Populations of endangered species of marine mammals, several species of abalone and a type of Caribbean coral are now threatened with extinctionan international conservation organization said on Friday.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature announced the update during the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP15, in Montreal. The Federation includes hundreds of members and government agencies from around the world, and it is one of the most extensive environmental networks on the planet.
The IUCN uses its Red List of Threatened Species to rank animals that are nearing extinction. This year, the federation is sounding the alarm about dugongs – a large, docile marine mammal that lives from the eastern coast of Africa to the western Pacific Ocean.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a statement that dugongs are endangered throughout their range, and now populations in eastern Africa have entered the red list as critically endangered. The organization said the population in New Caledonia entered the list as vulnerable.
The IUCN said the main threats to the animal are poaching for fishing gear in East Africa and poaching in New Caledonia. It also suffers from boat strikes and the loss of the seaweed that it eats, said Evan Trotzok, who led the assessment of the East African Red List.
“Strengthening community-led fisheries governance and expanding employment opportunities outside fishing are key in East Africa, where marine ecosystems are central to people’s food security and livelihoods,” said Trotzok.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List includes more than 150,000 species. The list sometimes overlaps with species listed under the US Endangered Species Act, as in the case of the North Atlantic right whale. The IUCN says more than 42,000 of its Red List species are threatened with extinction.
The IUCN uses several categories to describe an animal’s condition, ranging from “least concern” to “critical danger.” The IUCN usually updates the Red List two or three times a year. This week’s update includes more than 3,000 red list additions. Of these, 700 are threatened with extinction.
It takes political will to save threatened species, said Jane Smart, head of the IUCN Science and Data Center, and the gravity of the new lists could serve as a call for clarification.
“Often the news we give you about this is a bit grim and depressing, but it sparks action, which is a good thing,” Smart said.
Columnar corals, which are found throughout the Caribbean, were moved from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered in this week’s update. The IUCN said corals are threatened by tissue loss disease, and their populations have shrunk by more than 80% across most of their range since 1990. The IUCN lists more than two dozen corals in the Atlantic Ocean as critically endangered.
Nearly half of the coral reefs in the Atlantic Ocean are “at significant risk of extinction due to climate change and other impacts,” said Beth Polidoro, associate professor at Arizona State University and coordinator of the IUCN Red List.
The IUCN said unsustainable harvesting and overfishing have emerged as threats to abalone, which is used as seafood. Twenty of the world’s 54 abalone species are threatened with extinction according to the Red List’s first global assessment of the species.
The organization said threats to abalone are exacerbated by climate change, disease and pollution.
“The Red List update highlights new evidence of multiple interacting threats to the decline of life in the sea,” said John Paul Rodriguez, chair of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission.
Follow Patrick Whittle on Twitter: @pxwhittle
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