Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Shark Stanley lands in Bangkok

After months of anticipation, Shark Stanley has landed in Bangkok. For those of you who have not yet heard his story, Stanley, a charismatic little hammerhead and the cornerstone of our grassroots campaign, is travelling the world to find friends to help protect sharks and manta rays. Launched just 10 weeks ago, our goal was to provide engaging and creative educational tools to mobilize youth support for shark and manta ray conservation on the international stage. And thus, Shark Stanley was born.

Guest blog by Leah Meth, Yale University

The concept behind the campaign was simple, but unique: cut out a copy of our paper shark, take a photo with him, and post it to social networks like Facebook and Twitter as a “signature” for an international petition that would represent the global face of shark conservation at this year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting. Shark Stanley was soon joined by three friends, Waqi the Whitetip, Manta Reina and Pierre le Porbeagle, together creating a quartet of characters corresponding to the species proposed for protections at this year’s meeting. They quickly became international stars. Starting as just two students from Canada and Mongolia, the Shark Stanley campaign is now a grassroots network of over 50 organizations, including prominent organizations such at The Pew Charitable Trusts and Shark Savers, with photos of almost 10,000 individuals from 121 countries!

This week, after the long migration from Yale University, our team finally arrived in Bangkok, Thailand. 40 years to the day since CITES was signed, 178 countries gathered for the start of the 16th Conference of the Parties, where over the next two weeks, there will be the chance to change the fate of some of the ocean’s most vulnerable and overexploited shark species.

Our first two days have been surreal. Upon arrival, wide-eyed from caffeine, adrenaline, and jet lag, we settled into the enormous main hall to watch the opening ceremony, surrounded by equally enormous figures: delegates from around the world, the eloquent Prime Minister of Thailand, the movers and shakers of the policy and advocacy world representing their NGOs, and scientists who have brought the best available knowledge to this meeting. The tone of the ceremony was optimistic yet firm, from the call for a hard clamp down on the “criminal business” of the illegal global wildlife trade from the executive director of the UNEP, Achim Steiner, to a landmark promise from Thailand’s Prime Minister to end the domestic ivory trade. Prince William’s moving opening statement summed up the gravity of this meeting: “Bound by a common objective...we can make a difference. And what you decide right here in Bangkok will make this difference.”

The importance of this moment for sharks and rays cannot be overstated. Just a few days ago, a new paper in Marine Policy announced that an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year – and staggeringly, scientists believe a range between 63 million to 273 million. Prominent fisheries scientist and lead author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University goes on to say that this rate of fishing exceeds the ability of sharks to recover, meaning that, “protective measure must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and possible extinction of many shark species.” Today, right now, we have this opportunity.

Hammerheads, Porbeagles and Oceanic Whitetip sharks, along with both species of manta ray are proposed for Appendix II listing, which would allow only legal and sustainable trade, a key step for making sure that these threatened and endangered species – essential to the health of the ocean – have the chance to recover. This sort of listing truly matters. Offering protection to more than 30,000 species, CITES is widely acknowledged as one of the most effective international conservation agreements out there and is the only treaty that regulates international trade of wildlife. As Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Charitable Trusts says, “It has teeth – it’s enforced.”

The fish proposals will be up for consideration starting towards the end of this week. Until then, our team will be camped out at our Shark Stanley booth and roaming the convention hall, sharing the voice with delegates from around the world. In the past two days alone, we were visited by representatives from dozens of countries, with delegates from Nigeria, Mali, Namibia, United Kingdom, Kenya, Thailand, Egypt, Bhutan, Nepal, Philippines, Israel, Malta, Sudan, Georgia, Honduras, Chad, Belarus, Mongolia, Bahrain, Guyana, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Kenya, Mauritania, Ecuador, South Africa, Turkey, and Yemen eagerly seeking out the petition “signatures” of their constituents, their enthusiasm matching those of the photos looking back at them. We heard many stories of local initiatives in-country, impassioned support for the shark and manta ray proposals, and optimism for the outcomes of the next few weeks.

In closing this first dispatch from Bangkok - we want to thank you all of our supporters. It's difficult to find words to express our team's gratitude: the immense amount of support we’ve received continues to humble, and as we plastered the walls of our booth with the thousands of photos sent to us over the past two months, I was filled with such energy; such inspiration. This campaign has become larger than I could have ever dreamed. Together, ten thousand strong, we represent a rich diversity of ages, nationalities, backgrounds and experiences, linked together through this charismatic little hammerhead and his friends, and unified in our call for change. We simply could not be here without this support and we are honored to be able to act as the channel through which the voices of the youth of the world can be heard on the international stage at this critical moment.

For more information, visit www.sharkstanley.com

Leah Meth is a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and is attending CITES in Bangkok as member of the Shark Stanley team.