A large rock-crushing machine brought hundreds of activists, politicians, reporters and intrigued tourists to Times Square on Friday morning, in anticipation of New York City's first ever "ivory crush." Over one ton of confiscated ivory was crushed during the event.

If the plight of elephants living in a separate continent feels distant, it shouldn't. As Congresswoman Grace Meng pointed out, the United States is the second largest market for ivory in the entire world. New York State passed legislation almost exactly one year ago today, permanently banning the sale of elephant and mammoth ivory and rhino horn.

Elephants are currently listed as a vulnerable species by the World Wildlife Federation. "Between 2011 and 2014 African elephant poaching reached its highest level ever recorded," US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell told the crowd. "In just a 3 year span an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed off their ivory. That's an average of 34,000 elephants a year killed in Africa. in other words while we were sitting here, and while we are at this event, about six more elephants will die."

Actor and animal rights activist Kristin Davis also spoke to the immediacy of the situation. "We are going to lose elephants in 10 years if we don't do something," Davis told the Associated Press, "which means that our children will never know that elephants roamed the planet in the wild as they should."

The confiscated ivory came in an array of sizes, shapes and colors, having been fashioned into trinkets, instruments, bowls, statues and jewelry. At the site of the crush, a green evidence tag was attached to each piece, which waited in piles at the bottom of the machine, to be loaded onto a conveyor belt and pulverized. Rangers lowered the ivory into the machine carefully, though it was impossible to stop dust and small chunks from flying out and into the crowd.

The majority of the ivory, which weighed in at over one ton, was confiscated from a Philadelphia art and antiques dealer. Victor Gordon, the man responsible for smuggling the African elephant ivory into the United States, pleaded guilty to the crime in 2012. Last year he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison and ordered to pay $157,500 in fines.

The crush itself served as a metaphor as much as it did a physical act, with Wildlife Conservation Society President and CEO Cristián Samper stating: "Today, we are not just crushing illegally poached ivory; we are crushing the bloody ivory market."

Friday's ivory will be combined with the 6 tons of ivory crushed in Denver in 2013. As for what to do with the resulting 7 tons, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting a design challenge, looking to find a winner who can turn the grounds into "a compelling, thought provoking, informative and impactful display to increase awareness about the fight against illegal wildlife trade."

The WWF notes that while "it is almost impossible to obtain reliable figures for the value of illegal wildlife trade," estimates put it in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. At the crush, a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society told us that a carved tusk could sell for 100,000 dollars, while a bowl in the pile earlier (which still had a price tag attached) was listed at 35,000 dollars.

When asked about the total cost of the ivory crushed today, WCS member Gavin Shire answered in two parts: "One is how much they could have been sold for. There's probably about a street value of about 3 million dollars here. But in terms of its actual value, zero. The message we're trying to get across is that if ivory is not attached to an elephant, it's worthless."