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Why is Plastic Pollution a Problem in Our Oceans?

A sea turtle tangled up in various plastics (Machalilla National Park)

A sea turtle spots a plastic bag floating among the waves. To him, it looks like a jellyfish, its general shape and consistency swaying and catching the light in just the right way. He swims toward it and ingests the bag in one gulp, satisfying his hunger, and then goes on his away. In actuality, that plastic bag lines his gut, causing digestive blockages and the sea turtle’s eventual death from starvation.

This story is all too common in the marine environment. In fact, a study estimated that more than half the world’s sea turtles and a staggering 90% of sea birds had ingested some form of plastic. Earlier this year, 13 sperm whales washed up in Germany and their necropsies revealed stomachs full of plastic waste including a 43-foot-long shrimp fishing net, a plastic car engine cover and a plastic bucket. Plastic and other debris, including discarded fishing lines and nets (also called “ghost nets”), are not just ingested, but also account for thousands of casualties.  Sharks, whales and mantas that get tangled up in nets either suffer life-threatening injuries from their attempts to escape or they simply remain trapped eventually drowning to death.

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Protesters Call on FedEx to Ban Shark Fin Shipments

Protesters rally at a FedEx storefront in Boston on September 17, 2016 (Photo courtesy Oceanic Preservation Society)

Over the past few years, a growing number of shipping companies and airlines have stepped up to save sharks in one simple yet powerful way: banning shark fin shipments. Multi billion-dollar industry leaders including UPS, Cosco and American Airlines have all clarified their cargo policies to prohibit such shipments.

Now, global advocates are turning their attention to one powerful hold-out: FedEx. Over the weekend, WildAid and our campaign Shark Savers teamed up with Oceanic Preservation Society to support a series of protests at FedEx locations from Hong Kong to Boston urging the company to adopt a fin-free policy.

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Is the Illegal Wildlife Trade a U.S. Problem?

WildAid CEO Peter Knights speaks at one of two launch events of WildAid's U.S. campaign with U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Following the release of a new survey showing shocking declines in African elephant numbers, WildAid and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have launched #StopWildlifeTrafficking, a nationwide public awareness campaign against the illegal wildlife trade in support of the White House National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking.

International wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated $10-20 billion per year annually, making it one of the world’s largest illicit trades after illegal drugs, arms and human trafficking. The United States is a chief consumer of wildlife products (both legal and illegal), but a recent poll commissioned by WildAid found 80 percent of Americans know little or nothing about illegal wildlife trade within the United States. As a result, travelers often are unaware that products they bring into the United States are prohibited.

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Cathay Pacific Bans Shark Fin Cargo

Protesters target Cathay Pacific at Hong Kong International Airport in May

Cathay Pacific today joined over 30 other global passenger airlines in banning the carriage of all shark fin cargo. We are delighted and applaud Cathay for taking this positive step. By imposing a 100% total ban with immediate effect, Hong Kong's flag carrier has shown it is serious about protecting sharks and our global marine ecosystem.

Galapagos Islands Have the Largest Shark Biomass in the World

A group of hammerhead sharks swims over the sandy seafloor populated with garden eels at Darwin Island. These sharks are known for their ability to make sudden and sharp turns as the unique wide-set placement of their eyes allows them a vertical 360-degree view, which is ideal for stalking their prey. (Enric Sala/ National Geographic for National Geographic Pristine Seas)

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.

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