First marine fish extinction as a result of human activity

Scientists warn we've reached a global biodiversity tipping point as we wave farewell to the Java stingaree
Scientists warn we’ve reached a global biodiversity tipping point as we wave farewell to the Java stingaree. Image credit: Edda Aßel, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, provided by CDU

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared an extremely rare Java Stingaree (Urolophus javanicus) extinct. The species was first known in 1862 from a fish market in Jakarta.

That specimen became the sole proof of this species’ existence. The announcement was made during the COP29 Climate Summit in Dubai, on Monday (12/11/2023).

In 1862, German naturalist Eduard von Martens was part of a multiyear expedition to what was known then as the Far East. That July, he found himself in a fish market in the city of Jakarta on the island of Java, then part of a Dutch colony. Little did he know he’d be the only scientist ever to see it.

For a naturalist from temperate Germany, such a market must have been full of tropical wonders. Coming upon a strange little stingray, a popular delicacy in Indonesia, Martens purchased the dead fish.

Fast-forward 161 years to December 2023, and that species, which Martens dubbed the Java stingaree or Urolophus javanicus, has been declared extinct. It’s never been recorded since 1862 and may have already been super rare when Martens purchased it.

“Intensive and generally unregulated fishing is likely the major threat resulting in the depletion of the Java Stingaree population, with coastal fish catches in the Java Sea already declining by the 1870s,” said CDU PhD Candidate and lead assessor, Julia Constance, in a statement.

“The northern coast of Java, particularly Jakarta Bay where the species was known to occur, is also heavily industrialised, with extensive, long-term habitat loss and degradation. These impacts were severe enough to unfortunately cause the extinction of this species.”

“A range of fish landing sites along the northern coast of Java and across Indonesia have been monitored extensively but they have not recorded the Java Stingaree,” said CDU PhD Candidate Benaya Simeon, who is studying threatened rays in Indonesia. “The Java Stingaree was a unique dinner plate-sized ray with no similar species in Java and the fact it has not been found during innumerable surveys confirms its extinction.”

“The Java Stingaree being named as extinct is a warning sign for everyone across the world that we must protect threatened marine species,” said CDU’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods Senior Research Fellow Dr Peter Kyne. “We must think about appropriate management strategies like protecting habitat and reducing overfishing while also securing the livelihoods of people reliant on fish resources.”

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