Corals First Appearance on 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

By Lindsay Aylesworth

On September 12, 2007, The World Conservation Union (IUCN) released the Red List updates for their list of endangered species world wide.

On September 12, 2007, The World Conservation Union released the 2007 Red List updates for their list of endangered species worldwide. Begun in 1963, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies species according to their extinction risk in an effort to document and draw attention to those species in most need of conservation. Governments, NGOs, scientists and journalists often rely on the Red List to help them identify species at risk so that conservation policy and priorities can be determined and relayed to the public. IUCN advises international conventions such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); their recommendations, based on information from the Red List, are taken into consideration when determining regulations on trade in endangered species. It is in this way that the Red List drives conservation policy in many countries.

To date 41,415 species, both terrestrial and aquatic, have been assessed by the Red List criteria, by the IUCN Species Survival Commission. Even though marine species have been on the Red List since its inception, significant efforts and resources in assessing the extinction risk in marine species did not fully take form until 1994. The first major assessment that added over 100 commercially viable marine fishes to the Red List occurred in 1996. Very few marine invertebrates have been assessed and most marine species have focused on charismatic megafauna like whales and turtles, or commercially viable species. Other groups such as sharks, sygnathid fishes, and groupers and wrasses have further expanded marine species on the Red List.

Currently there are 1,530 species on the Red List that use the marine environment. About 30% (416 species) are at risk of extinction and 80 species are threatened with extinction. This year, 240 species were added or reassessed with new marine additions including corals, seaweeds, some sharks, and the Banggaii cardinalfish. Marine additions to the Red List since 2005 are part of the Global Marine Species Assessment, part of the Biodiversity Assessment Initiative, run by IUCN Species Survival Commission and the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International.

The IUCN Red List assesses the possibility of species extinction with varying categories from Extinct to Not Evaluated.
The wide array of factors that affect the abundance and diversity of marine species can be seen with this year’s listing of marine species: climate change, rising sea temperatures, the aquarium trade, overfishing, bycatch, pollution and degradation of habitat.

“If the myth of inexhaustible marine resources still persisted, the updated Red List certainly shatters it to pieces. The rate of species loss in the world’s oceans will continue, and at an accelerated pace, if serious actions aren’t undertaken to overcome what we can call the oceans crisis”, said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

This year was the first year that corals were assessed for the Red List. In their first year of assessment, with the assessment limited only to the Galapagos Islands, 10 corals made an appearance on the list. Out of the 10 species listed, two species (Wellington’s Solitary Coral and Floreana Coral)were assessed as Critically Endangered and one in the Vulnerable category. The main threats to these corals include the effects of El Nino and climate change, reiterating that corals can be the early warning indicators for harmful effects of climate change on marine species. More corals are expected to be added to the Red List next year as more data from assessments in the Pacific and Caribbean are completed.

In addition to corals, 74 seaweeds have been added to the IUCN Red List. Previously, only one seaweed species was listed on the Red List. The new additions are from the completion of the marine assessments from the Galapagos Islands. Ten species are listed as Critically Endangered, with six of those highlighted as Possibly Extinct. These cold water seaweeds are also threatened by climate change as well as the rise in sea temperature associated with El Nino.

The Yangtze River Dolphin has become critically endangered and possibly extinct from fishing, river traffic, pollution and degradation of habitat- a confirmed sighting of the river dolphin this year has yet to be reported .

Banggai Cardinalfish- heavily exploited (90,000 per year) for the aquarium trade appeared for the first time on the Red List as Endangered. Several shark species were also added to the Red List this year.

For more information on marine species on the Red List:

http://www.iucn.org/themes/marine/marine_species.htm

For more information on IUCN categories:

http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/redlist2007/categories_2007.htm
For marine case studies and a better understanding of what’s on the Red List, click here >

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