Girl Scout Troop 730 recently took a trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and we had an exciting day exploring the various exhibits. We learned about the many inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean through multimedia and interactive displays, videos, and of course, live animal exhibits. We enjoyed walking through the outdoor harbor terrace and exploring the sea otter habitat and the jelly exhibit. It was fun to touch the moon jellies and their gelatinous skin. It was very safe for us to touch them since the toxins in their stinging cells do not penetrate human skin. The sea otters required a lot of feeding and we thought that they were very cute and curious. They have the thickest fur of any animal but, unfortunately, humans hunted them into near extinction for their fur. Fertilizers and other pollutants in the water have also harmed their numbers.
One of the newest exhibits that just opened is Frogs: Dazzling and Disappearing. The staff informed us that it was going to be a permanent exhibit at the Aquarium and one I encourage everyone to visit. Frogs and other amphibians have adapted over millions of years to survive successfully in their ecosystems and yet amphibians have become the most rapidly disappearing group of animals in the world. Frogs have permeable skins through which they absorb water and oxygen, as well as all the pollutants, pesticides, and chemicals in the waters. They are therefore powerful bio-indicators of a damaged environment.
Dr. Kerry Kriger is the founder and executive director of SAVE THE FROGS!, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting amphibian life and respecting wildlife and nature. I was very fortunate to hear Dr. Kriger’s discussion on amphibian conservation on August 29th at the Aquarium of the Pacific. (Please note that his lecture will be available on the Aquarium’s website under lecture archives after September 21st, 2017). Dr. Kriger briefly discussed the main types of amphibians, including frogs, toads, salamanders and newts. He also amazed us by using his mouth and throat to make the exact frog call for each frog shown in his slide show. One thing that he said that struck me, is that frogs have been around for 250 million years, surviving the dinosaurs, asteroids, and the Ice Age, and yet one-third have been wiped out in the last half century. This is a clear indicator that there has been significant damage to the environment.
Dr. Kriger emphasized that it is our ethical responsibility to save and protect amphibians since we are the ones who damaged the environment in the first place. Amphibians can live in different habitats, from deserts, rainforests, mountains, and savannahs and are a great reflection of our ecosystem and environment. There are 2,000 amphibian species threated with extinction and 1,000 more which are threatened but are too small a population to be studied. It is up to us to save the frogs and Dr. Kriger mentioned several ways that we can help.
First, do not use pesticides and always use rechargeable batteries. Billions of batteries are thrown out every year and the heavy metals go down into the bodies of water where amphibians are living and breathing and eventually kill them. Dr. Kriger also spoke to Congress asking for a federal ban of the use and production of the harmful pesticide, atrazine, which is used to kill weeds on turf and in crops such as corn and sugarcane. Atrazine is also the most commonly detected pesticide contaminating water in this country. It enters a frog’s endocrine system and causes deformities and gender mutation in amphibians, turning male frogs into female frogs. I can only imagine what atrazine is doing to our human endocrine system!
Dr. Kriger also advised us to eat locally grown organic food but to please not eat frog legs. The fuel from trucks and other vehicles transporting various forms of agriculture affects climate change – and of course, vehicles tend to run over frogs, especially during wet nights. Frog legs are also very popular delicacies in different parts of the world, and this consumption can lead to the extinction of certain frog species.
“Translate science into action! Educate the planet and get proper legislation in place,” said Dr. Kriger. California is the frog eating epicenter in America but in 2014, with encouragement from Save the Frogs!, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation naming the frog California’s official State Amphibian. Dr. Kriger said this legislation shows how essential it is to find a frog friendly politician and to vote for the environment! Governor Brown’s legislation is significant since the California Red-Legged Frog has been listed on the Federal Endangered Species list and apparently was once eaten to near extinction by the California goldminers during the Gold Rush.
Dr. Kriger also urged us to always stick with the natural plants and wildlife on one’s property and to never purchase wild caught amphibians. Humans ship over 100 million amphibians for bait, laboratories, and as pets. Many of these amphibians carry diseases such as the terribly infectious chytrid fungus which has driven over 100 amphibian species into extinction. This is so unfortunate because about 40 percent of all modern medicines come from chemicals produced by plants or animals. As Dr. Kriger mentioned, the colorful poison dart frogs’ tropical habitats are often invaded by humans who are fascinated by their beautiful bright colors and use them as pets. However, poisons from the food which these tiny (1/2-inch-long) frogs eat collect in their skin. Chemists use these poisons to study the human nervous system. Although we need to cut the number of frogs used in labs, a chemical found in a frog from Ecuador served as a model for a drug that is as powerful a painkiller as morphine but is not addictive. It would be a trajedy to lose these beautiful and beneficial frogs.
Habitat destruction is what Dr. Kriger warned against as he advised us to also eat less meat. Cattle herds are raised in areas where there used to be forests. The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is one example where countless trees were chopped down to make room for cattle ranching. Dr. Kriger also encouraged us to boycott palm oil which is created when rainforests are set on fire. He also warned against introducing non-native species into an amphibian habitat. California, for example, has been dropping baby fish and even crayfish into naturally fishless lakes for years. These fish then eat the tadpoles and frogs and other amphibians who have not yet had a chance to develop any type of defense.
Lastly, Dr. Kriger warned against wasting water and cautioned us to think before we turn on the tap. The American West, as he mentioned, is drying up along with the streams where frogs and their tadpoles live. Purchasing bottled water and the fuel used for its transport is damaging to the environment and the plastic pollutes the oceans. In addition, humans, in our need to live near the ocean, are constantly encroaching on amphibian habitats and inadvertently killing their eggs. “Baby tadpoles filter algae from the water and clean our waters,” said Dr. Kriger. “In addition, frogs eat ticks, flees and other vectors of diseases that the general public does not even know about because frogs protect us from them.”
“I started Save the Frogs Day on 2009 and now, all over the world, the last Saturday of April of every year has been ‘Save the Frogs Day’,” said Dr. Kriger. “ ‘Save the Frogs Day’ has become the world’s largest day of amphibian education, amphibian celebration, and conservation action. There are hundreds of events in over 60 countries from everywhere from Bangladesh to Switzerland. Only a small proportion of the public is aware that frogs are disappearing and amphibian conservation efforts will not be successful with an un-informed public. Our goal is to make the amphibian extinction crisis common knowledge.”
Besides being a Professor of Science and Math, Dr. Kriger also teaches music. He finished his very interesting lecture by playing two very interesting instruments. He played a haunting song with his Bansuri, a North Indian bamboo flute. He then made frog calls with a Dan Moi, a traditional Vietnamese instrument similar to the jaw harp. The musical frog calls were to me a touching reminder of how truly dazzling frogs are.
The vanishing of frogs may be the harbinger of our vanishing world, as we know it. As amphibian species become extinct due to pollution, climate change, and unwanted invaders, we, as humans, become that much closer to extinction ourselves. We are becoming the only species to cause our own extinction. But it is not too late and we can save the world and ourselves. Let us start with saving the frogs!