Endangered Species Overview

What is an endangered species?

An endangered species is a population of any living organism that is at risk of becoming extinct because it has decreased in number, by either changing environmental factors or through greater predation. In 2006, of all the species evaluated by The World Conservation Union (IUCN), 40 percent of this was said to be endangered. A matter of great concern right now is the rate in which many species have become extinct over the years, which some scientists have reported as accelerating through the years.

Endangered species need our attention. While many may relate only to endangerment of large mammals or birdlife, some of the greatest ecological issues are the threats to stability of whole ecosystems if key animals or plants become extinct at any level of the food chain.

What endangered species can be found in Fiji?

Fiji currently has a number of organisms included in the Endangered Species List. Some of these organisms include marine turtles, Bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometobon muricatum), Humphead wrasse (Chilinus undulates), Triton trumpet snail (Charonia tritonis), and humpback whales. The Fiji’s Department of Fisheries has also listed a few species of concern which according to them are at risk of being wiped out. These include the lamp shell and the cowry shell, especially the golden cowry. MES works with the Institute of Marine Resources in tackling issues relating turtle conservation in the region.

Fiji Endangered Species/Species of Concern

What causes an animal or plant to become endangered?

There are many factors that lead to the endangerment of a particular species. These factors include:

  1. Pollution—pollution can come in many forms. Air, water and ground pollution are the major types of pollution that threaten the survival of any species. Pollution from oil spills at sea or dumped toxic substances on land can have devastating effects on organisms that are making these areas their home.
  2. Habitat Loss—a habitat refers to the home of any organism. This may be a coral reef, mangrove forest, upland forest, mudflat, seagrass bed, rainforest and many more. Habitat loss is the greatest cause of species endangerment. Examples of this include the construction of roads, homes or buildings etc.
  3. Disease—diseases come naturally however sometimes humans introduce diseases and problems into a species that threatens their survival. An example of this is the effect of insecticides or pesticides that causes changes in the genetic makeup of an organism. In the United States, the introduction of the insecticide DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane), which was found in waterways and soil, eventually worked its way up the food chain from small water feeders to the fish who ate the plant life in the water and the animals and humans who ate the fish. When DDT was left in the water it eventually broke down and became DDE (dichlorodiphenylethylene). These toxic substances (along with others like PCB’s) caused eagles and peregrine falcons to produce eggs that had shells so thin that they broke just from the mother sitting on them.
  4. Unregulated fishing—unregulated fishing or over harvesting may lead to the diminishing of targeted species. A good example is the overfishing of Humphead wrasses.
  5. Introduced Species—new species introduced by humans into an ecosystem where they never existed before can sometimes have a negative effect on the ecosystem upsetting the balance and changing the whole system. A good example is the introduction of the small Indian mongoose Herpestes javanicus as a biological control to rats in the cane fields of Fiji. The mongoose ended up killing a species of the snake population and destroying many varieties of ground nesting birds.
  6. Competition from other species—sometimes there are just too many organisms living in an area that compete for the space, water and food that is found there.

A few other reasons for concern about extinction are:

  1. Destabilisation of an ecosystem;
  2. Endangerment of other species;
  3. Loss of irreplaceable genetic material and associated bio-chemicals.

The loss of a species is also an important factor, both as a decrease of the enjoyment of nature and as a moral issue for those who believe humans are stewards of the natural environment and believe that animal species have rights. Destabilisation is a well understood outcome when an element of food or predation is removed from an ecosystem. When one species goes extinct population increases or declines often result in secondary species. An unstable spiral may result until other species are lost and the ecosystem structure is changed markedly and irreversibly.

The third reason is more subtle however an important point for all to understand. Each species carries a unique genetic material in its DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, which may produce unique chemicals according to the genetic instructions contained in its DNA. For example in the valleys of central China a fernlike weed called sweet wormwood grows and is the only source of artemisinin and is nearly 100 percent effective against malaria. If this plant were lost to extinction then the ability to control malaria, even today a potent killer, would diminish. There are countless other examples of chemicals unique to an individual species yet to be discovered which is harder if more species are lost through extinction. Though extinction can be a natural result of the process of natural selection, the current rate of extinction is not related to that process as human impact is a huge factor adding threat to many species of concern.