News / USA

Environmentalists Say Polar Bears Off Alaska at Risk

Zulima Palacio

Polar bears are in trouble.  Experts say if nothing changes, polar bears could disappear during the current century. The experts point to a loss of habitat; Arctic ice is melting. And  there's a build up of toxic substances in the polar bears' food. Now, polar bears find themselves at the core of an environmental debate. While new offshore gas and oil exploration is planned closer to the bears, the U.S. government is preparing to enforce regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and greater protection of the nation's wilderness.

Scientists increasingly worry that the polar bear will not survive.

"The predictions are that if we continue on the path we are with greenhouse gas pollution, the polar bears in Alaska will disappear in less than 50 years and that is a sobering thought," said Robert Irvin, a senior vice president at Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group.

Irvin was referring to the latest study on polar bears released by the U.S. Geological Survey.  It says polar bears can be saved if greenhouse gas emissions are cut.

There are an estimated 22,000 polar bears worldwide. They can swim great distances and live for short periods on land.  But their habitat - Arctic Sea ice - is rapidly melting.   

"They hunt for their food out in the Arctic ice," said Irvin. "They raise their young out in the Arctic Sea ice."

Other studies show that polar bears have alarming levels of toxic substances in their bodies.

Those chemicals are mostly used in agriculture. They run off into rivers and then into oceans, where they enter currents that end up in the Arctic eco-system.  

"Unfortunately PCV levels have been found quite high in polar bears," said Doug Inkley, a senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. "There has been at least seven polar bears in the Norway region that we reported, that had genitalia of both male and female and this may be because of the pollution."  

In the past few weeks the U.S. government has acted on several measures affecting the polar bear.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to curb global warming.  

Then the Interior Department designated almost a half million square kilometers in the Arctic Sea and coastal areas as critical habitat.

Third, the administration decided not to change the polar bear's designation from "threatened" to "endangered." Environmentalists say the administration responded to pressure from lobbyists. The change would have allowed greater protection of polar bears and their environment.

As a result, the oil and gas industries could begin exploring new areas in the Arctic Sea by mid 2011.

"Many people, not just in our industry, but in government, notably the U.S. Geologic Survey, believe there is high potential for significant amounts of oil and natural gas to be found in the U.S. Arctic Continental shelf, meaning below the sea floor," said Richard Ranger, who is senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute which represents the U.S. oil and natural gas industry. 

Environmentalists say an oil spill in the Arctic, like the one earlier this year in the Gulf of Mexico, would spell disaster not only for polar bears but for whales, seals and other wildlife.  

They say this region, frozen and dark six months of the year, has little or no emergency response equipment.

But Ranger says the oil and gas industries have been operating in the Arctic for over 40 years.  He says the industry has collaborated on studies about polar bears to avoid harming them.

"We have drilled safely in that environment over a period of a number of years and believe we can do so to the satisfaction of the government, the satisfaction of the public and for the protection of the environment up there," he said.

But environmentalists say one of the last great places on earth should not be put at risk.  

"When polar bears are healthy, it tells us that the environment is healthy," said Robert Irvin. "So when we protect polar bears, we are actually protecting ourselves."

Environmentalists say if the polar bear is not saved, other species will be next to meet the same fate.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Official Pleased With Ebola Containment Measure

Official says three-day sensitization effort will help reduce infection rate of Ebola disease nationwide More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid