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Polar Bears are on Thin Ice

Updated on November 23, 2019
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Polar bears are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Even though they are the biggest land-based carnivore and at the top of the Artic food chain, the population of polar bears is on the decline, as there are between 22,000 and 31,000 alive, and their conservation status is vulnerable.

We cannot become numb to the very real possibility of losing polar bears. Future generations should experience the beauty of nature and polar bears as living beings, not just as a textbook reference. More practically, since polar bears are at the top of the food chain, they play an important role in maintaining balance in their ecosystem and helping the overall health of the marine environment. By protecting the polar bear, we are helping to ensure the health of the marine food chain for the benefit of wildlife and people in and beyond the Arctic.

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The largest threat to polar bears is climate change. Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt, rest, and breed. With the increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the earth has been warming. The Arctic is warming at about twice the rate of the global average, causing a significant amount of sea ice to melt. With the receding ice, polar bears come ashore and rely on fat stores to survive until there is again enough ice to hunt. This can cause malnutrition in many polar bears because there simply is not enough ice for them to return to hunting. In extreme cases, which occur especially among females with cubs, polar bears can even face starvation.

Climate change contributes to many other factors endangering polar bears as well. Unintended human contact with polar bears is a smaller but still contributing factor to the decline in the polar bear population. Contact between the two has been increasing due to climate change. Since polar bears must spend more time on land instead of ice, they come into contact with more people either living or working in the Arctic. The polar bears may also be drawn towards people in search of food because they are unable to hunt marine animals from the ice. This human contact leads to bears and people being injured or killed in self-defense.

Industrial impacts are also a major contributor to the decline in the polar bear population. As the climate changes and ice melts, there is more industrial opportunity on land and in the ocean. As the sea ice melts, more boats can pass through the Arctic. Shipping companies take particular advantage of this. More boats passing through the Arctic causes habitat fragmentation, which means that the larger environment is being divided into sections that become isolated from one another. These boats force animals such as polar bears and seals to remain in one area of the Arctic because they are in danger if they try to move significant distances. Because areas of the Arctic are becoming isolated from others, there will be discontinuities within the Arctic and changes in the overall species of animals.

Increased shipping through the Arctic also increases the chance of an oil spill or leak. Many of these cargo boats are taking supplies to offshore petroleum installations, the number of which is expected to increase. Any contact that a polar bear or other animal may have with spilled oil from these installations could be fatal, posing a life-threatening situation for both polar bears and their prey. If any animal dies, polar bears are affected because they are at the top of the food chain. This makes it harder for polar bears to find food in the already limited time they have to hunt on the sea ice.

Petroleum installations, while invading the Arctic environment and directly affecting the animals living there, also create pollution elsewhere. An oil spill in the Arctic will not only affect local ecosystems, as it will spread throughout the ocean and affect other areas as well. Even if the petroleum installations do not spill oil, the petroleum that they are harvesting will hurt the environment. One of the uses of petroleum is to make gasoline, which produces carbon dioxide when burned. The excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes more global warming, further endangering animals particularly those in the Arctic such as polar bears.

To help save the polar bears and many other endangered animals, we need to stop climate change, which means reducing carbon footprint and living more sustainably. One way to do this is to use renewable sources of energy, rather than fossil fuels like petroleum. Wind and solar power are some types of renewable energies. Even using your car less will help save the environment. Try taking the bus, walking, or riding a bike. By using your car less, you are burning less gasoline and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Using less plastic also helps reduce climate change because the production of plastic releases carbon dioxide. Using reusable plastic products instead of single-use plastic products, such as reusable water bottles and reusable grocery bags, can help to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. These are just a few of the many methods we can all use to reduce climate change.

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Overall, climate change is a major issue for habitats all around the globe, but it is especially harmful to Arctic environments. Any change in the Arctic affects polar bears because they are at the top of the food chain. To stop the endangerment of polar bears and other animals, we have to reduce climate change one step at a time.

Stopping climate change and saving polar bears, as well as other animals in danger, may seem daunting but it is indeed possible. Each of us can make a difference by making small changes, and as a community as a whole, we can take more significant steps such as transitioning to renewable energy. Saving polar bears is an urgent and worthwhile task that we can and should undertake.

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