At the end of each year, I enjoy hearing about all of the good things that happened in the world—especially in terms of conservation. Here are some of the highlights from 2018:
Endangered Species Recovery
It is always uplifting to hear about species that recover from drastically-declining populations—some even make it off of the endangered species list! This year, it was determined that there are over 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild, a 25 percent increase since 2010. Humpback whales, endangered in the 1980s, are now listed as a species of “least concern;” Nepal’s tiger population has doubled over the past decade from 120 individuals in 2009 to about 235 as of this past September; and over 2,000 pandas are living in the wild and are now considered “vulnerable”—a drastic change from being on the brink of extinction in the 1960s.
Protection of Land and Water
2018 saw some of the biggest swaths of land and water protected in the world. At 4.3 million hectares, Serranía de Chiribiquete National Park in Colombia is now the largest tropical rainforest park on the planet. Belize has banned all offshore oil and gas exploration, and as a result the barrier reef is no longer considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is in danger. Mexico has protected half of its water—including Central America’s most biodiverse river, the Usumacinta—which guarantees water resources for 45 million people over the next several generations. An 11-million-hectare marine conservation area has been created in partnership with Inuit organizations in the Eastern Arctic, also bringing attention to the important role that indigenous communities play in conservation. And on World Environment Day (June 5), Brazil announced the creation of three new protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon and Caatinga biomes.
Use of Technology
This has been a hot topic in conservation recently, and for good reason. The increasing use of drones, thermal cameras, artificial intelligence and other technology has proved successful in a number of different conservation applications, from preventing poaching to improving species identification and census in surveying. This year, pink river dolphins in Peru were satellite tagged for the first time, allowing data to be collected on how infrastructure and transportation projects along rivers in the region will impact this species. The Duke University Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab has been actively using drones in surveying seals in eastern Canada and New England, sea turtles off the coast of Costa Rica, and whales in Antarctica. Technology expands beyond research as well, such as the partnership between World Wildlife Fund (WWF)/TRAFFIC and major companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and eBay to shut down illegal wildlife trafficking online.
Commitments from Governments
Finally, most conservation efforts are meaningless without the large-scale effort and commitments made by governments. In addition to the large-scale protections of land and water I discussed earlier, this year China’s ivory ban came into force; Prince Harry has pledged support for elephant conservation in Zambia; Kenya and Tanzania have received a $2 million grant to improve law enforcement and target illegal wildlife trafficking; and the city of Chester, England, is making strides to be the world’s first “Sustainable Palm Oil City.” At the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade this past October, more than 50 countries have committed to protect endangered species, and funding has been granted for counter-poaching projects, education efforts, and partnerships between technology companies and conservation organizations.
In many ways, 2018 saw a lot of success in the conservation world. While there is much more work to be done, hopefully 2019 will bring even more good news about endangered species, land and water conservation, and major commitments across the globe to tackle these problems once and for all.