Large and in Charge on the Endangered List

Last Friday was Endangered Species Day here in the U.S. (maybe elsewhere too, but for sure here). Sadly, as of the beginning of 2019, about 98,500 species of animals and plants are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List (aka, the IUCN Red List as it most commonly referred to). Some of you may be wondering what exactly is the Red List? What does endangered exactly mean? Well, without getting into too much jargon, simply put, to be endangered means an organism is in danger of becoming extinct. The IUCN breaks populations into various categories based on the number of individuals and available habitat of each type. In order of increasing severity, the official categories are:

  1. Least Concern
  2. Near Threatened
  3. Vulnerable
  4. Endangered
  5. Critically Endangered
  6. Regionally Extinct
  7. Extinct in the Wild
  8. Extinct

When you hear an animal or plant is ‘on the Red List,’ it means they are in categories 2-7. Category 1, least concern, means a population is healthy (for now), and 8 means they’ve gone the way of the dodo. So, something need not be fully endangered to be on the Red List. But it does mean they have some challenges, and the scales could tip either way for them. Animals and plants end up on the Red List for a variety of reasons, and it’s usually a combination of reasons that put them there. Over-hunting/fishing, loss of habitat, habitat pollution/degradation, fragmentation of habitat, changes in climate (warming/cooling), trash (particularly in the ocean), invasive species out competing for resources and more all contribute to why animals and native plants are struggling.

To bring better awareness to the 98,500 organisms of on the Red List, I’m going to highlight a few of my favorites – starting with the Atlantic Goliath grouper! The Atlantic Goliath grouper falls into the endangered category due to threats from extreme over harvesting, water pollution, changing ocean temperatures and more. The biggest treat to them though is the over-fishing.

Atlantic Goliath Grouper, like Debbie pictured above, are truly remarkable fish.  Living up to their name – they can grow to enormous proportions! Full grown adults can get over 8 feet long and over 790 pounds. They average about 400 pounds regularly. YOU READ THAT RIGHT! Like I said, truly remarkable! Like most groupers, they are ambush predators – what I describe to my young students as ‘sit and wait predators.’ They hover still for long periods of time, waiting for food to get a false sense of security and swim too close… then GULP! Down goes the prey, whole. No chewing. They can and will eat just about anything that can fit into their enormous mouths… including sharks! Don’t ask how I know that…

Beside their size, one of the other things you might notice right away about these fish is their inquisitiveness and lack of fear from people. In the water or across the acrylic glass, they will come right up to you, nose to nose to check you out! This is great for photo ops like today with my friend Debbie, but not so great for the grouper, because it makes them easy prey for spear fishermen who price their light, meaty texture for selling and eating. Their tendency to congregate in large groups during spawning season also makes them extremely vulnerable to over-harvesting.

You can find these incredible fish in shallow, tropical waters by coral reefs ranging from the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Caribbean and the Brazilian Coast. Take a dive and say hello! Just remember to be respectful of them and their habitat while you visit. They’ll appreciate it!

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