For Immediate Release, July 2, 2009
Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301
Imperiled California Seabird Advances Toward Endangered Species Act Protection:
August Deadline Set for Listing Decision for Ashy Storm Petrel
SAN FRANCISCO— A federal judge today approved a settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that sets a deadline for the agency to determine whether the ashy storm petrel should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Under the settlement, the Service must decide whether to list the small seabird unique to California’s coastal waters by August 12, 2009 – nearly 10 months after the deadline required by the Act.
“The ashy storm petrel is a sentinel of the health of California’s coastal waters,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who has studied the ashy storm petrel as well as the effects of ocean climate change on California’s seabirds. “The severe declines in the ashy storm petrel’s numbers and breeding success in recent decades are indicative of growing impacts to California’s coastal ocean from development and climate change.”
The ashy storm petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa) is a small, smoke-gray seabird that nests and forages almost exclusively on the offshore islands and waters of California near San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. These waters are significantly affected by development, including offshore energy terminals, shipping traffic, commercial fishing, and pollution, as well as by global warming.
Faced with these multiple threats, the seabird has experienced severe population declines in recent decades. The largest colony of ashy storm petrels at the Farallon Islands decreased by 42 percent in 20 years, prompting the World Conservation Union and BirdLife International to list the species as endangered. A recent study found that the ashy storm petrel’s at-sea abundance in the northern part of its range has plummeted by 76 percent over a 22-year period from 1986 to 2007.
The marine ecosystem off the California coast is being harmed by global warming, which results in warmer waters with less food available for seabirds like the ashy storm petrel. Ocean acidification caused by the ocean’s absorption of excess carbon dioxide may lead to declines in the storm petrel’s prey. Sea-level rise from global warming threatens to drown important breeding habitat for the bird in sea caves and on offshore rocks.
Proposed offshore liquefied natural gas terminals and the specter of new oil and gas development off California’s coast threaten to increase greenhouse gas pollution, oil spills, and artificial lighting at night. An oil spill near breeding or foraging hotspots could decimate a large percentage of the global population. Artificial light at night attracts nocturnally active seabirds such as the ashy storm petrel like moths to a flame. Instead of going about their natural foraging and breeding activities, storm petrels will continuously circle or collide with lighted structures at night, leading to exhaustion, injury, and even death.
The storm petrel faces a variety of other threats at sea and on its island breeding colonies, including (1) eggshell thinning from persistent pollutants like DDT and PCBs that continue to affect southern California seabirds; (2) ingestion of floating plastic pieces that can lead to starvation of adults and the chicks that are fed these plastics; and (3) depredation by introduced predators such as rats on the bird’s island breeding sites.
“Protecting the ashy storm petrel under the Endangered Species Act will not only provide much-needed protections to this unique seabird,” noted Wolf, “but also enhance the health of California’s coastal ecosystem as a whole.”
The Center for Biological Diversity filed the ashy storm petrel petition on October 15, 2007. On May 15, 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a positive initial finding on the petition and launched a full status review to determine if the species should be listed. The Service was required under the Endangered Species Act to make a decision whether to list the storm petrel by October 16, 2008. On April 1, 2009, the Center filed a lawsuit to set a deadline for the Service to make a listing determination.
The petition and more information on the ashy storm petrel are available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org.