Sunday, March 11, 2007

Clue to ‘silent summer’ in Esperance

In a sort of grim nod to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the birds of Esperance, Western Australia, have been dropping out of the sky in their thousands since December — “and no one knows why.”

Locals were dismayed to find that their “dawn chorus” had disappeared.

The main casualties are wattle birds, yellow-throated miners, new holland honeyeaters and singing honeyeaters, although some dead crows, hawks and pigeons have also been found. Wildlife officers are baffled by the “catastrophic” event...

Dr [Fiona] Sunderman [of the WA Department of Agriculture and Food] said there were no leads yet on which of potentially hundreds of toxins might be responsible. Some birds were seen convulsing as they died.

  • The Australian, 10 January 2007

Speculation about unknown toxins in the environment around Esperance led to concerns for public health — but evidently not to the extent of a similar and concurrent event in Austin, Texas, where “police shut 10 city blocks as workers in hazardous-materials suits tested for contaminants that may have killed grackles, sparrows and pigeons.” (The Australian, 11 January 2007)

Now preliminary findings have led the WA Department of Environment to suspect lead poisoning as the likely cause of the massive die-off. The possible source of the contamination may even have been identified.

Department of Environment spokesman David Mell said there was still no direct evidence of a lead source, although lead carbonate transported into Esperance for shipping through the port is the main suspect.

The department has already ordered an upgrade of the Esperance Port Authority's air-quality monitoring after lead particles were identified in dust at some monitoring stations.

  • The Australian, 10 March 2007

It’s good to be cautious in matters of empirical science, but if I were a resident of Esperance and surrounds, I would be urgently asking about the extent of the problem.

That crows and hawks seem to have fallen victim in this “catastrophic” event suggests that the poisoning may have extended through the foodchain. Where might it end?


Blogger Pete said...

Very interesting topic Jacob, I'm a member of a wildlife forum where this topic has been quite extensively debated. I heard a further update on this issue only yesterday morning and it was mentioned there had been further bird deaths this week, this time involving Pale-headed Rosellas (100+ birds). The Port Authority is going to moniter the loading operations at the Esperance port to see if there are excessive dust levels.

I fear the wider implications of what this means, as I can't see that the lead contamination would only affect avian species.


(P.S. - I found this blog after being directed to it via Google Alerts, I'll pay another visit when I have more time)

11/3/07 12:02 PM  
Blogger Caz said...

I'm still waiting to find out why the bees of America are vanishing, quite literally.

11/3/07 2:28 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

Thanks Pete.

Caz, hadn't heard about the bees! Gerbil womanising, perhaps?

16/3/07 4:05 PM  

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