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 stories from the past week that you should know about.
Migratory freshwater fish are dying off due to human activities such as overfishing and dam development.
The Story: A new report found that populations of migratory freshwater fish have plummeted by 76 percent between 1970 and 2016, reported Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic. Threatened by overfishing, habitat degradation, dam development and climate change, migratory freshwater fish species such as salmon and sturgeon are dying off faster than migratory species in the ocean and on land around the world. Migratory freshwater fish species are declining particularly fast in Europe, with populations falling by 93 percent in the past 50 years — likely due to increased dam development that has blocked off their migration paths, experts say.
The Big Picture: “It is possible to reverse the decline of the world’s migratory freshwater fish species, but only if we quickly invest more in freshwater conservation initiatives that address riverside habitat degradation, fragmentation of rivers by dams and overfishing” said Ian Harrison, Conservation International’s freshwater specialist. “This report has shown that better management of fisheries is associated with a lower average decline in abundance.” Protecting migratory freshwater species is also crucial to the coastal communities who depend on them for food and income. For example, Amazonian catfish are vital for the food security and livelihoods of fishers along the Amazon river, but the species is on the brink of extinction due to overfishing.
Traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples in the Philippines is helping to protect the country’s wildlife.
The Story: In the Philippines, an Indigenous belief system known as mariit — which asserts that all living things are sacred — is helping to support nature conservation, reported Arnel Murga for BBC. According to the centuries-old belief system, every part of nature possesses a soul and should be respected, and if it is not, nature will unleash repercussions such as famine, drought, flooding and other natural disasters. Conservationists are now working with Indigenous communities to use mariit as a foundation for the creation of marine parks and protected areas, such as the Mariit Wildlife and Conservation Park in the western Philippines, which provides refuge for more than 62 threatened species.
The Big Picture: “The knowledge of Indigenous peoples continues to provide key information to protect the resources of the Mother Earth, and to create opportunities for climate change adaptation and mitigation actions across diverse ecosystems,” said Johnson Cerda, an Indigenous Kichwa from the Ecuadorian Amazon who leads Conservation International’s work with the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Indigenous peoples use or manage some of the most biodiverse places on the planet, including areas in the Amazon rainforest, the Kenyan savanna and Hawaii's coral reefs. Overall, Indigenous-managed lands show less species decline and pollution, largely due to deep-rooted Indigenous belief systems such as mariit that integrate nature conservation into their daily lives.
Plastic pollution is on the uptick — and the pandemic is making it worse.
The Story: A new study projects that more than 29 million metric tons of plastic will pollute the ocean per year by 2040 if current waste trends continue, reported Leslie Kaufman for Bloomberg News. This quantity is enough to add up to 50 kg (110 pounds) of plastic waste along every meter of the world’s coastlines. According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the issue because many people are improperly disposing single-use medical waste such as surgical masks and latex gloves, which then end up in the world’s oceans.
The Big Picture: “Even if we allow for ambitious increases in recycling and collection and substitution of materials, we still cannot get there unless we freeze plastic production at 2020 levels,” said Martin Stuchtey, who’s company, SystemIQ, helped compile data for the study. “Either refineries have to change their plans, or we have to acknowledge there is no way to get out of increased ocean pollution.” By stemming the production of new plastic, improving waste collection systems and investing in more sustainable plastic materials, countries can help reduce the flow of plastic into the ocean by up to 80 percent, according to the report. Reducing plastic waste could help protect coastal and marine species such as seabirds and sea turtles, which often confuse plastic waste for food.
To reduce the plastic footprint of the entire shopping industry, major retailers, including CVS Health, Target and Walmart, have partnered with Conservation International and the Ocean Conservancy to design a sustainable alternative to plastic retail bags.
A massive fleet of mostly Chinese fishing vessels is currently stationed off the coast of the Galápagos Islands, and experts fear that this could lead to rampant overfishing of marine species such as sharks and manta rays.
Cover image: Piraputangas in the Amazon (© Luciano Candisani/iLCP)