Paddling through the marsh at low tide in oppresively hot July weather, fighting against the large patches of water chesnut is no easy feat, but is necessary in order to measure the Surface Elevation Tables (SETs). Three times per year, staff at Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary venture out to measure the SETs. Why is this such an important task? The short answer is climate change.
Ocean levels are rising from melting ice caps and increases in ocean temperature. As the ocean levels rise, more water and sediment is pushed up the Hudson River and enters Constitution Marsh. Throughout the year we measure the sediment settled on the surface of of the marsh. In order for the birds and wildlife to survive, the surface of the marsh habitat must rise above the increasing tide levels. If the surface elevation does not increase, bird nests will be flooded out and the plant litter that makes up the nests will continuously be washed away.
Important Bird Areas, such as Constitution Marsh, will become increasingly critical for birds as climate change and human development decreases the amount of available habitat. If we are able to assess how climate change will affect the marsh habitat, then we can try to deter negative impacts so the marsh can remain a healthy place for birds to live and visit.
Averting the worst effects and adapting to climate change is not something we can do alone. Luckily, a positive aspect of environmental organizations is the capability to form partnerships in order to work towards a common goal. Through this superpower, organizations like Audubon are able to conduct research and start to organize at the grassroots level to make institutional changes on both the local and national scale.
According to Audubon’s Climate Report released in 2014, 314 species of North American birds out of the 588 surveyed will lose 50% their current geographic range by 2080 even in low emissions scenarios. This means bird species won’t be able to live where they are currently residing and they will have to move and adapt to changing conditions quickly.
Climate change is the greatest threat to birds.
Birds are an indicator species. When birds are protected, so is everything else. The effects of climate change that make it harder for birds to survive will also make it more difficult for us to survive. Increasing temperatures, bigger storms, increased precipitation, sea level rise, and stronger and longer droughts can destroy our crops, introduce new diseases, and make some cities unlivable. The worst part is, all the trouble we will go through will be from our own undoing. But, it’s not too late to stop the worst effects from happening.
Here are some actions you can take:
1. Get involved.
Look for information on how climate change is impacting your region and talk to your peers about how it can impact them. Share stories and insight on how you can make changes in your own community and homes to make those spaces a more carbon neutral place. Click here to find out how you can take action with Audubon New York!
2. Talk to your colleagues.
Industry accounts for 21% of greenhouse gas emissions (and 65% of carbon emissions); Agriculture, forestry, and land use take up 24%; and electricity and heat production make up 25% according to the EPA. If your place of work can operate in a greener way, talk to your co-workers and higher-ups to try to make changes that reduce emissions.
3. Eat a plant based diet
Switching to a plant based diet leads to lower rates of chronic diseases and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Project Drawdown, the Western meat-centric diet has allowed for cattle to account for one fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. Turning to a vegetarian or vegan diet can help lower it. It might seem scary or that you might really miss meat, but as a vegetarian since 2016 I can truthfully say that I don’t miss meat. I eat way more fruits and vegetables than I used to and, dare I say, more pizza.
4. Educate and empower girls and young women
Educated young women, including myself, create sustainable communities and are better equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change. Empower young women and girls in your community. Embrace them to assume leadership roles in all subject areas, including in areas of science, and listen to what they have to say. Click here for information on Audubon's Women in Conservation Internship.
5. Plant native plants
Not only do native plants strengthen and support local ecosystems, they also help manage the temperature and water regulation of an area. Plants will keep spaces cool in the summer and provide shelter for wildlife in the winter while soaking up and releasing excess water. They are also essential in supplying food for birds, pollinators, and small mammals. The National Audubon Society has a Native Plant Database where you can find out what plants are best suited for your garden to support native wildlife.