12 percent — 1 in 10 — of marine species in the tropical eastern Pacific face extinction according to a recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some 1,600 species in such regions as the Gulf of California, the coasts of Panama and Costa Rica as well as several offshore oceanic islands and archipelagos in the tropical eastern Pacific were surveyed and 197 species found to be “critically endangered”, “endangered” or “vulnerable.” Among those species threatened are marine shore-fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, corals, mangroves and seagrasses; overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and impacts from El Niño have all played a part in endangering their survival.
The study by Beth Polidoro, a research associate at the IUCN marine biodiversity unit, is the “first IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for all known species… in a major marine biogeographic region.”
In just the past few decades, more than 20 marine species have become extinct around the world; some 133 local populations have suffered the same fate. The Galapagos Damselfish (Azurina eupalama) disappeared during the events of El Niño from 1982-1983.
Image of Galapagos Damselfish from Wikipedia
Listed as Critically Endangered are two commercial marine fish, the Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) and the Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas). Once, both were common in the waters of southern California and the Gulf of California, Mexico.
Both the Totoaba and the Giant Sea Bass have been very popular for human consumption and, as a result, subject to over-fishing. Due to their long life spans and to their forming large groups while spawning — making them a ready target for fishermen — attempts to create sustainable populations of both species has proved challenging.
Conservationists hope that the results of the study can help governments to focus on areas where species and places need to protected. Study co-author Scott Henderson, Regional Director of Marine Conservation at Conservation International, offered some suggestions about measures that can be taken:
…the creation of a marine protected area around Clipperton Island in the eastern Pacific Ocean should be a high priority, as it has one of the highest proportions of threatened species in the tropical eastern Pacific, and is the only one of the five oceanic islands and archipelagos in the region that lacks complete governmental protection. Legislation to limit mangrove removal from important fishery nursing grounds along the coasts of Costa Rica and Panama is also vital, according to the study. Additionally, better data collection, reporting and monitoring for both targeted and by-catch fisheries species should be an urgent priority for the improvement of marine conservation efforts throughout the region.
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