By Andrea Densham, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at Shedd Aquarium, and Dr. Andy Casper, Director of Freshwater Research at Shedd Aquarium
Scientists estimate there are at least 1 to 6 billion living species on Earth, from nematodes and bacteria to blue whales and giant sequoia trees. While life on planet earth can seem infinite, the fact is, species like sturgeon, green sea turtles and beluga whales are threatened when their species come into conflict with humans for habitat and other resources. Indeed, more than a dozen species have gone extinct in the last decade.
We have the power to save and protect our world’s vast diversity of species.
For example, the American bald eagle was once on the brink of extinction. Scientists learned that the loss of habitat and use of toxic pesticides was devastating the symbol of our nation. Smart and dedicated citizens, environmentalists and scientists worked with their elected officials to establish a federal law to protect species at risk of extinction, like the bald eagle, establishing the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Since the ESA was established in 1973, it has been tremendously successful at preventing species extinction, helping with the recovery of many plants and animals. Currently, it provides ongoing protection for more than 2,300 species.
But, just like the animals and habitats it protects, the ESA is at risk. There are proposed bills and rule changes that, taken together, weaken its protections, move away from science-based conservation and put in peril more than 45 years of progress to save and protect threatened and endangered species.
Throughout history, scientists have banded together to document how animal populations respond to new and varied threats. Having this relevant science allows us to know when there are trends to be concerned about. Backed by data collected through field research, the ESA has extended protections for animals facing threats like poaching, development, water pollution and invasive species. Near and dear to Shedd Aquarium’s heart is the aquatic world.
In the Great Lakes region, the ESA has protected iconic aquatic organisms including living dinosaurs like the pallid sturgeon, flying jewels like Hine’s emerald dragonfly and cryptic natives like the hellbender. Across the Midwestern region, the ESA has helped many rare treasures like the Topeka shiner, as well as the most diverse group of pearly mussels on the planet.
In addition to protecting species in the wild, the ESA also protects the wild counterparts of many species in our care. For example, Nickel.
Nickel is a green sea turtle listed as endangered under the ESA. Over a decade ago, Nickel was struck by a boat in Florida and sustained an injury that impacted her ability to swim. Because she could not survive in the wild on her own, she found a permanent home at Shedd Aquarium where she educates Shedd’s visitors about the fragility of wildlife, especially in the wake of human encroachment and development. Nickel is an example that living species on our planet face immense challenges to their survival.
It is important now more than ever to defend the law that protects fragile and threatened wildlife. Decisions made on behalf of animals and their habitats should be based on the best available science that plans for a sustainable future for wildlife, not short-term gains for a few.
To do so, we need your help.
We, as human beings, have the power to prevent extinctions before they occur through actions such as restoring habitat and finding sustainable alternatives to toxic and plastic pollutants. Together, we can use smart policy, like the ESA, and relevant science to help endangered species recover from population decline and enable them to thrive in the future.
Your opinion and your voice have the power to make a difference.
Join us urging the U.S. government to rescind the proposed rule changes and encourage our elected officials to maintain our current a strong and science-driven Endangered Species Act. By signing our petition at sheddaquarium.org/raiseyourvoice, you can help us speak up for animals who don’t have a voice of their own.