The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) presents alarming findings from the most comprehensive freshwater biodiversity assessment in this part of the Mediterranean region. The study aims at raising the current low profile of freshwater biodiversity conservation in the Eastern Mediterranean, promoting integrated water resource management practices, and providing a reliable and up-to-date data set to inform decision makers.
Launched on World Wetlands Day, the IUCN study assessed the conservation status of 1,236 species (fishes, molluscs, dragonflies and damselflies, plants, birds, amphibians, mammals and decapods) of the Eastern Mediterranean region, just under one third of which are found nowhere else on the planet – making it an area with high species richness. It finds that almost one in five (19%) of these species, and over half (58%) of those endemic to the region, are threatened with extinction. Six species, all fishes, are considered to have become globally Extinct (EX), and 18 species (seven fishes and 11 molluscs) are assessed as Critically Endangered Possibly Extinct – field surveys are urgently required to confirm whether these species still survive.
“This assessment highlights the great pressures upon the region’s freshwater habitats. If we want to protect the species they support, and the values that they provide which are vital for the future needs of our societies, economies and environment, we need to take urgent action to restore and protect our wetlands” commented Engin Yilmaz, Director General Doğa Derneği.
The major threat to these species is a reduction and alteration in water flows and loss of wetlands across the region driven by a water management approach that is largely focused on water extraction (primarily for irrigation) and power generation. This is compounded by climate change and pollution from agricultural and urban areas in many areas.
Over two years the IUCN Global Species Programme and the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation engaged with scientists across the region to assess the extinction risk (IUCN Red List status) of every described species of freshwater fish, mollusc, dragonfly and damselfly, and a significant number of the regions freshwater plants.
“These results will really help organisations like ours ring the alarm bell to policy makers and draw much needed attention towards the critical state of freshwater biodiversity. It strengthens the case we can now make to policy makers and other key decision makers for the conservation and study of freshwater biodiversity” comented Nashat Hamidan, Conservation Specialist, The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), Jordan.
As part of a wider initiative of the Mediterranean Basin Hotspot these species assessments have been used to identify sites of particular importance for the global persistence of freshwater biodiversity (Key Biodiversity Areas, KBAs).
“By using the Red List data to identify Key Biodiversity Areas we are effectively putting freshwater biodiversity on the map in a region of the world where pressures on inland wetlands are rapidly driving species to the edge of extinction – a number have already been lost. The next crucial step is to build widespread awareness of these important sites and to stimulate targeted conservation on the ground” commented Will Darwall, Head of the IUCN Global Species Programmes Freshwater Biodiversity Unit.
These outcomes provide important new information to guide regional development and conservation planning and the potential future designation of Ramsar sites (Internationally Important Wetlands). It will also help countries track their progress towards meeting their obligations for protection and sustainable use of biodiversity under regional and international agreements.
The initiative was funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the MAVA Foundation and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), with contributions from the European Commission funded Biofresh and the National Parks Autonomous Agency (OAPN) of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment
The two publications resulting from this project are : i) the freshwater species assessment for the Eastern Mediterranean region, and ii) Key Biodiversity Areas of the wider Mediterranean Basin Hotspot are available for download at www.uicnmed/publications;www.iucn.org/publications