The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is without a doubt one of the most successful environmental laws enacted by the United States Congress. Signed in 1973, the ESA has protected 99.5% of species on its list from extinction. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the goal of the act is to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” In order to meet this goal, the ESA has prohibited harming, killing, importing, and exporting endangered species. Additionally, they have developed a science-based approach towards designating “critical habitat areas” and developing recovery plans for endangered species. As previously mentioned, this law has been incredibly effective, and a recent study by researchers at The Center for Biological Diversity supports this claim through the discovery that protected marine mammal and sea turtle populations have increased since the ESA was enacted.
In this study, populations of fourteen marine mammal and 5 sea turtle species were analyzed for population changes and trends over the years after the enactment of the ESA. Of these populations, the author states that “78 percent of marine mammals and 75 percent of sea turtles increased their population size after protection under the Endangered Species Act. Just 9 percent … of marine mammals declined, and no sea turtle populations decreased.” The most shocking number of all is the median population increase in sea turtles—a staggering 980%! Other highlights from the report include the full recovery of the Hawaiian humpback whale and Eastern Stellar sea turtle populations, and the very near recovery of Southern sea otter populations. Only two species exhibited declines during this study period: the Hawaiian monk seal and the Southern Resident killer whale. The authors indicate that this is likely due to the fact that not all of the steps required by the ESA have been implemented at this date.
The ESA is especially important to marine environments as anthropogenic threats, like pollution and climate change, continue to grow and extend into ocean habitats. Endangered species under this act are protected from a variety of human activities that threaten both individuals and their habitat. Some of these activities include overfishing, plastic pollution, industrial waste, and construction. Author Shaye Wolf explains that “humans often destroy marine ecosystems, but our study shows that with strong laws and careful stewardship, we can also restore them, causing wildlife numbers to surge.” Overall, the ESA is just one example of the power we have to change the world for the better.
The full article, “Marine mammals and sea turtles listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act are recovering”, can be viewed through the open-access journal PLOS One at this link: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210164
What are other ways that individuals can help protect marine populations?
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