It may not cross our minds during our daily lives, but there is a constant struggle to try and conserve our world’s natural state. From endangered animal poaching to large chunks of ice melting and breaking away from the icecaps, there is a lot to worry about going into the future.
The situation may seem dire, but there have been conservation wins here and there over the past few years. Enough of these small wins work towards a larger goal, as they all come together to show that we are doing what we can to conserve and protect our planet and the animals that inhabit it.
Protecting Our Oceans
A huge step for conservation is using more common sense when it comes to fishery management. In an effort to help protect deep-sea corals, the United States banned bottom trawling for fish in an area offshore of New York and New Jersey. The Cayman Islands also banned fishing of groupers during spawning season. This is a good start. The ocean is more productive than once thought, and the more we learn about underwater biomes, the more it becomes clear that even small changes affect many species, large and small. However, these steps also show that we are still fishing far too much in our oceans. Overfishing is a huge problem that will take efforts around the world to fix.
Steps have also been taken to combat pirate fishing. This means that boats out fishing in the ocean illegally will have a much harder time bringing their catch into the ports. There were 29 countries that agreed to cooperate on tracking and prosecuting illegal and unreported fishing. The United States now also requires tracking the imports of all at-risk species, including shark, shrimp, and tuna, to prevent fraud. Thailand as well as Indonesia are very serious about enforcing this kind of rule as well, and have captured and sunk many pirate fishing boats.
Along with protecting the fishing industry and the sea life, it was also found that there was a wave of human slave labor going on in the fishing industry. There were notable issues found on pacific tuna boats and in Thailand's shrimp processing plants. Advocacy groups have been putting pressure on supermarket chains to now prove that no slavery was involved in the production of the seafood that they sell, which in turn put the pressure on the fishing companies to go out and clean up their acts.
In 2016, 24 countries came together and protected an additional 2,500,000 square kilometers of ocean from fishing. This created the world’s largest marine reserve. In addition, President Obama quadrupled the size of Papahanaunokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii. While these steps are great, currently only 1% of our ocean is protected from fishing, while many scientists recommend that at least 30% be protected. We still have a ways to go.
Protecting Endangered Species
For the first time in a century, in 2016 it was found that tiger numbers are growing instead of steadily declining. It was estimated that 3,890 tigers now exist in the wild, up from the estimated 3,200 reported in 2010. Along with the World Wildlife Federation, which works with governments and local communities to protect tigers from being poached, many groups in Asia are using the latest technology to protect and connect tiger habitats.
There was also a recent win for the most-trafficked mammal, as the legal trade of pangolins was ended by an international agreement to further protect this critically endangered animal from the brink of extinction. Countries decided to further strengthen existing protections with a global agreement to follow rules that monitor, regulate, or ban international trade in species that are under threat.
The United States took a strong stance on ivory trade by finalizing new regulations that will help shut down commercial elephant ivory trade within the borders and help stop wildlife crime overseas. This change in policy shifts the burden to the seller to prove that a piece of ivory is legal and not due to the slaughter of elephants. China also vowed to end domestic trade of ivory by 2017. The new regulation came as part of the government’s effort to reduce demand for elephant ivory and will hopefully help end the global elephant-poaching crisis. The historic decisions by both countries are a monumental win for elephants.
The bison was named to serve as the national mammal of the United States. In a show of bipartisan support, the US House passed the National Bison Legacy Act in 2016 that celebrates and protects a species that was once on the brink of extinction.
Another amazing conservation win is that he giant panda and the humpback whale are no longer on the endangered species list. The International Union for Conservation of Nature announced the finding, showing a 17% increase in the population of pandas in the decade up to 2014. The census found 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild in China.
There were nine North American species of humpback whale that were taken off the endangered species list in 2016. They have been listed on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) endangered species list since it was established in 1973. Now over 40 years later, experts are removing all nine species, citing international conservation efforts as the reason for the species recovery.
With so many small victories and improved legislation around the world, there are sure to be more conservation wins to come in the upcoming years. Small steps make for a long journey, and this journey for conservation of the oceans and land is just starting.
If you want to see what you can do in your daily life to help preserve our planet, check out Ranger Mac's blog with tips for how to behave in nature so that you make the least impact.