70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

The conservation status of marine biodiversity of the western Indian Ocean

By: Dr Sean Fennessy

IUCN is the oldest, largest and most respected conservation NGO in the world, and is in the business of assessing the status of the planet’s biodiversity. SAAMBR has been an IUCN member for over 30 years, and ORI scientists frequently participate in marine Red List species’ extinction risk assessments, and other IUCN activities, to further the interests of conservation. Recently, some of this participation culminated in a book describing the conservation status of marine biodiversity of the Western Indian Ocean (WIO), which included ORI staff Sean Fennessy and Bernadine Everett as co-authors. This comprehensive assessment was based on recently undertaken Red List assessments for marine fishes, combined with existing assessments for other marine species (corals, turtles, sharks and marine mammals). Many of the fish Red List assessments were undertaken at workshops in Tanzania, Oman and South Africa from 2017 to 2019; ORI hosted the last workshop, attended by 11 international experts (https://www.saambr.org.za/saambrs-role-in-the-iucn/). Briefly, the WIO is highly diverse (>4 000 species), providing food security and livelihoods to coastal populations, as well as having many natural wonders. The ecological services that marine species provide are vital to ecosystem productivity, and healthy biodiversity is essential to support economies and local users. However, there are growing threats from overexploitation, habitat degradation through pollution and coastal development, and climate change: 8% of assessed WIO species are under threat of extinction; and this figure could rise to 24% if the region’s Data Deficient species (for which very little information is available) are similarly threatened. These figures are slightly higher than those for other oceanic regions for which similar reviews have been undertaken. Opportunities and priorities for research are identified, as well as suggestions for conservation strategies. The book is free to download at https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/49295