The Risk of Extinction for Species that Migrate is Increasing

The Risk of Extinction for Species that Migrate is Increasing

Currently, almost 50% of migratory species that are formally considered to require international protection are at risk of going extinct. This is according to the most thorough report on their populations to date, which was made public this week in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in conjunction with the start of a United Nations conference on wildlife conservation.

These creatures are being pushed to the limit by human activity. However, it also implies that individuals can take proactive measures to protect their futures. There are some positive stories included in the world’s first-ever inventory of migratory species, so it’s not all bad news. It only serves to highlight the fact that, for many of the billions of creatures who migrate annually, time is of the essence and that action must be taken quickly.

Animals that migrate assist other species—including humans—on their travels. For example, they may aid in seed distribution, plant pollination, or insect control. Some even sequester carbon that warms the earth, aiding in the fight against climate change.

Under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), 1,189 species have been formally recognized as needing international protection for many of those reasons, not to mention that they’re so awesome, just have a look at the pictures below. As to the latest assessment by the conservation scientists at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 44 percent of those species are witnessing a reduction in their populations. Fish that are in greater danger of going extinct than others make up about 22% of the total.

Fish species on the CMS list that are endangered with extinction make up an astounding 97% of the total. This includes the silky shark, which is seen swimming in a warm region in tropical waters all across the world. It’s one of the most frequently captured shark species worldwide, either being entangled in fishing nets or being targeted for its meat and fins.

On the infamous “Red List” of vulnerable species kept by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 70 species that were listed under CMS have moved to a category that is closer to extinction since 1988.

The Egyptian vulture, which the IUCN has classified as “endangered,” is one such unfortunate species. Ironically, throughout the Mediterranean region, birds have traditionally been associated with good health and spring, when they breed. Urbanization and agriculture are gaining ground on them quickly in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

In India alone, their numbers have been declining by 35% annually since 1999. The scavengers’ use of drugs administered to the animals may have caused their demise.

The loss of habitat and overexploitation are the two main concerns facing all migratory species. These animals’ homes can be broken through by urban sprawl, agricultural land, or even border fences and walls that impede their ability to travel necessary routes for mating, food gathering, or winter shelter. “Overexploitation” is the polite term for when someone goes overboard in their hunting or fishing endeavors or accidentally traps or kills an animal they may not have been pursuing in the first place (such as those tangled-up sharks).

Routes for migration can be harmed and disrupted by pollution, which includes chemical, plastic, noise, and light pollution. Consider the magnificent green turtle, which can cover thousands of kilometers or even hundreds of miles to deposit its eggs on the same sandy shore where it first emerged. With the aid of moonlight and starlight reflected off the water, young hatchlings manage to make their way back to the sea. Alternatively, artificial lights from surrounding streetlights and roadways can entice them to their demise.

Sea turtles and other migratory species face increasing challenges as a result of climate change. Beaches are being lost due to erosion and sea level rise, and people’s attempts to defend themselves by building sea walls have the unintended consequence of separating turtles from their nesting grounds.

Because the sand’s temperature affects a hatchling’s sex, warmer temperatures are even having an impact on the ratio of female to male green sea turtles. There are more females these days because a hatchling’s likelihood of becoming female increases with sand temperature. In a 2018 study of one population of green turtles born around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, 99 percent of the juvenile turtles were female.

These issues have solutions within grasp. Wildlife exposure to light pollution can be reduced with the use of warmer LED lights and dimmable, motion-activated streetlights. Pollution that contributes to climate change is eliminated by clean energy.

According to the paper, further research is necessary to determine which migratory species are at risk and which areas should be preserved in order to conserve them. It enumerates 399 more species that, although not yet included in the CMS list of species in need of international protection, “are threatened or near threatened with extinction.” Additionally, it identifies 10,000 “key biodiversity areas” that are important to migrating species, about half of which do not have protected designations for conservation.

The paper notes that the Saiga antelope was on the verge of extinction before conservation efforts saved it. This extinct creature outlived the woolly mammoth and withstood the ice era. Even yet, poaching and disease devastated their herds, bringing their numbers in Kazakhstan down to less than 50,000 in 2006. Their number recovered to 1.3 million in Kazakhstan in 2022 thanks to efforts to rehabilitate steppe and wetland habitats and collaborate with local communities to end poaching. With this unusual but encouraging victory, the Saiga is no longer regarded as highly endangered.

The humpback whale has had yet another incredible resurgence. During the height of whaling in the 1700s and 1800s, their blubber, which took the form of whale oil, was used to light candles and lamps. They have returned to 93 percent of their pre-whaling numbers in the western South Atlantic since protections were put in place and as people discovered alternative fuel sources. The IUCN now classifies it as a “species of least concern.”

Whales’ resurgence even contributes to a slowing of global warming. A 2022 study projected that humpbacks and 11 other whale species store 2 million metric tons of carbon in their massive bodies. That may still be the same as avoiding the yearly emissions from five gas power plants, but by converting to sustainable energy, consumers might avoid significantly more pollution and environmental harm. One of the report’s other main recommendations was to address climate change.

Sanchita Patil

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