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REPORT: Overfishing And The Death Of Coral Reefs Is Pushing Many Species Of Caribbean Fish Towards Extinction

OVERFISHING IN SOUTH AMERICA: Fishermen in Chile use a purse seiner to catch Jack mackerel in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo courtesy: NOAA)

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GLAND, Switzerland — Overfishing and the degradation of coral reefs across the Caribbean and Pacific islands are pushing many fish, including food sources like tunas and groupers, towards extinction.

This is according to two regional Red List reports published recently by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Conservation status of marine bony shorefishes of the Greater Caribbean Red List report includes assessments of 1,360 marine bony shorefishes – a group that includes most fish species found near the shore across 38 Caribbean countries and territories.

The report says that approximately five per cent of marine bony shorefishes in the Caribbean are threatened, due to overfishing, invasive lionfish predation and the degradation of coral reefs and estuaries, which provide habitats and feeding grounds for many species.

Species threatened by overfishing are commonly associated with reef habitat.

The report on the conservation status of marine biodiversity in the Pacific Islands of Oceania includes assessments of 2,800 marine species across the 22 island states and territories of Oceania, from Papua New Guinea to the Cook Islands — a vast, species-rich but largely unexplored area.

The report shows that 11 percent of all assessed marine species in the region are threatened with extinction, including fish that are important food sources.

“These new reports ring alarm bells for marine life across the Pacific and Caribbean, hard-hit by unsustainable fishing and the destruction of habitats. These are the latest in a series of IUCN Red List reports covering more than half of the global ocean, which collectively reveal a looming threat to life below water. It is essential that we use this new science and analysis to effectively conserve marine resources, which provide us with food, enhance our health, sustain the global economy and protect us from the worst effects of climate change,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

In the Pacific islands of Oceania, around a third of reef-building coral species are threatened with extinction. while in the Caribbean “the Vulnerable red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and the Endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) are among the threatened species targeted by fishers”.

It added that fewer individual coral species — around a fifth — are threatened with extinction in this region, although overall Caribbean reefs are in worse shape than those in Oceania due to human pressures adding to the effects of ocean warming.

Various local- to broader-scaled threats are flattening reefs across much of the Caribbean, particularly affecting the Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis).

These endemic, branching corals, which are among the most important reef-building coral species in the Caribbean and vital for the survival of reefs, are both classed as Critically Endangered.

“We know that well-managed marine protected areas can increase the resilience of marine species in the Caribbean and the Pacific in the face of mounting threats. In an extremely species-rich region dominated by small island states, inter-governmental cooperation between countries should be boosted to ensure protected areas are managed effectively, and destructive fishing practices are minimised,” said Kent Carpenter, manager of the IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit.

The report stated that in both the Pacific and Caribbean, the populations rely heavily on reef fisheries and other marine resources for food security and income generation.

The release of the two reports coincides with the on-going U.N. Ocean Conference in New York, where IUCN has been calling for urgent action on climate change and marine plastic pollution.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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