Though the California Brown Pelican was taken off the US endangered species list in 2009 due to its population rising to what authorities consider to be large enough number. To guarantee their long term survival we need to make sure we don’t repeat history (often easier said than done).
DDT was one of many contaminates released into the environment after world war II. The problem with DDT was (and still is) that it causes thin egg shells. Brown Pelicans incubate their eggs by standing on them. Because of the thin egg shells caused by the pesticide, pelicans were literally crushing their own eggs. In 1969 only 12 of 300 nests contained whole eggs on West Anacapa Island (the only breeding colony in California), the rest were crushed. In fact, the near shore waters of southern California have experienced the highest levels of environmental contamination by DDT anywhere in the world. This was not only caused by local agriculture, but by the Montrose Chemical Company which was discharging hundreds of pounds of DDT directly into the southern California oceans.
In 1972 the use of pesticides like DDT was banned in the US (though we are still the number one producer of DDT, now shipping it abroad), which was probably the biggest historical factor in bringing California Brown Pelicans back. Chemical pollution however is still a problem, not from DDT, but from agricultural and industrial run-off.
Plastic pollution is the new, constantly increasing modern threat since pelicans often consume it, thinking it is food. Save our Shores reports that their volunteers pick up 60 lbs of trash per beach clean up. They also average around 385 lbs of garbage per river clean up, rivers that flow into the ocean. It is easily imagined how much trash gets swept into the ocean that we simply don’t even know about.
The great part of this story is that the steps to help Brown Pelicans survive are easy to undertake. Things like eating organic food, buying re-usable bottles and bags, and volunteering with local beach clean up organizations can all help the California Brown Pelican. With little change, much difference can be made, as this majestic seabird’s history has already shown us.