No one was expecting 2015 to be a special year for nature conservation. As we started the year, it seemed Canadians were mostly focused on the economy, security and health care. Yet when we reflect on the year that was, it's clear the unexpected happened.
Could 2015 have marked an unexpected global turning point for nature conservation?
Here are 10 Canadian stories of nature conservation from 2015 that should give us all evidence of hope.
10. Signs of recovery for species at risk
In 2015, signs emerged suggesting Atlantic cod are starting to recover on Canada's East Coast. Humpback whale numbers are growing in the waters off British Columbia. An initiative was launched to return plains bison to the valley lands of Banff National Park. The small white lady's-slipper, a delicate orchid that lives in southern Manitoba and southern Ontario, was down-listed in 2015 thanks in part to habitat conservation and management by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in the tall grass prairie region.
9. A new national park in Canada's High Arctic
Canada's 45th national park, Qausuittuq National Park, is located on northwest Bathurst Island in Nunavut. At over 11,000 square kilometres of Arctic lands and waters, Qausuittuq National Park is larger than the country of Jamaica.
The new park protects key wildlife habitat for many Arctic species, including muskox, caribou, polar bear, narwhal and nesting colonies of waterfowl and seabirds.
8. Nova Scotia leads the way in new protected areas
Late in 2015 the Nova Scotia government announced the establishment of 100 new protected areas.
Several of these new protected areas build on places protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, including Dochertys Brook, Economy Point, Port L'Hebert and Quinns Meadow.
7. Linking nature and people
Although the connection between nature conservation and human well-being has long been recognized, the United Nations reaffirmed the link when it released 17 Goals to Transform Our World. The goals set an agenda for sustainable development in the next 15 years, including halting the loss of biodiversity and increasing the protection of our oceans.
Near the end of the year, TD Bank and the Nature Conservancy of Canada released a report on the natural capital values of protected forests, showing that in addition to protecting nature, they also provide value to Canadians by cleaning water and capturing carbon.
6. Nunavut establishes a Conservation Data Centre
Canada's coverage of Conservation Data Centres (CDCs) was completed in 2015, with Nunavut joining the CDC network. CDCs provide critical information that helps organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada target conservation activities on the species and habitats that are at greatest risk.
NCC has actively supported the establishment of CDCs across Canada since 1988. The addition of the Nunavut CDC is critical for Canadian conservation. Nunavut covers over one-fifth of Canada and includes some of the most pristine ecosystems left in the world.
5. A plan to protect Canada's oceans and coasts
Canada has the longest coastline in the world, yet as a marine nation, we are behind most of the world in conserving our oceans, with only one percent in protected areas.
The last year witnessed many milestones in ocean conservation in other parts of the world. Chili created the largest marine protected area in the Americas, and New Zealand announced the establishment of the 620,000-square-kilometre Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.
In September 2015, the federal government announced that Canada will meet international commitments to 10 per cent of our oceans by 2020.
4. Manitoba Creates New Protected Areas
Manitoba has continued to implement its Protected Areas Initiative, with the announcement of new protected areas in 2015. With these additions, 11 per cent of Manitoba is now protected.
The new 14,500-hectare Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park and 8,400-hectare Kinwow Bay Provincial Park, both on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, protect important fish habitats, wetlands and forests. Several of these new protected areas are within important natural areas where the Nature Conservancy of Canada is working, such as the Whitemouth River Watershed.
3. Protecting Newfoundland and Labrador
In July 2015 it was announced that Canada would establish another massive protected area in Labrador, the Akamai-uapishku -- KakKasuak -- Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve. This 10,700-square-kilometre national park reserve includes mountain tundra, coasts, boreal forests, islands and wild rivers
The biodiversity and protected areas of Newfoundland and Labrador are featured in the online nature atlas developed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
2. New initiatives to protect the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg
Canada is defined by freshwater. We have more lakes than all other countries combined, and 13 of the world's 30 largest lakes. Unfortunately many of our large lakes are facing a barrage of threats, including non-point source pollution, habitat loss and invasive species.
In November 2015, Ontario passed the Great Lakes Protection Act, which will support efforts to reduce harmful algal bloom caused by pollution, prevent the loss of wetlands and initiate conservation actions in geographically focused areas. The Province of Manitoba has responded to the threat of invasive zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg by increasing efforts to limit their spread.
1. A global framework to manage climate change
The impacts of climate change that are already being observed in Canada include rapid warming of the Arctic and extreme weather events in southern regions of the country. The 2015 Conference of the Parties provides an important leap forward in managing our carbon pollution. The agreement affirms the important role that nature has in reducing greenhouse gases and helping communities adapt to climate change impacts. The Paris Agreement moves us closer than we've ever been in collectively managing the health of our planet.
In editorials that appeared across the country, the Nature Conservancy of Canada's President and CEO, John Lounds, highlighted the importance of conservation in our efforts to manage climate change.
More work to be done
After years of steady, but slow, steps in nature conservation, our collective stride seems to have lengthened in 2015. We still need to act on commitments to create more terrestrial and marine protected areas. We still have Canadian species that are at risk of disappearing. We still have parks and protected areas that need to be buffered and better connected.
There is still much work to be done if we want to create a Canada with healthy lands and waters that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. The progress of 2015 should give us hope that this is achievable.
This article originally appeared in Land Lines, the blog of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, meaning they are "facing a high risk of extinction in the wild." World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are between 41,410 and 52,345 Asian elephants in the wild. HuffPost blogger Wendy Diamond writes that besides deforestation and industrialization, landmines also threaten Asian elephants in the wild. The founder of an elephant park in Thailand claims he "has known about 20 elephants who stepped on land mines and died" since 1989. Efforts to raise awareness for elephants' fragile status include Elephant Appreciation Day.
The Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is very close to extinction. There are believed to be as few as 40 left in the wild in Ujung Kulon National Park, Indonesia and none are currently in captivity. The IUCN Red List currently lists Javan rhinos as critically endangered. In October, poachers killed the last remaining Javan rhino in Vietnam. Several were alive in the wild in Vietnam as recently as 2004. A survey of surviving Javan rhinos in Indonesia found that there are very few females in the population.
Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. IUCN estimates that there are 4,080 to 6,590 snow leopards in the wild. A subspecies, the Amur leopard is critically endangered. Native to the Russian Far East and northern China, there are fewer than 50 left in the wild. In July, cameras recorded snow leopards in 16 different locations in northeastern Afghanistan.
Tigers (Panthera tigris) are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. According to WWF, there are as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild. In November, Interpol launched a campaign to save tigers in the 13 Asian countries where they still exist, reported the Associated Press. There were around 100,000 tigers in Asia in 1900.
The Irrawaddy dolpin (Orcaella brevirostris), which is native to Southeast Asia, is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The Mekong River subpopulation, however, is listed as critically endangered. According to WWF, there are only 85 of these dolphins left in Southeast Asia. The limited range of this animal along with killing by fisherman has left Irrawaddy dolphin populations in danger.
The Vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is a small porpoise native to the Gulf of California. It is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. WWF estimates that there are around 245 vaquita left in the wild. They are most immediately threatened by "entanglement in fishing gear." Fortunately, WWF helped authorities in Mexico to reduce bycatch of vaquita to a "level that does not threaten the population" by 2009.
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. According to WWF, they are threatened by overfishing. A report from October found that eastern Atlantic bluefin is traded at twice the amount catch quotas actually allow. In August, it was reported that Mitsubishi executives planned to buy up tons of bluefin and freeze it to profit from impending population collapses.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. WWF explains that there are estimated to be about 786 individuals left in the two mountain gorilla populations near the Uganda-Rwanda-DRC and in a national park in Uganda. However, the two populations have grown by 14 and 12 percent, respectively, in the past decade. Armed conflicts and natural resource exploitation have been blamed for endangering the gorilla populations.
The Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. According to WWF, they are the most endangered of the two orangutan species and there are about 7,500 Sumatran Orangutans left in the wild. Native only to parts of Sumatra, Indonesia, the orangutans are threatened by human agricultural and residential development. A recent study found that residents of Borneo killed at least 750 endangered orangutans in a one-year period. "Born To Be Wild," a recent IMAX film, tells the story of caretakers who are raising orphaned orangutans.
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. According to WWF, there are about 34,000 nesting females left in the world and populations in the Atlantic are relatively stable. In the Pacific, however, there may be as few as 2,300 adult females. Their wide geographical distribution and shallow dive depth means they are threatened by longline fishing operations, explains WWF. A study from September found that although the number of sea turtles killed in U.S. fisheries has declined by 90 percent since 1990, it may not be enough to sustain sea turtle populations. In August, a 700-pound leatherback washed up on the shore at Montauk, New York.
Follow Dan Kraus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NCC_scientist