Tag: environment

Sharks And Stingrays Close To Extinction, According To New Study

Sharks have been fascinating sea creatures for as long as we can remember. Are they as life-threatening as it’s depicted in Jaws? But unfortunately, sharks are not threatening our lives; they are endangered themselves. A new report reveals many of the world’s most unique sharks and rays are close to extinction. This includes the largetooth sawfish, whale sharks, electric rays, and more. These sea creatures have swum the oceans for over 250 million years.

But now, they’ll soon disappear into extinction— forever.

More At Risk

According to the new report, sharks, rays, and chimeras are among many animals on the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. Many of these sharks and rays are at the top of their food chain, making them crucial to the health of the Earth’s ecosystem. If they were to go extinct, it would harm the entire aquatic environment.

EDGE Sharks coordinator Fran Cabada said, “Sharks, rays, and chimeras have been around since the age of the dinosaurs, but due to human activities, their modern relatives are facing threats all over the world.”

But now that conservationists know these animals are on the endangered species list, they can implement efforts to protect these sea creatures from complete extinction. Who would want to say goodbye to these beautiful sea animals?

The Largetooth Sawfish

The most critically endangered shark is the popular largetooth sawfish. Usually found in tropical waters, the shark is famous for its unique shape. Unfortunately, the sawfish population has declined rapidly in recent years, largely due to unsustainable fishing.

Everyone can agree the shark is unique, but it’s now the highest-ranked EDGE species in the world. That’s not something to celebrate.

The Basking Shark

Not that many people know about this unique shark, but the basking shark is a generally harmless shark. As a slow-moving sea creature, it feeds in shallow waters.

Much like the largetooth sawfish, the basking shark population is decreasing because of the fishing industry. The shark’s fins are found in soup and its cartilage is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Whale Shark

The largest living fish species, the whale shark can live up to 100 years old. But now, they’re at high risk of endangerment. Because of their impressive size, growing up to 40 feet, the sharks are targeted by fishermen.

Conservationists have worked hard to protect these sea creatures. Their hunting is now banned in the Philippines, India, and Taiwan.

Sting Rays

While sharks are endangered species, we can’t neglect rays, who dominate the EDGE species list. This includes stingrays, eagle rays, and guitarfishes. At the moment, conservation action for rays is lagging far behind protection for endangered sharks.

Overfishing is the main threat to the species. Rays have been decreasing in the ocean system for the past 30 years. Unfortunately, if they, along with sharks, were to become extinct, it would harm the Earth’s ecosystem in more ways than what many realize.

“The modern extinction of a single species from this list would cause the loss of millions of years of evolutionary history,” said Matthew Gollock of the Zoological Society of London.

MORE: World populations of marine wildlife have declined by 50% over the past four decades. Which species are most in danger and what can be done to protect them?

Sea Cucumbers Are Fueling The Black Market

Sea cucumbers are spiny, squishy-bodied creatures that live on the ocean floor. They are mostly sedentary and feed by waving their feathery tentacles through the water and filtering out microorganisms. For a long time, nobody cared much about or bothered these strange animals, but a recent surge in popularity has led to drastic overfishing, driving multiple species of sea cucumber to threatened or endangered levels.

Their Role In The Environment

The impact of sea cucumbers on their local ecosystems is far from trivial. These creatures are filtering machines, removing toxins and microscopic debris from their surroundings and replacing it with clean seawater and sediment. In areas where sea cucumber populations have declined, the amount of particulate matter suspended in the water has increased noticeably, leaving the water murky.

When these crucial animals are removed from their homes in coral reefs, the rate of coral bleaching increases drastically. Sea cucumbers play an essential role in the balancing of ocean pH as rising carbon dioxide levels make oceans more acidic. While these creatures continue to thrive in their deeper habitats, out of the reach of commercial fishers, populations in shallower waters are rapidly depleted.

As A Delicacy

In many Asian countries, especially in China, sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy. Demand for the peculiar-looking food has soared in recent years with the growth of the middle-class population in China. Adding to its allure, the seafood is also reported to have beneficial medicinal qualities.

Some studies have shown that the flesh of sea cucumbers does contain compounds that can help soothe arthritis pains and possibly slow the growth of cancerous cells. As amazing as those claims are, more consumers are drawn to sea cucumbers as they are believed to be an aphrodisiac. Domestic fisheries cannot keep up with the local demand, so the countries have outsourced to international exporters, many of which operate under the nose of the law. The sudden boom in popularity has created a lucrative black market niche that is causing incredible environmental damage.

Black Market Goods

The black market trade of sea cucumbers is a staple in some coastal economies, particularly in Morocco, where the shallow reefs a short distance offshore were home to thousands of these animals. Weak legislation surrounding international exports and local fishing has facilitated the overfishing of marine life. When a town comes to depend on the capture and export of an animal like sea cucumbers, which are being harvested more quickly than they can reproduce, the fisheries tend to become exhausted in a matter of years.

Once a local population has been depleted, the market moves on to the next fishery. This migrating market is not only detrimental to the coastal varieties of sea cucumbers, but it devastates the host towns by disrupting their local economies. Families who had once made their living doing legitimate work end up drawn in with the promise of quick and easy cash. As the resource dries up, money becomes harder to come by, and families find that they have less and less to live on as time goes on. Eventually, the buyers decide that the fishery is no longer lucrative and they move on to the next location.

The First Open Platform for Ocean Data

Through the years the World Resources Institute and many other organizations have collected and curated ocean data. But, the World Resources Institute, or WRI, led by Carolyn Savaoldelli is moving a step further into the future.

The goal of creating a platform to house open ocean data for policymakers on any level and scientists.

Resource Watch

Resource Watch is the official name for the database that reveals a massive amount of information about our ocean and environment. The WRI curates, adds, and carefully monitors information to ensure that the database is as complete and unbiased as possible.

There are still a few kinks to work out, but currently, the platform is up and running. Launched in a beta version, Resource Watch is now relying on feedback from users. To contribute, those who possess open ocean information can send the data they have to the WRI for review and curation.

The overall goals of Resource Watch include providing relevant data from reliable crowdsourcing, the scientific community, and satellites, assisting policymakers decision making with high-quality data and enabling the scientific community to continue study into our environment.

Trustworthy Data and Data Curation

The Resource Watch database is unique because it draws metadata from a massive range of resources. But, unlike publicly shared data that anyone can add to or detract from, Resource Watch goes through a curation process from the WRI team. The WRI team has many guiding principles for what data goes into Resource Watch.

They aim for robust, unbiased information that is relevant to the present condition of the environment. Having reliable data about the state of our oceans is the first step for long-term environmental strategy regarding policy-making and daily best practices that can affect everyone.

Creating an Easy to Use System

Because the goals of Resource Watch revolve around a wide range of users, the system must maintain ease of use along with functionality. Scientists and analysts can spend a short time sorting through a lot of data and decipher meaningful information. However, a journalist or policymaker doesn’t have the speed or savvy to work at that same pace.

The Resource Watch system allows anyone within just a few clicks to identify areas of interest now, such as sea level rising and use sliders to see projections of change in the years to come. Easy to access data takeaways can include changes in sea level, salinity, and the presence of plastic or unnatural waste.

Resource Watch continues to work on the functionality of the database so anyone can decipher meaningful information from the database.

Too Much and Too Little Data

The most prominent struggle that Research Watch faces currently is the issue of too little and too much data. Unfortunately, our environment is in a constant state of flux and change, which means that often when data is ready for curation, it is already out of date.

The volume of relevant, useful, and unbiased information is sparse. The WRI hopes that Resource Watch will encourage researchers and those who survey the ocean with satellites to contribute meaningful data and fill in the current gaps.

Seagrass Is Dying Out And Nobody Seems To Notice

When people think of how global warming is affecting the oceans, images of bleached coral reefs, melting icebergs, and devastating storms tend to come to mind. What people don’t usually think about is the habitat destruction that comes with those things or the loss of vital ecosystems. Seagrass habitats are disappearing at a rate of roughly one football field every 30 seconds, so why isn’t anyone talking about it?

Major Decline

Since global temperatures began their steady rise around the time of the industrial revolution, our environment has been taking the blows as humans have continued to generate pollution and dump it into the earth, water, and sky. Species have been wiped out or pushed to the brink of extinction by our actions more than once. Currently, the outlook for seagrass in particular, is pretty grim. The unremarkable plants haven’t drawn much media attention, but their loss would be devastating in many ways. The saddest thing is that their decline is entirely the fault of humans.

Water pollution plays as much of if not more of a role in the demise of seagrass as rising oceanic temperatures. In areas where water pollution from farms, industrial sites, or municipal waste is high, seagrasses have declined rapidly over the years. On the other hand, some places in Asia have taken a pro-conservation stance. Trees have been planted to prevent erosion in some areas, and legislation has been sought to limit the amount of nutrient pollution and waste that flow into the oceans. Areas with these protections have seen a significant turnaround in the health of their marine estuaries. In some places, the seagrass growth has surpassed its previous peak, which was recorded in the 1950s.


What many people fail to realize is that the disappearance of seagrass will cost the Earth more than just an important ecological niche. Seagrass meadows are one of the ocean’s most prominent carbon dioxide sinks. The oceans themselves are estimated to store around 93% of the world’s carbon dioxide in their water, plant life, algae, and corals. Rising ocean temperatures decrease the water’s ability to hold in carbon dioxide, and the shift in underwater climate is taking out corals left and right. Combine those factors with the devastation that comes with the loss of seagrass and things don’t look pretty.

On a global average, we’re losing seagrass meadows at a rate of roughly one football field every thirty seconds. Over the course of a single day, Earth loses over 3,800 square acres of seagrass. If loss continues at this rate, we’ll see an annual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide equal to a billion metric tons. For comparison, that’s nearly the same amount of carbon dioxide that Japan emits every year. Japan is the fifth-highest carbon dioxide producing country in the world. To add another source of carbon emissions on that scale would have incredibly detrimental effects on the Earth’s climate.

A Place To Call Home

As we mentioned earlier, some areas have begun concentrated efforts to protect seagrass beds and raise awareness about the loss of these vital habitats. Southeast Asia, in particular, has taken a stand against the decimation of seagrass meadows, though with a secondary motive in mind. These underwater fields are home to a very peculiar and nearly-endangered species called the dugong.

A cousin of the manatee, dugongs are native to the waters around Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and other areas between the South Pacific and Indian oceans. Dugongs aren’t the only creatures who make their homes in seagrass meadows. Fish, crabs, seabirds, and turtles also live in these habitats, and their destruction is threatening the species’ survival. Seagrass meadows are no small deal, either. Some of them are large enough to be seen from space.


Around the world, organizations have been cropping up to defend and restore these marine habitats. Although the effort required to match pace with the level of destruction is immense, these organizations aren’t going to let that get in their way. One of the actions taken by conservation groups is the cultivation and transplantation of seagrass from healthy areas to threatened areas. Much like the process of seeding coral reefs, repopulating damaged seagrass meadows can help the ecosystem regain a foothold in a given area.

In addition to encouraging the regrowth of damaged regions, conservation groups look farther inland for solutions to coastal problems. The conservation groups push for legislation to restrict what is allowed to flow into rivers and out to sea in an effort to reduce the amount of land-based pollution to coastal waters. Fertilizer from farmlands often wash into the oceans and cause a nutrient imbalance in estuaries like seagrass meadows, throwing off the balance in the ecosystem and threatening less-opportunistic species. Restricting the amount of traffic through the habitats also allows the meadows to regrow with minimal disturbance.


If the conservation efforts around the world get their way, the seagrass meadows should make a spectacular comeback. In some areas, preservation and reseeding have allowed seagrass fields to turn back the clock more than half a century. The newly-expanded healthy habitat creates ample living space for animals like dugongs, rays, crabs, and small fish to hide and thrive. Should other conservation projects have similar success, we could potentially see a full reversal to the devastation we are currently facing.

While aiding any local (or global) restoration groups is a great way to get involved, using your voice and influence to make sure that the people in charge make smart decisions about our climate is equally important. Seagrass destruction isn’t a flashy topic and it easily gets swept under the rug. Raising awareness in your community, especially if you happen to live in a coastal region, could make a world of a difference. At the end of the day, all the little steps you take to preserve the planet we live on add up to something grand. Being that little bit of change or the spark that ignites a flame of informed action in your community could just be what this planet needs to make a turnaround.