Those of you who follow me on twitter have been flooded with links about the recent United Nations meeting which included a once-every-three-years Conference of the Parties for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As a biologist, I take conservation issues quite seriously, especially when it comes to regulations. I feel that large scale efforts are not just important, they are necessary to protect species from overexploitation. Up on the slab were a number of key regulations for a variety of species, and I anxiously awaited the results of the meeting over the past week or so.
To be fair, there were a few successes to come out of this year’s meeting. Big cats, for example, did well, with the EU, China and India entering into an agreement which will hypothetically makes the illegal trade in tiger parts as serious as arms dealing or drug trafficking. Of course, actions speak louder than words, and we’ll have to see how this agreement is enforced over the next few years. Also, CITES rejected proposals to limit or abolish the protections on elephants and bobcats, which at least isn’t a step backwards.
But far more glaring where the vast number of failures. The influence of the fishery-giants Japan and China decimated the proposals to protect marine species. CITES had the opportunity to extend or begin protection on Bluefin Tuna, eight species of sharks, polar bears and corals. The results were disheartening: not a single one made it through.
Perhaps the most talked about result was the failure to ban international trade in Atlantic Bluefun Tuna under Appendix I to allow the wild population to rebound from drastic losses. It was probably a clue that the proposal was doomed when Japanese businessmen served tuna sashimi at the opening party for the conference, but somehow, many hoped that there was still a chance for it to pass. Japan outright stated that if such a ban were to pass, they would ignore it anyhow, and they rallied their allies to reject the proposal. With tuna stocks already down 75% from just a few decades ago and without CITES backing their protection, it’s likely that these majestic fish will disappear in the near future.
But tuna weren’t the only species to get the short end of the stick. A proposal to list polar bears under Appendix I (banning trade) failed, as did a proposal to list corals in the family Corallidae under Appendix II (limited trade). The former was rejected due to opposition by the EU, a fact which both shocks and disturbs me. It was the latter, though, that was especially hard to hear, as these corals, whose populations have been ravaged by harvesting to make the red and pink coral jewelry, are completely unprotected. At least the polar bears are somewhat protected by the Endangered Species Act.
But by far the worst news was the rejection of four separate proposals to protect sharks. These included protections that would have limited trade on Oceanic Whitetips, Porbeagle Sharks, Spiny Dogfish, Dusky Sharks, Great Hammerheads, Smooth Hammerheads, Scalloped Hammerheads and Sandbar Sharks. Initially, protection was extended to the Porbeagle Shark, but when it was reopened in the plenary, the proposal was rejected. The combination of these rejections deals a nasty blow to shark conservation efforts. Worldwide, shark populations have decreased as much as 80%. These CITES listings were key to protecting some of the world’s most overfished species, and the failure to pass even a single one of them is just… well, I don’t know what words to use. ‘Disgusting’, ‘pathetic’ and ‘despicable’ come to mind, but somehow they don’t seem vile enough.
Overall, the conference was a big FU to the ocean, with limited gains anywhere else. It was a triumph of big business over animals on a world stage. Shame on CITES for failing to do their job of protecting the species that are in need. Shame, shame, shame. I honestly believed that you were going to make a difference in a positive way this year. Perhaps in 2013 you can do better.