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Under the Sea this World Wildlife Day

By Macy Placide, Protect Our Species Campaign Manager, Earth Day Network

On March 3, people around the globe will celebrate

World Wildlife Day. The day focuses on the world’s wild animals and plants, while taking stock of Earth’s biodiversity. It is a significant day dedicated to nonhuman life forms and provides an opportunity to amplify nature’s voice.

This year’s World Wildlife Day theme, “Life below water: for people and planet”, aims to raise awareness of the incredibly rich and diverse array of marine life and the critical role that marine resources play in our lives, and the lives of others across the world, each day. This is a fitting and critical theme to address, given the current threats facing our oceans and marine species. Climate change, pollution, habitat loss, overexploitation, and illegal fishing are major drivers that are destroying ocean life and putting delicate marine ecosystems at risk of a tipping point.

Wildlife Crime

This year’s theme reflects the intimate connection between people and the planet, especially our dependence on a healthy ocean ecosystem. Yet, as we endeavor to safeguard and preserve these systems, human influence has caused significant, and potentially irreversible, damage that is leaving our seas in a state of impotent decline. Human exploitation is directly responsible for the leading causes of marine species demise. From coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific to sharks on the high seas, there is no corner of the ocean that human activity has not impacted.

Human appetites have put tremendous pressure on fishing populations. A whopping 90 percent of global fish stocks are exploited to meet growing demand and growing populations, creating big problems for the future of global food security and the security of life in the ocean.

Various criminal activities are also pushing fish and other marine species closer to the brink of extinction. The vaquita is one species caught in the crossfires of crime. Spanish for “little cow,” this harmless porpoise is one of the world’s rarest marine mammals found only in the Sea of Cortez. However, due to the illegal methods used to catch the totoaba, a unique type of fish caught for its swim bladders that

are a popular delicacy in parts of Asia, vaquita porpoises end up snared and killed by ghost nets meant for totoabas. With only a dozen vaquitas left, efforts to prevent the animal from vanishing Earth have not been successful. For a greater look at what’s going on behind this sad story, check out this interview and harrowing new documentary about the vaquita that won the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Stories like the vaquitas reflect the devastating reality of the illicit activities that plague our oceans. Yet, the perpetrators involved also have direct links to other nefarious crimes, including drugs, arms and human trafficking. On land, other wildlife crimes, including elephant and rhino poaching, also have significant ties to corruption that fuels transnational organized crime and terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The Dark Side of Technology

If it seems things can’t get worse, advances in technology have

propagated the growth and acceleration of wildlife crime across numerous platforms, including the internet, smartphone apps, and social media. Technology and globalization have made it easier than ever to commit, and get away with, dark and illegal activities at unbreakable speed. From online sales of wildlife and fish products, to advertising live endangered species as pets through the illegal pet trade, it has become increasingly challenging to turn the tide against wildlife crimes.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a talk from the founder and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCC), Dr. Louise Shelley. During her talk, she shared a glimpse of her new book, “Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future.” It examines the complex and hidden presence of many illegal online markets, including wildlife crime, and  affirms that the business of dark commerce on the web undermines the safety and security of the global community. The event offered a sobering look at the “dirty side” of the internet and offerred ways in which the global community can respond to the challenges in this space. You can find more information about the book here.

A Future for Wildlife

Whether its crimes on the web, in the ocean or on land, there is not a “one size fits all” approach to tackling the daunting, and often tragic, realities that face wildlife each day. Yet as dark as these times may seem, with so many other issues our world faces, there are unprecedented efforts and initiatives to fight and win the war against wildlife crime.

World Wildlife Day offers an opportunity for you to be a voice for animals! There are so many ways to get involved and there are events taking place all over the world. For those in the District, you can join Preserving American Wildlife in celebrating the day by attending their rally, which includes a host of distinguished speakers and educational activities. If there is one thing you can do this year, speak up and defend a future for all wildlife!

Macy Placide is a graduate from the School of International Service at American University, where she received her Master’s degree in Global Environmental Policy.  She recently started working for the Earth Day Network as their Protect Our Species Campaign Manager.

Photo Credits: Pic 1 Henry Burrows CC BY-SA 2.0; Pic 2 Paula Olson, NOAA, public domain; Pic 3 Remko van Dokkum CC BY 2.0


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