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Action Packed Start to the IUCN Congress

September 7, 2012

A protest by environmental activists, controversy over the Korean Four Major Rivers Project and alarming new information about the plight of invertebrate and freshwater species marked the first full day of the IUCN Congress at Jeju.

‘No! Naval Base in Jeju!!’ Anti-base protesters hang banners from construction site. Photo courtesy of Environment News Service.

With the opening ceremony and welcome speeches out of the way, the first full day of the congress was packed with action. The day started with a protest at dawn against the construction of a naval base in Jeju, just one kilometre from the Jeju Volcanic Island World Heritage site. In the course of the protest, the five demonstrators were allegedly assaulted by construction workers and then arrested by police and held in jail.

Mayor of Gangjeong, the village threatened by naval base development, addresses crowd at the 2012 IUCN congress. Photo courtesy of IUCN.

In a forum about integrating ethics into the management of water ecosystems, in which BioFresh participated, this issue was, unsurprisingly, high on the agenda. In addition to the ‘No Naval Base’ controversy, the proposed ‘Four Major Rivers Restoration Project‘ also came under scrutiny in the meeting. The project, labelled as a ‘green growth’ project by the Korean government,  straightened four major rivers in Korea to improve water security and flood prevention, but has been ranked among the five most destructive wetland projects in the world by the World Wetland Network, raising serious questions about the priorities of a ‘green economy’ approach. But the discussion also raised wider questions about how the IUCN can balance partnerships with governments (and corporations), while also being critical of projects that have negative environmental impacts.

In other developments, two sessions at the Species pavilion again drew attention to the seriousness of the biodiversity crisis, and in particular the freshwater biodiversity crisis. A new report, Spineless, on the status and trends of the world’s invertebrates showed that 1 in 5 invertebrate species were facing the risk of extinction with freshwater species most at risk (full report here).

In addition, new figures from the IUCN European Red List that assessed  5,872 European species found that at least 1 in 4 (1,465) species were threatened with extinction. A further 920 species could not be assessed due to insufficient data, highlighting the need for more research. Of the species threatened, freshwater species faced the highest risks of extinction by far. For example, 59% of freshwater molluscs, 40% of freshwater fish, 23% of amphibians, 16% of dragonflies, and 8% of aquatic plants are all threatened with extinction!

These findings demonstrate the urgent need to raise the conservation and policy profiles of both invertebrates and freshwater species. All in all, it was not a great news day for freshwater species, but at least they are finally getting some attention!

Stay tuned for more updates on freshwater issues at the IUCN congress and a discussion on the ‘Spineless’ report on invertebrates.

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