Wildfires. Global warming. Floods. Pollution. Mass extinctions.
With the 24-hour news cycle constantly spouting negative headlines about the state of the planet, it’s easy to feel down, especially during the winter months. But it’s not all doom and gloom: 2022 has boasted a number of conservation wins, offering hope for a multitude of species, habitats and communities.
The passage of the largest climate legislation in U.S. history, the United Nations’ decision to develop a global treaty to end plastic pollution, and an increase in renewable energy output in the country are some highlights of the past year, bringing about much-needed positive change in addressing pollution and the climate crisis. Wildlife around the world also enjoyed some big wins: The tiger population is on the rise, cheetahs once again run in India’s grasslands, and Alaska Natives won the fight to protect the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery.
These stories give us something to be grateful for as we move forward with our ongoing commitment to protect our precious wildlife and environment in the new year. To end 2022 on a high note, here’s a roundup of 13 of the year’s most exciting conservation wins:
Wildlife Conservation Wins
Saving Bristol Bay’s Salmon, Alaska
Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, the location of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery, has long been under the threat of the proposed Pebble Mine, a copper, gold and molybdenum mining industrial complex. But a historical decision by Native landowners, along with a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, could finally put the project to bed.
Conservationists—including Nat Hab travelers!—came together to sign a petition to protect the wetlands, streams and rivers that support the salmon fishery and sustain the communities that have relied on the fish for generations. The 44,000-acre watershed is now permanently protected, ensuring it can continue to provide sustenance for grizzly bears, wolves, whales and eagles for the foreseeable future. The conservation tourism economy can help further protect these animals. Nat Hab’s Grizzly encounter trip brings visitors close to the Alaskan marine wilderness to witness this vital ecosystem firsthand.
Elephant Survey in KAZA, Africa
The 106-million-acre Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area lies in Africa’s Kavango and Zambezi river basins and is the world’s largest transboundary conservation landscape. This year, with support from Natural Hab’s conservation partner, World Wildlife Fund, KAZA’s five partner countries—Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe—conducted the first ever coordinated aerial survey of the elephant population from August to October.
This marks the first synchronized and coordinated effort to collect valuable baseline data on the world’s largest contiguous elephant population. The data will help the countries with the long-term conservation of this iconic African species, which can be seen on Southern Africa safaris with Nat Hab.
Protecting Monarch Butterflies, Mexico
Migratory monarch butterflies, which travel long distances from their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada to Mexico each year, were officially placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species this summer. Both the Eastern and Western monarch butterflies have suffered declines in their winter populations. Drought, wildfires caused by climate change, habitat loss, illegal logging, agriculture and pesticides are the main culprits in their steady decline. The Eastern monarch butterfly’s population, according to IUCN, has decreased between 22% and 72% percent in the past decade, and the Western population has plummeted by an estimated 99.9%.
In some good news, the 129,000-acre Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico saw a population increase of overwintering butterflies by 35% in the winter of 2021. Butterfly enthusiasts can witness these striking insects on our Kingdom of the Monarchs trip, which welcomes travelers into the El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, one of many inside the reserve.
Cheetah Reintroduction, India
The world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah, was declared extinct in India in 1952, due to overhunting, human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss. In September, after years of planning, eight cheetahs from Namibia were airlifted and brought to the subcontinent as part of the Cheetah Introduction Action Plan, an effort to create a viable free-ranging population of cheetahs in India in the near future.
This group included five females and three males. The cats will spend some time quarantined at Kuno National Park, just south of New Delhi, before being released into the wider park to hunt and propagate. The Cheetah Introduction Action Plan includes introducing 50 additional cheetahs to the country in the coming years.
There was a time when these beautiful big cats roamed wide swaths of land in Asia. Now, cheetah populations are relegated to Africa and a small part of Iran. Some wildlife experts see the reintroduction as inadequate, as these wild cats will have to compete with other predators, such as leopards, for prey. There is also some concern that there isn’t enough space for the number of cheetahs being introduced. However, conservationists hope that this charismatic big cat can attract enough ecotourism funds to protect and even expand their grassland habitat. Explore our India adventures to see tigers, leopards and—hopefully someday soon—cheetahs.
Return of Land Iguanas and Flamingos, Galapagos
On a journey to the Enchanted Isles, you can expect to see incredible biodiversity, from land iguanas and giant tortoises to sea lions and penguins. The Galapagos Islands are home to myriad flora and fauna. Around 30% of the Galapagos’s plants, 80% of its land birds and 97% of the area’s reptiles and land mammals cannot be found elsewhere on the planet, making this archipelago of volcanic islands a haven for nature and animal lovers to visit. However, these species are under threat due to climate change, and many are unable to migrate, given that the islands are some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.
Introduced invasive species such as pigs, cats, goats and donkeys have also been wreaking havoc among certain native populations, such as the land iguana, which disappeared on Santiago Island in the 1830s. The good news is that the land iguana is making a comeback on the island, thanks to efforts to remove invasive species. In 2018, the Galapagos National Park Directorate and international nonprofit Island Conservation transplanted 1,436 iguanas to Santiago Island from North Seymour. In 2022, lizards of all ages were found on the island.
The removal of invasive species also led to the discovery of flamingo nests on the shore of a lagoon off Rabida Island, making it the first time in two decades the birds have been documented in the habitat.
Tiger Population on the Rise, South Asia
A little over a decade ago, there were only an estimated 3,200 tigers left in the wild. Since 2015, that number has increased by 40%, according to a new assessment by IUCN, with around 5,500 individuals worldwide. In Nepal alone, the tiger population has nearly tripled since 2009, up from 121 to 355 individuals. This victory is a result of collaboration by governments, nonprofits and people on the ground, from guards to scientists, who are tirelessly working to bring the elegant tiger back from the brink. If you’re longing to see the largest cats in action, choose from three Nat Hab tiger-focused trips in India and relish in sightings of these striped beauties.
One major threat to wild tigers is the illegal wildlife trade in their parts and gorgeous pelts. Another is the exotic pet trade and animal entertainment industry. In fact, the U.S. has a record number of captive tigers. On December 21, President Biden signed the Big Cat Public Safety Act into law, demonstrating to the world the United States’ commitment to tiger conservation.
Jaguars on Road to Recovery, Latin America
The magnificent jaguar is the largest feline still wandering the forests, wetlands, savannas and mountain ranges of the Americas. For thousands of years, it’s been a key cultural and mythological figure among Indigenous groups, and it inhabited ranges all the way from Argentina to the southern United States. Today, the apex predator’s stronghold is a fraction of its former range, primarily in the Amazon region and the Pantanal—the world’s largest tropical wetland, which sprawls across Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. It is estimated that the wild jaguar population numbers around 64,000 and 173,000; the species is listed as near threatened on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and was added to the Endangered Species list in 1972.
In 2018, WWF, Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the United Nations Development Programme and representatives from 14 jaguar range countries came together to develop the Jaguar 2030 Roadmap for the Americas. The ambitious timeline sets out to protect the big cat’s existing range as well as to secure 30 priority jaguar conservation landscapes from Mexico to Argentina by 2030.
On December 12, 2022, the Center for Biological Diversity sent a 107-page scientific petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting to introduce jaguars to the American Southwest and designate critical habitat for them in Arizona and New Mexico. This would help jumpstart jaguar population recovery in both the United States and northwestern Mexico.
Addressing Climate Change and Pollution
Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution
Annual plastic production is set to double by 2050, leading to more pollution and harm to wildlife and human health around the world. Plastic pollution accounts for a staggering 85% of all marine litter, as only 9% of plastic waste is recycled.
In March, the United Nations Environment Assembly made a landmark decision to develop a treaty to end plastic pollution, marking the most ambitious environmental undertaking since the 1989 Montreal protocol, which phased out ozone-depleting substances. The treaty allows for rules and obligations across the lifecycle of plastic and will hold nations, businesses and populations accountable for eliminating plastic waste from the environment.
In November, formal negotiations began during the first meeting of the International Negotiation Committee, held in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The wording of the treaty is set to be finalized by 2024. The goals of the treaty are to reduce plastic production, address health issues associated with plastic pollution, and transition to a closed-loop system where materials are used over and over again rather than discarded after a single usage.
Climate Change Action on a Global Scale
In August, President Biden signed into law a historic climate change bill, with the goal of infusing $369 billion into the economy. This landmark law essentially sets the country on a path to cutting carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030.
The Inflation Reduction Act, one of the biggest spending packages in the nation’s history, aims to triple clean power production, help restore coastal areas and habitats, build resilient forests and protect vulnerable places. Funds will also go toward home energy rebates, electric vehicle tax credits, climate-smart agricultural practices and reducing pollution and emissions in ports and in rural communities, among other impactful strategies to address climate change.
Learn more on one of our climate change departures.
Renewable Energy Predicted to Surpass Coal and Nuclear
Although it may take some time to see the direct effects of the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s important to note that the country’s renewable output is already increasing. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind and solar power are up 19% through November compared to last year, and 58% compared to 2019.
The government’s energy tracker predicts that hydro, solar and wind power will generate 22% of the country’s electricity by the end of 2022, which is more than coal (20%) and nuclear (19%). According to the International Energy Agency’s Renewables 2022 report, renewable energy could become the world’s biggest source of electricity by 2025 and is set to surpass coal power. Alternative sources of energy are more in demand than ever, due to the global energy crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia was previously the largest supplier of natural gas and petroleum oils to Europe and beyond.
Land Preservation and Restoration
Forest Protection in Australia, Brazil and Peru
Forests are the lungs of the planet, helping fight climate change and providing vital benefits for human health. In 2019, WWF and HP Inc. partnered to help restore threatened forests in Brazil and China. Two years later, the partnership pledged to not only protect close to 1 million forest acres from deforestation, but also restore them and improve management practices by 2030, with an investment of $80 million.
This year, the partnership expanded its commitment to two new regions: the headwaters of the Amazon in Madre de Dios, Peru (key jaguar forest habitat) and the forests of eastern Australia, where the koala population has been severely impacted by unprecedented wildfires.
In December, at the COP27 climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, 26 countries came together to launch the Forest and Climate Leaders Partnership coalition to hold one another accountable to end deforestation by 2030. This was followed with an announcement of billions of dollars to help this plan come to fruition.
Everglades Restoration, Florida
Restoring mangrove forests isn’t only important for the alligators, wading birds and fish that inhabit them, but also for the overall health of the planet. These saltwater- and wet soil-adapted plants and shrubs are a nature-based solution to fighting global warming, as they capture and store carbon. The largest contiguous stretch of protected mangrove forest in the Western hemisphere is found within Florida’s Everglades National Park. The Everglades are vulnerable to the increasing sea levels caused by global warming, as they are nearly flat and surrounded by rising water on all three sides.
This summer, President Biden pledged to invest $1.5 billion toward the restoration of the Everglades, funds that he says will also help create more jobs and enhance sustainable tourism.
Insurance Industry Commits to Protecting the Arctic
Addressing the climate crisis at its core involves putting an end to the extraction of carbon-based fuels. Arctic drilling also threatens Indigenous rights, wildlife and the land and water in fragile ecosystems. In March, American International Group stated that it will stop providing insurance coverage for the construction of new coal-fired plants, thermal coal mines and oil sands, making it the first major insurance company in the country to do so. AIG also stated it would stop providing insurance for any new Arctic projects and that it has set a goal of net zero greenhouse gasses by 2050 across its underwriting and investment portfolios around the globe.
In total, 17 international insurance companies, such as Allianz, Axis, Munich Re, Swiss Re and Zurich, have stated they will not cover oil and gas developments in the Arctic, including the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, marking a major step for the industry in transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Check out more conservation stories on the Good Nature Blog!
Feature photo © Dana Cama.