Synchronicity Earth

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CITES CoP 16 – a step in the right direction in preventing the trade of endangered species

The recent meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 16) for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has been hailed, by some, as the most successful CITES CoP in decades.

The previous CITES CoP, held in 2010, is well remembered for its failure to list any of the proposed six deserving marine species. During the CoP, the most well-known and threatened of these species – the Atlantic Bluefin tuna – was allegedly served up as sushi at the Japanese embassy. 

Over 2,000 participants gathered for almost two weeks at CoP 16, where they addressed proposals to amend listings for species of plants and animals that are subject to international trade. Of these, over 1,000 delegates attended from the 170 Parties (member countries); the remaining participants were representatives from more than 80 intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and over 40 international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as a further 123 national NGOs.  IGOs provided technical advice during the meeting; NGOs provided expertise and information but also represented particular interests.

What the listings mean:

Eligibility for listing on Appendix I depends on a number of criteria, including species population size, distribution, and population declines, and related factors. Species can be proposed for listing in Appendix II when regulation of trade is viewed as necessary to avoid it becoming eligible for listing in Appendix I or to ensure that trade is not reducing wild populations to a level where their survival might be threatened. Species can also be listed based on look-alike criteria, i.e. they look similar to already listed species (see Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP15) for further details).

Summary of outcomes:
In total 55 proposals were adopted, including on marine species, turtles and timber. Nine proposals were rejected, although only two of these were for increasing protection of species (both rays). Three proposals to weaken protection of the Southern white rhino and two African elephant populations were – thankfully - withdrawn.  Instead steps were taken to increase measures to reduce poaching and illegal trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory. Unfortunately, three proposals (all for turtles) were not considered due to their failure to meet the rules, despite two of the species potentially fulfilling the listing criteria for listing in Appendix I.

Marine Species:

This CoP proved a historic moment for marine species, with five commercially valuable shark species listed in Appendix II, meaning the trade of these sharks for fins and meat will be recorded and hopefully kept at more sustainable levels. Manta rays (Manta) and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) were both given additional protection, the former a listing in Appendix II, while the latter gained protection by listing in Appendix I.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) . (Photo: 2010 Terry Goss, Terry Goss Photography USA/Marine Photobank.)

The Critically Endangered sawfish Pristis microdon, found in freshwater and marine habitats, was listed in Appendix I due to its apparent range decline and decrease in distribution and numbers of individuals (all other sawfish species are already listed in Appendix I).

Freshwater Species:

A record number of turtle and tortoise species (almost 50) were proposed for listing or amendments due to their popularity in the pet trade, as food and for use in traditional medicines. Freshwater turtles are particularly vulnerable to extinction, with over 50% estimated to be threatened. Freshwater species afforded increased protection included a number of freshwater turtles such as the Roti island snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi), the spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) and the Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). The former species was retained in Appendix II but with a zero export quota, while the latter two species were given greater protection against trade.  In two proposals, ten softshell and 32 box turtles were proposed and granted increased protection.

Proposals to list two freshwater ray species on Appendix II were rejected due to lack of support by voting Parties.

Lesser-known species:

A number of lesser-known species were also afforded greater protection from international trade through listings.

New Zealand’s nine species of Naultinus gecko, popular in the pet trade, were listed in Appendix II despite already having national protection under New Zealand’s Wildlife laws. The Mangshan pit viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis), in demand by hobbyists, has a restricted range, a small population and likely a declining global population and was therefore listed in Appendix II. 

Just one species of frog was listed in Appendix II but only due to look-alike reason. The gastric breeding frogs (two species) were sadly removed from CITES listing due to their extinction. Both species were found in Australia and last known sightings were in the 1980’s.

For more info on outcomes click here.