Iconic Species

Iconic species are those whose importance to cultural identity is expressed through traditional activities, local ethnic or religious practices, and locally or more broadly recognized existence and aesthetic value.

Substantial progress has been made towards the recovery of certain iconic species, due to the implementation of many important national laws and international agreements.  Successfully conserving or recovering populations of iconic species will require comprehensive and systematic awareness of these species on both a global and regional scale as well as an improved understanding of how global cultures relate to marine life.

In certain cultures, entire habitats or sets of species within a landscape have special spiritual and existence value. This more extended definition of iconic species is not addressed here, but it is incorporated in other models. For example, habitat-forming species (e.g. mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass meadows, salt marshes) are assessed in association with multiple other goals, while landscapes are assessed as part of the Lasting Special Places sub-goal of Sense of Place and the Habitats sub-goal of Biodiversity. 

Iconic Marine Species
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Which Goals Does This Affect?

How Was It Measured?

Complete data sets and/or country-wide lists for iconic species are not currently available. The Ocean Health Index (OHI) drew from three species lists produced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF): global priorities, regional and local priorities, and flagship species. 

Why Are Iconic Species Important?

Iconic species may play an important or unique role in ecosystem function and have ecological significance independent of their iconic status. However those may not necessarily be the reasons why a species has gained iconic status. Species that used to be common, so that they were associated to a location but were not necessarily valued, may become iconic once they become threatened.

Iconic species have inherent sociological importance as their existence is highly valued by human communities. Although a community could fundamentally survive without some of these species, its unique cultural identity would be altered or jeopardized.  

Though not always the primary reason for their iconic status, these species can be important components of local economies and provide food and livelihoods for millions worldwide. Iconic species can also generate tourism revenue and social benefits for local populations. Whale watching, for example, has increased in popularity in recent years and generated approximately $2.5 billion in revenue worldwide in 2009 (Cisneros-Montemayor et al., 2010).  

Get More Information

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
WWF is focusing conservation efforts on a select group of priority and endangered species.  

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) 
IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species


PHOTO(S): © Keith A. Ellenbogen
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