New international treaty seeks to protect sharks

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Seven species of vulnerable sharks and manta rays may get the chance for some much-needed protecton. These species have now been submitted by 35 countries for consideration for protection next year. The initiative falls under an international treaty concerned with regulating wildlife trade.

The proposals will be voted upon in March 2013 at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Recommendations include porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks, and two types of manta rays. For nearly 40 years, CITES has shielded thousands of plants and animals from overexploitation through international trade. The treaty is widely considered one of the best-enforced international conservation agreements.

“We congratulate the governments of Brazil, Comoros, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, the member States of the European Union, and Honduras for their leadership and commitment to shark conservation, and urge the global community to join their call to finally provide critical international trade protection for these vulnerable shark species,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group.

The 176 members of CITES will analyze these proposals before a final vote in Bangkok next March.

“Countries cannot continue to watch as these sharks and rays are driven to the brink of extinction; measures need to be put in place now to regulate international trade in these species,” said Elizabeth Wilson, manager of shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group. “This is not just about sharks; it’s about keeping the world’s oceans healthy. CITES has the chance in Bangkok to help save these species.”

Below is some info on the species up for debate:

Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks: These sharks are found along coastlines in warm, temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Hammerhead sharks are largely traded for their valuable fins.

Porbeagle Shark: A coastal shark (and smaller cousin of the great white shark) that ranges into international waters, the porbeagle is found in cold-temperate waters worldwide. It is largely traded for its meat and fins. Populations of this shark have been severely depleted around the globe.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark: The oceanic whitetip is an open-ocean species with a distinctive white tip on its dorsal fin.

Manta Ray: There are two species of manta rays, the oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris), which is found around the world in tropical and subtropical waters, and the reef manta (M. alfredi), which is found globally in tropical and temperate waters. They are largely traded for gill plates, which are reportedly used in Asian medicinal products.