As President Barack Obama visits Vietnam this week, the U.S. State Department has announced a five-year bilateral partnership to combat wildlife trafficking – a significant issue in both nations that affects many imperiled species.
Pangolins are small mammals sometimes referred to as “scaly anteaters” for their defining physical trait: large, overlapping scales composed of keratin, the same protein that makes up human fingernails as well as rhino horns. When threatened, pangolins curl up into a tight ball, a defensive posture that can protect them from predators — even lions.
Sea Shepherd and their aging former U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Farley Mowat, have just completed a four-month mission called Operation Milagro (Miracle) to save the vaquita. They fought a 24/7 battle against gill nets, longlines and the fishermen who deploy them. With a nearly all-volunteer crew of 16, they patrol a vaquita refuge set up by the Mexican government in 2005. Using dragging tools fashioned from the anchors of the illegal nets, they scour the sea day and night pulling up anything they can find, including large gill nets and longlines. WildAid was invited on-board the Farley Mowat to experience and document what Sea Shepherd is doing in the fight to save this unique species.
In a study published this week, scientists from the National Geographic Society and Charles Darwin Research Station found that Darwin and Wolf in the Galapagos Islands is home to the world's largest shark biomass (the total mass of sharks in a given area) in the world.
This is especially welcome news as sharks continue to be hunted for the shark fin trade — with an estimated 73 million sharks killed annually. According to lead author Pelayo Salinas de Leon, "[T]he islands of Darwin and Wolf are jewels in the crown of the Galapagos,” due to the abundance of these top predators indicating a healthy marine ecosystem.
However, the two-year study funded by Helmsley Charitable Trust also found that reef fish in the area have been severely reduced due to overfishing. To protect its marine life, the Ecuadorian government created a marine sanctuary at Darwin and Wolf in March.
Scientists in Australia recently announced that more than 90% of coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef have experienced bleaching this year due to increased oceanic temperatures from climate change. This is the third mass bleaching event on record and possibly the worst yet — affecting one-third of the world’s corals. Other affected areas include Micronesia, as well as the Caribbean and Hawaii, both of which suffered major bleaching throughout their waters last summer.
Coral reefs provide food and shelter for numerous marine species and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people around the world. According to The New York Times, they provide jobs for “an estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women [who] depend on reefs for their livelihoods.”