Monday, 15 March 2010

CITES convenes in Doha and the world awaits...

Today the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES opened in Doha, Qatar. This Oil and Gas rich desert peninsula, with a higher per capita carbon emmission rating than any other country, will be home to CITES nations delegates for the next two weeks. They will discuss the future of the world's most fragile and affected wildlife, and whether or not to implement trade restrictions relating to each proposed species.

CITES has long been criticised for failing to protect wildlife from trade, and rather than restricting commerce in certain species, may only serve to legitimise trade under its licensing system. The only safe place for a species to fall on a CITES list is appendix I, for which all international trade is banned. Appendix II listings are allowed to be traded, but under strict licensing controls. However, listing in appendix II does give incentive for host countries to implement strong pro-conservation initiatives for the species, and such a listing is considered critical for effective conservation management.

Eight species of shark are scheduled for discussion in Doha, the first time that such a significant number of shark species has been discussed by CITES. Currently only great whites, whale sharks and basking sharks populate appendix II but during this meeting, spiny dogfish, porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, dusky and sandbar sharks will recieve attention for discussion, debate, and hopefully eventual listing on appendix II.

The key species of this event however, has to be the Bluefin Tuna. The proposal for its listing in appendix I has received much media attention, and so it should. There is probably no greater icon for conservation requirement versus human appetite and desire than this majestic oceanic giant. It's latin name Thunnus thynnus conjures visions within us, of a creature of great stature and magnitude. But like all things spectacular, man has tried to harness it, and in so doing, has all but destroyed it. Said to be only worth $0.50 cents per kilo back in the seventies, the fine meat of the bluefin captured the imagination of asian chefs and now it is one of the most valuable fish in our oceans. A single tuna can command a price of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A war in the middle east in the next two weeks will be fought between those wishing to preserve this conservation icon, and those wishing to further their commercial interests and the subsequent imminent destruction of this king of the seas.

During the last years of the seventeenth century, mankind killed off the dodo. This giant flightless bird, populating a single island in the Indian Ocean, was not good to eat and probably didn't receive much attention from hunting practices of the day, however, introduced pigs and macaques were the liklely downfall of this waddling ground nesting bird. It went extinct because no-one really understoond the significance of extinction during that time. In fact, no-one really even noticed it had dissapeared, and it became a thing of myth, until discovery of their bones proved they really did exist. The same thing happened with the Great Auk, a large seabird, not dissimilar to a penguin, but inhabiting the North Atlantic, said to number in the millions, and populating Britain, Iceland, New Foundland and Canada. By 1840, a man named Henry Evans and a couple of friends caught and beat the last Great Auk on British Shores to death because they thought it to be a witch. So, we might comfort ourselves with the thought that superstition and ignorance were the real causes of extinction for the Auk, and for the Dodo too.

If the 175 CITES nations cannot agree to protect the bluefin tuna, then their failure will be down to only one thing. Greed. Today, with our abundance of science and news, we cannot side with ignorance. If we fail the bluefin, then can there really be any hope for the endangered species that might follow in years to come?

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