Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel
It’s with great joy that we wrapped up this year’s Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of the Parties. It proved to be an historic meeting, especially for the conservation of the marine species we’ve been focusing on for so many years. We worked hard to disseminate information and advocate for these species to be included in CITES Appendices that regulate or prohibit their trade — and all our work paid off!
We are thrilled to report that the listing proposals of several species of sharks that we were supporting were approved, including oceanic whitetips (despite opposition from delegates representing Japan, Gambia and India, among others), and three species of hammerhead sharks (despite opposition from delegates representing Grenada and China, among others). At the end of the conference, at least two-thirds of the delegates voted in favor of including those species under the protection of CITES. Porbeagle sharks and two species of manta rays were also approved. The amount of support for these proposals was so overwhelming that the opponents did not even get an opportunity to reopen the debate later in the conference.
This was the first time since 2004 that the trade of commercially valuable shark species has been regulated. While an Appendix II listing does not entirely ban the trade of these species, it puts new regulations in place that require permits for exporting the fins and other parts of these animals, giving officials the data on the numbers being traded and an account of the specific species traded. Listing them in CITES will help shut down illegal trade in these species and give these vulnerable sharks an opportunity to begin recovering their numbers from the impact of the fin trade.
This meeting will also be remembered because of the unprecedented number of endangered and threatened tropical trees that were listed by consensus in Appendix II: 125 species of rosewood, ebony and sandalwood from Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America were added under CITES. These historic votes meant that finally, the countries of the world, exporters and importers, recognized that the international trade of precious tropical woods needed immediate regulation to put a stop to overexploitation and illegal harvesting before it is too late to save these species.
We are also delighted that delegates adopted other proposals we worked on, such as the decision to list the Ecuadorean Machalilla’s frog (Epipedobates machalilla). Many other species gained placement on the CITES Appendices this year as well, including three U.S. species of turtles: Blanding’s turtle, the spotted turtle and the diamondback terrapin, all of which have been declining due to overexploitation. A proposal to uplist to Appendix I and therefore ban the international commercial trade of the West African manatee was approved by consensus, thanks to the wide support of many countries. New Zealand’s green geckos – a species declining because collectors find the animal’s color so appealing – was also listed, as were several species of snakes. In a proposal from Australia, freshwater sawfish were also protected by a new listing that bans the international trade of the species unless for scientific research purposes or under other extenuating circumstances.
Much of the meeting’s success came from the collaboration between Latin American countries, some African nations (mainly from the West), the United States and Europe. It was rewarding to see so many nations recognize the importance of basing their decisions for these proposals on sound science, and to watch them respond to the excessive international trade that is taking a great toll on many species and cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. Now comes the next step for Juan Carlos, our colleague in Mexico, and myself: assisting with training and capacity building in Latin American Parties to CITES to help implement of these decisions and allow the listings to be not only historic, but also truly successful.