Our Earth is home to a fantastic array of wildlife. The destruction of nature and loss of biodiversity is not only tragic but also threatens the continued survival of our own species.
It’s estimated that since 1970 60% of wild animal populations have been wiped out as a result of our actions.
A lot of this can be attributed to increased agricultural activity and the harvesting of natural resources leading to the destruction of habitats and ecosystems.
Simply put, we’re not giving nature enough time to replenish.
It’s thought that close to 1 million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction within the next few decades.
As well as being desperately sad, this loss of biodiversity also has serious consequences for our future survival.
We rely on nature for climate regulation, food security, nutrient and waste management, and a whole host of other services. All creatures, great and small, are important in making up the rich web of life on Earth.
For this article, we wanted to focus on a few of our favourites and why they’re worth saving.
Axolotls – nature's own Pokémon
Axolotls are cute little salamanders from Mexico, although you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a Pokémon.
Our head of creative expression Mikaela couldn't resist sketching one of these little guys
Named after an Aztec god, they come in a rainbow of colours and have superhero-like regenerative abilities, with the capability to rapidly repair damaged limbs and organs.
They’re found in the region surrounding Mexico City but, as the city has expanded, their populations have come under serious threat. The lakes and waterways they call home have been damaged by pollution from farming and drained for flood protection.
This, coupled with the introduction of non-native fish species, has resulted in serious population decline.
So, despite their restorative powers, axolotls are now critically endangered in the wild. As a key predator, this is bad news for their habitat and therefore us.
Further, thanks to their remarkable healing powers, we can learn a lot from them when it comes to developing cures for diseases such as cancer, so having a diverse natural sample is doubly beneficial.
Golden Jellyfish – punctual and friendly
In the remote western Pacific archipelago of Palau, there’s a cluster of marine lakes that are renowned for their rich and unique biodiversity. Perhaps the most famous of these is Jellyfish Lake, home to the fascinating golden jellyfish.
Unlike most jellyfish these won’t sting you—okay they will but it’s barely noticeable—and also unlike other jellyfish they move with purpose. Every day they migrate across Jellyfish Lake to follow the sun’s path and feed the little algae that live in their tentacles.
All this activity acts like a natural whisk, mixing up essential nutrients and small organisms, making the jellies an important part of the lake’s ecosystem.
Unfortunately, the population of golden jellyfish has decreased from a stable 8 million to a mere 600,000. The reasons are unclear, but it’s thought that global warming and severe droughts are the likely causes.
If the jellyfish go completely extinct then it will surely result in the death of Jellyfish Lake and a unique ecosystem that locals rely on for food and tourism.
Orangutans – the gardeners of the forest
Orangutans are native to the ancient forests of southeast Asia and play a vital role in rainforest management. Fun fact: orangutan actually means “person of the forest” in Malay language.
A naturally solitary and shy ape, they spend the majority of their lives up in the treetops gorging on fruit and literally hanging out.
Highly intelligent and resourceful, their activities play a crucial role in seed dispersal and forest growth, with some calling them the gardeners of the forest.
Unfortunately, orangutans are now critically endangered. Only 800 individuals remain of the Tapanuli species, making them the most endangered of all the great apes.
The drastic decline in numbers is largely down to habitat loss and, horribly, poaching. This is terrible news as the rainforests that orangutans help to maintain are important for supporting numerous other forms of life, including humans.
If orangutans are allowed to die out completely then we will have a much tougher job rebuilding these habitats.
Monarch Butterflies will go the extra mile
Now to the insect world and one of its most iconic species, the Monarch butterfly. They’re predominantly found in North America and make headlines with their epic 3000 mile migration to Mexico.
You’d think from the footage of their migration that Monarch butterfly numbers are healthy, however, due to threats such as pesticides, habitat loss, and extreme ecological events, their numbers have dropped 80% in the last two decades.
This is worrying as, like honeybees, butterflies like the Monarch are key pollinators and so play a major role in supporting other forms of life.
The ‘Glowing’ hawksbill disco sea turtle
A lot of marine creatures are known to be biofluorescent, meaning that they can absorb light and reflect it back as a different, often psychedelic, colours. However, it was recently that this trick was observed in a turtle.
‘Glowing’ Hawksbill sea turtles appear to have evolved this trick as either a way of communication or perhaps to blend into coral reefs they inhabit. What is for sure though is that they look awesome and add to the aquatic disco vibe of reefs at night.
Turtles have graced our oceans for around 100 million years—long before humans came around—and pay a vital role in transporting nutrients to and from oceans and beaches.
Unfortunately, due to human activities like industrial fishing, sea turtle numbers, including the Hawksbill, are at dangerously low levels.
“We are part of the natural world. If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves.”
– David Attenborough
What are we doing to prevent mass extinction?
We have now entered what scientists are terming the Anthropocene or sixth mass extinction. Nature needs our help now or many species will become extinct as a result of our actions.
As well as the threat to our own species that the loss of biodiversity poses, imagine a world without quirky little salamanders, orangutans or butterflies. It would be a much less fun place to live that’s for certain.
The solution lies with conservation and making sure that our behaviour takes into account our impact on animals and nature. As individuals some of the ways we can help are:
- Consume less and recycle to save natural resources and reduce carbon footprint
- Buy organic food and look out for labels such as RSPO (responsibly sourced palm oil) that indicate food was produced in keeping with conservation efforts. The orangutans will thank you.
- Buy products made from sustainable materials such as bamboo or manufactured timber, not rainforests or endangered trees
- Grow native plants in your garden or outside area to attract native wildlife such as bees and butterflies
- Sponsor conservation projects taking place around the globe and/or take part in one yourself, for example butterfly counting
- Learn more about the issue of biodiversity loss and spread awareness to friends and family by educating them about it too.
It’s not too late to make changes and help prevent the extinction of our animal friends. Here’s to hanging out with some glowing turtles long into the future!
If you have any questions or fun ideas about this (or anything really) feel free to get in touch with Emilia Cullborg, Editor and Head of Communication & Community Outreach.