On September 24th, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) begins. I’ve made a Storify guide to government agencies, scientists, activists, and environmental non-profits who will be tweeting updates from the event. If you want to follow along with these important conservation debates and votes on twitter, follow #COP17 and follow the accounts I’ve highlighted in this Storify.
Sonja Fordham founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010 based on her two decades of shark conservation experience at Ocean Conservancy. She is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society, has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management, and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays. Her awards include the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.
A new study confirming the mysterious deepsea Greenland Shark as the world’s longest lived vertebrate has made huge news in the last few days – from Science News and BBC to People magazine and the Wall Street Journal. While some scientists are questioning whether these sharks live quite as long as estimated (392 years ± 120), most agree they could well live for a century or two and – as a result — are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Experts also warn that risks to Greenland sharks may be increasing as melting sea ice changes Arctic ecosystems and makes fishing in the region more feasible. Study authors are among those urging a precautionary approach to the species’ conservation. In other words, an incomplete picture of status and threats should not be used as an excuse for inaction. So what might be threatening Greenland sharks today, and which upcoming policy opportunities might warrant consideration, given worldwide interest in these jaw-dropping findings? To come up with some ideas, I first took a look back.
This week, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) will have its 11th Conference of the Parties in Quito, Ecuador. While less well-known than the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES,) CMS is another very important international wildlife conservation treaty. As the name suggests, it focuses on the conservation of species that migrate across national political borders. This meeting includes several proposals for listing species of sharks and rays on the CMS Appendices. In fact, most of the proposals are for elasmobranchs this time.
How does CMS work?
Like CITES, CMS allows member states to propose listing of threatened species on different appendices, which have different levels of protection. Appendix I obligates strict protection of that species by member states, where appendix II encourages member states to cooperate in the management of that species through regional or global agreements. Currently, basking sharks, great white sharks, and oceanic mantas are listed on appendix I, and whale sharks, makos, porbeagles, and northern hemisphere spiny dogfish are listed on Appendix II. There are also non-binding “memoranda of understanding,” such as the 2010 MOU on migratory sharks. As of May of this year, CMS has 120 parties. This paper by Holly Edwards is a good introduction to how it all works.
What exactly does listing do for a species?
The specific actions required to follow up on these listings are basically up to the CMS parties themselves, and the required actions are not particularly clear for Appendix II. Mako sharks were listed on CMS Appendix II in 2008, for example, and they don’t yet have internationally agreed-upon catch limits. Appendix I listings for basking sharks helped lead to European Union fishing prohibitions for these species, though.
Shark and ray conservation proposals
There are a series of shark and ray conservation proposals listed for the CMS 2014 conference of the parties. These include Appendix II listings for hammerhead sharks (great and scalloped), thresher sharks (all three species), and silky sharks, as well as listings on Appendix I and II for reef manta rays, all 9 species of mobula rays, and all species of sawfish. Project AWARE, Shark Advocates International, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society International, Shark Trust, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have produced some fact sheets and the Pew Environment Group has summaries of each of these proposals except the sawfish ones. The shark and ray proposals are expected to be introduced and debated Thursday morning, but we will likely not know the outcome until next Monday.
How do I follow along?
Additionally, representatives from variety of environmental non-profits will be attending the conference of the parties and/or tweeting updates. Here is an incomplete list:
A lot of debate among conservationists centers on the conflict between the desire to see a species totally protected from human exploitation and the reality that market forces will continue to exist (see the latest on shark fin bans for a very good example). Ideally, a conservation plan should strike a balance, ensuring the continued existence of the species while still allowing people to profit from it in some way. This also requires a clear idea of the limitations of conservation policies. For example, US policies (even the mighty Endangered Species Act) only directly affect populations within the territorial waters of the United States, while international agreements like CITES restrict trade of the species without telling any particular country what to do domestically. However, there are ways to track the interaction between conservation policies and the market, making it possible to make some predictions on how things like fishery management plans and CITES listings might affect trade. Then it gets interesting. Armed with this knowledge, can the market be pushed towards species conservation?
As 16th Conference of the Parties of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES COP16, pronounced sight-eze) comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on something that made this meeting unlike almost any other wildlife conservation and management meeting in history. Yes, history was made as delegates voted to list commercially exploited shark species for the first time, and history was made when manta rays became the first shark or ray species to be listed under CITES the first time they were proposed, and that’s all fantastic news. However, what I believe made CITES COP16 a game-changer for wildlife conservation and management was the large-scale inclusion of online outreach by both attendees and organizers. For the first time ever, interested members of the public from all over the world could follow along (and to some degree, participate) in real time.
The 16th Conference of the Parties of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species has been truly historic in terms of shark and ray protections. I’ve created a Storify featuring some highlights of the ongoing twitter conversation, organized by proposal. The tweets include links to fact sheets and scientific research about the species up for protections, as well as original content such as summaries of arguments made by delegates for and against CITES protections. Tweets come from experts in attendance at CITES, and those following along from around the world (including me). For those of you who didn’t follow along live, or if you did and want to relive the experience, check it out! Warning- there are a LOT of tweets.
Right now, delegates from 178 countries are meeting in Bangkok, Thailand to discuss a variety of conservation proposals. At the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties, among many other worthy topics, delegates will be debating a record-number of shark and ray proposals. These include iconic species like hammerhead sharks (3 species) and manta rays (2 species), as well as oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, and three species of freshwater stingray.
In addition to a record-number of shark and ray proposals, this year’s Conference of the Parties also has a record-number of attendees live-tweeting the meeting.Those of you who follow me on twitter know that I’ve been re-tweeting lots of information about CITES and these shark conservation proposals. In case you want to get the information directly from the source, I’ve prepared a guide to following along with the meeting on twitter.
1) Follow #CITES . Though this hashtag isn’t exclusively focused on sharks (and isn’t exclusively in English), there’s a lot of good information being shared.
2) Follow #Cites4Sharks . Also use this hashtag if you’re sharing any relevant links or information.
3) Follow the 13 accounts I’ve highlighted below (and let me know in the comments if you have suggestions for any accounts I should add to the list):
Endangered species seem to be coming up around here more often than usual, mostly due to the potential state-level listing of great white sharks in California. This move has been resisted from some surprising corners, including researchers who are generally pro-shark conservation. The reasons why scientists might want to oppose an Endangered Species listing are laid out by Dr. Chris Lowe in an earlier post on this very blog, so I won’t reiterate all of them here. Surprisingly, I have yet to see any comments accusing Dr. Lowe of being a shill for the drift gillnet fishery.
There seems to a be a real sense among some conservation-minded folks that Endangered Species listing is something of a “holy grail” for species protection and recovery, and some petitioners would have you believe that anything less is unacceptable (and probably the result of corruption). However, the Endangered Species Act has a very specific process by which species receive protection, and a defined set of limitations. A lot of well-meaning people seem to have limited knowledge of this process and limitations. To do my little part to help fix this, this post will be a short primer on the Act and will show how a marine species has recently navigated the entire process for listing. With any luck, maybe this will result in one or two fewer misguided online petitions.
A newly-released list of proposed amendments for the upcoming CITES Conference of the Parties includes proposals to protect ten species of sharks and rays, a record-breaking number. These include three species of hammerheads, oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, three species of freshwater stingray, and both species of manta ray.
In total, 37 countries are involved in the proposed amendments. As expected, the United States is a co-sponsor of the oceanic whitetip measure. Additional noteworthy participants include major shark fishing nations like Mexico (co-sponsoring the hammerhead proposal) and the European Union (co-sponsoring the hammerhead and leading the porbeagle proposals).
“International trade is a major driver for shark fisheries around the world, and yet controls on this exploitation are woefully insufficient,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “We are grateful for continued U.S. leadership in addressing international shark trade, and welcome this unprecedented number of proposals to safeguard these vulnerable species under CITES.”
Threats to these animals are diverse and include directed catch for both fins and meat, bycatch, alternative medicine (gill rakers), and even the aquarium trade. Each of the freshwater stingray species are considered Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List, scalloped and great hammerheads are considered Endangered, and the other species are Vulnerable.
Species of elasmobranchs currently protected by CITES include the great white shark, whale shark, basking shark, and all species of sawfish. Porbeagles, oceanic whitetips, and hammerheads were proposed for CITES protections in 2010, but the measures failed.
Each of these proposals aims to list a species under CITES Appendix II, which requires that any international export of these species be certified as sustainable (including the issuing of permits). The discussion will take place next March at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok, Thailand.
Like most marine biology geeks, I’m a huge fan of Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”. In addition to a heartwarming story of a father trying to bring his son home to their aneme…anemeneme… amenememe… anemone, the film showcases an enormous variety of beautiful real-life coral reef species. According to research published today in Conservation Letters, however, we may soon only be able to see some of these animals in the movies. The paper, titled “Extinction Risk and Bottlenecks in the Conservation of Charismatic Marine Species”, concluded that many of the stars of Finding Nemo are in deep trouble.