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Endangered Species: Toxins in the Great Lakes

Cheryl Ferguson Articles, Global News, Local News, Plover Lovers Committee

By Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter
Wednesday, February 19, 2014, 2:16 PM

A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that toxins in the Great Lakes are killing birds at an alarming rate.

Since 1999, it’s estimated that more than 100,000 birds have died from avian botulism in this region.

The disease attacks the nervous system leading to paralysis and, often, death by drowning.

Some birds are more vulnerable to the disease than others, among them: the piping plover.

RELATED: Studies show water toxins are poisoning birds, fish and coral 

This small, sand-coloured bird can be found on shorelines across North America.

During the winter months, they migrate to the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic coast of the United States, as well as the Caribbean.

In eastern Canada, the species can be seen on coastal beaches.

In Ontario, a substantial population has completely vanished.

Water toxins aren’t the only threat that has put this species at risk. Natural predators — like foxes and crows — and severe weather have both played a role in their decline.

Piping plovers build their nests along gravel shorelines, making them vulnerable to spring tides and severe storms.

The Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) added the piping plover to its endangered species list in 1985, nearly thirty years ago.

“The interior subspecies of this shorebird is projected to decline over the longer term, particularly if concerted conservation efforts are relaxed,” COSEWIC writes.

“Overall numbers remain low and adult survival has been poor over the last decade. Threats from predation, human disturbance, and declines in habitat extent and quality continue.”

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons


  • Respect breeding grounds. “If you find yourself on a beach where piping plovers are nesting you can help by respecting closed areas and by informing others about the plover and its plight,” writes PEI’s National Park of Canada. “If you think you may have found an unprotected nest, report it.”
  • When visiting shorelines, keep your pets leashed.
  • Avoid designated nesting areas between May and August.