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Poor water quality threatens wildlife

What is the biggest threat that wildlife faces in the modern era? It is the quality of water that those animals need to live.

Poor water quality poses a significant threat to wildlife. According to data out of Great Britain, waterways across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are increasingly being devastated by poor water quality from various pollution sources. The water quality problem in this area of Europe is not unique. The organization Focusing on Wildlife says chemical runoff from farms has caused more than 400 dead zones around the world. These chemicals leach into waterways and groundwater, killing thousands of insects and fish. The organization Do Something indicates approximately 40 percent of American lakes are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life or swimming. In addition, the organization Friends of the Earth notes that laws in the United States pertaining to cruise ship waste apply to only those areas within roughly 3.5 miles of the shoreline. Beyond that, there are no restrictions on dumping sewage and greywater. This puts marine life at risk and affects other animals because the sludge creates areas where life cannot thrive.

Animals rely on water as well as marine environments for a variety of reasons. Water promotes hydration and marshlands may serve as breeding habitats for certain birds. A bevy of water-dwelling fish and other animals rely on freshwater and saltwater environments to reproduce and live. When ecosystems are disturbed by things like chemicals, invasive species and soil erosion, the consequences can be devastating for wildlife. For example, when soil runoff ends up in waterways, feeding becomes harder as visibility is reduced for animals. Too many nutrients in the water, whether it’s from the introduction of substances from agriculture or other runoff, can cause overgrowth of certain algae and aquatic plants, which can lead to streams and rivers becoming choked with vegetation. This causes a decrease in plant and wildlife diversity, according to The Wildlife Trusts.

Residents on the Gulf Coast of Florida and other states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico likely have noticed the “red tide” that occurs on a cyclical basis. The red tide produces a harmful algae bloom that kills off wildlife. While some experts believe the tide originates 10 to 50 miles offshore along the continental shelf and has entirely innocuous origins, others, like Dr. Richard Stumpf, a principal researcher who leads National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s coastal science initiatives, feels that summertime wind shifts in the Gulf redirect the outward flow of the Mississippi River, pushing water that is full of nitrogen and other nutrients — both natural and manmade — towards the west coast of Florida, leading to the growth of the red tide bloom.

Scarcity of fresh, clean water, as well as water that has the correct nutrient profiles, can put wildlife at risk. It’s one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the world right now and can affect the health of both animals and people in the long run.

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