Seeing is Believing:
Earth's Climate Crisis

LAUNCHED ON APRIL 22, 2020, 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF EARTH DAY.

PHOTO ALBUM, BY WCS SCIENTISTS, AND FRIENDS, OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS.

The climate crisis is happening now. On a global scale. Impacting all life on Earth. Humans, fauna, and flora.

As we speak, the world is experiencing a zoonotic pandemic. Species are dying out. Floods and fires are threatening the Earth’s landscapes. Intense storms and sea-level rise are wiping away coastlines. Communities are being forced to relocate. Wildlife must adapt or find different habitats. These new extremes are changing how all species function, including us. These are not distant problems, which is why viable solutions are more critical than ever.

Here we will post on an ongoing basis the impacts of climate change that WCS staff and friends are seeing on the ground. Our hope is to promote conversation and incite the actions needed to save Earth from this crisis.

What is WCS doing on the issue? At WCS, addressing the climate crisis—along with the biodiversity and extinction crisis and the zoonotic pandemic crisis—is front and center in all we do. In many ways, conserving wildlife and the world's wild places will mean facing and adapting to a changing climate and planet. Because of this, WCS is actively working to implement solutions that will allow wildlife and human communities to persist.


Impacts on the Ground

What We Are Seeing and Believing

Guatemala

Fires in Mesoamerica

This infant howler monkey has lost its home. In early Spring 2020, with forest rangers sheltering due to the COVID-19 crisis, fires, exacerbated by drought, raged uncontrolled across Mesoamerica, including in northern Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, which WCS has worked to conserve for more than two decades. The young monkey was found alone in the ashes of a burned tree in the community forests of San Miguel la Palotada there.

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Photo Credit: ©Edwin Godoy
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Photo Credit: ©Joel Berger/WCS

Arctic

More Rain, Less Food for Musk Oxen

"The growth of young musk oxen is being hindered by climate change, our research has shown. Mothers can't access food when it rains in winter instead of remaining cold and snowy. The ice that forms blocks them from getting to the plants they usually eat."

—Joel Berger, WCS Senior Scientist

Arctic

Melting Ice

"With summer sea ice disappearing, Pacific walruses are increasingly forced to crowd onto remote shorelines by the tens of thousands."

—Martin Robards, Regional Director, WCS Arctic Beringia

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Photo Credit: ©Konstantin Lemeshev
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Photo Credit: ©Coty Sidnam

Australia

Storms and Rising Temperatures

"Off Lizard Island and the Great Barrier Reef, living giant oysters are nestled in among hard corals damaged, bleached, and dead as a result of Category 5 tsunamis in 2014 and '15 and mass bleaching events due to rising water temperatures in 2016 and '17."

—Coty Sidnam, WCS Trustee

Argentina

Following the Food Supply

"In under 60 years, more than 300,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins, a quarter of the entire population, moved their breeding range north more than 150 miles along the coast of Patagonia to be closer to their food supply as it retreated northwards in the Southwest Atlantic."

—Graham Harris, Senior Conservationist, WCS Argentina

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Photo Credit: ©Graham Harris/WCS

Bolivia

Obvious Signs

"Drying river beds and receding glaciers in Bolivia are impossible to ignore and have wide ranging impacts."

—Lilian Painter and Robert Wallace, WCS Bolivia

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Photo Credit: ©Robert Wallace/WCS
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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

Bolivia

Rapidly Receding

"In the Apolobamba protected area, in the high Andes, farmers are worried that a drier climate will mean increased competition for resources among wildlife, domestic animals, and the people themselves."

—Julie Larsen Maher, WCS Staff Photographer

Brazil

Extreme Dry Seasons

"Clouds from fire hang over Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. These fires are human-caused but made worse by extreme dry seasons related to climate change."

—Carlos Durigan, Director, WCS Brazil

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Photo Credit: ©Joel Berger/WCS

Butan

Swept Away

"Takin crossing a glacial fed stream in a high mountain valley of the Bhutanese Himalayas. Takin are Bhutan's national mammal and often are described as a cross between a bee stung moose and a wildebeest. They are a true goat antelope. In the Himalayas, rapid glacial melting increases stream flow and torrents, and at times both people and animals are swept away. I have watched this happen to takin."

—Joel Berger, WCS Senior Scientist

China

Desiccating Glacier

"The world's highest elevation equids—Kiang, in this photo on the Tibetan Plateau—are an elegant cold-adapted yet endangered wild ass. Here, they run along the fringe of the desiccating yet massive Buakbada glacier in western Tibet. Along with kiang in these distant and high elevation realms are also several endangered species including wild yak, chiru and snow leopard."

—Joel Berger, WCS Senior Scientist

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Photo Credit: ©Joel Berger/WCS
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Photo Credit: ©WCS Congo

Congo

Floods at Base Camp

"Lac Télé Community Reserve is a vast flooded wetland and forest in northern Congo. The ecosystem relies on annual floods and dry periods and provides year-round fish to local communities. The last few years, however, have seen erratic weather, from extremely low rainfall in 2018 to catastrophic flooding in 2019. This is the WCS base in Epena during the floods."

—Ben Evans, WCS Project Director, Lac Télé Community Reserve

Fiji

Cyclone Winston

"Fiji's coastal communities depend on healthy underwater ecosystems. But the impacts of climate change—including damage from hurricanes like Cyclone Winston as seen here—present an unprecedented challenge."

—Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director, WCS Fiji

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Photo Credit: ©Sangeeta Mangubhai/WCS

France

Signs at Mont Blanc

"Thanks to these postings, you can track the height of the glacier over the last 30 years. As you can see, it has retreated significantly."

—Nat Moss, Executive Director, WCS Strategic Communications

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Photo Credit: ©Nat Moss/WCS

Guatemala

Aguadas Running Dry

"The Selva Maya, running through parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, is one of the most important ecosystems in the world. In this region, permanent bodies of water are scarce, but in some areas small bodies called aguadas form. In 2018 and '19, more than 90% of the aguadas we monitored remained dry compared with previous years (like this one). This coincided with a rise in animal deaths, including tapirs and white-lipped peccaries."

—Gabriela Ponce, Technical Advisor, WCS Guatemala

Guatemala

A Drought in the Lagoon

"In Laguna del Tigre National Park in the Maya Biosphere Reserve lies El Peru Lagoon. At the WCS field station there, we detected an alarming drop in the water level in early 2019. Although we've recorded low water levels in other years (2003 and 2010), in 2019 the water surface sunk even lower due to an extended drought."

—Rony Garcia, Director of Biological Research, WCS Guatemala

Kenya

Coral Bleaching

"Hard, soft corals, and anemone all lost their color when seawater temperatures rose to historical highs. This loss of color is also a loss of photosynthetic energy used to feed these invertebrates. Widespread thermal stress is challenging the survival of the species that build reefs."

—Tim McClanahan, Senior Scientist, WCS Global Marine Programs

Mozambique

Forest Fires

"Extensive Miombo forest fires create uncontrolled carbon emissions into the atmosphere and greatly disrupt the food chain within the ecosystem."

—Peter Trevor, WCS Operations and Logistics Director, Niassa National Reserve

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Photo Credit: ©Philip McLellan/WCS

New Zealand

In Only a Decade

"I did a glacier walk on the Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island in 2007 (left). Thirteen years later, my parents went to the area. You can't access the glacier on foot anymore, but they returned to the same spot and snapped a picture (right). The differences are astounding."

—Jake LaBelle, WCS Research Program Officer

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Photo Credit: ©Jake LaBelle/WCS

Papua New Guinea

Will Mangroves Save Their Homes?

"On the Tigak Islands in Papua New Guinea, there is a real threat to people's homes from the rising sea. Their very livelihoods are at stake. Here, you see the young mangroves that have been planted in the hopes of protecting against the surges that will continue to come."

—Ambroise Brenier, Director, WCS Papua New Guinea

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Photo Credit: ©Elodie Van Lierde
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Photo Credit: ©WCS Russia

Russia

Sika Deer Advances

"The sika deer once could be found only in the southernmost parts of the Russian Far East. But over the past 30 years, it has greatly expanded to the north by about 185 miles (300 km). In the southern parts of the Sikhote-Alin Mountains, it has completely replaced the red deer, which was once common."

—Dale Miquelle, Director, WCS Russia

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Photo Credit: ©WCS Russia

Russia

Ussuri Moose Retreats

"Unlike the Sika deer, the Ussuri moose is not very tolerant of warmer summers. With temperatures rising over the past 50 years, it has retreated northward."

—Dale Miquelle, Director, WCS Russia

Tanzania

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

"Floods are affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. Farms and habitats are being destroyed."

—Tim Davenport, Director, WCS Species Conservation, Africa

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Photo Credit: ©Tim Davenport/WCS
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Photo Credit: ©Joel Berger/WCS

United States

Broken AC

"In Glacier National Park in Montana, mountain goats seek out patches of snow in the summertime to reduce heat stress. Problem is the area has already lost some 75% of its glaciers and those patches are dwindling."

—Joel Berger, WCS Senior Scientist

United States

Following Environmental Cues

"In the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, elk time their migration with environmental cues. As plants begin to green, they start their move uphill. That timing is shifting with a change in the snow melt and that will have wider impacts."

—Jon Beckmann, former WCS Senior Scientist

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

United States

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy devastated many communities in 2012, including Coney Island, NY, the location of WCS’s New York Aquarium. The entire campus of the aquarium was underwater as neighborhoods across New York experienced severe flooding and damage. Here the aquarium’s director, Jon Forrest Dohlin, visits with a sea lion in the aftermath of the storm.

United States

Rising Waters on Isle de Jean Charles, Terrebone Parish, LA

Higher Ground

The shifting shoreline has caused families living there to either move or build their homes up higher.

Dying Trees

Plant life on the island, like this live oak, is dying as saltwater has moved in.

—Mary Dixon, Senior Vice President, WCS Communications

United States

Selling Point

"A sign selling a not-yet-finished development in Houma, LA. Its advertising is not focused on low prices, a community pool, or tennis courts, but higher ground."

—John Waldman, Conservation Biologist and Professor

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Photo Credit: ©John Waldman
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Photo Credit: ©WCS Climate Adaptation Fund

United States

Sea Level Rise in Hawaii

"Over 97% of all black-footed albatrosses, Bonin petrels, and Tristram’s storm petrels nest on low-lying atolls threatened by sea level rise and increasing storm surges due to climate change. Pacific Rim Conservation, a WCS Climate Adaptation Fund grantee, is restoring suitable habitat that's projected to survive the changes."

—Elizabeth Tully, Associate Director, WCS Climate Adaptation Fund

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