiled plants, fish and mammals

5. The San Francisco Bay-Delta, home to the imperiled Pacific salmon, Swainson’s hawk, tiger salamander and Delta smelt

6. California Sierra Mountains, home to 30 native amphibian species, including the Yellow-legged frog

7. The Snake River Basin, home to four imperiled runs of salmon and steelhead

8. Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to the imperiled Whitebark pine, an important food source for the threatened Grizzly bear and other animals

9. The Gulf Coast’s flatlands and wetlands, home to the Piping and Snowy plovers, Mississippi sandhill crane, and numerous species of sea turtles

10. The Greater Everglades, home to 67 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee and the red cockcaded woodpecker

Seven additional ecosystems were nominated but did not make the Top 10. They nonetheless contain important habitat for imperiled species.  These ecosystems include Glacier National Park, the Jemez Mountains, Sagebrush Steppe, U.S. West Coast, the Maine Woods, the Grasslands of the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains.

The new report, which includes information about each ecosystem, as well as recommended conservation measures, is available online at www.StopExtinction.org.

Oceana is an international ocean conservation group.  Its team of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life.  Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America, Europe, South and Central America.  For more information, visit http://na.oceana.org

The Endangered Species Coalition is a national network of hundreds of conservation, scientific, religious, sporting, outdoor recreation, business and community organizations working to protect endangered species and their habitat.

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