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  • Writer's pictureRuth Ann Angus

The Dodo Will Not Return

The young woman university graduate spoke at the forum on nonviolence. She was just 21 years of age and ready to begin her life out in the world. So, it was a shock to hear her say that she has no intention of ever having children. Why would she say this? Not only was this her decision but she indicated that her sisters in her sorority felt the same. They would not be responsible for bringing new life into the world after climate change had finished wrecking the planet. “What would their world be like?” she asked, “If the air was poisoned and they had to wear masks all the time and clean water was scarce or possibly nonexistent and they had to fight for food?” There was silence in the hall.

Lately it seems there is an awakening happening with people everywhere that indeed, there is such a thing as climate change. Even the five o’clock news report shows special programs now. Most of this conversion appears to have come from reactions to the weather. That people feel out of control is an understatement. We can change a lot of things in our lives, but we say weather is not one of them. We believe we are forced to tolerate what the weather gods send our way. Begs the question as to whether we missed our chance at something critical? Something we could have been doing for a long time now, but we’ve been asleep. Is the awakening too late?

Too late or not, we are realizing that allowing the degradation of our environment is a form of violence. Every nature publication carries an article on the number of species that have disappeared from the face of the earth, once gone, never to be resurrected. We begin to feel hopeless. Is this the reason those young women do not want to have children? Breeding is central to just about everything animal on earth.

A Two Species Success

The Central Coast of California has seen the loss of species over time and been privileged to also see the return of two of nature’s most interesting animals, the Southern Sea Otter, and The Northern Elephant Seal. Both thought to be extinct for many years, these wonderful marine mammals have made an amazing comeback.

Sea otters once numbered in the hundred thousand up and down the western side of the north American continent and at about 16,000 along the California coast. Heavy hunting for their luxurious fur decimated them bringing their numbers down to 1000 to 2000 worldwide and they were thought to be entirely wiped out in California territory. Southern Sea otters are a keystone species in that they consume sea urchins that are responsible for decimating kelp forests. These forests are safe places for a variety of sea species. Then suddenly in 1938 several animals were spotted wrapped in kelp somewhere along the Big Sur coast of California. Since then, the population has increased slowly and currently stands at close to 3000 animals. In Alaska their numbers are 90,000. Listed as endangered, sea otters are threatened by oil spills, pollution, and human interaction against them.

In 1990 on a small beach at the bottom of a cliff at Gorda on scenic Highway 1, a small group of seals were seen resting. Scientists went wild photographing and counting the number of Northern Elephant Seals that seemed to suddenly appear from nowhere. During historic times these huge sea mammals were hunted for their oil and were thought to be extinct by 1884. In 1892 eight animals were seen on Guadalupe Island off Baja, California. A population of over 4000 breeding animals currently resides at a beach at the base of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse north of the town of San Simeon. The whole population along the west coast of the continent is now numbered at 160,000, all growing from the tiny population on Guadalupe Island.

Is Protection Enough

Northern Elephant seals are fully protected in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and are also protected in Mexican waters. However, having been genetically reduced they are susceptible to diseases and environmental changes.

While scientists and the general population are encouraged by the return of these two species, there is awareness that climate change is already having a deleterious effect on them. Higher sea levels and tides along with more intense winter storms wipe out a good portion of newborn elephant seal pups every year. And while sea otters appear to be doing well, they may never return to the historic numbers before human actions affected them adversely.

Sad News on the Central Coast of California

Recently the local news had a report of three dead sea otters, one from Morro Bay, one from San Simeon about 30 miles north of Morro Bay, and one in Santa Cruz. The harbor at Morro Bay is the home of 40 sea otter moms and their pups. Because sea otters are monitored closely autopsies on all three were done and results showed that they had died from a disease caused by the fecal matter of cats. Because this is primarily a rural area, there are many barn cats, strays, feral cats, and indoor/outdoor cats. Flooding from the recent rains washed everything down the creeks to the ocean. The beach at Morro Bay became a disaster site, covered with debris, tree branches, and anyone’s pick of used appliances with a refrigerator, a dryer, a stove, and an assortment of household junk, all of which traveled there on the risen waters of Morro Creek. That fecal matter of cats came also is not unusual, but truly sad for the sea otters.

So far, sea otters and elephant seals have not made the same decision the young university graduates are making. They continue to breed. That we as a species are responsible for this rapid change of climate and the destruction it brings to all species on the earth is sobering. We are awake now. We can end the violence to our planet. All it takes is action and advocacy. We will not see the return of the dodo, but we can make sure that the remaining creatures, animals, and humans, can continue to reproduce and thrive with a healthy planet.

by Ruth Ann Angus

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