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Sharks win pivotal victory, thanks in part to FIU scientists

Sharks win pivotal victory, thanks in part to FIU scientists

November 18, 2022 at 2:40am

In a groundbreaking decision, world governments have awarded increased protections to 54 species of sharks during the 19th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

FIU biologist Mark Bond is celebrating in Panama where the vote took place this week. For more than six years, he has been traveling the world advocating for this moment. In 2016, Bond was part of a successful international effort to have four shark species and nine Mobula rays added to the list of protected species when CITES convened in his native South Africa.

He and other FIU biologists including Mike Heithaus, Yannis Papastamatiou, Diego Cardeñosa, Jeremy Kiszka and students and researchers from their labs have provided and contributed to research that helped form the foundation for that proposal as well as today’s landmark proposal. Their work also supported additional listings passed by CITES between 2016 and today.

"This decision is the most significant step toward improving global shark management that countries have taken," Bond said. "It will ensure international shark trade is regulated and traceable."

All 54 species of the requiem shark family are now set to be listed on CITES Appendix II, along with a second proposal for an additional six small hammerhead shark species that was also supported in part by FIU research and was passed this week. All parties approved the latter in consensus and did not require a separate vote. By being listed on CITES Appendix II, nearly all shark species traded internationally for their fins will now be under CITES oversight and controls to help ensure sustainable use and species survival.

FIU has a team of conservation scientists fighting for some of the world’s most at-risk species including many currently being discussed as part of CITES. Visit the Experts List to learn more.

 Cardeñosa has contributed research to not only support the listing of additional species of sharks but also to ensure implementation and track outcomes of already awarded protections. Heithaus, who also serves as the executive dean of FIU's College of Arts, Sciences & Education, helped lead Global FinPrint, which was a collaborative, international effort to survey the world's reef shark and ray populations. He, along with Bond and nearly all other marine predator scientists at FIU, contributed to that effort.

"At FIU, our faculty, students and staff are passionate about making a difference in the world," Heithaus said. "Our teams working on environmental issue are helping to make sure that we leave a sustainable and thriving world for future generations. It’s especially exciting for me as a marine ecologist to see our work help catalyze global action to protect and restore sharks since they can be a critical part of keeping oceans healthy.

The proposals require final endorsement by the plenary session at the conclusion of the CITES meeting next week. A third of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction. The inclusion of nearly all species currently in the global shark fin trade means it will be far easier for customs and enforcement officials to ensure only legal and sustainable trade is taking place since almost every shipment of shark products will now require a permit to prove that trade meets legal and sustainability requirements. Currently, there are few restrictions in place. The government of Panama led the initiative for requiem sharks, in partnership with 40 other nations. Sharks and rays are the second most threatened vertebrate group on the planet, most often fished for their fins and meat.