Mercury Pollution Spells Trouble For Loons
by Katy Farber
Ever heard a loon? If you have, you aren’t likely to forget it. Their stirring cry is one that takes us back centuries to before humans covered almost every part of the globe. If you have been blessed enough to see this beautiful bird, maybe in the Adirondacks, you know they are a sight to behold. Gorgeous in their sleek black feathers with white spots and necklace, pointy beak and red eyes, they are elegant, efficient, graceful and haunting.
And they are in trouble.
Last year, I wrote about how loons are threatened by mercury from coal fired plants. In December, the EPA issued its first rules limiting mercury pollution from coal fired plants, and that is a great step for human health and for the survival of loons and other birds.
Unfortunately, we are far from out of the woods concerning the welfare of loons. A new report issued from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority covers a decade of research about the how loons and ecosystems are being adversely affected by mercury pollution.
The researchers studied loons at 44 Adirondack lakes and found that, according to the New York Times:
“Seventy-five percent of the loons that we sampled were at either moderate or high risk from mercury in their blood,” ~ Zoe Smith, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program.
Loons with too much mercury produce fewer young, and those baby loons they do produce are much less likely to survive. Their behavior also is affected, and the poor loons have a limited reproductive success. Loons are harmed by mercury pollution more than other species because they often return to the same nesting sites, and if there is a high concentration of mercury there, they are repeatedly exposed. Loons also have a long life span of 30 years, so mercury bioaccumulates in their bodies.
Scientists hope that this data will be used to limit mercury emissions in the U.S. but also worldwide. According to the article:
“Mercury can be found naturally in ecosystems, but pollution causes there to be three to five times more [mercury] than occurs naturally, and coal-fired power plants in China are exacerbating the problem…Just in the United States…well over half of the mercury being emitted into the system is from coal…”~ Dr. Evers
Another reason to move away from coal as a power source is the mounting evidence that supports global regulations on harmful mercury emissions.
This summer, for the iconic loons and the health of ecosystems everywhere, including the human population, if you find yourself in the north woods, on a lake, listen for the loons. Let them inspire us all to work for less mercury exposure for all creatures, far and wide.
Photo credit: P199