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For the penguins of the Patagonian desert, climate change looks like too much water, too soon.

photo Liam QuinnThe ground at Punta Tombo is hard, an all but impermeable clay. It doesn’t welcome water. When it rains, water collects in large puddles, some so big they look like inland seas. Since the first penguin chicks hatched a couple of weeks ago, the colony at Punta Tombo has been filling with them. To a chick they are all precious, tiny and soft as they are, but handling them is…
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by: Eric Wagner – Spring 2018

Six Ways of Seeing a Rhinoceros Auklet

We no longer know what to expect from our oceans, other than that we will see things we have never seen before.

To see the bird you have to know what to look for, so first its name and basic measurements: The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, p. 198, right column Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata Length: 15” | Wingspan: 22” | Weight: 1.1 lb (520 g) Then a short description: “Uncommon or locally common on open ocean. Nests in colonies in burrows or deep crevices on islands. Nearly always solitary…
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by: Eric Wagner – Winter 2018

Sea Change

The wasting disease afflicting sea stars is but one of many indications that a warmer ocean is a sicker ocean.

illustration Catherina TürkScience is made of stories, and in ecology one of the most famous starts on Tatoosh Island, off the northwestern tip of Washington State. There, in 1963, a young biologist named Robert Paine set out to uncover the rules that governed why intertidal communities are structured the way they are. Tatoosh was a perfect place to do this. Its tide pools overflowed with a varied community of mussels and barnacles,…
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by: Eric Wagner – Spring 2016

Whale Riders

A small group of volunteers has committed itself to untangling whales that get caught in fishing nets. The work is difficult, dangerous – and doesn’t always go according to plan.

illustrations deviantART user Achah I wasn’t sure what the white marks were, but the first right whale I saw had one just in front of its blowhole, and a few more on its peduncle, the thick stalk that leads to its tail. It was like the blackness of its skin was paint that had been scraped off. The second whale had one just above its upper lip – more a speck, really…
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by: Eric Wagner – Summer 2013

The Rise and Fall of the East Sand Empire

On the Columbia River, Conservation Biologists Find that Whatever Can Go Wrong, Will

photo Eric Wagner East Sand Island sits near the mouth of the Columbia River. Although the mound of sand and dredge spoils is only a mile or so long and a few hundred yards at its widest, it hosts one of the largest seabird colonies in the United States. Stand on the north beach: To your right, on the western tip, are tens of thousands of cormorants; to your left, on the…
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by: Eric Wagner – Autumn 2012

Flight Plan

A successful crane conservation program in China’s Guizhou province holds lessons for people’s participation in restoration projects

On a cold and dark December morning, several members of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and I pick our way through fields a few miles outside the town of Weining, in southwestern China. The ground is rutted and sticky with mud; we would have an easier walk if we could wait until the sun is up. But the cranes start their days early. Ahead, we can make out two species: Eurasian cranes,…
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by: Eric Wagner – Summer 2012

The Last Stand

Twenty years ago, an extraordinary effort by environmentalists saved the northern spotted owl – or did it?

What does the owl’s plight say about the uneasy relationship between environmentalism and conservation? Marsh Trib is a small forest about 12 miles north of Roseburg, in southern Oregon. Owned by the Bureau of Land Management, it is hardly pristine – the edges of the plot are dense with second-growth Douglas fir – but a few hundred yards past the last logging road the woods are more mature, with large cedars and…
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by: Eric Wagner – Summer 2011

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