For the first time in history, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species includes ocean corals in its annual report of wildlife going extinct.
A comprehensive study of marine life sponsored by Conservation International (CI) and implemented jointly with the IUCN-World Conservation Union concluded that three species of corals unique to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands could soon disappear forever.
Corals build reefs that are habitat for fish and other marine life. They are also a major attraction for divers in the Galapagos, where tourism makes a significant contribution to the local and national economy. Scientists blame climate change for more frequent and increasingly severe El Niño events that may have contributed to the corals’ decline, as well as over-fishing in the area.
The 2007 IUCN Red List designates two of the corals – Floreana coral (Tubastraea floreana) and Wellington’s solitary coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni) – as Critically Endangered, while a third, Polycyathus isabela, is listed as Vulnerable. The Red List also includes 74 Galapagos seaweeds, or macro-algae, with 10 of them receiving the most threatened status of Critically Endangered. Prior to 2007, only one algae species had been included on the Red List.
“There is a common misconception that marine species are not as vulnerable to extinction as land-based species,” said Roger McManus, CI’s vice president for marine programs. “However, we increasingly realize that marine biodiversity is also faced with serious environmental threat, and that there is an urgent need to determine the worldwide extent of these pressures to guide marine conservation practice.”
First appearance of corals on the IUCN Red List
Corals have been assessed and added to the IUCN Red List for the very first time. Ten Galápagos species have entered the list, with two in the Critically Endangered category and one in the Vulnerable category. Wellington’s Solitary Coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni) has been listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). The main threats to these species are the effects of El Niño and climate change.
In addition, 74 seaweeds have been added to the IUCN Red List from the Galápagos Islands. Ten species are listed as Critically Endangered, with six of those highlighted as Possibly Extinct. The cold water species are threatened by climate change and the rise in sea temperature that characterizes El Niño. The seaweeds are also indirectly affected by overfishing, which removes predators from the food chain, resulting in an increase of sea urchins and other herbivores that overgraze these algae.