Photo by Daniel Stanton

On the Brink of the Next Mass Extinction

What would a world without animals look like? If humans do not change their ways and be more proactive in ensuring the survival of species, then we could be facing a mass extinction event by 2020.  The earth has not seen an extinction event since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million-years-ago. Populations of fish, birds, amphibian, reptiles, and mammal populations have declined by almost 60% since the 1970’s. A Living Planet report complied by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) compiled a Living Planet report that estimated a population decline at a rate of 2% each year. At this rate animal populations will be reduced to a third of what they are by 2020 unless the damage from anthropomorphic effects are reversed.

Humans have been exploiting the earth and it has progressively gotten worse as the human population has increased.  In general, humans are not good stewards of the earth. With all of this technology at our fingertips, one would think that we could develop better strategies that would impact the environment less. “We ignore the decline of other species at our peril – for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us, said Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWf-UK. “Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.” Humans have exploited and encroached into wild habits by over farming, over fishing, and over hunting. We have issue with poaching and an illegal pet trade. Additionally, we are a wasteful species and many don’t care enough to properly dispose of their waste. For the most part, if people don’t start caring, the sixth extinction will continue.


“We know how to stop this. It requires governments, businesses and citizens to rethink how we produce, consume, measure success and value the natural environment.”

Mike Barrett, Director of Science and Policy at WWF-UK


It is important to think about the environment and make eco-conscious choices, such as using refillable water bottles and reusable bags. It is important to recycle and keep trash from being introduced to habitats to prevent trash-related animal deaths. We need to choose sustainable methods for fishing and farming. While the future looks dim without action, there are some success stories where animals have been saved from the brink of extinction. The Bald Eagle is a great example as to what action can do. People cleaned up their habitat and educated the masses on how to protect this species. Hunting regulations have also help to restore populations like lynx, wolves, and bears. Marine species have remained stable since the Endangered Species Act of 1988 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Populations of a number of grassland species and wetland species have had a slow but steady rise since 2005. This evidence suggests that the damage leading to the next extinction event is reversed. However, it will take an army of wild life enthusiasts to spread conservation messages and education others about our impacts on the planet. The reality is that the future of the planet is in our hands.



Mass Extinction Events

The Ordovician-Silurian extinction:

  • Occurred 439 million years ago
  • Sea levels dropped due to the formation of glaciers followed by rising sea levels as glaciers melted.
  • 25 percent of marine families and 60 percent of marine genera lost.


The Late Devonian extinction:

  • Occurred around 364 million years ago
  • Conflicting and debated theories suggests that the extinction of the Devonian was triggered by either another glaciation event leading to global cooling or meteorite impacts, but the data is inconclusive.
  • 22 percent of marine families and 57 percent of marine genera perished.


The Permian-Triassic extinction:

  • Occurred around 251 million years ago and was the worst mass extinction
  • 95 percent of all species died
  • Multiple theories revolving around asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions.


The End Triassic extinction:

  • Occurred around 199 million to 214 million years ago
  • It has suggested that it was caused by massive floods of lava erupting from the central Atlantic magmatic province leading to global warming, which triggering the breakup of Pangaea and the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • 22 percent of marine families, 52 percent of marine genera, and an unknown percentage of vertebrate died


The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction:

  • Occurred about 65 million years ago
  • Possible causes: impacts of a several-mile-wide asteroid, gradual climate change or flood-like volcanic eruptions.
  • 16 percent of marine families, 47 percent of marine genera, and 18 percent of land vertebrate families including the dinosaurs died


The Sixth Mass Extinction

  • In Progress
  • Caused by Human intervention (Over population of human leading to urbanization and habitat loss, pollution, over-fishing, over-hunting, over farming)
  • High rates of population reduction and because the event is ongoing, total species loss is unknown






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