Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

This is it.  Tomorrow's the big day.
Guest Blog
by Leah Meth

The last few days here in Bangkok at CITES have been incredibly intense. The shark proposals came up first thing Monday morning, and after we [and our omnipresent giant Shark Stanleys] finished greeting delegates and headed into Committee I, we settled into what would be one of the most exceptional days of my life. It began with nerves, and an equal mix of surreptitious optimism and fear, but after the oceanic whitetip passed by a 68% majority after two hours of tense debate, we exhaled, with the rest of the day slowly escalating in momentum until the end, when, overwhelmed with elation, we saw all 4 proposals pass after the manta’s landslide victory.

This is an enormous win for sharks and rays. As Sue Lieberman, Director of International Policy at the Pew Environment Group, said, “This is a watershed moment…a great victory for conservation.” The result is historic and incredibly significant for several reasons. Importantly, it’s the first time that CITES delegates have voted to protect commercially valuable species of shark. And perhaps even more profound is the strength of the coalition that has rallied behind these proposals, with developing nations speaking strongly in the face of serious pressures from opposing countries. Latin America took the lead, with Honduras, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica co-sponsoring a record number of proposals for sharks and rays. Countries from the West African sub-region also demonstrated exceptional leadership and unity, delivering powerful interventions on the floor. Support also came from the Middle East from countries such as Egypt, Comoros, Jordan and Yemen. As Amie Brautigam of WCS said, “Whole regions are supporting sharks…This is a major milestone and this is what we should be celebrating as much as the results.”

However, it’s important to underscore that these are tentative decisions and we must remain vigilant. Nothing will be final until the final plenary meeting, which began Wednesday and will carry on this today. Sharks will be on the table early this morning. Again, I’m filled with optimistic, though nervous, anticipation. Though it’s seemed quiet around the booth and convention center, there is much going on just below the surface. Over the past few days, there has been talk of immense pressure from opposing countries such as Japan and China. As Mika Diop of the Senegal delegation and FAO expert panel said in a press conference on Tuesday, “The pressures have been very, very strong and in certain instances, there has been financial assistance, which has been presented as a quid pro quo. Offers have been refused by many parties. There are different types of pressure and some are more concrete than others.” Carl Safina, in yesterday’s HuffPo editorial spoke more bluntly, stating, “Japan always does this, bribing countries with aid packages or even individual delegates with cash.”

Yet despite this, many delegates and NGOs are confident that with the strength of the results from Committee I, the overwhelming scientific evidence behind the proposals and the immense dedication of supporting parties, the shark and manta proposals will pass. As Mamadou Diallo of WWF’s Senegal office said, “We have the opportunity to prove that CITES is a convention based on science that can achieve success despite political pressure.” Lieberman, echoed this sentiment in Committee, urging parties to adopt these proposals for both the sake of science-based decision-making and the very credibility of CITES itself.

Today, in just a few short hours, this will all play out in plenary, which we’ll be livetweeting play by play. Until then, we urge you to join us in telling your CITES delegate: #StandByYourVote to adopt the shark and manta ray proposals!

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