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16 per cent fish, plants and other freshwater species threatened; 2 per cent near threatened
Industrial development and rapid urbanisation are taking a toll on the freshwater species of the Western Ghats. Close to 16 per cent of freshwater fish, molluscs, dragonflies, damselflies and aquatic plants found along the length of peninsular India are threatened with extinction due to water pollution from agricultural and urban sources and overharvesting, says a new study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The study has been conducted by IUCN along with the Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO) to asses the conservation status of freshwater species in the major river catchments in the Western Ghats states—Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Chattisgarh. Out of the total 1,146 freshwater taxa assessed, 1.9 per cent species were found near threatened. The study was released on September 22.
Within the Western Ghats, catchments in the southern part of the region in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and southern Karnataka have the highest freshwater species richness and levels of endemism, but also contain the highest number of threatened species. Although many protected areas are located within or near areas of the richest freshwater biodiversity, the southern Western Ghats region also experiences the highest level of threat to freshwater species.
The study found the water pollution as the biggest threat for these species with urban and domestic pollution ranking as the worst threats followed by agricultural and industrial sources of pollution. The other threats are: overharvesting of these species, residential and commercial development, dams and other natural system modifications, alien invasive species, agriculture and aquaculture, energy production and mining.
The study, claimed to be the first detailed assessment of freshwater species in the Western Ghats, says the pace of growth of the Indian economy and rates of industrial and urban development are not in tune with the conservation needs of this freshwater ecosystem. “Many species are narrowly distributed within the Western Ghats, where destruction or alteration of a small catchment may lead to their extinction,” says the report.
The study has recommended that immediate actions should be taken to protect the key habitats. Conservation of specialized ecosystems such as Myristica swamps, prevention of agrochemical use in upper catchments, and regulation of tourism in critical habitats is urgently required, says the study.
The study has found that the legislation to protect species and habitats exists across the region, but their implementation and enforcement is not effective. “Threatened and endemic species of freshwater fish of biological and socio-economic importance should be included within the National Wildlife Protection Act. Improved enforcement of pollution laws is needed along with effective effluent treatment and better solid waste disposal protocols. Environmental impact assessment of development activities must be evaluated for their impacts to freshwater ecosystems,” says the study.
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