I’m on a plane again - this time heading home. I’m excited to get there - my cousin is getting married this weekend and so there’s lots to celebrate. But truthfully I’ve already been celebrating! Just as my cousins will soon embark on a new chapter in their lives, so have seahorses embarked on a new chapter in our efforts toward their conservation under The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
I still vividly remember finding out that all seahorses had been listed on CITES* Appendix II. It was November 2002 and I was in Chicago, sitting in the lobby of the Shedd Aquarium (a long time Project Seahorse partner). My phone rang. It was Amanda Vincent, Project Seahorse director, calling me from Chile to tell me the proposal had received the 2/3 majority vote needed to be brought into force. I was early in my career and had not been involved with CITES for very long – but I knew this was something to get excited about.
This story begins in 1995 with Amanda Vincent and Marivic Pajaro uncovering a global seahorse trade of more than 15 million animals per year. Until then Viet Nam was reportedly a supplier of dried seahorses but little was known about the nature or magnitude of the trade, not to mention the status of the seven species of seahorses found along the shores of Viet Nam.
The really big news out of Johannesburg is that regulating exports of marine fish species has become normal, part of the mainstream business of CITES.
When I left for the CITES CoP, I told my 5 year old son that I was going to a meeting where all the world’s countries were coming together to make sure that all the animals and plants around today would be around when he grew up – and I left South Africa still convinced that this is exactly the best way to describe the CoP.
Our job was to find common challenges and opportunities for managing wildlife trade among seahorses, sharks, rays, humphead wrasse, European eels, and sturgeons. These very cool fishes are united as the first wave of fishes to come under global regulations, requiring that no export threaten wild populations. While that sounds good, the challenge, as ever, lies in the implementation … and that was our focus.
Having laws to conserve nature and knowing how to use them are two different things – if done well, seahorse conservation in the Philippines could pave the way for other species, writes Dr. Amanda Vincent on World Wildlife Day.