Monday, August 13, 2007

River Dolphins: Extinction is Forever

Last week came the announce-ment. The Yangtze River Dolphin has gone. Extinct. The first big mammal to disappear in my lifetime. Caused by a range of reasons, all of them human.

In the past 30+ years environment organisations globally and locally have been fighting to preserve the ecological integrity of the planet. While at the same time, environmental devastation has continued unabated - and is still continuing, noticeable each day along the Brisbane River and its environs.

The World Conservation Union has drawn up the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. But despite the knowledge that the Yangtze River Dolphins were under severe threat, there was no real way to save them. A list assessing the status of species needs a concerted back up program of urgent action. The list is shocking. Read it.

Environmentalists, activists, scientists and spiritual practitioners are in agreement. The planet is experiencing the 6th period of global mass extinction. The last time this happened on earth was 65 million years ago. What's different this time is that the cause of the mass extinction is known. Humans. Us. Me and you.

Scientists say that the Yangtze River Dolphin known as Baiji disappeared due mainly to unregulated overfishing, but also they blame the construction of dams as well as boat strikes. From a scientific perspective the death of this dolphin species is significant as it 'represents the disappearance of a complete branch of the evolutionary tree of life and emphasises that we have yet to take full responsibility in our role as guardians of the planet.' (Zoologist Dr Sam Turvey speaking on the BBC, August 8, 2007).

The Baiji was important not only because it marks the death of a species that is 20 million years old, it is also important for its spiritual significance: it was regarded as the 'goddess of the Yangtze'. At the heart of the destruction of the environment is an ethical, moral and spiritual issue. The loss of the River Goddess, to use the words of the scientists who made the announcement last week, is a 'shocking tragedy'.

Extinction is Forever.