Earth Day 2019: The future, survival of these species are in significant danger
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
April 23, 2019, 4:50:44 AM EDT
Humans coexist on Earth with millions of other species, but we’re also their biggest threat. Our activity on the planet – from deforestation to pollution and pesticide use – has led to the rapid and permanent disappearance of many of these creatures in what has become the greatest rate of extinction since dinosaurs were wiped from the planet 60 million years ago, according to the Earth Day Network.
Scientists have found that in stark contrast to the normal annual extinction rate of between one to five species, we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the usual pace, with multiple extinctions occurring on a daily basis. Research also shows that habitat destruction, climate change and exploitation are driving the loss of 50 percent of Earth’s wild animal population.
Among species that vanished from the planet forever in 2018 were three types of birds: the Cryptic treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti) and Alagoas foliage-gleaner (Philydor novaesi), both of which came from northeastern Brazil; and Hawaii's Po'ouli (Melamprosops phaeosoma), according to global conservation group BirdLife International.
In March 2018, the death of the last male northern white rhinoceros in Kenya left only two living females left in the species – and on Earth.
“’Protecting our species’ became our 2019 theme because we see the ambivalence people have toward other species and their refusal to understand their responsibility as the chief predator to actually be equitable, fair and thoughtful, and also to recognizing the rights of nature,” Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers told AccuWeather.
“They have rights just like we do. Pushing that and helping people understand that is not radical, it’s just uncomfortable,” Rogers said.
Other startling numbers resulting from human impact on various species, according to the Earth Day Network:
- The number of animals living on land has dropped by 40 percent since 1970.
- Insect populations have declined by 75 percent in some locations.
- It’s estimated that humans have impacted 83 percent of Earth’s land surface, which has affected many ecosystems as well as the range in which specific species of wildlife used to exist.
- About a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have already been damaged beyond repair, and 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk from local and global stresses.
These species also continue to face serious threats and uncertain future on the planet.
Six out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Whales have been impacted by rising sea temperatures, which can disrupt their natural migration and potentially hurt their abilities to reproduce; boat collisions; waste and debris from oil and chemical spills; and plastic pollution in the ocean. In March 2019, a dead whale was found washed up in Sardinia, Italy, with 49 pounds of plastic in its stomach. The whale had also been pregnant.
“The biggest threat [to reefs] is climate change,” said Dr. Pim Bongaerts, a lead coral biologist at the California Academy of Sciences’ Hope for Reefs program. Coral reefs harbor 25 percent of all marine species.
“There are a lot of stressors that coral reefs face from overfishing, land development and all those stressors are extremely relevant, especially on regional or local scales, but in the end, it’s global warming that’s the major overarching threat,” Bongaerts told AccuWeather.
Rising sea temperatures are threatening coral reefs, which places additional pressures on fish species that depend on them, according to the Earth Day Network.
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Bees are considered a keystone species with other species dependent on them to survive, as these species’ food sources rely on insect pollination, according to the Earth Day Network.
Worldwide, bees are at risk of being wiped from the planet, and one in four wild bee species in the United States is at risk of extinction. Pesticides, diseases, loss of habitat and climate change are among their greatest threats.
The more than 32,000 fish species on the planet need protection from dangers including climate change and rising ocean temperatures; habitat loss due to an increase in the amount of water held by dams; overfishing, particularly illegal and unreported unregulated fishing; and ocean pollution, which also impacts humans by contaminating the fish they buy and eat.
There’s good news – it’s possible that the rate of these extinctions can be slowed down, and many declining and endangered species can still recover. “[Saving species] requires some sacrifice, but there’s an incredible advantage in the end.”
Making efforts to protect wildlife habitats; avoiding the purchase of products made from threatened or endangered species; recycling and buying sustainable products; and avoiding herbicides and pesticides are among the ways people can take action in protecting Earth’s remaining species, according to the Endangered Species Coalition.
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