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Engaging Energy Company in Biodiversity Protection: A Case from Bangladesh

17 October 2017
Ganges River Dolphin at the confluence of the Bhairab-Atai-Rupsha river system in Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo: © IUCN / Kazi Zenifar Azmiri

North-West Power Generation Company Limited (NWPGCL) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have come together to work with IUCN on an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a proposed power plant project at the confluence of the Bhairab-Atai-Rupsha river system at Khulna, in the south-west of Bangladesh.

The proposed 800MW combined-cycle plant is being financed by the ADB to help Bangladesh achieve its goal of providing power to the remaining 20 percent of its population that currently is without.

Vessels at the confluence of the Bhairab-Atai-Rupsha river system in Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo: © IUCN / A.B.M. Sarowar Alam/The preliminary findings of the EIA confirm the presence of globally endangered Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) in the vicinity of the site. This threatened aquatic mammal is now confined to the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of South Asia and has recently been declared Vulnerable in Bangladesh by IUCN.

IUCN is currently determining the presence and persistence of Ganges River Dolphins in these rivers through seasonal assessments. The study is also evaluating the food availability of dolphin prey species, such as fish, and other factors, like water quality, flow, and human activities in the rivers, that would directly affect the aquatic life. IUCN will further look into the potential impacts on the dolphins of establishing and running the proposed power plant.

Knowledge gathered from the on-going study will help the NWPGCL and the ADB to adopt mitigation measures that will help ensure there is no net loss of biodiversity from the proposed project, and also create scope for wider conservation interventions in the area around the power plant site by involving the local communities and other stakeholders.

Industrial activities on the west bank of the Rupsha River in Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo: © IUCN / A.B.M. Sarowar Alam. In recent decades, corporate bodies in Bangladesh have been increasingly focusing on social and environmental benefits. The collaboration between an energy company, a financial organisation, and a conservation organisation showcased here is yet another positive step toward environmental protection in Bangladesh.



Hippos, crocodiles and other freshwater megafauna threatened and ignored

16 October 2017
Large Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibious). Photo: Jean-Christophe Vié.

A recent study by IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) reveals nearly 60 percent of iconic freshwater species such as crocodiles, hippos, sturgeons and river dolphins are classified as threatened on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and lacking adequate protection. 

The study Freshwater Megafauna: Flagships for Freshwater Biodiversity under Threat published in the journal, BioScience, analysed 132 megafauna species weighing over 30 kilograms, including the Giant Sturgeon (Huso huso), Large Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) and Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis).

Juvenile Giant Sturgeon (Huso huso). Photo: William DarwallThe researchers found that over-exploitation is the main threat to these species, with 94 percent of the species under pressure from this threat. Other main threats include habitat changes such as dam constructions and pollution. Despite the threats, they are largely overlooked in government policies, compared to their terrestrial or marine counterparts. This influences investments and conservation actions to protect freshwater species and their habitats, contributing to their rapid rate of decline.

“Freshwater ecosystems harbour iconic species such as the giant sturgeons, which have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. These ecosystems also support human well-being, for example providing food, regulating floods and purifying water,” says Dr. William Darwall, Head of IUCN’s Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, Global Species Programme who led this study. “Raising public awareness about the frighteningly rapid decline of these iconic species and the impact this will have on human well-being is important to encourage more investment in their conservation. If nothing is done to reverse this decline – a direct consequence of human actions – a number of these species may become extinct within our own lifetimes.”

Freshwater megafauna species are found on all continents except Antarctica, occurring mostly in large rivers and lakes such as the Amazon River in South America, Lake Tanganyika in Africa and the Caspian Sea between Europe and Asia. The researchers call for more research to improve knowledge about these species and their threats to design effective conservation measures.

Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis). Photo: William Darwall. The conservation of these species and their required habitats can also bring significant benefits to other freshwater species. The study estimates that 83 percent of all threatened freshwater species co-occur with these megafauna species – revealing their potential as both flagship and umbrella species. The authors highlight the untapped potential of these species to raise public awareness about the threats to freshwater species, attract financial support and guide freshwater conservation planning.



Climate change a real threat to the Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants - UPDATE 2017

06 October 2017
Photo: iucn-mpsg

In 2005, the Mediterranean Islands Plant Specialist Group (IUCN/SSC) published The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants - Wild plants at the brink of extinction and what is needed to save them. A decade later, the publication has been updated to assess any changes that may have occurred in the conservation status of these 50 plant species and to see what measures have been taken to improve their conservation status.

Almost half of the plants (22) have a modified level of threat compared to the 2005 assessment. 21 plants species have a lower threat level and only one has a higher one. This is the case of  Lysimachia minoricensis which is now considered as Extinct in the Wild (EW), since all attempts to reintroduce this species into its natural environment have failed and living collections are found only in botanical gardens or seed banks.

Photo: iucn-mpsgAlthough the improvement in the threat level for nearly half of the plants is in itself encouraging, it does not reflect solely a real improvement in the conservation status of these species, but in some cases, is due only to an improvement of the knowledge of the species. In many cases, the conservation measures implemented have stabilized or improved the situation.

However, all these plants are still threatened with extinction and efforts to conserve them must continue. Climate change, a threat that was still somewhat theoretical in 2005, is becoming more evident and the mitigation of its effects on very localized species represents an important challenge.

The booklet presents a selection of 50 of the most threatened plant species growing on Mediterranean islands. It aims to draw the attention of both the public and policy-makers to the vulnerability of island flora and call for urgent conservation measures. Each sheet of species gives a description of the species with illustrations and maps, emphasizing the threats to the species, existing and additional conservation measures. 

Photo: iucn-mpsgThe Mediterranean basin is one of the world’s richest places in terms of animal and plant diversity. Nearly 25,000 species of flowering plants and ferns are native to the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin, and 60% of these plants are found nowhere else in the world. It also contains nearly 5,000 islands and islets. While many of these are quite small (4,000 cover an area of less than 10 km²), there are also many larger islands such as Sicily (with an area of 25,700 km2). Thanks to their isolation on islands, some ancient plant species have managed to survive while their relatives on the mainland became extinct.

We invite you to visit this new publication online “The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants UPDATE 2017”  and discover the wonders of Mediterranean islands flora!



Our Red List Species Assessors: Understanding and protecting fern and lycopod diversity, an interview with Henry Väre

29 September 2017
Photo: Heidi Kaipiainen-Väre

Pteridophytes, which include ferns and lycopods, are spore-producing plants usually found in humid environments. They provide shelter and habitat for many small animals and play essential roles in soil erosion prevention, stream bank stabilisation, removal of pollutants from the environment and soil creation on barren habitats. In this interview with Dr Henry Väre, a fern expert based in Helsinki, Finland, he talks about his work and involvement

This is the fifth of a series of interviews with our Red List Species Assessors currently involved in IUCN’s European Red Lists LIFE project. Our interviewee is a fern expert, but future interviews will profile beetle, moss, mollusc, and other plant experts. The project aims to assess the extinction risk of these species groups, and will contribute to guiding policy decisions and conservation actions at the European level. You can find previous interviews of this series here.

Athyrium distentifolium. Photo: Henry VareDr Henry Väre first became interested in plants when he was young. “I have always been interested in recognising items – first I collected stamps, and studied the geography of the countries where those stamps were released. Later, I begun to collect plants and became interested in finding out what those plants were, as well as their background and history. I decided that taxonomy would be my field.”

After a PhD at the University of Oulu in Finland, Dr Väre became a plant taxonomist and is currently working at the Botanic Museum of the University of Helsinki, studying the biogeographical evolution of South African ferns. “I am the best in the field at recognising plants, and I am truly interested in the relationships between the species, their background and evolution, and how different species have formed and spread. There is a term called reticulate evolution, meaning that many fern species have evolved due to hybridization between species. It is interesting to clarify which species are “behind” the current ones.” 

Dr Väre first became involved with the IUCN European Red List when a colleague of his, Maarten Christenhusz invited him to collaborate in the European Red List of Lycopods and Ferns being developed though the European Red Lists LIFE project.  “I have assessed the risk of extinction of the Dryopteris species, a very interesting fern genus. Many species are born through hybridization, which means that their chromosome numbers have been duplicated, or quadruplicated, and so on. Those species are very difficult to separate from each other. To be sure of the taxonomic status we have to use molecular biology.”

Photo: Heidi Kaipiainen-Väre Working with ferns requires excellent identification skills, and for Dr Väre field work is the best part of the job. “I love doing field work. You get to go to exotic places, but you also need to have a very good background knowledge of what you expect to find, in order to study those species which you can recognise. You cannot go to the field and just collect something – you have to know your study subject very well before going to the field.”

According to Dr Väre, construction activities are usually the main threat to ferns and lycopods in Europe. Climate change could also become a threat in the future, but this has proven difficult to evaluate so far. As for how we can protect these species, we should rely on protected land and water areas. “In particular water ferns are very sensitive to water pollution, so clean water is essential. Avoiding building infrastructure in certain areas is the best way to protect ferns.

However, ferns and lycopods are resilient plants and are doing better than many flowering species due to their good dispersal abilities. “In general, fern and lycopod spores spread very easily since they are quite small. Even in more fragmented landscapes such as in Europe they have an advantage. Many fern species occur in mountainous areas, and usually there is enough wind to take spores from one place to another easily. However water ferns are the exception, as they are highly threatened and usually more restricted.”

Dryopteris Fragrans. Photo: Henry Vare. Dr Väre has been involved in red listing efforts for some time, and has participated in the red list assessment of Finnish flora. “Red List assessments are necessary to provide the necessary information to decision makers. I would highly recommend people to join these evaluation projects on their own expertise fields. I will also be participating in another evaluation of Artic species globally and continue with this kind of work in the future.”

His work with European ferns will be part of the upcoming European Red List of Lycopods and Ferns, which will reveal the status of European pteridophyte species and inform conservation decisions in Europe. “I hope the report will be spread effectively to the right people, including local nature protection people and administrators.”

As for Dr Väre’s favourite species: “The Fragrant Woodfern (Dryopteris fragrans) – the main population is in Finland and this fern is very beautiful. Its name relates to their very pleasant smell.”



Paris Agreement only chance for coral reef survival – IUCN

22 September 2017
Soft corals in the Beqa Lagoon, Vitu Levu, Fiji.Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Klaus Jost

Limiting global warming to below 2°C in line with the Paris Agreement provides the only chance for the survival of coral reefs, warns David Obura, Chair of the International Union for Conservation of  Nature (IUCN)’s Coral Reef Specialist Group, writing today in the journal Science.

Latest data show that globally reefs have a chance of long-term survival if warming is limited to under 2oC, though even this may be too little too late for many reef systems.

Seascape with coral in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Pietro Formis.“We are on the doorstep of a world without coral reefs and the only way to avoid this is through the full implementation of the Paris Agreement,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “We cannot afford to lose these uniquely rich ecosystems which provide food, livelihoods and coastal protection to 500 million people worldwide.”

As well as limiting warming the world must also deal with non-climate threats to reefs, such as pollution and overfishing, to give them a chance of survival, the Science editorial warns. To tackle these threats, economic systems must become sustainable and circular, minimising waste as well as emissions, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Tropical fish and coral reefs around the Fakarava atoll in French Polynesia. Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Catherine Gras.“We need urgent global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions if we are to help reefs survive the devastating wave of coral bleaching we have seen over the last three years, and that will further intensify in the future,” says David Obura. “The Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework for that action. World leaders must now stand behind these commitments if coral reefs are to survive the Anthropocene.”

He also points to the need for grassroots and large-scale conservation initiatives throughout the tropics to help ensure reef survival. Frontier research, such as efforts to accelerate genetic selection towards heat-resistant corals, is also needed, he writes.

The editorial can be accessed here.

For more information or interviews please contact:

Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations,, +41 76 505 33 78



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