April 22nd is Earth Day, now in its 49th year! This year’s theme is “Protect Our Species”, which got us all at Global WAKEcup thinking about the many endangered and threatened species both marine and land based. You’ll find a list of The Top 10 most endangered marine species below.
Nature’s gifts to our planet are the millions of species that we know and love, and many that still remain to be discovered. Unfortunately, human beings have irrevocably upset the balance of nature and, as a result, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since we lost the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago. But unlike the dinosaurs, the rapid extinction of species today is mainly due to human activity.
The unprecedented global destruction and rapid loss of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to and driven by human intervention: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, plastic pollution and pesticides to name but a few. Our impacts are far reaching.If we do not act now, extinction may be humanity’s most enduring legacy. All living things have an intrinsic value, and each plays a unique role in the complex web of life. We must work together to protect endangered and threatened species: Hawksbill Turtles, Coral Reefs, Whales, Bees, Elephants and more.
The good news is that nature is resilient, the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators and scientists to demand immediate action. WAKEcup people!
Earth Day Network is asking people to join the Protect our Species campaign. their goals are to:
- Educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon.
- Achieve major policy victories that protect broad groups of species as well as individual species and their habitats.
- Build and activate a global movement that embraces nature and its values.
- Encourage individual actions such as adopting plant based diet and stopping pesticide and herbicide use.
Earth’s many eco-systems are comprised of interdependent animals and plants, a complex web of life. The huge variety of life on earth that features numerous interactions among species, is vital to the existence of our planet and, particularly, of humanity, with the extinction of just a single species affecting the whole ecological system. Unfortunately, the interventions of human beings in nature are pushing several species in the ecosystem to the brink of extinction.
We know from WWF data that these disappearances in the ecosystem have increased exponentially since the 1970’s. On land, animals like the Orangutan, Black Rhinos, Tigers and Giant Pandas are some of the most critically endangered species in the world. Similarly, many marine species including marine mammals, sea turtles, whales and coral reefs are also on the edge of extinction as climate change, plastic pollution and overfishing become a major threat to their existence.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, hundreds of marine species across the world come under the category of critically endangered species. At regular intervals, the IUCN determines the status of species considering the probability of their extinction, from least concern to extinct. Some of the most recognisable marine species are included in this Top 10 endangered marine species list:
1. Hawksbill Turtle
Once found all over the world’s oceans, gulfs and coral reefs, the Hawksbill Turtle’s population is estimated to have declined by 80% over the last century. Known to be a subject of heavy trafficking in the tourist trade, these turtles are being killed mercilessly for their meat and shells. The colourful shells of the Hawksbill Turtle, with beautiful patterns, make them a particularly valuable item on the black market. If offered never buy “tortoiseshell" it will often be Hawksbill Turtle.
Even though in many countries harvesting of its eggs is banned, the practice has not ceased completely. The decline of its population has also increased due to the degradation of coral reef species which the Hawksbill Turtle primarily feed on. According to marine scientists, this family of the turtle is the living representatives of reptiles that have existed in our oceans for the past hundred million years and these turtles are vital for the existence of seagrass beds and coral reefs.
An inhabitant of the shallow, murky waters off the shore of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, Vaquita is the world’s smallest and critically endangered cetacean. This rare marine mammal in the world is on the brink of extinction only 80 years after its first sighting. Features of Vaquita include the dark rings around their eyes, lips with dark patches and a thin line from mouth to dorsal fins.
Extensive use of gill-netting for fishing in the Gulf of California has endangered this marine species, resulting in a gradual drop in population. According to reports, there are only a dozen of these marine mammals left in the world!
3. Hector’s Dolphin
Found off the coast of New Zealand, Hector’s Dolphins are the smallest dolphins in the world. Mostly sighted around the South Island, the world’s rarest dolphins’ can be recognised by the black markings on the face, stocky bodies and creamy white throat and belly. One pod of Hector’s Dolphin will be comprised of two to eight members.
Unfortunately, there is a significant decline in their population as trawl fisheries and bottom-set gill nets cause the death of these species. One of the two sub-species of Hector’s Dolphin, Maui’s dolphin, is considered to be a most endangered one. According to the survey conducted by the New Zealand Department of Conservation in 2010-11, the estimated population of these dolphins is just 55.
4. Blue Whale
The largest living mammal on earth, the blue whale belongs to the baleen whales and can reach more than 100 feet in length and around 200 tonnes in weight. There are at least three subspecies of Blue whale and these could be found migrating from both poles in the oceans around the world. Sitting on top of the food chain, whales of course have a significant role in maintaining a healthy marine environment.
Unfortunately, excessive commercial hunting has resulted in a decrease of its population drastically and now has posed a threat to its mere existence even though an international ban was constituted in 1966. According to IUCN’s 2016 estimate, the global population of the Blue Whale is 10,000–25,000.
5. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is the rarest and smallest sea turtle and is critically endangered. Primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle often migrate to the Atlantic Ocean only to come back to lay eggs. The female turtles arrive in large numbers - a nesting procession called “Arribadas" often occurs on a single night on a particular beach where turtles return year after year to lay their eggs.
Unfortunately, conditions such as loss of habitat, marine pollution and entanglement in fishing nets have resulted in the huge decline of the population. Thankfully harvesting of eggs has been made illegal and research projects of incubating and hatching the eggs in temperature-controlled rooms have been undertaken to save this endangered marine species.
6. Steller Sea Lion
The largest member of the Otariid or eared seal family and the fourth largest of all seal species, located in the cold coastal waters of the North Pacific. Also known as the northern sea lion, the species is named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist who first discovered them in 1741.
The high risk of predation by Killer Whales, over fishing and harvest by native Alaskans and Canadians for meat, oil, hides and other by-products make this marine species particularly vulnerable. According to reports, its population has declined by more than 60% due to both natural and human threats since the 1960s. However, the eastern Steller sea lion was omitted from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2013.
7. Hammerhead Shark
Traced in the tropical regions of oceans all around the world, the iconic Hammerhead shark belongs to the family Sphyrnidae and was given the name because of its “hammer” shaped head . Hammerhead sharks can be up to 6.0 m length and weigh up to 600 kg! Known as aggressive hunters, these sharks are feed on smaller fish, squid crustaceans and octopus, there are also reports of unprovoked attacks on humans, you don’t want to get in the way of this shark!
These migratory sharks are prized for their fins. The process itself is horrifying as the sharks are caught by fishermen, dragged on board and their fins cut off while they are still alive.The remaining carcass is thrown into the water and eventually, the shark will bleed to death.
8. Fin whale
Also known as the common rorqual, Fin whale is the second-largest mammal on the planet after Blue Whale. With a maximum length of 26m, the Fin Whale has an estimated weight of about 114 tonnes. Like all the other whales in our oceans, the Fin Whale has been hunted to the edge of extinction for centuries.
Humpback Whale, another rorqual species, has also been listed as an endangered marine species. Before the introduction of whaling moratorium in 1966, these species were hunted to extinction for its fur and flesh for meat, while the population dropped by 90%.
9. Hawaiian Monk Seal
A native of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the few earless seals who live in a warm climate. This endangered marine mammal is one of the two remaining in this species, along with the Mediterranean monk seal, while a third species from this family, the Caribbean monk seal, has already disappeared from the planet. According to the recent research, there are only around 1,400 Hawaiian Monk Seal remaining on the Islands now. The existence of these seals is threatened by commercial hunting for meat, oil and skin, attack from predators including tiger sharks, marine debris, plastic pollution and entanglement in fishing nets.
10. Green sea turtle
One of the largest sea turtles, Green Sea Turtle is a herbivore and can be found in both tropical and subtropical seas. The Green Sea Turtle’s name comes from the colour of the fat that found underneath its carapace. Like many other turtle species, Green Sea Turtles also migrate from its hatching beaches to feeding grounds.
Since these sea turtles are always been a popular food item, the hunt for turtles and their eggs is threatening their existence. The loss of sandy beaches, marine population and careless fishing methods also have added to the decline of their population.