Pair working towards a better world

PUBLISHED: 09:30 03 January 2008 | UPDATED: 13:07 04 May 2010

Sarah and Kevin working to influence international decisions on wildlife. Photo: SUPPLIED

Sarah and Kevin working to influence international decisions on wildlife. Photo: SUPPLIED

ELY couple Sarah Ferriss and Kevin Smith are working to save the planet. The pair from Collier Close aim to influence international decision makers by providing vital facts and figures on world conservation. Their jobs take them around the world and Kevin

ELY couple Sarah Ferriss and Kevin Smith are working to save the planet.

The pair from Collier Close aim to influence international decision makers by providing vital facts and figures on world conservation.

Their jobs take them around the world and Kevin's latest project has been to try to save the humble eel from extinction.

This fish, which plays a key part in Ely's history having given the city its name, has been labelled as "critically endangered" - the highest level of threat.

It will be included on the international Red List of Threatened Species because its future is threatened by overfishing, parasites and pollution.

In June 2007, it was also included in an international convention which regulates the trade in animals and plants that might be threatened.

"There is a lot of work going on with the eel which is hopefully going to halt its decline" said Kevin, who works for the World Conservation Union.

"When a species goes on the Red List it is given international attention and we hope it advises people who are making the management decisions.

"There are global threats on a global scale and we want to see how member states implement the various conservation recommendations."

A large part of Kevin's work is taking place in Africa where people in the poorer communities rely on freshwater fish for protein but work to improve drinking water supplies and sanitation could be putting them under threat.

"These people need better water and sanitation for a healthier environment but if there are no fish in the river they won't be able to eat," he said.

"We have three or four demo sites in Africa, for example one on the Gambia River where scientists go out and evaluate plants, molluscs and fish and use this information to inform decision makers and help monitor the impacts of a dam that is being constructed."

Kevin's partner, Sarah, works for the World Conservation Monitoring Centre which is a joint operation between the United Nations Environment Programme and a UK-based charity.

She keeps a close eye on the trade in wildlife and provides scientific information on species conservation.

Sarah and her colleagues manage a database holding almost 8.5 million records of trade in wildlife and 50,000 scientific names of animals and plants.

She said: "I completed a report on wildlife trade in Ireland which involved speaking with government officials and various other experts to assess the levels of trade, legal and illegal, in exotic, protected species in Ireland.

"Much of my work is confidential due to its sensitive nature."

She claims the recent decision to regulate the trade in eels on an international scale is a positive move but there is no easy solution to ensure its future.

"The challenges facing the eel are many and varied," she said.

"Unfortunately, there is no single simple answer to its protection. Listing it on the species database is a step in the right direction to help ensure that international trade is sustainable.

"However, other factors such as pollution, habitat destruction and climate change will play a part in what is a very complex array of threats.

"Work undertaken by Kevin on the Red List will highlight the level of threat to the species and can be used to inform decision making at all levels."

The pair noted the importance of conservation at a local level to protect the UK's species including the eel, and highlighted the recent campaign to safeguard Roswell Pits as an area of local biodiversity and recreational value.

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