New protections for an array of the world’s shark species were approved Friday by an international wildlife treaty organization.
Conservation organizations hailed the protections for dozens of species of requiem sharks and rays, hammerheads and guitarfishes as “historic” and critical to protecting endangered and threatened species from the shark-finning trade. Requiem sharks include bull, sandbar and several species of reef sharks.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora also placed new restrictions on trade in glass frog species – which research says has gained popularity as a pet, possibly because of an appearance similar to Muppet “Kermit the Frog.”
The organization also rejected a proposal to relax a trade ban on elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns.
CITES, established in 1975, is considered one of the most powerful global environmental treaties and includes more than 180 nations.
Adding the shark and ray species to the CITES Appendix II, which includes species that could be threatened by extinction and their lookalikes unless trade is closely controlled, will make it easier for customs and enforcement officials to ensure legal and sustainable trade, conservation groups said.
It’s “a huge decision” and a “radical departure from what’s been done so far,” said shark scientist David Shiffman, a faculty research associate at Arizona State University.
How does climate change affect you?: Subscribe to the weekly Climate Point newsletter
READ MORE: Latest climate news from USA TODAY
In total, protections were added for around 500 species, including songbirds, reptiles, turtles and more than 100 species of trees.
The measures would never have been approved if not for massive work getting nations and people on the same page, Shiffman said: “A staggering amount of work goes into things like this.”
Curtailing the fin trade
CITES approved four proposals to place sharks on its Appendix II list of protected species, adding all 54 species of requiem sharks, freshwater stingrays, hammerheads not already on the list and guitarfish. Requiem sharks make up the majority of the shark fin and meat trade and are among the most threatened, scientists said.
Some countries had argued that including all species of requiem sharks was an abuse of the listing process.
For the roughly 90 species found in the shark fin trade, Shiffman said the measure will require local fisheries to be sustainable, well-managed and certified by a local government.
“Virtually all of the shark and ray species in the fin trade will be subject to international trade regulations, which is badly needed because around 70% of the species in this trade are threatened with extinction,” said Demian Chapman, senior scientist and director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida.
“In practice it means that nations catching these animals will be required to put management measures in place to ensure sustainability if they want to access international markets,” Chapman told USA TODAY. “If they don't, they could eventually face trade sanctions. It also opens up an established management framework and attracts resources for implementation.”
The new rule allows trade, but the trade must be documented and companies can’t export without showing the animal came from a locally well-managed fishery, Shiffman said, adding that the measure also protects sharks in demand in the meat trade
What’s the status of sharks and rays?
About a third are threatened with extinction and they’re the second most threatened vertebrate group on the planet, conservation organizations said this week.
“Our research has shown that sharks worldwide are in trouble, and for almost all, that threat comes from trade in shark products, especially the fins,” Chapman stated.
'Things are grim for the species': Endangered right whales continue to decline in Atlantic
Speed limits in the ocean? Massive ships are killing endangered whales each year.
He co-authored a study published this year that showed nearly two-thirds of the species of shark fins found in markets in China and Hong Kong came from species that are considered threatened or endangered with extinction.
In other research he helped organize, 120 international scientists and more than 700 volunteers lowered video cameras into the waters over 371 tropical coral reefs looking for reef shark species, such as tiger sharks and hammerheads. The study found coastal shark species were functionally extinct in some locations.
No sharks were seen in videos on 69 reefs, nearly 20% of the reefs studied. The same study found that sharks appeared to be more abundant in areas that had been protected and where regulations had been enacted.
Glass frog species win protection
With large eyes and transparent skin, glass frogs are becoming more and more popular in the international trade, mainly as exotic pets, according to the CITES proposal.
Part of the frogs’ popularity in the pet trade might be blamed on descriptions that compare them to the beloved green Muppet “Kermit the Frog,” the research said.
Glass frogs are nocturnal arboreal frogs found in tropical Central and South America. At least 158 species have been identified. About half are considered threatened with extinction and about 71% are declining in the wild.
They’re threatened by habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and emerging infectious diseases.
Glass frogs that are illegally traded are regularly found hidden in animal shipments exported from Central America to Europe.
According to U.S. wildlife trade data, imports of glass frogs increased by more than 6800% between between 2016 and 2020-2021.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said protecting the glass frog family makes it easier for governments to manage trade.
In the case of both sharks and glass frogs, the measures protect not only declining and endangered species, but also their lookalikes. Shiffman said that's important in cases where they're difficult to tell apart.
For example, if 10 tree species are protected and one is critically endangered, an inspector looking at a plank of wood might not be able to tell which tree it came from. Listing all the species “prioritizes species at risk of ecological extinction" and ensures the endangered ones are protected, he said.
While CITES rejected a proposal from Zimbabwe to relax a ban on ivory sales, participating nations were unable to reach agreement on giving the organization's highest protections to elephants in four countries, the Center for Biological Diversity stated in a news release.
African elephants in all but four African countries already have the highest protections, but the elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe remain on Appendix II. Several other African countries tried unsuccessfully to get elephants in those four countries added to Appendix I.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Conservation organizations cheer more protection for sharks