Lead Killing Birds in Northwest Hawaiian Islands, ENS, 12/12/06
Source: Environment News Service
MIDWAY ATOLL, NORTHWESTERN HAWAIIAN ISLANDS - Lead poisoning is killing thousands of Laysan albatrosses each year on Midway Atoll, part of the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument created by President George W. Bush in June.
The Laysan albatross is globally listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, and is a special trust species on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the new monument.
“Laysan chicks raised in nests close to buildings left behind by the Navy are ingesting lead-based paint chips. This is causing shockingly high lead concentrations in their blood, leading to severe neurological disorders, and eventual death,” said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy.
Studies have shown that albatross chicks are eating the lead paint chips that are peeling off of 95 aging buildings on the island.
The 95 government buildings must be stripped of all lead-based paint, and sand surrounding these old buildings must be ifted to remove lead paint chips.
The American Bird Conservancy estimates that 10,000 chicks, or five percent of hatched chicks, may be killed annually by exposure to the leaded paint.
Laysan chicks that nest within 15 feet of the old buildings exhibit a condition called "droopwing." The chicks cannot raise their wings, which drag on the ground, resulting in broken bones and open sores.
Chicks with droopwing will never be able to fly, and will die of starvation or dehydration.
“This level of mortality in Laysan chicks hinders efforts to conserve this species and could have population-level impacts,” said Jennifer Arnold, director of American Bird Conservancy’s Seabird Program. “Midway Atoll hosts the largest nesting colony for this species in the world, making this cleanup effort a top priority.”
Other chicks that ingest paint chips have blood lead concentrations that cause immunological, neurological, and renal impairments, decreasing their chances of survival.
The American Bird Conservancy is calling for federal funding to clean up the lead to protect the albatrosses and future visitors to the monument.
A draft plan that would allow a regularly scheduled visitor program on Midway Atoll was released Friday for public comment. Up to 30 overnight guests would be permitted on Midway at any one time during 2007, and possibly higher numbers in the future.
The Department of the Interior estimates that $5.6 million is needed to clean up the lead paint on Midway.