Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.
Did you know we are losing the same amount of species today that we did during the Cretaceous mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs? Biologists believe that in as little as 30 years we may have already lost one fifth of the animals that live on the earth today. In another 100 years as much as 50% of the earth and ocean’s life could have been permanently decimated. This is the one environmental issue that is of higher importance than any other environmental issue as it is global, it is rapid, and it is now. Whether you realize it or not this will be damaging to all of us humans. Sadly we humans are definitively the cause of most of the extinctions going on right now. Below are just some of the things badly devastating creatures and plants today.
As humans we have been accused of causing the extinction of mammoths, saber tooth tigers, and moas but most of these ice age creatures are hard to prove. What isn’t hard to prove are the more modern cases of extinction. Caspian tigers fell victims to the fur trade with their final blow being taken by farmers who took over their habitat for rice fields before being ordered by the government to slaughter them for the protection of people and livestock. The last Caspian tigers died between 1954-59.
Tasmanian tigers, also known as Tasmanian wolves or Thylacines, the largest living predatory marsupial at the time, were hunted to extinction to protect sheep herds they may or may not have been preying upon. So little attention was given to this that only when the last Tasmanian tiger died at a zoo in 1936 did most people realize they were gone.
Dodo birds evolved to be flightless and fearless on an island where no predators existed. They were discovered in 1581 and were extinct by the end of the 17th century. Passing ships would use the island as a resting dock, hunting the dodos for food and releasing dogs, cats, and pigs onto the island for future use. These feral animals also ate the birds and their eggs. They didn’t have a chance.
Passenger pigeons are some of the most disturbing case studies as they were an extremely populous bird, flocking in the billions on their migratory route. It was because of this hardy population number that people started their wholesale slaughter in order to use their meat to feed slaves and likely prisoners. By the beginning of the 20th century the skies they once filled were silent.
In 1997-98 we fished 93 million tons of fish out of the sea and due to the evolution of fishing technology we are now capturing 400% more fish than we did in 1950. It is becoming clear that the oceans are having a hard time sustaining this and many fish are going “commercially extinct” meaning there is no longer enough of them to bother fishing for. This usually leads to their actual extinction not much longer down the road. It’s now estimated that up to 75% of all fish being pulled out of the ocean are in desperate need of intervention.
What you can do: If you eat seafood there is an easy guide found here that will let you know which kinds of seafood are produced in a sustainable manner.
Also you can support organizations that work towards recovering and rebuilding reef habitats which are crucial environments for many billions of species. It’s often the reefs that are first hit during mass extinctions and they bring a lot down with them.
Introduction of Invasive Non-Native Species
Humans have been introducing invasive species since we started migrating. One of our closest unwanted companions the Norway rat has been so successful and living off us that biologists aren’t even sure where they originally came from. What is known is that they spread destruction with their massive numbers wherever they go.
We also have been guilty of spreading voracious domestic species such as cats and pigs. Both feral cats and pigs can reproduce at an alarming rate and have intense need for food. Feral cats can often drive small birds, rodents and marsupials to extinction being of particular concern on islands and Australia. Australia also has major problems concerning feral rabbits which can be found in great abundance focing other more native species off the land. Pigs are even worse. Not only do they eat enormous amounts of foods and reproduce rapidly they also destroy the environment rooting for their food. They also grow very large and vicious and can easily maim or kill other wildlife. They are doing intense damage in places like Hawaii.
Sometimes we introduce wild species to new environments on purpose like the cane toad, introduced to sugar cane crops to eat another nonnative species of bug that were chowing down on farmer’s crops. The problem is the toad didn’t eat the cane beetles; instead it just grew into plague populations eating everything in sight and giving native amphibians no chance at all.
And yet other cases of intrusive non-native species are of unknown or accidental origin. The Mediterranean sea is currently being taken over by “killer algae” also known by its scientific name of Caulerpa Taxifolia. This plant is growing over an inch a day across the sea floor choking out all other life forms. It’s a tropical plant that has no predators in the Mediterranean so it is free to grow and grow without challenge, making the ecosystems it snakes into little more than marine deserts.
In the Great Lakes zebra mussels have grown so out of control that they are clogging pipes at water plants and factories and attaching themselves to the bottoms of boats, propellers, docks, and moors. They are overtaking every surface they can choking out local wildlife and causing millions of dollars in damage to human property.
Video of Killer Algae Slowly Taking Over Coral
People Speak About Zebra Mussel Invasion
Habitat loss could be responsible for as much as 80% of the extinctions going on today and there are a lot of things contributing to habitat loss. Between 2000-2005 Brazil alone lost a swath of rainforest the size of Greece. Some of this is due to logging but it’s also due to agriculture. Farmers are burning land with which to plant crops and deforesting large areas to create pastureland for cattle. Urban sprawl may also account for some of the destruction as well as certain recreational activities like using speedboats and off-road vehicles which can pollute waters and erode the soil. Countries with very high human populations, both urban and agricultural, tend to have less wildlife, this isn’t coincidental.
Rainforest destruction is of particular importance as they are considered some of the densest habitats for wildlife on earth, supporting perhaps as much as 50% of the animals on earth. Just 100 years ago rainforest covered 14% of the earth and now it’s down to 6% with remaining forests potentially disappearing in the next forty years. One and a half acres of rainforest are destroyed every second and with that loss comes the daily extinction of 137 new plants, animals, and microorganisms. This equals 50,000 species a year. This is a level unheard of by recent times and may be even higher as many of the species being lost haven’t technically been discovered yet. Plant extinction is crucial to the global environment as the Amazon rain forest provides 20% of the oxygen produced by plants in the world.
There are many charities these days that have started an attempt to save the rainforest, usually by buying and preserving land and educating local peoples.
The Rise of CO2 Emmissions/Global Warming
Many of the previous mass extinctions have been theorized to be the result of sudden rises in the CO2 in the environment, usually from super volcanic eruptions and similar natural events that caused either an increase or decrease in global temperatures. The CO2 levels on earth go up and down naturally through the ages and animals generally evolve to cope with this unless these spikes in CO2 are too rapid for life to deal with. At these points mass extinction ensues. Humans and their factories and technology, as well as the deforestation, is the reason for the CO2 rising these days but not to fear, there are many easy steps you can take to make your own carbon footprint less. A good place to start is here.
Whether we want to admit it or not pollution is causing mass death in the animal species. Today common seafood like tuna are turning up with alarming amounts of mercury in their systems. These are the fish that survived the initial poisoning! Far more could have been less lucky. There are also catastrophic oil spills, illegal chemical dumping, and the occasional radioactive nuclear meltdown. In the United States smog covered cities like LA have children who are \ three times more likely to develop asthma than their fresh-air breathing friends in the country. At the household level people can help pollution by recycling, using products for as long as they can, and avoiding things like plastic plates and silverware which after one use will sit in a landfill unchanged for the next few thousand years.
To Read About Other Mass Extinctions:
Other articles by Theophanes
More from this Author:
Catching Marbles - A New England based travel blog
Tales from the Birdello - For all homesteading and farming matters
Deranged Thoughts from a Cluttered Mind - For funny personal anecdotes
Sebastian Tyrrell on May 07, 2012:
A strong summary and a great hub, thanks. Douglas Adams (he of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) and Mark Cawardine wrote an excellent little book a few years ago called "Last Chance to See" which really brings home the fragility of certain environments as well as the blissful ignorance in which our species goes about destructive way: one of the six species highlighted in the book, the baiji river dolphin, is pretty certainly extinct.
Of course it is the big animals that we know and care about, but almost more worrying is the destruction of species of plants, insects and small animals never discovered and never classified. A phenomenal amount of medicine, for example, has its origins in rainforest plants: how much are we missing because we destroy it before we even know what it is?
alloporus on May 06, 2012:
Great Hub. As Angelo52 says there are 7 billion of us. That is a lot of people to feed, clothe and house, no wonder really that this has put pressure on all the other species. Amazing to think that most of these 7 billions have arrived in the last few thousand years, so no wonder again that this is a bog hit on the global system. Extinction was inevitable.
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on May 05, 2012:
Angelo - There are MANY ways to maintain sustainable resources if we decide to clean our acts up. Most first world countries are actually seeing decreases in the population growth. This trend is likely to continue as families continue to get smaller and other people opt not to have children at all. Populations that are of most concern in third world countries were things like birth control and sex education are usually lacking. These are where the huge families are found!
Woodsman - I am so sorry to hear about your troubles. I am an ardent supporter of *responsible* cat ownership (to me this means spay/neuter as well as keeping pets strictly indoors for their safety as well as the wildlife.) I am also currently REALLY aggravated with shelters who are charging way too much for people to drop off cats, causing people instead to just release unaltered cats at random into the wild or at trailer parks or where ever. It should be free to surrender a cat like it was in the old days.
As for cat flesh being toxic... I suspect your cat probably ate a poisoned rodent which in turn poisoned its flesh and then the scavengers that ate it. This is usually the case in these circumstances. This is why poison should never be used to exterminate any unwanted free ranging animal as it WILL kill more than its intended to guaranteed.
Angelo52 on May 05, 2012:
With more of us on the planet - 7 billion humans? - the chances for animal survival becomes slimmer. Our over population is the single greatest threat to our planet as we consume all resources to survive. Great Hub.