A Giant fish is declared extinct — how do scientists conclude that?

GS Paper III

Topic: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Prelims: Chinese paddlefish

Mains: Red List criteria for declaring a species “extinct”, Lessons learned from the paddlefish’s loss

What’s the News?

One of the largest freshwater fish has been declared extinct in a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius):

  • It was an iconic species, measuring up to 7 m in length, dating back from 200 million years ago, and therefore swimming the rivers when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
  • Its ancestral home was the Yangtze River.

  • The species, reaching up to 23 feet in length, survived unimaginable changes and upheavals, such as the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs and marine reptiles like plesiosaurs that it swam alongside.
  • In its time, flowering plants evolved, and came to populate the shores of its ancestral home, the Yangtze River, in modern-day China.

Its importance for ecosystem:

  • The Chinese paddlefish was one of only two paddlefish species in existence; the only remaining relative is the American paddlefish, a vulnerable species found in the Mississippi River Basin in the United States.
  • Both are closely related to the sturgeon family, of which 85 percent are threatened with extinction, making them the most imperiled group of animals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  • Large fish are not only crucial players in their ecosystems, they’re sentinels for environmental quality, as the animals can only survive in healthy rivers, Hogan notes.

Red List criteria for declaring a species “extinct”:

Chinese researchers made this conclusion based on the Red List criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Red List has several categories for extinction, or for how endangered a species is.

  • Extinct in the wild” means a species survives only in a captive environment while “locally extinct” means a species has ceased to exist in a particular area but may exist in other areas.
  • Functionally extinct” which means the species continues to exist but it has too few members to enable to reproduce meaningfully enough to ensure survival.
  • Globally extinct” it means a species has no surviving member anywhere.

Such a conclusion is reached when there is no reasonable doubt left that its last member has died.

Process of declaring a species extinct:

  • It is an elaborate process. It involves a series of exhaustive surveys, which need to be taken at appropriate times, throughout the species’ historic range and over a time-frame that is appropriate to the species’ life cycle and form.
  • When these surveys fail to record the existence of any individuals belonging to that species, a species may be presumed to be extinct.
  • Once declared extinct, a species is not eligible for protective measures and conservation funding; therefore, the declaration has significant consequences.

Reasons behind extinction:

  • Between 1981 and 2003, there were just around 210 sightings of the fish. The researchers estimate that it became functionally extinct by 1993, and extinct sometime between 2005 and 2010.
  • The scientists conclude, were dams building specifically the Gezhouba Dam, built on the main stem of the Yangtze, a little over a thousand miles from the sea. This dam, which was constructed without a fish ladder or bypass, cut off the paddlefish from their only spawning grounds upstream, which had only been discovered in the late 1970s.
  • It was once common in the Yangtze, before overfishing and habitat fragmentation including dam building caused its population to dwindle from the 1970s onwards.

Way forward:

  • The researchers say the best time to have started conservation efforts was before 1993, or certainly before the early 2000s, which is when they began in earnest.
  • Lessons learned from the paddlefish’s loss include the importance of protecting what’s left in the Yangtze, and beyond.
  • We must urgently act to save those species for which some chance still remains.
  • Other behemoths at risk include the Mekong giant catfish, giant freshwater stingray and American paddlefish deserve much more attention to determine their conservation status.
  • Extinction risk assessments for all endangered Yangtze species should be conducted as soon as possible.
  • Furthermore, activities like fishing and dam construction deserve more scrutiny—as well as efforts to mitigate impacts of development, such as fish ladders.
  • Lastly, we need to balance the needs of humans with the needs of aquatic life

Steel mesh to replace border fences

Paper: GS-III

Topic: Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism.

For Prelims: Pilot Project of Steel mesh Fences and its Necessity.

For Mains: Role of Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System and measures taken in the Pilot Project.

Why in news?

  • The ‘rickety’ barbed wires along the Pakistan and Bangladesh borders are being replaced with a meshed fence made of steel and coated with anti-­rust paint, as per official.

Borders and Pilot Project:

  • Currently a pilot project has been sanctioned at a cost of 14.3 crore at Lathitila in Assam’s Silchar district. The clearance was first given in 2016.
  • Union home ministry has also advanced a technology-based project of deploying ‘laser fences’ along these two borders, to five years as compared to the earlier 10-year deadline.
  • The single-row fence, with loops of concertina wires on top, is being erected at a 60-km border stretch in near Amritsar in Punjab.
  • A ‘pilot project’ of this new fence is also being tested at a 7-km stretch in Assam’s Silchar along India’s border with Bangladesh and is being analysed by the BSF.

Necessary Requirement:

  • These developments are being seen in the backdrop of developments where security agencies have detected the presence of ‘Afghan fighters’ along the India-Pakistan border.
  • These terror operatives have travelled across borders from Afghanistan resulting in an enhanced vigil by the security forces to thwart infiltration and terror bids along the sensitive frontier in Jammu-Kashmir.
  • Sources said that while infiltration bases and terror launch pads along the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir are still intact, the latest concern of the security agencies are the well-trained terrorists from Afghanistan whose presence along the vulnerable infiltration spots along Pakistan border can be used to foment trouble in the newly-created Union Territory (UT) of Jammu-Kashmir and other locations in the hinterland.
  • The BSF has also recently completed and exercise to fully “map and identify” vulnerable spots all along these two borders as part of a three-staged exercise carried out last year.
  • This will be a complete overhaul of the security system. The unique quality of the new fence is that it cannot be snipped and nobody can climb it.
  • There are many pockets along the border where the old barbed wires are so fragile that they can be destroyed with a mild push.
  • Controlling the cross border crimes like illegal infiltration, smuggling of contraband goods, human trafficking and cross border terrorism, etc.

Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System:

  • The Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) that entails deployment of smart fences, advanced surveillance gadgets and anti-infiltration alarms has been speeded up by the border management division under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Border Security Force along these two borders.
  • There is lot of work that is happening to secure the borders along Pakistan and Bangladesh.
  • The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) is implementing the project and the contract has been given to a firm called AON Fencing & Gates, headquartered in Ireland.
  • The official said the border guarding forces have been asked to be on high alert as there are inputs of infiltration attempts from Pakistan once the winter subsides.

Latest measures taken in the Project:

  • Latest measures include strengthening Indian defences along Pakistan, mapping of infiltration prone areas along the two borders, and erection of new steel fence along vulnerable patches.
  • The security agencies are also keeping a close tab on the activities of cross-border terror modules and terrorists as they anticipate some incidents of attack on security forces deployed in the Kashmir valley and around the Jammu area.
  • Officials also refused withdrawal of more paramilitary units from Kashmir saying some “optimum” strength of these forces like CRPF, BSF, ITBP and SSB need to be kept there for regular law and order and counter-terrorist operations.
  • About a lakh Central Armed Police Forces personnel were sent to Kashmir in the wake of scrapping of Article 370 provisions last year and the Centre has withdrawn about 100 companies (about 100 troops in each company) in the recent past stating the security situation was “conducive” for such a de-induction.

Conclusion:

  • India shares 4,096.7 km border with Bangladesh and 3,323 km with 
  • The cost of around 1 km of fence is approximately 1.99 crore. The Border Security Force (BSF) that is deployed along the Pakistan and Bangladesh borders has been tasked to ensure that the fence is installed in a time-bound manner.
  • Union Home Minister reviewed the functioning of the BSF, where various technological solutions to plug the porous stretch of the border.

Previous year Mains questions:

  1. The north-eastern region of India has been infested with insurgency for a very long time. Analyse the major reasons for the survival of armed insurgency in this region. (UPSC MAINS 2017).
  2. The scourge of terrorism is a grave challenge to national security. What solutions do you suggest to curb this growing menace? What are the major sources of terrorist funding? (UPSC MAINS 2017).
  3. Border management is a complex task due to difficult terrain and hostile relations with some countries. Elucidate the challenges and strategies for effective border management. (UPSC MAINS 2016).