Are Many of North Carolina’s Aquatic Animals Considered Endangered or Threatened?
29 May 1997
More than half of North Carolina’s endangered or threatened animals live in or depend upon our waters for survival. At present, 42 animals in North Carolina are listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with administering the Endangered Species Act. Twenty-three of these species are aquatic animals.
Included among North Carolina’s endangered or threatened aquatic creatures are five species of whales, five species of sea turtles, four species of fish, and seven species of mollusks. The American alligator, which has made a dramatic recovery in recent years, and the West Indian manatee, rare to North Carolina waters, are also included on the list.
While endangered species can be found in virtually every region of the state, those species requiring a wetland habitat are at the greatest risk. Like plants and animals, habitats can also be threatened and wetlands are some of the most threatened habitats in the United States, disappearing at the alarming rate of 35 acres an hour. It is estimated that about half of North Carolina’s wetland habitats have been destroyed since European settlement.
How does an endangered species differ from a threatened species?
Basically, endangered means the species is in immediate peril of becoming extinct. Threatened means the species is declining and may eventually face extinction unless measures are taken to help it. In North Carolina, state laws include a section on species of special concern.
The destruction and alteration of habitat is by far the greatest cause of species extinction, and the least reversible. Other man-made threats to plants and animals include pollution of our land, air and water, overkill through excessive harvest, and introduction of a species from one ecosystem to another.
While scientists have identified some 1.75 million species on earth, it is believed that as many as 30 million species have yet to be discovered. Experts speculate that each day, at least one of these known species become extinct. Perhaps the most important steps we can take in preserving species diversity include research and education. The more we know about any form of life, the better prepared we are to protect it. Research can also help us identify new species before ecological pressures drive them into extinction.