Fractured Fairy Tale

Hundreds of animal species are vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. Can we take action before it is too late?

November 22, 2019

12:04 pm

Once upon a time — as recently, in fact, as just four years ago — on a small coral key in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of northern Australia, there lived a species of rat.

The Bramble Cay melomys (Latin name: Melomys rubicola) —  a tiny, brown creature with a mosaic tail — numbered in the hundreds 40-odd years on the island for which it was named in the Torres Strait.

But the island, which is about 10 feet above sea level at its highest point, has been slowly losing ground to sea water, the cataclysmic effects of which have reduced vegetation on the island by more than 30%, which is the primary reason that the small Australian mammal is now no more.

And in case the moral of this fractured fairy tale isn’t clear, by “is no more,” we mean the Bramble Cay melomys is extinct.

Scientists declared the Bramble Cay melomys extinct in 2016, “likely the world's first mammal,” reported National Geographic, “to become a casualty of climate change.” In February of this year, the Australian government concurred, officially declaring the mammal extinct.

"The key factor responsible for the extirpation of this population was almost certainly ocean inundation of the low-lying cay, very likely on multiple occasions, during the last decade, causing dramatic habitat loss and perhaps also direct mortality of individuals," concluded the Australian government team in a report. “Available information about sea-level rise and the increased frequency and intensity of weather events producing extreme high water levels and damaging storm surges in the Torres Strait region over this period point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys."

Today, nearly half of Australian species categorized as “threatened” are vulnerable to the climate crisis.

Globally, the Guardian reported, at risk of extinction are:

  • two in five amphibian species
  • one-third of reef-forming corals
  • close to one-third of other marine species

“A great extinction is underway across most of the planet,” noted Yale Environment 360, reporting that millions of species are being lost.

And in the U.S., there are 459 animal species listed as endangered by the U.S. government. Of those, all but one — a statistically astounding 99.8 % — are considerably vulnerable to the effects of the climate emergency, reported the Guardian in a separate article. A new study found that these 458 species “have characteristics that will make it difficult for them to adapt to rising temperatures.”

And current governments are not doing enough to protect the species. As reported by Yale Environment 360, Aimee Delach, senior policy analyst for climate adaptation at Defenders of Wildlife, singled out the Trump administration’s decision to weaken its interpretation of the Endangered Species Act as “disastrous,” and likely to further slow down the response to climate threats.

This tale doesn't end with "... and they lived happily ever after" unless we demand immediate action to prevent further species loss.

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