Why Are Yangtze River Dolphins Endangered

The Yangtze River Dolphins, or Baiji, is the most endangered species in the world. The species was declared officially extinct in 2016 after a survey of the river failed to find any evidence of the dolphins still existing. The Baiji are believed to be the first extinction solely due to human activities. This tragic event has resulted in much sadness and deep reflection as to why this species was forced to become extinct.

The Baiji were a freshwater river dolphin. They were only found in the Yangtze River, which is the longest river in the world with a 6,300km length and it flows from the northwest to the east until it enters the East China Sea. It is believed that the Baiji species been living in the Yangtze for around 20 million years.

Scientists attribute the extinction largely to the degradation of the Yangtze River ecosystem due to human interference. During the past 30 years, the river has suffered from booming population growth, rapid industrialization and expansion of the shipping industry. All of these aforementioned activities have caused severe damage to the habitat and environment of the Baiji species.

The overfishing in the Yangtze River has also played a primary role in the demise of the species. Powerful electricity fishing technologies have been used regularly in the river and have caused a sharp decline in the number of prey fish available to the dolphins.

Pollution from lax disposal of industrial chemicals and heavy metals have caused disruption of the hormones of the Baiji dolphins. In addition, sonic booms from shipping have traumatised the dolphins, caused them to stop eating, and eventually die. Pollution of the Yangtze has also caused algae blooms which have depleted the oxygen supply in parts of the river, making it impossible for the dolphins to survive.

The construction of the Three Gorges Dam has also caused destruction of the dolphin’s habitat. The dam has disturbed the natural flow of the river and caused the water to become murky. This has resulted in the Baiji dolphins relying on a limited number of prey fish, providing them with weakened defense against the numerous predators that inhabit the Yangtze River.

Despite the government’s efforts to improve conservation efforts of the dolphins and their habitats, by the end of 2006 there were only 13 baiji river dolphins left in the Yangtze River. As a result, further measures have been taken, such as providing protected reserves for the dolphins, developing anti-pollution regulations and attempting to reduce fishing practices. However, these efforts have been insufficient to prevent extinction of the species.

Current Conservation Efforts

Currently, conservation efforts are in progress to try to save other species from a similar fate as the Baiji dolphins. Chinese conservationists are currently studying the effectiveness of creating migratory corridors for threatened species such as the finless porpoise, which are believed to be the closest living relatives to the Baiji species.

In addition to this, research is being conducted to assess new ways to improve protection standards in the Yangtze River, such as monitoring artificial riverbeds, increasing fishing restrictions and introducing regulations that would stop the over-construction of commercial shipping.

The Chinese government is also heavily investing in fishery reserves. These reserves are designed to regulate fishing loads and create sustainable fishing grounds, helping to ensure the survival of many endangered species.

Finally, research from various international organizations is taking place to assess the impacts of climate change on species in the Yangtze River. This research is being used to create and implement more effective conservation strategies for threatened species, such as introducing and reinforcing regulations that are designed to reduce the amount of pollutants being released into the river each year.

Preserving Future Generations

The extinction of the Baiji dolphins serves as a harsh reminder of the fragility and vulnerability of every species, and the vital importance of preserving and protecting our ecosystems. Without proper and sustainable management of our rivers, several other species will be forced to become extinct in a very short amount of time.

Governments should provide their citizens with much needed education about pollution, unsustainable fishing practices and the unethical exploitation of resources. In addition, stricter regulations and harsher punishments should be implemented for those responsible for the destruction of species.

Just as direct action was taken too late for the Baiji dolphins, it is imperative that we take immediate and decisive steps to stop the destruction of ecosystems and protect all species from extinction. If we do, we can still save future generations of diversity from temporary or permanent extinction.

The Need for Unified International Efforts

The effects of illegal or unsustainable practices are not confined to a single region or species. International bodies such as the United Nations, and international NGOs must take stringent actions and provide support to protect threatened species and the habitats they rely on. Effective policies need to be implemented, enforced and negotiated on an international level to ensure the continuity of populations and biodiversity.

The Baiji dolphins experience has showed us that only through the global collective effort can we make a lasting difference in preserving the planet and its species. International human rights organizations must help to enforce environmental policies that protect the environment, species and our future sustainability.

The Problem of Human Activity

The rapid and unsustainable expansion of human activity is the primary cause behind the destruction of species and the displacement of wildlife from their habitats. Pollution, over-fishing and heavy industrial activities are all factors that are pushing many species to extinction.

Controlling and monitoring human activities is thus paramount for biodiversity conservation. Governments must provide stringent policies that limit the amount of pollution being released, enforce sustainable fishing and limit the expansion of human settlements into the habitats of species.

Furthermore, humans must take responsibility for their actions and learn to appreciate and respect the environment. We need to recognize the interconnectedness between resource use, biodiversity and human wellbeing and strive to create a more sustainable and harmonious relationship with nature.

Leading Change Through Education

Environmental education can help to bring about much needed awareness and education to the public. Educators, parents and role models need to make sure that the younger generation understands the significance of protecting the natural environment and take environmental responsibility for their actions.

A profound cultural shift is needed towards the environment and our way of living if we want to bring sustainable change. Leading by example is the best way to achieve this, and this is why initiatives such as green energy sources, rainwater collection systems and organic farming should be promoted and supported.

Lastly, raising public awareness through campaigns and initiatives is a powerful tool to inspire people to take action and make a change for the environment. Supporting social and environmental groups, speaking out against pollution, and studying the relationship between humans and nature are all ways to create a positive impact on the planet and the species living in it.

Carolyn Johnston is an avid traveler with a particular interest in the world's most famous rivers. She loves to explore different cultures, landscapes, and history through her travels. Carolyn has had the opportunity to sail down the Nile, raft through the Grand Canyon, and cruise along the Amazon.

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