An 83% decline of freshwater animals underscores the need to protect and restore freshwaters

An 83% decline of freshwater animals underscores the need to protect and restore freshwaters

This year’s Living Planet Report shows that populations of animals—including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians—plummeted by 60% between 1970 and 2014. But those living in freshwater are experiencing a far more drastic decline: 83% since 1970. It’s a sobering statistic and one tied directly to the ever-increasing pressures that people are putting on natural habitats.

We can learn a lot about the health of freshwater habitats overall by studying the animals that live in them. If freshwater animals are on the decline, that’s a sign that the entire ecosystem is in trouble. Freshwater habitats face a host of threats, including increases in the amount of water we take from them; drainage of wetlands; pollution from industry, sewage and farms; invasive plant and animal species; climate change; and infrastructure development in and along waterways. Perhaps the most urgent threat to freshwater animals and their homes is the dams, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure that interfere with the natural flow and connectivity of rivers. Many freshwater fish, for example, rely on free-flowing rivers to eat, reproduce, and access nutrients necessary for their survival.

Connected rivers help people, too. Free-flowing rivers move sediment to floodplains and deltas downstream, providing nutrients and soil for floodplain agriculture, allowing for healthy fisheries, and supporting the resilience of delta habitats under a changing climate.

Keeping rivers connected and flowing
There are currently nearly 60,000 large dams on rivers around the world and over 3,700 more hydro dams—structures that give us energy from the flow of water—are planned globally. While hydropower plays an important role in today’s renewable energy revolution, it must be carefully planned so as to minimize loss of river health. This means considering the health of an entire river basin to find energy opportunities with the least amount of impact on the environment and people. Into the future, the dropping prices of wind and solar power, along with innovations in the ability to store power, provide the possibility for countries to meet energy demands with less hydropower and therefore fewer dams.

We can also set aside a certain amount of water in a river basin exclusively for the protection of nature and for people. Called a “water reserve,” this concept requires a careful calculation of how much water people can use for energy, agriculture and other purposes and how much must remain in the river to sustain a healthy ecosystem. This summer, Mexico authorized water reserves in nearly 300 river basins, including in one of the country’s longest remaining free-flowing rivers, the Usumacinta. WWF worked with Mexico’s National Water Commission to calculate how much water could be allocated to human activity and how much water should remain in the river to sustain a healthy ecosystem. This science-based planning and policies backing it up ensure water quality and quantity for 45 million Mexicans for the next 50 years—all while protecting the river’s plants and wildlife.

You can help
The decline in groups of freshwater animals is staggering, but we can help reverse the trend. Join WWF’s Freshwater Force to take action to stop bad dams and infrastructure development in freshwater habitats, raise awareness of the importance of freshwater, and champion the wildlife and communities that depend on free-flowing, clean rivers for survival.

Join the Freshwater Force.

Download WWF’s Free Rivers App and experience how different mixes of energy options impact a river system.



Published October 29, 2018 at 05:00AM

In a blow to wildlife, China lifts a ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts

In a blow to wildlife, China lifts a ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts

In an enormous setback for wildlife conservation, China announced it will allow hospitals to use tiger bone and rhino horn from captive-bred animals for traditional medicine. The decision reverses a decades-old ban that has been instrumental in preventing the extinction of endangered tigers and rhinos.

“China’s decision to reopen a legalized trade in farmed tiger bone and rhino horn reverses 25 years of conservation progress in reducing the demand for these products in traditional Chinese medicine and improving the effectiveness of law enforcement,” said Leigh Henry, director of wildlife policy, WWF-US. “This devastating reversal by China runs completely counter to the image of wildlife champion the world had come to expect with China’s ivory trade, which was such a positive development for world’s elephants.”

WWF urgently calls on China to not only maintain their 1993 ban on tiger bone and rhino horn trade, but to also extend it to cover trade in all tiger parts and products, regardless of whether they’re from captive-bred or wild animals. 

The new regulations say hospitals can obtain parts from captive facilities within China—excluding zoos—where tigers and rhinos are bred for commercial purposes. Experts estimate that more than 6,500 tigers live in China’s tiger farms, far outnumbering the roughly 3,900 remaining in the wild.

The 1993 ban significantly curbed the demand of tiger and rhino parts from what has long been considered the worlds’ largest consumer market for such products. Over the years, China has taken significant steps to implement and enforce this ban through public education campaigns, promotion of effective substitutes for tiger and rhino medicines, and strengthening law enforcement. Allowing the legal market of such parts to resume will be detrimental conservation efforts, potentially fueling the demand for these products and increasing poaching of wild tigers and rhinos.

China has been a leader in pioneering conservation of majestic species such as elephants, and WWF is optimistic that the country will recognize its role in the illegal tiger and rhino trade and maintain the ban.   

Help tigers, rhinos, and other wildlife. Sign on to stop wildlife crime.



Published October 29, 2018 at 05:00AM

Delivering a blow to wildlife, China reverses a critical ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts

Delivering a blow to wildlife, China reverses a critical ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts

In an enormous setback for wildlife conservation, China announced it will allow hospitals to use tiger bone and rhino horn from captive-bred animals for traditional medicine. The decision reverses a decades-old ban that has been instrumental in preventing the extinction of endangered tigers and rhinos.

“China’s decision to reopen a legalized trade in farmed tiger bone and rhino horn reverses 25 years of conservation progress in reducing the demand for these products in traditional Chinese medicine and improving the effectiveness of law enforcement,” said Leigh Henry, director of wildlife policy, WWF-US.  “This devastating reversal by China runs completely counter to the image of wildlife champion the world had come to expect with China’s ivory trade, which was such a positive development for world’s elephants.”

WWF urgently calls on China to not only maintain their 1993 ban on tiger bone and rhino horn trade, but to also extend it to cover trade in all tiger parts and products, regardless of whether they’re from captive-bred or wild animals. 

The new regulations say hospitals can obtain parts from captive facilities within China—excluding zoos—where tigers and rhinos are bred for commercial purposes. Experts estimate that more than 6,500 tigers live in China’s tiger farms, far outnumbering the roughly 3,900 remaining in the wild.

The 1993 ban significantly curbed the demand of tiger and rhino parts from what has long been considered the worlds’ largest consumer market for such products. Over the years, China has taken significant steps to implement and enforce this ban through public education campaigns, promotion of effective substitutes for tiger and rhino medicines, and strengthening law enforcement. Allowing the legal market of such parts to resume will be detrimental conservation efforts, potentially fueling the demand for these products and increasing poaching of wild tigers and rhinos.

China has been a leader in pioneering conservation of majestic species such as elephants, and WWF is optimistic that the country will recognize its role in the illegal tiger and rhino trade and maintain the ban.   

Help tigers, rhinos, and other wildlife. Sign on to stop wildlife crime.



Published October 29, 2018 at 05:00AM

Tackling Plastic Pollution in the Galapagos

Tackling Plastic Pollution in the Galapagos

In an oceanside laboratory at the Charles Darwin Research Foundation in the Galapagos, Tomas Hannam-Penfold sits bent over a microscope, surrounded by bags of plastic trash scavenged from nearby beaches. He places a small white fragment on the illuminated petri dish and gestures for me to peer through the eyepiece. The piece of plastic is covered with tiny spirals: the egg cases of a type of marine worm.

Plastic trash is already an issue for the Galapagos. Now scientists like Hannam-Penfold are looking at the impact of invasive species floating in on a soda bottle. Although this particular marine worm is already a resident of the islands, he has also found a gooseneck barnacle that has never been reported here. The introduction of any new species, even a microscopic one, is a significant concern in the conservation of the Galapagos.

Around the world, humans produce an estimated 1.3 billion tons of plastic waste, a number is set to increase to 2.2 billion by 2025. In countries such as Ecuador that have limited garbage collection services, some of this plastic waste inevitably ends up back in the oceans or on beaches, where it has the potential to harm wildlife and human health. It’s an issue that WWF, local community and other partners are confronting head-on in the Galapagos.

“When you are younger, you want to conserve turtles,” biologist Mario Piu says with a smile, “When you get old, you have a bigger vision.”

The bigger vision Piu is talking about are the mountains of plastic sent down a conveyer belt behind him. As the head of Environmental Management for the local government of Santa Cruz Island, the largest community in the Galapagos, he’s in charge of this landmark integrated solid waste management and recycling system that WWF helped implement with the Municipal Government of Santa Cruz.  The implementation started in 2006 and has expanded since then. Today, more than 50% of the overall waste, including recycle and organic materials, generated in Santa Cruz island are being recycled. “We can avoid pollution of our seas if we improve waste management on land,” he says.

Piu, who became concerned about plastics after leading beach cleanups in the 1990s, says that the next step is to prevent plastic products from getting to the Galapagos Islands in the first place. A recent law bans the distribution or commercialization of plastic drinking straws, disposable plastic shopping bags, styrofoam food containers and dinnerware, and non-returnable bottles of sodas and beers on the islands, though those products are unevenly used.

The Galapagos Governing Council, WWF, and other partners have been spreading the word about the law through an information campaign that involves signs at local airports, piers, and outreach to stores and restaurants. Starting in 2019, the Coca-Cola Company and Tesalia-PepsiCo, among other companies, have agreed to produce a new line of returnable bottles just for the Galapagos.

The people of the Galapagos are doing their part to protect their islands and address this global problem too. Local communities and activists have mobilized to institute coastal cleanups and awareness campaigns about plastic use.

But Hannam-Penfold — the researcher — isn’t particularly worried about running out of material to study in the future. After all, the largest amount of plastic waste arrives in the Galapagos on ocean currents from places that have yet to learn these same lessons.



Published October 24, 2018 at 05:00AM

We’re one step closer to keeping trash and plastic out of our oceans

We’re one step closer to keeping trash and plastic out of our oceans

The United States took an important step forward in the global fight to tackle trash in our oceans.

Nearly 124,000 WWF activists from 49 states reached out to their member of Congress to support a bipartisan bill to take a stand on ocean plastic, and their impressive efforts paid off. The Save Our Seas Act means less trash, more research, and a brighter future for both wildlife and people who depend on healthy oceans.

Scientists estimate that more than 8.8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Without action, experts predict that there could be a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean within the next decade.

Ocean trash affects everything from the smallest plankton to the biggest whales. Sea turtles, for instance, often confuse plastic bags for food. And dolphins and other marine life can become entangled in old fishing gear.

That’s why it’s so important that tens of thousands of our activists spoke up.

“WWF’s ambitious goal is for nature to be plastic-free by 2030,” said Erin Simon, WWF's director of private sector engagement, sustainability R&D. “This will require fixing what’s broken across complex waste management systems. Government action and good public policy are critical to enabling the solutions we need, and the passage of the Save Our Seas Act is a welcome step in the right direction.”   

Learn more about protecting our oceans.



Published October 18, 2018 at 05:00AM

In Peru, pink river dolphins are tagged with transmitters for the first time

In Peru, pink river dolphins are tagged with transmitters for the first time

Though well-known for their unique coloring, pink river dolphins face an increasingly uncertain future. Water pollution, dam construction, and poaching—either targeted or as bycatch—seriously threaten these amazing creatures and the key role they play along their rivers. A lack of data about the population status and behavior of the dolphins makes tackling these threats even more difficult.

“Dolphins are like jaguars in the forest. As top predators, their population status is an indicator of the health of the rivers and ecosystems they inhabit,” says Jose Luis Mena, WWF Peru’s Science Director. “If the dolphins are doing well, all the other local species will also thrive.”

In order to learn more about the population status of this species, a scientific expedition set out to install satellite transmitters on pink river dolphins in Peru. This is the fourth expedition as part of the first-ever effort to tag river dolphins in the Amazon, building upon recent expeditions in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia. This time, a team of biologists, vets and geographers went deep into Peru’s northern Amazon-- one of the places with the highest density of freshwater dolphins in the world.

 

Safety and speed

Led by WWF and its local partner ProDelphinus, the team worked jointly with local members of the 20 de Enero Community. Together, they were able to safely capture, study, and place transmitters on three male and one female dolphin.

With a little patience and a lot of care, citizens, guided by scientists, helped enclose dolphins with a fishing net and lead them onto stretchers outside of the water. From there, the examination process began, including blood and tissue sampling that will provide information about the dolphins’ health and diet. Finally, transmitters were placed on the dolphins and they were released back into the wild.

“We follow a strict protocol that prioritizes the welfare of the animals and its quick release back into the water, with the least possible discomfort,” says biologist Elizabeth Campbell, ProDelphinus Associate Researcher. “All the dolphins we tagged were safely released back into the river and we will now be able to see what they are doing on a daily basis, how they use their habitat, and even how climate change is impacting their home and behavior.”

 

Science and technology lead the way together

The data collected is of critical importance as Amazon rivers face rampant pressures from human encroachment and related infrastructure. It is more crucial than ever to understand these rivers dynamics, the biodiversity, and resources within them, and how to ensure their long-term continuity.

Dolphin monitoring is part of a comprehensive science and conservation strategy. The expedition in Peru is part of a regional initiative led by WWF with local partners in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, which aims to tag 50 dolphins in total. Data collected will be used to design effective strategies that ensure healthy and free-flowing rivers throughout the entire Amazon. So far, almost 20 dolphins have been tagged across the region.

Global dolphin survival

The pink dolphin holds the largest population worldwide.  Ensuring its conservation could also help inform efforts to save more endangered river dolphin species around the world. Successful satellite tagging provides WWF and its partners with a new way to monitor and gather important information about river dolphin behavior and habitats, which can create better conservation plans.

As science offers better tools to help this species survive, everyone must play their part—the private sector, government authorities, and local citizens—in order to ensure this iconic species remains as the friendly face representing the wealth of Amazon rivers to the eyes of the world.

Take action: Join WWF’s Freshwater Force

 



Published October 15, 2018 at 05:00AM

Ranger survey reveals harsh conditions

Ranger survey reveals harsh conditions

Wildlife rangers are one of the planet’s first and last lines of defense. As pressures on nature, grow, the survival of endangered animals like rhinos, elephants and tigers and their habitats depends in great part on these men and women.

It’s never been an easy job. But now a newly-released survey—the largest ever taken on the working conditions of government employed rangers across Asia and Africa—reveals the harsh realities of their work.

Illegal logging and a violent poaching crisis are at an all-time high. The work of rangers has never been more critical. But challenges for these rangers are enormous and far-ranging.

Working on average 76 hours a week, day and night, for less than $9 (US) a day, a staggering 60 percent of rangers indicated they didn’t have access to drinking water or shelter while on patrol. Rangers are also at great risk of infectious diseases. One in four rangers reported that they had contracted malaria in the last year. In Africa, this jumped up to almost 75 percent of rangers. Some of these could be greatly reduced with a simple mosquito net, yet only 20 percent report having access such equipment.

“The problem faced by rangers during patrol is that we don’t have adequate equipment to perform our work, like boots and raincoats,” said a ranger who had to remain anonymous for security reasons.

And it’s not just equipment, almost four in ten rangers didn’t feel they had adequate training when they started their job. Such preparation is vital when they come face to face with armed gangs, have to search for deadly snares, assess crime scenes, negotiate hostile situations and even provide potentially life-saving aid to a colleague who’s suffered a serious injury in the field.

“When we get injured in the jungle it is difficult to get medical treatment, especially for injuries that require a doctor or a hospital. There is no helicopter to lift us out and take us to the hospital for emergency treatment,” said another anonymous ranger.

So what can be done to help rangers? While rangers are government employees, organizations such as WWF provide support to some sites and programs and help rangers gain better access to basic facilities.

But there is much more that needs to be done. Stronger, more effective government policies are a crucial first step. WWF is calling upon governments to urgently review and address shortcomings that are endangering the lives of rangers and as a result, nature and wildlife. Adequate training, as well as appropriate equipment and communications devices, should be immediately addressed. WWF is also looking to secure 100 percent insurance coverage for serious injuries and loss of life to help rangers and their families.

Back a Ranger now: Help the men and women on the front lines of conservation get the resources they need to stop wildlife crime



Published October 09, 2018 at 05:00AM

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