Earth Day turns 48 this year and millions of people in roughly 200 countries will unite Sunday to find ways to protect and celebrate the planet.
In the past year, we’ve had environmental victories as well as defeats, all of which will have effects on the planet in some way. Here are five significant events that happened since the last Earth Day:
We lost one rhino subspecies
The world’s last male northern white rhino died last month, leaving the future of the subspecies in doubt.
At 45, Sudan was fraught with age-related issues and multiple infections. He lived in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya surrounded by armed guards who protected him 24 hours a day.
Rhinos are targeted by poachers, fueled by the belief in Asia that their horns cure various ailments. Experts say the rhino horn is becoming more lucrative than drugs.
When Sudan died, he left behind his daughter Najin, 28, and granddaughter, Fatu, 17. The future of the rhinos remains uncertain as scientists look into multiple alternatives to sustain the subspecies, including artificially inseminating one of the two females left.
We are saying goodbye to plastics
Plastic-free supermarkets, a deposit on plastic bottles and jail time for using plastic bags. These are just some of the efforts leaders are making to curb the world’s plastic addiction.
In February, the very first plastic-free supermarket aisle was unveiled in Amsterdam. Shoppers there are buying their groceries in “new compostable bio-materials as well as traditional materials” such as glass, metal and cardboard.
Kenyans could face fours years in jail or up to $40,000 in fines if they produce, sell or even use plastic bags.
Plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton swabs could be banned in England as part of the government’s plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. The UK government is also planning to introduce a deposit on plastic bottles, requiring customers to pay an extra tax when buying single-use drink containers that will be refunded once those items are recycled.
We met a punk-rock turtle
The good news is we discovered an Australian river turtle with a distinctive green punk-rock hairstyle, two spikes under its chin and the ability to breathe through its genitals. The bad news is, it may not be around for long because it’s on a new list of endangered reptiles.
The Mary River turtle is native to Queensland, Australia. It has the ability to stay underwater for up to three days. Its vibrant green mohawk is the result of algae growing on its head because of the extended time spent submerged.
The turtles were often kept as pets in the 1960s and ’70s and by the 1990s, they were already at risk of being endangered, according to Rikki Gumbs, a reptile biologist at Zoological Society London.
Leonardo DiCaprio to the rescue
There are only 30 vaquita porpoises left on Earth, and Leonardo DiCaprio wants to save them.
The vaquita, which looks very similar to a dolphin, calls the Gulf of California home. The species has become endangered due to illegal fishing.
The actor and activist used Twitter and Instagram to get his millions of followers to sign a petition asking Mexico’s President to take immediate action to protect the endangered vaquita porpoise.
And the president was all ears. DiCaprio met with President Enrique Peña Nieto, securing an agreement to work together to protect the vaquita and other marine life.
Part of that agreement is a ban on gill nets.
These nets are designed to catch the giant totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is considered a culinary delicacy in China and sold for more than $4,500 per pound.
US leaves Paris climate accord
President Donald Trump put the US at odds with nearly every other nation on Earth when he decided to pull out of the Paris climate accord.
“We’re getting out,” Trump said of his decision during an event held in the White House’s Rose Garden.
At the time, Trump even suggested it was a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese government, despite scientific evidence that contradicted those beliefs.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change is aimed at cutting emissions and keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And experts say the departure of the US would make that significantly harder due to the country’s climate footprint.
Trump’s decision was met with defiance from global leaders. In the US, governors and many mayors vowed to continue to honor the goals of the accord to reduce global warming. Some showed their support by lighting up their city hall buildings in green.