January 17, 2014

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In a surprising step this week, China joined the increasing ranks of countries to publicly destroy stockpiles of ivory to make their stand against the illegal global trade – an industry that claims the lives of tens of thousands of endangered African elephants yearly.

Just a few months ago, U.S. authorities in Denver crushed 6 tons of ivory seized at airports, demonstrating their resolve to stamp out the $10 billion illegal trade that has clear links to international crime, including human trafficking and terrorism.

“Illegal trade in wildlife, whether ivory, rhinoceros horns, tiger parts, shark fins or other fish, provides slick corridors for drugs, arms, and human trafficking.  Putting the spotlight on this issue is important,” says Dr. Sylvia Earle.

Positive actions such as this weeks ‘Ivory Crush’ are a good step, and we’re hopeful that soon the necessary policy changes will be put into place to make a real difference.

“Today’s ivory crush is a significant step in raising public awareness and will hopefully lead to similar events throughout China,” said advocate and former NBA star Yao Ming.

In this CNN Skype interview, Mission Blue Board Director and activist Sharon Kwok goes into more depth on the issues. Sharon is a tireless advocate for endangered animals and habitats worldwide.

“As the largest ivory market in the world, China has a significant role to play in combatting the illegal trade in ivory,” said African Wildlife Foundation CEO Patrick Bergin. “We commend the Chinese government for taking this important first step and hope it signals their sincere and growing commitment to help end the elephant slaughter in Africa.”

Lurking unseen is another dark side of the trade – its links to human trafficking.  Human trafficking is most often associated with sexual exploitation, and yes, currently 89% of convictions globally are for sex-related offenses, but according to an International Labor Organization study in 2012, “more than three-quarters of trafficking victims … are exploited for labor.” 

Labor for what? Increasingly, the answer is fishing.

Vessels engaged in illegal, unregulated fishing (IUU Fishing) not only steal precious food resources off the coasts of poor countries, engage in drug smuggling and damage marine ecosystems — they also prey on human beings, trapping workers on boats as slaves.

It’s hard to argue with the conclusion in a 2011 paper by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime: “Perhaps the most disturbing finding of the study was the severity of the abuse of fishers trafficked for the purpose of forced labor on board fishing vessels. These practices can only be described as cruel and inhumane treatment in the extreme. A particularly disturbing facet of this form of exploitation is the frequency of trafficking in children in the fishing industry.”

Make no mistake. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is serious business. A 2009 peer reviewed study estimated that the worldwide annual value of losses from illegal and unreported fishing could reach $23.5 billion. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that by “adversely impacting fisheries, marine ecosystems, food security and coastal communities around the world, IUU fishing undermines domestic and international conservation and management efforts.”

Stopping illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing will do far more than save marine creatures and ecosystems; it will save human beings. 

~ Deb Castellana / Mission Blue

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