360 species are in danger of disappearing from our oceans forever.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has identified more than 360 marine species as endangered or critically close to being so. This is alarming, given what we know about the complex ecosystems which sustain marine health. Impacting even one species, much less many hundreds, could cause damage in known and unknown ways.
Threats to their survival are varied, and inexorably tied to human activity. While those threats are varied, several are well known and identified.
Climate change causes ocean acidification and warmer temperatures. These in turn impact coral bleaching, fish migration, and drowning wetlands.
Habitats are increasingly lost while protected areas are shrinking. The negative impacts are many, including a reduction in marine species’ ability to forage or reproduce.
Plastics and pollution contamination can cause illness and death in marine life, harmful algal blooms such as “red tides,” and contribute to an accumulation of heavy metals in seafood.
Shipping traffic has increased over time, causing an increase in noise pollution. Offshore seismic blasting and drilling also contribute to this issue.
Shark finning, bycatch injuries or deaths, and overfishing inevitably endanger certain species.
These threats continue to increase, and sadly may contribute to those identified 360 marine species’ extinction. Several of those species stand out as well known and have existing conservation efforts to preserve:
1. Hawksbill sea turtle
The Hawksbill sea turtle is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN. Their estimated global population is only 8,000 turtles. Being hunted for their unique and beautiful shells decimated their numbers, leaving only 1,000 known nesting females to carry forth new generations.
The vaquita is the world’s rarest marine mammal according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This small porpoise was only recently discovered in 1958 in the Gulf of Mexico. Its numbers dwindled rapidly thereafter, mostly due to illegal fishing operations.
3. Blue whales
Blue whales are the largest animals on the planet. They can grow to a whopping 80 to 100 feet and weigh as much as 200 tons. While their numbers were once prolific across the globe, they have dwindled due to massive whaling operations. A moratorium on whaling now protects them internationally. The good news is that their numbers are on the rise.
4. Whale shark
Whale sharks are the largest fish alive today. They weigh in at 11 tons and stretch 40 feet in length. Their distinctive white spots make them easy to recognize, while their gentle manner makes for popular diving and scuba encounters. Unfortunately, their populations continue to decline despite being protected from fishing in many countries.
5. Ornate eagle ray
This ray is sometimes referred to as the “unicorn of the sea” due to its rare appearances. Researchers estimate that only 50 sightings have actually ever occurred of this elusive and rare creature. The ornate eagle ray is one of few rays that does not have a stinging barb. Its population is threatened by high levels of fishing in inshore regions.
6. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is found along the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic coast. This turtle is the smallest and rarest sea turtle in the world. Poaching for their eggs decimated their population by the 1980s, and today they struggle to survive climate change, pollution, and becoming entangled in fishing nets.
7. Bluefin tuna
Bluefin tuna have a long lifespan and can live up to 40 years. Their bigger size makes them the largest tuna, coming in at up to 1500 pounds and 6 to 10 feet in length. There are three species of bluefin tuna: Atlantic, pacific, and southern. They are endangered due to historic levels of overfishing. The Atlantic species is the largest of the bluefins and most at risk.
Clearly these species need more help if they are to survive. You may think of yourself as a lone individual who cannot impact change, but you underestimate yourself. Whether on your own, or by contributing your efforts to others, you CAN make a difference.
What steps can you take to improve awareness of these and other endangered species? There are many. These five can get you started:
Support ocean cleanup efforts and organizations
Many cleanup efforts and organizations around the world need more people and/or support to have an impact. Some of these marine conservation groups include the Surfrider Foundation, the Oceanic Preservation Society, and Blue Frontier Campaign.
Share knowledge with others (people don’t know what you know)
We often assume others know what we know, but many times they need to be made aware of new facts. By sharing information about marine conservancy and at-risk species, you can share an awareness of the important issues surrounding the health of our oceans.
Set an example by limiting plastics use
Plastics have finally come to light as problematic for the environment. But many people don’t truly understand the depth of the issue. By setting an example you can influence positive, environmentally friendly actions around you. The Monterey Bay Aquarium recommends these steps for reducing plastics to improve marine health.
Choose sustainable seafood (and avoid overfished selections)
Overfishing is responsible for many of the endangered marine life, including some on the list above. You can do your part by not participating in purchasing overfished seafood and selecting sustainable options instead. Learn more about sustainable seafood in your area from these Monterey Bay Aquarium guides.
Influence local, state, and federal government efforts
Your voice matters. Write to your elected officials about ocean conservancy concerns. They are more likely to take action when they receive more appeals and recognize it is a priority to their constituents.
Marine life and ecology is an integral part of this planet’s health. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to limit the negative footprint of human beings while enhancing the more positive things we can contribute.
While individuals may feel they lack to the power to effect change, the truth is we can do it together. Every effort you make becomes part of the larger movement to preserve marine ecology.
Together we are enough.
SlipIns participates in marine conservation by supporting the Turtle Foundation, Save the Reef Foundation, shark research, and abalone research. We are passionate about preserving marine ecology and the many colorful species that inspire us to create distinctive water sports wear.