Audubon Nature Institute is taking steps to help address the damage being done to the Gulf of Mexico and the world’s oceans because of climate change and pollution.
The impacts of climate change are numerous, said John Fallon, Audubon Nature Institute’s Director of Sustainability and Coastal Conservation. They include coral reefs dying due to higher temperatures, rising sea levels, stronger hurricanes, and species losing critical habitat.
“Fish and marine animals are on the move to adapt to climate change, which can alter all kinds of dynamics in the ecosystem and with people,” Fallon said. “We see animals shifting to cooler waters, increasing interactions with humans in new areas. Predators like polar bears are losing the ice they hunt on. Penguins and sea lions are having to travel farther from land as their prey move, which becomes dangerous for them as they expend more energy to hunt.”
In addition, research shows that pollution from fertilizer runoff that ends up in oceans can fuel a chain of events that led to hypoxic “dead zones,” or areas along the sea floor where oxygen levels are so low that they cannot sustain marine life. This year, the Gulf of Mexico dead zone is estimated to be larger than Connecticut.
But there is hope. As part of its conservation mission and together with partners across the country, Audubon Nature Institute is stepping up to improve Gulf of Mexico and ocean health. Audubon participates in the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), a group of aquariums working together to advance conservation goals in the areas of climate change, wildlife and ecosystem protection, fisheries and aquaculture, and plastic reduction. Audubon has signed onto the ACP Join Climate Commitment, pledging to reduce its carbon footprint and work towards net zero emissions.
As part of that commitment, Audubon has begun a comprehensive greenhouse gas scoping project. The Institute will share information with the community as that work progresses.
“We are at the very beginning of the process, which is compiling baseline data to get a comprehensive look at our energy use across all of our facilities,” Fallon explained. “Based on those results, we will create an action plan to reduce our emissions over time.”
Audubon is also working to protect marine animals in the wild with the Coastal Wildlife Network (CWN). Through this program, Audubon responds to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the Louisiana coast. “We primarily encounter dolphins and sea turtles,” says Fallon. “Strandings are live or dead animals and can occur anywhere along the coast, but most of our reports come from Grand Isle and the beaches of western Louisiana.”
Audubon is the only permitted rehab facility for marine mammals and sea turtles in Louisiana. When CWN does receive a live stranding report, the team mobilizes right away to respond. “Treatment is always tailored to the patient and their specific needs because every case is different,” Fallon said. “However, when the animal first comes in, they get an intake exam from our veterinary team to assess their status, which usually includes a physical exam, blood analysis, radiographs and fluids. Our goal is always to rehab and release our patients back to the wild.”
The public can help support this work by calling CWN at 504-235-3005 to report stranded (live or dead) marine mammals and sea turtles.
There are many other steps the public can take to help Audubon in its ocean health efforts. These include:
- Visit Audubon Aquarium to learn about ways to make positive impacts on the ocean.
- Join Audubon and team Plastic Free NOLA to reduce your plastic use this July (and beyond).
- Manage your yard naturally to prevent chemical fertilizer and herbicides from entering storm drains and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Purchase goods from companies who dispose of waste responsibility and have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions.
- Walk, bike, carpool or use public transportation instead of driving to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Purchase goods from local sources rather than online retailers. This reduces the carbon impact of packaging and shipping.
For more information, visit www.audubonnatureinstitute.org.