Nat Geo: Alaska Refuge Can’t Protect its Wildlife from Climate Change

Plummeting populations in a huge Alaska wildlife refuge might be caused by climate change and plastics.


Clam Lagoon, a body of water on the northernmost peninsula of Adak Island, Alaska, was meant to be a wildlife haven. But a continually warming Bering Sea is putting so much stress on the food chain there that its residents can’t find enough to eat: They’re starving, experts say.

Thousands of murres, puffins, auklets, and other seabirds used to scream through the skies over Adak. “Now it’s something like 200 to 300,” says Douglas Causey, a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, who has been coming to the island for three decades.

Causey has his theories, but now he’s searching for concrete answers as to why the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, a 4.9-million-acre wildlife sanctuary in the Bering Sea in which Adak sits, is losing so many of its animals. Bird, fur seal, sea lion, and whale populations are all dropping in the region, says a 2017 NOAA fisheries survey.

Multiple mass bird die-offs, sometimes called “wrecks,” have occurred in the Bering Sea ecosystem since 2014. According to the 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) report on breeding status and population trends, 13 percent of Alaskan seabird populations declined from 2006 to 2015 and 31 percent of eggs hatched earlier than normal.

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