The 2018 Living Planet report was produced by WWF, leading experts and other organisations to find out about the state of the planet and the main threats it faces. For the last twenty years, scientists have been measuring changes in the populations of thousands of animal species around the world, from counting the number of wildebeest in the savannah, to trapping the movement of tapirs on cameras in the Amazon rainforest. They have also looked at changes in where different species are found and their risk of extinction. Sadly, the report concludes that the variety of life on Earth and wildlife populations are disappearing fast.
The Living Planet Report shows that populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have fallen on average by 60% in less than 50 years (between 1970 and 2014). This is mainly due to the overharvesting and illegal hunting of animals, agriculture and loss of habitats. The most significant decline has been seen in tropical rainforests and in rivers, lakes and wetlands around the world.
The following issues require our priority concern. They include intensive farming, vanishing rainforests, wildlife trade, melting ice caps, depleted oceans and freshwater habitats in danger.
Intensive farming has affected the quality of soil in many parts of the world. It has also led to the decline of bees and other insects that help to pollinate 75% of the food crops we grow, with fewer places for them to forage and nest. Apart from farmland, tropical rainforests are in fact with the greatest diversity of plants and animals on Earth. They produce a lot of the oxygen we breathe and help to regulate the world’s climate. Yet they are disappearing rapidly. Almost 20% of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down in just 50 years for timber, farming and to make way for roads, mines and cities.
Many iconic animals such as tigers, elephants and rhinos are illegally hunted for their fur, tusks or bones. Around 90% of African elephants have been lost in the past century. Not only hunting, changes in the Earth’s climate due to human activity are also affecting animals such as polar bears and walruses in the Arctic. Sea ice is vital for them to dive from and hunt for food. The ice also supports the growth of tiny algae which, in turn, are food for fish and krill. With our warming climate and the loss of sea ice, food is harder to find.
The number of fish in the world’s seas has fallen dramatically. Every year, we take millions of tonnes of fish out of the ocean without allowing stocks to replenish themselves. Plastic pollution is also a major threat to marine life, from the surface to the bottom of the ocean. According to scientists, plastic particles can be found in 90% of the world’s seabirds! While shore birds do not only rely on the sea, rivers, lakes and wetlands, covering a tiny part of the Earth’s surface (less than 1%), are also home to more than 10% of known species of animals. They also provide us with water to drink and to grow food. Sadly, these habitats are threatened due to pollution, using too much water and the building of dams on rivers.
Apart from the full version, there is a Youth Report of this bi-annual publication. It is highly relevant as educational material for General Studies, Science, Biology, Integrated Humanities and Liberal Studies. Teachers are recommended to use it for students to explore more on the current situation of global biodiversity and the environmental threats the planet is facing. Download Youth Report here.