“The bears know the ice is coming back soon. They’re waiting,” says Alysa McCall of Polar Bears International (PBI).
Alysa and her team are on the canadian arctic on the outskirts of the small town of Churchill, in a mobile observation laboratory on the trails, which allows them to safely observe bears.
Churchill is nicknamed the “Polar Bear Capital” of the world.
Everyday life is shaped by the polar bears’ proximity to the city. Residents have bear proof trash cans and the province employs bear patrol guards to accompany children when they are trick-or-treating over the Halloween holiday.
It is common in the city to leave the doors of parked cars unlocked so that other people have somewhere to run if they encounter an errant bear.
On the frozen Hudson Bay in Churchill, bears use sea ice as a platform to hunt seals.
Mass sea ice free season in this part of the Canadian Arctic is elongating, leaving bears unable to hunt for long periods.
About 2,000 km to the south, in Montreal, international authorities are gathered at the biodiversity summit of the HIM in an effort to reach an agreement that protects wild spaces and reverses human-caused loss of nature.
The plight of polar bears has become a symbol of the ravages wrought by climate change🇧🇷 And in Churchill, the fate of the species embodies the inextricable link between preserving the natural world and fighting global warming. The polar bear capital of the world is simply getting too hot for polar bears.
By 2050, conservation scientists say, the length of the season during which there is no ice could push bears to the point of starvation.
“Looking back over the past two decades, ice forms later and later and decomposes earlier and earlier in the spring”, says researcher Flavio Lehner, from PBI.
“So this in-between season — where bears are on land and can’t take advantage of hunting opportunities — is getting longer and longer with global warming.”
Bears rely on seal blubber for energy. Mothers raising their young, in particular, need to consume enough fat.
“At 180 days [sem gelo marinho]we start to see impacts on their reproductive success,” says Lehner. “So, over time, we will likely see declinessimply because they can no longer successfully reproduce.”
These omnivorous predators eat almost anything they can find on land, including fruit, eggs, small rodents and even reindeer, says McCall, “but nothing replaces seal blubber. [com alto teor de energia]”.
These changes are also bringing bears and humans closer together.making places like Churchill, where polar bears and people coexist, riskier for both.
A study by the US Geological Survey, using data from satellite tracking collars on more than 400 polar bears in Alaska, shows that the time they spend on land has increased significantly in recent decades.
“In the 1980s, polar bears spent only a few weeks on land each summer,” says Karyn Rode, a USGS wildlife research biologist. “Now many spend nearly two months ashore each year.”
And communities along Alaska’s North Slope have seen bears before.
The fate of Churchill, its seasonal sea ice and Hudson Bay’s hundreds of polar bears depends fundamentally on what each country in the world does to reduce emissions of the planet-warming gases that are changing the Earth’s atmosphere so rapidly.
“Sea ice projections are strongly dependent on temperature — and temperature is dictated by how much greenhouse gas we emit into the atmosphere,” says Lehner.
McCall says the western Hudson Bay bear subpopulation that she and her colleagues study has declined by as much as 30% over the last 30 to 40 years, due to less access to sea ice.
“It is a warning of what’s to come for polar bears who live further north [onde os invernos gelados são atualmente mais longos],” she adds.
Lehner says that climate change has transformed the way we should think about conservation.
“It permeates all life on this planet,” he tells the BBC. “So creating reserves, like a national park, is not a bad thing, but it won’t help if that ecosystem changes because of climate change.”
“These are not separate issues — if you care about animals, if you care about conservation, you have to care about climate change.”
This text was originally published on here.