Anchor: Teena Jha
Importance of this Episode:
- Since the dawn of civilization, humankind has destroyed more than 80% of all mammals and half of the plants on the planet.
- Between 1970-2014, wildlife losses in vertebrate species – that include mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles – averaged 60%.
- Many scientists feel the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, but it will be the first caused by a species – human beings.
- The Living Planet Report 2018, published by World Wildlife Federation, presents a grim picture of the impact human activity has on the world’s wildlife, forests, oceans, rivers, and climate. It says human beings have pushed the planet to the brink.
- This edition of In Depth takes a closer look at the findings of the Living Planet Report 2018, the factors causing rapid imbalance in the ecosystem, the concerns raised by WWF and the likely solutions for humanity and nature to thrive in harmony on our planet.
A Few Noteworthy Points:
- The Living Planet report documents the state of the planet in terms of Biodiversity, ecosystems, the demand on natural resources, and its impact on nature and wildlife.
- Published by WWF every two years, the report provides a comprehensive view of the health of the earth. The findings for the year 2018 are more devastating than ever.
- It says that the earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions.
- Human beings have made multiple innovations and discoveries to make their lives much easier and comfortable. However, in the process, they have over exploited natural resources and damaged the web of life. The world’s 7.6 Billion people represent only 0.01% of all living beings. Yet, since the dawn of civilization, they have caused the loss of 83% wild mammals and half of all plants.
- The WWF conservation group says that human consumption has caused a massive drop in global wildlife populations, causing the annihilation of wildlife to become an emergency.
- In its 2018 edition of Living Planet Report, the WWF released the new estimate of the massacre of wildlife between 1970 to 2014.
Highlights of the Living Planet Report 2018:
- According to the Living Planet Report 2018, 60% decline in population in mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, took place in 40 years, i.e. between 1970-2014.
- The Data covers over 16,700 populations belonging to 4000 species.
- The biggest cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it being done to create farmland. Three-quarters of all land on earth is now significantly affected by human activities.
- Only 25% world’s land area is free from the impact of human activity, a proportion which will have fallen to just a 10th by 2050.
Killing for food is the next biggest cause for wildlife losses.
- 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction, while oceans are massively overfished, with more than half being industrially fished.
- The habitats suffering the greatest damage are rivers and lakes. Wildlife populations in rivers and lakes have fallen to 83%, due to the enormous thirst for agriculture and a large number of dams. The worst affected region is South and Central America, which has seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife rich forests.
- In a tropical savannah region called Cerrado, an area the size of Greater London is cleared every two months according to the WWF.
- A fifth of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years.
- On a global scale, the area of minimally disturbed forests declined by 92 million hectares between 2000- 2013.
- Of all species that have gone extinct since 1500 AD, 75% were harmed by over exploitation or agriculture.
- Ocean acidification may be occurring at a rate not seen in at least 300 million years.
- The earth is estimated to have lost 50% of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years.
- Human beings are responsible for releasing 100 billion tonnes of carbon into Earth’s system every 10 years.
- In April 2018, carbon dioxide levels reached an average of 410 ppm across the entire month- this was the highest level in at least 800,000 years.
- The report assessed 11 deforestation hotspots where broad-scale clearing had occurred at problematic levels since 2010 and where deforestation was expected to continue till the next decade. The report indicated that the eastern coast of Australia, Amazon, the Congo basin, Sumatra and New Guinea are considered to be such areas where living organisms are rapidly decreasing.
- According to the report, around 70,000 medicinal plant species have also been affected.
- The WWF report says that if efforts are not made to save wildlife, the situation may worsen.
- Scientists have warned that global temperatures are rising quickly and they risk rising to 1.5 degree Celsius, which would wipe out most of the planet’s coral reefs and cause severe heat waves.
- It is said that ensuring a better future for all creatures on earth is the biggest challenge.
- For this, human beings must change their approach towards development.
- Humans need to fully grasp the fact that protecting nature is also about protecting people.
- The WWF report warned that global wildlife could decline by the end of this decade as a result of human activities.
- Human activities associated with the production or harvesting of food, fibre and energy from terrestrial ecosystems, have an enormous impact on biodiversity.
- Today agriculture accounts for the lion-share of the conversion of forested land. Decreases in forest area and forest quality, impact both the plants and animals living within them.
- This implies that even minimal deforestation, has had severe consequences for biodiversity.
- Currently, only 4% of the world’s total mammal species are wild animals.
- Human beings are 36% and pets are 60%. It is estimated that these figures would have been exactly opposite 10,000 years ago. All economic activity ultimately depends on services provided by nature- which is estimated to be worth around 125 Trillion USD a year. Consumption of natural resources have increased by almost 190% in the last 50 years.
- To overcome this, immediate steps need to be taken.
The Problem of Plastic Waste:
- Today, the entire world is grappling with the problem of plastic waste. This not only affects the earth, but also the sea and marine life. Plastic garbage in the oceans has become a serious threat to marine ecosystems as well as sea organisms. But how does plastic waste find itself into the sea? And, what are the immediate threats from it?
- Plastic is dangerous for the environment and the entire ecosystem in all stages, from its production to its use. Plastic is manufactured from the elements and chemicals, derived from petroleum substances, which is the reason why it produces toxic effects through various chemical reactions.
- It is severely dangerous for human beings and organisms. Only 15% plastic waste is left on the earth’s surface, while the rest of it goes into the sea.
- By eating this plastic waste, not only is sea life getting destroyed, but it is also affecting the sea salt. Plastic, after reaching the sea, acts as a magnet for poisonous substances, which stick to it.
WWF and London’s Zoological Society Report:
- According to WWF and London’s Zoological Society Report, in 2010, about 4.8 million to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste went into the sea.
- Research on loggerhead sea turtles for 10 years suggests 35% turtles ate plastic in the form of food. Apart from this, plastic waste was found in the stomach of 18% of tuna fish, and swordfish in the Mediterranean Sea.
- 17% cellophane and PET was recovered from the stomach of blackmouth, found in the Balearic islands.
- The report says that more than 90% of the sea organisms are eating plastic waste in some form, whereas in the 1960’s, this figure was only 5%
- The report warns that if the plastic flow into the sea is not stopped immediately, then by 2050, plastic waste will be found in the digestive system of 99% sea organisms, which would be extremely dangerous for the biodiversity.
Ways in which plastics accumulate in the Oceans:
There are several ways for plastics to accumulate in the ocean. Most plastics in the oceans, breaks up into very small particles and never decompose. These small plastic bits are referred to as microplastics, which pass unchanged through the waterways and then finally to the ocean. Microplastics include:
- Microbeads, which are used in cosmetics and personal care products,
- Industrial scrubbers used for abrasive blast cleaning,
- Microfibers used in textiles and
- Virgin resin pellets used in plastic manufacturing processes
It is important to note that Marine wildlife mistake microplastic for food.
Several other factors also contribute to microplastic pollution in the oceans. These include:
1. Plastic waste from sewers
2. Construction Activities
3. Waste Water Management
High levels of microplastic are found in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. Floating plastic debris in the marine environment releases chemical compounds to the water which harm the marine ecology. Sea birds and animals often ingest the tiny pieces of plastic. Even some of the deepest areas of the ocean, are littered with plastic. Although some plastic floats, other polymers are denser than sea water and will sink. A 2017 study found that between 50-100% of animals at the deepest places in the ocean had plastic in their stomachs.
The Government of India implemented the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972, to protect the country’s wildlife and to also control illegal trade, hunting and smuggling of animal parts. The Act was amended in January 2003, to make punishment and penalty for crimes more stringent. The Act provides wild animals, birds and plants protection from capturing, killing, poisoning, snaring or trapping.
There are 6 schedules in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: (which are devoted to wildlife protection)
- Schedule I and Part II of Schedule II provide absolute protection with highest protection.
- Offenses under these are prescribed with highest penalties.
- Species that are added in Schedule III and Schedule IV provide protection with lesser penalties.
- Schedule V includes animals that may be hunted.
- Schedule VI bans the cultivation and planting of protected plants.
- Among other reforms, the Act also established schedules for protected plants and animals. The Act also prevents cutting or breaking down trees, trading and using body parts of wild animals as decorative items, is strictly prohibited in this Act.
- There is stringent punishment for hunting wild animals under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Schedule I and Schedule II of the Act provides for offences relating to wild animals’ body parts or products. Punishment and Penalty have been enhanced for offences relating to hunting or altering the boundaries of a sanctuary, or national park.
- The minimum imprisonment prescribed is 3 years, that may extend to seven years with a minimum fine of Rs. 10,000/-
- For a subsequent offence of this nature, the term of imprisonment may extend to 7 years with a minimum fine of Rs. 25,000/-
- There is a provision in this law to seize vehicles or weapons used for committing crimes against wild animals.
Over the years, the Central and State Governments have passed several other reforms to protect and preserve wildlife.
- Madras Wild Elephant Preservation Act, 1873
- All India Elephant Preservation Act, 1879
- The Wild Bird and Animals Prohibition Act, 1912
- The Bengal Rhinoceros Preservation Act, 1932
- The Assam Rhinoceros Preservation Act, 1954
- The Indian Board of Wildlife, 1952 and
- The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
In January 2003, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, was amended with stringent punishment and penalty for offences under the Act.
The Way Forward:
- Big animals like elephants or tigers, that require extensive habitats for survival are affected the most by the spread of human settlements, mining, commercial activities, and plantation. These activities have increased human-animal conflict in many areas across the country.
- The struggle for habitat between humans and animals has been around for ages. But now, the time has come for the creative resolution of such conflicts. For years, wildlife conservationists and scientists have suggested several solutions to this problem. These include killing wild animals that are not protected under the wildlife act. However, this is a solution that has not been able to reduce the man-animal conflict.
- In a bid to prevent human casualties, there is an increased need to develop mechanisms that can give accurate information about the movement of wild animals around human habitats.
- Maintenance of wildlife corridors is an essential element of managing habitats.
Further, warnings must be given to avoid confrontations like in the case of human conflict with wild elephants.
- Wildlife conservationists can also give information and warnings of animal movement through SMS alerts. These small steps will serve as an important tool to overcome such conflicts.
- Better housing, electricity supply, toilets and transportation service given to villagers living in and around forest areas would also help the situation to a great deal.
- When wild habitats are destroyed for mining or other development activities, it is imperative that wild animals will move towards human habitats, increasing the probability of their interactions with humans. Hence, such accident prone areas should be identified and marked by electric fences.
- Using modern techniques like microchips or radio collars, information related to wildlife activities can be given to those living near the forests. These devices can be easily installed on wild animals to help track their activities.
- Apart from this, wildlife can be monitored in forest areas and its surroundings by using drone technologies. Using this technique, the forest officers can not only monitor large areas, but can also track the movements of wild animals. These measures can help reduce the conflict. Apart from all this, it is important to increase forest land by planting large trees to provide natural habitat to wild animals. In India, the use of technology to bring down man-animal conflict is still in its early stages. The main reason for this is the unavailability of these techniques, and the fact that it is not cost effective. These steps can not only prevent the damage of crops, livestock and wildlife, but can also ensure comfortable lives for communities living near forests.
Read previous In Depth programme analyses for UPSC preparation.