Wildlife is facing immense threats, and 2019 will be no different. While conservation saw some successes in 2018, it was still a rough year for wildlife. Species disappeared and regulatory changes, climate change and other threats continued to worsen the situation. Meanwhile, conservationists continued to work tirelessly.
In 2019, this trend will continue. New threats will emerge and many existing ones will continue to worsen. While these things will threaten wildlife, it will also spur more people into action to help protect the planet’s incredible biodiversity.
So, what can we expect in 2019 in relation to wildlife conservation? While the world is always full of surprises, here’s a look at the year ahead.
Climate change has been a theme in conservation circles for a while now — with good reason. The current changes happening in our climate are having substantial impacts on vast numbers of species. Many effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events, appear to be worsening. Scientists are also discovering new ones. A recent study from oceanographers at the University of Rhode Island, for example, found that decreased oxygen levels could cause significant harm to zooplankton. Climate change can make these oxygen level problems worse.
Recent shifts in government leadership have led to policy changes that could make protecting wildlife more difficult. In the United States, the Trump administration has been stripping away environmental protections since it began. The administration has proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act that would cut protections. If these proposals are put into action in 2019, endangered species would be at an even greater risk than they are today. Elsewhere in the world, Brazil recently elected a new far-right president who promised to remove protections of the Amazon rain forest.
Industry Ramping Up
New infrastructure and road projects, both legal and illegal, are popping up in crucial habitats all around the world. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has been described as a modern-day silk road, is driving many of these projects. This project may have economic benefits but could threaten habitats and introduce invasive species. There’s also a considerable number of illegal roads being constructed by miners, loggers and poachers around the world.
In 2010, 194 countries signed the Aichi Biodiversity Targets at the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity. The nations committed to meeting 20 ambitious conservation goals by 2020. That means 2019 is the last year for these countries to achieve their goals. A 2016 report by several conservation groups found that most countries hadn’t made sufficient progress on their goals. Unfortunately, the nations that signed to these targets still have a lot of work to do and will likely miss the deadline.
Increased Emphasis on Marine Conservation
In 2019, we’ll see more of an emphasis placed on conservation of marine species. This year, World Wildlife Day will focus on ocean-dwelling animals for the first time. This theme aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Goal 14 — Life below water. The United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has called on its members to support the conservation of marine species and habitats in 2019.
Growing Public Awareness
As climate change and other environmental threats worsen, public awareness of conservation-related may increase. Various high-profile weather events have put environmental issues in the spotlight, including increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Movies and other media with conservation themes will help raise awareness. An ambitious eight-part docuseries by Silverback Films and the World Wildlife Fund, Our Planet, is scheduled to release on Netflix this year.
More Innovative Grassroots Solutions
Conservation efforts are continuing to become more innovate and more grassroots. One such initiative is the Female Engagement Teams recently created by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. These teams consist of indigenous Maasai women in Kenya who work to drive wildlife conservations on the lands where they live. We may see more of these types of initiatives in 2019.
Plastic waste is a huge threat to many species. In a recent study of 102 sea turtles, every animal studied had plastic, microplastic and other synthetic substances in their digestive systems. As we continue to produce massive amounts of plastic, studying its impacts on wildlife and ways to protect animals from it should be a focus.
Diseases are another significant risk to animals, but it doesn’t get as much attention as some other threats. White-nose syndrome, for example, has had a devastating effect on bat populations in the U.S. In 2019, we should dedicate more resources to understanding and stopping these diseases.
Poaching, Snaring and Wildlife Trafficking
Illegal activities such as poaching, snaring and wildlife trafficking are always an important issue. With recent policy shifts, some of these rules are under threat. Last year, for example, China announced that commercial trade in rhino horn and tiger bone from farmed animals for use in medicine would be legal. After public outcry, however, China postponed the change. If such loosening of restrictions gets approved this year, the result could be devastating.
Conservationists may increasingly turn to captive breeding to help increase species’ wild populations or keep them alive once their habitats disappear. Such programs have already helped various species and may help even more in 2019 and beyond.
The planet’s species continue to be at risk due to climate change, illegal activities, policy changes and other factors. In 2019, wildlife conservation will continue to face challenges, but conservationists surely won’t slow down their work to protect the world’s biodiversity.