Endangered species, microplastics in the Arctic, rights for rivers: 3 stories you may have missed

© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. U.S. significantly weakens the Endangered Species Act

The Trump Administration announced major changes to the Endangered Species Act that will put wildlife at risk.

The Story: The government is altering how it enforces the Endangered Species Act, weakening wildlife protections and re-evaluating what animals are currently listed as endangered, reported Lisa Friedman for the New York Times. Since the law was enacted in 1973, it has protected more than 1,650 species from extinction due to development, pollution and other threats. The updated law will permit regulators to factor in economic impacts when listing new endangered species — making it much more difficult for an animal to gain protected status — and prevent scientists from citing climate change as a reason to protect wildlife.

The Big Picture: The IPBES Global Report released earlier this year revealed that species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Without the strict guidelines outlined in the Endangered Species Act, wildlife in the United States will be even more vulnerable to human development and climate change. Habitats that were once protected by this conservation law could now be opened up to mining, oil and gas drilling, and other activities that contribute to emissions that drive climate change, harming humans and wildlife in the process.

Read the full story here.

2. Microplastics are blowing into the pristine Arctic

New research shows significant concentrations of microplastics in Arctic snow.

The Story: Microplastic pollution has found its way to one of the most remote and uninhabited places on Earth, the Arctic, reported Matt Simon for WIRED. Researchers found Arctic snow that contained up to 14,000 microplastics particles per liter, which they postulate is blowing in from Europe, some 5,000 km (3,000 miles) away.

The Big Picture: These troubling findings highlight a unique threat to efforts to halt climate change: color. “If white snow becomes contaminated with colorful matters, it could affect the degree of light reflection and, in the long-term, could contribute to climate change as well,” said analytical chemist João Pinto da Costa. Plastic can also be detrimental to wildlife that confuse the garbage with prey, and to human health — because it is non-biodegradable, potentially dangerous chemicals within it have hundreds of years to contaminate the soil and groundwater.

Read the full story here.

3. This country gave all its rivers their own legal rights

The Bangladeshi Supreme Court recently announced that all rivers in the country now have the same legal rights as humans if harmed.

The Story: Bangladesh — known as the “land of rivers” — has joined the “rights of nature movement,” granting all of its rivers the same legal rights as humans, reported Sigal Samuel for Vox. The movement, which aims to secure legal rights for parts of nature, is gaining global popularity — Ohio, for example, recently voted to grant rights to Lake Erie. When enforced, these legal rights prevent pollution, illegal dredging and land encroachment.

The Big Picture: “In Bangladesh, the river is considered our mother,” said Mohammad Abdul Matin, the general secretary of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon environmental group. “The river is now considered by law, by code, a living entity, so you’ll have to face the consequences by law if you do anything that kills the river.” Bangladesh is a world leader in aquaculture — the farming of aquatic fish and plants — and many people throughout the country rely on its healthy rivers for their livelihood and well-being. These legal rights could prevent water pollution at a national scale, which would benefit both the aquatic biodiversity and the communities around each river.

Read the full story here.

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International.

Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: A bald eagle, one of the species protect under the Endangered Species Act. (© Conservation International/Sterling Zumbrunn)

Further reading: