Vanishing Animals cover

Vanishing Animals

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Human impacts on nature have increased over time, but to date we have had more of an impact on land than in the ocean.
Success stories in which endangered species were brought back from the brink can inform conservation decisions.





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Vanishing Animals

Rising Impact

Throughout human history, our activity has had an impact on terrestrial animals, those that live on land.

With the rise of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution, human activity had an increasing impact on the natural world. This has resulted in extinctions of numerous species and has permanently changed the shape and make-up of land environments.

We are poised to have the same effect on the ocean, but are at a crucial point—if we act now, we can avoid mass extinctions and limit permanent changes to the ocean. This was among the findings of a paper published in the journal Science in January 2015 (Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean).

Vanishing Animals

Project Piaba: Photo credit Vincent DiDuca

Vanishing Animals

A new exhibition at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, Vanishing Animals, translates the concepts detailed in the paper into a gallery of live animal exhibits, multimedia stations, exhibit panels, and videos for the public to learn more about this important moment in time. The exhibition opened to the public on May 27, 2016.

Rebounds and Opportunity

Vanishing Animals highlights impacts of human history on land resulting in terrestrial animal extinctions, tells stories of rebounds from near-extinction, then shows how we have the opportunity in the near future to avert a similar path in the ocean.

Dr. Douglas McCauley, the paper's lead author, came to the Aquarium in November 2015 to give a lecture and meet with Aquarium educators to develop the themes and stories in the exhibition.

Dr. Elizabeth Hadly of Stanford University and Dr. Anthony Barnosky of the University of California, Berkeley, also contributed to the exhibit. Dr. McCauley will return to give another lecture at the Aquarium in September.

Earth And Sea

Photo Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific

Earth And Sea

Upon entering the gallery, guests will learn in the first half about the stories of animals and habitats on land. In the second half, they will learn about the future of the ocean.

Freshwater Streams

In the terrestrial portion, visitors will encounter a habitat modeled after a freshwater stream.

These ecosystems are among the most seriously threatened by pollution, land development, the introduction of non-native invasive species, and other activity.

The animals displayed in this exhibit will include local stream fishes, newts, and salamanders, as well as invasive species like crayfish.

Success Story

American Alligator, photo credit Cecile Fisher

Success Story

Next, an exhibit housing juvenile American alligators will provide an example of an endangered species success story. American alligators were hunted for leather until populations were severely depleted.

In 1967 this species was listed as endangered by the U.S. government. The introduction of trade regulations, monitoring, reintroduction to the wild, and breeding on alligator farms have allowed the species to fully recover.

Healthy Coral

Photo Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific

Healthy Coral

As visitors move into the aquatic side of the gallery, they will see an exhibit modeled after a coral reef.

One side will show healthy corals and the other will be overgrown with algae, a problem attributed to harmful fishing practices that remove beneficial fish from reef ecosystems that feed on algae, and runoff of nutrient-rich waters.

Abalone

Photo Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific

Abalone

Another exhibit will showcase species that fish farmers propagate in the aquaculture industry, including white abalone, mussels, and oysters. Aquaculture is an example of a practice that when done responsibly could limit the impacts of overfishing and harmful fishing while providing a stable source of seafood for the world’s growing human population.

The gallery will also feature Atlantic cod, a species that has been overfished to the point of commercial extinction.

Project Piaba

Project Piaba: Photo credit Vincent DiDuca

Project Piaba

Finally, an exhibit called Project Piaba will tell the story of a well-managed freshwater fishery for fish like cardinal tetras and discus collected sustainably in South America for hobbyist aquariums. The visitor experience closes with a video that summarizes the major findings and conclusions of the article in Science that stimulated the development of the exhibition.

Preventing Extinctions

What can we do to help endangered species?

Through the Aquarium’s Vanishing Animals exhibit, visitors will be able to learn about the potential for extinctions in the ocean and what we can do to avoid them.

The success stories provide examples of how our actions can make a difference in helping endangered species rebound from near extinction. It is possible to mitigate or undo the impacts of our activities on the plants and animals we share our planet with.

Awareness

American Alligator, photo credit Cecile Fisher

Awareness

Raising public awareness about endangered species is an important step. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has compiled The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ since 1964 to guide conservation efforts in support of plant and animal biodiversity.

Over 76,000

The IUCN Red List helps people understand the threats endangered plants and animals face.

Over 76,000 species have been analyzed and classified into the categories Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened, and Least Concern. These categories are used internationally to describe the status of plant and animal species. Visit iucnredlist.org to learn more.

Endangered species lists also help guide the regulations that protect these species and the agencies that monitor their recovery.

Endangered Species Act

Photo Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific

Endangered Species Act

In the United States, laws and policy governing plans to protect endangered species are dictated by the Endangered Species Act passed by Congress in 1973. Currently 688 animals and 897 plants are listed as threatened or endangered in the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers recovery plans for endangered species.

Changing Views

Photo Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific

Changing Views

Some endangered and threatened species have historically served as a source of income for people who harvest plants or animals for food or other trade.

Finding Balance

Project Piaba: Photo credit Vincent DiDuca

Finding Balance

Project Piaba is an example of an organization working to improve sustainability of the Amazon fishery to supply home aquariums, which is a significant source of income for the local community.

Their programs help to protect vulnerable ecosystems and species like cardinal tetras, while maintaining jobs for and educating subsistence fishers.

Learn More

Human activity has had a dramatic impact on global biodiversity.

To help prevent plant and animal extinctions, it is important for people to be educated about the status of endangered species, particularly in their local area where they are likely to have the most impact.

Learn about the endangered species in your region and the threats they face to see how your actions might impact these species.

Aquarium Of The Pacific