By Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation
Sometimes the news about the human relationship with the oceans seems so dire that I cannot sleep. And then, sometimes I stay up too late because there is a steady flow of tweets and postings from the other side of the world heralding one good news moment after another. The glow of the screen in the darkened house is mesmerizing
“Whitetip (sharks) protected!”
Species after species, whose protections were approved at the committee level earlier in the week, survived the plenary process without even a second vote—the need for protection was clear to those in attendance.
There are dedicated scientists and other marine conservation experts who are giddy this morning—no doubt waking up and saying to themselves, “Is this real? Could we really have done this? Can we really declare a moment of victory?”
Why? Because in Bangkok, at the 16th Conference of the Parties to CITES (3-14 March), a number of marine animals were protected for the first time ever. Freshwater sawfish will be removed from trade and the shark and ray species decisions will result in controls on international trade (through a permitting system based on demonstration that take for that trade is sustainable and legal).
What is CITES? CITES is The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty aimed at regulating the worldwide trade in protected species. CITES went into effect in 1975 and the United States was one of the first 10 countries who were parties to the treaty. Today, more than 80 percent of the world’s nations are party to this effort to reduce the market pressures that can negate all of our efforts to protect the habitat and well-being of threatened, endangered, and otherwise protected species.
Marine animals have always been the step-child of international protection processes for a number of reasons, not least of which is because protocols for identifying terrestrial species at risk has been in place for decades longer than for marine species. And, in fact, efforts to protect marine species internationally are also relatively new and have not been very successful.
Just three years ago, at the 15th CITES conference in Doha, Qatar, advocates for the inclusion of marine species in the protection came away from the meeting utterly defeated in the wake of secret ballots that turned down the listing of the polar bear, the spiny dogfish (shark), the bluefin tuna, and others. Slow and steady work by such staunch shark champions as Sonja Fordham, Shark Advocates International, and others, with equally important support from key donors, assured that sooner or later reason would prevail, and these magnificent creatures would be removed from international trade. Please read the partners’ press release for more information, and raise a toast to those who did not retreat after the last go-round, and who are rightly celebrating this victory.