Endangered species are an important topic to discuss. It affects our life greatly even if we are not aware of it. If the animals and plants that are sharing our planet are going extinct, this means our ecosystem is failing, which puts our own health at risk. Today, May 15, marks the 15th Annual Endangered Species Day.
More than 50 % of sharks and rays native to the Mediterranean Sea are in danger of extinction. The Mediterranean Basin is one of five shrublands of its kind that combined support 20 % of all plant species on Earth. Out of the plant species found there, 52 % are unique to the hotspot. Thousands of species are endangered in the Mediterranean countries alone; and hundreds of thousands of species are endangered in the world. Some of the flagship species found in the Mediterranean hotspot are the most endangered, including the Iberian Lynx, the Scimitar horned Oryx, the Palestinian painted frog, the Turkish frog, the Mediterranean monk seal and the Barbary macaque.
It is necessary to mention that endangered species are divided into three categories: vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered. This depends on a list of criteria including reduction in numbers, geographic distribution, estimated number and probability of extinction.
Why are some species at risk?
A common reason for species to become endangered is the loss of habitat. Over time, it happens naturally, but human activity is a major contributor. This takes effect directly when developers wipe out all greeneries in lands to build housing, industrial and agricultural estates. It can also occur indirectly when development takes place in a species range. Some trees provide habitat to specific species and once they are removed, species do not have room to live and reproduce. As people continue on building in those areas, the risk of encountering wild species increases, which can be dangerous for citizens so they resort to pesticides, hunting; some might kill these animals accidentally by car.
Another reason for endangerment that specifically applies to the Mediterranean Sea, is overfishing. Many species are caught unintentionally while, in fact, others are targeted. Governments have banned the use of drift nets that are the main source of mortality for sharks, but due to absence of monitoring, fishermen still use them illegally. Ocean litter through city street trash, landfill waste and shipment containers is accelerating the death of some species as well. Air pollution directly affects plants.
What people might not realize is that noise and light pollution are also a contributing factor. When adult and hatching sea turtles see coastal light, they are tempted to approach it, as they believe they are going towards the moon – this is why coastal developments are encouraged to cover their lights or turn them off. Very loud noise disturbs the sea creatures as well, and impacts their feeding and breeding.
Climate change affects all species but mammals, birds and plants in particular. Animals on every continent are being affected by climate change and they are struggling to adapt to the temperature shift.
The Rotaract club of Ankara Kavaklidere took the initiative to write a book called Together We Protect Endangered Livings that includes a list of the most endangered species from all around the world. We were able to discuss this project with Ezgi Yilmaz, Immediate Past President of the club and current secretary of the RI District 2430. The idea of a book documenting as many endangered species as possible was born when they realized that there is a specific flower (iridescent flower) left in only one city in Turkey, and facing extinction.
Their goal was to protect endangered species by spreading the word; learning about them and encouraging people to research them more in their own country. They proceeded to contacting 91 Rotaract clubs in 66 countries and succeeded in gathering around 875 species including animals and plants.
Ezgi’s main concern is that endangerment levels of each species are changing constantly. She is very passionate about the project and believes that in order to help, the first step is to research the issue and be aware of it – this is where the book comes in handy. You can click here to access it and learn more about the different species in your area.
Initiatives in the Mediterranean countries
Thanks to Italy’s efforts in designating protected areas, national and regional parks, over 10 species have been saved and some successfully reintroduced. To name a few: the griffon, the Alpine brown bear, the bearded vulture, the golden eagle, etc.
Spain and France have also set laws to reinforce animal protection specifically in farming, captivity and scientific research.
In Lebanon, university students, with the cooperation of landowners and the ministry of environment, created two micro reserves to preserve rare plants. They also held multiple workshops to train national red list evaluators and raise awareness amongst people. Animal Lebanon, a local NGO, is also working on putting a stop to illegal wild animals trafficking.
Morocco launched a campaign in order to save their iconic monkey – the Barbary Macaque – that might disappear within 10 years, just as it did in Tunisia and Libya.
There are multiple NGOs working in the Mediterranean countries in hopes of saving the maximum amount of species but what is also necessary is that governments realize the real risks imposed on these livings and cooperate with concerned organizations to help save their lives.
How does this affect me?
Having a healthy ecosystem heavily relies on plants and animals. Preserving them is, in a way, also preserving our own health and lives. The prescribed medicines we take to cure illnesses are derived from plants – many of them have unknown benefits that are yet to be discovered.
Small changes on a personal level can have a big impact on our planet’s future. In order to minimize the risks imposed on the endangered species, the first thing we must do is read about them and the dangers imposed on their lives. Only when we are aware of them, can we be aware of the risk of what buying some products entails.
Leading a more sustainable lifestyle and reducing one’s personal footprint helps greatly. It is hard to change a lifestyle we have been used to for so long in a day, but setting small goals, achieving them, and being more thoughtful and aware of our actions will have a greater impact when more and more people are set to do that. Examples to small changes in your life can include driving less, reducing water consumption, growing native plants, avoiding plastic, buying more sustainable products, not supporting brands with bad business practice, avoiding fast fashion …
Earth is not yours or mine. So let’s learn to live together and protect it.
If you are interested in diving more into this topic, the Endangered Species Coalition will be screening the movie Racing Extinction online and holding a Q&A to discuss the topic furthermore. You can also find updates related to each species on the IUCN and earth’s endangered creatures website.