Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Invasive Plant Threatens Albatrosses

Strange how learning happens. Here's an unlikely string of events: 28,800 rubber duckies are lost overboard in the northern Pacific in 1992. A high school english teacher named Donovan Hohn eventually hears word of this and leaves his job to find out where the drifting duckies drifted to. He writes a book called Moby-Duck and travels to Princeton to make a presentation at the public library's 2011 Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

One of the images he showed is of a baby albatross that died, apparently due to a stomach full of the notorious plastic bits that currents concentrate in that part of the Pacific. But he explains afterward that the photo of the 200+ bits of plastic in the albatross's gut tells only part of the story. Also making life difficult for the albatross is global warming, which he says is making its nesting grounds too warm, and an exotic plant called Golden Crownbeard.

Native to the U.S., Golden Crownbeard is, according to my internet research, the most invasive of hundreds of exotic plants on the Midway Islands. Chances are, it hitchhiked to the islands in topsoil--a notorious means by which plants travel to new locales. The plant displaces low-growing native vegetation, making tall dense stands unsuitable for building nests, sometimes growing so fast that the adult birds lose track of their young. Managers of the refuge are hoping to eradicate the plant from the islands.

A rubber ducky spill in the north Pacific, then, ended up bringing to Princeton a very familiar story of the impact of plant invasions on native wildlife, and the human efforts going on around the world to restore ecological balance.

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