The cost of being valuable: predictors of extinction risk in marine invertebrates exploited as luxury seafood

Steven W. Purcell, Beth A. Polidoro, Jean-François Hamel, Ruth U. Gamboa, Annie Mercier

Abstract

Extinction risk has been linked to biological and anthropogenic variables. Prediction of extinction risk in valuable fauna may not follow mainstream drivers when species are exploited for international markets. We use results from an International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List assessment of extinction risk in all 377 known species of sea cucumber within the order Aspidochirotida, many of which are exploited worldwide as luxury seafood for Asian markets. Extinction risk was primarily driven by high market value, compounded by accessibility and familiarity (well known) in the marketplace. Extinction risk in marine animals often relates closely to body size and small geographical range but our study shows a clear exception. Conservation must not lose sight of common species, especially those of high value. Greater human population density and poorer economies in the geographical ranges of endangered species illustrate that anthropogenic variables can also predict extinction risks in marine animals. Local-level regulatory measures must prevent opportunistic exploitation of high-value species. Trade agreements, for example CITES, may aid conservation but will depend on international technical support to low-income tropical countries. The high proportion of data deficient species also stresses a need for research on the ecology and population demographics of unglamorous invertebrates.

  • Received December 18, 2013.
  • Accepted February 6, 2014.
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