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) used data from the Galapagos-based Charles Darwin Research Station and other regional institutions to conclude that three species of corals unique to the Galapagos Islands could soon disappear forever.
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.”
The Galapagos marine research was conducted by the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA), a joint initiative of IUCN and CI launched in 2005 with the support of dozens of experts and research institutions.
The GMSA is studying a large portion of Earth’s marine species to determine the threat of extinction.
“These Galapagos corals and algae are the first of many marine species that will be added to the Red List due to our findings,” said GMSA Director Kent Carpenter of Old Dominion University in Virginia.
“What is significant is that climate change and over-fishing — two of the biggest threats to marine life — are the likely causes in these cases.”
Scientists blame climate change for more frequent and increasingly severe El Ni