How a Border Wall Could Wreak Ecological Havoc

Also in this episode of Generation Anthropocene: The case of U.S. Navy ships, beached whales and deadly sonar pings

In a post-9/11 world, border walls between countries have become more common. But the science is severely lacking in our understanding of how they impact species and fragment ecosystems. Here, a continuous wire fence marks the border between the U.S. and Mexico near Tijuana. Michele and Tom Grimm / Alamy

In some ways, the proposed United States-Mexico border wall is no anomaly. Mass immigration, refugees and rising fears of terrorism have prompted many countries to consider building walls and fences of their own, as Uri Friedman reports for The Atlantic. Now policy-makers are beginning to question the profound impacts of these structures on those who live within and without their boundaries. But what about the animals? 

In this episode of Generation Anthropocene, producer Maddy Belin investigates the ecological catastrophe that a continuous border wall in the U.S. could create. She interviews biologist Jesse Lasky, one of the few scientists who has examined what species will be impacted and how, as well as how climate change might amplify the threat. Back in 2011, Lasky led a study on what could happen to the more than 100 species—including black bears, lizards and one jaguar—that live near and arround the area where the proposed wall would be. With President Donald Trump's promise to build a wall, this once-buried research has taken on a new life.

Also in this episode, producer Denley Delaney tells the story of how the U.S. Navy once caused unintentional yet devastating effects on a population of rare whales—and how intrepid scientists traced this tragedy back to its source. 

In March 2000, 17 beaked whales washed up on the shores of the Bahamas. No one knew why. Scientists suspected it had something to do with hearing: Beaked whales, which resemble huge dolphins and are the deepest diving mammals in the world, are especially sensitive to sound. By examining the heads of dead whales, scientists concluded that these creatures had been acoustically assaulted by sonar pings from the Navy's submarines. Today the Navy—one of the first institutions to study whale echolocation in depth—is making efforts to strike a balance between protecting the country and respecting ocean habitats.

Listen to both of these nuanced stories of human-animal interaction below.

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