Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D.

Science Policy Fellow, Union of Concerned Scientists

Great Gull Island, a research station of the American Museum of Natural History, hosts very large colonies of both Roseate and Common terns. In 1970, some chicks showed severe deformities such as crossed bills and extra limbs. The chicks were tested, as were the fish they ate, and sure enough, toxic chemicals from Long Island Sound had made their way into the fish and then into the terns. This provided a vital early warning of the harm to humans from pollutants in Long Island Sound. Although both species of terns were present and feeding in the same areas, only the Roseate terns developed the deformities. Thankfully, the Endangered Species Act protects the Roseate tern so that it may flourish and perhaps warn us again in the future.

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