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Draft mining regulations insufficient to protect the deep sea – IUCN report

16 July 2018
Photo: NOAA  Okeanos  Explorer  Program,  Galapagos  Rift  Expedition  2011

Regulations under development at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to manage deep-sea mining are insufficient to prevent irrevocable damage to marine ecosystems and a loss of unique species – many yet to be discovered, an IUCN report warns.

The report, Deep seabed mining: a rising environmental challenge, provides a comprehensive overview of deep-sea mining and its potential environmental impacts. The report was launched today, coinciding with the 24th session of the ISA, whose aim is to agree on a ‘mining code’ to regulate the exploitation of the deep seabed.

According to the report, an effective regulatory framework is needed to avoid lasting harm to the marine environment, based on high-quality environmental impact assessments and mitigation strategies. These, in turn, must be based on comprehensive baseline studies to improve the understanding of the deep sea, which remains understudied and poorly understood.

The mining code currently under development lacks sufficient knowledge of the deep sea and a thorough assessment of environmental impacts of mining operations that are necessary to ensure effective protection of deep-sea life, according to IUCN experts.

“We are operating in the dark,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “Our current understanding of the deep sea does not allow us to effectively protect marine life from mining operations. And yet, exploration contracts are being granted even for those areas that host highly unique species. Exploitation of minerals using current technologies could potentially destroy the rich deep-sea life forever, benefitting only a few, and disregarding future generations.”

There is growing commercial interest in deep-sea mineral deposits as a result of projected rising demand for copper, aluminium, cobalt and other metals. These resources are used to produce high-tech applications, such as smartphones, and green technologies, such as electric storage batteries.

Though there is little empirical evidence of the impacts of deep-sea mining, the potential impacts are worrying. These include direct physical damage to marine habitats due to the scraping of the ocean floor by machines – similar to clearcutting a forest – and the stirring up of fine sediments on the seafloor that can smother animals and cloud the water. Additional impacts include toxic pollution due to leaks and spills, noise, vibrations and light pollution from mining equipment and surface vessels.

By May 2018, the ISA – which has the dual mandate of promoting the development of deep-sea minerals whilst ensuring that this development is not harmful to the environment – had issued 29 contracts for the exploration of the deep sea. Commercial mining in international waters is expected to begin no earlier than 2025. Exploratory mining in the national waters of Japan started in 2017, and commercial mining is predicted to occur in Papua New Guinea by 2020. 

“With regulations for commercial deep-sea mining currently under development, we are facing a unique window of opportunity to ensure that potential impacts of these operations are properly assessed, understood and publically discussed,” says Kristina Gjerde, IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme senior advisor on the high seas. “Stringent precautionary measures to protect the marine environment should be a core part of any mining regulations, yet these remain missing in action. In addition to this, the ISA’s challenging and conflicting mandate will require improved oversight by the international community to ensure marine life is adequately protected.”

Deep-sea mining is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the deep sea – the area of the ocean below 200 m. The area covers about 65% of the Earth’s surface and harbours a rich diversity of species – many unknown to science – which are uniquely adapted to harsh environmental conditions. It also includes unique geological features, including the Mariana Trench – the greatest depth registered in the ocean.

The 24th session of the ISA is taking place from 2 to 27 July in Kingston, Jamaica.



Assessing Turtles in Ramsar Sites in Lao PDR

11 July 2018
Heosemys grandis. (Giant Asian Pond turtle)Photo: © IUCN

In June IUCN Lao PDR assessed turtle populations in the Xe Champhone Ramsar site in southern Laos. They studied several threatened turtle species, and plan to continue the work at the Beung Kiat Ngong Ramsar Site in the coming months.

This assessment focuses on five species of turtle known to live in the two Lao Ramsar sites. These species include Malayemys subtrijuga (Mekong snail-eating turtle) Heosemys annandalli (Yellow-headed Temple turtle), Heosemys grandis (Giant Asian Pond turtle), Amyda cartilaginea ornata (Indochinese Softshell turtle) and Cuora amboinensis kamaroma (Malayan Box Turtle), the latter only reported in Beung Kiat Ngong.  

Mapping turtle habitats. Photo: © IUCNThe main objective of the study is to identify conservation priorities for the turtle populations of the Ramsar wetlands. IUCN plans to determine the conservation status of the different species, and identify and map important turtle habitats, including refuge and nesting sites.  Other objectives, specific to the Xe Champhone Site and the Sacred Turtle Lake, Nong Pafa, located in the village of Dondeng, are to estimate the number of Indochinese softshell turtles that reside in this lake, as well as assess the overall habitat quality of the lake, including water quality issues, and identify restoration measures. The last objective is to assess potential suitability of a supported breeding program for the species, as well as community monitoring programs of the turtles’ reproductive ecology and ecotourism management.

All the turtle species mentioned above are threatened with extinction in the wild due to collection for food and traditional medicine. There is a high demand for turtles in China and Vietnam where selling prices are high. Because of a recent, large increase in harvest, many turtle populations in the region have greatly declined or disappeared. Turtles are particularly susceptible to increased hunting pressures because of the already high levels of mortality from natural predators among young turtles and because most species grow slowly so they cannot reproduce until they are at least several years of age with have low reproductive rates. Thus, those turtles that do survive to reproductive age are extremely important for ensuring the survival of the population, and collection for sale into the wildlife trade can quickly deplete populations.



Australia’s reptiles threatened by invasive species, climate change – IUCN Red List

05 July 2018
Mitchell's Water Monitor (Varanus mitchelli) - © Jordan Vos

Gland, Switzerland, 5 July 2018 (IUCN) – Australia’s unique reptiles – including lizards and snakes – face severe threats from invasive species and climate change, with 7% of them threatened with extinction, reveals the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, published today. The Mauritian Flying Fox, an important pollinator, is now listed as Endangered due to a culling campaign, today’s update also reveals. There is some good news after the rediscovery of four South American amphibian species previously thought to be extinct

The IUCN Red List now includes 93,577 species, of which 26,197 are threatened with extinction. 

“Today’s IUCN Red List update reveals the onslaught of threats that our planet’s biodiversity is facing,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “Invasive species, changes to fire patterns, cyclones and human-wildlife conflict are just some of the many threats wreaking havoc on our planet’s ecosystems. As species from Mauritius to Australia slip towards extinction we risk losing a part of our culture and our identity, as well as the life-supporting benefits these species provide by pollinating our crops or preserving healthy soils.” 

“The UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity  (2011-2020) calls for countries to bring about the sustained recovery of species most at risk of extinction”, said Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group, speaking at a meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity this week. “Today’s update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species shows that urgent action is needed to conserve threatened species. IUCN calls for countries to urgently fast track conservation action for threatened species at the national level.”

Australia’s reptiles threatened by invasive species and climate change 
Australia’s reptiles face rising threats from invasive species and climate change, with 7% now threatened with extinction, The IUCN Red List update reveals after a comprehensive survey of the continent’s reptiles. The Red List now includes 975 Australian reptile species – almost all of Australia’s reptiles, the majority of them endemic to the continent. 

Tympanocryptis pinguicolla. Photo © Dr Will OsborneInvasive species are the main threat to the survival of over half of these threatened reptiles. A recent study found that invasive feral cats alone are estimated to kill about 600 million reptiles each year. One of the many species of reptile predated by feral cats is the Grassland Earless Dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla), which moved from the Vulnerable to the Endangered category. Changes to the intensity and frequency of fires – caused by a combination of agricultural management, the loss of traditional indigenous burning practices and invasive weeds – are an additional threat to this species. Like many Australian species, the Grassland Earless Dragon is naturally adapted to the semi-natural wildfire patterns that were in place prior to European settlement.  

Another invasive species threatening Australia’s reptiles is the toxic Cane Toad, which was introduced to Australia in 1935. For the Mitchell’s Water Monitor (Varanus mitchelli), which enters the Red List as Critically Endangered, dining on the toxic Cane Toad has resulted in population declines of up to 97% in some areas, following the arrival of toads. Australia’s reptiles are particularly vulnerable to poisoning by the Cane Toad as Australia has no native toads or other species that produce the same toxins. 

Varanus mitchelli. Photo © Stewart MacDonaldClimate change is also increasingly threatening Australia’s reptiles, including the Vulnerable Bartle Frere Cool-skink (Techmarscincus jigurru), a cold-adapted species found only on the summit of Queensland’s tallest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere. A 1°C increase in temperature is likely to result in a loss of 50% of the Cool-skink’s population within 30 years, as there are no cooler areas for the animal to move to. 

“This Red List update highlights the vulnerability of Australia’s lizards and snakes to invasive alien species, including the toxic Cane Toad and feral cats, often in combination with threats from habitat loss due to invasive weeds, development, and fire,” says Philip Bowles, IUCN SSC Snake and Lizard Red List Authority Coordinator. “Understanding the threats to each of Australia’s native reptile species will help us effectively work with the Australian Government, local conservation groups and Aboriginal people to address them.”  

Australia’s unusually diverse reptiles evolved in isolation from those elsewhere and represent almost 10% of the world’s reptile fauna. Some of these animals are important components of the environment and wider food chain. For indigenous people, Australian reptiles, particularly the carnivorous and frugivorous lizards and pythons, are an important part of their culture and are used as emblems and in storytelling, as well as food. 

Invasive plants threaten Azores island beetles
Tarphius relictus Photo © Paulo A. V. Borges Over a hundred insect species from the Portuguese islands of the Azores have been assessed for the IUCN Red List, and 74% of these are threatened with extinction. Habitat degradation exacerbated by invasive plant species, land use change and a drying climate are the main threats. All 12 assessed species of Ironclad Beetles (Tarphius spp.) are considered threatened with extinction. These beetles rely on decomposing wood, mosses and fern cover for survival, but the Kahili Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), a plant introduced from the Himalayas, is slowly replacing native plant species. The Terceira Island Ironclad Beetle (Tarphius relictus) has been particularly affected by this change and is now limited to a range of less than one hectare. The recent establishment of a protected area by the Azorean Government, based on the draft assessment of the Ironclad Beetle, provides some hope for the future of this species.

“Beetles are key components of ecosystems, fulfilling critical functions such as predation and pollination,” says Axel Hochkirch, Chair of the IUCN SSC Invertebrate Conservation Sub-Committee. “Small changes in habitats have great impacts on invertebrates and species endemic to islands are particularly threatened.” 

Mauritian Flying Fox now Endangered following culling campaign
The Mauritian Flying Fox (Pteropus niger), a large bat species found only on the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Réunion, has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on The IUCN Red List. The bat population fell by an estimated 50% between 2015 and 2016 largely due to government-implemented culling of the bats, motivated by alleged damage to lychee and mango fruit crops. 

Pteropus niger Photo © Martin D. ParrThe species also faces threats from deforestation, cyclones, illegal hunting and accidental mortality from power lines. Cyclones have caused population declines of over 95% in flying fox species on other islands, and remain an important threat to the Mauritian Flying Fox as cyclones are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity in the region.

The species fulfils a crucial role in Mauritius ecosystems by pollinating native plants and dispersing seeds. The IUCN SSC Human-Wildlife Conflict Task Force is working with the Mauritian Government, fruit growers, scientists and other stakeholders to address the underlying issues and to seek out alternative ways of protecting fruit crops, such as the use of netting and modernisation of orchard management. In 2015, IUCN warned in a statement that culling will very likely result in the species moving closer to extinction on The IUCN Red List. Meanwhile, through conflict resolution dialogue, the Task Force together with the IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group and the Mauritian Government have made promising progress towards developing acceptable solutions for all affected parties, and no further culls have taken place since 2016. 

Amphibian species rediscovered
Atelopus ignescens Photo © LuisA. Coloma/Centro Jambatu.Despite extremely high levels of threat to amphibians globally, there is some good news for amphibians after four species previously considered as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) or Extinct were rediscovered in Colombia and Ecuador. The Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad (Atelopus balios), Quito Stubfoot Toad (Atelopus ignescens) and Atelopus nanay were all suspected to have disappeared due to the effects of the deadly chytridiomycosis disease. The Carchi Andes Toad (Rhaebo colomai) was so heavily impacted by habitat loss that it was also feared to be gone forever.

“While these rediscoveries are encouraging news, the species are still negatively impacted by human-induced threats,” says Jennifer Luedtke, IUCN SSC Amphibian Red List Authority Coordinator. “These species still have to contend with severe habitat destruction and degradation, predation by non-native trout species, chytridiomycosis, and the effects of a changing climate, highlighting the urgent need to improve the conservation of these species to prevent their extinction.”

Japanese earthworms assessed for the first time
Metaphire sieboldi  Photo © H. Todd StradfordOf the 43 native species of Japanese earthworms assessed for the Red List, three species are considered threatened with extinction (Eisenia anzac, Drawida moriokaensis and Drawida ofunatoensis). Agricultural intensification and urban expansion are the main threats to some of these species.

Earthworms help maintain healthy soils, increase soil aeration and infiltration of rain. They are also the foundation of many food chains. In Japan, earthworms are traditionally used as fishing bait and medicine. They are also culturally significant, with mythical stories told of giant, singing earthworms ascending to heaven and becoming dragons.

Demand for perfume threatens one of the world’s most valued woods
Aquilaria malaccensis Photo © Ahmad Fuad … CC BY-NC-SA 2.0The Aquilaria malaccensis tree, which produces one of the world’s most valued woods, moved from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered as logging and deforestation caused populations to decline by more than 80% over the past 150 years. Agarwood develops in the core of some Aquilaria trees after they are infected by a mould and the tree produces a fragrant, dark resin as a defence mechanism against the infection. It is difficult to tell which wild trees contain agarwood, leading poachers to cut down large numbers of trees in search of the precious wood. Aquilaria malaccensis is one of the world’s preferred agarwood-producing species used for perfumery.

Other Species:
Ansonia smeagol Photo © Chan Kin OnnPrecious Stream-toad (Ansonia smeagol) – Named after The Lord of the Rings character ‘Smeagol’, this amphibian enters the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable. The species is endemic to the Genting Highlands in Peninsular Malaysia and is threatened by large and expanding tourist resorts and entertainment complexes. Unless something is done to stop these developments from encroaching on the range of this species and affecting the water quality of the streams the toad relies on for its survival, it might vanish forever.

Livistona carinensis Photo © Hilary & Geoff WELCHBankoualé Palm (Livistona carinensis) – The Bankoualé Palm has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on the Red List after its population and range declined because of over-exploitation and habitat loss. This culturally significant palm has been used for thousands of years for house building, firewood and crafts in oasis areas of Djibouti, Yemen and Somalia. Agricultural encroachment from date palm plantations and diversion of surface water for use in gardening pose particular threats in Yemen, exacerbated by increased levels of drought.

Geocapromys brownii Photo © Jamaica Conservation and Development TrustJamaican Hutia (Geocapromys brownii) – Endemic to Jamaica, this large rodent has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on The IUCN Red List. Hunting pressure and ongoing habitat loss and degradation are likely to be responsible for its decline, including its apparent disappearance from Cockpit Country in recent decades. Predation by introduced cats, dogs and mongoose are further threats. There is some evidence of population expansion in areas where hunting has been reduced, indicating conservation actions may improve the status of this species. 

Ornithoptera alexandrae Photo © Mark JoyQueen Alexandra's Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) – the world’s largest butterfly; a reassessment of this species confirms that it is still Endangered. This striking turquoise and yellow butterfly has a wingspan of 250 mm and is endemic to New Guinea. Until trade became illegal in 1987, this butterfly was a trafficked species for the curio market; one imperfect male was sold for US$2,850 in 1985. This species thrives in stable habitats, so habitat destruction from cocoa, rubber and oil palm plantations are now the prime threats to this species.

For more information or interviews please contact:
Goska Bonnaveira, IUCN Media Relations, +41 792760185,
Cheryl-Samantha MacSharry, IUCN Media Relations, +44 1223 331128,

For the full version of the press release please view the full press release on the IUCN website here.


Wild at home: threats and opportunities from the trade in wild plants

28 June 2018
Photo: Martin Harvey, WWF


The value of medicinal and aromatic plant trade has increased three-fold in the past 20 years, but traditional harvesting practices are being replaced by less sustainable alternatives. 

A new report by IUCN partner organization, TRAFFIC, highlights the importance of the wild plant ingredients used in the everyday products that humans depend on for survival. Wild at Home: An overview of the harvest and trade in wild plant ingredients, demonstrates how sustainable wild plant harvesting can contribute to wider wildlife conservation goals and why the global industry must adapt. The launch of the report coincides with FairWild Week 2018 - an annual online initiative supported by IUCN, celebrating the power of wild plants in our daily lives. 

Photo: CC 2.0The use of wild plants is common in many household products, including herbal remedies, food, and drink, cosmetics, health supplements, and even furniture. A recent analysis by the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group found that only 7% of medicinal and aromatic plant species with well-documented uses have been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™— one in five was found to be threatened with extinction. Overharvest and resource mismanagement are two major contributors to species declines. 

“Millions of people rely on wild plant collection both for their healthcare and for their livelihoods—from rural rosehip harvesters in Serbia to baobab fruit collectors in Zimbabwe, and the wide benefits of this harvesting are reaped by consumers across the world,” said Anastasiya Timoshyna, Co-Chair of the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group and co-author of the report. “But the industry utilising wild plant ingredients and consumers are paying far too little attention to ensuring plants are being traded responsibly.” 

Photo: A. TimoshynaOf the roughly 30,000 plant species with documented medicinal or aromatic uses, approximately 3,000 are found in international trade. An estimated 60–90% of them are harvested from the wild. International trade in medicinal and aromatic plants has tripled in value between 1999-2015 and is now worth over US$3 billion. Growing and changing demand for wild plant ingredients often means that traditional sustainable harvesting practices are being replaced by more intensive and destructive alternatives. Examples of this include the use of heavy machinery in the harvesting of wild licorice root Glycyrrhiza spp., or the destructive collection of American Ginseng Panax quinquefolius. 

If managed well, sustainable wild-harvesting and trade in plant ingredients could provide holistic management for other species and ecosystems, as well as multiple benefits to wild-harvesters and supply chains overall. 

Outcomes of the report are being discussed throughout FairWild Week. The action can be followed via the FairWild Website or on Twitter via @FairWild, #FairWildWeek.

About FairWild

Photo: TRAFFICThe FairWild Foundation is working with partners worldwide to improve the conservation, management and sustainable use of wild plants in trade, as well as the livelihoods of rural harvesters involved in wild collection. TRAFFIC has supported the development of the FairWild Standard, and now hosts the organisation’s Secretariat.

The FairWild Standard is being adopted across industry supply chains. Suppliers following the FairWild Standard adhere to strict rules regarding the sustainability of harvesting operations and ensuring the harvesters work in safe conditions and receive a fair and equitable payment for their produce. Products meeting the requirements are FairWild certified, and products containing them can bear the FairWild logo. 

The Wild Dozen – key plants to look out for in your products

This list provides examples of species important in trade, wild-harvested, susceptible to harvesting pressure (e.g. overcollected, vulnerable to unsustainable trade), and/or that are in supply chains problematic for social inequality of trading practices.

  1. 1. Frankincense: an aromatic resin used widely in the cosmetics industry, collected from wild trees in the genus Boswellia, mostly in the Horn of Africa.
  1. 2. Shea butter: extracted from nuts of Vitellaria paradoxa trees in the Sahel region of Africa and exported in large amounts for the food (chocolate) and cosmetics industries.
  1. 3. Jatamansi/spikenard: an essential oil extracted from the rhizomes of Nardostachys jatamansi an herbaceous plant that grows wild at high altitudes in the Himalayas. Used in aromatherapy and cosmetics, mostly in India, but also Europe and North America.
  1. 4. Gum arabic: the resin of Acacia spp. trees used as a stabiliser in food products (E number E414), primarily collected from wild trees in the Sahel region of Africa, often in conflict or post-conflict regions.
  1. 5. Goldenseal: an herbal medicine extracted from the roots of Hydrastis canadensis, an herbaceous plant that grows wild in south-eastern Canada and the eastern USA. Used domestically in large quantities and exported.
  1. 6. Candelilla: a wax harvested from wild Euphorbia antisyphilitica in Mexico for use primarily in cosmetic products; the species is included in Appendix II of CITES.
  1. 7. Pygeum: widely used as an herbal remedy for prostate problems, extracted from the bark of African cherry Prunus africana trees growing in moist forests in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar; the species is included in Appendix II of CITES.
  1. 8. Argan oil: a highly valued oil used in cosmetics and cooking extracted from the nuts of the Argan tree Argania spinosa which grows in the wild only in Morocco.
  1. 9. Baobab fruit: harvested from the African baobab Adansonia digitata a widespread savannah tree; marketed as a super-food and cosmetic ingredient.
  1. 10. Devil’s claw: a herbal remedy used as an anti-inflammatory extracted from the roots of Harpagophytum procumbens a slow-growing plant from arid regions of southern Africa.
  1. 11. Liquorice: large-scale trade in wild-harvested roots of Glycyrrhiza spp., threatened in parts of their range, are used for herbal products, traditional medicines, cosmetics, and food.
  1. 12. Juniper: it exemplifies wild-harvest and trade in popular medicinal and aromatic plants in Europe (although Juniper also occurs in Asia and North America). Commercial wild collection in Europe is declining as people become increasingly urbanised but it is still an important source of income for some communities locally, particularly ethnic minorities such as the Roma. A lack of equitable trade practices means that collectors are often disadvantaged. Other species in Europe to look out for, are wild garlic, thyme, sage and oregano, as well as rosehips, Leopard’s Bane Arnica montana, elderberries, blueberries, lime flowers, and even dandelions and nettles!



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