Wildlife & Biodiversity

Marine invasive alien species threaten islands in Asia-Pacific

The species, which is little understood but is a serious threat to biodiversity, will make for a key topic of discussion at the IPBES meet

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 26 April 2019

The old story of invasive alien species wreaking havoc on local biodiversity has a new villain and geography: the marine invasive alien species and the islands in the Asia-Pacific.

What scares the global conservationist and biodiversity experts is that the world doesn’t know these destructive marine invasive alien species enough to prepare a strategy to eliminate them.

“Invasive alien species have increased and constitute to be one of the most serious drivers of biodiversity loss across the Asia-Pacific region,” reads a draft of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) Global Assessment Report on ecosystem services.

IPBES, which has 132 member governments, is the body that measures the contribution of biodiversity to people. On May 4, 2019, it will release the final report of assessment. The IPBES secretariat doesn’t respond to questions on the draft report and the final report may differ from the draft.

Invasive alien species impact the Asia-Pacific region the most, according to this assessment. While agriculture-intensive areas and urban clusters are the usual victims, such attacks mostly happen on islands and around coastlines.

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity: “invasive alien species are species whose introduction and/or spread outside their natural past or present distribution threaten biological diversity”. These species are found in or known to impact animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms, and can affect all types of ecosystems. 

In recent past, the invasive alien species have spread faster and are invading unknown territories due to increasing volume of international trade, improvements in transportation, and cross-border migration.

For the Asia-Pacific region, this poses a serious threat to local livelihoods. The freshwater ecosystems in the region support close to 28 per cent of aquatic and semi-aquatic species. “Nearly 37 per cent of these species are threatened by overfishing, pollution, infrastructure development and invasive alien species,” reads the draft report.

The assessment highlights the spread of marine invasive alien species that are yet to be studied well. “There is also increasing evidence that marine invasive alien species constitute an extremely serious, but less well understood, threat to fisheries, coral reefs and the overall functioning of marine ecosystems and food webs in the Asia-Pacific region,” it reads.

Recently, the journal New Scientist reported that waters around the Galapagos Islands “have been invaded by more alien species than previously thought”. There have been widespread reports of oceanic islands being invaded by invasive alien species.

When the members of IPBES meet to discuss the assessment report, the issue of marine alien species is expected to be taken up as a priority for more scientific study. 

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