Sharks and rays at growing risk of extinction

·3-min read
Oceanic shark populations have dropped by 71 per cent since 1970 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Oceanic shark populations have dropped by 71 per cent since 1970 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The number of sharks and rays at risk of becoming extinct continues to grow as a new red list warns 37 per cent of their populations are now considered “in danger”.

This is up 33 per cent since 2014, with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) blaming issues such as a loss of habitat and climate change for the upwards trend.

Komodo dragons were also named as an endangered species at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress, which aims to protect dwindling species. Experts attributed the change to rising sea levels and temperatures in the lizard’s Indonesian habitat.

Elsewhere, ebonies and rosewoods threatened by logging were among trees also put on the list for the first time this year, IUCN members said at the event, held in Marseille, France.

However, there were signs of hope too. Fishing quotas have allowed several tuna species to be put on the “path to recovery”, IUCN director Bruno Oberle told reporters. He added that the small sign of progress demonstrated “that if states and other actors take the right actions ... it is possible to recover”.

The IUCN Red List Unit reassesses hundreds of species each year. Of the roughly 138,000 species the group tracks, more than 38,000 are threatened with extinction.

Several recent studies have shown that many of the planet’s ecosystems are severely strained by global warming, deforestation, habitat degradation, pollution and other threats.

More than half of all bird of prey species worldwide are declining in population, and 18 species are critically endangered. Meanwhile, warming temperatures and melting ice are projected to imperil 70 per cent of Emperor penguin colonies by 2050 and 98 per cent by 2100.

Oceanic shark populations have dropped by 71 per cent since 1970, those at the IUCN conference were told.

Indiana Jones and Star Wars actor Harrison Ford made an impassioned plea to safeguard biodiversity at the conference’s opening night on Friday.

“It’s hard to watch the rise of nationalism in the face of a global threat that requires global cooperation, global action,” he said. “It’s hard to read the headlines – floods, fires, famines, plagues – and tell your children that everything is all right. It’s not all right. Damn it, it’s not all right.”

“Come on everybody,” he told the crowd. “Let’s get to work.”

Environmental groups are using the week-long conference to urge governments to take bolder actions to protect the oceans, the Amazon and other crucial ecosystems.

Among topics are the links between climate change and biodiversity loss, and the ethics of genetic enhancement to increase species’ chances of survival.

The talks will likely inform the UN’s global climate summit, the so-called Cop26, which will be held in November in Glasgow.

Mr Oberle said everyone gathered for the IUCN conference “must seize the opportunity to boost ambition on biodiversity conservation”.

“These Red List assessments demonstrate just how closely our lives and livelihoods are intertwined with biodiversity,” he added.

Additional reporting by AP

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