Two dramatic Greenpeace actions today and yesterday stressed the plight of endangered species to delegates who will vote to decide their fate. Decisions being made this week on toothfish, sharks, and elephants and other threatened species at the UN CITES meeting will determine the role international trade plays in their uncertain futures.
Dangling by a thread
Greenpeace activitists with toothfish heads picket the entrance to the building CITES delegates are meeting.
When Chilean president Ricardo Lagos arrived yesterday, he saw
the larger-than-life inflatable whale and elephant dangling from
the 22nd floor of a building facing the CITES meeting site. "Mr.
President, our lives hang by a thread, save us," was the Greenpeace
message he read on a banner as he came to address delegates at the
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)
meeting. Greenpeace activists were able to hand the president a
letter urging him to take action to protect the world's plants and
Toothfish take to the streets
And today fish heads picketed the CITES meeting venue to demand
protection for marine life. Greenpeace activists wearing the mock
toothfish masks urged delegates to accept a proposal to stem the
rampant and illegal trade in toothfish, a valuable species found in
icy Antarctic and Patagonian waters. This fishery also resulted in
the death of 93,000 birds in the last year, many of them
A proposal to upgrade toothfish (also called Chilean sea bass)
to CITES Appendix II would extend their protection to nations not
yet required to do so. Unfortunately, countries including Norway,
Japan, Russia, China and Chile say they will oppose the proposal
because it will cut off their access to lucrative markets. This
position is utterly untenable when this fishery faces commercial
extinction from pirate fishing in ten years or sooner.
Some countries are resisting the use of CITES to protect marine
species, but CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers used his
opening address to tell delegates that this convention could and
should play an enhanced role in commercial fishery management.
Sharks and elephants lose
While proposals to erode protection for whales were soundly
defeated at CITES last week, elephants and whale sharks did not
fare as well in yesterday's votes. Separate bids to increase
protection for whale sharks and basking sharks both lost by a mere
two votes. Upgrading their protection to CITES appendix II would
have allowed much tighter regulation of trade in the sharks, which
are threatened by a high demand for shark fins as food.
And the outlook for African elephants dimmed as CITES
conditionally accepted proposals from Botswana, Namibia and South
Africa to make one-off sales of ivory. Similar proposals from
Zambia and Zimbabwe were not accepted. Unfortunately, experience
shows allowing one-off sales sends the completely wrong message to
the market and inevitably leads to increased poaching.