Surprise, Surprise! Legislatively Protecting Our Planet's Animals Actually Works!

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We usually open this column with some kind of warning, some kind of danger, some kind of impending doom that we, as seems to be the general case when it comes to the environment, got our own selves into. Usually, we open with the description of some irreparable damage, some annihilation, or destruction. Today, for once, we open the environment section of Modern Treatise with good news and better prospects. 

The reason is simple: we find out that protecting animals works, even in the wild. Published in the academic journal PLOS One, a new report analyzing the effect of the United States’ Endangers Species Act reaches the thrilling conclusion that, when we protect their habitats, animal populations, even those endangered, start to thrive. 

A team of researchers, led by Abel Valdivia, analyzed the population growth of over 31 marine populations over time, in hopes of understanding exactly what we could do to make their recovery towards healthy numbers fast and painless. Essentially, they wanted to understand whether the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973 represented a viable way to protect the population numbers of those organisms on the brink of extinction, much like the ones shown here.

Essentially, when an animal is added to the coveted list, its habitat receives protection and rehabilitation from human damage. Activities like prohibiting waste, dumping, food extortion, and actively monitoring the situation are only a few amongst the list of treatments each “covered” animals receives. 

Yet, it has remained highly uncertain whether this kind of legislative protection did any actual good for the animal populations themselves. Today’s report seems to remove all doubt. The median sea turtle population measured increased by 980 percent following the legislative implementation. As far as sea mammals go, the median increase was as high as 115 percent. Humpback whales, the beautiful sea mammal, rose from a total population of 800, thirty years ago, to an astonishing 10,000 in 2015, causing its removal from the endangered species list altogether. 

Shaye Wolf, co-author of the study and a researcher at the Center for Biological Diversity, worked to compile the data that makes up the remarkably comprehensive report, with a keen eye to the political world, saying in a press release that “we should celebrate the act’s track record of reducing harms from water pollution, overfishing, beach habitat destruction, and killing”, in hopes of promoting the protection of the ESA at a crucial time in its political history. 

Despite the clear successes of the tireless endeavors of the ESA, there is still much to be done, now and in the future. “We can clearly save endangered species if we make the effort, provide the needed funds and have strong laws like the Endangered Species Act”, says co-author Abel Valdivia in the same press release. “The humpback whales migrating along the West Coast are a success story everyone can appreciate”, he chimes again. It’s true: such a remarkable bounce back should be set as the standard when it comes to the preservation of populations so crucial to the marine food chain we are destroying. However, it cannot be enough of a victory for humanity to stop pressing on the issues as hard as it currently is: if anything, it is a representation of the wonderful pay off of hard work, dedication, and passion.

In 2019, our oceans are faced with an incredible number of dangers, most of them brought along by our own selfish presence on the earth. From overfishing to the destruction of coral reefs, to the great pacific garbage patch we’ve produced, our seas are being mistreated every second of every day. Despite the efforts of groups like ESA on the one hand and the Ocean Clean Up Project on the other, the amount of work still to be done will be excruciating, difficult, but, ultimately, necessary for our survival, much like the protectionist practices applied below:

Seeing a victory is not enough to celebrate. If anything, it should push us out further. We have quite literally been shown that our own protection works, that we are not completely helpless if we choose to help ourselves. That’s where the difference needs to be made. We are perfectly capable of helping ourselves, and when we do, as the present study seems to prove, it works, so why not do it? Why not give back to the planet from which we take everything? Why not help the helpless, even if they are not the same organism as we are? 

Yes, it is difficult. But, if there’s a reason that, for once, this column opens with good news, it’s that, quite obviously, legislative efforts eventually pay off, so long as there is someone actively putting the work. Now, it is a matter of putting in the work as one, united, beautiful, earthly collective.