Fiji leads the way in the global marine conservation initiatives at CITES CoP 17

Posted on 26 October 2016
Ian Campbell (left) from WWF, Aisake Batibasaga (Ministry of Fisheries) hold up the Fiji flag with other delegates.
© WWF Canon
Fiji made history this month by becoming the first Pacific Island country to propose global trade restrictions on sharks and rays to ensure their survival. Earlier this month, the Fiji delegation to the Conservation of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), travelled to Johannesburg in South Africa to call for trade sanctions for threatened species of mobula rays (also known as Devil Rays), as well as thresher sharks, silky sharks and the ancient living fossil, the nautilus.  Devil Rays are under threat from overfishing, where they are caught for their gill plates, which are prized in Asian markets for unproven medicinal purposes.
Mr Ian Campbell, WWF’s Global Shark Programme Manager, who was the technical adviser to the Fiji delegation, commended efforts the Fiji government put in to ensure such a positive result.
“Getting the Devil Rays protected from unsustainable trade is a fantastic achievement, and the government of Fiji must be praised for their leadership and commitment on this important global stage. Sharks and rays are not only vital for the critical roles they play in the environment and fisheries, but they are a central pillar in Pacific Island cultures, not just in Fiji, but right throughout the South Pacific,” Mr Campbell said.
Prior to the CITES meeting,  representatives from the Fisheries and Environment ministries  in Fiji worked together to convince nearly fifty other countries, including every Member State of the European Union, to back their proposal to include the Devil Rays, a close relative of the Manta Ray, in Appendix II of the CITES convention. Fiji’s proposal was also supported by delegates from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. Fiji’s bid broke the record for the number of countries co-sponsoring a single proposal in CITES’ 41 year history.
Led by Mr Aisake Batibasaga from the Ministry of Fisheries;  the Fiji delegation was supported by Ms Eleni Tokaduadua from the Department of Environment and Ms Unaisi Rabici  (also from the Fisheries ministry).
Mr Batibasaga was grateful for the support from across the globe for their proposal to protect mobula rays, which are “being fished towards extinction”.
“Rays and sharks are very important to Fiji in terms of culture, traditions, spiritual heritage, and eco-tourism, based on these marine mega-fauna,  are gaining a lot of momentum across the Pacific. It is vital Fiji takes  a stand to protect these natural assets from unsustainable trade. We have a thriving shark and ray diving industry, which is being threatened by overfishing.”
Fiji was also co-sponsor of the US government’s proposal to include the protection of  nautilus in the Convention, which was also successful. Nautilus is an ancient relative of the octopus, and are one of the oldest living creatures on the planet.
Ms Kesaia Tabunakawai, WWF-Pacific Representative, commended the delegates’ efforts to support the inclusion of the locally prized nautilus in CITES.   “The nautilus is an ancient creature that lives in remote, isolated spots, including within Fijian waters. Their colourful shells are used in making jewellery and decorating furniture, but their biology limits their ability to withstand overfishing. The inclusion of nautilus on CITES now means that countries that want to export or import any of these ancient marine creatures must first ensure that their populations are healthy,” Ms Tabunakawai said.
WWF’s Mr Campbell added, “We couldn’t have been happier with the decisions made at the meeting, and WWF are committed to helping Fiji and other Pacific Island nations put in place sensible conservation and fisheries management policies and practices to ensure the Pacific’s unique marine animals and habitats remain long into the future, while also preserving cultural links to the past.”
The CITES meeting occur every three years, and this year’s meeting looked at trade in over 60 species of animals and plants, including rhinos, elephants, pangolins, and rare birds, as well as the sharks and rays. 
Ian Campbell (left) from WWF, Aisake Batibasaga (Ministry of Fisheries) hold up the Fiji flag with other delegates.
© WWF Canon Enlarge
WWF's Ian Campbell (left) & Aisake Batibasaga at the CITES meeting
© IISD Enlarge
Nautilus are highly prized for their decorative shells used for making jewelry and decorating furniture
© Jayne Jenkin Enlarge