Biodiversity @ FAO

Aquatic Organisms

Marine, coastal and inland areas support a rich assortment of aquatic biological diversity that contributes to the economic, cultural, nutritional, social, recreational and spiritual betterment of human populations. Life originated in the world’s oceans and over the millennia has spread inland and evolved into the diverse forms used today by a variety of stakeholders, including commercial and artisanal fishers, fish farmers, developers and tourists.

Maintaining aquatic biodiversity in capture fisheries is fundamental to guaranteeing the productivity of the world’s fish stocks, their resilience and their adaptability to environmental change, including climate change. The world’s capture fisheries harvested an estimated 1 938 aquatic species or species groups in 2011. The majority of this diversity was fin fishes (1 402 species), followed by crustaceans (194 species), mollusks (150 species) and other species. As such, capture fisheries use a greater variety of biological diversity than any other food production sector.

Aquatic biodiversity provides great potential to enable the fisheries and aquaculture sector to further enhance its contribution to food security and meet future challenges in feeding a growing human population.

Genetic biodiversity in aquaculture provides the raw ingredients that allow breeders to improve the production, efficiency and marketability of species of aquatic plants and animals. Over 360 species of fish, invertebrates and plants are farmed around the world. This represents a wealth of genetic diversity both within and among species that helps make aquaculture one of the fastest growing food production sectors. Humans began to domesticate terrestrial plants and animals about 12 000 years ago, however more than 90 percent of all cultured aquatic species have only been domesticated since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Although aquatic biodiversity plays a vital role in livelihoods, it is being threatened by factors within the fisheries sector, such as overfishing, destructive fishing practices and introduction of alien species, as well as by external factors such as habitat loss and degradation mainly caused by land-based activities. It will be essential to reduce these threats to continue providing high quality nutrients and economic opportunities to the millions of people that depend on aquatic biodiversity.

The FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department is responsible for maintaining information on capture fisheries and aquaculture production, and the development of knowledge, policy and intergovernmental instruments devoted to the promotion of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices. In 2007, the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department published the Technical Guidelines on Genetic Resource Management. These Technical Guidelines were developed to support sections of the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries on aspects of genetic resource management in aquaculture. The effective management of aquatic biodiversity can help promote responsible aquaculture by increasing production output and efficiency and help minimize adverse impacts on the environment.

©FAO/Matthias Halwart
International Day for Biological Diversity 2013
Video on aquatic genetic resources for food and agriculture