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World - Top 15 Conservation Issues of 2021 Include Big Threats—and Potential Bright Spots

Wildfire control policies, suffocating corals, and rise in satellites among matters that warrant study, panel says

As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners—including me—from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.

The panel, coordinated by the U.K.-based Cambridge Conservation Initiative, conducted a horizon scan—an effort to spot early signs of significant phenomena—of global biological conservation issues. For the resulting study, which was funded by the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the panel winnowed down an initial list of 97 topics, settling on the following 15 because of their novelty or their potential to move the conservation needle in either a positive or negative direction over the coming decade.

Seabirds could help spot illegal fishing

Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to score easy meals. Now, scientists are hoping to exploit this behavior to help spot illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, which accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood every year, or 1 in 5 fish sold. Researchers have had some success attaching transmitters to seabirds to locate fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean, but more study is needed to validate the use of this tactic.

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