Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chambered Nautilus: a living fossil that needs protecting

When I first started scuba diving over 25 years ago, I became fascinated with all kinds of underwater life - but often for all the wrong reasons. I tried spearfishing, game collecting, shell collecting - a variety of activities that I no longer engage in as I now view sealife as an important but threatened resource.

But in my more naive days, one of the things I fell in love with was the intricacy of the Chambered Nautilus shell. This fascinating living fossil still captivates me to this day, but I wince at some of the shell specimens I collected in my less-conservation minded past from various shops and dealers.

Several years ago, I asked a friend who was an aquarist at a local major aquarium if they planned to acquire any Nautiluses for exhibition. He scrunched up his nose, "I hope not. They're too boring." Well, he had a point. A Nautilus will simply hover in an exhibit and remain so still, you could replace it with a rubber facsimile held down by a weight; its only telltale sign to the visitor being the monofilament line running down to the weight.

But the shell collecting/gift shop and exhibition trades are apparently taking their toll on this incredible, ancient mollusk. Dead or alive, a combined 579,000 were imported to the U.S. alone between 2005 and 2008. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering proposing that the Nautilus receive an Appendix II classification with CITES. CITES defines the Appendix II rating this way:
Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. It also includes so-called "look-alike species", i.e. species of which the specimens in trade look like those of species listed for conservation reasons. International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary for these species under CITES (although a permit is needed in some countries that have taken stricter measures than CITES requires). Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.

Such a rating with CITES would have international implications and could go a long way to protecting the Nautilus population (typically found in the South Pacific). The Humane Society International is conducting an email letter campaign to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, urging them to make the proposal to CITES.

You can add your voice to this campaign by clicking here. Do it today.

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