Two weeks ago I was asked to talk about environmental issues on the Techno Granny’s radio show along with Tamar Cerafici, an environmental attorney based in New Hampshire. This show covered many topics under the title “10 Plus Technologies that will help you go green and conserve the environment.”
Some things we discussed:
Why frogs are threatened with extinction and the number of issues they’re facing
How industries such as paper mills are polluting the water which is affecting frogs and possibly humans
Tomorrow morning (11.18.2013) we will meet for round 2! Tamar and I will join the broadcast again at 10 am EST, after the Techno Granny (Joanne Quinn-Smith) received so many comments asking us to talk about additional topics.
Some of the topics to be discussed:
The effect pesticides have on the environment (pollution): water, animals, soil, humans
Atrazine: The 21st Century’s DDT (Roundup)
Chlorothalonil is the most commonly used synthetic fungicide in the USA, commonly applied to peanuts, tomatoes and potatoes. (what are we eating?)
Alternatives to using Pesticides, Green Farming?
Organizations talking about this and trying to spread awareness. (Save the Frogs, National Pesticide Information Center, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Frogs Are Green)
Guest post by Devin Edmonds,
Amphibian Conservation Director, Association Mitsinjo
It doesn’t get much better than a going into the forests of Andasibe at night. There are leaf-tailed geckos, mouse lemurs, sleeping chameleons, and frogs. Lots of frogs. More than 100 different species, in fact, which have been identified in the surrounding forests. This is more than a third of all described frog species on the island.
Most of these frogs are nocturnal, but a few are also active during the day, like the Critically Endangered golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca), which is only found in a small area near Andasibe in east-central Madagascar.
The conservation organization Mitsinjo works in the area around Andasibe, and is composed of 53 members of the community.
Our activities include:
A group of our projects are targeted specifically at monitoring and addressing the threats our unique local frog species face. This includes the development of Madagascar’s first biosecure captive breeding facility capable of establishing assurance survival colonies of threatened amphibians.
Additionally, we conduct surveys to monitoring for declines and population changes. This activity compliments participation in a nation-wide early detection plan for the chytrid fungus Bd, the devastating pathogen contributing to alarming amphibian extinctions around the world. Fortunately, so far we have not detected Bd in Andasibe and reports elsewhere in Madagascar remain highly doubtful and unconfirmed.
Recently, Mitsinjo joined forces with the NGO Madagasikara Voakajy to contribute to the national conservation strategy for the golden mantella. Each month, we monitor three breeding sites at Torotorofotsy Wetland. This area is under tremendous pressure from artisanal gold mining, slash-and-burn agriculture, and charcoal production. Our habitat patrols help to ensure the breeding sites for this highly threatened amphibian remain intact.
Today is Save the Frogs Day, the world’s largest day of amphibian education and conservation action, organized by Save the Frogs, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s amphibian species, founded by ecologist Dr. Kerry Kriger.
Funds raised in the many Save the Frogs Day events go in part for grants to help amphibian projects in developing countries that have high rates of deforestation, including Nepal, Madagascar, and Liberia. Without funds from Save the Frogs, these projects might not have been possible.
At Frogs Are Green, we would like to encourage you to check out the events that are going on today around the world, and also to urge you to do something, even something small, to help out. Educating just one person about the plight of amphibians will help.
One-third of all amphibians are at risk of extinction and we should be concerned. After all, we humans also share this planet with amphibians, a planet that seems to have become too unhealthy for an entire group of animals. By saving frogs, we also save ourselves.
Please see the Save the Frogs site for lots of suggestions for getting involved on Save the Frogs Day—and everyday.
Here’s a cool t-shirt you can buy over at Save the Frogs:
We were happy to learn that a few days ago the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to designate two species of native yellow legged frogs inhabiting high-elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountain ranges as threatened and endangered species under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The commission acted after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition outlining the decline.
photo courtesy National Park Service. Department of the Interior
According to the Center, the population of Sierra Yellow legged frogs has decreased by 75% in recent decades. Reading about these frogs, we were struck by how they are a symbol of the challenges that frogs face worldwide. But they aren’t facing one challenge—they seem to be facing almost all of them:
Introduction of nonnative species: Stocking of nonnative trout in high-elevation Sierra lakes has been the main cause of the species’ decline. The trout eat tadpoles and juvenile frogs and alter the food web of the aquatic ecosystems on which the native frogs depend. The Department is recommending no trout stocking in the state without a fish management plan, and no further stocking of trout in areas that would conflict with protecting yellow-legged frogs.
Pesticides: Recent research has linked pesticides that drift from agricultural areas in the Central Valley to declines of native amphibians in the Sierra Nevada. Pesticides and other pollutants can directly kill frogs and also act as environmental stressors that render amphibians more susceptible to diseases, including a chytrid fungus that has recently ravaged many yellow-legged frog populations.
Loss and degradation of habitat: Grazing, logging, water diversions, off-road vehicles and recreational activity are allowed in frog habitat.
Climate change: Climate change has brought warmer temperatures, decreases in runoff, shifts in winter precipitation in the Sierra from snow to rain, and habitat changes that are rendering frog populations more vulnerable to drought-related extinction events.
A recent settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which will also speed protection decisions for 756 other species, requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 to make a decision about whether to add the Sierra frog to the federal endangered list.
One of our first posts at Frogs Are Green was about the coqui, a frog native to Puerto Rico, where it exists alongside several other species of Eleutherodactylus frogs and where a biological balance is maintained. It was introduced to Hawaii in the mid- to late 1990s and has no competitors so it has spread unchecked and is considered an invasive species. But our guest author, Sydney Ross Singer, a medical anthropologist, biologist, and author living on the Big Island of Hawaii, would like us to look at this problem from a new perspective. Perhaps this “alien” species should not be rejected and destroyed but welcomed.
Besides being beautiful, fascinating, a source of medicinal substances, and essential for healthy ecosystem function, frogs are canaries in the environmental coal mine. They are sensitive to pollution and climate change. And their numbers are declining at extinction rates.
That’s bad news for the rest of us living in the coal mine. Clearly, we need to change our ways.
But change is difficult for a culture to accept. Until people are dying at the rate of frogs, nothing will alter our bad cultural behaviors.
So the next best thing to do is try saving the frogs. We may not be able to stop pesticide and herbicide use, or end the deforestation and development of wild areas, or stop all the industries and lifestyles that contribute to climate change. But we can catch frogs where they are declining and find new, healthier places for them to live.
We might not have the political and economic clout to stop multinational corporations from exploiting and altering the world’s environments. But we can help refugee species flee the destruction and avoid extinction.
There are places on the planet that can serve as sanctuaries for these refugees. One place, in particular, stands out as one of the best – Hawaii.
If you move frogs from one place to another that already has frogs, the immigrants will compete with the natives, and you can possibly lose native frog populations. Hawaii, however, has no native frogs, or any native reptiles, amphibians, land snakes, or lizards. What better place to introduce frogs? Lots of insect pests to eat, warm and humid conditions, and few predators. If we wanted a sanctuary for endangered and threatened frogs, this is the place.
But wait. Can we just move a species from one part of the planet to another? Won’t it become invasive and cause damage?
It is this question that is keeping frogs from finding new homes. According to current trends in environmental thinking, species “belong” where they are “native.” You’re not supposed to move them to places where they “don’t belong.” When it comes to frogs, the Hawaii government has said they clearly “don’t belong.”
Of course, there are already frogs and toads in Hawaii, which were brought by environmental managers for insect control decades ago. Back then species were introduced deliberately to enhance biodiversity and provide needed environmental services, such as pest control, or to serve as a food source. The environment was seen as a garden for us to plant and inhabit as we saw fit.
That has all changed. Now the goal of managers is to kill introduced species in order to preserve and restore native ecosystems as they had existed prior to western contact centuries ago. They won’t get rid of the people, or the agriculture, or the chemical spraying, or the bulldozing, or the deforestation, or the development, or the intercontinental shipping, or the industries and energy policies that help cause climate change. It’s hard to change these aspects of the culture. But you sure can kill things that “don’t belong.”
What was called “exotic” or “immigrant” is now called “alien” or “invasive.” We have gone from an open immigration policy to a bio-xenophobia.
When coqui tree frogs accidentally arrived in Hawaii with shipments of plants from Florida or Puerto Rico, the response was ballistic. The mayor of Hawaii declared a state of emergency. Scientists feared the sky was falling, and that the coquis, which eat lots of insects, would decimate the insect population to the point of starving all other insectivorous creatures. The sound of the frogs, a two-toned “ko-KEE”, was described as a “shrill shriek” guaranteed to keep everyone awake at night, run down property values, and drive away tourists.
Ironically, this same coqui frog is the national animal of Puerto Rico, its native land. In fact, Puerto Ricans love this frog and its chirping sound so much that it is honored in local folklore. People describe the nighttime sound of the coqui as soothing and necessary for sleep, and Puerto Rican travelers often bring recordings of coquis with them when away from home to help them sleep.
Puerto Rico has numerous species of coqui frogs, many of which are now extinct or threatened. Unfortunately, frog numbers are declining because of fungal infections, development, climate change, and pesticide and herbicide use. So you can imagine how angry and upset Puerto Ricans were when Hawaii announced its Frog War to eradicate the newly arrived coquis.
Over the past 10 years, millions of dollars have been spent in Hawaii trying to kill coquis. And despite wide cost-saving cuts in government spending, there is still money to kill coquis.
At first, they tried an experiment to kill coquis with concentrated caffeine, giving the frogs a heart attack. A special emergency exemption was needed from the EPA to allow this spraying of caffeine into the environment. It’s impact on humans, pets, plants, lizards, and other non-target species was unknown, or what it would do once it entered the groundwater and flowed to the oceans. Chemical warfare suits were needed by applicators to prevent exposure to the highly dangerous caffeine, which was at concentrations 100 times that of coffee. There is no antidote for caffeine poisoning.
When the caffeine experiment proved untenable and too dangerous, citric acid was encouraged as a frogicide. Sprayers soaked the forests with acid, sometimes sprayed from helicopters, to drench the tiny frogs and burn them to death. Of course, this also killed plants and other critters, such as lizards. But since lizards are non-native, nobody in the government cared.
But citric acid is expensive. So another experiment was tried, using hydrated lime to burn the frogs. This caustic chemical can also cause irreversible eye and lung damage to people and pets on contact, so another emergency exemption was needed from the EPA to experiment with it. As it turned out, the hydrated lime didn’t work very well, and it killed lots of plants.
So the University of Hawaii experimented on developing a frog disease to unleash on the frogs. They tried a fungus to infect the frogs, the same one killing frogs elsewhere in the world. They realized the fungus might also kill the geckos, skinks, anoles, and other lizards, as well as the toads. But since none are native to Hawaii, none of the eradicators cared. In fact, destroying all the lizards and toads would be considered a plus. The coqui frogs, however, survived the fungus, so it was never released wide scale.
By now you may wonder how people can get away with this abuse of frogs. Aren’t there laws protecting animals from this type of cruelty?
There are. So to get around the laws the Hawaii legislature passed a law defining the coqui as a “pest.” Pest species are exempted from humane laws.
This moral depravity reached its zenith in 2007, with a planned Coqui Bounty Hunter contest to be held by public schools on the Big Island. Schools instructed students to kill coquis, either by burning them with acid, cooking them alive, or freezing them. The school with the most “kills” would receive a prize — the violent video games Playstation 3 and Xbox. The contest was canceled once it was pointed out to the schools that students are supposed to receive humane, not inhumane, education.
Despite the eradication attempts, the frogs spread. Actually, sometimes they spread because of these attempts, since coquis try leaving areas disturbed by spraying. An interisland quarantine on the coqui still exists, requiring all plant nurseries to treat plants with hot water, proven lethal to coquis and their eggs, prior to transport to other islands. But the coquis seem to frequently survive that, too.
So here is the irony. Frogs are disappearing from everywhere in the world except in Hawaii, where the government is trying to make them disappear.
Yet, despite the endless anti-coqui propaganda, people are coming to like the little coqui frog, especially those people who have arrived to Hawaii since the advent of the coqui. To these people, the sound of Hawaii includes the coqui. To these new human immigrants, the coqui is normal, and enjoyable. They understand why the Puerto Ricans love these frogs.
If we are to save the world’s endangered and threatened frogs, and other wildlife that needs rescue from the human-damaged world, we need to change our environmental immigration policy. It doesn’t matter where a species is native, or where it “belongs”. That these species survive is what matters. And this may require finding them a new home.
This is not to suggest that we bring in species willy nilly, without thinking about the impact on local species. We need careful study to know which species can be introduced, and where. But unless we open our borders, and our hearts, to these refugee species, they will die.
We caused their problems. Their fate is in our hands.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist, biologist, and author living on the Big Island of Hawaii. He is an outspoken defender of the Hawaiian coqui frog, has created Hawaii’s first coqui frog sanctuary, and has been featured on Animal Planet, PBS Nature, BBC radio, and Univision. He is co-author of Panic in Paradise: Invasive Species, Hysteria, and the Hawaiian Coqui Frog War (ISCD Press, 2005). His website is www.HawaiianCoqui.org.
Haiti recently marked the anniversary of the January 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated the country, killing over 300,000 people, and leaving almost a million people homeless.
Recently scientists from Conservation International (CI) and the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) of IUCN reported a bit of news they hope might become a source of pride and hope for the country’s environmental future: the surprising re-discovery of six species of frogs in the country’s severely degraded tropical forests, species that had been lost to science for nearly two decades.
Large-scale deforestation has left the country with less than two-percent of its original forest cover and has degraded most of the fresh water ecosystems. Yet Haitians depend on the cloud forests of the southwest mountains as two of the last remaining pockets of environmental health and natural wealth in Haiti.
This expedition was part of Conservation International’s global Search for Lost Frogs campaign, in which CI’s Amphibian Conservation Specialist Dr. Robin Moore, in partnership with Dr. Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University, searched for the La Selle Grass frog (E. glanduliferoides), which had not been seen in more than 25 years. They also hoped to assess the status of Haiti’s 48 other native species of amphibians.
The scientists did not find the La Selle Grass frog, but to their surprise, they rediscovered several other remarkable frog species, most of which haven’t been seen since 1991. As Dr. Moore says, “We went in looking for one missing species and found a treasure trove of others. That, to me, represents a welcome dose of resilience and hope for the people and wildlife of Haiti.”
Dr. Moore says that a common assumption about Haiti is that there isn’t anything left to save. Yet this is not true. According to Moore, there are biologically rich pockets intact, despite tremendous environmental pressures. Haiti now has the opportunity to design their reconstruction plans around these pockets, and to protect them, so that these natural areas can more effectively act as buffers to climate change and natural disasters. However, there is little time to waste: 92 percent of Haiti’s amphibian populations are listed as threatened and are in danger of disappearing.
“The biodiversity of Haiti, including its frogs, is approaching a mass extinction event caused by massive and nearly complete deforestation. Unless the global community comes up with a solution soon, we will lose many unique species forever,” said Dr. Hedges.
Amid the backdrop of Haiti’s struggle to rebuild, Moore added some important context:
The devastation that the people of Haiti are still coping with is almost unimaginable. I have never seen anything like it. Clearly, the health of Haiti’s frogs is not anyone’s primary concern here. However, the ecosystems these frogs inhabit, and their ability to support life, is critically important to the long-term well-being of Haiti’s people, who depend on healthy forests for their livelihoods, food security, and fresh water. Amphibians are what we call barometer species of our planet’s health. They’re like the canaries in the coal mine. As they disappear, so too do the natural resources people depend upon to survive.
Here are a few of the rediscovered frogs:
Hispaniolan Ventriloquial Frog (Eleutherodactylus dolomedes). This frog is named after its call that the frog projects like a ventriloquist. Its unusual call consists of a rapid seven-note series of chirps, with the initial four notes rising slowly in pitch before plateauing; the call is released in widely-spaced intervals, often minutes apart. Prior to this expedition, the species was only known from a few individuals.
Mozart’s Frog (E. amadeus). Called Mozart’s frog because when Dr. Hedges, who discovered the species, made an audiospectrogram of the call, it coincidentally resembled musical notes. Its call is a four-note muffled whistle at night; usually given as a shorter two-note call at dawn and dusk.
La Hotte Glanded Frog (E. glandulifer). This frog could be called Old Blue Eyes: its most distinctive feature are its striking blue sapphire-colored eyes – a highly unusual trait among amphibians.
La Hotte Glanded Frog, Eleutherodactylus glandulifer. Copyright Claudio Contreras /iLCP.
Macaya Breast-spot frog. (E. thorectes). Approximately the size of a grape, this is one of the smallest frogs in the world. In Haiti, this species has a very restricted range, occurring only on the peaks of Formon and Macaya at high elevations on the Massif de la Hotte.
Juvenile Macaya breast-spot landfrog, E. thorectes. Photo copyright Robin Moore/iLCP
Hispaniolan Crowned Frog. This species was named after a row of protuberances that resemble a crown on the back of its head. Prior to this expedition, the species was known from less than 10 individuals, and is likely to be extremely rare. It is an arboreal species, occurring in high-elevation cloud forest. Males call from bromeliads or orchids, which they seem to require for reproduction.
Macaya Burrowing Frog. Haiti is now the only place where two burrowing frogs are known to share the same habitat. This species has big jet black eyes and bright orange flashes on the legs. Males call from shallow, underground chambers and eggs are also laid underground, where they hatch directly into froglets.