The Tasmanian wolf. The Javan tiger. The Caribbean monk seal. Baiji river dolphin. What do these animals all have in common? Answer: They’re extinct. Gone. And you can be sure that humans won’t be seeing any of these animals again.Extinction isn’t limited to exotic, legendary creatures.Even the passenger pigeon, known for delivering messages, the winged Hermes of World War One, is now extinct.
As recently as the 1800s, the passenger pigeon was the most common bird in North America. Due to the large flocks, farmers began thinking of them as a threat. Once pigeon meat was commercialized, it was sold as a cheap source of protein. A massive hunting campaign followed and flocks of them were shot daily by the thousands and sent to New York. The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden in 1914 at the age of 29.The growing impact of human activities is causing a rapid loss of animal and plant biodiversity.
Currently, the rate of animal extinction is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. According to a UN report on the state of the global environment, 25% of the world’s mammals face extinction by the year 2032.1
Some scientists predict that the world is about to face the sixth mass extinction.A mass extinction, in the paleontological sense, is diagnosed when the pace of extinction is significantly higher than the pace of origination.
Over the past 540 million years, five mass extinctions have occurred, during which at least 75% of all animal species were destroyed due to natural causes.2However, the threat of extinction today is caused by manmade influences including habitat loss, overhunting, overfishing, the spread of invasive species and viruses, pollution, and the frighteningly high expansion rate of the human population. 3
In the oceans, the rate of biodiversity destruction is cataclysmic. The endangerment of whale, dolphin, manatee, tuna, sea turtle, and shark species are on the rise. UNESCO reports claim that if significant changes are not implemented, more than half of all marine species may stand on the brink of extinction. 6
Marine species, both live and dead, have significant financial value in the global market, however, and aside from ecotourism, these species are rarely attributed financial value in their natural environments. The financial benefits of catching and exploiting marine resources are a driving factor of the global marine trade.
An estimated 50-80% of all life on Earth is found under the surface of the seas; the loss of marine life is not to be taken lightly.There is a wide range of causes of marine species extinction and endangerment, such as habitat loss, acidification, atmospheric change, and pollution. The most dominant and influential threat, however, is overfishing. Overfishing is reported to be the greatest threat to marine biodiversity in all regions. 7 Fish populations plummeted fastest during the initial years of commercial fishing, often before population drops were calculated. By now, the loss of fish stocks is conspicuous.
A global study concludes that 90% of all large fish have disappeared from the oceans since 1960 as a result of industrial fishing practices such as long lining, bottom trawling, and dredging. The commercial fisheries have caused an overexploitation of fish stocks so severe that 13% of global fisheries have collapsed.8
The continued use of destructive fishing operations delays ecosystem and population recovery, and may even prevent it completely.When the population of a species is reduced, the genetic variation is reduced along with it. This compromises the species’ ability to adapt to new environmental stresses and changes.
Due to the interdependencies between species, the destruction of one can lead to the demise of others. When entire species are wiped out or remain at insignificant population levels, the stability of the whole ecosystem is under threat.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Many species become extinct before there is time to preserve them. The endangered species approach to biodiversity conservation cannot completely and effectively prevent extinction because the populations of species often cannot be calculated.Marine protected areas and preserves have proven to increase populations of endangered species. Earth’s biodiversity may be irreparably lost unless effective and substantial policies and individual activism are instigated.
Support the creation and maintenance of marine protected areas (MPAs), nature reserves, and national parks. Public foundations or state and federal governments are often responsible for the management of parks and reserves. Let these know that you advocate nature reserves, MPAs, and national parks. When visiting a protected area, obey the wildlife code. Follow fire regulations and don’t take anything away that you didn’t bring in.
Volunteer with an organization that protects or replants threatened species in your area. By replanting native bush, flowers, and trees, you are encouraging native animals to return and are providing them with more space in which to live.
Get your voice heard through websites, radio stations, newspapers, and publications. Talk about threatened species and what we can do to help preserve them and their habitats.
United Nations, Facts. http://www.speciesalliance.org/facts.php. Researched on November 8, 2012.
Barnosky, Anthony D. Nature. “Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?” Nature 471, 51-57. March 3, 2011. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v471/n7336/full/nature09678.html.
Alroy, J. Dynamics of origination and extinction in the marine fossil record. Proc. National Academy of Sciences. USA 105, 11536–11542. 2008.
Hoffmann, M. et al. The impact of conservation on the status of the world’s vertebrates. Science 330, 1503–1509. 2010.
Environmental and Global Health. “Causes of Extinctions and Biodiversity Loss”. http://www.environmedia.com/causes-of-extinction-and-biodiversity-loss-part-1.htm
UNESCO. Facts and Figures on Marine Biodiversity. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/ioc-oceans/priority-areas/rio-20-ocean/blueprint-for-the-future-we-want/marine-biodiversity/facts-and-figures-on-marine-biodiversity/. 2012.
Public Library of Science, http://www.plos.org. 2012.
Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science. http://www.nature.com/nature/current_issue.html. 2012.
IUCN. “Annual Reports” http://www.iucn.org/about/union/secretariat/offices/iucnmed/resources/annual_reports/. 2012.