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The New Canary in the Coal Mine

2009 December 31

I recently saw the Disney Movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” in which the animators recreated the colorful and melodious experience of the Louisiana Bayou. As suggested by the title, the frogs of the Bayou played a stellar role. As I watched the movie with my youngest, I was thinking of the vulnerabilities of these precious wetlands and growing threats to their inhabitants—the frogs.

With the ongoing debate over the health and environmental effects of climate change on animals, increasingly, frogs and their fellow amphibians are becoming the new “canaries in the coal mine.” Since amphibians’ skin is permeable, these creatures are more susceptible to contaminants and changes in their aquatic habitats. By their very nature, they are considered a “sentinel” species, hence, the term of the “canary in the coal mine.”

There are over five thousand species of amphibians worldwide. Many live throughout North America. In Puerto Rico, our favorite amphibian is the coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus comes from the Greek meaning free toes. Coquí, its popular name, refers to its high decibel chirp “co-KEE.” In general, these amphibians have adapted well to urban sprawl on the Island, however, pollution is taking its toll. While over 16 species are endemic to Puerto Rico, several coquí species are currently threatened. Some species known by their popular Spanish names haven’t been heard in years. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, these small frogs have been introduced to neighboring Islands, Florida and even Hawaii where they are considered an invasive pest.

We all can do something to protect wildlife and the environment in our daily lives. How can we help protect the frogs and their fellow amphibians from environmental contaminants in our own back yard? Well, one of the first steps is to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in our lawn that are carried by runoff and end up polluting their aquatic habitats miles away. By planting native grasses, shrubs, and trees in your garden you also minimize the need for using toxic chemicals around your home. While I don’t recommend kissing a frog, please help protect it and its habitat. A healthy environment is a gift for all.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    December 31, 2009

    Here, we have much frogs unlimited, especially at paddy field. My neighbor near that location and on night we heard their voices. Our myth, if her voices highest, its mean their hope rainfall. But after that the snakes can eat them. Natural cyclical…. Now, fast or late, our amphibians can lost, not by snakes, but estate or properties. Bye nature ……!!!!!

  2. Al Bannet permalink
    December 31, 2009

    Yoy can’t save the frogs and you can’t save human civilization because you’re not willing to face the harsh reality of the growing population, the growing economy and their relentless encroachment upon every last vestige of natural wilderness while piling up trash in mountains of “landfill” and choking the global ocean with growing tons of garbage that is polluting the entire planet. You can’t stop that unless you reduce the human population and recycle 100% of all waste products, but you’re not even willing to talk about it. So you put out this phony advice pretending that individual citizens need only change their buying habits and everything will be fine and people and their businesses can go right on growing and expanding forever. You cling to this idiotic delusion despite all evidence to the contrary because you are a bureaucrat following the policy of “don’t make waves”. If you had a workable conscience you would be screaming at your employers and the public that we are being led down a garden path of short term profits to deny any long term consequences. But you have your precious career to be concerned about, so all of you go on and on deceiving the public as the the actual toxicity of this global economy we are trapped in. How do you sleep at night???

  3. Joan permalink
    December 31, 2009

    One person may not be able to “save the world” by making small changes in their habits. But, why not live as if our actions will make a difference? Because, our actions DO make a difference.

  4. Al Bannet permalink
    January 2, 2010

    In one respect your are right: If every shopper in the World refused to use plastic shopping bags or accept plastic packaging, the amount of plastic debris in the ocean could decline and disappear; and if every person in the World used a home made energy source, the coal fired power plants could shut down; and if everyone refused to fly on jet planes, they could be grounded; and if all the garbage and pollution in the World could be safely recycled the toxic build up in the soil, water and air could reverse; and if peaceful family planning became the law in every nation, the Earth might return to its natural balance and our civilization could prosper as never before. But instead, various piecemeal projects are used to cover the instinctive urge to grow the economy and the population forever — on a slowly shrinking planet of limited resources. So, you see, there is dream and there is reality. Small projects do make a small difference, while the planet turns sour.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    January 2, 2010

    While individual actions by themselves may not make huge differences, if each of us did something to help even if something small, it’ll all add up to helping the environment .

  6. Al Bannet permalink
    January 4, 2010

    That is a delusion because while we are making our little changes in our daily habits, the coal fired power plants continue to pump thousands of tons of toxic smoke up into the atmosphere and thousands of jet planes add more, and tons of garbage and waste continue to be dumped into the the global ocean and the mountains of “landfill” keep on growing as the human population continues to grow and politicians pledge to “get this economy back on track growing again.”. It’s madness, suicidal insanity.

  7. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    January 4, 2010

    The complex I live at is replacing some landscape with native plants. But some does not need to be replaced because much of the native trees were left in place when the complex was built. A composting program will take the leaves from the grounds, balconies, and patio decks and grass clippings from the grounds to make fertilizer to go back on our plants. This will allow us to resuse green waste instead of the landscapers trucking it to the landfill and will reduce our landscaping bill accordingly. It costs alot less to operate clean than it does to operate dirty and the whole planet benefits. We do have major sources of pollution that must be addressed at the same time individuals and homeowner associations change how they do things. California has passed AB32 to significantly cut green house gases and this is an effort being carried out by CalEPA, the state Energy Commission, and the state Public Utilities Commission. They are trying to get the involvement of power companies and others in developing the means to get to major reductions in emmissions. But at the same time there is a threat of large scale and permanent layoffs of state employees, huge cuts in budgets, and the opposition and sometimes out and out hostility by some who say the California economy is as it is now because of CalEPA and who say every job in California is in danger because of environmental madness by CalEPA. Some people don’t get it that it cost less to operate clean than it does to operate dirty. A cleaner economy will result in more jobs not less. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  8. Al Bannet permalink
    January 5, 2010

    Thr business as usual crowd imagine the human population and its economy cam grow forever, onward and outward to other living planets waiting to be discovered, never mind this one, it will take care of itelf.
    It will indeed, but not to their liking. The basic problem is overpopulation. Most people are good, but too much of any good thing turns it bad. So, if we humans can learn to recycle 100% of all our waste and garbage and peacefully practice family planning to reduce our population to around three billion, we can live in balance with the Earth and at peace with each other, and there would then be plenty of resources for everyone. Otherwise, it’s ecocide and extinction of most of the Earth’s species, including us.

  9. David Mc permalink
    January 26, 2010

    I agree. It’s like saying “don’t bother to vote” oh, bad example.

  10. David Mc permalink
    January 26, 2010

    Hey Al, the Earth will survive with or without us.
    We will learn that the economy cannot continue to grow.
    Maybe we’ll learn too late, but we’ll learn.

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