70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

SAAMBR’s Role in the IUCN      

By:  Prof. Sean Fennessey

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s largest and oldest conservation union. It is a global authority on the health of nature and measures needed to conserve it. IUCN membership is made up of government agencies and civil society organizations, and SAAMBR has been a member since 1984. The IUCN is well known for its Red List of Threatened Species, which details the conservation status of thousands of plant and animal species.  Identifying extinction risk helps to alerts governments and focus efforts towards sustainable management.

How does the IUCN do this? At the World Conservation Congress held every four years, the IUCN brokers international agreements to conserve species and their environment, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Being party to these agreements, countries and organizations are obliged to undertake steps to ensure sustainability of their biodiversity. At the local level, the IUCN Red List helps to identify priority areas and species for conservation; and to implement actions, in the form of protected areas, harvest restrictions, etc. The IUCN’s Species Survival Commission has over 8 000 volunteer experts who are members of Species Specialist Groups (SSG); scientists, managers and conservationists who have specialist knowledge on families of organisms. The SSGs main role is to provide information to the IUCN on biodiversity conservation; life history of species; the value of species for ecosystem health, functioning and ecosystem services; and their support to human livelihoods. This information is used by SSG members in undertaking and reviewing Red List assessments.

ORI has several scientists who are members of a variety of SSG, including rockcods, wrasses, seabreams, snappers, grunters, kobs and corals; and who contribute to other SSGs, such as sharks and rays. To date, they have co/authored over 300 global assessments (see www.iucnredlist.org), and others are still underway. Every 10 years, depending on funding availability, ORI scientists physically meet with other SSG members to re-assess the status of their specialist species; in between, there is plenty of interaction via emails and newsletters.

In November 2019, ORI hosted an IUCN workshop attended by 11 international experts, at which over 700 Red List species’ assessments were undertaken that will contribute to an imminent Western Indian Ocean marine biodiversity status report.

Recently, the Red List approach has been broadened to include ecosystem-level assessments, and ORI scientists are involved in developing methods for this. Public awareness of the Red List status of species has been raised via the collaboration between IUCN and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, whereby the Red List category of a species (Endangered, Vulnerable, etc) is provided in the annotations alongside the aquarium exhibits, as we do at uShaka Sea World. Strategically, SAAMBR also contributes to the IUCN via our CEO’s participation in the IUCN’s South Africa Committee, and the Eastern and Southern African Regional Office initiatives.