Biodiversity & Ecosystem Management Headlines

Pacific to make its mark at world talks on international trade of endangered species

A united Pacific voice will be heard loud and clear on the global stage at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held at the end of this month in Johannesburg. The Pacific islands are taking the lead in putting forward a number of marine species to be 'listed' on CITES Appendices, which regulates species that are traded internationally.

Plants and animals listed on Appendix I cannot be traded, and species listed on Appendix II require an export permit from the country of origin and an import permit from the country of destination. Both exporting and importing countries must be satisfied that any trade that occurs is not detrimental to the conservation and sustainable use of the species traded.
 
Fiji, Samoa, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu are the Pacific island parties to the CITES.

"Traditionally the Pacific islands have adopted a low profile at the CITES COPs, in more recent years however, the region has become more active players, especially for threatened marine species," said SPREP's (Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme) Shark and Ray Conservation Officer, Ms. Juney Ward.

Sharks  reef fish Solomon Islands Stuart Chape copy
Sharks and reef fish, Solomon Islands. Photo: Stuart Chape

While there are expected to be divisive views when it comes to resolutions on elephants, rhinos and lions, the meeting will also be an exciting time for the Pacific as Fiji, Samoa and Palau take to this global forum their proposal to list mobula rays on Appendix II.

There are nine species of mobula rays, which are slightly smaller than the two species of manta rays, which were both listed on Appendix II at the last CITES COP.

The gill plates of both manta and mobula rays are highly prized for Asian medicine, fetching up to US$250 per kilo. This has driven a thriving international trade which has resulted in population declines wherever monitoring has been carried out.

The proposal to list mobula rays has been co-sponsored by over 50 countries, most of them from outside the Pacific islands, making it one of the best-supported proposals for this year's meeting.

Fiji, Samoa and Palau have also joined with the Governments of Sri Lanka and Maldives to sponsor the listing of thresher and silky sharks on Appendix II.

"These species are of great importance to the Pacific region's marine environment and our cultural heritage," said Ms Ward.

"Populations of all these species have been declining at an alarming rate, not only globally but also within the Pacific. As large ocean states, losing these species in our waters would mean losing part of our connection with our culture and heritage."

IMG 6451Representatives of the Pacific members of CITES during the preparatory meeting for CITES COP17 held in Samoa recently. Photo: SPREP

A recent meeting in Samoa mid-August brought together the Pacific members of CITES to prepare themselves for the upcoming CITES COP17. The Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Samoa, stressed that "If the Pacific wants progress within our region, then we will have to work together and take our messages together to the key global meetings".

"With this in mind, the Pacific delegates will be working hard to get their message to protect mobula rays, thresher and silky sharks across to a global audience. Two side events will be held at the COP to highlight the Pacific initiatives to protect sharks and rays and lay out the road to recovery as well as providing livelihoods through sustainable trade in wildlife," said Ms Ward.

This COP will also be the first meeting attended by the newest member of CITES – the Kingdom of Tonga, the ninth Oceania member, bringing the total number of CITES Parties to 183.

The 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES COP17) will be held in Johannesburg, South African from 23 September – 5 October, 2016. Oceania countries participating include Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. Ms June Ward the Shark and Ray Conservation Officer of SPREP will also be attending to provide technical support.
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