News Release

Most Pacific species still unknown

10 May 2012
Medinilla matasawalevu - a newly discovered plant in Kadavu, Fiji Islands. (photo: Marika Tuiwawa)

The Pacific is blessed with amazing ecosystems and species diversity, but scientists say that there is still not enough known about species from this region to adequately inform conservation efforts for them. 

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species contains global assessments for 4907 species from the Pacific Islands. This figure is actually very small and represents only about 5% of the estimated number of known species for the region.

Of this portion of species assessed by the Red List, many are listed as ‘Data Deficient’, meaning that there is simply not enough information to define their conservation status. They could be threatened, but we cannot know the causes or status of the risks they face.

According to Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission "The IUCN Red List is a great tool but you have to understand that it is used to assess species that are already reasonably wellknown,”

So, although 20% of the the species assessed by IUCN are at risk of extinction, there are likely to be many more threatened species which currently fit into the Data Deficient category, and many more that are yet to be assessed. Every year, new species are being discovered even as others are being lost.

"We did a review of all Pacific Islands and Territories, excluding Australia and New Zealand, species listed on the 2008 IUCN Red List and we found that vertebrate groups are the most well-known of all groups in the Pacific, but huge gaps exist in our knowledge of plants and invertebrates, and for species found in marine and freshwater environments," says Helen Pippard, Species Programme Officer at IUCN Oceania Regional Office.

“The IUCN Red List assesses species at the global level - in the Pacific, we are working towards completing assessments at the regional level, and these accounts will be updated periodically to allow monitoring of our biodiversity and determination of the success of conservation initiatives in place".

In the race to halt extinction, the 193 signatory nations to the Convention on Biological Diversity are doing their utmost to reverse the current extinction rates. However, in a vast region like the Pacific, governments are struggling to implement national biodiversity strategies and conservation plans. Scientists and conservation practitioners are juggling with the urgency to save species, and the need to improve our knowledge of the status and ecology of Pacific Island species.

"We have a growing number of researchers and scientists working for species conservation in the region and it is important that everyone pulls together and does not operate in isolation," says Taholo Kami, Regional Director of IUCN Oceania Regional Office. "This is the reason for the Pacific Islands Species Forum - to bring everyone together, look at what research is going on and prioritize future actions - to address existing knowledge gaps".

"Biodiversity is declining - that is the bottom line, but we also don't know enough in the Pacific to effectively protect and save many of our species," says Stuart.

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