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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid