Latest World Wildlife Report Shows Steep Declines —
World's Vertebrate Populations Half of What They Were In 1970.
© 2016 by Linda Moulton Howe
“We're losing individuals of species and geographic ranges at a really rapid rate.
If you keep that up, extinction of lots of species is inevitable.”
- Anthony Barnosky, Ph. D., Jasper Ridge Biological
Preserve, Stanford University
Our beautiful watery blue Earth where thriving life and extinctions have pulsed over
a couple of billion years. Now, in the 21st Century, it is humanity that is causing the
6th mass extinction. Image by NASA.
November 3, 2016 Washington, D. C. - At the end of October 2016, the World Wildlife Fund released its “Living Planet Report 2016.” The troubling bottom line is that we are in a rapidly increasing 6th mass extinction and this time it is humanity that is causing the die-offs all around us.
Populations of vertebrate animals — such as mammals, birds and fish — have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. During those same years, there has been even more die-offs in freshwater creatures — an 81% decline!
Why is this happening?
The World Wildlife Fund says there are four top threats to living creatures on Earth.
First: “Habitat loss and degradation is the most common threat to animals on decline.” As human populations increase exponentially, we are too rapidly cutting down forests to spread cement and asphalt and houses and buildings all over the planet, pushing out animals, birds and insects and threatening our own human survival.
Intensive deforestation of the Brazilian rain forest. Brazil has had the highest
deforestation rate in the world. Since 1970, 230,000 square miles (600,000 sq. km)
of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed.
Image by Alberto Cesar, Greenpeace/AP.
Second: “Human demand for food is causing overfishing in our oceans, while pollution of water and land with fertilizers and pesticides are killing vast numbers of honey bees and other pollinators that we so badly need for food plants to grow.” Only 1.6% of the world's oceans have been declared as marine protected areas (MPAs), and 90% of existing MPAs are open to fishing.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that worldwide fishing fleets are taking from the Earth's
waters 2.5 times more than what humans currently need for food. Much of that overfishing
is illegal, with estimates that as much as 50% illegal overfishing in some fisheries.
Third: “Changes in temperatures now around the world in climate change can leave seals and whales in the oceans without food; or birds without ocean zooplankton or insects in traditional land areas to eat; or larger animals such as deer and elk can be overwhelmed by mites and insects that once upon a time were kept in check by winters.
In the 2015 winter on the Pacific Coast of the United States, there was a record number of
dead Cassin's Auklets above. These small birds eat zooplankton, tiny marine creatures that are
a good indicator of changes in the oceans due to global climate change. The Cassin's
Auklets died of starvation because the zooplankton changed with warm waters off Alaska.
Fourth: Killing animal life for human profit such as taking the lives of elephants for their ivory tusks — or rare, lions, tigers, cheetahs and leopards for their beautiful hides. The Director General of the World Wildlife Fund International says in the new report that Earth life now in 2016 everywhere is “living on the edge” because so much change is happening so rapidly.
Of the original nine subspecies of tigers, three have become extinct in the last 80 years.
It has been predicted all tigers may become extinct in the wild within the next decade.
Poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation have reduced the global population of tigers from over 100,000 in the 1900s, to less than 4,000 in the 1970s.
Today, four of the remaining subspecies of tigers are considered endangered by the IUCN, while two of the subspecies are considered “critically” endangered. The total number of all the wild populations of the six remaining subspecies of tigers — Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Siberian, South China, and Sumatran — is estimated to be between 3,000 to 3,600 tigers.
World Wildlife reports: “The evidence has never been stronger that not only are we able to track the exponential increase in human population pressure over the last 60 years — the so-called Great Acceleration and the consequent degradation of natural systems — but we now better understand … that if we lose biodiversity in the natural world, then the Earth’s life support systems as we know them today will collapse. … For decades scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing life on our shared planet toward a 6th mass extinction.”
2016 Another Hot Year
2016 is probably going down in the record books as the first or second hottest Earth year on record. But there is some good news. Global CO2 emission increase has slowed a little. It looks like China is pulling back on its huge coal burning. And China and the U. S. have agreed at last to work together on banning the domestic ivory trade.
Professor Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences says: “We’ve got 7.4 billion people on the planet and we cut down forests to grow our food and sell the timber and we fish and we hunt meat. How do we slow it all down for everyone to survive?”
If humans don’t change their thoughtless destruction of Earth life around them, the future of human life on this planet is not guaranteed.