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WWF’s Living Planet Report shines a spotlight on the alarming decline of wildlife populations

© Simon Goldsworthy (SARDI)

Worldwide wildlife populations have declined an average of 69 per cent in the years between 1970 and 2018 the World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s latest Living Planet Report reveals in an alarming and devastating publication.

The report, based on WWF’s Living Planet Index (LPI) of wildlife species, in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), includes 32,000 populations of more than 5,000 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, with more than 1,100 of these populations in Australia. 

WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman regards the report as a “health check on our planet”, with this latest health check reporting “code red for the planet but also for humanity”.

The decline of almost two-thirds of all monitored wildlife populations is due to mainly habitat destruction, closely followed up by climate change.

Clearly, there is an urgent and dire need for action towards a nature-positive future. 

A closer look simply reveals the grim detail of the destruction of biodiversity, a clear and unsettling indicator of a decline in our planet’s ecosystem health overall. 

Monitored populations in Latin America and the Caribbean showed an alarming decline of 94 per cent, whilst during the same period, those in Africa reduced by 66 per cent, and the Asia Pacific’s populations decreased by 55 per cent. 

Australia is included in the Asia Pacific region.

An example of our population decline is the Western Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle, whose number of nests (in Indonesia) has declined by nearly 80 per cent in 27 years.

Leatherback turtles have declined by nearly 80% in the Asia Pacific © naturepl.com/Konrad Wothe/WWF

Some Australian populations such as the Ruddy Turnstone and the Pookila (formally known as the New Holland mouse) have completely disappeared from George Town, Tasmania, and the Otway Ranges in Victoria.

Others are declining at alarming rates such as the Australian Sea Lion (Australia’s only endemic marine mammal) whose population has suffered a 64 per cent decline in pups born in South and Western Australia, due to drownings in fishing nets, entanglement in debris, disease, pollution, and sea-level rise inundating many low-lying breeding colonies.

The Pookila is no longer seen in the Otway Ranges © Bruce Thomson.

Worldwide, monitored freshwater populations have declined by 83 per cent, and in these past decades, shark and ray populations have declined by 71 per cent, mainly due to fishing practices. 

“Habitat destruction [including but not exclusive to; destruction and fragmentation for development and agriculture reasons, deforestation, pollution] is the main cause of wildlife decline,” Mr O’Gorman declared.

Although, he continued, “climate change will overtake that” in the coming years.

We have seen first-hand in Australia the destruction that fire, floods, and heat waves, made more severe and more frequent by the warming climate can produce.

Mr O’Gorman pointed out the intersection of emergencies we face – “a human-induced climate emergency, a biodiversity loss crisis and a growing inequity crisis”- emergencies that need to be tackled together, inclusively within each policy and action that is taken from here.

He also declared that the promises of slowing down or reducing biodiversity loss are of the past and that stronger action is now needed.

“We need ambition to be nature-positive, which means reversing the loss of nature,” he said.

“Worldwide, we have a chance to make ‘“Paris-style commitments’ ” at the COP15 biodiversity conference in December this year, in the hopes of “reversing biodiversity loss and securing a nature-positive world.”

The report also makes it clear that this nature-positive future is not possible without Indigenous knowledges and the worldwide recognition and respect of the rights, governance, and conservation leadership of First Nations Peoples and local communities.

After the devastating reports of declining wildlife populations, the report shows a path forward that momentum is building, with leaders around the world endorsing a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, committing to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and G7 signalling their ambition to secure a nature-positive world. 

But we have been fooled by words of ‘endorsing’, ‘committing’ and ‘ambition’ before though, we need action to follow up on these promises.

The policies and actions of the future need to be of an “inclusive ‘whole society’ approach, empowering each of us to act, and recognise the plurality of value and knowledge systems that can put us on a more sustainable path, and ensure that the costs and benefits of our actions are socially and equitably shared.”

Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge, a proud Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation, a researcher in Indigenous Water Science and a WWF-Australia Governor has contributed a the section on Indigenous water knowledge, and said that: “Indigenous Peoples’ connection to water is strong and has been crucial to survival on a dry continent…over countless generation” and that this knowledge can and must “inform and compliment western science.”

Worldwide, Indigenous voices must be heard and respected and Indigenous knowledges be implemented in order for the nature-positive future to be achieved.

Locally, the Labor government has set a target of ‘Zero New Extinctions’.

This is a welcome target, with a focus on First Nations rangers and Indigenous knowledge, clearer than before targets and better monitoring, the goal of protecting a third of Australia’s lands and seas within five years is funded with a wholly inadequate budget.

“It will be important to follow that up with increased funding in the next federal budget in light of the continued decline and staggering losses highlighted in the Living Planet Report,” Mr O’Gorman pointed out.

Locally, WWF’s focus remains on Regenerate Australia, which is “the largest and most innovative” wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program in the nation’s history.

Launched in 2020, the program rehabilitates, repopulates, and restores wildlife and habitats affected by climate-induced disasters and further help protect against those of the future. 

Ask your local representative for stronger protection for wildlife by signing WWF’s petition here.

Molly Salmon

Molly Salmon is a writer and creative, currently completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Creative Writing and History. She is devoted to the power of the written word and journalism as a medium to embrace creativity whilst informing, educating, empowering and inspiring others on issues close to her heart, such as the environment, women’s empowerment, inequality and inequity. Molly is passionate about writing stories that make the reader feel something.

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Molly Salmon

Molly Salmon is a writer and creative, currently completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Creative Writing and History. She is devoted to the power of the written word and journalism as a medium to embrace creativity whilst informing, educating, empowering and inspiring others on issues close to her heart, such as the environment, women’s empowerment, inequality and inequity. Molly is passionate about writing stories that make the reader feel something.

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