Every day, the Earth loses an average of 200 species, according to the UN Environment Programme.While many of these go unnoticed, there are two at risk of extinction that would dramatically impact humanity: bees and sharks. The initial implication of both is not favorable; bees can cause nasty stings, while sharks have a reputation for being vicious predators. However, their roles in nature are so profound that the loss of either would create a perpetual domino effect.
The role of bees in nature is relatively well known. In particular, honeybees pollinate plants as they travel around collecting nectar and pollen for their colony. As a result, up to 30 percent of food crops and 90 percent of wild plants rely on insect pollination. While other species help, such as butterflies, bees are by far the largest contributor. Therefore, they are responsible for much more than honey; it is thanks to them that grocery stores have such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. If bees went extinct, the options would be cut in half. It is calculated that bees generate 30 billion dollars a year in crops, according to BBC. The farming industry would greatly suffer and start leaning towards non-pollinating plants such as rice, creating a surplus of one crop and not enough of others.
A less well-known byproduct of bee pollination is cotton. If cotton cannot be produced, the clothing industry would become more dependent on synthetic materials. This is potentially very problematic because the synthetic fibers can only be made from fossil fuels. As a result, producing them releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. To put it in perspective, polyester generates 9.52 KG of carbon dioxide per ton of fiber, while conventional cotton generates only 5.90 KG, according to a study conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute. Materials such as nylon and acrylic are even worse. So while clothing could still be produced without bees, it would harm the environment. In addition, it is important to always remember that alternate sources are limited. Fossil fuels are already being consumed at exponential rates and are not are permanent solution.
One of the scariest side effects of losing bees would be a lack of medication. A large portion of medicines is plant-based, such as morphine. With fewer plants growing, the pharmaceutical industry would struggle to mass-produce and even generate new medications. This shows how the impact of bee’s extinction stretches far beyond the food industry. It is safe to infer that the public’s health would be in jeopardy. With all these consequences in mind, the pressing question is, how do we save the bees?
There are many hypotheses as to why bees are dying off at an increasing rate. The investigation began back in 2006 when beekeepers began reporting large portions of their bees disappearing, a phenomenon that is now called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It is impossible to pinpoint the culprit behind it, since it is most likely a combination of many factors that have been accumulating over decades. Some of these include increasing use of insecticides, specifically neonicotinoids, pathogens, and mites.
Neonicotinoids are a kind of pesticide that became widely used starting in the 1990’s and is now a product that farmers spend almost $3 billion on each year. Chemically similar to nicotine, neonicotinoids work by causing paralysis and ultimately death in insects. It is extremely harmful to the environment, with a measured 95 percent of it ending up in the environment outside farmland. Following their usual routine, bees unknowingly carry the pesticide to their hive and other plants when pollinating. Bees are twice as likely to die when exposed to it, according to the journal Nature.
The Varroa mite has become widespread across America and the world, excluding Australia, and survives by sucking the blood of bees. As a defense, farmers spray pesticides to kill the mites, which counterintuitively hurts the bees. Even more damaging, the wounds caused by the mites can get infected, leading to viruses such as the Deformed Wing Virus. There are always new reasons as to why the bees are dying by the millions, but research has shown that these are at a minimum contributing factors. It therefore has become a vicious cycle that appears difficult to break.
The protection of bees requires a lot of change and dedication. Farming practices must be altered to become more natural and utilize a minimal amount of pesticides. The urge to grow crops at faster rates and in bulk has led to a need for these unnatural substances and the ramifications are becoming more apparent every day. If people cannot control their greed, it will be at the expense of the bee species.
Less publicized, the extinction of sharks could be just as detrimental to the world as that of bees. Every year, up to eight percent of the population is lost, which is about 100 million sharks. Unlike bees, they cannot reproduce at rapid rates to lessen the gap. They usually cannot reproduce until they are at least twenty years old and give birth to fewer pups as they age. Sharks are mainly targeted for their fins, which are used in a Chinese delicacy soup. A documentary called Sharkwater, released in 2007, showed footage of hundreds of fins drying on a rooftop. This ruthless slaughter has already begun to affect the fragile food chain of sea life.
Scientists have observed that with a decline in tiger sharks, species that graze were less hunted, resulting in depleted seagrass beds. With no predators to worry about, octopuses have begun eating all the lobsters and rays eating all the scallops. This has been mentioned as a reason for some fisheries going out of business. If sharks were completely eradicated, the seafood industry would plummet. Corals are also at risk, with more diseased fish swimming around and spreading harmful pathogens. This is as a result of more grouper fish, leading to a decline of parrotfish, which eat the algae off coral. A 2005 study estimated that all coral would die off within a year of shark extinction.
Essentially, sharks are responsible for keeping the oceans healthy. A healthy ocean provides the Earth with more oxygen than the rainforests, reduces carbon dioxide levels, and contributes majorly to food sources. The loss of sharks would eventually result in less phytoplankton, which generate the ocean’s oxygen. This would certainly pose a problem for all species, not just humans. There are probably many more unforeseen problems that would result from losing these vital predators.
While so often shown as the enemy, in America, sharks actually are only responsible for one human death every other year. That means you are more likely to be crushed by a vending machine. Movies such as Jaws have generated unnecessary fear that spirals out of control. Whenever a human is a attacked, it is usually because the shark was provoked or mistook someone for a seal. About twenty million sharks are killed per human death by shark attack. Sharks should be thanked rather than murdered for their contribution to our ecosystem.
Stricter regulations need to be implemented to minimize finning and unnecessary hunting for sport or out of fear. Luckily, some progress has been made in light of seeing the consequences of shark extinction. China has said it will stop serving shark fin soup at official state banquets, which hopefully will begin setting an example for other companies. If no one eats or buys the soup, there is no reason to kill the sharks. While more drastic measures need to be taken, this is a good first step. Breathable air and the ocean’s health should not be compromised because of a soup. With over four hundred species, the beauty and variety of sharks alone should be enough to convince people they deserve to be saved.
Profit is the main drive behind most decisions nowadays and people will go to drastic measures to achieve it. Unfortunately, human greed is really beginning to damage the environment. Vital species like sharks and bees cannot be taken advantage of. Limitations must be acknowledged and respected in order to continue benefitting from them. It is easy to overlook these kinds of problems when they are not impacting our day to day lives, but ignoring them may lead to a point of no return.