As we move on into a new decade, some people might look back on what we’ve gained and lost. For conservationist, this means the success stories of protected species and environments, but also the damage that the human population has wrought on the natural world. The ever present threats of habitat loss, poaching, invasive species, and climate change have caused numerous extinctions within the last decade such as the western black rhino, baiji dolphin, and japanese river otter. The species most under threat are those who live on islands, as they have less hostile environments and fewer predators than mainland species, so invasive animals like cats, rats, and ants have been a severe problem for island species.
The news has been even dire for insects and amphibians. Amphibians are especially susceptible to habitat destruction and pollution due to their dependence on water and their ability to breath through their skin. One of the biggest threats to amphibians is Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease spread by the chytrid fungus, which cause convulsions, ulcers and hemorrhages, and behavioural problems such as lethargy, failure to seek shelter, and loss of the flight response when faced with danger. Chytridiomycosis has lead to the decline and extinction of many amphibian species, including the Golden Frog and Holdridge Toad. A study by several biologists suggest that an increase in global temperatures has caused increased evaporation in forest areas, which in turn promotes cloud formation. The clouds offer perfect growing conditions for the fungus by providing cover from the sun during the day, and insulation during the night.
Many species of insects are not faring much better. Due to habitat loss and the use of pesticides, key pollinating insects like bee and butterfly numbers are rapidly declining. The loss of these pollinators may also spell doom for the plants they help reproduce, including 35% of human crops like strawberries, apples, and peaches.
It’s not all doom and gloom for some species, however. Many of these species are having a negative effect on their ecosystems and human activities. The warming oceans have allowed the population of octopus, squid, and jellyfish to explode. This may be good news for species who feed on these soft bodied animals like sea turtles, penguins, and sea lions, but it’s not all good news. Shelled creatures like crabs are having to deal with larger numbers of their main predators, while the acidification of the ocean weakening their shells is not helping either. Jellyfish “blooms” are becoming ever more common occurrences. Beach-goers in China are starting to wear “Face-Kinis” to protect themselves from jellyfish stings, and have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of salmon in fish farms off the U.K coast.
Another species benefiting from the increase in temperature is the Arctic mosquitoes. Researchers from Dartmouth Universities predict that an increase of 1 degree Celsius decreases the aquatic portion of the mosquito lifestyle by 10 percent, allowing them to evade their main predators, diving beetles, therefore increasing their survivability. These growing swarms have become so large they are able to kill caribou calves, making survival harder for the latter, that has to deal with a warming climate, diseases from deer expanding northward, and over-hunting.
Even some of our furry friends are doing well in a warm environment, and decimating populations of small creatures. Domestic cats and wild boars are thriving with warmer and shorter winters, allowing old and young animals to survive more easily, and for cats to extend their breeding season. This increase in the number of feral cats is catastrophic (no pun intended) for rodents and birds. Cats are considered the most dangerous of invasive species, responsible for killing billions of birds and small mammals every year, and have caused the extinction of 87 birds, 43 mammals, and 10 reptile species.
The constant negative coverage of humanity’s environmental impact can be emotionally draining. Concerns over climate change have been linked to anxiety and depression as climate change is a consistent global stressor, but the past decade has had some success stories when it comes to conservation efforts.
The Ocean Cleanup Project implemented the System 001/B, a floating barrier that uses air and ocean currents to collect plastic in the Atlantic Ocean. Along with visible plastics, it has also been capturing microplastics as small as 1mm. Additionally, the government of Peru and the World Wildlife Fund have committed $140 million to expanding and managing nearly 17 million hectares of protected areas in the Peruvian Amazon.
Of all the continents, the one whose wildlife has been most damaged from human activity may be Europe, having the highest population density in the world. But, financed by crowdfunding, the removal of 10 obsolete dams along the Kogilnik and Sarata Rivers is now feeding the Danube Delta, a rich wetland. The removal of the dams will allow 20 km of new habitat to be created along the two rivers, providing new living spaces for local wildlife species, including wild carp, frogs, otters and breeding and migratory birds. Furthermore, the organization Rewilding Europe successfully reintroduced a herd of seven Water Buffalo on Ermakov Island, in the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta, in the hope they will create many benefits for nature as well as bring tourism opportunities.
There are steps people can take to assist in the fight against habitat loss, poaching, and the effects of climate change, for example, reduce plastic use in daily life, assist conservation charities like the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy who both fund the sustainable development of resources in developing countries like Panama, and Peru; etc. Last year, Youtuber Mr. Beast teamed up with the organisation Team Trees in an effort to plant 20 million trees by the end of 2019, which they have met and exceeded, still accepting donations of $1 per tree.
A less expensive option is to switch your search engine to Ecosia, who use most of their profits to assist in planting trees around the world. Every 45 searches is equivalent of one tree planted, so by switching to this search engine it’s easy to plant as much as ten trees in a month.
While it may seem that we live in a dark time, where wildlife around the world is under threat, and the growing problem of climate change seems dire, it’s important to know that there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
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Thompson, A. (2007, June, 06) Adoption Group: Cat Invasion Due to Global Warming. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/1582-adoption-group-cat-invasion-due-global-warming.html
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Leahy, S. (2019, August, 06) Insect ‘apocalypse’ in U.S driven by 50x increase in toxic pesticides. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/insect-apocalypse-under-way-toxic-pesticides-agriculture/
Moss, L. (2018, September, 27) 11 Animals Presumed Extinct in the Last Decade. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/insect-apocalypse-under-way-toxic-pesticides-agriculture/