Climate change, widespread pollution and human development have caused what scientists are calling the sixth great mass extinction in Earth's history. It's a grim projection, but occasionally a species offers a small glimmer of hope against the odds.
Take, for instance, the "extinct" Aldabra banded snail, a small air-breathing land snail once found only on a small coral atoll in the Indian Ocean. Believed to be one of the first species to go extinct due entirely to climate change, the tiny mollusk has been found alive, reports Phys.org. Seven of the beautifully adorned purple-and-pink striped snails were recently found by researchers on Aldabra atoll's Malabar Island.
Conservationists are popping champagne corks at the news.
"I was so surprised; no one (on the expedition) had ever seen the snail before," said Shane Brice, a skipper on the voyage that rediscovered the resilient snail. "It's quite amazing."
Once-plentiful throughout Aldabra, the adorable snail's demise was linked to declining rainfall on the atoll, widely regarded as a consequence of global warming. The species' population began to fall precipitously between 1970 and 1990, and the last juvenile snail found (before its recent rediscovery) was identified way back in 1976.
Due to its distinct shell, which showcases bands of purple, indigo blue and orange, experts didn't take long to confirm the rediscovery of the species.
"Could we live without this little snail? Almost certainly," says Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecology professor at Duke University. "But we simply do not know what species are going to do for us in an economic sense. Probably from the time that somebody baked the first loaf of bread, a housewife said, `I hate bread mold and I wish it would disappear forever.' And of course we know the scientific name of bread mold is penicillin."
The Aldabra atoll is the world's second largest coral atoll, and it's a true ecological gem, remaining virtually untouched by humans. Besides the snail, the atoll is home to a number of distinctive fauna, including the Aldabra giant tortoise. Despite its isolation from humans, however, Aldabra is not immune to the impacts of humans via climate change. Rising sea levels, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall are just some of the impacts currently plaguing this ecological wonder.
While the news of the snail's rediscovery is encouraging, the species still faces forbidding odds of survival.
"Only time will tell if they can survive the threats of climate change and sea level rise," says biologist Justin Gerlach, a scientific coordinator for the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.
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