Until recently, humankind seemed to view the ocean as a source of infinite resources. Its vast size and depth and unexplored frontiers made the ocean appear invulnerable to overexploitation. The truth is that the populations of many species are decreasing at an unsustainable rate, and the number of species listed as endangered from marine life families such as whales, dolphins, manatees and dugongs, salmon, seabirds, sea turtles,and sharks to name a few, are on the rise. The threats to marine species are difficult to perceive because marine animals are not as visible as animals on land. But unfortunately, marine creatures are equally, if not more, vulnerable to problems such as habitat destruction and overexploitation. Shallow water animals that breathe air, like turtles, manatees, dugongs, and whales are often hit by boats and caught in fishing gear. Species such as turtles that lay their eggs on land often lose their nurseries due to coastal development. Animals that have taken millions of years to evolve, that are invaluable to all ecosystems, have and continue to vanish from places where they once flourished.
We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day . It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century .
And for each species that goes extinct, many more become and remain endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, and climate change.
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
In 1969, the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Defense passed the Endangered Species Conservation Act to prevent mass extinctions of certain species. The use of endangered species by humans for food, fur, and other commercial uses was outlawed by this act and by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. In 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora was implemented to cut back on the trade of plants and animals in trouble. The 1973 Endangered Species Act is one of the most significant environmental laws in America and defines endangered or threatened species, puts plants and invertebrates under protection, requires federal agencies to start programs to conserve important habitats, creates a wide umbrella of laws against hunting for endangered species, and matches contributions from individual states towards the project. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are responsible for the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.