Four hundred and forty-three million years ago, Earth experienced its first mass extinction due to an ice age. Sea levels fell and so did the numbers of ocean dwellers. The next mass extinction hit coral reefs hard. During the third, termed “the Great Dying,” the earth lost 96 percent of all life. The fourth mass extinction made room for the dinosaurs and the fifth wiped them out.
Now the question is how close are we to Earth’s sixth mass extinction? Some researches believe it’s already underway. A study published in PNAS analysed the numbers for 27,600 vertebrate species and found that many populations are declining at an extremely high rate. This includes species not yet considered endangered. However, other researchers argue that we haven’t yet entered a sixth extinction event. Wherever we fall on the extinction spectrum, dwindling population number do not lie. It is obvious that we need to protect the planet’s biodiversity.
In the United States, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is supposed to offer that protection. The first version of the Endangered Species Act appeared in 1966, and later strengthened in 1973. Under this legislation, all types of plants and animals can be placed on the ESA list either as endangered or threatened. Protections for both the species and their ecosystems are put in place. The goal is to not only prevent irreversible extinction, but also to fully recover population numbers.
The ESA is now threatened in the current political climate. Arguments are being made for its effectiveness verses costs. That puts the 2,3000 species on the list at risk of extinction. In this blog series, I’ll uncover species protected under ESA and why their stories matter.