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UN report: Alarming details about the current state of Earth’s wildlife

In an effort to highlight the challenges facing Earth’s wildlife, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a pivotal UN biodiversity treaty, unveiled its inaugural “State of the World’s Migratory Species” report.

This comprehensive analysis was presented at the opening of the crucial CMS COP14 UN wildlife conservation conference, aiming to spur an urgent call to action needed to protect Earth’s wildlife and migratory animals, marking a significant moment in the global conservation dialogue.

Alarming statistics: A closer look at migratory species

The report paints a concerning picture of the state of migratory species across the globe.

Despite some progress, a staggering 44 percent of Earth’s wildlife species monitored by CMS are experiencing population declines, with 22 percent threatened by extinction.

Alarmingly, this includes 97 percent of the listed fish species, underscoring the urgent need for action.

A critical finding of the report is the identification of overexploitation and habitat loss, primarily due to human activities, as the principal threats to migratory species.

These pressures are not limited to animals listed under CMS; they affect migratory species worldwide.

The analysis reveals that three-quarters of CMS-listed species are suffering from habitat degradation, while 70 percent are impacted by overexploitation, including both direct capture and incidental harm.

Key biodiversity areas under threat

Furthermore, the report highlights the vulnerability of Key Biodiversity Areas vital for the survival of migratory species, with over half lacking any form of protected status.

This is compounded by the fact that a significant majority of these sites are subjected to unsustainable levels of human pressure.

Climate change, pollution, and invasive species are also contributing to the increasing strain on these animals, further complicating the conservation landscape.

Despite these challenges, the report is not without hope. It underscores the incredible journeys made by billions of migratory animals each year, traversing landscapes, rivers, oceans, and skies, crossing continents and national boundaries.

Essential role of migratory species

These migrations are not just spectacular natural phenomena; they are essential for the health of the planet’s ecosystems.

Migratory species contribute to pollination, nutrient transport, pest control, and carbon storage, playing a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance and resilience.

The report, prepared by conservation scientists at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and featuring contributions from leading institutions like BirdLife International, the IUCN, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), draws on the most robust species data sets available.

Focus and emphasis of the study

It focuses on the 1,189 animal species identified by CMS as needing international protection, while also touching on over 3,000 additional non-CMS migratory species.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, emphasizes the report’s significance.

“Today’s report clearly shows us that unsustainable human activities are jeopardizing the future of migratory species — creatures who not only act as indicators of environmental change but play an integral role in maintaining the function and resilience of our planet’s complex ecosystems,” Anderson lamented.

“The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action. Given the precarious situation of many of these animals, we cannot afford to delay, and must work together to make the recommendations a reality.”

Critical challenges for Earth’s wildlife and migratory species

Migratory species, ranging from birds and fish to larger mammals, undertake incredible journeys spanning thousands of miles to fulfill their life cycle needs, such as breeding, feeding, and wintering.

Amy Fraenkel, CMS Executive Secretary, emphasizes the complexity of their journeys and the myriad of threats they face along the way and at their destinations.

“When species cross national borders, their survival depends on the efforts of all countries in which they are found,” Fraenkel notes, highlighting the report’s role in guiding policy actions for the conservation of migratory species.

Situation is becoming more dire

Despite some positive trends, with certain species showing recovery and improvement in conservation status, the report makes it clear that more needs to be done.

The survival of these species is threatened by global environmental changes, including biodiversity loss and climate change, necessitating a concerted effort from governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

Over the last three decades, the situation has become more dire for many species, with 70 CMS-listed species becoming more endangered.

Conversely, only 14 listed species have seen improvements in their conservation status. Alarmingly, nearly all CMS-listed fish species, including sharks, rays, and sturgeons, have seen a dramatic population decline, pointing to a high risk of extinction.

Major threats to Earth’s wildlife and migratory species

The report identifies overexploitation, including unsustainable hunting and overfishing, and habitat loss due to agriculture, urban expansion, and infrastructure development as the primary threats to migratory species.

These findings underscore the critical need for strategic conservation efforts, including the protection of vital habitats and the reduction of human-induced pressures.

A significant focus of the report is on the protection of Key Biodiversity Areas that are crucial for the survival of migratory species.

Lack of protection is unacceptable

Despite nearly 10,000 of these areas being identified as important, more than half remain unprotected.

This lack of protection places 58 percent of these sites at risk from human activities, highlighting a key area for conservation focus.

The report also sheds light on the plight of migratory species not currently covered by the CMS, revealing that 399 species, mainly birds and fish, are threatened or near-threatened but lack CMS listing. This gap indicates a need for expanding the CMS listings to include these at-risk species.

Despite the daunting challenges, the report also shares stories of hope and recovery, showcasing successful conservation initiatives.

Examples include the reduction of illegal bird netting in Cyprus and the revival of the Saiga Antelope in Kazakhstan, demonstrating that positive change is possible with coordinated conservation efforts.

UN’s priority recommendations for action

The report concludes with a set of recommendations for urgent action, including the strengthening of efforts to combat illegal and unsustainable exploitation of migratory species, the identification and protection of critical habitats, addressing the species most at risk of extinction, and scaling up efforts to combat climate change and pollution.

The State of the World’s Migratory Species report issues a clear wake-up call, and provides a set of priority recommendations for action, which include:  

  • Strengthen and expand efforts to tackle illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species, as well as incidental capture of non-target species,
  • Increase actions to identify, protect, connect and effectively manage important sites for migratory species,
  • Urgently address those species in most danger of extinction, including nearly all CMS-listed fish species,
  • Scale up efforts to tackle climate change, as well as light, noise, chemical and plastic pollution, and,
  • Consider expanding CMS listings to include more at-risk migratory species in need of national and international attention. 

Implications and next steps

In summary, the UN’s inaugural “State of the World’s Migratory Species” report and the subsequent in-depth analysis have illuminated the precarious situation facing migratory species across our planet, underscoring the urgent need for global conservation efforts.

Highlighting the dual threats of habitat loss and overexploitation, exacerbated by climate change and pollution, these comprehensive assessments call for immediate, coordinated international action.

The stories of recovery and conservation success, such as the remarkable turnaround of the Saiga Antelope in Kazakhstan, serve as beacons of hope, demonstrating that with concerted effort and global cooperation, we can ensure the survival and prosperity of these vital species.

Through the mobilization of governments, the private sector, and communities worldwide, we have the opportunity to transform the dire predictions of today into a legacy of conservation achievement for future generations.

But in order for any of this to happen, we must ACT NOW!

The full UN study can be found by clicking here…


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