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Pollution destroys fish species in Western Ghats
PAWANPREET KAUR  New Delhi | 2nd Oct 2011

Miss Kerala (Puntius Denisonii). Photograph: WILL DARWALL

ollution and commercial activities are destroying hundreds of freshwater fish and plant species in the biodiversity rich Western Ghats, a new report has said.

According to the "Red List of Threatened Species" published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), several freshwater fish, odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), molluscs and aquatic plants are showing "tendencies for extinction" in the Western Ghats that are known for their diverse fish and plant species.

Sanjay Molur, executive director of Zoo Outreach Organization says in the report, "Water pollution from agricultural and urban sources, over-harvesting and invasive species were the major threats that have led to 16 per cent of freshwater species becoming extinct."

The study assessed 1,146 freshwater species, of which 16% (over 180 species) were found to be "threatened" with extinction. A further 1.9% were assessed as "near threatened". Of the nearly 300 freshwater fish species assessed, 54 were found to be "endangered", while 31 species were found to be "vulnerable".

Researchers studied the rivers of Tapi, Krishna, Cauvery and Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu to prepare the report. The situation was found to be grave in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the states that house some key biodiversity areas.

The report states that more than half of the fish species (56%) are harvested for human consumption, while 37% are captured for aquarium trade; 18% molluscs too are traded for human consumption. Fish species such as Deccan Mahseer, Puntius Pookodensis, Horalabiosa Arunachalami and Puntius Denisonii or Miss Kerala (in demand for its decorative value) have been listed as victims of this mindless onslaught.

Aquatic plants are harvested for food and medicinal purposes as well. The report found that 28% of such plants are showing signs of

extinction, most notable among them being Aponogeton Satarensis (a pony weed) and Cremnochonchus Syhadrensis (freshwater periwinkle).

The main causes for the loss of biodiversity are pollution, commercial fishing, aquarium trade, commercial development, natural system modifications, agriculture, aquaculture and mining. The presence of exotic fish from Africa, North and South America, Europe and Asia has also upset the fragile ecology of the region.

Since many communities depend on freshwater species, both fish and plant, for their livelihoods, any destruction or modifications in catchment areas may spell doom for these people too.

The report recommends corrective measures like habitat protection and restoration, prevention of river flow modifications, prevention of agrochemical use, effective effluent treatment and preventing the release of invasive exotic species to stop their numbers from dwindling further.

"A combination of strategies is needed for the conservation of freshwater fish. One such strategy is to focus conservation activities on key sites that have the last remaining populations of a species," said Rajeev Raghavan of the Conservation Research Group at St. Albert's College, Kochi, who was involved in the IUCN assessment.

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