The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301

Lawsuit Filed Seeking Endangered Species Act Protection for the Ashy Storm Petrel

Rare California Seabird Threatened by Global Warming and Coastal Development


Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally delaying protection of the ashy storm petrel under the Endangered Species Act. The Service failed to make a 12-month finding on whether the ashy storm petrel, a rare California seabird imperiled by development and global warming, should be listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered. This decision was due by the agency on October 16, 2008.

"The ashy storm petrel is a barometer of the health of California's coastal waters," said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who has studied the ashy storm petrel as well as the effects of ocean climate change on California's seabirds. "The declines in its numbers and breeding success are indicative of the increasing stress to the coastal ocean from global warming, pollution, and development."

The ashy storm petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa) is a small, smoke-gray seabird that lives almost exclusively on the offshore islands and waters of California near San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. These waters are polluted and stressed by development, including offshore energy terminals, shipping traffic, commercial fishing, and oil spills, as well as by global warming. Faced with these multiple threats, the seabird has experienced sharp population declines in recent decades. The largest colony of ashy storm petrels decreased by 42 percent in 20 years, prompting the World Conservation Union and BirdLife International to list the species as endangered.

The marine ecosystem off the California coast is changing due to global warming, resulting in warmer, less productive waters with less food available for seabirds like the ashy storm petrel. Also, ocean acidification caused by the ocean's absorption of excess CO2 may lead to declines in the storm petrel's prey. Sea-level rise from global warming threatens to drown important breeding habitat for the bird in sea caves and on offshore rocks.

Fossil-fuel demand is also spurring the proliferation of proposed offshore liquefied natural gas terminals off California's coast, which not only increase pollution but also add artificial lighting at night. "Artificial light attracts nocturnally active seabirds such as the ashy storm petrel like moths to a flame, and the effects can be devastating," said Wolf. Instead of going about their natural foraging and breeding activities, storm petrels will continuously circle or collide with lighted structures at night, leading to exhaustion, injury, and even death.

The Endangered Species Act listing process was initiated by a scientific petition filed by the Center on October 15, 2007. On May 15, 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the ashy storm petrel may warrant listing and launched a full status review of the species. The next decision to determine whether the ashy storm petrel warrants listing was due on October 16, 2008.

"Protecting the ashy storm petrel under the Endangered Species Act will not only provide critical protections to this unique seabird," said Wolf, "but will also enhance the health of California's coastal ecosystem as a whole."

More information on the ashy storm petrel and a pdf of the petition are available at

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252