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Asia's Endangered Species

Asia is home to some of the most diverse habitats in the world, both above and below the water, but it is estimated that more than one in three species are endangered... and the figure is rising alarmingly fast.

Underwater, a whole range of pressures are putting marine life under immense pressure. Intense population pressure is leading to over-fishing, pollution and the destruction of crucial habitats.

As a result, the numbers of almost all fish are declining and many are already endangered. Here you can meet some of these endangered species and hear their story.
Green Turtle Shark Seahorses Napoleon Wrasse Despite Asia's incredible diversity, it is estimated that more than one in three species are endangered... and the figure is rising alarmingly fast.
Kings of the Ocean
Shark Sharks
Sharks have inhabited our planet and controlled the food chain for more than 400 million years. Currently, there are 400 species of Sharks in the world. Over half of them are now considered Endangered or Vulnerable. It is estimated that, since 1970, the numbers of some shark species have declined by 95% or more. Some Hammerhead Sharks are thought to have declined by more than 99%. While conservation efforts focused on more 'cuddly' creatures, Sharks have slipped through conservation's net. Unfortunately, millions of them have ended up in fisherman's nets, supplying the ever-growing demand for Shark Fin Soup in China. Similar to the Napoleon Wrasse, Shark Fin Soup is considered a delicacy in China and the growing wealth of the country means that more and more people can now afford it. Once the Shark's fins are removed, they are simply tossed back into the ocean to die.

Sharks suffer from an unfortunate, hugely undeserved reputation. Only now, when they are well on their way to being wiped out, are we beginning to appreciate their importance to the entire marine food chain and therefore ourselves. The decline in numbers is so alarming that, unless very urgent action is taken, 400 million years of evolution may be destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Whales have been in our oceans for 50 million years. They have common ancestry with the Hippopotamus and are closely related to Dolphins. There are two types of Whales - Baleen Whales, which filter feed plankton and smaller Toothed Whales, which have teeth to feed on squid & fish. In total, there are around 40 species of Whale many of which pass through the tropics on their epic migrations. 11 are currently listed as endangered.

Many are vulnerable as they are yet to recover from commercial whaling, which drove many species near to extinction. Commercial Whaling was banned in the middle of the last century, but Whales are still struggling. Modern threats to their survival include: capture in Drift Nets, officially banned in 1992 but still used in certain places; Pollution, by way of garbage in the ocean which Whales may consume and damaging chemical pollution from human activities that enter the Whale's system and affect their health; and increased boat traffic, which . Japan still catches and kills many Whales annually in the name of 'scientific research'.

Friendly Faces
Turtles are one of many marine species that are under threat.
Closely related to Whales, the Dolphin group also includes Porpoises and the misleadingly named Killer Whale & Pilot Whale. They are highly intelligent and very social animals.

Of all the Dolphin family, it is River Dolphins that are most under threat. River Dolphins are less well known and much rarer than their marine counterparts.

Globally, there are 7 species, 3 of which are found in Asia: The Irrawaddy Dolphin, The Finless Porpoise and the Yangtze River Dolphin, or Baiji.

The Irrawaddy Dolphin is unique as it can be found in both fresh and saltwater. Tiny freshwater populations exist in 4 rivers in Asia, plus in a lake in Thailand. They are listed as Critically Endangered. The plight of the Baiji is even more perilous. Only found in the Yangtze River in China, no more than one hundred are thought to remain and they are already on the verge of extinction. Finless Porpoises are the only freshwater Porpoise. They can be found near coastal waters around the region and in the Yangtze in China. They are classified as Endangered, with less than 1500 alive today.

The main threats are through fishing, which accidentally catch and kill the Dolphins, and Habitat Degradation such as pollution.

Dugongs are closely related to Manatees and are distant relatives of Elephants. They are gentle herbivores, feeding solely on seagrasses. They have a complex social structure and are very caring parents, weaning their young for two entire years and sometimes cradling them, just like a human parent would.

Despite this gentle, caring nature, they are hunted by people for their meat, oil, skin, bones & teeth. They have even been hunted for their tears, which were thought to have medicinal properties. They can be found in certain areas across the Asia Pacific, close to shore and fields of seagrass. The largest populations are in Western Australia & Papua New Guinea, with smaller populations in Thailand, Malaysia & the Philippines.

Additional threats come from boat traffic, as they need to surface to breath every six minutes, pollution & habitat loss. As female Dugongs only give birth to a handful of young in the lives, they are a species that struggles to rebound from any loss of population. They are considered Vulnerable to Extinction throughout the region.

Turtles have survived on this planet since the days of the Dinosaurs, 100 million years ago. There are seven species of marine turtle in the world. One is found only in the Gulf of Mexico. All of the other six species can be found in the Asia-Pacific region. Once plentiful, five of these species are now listed as endangered, with the Hawksbill & Leatherback Turtles listed as Critically Endangered. The sixth species, the Flatback Turtle, cannot be listed because we do not know enough about it. While female turtles lay hundreds of eggs, even under natural conditions only a handful ever survive and they take decades to reach sexual maturity & reproduce. Now, many other threats continue to reduce their numbers alarmingly.

The main threats to marine turtles are: demand for their meat and beautiful shells, which continues despite laws to protect them; reduction of their habitats, especially the beaches they need to lay their eggs; irresponsible fishing practices that accidentally catch turtles - known as 'by-catch'; increasing boat traffic and pollution, such as plastic bags that they mistake for food and chemical pollution that affects their health.

On the Brink
Napoleon Wrasse Napoleon Wrasse
Napoleon Wrasse are also known as Humphead Wrasse and Maori Wrasse, depending on where you are in the world. They are one of the largest fish found on coral reefs, reaching up to 2 metres in length. Adults are particularly distinctive, not only for their size, but also for their large lips and the bump on their head. Their reproductive behaviour is also curious, with individuals changing from female to male as they grow older - nobody knows why.

Sadly, they are highly sought after, both as food and for live fish-food. They are considered a high class, regal delicacy in some areas and, as wealth increases, they are sought by more and more people. They are slow to reproduce, which means populations will struggle to recover. Often, it is the juveniles that are killed, making their future even more bleak. They are often caught by spear-fishing and cyanide fishing. They are now listed as Endangered.

Tuna wouldn't be the first fish most people would think of when talking about endangered species. In actual fact, Tuna populations are facing collapse. Between 1960 and 2000, the global Tuna Industry doubled in size every 10 years, reaching a peak in 2004. South-east Asia currently supplies half of the world's Tuna, but demand is far exceeding supply and stocks are declining at an alarming rate.

Two of the key Tuna species in danger are Yellowfin & Bigeye Tuna. The demand for Tuna has led to huge amounts of illegal, unreported and unlicensed fishing, on top of licensed fishing levels that are considered unsustainable. This huge amount of fishing is also having a big impact on many other species, both large & small, which are the 'by-catch' of the huge tuna fishing industry.

Seahorses are one of the most unique fish in the oceans. Not only is their appearance unique, but so is their behaviour. Unlike other fish, it is the males that give birth to the young, not the females. These shy creatures were once common all around the world, now they are endangered.

Before human intervention, they had almost no predators due to their excellent camouflage. Now, 24 million seahorses are taken from the oceans each year in an industry involving 77 different countries, to be used in traditional Chinese medicines, sold as souvenirs or kept as pets. They have also suffered as a result of shrimp trawling, destructive fishing methods & pollution. There are 35 species of seahorse in the world, around 25 of which are found in tropical waters. Many of them are now listed as endangered.

  Seahorse Dugong Turtle Seahorse
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