A local community on a global mission

19 December 2011 | News story

The recent listing of the water onion (Crinum thaianum) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ connects the dots between local and global concerns  

 The water onion, named after its onion-like bulb, is found only in the rivers of Phang Nga and Ranong provinces in Thailand. Its exceptionally long leaves provide an ideal habitat for native freshwater species such as the Soro Brook Carp (Tor soro), which uses them to lay its eggs, and water snails and frogs, which use them for breeding. The singular white flower of the water onion is sought as an aquarium ornament, while the bulbs are used to produce skin moisturizer. Commercial collection to supply demanding international markets has become a threat to its survival, already greatly compromised by habitat loss. Land use change (e.g. clearing land for agriculture), dredging of rivers and streams to remove rocks and sediment for construction, and a flood prevention scheme that calls for expanding canals to improve flood control, are causing erosion and an increase in stream flow. As a result, entire subpopulations of the plant are being dislodged.

Community-based conservation groups have noted the decline in the water onion and taken steps to protect its habitat. Building on substantial local knowledge of the species and its ecology, IUCN Thailand has assessed its status and trained groups in the area to monitor water quality, stream flow and the extent and distribution of the plant. Promotion of the water onion by local authorities has boosted tourism during the flowering season, providing revenue to support ongoing conservation activities (e.g. nurseries, rescue, replanting and campaigning). IUCN Thailand has also facilitated the engagement of government institutions, NGOs, media and the public, pushing the issue onto the national agenda. In 2010, on the occasion of the International Year of Biodiversity, Thailand’s Office of National Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) declared the water onion as nationally endangered, and recognized that its extinction could only be prevented by protecting the species and its habitat. In 2011 after an extensive assessment supported by the best scientific information available, the water onion was included in the IUCN Red List as an Endangered species. The Red List is the most comprehensive global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species. It guides the management and conservation activities of governments, NGOs and scientific institutions to prevent species extinction.

Although populations of the water onion remain in decline, the remarkable achievements of local conservation groups and IUCN Thailand prove that empowering communities who value the landscape they live in and the services it provides can become the strongest and most equitable tool for the conservation of the diversity of life on earth. 

More information, please contact to:

Ms Petchrung Sukpong; Project Officer, IUCN Thailand Kuraburi field office; PO Box 6, Kuraburi, Phang Nga 8215. Mobile; 081-3735447, e-mail; petchrung.sukpong@iucn.org

Mr Chamni Ounkhao Chair of Na Ca Conservation Group, Mobile; 086-1209700

Mr Somsak Soonthornnawaphat; Coordinator, North Andaman Conservation Network, Mobile; 081-7544548, e-mail; sam.nacon@gmail.com