Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation

ُScietific Association of Environmental Education and Sustainable Development is calling for your friendly help and support, in order to: Clarifying the importance of Biodiversity in overall and Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation in particular.
Arising responsibilities for conserving biological diversity and for using biological resources in a sustainable manner.
Attempts to develop and carry out scientific researches on assessing biodiversity.
Promote national and international technical and scientific cooperation, encourages and develop methods of cooperation in the field of conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
And in all implementation of the objectives of the convention on biological diversity and promote the establishment of joint research programs and joint ventures for the development of methods for comparative biology, collection and taxonomic research (Valiallahi 2003).
Biodiversity is the genetic alphabet used by nature for writing the process of evolution of life. ABC is selected in order to emphasize Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation in compare with TBC (Terrestrial Biodiversity Conservation). Thinking about the origin of life will lead us to think about the aquatic environment (Valiallahi 2003). However, biodiversity , the genetic library maintained by natural ecosystems (Ehrlich and Wilson 1991), is the basic biotic resource that sustains all human life-support systems (Kim 1993). From algae to humankind, biodiversity embodies the unique genetic blueprint of every living organism on this planet and the environment in which that organism has evolved and become adapted.
Scope and Importance

Although biodiversity is shared between terrestrial and aquatic environments, unfortunately, aquatic (freshwater and marine) biodiversity has been grossly neglected. The international conservation agenda has, thus far, centered primarily around large, charismatic terrestrial species and their habitats (Ray and Grassle 1991). Our preoccupation with terrestrial environments can be partly attributed to the fact that, as terrestrial beings, we have a tendency to focus on our immediate surroundings and to disregard the impact of our activities on distant aquatic environments. Recently, however, it has become blatantly obvious that we can no longer afford to neglect the aquatic environment(Maclean, R.H. and Jones, R. W.1995).
Fish are the oldest, largest, and most diverse living vertebrates on Earth, outnumbering all other vertebrate species combined. (Cairns and Lackey 1992). Researchers are only beginning to grasp how diverse aquatic systems really are.
In freshwater environments, 100 new fish species are discovered annually (Page and Burr 1991 in Allan and Flecker 1993).
Large tropical rivers are several times more diverse than their temperate counterparts. Prolific speciation in freshwaters has been largely due to greater geographic isolation and habitat heterogeneity, which influence gene-flow patterns throughout a species’ given populations (Ryman et al. 1993, Ray 1991). Gene-flow patterns in freshwaters are significantly affected by water-body dimensions because significant correlation has been found between the rate of increase in species richness and increasing surface area (Welcomme 1979 in Allan and Flecker 1993). Although freshwater systems represent less than 1% of the Earth’s aquatic resources, 41% of bony fish (teleosts) evolved in freshwater environments (Cohen 1970 in Upton 1992).
Humanity has become highly dependent on aquatic diversity for survival.
Fisheries worldwide are in transition from less hunting to more farming of fish. {Larkin 1993). As stock depletion continues, pressure on aquaculture to maintain food security will escalate.
Aquaculture will only realize its full potential, however, if sufficient attention is paid to the genetic, biological, environmental, cultural, and socio-political milieu in which venture initiation or expansion is proposed. If aquaculture production is to “keep pace with demographic projections. It is estimated that 65 million tonnes will be required by 2025 (New 1991 in Born et al. 1994).
If future aquaculture production objectives are to be met, fish fanning systems will have to become progressively more intensive and technology oriented. Although fish genetics remains an unexplored black box (Larkin 1992), the future role of breeders is expected to become increasingly important {Seshu et al. 1994). In Iran expanding the culture of carnivorous fishes such as trout, and introducing new exotic species is one of the most potential danger for native and endemic aquatic animals, particularly in Zagros mountains region and unexplored inland areas.
Consequently, it is absolutely essential that aquatic genetic biodiversity be conserved.
Although oceans and estuaries comprise our planet’ s largest ecosystems, the level of knowledge on marine biodiversity is still much lower than comparable data on freshwater or terrestrial systems.
Today any literature search based on the keyword “biodiversity” reveals that the overwhelming majority of papers deal with tropical rain forests or freshwater systems, whereas articles on marine ecosystems and their faunal or floral biodiversity comprise less than 5% of all papers ( e.g. Grassle 1991; Grassle et al. 1991; Ange11993; Newmann & Cannon 1994; Maragos et al. 1995; Gosliner & Oraheim 1996; Roy et al. 1996; Gerhard Haszprunar, 1998).
With 33 phyla of which 13 are endemic, the marine environment is likely the most diverse biome on Earth. In comparison, there are only 11 terrestrial phyla, is endemic (Biagi 1994, Ray and Grassel.1991).
Through research in taxonomy and genetics, the distinctiveness of marine organisms is becoming apparent. More than halves of the world invertebrates are fish (Warren and Burr 1994) and this exhaustive list is by no means complete. In fact, present knowledge and experience is largely based on temperate aquatic vertebrates and their ecologies. Our grasp of tropical aquatic diversity is woefully incomplete and likely the last major void in global knowledge of venebrate diversity” (Allan and Flecker 1993).
Recent data suggest that the diversity of life, primarily of invertebrates, teaming in the deep seas and abyssal zones may be several orders of magnitude greater than previously anticipated (Holloway 1994, Grassle et al. 1991).
The marine and terrestrial environments differ significantly not only terms of their ecosystem and taxa characteristics, but also in the collection, preservation and investigation of their various faunas and species by scientists.
Although the magnitude and percentage of unknown species are in same range as in terrestrial systems, the number of systematics for marine taxa is substantially smaller, mainly because there are (with the sole exception of conchology) no associated skilled amateurs. In addition, the systematic treatment of marine species generally requires more time and more expensive technical facilities on average than the taxonomic treatment of terrestrial taxa(Gerhard Haszprunar, 1998).
Biodiversity Lost
Aquatic biodiversity is under severe stress. Estimates suggest that worldwide, 20% of all freshwater species are either extinct, endangered, or vulnerable (Moyle and Leidy 1992). These sub-species and populations may confer species resilience to disturbance and catastrophe. If this resilience is significantly weakened due to continued losses at these levels, a greater number of species will become threatened or endangered.
In addition, the genetic contribution to the species as a whole, attributable to these sub-species and smaller populations, may be very substantial, as observed in Pacific ‘salmon (Al1endorf and Utter 1979).
Under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), most listed aquatic species are either of riverine or estuarine origin. These aquatic ecosystems are especially vulnerable because of their proximity to human development (Huntsman 1994). In addition, typical riverine populations are smaller and more isolated than their marine counterparts and, consequently, more vulnerable (Ryman et al. 1993). One cannot ignore the fact, however, that 39 marine species are at dangerously low levels due to over-exploitation and in dire need of population status re-evaluation (Huntsman 1994).

In Iran, the availability of water sources, such as rivers, springs, and lakes, determines the scope, location, and the sustainability of all human activities. The Ghnats and the spring especially the Karstic springs, lagoons and Mangroves Wetlands, are unique and significantly important in related to biodiversity(Valiallahi 2003).
In Iran reviewing and repetition of basic and common information on wetlands and biodiversity, have no longer value in scientific scope. These materials may be necessary for public awareness, but they could not satisfy the serious students, researchers, and scientists. They want to dive deep in science and assess, evaluate classify materials and methods in more professional with more scientific details. Only in this manner, the environmental scientific society will be more successful in publishing new information and knowledge production (Valiallahi 2003).
The following subjects adopted from National Report for the Convention on Biological Diversity, Draft version, Prepared by The Department of Environment
December 2000). For the facts in this report, there is no reference in original reports.

Aquatic living resources in Iran

Marine and Coastal regions

Coastal regions have important economic values. Many infrastructure facilities, such as harbors and power plants are constructed in these regions. Iran benefits from long shorelines in its northern and southern borders.
A large variety of plant and animal species is observed in the coastal ecosystems. Mangrove forests are unique coastal wetlands, important fish habitats. Marine turtles, many on the endangered list, live in these ecosystems. The following marine turtles have been observed in Iranian waters: Green Turtle Chelonia mydas, Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea, Olive Ridley Turtle Lepidochelys olivacea, Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta, Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata, and Black Turtle Chelonia aqaziz.
Marine living resources play an important role in the food security of the country. Many of the aquatic resources are exclusive to the region, and therefore are of great importance in the context of biological diversity. The marine environment of Iran comprises two distinct water bodies, namely, the Caspian to the north, and the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman to the south.
The Caspian, the largest lake in the world, is located in the northern part of Iran.
About 128 large and small rivers flow into the Caspian from Iran, the four largest being Sefidrood, Shalman, Shafarood, and Tonekabon.
There are over 120 species of fish the southern Caspian, which are commercially divided into sturgeons and bony fishes.
The Caspian is the largest lake in the world and is connected to the distant Baltic through canals and the River Volga. This makes it very vulnerable to the effects of industrial pollution. Oil exploration activities by the Caspian littoral countries have increased in the past decade. There are also international plans to transport oil and gas through pipelines under the Caspian. These activities will certainly have adverse effects on marine and coastal ecosystems in Iran.
On the domestic side, development of coastal communities, the release of sewage into coastal waters, as well as polluted rivers threaten coastal ecosystems. Population increase and unemployment in the region also increase illegal fishing. Man-made barriers and obstacles close the migration routes of fishes, and no fishways are built along their migration routes; therefore, many spawning grounds are destroyed.
Two important water bodies are located along the southern borders of Iran.
The Persian Gulf is one of the warmest areas in Asia. The highest and the lowest water temperatures recorded are 40oC and 13.8oC. Although the salinity of the Persian Gulf is alleviated through its connection to the open sea, it is still more saline than the open sea and ranges between 37 to 43 parts per thousand.
The Sea of Oman is surrounded by Iran in the north, the Indian Ocean in the east, and Oman in the southeast. The water temperature is lower than in the Persian Gulf, because of the water depth and its connection to the open sea. The highest and lowest surface water temperatures recorded are 23oC and 19.8oC respectively.
There are 336 fish species (belonging to 107 families) in the Persian Gulf. Different species of marine mammals are observed in the southern waters of Iran, including blue whale Sibbaldus musculus, fin whale Balaenoptera physalus, sperm whale Physeter catodon, humpback whale Megaptera musculus, common dolphin Delphinus delphis, black finless porpoise Neomeris phocaenoides, and dugong Dugong dugon.
Major fishing grounds are near oil production areas and transportation routes. Destruction of spawning grounds and nurseries is one of the major threats to biological resources in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Over-fishing and illegal fishing by international fishing vessels is one of the major sources of concern. Limited bottom trawling is still used for shrimp catch, which seriously threatens seabed habitats. Iran benefits from coral islands and, as in many other regions in the world, these habitats need great care.
Coastal pollution is one of the major causes of habitat destruction and biodiversity reduction. Estuaries and coastal wetlands such as mangrove forests are very vulnerable to water pollution. The population of marine turtles has decreased throughout the world. Among the reasons for this decline are water pollution, destruction of habitats as well as theft of eggs. Habitat fragmentation is an increasing problem in the coastal regions. Wildlife sites have become fragmented because of increased coastal development, effectively removing areas of scarce habitats. One of the other impacts of fragmentation is the formation of obstacles and barriers to the movement of animals between habitats, which, in turn, reduces the interaction between populations.
The major sources of coastal pollution include the ballast water of oil-tankers, offshore oil exploration facilities, the flow of wastewater and sewage, heavy metal pollution caused by import and export activities, and thermal pollution from the return water in the cooling systems of large industrial facilities (such as oil refineries and power plants).

Concentrated efforts to develop aquaculture throughout the country were initiated in the 1980s. In 1992 fish production in inland water bodies and fish farms was about 12% of total fishery production. One of the recent activities of Shilat is propagation of shrimp culture along the southern coasts, as well as hatcheries to produce shrimp larvae. Lack of regulations regarding site selection and effluent characteristics is one of the concerns of environmental officials. The effluents of fish farms, carrying large loads of organic matters and in some cases chemicals, adversely affect aquatic resources including bottom vegetation in riverbed or coastal waters.
Introduction of exotic species
I.R. of Iran is a vast country sharing boundaries with seven countries and two large water bodies; hence the process of exchange of species across the man-made boundaries occurs regularly. The natural introduction of species is inevitable and does occur naturally throughout the world, as and the species with the greater powers of adaptation survive, expand and dominate new territories.
False practices have aided this process and in the past have introduced some species of plants and animals, in many cases with disastrous results. One example is the introduction of Azolla Azolla pinnata from Southeast Asia into the Anzali wetland. Although this aquatic plant was meant to be quarantined in a small pool, it escaped and found its way into the natural environment where it flourished. Now this species (which is quite useful in southeast Asia) has become a pest, competing with the other native species for vital resources such as light and nutrients. Similarly, the introduction of Grass Carp Hypopharyngodon idella to the Hamoun Wetland, one of the most natural and unpolluted aquatic ecosystems, yielded disastrous results, destroying the natural integrity of this ecosystem.
As in many other parts of the world, the introduction of exotic species into the wild has resulted in disastrous consequences in Iran. Responsible organizations, such as the Department of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, are anxious to control any such actions and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to control any such transboundary transits. I.R. of Iran is a signatory to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) and is determined to observe the rules set by the Convention.

Iran has more than 3,450 rivers (including seasonal rivers). Within the six main watersheds, there are 37 major river basins. Rivers are natural habitats for aquatic species, small animals, birds and a specialized flora.
Rivers are under severe pressure because of population increase and human activities. Dam construction throughout Iran has changed the biological characteristics of many rivers. Many man-made water reservoirs have closed the migration routes of fishes coming from the sea. No fishways were planned for these dams. In many highly populated areas, communities living along riverbanks destroy vegetation and habitats, as well as causing water pollution. The biological diversity in many rivers, near urban communities has been sharply reduced.

The presence of wetlands, marshlands and water bodies play an important role in the well-being of the natural environment, wildlife and human beings. There are more than one hundred sizable wetlands in Iran, 19 of which have been listed in the Ramsar Convention’s “List of Wetlands of International Importance”.
Wetlands occupy the transitional zone between permanently wet and generally dry environments, sharing characteristics of both aquatic and terrestrial environments but not belonging exclusively to either.
Iran has designated 19 sites, covering about 0.7% of the country for the Ramsar “List of wetlands of international importance”
Various factors threaten wetland ecosystems and undermine their productivity and functional role. These factors include infilling for land reclamation, drought, dam construction, up-stream development (erosion and sedimentation), aquaculture activities, pollution and nutrient input, water diversion (irrigation), overgrazing, overfishing, illegal hunting, as well as uncontrolled recreation and tourism activities.

Access to genetic resources
Genetic diversity is an important element of biodiversity, and that is why the reserve system must be comprehensive, adequate and representative, to conserve in situ, not only ecosystems and species but also populations and the genetic diversity that they contain. Iran needs to expand its knowledge base of the genetic diversity within its biodiversity, establish a framework and policies for access to, and use of, genetic diversity based on public and environmental good. Activities regarding conservation of genetic diversity include data collection of genetic resources and preparation of the “Domestic Animal Diversity – Information System of Iran”. There are research centers on fish species (particularly sturgeons), medical plants and field crops. There are research stations on cattle, sheep and goat, buffalo, camel, horse, and poultry used for research on genetic resources.

Pollution control and biodiversity
Observation of environmental regulations and pollution control guidelines will certainly have positive effects on conservation of biodiversity. Rapid industrialization and urbanization exert great pressures on the environment, which make the implementation of pollution control acts an important obligation. The Department of Environment is responsible for implementation of pollution control acts.
Iran has accepted international legal responsibilities, which in part reflect its moral, ethical and scientific obligations to protect its biodiversity assets. In the context of these obligations, it should be remembered that Iran has arguably the most significant biodiversity assets in the Middle East. This, along with the large size of the country, means it has the best opportunities for long-term conservation plans.

Conventions of which Iran is a member of following conventions:
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar)
Convention on Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste
Convention to Combat Desertification
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Heritage Convention (WHC)
Montreal Protocol on Ozone-layer Depletion Substances
Bio-Safety Protocol

Iran became a state member of IUCN -the World Conservation Union- in 1973, but suspended its membership and moves are in hand to reinstate membership.
Iran is the birthplace of Ramsar Convention and is active in its implementation (adopted from National Report for the Convention on Biological Diversity Draft version Prepared by The Department of Environment
December 2000).

This page was designed for internet publishing and is supervised by J. Valiallahi. Last update 20th January  2018.

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