March 20, 2009

Freshwater Species “˜At Risk’ In Southern Africa

Southern Africa potentially faces detrimental losses to many of its native species of freshwater fish, shellfish and insects due to water extraction and habitat loss, according to a Thursday report from the world's top conservation agency, the Associated Free Press reported. 

There is a serious risk of extinction in 7 percent of the freshwater species in Southern Africa, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced at the World Water Forum in Istanbul.  A study was conducted testing 1,279 freshwater species, and of these 94 for of them are reportedly at risk.

The IUCN warned, "This figure will skyrocket unless species conservation is considered in development planning." 

This information sounds a resonating alarm bell in an area that millions rely heavily on the rivers, lakes and wetlands for their supply of food and drinking water purified by aquatic organisms. 

Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN's director general said, "The report is really about a battle for survival, between nature and economics," in a statement to the press. 

Six studies have been conducted on the biodiversity in South Africa, and the IUCN is compiling the facts based on these studies. 

When the evidence of these studies is understood, the areas of rich vegetation and species in danger can be pinpointed so that policymakers can establish protection laws about human settlement, farming and water extraction. 

"We are in a unique position in Africa to avoid an extinction disaster," commented Marton-Lefevre.  "Most developers have not taken freshwater species into consideration because they simply don't have the information they need... Africa's water resources can be developed without causing thousands of extinctions."

Currently, species loss is primarily contributed to depletion of wetlands for agricultural use, as well as introduced species and over-extraction of the water sources.  However, the effects of dam construction and global warming pose severe threats in the future. 

The value of freshwater fish, plants, shellfish and insects are not known to many people, said William Darwall, manager of IUCN's freshwater biodiversity unit. 

He further added, "Globally it's been valued in the trillions" of dollars.  "In Africa, 21 percent of the protein in people's diets is estimated to come from fisheries, so it is extremely important."

Three "hotspots" have been isolated of prominent species diversity that warrants protection in light of this report. 

The "hotspots" are: The area where the upper Zambezi meets the Kwando and Chobe rivers above Victoria Falls; the Komati and Crocodile River tributaries of the Incomati system in Mpumalanga, South Africa; and the river basin of Mbuluzi in South Africa and Swaziland.


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