Saturday, July 13, 2024

Dugongs, Abalone, Pillar Coral Added To IUCN’s ‘Red List’


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently added dugongs and abalone to the organization’s “Red List” of threatened species, while the pillar coral has deteriorated to “Critically Endangered” due to accumulated pressures.

IUCN’s Red List now includes 150,388 species, of which 42,108 are threatened with extinction. Over 1,550 of the 17,903 marine animals and plants assessed are at risk of extinction, with climate change impacting at least 41% of threatened marine species, according to the organization.

IUCN Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said:

“Today’s IUCN Red List update reveals a perfect storm of unsustainable human activity decimating marine life around the globe. As the world looks to the ongoing UN biodiversity conference to set the course for nature recovery, we simply cannot afford to fail. We urgently need to address the linked climate and biodiversity crises, with profound changes to our economic systems, or we risk losing the crucial benefits the oceans provide us with.”

Abalone species are sold as some of the world’s most expensive seafood, with unsustainable extraction and poaching primary threats compounded by climate change, disease and pollution, IUCN says. Twenty of the world’s 54 abalone species are now threatened with extinction, according to the first global Red List assessment of these species.

Perlemoen abalone (Image credit: Georgina Jones, iNaturalist CC BY-SA 4.0)
Perlemoen abalone (Image credit: Georgina Jones, iNaturalist CC BY-SA 4.0)

Poaching in South Africa and marine heatwaves off Australia as well as California and Mexico have depleted various abalone species, IUCN says.

Dr. Howard Peters, member of the IUCN SSC Mollusc Specialist Group and research associate at the University of York, UK, who led the abalone assessment, says:

“Abalones reflect humanity’s disastrous guardianship of our oceans in microcosm: overfishing, pollution, disease, habitat loss, algal blooms, warming and acidification, to name but a few threats. They really are the canary in the coalmine. The most immediate action people can take is to eat only farmed or sustainably sourced abalones. Enforcing fishery quotas and anti-poaching measures is also critical. However, we need to halt the changes to ocean chemistry and temperature to preserve marine life including abalone species over the long term.”

Dugong populations in East Africa and New Caledonia have been added to IUCN’s Red List as “Critically Endangered” and “Endangered,” respectively; the species remains “Vulnerable” globally. There are now fewer than 250 mature individuals in East Africa and under 900 in New Caledonia. The primary threats are unintentional capture in fishing gear in East Africa and poaching in New Caledonia, and boat injuries in both locations.

Dugong (Image credit: Ahmed Shawky/IUCN)
Dugong (Image credit: Ahmed Shawky/IUCN)

In East Africa, oil and gas exploration and production, bottom trawling, chemical pollution and unauthorized coastal development are damaging and destroying the seagrasses that dugongs depend on for food, according to IUCN. The degradation and loss of seagrasses in New Caledonia is the result of agricultural run-off, pollution from nickel mining and coastal development, and damage from boat anchors. The impacts of climate change present a threat throughout the dugongs’ wide range.

Evan Trotzuk, who led the East Africa Red List assessment, says:

“Strengthening community-led fisheries governance and expanding work opportunities beyond fishing are key in East Africa, where marine ecosystems are fundamental to people’s food security and livelihoods. Further, the creation of additional conserved areas in areas where dugongs live, particularly around Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, would also empower local communities and other stakeholders to find, implement, and benefit from solutions that halt long-term declines in dugong abundance, as well as in seagrass extent and quality.”

As for the pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), found throughout the Caribbean from the Yucatan Peninsula and Florida to Trinidad and Tobago, it moved from “Vulnerable” to “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List, after its population shrunk by over 80% across most of its range since 1990.

Pillar Coral (Image credit: Francoise Cabada-Blanco)
Pillar Coral (Image credit: Francoise Cabada-Blanco)

The most urgent threat, according to IUCN, is Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which has emerged in the past four years and is highly contagious, infecting between 90 and 100 meters (295 and 328 feet) of reef per day. Bleaching caused by increased sea surface temperatures and excess antibiotics, fertilizers and sewage running into the sea have weakened corals and made them more susceptible to disease. Overfishing around coral reefs has depleted the number of grazing fish, allowing algae to dominate and putting further pressure on corals, IUCN warns.

According to Dr. Beth Polidoro, Associate Professor at Arizona State University and Red List Coordinator for the IUCN SSC Coral Specialist Group:

“The pillar coral is just one of the 26 corals now listed as Critically Endangered in the Atlantic Ocean, where almost half of all corals are now at elevated risk of extinction due to climate change and other impacts. These alarming results emphasise the urgency of global cooperation and action to address climate change impacts on ocean ecosystems.”

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.