Following a threat to sue by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to finally clean up the lead paint from a defunct military base on Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. The lead paint kills at least 10,000 threatened Laysan albatross chicks every year. Lead on the island also threatens endangered Laysan ducks and highly endangered short-tailed albatross.
“Midway Atoll provides unparalleled nesting habitat for albatross, which fly thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean in search of food and return to the atoll to nest each year. Without this cleanup, their amazing efforts would continue to be wasted as chicks die of lead poisoning,” said Shaye Wolf, a Center biologist.
The settlement agreement requires completion of the cleanup in 2017 and allows the Center or third parties potential access to test for contaminants in the Laysan duck. Midway Atoll was used for many decades as a U.S. military base and still has several sources of pollution. The cleanup required by the settlement applies to existing military buildings that shed toxic, lead-based paint chips that are then eaten by albatross chicks and potentially other seabirds.
“The service’s agreement to finally clean up this dangerous lead-based paint is an important step toward returning this tiny island to its rightful role as a haven, not a deadly trap, for wildlife,” said Wolf.
Scientists estimate that lead poisoning kills up to 10,000 chicks per year on Midway, affecting the long-term survival of the Laysan albatross.
Many poisoned chicks develop nervous-system damage called “droopwing” that leaves them unable to lift their wings, which drag on the ground and become susceptible to open sores and fractures, leading to slow and painful death.
Protecting albatross chicks from poisoning is especially important now. The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan killed an estimated 110,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks — about 22 percent of the year’s young — at Midway Atoll, where more than two-thirds of the world’s Laysan albatross nest. At least 2,000 adults were also killed by the tsunami that washed over Midway’s three low-lying islands. The albatross are also threatened in the United States and internationally by long-line fisheries and accelerating sea-level rise.
Midway Atoll may also become important nesting habitat for the highly endangered short-tailed albatross. The first confirmed hatching of a short-tailed albatross chick in the United States occurred in January 2011 on Midway Atoll, and the breeding pair that raised it returned to hatch another chick in 2012.
If you’re reading this, take a few minutes to sign the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to the EPA to ban lead hunting ammunition which leaves 3,000 tons of lead in the environment every year and kills millions of endangered birds annually.
A petition to stop the NRA’s lead-poisoning legislation also needs your support. You can find photos and video of lead-poisoned Laysan albatross chicks with droopwing here.
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Photos courtesy of Myra Finkelstein