March madness came early for ocean conservationists yesterday (9am March 11,2013 local time in Thailand) as the twitterverse was abuzz with the hashtags #CITES #CITES4sharks
So what is CITES, and how does it affect sharks and rays worldwide?
In short, CITES is a treaty between 178 countries to help regulate the worldwide trade in wildlife, much of it endangered. It is especially important for ocean animals, as many of the larger species (like sharks) are migratory and move from various countries’ waters to international waters (the high seas) which are not under the jurisdiction of any country.
The (slightly) longer explanation is that CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (of Wild Fauna and Flora). CITES started in 1975 from a proposal at a 1963 meeting of the International Union (for) Conservation (of) Nature (IUCN). CITES helps to regulate the worldwide trade of over 34,000 plant and animal species.
Right now the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties is meeting in Bangkok, Thailand from March 3rd to March 14, 2013.
What interests the ocean conservationist community is the shark and ray proposals. There are different appendix listings depending on how endangered a species is.
Appendix I lists 1200 species that are threatened with extinction and are affected by worldwide trade, like Asian elephants, tigers, and rhinoceros.
Appendix II lists 21,000 species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but could become so if worldwide trade is not monitored or regulated. Great White Sharks are listed here.
Appendix III lists 170 species that specific countries have asked for CITES’ assistance with (and is not mentioned much as Appendix I and II).
Oceanic whitetip sharks, hammerhead sharks, porbeagle sharks, and manta rays are up for Appendix II listing. It is important because currently trade in those animals is up to individual countries to regulate. An Appendix II listing would show the world that those species (and hopefully sharks in general) are in danger of becoming extinct. Sharks are in danger of becoming extinct almost solely because of the shark fin soup trade. Manta rays are becoming endangered because their gill rakers are used in a controversial new formula used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
What happened was that the proposals for Appendix II listing (oceanic whitetips, hammerheads, porbeagle and manta rays) and Appendix I (sawfish) were voted in! Those animals are not out of hot water yet, as the proposals still need to be ratified on Thursday March 14, 2013. But it is good news overall for those sharks and manta rays!
UPDATE: As of March 14, 2013 all the proposals were ratified so all the shark and manta ray species mentioned are (potentially) regulated worldwide!