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Canada Nine aquatic animals added to Canada’s list of at-risk species

The loggerhead sea turtle has been added to Canada’s list of species at risk.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Nine aquatic animals have been added to Canada's list of species at risk.

Each of the nine species has been adversely affected by humans through either damage to habitat or exploitation such as overfishing, according to Eric Taylor, chair of Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Dr. Taylor says the identification of the species at risk is a start, but there needs to be action to truly solve the problem of habitat degradation and exploitation.

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"Were really just nibbling at the edges, we're actually just documenting the problem and we need to put a lot more resources to actually change the situation," he says.

Species on the list are monitored for any changes in their population and the government develops strategies to aid them. If their numbers drop, the species will move to a higher level of risk, which will prompt stronger measures for protection.

The nine additions include: the Western Arctic Dolly Varden (fish), the Pacific and Milk River mountain sucker (fish), the Westslope Rocky Mountain sculpin (fish), the redside dace (fish), Lac des Loups Marins harbour seal (marine mammal), the Cumberland Sound beluga whale (marine mammal), the loggerhead sea turtle (reptile) and the Atlantic mud-piddock (mollusc).

The St. Lawrence Estuary population beluga whale was also reclassified from threatened to endangered.

All nine were assessed and then recommended by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an independent body that passes recommendations for species protection to the federal government through the Environment Minister.

"We're pretty excited and happy that we've been able to take this step," says Julie Stewart, director of the Species at Risk Program, a government-run program that assesses the species. "And this is a positive step in that direction."

Dr. Taylor says the growing list should be concerning to everyone.

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"These nine can't be looked at in isolation," he said, adding there's now hundreds of species assessed at some level of risk in Canada.

These are the first additions to the species at risk list since last June, when 11 new species were added. And it's the first time in four years fish have been added to the list of species at risk.

The Western Arctic Dolly Varden, a member of the salmon and trout family, has been affected by the warmer, drier Arctic weather and lower water levels caused by climate change. The fish is only found in a limited location – mainly in the Yukon – putting it at a higher risk.

"Part of the reason it was identified was because it's found in a relatively small number of rivers," Ms. Stewart explains.

Another species only found in a limited area is the endangered Lacs des Loups Marins harbour seal, which lives exclusively in fresh water in Quebec.

"Because they're found in one lake, they would be at risk if anything were to happen in that area," Ms. Stewart says.

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A primary threat to their habitat is potential construction of hydroelectric dams, as it could alter the currents and increase the presence of ice during the winter, reducing the seals' access to air.

This is the first time fish have been recognized as at risk since March, 2013, and they have been unfairly ignored, says Sarah Otto, a professor of zoology and director of the Centre for Biodiversity Research at the University of British Columbia.

"Canada has not been very good about listing fish," she says. "In particular, marine fish tend not to be listed even though they're endangered and sometimes critically so."

She say tensions between government priorities can create challenges for species protection.

"I understand that there would have to be restrictions on how much we protect species versus how much we protect jobs and industries," she says. "On the other hand if we always put off protecting these endangered species … we're going to lose them."

Dr. Taylor added that the only way to achieve change is to continue to hold government officials accountable for recognizing the species at risk.

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"It's a growing list and we need to be vigilant in applying more resources to actually make meaningful change," he says.

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