What exactly does endangered mean? You often hear species described as “endangered” but what does that imply? When an animal is deemed “endangered”, it means that species is likely to become extinct if changes in the conservation strategy are not altered. The term endangered is one of many classifications on the Red List created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This list is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of thousands of biological species and is used to assess their extinction risk.
This figure shows the relationships of the different classifications of the IUCN Red List *EX-Extinct, EW-Extinct in the wild, CR- Critically endangered, EN- Endangered, VU-Vulnerable, NT- Not Threatened, LC-Least Concern
According to the 2015 Red List, 3,801 animals are listed as endangered. Species at higher risk are classified as critically endangered which is only one step below extinct in the wild. There are 2,542 animals in this critically endangered category. 5,639 animals are classified as vulnerable; this means that these species will likely become endangered unless the circumstances threatening their survival improve.
As you walk through the Greater Cleveland Aquarium you can spot some of these threatened species. In the Ohio Lakes and Rivers Gallery, you will find our spotted turtle (endangered) and shovelnose sturgeon (vulnerable). As you make your way through our ocean exhibit your eyes will be drawn up towards some of our largest residents, our sand tiger and sandbar sharks, both of which are classified as vulnerable.
There’s also another very important species in the exhibit: the critically endangered goliath grouper.
You’ll likely find this fish in the very front of the exhibit, often tucked between a few of our nurse sharks. This impressive fish can grow to be 8 feet in length and weigh up to 800 lbs. Naturally residing in shallow, tropical waters along the Atlantic coast this fish was often sought after by fishermen. Their fearless nature made them especially easy prey for spear fishermen. Unfortunately, due to their large size, slow growth and reproductive rate these fish are very susceptible to overfishing. This has led to severe population declines, classifying them as critically endangered.
Goliath groupers are now protected from harvest: if you catch one it must be released immediately. These sanctions set in place are beginning to positively impact the grouper populations. There are many other ways you can help threatened species like the goliath grouper:
- Recycle! A lot of trash ends up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans. This is very bad for the organisms that call these places home. By keeping trash out of these areas, species will have a better environment to thrive in! (The GCA hosts beach cleanups throughout the year!)
- Fish responsibly and support responsible fishing methods! Millions of tons of marine species are caught each year as bycatch. Sometimes this bycatch significantly outweighs the intentional catch. This poses a serious threat to many marine species including dolphins, whales, sharks, and turtles.
- Actively support legislation to prevent overfishing. Many species are now threatened due to overfishing and irresponsible fishing methods. Help support regulations to protect marine species!