This diary was meant to post for the repeat of The Thin Green Line but PBS won't show it again. So for today's GreenRoots Diary, an updated look back at a devastating story.
Since my original posting of The Thin Green Line, the video that Magnifico posted in that diary From Silent Spring to Silent Night has been verified by Nicholas Kristof's It’s Time to Learn From Frogs and the harmful effects of Atrazine are reaching beyond frogs.
Those deformed frogs and intersex fish — not to mention the growing number of deformities in newborn boys — should jolt us once again.
Atrazine at levels one third of what is allowed in American drinking water has been found to reverse the sex of frogs. The chemical that is billed as "our most common drinking water contaminant" is not only causing male frogs to develop into female frogs, thus causing a sexual imbalance in the shrinking amphibian world. Now there are also serious concerns for humans.
The toxins in our waters are reaching well beyond frogs. Reproductive abnormalities have been reported in everything from alligators, to polar bears, to humans. "It's not just a problem with frogs that we should be concerned about. The water that’s causing their problems is the same water that we’re drinking and using to water our crops." Frog or human, we all breath the same air and drink the same water. For their sake and ours, experts agree—we have to take action and there’s no time to lose.
It doesn't seem like the jolt Nicholas Kristof was hoping for is developing. According to the manufacturers of atrazine where they are celebrating 50 years of placing corn on our tables the EPA claims that Prof. Tyrone Hayes is confused and atrazine's 50 years as a herbicide continues. Even though France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Austria and Italy have all banned atrazine, the U.S.A. continues to study the "inconclusive research" but still manages to conclude a safe "level per millionth" for atrazine and thousands of other toxins in our drinking water. While the U.S. government chooses the method of research that is most convenient to chemical manufacturers there is evidence of long term effects.
"We are concerned that most studies used to make pesticide registration decisions and to derive safe concentrations last for about four days," said Jason R. Rohr, a research associate at the Penn State University Institutes of Energy and the Environment. "They often do not consider recovery processes, persistent effects of chemical exposure, or interactions among individuals within and between species that can affect our estimates of safe chemical concentrations."
Analyzing the effects of various concentrations of atrazine on salamanders, the researchers found that even low levels of atrazine exposure significantly increased salamander mortality.
The 2007 research that is considered junk science by our government has new research to consider about many pesticides this month.
Sparling and colleagues found that endosulfan are making their way, likely via wind currents, into critical frog habitat, triggering die-offs among Pacific tree frogs and foothill yellow-legged frogs, which are native to meadows in California's Sierra Mountains.
The twenty-seven year old PBS series Nature is only one hour long and there is much more to focus on in this perfect storm against our amphibians than wiping them out with pesticides. The director and narrator Allison Argo's introduction to The Thin Green Line;
They're ancient creatures in a changing world. These evolutionary gems have been around since before the dinosaurs. But suddenly they're slipping away. As scientist race to find answers amphibians are vanishing. "We're going to lose perhaps half of the amphibian species and they are going away for good. They don't come back." The implications are enormous. "Some of these habitats will fall apart without their amphibians. It's an indication to us that there is something wrong. At what point are we going to turn around and say 'Hang on we needed those frogs?'" Across the globe amphibians are walking a thin line. If we act quickly, we might pull them back from the edge "This is the only chance we have."
Even if amphibians served no ecological purpose and the world could continue on without them, these are still our frogs and as stewards of the earth they deserve far more than being ignored.
But when you consider how many amphibians sustain themselves on insects and how many insects live off plant life, then without our frogs and salamanders the wetlands could be eaten alive and the insects that were once eaten by frogs exploding into uncontrollable swarms is not the only problem. Predators who depended on amphibians for food can also become extinct. Without tadpoles stirring up the brooks and with all of the nutrient rich chemicals we are adding to the water algae blooms can threaten the fish. Do you think maybe waging chemical warfare against our frogs proves that we are doing something very wrong?
"Frogs are like the canary in the coal mine. They serve as early alarms for the environment," Sparling said. "They also provide a large and important link between the aquatic and terrestrial environments. If amphibians go, a huge link will be gone."
The link between pesticides and declining amphibian populations in mountainous areas has been suggested elsewhere. In January 2007 a study led by Frank Wania of the University of Toronto found that pesticides used in lowland areas in Central America are carried by air currents to higher elevations where they are they precipitated out as rain when the air cools. The chemicals -- especially the insecticide endosulfan and fungicide chlorothalonil -- then accumulate in the montane ecosystems, which have experienced particularly severe declines in amphibian populations over the past thirty years. Meanwhile other research has linked Atrazine, one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States, to dying salamanders.
Ms. Argo who also pointed out how important every living creature is in Crash: A Tale of Two Species began the second segment of The Thin Green Line with;
Frogs have managed to navigate life on earth for more than 250 million years. They were the first of our ancestors to venture from the water to the world beyond. But their fish like beginnings haven't hindered their progress on earth. They've evolved into an explosion of species, each one unique. These diminutive time travelers survived the dinosaurs, asteroids and ice ages adapting in ways that boggle the mind. Some are masters of camouflage while others avoid predators by carrying poisons in their skin. Their survival tactics have splintered them into thousands of species scattered on almost every corner of the earth. Whether salamander, frog or toad amphibian are some of the most diverse and far flung animals on the planet but they're disappearing and experts are worried. Frogs are considered bell weathers for the environment. Their double life makes them unique. It's through their skin that they breathe and drink. Because their skin is so permeable they're epically sensitive to changes in the environment. Today more than a third of amphibians are in decline. From Australia to South America frogs are disappearing. Why are species that have survived suddenly collapsing? Scientist are searching for clues before the next species slips away.
The Thin Green Line takes a look at some of the many remarkable adaptations of amphibians, the many amazing survival techniques that are no match for people overrunning the planet. The episode also focuses on the efforts of scientist who seem to be losing the battle against almost everyone else.
It starts with how we've carved up their habitat and the amount of frogs that are run over by automobiles on rainy nights. Millions of amphibians are lost each year when they collide with humans.
"If a female is full of eggs, the next generation is lost as well." It is pointed out that Cape Cod National Seashore has taken some precautions by closing some roads on rainy nights.
The central focus of The Thin Green Line are the many scientist working to turn around this tragic story of pending extinction.
There is a fungus called chytrid playing a major role in this environmental crisis and the deadly disease that has been spread by man makes the situation for these super adapters very grim. It is a natural fungus originally discovered in the 1930's in Africa and later in the 1970's chytrid showed up in California. Now it is coming up in other places too.
In Yosemite National Park scientist who have been removing predatory exotic fish that were introduced by sports fishermen were hopeful that they had given the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog a chance at a comeback. But twelve years ago chytrid began wiping out the species.
It goes way beyond Yosemite.
The disease is sweeping through the Sierras. It is well established in Mexico and Central and South America devastating amphibians. "Central and South America harbored fifty percent of the world's amphibian species. This was the place with the worlds greatest amount and now we've potentially lost a huge portion of that."
The only option left to the Yosemite scientist are repeated washing in a Clorox solution and keeping some Mountain Yellow Legged Frog in captivity.
Now this fungus that eventually kills the host when chytrid becomes chytridiomycosis is spreading everywhere. Since frogs breathe through their skin this disease kills through asphyxiation. This represents a global epidemic for frogs and nobody understands how to contain it when it arrives. One scientist in the program compares a new strain called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis with a yellow fever for frogs or the superflu of 1918. When chytrid enters the moist cool habitats that frogs depend on, 50% of amphibian species and 80% of individuals can be expected to disappear within 1 year.
If there is anything uplifting about this gut wrenching story it is the scientist working to save frogs. They breed frogs and put them back out in spite of chytrid hoping that some will prove resistant. Raising amphibians from little tiny black dots and just hoping. The captive bred Mountain Yellow Legged Frogs are air lifted from laboratory to the place where they once thrived in Yosemite even if 95% of then just die.
Just like the lake shore in Yosemite where someone can now walk without seeing a single frog, the forest of Costa Rica and the uplands of Panama no longer have the sights and sounds of frogs. No amphibian music in a once living forest that is just dying.
The Panamanian golden frog, a once common symbol of good luck to Panamanians that has no ears and communicates through arm gestures, seems to only exist in captivity now.
Before the big crash this was a great place. I think out total list here was something like sixty-four species of amphibians. I didn't matter where you went in the forest, you would find them on the ground, on the leaves, you'd hear them up in the canopy, you could walk any trail any stream and you would hear frogs calling day and night. And now...
Silence, just silence in a Costa Rican rain forest. It's all just seems so Koyaanisqatsi as this epidemic spreads up from south America and down from North America. There is a walk in one little section of Panama, a submerged tropical rain forest area called Burbayar that still seems unaffected. It seems like a little sanctuary where life still continues the way it did for millions of years.
But for how much longer will it remain intact? We're running out of places where frogs are healthy. We estimate that within ten years all of Panama will be gone. We're talking upland areas but as fast as you move it's continuing its passage.
And it is not just on this continent. A similar story is playing out in Australia. There is some evidence that global warming is effecting frog populations and adding Australian drought to chytrid seven species of frog have already been lost there.
There is a beautiful species called the Corroboree frogs. Amazingly social black and yellow frogs that once gathered in huge crowds hugging each other and are named after a ceremonial gathering of Australian Aborigines where the elders often wear black and yellow paint. That celebration is called a Corroboree. These amazing frogs may no longer be found outdoors and live in shipping containers where Australian scientist fight for this frog's survival.
Gerry & Erika Marentelli (from the Amphibian Conservation Centre)are the scientist who built the shipping container and evacuates frogs when drought drys up their habitat.
Gerry Marentelli has reintroduced the Booroolong Frog to Boorooree Creek. One species, the Spotted Tree Frog has been reintroduced with every frog having the same father. Mr. Marentelli found only one male and with the help of captive females bred a new population from that lone male frog. Pretty amazing kind of guy, that Marentelli is. Now the husband and wife team are pushing captive bred Corroboree back out into the wild even if 95% of then just die.
All of these good people are doing whatever they can. Scientist around the world get children involved so the next generation will care about the sounds that should be heard at willow and swail or creeks and bogs. There is one little story about the Atlanta Botanical Gardens transforming into an amphibian preserve because the Gopher Frog, a species not effected by chytrid but by a housing boom that is removing the frog's habitat. Science has no answer for that. A conservatory in a botanical gardens is not an ecosystem.
That's the key here, ecosystem. Chytrid is not even the worst threat to these frogs, habitat destruction and division is. There is a small segment in The Thin Green Line where a scientist is being interviewed beside a pond. For years he had been attempting to restore a devastated amphibian population in a laboratory and when he returned to the pond in the forest it had become a pond in the middle of a housing complex. Across the world runoff from developments are making nature unsafe for frogs who have shown a resistance to everything before humans.
As scientist try to save these frogs in laboratory fish tanks, what is going on in the real world where scientific illiteracy is praised in the name of business? With the world developing so quickly that even if scientist find a way to reintroduce these amphibians there may be no habitat to put them back in because so much scientific research is business based. In suburban ponds about 21% of frogs have weird science deformities. The suspected cause is drugs in the septic systems. Only suspected because very little research has been done on how toxic our own drug culture urine and feces has become for the environment.
Atrazine and toxic suburbanites are far from the only chemicals that are wiping out our amphibians. Agriculture is adding a chemical similar to nerve gas called Chloropicrin that ends up in streams. Many of these chemical, they're not even sure of the effects but the frogs are dying and what is being done to us? There is methyl bromide used in both farms and sprayed all over golf courses, which is not only eating ozone but polluting our drinking water. Five legged frogs and toxic nitrogen levels in the Gulf of Mexico make a good argument for organic farming or at lest seeking to restore some balance.
I can't explain why there was no repeat broadcast of The Thin Green Line. Perhaps the producers at WNET decided it was too painful to watch over again. If you have not seen the full hour and do not have the time to watch the full episode online, then perhaps you can watch this seven minute "Making of the Thin Green Line" that may represent "The most important environmental story of out time."
Fifteen years has passed between Allison Argo's two frog documentaries and the words in that clip are seriously a sign of our times. Sitting through the entire hour of The Thin Green Line you can only conclude that courageous scientist are fighting and losing an uphill battle against many corporate governments. Here in America those heroes need all the help a political action community offer.
GreenRoots is a new environmental series created by Meteor Blades and Patriot Daily for Daily Kos. This series provides a forum for the discussion of all environmental issues, including the need for sustainability and the interrelationship between environment and salient issues of our lives, including health care, family, food, economy, jobs, labor, poverty, equal justice, human rights, political stability, national security and war.
This week the hosts for DK's new environmental series called GreenRoots are:
Please join a variety of hosts on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoons and early evenings.
There is so much to fix in this industrialized world but please don’t forget our amphibian friends. We may not survive without them.