Systems in the Western Ghats region have lost over 30 species in the last 60 years

The freshwater biodiversity of the country is being assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is after a gap of 13 years that the freshwater biodiversity of the country, including fish, molluscs, insects and plants, is being assessed using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. The last such assessment was held in 1997.

The assessment of the biodiversity of freshwater bodies in north India has been completed and the results updated in the Red List of the agency.

The list is considered a comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species.

It has nine classifications namely extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, least concern, data deficient and not evaluated. The classification of species threatened with extinction —vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered — is carried out after assessing the biological factors related to extinction risk like the rate of decline of the population, population size, the area of geographic distribution, degree of population and distribution fragmentation.

It is estimated that only 13 of the 807 species of freshwater fish found in India have been assessed using the Red list criteria. Regarding the other species, only four insects, two species freshwater molluscs and one species of freshwater plant have so far been assessed.

The preliminary assessment of the freshwater biodiversity of the Western Ghats has been completed and the list is being peer-reviewed by international experts, said Sanjay Molur, executive director, Zoo Outreach Organisation, Coimbatore, which partnered with the IUCN for the assessment.

The list will be released at a function in Thiruvananthapuram later this month, he said.

During the evaluation held in Coimbatore recently, the status of around 250 fish were assessed. Around 100 other species were left out as they were also found in the waterbodies in north India, said a fisheries expert who took part in the process.

According to initial reports, around 30 fish species have been included in the endangered and 15 in critically endangered lists from the region. It was also reported that there was no reports on one fish species from the Tamil Nadu region of the Ghats for the last 20 years.

The Ghats region is facing increased threats due to economic development in the form of deforestation, construction of dams, sand mining, pollution and over-harvesting.

It is also estimated that systems in the region have lost more than 30 species over the last 60 years as a result of these activities, according to a document circulated among the experts.

The assessment also aims at determining the conservation status of key freshwater species within the hotspot and the associated river basins in southern India.

Information on threats to ecosystems and livelihood information was also part of the evaluation process.

The data will provide a vital resource for freshwater conservation and development planning within the region, said B. Madhusoodana Kurup, director, School of Industrial Fisheries, Cochin University of Science and Technology, who participated in the Coimbatore deliberations.