Luiz Rocha, PhD
Associate Curator and Follett Chair, Ichthyology
A Voice for Marine Life
While ichthyologist Luiz Rocha spends a great deal of his life studying fishes hundreds of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, he is no stranger to advocacy on dry land. Rocha’s career as a museum scientist includes a prolific dedication to the protection of globally threatened species—a responsibility that drives him to crisscross the globe in defense of marine life that cannot speak for itself.
“Fish are one of the last animal resources commercially harvested from the wild by humans,” says Rocha. “Unfortunately, the false perception that marine resources are infinite is still common in our society, and in order to preserve marine resources we need to reverse this old mentality.”
Rocha is an expert contributor to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)—the global environmental network in charge of compiling the definitive Red List of Threatened Species™. As a member of countless working groups, Rocha collaborates with fellow scientists to pinpoint threatened marine species, design management recommendations, and stage international workshops for stakeholders in the United States, Fiji, Hong Kong, Brazil, and beyond.
Groupers in Peril
Groupers—a family of slow-growing fishes often found in coral reefs and highly prized in kitchens around the world—are being fished to near-extinction. Rocha and his multi-disciplinary colleagues in the IUCN Species Survival Commission have spent more than a decade assessing the status of 163 grouper species worldwide, declaring 44 species either Near Threatened or at risk of extinction.
“We estimate that at least 90,000,000 groupers were captured in 2009 alone,” says Rocha. “These fishes are often the first to disappear from reefs—they are slow to mature, and have a hard time replenishing their populations in the face of overfishing.”
Using a variety of platforms, Rocha urges global stakeholders to protect threatened fishes by optimizing the size and location of Marine Protected Areas, enforcing size and catch limits, and protecting threatened species during breeding seasons.
Speaking Up in Brazil
Rocha is a powerful force for conservation in his home country of Brazil. In the March 2015 issue of Science, Rocha joined Brazilian colleagues in an urgent call to enforce protections for more than 3,286 of the country’s plants and animals threatened with extinction.
“This is a crucial moment for fisheries in Brazil and worldwide,” says Rocha. “If we don’t encourage authorities and local stakeholders to protect our aquatic fauna, we may lose a lot of it. As scientists, we have a responsibility to protect the biodiversity so critical to the health of the planet.”