20-25% Of All Well-Known Marine Species Headed Towards Extinction, Research Finds

A significant proportion — 20-25% — of all well-known marine species are headed rapidly towards extinction, new research from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences has found.

The new work — which made use of the most comprehensive conservation data available for both marine and non-marine organisms — demonstrates that marine species are just as likely to go extinct in the near-future as terrestrial species are.


Lead researcher Dr Thomas Webb explained: “Until now, there has been a general assumption that, despite pressures on marine environments like pollution and overfishing, marine species are unlikely to be threatened with extinction. We have shown that, on the face of it, there are indeed far fewer marine species of conservation concern; but much of this can be explained by the fact the conservation status of fewer marine species has been formally assessed.”

(You may be thinking, well “duh”, but these sorts of blindspots are par the course for institutionalized “science”, so you better get used to it…)

This assessment means that species have been checked against a list of criteria published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a time-consuming process that has been completed for only 3% of marine species, with no assessments at all in three quarters of the major groups of marine animals and plants.

Dr Webb continued that line of thought: “When we concentrate on those groups of animals and plants which are best known, and where estimates of extinction risk are likely to be most reliable, the difference between marine and non-marine species disappears. Instead, in these groups around one in every four or five species is estimated to be at a heightened risk of extinction, whether they live on land or in the sea.”

We ought to be more concerned about marine species.”

The research — funded by the Royal Society — is part of a broader initiative recently to challenge the institutional divisions between marine ecology and “mainstream” ecology. To put it in other words, to challenge the assumption that marine systems are in someway fundamentally different from terrestrial ones — and, perhaps more importantly, the presumption that distinct approaches to research are needed, as well as separate research institutes.

Dr Webb noted: “This is not to say that there are no important differences, but rather that assumptions need to be tested in order to make sensible decisions about managing the marine environment.”

That may be something that is hard to do in a timely fashion though, as much recent research has shown:

Image Credit: U of S

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