Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
New research from the University of Sheffield has shown that the world's oceans and those individuals who live in the oceans are in big trouble. Figures from this study show that one in every four sea species may be at risk of extinction, but as science tries to catch up with the reality of the devastating condition of the oceans and the inhabitants of the oceans, could it be possible the figures are actually far higher?
Written by TOM BAWDEN
The world’s ocean species are up to nine times more likely to become extinct than previously thought, according to new research.
The alarming study by the University of Sheffield, said to be the most thorough analysis of marine conservation data yet, comes as campaigners accused the Government of “watering down” plans to protect England’s marine life.
Researchers found that up to a quarter of the planet’s well-known marine species, from the Mediterranean monk seal to the Pondicherry shark, are in danger of being wiped out. This overturns the conventional scientific wisdom that marine species are far safer than others, by establishing that the risk is equally high. In each case, between 20 and 25 per cent of species are threatened with extinction, researchers said.
The elevated risk posed to ocean life worldwide emerged as the UK announced plans to create 23 new marine conservation zones (MCZs) covering nearly 11,000 square kilometres along the English coast. These protect species such as seahorses, coral reefs and oyster beds from threats such as dredging and bottom-trawling, and mark the second tranche of MCZs following 27 announced in 2013.
The sites range from Allonby Bay on the Cumbrian coast, which has blue mussel beds and living reefs formed by the honeycomb worm, to a stretch of coast between Bideford and Foreland Point in North Devon, home to pink sea fan and anemones.
The announcement was generally welcomed because it will give a big boost to marine populations across large swathes of English waters.
But the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) received strong criticism for not going further, with campaigners noting that the government had originally drawn up a list of 37 potential sites for its second tranche.
There will be a total of only 50 zones, they said, which is well below the 127 sites recommended by the government’s own scientific advisors as being crucial to halt the rapid decline of fish, lobsters and other marine life.
“Thirty-seven sites for possible MCZs were originally identified for this round of consultation, but 14 have been dropped by Defra despite clear cross-party and public support. This is a cause for huge concern, and shows the government dragging its feet on ecological and economic grounds,” said Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF UK.
The threat posed to sea life is truly global, say researchers (Getty)
Critics said the decision not to go ahead with all 37 sites was all the more disappointing because it comes in the week that the government’s independent advisor, the Natural Capital Committee, warned that the UK’s environment was in serious decline.
A Defra spokesman said the 14 sites that didn’t make the final cut had been considered “unsuitable for designation at this time”, adding that they have not been permanently removed from the list of candidates that could be added to the scheme in the future.
While waters around the UK may be in decline, the threat posed to sea life is truly global, said the University of Sheffield researchers. Populations had been expected to shrink in number rather than disappear, they added.
The wide-ranging list of threatened species includes the smoothback angel shark, the eightgilled hagfish and the Amsterdam albatross.
Report author Dr Thomas Webb said: “Until now, there has been a general assumption that, despite pressures on marine environments like pollution and fishing, marine species are unlikely to be threatened with extinction. But much of this can be explained by the fact the conservation status of fewer marine species has been formally assessed.”
Squatina oculata (smoothback angel shark): This large, stocky angel shark was a common and important predator over large areas of the coastal habitat in the Mediterranean sea and eastern Atlantic. It is now highly vulnerable to large nets as a fishing bycatch.
Monachus monachus (Mediterranean monk seal): There are only 350-400 of them left in the world – less than half the number seen 20 years ago – again as a result of fishing. This is causing particular problems in their main strongholds of Greece and Turkey.
Porites pukoensis (stony coral): They are only known to exist in a small area around Molokai Island, Hawaii. The coral species is found in shallow, protected reef environments, especially lagoons.
Diomedea amsterdamensis (Amsterdam albatross):There are only 170 known birds of this species, which only breed on Amsterdam Island, in the French Southern Territories, in the southern Indian Ocean. The population has been decimated by the introduction of cattle, which has caused degradation to breeding grounds, and feral cats.
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