Nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before, and this catastrophic decline is showing no signs of slowing, the study says. Intensive agriculture, deforestation and the conversion of wild spaces into farmland are among the main causes of nature loss, while over-fishing is wreaking havoc with marine life. The decline has happened even faster than anticipated in 2018, and the conservation charity is warning that without urgent global action, life on Earth will be pushed to the brink.
This year’s Living Planet Report includes significant new research from a global group of scientists which confirms for the first time the actions that can halt and reverse the downward spiral of wildlife loss. The research shows that we can only turn things around if ambitious conservation efforts to protect our wildlife are combined with urgent action to stop habitat loss and deforestation – changing our farming and the way we produce our food; tackling food waste and moving to healthier diets; and working to restore damaged habitats and landscapes. With this urgent and ambitious global action in both conservation and the food and agriculture system, it may still be possible to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030.
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said: “We are wiping wildlife from the face of the planet, burning our forests, polluting and over-fishing our seas and destroying wild areas. We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth. Now nature is sending us a desperate SOS and time is running out. We are in a fight for our world: we now know what needs to be done, and paper promises won’t be enough. Only by putting the environment at the heart of our decision making can we build a safe and resilient future for nature, people and our planet.”
Highlights from the study and the latest Living Planet Index data include:
- A 94% decline in average size of monitored wildlife populations in Latin America and the Caribbean – the largest drop anywhere in the world.
- Freshwater species populations have seen a steep decline of 84% including the critically endangered Chinese sturgeon in the Yangtze river, down 97%.
- In some parts of the world, leatherback turtles have declined by between 20% and 98%, with an 84% decline at Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica.
- African elephant populations in the Central African Republic have declined by up to 98%.
- In the UK, populations of grey partridge have declined by 85% and populations of Arctic Skua in Orkney have declined by 62%.
The report also highlights that 75% of the Earth’s ice-free-land has been significantly altered by human activity, and almost 90% of global wetlands have been lost since 1700.
Conservation measures are already proving they can deliver positive results around the world, with legal protection for forest elephants in Ghana, blacktail reef sharks in Australia and tigers in Nepal resulting in large population increases, the LPI shows.
This year’s Living Planet Report also includes Voices for a Living Planet, a collection of essays from global thought leaders on how to build a healthy and resilient world for people and nature.
The Living Planet Report is based on data from the Living Planet Index produced by ZSL. Dr Andrew Terry, ZSL’s Director of Conservation, said: “The Living Planet Index is one of the most comprehensive measures of global biodiversity. For this report, ZSL’s team tracked data on 20,811 populations of 4,392 vertebrate species. An average decline of 68% in the past 50 years is catastrophic, and clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world. If nothing changes populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we all depend. But we also know that conservation works and species can be brought back from the brink. With commitment, investment and expertise, these trends can be reversed.”
Examples of wildlife populations declining
- The Irrawady dolphin has declined by roughly 44% between 1997 and 2008. This species from South and South East Asia is threatened by pollution, habitat degradation/fragmentation and entanglement in fishing gear.
- The grey partridge has declined by 85% between 1970 and 2004 in the UK, likely due to the effects of agricultural intensification.
- The Arctic skua, found in the Orkney Islands, experienced a decline of 62% between 1982 and 2010. This is a more pronounced decline than any other seabird in the UK and is linked to competition for nesting sites and the climate-related reduction in the availability of prey species.
- Population numbers of Grauer’s Gorilla in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, DRC have seen an estimated 87% decline between 1994 and 2015, mostly due to illegal hunting.
- African elephant populations in the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem in Tanzania have declined by 86% since 1976, primarily due to poaching. African elephants declined by 98% between 1985 and 2010 due to the increasing of poaching in the early 1980s.
- Populations of the Forest Elephant in Ghana (a subspecies of African Elephant) have more than doubled in protected areas, but in the Goaso forest block the population has declined by approximately 60% – this is an area that has not benefited from any conservation projects. This decline is thought to be due to habitat loss and poaching.
- Leatherback turtles have seen a decline in two locations:
- Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica, saw an 84% decline in the estimated number of nests laid between 1995 and 2011.
- There was a 78% decline in the number of nests at Jamursba-Medi beaches in Indonesia between 1993 and 2012.
Examples of wildlife populations increasing
- Between 2008-9 and 2013-14, the tiger population of Nepal has increased by 64% due to conservation efforts including protection from poaching, habitat management and community engagement.
- Populations of the loggerhead turtle have increased by 154% in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park of South Africa between 1973 and 2009. Harvesting of this species ceased with the onset of active conservation and the proclamation of coastal marine protected areas.
- The blacktail reef shark population increased in relative abundance by over 360% between 2004 and 2016 after a marine protected area was established at the Ashmore Reef in Western Australia.
- The leopard shark population of North America increased by nearly 750% between 1995 and 2004 after the ban of a gill net fishery.
- Almost one in three freshwater species are threatened with extinction. The 3,741 monitored populations – representing 944 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes – in the Freshwater Living Planet Index have declined by an average of 84% (range: -89% to -77%), equivalent to 4% per year since 1970. Freshwater amphibians, reptiles and fishes have been badly impacted.
About the Living Planet Report 2020
The Living Planet Report 2020 is the thirteenth edition of WWF’s biennial flagship publication and includes contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world. The report draws on the latest findings measured by ZSL’s Living Planet Index, tracking 20,811 populations of 4,392 species. This year’s index includes 400 new species and 4,870 new populations. The 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68 per cent decline in monitored populations. The percentage change in the index reflects the average proportional change in animal population sizes tracked over 46 years – not the number of individual animals lost.
A full version of the Living Planet Report 2020 is available here.
An additional in-depth report into the Freshwater LPI findings is available here.
The effect of climate change on species is studied in a further report, Biodiversity In A Warming World, available here.
WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, active in nearly 100 countries. Our supporters – more than five million of them – are helping us to restore nature and to tackle the main causes of nature’s decline, particularly the food system and climate change. We’re fighting to ensure a world with thriving habitats and species, and to change hearts and minds so it becomes unacceptable to overuse our planet’s resources.