Posts Tagged 'endangered species act'

On Thin Ice: An In-Depth Look at Endangered Species

With overflowing landfills, the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and a reliance on unsustainable energy sources, among other factors, the human population’s carbon footprint is ever-expanding. From melting polar ice caps to ocean acidification, the environmental impact is becoming increasingly evident.

The implications of a species disappearing reach far beyond the loss of a single organism. Extinction occurs when the last individual of a species dies, and the disappearance of just one plant or animal can have a cascading effect on an ecosystem.

Leveraging Legislation

On December 28, 1973, Congress passed a monumental piece of legislation—the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the ESA was enacted to protect and restore populations threatened with extinction and their critical habitats.

More than 1,500 species are currently recognized as threatened or endangered by the ESA. The ESA prevents the “take” of those listed species from their habitat and limits trade and poaching of endangered species.

The ESA is a federal law, but it has the benefit of trickling down to state level. States, in many cases, create additional legislation to further the protection of species deemed to be endangered or threatened within their state boundaries.

Simple Changes

Too often the focus of the conversation of endangered species is the harm humans have on the environment. More important, however, is that simple behavioral changes can go a long way toward caring for and reviving the natural world.

Take palm oil.

This vegetable oil, a substitute for the partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats, can be found in everything from cereals and canned soups to baby formula and cosmetics. Through everyday purchases, many of us may be perpetuating the destruction of a habitat that boasts some of the greatest species diversity on Earth.

Palm oil plantations are popping up across Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries at the expense of tropical forests. The many species that depend on these forests, including endangered orangutans, face extreme peril.


Something as simple as checking the ingredients before purchase could help save a species thousands of miles away.

A Global Connection

A healthy habitat is one of the most important factors when it comes to protecting endangered species. Under the ESA, regions can be designated as “critical habitat,” or areas essential to the survival of a species, but here is where it gets tricky.

Labeling an area critical habitat does not necessarily prevent the further development of that land. Essentially, the designation serves as a reminder to federal agencies to take extra precautions, even to modify projects, in order to minimize harm to these vital natural spaces.

From the water we drink to the air we breathe, humans rely on healthy ecosystems, and every species contained in an ecosystem plays an integral role in the success of that network.

A Proactive Approach

Not every species will be as lucky as the gray wolf, but it is not all doom and gloom. The diamondback terrapin, for example, though never listed as an endangered species in Maryland, has a history of exploitation.

diamondback terrapin

In the 19th century, terrapins were considered a delicacy and hunted for their use in stews. The demand for the terrapin, combined with other factors, caused their numbers to drop dangerously low.

Recognizing the risk, Maryland passed a law in 2007 ending the commercial harvest of terrapins in state waters. And while it is too soon to quantify the impact, alleviating pressure on a struggling population is a step in the right direction.

Bald eagles, American alligators, the Virginia northern flying squirrel, grizzly bears—there have been numerous success stories. In the best circumstances, a species will be “de-listed” from the ESA, meaning the population recovers to a point where it no longer requires protection under the law.

Do Your Part

Here are a few ways to show you care about the world’s endangered species, no matter where you live:

  1. Be a conscious consumer – Purchase products that are organic, locally grown or sustainably sourced.
  2. Back legislation that impacts the environment – Every comment counts, so if there is an issue you support, call or write a letter to your representative. Learn more about the National Aquarium’s legislative priorities at
  3. Contribute to a conservation organization – Provide financial support if you can. If you don’t have money to give, donate your time! Visit to learn about opportunities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  4. Start in your own backyard – Planting native plants in your garden will attract native wildlife, including invaluable pollinators that help to preserve the natural environment.
  5. Reduce, reuse, recycle –  Join our 48 Days of Blue movement and learn how simple actions can make a big difference in protecting our natural world!

Did you know? Today is Manatee Appreciation Day!

Sometimes called sea cows, manatees are a large, but graceful, endangered species that thrive in warm-water environments ripe with vegetation. The West Indian manatee, one of three living species, can be spotted off the coast of Florida year round.


Here are ten things you may not know about manatees! 

  1.  Manatees are a migratory species, sometimes traveling up the East Coast in the warmer summer months—some have even been spotted in Maryland.
  2. These herbivores feed on patches of vegetation on the sea floor and can eat up to 1/10 of their body weight in just one day!
  3. With a diet sometimes rich in sand, Manatees’ teeth are made for grinding, not biting, and are constantly being replaced.
  4. Some waterways in Florida have manatee “speed zones” to protect these gentle creatures from boat collisions, one of the leading causes of injury and death in manatees.
  5. Manatees’ closest living relatives are elephants and hyraxes, small mammals found in Africa and the Middle East.
  6. Slow moving, manatees typically travel at about 5 miles per hour but have been known to swim faster in short bursts.
  7. Some manatee species can travel freely between salt and freshwater.
  8. Manatees have to visit the surface for air, but can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes while at rest.
  9. Manatee calves are dependent on their mothers for up to two years. When a calf is born, its mother must help it to the surface for air, but most can swim on their own shortly after birth.
  10. It is believed that the legendary “mermaids” spotted by sailors throughout history were actually manatees.

Being the gentle, slow-moving animals that they are have put manatees at risk of extinction in the face of oil spills, increased motorboat traffic and entanglement. These animals were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967 and their population numbers have increased in recent years, but there is still much work to do protect manatees and the habitats they depend on.

To learn more about how to get involved in manatee conservation efforts in here in the United States, click here

Celebrating Our Nation’s Eco-Friendly Presidents!

Happy President’s Day! In honor of today’s holiday, we’re celebrating some of our history’s most environmentally-friendly heads of state:

Mount Rushmore

Image via Wikipedia Commons.

Thomas Jefferson

As our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson was responsible for laying down a lot of the groundwork for the way that our country functions. In his spare time, Jefferson spent a good deal nurturing his own curiosity in nature. Did you know? Thomas Jefferson was an avid horticulturist at his Monticello home!

In addition to his own personal admiration for the natural world, Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition, during which a great deal was discovered about our country’s natural landscape and native wildlife!

Theodore Roosevelt

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” – President “Teddy” Roosevelt

President Roosevelt is widely-regarded as our history’s most environmentally-active leader. During his two terms in office, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and created the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Did you know? Over 200 million acres of land were placed under federal protection during Roosevelt’s presidency!

Franklin D. Roosevelt

In addition to guiding America through the Great Depression and World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

As the country’s first nationally-united conservation team, the CCC planted billions of trees, cleared up waterways and streams and constructed close to 1,000 parks across the country!

Lyndon B. Johnson

“We see that there is another course…Down this course lies a natural America restored to her people. The promise is clear rivers, tall forests, and clear air – a sane environment for man.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson

During his two terms in office, President Johnson was responsible for creating the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Act of 1966 and the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965!

Johnson was also the first president to sign acts concerning clean air and water quality into law. Policies like the Clean Air Act and Water Quality Act established quality standards and government authority to combat air and water pollution.

Richard Nixon

Despite leaving a scandalous legacy, President Richard Nixon did many positive things for the environment during his time in office.

In addition to creating the Environmental Protection Agency, Nixon signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1974 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which has successfully protected 99 percent of its listed species from going extinct in the last 40 years.

Barack Obama

After many decades of resource abuse and habitat degradation, President Barack Obama has been faced with many challenges when it comes to managing our country’s environmental impact and policies.

In addition to his plans to curb carbon pollution in the US, President Obama is responsible for creating our nation’s first-ever National Ocean Policy. The goal of this policy and its corresponding implementation plan is to streamline how Federal agencies work together to manage the ocean economy, marine planning, habitat protection/restoration and research and exploration.

Did you celebrate President’s Day by getting out and enjoying the natural world? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Thoughtful Thursday: The Endangered Species Act Turns 40

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted by Congress in December of 1973. Its goal is to provide protection for species that are endangered or threatened and conserve the habitats their survival depends upon.

A species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or significant portion of its range and threatened if it is likely to become an endangered species in the near future. Currently, there are over 2,000 species listed under the ESA. The efforts to protect these animals are administered by two federal agencies: the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zoos and Aquariums, including the National Aquarium, work closely with these agencies to both conserve habitats and raise public awareness of these species. Their continued survival is a large part of our organization’s mission. Here are just a few of the threatened/endangered species that call the Aquarium home:

In the last few decades, the Act has successfully prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects – making it one of the most effective conservation laws in our nation’s history! Check out this video looking back on the last 40 years of the ESA:


While there are many successes we should be celebrating today, there’s still a lot of work to be done in protecting species from decline and inspiring our next generation of conservationists.

Here’s how YOU can support our efforts to conserve and protect these amazing animals!

Sawfish Granted Endangered Species Protection


Earlier this month, the National Marine Fisheries Services granted sawfish protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

largetooth sawfish

Sawfish are one of the most, if not the most, imperiled groups of cartilaginous fish. Like most sharks and rays,  late maturity and low reproduction rates make these animals vulnerable to over-exploitation. Additionally, their toothed “saw” often gets caught in fishing gear and nets, making them susceptible to bycatch. As a result of these threats, populations of sawfish have reportedly declined by as much as 99 percent in recent decades.

All seven recognized species of sawfish are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  Nationally however, earlier petitions to grant sawfish similar protection under the ESA have not been successful. The first listing, of the smalltooth sawfish, occured in April of 2003. The largetooth sawfish was listed under the ESA in August of 2011. With the freshwater and largetooth species recently being synonymized, all are now protected under the ESA, including the two living here at the Aquarium.

largetooth sawfish

One of the largetooth sawfish that live in our Shark Alley exhibit.

The designation to list all species of sawfish is a positive step forward for these animals. The hope is that through collaboration with other aquariums, research biologists, conservation groups and NGOs we can assist in the recovery of sawfish populations worldwide.


Endangered Species Day!

Today is Endangered Species Day (ESD), a day established to raise awareness of the issues – both human and ecological – that face endangered species and their habitats. Here at the National Aquarium, our mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. We hope that by connecting with guests and our online community, others will be inspired to join us in protecting our disappearing wildlife.

Threats such as habitat loss, climate change and species exploitation have seriously degraded once richly bio-diverse ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef and Amazon Rain Forest.

In the United States, more than 1,300 species of plants and animals are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as either threatened or endangered – and an estimated 500 species have gone extinct since the 1600s.

Here in the National Aquarium, we represent 16 species that are threatened or endangered, including the following two species, which can be found in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit:

Panamanian Golden Frog
Critically endangered

Considered by locals to be a symbol of good fortune and luck, this species has seemingly run out of both.

Panamanian Golden Frog

Once abundantly found in the tropical forests of Panama, the golden frog is now considered extinct in the wild. An infectious disease affecting amphibians, chytridiomycosis, has virtually wiped out the frogs in Panama (and an estimated one-third of amphibian species worldwide). Additionally, deforestation and collection for the pet trade have also contributed to the decline of Panamanian golden frogs.

Zoos and Aquariums throughout North America have been participating in breeding programs to try and reintroduce these animals into their native habitat.

Golden Lion Tamarin

Native to the coastal rain forests of Brazil, there were fewer than 200 golden lion tamarins reported in the wild in 1970.

golden lion tamarin

Habitat loss and fragmentation, capture for the pet trade and hunting have caused a serious decline of populations of these animals. Although many of these threats have been reduced, the number of golden lion tamarins is still low with limited possibilities for growth due to their restricted range.

Currently, only about 1,500 golden lion tamarins can be found in the wild. Approximately 30 percent of those animals were either relocated from depleted areas or released as part of a reintroduction program. The tamarins at the Aquarium are part of a group managed by the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program, headquartered at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. This group oversees the management of both the wild population of golden lion tamarins in Brazil and the captive population worldwide.

Here are a few things YOU can do to help protect endangered species:

Want to learn more about endangered species? Join the conversation on Twitter by following @NatlAquarium and using #ESDay!

Take Back the Planet, and Not Just on Earth Day

Earth Day

The following is an excerpt from National Aquarium’s CEO John Racanelli’s piece in today’s Baltimore Sun:

For over 40 years, Earth Day has sent a powerful message: that each of us has both the capacity and the duty to support the environment that sustains us. This is certainly a message that dedicated conservationists can get behind, but what about everyday people with busy lives, kids to raise and jobs to keep? For many, Earth Day has become a day of celebration rather than an urgent call to join a movement.

Earth Day Network, the organization behind Earth Day, cites the impressive statistic that 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. Participants plant trees, clean streams and resolve to recycle more. In schools around the world, students spend several weeks learning about the planet and how they can make a difference.

What really matters, though, is what people do the day after Earth Day — and for the 363 days after that. Earth Day was born out of a desire to do something. In 1970, 20 million individuals from all walks of life united to protest the deterioration of the environment, and the results included the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. Why can’t Earth Day 2013 be the start of this same kind of sea change?

My colleague Sylvia Earle, a renowned oceanographer whom Time Magazine called a “Hero for the Planet,” has said that the next 10 years may be more important than the last 10,000 in determining the fate of our oceans. She may as well be talking about the fate of humans. It may not be the planet that needs saving so much as we do.

 To read more of John’s call-to-action, click here

How are you celebrating Earth Day? Tell us in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter using #EarthDay

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