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Spotlight on sharks and rays at Cites

Johannesburg - The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) kicks off this weekend and South Africa, as host country, is set to play a key role in advocating for proposed listings.

One of the first to be highlighted is a submission to declare the Silky shark, three species of Thresher sharks and nine species of Mobula ray appendix 11, protected. All have experienced declines of greater than 70 percent across their range.

A school of Mobula ray off Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Picture: Shawn Heinrichs. Credit: SUPPLIED

As 3 500 key roleplayers in conservation and policy-making converge on the Sandton Convention Centre on Saturday, proposals for listings will be debated and voted upon over the 12-day conference.

Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Fiji put through the proposals in late 2015. Following worldwide workshops to educate countries on the importance of the marine species, they received unprecedented support with 50 countries putting their name to the application. Southern African nations gathered last week to learn more about the proposals but South Africa is yet to support the appendix 11 submission.

“It has been fantastic to see such grand support from Africa, West Africa in particular, who have added their names to the proposals. One region that hasn’t expressed support is South Africa, so it will be incredibly interesting to see what they do as the host country. Their position is key,” said Luke Warwick, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts global shark conservation campaign.

An appendix II listing for these species would ensure that fins and gill plates that are traded internationally come from sustainably-managed fisheries that do not harm the status of these wild populations. In addition, catch in these fisheries would be accurately recorded.

A motivating factor for the application is the dwindling numbers of sharks and rays which attract tourism industry in the areas.

“The role of the top predator in an ecosystem can not be underestimated. The depletion or removal of sharks is likely to destabilise marine ecosystems and affect prey species in ways that cannot currently be predicted,”said Shark Life South Africa.

Eight species of sharks, two species of manta rays, and all species of sawfish are currently protected by Cites. In total, Cites offers protections to more than 30 000 species of animals worldwide and has succeeded in preventing the extinction of many species.

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