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.
The world’s largest freshwater fish and mammals are going extinct at an alarming rate due to human activity.
The Story: In a recent study, researchers discovered that freshwater megafauna — any vertebrate marine animal or fish over 30 kg (66 pounds) — have declined by 88 percent across the globe in recent years, reported Rachel Nuwer for The New York Times. These large marine creatures, such as river dolphins and hippopotami, are threatened by overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation and dams — which often cut off the migratory routes of large fish.
The Big Picture: “Rivers are basically the redheaded stepchild of protected areas,” said John Zablocki, a conservation adviser for rivers at the Nature Conservancy. “If you look around the world, there are very few examples of rivers that are themselves protected in any sort of durable way.” While 13 percent of land is conserved in the United States as protected areas or national parks, less than a quarter of 1 percent of rivers are protected. To conserve bodies of freshwater — and the species they support — countries and governments must create legal policies to protect rivers, especially within protected areas and national parks.
One village’s traditional use of bamboo could help reduce plastic consumption around the globe.
The Story: As India plans to ban all single-use plastics, people from the village of Baga Dima, situated in the northeast of the country, are offering businesses a traditional, eco-friendly alternative to plastic straws: bamboo, reported Paul Salopek for National Geographic. Villagers regularly produce orders of 1,000 to 10,000 reusable bamboo straws and other bamboo products for hotels and businesses, and the revenue from these sales supports the livelihoods of the 47 households living in Baga Dima.
The Big Picture: “Bamboo straws have not only proved to be an effective replacement over plastic and paper straws for our clients but are also better economically, environmentally, functionally and aesthetically,” said Ravi Kiran, the co-founder of Bambugo, the start-up that is partnering with villagers in Assam to manufacture bamboo straws. While plastic straws can take up to 200 years to decompose, bamboo straws biodegrade naturally in landfills — and could help reduce plastic consumption across the globe.
The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone marks the first successful attempt to return an apex predator to a large ecosystem in the United States.
The Story: After a 25-year conservation effort supported by the Endangered Species Act — a U.S. law that protects at-risk species from extinction — wolves were successfully reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, reported Cassidy Randall for The Guardian. When wolves were eradicated from the park’s ecosystem by park employees in 1926, elk populations skyrocketed in the area, overgrazing trees and destroying the habitats of songbird and beaver populations. Following the wolves’ return, the park’s food chains have stabilized and surrounding communities are experiencing an economic boom — with wolf ecotourism now bringing in US$ 35 million annually.
The Big Picture: “Absent the ESA [Endangered Species Act], I am certain that wolves would never have come back,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit organization that supported the wolves’ reintroduction to Yellowstone. “Nearly 2,000 species would likely be extinct if they didn’t have the backstop of the ESA, which is this country’s commitment to the conservation and restoration of biodiversity within our borders.” As the Trump Administration introduces broad rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act, the successful — and profitable — reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone illustrates the importance of maintaining aggressive policies to protect threatened species.
Cover image: Hippopotamus at the Phinda Reserve, South Africa. (© Jon MacCormack)