Humans threaten the world’s migratory species: NPR

97 percent of migratory fish species are threatened with extinction. Whale sharks, the largest living fish in the world, are among the endangered species.

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97 percent of migratory fish species are threatened with extinction. Whale sharks, the largest living fish in the world, are among the endangered species.

Ullstein picture/Ullstein picture

Every year, as the seasons change, billions of animals embark on journeys to find food, find better habitats or reproduce. They migrate in groups and as individuals, flying, swimming, crawling and running across international borders and across habitats to survive and transport seeds and nutrients.

A major new report from the United Nations finds that humans are not only making these journeys more difficult, but are also putting many migratory species in a dangerous state.

The first UN report of its kind found that almost half of the world’s already threatened migratory species are experiencing population declines. More than a fifth of the nearly 1,200 migratory species monitored by the UN – whales, sea turtles, great apes, songbirds and others – are at risk of extinction.

“These are magnificent species that undertake incredible journeys that are, in some cases, economically beneficial.” [for humans]as well as the material for poetry and song and cultural significance,” said Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary of the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The report, prepared by conservation scientists, is the most comprehensive assessment of the world’s migratory species ever conducted. It examined 1,189 different species already protected under the Convention on Migratory Species – a 1979 treaty designed to protect species that migrate across international borders – to determine whether conservation efforts are working.

In some cases they are. Wildlife crossings make it easier for animals to cross roads and fences. Regulations help prevent poaching and overconsumption of some endangered fish and mammals. Protecting habitats gives species room to move and thrive.

However, to reverse population decline, these “efforts need to be strengthened and expanded,” the report authors said.

The publication is the latest global report to raise concerns about the planet’s non-human inhabitants. A 2019 assessment of global biodiversity found that 1 million of the estimated 8 million species on Earth are at risk of extinction, many within decades, due to human activities such as overconsumption, deforestation, pollution and development. A 2022 report from the World Wildlife Fund found that wildlife populations have declined by an average of 69% over the past 50 years.

For migratory species, threats may be exacerbated by human activities. Species protection varies from country to country. Enforcement of conservation laws can vary by location.

According to the new report, hunting and fishing – overfishing – and habitat loss due to human activities were identified as the two biggest threats to migratory species. Invasive species, pollution – including light and noise pollution – and climate change also have profound impacts, the report says.

Many species migrate with the changing seasons. Human-caused climate change is changing the seasons, lengthening summers, shortening winters and shifting the timing of spring and autumn. Scientists have documented that animals such as birds in North America are adjusting the timing of their migrations to accommodate these changes. Not everyone keeps up with the speed of change, leading to what scientists call phenological asynchrony.

The leaders of the 133 countries that have signed the Convention on the Protection of Migratory Species are meeting in Uzbekistan this week to discuss a way forward.

The new report, Fraenkel said, should provide a sense of urgency to the parties, but it should also be a guide for anyone “who wants to continue to see the birds flying and the whales jumping in the water,” she said. “Look at this report and find something [you] what we can do to help these incredible species continue to survive.”


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Amanda Walker

Global events enthusiast. Reporting with a critical lens to offer readers a deeper perspective.

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