There’s good news and there’s bad news from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s latest update to its threatened wildlife Red List. Tuna, once overfished to shocking levels, have bounced back with four species being downgraded from their previous listings. Komodo dragons, on the other hand, have been officially designated “Endangered”.
One of the most important takeaways from this week’s update is that after years of habitat loss, overfishing, illegal trade, and exploitation, we are now seeing the direct impact of climate change threatening many species too, as is the case with Komodo dragons.
The world's largest lizards, which only live in the World Heritage-listed Komodo National Park and neighboring island of Flores in Indonesia, have been moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on the Red List. Global warming and sea-level rise are expected to reduce their habitat by at least 30 percent in the next 45 years. It's the first update to their status in 20 years, and comes after the first study to predict the effect of climate change on the lizards was recently published in Ecology and Evolution.
“The idea that these prehistoric animals have moved one step closer to extinction due in part to climate change is terrifying,” Dr Andrew Terry, conservation director at the Zoological Society of London, said in a statement, describing it as a “further clarion call” for nature to be placed front and center in decision making at the upcoming COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
Other findings released from this week’s IUCN Congress in Marseille, France, revealed nearly 30 percent of the 138,000 species assessed are threatened with extinction – sharks and rays faring particularly badly with 37 percent of the 1,200 species evaluated now threatened, mainly due to overfishing.
This is the most comprehensive survey of sharks and rays ever taken, and the discovery that two in five sharks are now threatened with extinction marks a downturn in their fate. According to Professor Nicholas Dulvy, lead author of a study due to be published today underpinning the assessment, this is a third more species at risk than seven years ago, reports AFP.
The success story that drives home how important these assessments and protections are is the indication that four of the seven commercially fished tuna species are showing signs of recovery since their last assessment in 2011.
The Atlantic bluefin tuna, most popular for high-end sushi, has moved from Endangered down to Least Concern. The Southern bluefin tuna has moved down a category from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Albacore and yellowfin tunas, the two most likely to be found in cans or steaks on supermarket shelves, have both moved from Near Threatened to Least Concern. The IUCN has credited this to enforced fishing quotas over the last two decades.
"Today’s IUCN Red List update is a powerful sign that, despite increasing pressures on our oceans, species can recover if states truly commit to sustainable practices,” said Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General. “States and others now gathered at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille must seize the opportunity to boost ambition on biodiversity conservation, and work towards binding targets based on sound scientific data. These Red List assessments demonstrate just how closely our lives and livelihoods are intertwined with biodiversity.”