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Celebrating 40 Years Protecting and Recovering Endangered Species

Eastern Steller sea lion, the most recent delisting from NOAA Fisheries

This December is the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—the legislation protecting our country’s diverse wildlife and the legacy left for future generations. The Act, signed into law on December 28, 1973, by President Nixon, provides a critical safety net for fish, wildlife, and plants. It has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species and promotes the recovery of many others while conserving the habitats upon which they depend.

Endangered species recovery is complex and difficult work, requiring the efforts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many committed partners. Just as it takes a long time for species to reach the brink of extinction, it takes a long time to bring them back. 

While recovery that results in delisting a species is the ultimate goal, preventing extinction is the first crucial step, and in that regard, the ESA has been an unqualified success. In its 40 years, less than one percent of the species listed under the Act have become extinct. Many of the species still on the list today might have already gone extinct were it not for the protections and conservation action that have resulted from listing. 

Recently, NOAA Fisheries delisted the Eastern Steller sea lion population—the first successful marine mammal delisting since the Eastern population of gray whales in 1994. The ocean is a very different place than it was 40 years ago. There are profound changes in ocean conditions associated with rising temperatures. In the Gulf of Maine for instance, the distribution and abundance of zooplankton is shifting in ways that will impact species up the food chain, including endangered North Atlantic right whales. Similar changes are occurring throughout the ocean. Scientists at NOAA Fisheries are developing the next generation of ocean observing systems so they can see what’s happening and adapt their management to respond to the challenges of a changing climate. NOAA will continue developing new technologies and management approaches while working with national and international partners to ensure the Endangered Species Act remains effective in a rapidly-changing world.

To learn more about the Endangered Species Act, visit the NOAA Fisheries website and catch related ESA stories, pictures, podcasts, and videos on Fisheries Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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