Extinctions a ‘wake-up’ call for local conservationists

Angela Choi, Science & Health Editor

At the end of October, 22 animals and one plant species were declared extinct and removed from the United State’s endangered species list. Human activity has been blamed for their demise, as overfishing and poaching pose hazards to native species and their surroundings.

The list includes 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, one bat, and one plant species.

The next few decades pose a test for more than 1 million species, according to a report from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. For environmentalists such as SPARE president senior Naia Sasano, this report was a wake-up call for others to start caring for our environment.

“”If only people had been thinking more about this constantly and seeking education on this matter, there would have been a cool opportunity to preserve this biodiverse mess (earlier),” Sasano said.

AP Environmental Science teacher Kori Reynolds said that the major cause of these extinction events is habitat loss. Many species are seeing that their homes are fragmented due to accelerating development.

Another reason, she said, is overharvesting of plants and animal species, faster than they can reproduce. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 34.2% of fisheries are overfished, comprising 22.7% of seafood.

“It’s really unfortunate because there’s so much beauty in the diversity and so much stability in diversity,” Reynolds said. “And as we start losing that it’s really going to impact the quality of the human experience.”

Nationwide, the Center for Biodiversity is launching a preservation project that is trying to slow down urban development in areas with sensitive ecosystems. They have halted the building of several urban structures, and have won 93% of lawsuits against the former Trump Administration to preserve ecosystems.

The center also has created and released reports detailing local pesticide use, revealing that 30 of the Bay Area’s 51 federally endangered animals are affected. Other centers have also done the same, and the City of San Jose has enacted plans and policies to decrease the impacts of urban sprawl.

Big habits start small

Though the solutions to help reduce risks to biodiversity are multifaceted, Reynolds said the first step toward that goal is to change one’s habits. That begins with reducing waste at school “so it’s not impacting any native species.” Do not harm should be one’s top mantra.

“When it comes to just interactions with the environment around you, make sure that you’re not harming those plants or animals or distributing harm around you on campus,” she said.

Reynolds points to the SPARE Club, which in the last few years adopted a part of nearby Branham Park to grow and propagate native species. Called Project Pieces, the club has created five sections with distinct geographies and native plants. The point was to capture the diversity of native species, and then to foster an environment for them.

For their conservation efforts, which began two years ago, the club earned a distinction from the City of San Jose. Sasano said she is proud to continue the propagation of local species, such as the evergreen pollinator wildflower.

“It’s really important to have in this community,” she said, “And I (feel) so honored to have been able to like help out during some of the beginning stages.”

A natural part of Earth’s systems

In light of the the reported extinction of 22 species, and the impending loss of ecosystems on a grand scale, Reynolds offers some perspective.

“The overall loss of biodiversity in this extinction sounds very scary, and it is very scary,” she said. “But we also have to acknowledge that extinction is a natural part of Earth’s systems.”

Earth has seen five mass extinctions before, and we might be due for a sixth one. Reynolds said that humans should be ready for these massive changes, especially due to their active role in their demise.

“The human experience is going to be different because we are changing these ecosystems, and there’s loss of biodiversity, that life itself is going to be okay,” she said. “And life itself has always bounced back from extinction in both big and small ways. So it’s detrimental to the human experience but the rest of the Earth will be fine.”