As 2022 comes to an end we find ourselves a year closer to not reaching many climate action deadlines, the looming time we have to change the future of our planet feels ever closer - eco anxiety can be at an all time high. Not to mention, when it's topped off with two months of Christmas consumerism madness, and your prime minister has decided to reopen coal mines after 30 years, amidst a climate emergency. So, as we feel like we have taken a giant step back for mankind, it’s important to remember that there were definitely some big steps forward for conservation this year!
Here are just some of the wonderful things that happened for the ocean in 2022.
Humpback whales are no longer listed as endangered
The year started with the wonderful news that humpback whales have shown an incredible population recovery. After being pushed to the brink of extinction by commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th century, protection of this species has allowed their population to increase back to 93% of their pre-whaling numbers! Humpback whales were granted international protection in 1965, and were one of the first species protected under the Endangered Species Conservation Act. Whaling in the Southern Ocean was particularly damaging to humpback whales and the population here dropped to as little as 1,500 in Australian waters. Their populations have increased so much that the species is no longer listed as endangered, with an estimated 40,000 humpback whales now thought to be in Australia! Global populations of humpback whales are now estimated to be at 80,000 which is amazing news, and proof that given the chance species can bounce back!
ExCITEment as Sharks are given historic protection at CITES
2022 has also been an incredible year for sharks. The shark world is celebrating the FINtastic news which has come out of the last CITES meeting at COP19 in Panama - the result of which has been a monumental leap forward for shark conservation. Leaders voted in unprecedented favour of adding all proposed shark species to CITES Appendix II. Meaning the trade in the species and its parts across international boundaries will now be regulated. Now confirmed at the final plenary session this will become a monumental shift in controlling the shark fin trade which has been pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Over 90 species of shark were listed under CITES Appendix II at this year's COP19, this includes 54 species of requiem shark, bonnethead sharks and three species of hammerhead shark. 37 species of guitarfish, a ray species, were also added. Commercial trade will now be regulated for the first time for many of these species. This is the largest shark protection measures adopted in CITES history!
The US Bans the Trade of Shark Fin
Further good news for the fin trade has recently been announced in the US. Whilst the act of finning sharks is illegal in the US, a large amount of trade for shark fins occurs here. The new bill would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the US. Up to 73 million sharks are finned around the world each year, and this is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Shark populations globally have fallen by 70% in the last 50 years, and one third of shark species are threatened with extinction unless we allow them to recover. This is another huge step in the right direction for ending this barbaric practice.
Basking Sharks are Given Historic Protection in Irish Waters
This year basking sharks were finally granted legal protection in Ireland, protecting both the shark and its globally important habitat. Basking sharks have now been recognised as a wild anima under the Wildlife Act, making it an offence to hunt, injure, disturb or destroy their breeding areas and habitats.
This is a huge achievement in an area that plays a vital role in the conservation of this species, large aggregations of basking sharks are spotted off the coast of Ireland, and some fascinating behavioural phenomena are witnessed here. Which as of this year we now know is related to courtship.
Both Scotland & Ireland have historic and cultural ties with this species, fisheries here caused severe declines in the North East Atlantic populations.
Thankfully they have been protected in Scotland under the wildlife act since the 1990s shortly after the fisheries ceased. It is clear both these areas play a role in basking shark courtship, and therefore protection is key for the future of this endangered shark. These mysterious animals leave a lot of questions unanswered, but this is undoubtedly wonderful news and a step towards better conservation and management of this species.
Here's hoping for a 2023 filled with even more wins for the ocean!