Ecosystems: not all bad news?


Conservation success!

The WWF predict that there are 100,000,000 different species on Earth and that 10,000 of these species go extinct each year. But is it all bad news? Last January the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Florida manatee population was up 500% since 1991, a huge comeback that has led to proposals to down-list them from an endangered species to a threatened species. The manatees are not alone in their story of recovery. In 2015 the humpback whale was taken off the endangered list after years of conservation efforts and an almost worldwide ban on whaling. Other success stories include bald eagles, grey wolves, and a recent increase in the wild panda population.

Repairing ecosystems

The recovery of these once endangered animals is attributed to the significant improvement of habitat conditions. Local-scale changes such as restrictions on waterfront development and boat speed, in the case of manatee population recovery, are an example of effective and sustainable management of local ecosystems.

Closer to home, there is evidence of the improving health of Britain’s natural habitats. In the 1950s, the pollution levels in the River Thames were so high that it was declared biologically dead. But in August 2015, the Zoological Society of London announced, after a decade-long survey, that more than 2,000 seals have been spotted, along with porpoises, dolphins and – not to forget – the unfortunate whale that swam all the way to Chelsea in 2006. The Thames is now at its cleanest in more than 150 years as a result of it no longer being the outlet for London’s sewage, along with conservation schemes to encourage wildlife and restore natural habitats. Further north, good news for Britain’s marine life continues in Sheffield city centre, where otters have been spotted in the River Don, once believed to be one of the most polluted stretches of water in Europe.

Challenges ahead

So why is success in conservation not a worldwide trend? Safeguarding endangered animals is a recognised challenge in the developing world.

  • Factors such as rapid population and economic growth have associated demands on natural resources, which in turn is causing destruction of many habitats.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also identifies that along with habitat loss there is also the threat of pollution, invasive alien species and human-induced climate change.

Did you know?

  • According to the WWF, reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease, and where fresh water is in irregular or short supply.
  • Between 1990 and 2004, orang-utans in Borneo lost habitat twice the size of Wales.