Island Nations Lead Charge on Global Shark Conservation

Ministers call on world leaders to protect 13 shark and ray species

Island Nations Lead Charge on Global Shark Conservation

When members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meet in September, they will consider new trade protections for 13 shark and ray species.  

At the January meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in Geneva, Sri Lanka announced that it had proposed adding three species of thresher shark to what is known as CITES Appendix II, which requires that any international trade in these species be sustainable. Separately, the Maldives proposed the same protections for silky sharks. Though unable to take part in the meeting, Fiji submitted a proposal to list nine species of mobula ray.

If adopted at the Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg, these listings would double the percentage of the shark fin trade that is regulated under the world’s premier wildlife conservation convention. With global trade in shark fins and other shark products, such as meat and skin, still driving these ancient species toward extinction, these listings are urgently needed.

The honorable minister of sustainable development and wildlife, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, presented Sri Lanka’s proposal to the standing committee, while Abdulla Mohamed Didi, the Maldives’ deputy minister of environment and energy, presented the silky shark proposal.  

The Maldives and Sri Lanka, both Indian Ocean nations, hosted a reception for delegates in Geneva to highlight the newly submitted proposals and to encourage member governments to join them as they work to protect these species. All are suffering significant population declines wherever they are found.

“Our shark sanctuary fully protects sharks in the waters of the Maldives. It was an honor to host the International Shark and Ray Symposium last October and to follow through on our commitments set forth in the Landaa Giraavaru Declaration to further protect sharks not only in the Indian Ocean region but around the world,” Didi said, referring to the document that emerged from the meeting on the Maldives island.

These new proposals follow what is widely considered one of the most successful and well-supported implementations of Appendix II listings in CITES history. In 2013, three species of hammerhead sharks, porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, and both species of manta rays were added to the CITES appendices. The new requirements went into effect in September 2014.

Governments across the globe have worked together to create what are known as non-detriment findings, which are required to prove that continued trade is sustainable, and to train officials on the identification of newly listed species. They also have seized shipments of illegal and unsustainably traded shark and ray species.

“Over the past two years, we have hosted both regional and national workshops on CITES shark and ray implementation in Sri Lanka. We brought together countries from all over Southern Asia and have demonstrated just how effective CITES listings are in protecting sharks and rays and how much more needs to be done,” Jayawickrama Perera said.

Currently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies 54 percent of shark and ray species as threatened or near threatened, and a lack of effective global management is contributing to their decline. CITES Appendix II listings would make sure that continued trade in these species is sustainable and would help governments better understand the impact that trade has on these populations.

Though shark populations are in decline worldwide, it’s not too late to reverse that trend. The Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Fiji have taken critical first steps to give these species a chance to recover.

Luke Warwick directs global shark conservation efforts for The Pew Charitable Trusts.