Shark Stanley Lands in Bangkok!
Today, after months of anticipation, Shark Stanley landed in Bangkok. After the long migration from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, our team has finally arrived in Thailand. This morning, 40 years to the day since the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed, 178 countries gathered for the start of the 16th Conference of the Parties, where over the next two weeks, there will be the chance to change the fate of some of the ocean’s most vulnerable and overexploited shark species.
Today was absolutely surreal. Wide eyed from caffeine, adrenaline, and jet lag, our team settled in to the enormous main hall to watch the opening ceremony, surrounded by equally enormous figures: delegates from around the world, the eloquent Prime Minister of Thailand, the movers and shakers of the policy and advocacy world representing their NGOs, and scientists who have brought the best available knowledge to this meeting. The tone of the ceremony was optimistic yet firm, from the call for a hard clamp down on the “criminal business” of the illegal global wildlife trade from the executive director of the UNEP, Achim Steiner, to a landmark promise from Thailand’s Prime Minister to end the domestic ivory trade. Prince William’s moving opening statement summed up the gravity of this meeting: “Bound by a common objective...we can make a difference. And what you decide right here in Bangkok will make this difference.”
The importance of this moment for sharks and rays cannot be overstated. Just this week a new paper in Marine Policy announced that an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year – and staggeringly, perhaps as many as 273 million. Prominent fisheries scientist and lead author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University goes on to say that this rate of fishing exceeds the ability of sharks to recover, meaning that, “protective measure must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and possible extinction of many shark species.” Today, right now, we have this opportunity.
Delegates from Yemen and Sudan with Shark Stanley
As you probably know, hammerhead, porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, along with both species of manta ray are proposed for Appendix II listing, which would allow only legal and sustainable trade, a key step for making sure that these threatened and endangered species – essential to the health of the ocean – have the chance to recover. This sort of listing truly matters. Offering protection to more than 30,000 species, CITES is widely acknowledged as one of the most effective international conservation agreements out there and is the only treaty that regulates international trade of wildlife. As Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Charitable Trusts says, “It has teeth – it’s enforced.”
The fish proposals will be up for consideration starting towards the end of this week. Until then, our team will be camped out at our Shark Stanley booth and roaming the convention hall, sharing your voice with delegates from around the world. Today alone, we were visited by representatives from dozens of countries, with delegates from Nigeria, Mali, Namibia, United Kingdom, Kenya, Thailand, Egypt, Bhutan, Nepal, Philippines, Israel, Malta, Sudan, and Yemen eagerly seeking out the petition “signatures” of their constituents, their enthusiasm matching those of the photos looking back at them. We heard many stories of local initiatives in-country, impassioned support for the shark and manta ray proposals, and optimism for the outcomes of the next few weeks.
In closing this first dispatch from Bangkok - we want to thank you again. I've enjoyed corresponding and sharing this campaign with all of you and it's difficult to find words to express our team's gratitude. Your support continues to humble, and as we plastered the walls of our booth with the thousands of photos you’ve sent to us over the past two months, I was filled with such energy; such inspiration. This campaign has become larger than I could have ever dreamed a few short months ago. We began as just two students from Canada and Mongolia, and have now grown into a grassroots network of over 50 organizations and nearly ten thousand individuals from 120 countries! Together, we represent a rich diversity of ages, nationalities, backgrounds and experiences, linked together through this charismatic little hammerhead and his friends, and unified in our call for change. We simply could not be here without you and we are honored to be able to act as the channel through which your voice can be heard on the international stage at this critical moment.
Stay tuned – we’ll be checking in daily to keep you updated! Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and of course, here on the blog for the latest news from CITES.