Earth Day 2019 Highlights These Species in Need

It’s become all too frequent that we hear news about wildlife on the brink of extinction. The impact of climate change and unsustainable human practices can be seen around the globe — and even right in our own backyards. But what can we do?

The theme of Earth Day 2019 is Protect Our Species. It aims to raise awareness about the alarming rates of extinction, as well as encourage actions that can bring about a positive change. Here are 10 species highlighted in the Earth Day campaign that need our help.

1. Bees and other insects

Why they need protection: In recent years, scientists have observed a dramatic decline in many insect populations, including bees. As pollinators, bees are responsible for maintaining the balance of the ecosystems in which they live. “There are 369,000 flowering plant species, and 90% of them are dependent on insect pollination,” according to Earth Day Network. Not only do bees help preserve the food sources of other animals, but that vegetation also is a habitat for many. They even have a massive impact on the crops humans eat.

Threats to the species: The use of pesticides and other chemicals pose a major threat to insects. Plus, the loss of their habitat and a lack of biodiversity can cause populations to dwindle.

How to help: Stop using synthetic lawn chemicals, and encourage others to do the same. Grow bee-friendly plants that support these pollinators, as well as the biodiversity in your area.

2. Birds

Why they need protection: Roughly 40 percent of all bird species is in decline, according to a report from conservation group BirdLife International. And that’s not great news, as birds play key roles in ecosystems around the world. They disperse seeds throughout their range, they eat pests and some are even pollinators. Plus, scavenger birds help to remove remains and other waste from the environment.

Threats to the species: Habitat loss and deforestation have been detrimental to birds. “Agriculture has the biggest negative impact of all human activities on birds, threatening 74% of the 1,469 species at risk of extinction,” according to Earth Day Network. Moreover, climate change and associated severe weather are a huge threat to birds — as is pollution from pesticides and plastic. Also, invasive species, such as outdoor domestic cats, and the pet trade are causing many bird populations to decline.

How to help: Avoid using harmful pesticides, and dispose of trash properly. Pick up any plastic litter you see. Keep pet cats inside. And bird-proof your windows to prevent collisions.

3. Coral reefs

coral reefCredit: cinoby/Getty Images

Why they need protection: About a quarter of coral reefs around the world have been deemed “damaged beyond repair,” and 65 percent are seriously threatened, according to Earth Day Network. These reefs feed and shelter a diverse population of vital marine species. They also help to protect coastlines from storms.

Threats to the species: Ocean acidification due to climate change is bleaching and killing coral reefs. Plus, ocean pollution, overfishing, tourism and coastal development all cause damage to the coral.

How to help: Avoid sunscreen with certain coral-harming chemicals, such as oxybenzone. Cut your use of plastics and other chemicals (e.g., lawn chemicals), and recycle as much as you can. Conserve water at home, which helps to reduce runoff that ends up in the ocean. And if you do swim in a coral reef, know how to do so in a manner that’s respectful and safe for the marine life.

4. Elephants

Why they need protection: Over the past century, the elephant population worldwide has been devastated. These majestic animals are more than just tourist magnets where they live — though ecotourism does give much-needed aid to local economies and even sometimes helps to fund conservation efforts. Elephants play, well, an elephant-sized role in maintaining ecosystems. “They flatten forests and dense grasslands, creating habitat for smaller species,” Earth Day Network says. And African elephants in particular dig water holes that other animals also use. Plus, elephants disperse seeds in their waste as they travel long distances for food, contributing to plant growth in the area.

Threats to the species: Poaching. “More than 100 elephants are killed every day for their tusks,” according to Earth Day Network. And despite the global outcry, poaching has actually increased in recent years. Habitat loss and climate change also are concerns for elephants. Droughts in particular cause food shortages and disrupt the mating season, resulting in fewer offspring. And the lack of adequate habitat drives elephants closer to humans, which might have deadly consequences.

How to help: Join movements against the ivory trade and trophy hunting. And speak out against elephant cruelty for the sake of entertainment, such as circuses and elephant rides. Plus, if you want to travel to see elephants in the wild, do your research on certified-sustainable companies.

5. Fish and crustaceans

Why they need protection: Fish and crustaceans are struggling as the health of marine ecosystems declines. These animals recycle nutrients in the water “that are vital in the productivity and survival of organisms at the base of the aquatic food web,” according to Earth Day Network. In other words, they help to maintain the foundation of the entire ecosystem. They’re also food sources for other marine animals. And they eat algae and even help to decompose dead organisms to keep the water clean.

Threats to the species: Rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification are seriously threatening many species of fish and crustaceans. They’re also facing habitat loss from industrial and urban development, as well as pollution from human activities. And overfishing has critically upset ecosystems and caused dramatic population declines.

How to help: Stop anything you’re doing in your own life — such as excessive plastic use or pouring toxins down the drain — that contributes to water pollution. If possible, join a group that works to clean up local beaches or waterways. And if you eat fish, only buy from certified-sustainable sources.

6. Giraffes

Giraffe on African landscape with one tree in the backgroundCredit: Rich Townsend/Getty Images

Why they need protection: Giraffe populations have dropped by roughly 40 percent since 1985, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. And that’s a serious statistic, as this iconic animal helps to drive conservation efforts even for species beyond itself. Giraffes also play a vital role in their ecosystem, spreading seeds via their waste that help plants grow. And because of their high vantage point, they also act as an alarm system for other animals when they spot a predator approaching.

Threats to the species: Habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting all are threats to giraffes. Some people consider giraffe meat and tails to be status symbols. “Climate change and habitat loss have also contributed to the decline of the acacia tree, the main source of food for giraffes,” Earth Day Network says.

How to help: According to Earth Day Network, the U.S. is the No. 1 importer of giraffe trophies. So you can help by urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list giraffes as endangered, which would restrict their body parts from entering the country. Plus, spread information on the plight of the giraffe to raise awareness for the cause.

7. Great apes

Why they need protection: There are four general species of great apes: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos. And their populations have taken severe hits in recent years. Like other animals, great apes also help to spread seeds throughout their environment. “In some areas, the survival of the ecosystem is wholly dependent on the role that apes play in spreading seeds through their fecal matter,” Earth Day Network says. Without them, trees wouldn’t grow. Plus, these animals are an ecotourism draw — boosting local economies and raising money to fund conservation efforts.

Threats to the species: Over the past century, great apes have lost about half of their habitat around the world — mostly because of human development. Specifically, deforestation for the production of palm oil seriously affects them. And many are victims of illegal hunting or the pet trade.

How to help: Refuse to buy products that contain palm oil, and call for companies to adopt more eco-friendly practices. Plus, help to promote better forestry standards by purchasing wood and paper products that are certified sustainable.

8. Sea turtles

Why they need protection: Sea turtle species have experienced dramatic population declines over the past century as they try to fulfill their essential role in marine ecosystems. They help to cycle nutrients both in the ocean and on beaches, according to Earth Day Network. Plus, as they graze on seagrass and forage throughout coral reefs, it acts as habitat maintenance for other species. And some sea turtles even feed on jellyfish, which is essential population control.

Threats to the species: The video (warning: graphic) of the sea turtle with a plastic straw up its nose speaks volumes. Plastic pollution is a major issue for sea turtles. They might swallow plastic bags they mistake for jellyfish, which then block their intestines. Or they might get stuck in abandoned plastic netting or other debris. Fishing lines and netting in general also are a concern, as they prevent sea turtles from reaching the surface to breathe. Sea turtles also face habitat loss due to human encroachment — especially on their beach nesting grounds. And rising ocean temperatures might influence their reproduction rates.

How to help: Do your part to prevent water pollution. Choose reusable bags instead of plastic. And avoid plastic straws. That might seem like a minor, meaningless change, but the sea turtle suffering with the straw up its nose probably would beg to differ. Every little bit you do to cut pollution is a step in the right direction.

9. Sharks

Great white shark in AustraliaCredit: Grisha Shoolepoff/Getty Images

Why they need protection: Sharks might seem intimidating, but humans actually pose a might greater threat to them than they do to us. Some shark species have declined by more than 90 percent since the 1950s, largely due to human activities. These animals are necessary to bring balance to marine environments as the apex predator. “Without sharks, mid-level species would overconsume species at the bottom of the food chain, causing entire ecosystems to collapse,” according to Earth Day Network.

Threats to the species: Rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification are causing sharks to venture out of their normal habitats, which can upset the balance of ecosystems. Likewise, habitat loss is making survival challenging for them. Plus, many sharks are hunted for their meat and fins. And even when they’re not the specific targets, they sometimes are caught in fishing nets, which can be deadly.

How to help: Boycott and speak out against the shark fin trade and illegal hunting. Work to combat ocean pollution. And support sustainable fishing practices.

10. Whales

Why they need protection: Like sharks, it seems like whales are so large and powerful that they wouldn’t need our help. But the reality is their numbers are dwindling, which could have a serious impact on the planet. Whales play a key role in combating climate change. “Whales are excellent carbon sequesters,” Earth Day Network says. “When they die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, the carbon that they have accumulated over their lifetime is trapped inside their bodies.” Moreover, whale dung gives phytoplankton the nutrients it needs to grow. And phytoplankton absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and releases a substantial amount of the oxygen we breathe.

Threats to the species: Climate change is disrupting whale habitats — as is human activity, such as dam construction and water and noise pollution. Whales also are targets of hunting, can become tangled in fishing equipment and are injured or killed in boat collisions.

How to help: Never purchase anything that comes from a whale. And only support sustainable fishing. Plus, help fight ocean pollution by limiting your use of plastics and other dangerous chemicals. You also can join cleanups of beaches and local waterways. Even if you live inland, cleaning your water helps to prevent pollutants from making it into the ocean.

Main image credit: DanielPrudek/Getty Images

60 comments

Hui S
Hui S8 days ago

great article -- thank you for sharing. with 11 bird feeders, 3 mason bee hotels, and more pollinator-friendly flora than we can count, our backyard has really gone to the birds and the bees!

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Olivia H
Olivia H16 days ago

Thanks

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Leo C
Leo Custer24 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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danii p
danii p25 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p25 days ago

Thank you

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Mark H
Mark H25 days ago

TY!

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Leo C
Leo Custer25 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Leo C
Leo Custer26 days ago

thank you for sharing!

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danii p
danii p28 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p28 days ago

Thank you

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