African wildlife, coasts suffer from flooding, drought

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — Devastating floods in South Africa this week, as well as other continent-wide extreme weather events linked to human-caused climate change, are putting marine and terrestrial wildlife species at risk, according to biodiversity experts.

Africa has already faced a number of weather-related issues in the past year: ongoing fatal floods follow relentless cyclones in the southextreme temperatures in the western and northern regions, and a debilitating drought that currently afflicts eastern, central and Horn of Africa.

Conservation and wildlife groups say it is critical to protect species from these climate change-related weather events.

“Climate change is disrupting ecosystems and affecting the survival and suitability of species to live in their usual habitats,” said Shyla Raghav, who leads Conservation International’s climate change division. “Massive disruption of ecological stability will occur if adequate adaptation and mitigation measures are not implemented. There is a need to incorporate climate sealing in our protected areas. In this way, we increase the resilience of nature.”

Multiple species, including Africa’s famous “big five” land animals and other terrestrial and marine life, are vulnerable to significant population loss. Ornithologist Paul Matiku, who leads the biodiversity observation group Nature Kenya, says changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures are having serious consequences for bird populations.

“Climate change causes seasonal variability in precipitation, temperature and food for birds. As such, reproduction is aborted and bird populations automatically reduce over time,” Matiku said. “Wetland birds are affected by reduced water levels due to droughts. The Sahara Desert gets hotter and some migratory birds die along their migratory routes due to high temperatures and dehydration.” He added that some birds are so weak from migratory travel that they are no longer breeding.

The ecosystems that thrive along Africa’s popular white-sand beaches are also particularly vulnerable, according to Ibidun Adelekan, a professor of geography at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. The coasts of Africa are at risk of coral reef ecosystem collapse due to bleaching, potential saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers, and more intense tropical cyclones.

Adelekan warned that further damage to Africa’s coastal biodiversity will also have considerable consequences for populations in the towns and cities along its shores. “Persistent deprivation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by human actions is leading to greater vulnerability of coastal and island communities to climate impacts,” she told the Associated Press.

Their concerns are echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which earlier this year warned that African coasts with “a high proportion of informal settlements and small island states are exposed and highly vulnerable to climate change”.

But scientists are hopeful that better coastal management of marine protected areas and better restrictions on the fishing industry will reduce impacts on marine biodiversity.

“Our research indicates that the future of coral reefs will be much better if fishing restrictions and protected areas are effectively enforced across the region,” said Tim McClanahan, a senior conservation zoologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, who has studied more than 100 locations in the western Indian Ocean.

“While climate change may be out of local control, bad outcomes will be reduced if fisheries manage to reduce harmful impacts on coral reefs.”

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about the AP climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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