17 Nov 2014

Global appetite for resources pushing new species to the brink

Pacific Bluefin Tuna joins the long list of threatened species (Randy Wilder)
By Martin Fowlie

Fishing, logging, mining, agriculture and other activities to satisfy our growing  appetite for resources are threatening the survival of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna, Chinese Pufferfish, American Eel and Chinese Cobra, while the destruction of habitat has caused the extinction of a Malaysian mollusc and the world’s largest known earwig, and threatens the survival of many other species – according to the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN Red List, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, now includes 76,199 assessed species, of which 22,413 are threatened with extinction.  As nearly half of the newly assessed species occur within protected areas, IUCN calls for better management of these places to stop further biodiversity decline.

Each update of the IUCN Red List makes us realize that our planet is constantly losing its incredible diversity of life, largely due to our destructive actions to satisfy our growing appetite for resources,” says IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre.But we have scientific evidence that protected areas can play a central role in reversing this trend. Experts warn that threatened species poorly represented in protected areas are declining twice as fast as those which are well represented. Our responsibility is to increase the number of protected areas and ensure that they are effectively managed so that they can contribute to saving our planet’s biodiversity.

Saving threatened species requires identifying and conserving the most significant sites for nature. BirdLife's Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are used by governments worldwide to help target the designation of protected areas”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Head of Science.

With today’s update, Pacific Bluefin Tuna Thunnus orientalis has moved from the Least Concern category to Vulnerable, which means that it is now threatened with extinction. The species is extensively targeted by the fishing industry for the sushi and sashimi markets predominantly in Asia. Most of the fish caught are juveniles which have not yet had a chance to reproduce and the population is estimated to have declined by 19 to 33% over the past 22 years.  

Existing marine protected areas do not provide sufficient protection for the species. The expansion of marine protected areas, within 200 miles of the coast and incorporating breeding areas, could help conserve the species, according to IUCN experts.

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“The Pacific Bluefin Tuna market value continues to rise,” says Bruce Collette, Chair, IUCN Species Survival CommissionTuna and Billfish Specialist Group.  “Unless fisheries implement the conservation and management measures developed for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, including a reduction in the catches of juvenile fish, we cannot expect its status to improve in the short term.”

Chinese Pufferfish Takifugu chinensis has entered the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. Its global population is estimated to have declined by 99.99% over the past 40 years due to overexploitation. A popular food fish in Japan, it is among the top four fugu species consumed as sashimi. One of the world’s most poisonous fish, fugu need to be expertly prepared before consumption. The Chinese Pufferfish occurs in several marine protected areas throughout the coastal waters of China. Conservation measures, such as the creation of marine protected areas which are annually closed to trawling, have been implemented. However, harvest still needs to be urgently controlled to prevent the species’ extinction, say IUCN experts.

Two species have been declared Extinct due to habitat destruction. Plectostoma sciaphilum, a snail known from a single limestone hill in Peninsular Malaysia is now listed as Extinct as a result of the hill being entirely destroyed by limestone quarrying by a large company. The future of several other species in the region is uncertain for similar reasons. Whilst some mining companies are starting to take the necessary steps to reduce impact, IUCN is urging stronger commitment to prevent further extinctions.

The St Helena Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana) – the world’s largest known earwig attaining a length of up to 80 mm – has also gone extinct. Previously found in Horse Point Plain, a protected area on St Helena Island, the last confirmed live adult of this insect was seen in May 1967.  Since the early 1960s, its habitat has been degraded by the removal of nearly all shelter-providing surface stones for construction purposes. Increased predator pressures from mice, rats and invasive predatory invertebrates also contributed to the earwig’s extinction.