Archive for the ‘CITES’ Category

Sri Lanka scales up its domestic campaign to protect sharks with a global push

September 8, 2019 on MongayBay on 05.09.2019

  • With the killing of sharks and rays on the rise, Sri Lanka played a lead role in pushing three proposals to extend global protection to 18 species at the recently concluded CITES wildlife trade summit in Geneva.
  • Sixty-three sharks and 42 ray species are found in Sri Lankan waters, and are threatened by overexploitation driven by an ever-increasing demand for sharks fins, meat, and liver oil.
  • While five species of sharks currently enjoy legal protection against the species trade in Sri Lanka, conservationists see an urgent need to extend protection to all reef sharks and other endangered shark and ray species.

Decades ago along the beaches of Sri Lanka, fish sellers used bicycles to transport their catch, including sharks. It was said the sharks were often so big that, when tied down to the bicycle frame, their snouts and tail fins would touch the ground at either end.

“But not anymore,” says Hiran Jayawardene, the founder chairman of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA). He says this decline is evident at shark landing sites around the country, where fishermen are no longer pulling in the large sharks they did before.

Sri Lanka’s waters are home to 63 shark and 42 ray species, but many are threatened by overexploitation to feed the growing demand for shark fins, meat, and liver oil.

The result of the voting at the CITES summit in Geneva in favor of the uplisting of mako sharks to Appendix II. Image courtesy of IISD Reporting Service.

But the country is looking to change that, rolling out a raft of regulations in the past two decades to protect various shark species domestically, and, more recently, spearheading a push for the global protection of highly exploited and endangered mako sharks.

Among the many proposals it supported at last month’s global summit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Sri Lanka took a leading role in calling for the inclusion of the two species of mako sharks, shortfin (Isurus oxyrinchus) and longfin (I. paucus), in CITES Appendix II, which would subject their trade to strict rules. It also called for similar protections for six species of giant guitarfishes and 10 species of wedgefishes.

The IUCN Red List includes both species of mako sharks as endangered, all six species of giant guitarfishes as critically endangered, and nine of the 10 species of wedgefishes as critically endangered.

“All these species have seen very steep declines in their populations in recent decades and this is mostly due to overfishing, habitat destruction and degradation,” Rima Jabado, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group’s regional vice-chair for the Indian Ocean, told Mongabay.

Kim Friedman, senior fisheries resources officer at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said a mere listing would not protect the species. “It matters to change the management framework of fisheries to get implemented at ground level.”

More than 100 million sharks are killed every year, mainly for their fins. Image by Malaka Rodrigo.

Protecting the ocean’s predators

In Sri Lanka, five species of sharks enjoy legal protection: the pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus), bigeye thresher (A. superciliosus), common thresher (A. vulpinus), oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), and whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Since 2001, local fishing regulations have required that any of these sharks that are caught must be brought to shore with their fins attached. The rule was enforced to curb shark finning, the practice of catching a shark, cutting off its fins mid-ocean, then dumping the live shark back into the water, where, unable to swim, it dies.

In 2013, Sri Lanka went further and introduced a five-year National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA), specifying measures for adoption and implementation of new shark conservation and management mechanisms.

Sisira Haputhantri, an ocean fisheries expert at NARA, told Mongabay that the shark action plan, since extended for another five years, should help monitor the implementation of the conservation initiatives.

Over the past 10 years, the country has official exported 59 metric tons of shark fins annually. But there’s evidence that greater volumes of shark fins are being smuggled out of the island.

There are recorded and unrecorded instances of fins being exported as dried fish, said Sevvandi Jayakody, Sri Lanka’s coordinator for the recent CITES summit.

By listing mako sharks in Appendix II, scientists can gather accurate figures of sharks killed as part of the international trade, which would help determine whether catches are reaching what’s known as the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), Jayakody said.

“We do not want to stop shark fishery but we do want sustainable fishery. CITES should help educate regulators and fisherfolk alike, on the new developments,” she said.

Both species of mako are oceanic, roam the high seas, and undertake long-distance migrations, making local protection mechanisms of somewhat limited value, according to Rex I. de Silva, author of Sharks of Sri Lanka. The CITES listing is therefore vital to protect the species in international seas.

A shark is finned at the Negombo shark landing site in western Sri Lanka. Image by Malaka Rodrigo.

John E. Scanlon, former secretary-general of CITES, told Mongabay that the convention had been used effectively since 2013 to regulate the international trade in commercially harvested sharks and rays. These include hammerheads (family Sphyrnidae), porbeagles (Lamna nasus) and oceanic whitetip sharks and manta rays, as well as silky (Carcharhinus falciformis) and thresher sharks together with devil rays (genus Mobula) since 2016. Mako sharks are the latest to join the list.

“Following the 2003 listing of sharks, there had been great progress in the conservation of white sharks, basking sharks and whale sharks,” Jabado said. “The other listings are much more recent, and it is unlikely we will see a difference in the population size of these species just yet.”

Conservation management

What countries need is better fisheries management to curb overexploitation, Jabado said.

“Many species in the Indian Ocean are considered migratory but many are endemic to this region,” she said. “This means, we need higher levels of species protection. To ensure protection of the migratory species, the best strategy is collaboration with other countries in the region, both on research and conservation.”

Daniel Fernando of Blue Resources Trust initiated a nine-day survey of fish markets and landing sites at 11 localities in Sri Lanka that led to the identification of 34 shark species. Five of them are sharks new to science. “If a short survey of nine days could help discover new species, it shows the need for greater research on Sri Lanka’s sharks,” Fernando told Mongabay.

Following the listing of sharks and rays to Appendix II during the 2013 CITES summit in Bangkok, Sri Lanka’s Department of Fisheries Resources and the FAO conducted a joint survey to identify the successes and challenges experienced in the implementation of CITES provisions.

The survey showed poor awareness about the CITES process among stakeholders. However, they had a satisfactory level of knowledge of other measures, with more than 69 percent of respondents having awareness of management measures.

Sharks caught for their fins. Finning often takes place at sea, with the live shark thrown back into the water, where it’s unable to swim and quickly dies. Image by Malaka Rodrigo.

“Shark conservation in Sri Lanka appears to be at the starting point: It has a long way to go in order to reach conservation efforts undertaken by neighbours such as the Maldives,” said  Howard Martenstyn, a marine biologist with the Centre of Research for Indian Ocean Marine Mammals (CRIOMM).

Promotion of ecotourism of sharks and manta rays as an alternative to fishing can offer a different revenue model for the local economy, Martenstyn said.


Banner image of a stuffed shark toy at the Sri Lankan delegation’s seat at last month’s CITES summit in Geneva. Sri Lanka played a leading role in pushing for greater protection for sharks and rays at the summit. Image courtesy of IISD Reporting Service.

Sri Lankan lizards, tortoises get greater protection from wildlife trade

September 7, 2019 published on 01.09.2019

The World Wildlife Conference, known formerly as the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), ended on August 28.

The Sri Lankan delegation at the summit

Most of proposals that Sri Lanka submitted along with other countries seeking trade protection for local species got adopted while some other proposals were adopted with changes. Sri Lanka withdrew one proposal, but plans to resubmit it soon.

Since coming into force in 1975, the CITES convention remains the world’s most powerful tool for wildlife conservation through the regulation of international trade with 183 signatories, including Sri Lanka. The countries can propose protection of species or request to downgrade protection at its Conference of Parties once in three years. This COP18 was initially planned to be held in May earlier this year in Sri Lanka, but later shifted to Geneva, Switzerland after the Easter Sunday attack by Muslim extremists on Catholic worshippers.

At the summit, Sri Lanka submitted a number of proposals seeking protection to some of the local species that can be over-exploited by the international trade. The three proposals were aimed at listing 10 lizards in the Appendix I of the CITES, preventing any form of international trade.

These proposals urge five species of Horned Lizards (Ceratophora spp.), two species of Pygmi Lizards (Cophotis ceylanica and Cophotis dumbara), Hump-nosed lizards (Lyriocephalus scutatus) and two species of garden (Calotes nigrilabris and Calotes pethiyagodai) to be included in CITES Appendix I.

The Sunday Times learnt there was opposition to these proposals mainly from the European Union, the main buyer of these species as pets.
However, Sri Lankan delegates defended the proposal to list Pygmy Lizards and three Horned Lizards to be included to Appendix I with majority voting in favor of.

Hump-nosed lizard, Rough-nosed horn lizard (Ceratophora aspera) and Rhino-horn lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii) could only be included into the CITES Appendix II on the basis of insufficient data to push for inclusion to Appendix I.

Sri Lanka withdrew the third lizard proposal that aimed at listing Garden lizards (Calotes nigrilabris and Calotes pethiyagodai) on Appendix I.
Exclusively speaking to the Sunday Times from Geneva, the Sri Lankan coordinator of CITES CoP18 Sri Lankan Secretariat, Dr.Sevvandi Jayakody said the reason for withdrawal was technical. “The species in the withdrawn proposal were scientifically split recently describing new species in the group, so EU and other experts questioned why not include the new species to the listing, so we decided to review the proposal and resubmit if after updating,” Dr.Jayakody said.

The Director General of DWC, Chandana Sooriyabandara

Meanwhile, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network TRAFFIC’s recent report titled ‘The presence of protected reptiles from Sri Lanka in international commercial trade’ shows that the trade in Sri Lankan reptiles is booming. The report authored by Jordi Janssen and Dr.Anslem de Silva says that more species may have been introduced into the trade in recent years. The study shows that Germany is at the center of the illegal trade in Sri Lankan reptiles, with 17 species observed during the study. Many of these are micro-endemics, living in a very restricted area and extremely vulnerable to overexploitation — so international trade can quickly become a significant threat to these species as they also face other challenges like habitat loss and degradation.

Sri Lanka along with other countries Bangladesh, India and Senegal also proposed Star Tortoise to be included in the Appendix I. This attracted controversy before the COP18 event as the CITES secretariat issued a recommendation against the proposal indicating that adding the Star Tortoise to Appendix I would not provide much benefit.

But in recent years, large volumes of Star Tortoises that has been seized from smugglers in countries including Sri Lanka, was cited as evidence of the need to protect them from the pet trade. This was approved at the conference.

Continuing the trend of using CITES trade quotas and permits to promote sustainable commercial fisheries, the conference decided to add 18 more shark species to Appendix II. They included Blacknose and Sharpnose guitarfishes, highly valued for their fins and considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Shortfin and Longfin Mako sharks, together with species of Wedgefishes are found in Sri Lankan waters. So Sri Lanka’s decision to become co-proponents of these proposals are important, said fisheries expert Daniel Fernando who was one of the delegates.

Taking the lead in shark conservation proposals, Sri Lanka also hosted a side event. The secretary of Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife Siri Hettiarachchi, who led the Sri Lankan delegation, said it was successful.

Sri Lanka along with the United States proposed to enlist ornamental Tiger Spiders (tarantulla) and songbirds on Index II. Another proposal submitted with the US was to list Boswellia (frankincense) on Appendix III. Boswellia is a resin extracted from a tree with considerable anti-inflammatory properties.

The CoP18 was attended by 169 member governments (plus the EU) and some 1,700 delegates, observers and journalists. The Sri Lankan team was led by Siri Hettiarachchi, secretary of ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, and also included the Director General of Wildlife Department, Chandana Sooriyabandara, deputy director Ranjan Marasinghe and Dr.Sevvandi Jayakody, Daniel Fernando and Manori Gunawardane.

Representing the minister of wildlife, the lawmaker, Sandith Samarasinghe participated with additional secretary Dayawan Rathnayake, and ambassador Abdul Azeez.

CITES COP18 is successful in terms of species protection initiatives and attention Sri Lanka got, Dr.Sevvandi said.

A Sri Lankan lizard on one of the CITES report

In Sri Lanka, the sweet smell of agarwood draws calls for trade protection

August 25, 2019 Published on SundayTimes on 23.08.2019 

  • Agarwood, a resinous substance produced by tree species in the Aquilaria and Gyrinops genera, is a prized source of natural perfume and incense, and is regularly smuggled out of Sri Lanka.
  • Although all agarwood-producing species are already listed in CITES Appendix II, fresh calls are being made to include one of them, Gyrinops walla, found in Sri Lanka, in Appendix I to prevent its trade at least until farmed products are available in the market.
  • Botanists are promoting the domestication of G. walla, pointing to the success of cinnamon, which used to be harvested from the wild in Sri Lanka but is now produced in home gardens and commercial plantations.

COLOMBO — When forest officer Anura Herath carried out a raid in July 2012, he was ready to seize high-value timber. But instead he discovered strips of blackish bark, stems and other wood chips in the possession of the men he nabbed.

Puzzled, he sought expert advice, leading authorities in Sri Lanka to their first look into the multimillion-dollar trafficking of agarwood.

Agarwood is a resinous wood from tree species in the Aquilaria and Gyrinops genera. The dark resin, secreted as a self-defense mechanism against fungi, bacteria or insect infestation, is highly aromatic, and the resin-suffused heartwood is a prized natural perfume.

Agarwood was traded across the ancient Silk Road for centuries, but demand had risen sharply in the past 30 years. Today, hundreds of tonnes of agarwood are traded annually, involving at least 18 countries, according to a report by the wildlife trade watchdog, TRAFFIC.

A Gyrinops walla plant found in a home garden. Image courtesy of Nimal Gunatilleke.

Overexploited and depleted

Malaysia, the global leader in agarwood exports, has overexploited seven of its 18 agarwood-producing native trees, now risking their extinction.

Similar overexploitation has occurred across other range countries, and in 1995, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed the main agarwood-producing species, Aquilaria malaccensis, in CITES Appendix II, tightening trade restrictions. A decade later, all Aquilaria and Gyrinops species were listed in Appendix II, in a bid to better regulate the global agarwood trade.

But as with measures to clamp down on trade in other forms of threatened species, the practice has been driven deeper underground, says Sri Lankan botanist Suranjan Fernando.

“As there is a marked depletion in agarwood-producing trees in traditional range countries, the racketeers appear to have begun exploring new places and previously unknown species,” he told Mongabay.

Among these is Gyrinops walla, known locally as walla patta, which grows widely across Sri Lanka, including in home gardens.

With global markets being opened up for this high-value aromatic wood, an unprecedented level of harvesting has taken place in Sri Lanka. Only a small proportion of mature G. walla trees, probably less than 10 percent, have resin-suffused heartwood, but even young plants are being cut.

“Almost all the adult Gyrinops walla trees are removed in search of agarwood,” Nimal Gunatilleke, emeritus professor at the University of Peradeniyatold Mongabay.

Call to prohibit trade

In 1979, Gunatilleke joined a long-term project monitoring a number of forest plots around the world, with the findings updated every five years. The latest analysis, shared by Sisira Ediriweera of the Uva Wellassa University, showed that on the 25-hectare (62-acre) plot being monitored in Sri Lanka, all the mature G. walla trees had been removed. Only 71 sprouts, less than 5 centimeters (2 inches) in height, were found on the plot they monitored.

Conservationists, anticipating the threat to the species, had successfully pushed for its classification as “vulnerable” in the 2012 National Red List. “In recognition of the threat of excessive exploitation, the plant was so listed, even though it was a common plant in 2012,” Siril Wijesundara, coordinator of the flora section of the national red list, told Mongabay.

Since 2012, the Sri Lankan customs department has thwarted multiple attempts to smuggle agarwood. Samantha Gunasekara, a former head of the department’s biodiversity protection unit, told Mongabay that confiscated agarwood stocks were regularly auctioned by the department. The country’s doesn’t produce any farmed G. walla, but there’s a thriving collection from the wild.

Gyrinops walla conficated by Sri Lanka Customs - CHART

According to Sri Lanka Customs statistics, smuggling of Gyrinops walla has being increasing. Largest agarwood haul of 119 kg was confiscated on 14.04.2018 at Bandaranaike International Airport and the most recent smuggling attempt was thwarted on July 2019. United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India has been most popular destinations of agarwood smugglers. Source Sri Lanka Customs

“It is prudent to elevate the CITES trade protection level by enlisting Gyrinops wallain Appendix I to prevent its international trade, at least until farmed products are available in the market,” Gunasekara said.

Both Wijesundara and Gunatilleke agree. However, Fernando said he was opposed to any attempt to list G. walla in Appendix I, saying the collection and sale of agarwood benefited impoverished rural communities.

“Focus should be on home gardening and commercial scale gardening. Once listed under Appendix I, it will be difficult to downgrade when Sri Lanka is ready to export agarwood,” he said.

A consignment of first-grade agarwood kept on display at the museum of Sri Lanka Customs. Image courtesy of the Sri Lankan customs department.

Domestication bid — the cinnamon precedent

The species is an understory tree that can grow even in home gardens. Botanists like Fernando are recommending domestication of the plant to reduce its harvest from the wild, citing the success of cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), of which Sri Lanka is the world’s top producers.

“Cinnamon was earlier grown only in the wild and our ancestors collected wild cinnamon from forested areas,” Fernando and Gunatilleke said. “But once introduced to home gardens, resulting in commercial scale cinnamon plantations, it became an accessible commodity and reduced the pressure.”

Today, there’s no more harvesting of cinnamon from the wild in Sri Lanka, with all production coming from home gardening and commercial cultivation — a path that Gunatilleke said could also protect agarwood.

Nimal Gunatilleke studying a walla patta tree. Image courtesy of Suranjan Fernando.

An obstacle on that path, however, is the lack of research into how to produce the resin efficiently. In the wild, the trees only secrete the resin in response to an infestation by bacteria, fungus or insects. What’s needed to help domestic cultivation scale up, said Fernando, is research into how to stimulate this response through the use of inoculants — the same way vaccinations in humans train the body to respond to a given disease.

Upul Subasinghe, of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, is a researcher experimenting to find a viable inoculant that can trigger the production of agarwood. Working with the private sector, Subasinghe is trying to promote agarwood plantations islandwide. He agreed that the best method to protect the wild species is to farm them at a commercial scale. “The current mechanism,” he said, “does not allow export.”


Banner image of specimens of locally produced agarwood, courtesy of the Sri Lanka customs department

World Wildlife Conference starts paying tribute to Sri Lankan victims of terror

August 25, 2019 Published on SundayTimes on 25.08.2019

The 18th World Wildlife Conference convened by the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES) is being held in Geneva, from August 17-28. Delegates from 183 countries along with other participants observed a minute’s silence, before starting proceedings, to pay tribute to victims of Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday terrorist attack, the Sunday Times learns.

Known as 18th Conference of Parties (COP18) of CITES, this international conference was originally intended to be held in Sri Lanka last May. But the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks forced the event to be postponed and subsequently, shifted to CITES’ headquarters in Geneva.

Delegates paying one-minue tribute for Easter Sunday victims at Geneva (c) IISD reporting services

Sri Lanka’s delegation included officers of the Department of Wildlife (DWC) which is the responsible local agency to handle CITES matters.

CITES meets once in 3 years to discuss ways to regulate the trade in international wildlife, that is worth billions of dollars annually. This trade could also impact the biodiversity, as species traded as exotic pets, timber and other flora are often subject to over-exploitation. The meeting focuses on what species should be protected from the wildlife trade and to what level.

About 5,800 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants currently receive various levels of protection from CITES. There are 3 Appendices under CITES where animals or plants can be listed according to the threatened levels. Trade in species listed under Appendix I, is prohibited, while species in Appendix II can be traded with a licence, ensuring it is obtained legally and, if harvested, it won’t hurt the species’ chances of survival.

Conference delegates will submit proposals for changes to these lists, subject to the species’ threat levels, due to the trade. There can also be requests to lessen the threat levels. These requests have been approved through a ballot. Proposals such as the sale of stockpiles of African ivory, attracted heated voting, said Dr. Sevvaandi Jayakody, currently attending the conference. “One of the notable proposals approved at the conference so far, includes listing of Giraffe under CITES Appendix II,” she said.

Sri Lanka too proposed enlisting 4 of the country’s endemic agamid lizards to be included in Appendix I, banning their trade. Sri Lanka is also co-proponents of listing Star Tortoises and Tiger Spiders (Tarantulas) and several Shark species in CITES Appendix II.

Dr. Sevvandi said that Sri Lanka received unprecedented support at the meeting, with every party conveying their concerns, before taking the floor.

Delegates from Sri Lanka (c) IISD reporting services

Sri Lanka’s Hump-nosed Lizard on cover of one of the CITES report (c) IISD reporting services

18th World Wildlife Conference on progress at Geneva, Switzerland 17-28th of August (c) Photo credit IISD reporting services

Would CITES listing help threatened sea cucumbers due to overexploitation?

August 14, 2019

Published on Mongabay on 10.08.2019

  • With fewer species of sea cucumbers being recorded in catches, Sri Lanka stands to benefit from a proposal that is calling for increased protection of threatened species under CITES Appendix II.
  • Experts say there’s good precedent for believing that the listing will raise awareness and spur action to protect the sea cucumbers, citing the example of various shark species that received greater attention after being listed. 

A fisherman drying boiled sea cucumbers in the sun image courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara.

In the early 1980s, a common sight along the still unpolluted beaches of southern Sri Lanka was that of fisherfolk sun-drying small, blackish, cylindrical objects. They called them sea slugs, sea leeches, or sea cucumbers. These marine invertebrates were so abundant in the shallow coastal regions that they could be picked by hand during low tide.

But growing demand for sea cucumbers, considered a delicacy across Asia, has since driven the largely export-oriented Sri Lankan fishery to unsustainable levels.

After the sea cucumbers in shallow coastal waters were harvested, the populations in deeper areas were targeted by snorkeling fishermen and skin divers. The fishing pressure was so enormous that the sea cucumber fishery in southern Sri Lanka collapsed within a few years.

The eastern coast of the island suffered the same fate, and today the sea cucumber fishery is confined to the northern arc of Sri Lanka. Experts say they fear the remaining sea cucumber populations there, too, will be depleted if not managed properly.

A drive to promote the farming of live sea cucumbers is being attempted in Sri Lanka as an alternative to collecting them from the wild. Image courtesy of Kumudini Ekaratne.

“As mostly scuba divers hand pick sea cucumbers now, the pressure particularly on high value species are high. Some of these high value sea cucumber species are already rare to not available on many sites,” Chamari Dissanayake, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, told Mongabay.

Dissanayake was a former research officer at the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) who studied the sea cucumber fishery. She identified 24 sea cucumber species in Sri Lankan waters, of which 20 have some sort of commercial value.

But the number being caught and sold is fast shrinking. A study published in May this year in the journal Aquatic Living Resources records nine sea cucumber species in commercial catches from November 2015 to January 2017 in Sri Lanka. That’s down from 11 species recorded in a study carried out in 2012, prompting researchers to conclude that some species are already overfished. These include the high-value Holothuria fuscogilva, known as the white teatfish and listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.

Teatfish are generally in high demand, and overfishing has caused the populations to decline in many countries. H. nobilis, the black teatfish, is another rare species found in the Sri Lankan waters and listed as endangered.

Weak species management systems, overexploitation by fishers, and vulnerable biological traits are the key reasons why teatfish sea cucumbers are under threat across their wide geographic range, said Steven Purcell, an expert on sea cucumbers at Australia’s Southern Cross University.

“The teatfish species of sea cucumbers are impacted by a compounding problem called ‘opportunistic exploitation,’” he told Mongabay. “This occurs when fishers over-harvest high-value species and then shift to harvesting lower-value species but can still collect the last of the high-value ones opportunistically, while they are out in the sea. This means that the high-value species, such as the teatfish types, can be harvested to the level of local extinction.”

As these teatfish require higher levels of protection against the international trade, a proposal has been submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to list H. fuscogilvaH. nobilis and the endangered H. whitmaei (not recorded in Sri Lankan waters) in CITES Appendix II.

The proposal, supported by the European Union, Kenya, Senegal, the Seychelles and the U.S., will be considered at the 18th Conference of Parties (CoP18) to CITES in Geneva from Aug. 17 to 28.

There are three appendices under CITES offering varying degrees of protection for species. Inclusion in Appendix II will require countries to justify, through data collection and research, that exploitation and trade of the teatfish species in question won’t jeopardize their populations in the wild.

A mix of sea cucumbers freshly collected from the ocean bed. Image courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara.

For Sri Lanka, that could mean investing in field surveys to determine current population densities of black and white teatfish at multiple sites around the country, and socioeconomic surveys to determine which species, and how many, are collected by fishers, as well as identifying prevailing trading practices, Purcell said. This research would be required for assessing non-detriment findings and to inform decisions about whether trade should be allowed to continue at present levels.

Dissanayake’s research indicates that about 10,000 people depend on the sea cucumber fishery, a key earner of foreign currency.

“A solution has to be found by offering alternative livelihoods,” Dissanayake said.

Sea cucumbers are processed to make bêche-de-mer, a popular delicacy in East Asia. Image courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara.

Daniel Fernando, a co-founder of Blue Resources Trust, a marine research and conservation nonprofit, said there was good precedent to believe that achieving CITES listing for the overexploited sea cucumbers would be a key step toward protecting the species.

“Many people still consider marine fish just as a commodity and there is little focus on their protection,” he told Mongabay. “But CITES listing of marine species made lot of people around the globe to change this outlook.”

He pointed in particular to the listing of several shark species in various CITES appendices as helping to spur action for their protection.

“As a result of previous listing of sharks, many countries including Sri Lanka began investing in the protection of the species,” Fernando said. “All these marine species become threatened due to unsustainable fishing practices and lack of management.”


Kumara, P. B., Cumaranathunga, P. R., & Linden, O. (2005). Present status of the sea cucumber fishery in southern Sri Lanka: A resource depleted industry. SPC Beche-de-mer Information Bulletin22, 24-29.

Nishanthan, G., Kumara, A., Prasada, P., & Dissanayake, C. (2019). Sea cucumber fishing pattern and the socio-economic characteristics of fisher communities in Sri Lanka. Aquatic Living Resources,32(12). doi:10.1051/alr/2019009

Banner image of a fisherman drying boiled sea cucumbers in the sun on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara. 

Spear-fishing threatens Giant Coral Fish

January 25, 2017

Images showing large Hump-head Wrasse (which is about 4.5ft) speared at Unawatuna raised concerns again whether spearfishing has to be banned. The Hump-head Wrasse  is categorized as ‘Endangered’ and it is important to protect this fish. Here is my article published on SundayTimes on 03.03.2013

Large Hump-head Wrasse speared last week

Large Hump-head Wrasse speared last week

Kalpitiya’s unsustainable fishing practices came under the spotlight recently after dozens of dolphins were killed after being trapped in banned fishing nets. Besides the charismatic dolphin, other “endangered” marine creatures are falling victim to illegal fishing methods, including spear fishing. Spear fishing could wipe out the world’s biggest reef fish, the Hump-head Wrasse, from Kalpitiya and other marine areas, warn marine biologists.

A Hump-head Wrasse (c) Nishan Perera

The Hump-head Wrasse is also known as Napoleon Wrasse, and is scientifically categorised as Cheilinus undulates. The male can grow up to six feet (two metres) and can weigh up to 190 kilograms. It has a prominent bulge on its forehead, hence the name “hump head.” Some females have a sex change and turn into males with maturity. The Hump-head Wrasse can live up to 30 years, but many get killed even before reaching maturity.

Kalpitiya fisherman Chanaka says divers who dive for chank and sea cucumber also target the Hump-head Wrasse. “Most of the larger Hump-head Wrasse are gone from Kalpitiya,” Chanaka said. In a bid to survive, the giant fish sometimes hide in cavities in underwater caves, but this does not stop divers from shooting their spears into the cavities and killing the fish.

In times past, spear fishing was done with free diving, without scuba kits. The time a hunter can stay under water was limited, but now modern spear-fishing makes use of elastic powered spear-guns and slings, or compressed gas-powered spearguns to strike the fish with accuracy. The scuba gear allow the diver to stay underwater for long periods, and divers use the extra time to go for the larger fish.

Kalpitiya Bar Reef Sanctuary architect Arjan Rajasuriya confirmed that the Hump-head Wrasse is becoming a rarity in Kalpitiya. All the larger fish have been hunted, and the Hump Head Wrasse appears to be highly vulnerable to over-fishing, he said.

The absence of the Hump-head Wrasse could be bad for the health of the coral reef, says Mr. Rajasuriya. The Hump-head Wrasse feeds on hard-shelled prey such as mollusks, starfish, or crustaceans. This includes the coral-eating Crown-of-Thorn starfish. With the disappearance of the large fish, the Crown-of-thorn starfish population is increasing and putting the system out of balance. There was a Crown-of-thorn starfish outbreak at the Pigeon Island coral reef last year.

In 1996, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Hump-head Wrasse as vulnerable. In the Red List of Threatened Species it was later upgraded to “endangered”. The fish is also targeted for the live restaurant fish trade, where fish are kept live in tanks for the customer to pick the fish he wants cooked for him. Samantha Gunasekara of Customs Biodiversity says this kind of trade is not found in Sri Lanka.

Marine biologist Nishan Perera said spearfishing is practised in other parts of the island as well. Not only the Hump-head Wrasse, but also Giant Groupers, Parrot Fish and most of the giant fish are being over-fished in our waters by spear fishing, he said. The Giant Grouper can grow up to three metres, but such big specimens are rare these days, Mr. Perera said.

Group of Hump-head Wrasse (c) Nishan Perera

Group of Hump-head Wrasse (c) Nishan Perera

Wallapatta agarwood the new illegal million-rupee racket

February 16, 2014

An attempt to smuggle out wallapatta agarwood worth Rs. 12 million was prevented by vigilant Customs officers last week.

The offender had 16.8kg of the substance concealed in his baggage, Samantha Gunasekara of the Customs Biodiversity Protection Unit said. It had been cleaned and considered to be grade 1 quality. The offender was at Bandaranaike International Airport to board a Bangalore-bound flight. Preliminary investigations revealed that he was only a carrier, and investigations are underway to find the source of the agarwood.

Agarwood is a product of the wild tree, wallapatta, and it is illegal to own or take out a forest product without permission but because of its high value criminals collect and export it illegally. Wallapatta is scientifically classified as a sub-canopy tree growing in wet zone forests as well as in home gardens in these areas. The tree creates a resin called agarwood in its core as a reaction to a fungal infection, and this is used as a base for perfumes.

Perfumes produced using agarwood are expensive because of the resin’s scarcity, so a wave of illegal felling of wallapatta has been reported, several dozen cases from different parts of Sri Lanka in the first weeks of 2014.

In the latest case, Morontuduwa police arrested three men for cutting down a wallapatta tree and transporting in a van. Because the agarwood has to be exported illegally, stringent measures have to be put in place to nab the offenders who mastermind this racket.

Only some wallapatta trees affected by fungi manufacture the agarwood resin. Since there is no way to detect whether a wallapatta tree is secreting agarwood, trees are being felled indiscriminately for quick profits. Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke, who has studied the growth of wallapatta, warns that extensive removal of large mature trees could affect the survival of wild wallapatta trees, already categorised as “vulnerable” to extinction on the National RedList.

Prof. Gunatilleke points out that investigation of the tree’s reproductive ecology and low-cost propagation methods of wallapatta were needed to restore the growth of the tree in the forest and to increase domestic growth to reduce pressure on this rapidly dwindling natural resource. The Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) said regulations to protect wallapatta have been drafted. He said the cultivation of wallapatta would be encouraged under stringent monitoring conditions.

Published on SundayTimes on 16.02.2014 

Lanka won’t reveal shark secret

March 17, 2013

Malaka Rodrigo �reporting �from Bangkok – Sri Lanka maintained total silence on how it voted as an important proposal to protect sharks and manta ray species was passed earlier this week at the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) of Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES) in Bangkok.

Activists canvassing for the shark vote at the Bangkok conference

The proposal was passed with a clear majority after some tense proceedings as countries opposing the decision could canvass support from other countries and call for a re-vote. As expected Japan backed by India and Gambia challenged the decision on oceanic white-tip shark while China and Grenada had attempted to reopen the debate on the listing of the three hammerhead sharks. However, there was no revote in spite of attempts to reopen the debate.

It was widely speculated that China and Japan would pressurise Sri Lanka to vote their way but, Sri Lanka’s delegation head and Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Director General H.D. Ratnayake declined to comment on Sri Lanka’s position on the basis that it was a secret ballot.Following the favourable vote these species have been listed under Appendix-II of CITES and accordingly these species of sharks and manta rays will have to be traded with CITES permits following proof that they were harvested sustainably and legally.

Mr. Ratnayake said his department would work closely with the Fisheries Department and NARA to protect these species in Sri Lankan waters. He said this was just the beginning in an area where much more had to be done to protect Sri Lanka’s marine species. The Sunday Times last week reported on the importance of Sri Lanka voting in favour of the proposal to list oceanic white-tip shark, three species of hammerhead sharks and two species of manta ray. These are threatened species in Sri Lanka’s waters because of a big export market for their dried fins and gill plates.

(Please also see reletated )


Published on SundayTimes on 17.03.2013

Blood ivory a topic at International Forum on Wildlife Crime

March 17, 2013

Suspect traffickers arrested, stock seized in Lanka vital as probe continues� Malaka Rodrigo reporting from Bangkok

The poaching of elephants for tusks was another issue discussed at the many side events held parallel to the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) at the Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) in progress

The fate of the haul of ivory seized recently by Sri Lankan Customs was a hot topic at CITES and the Asian Development Bank side event ‘Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime’. The senior representatives of Sri Lanka participating at the event said the ivory will not be distributed to the temples.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS representative Halke Elme confirmed Kenya has received a letter from Sri Lanka saying the ivory will not be released. KWS is the state agency of Kenya protecting its wildlife and based on the recent reports that the ivory is to be released, KWS has sent a letter querying Sri Lanka. Mr.Elme said KWS received the reply from the Sri Lanka Government a few days ago.

The representative from the Lusaka Agreement Task Force who was present at the CITES-ADB symposium praised Sri Lanka for the seizure of the ivory. Lusaka Agreement Task Force is a law enforcement institution which is also the Secretariat of the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora. The representative said its officials had arrested suspects believed to be linked to the haul of ivory seized in Sri Lanka and added it is vital that the stock be kept as a criminal investigation is still ongoing.

A monk at Wat That Thong temple in Bangkok During a Buddhist merit-making ceremony to pray for the tens of thousands of elephants poached annually (c) WWF Thailand

A monk at Wat That Thong temple in Bangkok During a Buddhist merit-making ceremony to pray for the tens of thousands of elephants poached annually (c) WWF Thailand

Talking exclusively to the Sunday Times, CITES Secretary General John Scanlon said the convention also recognizes the role of transit countries to curb wildlife crime adding it is difficult to set up general rules for all the transit countries as the situation differs from one country to another. He said the CITES secretariat is aware of the seizure of the haul of the ivory by Sri Lanka Customs and subsequent attempt to release it to temples. Many of the Customs officers and other law enforcement officers present at the symposium shared the challenges they faced and their success stories at the CITES-ADB symposium on Wildlife Crime. It was also mentioned that over 1000 law enforcement officers were killed in trying to protect wildlife during the past decade.

Many of them were killed in Africa by well-armed elephant and rhino poachers, so it was not just the animal population that suffered, but also humans.
The level of interest seen in CITES about the haul of the ivory seized in Sri Lanka along showed that internationally Sri Lanka would get a black mark if we release the ivory for some other purpose. Sri Lanka Custom’s Samantha Gunasekera confirmed the stock of ivory is still in the Customs’ stores.
Thai Buddhist leaders prayed for poached elephants and called for the end to ivory use.

Published on SundayTimes on 17.03.2013

Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime – Day3

March 17, 2013

“We need better intelligence and international corporation to curb Wildlife Crime” said the law enforcement officers participating the CITES-ADB Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime. Being the last day, the participants were teamed into different groups for Breakout sessions on selected themes.  There were 3 Tracks on Technical Training on Special Investigative Techniques, Interactive Discussions on Wildlife Law, Policy and Governance, including barriers to Convictions and Interactive Discussions on Curbing Demand for Illegal Wildlife – Making Consumers Aware, Care.

Today is also special for me, since I had been a panelist of a session on “Multi-media, Social Media and Technology: Innovating for Wildlife”. I’ve started the session talking on importance of Social media in campaigning for wildlife also higlighting that Social media is yet to make a true penetration to some of the segments of public and experts in our part of the world. I’ve also shared the challenges I face on reporting Wildlife Crime. I was bit nervous to talk among giants in the field such as Brian Christy of NationalGeographic, but many has come to me after the panel, to having chat on different aspects I highlighted. I take this as an indication that I managed to deliver my first international talk successfully 🙂

Here are some of the moments from the last day of the Symposium on Wildlife Crime..!!

3 a panel 3 A press conference on Sharks 3 a session 3 a shark expert 3 an inteview 3 Bimba Tillekeratne 3 break out session 3 Breakout session on Technology - innovating for Wildlife 3 Breakout session 3 Brian Christy of NatGeo 3 briefing 3 CITES souvenior 3 DG of Wildlife Conservation SL 3 discussing cross boundary issues 3 Dr.Kala explaining something 3 Dr.Kala interviewing Brian Christy of NatGeo 3 Dr.Stampom 3 Final session of the Symposium 3 from press conference on Sharks 3 Hongkong based marketing guy delivering the lecture 3 John Scanlon speaking at the final session 3 MR at Interview 3 MR Delivering the lecture 2 3 MR Delivering the lecture 3 3 MR Delivering the lecture 3 MR in the panel 3 offline discussion 3 panel 2 3 preparing notes 3 press conference on sharks 3 sharing some intelligence 3 Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates 3 Summarizing discussion of a session 3 3 Summarizing discussion of a session 3 Summarizing the outcome of a session 3 supportive staff 2 3 supportive staff

Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime – Day2

March 16, 2013

The second day of the “Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime” as a side event to CITES COP16 was started at Queen Sirikit Convention Centre at Bangkok on 11.03.2013. The law enforcement officers and other involved parties in addressing Wildlife Crime have shared their experiences and discussed on ‘how to tackle the ever increasing issue of Wildlife Crime’. Everyone agreed that the penalties for Wildlife Crime is not as severe in comparison with similar crimes such as Narcotics, Gold or Human Trafficking; so that criminals take Wildlife Crime as ‘Low Risk’, but ‘Highly Profitable’ act.

The days topics discussed included Curbing the Demand for Illegal Wildlife and Wildlife Products, Wildlife Crime, Anti-Corruption, Integrity and the Rule of Law, National Policy and Legal Environmental Frameworks, Innovative Wildlife Enforcement Tools and Strategies. The day’s tasks were ended with a Parallel Break-out Sessions of Professional Peer Groups.

Here are moments captured by me during the event…

2 Vote yes for sharks 3

2 a name board

2 a panel

2 Dr.Kala moderating a panel 2

2 Jorge Rios - UNODC

2 a forum

2 Wong Kesh

2 with newspaper

2 wildlife

2 Jorge Rios - UNODC

2 Wild Asia


2 Ven

2 ven.Mae Chee Sansanee

2 ven. at event

2 Steve Galster

2 Shawn Heinrichs

2 Samanth G Panel

2 Samantha G at the panel

2 Samantha G

2 panel

2 panel with ven Mae Chee and Eric Phu

2 panel with Dr.Kala

2 participants

2 Philipine marine activist

2 Trafficking route of ivory

2 Samantha Gunasekare asking a question

2 Pakistan justice - not CITES that made the first list, but Noava

2 panel 3

2 panel 4

2 Onlh way to reduce slaugher of Ivory is to reduce the demand for ivory

2 lineup to ask questions

2 listing to ven.Mae Chee Sansanee

2 Madhava Tennakoon addressing the symposium

2 Marceil Yeater of CITES

2 Marilyne P.Concalves - World Bank

2 KWS addressing the summit

2 Kesh B Shahi - Nepal Wildlife Crime Control Bureau

2 Kala with ven.

2 Justice shah

2 Justice from Malaysia

2 Jorge Rios - UNODC

2 John

2 Jesse Wong = Hong Kong Customs

2 iThink

2 James Compton - TRAFFIC

2 HongKong customs

2 Dr.Kala asking a question

2 Dr.Kala moderating a panel

2 Eric Phu

2 CITES representative

2 checking the schedule

2 Challenges of SL

2 Butan

2 Anna Oposa - Save the Philippine Seas

2 A slides - kids

2 a question

2 a question to the panel

2 a question from panel

2 a question from pakistan justice

2 a question 4

2 a presentation slide

2 a panel 2

2 a forum

2 vote for sharks2

Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime – Day1

March 10, 2013

“The Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime” has been organized as a side event to the 16th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. This is jointly organized by CITES Secretariat and Asian Development Bank (ADB) and participated by law enforcement officers from different parts of the world. Today (10.03.2013) was the Day 1 of the event that is also participated by the Secretary General of CITES; Mr.Johan Scanlon. The Secretary General stressed that the frontline on implementing the CITES law consist of Law Enforcement officers, hence the Symposium play a great significance.

In this post, I capture some of the moments of the Day 01 of the symposium.

z CITES logos

zADB Vice President

zCItes head

zHead of CITES

z wanhua Yang

zData slide




ZFrom a distant

zKala on opening remarks 2

zGroup of participants

zKala on opening remarks

zSession 1

zThin Line


z a panel

z Chinese delegate of CITES

z Cites

z Covering the event

z Dr.Tint

z dr.william - traffic

z Giovanni Broussard - UNODC

z Glen Sant - TRAFFIC

z Iona Botezatu - Interpol - Project Predator

z Joseph Okori

z Judge from Malaysia

z Justice from Lahore

z Last session

z Locations

z networking

z on Rhinos

z Panel on

z panel

z Poached Rhinos and arrest

z Wan Ziming

Z Prof.Fabio

z Question from the participants - judge

z Question from the participants

z Question on Agar Woods

z Shark fining cartoon

z Talking on IUU fishing

z Time keeping

Lanka urged to vote for sharks, manta rays

March 10, 2013

As the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora takes place in Bangkok, Malaka Rodrigo stresses on the need to save those species which are fast becoming a rarity in our waters

A crucial proposal on protecting sharks and manta ray species has stirred debates and discussions ahead of a vote at the ongoing Bangkok conference on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). �The Sunday Times learns the proposal would be put for a vote by secret ballot among CITES signatory nations at the conference where the Sri Lankan delegation is led by Wildlife Department Director General H.D. Ratnayake.

Sharks waiting to be auctioned

Attempts to contact Mr. Ratnayake to know how Sri Lanka would vote were not successful. �CITES is often hailed by scholars and conservationists as the most effective international environmental agreement to date. Sri Lanka was one of the 178 signatory countries that meet once in three years to discuss measures to protect wildlife species threatened by trade-driven over-exploitation.

The convention and its appendices list species that could be at risk and call for the control of import, export and re-export of such species through a permit system.

They also state that species that are already threatened with extinction cannot be commercially traded. �More than 30,000 such species are given trade protection through CITES and 70 new proposals have been presented at the conference — the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 16).

Aquatic species top the conference agenda with proposals calling for the protection of shark and manta ray species among other threatened species. This species to be protected include oceanic white-tip shark, and three species of hammerhead shark and two species of manta ray — species found in Sri Lankan waters.

The hammerhead shark is notable for its unusual shape of the head which has given it its English name. Locally, it is known as “Udalu Mora”. There are three species of hammerhead sharks — scalloped hammerhead (sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead (sphyrna mokarran) and smooth hammerhead (sphyrna zygaena). The scalloped and great hammerhead sharks have already been listed as ‘endangered’ while smooth hammerhead sharks are considered ‘vulnerable’ to extinction, according to IUCN Red List.
Oceanic white-tip sharks (carcharhinus longimanus), said to be an aggressive species, live in deep waters, but fishermen have become more accustomed to kill them and as a result they are ‘vulnerable’ to extinction. Sharks and mantas live long and take time to mature sexually. Sharks and mantas have a long gestation period and produce only a few young.

Oceanic whitetip shark Pic courtesy Norbert Probst/Imagebroker/FLPA RM

Small bony fish, which have many predators, usually lay thousands of eggs during one spawning season for the survival of the species. Sharks, top predators themselves, give birth to a few young during their life time as they face no major threats. But the situation is different today and they too face a major threat with the humans invading the ocean and engaging in a killing frenzy.

But sadly, overfishing, driven by the high demand for shark fins and manta ray gill, does not allow the shark and manta populations to recover. Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in China and other East Asian countries while manta gill plates are used in Chinese medicine. Hundreds of sharks are caught daily in Sri Lankan waters and there is a big export market for their dried fins.

If the CITES proposal is adopted, Sri Lanka will be required to introduce a permit system to regulate the export of shark and manta products. Welcoming the proposal, Dr. Hiran Jayawardane, former Chairman of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), said large manta ray species were a rare sight today in our waters and it was indeed good to see efforts being made for their protection. “Not just hammerheads, but all shark species are under threat today due to large-scale fishing.”

Dr. Jayewardene said many countries such as the Maldives and Seychelles had taken measures to protect their marine resources which in turn benefitted them economically through tourism and other areas. �“We need a more enlightened and sophisticated approach to marine conservation,” Dr. Jayewardene said drawing attention to the upcoming Marine Conservation Forum organised by the Colombo-based Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation (IOMAC). The Forum will focus on international experience and inspire countries like Sri Lanka to be more compassionate towards marine life.

Fisheries Department Director General Nimal Hettiarachchie said the department was planning to start a monitoring programme on shark landings. He pointed out that Sri Lanka had already banned the catching of Thresher Shark, a species threatened with extinction.

Conservationists said if the catching continues in an unsustainable manner, sharks and manta rays would decline to a point that the entire trade will collapse. “So it is better to act now before it is too late. Let’s hope that Sri Lanka will take the right decision in joining hands with the rest of the world in protecting fish in the troubled waters,” one conservationist said.

Hammerheads sharks caught in Negombo. Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International inspecting them.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.03.2013 

CITES conference to adopt measures to combat overfishing, illegal logging and wildlife crime

March 3, 2013

The 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) of CITES starts today. This meeting will be particularly important for Sri Lanka as there are few proposal for enlisting Manta Ray (Maduwa in Sinhala) and Sharks in CITES Appendix II which will then need a permit system, if the country needs to export parts of these animals. The Gill Rakers of Manta Ray and Fins of the Sharks are on demand which made Sri Lanka one of the top Manta Ray gill rakers exporting country.

In addition there was a decision to release the 359 African Elephant tusks that has been seized by customs. CITES has banned trading of Elephant Ivory, so it is also not appropriate to encourage releasing ivory to the system and many calls to destroy the stock publicly. Hence, the CITES’ COP16 will be relevant to Sri Lanka in many angles and to follow up the proceedings, please follow Window-to-Nature..!!


CITES came into action in 1973 also completes 40 years in 2013. Here is an extract from CITES COP16 Media Kit..

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will hold its next triennial conference in Bangkok from 3 to 14 March to decide how to improve the world’s wildlife trade regime that has been in place for 40 years. Some 2,000 delegates representing 178 governments, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations and businesses are expected to attend and discuss, among other things, 70 proposals for amending the rules for specific species. Many of these proposals reflect growing international concern about the escalation of poaching and illegal trafficking of wild animals, the destruction of the world’s marine and forest resources through overfishing and excessive logging and the risks that wildlife crime represents for the security of the planet.

The 70 proposals submitted by 55 countries from across all regions of the world seek to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine species (including several shark species) and timber species (including over a 100 species from Madagascar), the vicuña population of Ecuador, freshwater turtles, frogs, crocodiles, ornamental and medicinal plants and many other animals and plants. Proposals addressing elephants, white rhinoceros, and polar bears were also submitted.

This year, the 70 proposals1 will be divided up as follows:
– Animals: 48 proposals
– Plants: 22 proposals
– Transfer from Appendix I to Appendix II: 10 proposals
– Transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I: 12 proposals
– Inclusion into Appendix I: none
– Inclusion into Appendix II: 25
– Deletion from Appendix I: 7 􀃆 from which 6 exctinct animal species
– Deletion from Appendix II: 11 􀃆 from which 4 extinct animal species
– Annotations to the Appendices: 5

Click here to get the CITES PRESS KIT – CoP16 Bangkok 2013

Manta ray struggles for survival

February 25, 2013

Overfishing threatens the magnificent and prized ‘Ali Maduwa’, writes Malaka Rodrigo�

A giant “maduwa”, or manta ray, was netted last week by fisherman in Welipatanwila, Ambalanthota, on the South coast. The ocean creature was pregnant and weighed 1,500 kilograms. A week earlier, another manta ray was caught by fishermen in Akkaraipattu, on the East coast. Both sea creatures have been identified as Giant Oceanic Manta Rays, the largest member of the ray family.

“Maduwa”, or manta ray, that was netted last week by fishermen in Welipatanwila, Ambalanthota, on the South coast

The Giant Oceanic Manta Ray was a common catch a decade ago, but the creature is steadily becoming less common. Known locally as “Ali Maduwa”, the creature is hunted primarily for its gill plates, which are extracted, dried and exported. Dried gill plates are widely used in Chinese traditional medicine. A kilogram can fetch between Rs.15,000 and Rs. 20,000. The manta ray uses its cartilaginous gill plates to filter the plankton that it lives on. The delicate gill filaments also play a role in the manta ray’s breathing system.

Manta rays are slow breeders with long lives. The animal, which can live to 50 years (some are known to have lived to 100 years), has a gestation period of more than a year and gives birth to just one single pup. Young mantas take between 10 and 15 years to reach sexual maturity.

“Manta ray populations simply cannot survive the current level of commercial fishing,” says manta expert Daniel Fernando. “Any target fishing that annually removes even a relatively small percentage of the breeding adults results in a rapid decline in overall populations within a few years. The remaining mature rays cannot breed fast enough to replace those lost to fishing. Manta rays in our waters are already in decline. Fishermen say they rarely catch large mantas in our waters any more.”

Daniel Fernando works for the Sri Lanka Manta Project (Manta Trust) and collects manta ray landings data for his research. �Most of the time mantas are a bycatch of gill nets, says Dr. Rekha Maldeniya, a marine fish expert who works for the National Aquatic Research and Development Agency (NARA). “Our fishermen do not like it when these large creatures get entangled in their nets, because they can damage the net.”

The manta ray comprises only 1 per cent of large pelagic fish catch, such as tuna, Dr. Maldeniya says. “NARA identifies the importance of skates and rays, but we don’t have the funds to carry out comprehensive research on these sea animals.”

Daniel Fernando of Manta Trust says fishermen can release manta rays that get entangled in their nets, but do not because they know the commercial value of the manta’s gill plates. He says the manta would be spared if fishermen used other sustainable methods of fishing, such as the pole-and-line tuna fishing method practised in the Maldives. The gill-net is one of the least sustainable of fishing methods, he adds.

Sri Lanka, like most countries, has not reported manta ray landings to world bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Researchers believe Sri Lanka is among the leading countries that fish manta rays, and the closely related Devil Ray. There is hope on the horizon for the rays if the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) makes a global decision on manta exploitation.

Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil have proposed that the two manta ray species be listed under CITES, an international treaty drawn up in 1973 to prevent international trade from threatening animals and plants in the wild. Proposals to list manta rays and scores of other species in the CITES list will be discussed in March at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) to CITES. CITES has 177 member countries, including Sri Lanka. A two-thirds majority vote is required for the adoption of listing proposals. If this is agreed, Sri Lanka will have to introduce a permit system for the export of manta ray gills, a step that would help monitor and manage this particular fishery.

Manta expert Daniel Fernando said the move was directed at international trade and would not affect Sri Lankans fishing for local consumption. The move would help manage manta ray populations. Alternatives, such as manta ray tourism, as practised in the Maldives, would bring long-term benefits.�Mr. Fernando said a workshop on manta rays was held in Colombo for CITES delegates. It was attended by major countries in the region, including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Maldives. All participants were positive about regulating the manta ray fishery.

In 2011, Shark Advocates International president Sonja Fordham met senior Sri Lankan officials to discuss shark and manta ray conservation.

Ms. Fordham was a leading figure in bringing the Giant Manta Ray under the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS). Through this listing, Sri Lanka and all CMS parties with giant mantas in their waters have agreed to protect the species and cooperate in preserving manta habitats.

Sonja Fordham says equal efforts should be extended to protect the oceanic whitetip sharks and three species of hammerhead, all of which are found and fished off Sri Lanka.

“We are hopeful Sri Lanka will participate in the CITES meeting and support the listing of these vulnerable shark and ray species,” Sonja Fordham told the Sunday Times.

“Support from Sri Lanka would send a positive signal about the country’s commitment to sustainable exploitation of marine resources and can help secure a much-needed global safeguard, before it’s too late.”

Published on SundayTimes on 24.02.2013