The Countdown to March 2013 – What will this mean for sharks?

In less than one year’s time, Government officials from all around the world will meet in Thailand to discuss the international trade in wildlife. These representatives from 175 countries meet every few years to discuss all sorts of species threatened with extinction, from elephants to ladybirds, a whole range of flora and fauna. Trade in wildlife products is estimated to be worth billions of dollars each year. These meetings aim is to ensure that international trade does not threaten species' survival.

Divers should be particularly interested in the meetings known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) because at the last Conference of the Parties (CoP) in March 2010 eight sharks failed to receive protection. Now as we move closer to the next meeting in March 2013, there are high hopes amongst the environmental movement that some shark species will get back on the agenda.

PADI’s environmental partner, Project AWARE Foundation is one of these environmental groups. Since June 2010 they have been rallying divers support around this very issue: the international trade of sharks.

Many nongovernmental organizations tackle the shark issue working on consumption and demand through campaigns like “Say no to shark fin soup” but there are only a few that are tacking the management around the supply. And currently for sharks there is very little management at this international level. Put simply: If you don’t measure it, you cannot monitor it. And if you don’t monitor it, you cannot manage it.

I’m sure you’ll agree, we need governments to put steps in place to manage our ocean resources and the fishing of sharks across international waters. We all understand that ocean resources are being depleted. What we don’t understand is the sheer extent of this depletion.  Sharks are suffering more than any other ocean predator we know.  When overexploitation happens through international trade, as it is the case with most threatened shark species, CITES can play a unique role in conserving those species.

As of now, despite the depletion of sharks worldwide, restrictions on international trade are in place for only three shark species - whale shark, great white shark and basking shark. With countries still working on the species lists to be proposed at the upcoming CITES meeting next year, trade protections for all three species of hammerheads, porbeagle and other sharks – all highly valued for their fins and some for their meat - are high on conservation community agenda.  By listing these species at CITES, the trade in these species is restricted. It is managed, regulated and monitored.

Roger McManus, a Project AWARE Board Member and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) understands the threat to shark populations more than most. He says “Accumulating science tells us that sharks are critical components to healthy and thriving marine ecosystems.”

“When we slaughter sharks, the ecosystems are worse off. When we stop killing them, ecosystems are better, including being more productive. The good news is, we know from experience, when we do the work, the ocean and its wildlife can be restored.”

Project AWARE launched a petition back in June 2010 - a petition to express divers concern over CITES failures to list eight shark species. A petition calling on governments around the world to heed scientific advice and provide better protection for all sharks. Out of the shock and outrage Project AWARE, AWARE divers and shark supporters worldwide, evolved a global shark campaign to ensure our voices are heard and a tragedy of this scale doesn’t repeat itself. More than 10,000 divers and supporters signed the shark petition in just three days. And today, more than 90,000 have signed the petition to gain trade protections for vulnerable sharks at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP16) taking place in Pattaya, Thailand, in March 2013.

Project AWARE and its global force of divers is determined to see these protections through. They are targeting 250,000 signatures to ensure the diving community is heard loud and clear.

Project AWARE’s efforts this year represent a crucial turning point. Many of the decisions to be made at CITES 2013 are being prepared, reviewed and analysed right now. And Project AWARE is driving diver actions and opinions right into the hands of these decision makers. They’re working hard to encourage Governments get it right. In fact as you read this Project AWARE will have just returned from a meeting with Australian Government Representatives and other influential NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) in the second of a series of meetings aimed at encouraging CITES Representatives to put shark species proposals forwards at CITES 2013.

Project AWARE delegates are not just meeting Australian representatives. They’ve already met with United Kingdom, Germany and United States and they’re gearing up to tackle more countries around the world that can have significant influence.

With your petition signature in AWARE’s hands, they are showing the strength of our diving community: a serious economic constituency, from all walks of life and political persuasion, united in wanting to protect the ocean. AWARE is the only environmental organisation I know who represents our concerns at this level and I’m proud to stand beside them in these efforts.

Shark advocates, AWARE divers and volunteers across the globe are willing and ready to do the work for sharks.  I am right behind these efforts and will do everything I can as a diver and conservationist.

If you want to add your voice to the cause:

  • Go to www.projectaware.org/givesharksachance and sign the petition;
  • Learn more about the shark conservation issue by enrolling in an AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Distinctive Specialty Course;
  • Help collect signatures to battle international governments and protect sharks across boundaries;
  • Join in an action: April is Project AWARE’s Big Shark Shout Out. Head to your local PADI Dive Centre to find out more.