Could We Be Facing The Sixth Mass Extinction?

Marina Chiafullo ‘20

Recently, Earth has faced one of the most striking crises imaginable. Biodiversity, or the general variety of life throughout the world, is declining at an alarming rate. Globally, the extinction of species has been rapidly increasing and though there are organizations and influential individuals that support helping biodiversity, we need to take greater steps in our life as well. Mostly due to human activity “one out of four mammals and conifers [cone-bearing trees]” are at the risk of extinction, and “70% of the known species risk extinction if the global temperatures rise by more than 3.5°C” (Global Issues). Biodiversity is imperative for an ecosystem, so with statistics such as these, the future for species around the world is grim.

So why is this such an issue? Many species provide resources for others, especially humans. All species on Earth are interdependent, or rely on each other. Without many of these plants and animals, ecosystems around the world will inevitably collapse.

There are many factors that influence this general loss, including pollution, resource exploitation, and climate change (ENI). One of the main species that suffers from this widespread problem is coral. Coral reefs, such as The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, support 25% of the world’s marine life, constituting one million species in the ocean. However, with climate change, influenced by the burning of fossil fuels, chlorofluorocarbons, and methane into the atmosphere, coral reefs are bleaching. “Bleaching” is a term used for the white skeletons left behind after corals die from high temperatures. The species who inhabit these reefs feed off of the polyps and animals there, so if the reefs disappear, the world could lose hundreds of species in a heartbeat. This is only one example of the worldwide epidemic.

Coral reefs aren’t the only ecosystems at risk— tropical rainforests have been decreasing in size and wildlife as well. Per second, 1.5 acres of tropical land is destroyed. Due to the fact that the rainforest is based upon layers, deforestation proves to be extremely harmful for the ecosystem. For example, canopy trees rise higher than the others throughout the rainforest. If one is cut down, the different types of trees that survived on the excess moisture and shade offered by the canopies disappear as a result. Along with the trees, small organisms who inhabit the trees also perish without the food and natural resources these trees provided. Rainforests prior to this loss covered over 14% of the earth. Now, rainforests only cover 6% of the earth, with future predictions indicating a complete absence in less than forty years. Many medicine ingredients are derived from rainforests, and at this rate, we are losing almost 160 species of insects, animals, and plants daily.

Even at Ridge, students are afraid for what will become of this loss that never seems to end. Kaivu Hariharan ‘20 explains that if biodiversity declines at its current rate, “humanity will lose sight of nature and the natural world. There will be reduced food security, and increased contact with disease. As far as we know, we’re the only planet with complex life at all, and we might not be soon”. We are losing dozens of species daily to extinction. The background extinction rate averages that one to five species in the world go extinct annually. Now, that number has grown 1,000-10,000 times higher.

Though this phenomenon is global, there is biodiversity loss even in New Jersey. To protect the fish farms, or controlled growth of the fish population mainly used for human consumption in the state, people will shoot the osprey (birds) that need the fish for survival. New Jersey is located along the Atlantic shoreline, so marine life is at a high risk. Boat collisions and trash thrown into the ocean contribute to the decline in species, as more die than reproduce.

Scientists say that Earth is in the sixth mass extinction, in which thirty to fifty percent of plants and animals could be lost by 2050. Although it’s the sixth mass extinction in the history of our planet, this one is extremely unique. This one is mainly due to actions directly from humans. Hunting, burning of fossil fuels, failure to recycle, depletion of crops, and more are causing the disappearance of countless plants and animals.

Although this is an alarming subject that the Earth must endure, there are things you can do to help. At Ridge, there are clubs that promote the welfare of our deteriorating planet, such as the Animal Protector’s Club, and the Ridge High School Green Team. Also, recycling and limiting the use of carbon dioxide in your life will make a change. The next time you go to buy that plastic water bottle, think about utilizing a reusable one. For biodiversity, treat the Earth with courtesy!