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The 6th Mass Extinction

Asian elephants

Facts About the 6th Mass Extinction

  • There have been 5 Mass Extinction events on Earth in the last half billion years, all caused by a significant change in climate that occurred naturally. We are currently in the 6th Mass Extinction event, but this time it is caused by our influence on the planet.
  • 99% of threatened species are at risk due to human activities.
  • It is estimated that over half of all species alive today will be extinct by the year 2100.
  • Nearly half of individual vertebrate animals have already disappeared in the last 45 years.
  • No species is safe. Even species that have healthy populations today could disappear, even us.
  • It isn’t too late to minimize the impacts or even stop this extinction event.

Causes of the 6th Mass Extinction

Most species are in trouble due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Of all the animals on the IUCN Red List, 85% are endangered because humans have taken over their habitat. Habitat is destroyed to make room for farming, cattle grazing, logging, mining, urbanization. Without the essential space, animals lack resources, and they have little to no chance of surviving. 

Invasive species have become a large threat to native wildlife. In some cases, humans brought them on accident while travelling or they brought them on purpose to try to get rid of another species. Either way, invasive animals impact the population of natives either by directly killing them or by winning the competition for resources. 

Climate change is making some ecosystems uninhabitable by the animals that live there. Warmer oceans leads to bleached corals and the death of many animals that simply cannot tolerate the heat. 

Poaching and hunting are direct threats to many charismatic species, such as elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, gorillas, whales, and sharks. Many lesser known animals are also in danger, such as the pangolin, lemurs, monitor lizards, and star tortoises. 

Overfishing is a leading factor causing extinction in the oceans. Each year, thousands of billions of fish are taken from the sea, even though an estimated 30% goes unreported. At this alarming rate, species cannot repopulate fast enough and the ocean could be depleted by 2050. 40% of fish caught are considered bycatch and are thrown overboard, usually already dead, because they are not the targeted animal. Bycatch often consists of sea turtles, tuna, dolphins, and sharks - all of which are endangered. 

Pollution is another major cause of the next Mass Extinction event. Plastic and harmful chemicals like mercury, PCBs, and pesticides are inescapable in even the most pristine environments. Many marine animals mistake floating plastic for food, which can kill them quickly or lead to a slow death. Others are slowly poisoned by chemicals humans have been pumping into waterways for centuries. 

overfishing

Impacts of the 6th Mass Extinction

As the climate changes, ecosystems tend to “move.” As they do, some animals can follow the weather they prefer to live in, but some cannot. Many plants and some animals are left behind to adapt quickly or die. Severe changes in habitats have unknown consequences. As we have seen so far, the repercussions have not been favorable. 

All ecosystems are deeply interconnected. This means, that each animal, plant, microbe, fungus, and abiotic resource works together for the ecosystem to function properly. When one piece of the puzzle goes missing, there can be a domino effect of negative consequences. For example, when sea otters were hunted to the brink of extinction for their fur, the kelp forests disappeared. This happened because sea urchins, which eat kelp, took over since there weren’t enough otters to eat urchins and keep their numbers under control. The kelp forests are home to hundreds of species and are important for people who rely on coastal fisheries as well. Luckily we did something about it, and this story did not end in disaster. Unfortunately, most species with stories like this are not so lucky. 

Millions of people rely on oceans for food and other resources. It is estimated that most fisheries will be depleted in 30 years if we keep taking fish at this rate. 

habitat loss to mining

Solutions To The 6th Mass Extinction

The facts are daunting and the light at the end of the tunnel may seem dim, but we can still change the fate we have created for ourselves. Here are a few ways you can help as an individual:

  • Change what you eat. It may seem difficult, but it honestly has a large impact. To help overfishing, stop eating fish. Many sources suggest that you eat only sustainable seafood, but at the rate fish are disappearing, the best thing to do is to eat something else. Give fish a chance to recover, otherwise you will be forced to stop eating seafood because it will be gone forever. Eat a more plant-based diet. Fruits and vegetables take much less land and water to grow than animal products. This leaves more space for natural habitats to recover and thrive.
  • Become a smart consumer. Limit the plastic products and packaging you purchase. Buy in bulk to minimize packaging waste, buy only loose produce, and skip processed foods that come with unnecessary packaging that isn’t recyclable. Learn what can and cannot be recycled in your area.
  • Minimize pollution: use only reusable water bottles, straws, coffee cups, utensils, lunch bags, produce bags, and grocery bags. Even if you properly dispose of your waste, you have no idea what may happen to it once it leaves your house. The best thing to do is make less waste. 
  • Educate yourself and tell everyone you know about this devastating issue. The more people understand, the more they will do their part too. We all live on this planet, so we should all want to keep it that way.
  • Support organizations that are making a difference. Wild Wanderlust Apparel dedicates 25% directly to non-profits who are positively impacting our world to save wildlife. You can show your support by purchasing our products or by donating directly to organizations fighting to stop overfishing, illegal poaching, deforestation, ocean pollution, and climate change.