Endangered: New UN report warns mass extinction on the horizon

Caden Fanshaw / May 7, 2019

Our planet boasts over eight million species, but as a new United Nations report warns, over 1 million species are at risk of going extinct.

The planet is changing in many ways, in turn forcing animals to change their ways. Many habitats have been affected including coral reefs that have lost approximately half the live coral cover since the 1870’s.

On land, around 9% of the world’s estimated 5.9 million terrestrial species that is more than 500,000 species have insufficient habitat for long-term survival.

Almost a third of reef-forming corals, sharks and shark relatives and over a third of marine mammals are currently threatened by climate change and experts say its not getting any better increasing the threat of extinction.

What’s at risk on the west coast?

The UN says the Living Planet Index, which tracks trends in vertebrate populations, has declined rapidly since 1970.

The Canadian Federal Government website lists multiple species at risk in BC including the spotted owl, the painted turtle, and the sea otter.

In the swamp is where the water is the murkiest.

The report points calls out the continued rise of insufficient habitat, and concerning pollution that is a constant threat for the long-term survival of the majority of amphibians.

Countless areas across Canada are already fighting the battle with extinction, making many doomed in the coming decades.

Caution on the coast:

A sensitive area

For coastal regions like the Lower Mainland, the report states there’s much more to be lost than other places.

“Coastal habitats, including estuaries and deltas critical for marine biota and regional economies, have been severely affected by sea-use changes and land-use changes” -UN Extinction Report Summary 2019

The land use changes include the use of offshore aquaculture, and the increased sprawl of urban development along the coastlines. Something largely seen in regions surrounding Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

“Ocean acidification, from increased carbon dioxide levels, largely affects shallow waters, with the ecosystems of the subarctic Pacific and western Arctic Ocean particularly affected.” -UN Extinction Report Summary 2019

With shallower waters, the report says the pollutants are more likely to be concentrated in the habitats of fish, and other aquatic life which jeopardizes their lives and makes them more susceptible to extinction.

The report also gives rise to concerns for the health of humans, as the seafood they consume which comes from these polluted waters could also put them in danger.

Resident Killer Whales off the coast of BC which are among those highlighted in the UN Extinction Report which identified these orcas as one of those threatened. (pixabay)

The species across the globe most at threat to extinction. “Credit: UN Extinction Report Summary 2019”

What’s to blame?

Underlined in the report are many factors that apply to the species around the world, although a few are to blame for the current situation in BC.

  • “Increasing overfishing proportion of marine fish stocks. In 2015, a whopping 33% of fish stocks worldwide were labelled as overfished in 2015. This including economically important species which essentially keep their respective ecosystems afloat”
  • “Over 80% of global wastewater is being discharged back into the environment without treatment. At least 300 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped into the world’s waters each year. All of the increased waste adds to the challenge of maintaining a level environment.”
  • “All mining on land has increased dramatically and, while still using less than 1 per cent of the Earth’s land, has had significant negative impacts on biodiversity, emissions of highly toxic pollutants, water quality and water distribution.”

What is government doing?

Although the main message incorporated in this report says “not enough”, multiple levels of government across Canada have measures in place to mitigate the effects on species.

The federal government has the ‘Species at Risk Act’ which is aimed at protecting species labelled ‘at risk’ by experts.

In BC, the provincial government also has multiple statutes including the ‘Wildlife Act’, the ‘Forest and Range Practices Act’, and the ‘Ecological Reserves Act’.

Published on May 7th, 2019 by the United Nations, this report underlines the dire state of all walks of wildlife on our planet. A summary of the report is attached below.

2019 UN Extinction Report Summary (Text)