Dive shops gather to solve police bribery problem

Led by ATUS President Mr Ronnachai Jindapon, Saturday evening’s (March 22) meeting brought together several diving businesses on the island while some shared their stories of police corruption despite proper paperwork.

“We know that the problem is happening but it seems that only a few people reported it to us. I want [businesses] to inform the ATUS so that we can know what’s happening and help them solve the problem.

“We have been cooperating with the Phuket Provincial Deputy Commander of Police. He acknowledged what happened, but still, we need evidence to prove that the story they tell is true.”

A victim of police bribery told The Phuket News, “We specialise in technical diving and we have a registered business, a TAT license, we have TAT registration, work permits, everything is in order. But still the police came to our shop and asked us to go to the police station at the back of Chalong police station. They said pay B20,000 and you’re free to go. And we paid because we’re just afraid.”

There are many more frustrated victims who raised their hands at the meeting and told their stories.

Over 100 people attended a discussion on how dive shops can curtail the threat of bribes to local police, an on-going problem in Phuket that has caught the attention of the Association of Thailand Underwater Sports (ATUS)

Over 100 people attended a discussion on how dive shops can curtail the threat of bribes to local police, an on-going problem in Phuket that has caught the attention of the Association of Thailand Underwater Sports (ATUS)

ATUS encourage dive companies and individuals who were harassed to write down their problems with the corruption. The associations said these documents will be brought to the vice commissioner to consider and help solve the police problem.

Mr Ronnachai revealed that a police taskforce has been set up and will visit the victims to point out which officers went to their shops and asked for big money. But the companies have to be strong enough to make thing right, he said, and not be afraid to point out those police who have been demanding money.

“If we can make one cop afraid of this, the rest of them will also be afraid to rip us off. I contacted the Deputy Commander of Phuket and he wants to know if you all could recognize the officers [who asked for bribes] faces and point them out.”

He also added that the diving companies have to make sure that they are doing everything legally because the ATUS does not know who specifically has a work permit. Since these permits are the responsibility of the business, the ATUS will not help if police catch people working without one.

“It’s now become a problem whether it is correct or not for foreigners to be diving as it’s not stated in the working permit. We will contact the governor to discuss making the working permit completely clear for everybody.”

Mr Pongsawan Sathatam, ATUS’ legal counsel, revealed that there is going to be a discussion between the association and the Labour Office to clarify in the work permits if divers can work legally outside the office.

“Usually the Labor Office will not state too many words in work permit. I think police can understand this if they want, but I think in many cases, they just want some advantage from these people.

Dive shops gather to solve police bribery problem

Dive shops gather to solve police bribery problem

Mr Ronnachai suggested that the diving companies register to become members of ATUS so that it will be easier for the association to look after them. In many cases, businesses don’t want to pay to be a member but when they have problem, they still ask for the association’s help.

The ATUS will also consult with the governor, the Phuket Department of Employment and local police on what steps to take to solve the problem, in addition to clarifying the work permit, Mr Pongsawan added.

- See more at: http://www.thephuketnews.com/dive-shops-gather-to-solve-police-bribery-problem-45311.php#sthash.YBKbeKTC.dpuf

China’s Lion City – diving a 1,000 year old city

While the Qiandao lake in Zhejiang province, China may be beautiful, it covers an entire city that was submerged to create a hydroelectric power plant in 1959.

Qiandao Lake from above

Qiandao Lake from above

Lion City, which was built more than 1,000 years ago, took its name from the Five Lion Mountain beneath which it stood. Despite its rich history and impressive reputation, the city was flooded to create a reservoir that stretches for more than 573 square kilometers, and now serves as a popular tourist attraction.

A remarkable dive site  - but at what cost?

A remarkable dive site – but at what cost?

The city remains undisturbed from the surface at a depth of 26-40m, and has provided scientists and archaeologists a glimpse into what life in ancient China was really like. Many of the intricate stone carvings and guardian lions that were scattered around the city are still perfectly intact.

In excellent condition

In excellent condition with stunning detail

Qiu Feng, a local official in charge of tourism, first asked a Beijing-based diving club to come and explore the lake in 2001. Since then there has been an influx of tourists and dive operators who organize trips to the city throughout the year, proving unusual opportunities to explore its underwater streets. A special submarine was also constructed to provide tours of the city, but has yet to be used due to local restrictions and concerns over damaging the city’s remains.

While the submerged city might seem beautiful now, it’s important to remember that the Chinese government at the time were happy to bury Lion City, along with another large city, 27 towns, 1,377 villages, and almost 50,000 acres of farmland to create a hydroelectric plant. The move flooded thousands of homes and displaced 290,000 citizens – a large price to pay for electricity.

Exploring the past

Exploring the past

 
Photographs by National Geography China.

The Team within Sea Bees / Das Sea Bees Team

As guests constantly ask us how we ended up here, we thought we would spill the beans on some of those that you know (and don’t know!) and those that you love:) So, let’s start with Hubi, our Workshop Manager, creative outlet genius, compressor manic and lover of beer.

Da wir häufig gefragt werden, was uns eigentlich hier her getrieben hat, haben wir uns überlegt euch regelmäßig einige unserer Mitarbeiter, und ihre Geschichten, vorzustellen. Natürlich mit ihrem Einverständnis :) Fangen wir mit Hubi an, unserem Werkstatt Manager.

Hubi models his work Hubi und sein Spielzeug

Hubi models his work
Hubi und sein Spielzeug

Hubi is 48 years old. If it wasn’t for him, many things here wouldn’t work as well as they do. Hubi is our Workshop Manager and is constantly busy: the dive equipment and its maintenance, the tanks and their reliability and “good” air, preparing  designs for hotel outlets, compressors, electrics, and, as well as handling all the daily operations to ensure everyone gets on the boat (and believe you me, these are maaaaaaany!)

Back in Germany he worked as a butcher, then a mechanic and, afterwards, in the military. Added to everything else he does here, we think these are quite a lot professions for one person’s life!

Hubi left Germany in 1999 for Egypt where he worked for 11 years on a liveaboard. His answer for the question why he became a dive instructor is simple: “Because I am a water rat!“. Fair enough for us, we certainly know what he is talking about!

The reason he moved here two years ago was a recommendation and the good image of Sea Bees Diving. First, Hubi worked on our liveaboard, Marco Polo, before gliding into his current position. This was when we had big renovation going on to modernise our existing head office.

What he does not like about Phuket is the traffic and the inconsiderateness on the streets. Furthermore, he is annoyed by the visa run – but don’t you worry Hubi, we all suffer with you ;-)

However, the nice climate, great food, mentality and challenges of his job compensate very nicely. And, after 11 years of desert, he is simply happy to have some green around him.

Could Hubi imagine to move back to Germany at some point? No, probably not, he doesn’t miss his old home. “You don’t miss anything?” That makes him laugh. “Well…….. Maybe the marzipan!!!“ ;-)

Hubi ist 48 Jahre alt. Ohne ihn würde hier vieles nicht funktionieren. Hubi ist unser Werkstatt Meister und ist für allerlei Sachen verantwortlich: Für das Equipment und dessen Wartung, er entwirft unsere Tourcounter für die Hotels und übernimmt sämtliche Arbeiten, die rund um unsere Tauchbasis anfallen (und glaubt mir, das sind viiiiiiele ;-) ).

 Als Hubi noch in Deutschland lebte, arbeitete er erst als Metzger, dann als Metallbauer und schließlich noch beim Bund. Wir finden das sind einschließlich seiner Aufgaben hier, ganz schön viele Berufe für ein Leben ;-)

1999 ist er dann nach Ägypten ausgewandert und hat 11 Jahre lang auf einem Liveaboard Boot gearbeitet. Auf die Frage was ihn dazu bewegt hat als Tauchlehrer zu arbeiten gibt es eine simple Begründung: „Weil ich eine Wasserratte bin“. Reicht uns als Antwort, denn wir wissen genau wovon er spricht!

Hier her gekommen ist er vor zwei Jahren, weil ihm Sea Bees empfohlen wurde und er vom guten Image gehört hat. Angekommen hat Hubi erst auf der Marco Polo, unserem Liveaboard Boot gearbeitet, bevor er dann durch unsere große Renovierung der Tauchbasis in seinen jetzigen Job „hereingerutscht“ ist.

Was ihm an Phuket nicht gefällt ist der Verkehr und die herrschende Rücksichtslosigkeit auf den Straßen. Weiterhin nervt ihn der Visa-Run, der alle drei Monate anfällt – das geht uns allen so, Hubi ;-)

Das angenehme Klima, das leckere nationale und internationale Essen, die Mentalität und die Herausforderungen, die Hubi in seinem Job erlebt entschädigen für ihn aber alles und nach 11 Jahren Wüste ist er einfach nur froh eine so schöne und grüne Natur um sich herum zu haben.

Ob Hubi sich vorstellen kann irgendwann wieder nach Deutschland zu ziehen? Nein, eher nicht, er vermisst sein altes Heimatland nicht. Vermisst du denn gar nichts?! Da lacht er. „Naaaaaguuuuut; Marzipan!!!“ ;-)

 

Hubi and his tanks... Hubi ind seine Tanks...

Hubi and his tanks…
Hubi ind seine Tanks…

Forget sharks, seahorses are the stealthiest hunters

The slowest seahorses can only swim at speeds of up to 150cm per hour.

Yet they can catch shellfish that travel at equivalent speeds of 2,000mph!

Researchers used high-speed 3D imaging to study how seahorses hunt. They discovered their heads are designed to move stealthily through the water and avoid detection

They are one the slowest swimmers in the sea but what seahorses lack in speed, they make up for in stealth.

Researchers from Texas University used high-speed 3D imaging to study how slow-moving seahorses, pictured, are capable of hunting copepods, capable of travelling at equivalent speeds of 2,000mph. He discovered the creatures' heads are designed to prevent disturbances in the water

Researchers from Texas University used high-speed 3D imaging to study how slow-moving seahorses, pictured, are capable of hunting copepods, capable of travelling at equivalent speeds of 2,000mph. He discovered the creatures’ heads are designed to prevent disturbances in the water

The creatures’ delicate heads are designed to prevent disturbances in the water that would alert their prey to their approach.

This is important, as their dinner – tiny shellfish called copepods – can rapidly sense ripples and escape at breakneck speed.

Despite being just 1mm long, the copepod is one of the world’s fastest animals, capable of speeds equivalent to a 6ft person swimming underwater at 2,000mph.

Despite being just 1mm long, the copepod, pictured, is capable of reaching speeds equivalent to a 6ft person swimming underwater at 2,000mph. They can also rapidly sense ripples and escape at breakneck speed, yet despite this the seahorse can sneak up and capture them 90 per cent of the time

Despite being just 1mm long, the copepod is capable of reaching speeds equivalent to a 6ft person swimming underwater at 2,000mph. They can also rapidly sense ripples and escape at breakneck speed, yet despite this, the seahorse can sneak up and capture them 90 per cent of the time

But somehow, they are captured by hungry, but slow-moving, seahorses 90 per cent of the time.

Lead scientist, Brad Gemmell, of the University of Texas, said: ‘A seahorse is one of the slowest swimming fish that we know of.

‘But it is able to capture prey that swim at incredible speeds for their size. We wanted to know why.’

Dr Gemmell’s team used high-speed 3D imaging techniques to study the dwarf seahorse, Hippocampus zosterae, from the Bahamas and the U.S.

Writing in the journal “Nature Communications”, Dr. Gemmel said that the unusual shape of a seahorse’s head helps prevent waves forming in front of its snout.

This allows the creatures to sneak up on their prey without being detected.

He added: ‘It’s like an arms race between predator and prey, and the seahorse has developed a good method for getting close enough so that their striking distance is very short.

‘Seahorses have the capability to overcome the sensory abilities of one of the most talented escape artists in the aquatic world – copepods.

‘People often don’t think of seahorses as amazing predators, but they really are.’

Respect the “real hunters of the sea” the next time you see one!

Underwater Drive Thru

When it comes to a quick bite on the move underwater, there are no drive-thrus….

Instead, it is the reverse. These stunning photographs taken of sailfish working their way through a school of sardines show that grabbing a bite to eat at speeds of up to 70mph is all in a day’s meal. Taken by Reinhard Dirscher in the Caribbean, he came upon the amazing scene and his images give us a glimpse of what he witnessed.  Stunning… Enjoy your Sunday lunch! ;-)

No escape: A school of sardines tries to dart away from a gang of sailfish - famed as the fastest fish in the sea - in hot pursuit in the Caribbean ;-)No escape: A school of sardines tries to dart away from a gang of sailfish – famed as the fastest fish in the sea – in hot pursuit in the Caribbean
Fast food: The sailfish are seen lurking beneath the school of sardines off the coast of MexicoFast food: The sailfish are seen lurking beneath the school of sardines
Feeding frenzy: Sailfish are known for herding small prey like sardines, as seen in the above photograph. It took the larger fish mere minutes to demolish their preyFeeding frenzy: Sailfish are known for herding small prey like sardines, as seen in the above photograph. It took the larger fish mere minutes to demolish their prey
Too close for comfort: One of the sailfish sets its sights on a small group of sardines yet to be devoured by the predatorsToo close for comfort: The size of the school of sardines has shrunk dramatically, as one sailfish sets its sights on a group that is yet to be devoured by the predators
Falling numbers: A sailfish bears down on some of the remaining sardines
Fastest fish: A sailfish gobbles up a stray sardine near the surface of the water
Last remains: The sailfish can be seen demolishing the few remaining sardines still up for grabs after the feeding frenzy

The Beauty of Black and White

Down in the deep blue, a photographer is taking these stunning black and white pictures.

Indonesian Hengki Koentjoro‘s underwater photographs show an array of sea-life as it’s never been seen before.

Indonesian photographer Hengki Koentjoro's pictures show an astonishing underwater world

Indonesian photographer Hengki Koentjoro’s pictures show an astonishing underwater world

He has pictured sharks, jellyfish, scuba divers and, perhaps most strikingly, a hard coral called the ‘sunflower mushroom’ which appears to be sporting a sinister grin.

The dark, desaturated and sometimes dream like images capture the mysterious nature of the waters in and around Jakarta, Indonesia.

This jellyfish taken in black and white underwater looks like it comes from another planet

This jellyfish taken in black and white underwater looks like it comes from another planet

Koentjoro, 50, was born in Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia, studied video production and fine art photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography Santa Barbara, California.

He currently lives in Jakarta where he takes these breath-taking images.

Mystical: The incredible photographs from beneath the sea include this 'sunflower mushroom' with a slightly sinister grin

Mystical: The incredible photographs from beneath the sea include this ‘sunflower mushroom’ with a slightly sinister grin

Interviewed by Neutral Density Magazine, Koentjoro said: ‘The love of the ocean is the main drive to express one self. The calm and the vast area is the inspiration and at the same time a place to replenish your mind”.

Koentjoro's dark, desaturated and sometimes dream like images capture the mysterious nature of the waters in and around Jakarta, Indonesia

Koentjoro’s dark, desaturated and sometimes dream like images capture the mysterious nature of the waters in and around Jakarta, Indonesia

‘I’m lucky to live in Indonesia because she is dubbed as the biggest archipelago nation on earth with more than 13,000 islands”.

Koentjoro, 50, from Central Java, Indonesia, studied video production and fine art photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography Santa Barbara, California, and currently lives in Jakarta where he takes these breathtaking images

Koentjoro, 50, from Central Java, Indonesia, studied video production and fine art photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography Santa Barbara, California, and currently lives in Jakarta where he takes these breathtaking images

‘We also have many highlands and active volcanoes spreading over 3,275 miles from East to West”.

Koentjoro said: 'I¿m lucky to live in Indonesia because she is dubbed as the biggest archipelago nation on earth with more than 13,000 islands'

Koentjoro said: ‘I’m lucky to live in Indonesia because she is dubbed as the biggest archipelago nation on earth with more than 13,000 islands’

‘This abode of the god is also known for it’s mysterious mist and fog that accentuate the thick feeling of mysticism.’

Speaking about his method, Koentjoro said: 'I mainly shoot with DSLR camera. For the ocean I normally use the long exposure technique with double ND filters of 18 stops to allow shooting on the broad daylight for more than five minutes'

Speaking about his method, Koentjoro said: ‘I mainly shoot with DSLR camera. For the ocean I normally use the long exposure technique with double ND filters of 18 stops to allow shooting on the broad daylight for more than five minutes’

Phuket Diving: Seahorse lovers asked to saddle up

Project Seahorse calls on all divers and marine enthusiasts to help with the recently launched three-year project aimed at studying the seahorses of Thailand.

Seahorses were one of the first fish species to be added, in 2004, to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which demands that countries maintain “sustainable trade” and monitor populations. Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of seahorses, has taken pro-active steps to assess the populations of this peculiar sea creature and now needs our help.

“In Thailand we are just starting to evaluate seahorse populations, which is why we are asking people to help us,” explains University of British Columbia doctoral student and seahorse expert Lindsay Aylesworth, who is leading the field research team for Project Seahorse. “We are basically going in with very little information about where seahorses are in Thailand; what environments they inhabit; and what their [population] densities are like.”

Divers in Thailand have been offered a unique opportunity to help save these charismatic, quirky sea creatures and the multitude of marine environments they inhabit. Project Seahorse, a non-government-organization (NGO) based out of the University of British Colombia, Canada, and the Zoological Society of London, has an online ‘citizen science’ database called iSeahorse. This database is designed for divers, scientists and other seahorse enthusiasts to upload their photos and sighting information.

Project Seahorse scientists, collaborating with Thailand’s Department of Fisheries and Kasetsart University in Bangkok, will then use this vital information to map data-deficient seahorse populations, determine their threat levels and develop effective conservation actions.

“We are really trying to reach out to the dive community to see if they are willing to share their seahorse photos and dive spots where they’ve spotted seahorses,” says Lindsay. The sightings will be used to mark future field sites for more in-depth research. Divers first register, either through Facebook, Twitter or online, before submitting their sightings.

“We encourage you to submit your data from any sighting, no matter how old. And even very minimal amounts of information are incredibly valuable. You do not need to know the species’ name or even the exact location of your observation – if you have seen seahorses in the wild, then we want to hear from you!”

Although seahorses are targeted by some country’s fishing industries for the aquarium trade, seahorses in Thailand are usually ‘by-catch’ – accidentally captured in fishing gear targeting other animals, explains Lindsay.


There are many characteristics used to identify seahorses, most notably their distinctive spines along the body.

“Fishers sell them to local buyers as dry individuals. Mostly they are used for traditional medicines. There is a history of seahorses being used for their curative powers – anything from swollen lymph nodes to arthritis or male fertility problems, because it’s the male seahorse that carries the babies [male seahorses are the only male in the animal kingdom known to give live birth].

“Usually what happens is you take the dried seahorse, grind it up into a powder and mix it with honey or some other herbs, and drink it as a tea,” says Lindsay.

“Seahorses are a great tool for raising awareness of general ocean conservation issues, from habitat-health to making sure we have sustainable fisheries.

“They also have an ecological importance; Seahorses don’t really have stomachs so they are voracious predators. They live in an environments where they basically feed on small crustaceans and baby fish larvae. There is some research that suggests they are important to structuring the fish community and the areas where they are found,” she adds.

Now, with the tools to actively contribute to the conservation effort of these shy, but vital creatures, it is up to the divers of Thailand to make a difference.

 

Written by Isaac Stone Simonelli and published by the Phuket Gazette – original article on http://www.phuketgazette.net/phuketlifestyle/2013/Phuket-Diving-Seahorse-lovers-asked-to-saddle-up-21119.html

 

Cancun Underwater Museum (Mexico)

2009 wurde in den Gewässern rund um Cancun, Isla Mujeres und Punta Nizuc, die ersten Schritte für die Errichtung eines monumentalen Unterwassermuseums eingeleitet.

In the warm waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc is an underwater sculptural museum built in 2009.

Der britische Künstler Jason de Caires Taylor ist der Schöpfer des einzigartigen Skulpturenparks im Unterwasser-Kunstmuseum (MUSA Museo Subacuático de Arte) und möchte damit eine Verbindung zwischen Kunst und Umweltwissenschaften schaffen.

The British artist Jason de Caires Tayl aimed to show the interaction between art and environmental science.

foto 2

foto 5

Das Hauptziel des Künstlers ist dabei der Umweltschutz: Jede der über 400 Lebensgroßen Skulpturen ist aus ph Neutralen Ton geschaffen, um den Wachstum eines neuen Korallenriffs zu fördern. Das Museum breitet sich auf über 150 m2 aus und wiegt insgesamt mehr als 120 Tonnen.

The main purpose of his work is conservation: the 400+ sculptures were built in order to promote the growth of a coral reef. The museum occupies an area of over 150sq. metres and weighin in at more than 120 tons.

foto 7

Weiterhin soll das Unterwassermuseum die umliegenden Riffen entlasten, damit sich diese vom Tourismus, Überfischung und Umweltverschmutzung erholen können.

Furthermore, the underwater museum is supposed to give the surrounding reefs a rest so they can recover from tourism, overfishing and pollution.

 

Ein Besuch lohnt sich! Für weitere Informationen klickt hier: http://www.aquaworld.com.mx/underwatermuseum.html

A sight not to be missed! For more information, see http://www.aquaworld.com.mx/underwatermuseum.html

 

‘Historic’ day for shark protection

Three types of critically endangered but commercially valuable shark have been given added protection at the Cites meeting in Bangkok.

The body, which regulates trade in flora and fauna, voted by a two-thirds majority to upgrade the sharks’ status.

Campaigners hailed the move as historic and said the vote represented a major breakthrough for marine conservation.

The decisions can still be overturned by a vote on the final day of this meeting later this week.

The oceanic whitetip, three varieties of hammerheads and the porbeagle are all said to be seriously threatened by overfishing.

Their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years, as the trade in shark fins for soup has grown.

Manta rays are killed for their gill plates which are used in Chinese medicine.

Shark supporters have been attempting to get Cites to protect these species since 1994. But there has long been strong opposition to the move from China and Japan.

But a number of factors have changed the arithmetic.

Experts say the critical factor has been a shift in South American nations, who’ve come to understand that sharks are more valuable alive than dead.

“They’ve come to realise, particularly for those with hammerhead stocks, the tourist value of these species and the long term future that will be protected by a Cites listing,” said Dr Colman O’Criodain from WWF International.

The Oceanic whitetip is found in tropical and warm temperate seas

The Oceanic Whitetip is found in tropical and warm temperate seas

Regulate, not ban

While the vote to upgrade these shark species to Appendix 2 does not ban the trade, it regulates it. Both exporting and importing countries must issue licences. If a nation takes too many of these species, they can be hit with sanctions on the range of animal and plant products that are governed by Cites.

As the votes went on there were smatterings of applause in the hall and some high fives among campaigners.

“It is really significant for Cites to come of age like this,” Dr Susan Lieberman told BBC News.

“To say we can deal with these species, we can manage the international trade and lets not be afraid of marine species.”

The extension of the authority of Cites into the international trade in fish has long worried China and Japan and the Asian nations were strongly against these proposals.

But many West African countries, who have seen their native shark fisheries destroyed by large offshore operations, voted in favour of the restrictions.

Another factor was money. Especially cash from the European Union.

The head of delegation told the meeting that extra money would be made available to help poorer countries change their fishing practices.

“If there’s a need for it the funding will be available,” Feargal O’Coigligh told the meeting.

The amendments can still be overturned in the final session of this meeting. And this realisation is tempering the celebrations.

“Cites is ready to come of age for marine species, ” said Dr O’Criodain.

“As long as we hold these results in plenary. Maybe warm champagne is the right note.”

FACTS: Protected sharks

  • The oceanic whitetip was once a widespread large shark species, but its numbers show a drastic decline
  • It appears as bycatch in pelagic (open sea) fisheries, but its large fins are highly prized, used in shark’s fin soup and in traditional medicine
  • Hammerhead sharks are known for their distinctive head shape which may have evolved in part to enhance vision
  • The great and scalloped varieties are endangered; the smooth hammerhead is considered vulnerable. All have been given added protection
  • Porbeagles are found in cold and temperate waters of the North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere
  • Targeted commercial fishing and unintentional catches pose the biggest threat to this shark, which has a low reproductive rate

 

Original article written by Matt McGrath, Environment Correspondent, BBC News and published on BBC World News – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21741648

CITES meeting to deal with species ‘extinction crisis’

Some species of sea turtle are completely prohibited from trade, CITES says

Some species of sea turtle are completely prohibited from trade, CITES says

New plans to protect elephants, rhinos and other species will be discussed at a critical meeting that begins in Bangkok on Sunday.

Delegates will review the convention on the international trade in endangered species (CITES).

Around 35,000 animals and plants are at present protected by the treaty.

But with a global “extinction crisis” facing many species, this year’s meeting is being described as the most critical in its history.

The CITES agreement was signed in Washington in March 1973 in an attempt to regulate the burgeoning trade in wild flora and fauna.

“Thailand should grab the spotlight and shut down these markets that are fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa” Carlos Drews – WWF

 

It entered into force in 1975 and experts say that legitimate global imports of wildlife products are now worth more than $300bn (£200bn) a year.

The convention works by licensing commercial trade in species.

The process is meant to be governed by the scientific evidence of threat against an animal or a plant.

However, as CITES consists of government delegations, its decision-making is rooted in the political and economic interests of member countries.

In Bangkok, delegates from some 178 countries will face some critical decisions.

Secret votes

The first one they will have to grapple with is the issue of secret ballots.

Many critics argue that CITES delegations sometimes hide behind the secret ballot process when they want to avoid being seen putting commercial interests ahead of conservation.

Many campaigners are hoping that the meeting will vote to restrict the use of secret voting in order to set a more open tone for the meeting.

“CITES ought to be a transparent body – but secret ballots have become easier to implement at the behest of certain parties who don’t want their vote to be known,” Mark Jones from Humane Society International told BBC News.

“We are supportive of increased transparency so that parties can be held to account,” he added.

Delegates will have to deal with 70 proposals for amending the rules relating to specific species. Elephants will feature heavily as the global demand for ivory is driving poaching to unprecedented levels.

But many campaigners see Thailand as being one of the biggest contributors to the trade, as it is legal there to sell ivory taken from native elephants. Criminals are believed to use this loophole to sell stocks of ivory from African elephants as well.

The Thai government is now under pressure to take action.

“After years of failing to end this unfettered trade, Thailand should grab the spotlight and shut down these markets that are fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa,” said Carlos Drews of environmental group WWF.

Campaign groups are seeking to have sanctions imposed on Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria to try and stem the flow of ivory.

Bear wars

Another issue that is dividing both country delegations and welfare campaigners is the status of polar bears, a situation the BBC reported on last December.

The US is proposing that all trade in bear parts be banned – a move which is stridently opposed by Canada and Russia. Around 400 bears a year are killed for this purpose.

Dan Ashe is the director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and head of the American delegation at CITES.

“While we recognise that the bear-parts trade is not the factor that is driving the polar bears to extinction… we believe that the commercial trade in bear parts should cease.”

On rhinos, Kenya is proposing that there should be a moratorium on the export of trophy horns from South Africa and Swaziland, which are currently exempt. Again there are divisions on the best approach.

Despite being given the highest level of protection by CITES, it is thought that only 200 Sumatran rhinos are still alive

Despite being given the highest level of protection by CITES, it is thought that only 200 Sumatran rhinos are still alive

Some environmentalists believe the trophy hunting has helped the rhino population to recover by bringing in revenue from tourism.

Other researchers are calling for legalisation of the rhino horn trade as they blame the current ban for increasing the rewards from poaching. Last year 668 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa, and more than 100 have died so far this year.

Several species of shark are also likely to get additional protection this time round according to campaigners, as new reports indicated that over 100 million a year are being killed in commercial fisheries.

One of the most interesting aspects of this meeting is the emerging political alliance between the world’s two biggest economies – the US and China are co-sponsoring proposals to restrict trade in Asian turtles and tortoises.

According to Dan Ashe, that is a significant move.

“It is the first time we have ever made a joint proposal with China – that bodes well for a future partnership emerging between US and China.”

And as well as trying to save different species, the US will be pushing forward with proposals for passports for musical instruments.

Many are made from rare types of wood that require a permit to go from country to country. It is one proposal that likely to have widespread support.

The meeting runs until 14 March.

How CITES works

The Convention assigns animals and plants to different categories depending on the level of threat they face:

  • Appendix I covers animals and plants in which all international commercial trade is prohibited except in rare circumstances. In this category are 530 animal species including tigers, white rhinos and gorillas.
  • Appendix II is much bigger. Trade is allowed in these animals and plants but strictly controlled by permit. Over 4,460 animals and 28,000 plants are in this grouping, including polar bears and some shark species.
  • Appendix III includes species that are protected within the borders of a member country. There are 290 species in this group, including the two-toed sloth.

 

Original article written by Matt McGrath, Environment Correspondent, BBC News and published on http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21629176