Overall global vertebrate populations will decline by an average of 67 per cent from 1970 levels by the end of this decade, unless urgent action is taken to reduce humanity’s impact on species and ecosystems according to new data released by WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
Global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent on average since 1970, the report, unvailed on 27 October, says. The loss of species represents an average annual decline of two per cent, with no sign yet that this rate will decrease.
Populations that have been impacted by human activity include those of African elephants in Tanzania, maned wolves in Brazil, hellbender salamanders in the United States, leatherback turtles in the tropical Atlantic, orcas in European waters and European eels in United Kingdom rivers, according to a joint WWF-ZSL press release.
The Living Planet Report 2016 is described as the world’s most comprehensive survey to date on the health of our planet. It highlights how human activities including deforestation, pollution, overfishing and the illegal wildlife trade, coupled with climate change, are pushing species populations to the edge as people overpower the planet for the first time in Earth’s history.
However, widespread ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change, new restrictions on the international trade in threatened species including pangolins and African grey parrots, and conservation measures that are leading to increases in global tiger and panda populations indicate that solutions are possible.
“For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife. We ignore the decline of other species at our peril – for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us.” said Mike Barrett, Director of Science and Policy at WWF-UK. “Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.”
Food production to meet the needs of an expanding human population is a key driver of the overfishing, hunting and destruction of habitats that is causing biodiversity loss. The Living Planet Report details the enormous strain agriculture places on freshwater systems, accounting for 70 per cent of water use and a substantial loss of wetlands. While large food industry interests have demonstrated they can feed the world, the report makes clear that the challenge now is to do so sustainably.
This year, international scientists recommended that humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared.
“Human behaviour continues to drive the decline of wildlife populations globally, with particular impact on freshwater habitats. Importantly, however, these are declines – they are not yet extinctions – and this should be a wake-up call to marshal efforts to promote the recovery of these populations,” said Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL.