The latest update of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species is an increasingly critical assessment of the great blue species. Human activities affect all layers of marine biodiversity, from shellfish to marine mammals and corals. Of the 150,388 species in this deadly registry, almost 18,000 live in the aquatic environment, and among them, 1,550 are endangered.
Dugongs are starved and killed by humans
Emblematic species such as the dugong (Dugong dugon) are among the victims of human activities. The dugongs of East Africa and New Caledonia are especially threatened. The former were classified as “endangered” with only 250 left, and the latter as “dangerous” with only 900 left. This decline is mainly due to unintentional fishing in East Africa and poaching in New Caledonia. But that’s not all: the main food of these herbivorous mammals is becoming increasingly rare. Seaweed is destroyed by oil and gas extraction, as well as by chemical pollution and trawling. To address this issue, “strengthening community management of fisheries and expanding employment opportunities outside of fisheries are essential in East Africa, where marine ecosystems are fundamental to food security and people’s livelihoods,” said Evan Trotzuk, who led the Red List assessment in East Africa. in the IUCN statement. He also recommends the creation of additional conservation areas to allow local communities to participate in and benefit from solutions that will prevent dugongs from becoming extinct.
Illustrative video of a dugong roaming the ocean plains. © Ahmed Shawki
Corals in the face of a devastating pandemic
The corals that underpin the development of aquatic communities are also experiencing dramatic decline. This time the columnar coral (Dendrogyra cylindricus) joins the list of ‘endangered’ species, after having been categorized as ‘vulnerable’ in the latest IUCN reports. Its population has declined by 80% over most of its range since 1990. Currently, this coral, which lives mainly in the Caribbean Sea, owes its death primarily to the disease of loss of coral tissue. Over the past four years, this disease has spread in columnar coral populations due to weakened immune systems. Loss of strength due to coral bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures. Exposure to various antibiotics and chemicals dumped into the sea further weakened them.
Illustrative image of columnar corals. © Françoise Cabada-Blanco
“We just can’t afford to fail”
While mammals and corals are well-known victims of human activities, shellfish are particularly affected. In the latest update of the Red List of Threatened Species, special attention is paid to abalone. Of the 54 species of abalone (Haliotis), 20 are currently endangered. This animal, also called the “sea truffle”, is actively hunted by poachers around the world because it is sold at exorbitant prices.
This particularly grim assessment of the state of the living world is not new and should prompt society to reconsider how it interacts with it. “The latest update of the IUCN Red List reveals the perfect combination of unsustainable human activities that are decimating marine life around the world. As the world waits for the UN Conference on Biodiversity to set the course for nature restoration, we simply cannot afford to fail,” IUCN Director Bruno Oberle said in a statement.