200 freshwater species face extinction in W Ghats

Over half of all fish species harvested for human consumption

Close to 16 per cent of the 1,146 freshwater species are threatened with extinction, whereas a further two per cent can be categorised as near-threatened, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Friday in its latest assessment, which covers major river catchments such as Tapi, Krishna, and Cauvery systems.
The southern portion of Western Ghats including Kerala, Tamil Nadu and southern Karnataka has the highest freshwater species richness. But the area also has the highest number of threatened species.

The endangered Deccan Mahseer (Tor khudree) is one of the most sought-after food fish in the region. But due to over-harvesting, invasive species and pollution, it has declined massively in the past decade.

Another iconic fish species, Miss Kerala (Puntius denisonii), is also classified as endangered as it is targeted and collected indiscriminately for ornamental fish trade. Its habitat is also being threatened by water pollution from plantations and urban areas.
The report projects freshwater fish as the most threatened group in peninsular India with more than a third – 37 per cent to be exact – at risk of global extinction.
Aquatic plants and fish are the most utilised freshwater species. According to the assessment done by IUCN, along with two other international ecological outfits Species Survival Commission and Zoo Outreach Organisation, as many as 28 per cent of the aquatic plants are harvested for medicinal purposes, whereas 14 and 13 per cent are used as food by people and animals respectively.

Incidentally, the assessment comes days after an India ecological panel headed by Madhav Gadgil, ecologist of the Indian Institute of Science, submitted its report on the Western Ghats to the Union Ministry of Environment, which will have to take a call on the future of many developmental projects based on the Gadgil panel recommendations.
The IUCN report suggests more than half of all fish species are harvested for human consumption and there is a growing tendency of using captured fish for aquarium trade. Of late, 37 per cent of the fish species are caught for aquarium trade. Eighteen percent of mollusc species are used as food by humans.

The threats include pollution, fishing and aquarium collection, construction of dams, invasion by alien species, energy production and mining. The worst impact, however, is by the urban and domestic pollution.

“This biodiversity hotspot contains the greatest number of threatened species in peninsular India, pointing to an urgent need to give higher priority to environmental sustainability in economic development,” said Kevin Smith, an IUCN officer.

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