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Greater Crested Tern chick. Photograph by Dr. Lalith Ekanayake/Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2012.

All living species, including this Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii chick, are plucky survivors of a series of relentless life-or-death ‘trials of life’. Protected from human disturbance by the sheer isolation of its breeding colony on a northwestern Sri Lankan island, this tiny yellow bundle hatched from a shallow, open, scrape-nest... but it now faces a seriously uncertain future.

Across the globe, salt pans, tourism, coastal roads, reclamations and more are wolfing down habitat after habitat in fragile nesting and feeding zones. Municipal and industrial discharges poison the food web upon which the future of all terns rests. Discarded fishing nets, lines and hooks will force this chick to contend with endangerments against which it has no evolutionary defence. And then it must deal with 100 million tonnes of floating, killer plastic that invades our oceans annually.

And a new storm is now brewing. One that even its reckless architect, Homo sapiens, cannot hope to weather – climate change. Virtually every survival goalpost that the ancestors of this chick managed to negotiate is shifting. Rising seas nibble at tropical and sub-tropical lagoons, coral outcrops, mangrove swamps, mudflats and coastal islets. These are the nurseries that once guaranteed this chick’s ancestors an endless supply of pelagic fish. It’s a grim situation.

But don’t lavish all your sympathy on this susceptible chick. Save some for the most climate-threatened of all creatures on earth – your own, very innocent, children.

Author: Bittu Sahgal, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, April 2013.




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Jennifer Scarlott

February 13, 2014, 02:06 PM
 It is with such a heavy heart that I read, in international media, of the vulnerability of birds all over this planet, due to climate change. Scientists are startled to find that their subject species, at the southern tip of Chile and in the Arctic, are being wiped out by unprecedented rainfalls that kill countless chicks that do not yet have the feathers they need to withstand the storms.