March 15, 2013

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Huge news on the shark and manta front!

Yesterday, the CITES plenary accepted the committee recommendations to place five species of sharks and two species of mantas on Appendix II of the CITES treaty. Additionally, one species of saw fish was moved to Appendix I.

It may sound like a bureaucratic procedure — and it is — but the ramifications are huge. The sharks have been under relentless pressure from the fin and meat trade which is taking a significant toll on their population levels.

Now, as species listed under Appendix II, the trade of these shark species will be regulated, marking a first important step to allow these majestic animals to return to healthy population levels. Not all the CITES treaty members were behind the measure. Japan, Gambia and India challenged the listing of the oceanic white shark, while China and Grenada challenged the listing of the three hammerhead species.

All eight of these species — which are listed on the IUCN Red List — will now be regulated to ensure that exports and sustainable and legal. The sawfish, since it was placed in Appendix I, now enjoys a complete ban on international commercial trade.

Hammerhead_shark

The world ocean conservation community has breathed a collective sigh of relief at the decisions coming out the CITES convention. The animals that have been further protected are more than just taxonomic entities — or soup for that matter. They are mystical vestiges of our ancient planet, living proof of the remarkable adaptability of nature.

Take the hammerhead, for example. Why are there heads shaped so? Answer: the shape is an optimized hunting feature. The wide head allows them to trap stingrays by pinning them to the ocean floor. This amazing adaptation is just another facet of the countless intricacies and interdependencies of ocean ecology.

Hats off to CITES for fighting to keep those natural systems intact!

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