A growing body of new marine research is proving that species resting under the ocean’s surface are as vulnerable to climate change
as terrestrial wildlife.
Three coral species found only in Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands
were added for the first time to the IUCN-World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species, a yearly global assessment of wildlife at risk of extinction. The 2007 IUCN Red List designates two corals, Floreana coral (Tubastraea floreana
) and Wellington’s solitary coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni
), as Critically Endangered and a third, Polycyathus isabela
, as Vulnerable.
A significant number of Galápagos seaweeds also made the Red List this year. Ten out of 74 newly listed macro-algae have Critically Endangered status. In previous years, only one algae species was included.
The Galápagos marine research
is part of a comprehensive review – the first of its kind – to determine the threat status of marine species, which historically have been understudied. The Global Marine Species Assessment, a five-year initiative of CI and the IUCN, will cover about 20,000 marine species ranging from seagrasses to sharks. Its results will be used to identify priority marine regions in greatest need of protection.
“There is a common misconception that marine species are not as vulnerable to extinction as land-based species,” says Roger McManus, vice president for marine programs at CI.
The data show that they are, and scientists believe climate change is partly to blame.
As climate change takes hold, El Niño events have become more severe and frequent over the past few decades around the Galápagos and the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The El Niño phenomenon upsets ocean currents and causes water temperatures to rise, which, in turn, can harm corals, algae, and other species crucial to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. Coral reefs
provide habitat, food, and shelter for fish and other marine life. They are also a major tourism attraction that supports the local and national economy. Algae and corals, a vital food source for many marine species, are also slow to recover from strong El Niños. Similar weather patterns have been linked to an increased intensity and frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms elsewhere in the world.
“Marine ecosystems are vulnerable to threats at all scales – globally through climate change, regionally from El Niño events, and locally when over-fishing removes key ecosystem building blocks,” said Jane Smart, head of the IUCN Species Program.