AMMAN — Three freshwater fish species endemic to Jordan are nearing extinction because of destruction of their habitat, a conservationist warned on Saturday.
The expert sounded the alarm that at least one of these three species — Aphanius dispar richardsoni, Garra ghorensis and Aphanius sirhani — will be extinct within two years, unless measures are taken to protect their habitat and reintroduce them.
Nashat Hamidan, an environmental researcher at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), said the three species of fish are only found in Jordan.
“A. dispar richardsoni is found in the Fifa protected area in Wadi Araba and in a small stream to the north of the Dead Sea,” Hamidan told reporters in a meeting to raise awareness of the hazards facing these endangered species.
The fish’s habitat in the stream to the north of the Dead Sea is facing destruction due to several causes, mainly overpumping of freshwater, which is raising salinity levels at the stream.
In its second habitat in the Fifa protected area, A. dispar is facing competition from an invasive fish species with stronger survival instincts.
“Israelis introduced Gambusia affinis, a type of fish that feeds on mosquito larvae, to streams on their side to combat mosquitoes,” Hamidan noted.
Another threat to A. dispar’s limited numbers is the practice of spraying streams with chemicals to control malaria and eradicate mosquito eggs and larvae.
“The health ministry’s malaria control department sprays streams with a chemical that kills all aquatic creatures, whether fish or frogs,” Hamidan said.
The conservationist, who heads a programme to protect the sirhani from extinction, said the society was working to set up ponds to increase A. dispar’s numbers and reintroduce it.
Meanwhile, G. ghorensis, whose name is derived from the Ghor area (local name for Jordan Valley), is found in Ghor Hadithah, 17km south of the Dead Sea, and in Ibn Hammad in Karak Governorate, according to the specialist.
“G. ghorensis swims against the current, sticks on rocks and feeds on growing algae. Authorities’ indiscriminate clearing of streams from rocks and stones made the fish lose its food source,” Hamidan noted.
He noted that the introduction of tilapia fish, a problematic invasive species in warm-water habitats, to G. ghorensis’ habitat is also threatening the species.
“Also, spraying streams with chemicals to control malaria and the use of pesticides for agriculture, especially tomato crops, is causing the number of G. ghorensis to drop constantly,” the conservationist warned.
Highlighting the role of the three fish species in keeping the streams clean, Hamidan expected G. ghorensis to become extinct within two years unless immediate measures are taken to protect its habitat from pollution.
During the 1960s and 1970s, he said, the sirhani was abundant in its habitat, but following indiscriminate water pumping from the Azraq oasis, the fish was categorised as “in danger of extinction”.
Excessive extraction of water from the wetland has caused water levels to drop by 12-15 metres below ground level. By the mid-1990s, the species was believed extinct, but in 2000, it was rediscovered in very small numbers.
The RSCN started a conservation project in 2000, and sirhanis now constitute 70 per cent of the fish living in the Azraq wetland, Hamidan said, but they remain critically endangered.
Hamidan warned that overpumping from the oasis still puts the survival of the sirhani at stake and compromises efforts to prevent the species from becoming extinct.