Tag Archives: IUCN

Extinction Threatens Quarter of Sharks and Rays

A quarter of sharks, rays and chimaeras are threatened with extinction, according to a new study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Large, shallow-water species are at most risk.

The group found that only 23 percent of these fish is listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Of the 1,041 known species, 25 are listed as critically endangered, 43 are endangered, and 113 are vulnerable to extinction. This is the worst reported status for any major vertebrate group except for amphibians.

“Our analysis shows that sharks and their relatives are facing an alarmingly elevated risk of extinction,” says Dr Nick Dulvy, IUCN Shark Specialist Group Co-Chair and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “In greatest peril are the largest species of rays and sharks, especially those living in shallow water that is accessible to fisheries.”

The most threatened families are:

  1. Sawfishes (Pristidae)
  2. Angel sharks (Squatinidae)
  3. Wedgefishes (Rhynchobatidae)
  4. Sleeper rays (Narkidae)
  5. Whiptail stingrays (Dasyatidae)
  6. Guitarfishes (Rhinobatidae)
  7. Thresher sharks (Alopiidae)

Overfishing is the main threat to the species, according to the paper. Reported catches of sharks, rays and chimaeras peaked in 2003 and have been dominated by rays for the last 40 years. Actual catches are likely to be grossly under-reported.

Unintentionally caught sharks and rays account for much of the catch, yet developing markets and depleting fishery targets have made this “bycatch” increasingly welcome. Intentional killing of sharks and rays due to the perceived risk that they pose to people, fishing gear or target species is contributing to the threatened status of at least 12 species.

Sharks and their relatives include some of the latest maturing and slowest reproducing of all vertebrates, exhibiting the longest gestation periods and some of the highest levels of maternal investment in the animal kingdom. This makes them very sensitive to over-fishing.

The Indo-Pacific, particularly the Gulf of Thailand, and the Mediterranean Sea are the two ‘hotspots’ where the depletion of sharks and rays is most dramatic. The Red Sea is also home to a relatively high number of threatened sharks and rays, according to the experts.

The report was published in the journal eLIFE.

Photo credit: Sawfish by Forrest Samuels (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Further Reading:
eLife 2014;3:e00590

IUCN Issue Marine Reserve Guidelines: When is a Marine Reserve not a Marine Reserve?

Our sea creatures are in trouble. What with warming temperatures, pollution, plastic debris and over-fishing, the oceans need protecting more than ever before. And governments are becoming more committed to creating marine reserves. But are they just paying lip service to the problem or really addressing it? Too often a marine reserve allows commercial fishing and other exploitation. A marine reserve which isn’t really a marine reserve at all.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has therefore issued guidelines to be clear what are the most significant and of highest priority in marine protected areas (MPAs). The new guidelines will define marine protected areas, preventing industry-affiliated bodies from claiming an MPA even though they are exploiting the ocean by fishing, drilling or laying pipelines. The guidelines will provide a reference against which to check how countries are progressing with conservation actions for the marine environment.

“As we edge closer towards conditions that seem to signal a major ocean extinction event what we need are proper, meaningful conservation actions that move towards restoring the ocean, its resilience and its health,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “In recent years pressure to deliver success stories has resulted in false claims of vast areas of the ocean being properly protected. It is time to be realistic about our definition of MPAs.”

IUCN defines a protected area as: A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

“It is time to stop pretending more of the ocean is protected than it actually is. Understanding what is protected in the ocean and how it is protected is of paramount importance in driving global conservation efforts forward,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice-Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “The guidance we are issuing aims to make clear the most important aspects of marine protected areas and will help countries more accurately detail their successes. Without this information it is difficult to hold the process of determining marine protected areas accountable.”

Further Reading: IUCN

Over 30% of Species Threatened with Extinction

IUCN today released the latest update of their Red List of Threatened Species, on the eve of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The list shows that of the 63,837 species assessed an alarming 19,817 are threatened with extinction: that’s over 30%!

Marble RayIn some parts of the world up to 90% of coastal populations obtain much of their food and earn their primary income through fishing; yet overfishing has reduced some commercial fish stocks by over 90%. 36% of skates and rays are threatened with extinction.

More than 275 million people are dependent on coral reefs for food, coastal protection and livelihoods. Globally, coral reef fisheries are worth US$ 6.8 billion annually, but 33% of reef building corals are threatened with extinction. IUCN insist that coral reefs must be managed sustainably to ensure they continue to provide the essential food that millions of people rely on as a source of protein.

Humphead wrasseOverfishing affects 55% of the world’s reefs and 18% of groupers, an economically important family of large reef fish, are threatened. Groupers and wrasses are largely dependent on rocky and coral reefs. Many are long-lived and slow-growing. Despite the fact that most species produce large numbers of eggs each year, rates of population growth are slow, and evidence is growing that many species can only withstand light levels of fishing pressure. The high value of many species, however, makes them a particularly appealing target. Fishing is not only directed towards adults, juveniles are also taken as ornamentals and for mariculture. Indeed, in Southeast Asia, millions of juveniles are targeted annually to supply the mariculture industry.

“The services and economic value that species provide are irreplaceable and essential to our wellbeing,” says Jon Paul Rodríguez, Deputy Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). “Unless we live within the limits set by nature, and manage our natural resources sustainably, more and more species will be driven towards extinction. If we ignore our responsibility we will compromise our own survival.”

“Most of the drivers of biodiversity loss, including species extinctions, are economic in nature,” commented Dr Simon Stuart, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission. “An economy can only be described as ‘green’ if it promotes the achievement of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets that governments agreed on in 2010.”

Further Reading:
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012.1