WWF Living Planet Report 2020

Posted on 09 September 2020
Nancy Rono, Farmer, on her farm with cameleonon on her arm. Bomet County, Mara River Upper Catchment, Kenya.

Environmental destruction depletes wildlife and affects human health

Future leatherback turtles in the Guianas in peril 

Global wildlife populations have suffered an average two-thirds decline (68%) since 1970. In Latin America the situation is even worse, with an average reduction of 94%, due to human activities. These disturbing conclusions are published in the WWF Living Planet Report 2020 that has been released around the world today. In the Guianas a steep decline of nests of the endangered leatherback turtle in recent years is especially worrying.
The flagship WWF report on population trends of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians between 1970 and 2016  issues a serious warning. The loss of nature is becoming a real challenge for the economy, social development, global security and human health. The WWF Living Planet Report shows that environmental destruction and illegal wildlife trade is making the planet vulnerable to zoonotic pandemics such as COVID-19. 
The most relevant driver of loss of biodiversity on land is land use change, mainly the conversion of intact natural habitats – such as forests, grasslands and mangroves - into agricultural land. On the oceans overfishing is the main threat to biodiversity. Other causes of loss of nature are excessive hunting and poaching, pollution and mining, among which gold, oil and gas exploitation are the leading land-use activities causing destruction to the environment.
Guianas’ leatherbacks disappear
Suriname and Guyana still have very high portions of forest, grassland and wetlands intact, in stark contrast to many other countries in Latin America. But the sharp decline of leatherback turtle (aitkanti) nests is worrying. The number of nests, an indicator for turtle abundance, has plummeted reaching the lowest level in decades. In Suriname leatherbacks nests crashed with 95% between 2001 and 2018, when only 719 were counted. In Guyana, which has fewer nesting beaches, the decline was 90%. In 2018 there were only 56 nests. In French Guyana the leatherback nests fluctuated. A large increase to 16,309 nests in 2009 was followed by a staggering decline to 815 nests in 2018. Compared to 2001 the decline was 84%. These more recent data are not part of the LPR, but they do reflect the loss of biodiversity and the alarming message of the report. 
The number of nests of the green turtle and the olive ridley are low but more stable, although Suriname has seen a decline in recent years. It is not scientifically proven what the causes are, but bycatch due to unsustainable fishing practices is a major problem for sea turtles worldwide. This might also be the reason for the declining number of leatherback turtles, as artisanal fishers still use nets which turtles get entangled in and drown. Abandoned or discarded fishing gear in the sea – so called ghost gear - also pose a threat for turtles.
WWF Guianas calls for scientific research on the number of turtles caught as bycatch. Introduction of more sustainable fishing gear alternative ways of fishing  as well as education on the right way of releasing sea turtles need to be addressed. 
Reverse the trend
David Singh, director of WWF Guianas: “The increasing destruction of nature worldwide affects wildlife and human health. The Guianas are still the greenest countries on earth, but our biodiversity is also under increasing pressure. We can reverse the trend and make the Guianas become a beacon of hope for the world. But only if we choose for bolder conservation and transform our economy and society to a sustainable path.”
Environmental degradation and the encroachment of humans in untouched ecosystems also contributes to the emergence of zoonotic diseases, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. While the exact origins of the coronavirus remain uncertain, up to 60% of today's infectious diseases come from animals and nearly three-quarters of these come from wild animals.
Conservation and transformation
The Living Planet Report concludes that in order to reverse this loss of biodiversity, conservation is essential but not sufficient. It requires transforming the patterns of food production and consumption, promoting a model where the limits of the planet support political and economic decisions, and taking actions that help stop the engines of change in land use and reduce waste.
Nancy Rono, Farmer, on her farm with cameleonon on her arm. Bomet County, Mara River Upper Catchment, Kenya.
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