Saving Mangroves and Endangered Habitats

From mangrove swamps in Venezuela to lowland forests in Indonesia, entire communities of plants and animals are under threat. Now scientists are figuring out how to catalog and map the world’s most threatened ecosystems, saying that drawing up a global “Red List” of vanishing ecosystems would help to spot “big crises caused by everything from climate change to the cutting of forests, and would sharpen their focus on areas to conserve.” See excerpts with a link to the original post:

Venezuelan marine biologist and ecologist Luz Esther Sanchez says that saving the mangroves requires a comprehensive effort to reduce water pollution and halt the clearing of other forests upstream. The mangroves in Venezuela are endangered by runoff filled with sediment and pesticides, which has been smothering animals that once lived among the roots of the mangrove trees, including crabs, fish hatchlings and shellfish. She explains “Declaring the mangrove ecosystem threatened would be very useful for conservation. People stand up to defend dolphins. People stand up to defend turtles. But I’ve never seen them defend the mangrove forest with the same vehemence.”

An international working group of biologists and conservation experts has been developing a system for classifying threats to ecosystems. The Commission of Ecosystem Management of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, directed by Piet Wit, maintains a Red List of thousands of threatened plants and animals worldwide.

A conservation biologist, Jon Paul Rodríguez, at the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research who is leading the IUCN working group says, “You usually get ecosystem decline occurring first, and then species decline later on.” He and 20 other experts laid out their proposals in an article published online by the journal Conservation Biology in November.

Nevertheless, some efforts to save threatened species appear to be working. Humpback whales, for instance, have rebounded from “vulnerable” to being at low risk of extinction due to the international ban on commercial whaling. Strict regulations have helped the recovery of some fish that were once heavily overfished, such as striped bass along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast.

One study released in October by a large international team of researchers found that efforts to save endangered animals are making a difference for dozens of species. The report concluded that the overall march toward extinction would have been about 20 percent faster if no conservation steps had been taken

In the case of the mangroves that line Lake Maracaibo near the Venezuelan coast, Sanchez said species-focused conservation efforts alone won’t work because the habitat is being degraded by muddy water from areas where mountain forests have been felled. She said runoff filled with pesticides is also likely taking a toll, and that in some parts of western Venezuela— which is dotted with oil rigs— leaks from oil pipelines have done damage.

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