Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not just bluefin - coral jewelry, too - courtesy of Japan

Hello from rainy London! Thanks for reading over the last couple of weeks as we reported the at-times depressing news from Doha. I have another little tidbit to share....In addition to serving bluefin tuna sushi at their receptions in Doha, Japan also decided to shower delegates with coral tie-pins and jewelry. Nothing like being subtle. The world will be watching as these "new" management measures are put in place for bluefin (ICCAT, on the last day of the conference, if you recall, said something to the effect of, now we've really got to get our act together) and red and pink coral. Apparently, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) is supposedly going to create some new management measures for red and pink coral, but it's unclear to me exactly how. In the meantime, I fully support the Christian Science Monitor's excellent editorial that states we need an 'Endangered Species Hour' - not just Earth Hour:

"As countries prepare for the next CITES meeting in Thailand in 2013, they should not forget the marine species that were turned down this time. Grass-roots pressure can do much to push governments toward a more responsible approach to marine life management. On Saturday, when people switch off the lights at 8:30 p.m. for Earth Hour, they should also consider switching off their appetites for bluefin tuna or pink and red coral jewelry. And for longer than just an hour."

Indeed! In the meantime, keep checking back; we'll keep posting interesting/unusual tidbits as SeaWeb continues to do its part to advance ocean conservation. Thanks again to Dr. Phaedra Doukakis for her invaluable contribution to this blog during CITES. How did everyone do on the quiz?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

So long Doha, and thanks for all the delicious hummus

So, since we may all be a little down based on the outcomes at CoP15 , we think it might be fun to play a little game.

A mes
sage from Dr. Phaedra Doukakis, as she flew out first thing Friday morning and has been an invaluable contributor to this compilation of stories from Doha:

"Thanks, Julia, for having me here - you're brilliant! But on to the quiz:"

If you answer all the below questions correctly, you just might win an all-expense paid trip to CoP 16…

1) A species get listed under CITES when it:

a. has no/little commercial value

b. is found on land

c. is not consumed in Japan

d. All of the above

2) A species allegedly qualifies for CITES listing when:

a. It shows a decline of over 90%

b. It shows a decline to 15% of its virgin biomass

c. Trade is an important driver in its harvest and individuals have declined by 80-90%

d. None of the above

3) A species is more likely to be protected by CITES countries if it’s:

a. Grey

b. Has a tusk

c. Endemic to Africa

d. All of the above

4) CITES should list a marine species when:

a. It is managed by a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) because CITES can work hand and hand with RFMO’s to make sure illegal trade does not threaten the species.

b. Trade is major driver of exploitation (like with shark fins or with red and pink coral)

c. There are tools to monitor the trade like visual identification and genetics tools.

d. All of the above

5) CITES applies to marine species because:

a. Marine and aquatic species are mentioned in the Convention text three times.

b. Marine species are in fact ENDANGERED SPECIES and occur in trade. (in fact they make up the bulk of the wildlife trade (along with timber).

c. We depend on marine species for food, livelihood and climate

d. All of the above.

6) Marine species are listed under CITES at CoP15 when:

a. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) supports the species’ inclusion under CITES.

b. The CITES Secretariat recommends that protection is warranted.

c. A majority of the parties vote for listing the species in question under CITES.

d. None of the above.

7) What did the Libyan delegate say at CoP15:

a. "God fears only scholars."

b. "If you have 10 cars you only drive one."

c. "Excessive consumption of shark fins causes early Alzheimers"

d. all of the above.

8) Which country is most likely to request a secret ballot at CITES?

a. Iceland

b. St. Lucia

c. Japan

d. all of the above

9) Where are you most likely to find Atlantic bluefin tuna?

a. In abundance in the Mediterranean

b. In Appendix I

c. In Appendix II

d. On the menu at a Japanese reception at CITES

10) Which of the following species WERE listed under CITES at Cop15 (gotta end on a high note, folks!):

a. Kaiser's spotted newt

b. Leaf frogs

c. Iazambohitra (Liana plant)

d. all of the above

If you answered d to all of the above, go out and reward yourself by making smart, sustainable choices about the seafood you eat and the jewelry that you wear. Then go take a swim and marvel at all of the beautiful creatures in our ocean, and do you part to help preserve these creatures and their ecosystems.

Poor porbeagle - no marine species listed under CITES at CoP15

In a shocking turn of events, the CITES parties reversed their earlier (GOOD, SOUND) decision to list porbeagle sharks, prized for their meat, under CITES Appendix II. No ban, just sound management measures in place for trade to be allowed. Obviously, this was clearly a crazy idea, once countries had a day or so to think about it, and so today in plenary, the vote was reversed. 84 were in favour of protection, 46 against and 10 abstentions. (You need 2/3rds majority for a vote to pass). The only other time this has happened was the red and pink coral vote at CoP14. Industry groups were thrilled that time, and now this time. The Japanese Fishing Association sitting in front of me broke into applause.

But let's look at it this way - many, many countries were in support of this proposal. More countries were in support of porbeagle protection, red and pink coral protection and hammerhead protection than they were against. That makes me proud of all those countries who considered the science and found it was sound, and pushed 'yes' for these species (on a related note, SeaWeb's Melanie Siggs pointed out to me that it's so odd to be voting on these species, as if we own them, and I agree). We now have to hold these industries and regulatory bodies responsible. ICCAT made a statement that said something along the lines of 'we base our decisions on sound science, we now have a clear mandate to conserve bluefin tuna." (Picture above.) When did you NOT, ICCAT? We'll be watching, and we'll be back at CoP16 if things don't start to turn around.

In the meantime, we must, as consumers, refuse to purchase red and pink coral, bluefin tuna, and none of you better be ordering any shark fin soup. There is simply no guarantee that the trade in these species is at all sustainable. Right now we need to take the precautionary approach. It's an interesting concept, countries-opposed-to-CITES-listings-for-marine species. You might want to consider it. And for the umpteenth time, these App II proposals for sharks and corals would not have been a ban on trade (the bluefin App I proposal, which DOES ban international trade, was much-deserved and needed). Perhaps if we had heeded Sweden's 19992 proposal to list Atlantic bluefin under Appendix I, we would not be where we are now. And trade in red and pink corals, for example, could have continued under Appendix II. Now it continues, regardless, unchecked and unregulated....and unsustainable - for these species and the people that depend on them.

Early Morning Doha Fish Market Visit

At o'dark thirty this morning, Phaedra and I dragged ourselves to the Doha Fish Market. Very interesting indeed. Lots more tropical fish compared to what I normally see in the northern European fish markets.

Above are some gorgeous parrotfish which apparently are from "Doha." The traders, while lovely and nice, said that everything was "from Doha."

Rays, above.

A very cheery trader holding up one of his prized rays. Now, these might actually be from Doha. When I went to the Islamic museum last week, we saw a couple of cow-nosed rays in the bay.

More parrotfish...I love how they look like they're smiling. Did you know that some species of parrotfish secrete a mucous cocoon at night to mask its scent from predators? I didn't until I checked Wikipedia just now....

Groupers. According to the traders, groupers are what they call "hamour."
It's a menu item you see in almost every restaurant.

More parrotfish and a happy trader.

Needlefish. My trusty (or possibly not) Wikipedia page says that needlefish can jump out of the water at up to 38mph and tend to get excited by artificial light, so pose a threat to some fishermen, particularly in the Pacific Islands. They can get 'speared' when the fish try and jump over their boat.

A very wee shark that should still be in the water. We need Sonja Fordham from the IUCN Shark Specialist Group to tell us what kind it is.

Guitarfish! How cool are they....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marine Species Welcome under CITES, Part Deux (heck, they're mentioned in the Convention text 3 times)

Fisheries, along with timber, dominate the wildlife trade.

It's called the Convention on International TRADE in Endangered SPECIES. Not endangered land mammals, or plants, but SPECIES. (Although see this hilarious facebook page, courtesy of the End of the Line film, on new names for CITES. My nonsensical favourite is 'Couldn't Issue Tickets to an Elderly Salmon). The Convention text boasts no less than 3 specific mentions to marine species, so despite all we've heard/seen/rolled our eyes about over the past two weeks, marine species, especially those exploited for the international trade, can and should be listed under CITES. Let's not forget that there are already 100 or so marine species already on there. And yes, for those of you not living/breathing CITES, I know this is all quite nerdy, but to suggest marine species shouldn't be under CITES are fightin' words for those that have worked hard to bring these proposals here, and who believe in the effectiveness of this Convention for important conservation and socioeconomic gains.

For more on this subject, I'm turning it over to Dr. Doukakis:

Exploitation of fisheries is often driven by international demand. This is quite evident with bluefin tuna, as 80% of the Atlantic bluefin tuna caught is sent straight to Japan (think this has anything to do with their vociferous rebuttal of Monaco’s proposal to ban all international trade in this valuable fish?). Trade regulation therefore can have a positive effect on fisheries and marine conservation by controlling market availability, and DOES NOT always mean a trade ban. Instead, it allows an additional way for us to manage our marine environments. A CITES listing DOES NOT replace fisheries management.

Time and again at this meeting, we have heard that we need to “let ICCAT do its job” (bluefin) and “let GFCM (the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean) manage precious coral in the Mediterranean.” Both of these bodies have failed to sustainably manage these resources. CITES can COMPLEMENT both bodies. And if the management is lacking, if trade is proven to be having an adverse impact on these species in question, a mechanism exists to limit or stop trade.

How would we otherwise detect illegal trade in fisheries products if we don’t have species listed under CITES? Say, hypothetically, only 20,000 fins from the Appendix II-listed porbeagle shark were permitted to be sustainably taken and traded (because any more than that would have hurt the population). But through CITES monitoring, it was found that 40,000 fins were being traded. We would know that the porbeagle's luck might be running out and that its fisheries should be more closely monitored and management revised to address a clear lack of compliance.

Marine species may be much more widespread and may have much higher population numbers as compared to some of the terrestrial species we usually hear about at CITES. Millions of fish may seem like a lot if the bigger picture of decline is not taken into account. And we may not have many examples of marine extinction. Are we really so thick as to think that just because marine species exist in the ocean rather on land that we will not see the same extinction as we have seen on land? Fossil record, anyone?

The sharks that are up for listing have all the right CITES bells and whistles – they meet the biological criteria, their exploitation is driven by trade, there is potential for overexploitation that would drive the populations to be listed under Appendix I, there are tools to manage the trade (see this excellent fact sheet by the Pew Environment Group for more on this). So far, the porbeagle shark has managed to sneak on (editor's note: I would argue that's because it's more often caught for its meat than for its fins, meaning that Asia has less of an interest and the lobbying against this species was less intense).

If this CITES CoP closes without listing any other marine species that clearly warrant listing, it will be a triumph of commercial interests over biological evidence. The international community must address the issues raised at this meeting so this does not happen at CoP16.

Photo: Shannon Crownover, Marine Photobank

Dozing in Doha

My feeling exactly on the first day of plenary....we don't get to the species proposals until tomorrow. Right now we are going through the piles upon piles of documents that were tweaked/parsed/edited agreed in Committee II and various working groups.

Thursday's plenary should be pretty exciting. This is when all species proposals that have been considered over the past two weeks can be reopened (not that they all will). I bet (fervently hope) most shark proposals will be reopened (except for perhaps spiny dogfish). Keep your fingers crossed that a) porbeagle remains listed (I bet some crafty opposing countries will be trying to get this ONE LONE GOOD DECISION on marine species here at CoP15 reversed) and b) that hammerheads can get the necessary votes to reverse Tuesday's decision. Most hammerheads are caught (on purpose or as bycatch to supply the lucrative fin trade) so this would go a long way in addressing the unregulated shark fin trade. And the ever-brilliant Dr. Phaedra Doukakis (who as I type is doing an interview for ABC's Moscow bureau on her recently released sturgeon paper which shows that sturgeon are more endangered than any other group of animals) told me that DNA analysis on fins is increasingly easy to do (and I believe one of the country interventions yesterday said that DNA analysis was becoming more affordable and available).

Meet IndyAct

Over the course of the past two years, sorry, I mean two weeks, that I've spent here in Doha, I have been thoroughly impressed with an NGO called IndyAct. They are based out of Lebanon, and are active in nine Arab and Gulf State countries. IndyAct's executive director and deputy director have worked around the clock these past couple of weeks on the marine proposals up for consideration at CITES. They even helped me translate our red and pink coral event invitation into Arabic, so I have to especially thank them for that (Arabic is such a pretty language).

They're all about the power of the individual, and work on climate, ocean, pollution and women's rights issues. So a big thank you to IndyAct, for all their help over the past couple of weeks, and good luck on your campaigns. I'm sure our paths with cross again, hopefully in the near future.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Even Doha hotels love elephants

Yesterday the CITES parties voted to keep the African elephant on Appendix I and did not approve a one-off ivory sale (studies have shown that in recent years, poaching and illegal ivory sales in Africa are on the rise; a one-off ivory sale probably wouldn't have helped). So the CITES parties love elephants....and my hotel does, too. And this elephant really likes my glasses.

The FAO panel is providing political cover, nothing more (for the moment)

The FAO ad-hoc advisory panel on commercially-exploited aquatic species for consideration under CITES. Still with me or did you fall asleep? Yes, it's a long title for what is essentially a panel. And this will be a heavy post. But holy endangered species, there is A LOT of emphasis (for better or for worse) on the panel's recommendations when you start talking CITES.

A quick refresher on FAO. It's the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. It has a dedicated fisheries and aquaculture department whose mission is to "facilitate and secure the long-term sustainable development and utilization of the world's fisheries and aquaculture." FAO attempts to promote solutions to advance this mission, and a great deal of its work is monitoring, collecting and analyzing data from the world's fisheries and fish farming productions (see its SOFIA report). Its relationship with CITES has been contentious at times, because of a Memorandum of Understanding that was adopted between FAO and CITES in July 2006. The MOU essentially said that FAO and CITES should coordinate their efforts better, since a lot more marine species were increasingly being put forward for CITES protection (the need for FAO input on marine issues was first raised in 1997 at CoP10).

So from this MOU it was agreed that FAO would convene a bunch of experts to weigh in on the marine species being proposed for a CITES listing that could help guide the parties' decisions. They released their first panel report before CoP13 and so far have weighed in on the following marine species: (I've noted after each one whether or not the FAO felt the proposal met the CITES criteria and thus warranted listing, and if they received protection under CITES).

- white shark, Appendix II (no FAO support, received CITES protection)
- humphead wrasse, Appendix II (FAO support, received CITES protection
- Mediterranean data mussel, Appendix II (no FAO support, received CITES protection)

- Porbeagle shark (no FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)
- Spiny dogfish (no FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)
- Sawfish (FAO support, received CITES protection)
- European Eel (FAO support, received CITES protection)
- Banggai Cardinalfish (no FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)
- Brazilian spiny lobster (no FAO support, proposal withdrawn at CoP14)
- Red and pink coral: (no FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)

CoP15: ( some of these could get brought back in plenary)
- Porbeagle shark (FAO support, received CITES protection)
- Spiny dogfish (no FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)
- Oceanic whitetip shark ( support, did not receive CITES protection)
- Hammerhead sharks (FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)
- Bluefin tuna (FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)
- Red and pink coral: (no FAO support, did not receive CITES protection)

What's interesting to me is that the opinion of the panel feels all but useless at this meeting. If the panel supported a species being listed (hammerhead, bluefin spring to mind), once upon a time at CoP14, the parties would go almost exclusively on that recommendation. Not so at CoP15. In fact, the hypocrisy of the parties is reaching new....highs? lows? China and Japan railed against all marine proposals - the only time they invoked the FAO panel was if the FAO panel felt they did not meet the criteria. Opposing countries conveniently forgot, when making their interventions on hammerheads, bluefin and whitetips, that the FAO concluded that the species in question did warrant listing. So at this meeting, the FAO panel recommendations have provided convenient political cover at best (corals, spiny dogfish), and have been completely ignored at worst (all others).

Wow, that was a heavy post - you deserve a medal if you stuck that one out. Don't worry, I'm going to be posting pictures of elephants made out of towels and Middle Eastern malls next.

Porbeagle sharks are poor no more (Stop the presses, CITES passes something)

More on all this later, but just a quick update: hammerheads and oceanic whitetip sharks were denied international trade protection this morning at CITES (these proposals were supported by the US and the Pacific nation Palau). Just now, CITES parties voted IN FAVOR (wow, that is the first time I've typed those words on this blog) of trade protection for the porbeagle shark. 2nd time is a charm for porbeagle (they were proposed for protection in Appendix II in 2007 and were shot down).

The EU put forward the porbeagle proposal. I can only assume that the EU was more coordinated in its efforts to effectively lobby for this proposal, countering the lobbying efforts of Japan and China, compared to the efforts of the US on behalf of hammerheads and whitetips.

Hell, No-Ha: Hammerheads and whitetip sharks suffer at hands of CITES delegates

Despite clear support from speakers on the floor here at CITES CoP15 in Doha, trade protection for hammerhead sharks was narrowly defeated (75 in favour, 45 against, 14 abstentions - just 5 votes shy of a 2/3rds majority!). Unbelievable. Let's remember that these amazingly distinctive and beautiful sharks are killed the world over to supply global - ie Chinese - demand for shark fin soup. They do not fall under the purview of any Regional Fishery Management Organization (RFMO). Hammerhead fins are some of the most valuable fins found on the global market - and according to the Pew Environment Group, comprise about 6% of the fins entering the HK market. Scientists have extrapolated from this data that 1.3 to 2.7 million hammerheads are killed for the fin trade. EVERY YEAR. No wonder Glenn Sant from TRAFFIC is calling this decision a "conservation catastrophe."

ICCAT, an RFMO that is supposed enforce measures for the conservation of sharks, while they target other species, said on the floor that "they have not adopted any specific conservation measures for hammerheads." Thanks for that clarification, ICCAT. We figured as much, given the poor state of these species. Time and again, opposing countries are playing the 'RFMO vs. CITES' card. CITES and other management bodies are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary.

Time and again, for red and pink corals and now for sharks (both proposed for Appendix II, meaning trade is ALLOWED but must be proven SUSTAINABLE. Sorry for the CAPS but I figure that if I keep writing it, people will actually start to understand it), countries are talking about the effect that a listing would have on local communities. By effects, I hope they mean ensuring livelihoods and sustainable management, like New Zealand pointed out in their absolutely cracking intervention. Sadly, they do not. Despite the fact that the majority of CITES listed species fall under Appendix II (meaning that every day, countries trade in App II species and address any implementation concerns), when it comes to marine species, opposing countries evoke the 'App II = a trade ban' card.

Finally, it wouldn't be a marine species proposal up for consideration without some input from the Libyan delegate. Today's offering: 'God only fears scholars.'

Monday, March 22, 2010

Japan - only one to blame?

I've been feeling a lot of ire for Japan and their 50+ strong contingent at CITES this week and last. I've given the stink-eye to the Japanese Fishing Association sitting in front of me in Committee 1, and have glared at the Japanese Leather Traders Ass [ociation.] to my right. (Its placard really does stop after the 's'.) I even had a line in a blog post earlier today that said Sapporo used to be one of my favorite beers, but now it has a distinctive 'endangered species' aftertaste. (I deleted it because I don't want to be disappointed AND broke - because I've been sued). I still love you, Sapporo!

But Japan is not the only one to blame for the lack of protection for bluefin and corals and corals at this meeting. As a country, they are certainly very powerful when it comes to marine species and have a lobbying machine that has to be seen to be believed, but it's important to remember that they are just ONE vote among many - and a two/thirds majority vote is needed to get something passed at a CoP. Yes, yes, I know they lobby the other countries, increasing their vote count, but we cannot solely blame them for the lack of progress on marine species protection at this meeting. More on this tomorrow (what do Japanese consumers think about their country's hawkish stance?) and more thoughts from Dr. Doukakis on CITES and marine species - Part Deux (check out Part 1 below). P and I were talking this evening - are CITES countries biased against listing species that are consumed for food? Food (see what I did there?) for thought.....

Marine wildlife welcome - Part 1 (more wise words from Dr. Doukakis)

Contrary to what some are saying at the 15th Conference of Parties, CITES SHOULD protect marine species. Unfortunately at this meeting, Doha has been given the tag “No-ha,” as no marine species proposals have been accepted (we do have 8 species of sharks that have yet to be considered, so there is some hope). The discussions so far at this meeting have revolved around the question, “is CITES irrelevant and/or too hard to implement for marine species?” The answer is a resounding NO.

Contrary to the detractors, conservation of fish is NOT only about production; it is in fact also about preservation of species and marine ecosystems, and, because we’re talking about CITES, it also has to do with TRADE. Fish are some of the most heavily traded wildlife commodities in the world. Marine environments and wildlife matter just as much as land-based places and animals. Just because we can’t always see the fish - or the corals, for that matter - they’re still there, providing services to ecosystems as well as to people and industries). Extraction and trade matter equally in both wet and dry environments

As folks like Carl Safina have noted, we often refer to taking fish out of the ocean as a “harvest.” This implies that fish populations are somehow like fields of crops that we can completely harvest and replant. There are multiple examples where this approach and mindset have miserably failed the species and the communities that depend on them, cod and sturgeon for a start.

These examples have ended in tragic consequences for fishermen, ecosystems and communities. History and science has shown that we cannot just “harvest” as much fish as we want. And what about other marine species?

Think of precious corals that support some of the slowest-growing “fisheries” known to man. A recent study of Mediterranean and Pacific coral scientists found that: "given the nature of the [precious coral] exploitation, the terms ‘harvesting’ and ‘fishery’ inaccurately imply a renewal of the resource, which in reality rarely occurs. In management terms, the majority of fisheries can more precisely be characterized as ‘coral mining’. "

We have to manage what we take out of the ocean, leaving some for other species and allowing the fish and other organisms to play their role in the ecosystem.

IUCN red list assessment for red and pink corals?

Yesterday, during the US and EU's discussion of its red and pink coral proposal (which failed to receive the 2/3rds majority needed to pass, despite receiving a simple majority), many of the views expressed by the opposing countries mentioned the fact that red and pink corals "weren't even on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species." As if the fact that red and pink corals weren't on the List meant that all is fine. Today, I attended an IUCN press briefing on marine issues at CITES and Agence France Presse's Marlowe Hood asked the burning question, "Why haven't Coralliidae (red and pink corals) been assessed and are there plans to do an IUCN assessment of these species?

The amazing and prolific Kent Carpenter of IUCN and Old Dominion University responded. The reason that red and pink corals aren't on the IUCN red list is because they HAVEN'T HAD TIME TO DO AN ASSESSMENT YET. It was a completely erroneous argument by Japan and other opponents, and by the IWMC World "Conservation" Trust.

Other points made by Kent:
- 5 years ago, only 1% of IUCN red list species were marine.
- IUCN is due to assess over 20,000 marine species over the next five years
- All stony corals have been assessed and 1/3 were found to be threatened with extinction

My guess is that if red and pink corals are assessed for the IUCN Red List, they would be found 'vulnerable' or 'threatened with extinction.'

So my question is, now that this has been raised, can IUCN commit to doing a Red List assessment of precious and/or deep-sea corals? I know you only have a few thousand other species to consider, but if you could bump red and pink corals to the top of the list, we'd all appreciate it.

Where's all the bluefin going?

It's going to feed delegates at No-ha, apparently. A contact of mine in a delegation that shall remain nameless told me that last night at the official Japanese reception (which many delegates were required to attend), they were serving Atlantic bluefin tuna. Worst of all, the queue for the bluefin sushi was LONG. Truly disgusting and shameful. Remember that this fish is rated AVOID by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's seafood watch list, and countless others. I can only assume Japan was basking in the glow of their wins with bluefin and coral (their top two priorities at the CoP) being defeated. I wonder now if some of their 50+ strong delegation will be leaving?

So, Japan has held two receptions (that we know of) at CoP15 and they have served bluefin tuna at each event. (Remember the first reception was, as we understand it, impromptu, timed to clash directly with Pew/Oceana's sharks reception. All head of delegations were invited.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A few examples of country interventions in No-ha, I mean Doha

Anyone want to have a guess as to which country made these interventions in the name of bluefin?

“Ignorance should disappear once everything appears as it should appear... Maybe you can have 10 cars, but you can only drive one car. Maybe you can have many fleets, but they are not going to work at the same time. There are many things related to the species, one thing is fishing, the other thing is trading...Monaco is trying to tell lies, and this will have a bad impact on our interests... Tuna is not a stupid animal, it is an intelligent fish. That is why they have gone back to the poor nations... [insert translator laughing]... If you are not sure about something, don’t step forward until you get all the necessary evidence. If you are not capable of being with people or cannot be a referee, don’t do that. You are a liar and you are not telling the truth. This goes for the EU... There are 5-6 million species as Japan said [Japan had actually said there are 5-6 million bluefin tuna fish left], and we have to study those 5 million species for 5 million years until we can reach any conclusions. In conclusion, I want to go into voting because there is no harmony here. I call for voting to reject the [Monaco Appendix I] proposal immediately.... Let's go to vote now!"

I am still amazed by the support on the floor of the FAO panel advice for corals despite FAO being thoroughly dismissed in the bluefin discussion. The industry hijacked these discussions on species under threat and, for bluefin tuna and red and pink coral, the best thing you can do is BOYCOTT both. With the overruling of meaningful trade protection, consumers have the power. Jewelers and designers who care about the ocean environment and the future of coral should leave coral in the ocean where it belongs. Maybe one day (hopefully before it's too late), we'll see meaningful international trade protection for corals and bluefin passed, but right now none exists.

This CoP still has the opportunity to lose its No-Ha tagline
(thanks again, member of a delegation which shall remain nameless, for that brilliant tag). Eight species of sharks are up for listing (elephants first on Monday, then sharks). Japan doesn't really have dedicated shark fisheries (meaning they're just opposed generally to something that swims in the ocean receiving more stringent protection) so these species may get a chance at protection.....watch this space. More guest blogging coming from Dr. Phaedra Doukakis soon.

Trade in red and pink coral to continue unchecked

This CoP should be called No-ha, instead of Doha. Red and pink coral protection voted down after intensive lobbying efforts from the coral trade industry. We heard that after bluefin, this was the proposal that Japan was most keen to see defeated. Final vote count was 64 in favor, 59 against and 10 abstentions, with a total of 133 countries voting. That's no 2/3rds majority. So think twice before purchasing (actually, just don't purchase it, full stop) any red and pink coral - who knows where and how it was harvested? And those that are supplying it clearly don't care about meaningful protection.

The US and EU did a great job. Tom Strickland of the US introduced proposal 21 (see photo), and then the opposition were off and running. Libya, Singapore, Vanatu, Malaysia, Iceland, Japan, Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia all spoke out against. Croatia, Iran, UAE, and EU all supported. Thank you Iran! SeaWeb's Kristian Teleki made the only NGO intervention and did a SMASHING JOB, pointing out that the EU and US proposal was not a ban on trade, that capacity building in the range states could have taken place if an Appendix II was put in place, and that if there is no RESOURCE, there is no INDUSTRY, LIVELIHOODS OR FUTURE for these coral artisans and workers. It's not rocket science.

The coral proposal got some attention (the wrong kind, I might add) from the Libyan representative as well. My favorite part of his intervention was him giving FULL CREDIT to the flawed FAO analysis, imploring all the countries to follow the FAO's advice on coral (they didn't support). Because just three days ago, he railed against the FAO analysis for bluefin, saying there was no basis to support the propsal.

Guest Post on Hammerheads by Dr. Phaedra Doukakis - Shark-infested waters at CoP15

Dive underneath the waters here at CoP15 and you’ll find lots of voracious predators amongst the coral and tuna. But back to the proposals…sharks will take center stage in the coming days and it’s the first time in history that we have this many sharks on the line. And for good reason. The fin trade is a big reason why sharks are declining globally. One group of sharks on the agenda, the hammerheads significantly contribute to the global fin trade. Their fins are particularly yummy, I’m told, because they have lots of fibers (and who doesn’t need a little more fiber, right?). A recent report showed that the trade in scalloped hammerhead fins was globally-sourced and that many fins in Hong Kong markets trace back to depleted Western Atlantic stocks. So, international trade monitoring would this do a lot to manage these sharks. Hammerheads are particularly vulnerable given their gestation periods similar to humans (8-12 months) and slow population growth rates. And stocks have declined 90-98% in some regions.

Some years ago, I worked on shark fisheries in a tiny little bay in northeastern Madagascar. At that time I remember being shocked by the fact that the remote place supported a large shark fin fishery. Several rounds of DNA analysis later I came to find that the bulk of this fishery was hammerheads. Amazing how far-reaching our impact on our oceans can be! An Appendix II listing would give us the tools to control shark fisheries in Madagascar and elsewhere by monitoring the number of fins in trade. In turn, we can prevent the global collapse of fisheries and ecosystems that could occur through removal of top predators. We, like the hammerheads, can have 360 degree vision by providing more protection at CoP15 for these majestic creatures.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading! Glad you're a fan of the blog.

Don't Kill Us, We Are At Work

Indeed. I think we all hope this when we're at work, no? This is my favourite Doha road sign. And it's a sentiment I'm thinking for tomorrow - don't kill us, CITES delegates....grant some protection for red and pink coral. Yes, I know it's a tenuous link, but it's 12:30am Doha time and it's all I've got at the moment.

Will be blogging/tweeting about the outcome as soon as I'm able. Corals should be having their moment in the Doha sun about 2pm local time.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Red and pink coral, prized for jewelry and home décor, are among the least known species being discussed at the 15th Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), taking place this week in Doha, Qatar. However, behind the scenes there is considerable lobbying by those who want to see this unique and valuable marine resource protected from unregulated trade, and coral industry representatives who fear any trade controls may force them out of business.

The Doha conference meeting has focused primarily on bluefin tuna and sharks, which are being proposed for Appendix I and Appendix II trade protection. While the bluefin tuna proposal was overwhelmingly defeated on Thursday, sharks and corals still have a chance at trade protection. Meanwhile intensive lobbying, side events, and distribution of materials by the coral industry with inaccurate information have occurred; all this activity is over 32 little-known, but extremely valuable deep-sea red and pink coral species, known as the Family Coralliidae.

Red and pink corals are long-lived, slow growing deep-sea coral species that are drastically different from their tropical water coral reef cousins. Over 30-50 metric tons of Coralliidae are harvested annually from the Mediterranean and the Pacific to meet consumer demand, yet there are no international trade protections to ensure these species can sustain such intense trade. All stony tropical reef corals have been protected under the Convention since the 1980s. Increased fishing pressure on Coralliidae species has resulted in serial depletion of populations around the world, prompting some coral scientists to say that: "given the nature of [red and pink coral] exploitation, the terms ‘harvesting’ and ‘fishery’ inaccurately imply a renewal of the resource, which in reality rarely occurs.” The United States and European Union have submitted a proposal at the 15th Conference of Parties to CITES to protect red and pink coral. Trade would still be allowed, but would have to be proven sustainable.

Kristian Teleki, vice president of science initiatives with SeaWeb said Coralliidae populations are under pressure from unregulated trade: “Red and pink corals are the most valuable and widely traded of all deep-sea corals. They’ve been intensively fished for centuries and populations are struggling as a result. An Appendix II CITES listing will ensure greater monitoring and protection of these species, to ensure their populations remain strong and continue to play an essential role in the marine ecosystem.”

In a recent piece by broadcast news network Al Jazeera, the Italian artisans and businesses who support a USD$230 million-a-year industry expressed concern that a CITES Appendix II listing for red and pink coral will force them to give up a livelihood that has deep historical and cultural roots. But Italian conservationists note that continued overharvesting of red and pink coral could be the real industry killer. Italy, once the world’s capital of the luxury red coral trade, is now sourcing 70% of its coral from the Pacific, where destructive fishing practices such as dredging are regularly used.

“During this meeting we have heard a great deal about bluefin tuna, sharks and the lobbying involving these species,” added Teleki. “What we haven’t heard is that similar industry interests are also attempting to thwart any protection for red and pink coral. In reality, this monitoring of the trade can help protect these species, as well as the people and livelihoods that depend on them. SeaWeb urges countries to ignore the propaganda and listen to the science and vote in support of the Coralliidae proposal. This may be these species’ last chance to receive any sort of meaningful protection.”

CITES parties will vote on the United States and European Union’s proposal on Sunday, March 21 in Doha, Qatar.

Friday, March 19, 2010

But what about the button lights?

So, just to clarify what happened yesterday - was it only yesterday? The two votes on the bluefin proposal (1 - the EU proposal which weakened the original Monaco proposal, and the only proposal that the EU member states actually had approval from their governments to vote on, and 2 - the original Monaco proposal which called for an immediate Appendix I listing) were both secret ballots. Iceland had originally requested the secret ballot on one of the votes, but it wasn't clear that it would have applied to BOTH votes. I was hoping that one of the vote counts would have been published, but I just heard from a source within the NZ delegation that the CITES bureau (group that rules on procedural issues at CoPs) have ruled that both votes were indeed secret.

The BBC is also reporting that the UK and possibly other EU member states voted in support of the Monaco proposal
- which they didn't have approval to do as the EU only supported their watered-down version of the Monaco proposal. Officially the EU abstained from the 2nd vote. But since it was a secret ballot, we'll never really know.

What I forgot to mention yesterday was that when Iceland made a motion for a secret ballot, Jordan jumped in (Jordan sits near Japan) and said that some technical adjustments were needed, because when a country makes their vote, the button of their choice (yes, no, abstain) blinks for 30 seconds. So it would have been pretty obvious, at least in their immediate area, how Jordan had voted (worried about what Japan would have seen, Jordan?) The chair of Committee 1, however, put Jordan's worries to rest, saying that the technicians had already thought of that - when a secret ballot is called, ALL the buttons will blink for 30 seconds, no matter which button is pushed. Well, thank goodness for that. We're sentencing an iconic species to extinction but WHAT ABOUT THE BUTTON LIGHTS?

Probably the worst part of the whole vote was the CLAPPING after both proposals were defeated. To to be fair, I think the whole NGO contingent - sorry, I mean the conservationist NGOs, as there are plenty of "sustainable use" NGOs that lobbied hard against both proposals and were clapping right along with the fishing nations - would have stood up and cheered if either one of these proposals had passed and/or if it had been sent to a working group. The press is reporting that it could still be brought back in plenary next Thursday, but I really don't see how. The proposals were so soundly defeated; normally any proposal brought back has to be very, very close. We shall see.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

WHAT THE HECK EU? (and Japan definitely served bluefin last night at their reception)

The Japanese media scrum was happening RIGHT where our coral reception was supposed to take place. I didn't think they would leave. Pictures above. But we rallied and had a great turnout. Dr. Andy Bruckner of NOAA, Ernie Cooper of TRAFFIC and Kristian Teleki of SeaWeb did a great job of convincing the crowd that despite industry concerns, red and pink coral need and warrant international trade protection. But what about sharks? Do those 8 species have a fighting chance on Sunday? John Cigliano from the US delegation seems to think so. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Bluefin tuna trade protection defeated overwhelmingly. A sad day in Doha.

The final vote count for the Monaco proposal to list bluefin tuna under CITES Appendix I.
20 in favour, 68 against, 30 abstentions. Trade protection for #bluefin tuna defeated. What a sad day. The head of the Libyan delegation went on an absolute rampage. Iceland requested a secret ballot. There were actually 3 votes: 1st vote on whether or not to continue the debate - rejected. 2nd vote: the EU proposal, which had requested a listing to go into effect in May 2011 and wanted the Animals Committee of CITES to play a role and 3rd vote: the Monaco proposal to list under Appendix I.

Got to go get ready for our event tonight but more later. See above the crazy pic of Libya protesting against every word of the Monaco proposal.

Polar bear frozen in place

Polar bear did not receive the two-thirds majority vote needed to get an uplisting from Appendix II to Appendix I (headline of this blog courtesy of Dr. Phaedra Doukakis). Bluefin still going this afternoon....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Red Coral in the News; Polar Bears on Deck

SeaWeb's very own Kristian Teleki was interviewed by Al Jazeera today for a fantastic red and pink coral story. Kristian did the live satellite feed after the news package was broadcast. Great piece on the fear within the industry over the potential CITES listing, but as WWF points out in the piece, coral is disappearing in the Mediterranean and things have to change. A CITES listing is the best hope for the industry. But they don't see it that way. In fact, they've distributed no less than 3 documents that are borderline slanderous, claiming the proposal is a "cut and paste job gone wrong," that populations all over the world are probably fine, and that local management of red and pink coral is just dandy! Oh, if only it were true.

The Pew/Oceana/Save Our Seas event was tonight at the Sheraton. Unfortunately, we got word that Japan bussed off all the head of the delegations over to the Japanese embassy where they ALLEGEDLY served bluefin tuna. Nice! No matter, there was still great representation at the event. Sylvia Earle spoke and also a minister from the Maldives, who was excellent. Oh and I met Nick Clark from Al Jazeera, who is quite the charmer. Next up is SeaWeb's Coralliidae reception (Al Dafna Foyer, just outside Committee 1) with guests Dr. Andy Bruckner from NOAA and Ernie Cooper from TRAFFIC. Be there or be square.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sharks on Al Jazeera today; Coral on Wednesday

Absolutely fantastic piece here by Al Jazeera on shark finning (who knew UAE supplies the world with 10% of its shark fins?) I could only find the text version but just watched the broadcast piece and it's fantastic. Here's another great shark fin piece (video), by the same journalist, Nick Clark. Al Jazeera will be running a story on red coral and CITES tomorrow, and will be interviewing SeaWeb at 12pm Doha time, from the CITES CoP. Watch this space!

Nothing to do with CITES but the strangest thing I've seen in Doha so far

Saw these strange creatures at an open air market last night. If you can't tell, these are dyed baby bunnies and chickens. As I took this picture, a dad was buying a yellow and green chick for his daughter.

Bluefin Thursday, Red and Pink Coral Sunday

So we now know, if the chairman of the CITES Committee I is to be believed (and he is doing a very good job so no reason not to), bluefin tuna will come up for initial discussion on Thursday, and red and pink coral will be discussed on Sunday (Friday and Saturday is the weekend here, folks). This is good, because yours truly was thinking that coral might come up today and I would like more time to have some good chats with delegates about why trade protection for red and pink coral is necessary (someone in the CITES Secretariat told a member of the U.S. delegation that the Coralliidae proposal was the best one he'd ever seen).

In other news, a very uncontroversial sharks resolution (more monitoring, review of taxonomy, encouragement of national plans of action for shark fisheries - all good, sensible stuff, RIGHT?) did not pass - and only around 98 countries were actually in the room to vote. There are a 175 countries party to CITES. This means that there is a ways to go before any marine species proposal is actually in the clear....

Monday, March 15, 2010

Turning Japanese

Check out this AFP story about the Japanese lobbying taking place. Monaco's ambassador (Monaco has proposed the bluefin listing) is not happy. Today has been a long day of discussions about the implementation of the Convention officially, and unofficially lots of hallway chatter about who will/won't support species proposals. We won't get to marine species until Thursday at the earliest. Coralliidae may come up Thursday as it has a supporting resolution attached to its proposal (as does bluefin) and those proposals generally go to working groups meaning......probably no days off for those who are lucky enough to care about bluefin and/or coral.

I had lunch with a representative from Bahrain who was very supportive of red and pink coral! He's a diver and has seen the declines with his own eyes....unfortunately....Bahrain is not a signatory to the Convention. Next time, Bahrain. In the meantime, see if you can get some of your neighboring countries on board, OK?

Final bit of news...the TRAFFIC ID guide to red and pink coral has arrived and looks gorgeous. Even better, it clearly addresses the concerns around implementation of red and pink coral under CITES.

Votes in Qatar

Interesting first voting result in Qatar. A test vote of the question "is the CITES conference in Qatar" resulted that out of 92 countries in the room, only 54 voted yes. To be fair, it IS a tough question. I don't really know where I am, having spent most of the past three days in a windowless conference room. Does this bode well for actual species proposals? Plus, only 92 COUNTRIES? 175 countries are party to CITES. I understand there are only 120 or so parties actually registered (and Japan seems to have just about that many of their own delegates).

I also think there's going to be a bit of a Florida-type debacle when it comes to voting. On the voting panels (see picture) 2 = yes, 3 = no, 4 = abstain. Slightly confusing, as indicated by the vote above.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Best giveaways at CoP15 so far

IFAW had some stuffed tigers that were going quick and fast - I think every delegate with a child under 10 had those snapped up before anyone else even had a chance. The CITES/Doha baseball hat moved less quickly. Hats off (see what I did there?) to WWF's Gemma Parkes who organised the International Herald Tribune's 'Tuna Edition' (above left).

But CLEARLY the best giveaway/prize/tschoke, the one that everyone is talking about, is the 'SIZE DOES MATTER' bag for Coralliidae (above) by yours truly. It's in reference to the fact that last time, at CoP14, the red and pink coral proposal was narrowly (and nastily) defeated because, among other reasons, the FAO analysis decided that there were plenty of red and pink corals in the sea and that population numbers were fine! When actually, the science shows that colony size has declined to the point that 80-90% of individuals (ie polyps, the reproductive elements of the coral) have been lost.

The official CITES delegate bags hold, among other things, a box of dates, a bunch of Doha postcards, a converter (score), a pen by Pew Environment Group (wonder how they managed that?), all the CITES CoP15 documents (amounting to a few saplings) and a partridge in a pear tree...

Where it will all shake down over the next 2 weeks

CITES Kicks Off with a Bang (literally, with rifles)

So far, the opening ceremony is much better than CoP14. Sorry for the poor photo quality. There is some sort of traditional dance going on - and it looks like the dancers are using rifles and/or some sort of sabre to make their points. Actually it’s definitely rifles. AND SABRES.

I am absolutely struck by all the Japanese delegates and associations here. I’m sitting right behind the Japanese Fisheries Association. There also seems to be a large Japanese contingent behind me. I hear that 80% of REGISTERED PRESS are Japanese outlets. The bluefin discussion is going to be an almighty fight. A country representative told me today that the “lobbying is already starting. Free lunches, the whole works.” It's going to be an interesting two weeks. We hear that Costa Rica, Cameroon, Australia are all supporting red and pink coral!

Friday, March 12, 2010

In Doha and ready to talk CITES!

So we now know that the EU is supporting trade protection for bluefin tuna, albeit with a great many conditions that may make it hard for other countries to join in supporting the listing. Bad news is that Australia is opting to NOT support (interesting given that southern bluefin is in arguably worse shape than atlantic bluefin). But what does this all mean for sharks and corals? One member of the U.S. delegation told me in the visa line at the Doha airport tonight that all species are getting shoved to the backburner because of all the focus on bluefin. That means that when these delegates are gathering round to hammer out the details of what they will/won't support, they'll be much less informed on some of the sharks and coral issues compared to bluefin. But LUCKILY, SeaWeb will be here to MAKE SURE that countries recognize the importance of listing 32 red and pink coral species that just happen to be the most valuable and widely traded of all 5,000 + coral species. And we'll be plying you with juicy tidbits from the meeting as well....it's amazing what can happen when a bunch of environmental groups, country representatives, and trade organisations get thrown together for two weeks. I for one can't wait for the opening ceremony on Saturday. Although not sure how it will top the 'Circle of Life' montage from the Dutch government at CoP14 in 2007. Watch this space to find out.

Friday, March 5, 2010

What will the EU do on bluefin?

The EU should shortly announce their position on the Appendix I listing under CITES proposed by Monaco for bluefin tuna. Actually, they should have announced it a few weeks ago but things just keep getting delayed. We're hearing that Italy (big opponent of the proposal, despite what they said a few weeks ago) is trying to rope in red coral to the bluefin tuna consideration. The EU is actually a co-sponsor of the proposal to list 32 species of red and pink coral under Appendix II and the vast majority of EU countries are in support of trade regulation for these species, bar Italy. It's a clear indication of the politics that come into play when considering protection measures for wildlife when there are commercial interests at stake. I honestly can't wait for Doha. It's could be a game changer for marine species under CITES and that gets people like me (ie, wildlife trade nerds) VERY excited. For too long they've been relegated to the back benches. CITES, when properly implemented, can be a valuable instrument to help conserve wildlife (as this excellent paper by Dr. Phaedra Doukakis shows) and trade. The science is clear for sharks, coral and bluefin. What remains to be seen is if countries remember that once these issues once the voting begins.....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A few good reasons to protect red and pink coral

Here are just a few reasons why red and pink coral need international trade protection, straight from the mouths of some people who ought to know: Jewelry designer Temple St. Clair, ocean conservationist Céline Cousteau, coral scientist Andrew Baker, and Fernanda Kellogg, president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

US supports bluefin ban!

There is some very exciting news to report today! The United States is supporting an international ban on bluefin tuna, which could be a 'game changer for the species', as Sue Lieberman of Pew Environment Group said. Bluefin is going to be a MAJOR focus in Doha....it will be interesting to see how countries' vote on bluefin - and how they vote on other marine species up for consideration, including red and pink coral.

So what is CITES, anyway?

CITES (those in the know pronounce it 'sigh-tees') is an international agreement (kind of like the Kyoto Protocol) between most countries in the world to manage/oversee/enforce regulations relating to the significant trade in wildlife products. The global wildlife trade is lucrative (worth billions of dollars annually; check out TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, for some stats) and LARGE - it includes fur, food (seafood, bushmeat, caviar, etc) herbs, timber, jewelry, curios, medicine (tiger bone wine, anyone?). As you can imagine, sometimes this has negative consequences for certain animals and plants that the global community just can't get enough of. CITES was created to ensure that this trade, useful and important to help sustain economies, particularly developing ones, does not threaten the very resource on which the trade depends. Something that you've probably all heard of that was a direct result of CITES was the 1989 international trade ban on ivory.

There are over 30,000 species of plants and around 5,000 animals listed under CITES. CITES has 3 appendixes and each one offers varying levels of trade protection from Appendix I (most restrictive, international trade is not allowed) to Appendix III (least restrictive, trade is allowed and species in question has to be identified to its country of origin). Most plants and animals are listed under Appendix II, which simply requires proof from a country that trade is not detrimental to the species in question. Species are proposed for listing under the Appendixes every 2-3 years at something called the Conference of Parties (this year it's CoP15, in Doha, Qatar). Confusingly, the Copenhagen meeting that happened in December was also the 15th CoP for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

CoPs are generally quite controversial, with clear lines being drawn amongst groups and countries, and everyone falling into roughly 3 categories: pro-trade (any trade, doesn't matter how endangered the species is!) against trade (no matter what) and somewhere in between. CoP15 will be equally exciting, without a doubt. Controversial marine (we're SeaWeb, after all) proposals up for consideration include bluefin tuna, eight species of sharks, and 32 species of red and pink coral (scientific name Coralliidae). We're in favor of all of these, but are ESPECIALLY interested in red and pink coral - we've been working on it for years, after all! After the fiasco of CoP14 in 2007 (more on that later; have to keep you coming back for more), it is high time red and pink coral receive some help from the international community.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

SeaWeb blogging live from Doha

SeaWeb's very own Julia Roberson and Kristian Teleki will be blogging live from Doha, Qatar, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting. The meeting kicks off in T-minus 10 days. This is a major meeting for marine species up for international trade protection - sharks, bluefin tuna, and red and pink coral, oh my. For more information, check out SeaWeb's dedicated CITES page.