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Of massive die-off of birds and other matters

By Adetokunbo Abiola


A few days ago, a massive die-off of birds took place on the  coast of Mexico, mainly affecting the Buller’s shearwater species, a  vulnerable bird  of 46-47 centimeters in length and 97 to 99 centimeters in wingspan, weight ranging between 342 to 425 grammes.

In the first week of March, the death of  migratory-birds took place in Ecuador, their carcasses appearing on the beaches, while a recent mass deaths of seabirds happened along Chile’s northern coast, as some 3,500 guanay cormorants got affected, all found dead near the coastal port of Coquimbi.

Heat associated events happen in places like the Australian Outback, but such an event took place in South Africa, with the corpses of 47 birds discovered during an 11-kilometer patrol through the Pongola Nature Reserve, on the morning of 8 November 2020.

Similar stories take place in other parts of the world, not just Mexico, Ecuador, Chile or South Africa, and it doesn’t come as a surprise when 49 percent of bird species suffer a decline in population, with one in eight bird species under the threat of extinction, and at least 187 species confirmed or suspected to have gone extinct since 1950.

Authorities in Mexico waved off the presence of the AH5N1 virus as the cause of the deaths of the shearwater, rather pointing at the Pacific Ocean, which shares the same characters with most of the world’s oceans, where sea temperatures hover around an all-time high since satellite records started, as average temperatures surge to 21.1 degrees Celsius, beating the previous high of 21 degrees Celsius in 2016.

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Tests in Chile’s northern coast discounted avian flu as the factor behind the bird die-off earlier in the year, with scientists pointing at the Pacific Ocean again as the culprit for the deaths of the guanay cormorants, a threatened species after extractions to Europe destroyed its breeding habitats.

In Souh Africa, scientists quickly waved aside notions that bird flu was the cause of the deaths of the birds at Pongola Nature Reserve, as they pointed at the searing heat that descended on November 8, 2020, where by 10 am the temperature registered a figure of 40 degrees Celsius, soon rising to 45 degrees Celsius.

Just as in the case of the die-offs with respect to fish and sea lions, accusing fingers can be pointed at climate change as the reason behind the bird die-offs in Mexico, Chile, Peru, South Africa and other places, by fuelling the increase in sea temperatures, bringing rises in heat records, creating conditions against the survival of birds.

While experts in Mexico blame the warming Pacific Ocean for the deaths of the Buller’s shearwater, they also blame the effects of the El Nino climate phenonenon, which occurs on the average of every two to seven years, an event affecting more than 60 million people from 2015 to 2016, particularly severe in eastern and southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia Pacific region.

The same situation also occurred in Chile and Peru, where experts also blame the effects of the climate change-fuelled El Nino for the die-offs of birds, and this could be an indication of of future troubles, because a climate-change-fuelled El Nino in 1997 to 1998 brought floods and mudslides to Peru with the government calculating damage to infrastructures amounting to about $3.5 billion, or about 4.5 percent of that nation’s gross domestic product.

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The same situation also applies to South Africa where the country’s informal dwellings experience climate- change-fuelled heat stress 32 percent of the time, with predicted conditions in the future seeing a rise of heat stress exposure up to 40 percent over a full year.

Going forwards, the rise in temperatures of the Pacific Ocean probably brought about the bird die-offs in Mexico, Chile, and Peru, but as the events show the opening consequences of a climate-change-fuelled El Nino, it could mean more than 60 million pele getting affected, since trends indicare even warmer temperatures than the 2015 to 2016 scenario once the upcoming ElNino arrives.

Halting a massive die-off of birds in Mexico going forwards will require action, such as on the issue of landscape level land-use changes. Reducing bird die-off in Peru, Chile, and other policies will entail changes in national policies affecting the use of fossil fuel, which triggers off climate change. Cutting down the heat stress in South Africa will also entail changes in individual actions in the long term in relation to the environment. Only through changes in the usage of fossil fuel and individual actions will birds stop dying the way they did in Mexico,

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