Wednesday, March 3, 2010

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.

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