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Extraordinary Number of unique species discovered in Caribbean

August 12, 2003 (Washington, DC) The Caribbean Sea has the greatest concentration of marine life in the entire Atlantic and is home to hundreds of species that live only in precariously small areas, making life there far richer and more delicate than previously thought, according to a new study.

An analysis of the ranges of 1,172 marine species revealed that some 253, or 22 percent, are endemic to the Caribbean region, meaning they are found nowhere else. Of those, at least 100 species are considered "micro-endemics," meaning they have ranges restricted to small geographical features, like isolated island platforms or coastal lagoons.

"Most people believe that marine species have large ranges and can just swim their way out of trouble," said Michael L. Smith, Caribbean biodiversity fellow with the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) at Conservation International (CI). "But we now know that there are hundreds of species along the coast of Central America and in the broader Caribbean region with ranges so small that even localized human activities can cause their extinction."

Toadfishes, silversides and the dwarf lantern shark the world's smallest shark, reaching only 21 centimeters are among the unique micro-endemic species that are highly susceptible to human activity in the Caribbean. Destructive fishing practices, the dredging of harbors and estuaries, and the laying of seafloor pipelines, are just some of the threats these species face as development in the region reaches even the most remote islands and keys.

"Anyone who remembers the building of an airstrip that eliminated a dozen of Bermuda's marine species in the 1940s knows that humans can easily wipe out large numbers of creatures in a single careless act," said Kent Carpenter, professor at Old Dominion University. "We have found species in all parts of the Caribbean region with very tiny ranges. They can be put at risk by the kinds of local development that
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Contact: Brad Phillips
b.phillips@conservation.org
202-912-1532
Conservation International
12-Aug-2003


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