World Wildlife Day 2019

Sharks and CITES — A Celebration of Conservation Progress

Listing proposals for 18 species of shark and ray will be debated at the CITES CoP 18 this May. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

By Luke Warwick and Jon Forrest Dohlin
March 8, 2019

[Note: this is the sixth in a series of blogs by staff in the WCS Marine Conservation Program in recognition of World Wildlife Day 2019.]

On March 3rd the world celebrated World Wildlife Day, and for the first time the day focused on the world’s marine wildlife. WCS held and participated in several World Wildlife Day focused events to highlight the importance of marine life, and our global efforts to safeguard the world’s oceans.

To wrap up the World Wildlife Day celebrations, WCS partnered with the Maldives Mission to the United Nations — including Permanent Representative His Excellency Dr. Ali Naseer Mohamed, Chair of the Save Our Sharks Coalition — and a group of Governments working together to raise the profile of shark conservation. Together we hosted an event titled: Sharks and CITES — A celebration of conservation progress for World Wildlife Day.

His Excellency Dr. Ali Naseer Mohamed, Permanent Representative of the Maldives Mission to the United Nations and Chair of the Save Our Sharks Coalition, addresses fellow UN mission representatives at the New York Aquarium. Photo credit: John Delaney/WCS.

The setting was the WCS New York Aquarium’s new Ocean Wonders: Sharks! building. With over 115 marine species ad 18 different kinds of sharks and rays, Ocean Wonders features an extraordinary array of exhibits that highlight the ecology of New York City’s local seascape and the role of sharks there and across the globe.

The focus on CITES was timely for two reasons. First, with World Wildlife Day designated to mark CITES’s ‘birthday’ (the date the treaty was first created and signed), an event celebrating the increasingly crucial work the Convention is playing to protect the worlds marine species is very much appropriate. Second, with the CITES CoP18 only two months away, this event provided an opportunity to look ahead to additional shark and ray protections that the meeting will consider.

The unique setting at the New York Aquarium facilitated positive debate, and highlighted how CITES listings have provided momentum to progress shark conservation action globally.

The meeting was chaired by Dr. Mohamed, who showcased listing proposals for 18 species of shark and ray that CITES CoP 18 will debate this May. This record-breaking number of species includes the world’s fastest shark — the shortfin mako, overfished in industrial fisheries globally — and unique flattened sharks such as the white spotted wedgefish, the fins of which are prized (and highly valued) for use in shark fin soup.

The unique setting at the New York Aquarium facilitated positive debate, and highlighted how CITES listings have provided momentum to progress shark conservation action globally. It also allowed discussion ahead of the CITES CoP, with wide support noted for the proposals the Maldives is championing. Hopefully this will translate into additional protections for the 18 imperiled species in May.

WCS’s Luke Warwick gives a presentation an event hosted by Maldives Mission to the UN at the New York Aquarium’s “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” building. Photo credit: John Delaney/WCS.

Along with this important political debate, the setting itself was significant. This event marked the first high level event hosted in the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibition, since its opening last June. The exhibition provided an opportunity for UN delegates to see a range of shark and ray species, and how marine life, and sharks in particular play a crucial role in marine ecosystems right here in New York, as well as back in the countries they represent.

This venue will continue to provide these opportunities, showcasing how WCS’s facilities here in New York partner with our programs of work around the world to protect the worlds marine wildlife, not just on World Wildlife Day but all year round.

Luke Warwick is Associate Director for Sharks and Rays at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). Jon Forrest Dohlin is WCS Vice President and Director of the New York Aquarium.