Marine mammals, sharks and rays, polar bears, and some birds are among the 31 species that will get greater protection under a deal reached earlier this week by more than 100 countries at a meeting of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a U.N. body. The new initiatives were approved during tense negotiations at CMS’s annual conference, held in Quito from 3 to 9 November.
All 31 species have at least one thing in common: They migrate, crossing international borders, skies, and seas. Their need to move often puts them at risk, as they may travel outside of protected areas. By adding the animals to the list of species protected under the CMS, nations agree to devise plans to protect the animals while they are within their borders.
Conserving migratory species takes “global cooperation,” explains Achim Steiner, U.N. under-secretary-general and executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, which oversees CMS. “The CMS sets global policies to ensure animals can move freely … and establishes rules and guidelines to reduce threats” from illegal fishing, hunting, trapping, poisoning, and capture.
One issue addressed at the meeting was the capture of marine mammals, such as killer whales and porpoises, for display in zoos and marine parks. The delegates approved an initiative calling on member countries to pass laws banning the live capture of whales and dolphins for commercial purposes—the first time that an international body has demanded that this practice cease.
Delegates also approved adding 21 species of sharks and rays to the convention’s list of protected species. All are threatened primarily by overharvesting—sharks for their fins, and devil and manta rays for their gill rakers, which are used in Asian medicine. Because manta and devil rays typically have only one pup every few years, they are “exceptionally vulnerable to overexploitation and depletion,” says Ian Campbell of the WWF in Suva, who was a member of the Fiji delegation. No other international body has previously provided protection for devil rays.
The rarely seen Cuvier’s beaked whale, which is able to dive some 3 kilometers below the surface of the ocean, was tapped for listing on Appendix I, the convention’s top level of protection. And the remaining 20,000 to 25,000 remaining polar bears in the world were added to Appendix II, which affords less protection, despite some objections from Canada. Melting ice, oil exploration, and hunting all threaten the bears. An Appendix I listing would have required stricter conservation measures, including bans on killing.
The meeting also approved a resolution calling for phasing out lead shot—commonly used in shotgun shells for bird hunting—over the next 3 years. Another called for eliminating the veterinary drug diclofenac, which kills vultures and other birds, as well as rodenticides, insecticides, and poison bait. Delegates also adopted guidelines on how to better deploy renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and dams, so that they do not harm wildlife.
In a surprising and innovative move, the delegates also agreed that scientific findings from animal behavior research—including the concept that some cetacean species have cultures—should be considered in conservation decisions and strategies for these marine mammals.