Sat | Jan 20, 2018

International environment group issues warning for the Caribbean

Published:Sunday | June 11, 2017 | 10:45 AM

GLAND, Switzerland, CMC – The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says overfishing and the degradation of coral reefs across the Caribbean and Pacific islands are pushing many fish, including food sources like tunas and groupers, towards extinction.

In a new report, the IUCN, created in 1948 and regarded as the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network, said the conservation status of marine bony shorefishes of the Greater Caribbean Red List report includes assessments of 1,360 marine bony shorefishes – a group that includes most fish species found near the shore – across 38 Caribbean countries and territories.

The report notes that around five per cent of marine bony shorefishes in the Caribbean are threatened by overfishing, invasive lion fish predation and the degradation of coral reefs and estuaries, which provide habitats and feeding grounds for many species.

Species threatened by overfishing are commonly associated with reef habitat, the report noted, adding that the conservation status of marine biodiversity in the Pacific Islands of Oceania Red List report includes assessments of 2,800 marine species across the 22 island states and territories of Oceania, from Papua New Guinea to the Cook Islands.

“These new reports ring alarm bells for marine life across the Pacific and Caribbean, hard-hit by unsustainable fishing and the destruction of habitats. These are the latest in a series of IUCN Red List reports covering more than half of the global ocean, which collectively reveal a looming threat to life “low water,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

“It is essential that we use this new science and analysis to effectively conserve marine resources, which provide us with food, enhance our health, sustain the global economy and protect us from the worst effects of climate change,” he added.

In the Caribbean, the vulnerable red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) are among the threatened species targeted by fishers.

IUCN said that fewer individual coral species are threatened with extinction in the region, although overall Caribbean reefs are in worse shape than those in Oceania due to human pressures adding to the effects of ocean warming.

It said various local- to broader-scaled threats are flattening reefs across much of the Caribbean, particularly affecting the Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis).

“These endemic, branching corals, which are among the most important reef-building coral species in the Caribbean and vital for the survival of reefs, are both classed as Critically Endangered,” it added.

“We know that well-managed marine protected areas can increase the resilience of marine species in the Caribbean and the Pacific in the face of mounting threats.

“In an extremely species-rich region dominated by small island states, inter-governmental cooperation between countries should be boosted to ensure protected areas are managed effectively, and destructive fishing practices are minimised,” said Kent Carpenter, the manager of the IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit.

The release of the two reports coincides with the UN Ocean Conference that began in New York last week, where IUCN has been calling for urgent action on climate change and marine plastic pollution.