The baiji, a freshwater dolphin that has inhabited China's Yangtze River for some 20 million years, was declared extinct in December 2006. The end of the baji is a reminder of the sinister fate that awaits dolphins if greater species conservation measures are not adopted by the international community soon.
Living in oceans and rivers, dolphins are a living treasure of our blue planet. However their survival is becoming increasingly difficult. Dolphins need clean and quiet oceans, protected areas and people who care.
The health of many of the world’s dolphin populations are threatened by bycatch, pollution, habitat destruction, over-fishing and climate change. Other threats include activities that may frighten, displace or harm these species such as underwater noise pollution from sources such as shipping traffic, wind farms, seismic surveys and military sonars. The belief that dolphins compete with fisheries or damage fishing nets has prompted culls in some regions.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Convention on Migratory Species - together with its specialized agreements on dolphin conservation ACCOBAMS and ASCOBANS and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) - have declared 2007 the Year of the Dolphin.
A strong alliance between UNEP, the CMS, partner NGOs and Civil Society is being forged to achieve a common objective: to protect dolphins. A crucial factor in achieving this is education to create awareness of dolphin species, educate, inform decision makers and involve local communities. Therefore, the Year of the Dolphin will be part of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. The campaign is also a tangible contribution towards meeting targets to reduce the loss of wildlife by 2010 which all Governments have agreed through the UN.
Patron of the Year of the Dolphin, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, said: "The Year of the Dolphin gives me the opportunity to renew my firm commitment towards protecting marine biodiversity. With this strong initiative we can make a difference to save these fascinating marine mammals from the brink of extinction."
Under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species two special Agreements were concluded to help protect dolphin species: the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS) and ACCOBAMS.
Recently, TUI, Europe’s leading travel group, has launched a joint initiative with the United Nations Environment Programme, through the Bonn Convention, to undertake a major public awareness campaign on various threats to dolphin survival such as by-catch and the degradation of their habitats. Activities promoted though this partnership include the publication of information on dolphins in brochures and travel catalogues, in-flight magazines, a dedicated website (www.YoD2007.org) and the development of a ‘dolphin diploma’ for children. Multilingual dolphin manuals will also be developed and distributed to young travelers and their families in TUI destinations and passed onto local schools.
Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of the Convention said: “We are very pleased to welcome TUI as our corporate partner of this campaign and rely on their established communication network to spread our message.”
The message UNEP, the CMS and their partners are trying to deliver is that dolphins deserves an opportunity to survive so do other species. The World Conservation Union's "Red List" estimates 16,119 threatened species - out of 15 million estimated species. The threats to species’ survival are man-made and ongoing,
It is the responsibility of humans to ensure the sinister fate of the baiji does not befall members of its species. 2006 may have ended sadly for the baiji, but if conservation efforts are successful 2007’s may bear promise for the dolphin.