Where Have They Gone

Where Have They Gone? For many reasons the human race could be called a blessing. Great advanced in technology, medicine and even the fact we are the most sophisticated species on the planet. Are we a gift to planet Earth, or far from it? With cast amounts of pollution and destruction of the planet, not to mention unthinkable acts of violence and hate that has been going on since the beginning of time. Are we really as sophisticated and important as we have led ourselves to believe? Are we any better than any other creature because we are more technologically advanced? Is the human race a blessing? Humans have destroyed and endangered more species on our planet than any other species or group, with our continuous pollution and lack of respect for out own environment. One area of the world affected by our careless habits is our coastlines and the marine habitats that vast amounts of species rely on. These particular areas of the world are being destroyed because humans dont seem to care as long as they make a couple of dollars in the process. Oil spills like the one in the Prince William Sound on the coast of Alaska and Hawaiian sea turtles and their many troubles with humans are just some examples of human carelessness and the consequences that the environment, particularly marine wildlife incur, which often are fatal.

I chose this particular subject because I find the ocean and its unique and rare inhabitants to be interesting. Every coastline has its one unique species and no two areas are the same. I wanted to learn more about how humans are destroying the habitats of these unique creatures. I found that all species are in someway being threatened by human dominance and carelessness. From the common flounder or sea star you can find when you walk across the beach to a rare fish like the coelacanth (prehistoric fish that was believed to be extinct until one was caught off the coat of Madagascar by a local commercial fisherman until in the 1950s).

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The ocean can be a calm and loving but can easily turn into a vicious killer within seconds. All of these things are what I find so interesting about the ocean. I wanted to find out why people can continue to destroy it even though they know the effect of their actions. I guess some people are ignorant and just dont care if they destroy the things that make our environment so beautiful. One example of our careless destruction of our environment is the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

The Prince William Sound still shows signs of the oil spill tem years later. Most species have recovered since the spill, but many are still suffering. The Harbor Seal and herring are just two who are vital to the survival of all the species in the area. Herring are the main source of food for many species in the area, including humans. (Mitchell, p.98) The ecosystem is gradually recovering from the spill, says Molly McCammon, an Executive director of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, but it will never be the same as it was twenty years ago. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council was founded to oversee the use of nine hundred million dollars to the area by the government after settling with the Exxon Company for one billion dollars in criminal and civil damages.

One serious problem in the aftermath of Exxon Valdez is the decline of herring. (The table shows the chave in populations of Prince William Sound before and after the Exxon Valdez spill.) Even more disturbing than the fact herring arent recovering as well as other species like them is the fact they were on the decline before the accident. This was a major issue because herring are the center of the ecosystem in the Sound. Many biologists now believe that over fishing of the herring has contributed to their decline. The Pacific Herring is just one species of the area, but if you see how important that one species is to the ecosystem of the Alaskan coast than you begin to see how important all species are to their particular habitats.

This is just one example, but if you take a species out of its environment, then a chain reaction would occur, hurting the species around it. Another species that biologists are beginning to study wit the money received from the Exxon Valdez settlement is the Alaskan Salmon. The oil spill has left the Alaskan Salmon on the decline until recently, but still the species is reeling. The last two years have been extremely positive for the Alaskan Salmon population, stated one Alaskan biologists. But her concerns were more focused on the salmon offspring, which had been effected by the spill. Fry, as seen in the left vial, were damaged by the oil. The fry still come in contact with oil when oil pockets seep into some intertidal spawning streams.

These pockets are like mines, says Jeffrey Short, a scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Scientist discovered the oil caused genetic defects in salmon. Many species in the Prince William Sound are still recovering from the spill. This is just one spill and you can see the devastation it has made upon its ecosystem. This has been called one of the worst oil spills in history.

But you can imagine there has been numerous spills that are almost as areas might never fully recover from the spill on their ecosystem. The devastation of an oil spill is just one of many causes of marine destruction that humans are guilty of. Many other species suffer from damaged habitats. Another example of humans destroying their environment and the unique species that live there is Hawaiian Sea turtles. The turtles are becoming endangered because of loss of habitat. The overwhelming presence of humans in the turtles habitat is making is harder for turtles to find areas where they can lay their eggs.

The loss of nesting sites if hurting the reproduction of sea turtles because unpopulated beaches are becoming harder to find. Sea turtles have an affinity for certain beaches and when they cannot lay their eggs there they have to find new areas which can take time. Other reasons why the turtles are being threatened are pollution of the ocean and netting. Pollution in the form of debris is killing turtles. They can ingest the plastic debris and it makes it hard to get the nourishment needed from the food they eat.

Netting is another killer of turtles. Fishing nets set out by commercial fisherman are a definite killer of sea turtles in the Hawaiian Islands. (http://www.turtles.org/marines). Erosion of beaches also hurts the sea turtle population. The lack of beach force turtles to lay their eggs in a smaller area. When humans try to stop or reduce erosion it disturbs the turtles even more.

Sea walls, canals, jetties, and sandbagging are all things that are used by humans to stop erosion, but they are hurting the turtles more than they are helping them. They need dry land in order to lay their eggs and these structures are deducing land even further. Fibropapilloma Tumors are a serious threat and are beginning to show up on turtles in Hawaii and other areas with large numbers of sea turtles. They were first seen in turtles around 1930, but it wasnt until 1980 that the tumors began to show up in epidemic proportions. The green turtles were the only known species to have the tumors, but it has recently been discovered in other turtle species.

The most effected areas of the world are Hawaii, Florida, and Australia. (http://www.turtles.org/threats.htm) All of these threats to turtle population are hurting their hopes of survival. But people out to help the sea turtles such as Denise Parker who works with a marine turtle program in Honolulu, Hawaii, have worked hard and the population of marine sea turtles has actually been on the rise in recent years. The turtles population is coming up from endangered and threatened to a safe number, but that isnt far enough for many who care about the turtles. They continue to help increase the population because they know they would begin to decline again if they didnt have any help. Many groups such as the Marine Turtles Research Program and the National Marine Fisheries Service are helping to restore the turtles in Hawaii.

There are also many individuals whose work with the sea turtles have helped in preserving them and their natural environment. One of these people is Ken Nichols. Nichols is a supporter of turtles and he is trying to make the people aware of the environment in the Hawaiian Islands. He feels that the most important thing we can do is conserve the wilderness and beaches from expansion. We need to educate people about the turtles especially children.

When asked about how we can save the environment and the habitat of turtles as well as other species Nichols said, This is obviously a difficult task as the human population continues to grow, which means we are constantly expanding into wild areas which support bio-diversity of all types. I believe the greatest task is education of children and more effic …


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