News roundup, March 12

What’s new?

—CNN takes a look at marine debris and its effects on the Hawaiian Islands (video above). Correspondent Kyung Lah visits Kamilo Beach on the Big Island, where groups such as Hawaii Wildlife Fund are cleaning up plastic trash and other debris, much of it from the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan. Lah also observes a necrospy of a two-month-old albatross chick: 80% of the bird’s stomach was filled with indigestible plastic. [CNN]

—Western Meadowlarks, Bobolinks and other grassland bird species face rapidly-declining populations, and according to new research, insecticides known as neonicotinoids could be to blame, the New York Times reports:

[A] new study by two Canadian toxicologists raises an old specter. They found that collapsing bird populations were more strongly correlated with insecticide use than with habitat alteration — that, in fact, pesticides were four times more likely to be linked with bird losses than any other cause.

This would not have come as news to Rachel Carson, whose most famous book, “Silent Spring,” documented the disastrous effects of DDT on birds. DDT was banned in 1972, but it was followed by organophosphate and carbamate pesticides that were also highly lethal to birds. And while these pesticides have since been largely withdrawn from use, a new generation of nerve-agent insecticides called neonicotinoids could pose a further threat.

These insecticides are now under review by the Environmental Protection Agency. They have caused huge die-offs of honeybees in Europe and provoked an uproar among scientists, not least because the studies that purported to establish their safety were financed by pesticide manufacturers. We hope that the Canadian study, establishing a clear link between pesticides and grassland bird losses, will cause the E.P.A. to consider the next generation of insecticides in a more critical light. [New York Times]

—Bay Nature’s David Cruz writes about his recent encounter with the elusive, nocturnal Common Poorwill (photo right) at Butano State Park in San Mateo County. [Bay Nature]

—Domoic acid-producing algae blooms, a scourge of many marine animals including seabirds, have killed a record number of manatees off Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast. [Reuters]

—Round Robin has an authoritative report on the plight of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse here (accompanying video below). [Round Robin-Cornell Lab of Ornithology]


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