One of the most pervasive threats to human well-being in our modern world is the continuing decline in ocean health. The world’s oceans afford us many important benefits, including food security and livelihoods from artisanal and commercial-scale fisheries, carbon storage, climate regulation and shoreline protection. An increasing number of initiatives by scientists, governments, and NGOs are underway to develop strategies that address the complex combination of threats acting upon the marine realm. However, a serious deficit of scientific information upon which to base these national and international marine conservation policies still remains.
To help address this knowledge gap, the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA), an initiative of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , was formed in 2005. Charged with the task of assessing the extinction risk of 20,000 marine species for inclusion on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the GMSA is producing species-specific baseline data and comprehensive analyses needed to develop targeted and coordinated marine conservation planning and action. Priority species groups for assessments include all of the world’s known marine vertebrates; primary habitat producers such as corals, seagrasses and mangroves; and selected invertebrate families of crustaceans, echinoderms, and molluscs. Assessments are ongoing; as of 2014, extinction risks for more than 13,500 species have been evaluated.
Assessments are typically accomplished in a workshop setting that allows the objective review of compiled species-specific data by recognized scientific experts in the relevant field. Following a workshop, the resulting data is peer-reviewed, published on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and analyzed to identify geographical areas of concern. Ultimately, the GMSA will provide the information necessary for a global marine hotspot analysis, as well as the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas in the marine realm.
A generous gift from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation supports the core functions of the GMSA, while additional funds are raised to support the essential data-gathering and workshop phases of the extinction risk assessment process.