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. The new coronavirus emerged from the global wildlife trade — and may be devastating enough to end it
Countries could prevent future pandemics by ending the global wildlife trade, according to scientists.
The Story: The COVID-19 pandemic — which originated in a live animal and fish market in China — could trigger the end of the global wildlife trade, reported ecologist George Wittemyer for The Conversation. Driven largely by social and cultural uses for medicines and tonics, the global wildlife trade regularly exposes humans to animal-borne illnesses, which constitute nearly 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases, according to recent research. In light of the public health crisis, China announced in March 2020 a permanent ban on wildlife trade and consumption, which could decrease demand for wild animal parts worldwide.
The Big Picture: “Terminating the damaging and dangerous trade in wildlife will require concerted global pressure on the governments that allow it, plus internal campaigns to help end the demand that drives such trade,” wrote Wittemyer. A 2019 report revealed that one out of every five terrestrial animals is entangled in the multi-billion-dollar global wildlife trade. Experts agree that in order to end this far-reaching trade, countries around the world must mirror China’s actions by imposing strict bans on the exchange of wildlife parts.
Read more here.
Massive conservation efforts could restore the world’s oceans within this generation, according to a new scientific review.
The Story: A recent scientific review projected that the world’s oceans and marine life can be restored within the next three decades if countries implement ambitious conservation measures such as large protected marine areas, sustainable fishing initiatives and pollution control systems, reported Damian Carrington for The Guardian. The authors emphasized that the climate crisis must be addressed to protect the high seas from ocean acidification, marine heatwaves and a host of other issues outlined in a dire 2019 UN report. To adequately tackle both climate change and other threats such as overfishing and plastic pollution, the review advises governments to provide additional funding to expand ocean conservation efforts — which could increase benefits tenfold, according to the review.
The Big Picture: “We’re beginning to appreciate the value of what we’re losing ... in terms of protecting our livelihoods and societies from bad things happening, whether that be poor water quality in rivers and oceans or sea level rise beating on the doorstep of coastal areas,” said Callum Roberts, a lead author on the review. To protect the ocean — and millions of people that rely on it for food and jobs — Conservation International has directly supported the creation of 232 million hectares (573 million acres) of marine protected areas, where activities such as tourism, development and fishing are managed sustainably.
Read more here.
COVID-19 may be the first in a wave of animal-borne illnesses in coming years, epidemiologists predict.
The Story: Epidemiologists project more frequent outbreaks of coronaviruses (a type of virus known to affect birds and mammals) such as COVID-19 in the future due to climate change and deforestation, reported Jeff McMahon for Forbes. Although scientists are currently uncertain how climate breakdown will impact the spread of COVID-19, research shows that rising global temperatures will alter the timing, distribution and severity of disease outbreaks. Using a database with more than 30,000 documented coronavirus strains, scientists are currently attempting to determine which strains could infect humans in the future — and how human activities could increase the frequency of transmission.
The Big Picture: “Ecosystems in nature function similarly to the human body: When they are robust and healthy — which means they have diverse species and space for healthy animal populations — they are more resistant to disease,” explained Conservation International's Senior Climate Change Scientist Lee Hannah in a recent interview with Conservation News. As human activities such as mining and logging degrade forests, however, wild animals are pushed closer together and are more likely to exchange diseases between different species and humans. To prevent future outbreaks, said Hannah, humans must “give nature the space it needs to adapt to the impacts [of human activities] that we can no longer change.”
Read more here.
In the first documented case of its kind, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for COVID-19 after likely being infected by a human zookeeper.
Cover image: A coral reef in the South Pacific (© Comstock Images)