After 400 Million Years, Coelacanth at Risk of Extinction
It may have hidden in the ocean for millions of years, but life today poses numerous challenges for the West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae), the “living fossil” fish that was famously rediscovered off the coast of South Africa in 1938. The few areas in which the fish still swim face destruction from new port construction while the coelacanths themselves risk being caught up in fishing nets intended for sharks. Even climate change poses a new risk for the species.
The coelacanth already has a few protections in place—trade is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, for example—but now one more safeguard may soon be available. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed this week that coelacanths be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The proposal wouldn’t cover all coelacanths. Instead it would only add protection for the fish that live off the coast of Tanzania, where a genetically distinct population faces the greatest threats. The populations that live near the Comoro Islands and South Africa would not gain additional protection, nor would the separate coelacanth species that lives in Indonesian waters.