Gland, Switzerland — Africa is being given a unique opportunity to conserve its tremendous diversity of freshwater species — a critical resource for many of Africa's poorest people. African countries can now develop their water resources sustainably, and avoid paying millions of dollars, as is the case in Europe, to rectify poorly planned wetland development.
Decision makers across Africa are now able to benefit from an online interactive map, released by The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, for each of the 7,079 river and lake sub-catchments across mainland Africa, that reveals information on the distribution, conservation and ecological needs of 4,989 freshwater species, of which 21 percent are already threatened. This tool and the accompanying report 'The Diversity of Life in African Freshwaters: Underwater, Under Threat' provide vital information to help plan development in ways that minimize or avoid impacts to freshwater species.
"The importance of Africa's freshwater species goes largely unrecognized. A quarter of the world's inland fisheries are located on the African continent, and in some countries freshwater animals account for 75 percent of the protein intake of people." says William Darwall, Manager of the project and of IUCN's Freshwater Biodiversity Unit. "Freshwater species often succumb to collateral damage as development proceeds but in many cases this can be avoided through careful planning based on solid information."
Several environmental management projects are already using information from this study to monitor the impacts of a hydro-electric dam on the Gambia River; promote a trans-boundary wetland conservation area in the Rusizi Delta; monitor water quality in the Okavango Delta; and integrate freshwater species in management of the Moulouya River catchment in Morocco.
"This is a real milestone in the history of African freshwater biodiversity — nothing as good, or like it, is out there at this point in time," says Paul Skelton, Managing Director, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. "The information on freshwater fishes has already proved its worth in a number of conservation planning projects in South Africa, including work on the legal protection of threatened species and the establishment of a national framework of freshwater protected areas."
According to the report the number of threatened freshwater species in Africa will increase dramatically if development of water resources is not planned sustainably. Major threats include loss or degradation of habitat to agriculture, and impacts of new infrastructure such as dams for irrigation and hydropower.
"This is an enormously useful resource for anyone affected by negative impacts to freshwater species in Africa," said Conservation International's Dr. Ian Harrison, co-author and editor of the report. "It tells us where we need to focus our conservation efforts and it gives managers crucial information to make the right decisions to benefit regional livelihoods and economies as well as the ecosystems that people rely upon."
This work is part of a larger collaborative initiative between IUCN's Global Species Programme, Conservation International and NatureServe to assess the status of the World's Freshwater Biodiversity.
Notes to editors
IUCN WEBSITE: "The Diversity of Life in African Freshwaters: Underwater, Under Threat" report
IUCN WEBSITE: Pan-Africa Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment report details
IUCN WEBSITE: The online mapping tool for species in Africa's river catchments (Microsoft Silverlight required to view map)
IUCN WEBSITE: Additional Facts and Figures (Pan Africa Media Pack)
If you have any problems downloading the images please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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About the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (or the IUCN Red List) is the world's most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken.
Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as 'Threatened'.
The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions.
IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.
The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland. www.iucn.org
Conservation International (CI) — Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI has headquarters in the Washington, DC area, and nearly 900 employees working in more than 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, visit www.conservation.org , and follow us on Twitter: @ConservationOrg or Facebook: www.facebook.com/conservation.intl