Monday, March 29, 2010

CITES Conference: a major disappoinment for ocean conservation

Having been on location for the past two weeks, I am now getting caught up on some conservation issues. And I am finding myself to be a bit disappointed and discouraged. The CITES conference that concluded last week in Qatar was definitely a letdown for ocean conservationists as proposed trade measures to protect marine species ranging from bluefin tuna to sharks were defeated.

Regarding the bluefin tuna, Japan apparently waged a vigorous campaign to defeat the proposed Appendix I rating, which would have initiated a complete trade ban. The populations of bluefin tuna are considered so perilously low that many marine biologists question whether extinction can be avoided.

There was a long list of sharks that were up for various levels of protection ranging from the hammerhead species to the spiny dogfish. All were rejected. And proposals to protect coral species were similarly defeated.

There were proposals that were adopted for several terrestrial flora and fauna - those that basically had little commercial value. In the end, what became clear was that CITES was more interested in the short-term gain of propping up dwindling trade in endangered species than in the protection of those species in the long term. Preserving the status quo of market-driven economies was more important than preserving the very resources that are the foundations of those economies.

Renown shark researcher Leonard Compagno, Director of the Shark Research Institute said,
"CITES seems to be primarily about promoting trade in endangered species, not regulating or preventing it. Its mode of operation seems to favor behind the scenes lobbying and power-politics with certain countries dominating by their wealth and power, and species seem to become protected in the breach when parties are not interested in opposing CITES protection. It addresses a tiny fraction of biodiversity, and seems reluctant to be engaged in battling the biotic holocaust that stalks the world."

Perhaps CITES will take steps in the future - when the tuna boats return to port with their holds empty, when there are no more fins for shark fin soup, and when the last great polar bear has sunk to the bottom of the Arctic ocean. But by then, their only recourse will be to hang their heads in shame for their greed and lack of foresight.

I'm generally an optimistic and determined person when it comes to conservation. I think I need to curl up with some comfort food and rally my inner forces. Tomorrow is another day.

Click here to read the latest press release.
Click here to read the results of the proposals.

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