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Mercury pollution contaminating Arctic wildlife, causing death and reproductive problems among bird populations, studies show

Mercury contamination

(NaturalNews) New research published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, has shown that shorebirds breeding in Alaska are being exposed to alarming levels of mercury, putting their entire population at risk.

Shorebirds travel to Alaska for their breeding season in the spring, before making the long trek down to Central and South America for the fall and winter.

Due to atmospheric circulation and other factors at play in the Northern hemisphere, high amounts of mercury deposits have been found to accumulate in the Arctic, raising concerns for the breeding populations of these birds.

Arctic mercury pollution causing harmful effects on shorebird populations

According to Phys.org, mercury exposure has been linked to reduced reproductive success and other adverse health reactions in shorebirds.

Even more alarming, the type of mercury present in the aquatic environments that shorebirds commonly forage in, is, for the most part, methylmercury, the chemical element's most dangerous form.

As a result, Marie Perkins of the Biodiversity Research Institute, conducted a study to investigate the exact levels of mercury concentrations in shorebirds and their resulting effects.

By collecting blood and feathers from nine different shorebird species breeding in the Arctic, Perkins and her team of researchers found that some shorebirds examined had "mercury concentrations upwards of two micrograms per gram of blood."

Additionally, shorebird species that commonly foraged in areas distant from highly concentrated methyl-mercury wetlands were found to have the lowest levels of mercury in their blood.

"These species already face a lot of tough new challenges, from climate change to disappearing stop-over habitat, so throwing a neurotoxin in the mix that can reduce reproductive success is likely to harm their populations," wrote Dan Cristol of the College of William & Mary, a researcher not involved in the study.

Effects of mercury on shorebirds' migration abilities

What Cristol believes to be a bigger threat to shorebirds' livelihood than mercury's effect on their reproductive ability though, is its affect on these birds' capacity to carry out arduous, lengthy migrations.

According to Stanford.edu, many shorebird species travel more than 15,000 miles over the course of their annual migrations, sometimes traveling up to 2,000 miles non-stop in less than two days.

Cristol, who is an expert researcher on mercury's effect on birds, is worried that mercury levels in shorebirds "probably spike when they leave the breeding grounds and start burning their reserve fuel, making their already arduous continent-jumping trips even harder."

While much more research needs to be done to determine exactly how exposure to mercury and other heavy metal toxins can result in adverse health effects for Arctic shorebirds, the results so far don't look too promising. For this reason, researchers like Marie Perkins have been encouraged to expand their studies on mercury exposure in Arctic shorebirds.

Perkins, who is currently pursuing her PhD at McGill University, is "working in collaboration with BRI and the Arctic Shorebird Demographics Network to closely examine mercury exposure in multiple shorebird species breeding across the North American Arctic."




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