Monday, 23 April 2012

Old Paint is Killing Rare Birds: Cleaning Up Toxic Lead on Midway Atoll

There is a piece of Midway's past that is haunting today's albatross. Amid the crumbling buildings built by the Commercial Pacific Cable Company at the turn of the last century nest many thousands of Laysan albatross and burrowing Bonin Petrels. But they nest in soil that has been contaminated by decades of lead-based paint, and the exposure causes a neurological disorder called "droopwing" in which the chicks are unable to lift their wings.

This disorder means certain death for the birds. Every year, thousands of the Laysan albatross chicks die from droopwing, and even if they manage to fledge and fly off, the levels of lead in their bodies likely cause an early death later on.
The Environment News Service reported two years ago that 70 of the old buildings "have been responsible for the deaths of as many as 130,000 Laysan albatross chicks since jurisdiction of Midway was transferred from the Navy to the Department of the Interior in 1996" and that as many as 10,000 chicks a year die from disorders and illness caused from ingesting the lead paint chips.
This is an incredible loss, especially since the Laysan albatross is a threatened species and about 70% of the world's population nests on Midway Atoll.
The same article states, "[S]cientists and managers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, concluded that by 2060, there may be 190,000 fewer albatrosses due to lead poisoning. By contrast, removing lead-based paint now could increase the albatross population by up to 360,000 by 2060."
Those numbers are convincing, and that's why a reported $20 million budget as been provided to clean up the lead problem, and the massive project has gotten started.

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